If you are an author, a writer, or even have an idea for a book, there are some things you should know about the world of publishing today. Namely, it is that the importance of getting published may have changed by 180 degrees to the way it was when I became an editor in 1997. Or maybe that is not the best way to say it. To me, it feels like it has flipped completely upside down.
So, let’s begin by saying you have just written—or have a great idea for—a book…
It used to be that you could write a great manuscript, get a publisher to pick it up, have it placed on a shelf in a bookstore, some influential people would buy it, love it, and tell all their friends about it, creating more and more sales. Suddenly, even though you were previously unknown, your book hits a couple of bestseller charts and then begins to climb steadily.
Sure, it was really tough to do this, and it didn’t happen the vast majority of the time, but it did happen—and it seemed to happen enough that it was worth going this route. Now, that is a lot more like buying a lottery ticket than it is a sound strategy for getting your message out. Sure, you could win, but the odds are more likely you would be bitten by a shark somewhere in Colorado.
Books are still important to getting your message out, but . . .
The traditional model was that you would publish a book and then use it to build a following—a tribe of people who are grateful for what you have to say because it is touching their lives in some significant way. Today, you really have to build that tribe—what Michael Hyatt and others now call a Platform—before you have any hope of getting a traditional publisher to consider picking up your book.
As Michael Hyatt frequently says, “Content is [still] king, but platform is queen”—and as the great saying from My Big, Fat Greek Wedding puts it, “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck—and she can turn the head any way she wants.” If we want to get our message out, we have to find a happy marriage between creating content and developing a tribe.
The tough news is it is more difficult than ever to publish a book with a traditional publisher. Not only that, but many who have wandered into the realm of self-publishing will echo Barbarossa from Pirates of the Caribbean, “You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be monsters.”
But the good news is—well, let me put it this way: “Do you need to start with a printed book?”
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not a harbinger of doom saying books are ancient history. In fact, I think anyone who has written a book still earns a tremendous badge of respect over those who haven’t. (Don’t believe me? Just watch any TV documentary and you will see the person who holds several academic degrees carries the same authority as the one who wrote such-and-such a book, even though you have never heard of that book nor know if it is any good.)
No, what I am saying is that your book no longer has to come first.
Same material and great research, different form
The web has opened up a new world of incredibly low-cost “publishing” with blogs, vlogs, e-books, white papers, cheat sheets, online teaching, e-mail campaigns, etc., etc. In essence, the gatekeepers of old—agents, acquisitions editors, and publishers—no longer hold all of the keys. They no longer stand between you and your potential audience. You can get online and build a tribe without having to get a book published first. This can potentially save you incredible amounts of time and expense.
Does that make it easier? Well, yes and no. The only thing we can be sure of is that it’s different. It’s just a little upside down. It means negotiating book deals has changed and we should change our emphasis to be more concerned about building relationships with our content rather than worrying about organizing an entire book first. Of course, building a platform online takes consistency, strategy, and a good deal of focused effort.
And it also means, in an increasingly noisy world, content is more important than ever. Why? Let’s just work off of Michael Hyatt’s metaphor about content and platform and our quote from My Big, Fat Greek Wedding: the queen may be more important and in command than ever before, but it takes a king to win a queen. People aren’t going to follow us if we put out poor content.
So there’s the rub. You’ve got the expertise—you know something the world needs to know and could be positively impacted through—so how do you turn that into great content that is going to draw the attention of the tribe who needs it the most?
Love to hear you thoughts on that. 🙂