CAN YOU AFFORD TO BE A FAILED AUTHOR?
Over the last two decades, I’ve been a consultant for more than 200 personal, professional, and institutional brands. I've personally ghostwritten five books and I’ve written four titles of my own. In just the last 18 months, I've worked with more than a dozen authors, bringing their books to market in a big way. Many of them even hit the big bestseller lists. I promise you; I know a thing or two about books, business, and branding.
A book is a direct reflection of your brand which, in turn, powers the growth of your business. Using a book to grow your brand and market your message is an excellent idea – but only for a select few. If I’m being generous, the actual writing, publishing, and marketing of the book is only about 20% of the equation. The other 80% of the equation involves that filthy s-word – selling!
The Ugly Truth About Writing a Book
What authors don't like to hear is that the quality of the content of your book does not at all mean it will sell. Good books aren't guaranteed to sell because they are well written, and even the worst written books can get on bestseller lists.
Point blank, if you are not going to treat writing, publishing, and marketing your book like it is its own business, then put the pen and paper down.
I've seen dozens of books hit #1 on the Amazon Bestseller list with fewer than 250 books sold. They stay there for maybe a few hours and then never rank again. At the other end, I've seen books that have sold thousands of copies over several weeks completely miss placing on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Amazon, USA Today, and other bestseller lists. Either scenario does not mean the book was good for the author's brand or business.
The difference between a book that sells and one that doesn't is marketing and sales. The 200+ pages you've just slaved over equate to nothing in the real world. Your book is worth nothing until you start marketing it, selling it, and using it to your advantage.
Publishing a Book that Doesn't Sell is Terrible for Business
You can spend a significant amount of your company's time and money to publish a book with no tangible return on investment. For the cost of publishing most books, you could gain real customers by spending the same time and money on publicity, advertising, or hiring a new business development person. Even if you choose to self-publish your book to limit expenses and reduce the time to market, if people don't buy it, you've just published a very expensive company brochure. The ROI isn't there!
You should not publish a book if you are responding to advertisements that promise low-cost to no-cost publishing. If you run a real business and care about whether or not your brand is well-received in the marketplace, then you already know that most software and services promising something at “little to no cost” hardly ever delivers worthy results. Sure, you can upload your book to numerous book-selling sites for free; the rest of the process costs money.
I assure you that if you blindly throw a rock at a listing of books on one of any of the more than 30 online book sites, including the big ones, you will hit a title loaded with grammar and spelling errors, printing mishaps, and missed opportunities. If this book is a direct reflection of your brand and an extension of your business – it can't have errors. Skipping critical steps in the review process makes a huge difference in the book's ability to expand your author platform and business efforts.
Books work against your brand when your sales and marketing plan is not strategic, pre-planned, and long-term. So let’s face it – most authors SUCK at selling.
But frankly, why should they be good at selling, unless they are an authority in sales? Authors write about their own area of expertise, which can include a million things outside of sales and marketing. The problem is not that authors have to be good marketers. It’s that they can't undervalue the importance of marketing and sales around their book.
Authors need to understand that publishers are not brand managers or marketing specialists. Your publisher is not going to market the book for you or get you exposure. While every deal is different, assume that publishers will reserve an amount equal to roughly 10% of your advance for all marketing and promotion of your book. This small budget is typically set aside to get book retailers excited, but publishers are all about risk mitigation. They run a business and know that most of the books published have a short shelf life.
Yes, there are independent book marketing companies that will publish your book and market it with a pre-formed marketing package that you pay for (and have little say over.) These publishers are making their money on printing and marketing services – not book sales. Unless your publisher has contracted you for several books or you are JK Rowling or Michelle Obama, they are not worried about your personal reputation as an author or how the book performs at retail or overall sales. Sales and marketing are the responsibility of YOU – the author.
So the reality is that you are probably not ready to publish a book... Many authors come to me 3-6 months before their book's release asking for guidance on how to hit the various bestseller lists. While better late than never, the planning should start at least one year, or more, before the release date of the book. And believe it or not, there are marketing strategies you can bake into the writing of your manuscript that help with sales!
