Several years ago, I got a call from a CEO who’d gotten a publisher interested in his business book. He was about to sign the contract but wanted me to check the terms to make sure that he wasn’t getting shafted. As I recall, the contract had an advance of a few hundred dollars, which he thought sounded way too low.
I reminded this CEO that he didn’t need the income from a book, so why should he care? On my advice he signed the contract. Six months later, he told me that his salespeople were giving customers the book as a gift and then asking for a meeting. “It’s a great marketing tool. Thanks!”
Around the same time, I got a call from a motivational speaker with the same problem. He was making $10,000 a speech, so how could his book–the highlights of his speech–be worth only a measly $5,000 advance? Again, I advised him to sign. The book landed him an interview on national television.
So there are two good reasons to write a book to promote your business:
- A book is a fabulously effective marketing giveaway.
- Even if your book doesn’t sell big, it might raise your visibility.
However, there are also five reasons why you might not want to go down this route:
1. You probably can’t write anything that anyone would want to read.
Virtually everyone in business can write–it’s part of the job. But the ability to write something that people will read willingly, that’s exceedingly rare. It’s not about the ideas–although good ideas don’t hurt–it’s all about making them interesting. Which is challenging, because business–especially how-to stuff–is a very dry topic.
Making how-to business writing interesting enough to read requires either personality and wit (Guy Kawasaki, for instance, could make his laundry list amusing) and/or plenty of telling anecdotes–not just business stories, but stories of people whom the reader will care about.
2. Your great idea of a book is probably unoriginal.
No offense to CEOs–they’re mostly smart people–but very few have ideas that are even faintly original. I’ve interviewed hundreds of CEOs of both tiny startups and huge conglomerates and it’s been a decade or more since I’ve heard something new. They almost always say either “People are our greatest resource” or “You have to be nimble so you can pivot.” Or both.
The same thing is true, sadly, of motivational books, management books, sales books, marketing books, and indeed just about every business books that’s ever been written. A handful are readable and interesting; the vast majority are cookie-cutter rewrites of genre classics like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or The One Minute Manager.
3. You’re going to lose money on this.
I actually get paid to write and my agents have gotten me “big money” (i.e., mid-five-figure) advances for every business book I’ve written since 1996. Even with all that up-front cash, when I do the math, only one of them made more than if I’d spent the same amount of time working a minimum wage job.
Unless you’re a celebrity or have a track record selling large quantities of books, chances are that your advance will be more symbolic than substantive. And that’s if a real publisher buys it; if you self-publish, you’ll be lucky to sell enough books to pay for a dinner to celebrate.
4. A ghostwriter with talent will be pricey.
I have actually gotten this pitch several times: “Hey, I’ve got a book idea. How about you write it and we can split the royalties?” If you’ve been reading carefully, you know that chances are the royalties are likely to be next to non-existent, so if you want professional help, you’ll have to pay for it.
While you can probably get an editor to “go over” your book for $5,000, hiring a writer who can actually write will cost you at least $25,000 and probably a good deal more. I personally wouldn’t touch a project like that for less than $100,000.
5. You’ll be responsible for your own publicity.
Novice business authors often think that because they’ve signed with a real publisher, the publisher is going to do, well, whatever it is that publishers do to turn books into bestsellers. That’s not going to happen. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a press release, a few copies mailed to book reviewers, and 10 free copies to give to your friends and family.
Business book publishers expect you to do the leg work to sell the book, and that in three ways: 1) buy copies yourself to hand out to your customers, 2) sell your books at events where you’re the public speaker, or 3) get friends, family, and employees to order multiple copies from multiple bookstores, so that you get on the bestseller lists.
In short, while there’s no better marketing tool than a business book, it’s a big investment and not for the faint of heart, or the shallow of pockets.