Publishing a book can seem like a daunting task. In this week’s Labcast, marketing experts (and published authors) Dorie Clark and Jonathan Kranz walk listeners through the publishing process and offer tips for keeping motivated throughout the journey.
Publishing a book is an extremely rewarding accomplishment for you and your business. However, all of the work that comes with writing and publishing a book can lead to a lot of confusion. People often wonder: How do I even decide to saddle up and begin the writing process in the first place? What kinds of material should I cover? What publishers will take me on?
In this week’s Labcast, Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You, and Jonathan Kranz, author of Writing Copy for Dummies, share the most valuable lessons they’ve learned throughout their own experiences in publishing.
This Week’s Guests
“If… you can prove that you are well known and well respected in your industry, that is invaluable. That is what’s going to get you the ability to win a book contract. So start today.”
–Dorie Clark, Clark Strategic Communications
“The idea that you have to write the whole book is just too intimidating, but it’s not so bad if you say well I need a chapter a week, a chapter every two weeks, depending on how long the chapters are. That’s manageable.”
–Jonathan Kranz, Kranz Communications
- Know yourself: What kind of person is fit to write a book? ( 5:27)
- Can your book aid your business? (5:55)
- Persuade publishers that you are famous enough to move copies. (7:43)
- Blog if you need a bigger platform. (8:48)
- Hop on the social media train. (9:48)
- How to write a book proposal: (10:26)
- Write a sample chapter (10:51)
- Write an in-depth outline and a bio (11:10)
- Include a description of who your book’s audience is. (13:07)
- Allot blocks of time to write. (16:16)
- Anticipate a slow editorial process. (17:52)
- Be fearless about asking people to buy your book: (21:16)
- Amass your database and send personalized emails (23:08)
- Be easy to find online. (24:46)
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Kevin: Hi there, everyone, and welcome to another edition of Labcast. I’m your host, Kevin Cain, and today I’m very fortunate to have two outstanding content marketers with me, here in the studio, to talk about a very interesting aspect of content marketing, and that’s publishing a book. I’m going to actually let them introduce themselves. So, Jonathan, why don’t you tell people who you are?
Jonathan: Thank you, Kevin. I’m Jonathan Kranz, and I have a company called Kranz Communications, but I think the more relevant thing here is that I’ve published a book from my own business interests, so I know what the pathway is like. My book is “Writing Copy for Dummies,” and that came out in, you know, ancient history, all the way back in 2004, but the memories of that process are very much with me. I’m fortunate enough to have a novel, picked up by Henry Holt, that will come out in the spring of 2015. As part of my preparation process, I’m participating in something called Launch Lab, which is a group of writers who are binding together to help each other learn how to promote their books to the public, and this is under the guidance of Grub Street.
In our first session at the beginning of this month, in October, we had the pleasure of meeting Dorie Clark, who’s going to join us in just a minute. Dorie Clark, in addition to being a consultant and coach, is the recent author of “Reinventing You,” which has come out this year, by Harvard Business Review Press.
The book is a soup to nuts guide on how to reinvent yourself, your career, your brand, and it takes you from those first stirrings of excitement and possibility about what you might want to do, through to actually doing it, finding that new career, becoming excellent in it, then learning how to promote yourself, and building a credible reputation as an authority in your new field, industry, or career.
So, after reading this book, which I have done this week, I thought that Dorie would be the perfect person to talk to regarding what it takes, why you would do a book and what it takes to do a book.
So let me turn it over to Dorie, so she can introduce herself.
Dorie: Jonathan, thank you very much. My name is Dorie Clark. I am a marketing strategy consultant. I teach for the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. I blog pretty frequently for Forbes and the Harvard Business Review, and as you said, I just published, about six months ago, “Reinventing You,” from Harvard Business Review Press.
Jonathan: Now, Dorie, is it safe to assume from the title, “Reinventing You,” that this book in itself was part of your own self-reinvention?
Dorie: Are you accusing me of being meta, Jonathan?
Jonathan: Yes, I am.
Dorie: Yes, it is true. The book actually sprung from my own personal experiences, because I’ve had a lot of different careers. I started as a journalist, worked as a presidential campaign spokesperson. I ran a non-profit. I made a documentary film, and seven years ago, I started my own marketing consulting business.
