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Should You Write A Book?

post # 14 — February 6, 2006 — a Client Relations post

Mike Schultz, publisher of RainToday.com , has sent me an email about his company’s new publication. For $149 you can get a downloadable version of The Business Impact of Writing a Book which surveyed 200 authors – all professional services providers – of over 590 business books. The report overview can be found here.

Some interesting results are that 84% of authors report either Very Strong or Strong improvement in their ability to differentiate their services as a result of publishing their book and 53% of authors report either Very Strong or Strong ability to charge higher fees for their services as a result of publishing their book. The report has loads of quotes from the authors interviewed (I was not one of them.)

Mike said in his email to me that – quote – I know you’re not very thrilled with the concept of book publishing these days, but it sure seems to be working out for others. Feel free to blog about it and disagree, too –end quote.

Mike was right that I don’t see another book in my future. It’s unlikely to bring cheer to the publishing profession, but I think it will be much more effective for professionals to bypass books from now on and make their thoughts and theories available purely through the internet.

In today’s world, it makes no sense to take nine months, on average, to get your material together and the same amount of time again (amazingly) to get it through the process of publication. Then begins the complicated business of marketing the book and by that time, the thoughts contained in the book are largely historic. By the time you’re in print, the odds are high that someone else has already put similar thoughts into play online.

By publishing work yourself online, through a fast and efficient website, those who want to read the work can be notified electronically of any new material and can read it at their leisure. Who needs a physical book and a bookstore when there’s an RSS feed around? If you absolutely have to mail out print copies, you can still do that, too!

Anyone who has ever written a book will tell you that you don’t make money on the book itself, unless by some (unknowable) miracle you become the flavor of the month. A book helps build your reputation, and reputation is all, but online, viral marketing is today a much more effective way for most professionals to do things. Books are so 20th century!

It’s like the music industry, where an increasing number of performers are happy to give free downloads of their music as an incentive for fans to come and see them perform live or to buy their (subsequent) albums. (Arctic Monkeys, anyone?)

Apart from all this, it has ALWAYS been my advice to new authors that the best way to build a reputation is through a regular, reliable and (most importantly) continuing sequence of individual articles, so that your audience comes to depend upon you as a reliable source of new ideas – some good, some not-so-good, but always trying to contribute.

The simple truth is that business people don’t read books. They may buy them, but they don’t read them. If you can hold people’s attention for the length of an article, that’s pretty good going. You can’t impress people much if they don’t actually read what you write, and, if they’ve heard about you at all, with a book they are probably operating on an interpretation of what someone told them they thought you meant in a book someone else told them about. (Believe me, I’ve been through this!)

And the pace is picking up. Mike Schultz himself told me that the way that people use the internet nowadays is such that shorter pieces are much more effective and that I might want to rethink my strategy of writing 3,000 word articles. (He’s probably right, too!) Others keep trying to teach me that my blogs should be shorter (Sorry, folks!)

The second reason a series of articles works better than going straight for a book is that reputations are built up over time. A book is like swinging for the fences, betting everything on one big hit. And do you know what the number of business books published in a week in the US is? Probably 50 or so. Per week! The odds against you are huge.

I can tell you from bitter experience that getting a reviewer’s attention is INCREDIBLY difficult. It’s like putting out a record: if you’re already Mariah Carey or P. Diddy or whomever, then a) your publisher will promote you b) the record stores will stock your book and c) Rolling Stone will review your new CD. If you’re not ALREADY a superstar, then, good luck, kiddo! NONE of that is going to happen.

Finally, of course, putting out the series of articles doesn’t prevent you from subsequently collecting them together and putting them between hard or soft covers and calling it a book. You even get the chance to bury the fraction of your possible chapters that, in retrospect, turned out to be rubbish.

Oh, sure there ARE virtues to books, even today. For one, speakers’ bureaus find it a lot easier to market you if you have a hot book and there is something both effective and gratifying in having a physical artifact which enshrines your (supposed) wisdom.

Still, what many of my friends either don’t know or have forgotten is that my own career and reputation (such as they are) were built on a stream of articles. It was eleven (successful and profitable) years between my first article on professional firms and the publication of my first book on the subject. You guessed it – it was, and is, a collection of my articles. Forget books — go for the online articles!


