If you’ve self-published a book or you’re even just thinking about it, you’ve likely heard the term “your book is your business card.” You can find an array of differing opinions about this idea online. Ranging from assurances that your book IS your business card, to lamenting the current state of business books. It’s a hot topic and shows no signs of cooling off.
Is your book really your business card?
The simple answer is; yes. In the sense that it will be a vital part, if not the centerpiece of your marketing plan. The tremendous access you have to information and the reduced cost of production means a book can fit into a broad marketing plan. Even if you’re not really an ‘author.’
At this very second, you have at your fingertips all the tools and resources you need to do anything. Really. We live in an age where you can just wake up one morning and cut an album, make a movie, or publish a book. You can unleash your remarkable ideas upon the world in an instant.
Gone are the days where you had to maneuver around the various barriers into these industries. Now, you just have to have some motivation and know where to start. You’re reading this blog too, so you’re already looking in the right places.
But it’s not that simple
Few things in life are ever as simple as it seems they should be. Publishing is one such exercise. Access to the tools is widely available (and free on Lulu). But just publishing a book does not ensure success. So, before you dedicate hours and hours of your time and energy, you need to know why you’re publishing that book.
Today, because this subject could easily get out of hand, we’ll focus on two very different kinds of books; traditional fiction and business books.
What is a Business Card?
If you think a business card is just a small rectangle with your name, email, phone number, and a logo, I have bad news for you. You’re wrong.
Maybe not historically—a business card was literally a piece of cardboard with text on it. But a ‘business card’ is something much more. It’s a testament to your skills and knowledge. Your business card is an invitation. It’s an assertion that you know what you’re talking about. And it’s a promise that you have something to contribute.
That connection can make or break your business (whether that business is just selling books or something more). I love Ryan Holiday’s definition of a modern business card:
Anything that genuinely and authentically establishes your expertise and gets you attention can be a business card.Ryan Holiday
Like many things in the digital age, we must discard old definitions. A business card is more than paper, ink, and laminate. In fact, it’s easier to consider your business card as a personal meme.
It’s an idea about you and your brand you want someone else to remember. Right? You want to be noticed and remembered by the person you hand that business card too. You want that person to see you as someone of value and to (ideally) use that card to contact you.
Whatever shape your business card takes, the role is the same: prove your expertise and inspire contact.
Books as Business Cards for Entrepreneurs
If you’re an entrepreneur or an industry professional, your book will
In fact, professional business people and marketers will budget in a cost per customer gained. If you’re using a book to help promote yourself or your business, part of that cost can be the book. Which means; earning a profit from book sales is secondary.
Ways Entrepreneurs can use a Book
- Brand Recognition – help people discover the brand you’ve developed around your product or service. The book is an opportunity to talk about your brand, display your logos, and provide the means for interested readers to find you.
- Establish Your Expertise – potential customers need to know you’re an expert in your field. If you specialize in making math courses, a book about how to teach mathematics shows you’re an expert.
- Track Success – if you’ve already established a successful business venture, your book might be the story of your success. Small businesses and entrepreneurs will want to hear your story. And the more you speak to your success, the more opportunities you’ll earn to continue speaking.
Books as Business Cards for Authors
If you’re a fiction author, you’ve probably seen a variety of innovative ways for authors to present themselves. Bookmarks, ebooks on thumb drives, digital download codes; opportunities abound. But what better way to promote how awesome your book is than to let someone read the book?
Yes, I did just mention digital download codes or handing our cheap physical drives with your book on it. Those are great tools too and I would say they are
Still, both methods suffer from the fact that business cards and thumb drives can be forgettable. Think about the last author event you attended. How many business cards did you gather? Now how many books?
More than that, as authors and readers, we treasure books. Even books I didn’t particularly like much have a place on my bookshelf. Every time I’ve moved, my books are the one item I always pack up and take with me. Books are special.
Ways Authors can use a Book
- Introduction to Your Work – giving away a copy of one of your older books is a great way to promote your newest title. And with print-on-demand, you could even include the first chapter of your new title at the end of the older book. Readers love previews!
- Show You Value Readers – when you hand out your book, the recipient knows you care more about them reading than making a sale. That’s the
kind oftrust in the quality of your story that can hook a potential super-fan.
- Recognition – giving away a book is a memorable moment. Particularly at an event where dozens (or more) other authors are vying for the reader’s attention.
Why Books Make Great Business Cards
Okay, so we can all agree that business card is more a function than a tangible object. It’s anything that creates positive recognition for you. With that in mind, we can extrapolate that many items and actions could fill this role.
Asking an insightful question during a Q&A with an expert might build recognition. Wearing a crazy outfit could too (though that’s less likely to build up your expertise).
What sets your book apart is that special power of a printed work. That little something that tells us “this is important” when we flip through the pages. Herman Hesse famously talked about the magic of books in an essay of that very name. Which is well worth your time, so give it a read if you haven’t.
It follows that if you want to give something to a potential customer (reader or otherwise) that they will remember; a book is a great idea.
The Economics of Giving it Away
The most important limiting factor in your book’s success is always twofold: cost and quality. The book must be good. Whether it’s a fictional story or an account of your business acumen. Quality always comes first.
Once you’ve got your quality content, think about how much it will cost to produce. Business cards (the actual paper stock cards) are very cheap to produce. Giving them away costs almost nothing, so you can hand them out to anyone and everyone with little cost to you.
Books are very different. Printing a book can cost anywhere from $5.00 to $50.00 depending on the paper, ink, and binding options.
For a business, you might create a very specific piece of content to publish and do so in a small, inexpensive format. A 150 page, Pocket sized paperback is $4.25 to publish on Lulu. Check out the pricing here. With some bulk discounts, you could have enough copies to give to individuals at an event without incurring excessive costs.
Authors are in a different situation. For one, you may not have a unique book to give out. If you write short fiction or poetry, you could always repackage that content into a smaller, more affordable book. But for authors, you likely must be more selective about who and when you hand out a free copy.
Making it Unique
The best part about print-on-demand is your ability to offer something unique. Say you’re an author and you’re going to an event with
What you should do is include some additional pages in the beginning of the book. Talk about yourself. Your goals. Success you’ve already achieved with this story. Accolades. This isn’t just another copy of your story; it’s a specifically targeted version meant to grab attention.
Likewise, include a page with contact information. And of course, sign the title page.
It may not seem like much, but the benefits of print-on-demand are an important way for you to stand out from the crowd. Take advantage of the tools you have to make the most of every interaction, every experience that creates a ‘business card’ moment.
Innovation, Expertise, You
That’s what it comes down to. You. Your brand, your product. The ‘thing’ you’re offering that no one else has. Whatever form of a business card you use (or maybe you use multiple forms) everything circles back to you. Don’t forget that when you’re planning the design for your business card, be it a book, a true card, socks, yo-yos, or whatever clever idea you’ve come up with.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.