Leaders have great ideas. If you have a great idea, why don’t you write a book? How hard could it be? You wrote long papers in college. Perhaps you write extended reports in your current job.
How hard could it be to string a few of these efforts together and write a book? Wouldn’t it be rewarding and deeply meaningful to finally get your thoughts on paper? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if you shared your passion and insights?
Writing a book will be the easiest part of the adventure. Getting anyone else to read your book is another story entirely.
The Brave New World of Publishing
Before committing to the adventure, understand the changing realities of the book publishing industry in the U.S.
Here are the sobering statistics:
- Over 60,000 publishers publish over 1,000,000 books each year.
- Of these, the average number of each book sold is less than 250 copies in a year and less than 2500 in a lifetime.
- There are over 5 million free books available on the internet, in addition to countless blogs and sites on almost any conceivable topic.
- Published books have a less than 1% chance of being stocked in a bookstore.
It is not surprising that the number of physical book sales has declined steadily for years. So, yes, it is relatively easy to write a book. Getting anyone else to read it and, more importantly, to buy it is a different story.
So, Should You Give Up?
Not at all. Writing a book can be a powerful personal experience for the author. You have the opportunity to reflect deeply on important ideas and shape those ideas into a compelling message.
The challenge and discipline of getting these ideas on paper offer the opportunity to solidify your thinking and conviction about the topic. Writing a piece of fiction might release a great wave of creative energy and meaning for you.
You should simply look at writing a book the same way people think of other passions and pastimes, such as singing, playing an instrument, photography, or running. It is a great experience, but unless the circumstances are ideal, you are not likely to make a living doing it.
Revenues versus the cost of printing and distribution of a first book are likely to be slim. As they say in show biz, “Don’t quit your day job.”
What Are the Chances of Actually Selling Your Book?
Unless you are working with a major publisher, chances are you will not sell many books beyond what you market and sell yourself. The fact is that simply publishing a book assures little in the way of sales.
There are countless self-publishing companies that will be pleased to print and bind literally anything that you write and will print as many copies as you want for a very reasonable price.
These companies will also add layout, editing, design, and marketing services for a fee. In some cases, these fees can be substantial. These so-called “vanity” presses seem to be exploding as the number of authors willing to invest the effort stream to the market.
The bottom line is that books are sold into communities. That means that the people and retail buyers that are associated with you or your publisher will be the most likely source of sales.
If you and/or your publisher have large, established communities and strong marketing channels, great. If not, start building them early in the game, or simply recognize – regardless of the quality and power of your book that sales will be limited.
What Should an Author Think About Before Committing?
The most important question any author can think of is, “Why am I writing this book in the first place?” If your goal is to become the next Dan Pink, Marshall Goldsmith, or Ramm Sharan – good luck (time, energy, skill, and money – as well) with that. You will need a lot.
Bestselling authors typically have at least four things in common which they built over a career:
- Great credentials and industry networks
- A knack for taking fresh approaches to timely subjects
- Powerful marketing organizations
- Relentless tenacity and a string of failures
If, in fact, your goal is to express your leadership and perhaps add credibility to your speaking, consulting, or professional career, writing a book can be a valuable and rewarding experience.
Five Lessons from a First-Time Book Author
I have learned an enormous amount about the publishing industry, the process of writing, and myself. Here are five key lessons learned:
1. Choose Your Publishing Partner Wisely
There are thousands of publishers – from huge corporations (which you will most likely approach through a literary agent) to small, private printing companies who may or may not offer any supporting services. Claims on the internet tend to be remarkable, so do your due diligence in reading author reviews, third-party ratings, and blogs on the topic.
2. Choose the Best Business Model of Publishing – For You
The publishing industry is shifting rapidly from traditional publishing models, where the company buys the rights to your content, versus self-publishing, where you retain all rights to your work. The cost and potential reward structures are very different. Again, do your research.
3. Get Clear on Your Content, Scope, and Writing Style Before You Begin Writing in Earnest
If you are new to the writing process, it will save you an enormous amount of time in rewriting if you do a great deal of preparation upfront. This includes knowing your target audience, establishing a consistent style and voice, and a detailed structure for the book.
4. Surround Yourself With Caring Reviewers and Editors
Engaging others in reviewing your book as you write is a great way to immerse yourself in the topic and get on-gong feedback. Discussion of the topic with others can also lead to great new ideas and insights.
5. Accept That Publishing is a Long Haul
Writing a book and developing the marketing platform to support the effort has been one of the most challenging and expensive investments in my professional career. It will be at least 18 months from the initial idea to publication and requires hundreds of hours of my “spare” time.
I know this will continue to be a challenging effort and push my personal and professional limits. I am also confident that the effort will be rewarding for the readers and for me. In the meantime, you can count on the fact that I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon.
Leaders, Will You Write a Book?
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