But it’s interesting because it’s also part of my continuing reinvention, because I think even for many of us, when we’ve found a niche that we like or that we’re thriving in, you want to keep things fresh. You want to make reinvention a steady part of what you do, so that you don’t stagnate.
So, for me, in addition to the consulting practice that I have, I was very interested in writing and speaking more and really diving into that. The book has provided a terrific platform to enable me to really grow my practice and do different and better types of projects.
Jonathan: Now I think we would both agree that writing a book can be one of the most rewarding things that we can do. But it is also, of all the different kinds of content we might create, one of the most laborious. It’s not an easy thing to just leap into. It’s not a casual decision.
So I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about why you committed to doing a book and a little bit about who else you think should do a book. Who would this be good for, and who might this not be such a good idea for?
Dorie: Yeah, great question. I have always wanted to write a book. For me, it was sort of number one, a bucket list activity. It was just something for my personal satisfaction and fulfillment. I wanted to write a book which I think is a pretty valid reason.
But there’s also business and professional considerations as well, and I think that if you’re looking at it from the perspective of a business person, you want to ask okay, can a book help drive my other business objectives? In some cases, you luck out and your advance is such that the book is able to be sort of an end goal in and of itself. But for far more business people, you risk a modest advance, but it’s something that is, it sort of aids and abets your other business whether it’s a consulting practice or whatever it is that you do.
And so what I would ask is when you’re thinking about whether to write a book or not, number one, do you like to write? Is it actually going to be fun for you because you don’t want to commit to a year or more of a torturous process? If it’s going to be horrible for you, don’t do it. And then number two, if it’s a passion project, if you’re writing a novel, that’s fantastic. If it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, great.
If you’re thinking of it in a more instrumental sense, then you want to ask yourself number three, can writing this book serve as an additional credibility statement for my business? Can it drive business to me and attract that kind of clients I want? And if that’s the case, then it is a good business decision to write a book.
Jonathan: Yeah, well said. So I know that at Launch Lab you told a really fascinating story about the long and torturous path toward actually to getting the book deal. And I’m wondering if you could make that a little shorter, a little less torturous, and tells us a little bit about the how.
How did you get from that initial realization that doing a book is something that you would like to do both as a personal fulfillment and for business, and getting it to the point where you could attract serious interest from a publisher? And, of course, you attracted an excellent one. So if you could give us a kind of condensed milk version of that story.
Dorie: Indeed. The very short version is that in 2009 I got serious about wanting to publish a book, and so that year I actually started out the year by writing three different book proposals which, my thought at the time, was one of these is going to work. I now realize this is actually not the best plan. Publishers are looking for focus. But anyway, that was my brilliant strategy. It didn’t work at all, and I got some minor nibbles, but really what I kept hearing back was gosh, you are not famous enough yet, and so therefore we do not want to publish your book.
So I realized that contrary to the impression that I had in my mind, which I think maybe in past years was true, which is that you can write a book and then there will be marketing around it and it will make you famous, or at least bring you greater renown. The equation has flipped now. And you have to prove to publishers that you are famous enough at the present moment, based on your own connections, your own brand, your own platform as they like to say, that you can move a significant number of copies. That is the thing that you need to be able to persuade them of.
Jonathan: Yes. In fact, in the guide that I wrote to accompany this podcast, I said it’s kind of the catch-22, isn’t it? Our motivation for writing the book is, of course, to build our brand and build our reputation, but in order to get the book deal, you already have to have a pretty considerable brand and reputation upfront, or else publishers and editors just aren’t interested.
So, despite that, however, I still think and I know you still think that doing the book can be an excellent thing to do, but I think you made the transition clear. What does it take, then, to build the kind of platform necessary to get interest in a book?
Dorie: I think that particularly for people whose stock in trade is ideas, if you’re a knowledge worker, if you’re in a profession that values thinking and perspective, blogging, for me, is really one of the best ways to do it and something I would strongly recommend. That was the strategy that I followed when I got all my rejections in 2009 and said, “Okay, I’ve got to double down.”
And so I started aggressively pursuing venues that I could blog for. So that meant number one, starting my own blog which nobody read, but you just have to kind of get going so you have little clips that you can send people. But then the goal is as rapid as possible to start guest posting on other people’s blogs, or to go to a pre-established outlet.
