Q: As an entrepreneur, is it important to write a book and become an influencer in order to take my business to the next level? — Pete, Australia
Pete, let me clear the air and admit a few biases: I’ve written five books, including a New York Times best-seller. I’ve ghostwritten three other best-sellers, and my consulting company has marketed two books that both hit number one on the New York Times list. Books are my business, so I see how it’d be easy to expect me to recommend that route.
But most of the time, I suggest that an entrepreneur not write a book.
Which isn’t to say I don’t understand the appeal. I do. Plenty of successful leaders have written them, from Richard Branson to Sheryl Sandberg, and many of these books have led to new businesses or increased reach and prestige. In some cases, writing a book becomes a calling card, a feather in the entrepreneurial cap. It can bring more opportunity, speaking engagements with hefty fees, even the opportunity to write another book — this time with a larger advance.
But those reasons? They’re not really valid. Well, OK, Branson and Sandberg have written wildly successful books. But most of us are not Branson or Sandberg.
Let’s work backward. While it’s true that you might have wisdom to share with the world, are you willing to undertake this project at the risk of harming your business? Because writing a book is very much like launching a startup. It’s a labor of love and pain and late nights and early mornings, with endless rewriting and editing. (You could hire a ghostwriter, but that can be expensive and doesn’t guarantee the book will be published.)
If you are lucky enough to sell the book, you have to promote it. The publisher won’t help you as much as you might expect or need, and promoting a book is a huge investment of time and energy — exponentially more so if you self-publish. I’ve watched many entrepreneurs’ books fail because the author can’t detach enough from their business to do the promotion. I’ve also seen businesses fail because the entrepreneur gives too much attention to the book.
And those speaking engagements you’re dreaming of? Tough to come by unless you’ve had huge success. Your book must sell. A lot. And that’s hard.
Take my experience. I’ve received zero dollars for a book advance, and I’ve received more than a million dollars for a two-book deal. I’ve sold a few thousand copies and a hundred thousand copies. The success I had occurred because I invested more time (in writing), money (on marketing and PR) and effort (in promotion). Like anything, success is not an accident. And the amount of muscle you have to put into a book is the biggest surprise for most first-time authors.
Here’s what it comes down to: You’ve got to love writing and really believe in your book. You have to have an idea that doesn’t exist on the market and would add value, a book that’s worth the immensity of labor that will go into creating it and promoting it. If you have all that, by all means, go write!
If not, and you’re doing it only to have a calling card, or to achieve some sort of amorphous status that may or may not help your business, or you’re hoping to nab some speaking fees, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Stay in your lane. Spend that time and effort on growing your business. I’m confident the returns will be so much greater.