Writing a book as a business tool is a growing trend that has been spurred on by two significant developments in book publishing. First is the rapid advances in the publishing industry that have made self-publishing more accessible for small businesses. The key changes include ebooks, retail sites such as Amazon, and low-cost, high-quality short-run printing.
Driven by technology
These technology-related changes give independent publishers the ability to produce and distribute (to a worldwide audience if desired) high-quality books. Ten years ago self-publishing was much more expensive and the results weren’t nearly as good as they are today. There weren’t many people or businesses around who specialised in this area, and it was often seen as a form of publishing used by people whose books weren’t good enough to be accepted by a ‘real’ publisher. It was often derisively called ‘vanity’ publishing – a term that is rarely heard these days.
A strategy for self-promotion
The second development is the rise of the high-profile entrepreneur, with Richard Branson being a prime example. Self-promotion (rather than just promoting a company) has become a powerful tool in modern business, aided by social media and traditional media that love such stories. People such as Branson, the late Steve Jobs, Dick Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg and Janine Allis have become household names, and are often as well known as their companies, if not more.
I’ve often heard a business book described as a ‘business card on steroids’, and I think this is very accurate. Being a published author will help you build your profile, promote your business and make you stand out from the crowd. It’s a turbocharged business card, a demonstration of your skill and experience, an ad, a marketing tool, a symbol of your commitment to seeing a project through, a key that will open many doors, a representation of the standards of your business.
Books boosting business
I speak to authors all the time who tell me how having self-published a book has brought all sorts of benefits to them and their business. I spoke to one author recently who had very carefully tracked sales related to his book, and after about six months he put the value of extra sales at over $50,000 and growing rapidly. I can guarantee that if you produce a high-quality book and use it well in your business, tangible results will emerge in your bottom line. I’ve seen it time and time again. I regularly speak to authors in the months after their book comes out; I hear many stories of how self-publishing a book has given their business a boost.
They have signed new clients, been asked to speak at events or conferences, written blogs, appeared in the media, made new industry contacts – the list goes on and on. This very blog post is a result of information about my book being sent to the Australian Writers’ Centre.
It's not about the numbers
For these reasons, self-publishing a book to help promote you and your business is very different from most other areas of publishing because it doesn’t rely on high numbers of book sales to be a success. That’s why you should avoid the many books and websites out there that will give you the techniques to ‘sell a million copies of your book’; I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that such a technique doesn’t exist anyway.
Like anything in business, no sure-fire method will guarantee sales (and if such a method did exist, the people who came up with it sure wouldn’t be selling it!). These promises are designed to sell books and other products for the people promoting them.
You must have realistic expectations about how many copies you might sell. People often have misconceptions because they only hear about best-selling books selling many thousands of copies, but nobody ever hears about the author who sold 17. The best-selling book I’ve ever worked on sold over 180,000 copies, but that’s the exception. The minimum viable print run for a commercial publisher is usually between 1500 and 2500 copies, depending on the book, but for self-publishers even these quantities can be difficult.
A powerful marketing tool
I regularly work with authors who sell 50 or 100 copies of their books – or even fewer – and consider this a great success, because some of those book sales turned into thousands of dollars worth of work for their business. Some authors I work with sell zero copies – they give all their books away!
Authors self-publishing in this area very rarely make a profit solely on sales, and that’s fine. They know this at the start of the project. Your book is a marketing tool, a business card, a mark of your expertise, and it sets you apart from your competitors – that’s how you make money with it.
I wish you all the best with your publishing.
Michael Hanrahan is the Director of Publishing at Michael Hanrahan Publishing. Michael has spent the majority of his career in senior roles within the publishing industry, including at Wrightbooks and John Wiley & Sons. In 2004 Michael founded Michael Hanrahan Publishing, which included a self-publishing service for small business authors. In June 2014, he self-published his own book, Stand Out – 7 steps to self-publishing a book that will build your profile, promote your business and make you stand out from the crowd.