In my case, I started blogging for the Huffington Post. Then I was able to crack into the Harvard Business Review. Then I was able to start blogging for Forbes. And before long, those are big enough brand names that publishers said oh, she has an audience, and so it just makes everything else easier.
So I think that’s a really good strategy. I would say for most people, think about a blog plus maybe one or two other social outlets. It could be Twitter. That could be your thing if you’re a really big photographer. Maybe, it’s Instagram, whatever it is, but pick one other social platform to go deep in.
Jonathan: I think that’s good advice. The only thing I would add to that perhaps articles, too, can be very part powerful, either articles you create yourself and manage to distribute or publish, and/or being cited as a source for significant articles can be a great complement to the things you recommend, in particular blogging and tweeting.
Now, I think it would surprise many people that haven’t written a book before is that you don’t write the book when you approach a publisher. You write a book proposal. Fiction is different. Editors want to see the complete book, but nonfiction the name of the game is the book proposal. I was wondering if you had a few thoughts, Dorie, about what goes into a successful attractive book proposal.
Dorie: Sure. Basically, your average nonfiction book proposal is going to have two major components. One is the sample chapter. So you do have to write a little bit, although not too much, probably 20 or 30 pages so that they can get a sense of your style, make sure you’re a good writer, see how engaging the material is, and then by far the larger piece is what I’ll call the marketing proposal.
So in that you are going to do an in-depth outline, maybe a paragraph or two apiece, where you talk about what you’re going to discuss in each chapter of the book, and you are also going to basically explain how you will market this sucker.
So you have your bio. You have all the details about every connection you have in the world and things you’ve done before, connections you can leverage. So my case, I’d say I’d have a paragraph about all the speeches that I’ve given and places that I could speak in support of the book. I’d have a section about my social media presence and how I’d be leveraging and deploying that. All of it is basically in service of the idea that hey, we can sell a lot of copies, really.
Jonathan: Right. And what you’re showing the publisher then it’s not just a proposal for a book, but you really showing a plan for a book that sells. You’re showing them a marketplace as well.
Jonathan: I think that’s absolutely critical. Now if I can share an anecdote about “Writing Copy for Dummies” and the book as the title suggests is about writing copy, marketing writing, advertising writing. After the book got published, I got emails from two different copywriters who turned out, actually, much more established than I was and perhaps more famous at least within the marketing industry than I was.
Both of them were polite, but they were kind of like, “How did you get this gig? We submitted proposals to the Dummies people – that was Wylie – and we were rejected.” What did you do?”
The honest answer is I don’t know because I never had a conversation with the editor saying, “Here’s why I rejected the others. Here’s why I took yours,” and, of course, I didn’t get to read the proposals that these two men had created. I have my suspicion, Dorie, and that is, as part of the proposal I recommend having a page, or even maybe a paragraph or two paragraphs that defines who is the audience for this book, who is the market.
And the thing that I did with “Writing Copy for Dummies” is I recognize that if I said the market is people who want to be copywriters, that’s a pretty small market. How many people want to be copywriters? Not that many. I mean they’re out there.
What I said was no, this book is for people who never intended to be copywriters, in fact, never intended to write copy at all, but through changes in their career or obligations in their own organization or perhaps the start of a business, now realize that they either have to write copy, which is especially true of the web, or they have to manage people who write copy. And I made that the number one audience. I suspect that’s what made the difference.
Dorie: That’s such an important point, Jonathan. I think that’s really right because you want to paint the picture for them. The publisher is not going to automatically have a vision of who the audience is. You have to make it really clear who it will appeal to, so that’s fantastic.
Jonathan: I noticed in your book, too, in the very first chapter, you really position the overall story as who needs to reinvent him or herself, and the answer is really everybody. Today no one stays in one place throughout a career. In fact, we can expect in a lifetime’s to go through multiple reinventions. And I think that was wise to do font because you’re saying this isn’t just for the starry eyed dreamer. It really is a process that all of us should understand.
Dorie: Yes. Definitely.
Jonathan: Now, once you have the good fortune of having your book proposal accepted and having a contract and a book deal, there’s the actual writing of the book. I was wondering if you had some tips, hints, or suggestions for how to climb the manuscript mountain?
