Will writing a book help your consulting practice?
In my experience, yes! But it is a lot of work, and not something I recommend to those just starting out. Unless you have materials already (such as class notes or a bunch of research), better to start small and consider a full blown book when better established.
Still, there is no doubt that a published book is a huge marketing asset. Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting (plus 31 other books ) calls a book the gold standard for credibility. I agree. When our first book hit the streets almost 20 years ago, we immediately went from a local consulting firm to one with nationwide recognition.
Before beginning a book, you need to decide if you seeking profit or seeking visibility. Unless you are a NY Times Best Seller, you will unlikely achieve both. Ask any author — most books never make enough money themselves to justify the time and effort. The real payoff for consultants is in the additional business.
Three ways to publish: Prior to the Internet, virtually all books were printed and sold through bookstores or catalogues. Although you might be the author, you still needed a publisher to print and distribute your work. Today, of course, that has all changed. Here are three popular avenues:
- Print – Commercially published - Generally confers the most status (with a recognized publisher) with the least direct profit. It also likely involves the most work (rewrites, proofing, indexing, etc.) with the longest time to market. Since this is the most complex, you may want to engage a literary agent. Ask existing authors for recommendations.
- If you can pull this off, it can vault you to the top. Although usually a poor strategy when starting out, it often makes sense after a few years in business. On the other hand, an engineering colleague wrote a comprehensive technical book while employed. When he retired, this quickly launched his successful consulting practice and his book is still his main marketing vehicle.
- Print – Self Published - Provides medium to low status but more direct profit. Still a lot of work with a medium time to market. A word of caution — beware of the “vanity publishers” that prey on hopeful authors. For self published books, you don’t need a literary agent, but proofreaders and other support may be helpful.
- If you are already well known, this may be a good approach. Thanks to “print on demand” and Amazon, you can even handle your own production and distribution. I know a successful business consultant who uses this approach. He sells his book on his web site, and also on Amazon. He prints them as he needs them, usually a dozen or so at a time.
- E-Book – Self Published - Provides the lowest status but potentially the most direct profit. It has the lowest status (anybody can do this — no vetting by a recognized publisher) but can provide the fastest time to market.
- This is a good approach when just starting out. An added advantage is that E-books are not expected to be as comprehensive as a printed book. As such, you can turn out an E-book pretty fast. Many bloggers supplement their content with a series of E-books. Most are pretty basic, but sell well at low cost and high profit.
Sources of materials: So you’ve decided to write a book. Where do you get the materials? With a 200 page book, you may be looking at upwards of 100,000 words, but even a shorter E-book could be 20,000+ words. Recycle! If you are considering a book, you have probably written other materials that can be reused.
Using existing materials makes a lot of sense. Just be sure they are your materials and you are free to use them. Whatever you do, don’t plagiarize! Here are several sources:
- Articles and white papers – These can be excellent book resources. You’ll probably need to expand certain areas, and you’ll need to tie everything together in an organized manner. We used this approach in a specialized book for the medical design community, based on an earlier series of magazine articles.
- One caveat. In order to repurpose magazine articles, you’ll need to either obtain a copyright release, or retain the subsequent publication rights in the first place. With white papers, that is not an issue since you are the original publisher, unless you have assigned the copyright.
- Blogs and newsletters - These are also excellent resources for a book. Since blog posts and newsletter articles are generally shorter than magazine articles or white papers, they may require additional work to incorporate into a book.
- On the other hand, even leading authors today often publish collections of their blog postings. Just organize them into sections, and add an introduction. Once again, if you own the copyright, you are free to repurpose your materials. Many readers appreciate having these collections all in one place.
- Class materials - If you have taught a class on a subject, you already have notes (and most of the words in your head.) You also have the benefit of past questions, so you know your reader’s likely concerns.
- You could even record a class, and have your lectures transcribed. You would still need to polish things, but much of the original work would already be done.
Personal experience - My business partner and I currently have three books under our belts, plus another one pending. One was commercially published, and two were self-published. One of the self published books was turned into an E-book when we ran out of printed versions. People were asking for copies, so why not?
Our books were based on class notes, magazine articles, our newsletter, and a column for a specialty newsletter. The self-published books are for sale on our web site, while the commercial book is available from a publisher specializing in technical books.
All three books have been very helpful in establishing both our credibility and visibility. They didn’t happen overnight, so don’t feel you need to do everything at once.
Publishing books is more a marathon than a sprint — stay with it for the long haul. Comments or Questions?
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