If you run a small business, writing a book can be a smart move for your bottom line — and not just because you'll have a new product to sell. It can give you instant credibility, generate publicity and maybe even lead to high-fee consulting gigs and speaking engagements.
So how do you get a book about your business published?
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There are two routes: a traditional publisher or self-publishing. Both have benefits and drawbacks, says Karen Watts, a New York City-area consultant and founder of Karen Watts Books.
Finding a Traditional Publisher
Mainstream publishers offer prestige and take responsibility for production expenses as well as some marketing costs. Their editors ensure that the books are high-quality and that their design is top-notch.
But using a traditional publisher means you’ll lose time and control compared with self-publishing. Once a publisher accepts an idea, it may take 18 months before the finished book is shipped to stores. A self-published book can be produced in less than six months while the author maintains creative control, says Watts.
Publishers’ advances — their upfront payments to authors — have plummeted in recent years. A first-time business author with a following and some notoriety might land an advance of $5,000 to $15,000 these days. But you should expect to spend most of that money (or even more) promoting your book, since publishers increasingly rely on authors to market their own work.
Plus, you’ll need a literary agent just to get in a publisher’s door. The article “How to Find a Literary Agent” on the Daily Writing Tips website explains the best ways to land one.
Cynthia Zigmund, who runs the Second City Publishing Services literary agency in Fish Creek, Wisc., says the key to getting the attention of agents and traditional publishers is the impressiveness of your “platform” — book-industry-speak for the size of your following, which would, in turn, lead more people to buy your book.
You’d offer a strong book platform if your blog or website gets tens of thousands of visitors per month and you have thousands of Facebook friends or fans and Twitter followers. It also helps to have experience with public speaking and being interviewed by print, online and broadcast media.
Going the Self-Publishing Route
Self-publishing, once derided as “vanity publishing,” has come a long way in the past few years, primarily because the Internet has made this method easier and more respectable.
As Brett Arends recently wrote on Smartmoney.com, advances in self-publishing mean “it’s never been easier to become an author.”
Arends, who is self-publishing a biography of Mitt Romney through Amazon.com, explained the process this way:
“You copy your text into a Microsoft Word template and upload it. You can then design your own cover in Photoshop and upload that too, or use one of their templates. It takes two days to get your proof back, and a few more days to launch the book. Then it’s available, like any other, at Amazon.com.”
Arends is also publishing his book on Kindle, which takes just 12 hours, he says, from uploading the document to publication.
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The “self” part of self-publishing can be a bit of a misnomer, since you may want to hire a ghostwriter to turn your words into a book. Expect to invest $20,000 to $50,000 to cover all the costs of getting about 3,000 copies of your business’s book self-published. Hiring a top-notch ghostwriter and an editor would likely lead you to spend near the top of that range. (For specifics about self-publishing outfits, printing-on-demand and self-publishing sales, read the Next Avenue article, "Self-Publishing in the Digital Age.")
With self-publishing, you generally won’t receive an advance, but Jerrold R. Jenkins, founder of Traverse City, Mich.-based Jenkins Group (Disclosure: I’ve worked as a ghostwriter for this company multiple times) says the exposure and credibility you’ll receive as a result of publication could provide a return of many times your investment. The income could come through speaking engagements, bigger consulting fees and, of course, sales of the book.
A business owner with a professional-services firm who spent $30,000 to self-publish 2,000 copies might see these three revenue streams, making the book profitable within a year:
* Sales of all 2,000 copies at $15 apiece will recoup your initial investment. Start with friends, family, business acquaintances and Amazon.com.
* New business generated by interest in the book should spark a 5 percent increase in your business' fees or sales.
* Work to land one speaking engagement per month at $1,500 a pop — that's $18,000 annually. Speak more, earn more.
Which Way to Go?
Ultimatey, the decision to seek a traditional publisher or self-publish comes down to you and your goals.
If you already have a sizable following, are confident you can write well, and want the prestige and resources of a mainstream publisher, go for it.
Self-publishing might be best if you want more control, can afford the upfront investment and are willing to take full responsibility for the project.
Either way, you’ll be able to share your business knowledge with the world for years to come. Start practicing your autograph.
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