The balance has shifted

BalanceChessboard-ScotlandCommonsFlickr240wI was approached by a major publisher last week to write a book. Flattered, I asked what they had in mind. I figured they had a series of books that had a hole my expertise could fill.

Their reply? A generic book proposal form. “Here, think of something that you’re getting asked alot. Or something you want to write about. Then fill this out and we’ll see if we’ll work with you.”

Thanks but no thanks.

The shift is about access

I’ve written seven books now, two with publishers and 5 self published. It used to be that publishers had the access to readers. It was like that in every area of media:

  • If an author wanted to reach readers, they’d go through a publisher.
  • If a DJ wanted to reach listeners, they’d go through a radio station.
  • If a TV personality wanted to reach viewers, they’d go through a network.

Now that has totally changed. Authors can reach readers for free through blogs. DJs through podcasts. TV personalities through YouTube. Not only reach them, but grow a base of fans.

This shift has been going on for a while now. Since before I started blogging in the late 1990s. But it’s even more prevalent now.

Still a role for the “legacy” systems

There’s plenty of room for all of us in this game. One very important role for publishers, radio stations, and TV stations is filtering. Some call it “curating.”

Just because anyone can create content doesn’t mean all the content is great. Publishers and others can respond to the shift by focusing on credibility and trustworthiness.

To the content creator, they can emphasize the credibility they provide. Sometimes that is internal. It’s great to know I’ve been published by a publishing house. That makes me feel more “legit.” And there is still the external credibility, that to readers, of having a publisher’s name on your book. That is the trustworthiness. Legacy systems could say, “You don’t need to sift through the chaos of information out there. We’re saving you time by doing that for you and bringing you only the best.”

But I’m not seeing that shift yet. Instead, I’m seeing legacy systems trying hard to make what worked last century work today. And being surprised to find that it no longer works.

It used to be that they held the upper hand. It seems to me that we’re now closer to being peers. But I wonder how the legacy systems will adjust to realize they now need to market to both the content consumers and the content creators.

Much is about marketing

I wonder if that is the key. If much of the shift in balance has to do with marketing rather with access. Access alone isn’t enough. We all have access to each other. But only those who market well get heard.

If the legacy systems like publishers were good at marketing, then going through them would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, they’re not. A couple years ago, I was excited to write a book with a publisher because I wanted to learn how to launch the book. I knew there had to be a system for marketing books and I wanted to find it.

I did work with three rounds of editors. That was an important process for me to experience as an author. But the “launch” never happened. Rather than having a marketing system, they seemed to be making it up as they went along. All that access I thought they had? They appeared to think I’d had it all along and were looking for me to give them access to my audience. Worse, I don’t own the content I created with them and they won’t even send me copies of my book despite repeated promises. (Copies I’d be charged for.)

Still room for a mix

I still believe there room for a mix of legacy systems and whatever we call the new reality. Micro-publishers? Content creators? Free range publishers?

But it needs to start with us playing the game more as equals. What about you? Have you found legacy systems that realize the shift of balance has changed?

Market your book before you start it

How to write a book...and get it publishedAs you’re drafting your cover and creating your book proposal, be sure to start letting people know. Book creation is more fun when you’re in conversation with your intended audience. And it’s smart marketing too.

Build an email list

The biggest mistake I see people making is keeping the book a secret until it’s published.

Huge mistake!

People will be more likely to buy the book if they’ve helped in the process of writing it. And it will be a much better book if you get readers’ feedback along the way.

You could simply start by telling people you’ll be writing a book. It’s even better to put drafts of chapters on a blog. That way people can interact with what you write and you can clarify and improve as you go. Plus the pressure of writing a blog post can keep you disciplined in a way that simply writing on your computer can’t.

And as soon as you stop reading this post, if you’re serious about being an author, start ethically collecting people’s email addresses by creating an email list of people interested in the book’s topic. You can see my email optin on the front page of I started writing drafts of segments of the book and emailing them. Then I realized that I wanted the drafts to have more of a life than just languishing in people’s inbox so I started a blog.

I think building an email list is vital. You can build a far more personal relationship with your email subscribers than you can with your social media connections. And email subscribers respond much better to calls to action.

As you develop relationships with people on your email list and blog, you’ll be able to ask them questions. Since my list was targeted to people who might eventually buy my book, I asked my email list to help it. My subscribers came up with much better titles than I did. And even more important: they were telling me what titles would be more compelling to them as customers.

Books don’t make you rich

One last thought: my first publisher gave me a reality check: books won’t make you rich. We’ve all heard of authors getting amazing advances. But those are increasingly rare. He said books are really only expensive business cards. The financial payback is the credibility books give to their authors.

Even in our digital age, books make you credible. People see you’ve written a book, especially one in print, and are unduly impressed. “Oh, she is legit. She’s authored a book.” So if you’re ever going to go to a job interview or do consulting or get paid to give speeches, a book is probably the single best investment you can make.

How to Write a Book…and get it published

How to Write a Book...and get it publishedI’m constantly getting asked how to write a book and how to find publishers. The people asking know that I’ve authored five books, some with publishers, some without. And they know that my first book, Ask Without Fear!® has sold over 4,000 copies since it was published five years ago. (I’ve heard the typical book is lucky to sell 500 copies.)

The questions I get seem easy enough, but the answers could fill books!

Book writing and publishing is an incredible journey of self-growth. And it exponentially expands your ability to help others. So in order to help more people in their process, I’m starting to post answers to the questions here on my blog.

Draft your cover before your book

Writing a book is only part of the process. I’d say 30%. The other 70% is marketing. A book that no one buys is just as ineffective as a Word document that stays on your hard drive. You need to get your books into people’s hands.

Even if you’re going to look for a publisher, I highly recommend Dan Poynter’s “Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book”.

I read this back in 2007 but I still remember alot from it. For instance, Poynter tells you to write the back cover promotional material before you start writing the book. It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? “How will I know what to put on the cover if I haven’t written the book yet?”

This exercise is amazingly focusing. It’s what Stephen Covey called “Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind.” Ask yourself questions like:

  • What will make your book compelling to someone?
  • Why would they buy it?
  • What problem will be fixed if they buy your book?
  • Who are the experts quoted on the cover?

This work focuses you. And it really helps with the next step I recommend, the book proposal.

Make a legitimate book proposal

Even though I knew I was going to write “Ask Without Fear!” whether a publisher wanted it or not, I went through the process of writing the book proposal. It forces you to argue for the need of a new book on this topic.

  • How is your solution…or just your presentation distinctive?
  • What are the other books that are competitors to this one? (Hint: If none are like it, it may be an indication that no one will buy it.)
  • How big is the market for this book? (Hint: if you think the book is “for everyone” it’s really for no one. You need to target it more.)
  • What are the chapter headings?
  • How many pages will this be?
  • Why are you the perfect person to be writing this book?
  • How are you going to sell it?

If writing the cover is helpful in focusing, writing the book proposal makes the focus laser sharp. Just as importantly, it helps you convince yourself that this book is needed. Writing a book is a pain in the tuchas. You’ll need to keep reminding yourself why you’re doing it.

Many book publishers have templates for a book proposal that you can download. Poynter may have one in his book.

Once you’ve filled it out, share it with a few trusted friends. People who will be able to tell you if it makes sense or if you’re just lying to yourself.