Changing the world is a necessary, messy business. Coming up with feasible solutions and people talented enough to enact them is a long process that takes time, energy, and a lot of gumption. There are already so many hoops to jump through and people to win over even before you start thinking about what your “legacy” will look like. For many social entrepreneurs, especially those with big ideas, that legacy manifests as a book (or six). It may seem like a lot to take on though — trying to balance an agent, a publishing house, and an editor just to move your cause along.
Is publishing a book even worth it?
Absolutely. The reach of a well-marketed, self-published book can be a game-changer. Suddenly, you’re shareable, quotable, and you have a tactile way to get your message in front of more people. Opting to forego the publishing house relieves a lot of pressure and allows you to be more involved in decisions — something you’re likely accustomed to as an entrepreneur.
Before you jump into the world of self-publishing, there are a few things you should consider to make your book launch as beneficial as possible for you and your business.
Keep It Yours
As you set off on your self-publishing adventure, remember one thing above all else: this is YOUR book. It is your book full of your ideas written in your words. It is your vision, and it should stay that way.
However, that doesn’t mean that you are the end-all, be-all, ultimate authority for producing a successful final project. You will likely not know precisely what is best for formatting, editing, and publishing your book. As a social entrepreneur, you may be a brilliant economist or engineer — but visual display may not be your strong suit.
All this means is that you’ll need to ask for help. This book is your baby, and it takes a village. Luckily, you can select who lives in your village after looking at their previous work and talking to them.
First, you’ll need an editor. Your book will not be taken seriously if it doesn’t read professionally — running it through spell check and having a couple friends read it isn’t enough. Editing is more than just grammar.
A good editor will know how a book should read and will be able to give suggestions on what order to place things in if transitions work, and how well the content reflects your message. There are a handful of distinguished editors that now work in the private sector and take on individual clients. They’ll be able to edit to content, flow, and grammar in order to make your book as intellectually edible as possible.
Next, you’ll need to format your book. While it may seem easy enough to do yourself after some Googling, don’t overestimate your abilities just to save a few dollars. The truth is that aesthetics matter. A lot. And even more so in a non-fiction field where success can hinge on convincing readers of your credibility.
It may seem like the words should be enough despite how they look, and while I agree in principle, the science disagrees. Font can have a measurable impact on how credible we find a source, as well as how we feel after reading the information presented. Formatting plays a similar role in determining whether a text will inspire us, win us over, or stress us out.
Keep in mind, too, that books will need to be formatted differently for digital and print publishing formats. Decide where you want to publish your book and make sure your content is optimized for readers in those mediums.
These ideas go double for your cover. Idioms aside, books can and will be judged by their covers, so it’s important that yours stands out. Having someone else design your cover will help to make sure your book jumps off the shelf (or screen). Simplicity, elegance, and relevance all go into cover design, and it’s nearly impossible to capture all of those elements without professional training and experience.
Many self-publishing companies work as business partners and offer editing and design packages to keep the breadth of your investments to a minimum. Whether you choose to keep all your design in-house or find private contractors for editing, formatting, and cover design, make sure you get to be involved. It is your book and your movement, and it should remain true to your vision.
Know Your Audience
During your publishing process and your mad marketing rush, don’t forget about the supporters you already have. They are the reason that you are where you are. The people you have in your audience prior to your book publication are going to be one of the strongest marketing assets available to you.
Engage with that audience. If you get an email, make sure to respond to it. If someone tweets at you or retweets your announcements, acknowledge it. It may seem exhausting, but interacting with your followers will make you much more human. It will also give you awareness as to what your base wants and what their needs as an audience are, which provides powerful insight into how to brand and market yourself.
Take time to learn as much as you can about your current audience as well as your target audience. If you’re addressing social issues, this group should be relatively apparent. Who does your cause benefit? Who will be sympathetic? What resources does each group have? What resources do you need? Who is situated to provide those? And then, how do you reach each of these groups?
In terms of publication, understanding resources and accessibility will make deciding between print and digital release easier. There’s obviously a price difference involved; ebooks tend to be much cheaper and take fewer resources to produce. They also offer the ability to be digitally searched, easily transported, and more readily listed in marketplaces. Ebooks are listed in more places than just Amazon, and you can bundle your book with more popular titles to gain early exposure.