Doug Fletcher said:

Dave: This is certainly good news in my way of thinking. And there are less politics and publishing games to be played in writing your own blog. And, as you have said, blog content can morph into future articles. I’ve found the practice of writing my own blog to be helpful in getting ideas, thoughts, concepts rolling. A blog’s informality encourages the free flow of thought (for better or worse)…and the more one writes, the more one’s ideas take shape. All good things. Blog on! P.S. Call be a geek but I do read books by the way.

posted on February 6, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Mike Schultz asked me to post this. –

For the most part, I agree with your thoughtful post where you note the challenges of getting a book published, and the even more difficult challenges of making that book sell a lot. To these points, while I agree, I respectfully say, “So what? Doesn’t matter. Still worth it.”

Here are just a few reasons why:

Speaking: Many professional services providers generate new leads and clients from speaking at conferences and events. Our research in the report How Clients Buy noted that 69% of buyers were likely or very likely to search for professional services providers at conference presentations. 75% of our authors noted that publishing a book had a strong or very strong influence on their ability to generate more speaking engagements, and 65% noted the same effects on generating better speaking engagements.

Most professionals that I know don’t use a speakers’ bureau for getting speeches anyway. They’re looking for the opportunity to speak and trying to either get into conferences to deliver sessions, or trying to get from being a session presenter to a keynote. From everything that I know, from the conference side and the speaker side, a good reputation as a speaker is helpful to get the top keynotes, but a book is necessary. And if an author does publish the book, and can then get representation from a speakers’ bureau, then they’ve made a strong leap in their ability to generate revenue from speeches as well as new clients.

Indirect revenue: The median book royalty revenue for our authors was $34,000. Not so exciting, given the work that goes in to getting a book published. The median indirect revenue, that is, revenue to their practices, was $100,000 as a result of book publishing. So for every $1 in book royalties they received, they generated about $3 in service revenue. One quarter of our authors generated $100,000 in book royalties. These authors reported an average of $500,000 to their practices as a result of publishing their books. So for every $1 they received in book royalties, they generated $5 in revenue to their practices. We didn’t probe deeply on the repeat business or referrals as a result of this business. I’m sure if we did the indirect numbers would go up.

The value is in revenue to the practice, not in the books themselves, and the more books you sell, the more juice you get for your practice. But the publishers won’t market your book…

Book marketing: With some exceptions, publishers never heavily marketed business books. Nothing’s changed here. Authors have to do it themselves. And they can. Our authors who didn’t use a book PR service sold, on average, 4,500 copies of their first book. Those that used a PR service sold 10,000 copies. Authors that used the Internet to their advantage, marketed their own books alongside their publicity service, spoke often at events, and used a book agent sold even more books. Who needs the publisher’s publicity energy? Who needs a reviewer? They’re great if you get it, but not necessary.

Yes, you’re right, there’s a lot of competition for books. 50 published a week! There’s also a lot of other lawyers, consultants, and accountants. So what? Should professionals be afraid of a little competition? There’s still plenty of room for success for those folks willing to, as a sage consultant has said in the past, eat less and exercise more.

I respect your thoughts on the merits of publishing articles, and I agree that publishing articles is a core way service providers should establish their expertise and strengthen their practices. However I wouldn’t discount the merits of publishing a book quite so much.

posted on February 13, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Bruce Marcus (of http://www.marcusletter.com ) asked me to post this –

I agree with you that there are many other better ways to market one’s services than writing a book, but it’s still valuable to have written one (since 1977, I’ve done about 15). I’m sure Mike Schultz did good research, but I don’t believe what some of the people in his survey said. I do believe that many of his respondents are exaggerating. We both know that few people understand the complexity of working with publishers and promoting a book. Writing it also calls for skills that most people just don’t have. I realized that in working with coauthors. You’re lucky in your choices, but I suspect that yours has always been the guiding hand. And certainly, inexperienced authors have no concept of the ineptitude of publishers.

posted on February 13, 2006

Barbara Walters Price said:

Mr. Maister – I appreciate your thoughtful post but disagree to an extent. Printed books can be quite beneficial if they are highly targeted. My firm, Mercer Capital, has had great success with self-published, highly niched books. We know who the targeted readers are and what their issues are. A book is still much more impressive (and cost-effective) than a 4-color glossy brochure or a collection of articles – although articles are important credibility builders and should be part of the marketing mix.

Books, however, are not the be-all-and-end-all. Smart professionals leverage content in various ways – whether turning articles into books or turning blog posts into books or turning printed books into e-books or podcasts.

