Getting your first book published: Lessons learned!

Do you dream of writing and publishing a book some day?  It was always something I’ve wanted to do and I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to do it this year.  Here are some lessons that you might find helpful from my journey with Return On Influence.

How did I get a book contract?

I was in an unusual position.  Beginning in 2010, publishers actually sought me out to write a book. Why? I think there were three things that boosted me into that position:

1) I had demonstrated my writing ability through my blog

2) I had successfully self-published my first book, The Tao of Twitter (a great stepping stone!)

3) I had an engaged community who would be advocates for the book

I think this last part is particularly important.  Like any content on the web, you have to be able to “ignite” it for it to be useful.  Even if I had written the world’s greatest book, it would never sell if I couldn’t light the match.  Establishing a blog or Facebook community seems like a good first-step for publishing today.

The good news is, these opportunities are available to anybody today to get them into a position to get a publishing contract. The bad news is, it takes a LOT of work to get there.

How did I choose a publisher?

After meeting with several publishers, I developed a good personal chemistry with the people at McGraw Hill. They really respect and support their authors. It ended up being a great decision.

When I turned in my proposal, it ended like this — “I really don’t know what this book is going to be about because the topic is entirely new.  I don’t know what I will find and I have to let the research determine the outcome of the book.”  They let me write it any way, which I think is cool.  And the book ended up being 80% different than the original proposal!

How did I choose a topic?

There was no master plan, really.  The emerging marketing trend of social influence was simply something I was interested in — Is there anything to this Klout stuff? How does power show up on the web? Why are companies scrambling to implement these Klout Perks?

If I was going to devote months of my life to a project, first and foremost, it had to be interesting!

I also realized that I had to write a book that had not been written before — something COMPLETELY different. Choosing this topic of social influence was a big risk. When I started the project, nobody had heard of Klout or social scoring — the trend was just emerging — but I thought this was going to go mainstream and I was right, thankfully.

What was the writing process?

The biggest challenge for me and other writers I have talked to is blocking out the chunks of time necessary to get the project done. A project this size cannot be accomplished with an hour here and there. Even when I reserved a whole week to write, I looked up at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night and not written a word — my week had been filled solving client problems. This was a panicky moment. How was I going to get this done?

So I blocked out another week and made a decision I have never made before or since — I was going to write, even if it meant disappointing customers. That’s gut-wrenching and wrong but I had to do it.

My wife helped me as a research assistant and also transcribed about 50 taped interviews.  From start to finish it took about nine months to research and write the book, with about three solid months of intense writing and re-writing.

Editing and promotion

I completely under-estimated the time required AFTER the book was written.  The manuscript went through four editing phases. Although the final product is probably 95% the same as what I first turned in, there were a lot of decisions about the title, the tone and direction of the book. McGraw-Hill wanted it to be a “how-to” book and that just didn’t align with my vision. They let me follow my own path, but all these discussions took a lot of time.

Once the book launched, I was doing 2-4 interviews a day for eight weeks. This time, I warned my customers ahead of time and I was able to put off some projects to allow enough time to properly promote the book. I took a financial hit but I realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I needed to go for it.

Did I make money from the book?

I knew going into it that the goal for this book was to expand my reach and reputation, not become rich from book sales. So I approached it realistically. Even though I received a generous payment upfront and the book is selling very well, on a per-hour basis, this would have been a bad economic decision.

However, I am already receiving the benefits of being a published author through new invitations to speak and consult. In that regard, I forecast that there will be a long-term financial benefit.

What’s next?

I feel really proud about where I am right now with Return On Influence.  I proved to myself that I could do it and the publisher is happy with a best-selling book (the first printing sold out in eight weeks).  My community and the reviewers have embraced the book.

I do have a few ideas for a new book but the scope of these ambitious projects is quite daunting because of the time it would take to pull it off.   It will be a difficult decision to make but you can be assured that if I write a new book it will also be “out there.”

In the near-term, I’m happy to announce that McGraw-Hill bought the worldwide rights to The Tao of Twitter and a new edition with about 30 percent new content will be available by the end of the year.

So those are the highlights.

What other questions do you have that I can answer for you?  Was this helpful?

All posts

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast!

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Share via