Print books, on the other hand, offer tactile gratification and a different set of marketing opportunities. Many individuals prefer paper books, especially if the topic is close to them or something they want to be able to loan out.
Growing your base is crucial to seeing your social movement gain traction, and it helps you to forecast the future. No one publishes a book and thinks, “That’s it; everything will be perfect and easy and work now.”
Even if nobody thinks like that, it’s easy to act like that. While you’re learning about your base and getting your book in front of new readers, you need to forecast for the future. Assume success and plan on it. Keep writing, keep growing your business, and keep looking for ways to capitalize on your success. Your audience will want to know what’s next and what you have planned, so make sure you have answers for them.
Create a Brand
This may seem obvious, but bear with me: Marketing is the key to getting your book in front of new people, but it absolutely cannot come in the form of a Facebook post announcing your impending publication with a “Please check out my fantastic new book” tagline. This type of advertising will work with your grandmother and maybe your childhood best friend — essentially only those people who are inclined to think everything you do is great or who have some sense of obligation to you.
You have to make yourself relevant to potential readers. Luckily, anything can be relevant if you’re using the right tools with the right audience.
As an entrepreneur, you know this. Strong businesses don’t survive without a brand, and your book should not be separate from your brand. It is a powerful marketing tool for both your ideas and your business. Use your book launch to get your business and your movement in front of more people. Capitalize on any branding opportunity you can as you get ready to publish.
Look into guest posting with established blogs in order to boost your credibility and create shareable content you can promote on social media. Someone else posting your work on their site is a vote of confidence for who you are and the message you share. It also allows you to borrow the host site’s audience, and with any luck, retain some new supporters.
While you’re looking at blog posting, consider doing a book giveaway as well. Yes, it’s giving away content for free, but it’ll make you look generous and create anticipation around your book. People may not know that they care about your message, but everyone loves winning and being given free stuff.
Book giveaways also work well to solicit book reviews. Local papers or niche blogs will occasionally publish reviews of new books from independent authors. Early reviews will provide you with blurbs to put on the cover or your book or to quote in more mainstream advertising.
Reviews are an important tool in influencing consumers. Obviously bad reviews will negatively impact sales, but positive reviews may be more important than you think. According to Northeastern University, it’s reported that 90 percent of consumers utilize online reviews when making purchasing decisions. This doesn’t mean you need to make it on Oprah’s book-list (though that certainly wouldn’t hurt), but a few four- and five-star reviews may go farther than you think.
When you’re doing any marketing, whether it’s blatant or more subtle, keep your brand apparent and reliable. Utilize tone, font, formatting, and style to keep the feel of your brand consistent — there shouldn’t be any question whether you and your business are connected with your book.
Part of this is making your information really easy to find. And I do mean really easy. If your information isn’t clearly visible to potential fans, you won’t grow your audience very quickly. The digital age has created a culture of instant gratification. It’s so straightforward to find information on the internet that if we have to work for it, we probably won’t pursue it unless there’s something else at stake. Your website information, social media handles, and how to purchase your book should be available everywhere there’s information about you.
It’s worth having an author’s website leading up to your publishing date. If you don’t have a website solely dedicated to your book, use your business page to leverage exposure. Your author’s page can simply be a section of your business website, which will engage more potential audience members as they may unwittingly find your book information through your business.
Web sites are also particularly useful for generating email lists for marketing. As your publication date nears, you can send out announcements, links to guest blog posts, and information about giveaways in a newsletter style format. These releases can also be optimized for social media shares. Not everyone will follow you on all platforms, so it is important to make sure all of your personal branding platforms present consistent and complete information (as redundant as you may feel while you’re running them all).
It’ll Be a Lot of Work, But …
In the end, self-publishing will be worth it. You get to be intimately involved in the creation of your book. Seeing your ideas come to life in a tangible way will help you, your coworkers, and your base feels reinvigorated about your cause. Plus, the marketing opportunities are prodigious. Bring your energy to the table and leverage everything you have to make this an amazing opportunity for you and your business.
Devin is a jack of all trades from Daly City, CA. He dreams of writing in an office one day but settles for his garage studio for now.