Dorie: Yes. Well this was something that I did, I didn’t take a year off and go hide in a cave or anything like that. I had a business to run. I had my consulting work that I had to balance it with, so I was very much doing this working around the other elements of my life. But basically what I discovered worked for me is the following.
If I write a blog post, for instance, that’s something that I can usually just fit into the course of my day, if I have a spare hour or two. It’s pretty easy, it’s pretty discreet. You do 700 words, you’re done. Writing the book was different from me in a sense that it required longer stretches of time because since it wasn’t just a discreet 700 word piece. It might be the same word count. It might be 700 words, but it would fit into a larger whole.
It took me a while every time I sat down to kind of orient myself about what have I written before and what’s coming after this, and how did the pieces fit together and how do I make them connect? So what I discovered was that I was working optimally if I spent half day blocks, say between three and four hours working at it.
So during my peak writing period I would spend probably three or four days a week, and I would block out half day blocks and just power through it. If you’re writing longer than four hour stretches, the quality, at least, for me started to decline.
Jonathan: I would agree.
Dorie: But it was useful to have that chunk of time because then I could really get immersed in it and be fully oriented so that I could write appropriate things that fit into the pieces around it.
Jonathan: Right. I think that makes a lot of sense. I know for me part of what was really helpful was, as you said, that block of time every day, or at least four or five days a week, but also breaking it into chunks. The idea that you have to write the whole book is just too intimidating, but it’s not so bad if you say well I need a chapter a week, a chapter every two weeks, depending on how long the chapters are. That’s manageable. You can do that. It’s a lot less intimidating than to think, “Oh, I’ve got a sit down and write the manuscript which it would make anyone shudder.
So I think you’re onto it. It’s a little bit, piece by piece, commitment block of time every day. Can you tell me a little bit about once you’ve created the manuscript and you’ve submitted it to your editor, how did the editorial back and forth process go with you? Do you have any observations about that?
Dorie: Yeah. The editorial process was longer and slower than I anticipated. I think that’s sort of the way of the publishing world, although I imagine that it will probably begin to change since it’s changed in every other facet of our lives. But it is a little surprising when you go from blogging where you can click post and there it is on the web for the entire world to see. And meanwhile you have a book which in my case, from signing contract to actually coming out, took 23 months, so just under two years. That’s a pretty long time.
Jonathan: It sure is.
Dorie: Harvard Business Review Press, my publisher, God bless them, they have a very high editorial standard, and I think they edit much more intensively than many publishers do these days. I’ve had friends who literally, they signed a contract and the book was released nine months after they signed the contract. This is, of course, a book that has not been written, so it meant that they had to write a book in a few months and scramble and then boom, it was out.
One friend told me, “Dorie, I’m not even sure my editor read it.” That’s kind of the feeling that many people get. On the contrary, though, and I think I’m sort of on the more intense end since HBR is a little bit of a rarity in terms of their focus on editorial quality these days, but we went through two major rounds of edit. Then we had a peer review process where they sent it out to four outside anonymous reviewers, and so then I revised that. And then we had one more sort of micro round of revisions. So it was pretty well vetted by the end.
Jonathan: I think you’re being polite about it, vetted. That sounds pretty grueling, and I think that your observation earlier that’s not going to be the same from publishing house to publishing house is probably true, and it sounds like in your instance, Harvard Business Review is particularly intense, but on the other hand, they did a great job, the book is excellent, and you have the imprimatur of Harvard Business Review which is the perfect calling card.
Dorie: Yes. Thank you.
Jonathan: The big kahuna here is the book promotion. What do you do? The book is out, and the books just don’t sell themselves. Just because you have it on Amazon, it’s in Barnes & Noble, they’re not just going to fly off the shelves and out of warehouses.
Again, it may come as a surprise to some people that really the largest burden or share of the burden of marketing will fall on the author’s lap. I suspect that promoting the book and leveraging the book, the business advantage, are actually closely connected because one reinforces the other.
But I was wondering if as we come closer to the end of this podcast, if you could talk about the most important things a book writer, a book author needs to know about book promotion.
Dorie: Sure. I think the first and most important piece is you really need to be fearless about asking people to buy your book. I come from the world of politics, and we all know if people don’t ask for your vote, then you’re not going to get it, and so you have to lose your inhibition. I think that a lot of us have been brought up to feel like selling is bad. We need to wait for people to come to us, and so I shouldn’t be selling my book.
