The head of an East Coast-based consulting firm that specializes in turning around small to midsized companies needed greater visibility. Locals who needed to know about his company did, but the firm had zero profile elsewhere. Clearly, there was a lot of business to be had nationwide, if only he could get the word out. His answer? Self-publish a book showing off his firm's expertise, distribute it nationally (for free) to lawyers, accountants, and trade associations—selling elsewhere where he could—and in the process, hopefully, make him and his company the ones to turn to for a turnaround.
Until recently, most self-published books stank. That wasn't surprising. By definition, the self-publishing process removes the checks and balances that major publishers provide by both rejecting substandard manuscripts and editing those they think are worth selling.
But self-publishing is rapidly gaining in popularity, in large part because the services have much improved. A number of reputable specialty firms, such as the Jenkins Group, in Traverse City, Michigan (www.bookpublishing.com), have sprung up to provide writing, editing, and layout help to would-be authors. More important, self-publishing a book can do more for you than ever before. It is the ultimate Brand You calling card. It lets you break through the clutter. Cold calls are fine. But they are a lot more effective if you've sent your book in advance, making a better (and more lasting) impression than a brochure or cheesy calendar.
Think of your book as a marketing expense and budget accordingly. Costs will vary based on the size of the book and the amount of production assistance you need. But for 5,000 copies of a 176-page book, the Jenkins Group, for example, will charge $21,000 to $29,000 for hardcovers and $12,000 to $20,000 for paperbacks. There are cheaper options from Internet self-publishing outfits such as iUniverse.com and Xlibris.com, where the price will typi-cally be $500 to $700 to produce one copy of your book. But you then have to buy copies from them, albeit at a substantial discount, and they pay you a royalty on each book sold through them. Printing the books yourself is a better way to go—and cheaper in the long run—if you're primarily seeking to raise your profile.
Small Audience, Big Money
As hundreds of successful self-published authors can attest, there's a case to be made for paying to have your book printed, whether you are adding to your marketing quiver or trying to increase company revenues. For example, a small research firm in New Jersey spends all its time learning everything it possibly can about the high end of the market: people who buy $50,000-plus cars, live in the most impressive zip codes, and send their kids to chichi private schools. The market for a book about how to conduct focus groups that involve these people is incredibly small. Maybe you could find 10,000 people worldwide, inside ad agencies and companies such as Tiffany, who truly need the information. No traditional publisher is going to bring out a book with such limited potential.
However, the people who need the book really need it and are willing to pay. A lot. The owner of the research firm has self-published a small (150 pages) book that she's selling primarily through her Web site. For the past several years, at $275 a pop, she averaged sales of only about 250 copies a year. But that still added up to about $70,000 in annual revenue, and once you subtract the marketing, printing, and fulfillment costs, she earned about $50,000 before taxes. It's marketing material that actually more than pays for itself.
True, there's no guarantee that this will work. But at worst, you'll have something nice to stick on your bookshelf (or fill a bookcase). And at best, you'll have separated yourself from the competition.
Paul B. Brown's (email@example.com) 14th book is Publishing Confidential (AMACOM, 2004).
A version of this article appeared in the June 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.