On The Same Page

5 August 2009 Mindy Gibbins-Klein

The boom in business publishing has seen unprecedented growth over the last five years but how do potential authors establish a footing in such a crowded marketplace? Mindy Gibbins-Klein shares with CEO the best strategy for getting your name in print.

More business books are being written and published than ever before. If we combine internet publishing, self-publishing and traditional publishing, the total number of non-fiction publications has more than doubled over the past five years, and this trend looks set to continue.

The main reason why we are seeing more books in print is the ease with which they can be published. Print-on-demand technology and cooperative publishing enables books to be printed only as needed, which saves the publisher (or the author) from having to make a significant investment to print books up front. There are more publishers out there than ever before (48,000 at last count), and business leaders are increasingly seeing writing a book as a viable activity, compared to years ago when it would have been much more difficult to get published.

Most of us would love to have a book with our name on it; the only things that usually stop us are lack of information, confidence and clarity and not knowing how to get published. The advent of the internet, for publishing electronically but more importantly for promoting books, has made a huge impact on independent authors and publishers. All in all, writing is now more attractive because publishing is easier and more accessible.

In a competitive market, the winners are usually those who shout the loudest, or at least those that stand out in our minds. We don’t always like to admit that or believe it; we prefer to think that buyers make their decisions rationally, based on facts, choosing the best products and services. However, research has shown that most people make decisions emotionally and then back them up with logical arguments, after the fact. One professional speaker I know swears that he lost a job because he didn’t have a book and the other guy did. When challenged, he told me that he asked the decision makers what influenced their final choice and they told him "We didn’t like the other guy as much but he must be authority because he’s written a book".

You are an authority

I happen to like the word ‘authority’. I know some people don’t like it, but I think it has a lot of value. What I mean by ‘authority’ is simply being a source of knowledge that people look up to and respect. Contrary to popular belief, it does not mean being the best or offering something completely unique. Too many people worry about being unique when what they need to concentrate on is being excellent, reliable and authentic. There are already plenty of books on your subject in the market, and yet there is room for more. Each new book offers a slightly different perspective and, if the author has been completely authentic and shared his or her own views and perspectives on the subject matter, the book creates a personal relationship with the reader. Thought leadership is not an esoteric label; it means that we are leading by sharing our thoughts.

"Thought leadership is not an esoteric label; it means that we are leading by sharing our thoughts."

Although we ultimately want to see full-length books written by our top business leaders, some people prefer to start by publishing articles or being part of a compilation or anthology. It’s all part of a comprehensive writing and publishing strategy, which, if executed effectively, puts those executives ahead of the majority of their peers.

Books with multiple authors can be more interesting and add more value than books by single authors. I have worked on several anthologies during my career, with the most successful by far being a book called BusinessWise – Words of Wisdom for Small Businesses with Big Ambitions. The secrets of that book’s success were a good title, a stand-out cover and a team of authors who were absolute authorities on their subject. They all had something to add to the overall content and an interest in using the book to boost their own professional profiles. BusinessWise hit number 2 on Amazon on launch day and continues to sell well, with most of the authors actively using it to build credibility.

In larger organisations, there are opportunities for more than one executive to create writing and publishing strategies and build their own personal profiles while adding to the company’s image. You need to ask yourself who in the executive team should be visible and what they have to add. For example, different members of a team have different skills, experience and ideas or opinions. The key is ensuring that the individual writing and publishing plans support the overall plan, in terms of messages, format and timing.

It needs to be a printed book

You may have heard of e-books, or electronic books. I would like to differentiate between electronic versions of good, full-length books and the phenomenon of sketchy, overpriced, misleading e-books whose prime purpose is making money. I am in favour of making books available in different formats to suit different readers, but let’s face it: respect is normally reserved for authors whose books or articles are in print. Electronic versions are simply not perceived to be as impressive. For example, I have never heard someone say "He is the author of that important e-book". Maybe this will change over the next few years, but for now, print books remain the only way to establish that real sense of authority.

How and when to get your message out

Having worked in this area for many years, I am still surprised at the number of executives who do not have personal writing and publishing strategies and plans. They may have marketing and public relations plans and activities, but their own articles, books, blogs and related public speaking are generally not included in those plans.

We have already discussed the fact that if you want to be seen as the leading authority in your area, you need to be writing and publishing books and articles. In a tough market in particular, your customers need clear messages from you that set you up as a true thought leader. What you need to produce depends on several factors, such as where your business is in its lifecycle, the competitive state of your market and your key product and service messages. For example, in the early stages, when you are not yet known, you need to provide a high level of information to introduce people to you and your company. Later on, you can differentiate yourself by providing your unique perspectives on your topic and influencing the market in that direction. If you are in a very competitive sector, it may be necessary to bring in the influencing earlier.

If you have many different ideas, it is even more important to create a strategy for getting one clear message into the market, supported by several subsidiary ones. I meet a lot of entrepreneurs at networking events who, when asked what they do, talk about at least three or four things and make people totally confused. I also see business leaders dilute their message by writing several unrelated articles or blogs. You want to be known for one thing, and it starts with your perspective on your topic. Taking the time to strategise will make it easier to produce high impact, effective books, articles, blogs and speeches. Those activities will, in turn, set you apart from your competition as a real authority on the subject, which could result in more business, higher fees and the satisfaction of having your name on the cover of an excellent book.