Jason Alba always wanted to write a book. When he started his own business, a service for job seekers called JibberJobber, in 2006, he finally had the time. One night in January 2006, while dining out, Alba shared his book idea–an explanation of how job seekers could use LinkedIn in their job search–with some friends who had books published. Alba says they loved the idea, and one of them offered to introduce Alba to his publisher and serve as his executive editor.
Two weeks later, Alba had a contract from Happy About Books, a boutique publisher based in Cupertino, Calif., to write I’m on LinkedIn: Now What???
Five years later, Alba has sold around 12,000 copies of the LinkedIn book and earned just under $100,000. In the business book publishing world, I’m on LinkedIn, Now What??? is by all measures a wild success. Most business and trade books don’t sell more than 500 copies, he says.
I’m on LinkedIn, Now What??? has paid off for Alba’s career in many other ways. First, it gave his fledgling startup, JibberJobber, instant credibility. He became a media sensation, which led to lucrative speaking and consulting engagements. Alba says he’s made more than $100,000 from speaking at conferences and events and pocketed $75,000 in gross sales from an instructional DVD he spun out of the LinkedIn book.
“Being an author is a big deal,” says Alba. “Even if your book sucks, even if it’s small, even if it’s lame, just being the author of a book is something that a lot of people want to do. It gives you credibility.”
Why does writing a book give people so much credibility? Because it’s hard work and requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline and persistence, say the people who’ve done it. “Everyone says they want to write a book, but there are few people who actually do it,” says Russ Edelman, president of Corridor Consulting, a Microsoft SharePoint consultancy, and author of Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office.
Writing and publishing a book also establishes your authority as a thought leader in a way that far exceeds anything you could do through a blog or Twitter, adds Edelman. You deepen your knowledge and expertise while writing a book because you spend so much time investigating your subject matter.
Indeed, a published book illustrates to the world that you understand a subject so thoroughly that you can fill an entire book with your knowledge, says Ben Snyder, CEO of Systemation, a Colorado-based project management consulting and training company. Snyder is self-publishing Everything Is a Project: 70 Lessons From Successful, Project-Driven Organizations in December 2011.
Finally, having the book author moniker in your bio sets you apart from others in your field. Snyder notes that the consulting and training firms with which Systemation competes haven’t published any books. Dan Roberts, president of Bedford, N.H.-based IT consultancy Ouellette & Associates, uses his firm’s book, Unleashing the Power of IT (Wiley 2011), to build relationships with potential clients.
“When a CIO reaches out to us and is interested in our services, rather than sending him a bunch of marketing junk, we send him a book,” says Roberts. “We want to give potential clients something that will help them understand our philosophy, our approach, what we’ve done with over 3,000 IT departments. It starts the relationship off in a whole other place.”
If you need to give your career a boost, establish yourself as a thought leader, or brand your business, writing a book should be on your agenda. Published business and trade authors offer tips for getting started and for determining which direction to go, self-publishing or traditional publishing.
How to Get Started
For better or worse, you don’t have to have a passion–or even a gift–for writing. If you hate writing but still want to publish a book, Ouellette & Associates Roberts recommends finding a ghost writer who can communicate your ideas and capture your personality.
Edelman wrote Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office with two co-writers, his longtime friend Timothy Hiltabiddle and Charles Manz. Contacts at the Harvard Business Review recommended Manz to Edelman. The three co-authors wrote portions of each chapter.
Edelman advises professionals who are thinking about hiring ghost or co-writers to figure out how to compensate their writing partners, who will serve as the figurehead for the book when they begin receiving invitations to speak at conferences, and if the writing partners will receive any royalties from speaking engagements.
If you’re sure you want to write a book on your own, Edelman recommends exercising your writing muscles by starting a blog. “Get comfortable with writing and expressing yourself,” he says, “then step your way up from there.”
Ouellette & Associates’ Roberts agrees that blogging is a solid first step toward writing a book. “As you look back over a year’s worth of blogging, you have a pretty good body of work that you can more easily put into a book format,” he says.
