Self-Publish a Book to Build Your Authority, Just Don't Make These Mistakes

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I often hear business experts say things like, “The book is the new business card.” Or, “You need a book to gain authority in today’s noisy world.”

I agree with both, yet, as I look at a market saturated with crappy books doing the complete opposite, I think many people are ignoring a critical piece of the puzzle.

There’s no doubt a great book that supports you as an authority is an amazing way to communicate value quickly. As someone who teaches others how to build a healthy and profitable lifestyle business through authority, that much is obvious.

But because it's so easy to self-publish a book these days, too many people are focused on the fact they can publish one rather than wonder if they even should (click to tweet). And too many never stop to consider what it takes to make the book work for them. They put their blood, sweat and tears into a book, publish it on Amazon and then wonder why nobody is buying it. Or worse, they throw together a PDF with a few famous quotes, call it a “book,” and publish it. Again, nothing happens. But, hey, they have a book!

When there are so many ways to build authority, a book for book's sake without the follow through to make it successful is a total waste of time (click to tweet). Having the book, in and of itself, is not going to do the thing everyone is talking about. People waste a lot of time writing books without ever having a clear understanding of why they're writing it in the first place. Don’t make that mistake! If you’re considering writing, here are a few things you should consider.

Authority Lies Within Two Pillars

Without a doubt, a book is an amazing opportunity to solidify your brand in the market and own your unique positioning. But you also have to realize you’re not going to say anything completely new. It’s all been done before, so take that burden off your shoulders.

But you can find a way to talk about something old in a new way. There are two ways to do this (and they’re key to creating a good book).

The first is by taking core ideas and branding them in a way you can own. Give ideas unique, concrete phrases that fit with your brand and style. For example, I love The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. In it, he talks about the upper limit problem—these moments in your life where you have big trouble. You have a fight with your spouse after a big promotion. You get angry at your 40th birthday party. You become ill just before a big deadline.

Hendricks says all of these are manifestations of hitting your upper limit and that you have to break through them to get to a different level of success and greatness. Basically, we all have to deal with our stuff to grow. Now, there’s nothing particularly new here, but it’s an interesting way to describe a pretty abstract concept. He's positioning it and branding it in such a way that explains a universal idea in a new way. That’s what a great book does—takes a universal principle that already exists and communicates it in a way that changes your thinking forever.

The second is to share your stories. Stories help the reader connect with and remember your ideas, and nobody else has your stories but you, so these will always be unique. The more you can open yourself up to the true details of stories that exemplify your ideas, the more interesting they will be and the more people will relate to them. Readers internalize ideas more when they see them through story, and will feel like these ideas are tied to you and your brand. Have the clear intention of leveraging your book to help build your brand and connect with your reader. Anything less is a waste of time.

Writing is Nothing; Marketing Is Everything

Mike Michalowicz, author of Profit First (a book that does all of the above exceedingly well, I might add) gave me some great advice when I was publishing my first book: just accept the fact that from now on you're always selling books. Once you have a book, every effort should be made to get your book into the hands of more people. You're not trying to make money off of the book itself. You’re building authority. And authority leads to more customers.

Before you even get to the process of writing a book, you MUST commit to spending as much, if not more, time marketing your book once it’s published. After all, having a book without people seeing it won’t do you much good. (And by the way, even with a traditional publisher, you still have to market it yourself, something I’ll get into in a minute).

Three months before the launch of my book, I was telling people about it, and next time I’ll probably start earlier. By sharing it with a tight group of “inner circle” fans, I got plenty of pre-release advice, shares, and buzz. I basically gave it away so people could talk about it.  I knew reviews would be important to the credibility of the book so I told them, “If you feel inclined to buy a copy, awesome. If you feel inclined to write a review, even better. But please know you don't have to do either.” I also ran some Facebook ads, gave away a free chapter, and went on a podcast tour promoting it.

Then, I did a Kindle book giveaway over the holidays. Seventeen thousand people downloaded my book in three days. My intention—to get it into a bunch of hands—was clear. While it can be easy to calculate the “lost” money of not having sold those 17,000 books, I had my eye on the bigger picture. First, most of the people weren’t going to hear about it and buy it anytime soon and second, now 17,000 additional people know who I am, and see my face in their Kindle on a regular basis. There is no better marketing than that!

The Advantages of Self-Publishing

There's still an old-school group of people who think a self-published book is not respectable. They will tell you that you need a publisher to make the book worth something. But Amazon has leveled the playing field. You can self-publish there quickly, get reviews (somewhat) easily, and legitimize yourself, no publisher needed.

I didn't go after a publisher because I’m an Impatient Entrepreneur and I couldn’t waste time pitching and waiting; I had a book to get out there. I also didn't want to be told what to write or how my book cover should look. It would be counterintuitive to talk about Badass Brands, which are in part about owning what makes you you, and let someone else tell me what it should look and sound like.

On the one hand, don’t get me wrong a book advance from a publisher would have been nice. But once I learned that an advance is actually an "advance against royalties,” meaning the publisher won't start paying you royalties until they've recouped your advance, it made self-publishing even more attractive. In the end, you still need to sell books, and a lot of them, and if you’re relatively unknown the effort to sell those books is going to fall on you. If I was going to be doing all the work, I might as well get all the reward too!

Oh, and all that bookstore placement you think you’ll get with a publisher? Nope. Sure, self-publishing doesn’t get you into Barnes & Noble, but if you're nobody, they're not putting your book on the front table anyway. Maybe you get a copy on a shelf in your section, but that’s about it. When they sell it, you get a paltry percentage.

Another big reason I wrote the book in the first place was that I wanted to learn the process of self-publishing. I wanted to be able to have that knowledge and skill set to advise my clients. Once the objective was clear—attracting potential clients while making me a more informed advisor to them—I knew self-publishing was for me. See how much easier it is to make these decisions when you are clear on the goals from the beginning?

Don’t get me wrong, traditional publishing has great advantages to those who already have a name. I’m speaking to those of you who want to use a book to build your name.

Take Your Time

Just because you’re self-publishing doesn’t mean your book isn’t worth the royal treatment. Do not skimp on the editors. I read mine out loud to Steve, at least twice, to workshop it. I hired two different professional editors, and a third unofficial line editor (my most grammatically-anal friend) to do a final sweep.

Lastly, make sure the book visually communicates your authority. Luckily I have the best in-house design staff someone could hope for, so while it may have been self-published, it looks anything but. Publishing houses don’t have access to better designers; they just have high standards. You can have that too.

There are so many options available today. You can print on demand through Amazon. You can work with a publisher or not. You can hire professional editors and have an amazing designer create a great cover to match your brand. But whatever you decide to do, don't just throw something out there just because self-publishing is easier than it’s ever been. It takes substantially more effort to give your book the royal treatment but I’d argue the rewards are exponentially higher and will exist forever.

A book can be so valuable when done right. Rich Dad, Poor Dad was originally self-published in 1997 and spawned a multimillion dollar business for its author Robert Kiyosaki. While that is, of course, an anomaly, if you succeed at a tiny fraction of that and you’ll have a very successful business. So take the time to make sure it’s unique to your brand and tells your stories. Then, put some effort into making it as good as you can. Just because you don’t have some big publisher behind you, doesn’t mean the quality should be any less and that you can’t achieve your goals.