Self-publishing has improved a great deal since 2002 when Lulu first broke the mold and began to offer writers a means to publish without going the traditional route. Today, the book market is flooded with self-published titles. While many of these are storytellers seeking publication, there has been a noticeable uptick in the number of businesses and entrepreneurs using book publishing to promote themselves.
The published work takes on a different role when a book is a tool for promoting oneself or one’s business. The book is a mechanism to share expertise or knowledge, as well as promoting a brand. The book, in essence, becomes an expanded business card.
Imagine you’re an entrepreneur with an exciting new product. Or a speaker with knowledge valuable to a specific industry. You might attend trade shows or speak during seminars to promote yourself and the product/service you offer. And often times at these kinds of events, you’ll hand out numerous cards with your name and contact info on them. You’ll take in a variety of these cards from other interested individuals and organizations.
Business Card Graveyard
What happens to those cards? If you’re like most, the contact information and name go into a database, and they are added to your mail list. Because that is, in the end, the real role of a business card. Both parties are engaging in a tacit agreement to add each other to their respective mailing lists. This in and of itself is a great thing. You get to grow your mailing list and you get access to the content and information from the other party. Knowledge is shared and potentially both parties are better for it.
Now imagine you hand out a book. A paperback. Something you wrote specifically to speak to your expertise and bought yourself for only a few dollars. A book with a beautifully designed cover, your headshot on the back, and filled with the details and important information pertaining to the product or service you offer. Putting forth a book you wrote, on the subject you’re passionate and knowledgeable about, has a drastically different impact than handing out a business card.
And at the end of the convention or event, when everyone you’ve handed your books to goes home and organizes the pile of cards and fliers they picked up, what will they see? A bunch of business cards to be sifted through and organized. Someone sheet and half-sheet fliers with more details and sales pitch information. And your book. Unique. Brimming with actual information. Not a simple sales pitch, but a value proposition offered with the personal touch only a book can confer.
Books as Business Cards
Make no mistake, allowing for the fact that creating a book takes more time, and printing the book costs more; in every other way, the book is superior to the business card.
Books with highly focused subject matter serve two purposes:
- They establish your expertise. You’ve written a book on the subject, you must have some knowledge!
- They are hard to forget marketing tool.
There’s one more benefit, though this one is fading as more and more individuals begin to use books to promote themselves: Books are a unique means of engaging with your contacts. It is changing, but you’re still likely to get a surprised look when you hand out a book. And the gratification when that look of surprise becomes one of happiness is immeasurable.
Think like an entrepreneur
If you’re trying to promote yourself, establish your expertise in a particular field, or have business literature you’d like to make easily available to your customers, self-publishing is the tool you’ve been looking for.
A self-published book costs only a few dollars to produce and has the potential to convey your level expertise, to promote yourself as a brand, and there’s that added benefit of being able to refer to yourself as a published author.
For example, you can publish a 100 page paperback on Lulu for as little as $2.50 per book. And that’s before any discounts. You could get 100 copies shipped for around $3.00 a book. Yes, more expensive than a business card. But the impact of a book is much grander.
Not only does the book establish you as someone with something relevant to say in your particular field, but it also shows you to be a dedicated and hardworking individual. You’d have to be to write and self-publish a book!
Here’s a video featuring one of our favorite authors, Heidi Trull of the popular Grits & Groceries restaurant in Belton, SC. Her story shows how an entrepreneur can use publishing to supplement their primary offering, bringing in some additional income, and do so without any additional cost or overhead!
Not just a tool for Entrepreneurs
The concept of a book as business card might fit most naturally with entrepreneurs, speakers, and experts who seek to raise their profile and connect with new individuals in their field, but there are applications for others too. An author can use their fiction in much the same way, promoting themselves through their work with strategically handed out copies of their book. Remember too that even if you are a fiction author, you still bring to the table your own personal expertise. And it is safe to assume that, as a self-published author, selling books is not your only means of income.
Your book should be a partner to you in your journey. It helps you along the way, providing a consistent stream of income (even if it is low) while acting as an empowered business card to promote yourself. Consider bestselling author and speak Tracy Repchuk’s thoughts on using a book to promote yourself, “The key is you are using the book to raise your profile and to generate leads for your big product, such as coaching. It is a powerful business card. But if you expect it to make you money, your model may be flawed and shortsighted.“
She advocates for the use of a book primarily as a business growth tool, and not as a dedicated source of income. Think about that for a moment. If you’ve approached authorship as a means to earn income, you may have the wrong mindset. The book is a supplemental tool to enhance and compliment you and your brand (remember the Marketing Toolbox series and the many ways you need to develop yourself as a brand to be a successful author). In the long term, you may see reasonable income from book sales, but this too is equal parts skillful writing, conscious design, and author branding. Developing that brand – many in the publishing industry argue – is the most important aspect of the three.
Change how you view your book
If you go into a bookstore and browse the fiction, you’ll see a diversity of books, authors, and stories crammed into thin pages, nestled together on cramped shelves. What do all these books have in common? The author of each and every one of these books labored over their story and eventually got a publisher to pick it up – and in doing so their book became a product. A commodity.
As a self-published author, you can avoid this to some degree. But in the long run, no matter how good your book, how engaging your story, how important your message, or how relevant the knowledge you share is, the book you write is still a commodity. It is a unit by which you’ll measure the success of your brand, your marketing plan, and your storytelling skills. Just writing the book is its own kind of success, and not to be ignored.
But if your goals are to sell your book(s) and earn a profit, the book itself must be seen as a crucial commodity in your larger marketing scheme. Think like an entrepreneur here.
The book you write and self-publish could be the most exciting work of fiction in a decade, a riveting looking into current events, a historical recounting of past events every history professor should read, a guide to your own personal area of expertise, or any of countless other types of book; but in terms of how you sell the book, it is just a unit. A commodity. While recognizing this, please do not allow a shift in thinking to lead to a feeling that the book is not important. Your book is incredibly important!
The difference is that while writing and publishing, the book was central. Everything revolved around the book. But with the book written and out there in the world, the central aspect of your marketing should be you. The author. The brand you bring with you. Be it expertise, brilliant language, or historical insight. Whatever you can bring as a unique and valuable offering to your readers. The book is the window into this offering.
A Book in Hand…
That’s your goal. To see people with your book in hand. And if the trend in entrepreneurs, public speakers, and small business owners is any indication, the best way to get a book into a new reader’s hands may be to simply put it there. Because costs can so easily be controlled to fit your needs and budget – thanks to self-publishing and print on demand – you can tailor a strategy that incorporates using your book as a super-charged business card. Handing out the very essence of what matters most to your author brand, impressing upon recipients your expertise and showing you aren’t afraid to invest in yourself.
This is a lesson not just for authors. Anyone with something to sell and knowledge in that field can write, design, and publish a book cheaply enough to offer them to would be readers. Replace those low impact business cards, stand out from the crowd, and make yourself heard.
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.