The CEO of my firm and our primary author, Chris Mercer, has a blog (www.merceronvalue.com) which he is using to draft his next book on the subject of buy-sell agreements. We will self-publish that book which is, in my humble opinion, the only way to go unless your name is Tom Peters, et al. We have published with a major publisher and it was a nightmare. After we send the book as our gift to potential referral sources, we’ll sell it directly and via Amazon and recoup our printing/marketing investment several times over. And, if past experience holds true, we’ll gain new business from the book we sent as a gift. Then, after we exhaust our inventory of printed books, we’ll present it as an e-book with updated content.

So, please don’t give up on the idea of authoring a book as outdated. I thought audio cassettes were yesterday’s news until I found out that Simply Audiobooks began offering cassette tapes as well as audio books in their Fall 2005 campaign because, according to their research, they were still in demand. I believe books with targeted content are still in high demand as well and can be leveraged to be a very effective marketing tool.

posted on February 13, 2006

Martin Bamford said:

This blog struck a chord with me as I complete the writing stage of my first book. I agree that writing and publishing online articles plays an important part in the promotional mix for professional advisers, but nothing screams credibility like getting a book into print. In the UK there are very few professional advisers who have been published and even fewer who use this as part of their marketing strategy. I don’t underestimate the hard work involved, but as part of the mix it is an important element.

posted on February 13, 2006

Brad Farris said:


Good points about the difficulty of publishing. However, without a “brand name” a blog or website is as unlikely to attract an audience as a book. You mentioned how many business books are published each day, there are many times that number of business blog posts. While it’s true that the audience size for a “successful” blog is lower than is needed for a book, it’s no less difficult to obtain that success.

In summary, we all need to write on our websites, and publish when we can, but it seems to me that the marketing challenge is the same in any case.

posted on February 13, 2006

Shaula Evans said:

John Updike has raised concerns about the future of publishing that I thought might interest you as part of this discussion, David.

Heather Greene has a good recap at Business Week Online’s Blogspotting:


(Pardon me some extravagant paraphrasing.)

In short, much of the advice to (published and aspiring) authors in the digital age boils down to: “Don’t worry about monitizing books. Give books away, and make money through collateral revenue streams.”

To which Updike responds that authors are writers, not performers, and not likely to succeed as entertainers.

Of course, you’ve already addressed in your post and elsewhere the reality that those of us who are not already John Updike are not likely to make money through the conventional book publishing and promotion model, either.

It makes me wonder if the middlemen (Amazon, speaker’s bureaus, promoters) are the only ones making money here….

posted on July 18, 2006

Maria said:

I’m thinking about writing a book but in my country there are just a few publishers that work with young and amaters. I write for about 5 years, 20-25 blogs daily and would like to publish some of my short stories. Is there any publishing agency on the net where I can send ma writings?

posted on December 9, 2007

Mark Wogan said:

Chris Anderson, a one time student of yours pointed me to your article. The first thing I’d say is that you’re right, books do take a long time to write, more time to get published and end up fighting for ‘mindshare’ with an overwhelming number of other titles. So why do it when there is a faster, cheaper and less stressful way to get your ideas out to the world – i.e. the internet.

Well as a ‘first time author’ (i.e. only written one book) there are two main reasons as I see it:

1 The internet, just because it’s a simple medium for publishing content, does not mean it is easy to get people to read what you’ve published. You still have to market your ideas and fight to get people interested. This as most people know is by no means a straightforward task and there is even more competition on the internet than in a book store.

2 Whatever the ubiquity of the digital world we live in, in my experience, people still hold you in a high regard if you’ve written a book. It’s more a statement of your credibility rather than anything else – you need a book to be in the game! Also you can’t get around the fact that it sounds better when you say “here’s a copy of my book” to a prospective client than “why don’t you go to my blog/website and read my articles”. This is not an argument about the efficiency or effectiveness of getting content read it’s about perception. People know it’s hard to write a book and, therefore, regardless of whether they actually read it, they accord merit to the fact that you’ve actually done it. Articles aren’t seen in quite the same way. This was certainly the case when my book was published – it transformed the way clients saw me and my ideas and resulted in new business and revenue.

That said I do think that for second books or for more established authors there might be more effective ways of getting content to market along the lines you advocate. I want to write another book – but you’ve got me thinking!

posted on March 12, 2008