About 18 months ago, an author and potential client in the financial sector approached me with a manuscript and book cover design. He was ready to hit "print" with a self-publishing model, and he asked me for advice on his chances for making the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal bestseller list since he was using the book to attract high net, worth clients.
I told him four things that changed his future as an author:
1. Your book cover is terrible and won't attract readers.
2. It's too late to even think about a run at the New York Times list.
3. Self-publishing will make it VERY difficult to hit any big lists (if at all.)
4. Releasing your book through Amazon-centric distribution channels will keep you out of airport stores where your "big fish" clients are waiting to read your book.
While this author’s company was pressuring him to publish the book now so that they could immediately begin generating new leads, he decided to make an investment into his brand for more significant business and hold off on publishing.
We reworked the cover design and retitled the book to make it "jump off the shelf." We secured him a deal with a co-publisher, which changed his retail distribution opportunities while costing him only a few pennies more per book compared to self-publishing. We worked with his internal marketing team to pre-sell, market, and publicize him, his book, and his business for the greater part of nine months.
His book debuted as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in multiple categories and remained a Top 10 Bestseller on Amazon for more than 60 days straight. About 45 days after his book’s release date, he woke up to the announcement that he was a Wall Street Journal Bestseller. However, that was not the best part of his campaign. Within the first month of his book appearing in Hudson airport bookstores nationally, a reader purchased the book, read it on the plane, and contacted his company to request a consultation. This is a great example of why sometimes waiting to "do it right" benefits the brand and business.
Here is a snapshot of a Telegram message we received from this client (the identity of the book and client blacked out for NDA reasons :)
If you're already heading into writing your book, start thinking and building your marketing funnels now. Don't wait.
Marketing a Book Includes:
Pre-selling it on your website
Marketing it to your database
Actively promoting it on social media
Creating bonus items to help you pre-sell books
Optimizing all online book sale sites
Sending advanced review copies to major media outlets, bloggers, and influencers asking for early endorsements and reviews
Lining up book reviewers
Creating customized press kit pitches that make your area of expertise relevant by media channel
Getting booked on the big podcasts, news programs, and radio shows
Setting up cross-promotions with other authors to introduce your book to their audiences
Working with a book rep to get retailers like Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Hudson, and Walmart interested in carrying your book in their stores
Special Note: Getting book reviews is one of the hardest, if not the most difficult, parts of your marketing plan – and it impacts book sales tremendously. You will be shocked how even your close friends and family will promise to leave you a review but will drag out the process. It must be a strategic effort from the beginning.
At this point, I hope you understand that writing a book is easier than marketing and selling a book. But wait! What about the authors that have the marketing plan and the money to launch a book and sell 5K, 10K, or 15K copies in a single month - they are out there, right? Yes, they are out there. These are the types of clients we work with every day, and they will tell you that the work doesn't stop when you make a bestseller list like the Wall Street Journal.
The time and money they put into selling thousands of books and securing national exposure must translate into boosting their brand and business, or it doesn't make financial sense. Your book has to lead to more customers or more speaking events or more significant media and PR opportunities or even another book deal. Your marketing and sales strategy starts 12 months pre-release and continues 12 months post-release. It's work, people!
Extra Special Note: The first 90 days of your book's release sets in motion your future as a repeat author. Retailers are watching the book's performance and will determine if your next book is worthy of their shelf-space based on the sales of your first book. Traditional publishers will base their book advance (or not) on the way this book sells out of the gates. Your reader base will decide if they buy any of your future books based on this launch. If you do it right, your future as an author is bright. If you do it wrong, you've weakened your authority platform.
So, don't publish a book unless you're ready to do it full out - just like you wouldn't start a business without giving it the best chances of success.
Be prepared to invest money in:
Developing your manuscript and the book's brand
Developing a marketing plan and sales strategy that includes pre-selling books and securing reviews
Creating an author platform that links to your business
If you disagree, I'd love to hear why in the comments. Or, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.