A marketing success staple for anyone selling personal or professional services has been “be published.” If you could write a book, and have a mainstream publisher accept it for publication, you achieved instant credibility as an expert and thought-leader, with speaking opportunities (at high per diem rates) and enthusiastic media publicity. You had achieved “success”.
Perhaps these lines are over-stated. Even in the olden days (just a few years ago) when you would have needed an agent and a whole lot of luck as well as exceptional skill to be published, most published works landed on the remainder pile, sold for cents on the dollar, and very few writers — especially authors purporting expertise within the specialized architectural, engineering and construction fields, would achieve much recognition or money from their writing initiatives. Writing, done right, generally requires gigantic amounts of lonely, hard time, and quite a bit of ego-painful editing and rewriting. Nevertheless, in part because of the hurdles involved, simply having a book published indicated you had the energy, resolve, commitment and skill to complete a daunting task successfully.
How things have changed . . .
While, in the “old days”, vanity presses existed, thankfully few people took up the offer to be “a published author” for a hefty fee — and a pile of unsaleable books. Some writers, using desk-top publishing technologies, took a do-it-yourself attitude, and achieved some success, especially for local publications or ones that could be sold outside of conventional book stores. Still, virtually every book (and every film or television or video script) had to go through so much vetting and required so much energy to produce, only a tiny fraction of potential available work ever could be published. So most people, with a bit of writing in their heart, especially for specialized industries, just didn’t try.
Now you can turn a book or video from an idea to a seemingly professional publication in a matter of weeks (well, more likely months), publish it yourself, and achieve electronic book distribution almost as good as can be achieved with conventional publications. If you want to provide the book in printed form, no problem — print-on-demand technologies allow you to produce the book and have it printed for a few dollars a copy. Most intriguingly, the largest print-on-demand wholesaler also wholesales to the general bookstore market, so your new book could be available anywhere, within hours of posting online.
So, credibility, recognition, fame and fortune through self-published efforts are no longer just an impossible dream . . . especially when upwards of 25 per cent of books are now electronic, and an increasing percentage are produced by independent writers and publishers.
But. . . here’s the catch. While the market may be open, the keys to success are (a) the quality of your ideas (b) the size of your existing network and (c) your ability to produce and market a book that has many of the traits of conventional and old-fashioned books.
Lets take a few examples.
My Construction Marketing Ideas book has sold about 800 copies since its release in April, 2010. Each month, the printer sends me a cheque. Every week, a few people deposit $19.95 in my PayPal account for a directly-purchased electronic edition. I receive quarterly payments from Smashwords (for ebooks sold in places like the Apple IStore and Barnes and Noble) and Amazon (for the Kindle edition.) We’ve also fulfilled a few bulk orders from associations and a university course. With an average net revenue of $12.00 a book (after printing and distribution costs), the book ha earned about $10,000. Not bad. It has also generated some speaking gigs and helped attract sales for our publications, so I would attribute about $50,000 in revenue overall to the project. Not bad, but not enough to create wild excitement. My business is quite small, but we employ four sales representatives who earn on average that much or more a year to sell quite a bit more that.
Last year, based on my early success, I set out to publish a book from the company’s former management consultant. He had “written 12 books,” he said. I should have run for the hills at that point, because I think only a really small number of writers could actually write 12 worthwhile books. However, with the knowledge I’d acquired in publishing my own work, I set out to produce his tome, contracting with our designer and proofreader/editor to publish a credible-looking book.
However, when we printed the work, I sensed quite quickly something really wrong had occurred. I asked the consultant to send review copies to friends and others who could say some good things about the book in early Amazon.com reviews. He could only find nine takers, and only one wrote a review, a less-than-warm four-star commendation. Seeing these results, I thankfully pulled the plug on the initiative, accepting a waiver of consulting fees in exchange for my sunk costs in the book. So far, to my knowledge, it has sold three copies (you can still find it on Amazon and elsewhere — but I won’t promote it here!)
More recently, friend and Design and Construction Network leader Tim Klabunde asked for my assistance in becoming the publisher of Network Like an Introvert: A new way of thinking about business relationships. He didn’t really need my company’s services (except to procure a ISBN and provide some limited marketing support) because he co-ordinated everything himself. Accordingly as publishers we haven’t expected to be paid significant fees for our services. His 90-page book has sold more than 500 copies in a matter of a few weeks — and continues to sell well.
Sure, he has written a good book. So have I. (No false modesty here, but I’ve received some rather positive independent reviews.)
Why has his sold so well, mine sold okay, and the consultants’ book, so poorly? The answer, in part, is the network. Tim has a wildly huge network — qualifying him to write about networking, of course — and quite a few of the people within the network are ready to purchase his book. The topic, also, while universal in importance is also specialized. Introverts who have to network abound. (I’m one of them.) Tim’s book thus caught an important nerve and has sold well, and will sell more. (We’re issuing a news release on Monday, a day ahead of his presentation to the Associated Builders and Contractors chapter in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.)
The information here suggests that you can achieve worthy results through self-publishing, but your chances of success are much higher if you already have achieved success in building your network and market. You may be able to monetize your relationships through the book project. You also should of course have a worthy book, on a topic relevant to readers, and make sure it is written and edited properly. While self-publishing can be “cheap” especially if you capitalize on offshore resources and other tools, I believe you probably will generally need to commit at least a few thousand dollars to the effort, to do it right. This isn’t a wasted effort if you take care and have a good story to share, however.
If you have a publishing project in mind, maybe I can help. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.