Establish a Schedule
All authors agree that writing a book requires self-discipline. Since most working professionals don’t have the weeks or months of uninterrupted time that’s conducive to writing a book, they have to carve out time for writing every day.
“One of my favorite authors, Thom Singer, told me if you sit down for 20 to 40 minutes each day, by the end of 90 days you will have your first draft done,” says Alba, who wrote I’m on LinkedIn in two straight weeks. “That’s pretty doable.”
Traditional Publisher or Self-Publish?
Alba published his first two books, I’m on LinkedIn, Now What??? and I’m on Facebook, Now What???, with a traditional publisher, Happy About Books. He’s planning on self-publishing his third and fourth books, both of which are currently in the works and are tentatively titled Eight Lunches and 101 Alternatives for the Jobseeker.
Alba’s decision to self-publish, though, isn’t a knock on his relationship with Happy About Books. Alba enjoyed working with the small publishing house out of Silicon Valley, adding that Happy About Books was flexible and worked quickly. Alba gave his manuscript to Happy About Books in May 2006, and by September of the same year he had books in hand to sell at a conference.
He’s opted to self-publish subsequent books because he wants to increase his profits. “If I can sell 1,000 books, I want to end up with $17,000 of margin instead of $3,000 of margin,” he says.
Systemation’s Snyder says he originally went to a big publisher, Wiley, with a book proposal, but Wiley passed on it. He considered shopping his proposal to other traditional publishers, but colleagues who had published with traditional publishers recommended self-publishing. “They told me that once you get your book published, the big publishers don’t market it as aggressively as you think they should. Plus, they take a cut,” says Snyder. “Having someone vet your work and say you’re worthy of being published is an ego thing. We’re not in this for ego. We’re going to give our books away.”
Snyder chose Lightening Source to publish his book. He says it’s going to cost around $13,000 to print 1,500 hardcover books–a sliver of Systemation’s marketing budget.
Roberts successfully sold Wiley on Unleashing the Power of IT, which the publisher released earlier this year with an initial print run of about 5,000 copies. Roberts is thrilled with Wiley’s publishing work and marketing of the book. “Out of all of our publishing partnerships, the one with Wiley has been the most fruitful and rewarding so far,” he says.
Roberts anticipates that the book will sell out in 2012 and that Wiley will do a second printing next year.
That said, Roberts doesn’t expect to make much–if any–money off of the book. “We’ve never looked at our books as a revenue stream. If I look at all the books we’ve published over the past 15 to 20 years, it’s probably a break even proposition at best,” says Roberts. “Very few books are real revenue generators. You have to hit it really big. The percentage you get through your publishing relationship is pretty small. That’s not a complaint. That’s reality. The real motivation is the credibility it brings to our company.”
Edelman has reaped both financial and credibility returns from publishing his book, Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office, with Portfolio, an imprint of bigtime publisher, Penguin. Having Suzy Welch, literary agent Jill Marsal and a PR firm championing his book certainly helped its success. Edelman estimates the book has sold between 15,000 to 20,000 copies since its debut in 2008.
Edelman says his agent sent his proposal to a number of different publishers, and Penguin came back with the best offer. He says he earned a “big advance,” but due to the terms of his contract with Penguin he could not disclose the exact amount. (Aspiring writers should know that earning a substantial advance from a publisher is highly unusual these days.)
If you want a traditional publisher to buy your business or trade book, rest assured that you don’t need a completed manuscript to send to them. “For a nonfiction proposal, a few polished sample chapters, a thorough outline and synopsis of the book’s focus, and chapter breakdowns are sufficient,” says Eric Rickstad, founder and CEO of idea2book, a manuscript editing and publishing consulting service. (Disclosure: Eric Rickstad is married to the author of this article.)
Alba says the publication of his book on LinkedIn “catapulted” his personal brand and all of his efforts to establish JibberJobber. “Being an author has given me a significant revenue stream, has allowed me into places and given me brand recognition and exposure for JibberJobber that I might not have otherwise been able to obtain,” he says.