by Sandra Poirier Smith, president of Smith Publicity, Inc.
I was fortunate to be part of ASJA’s Annual Writer’s Conference in April and to brainstorm with authors and aspiring authors on the topic of using a book to build a platform. The most common questions revolved around when to write a book. Related to this, authors also wanted advice on how to launch a book when the goal is to use a book to attract opportunities including speaking engagements, consulting projects, new publishing deals, social media followers, book sales, etc.
While each person’s business plan is unique, here are some universal tips when thinking about writing a book and using it as a marketing tool to showcase your expertise:
- What comes first, the book or the audience? Many authors asked if they should write their book and use it to help build a following, or build a following and then write their book. My suggestion, based on the many authors we’ve worked with, is if you are ready experience-wise to write a book, write the first book, use it to build a following and then consider writing a second book. Most authors have more than one book in them. Plan your brand and the book title with a potential series in mind. Often, an author’s second book is more successful than the first. If you are only planning on writing one book, begin by building a following, and then publish a book to take your brand to the next level.
- Write about what you know. Some people write a book to facilitate a career and become known as an expert in a new field. If this is your plan, make sure you have enough experience before writing a book. For example, I talked with a personal finance professional who wanted to transition to a career as a relationship/dating guru based on his work informally counseling clients as they struggled through tough times and sometimes divorce. He had no related formal training or education, had just begun working with individuals specifically to help them with relationship concerns, but was excited to begin a new path. I advised him to hold off on a book in order to build credentials (such as earning meaningful certifications), and work with more people just for relationship advice. He had an interesting start to this new career path, but in his case, the media and potential readers, clients, and people hiring speakers need to see more substance in his bio before trusting his advice.
- Plan your target audience and then write your book accordingly. I often hear new authors say, “my book is perfect for everyone.” If that is the case, then likely it will be too broad and not appeal to those most important to you. Think about your bigger goal: who are the people and organizations you want to hire you to speak, write, or consult? Then, design your book with advice and information specifically for them. For example, I am working with fitness and exercise professional. This is a crowded field full of authors and experts. However, she knows her target—empty nest women 45 to 60, who have never seriously exercised, are 15 to 30 pounds overweight, and now have the time to focus on their own health. Could her advice be applicable to college age girls, new moms, or elderly women? Sure. But having a narrower target audience allows her to focus her book on topics specifically designed for this audience.
- Pre-launch marketing: It’s never too early to start. Another common question from authorsis: How soon should I start creating awareness about my upcoming book? Although it’s never too late, ideally authors should start pre-launch activities 12 to 18 months before the publishing date. Author-led initiatives include writing blogs and articles related to the book’s topic, and following, connecting with, or adding related experts (especially ones in the position of recommending you to others), clients and potential clients, relevant trade organizations, and targeted media to your social media platforms. You don’t want to “friend” someone and then offer your new book the next day. The goal is to build genuine relationships. This also makes it easier for you to follow your industry’s hot-button topics, trends, and often asked questions while allowing you to more easily join the conversation and write targeted articles/blog posts. Make sure social media platforms are optimized with your target audience in mind—be focused on how you present your bio, especially when platforms like Twitter allow for only a brief description. Newsletter sign ups are great ways to collect emails in order to share valuable content, showcase your knowledge, and for selectively announcing your upcoming book, events, talks, videos, media placements, etc. Once you have a publication date, start sharing, for example, by noting the date, cover and book title in your email signature line. If attracting pre-orders or beta test readers, let people know. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the right people to understand exactly what you do and to develop meaningful relationships.
While each aspiring author’s goals are different, what applies to everyone is strategically planning when to write your book or potential series of books, and being at the right stage in your career. Also, define your target audience and then focus the content of your book for this market. Finally, if possible, set the stage early to develop a meaningful following. This early stage planning helps position authors to make thoughtful and strategic use of a new book.