Guess what? If you are not selling it, it will not happen, and your effort will be for naught. And so when we first met, Jonathan, I told the story that they invited me to come give this lecture at Grub Street, and they said, “If you want, you can bring your books to sell in case anyone wants to buy them,” and I said, “Well yes, of course, that’s great.”
And they said, “Well, we thought we’d mention it, but it’s also okay if you don’t because some authors don’t feel comfortable selling their books.” I thought, oh, the starving ones, and the ones who haven’t sold any copies. You always have to have that mindset.
I would say that the two most important things that I’ve done with regard to sales, one is trying to drive bulk sales whenever possible. It is always easier to sell 50 copies to one person rather than one copy to 50 people. This is particularly true for business audiences.
If somebody wants you to speak, you need to start getting good and being persistent at saying, “Sure. I will come speak, but you need to buy a copy of my book for everyone in the audience,” and being really insistent on that. Because if you don’t ask, they probably won’t offer, but oftentimes they’ll think about it and say, “Oh, that’s right. They might actually like to receive that, and it can be a nice sort of present.”
That’s number one. And number two, this is really basic, but every author should start, if they don’t already, amassing their database. This does not have to be something fancy. I use Microsoft Excel, but every business card you get, every contact, put them in your database and then A, you should have an email list, of course. We all know send a blast email. Blast email is nice. That’s not sufficient, however. The blast email to let them know your book has come out, then you send, and this is hard work.
This is really what it comes down to. You send a personal email to every person on the list saying, “Hey, how’s Sally? How was your vacation last month? By the way, I have a new book. Here’s a link. Will you please buy it?” And you do this for hundreds of people, or thousands of people, or how many are on your list. It’s a ridiculous mundane process, but people will not buy it unless you ask them personally.
When you do, direct mail, we all know direct mail, if you get one percent, two percent response rate, that’s really great, but if you send a personal email to your friends and people that you know with, “Will you please do me this favor and buy my book” and give them a link. You’ll probably get 50 percent. The return is enormous. That’s what sells copies.
Jonathan: That sounds right. So, excellent advice, and as we come now to the close, I was wondering from inception to promotion, if you think about the whole gamut, are there two or three takeaways you’d like to leave to our audience today, Dorie?
Dorie: Yeah. Thank you, Jonathan. I think the first thing that I would say is it’s really important if you’re going to be an author to make sure that you can be found easily online. So make sure that, I think it’s important for everyone for the writing a book or not, but certainly if you’re going to be an author, to claim their domain name, purchase the URL of your name, and set up some kind of a website, even if it’s a basically rudimentary one so that there is a definitive place where it people are Googling you they can find you. They can send you messages. Otherwise, you’re not going to be reachable if they want to invite you to speak.
So that’s a really important starting point is make sure that you can be found so that you can begin to build a relationship with people, and then number two, I would say that when you are thinking of writing a book, start now with platform building. Even if you don’t want to write a book yet, you need to have a platform in place before you’ll even be taken seriously, so start with social, start trying to get out there, get speaking engagements, things like that.
If you can write for outlets, the better known you are, and it doesn’t have to be a world-class celebrity, but if you can prove that you are well known and well respected in your industry, that is invaluable. That is what’s going to get you the ability to win a book contract. So start today.
Jonathan: I think that is excellent advice. I certainly can’t improve upon it. Dorie, I know that Kevin will thank you in a minute, but before he thanks you, I want to thank you. The book is wonderful. It’s called, “Reinventing You.” It’s from Harvard Business Review Press, and your advice today has been wonderful.
And I think anyone out there who is listening to this would be interested in writing a book would be well advised to take what you say with great seriousness. So thank you very much, Dorie.
Kevin, I’m going to swing it to you.
Kevin: Thanks, Jonathan. Thanks, Dorie. I really appreciate both of you taking the time to be here today. That was a really great discussion on book publishing, and certainly gets me motivated and excited about the whole idea. Before I let both of you go, I did want to give our listeners a chance to connect with you, if maybe Dorie could let people know how they can find you online and then Jonathan, same question.
Kevin: Great. Thanks again to both of you, I really enjoyed this, and I look forward to being in touch again soon.
Jonathan: Thank you, Kevin.
Photo by: Anthony