Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs' books fail to drive meaningful results because too often, business owners don't treat their nonfiction book strategy with the same rigour as the rest of their business. If your book isn’t grounded in your business strategy, and if it isn’t approached with strategic thought, the result can feel disconnected.
An effective nonfiction book strategy includes three core elements that ensure your book serves as an integral part of your personal brand and business’ product ecosystem:
- Business Strategy
- Reader Strategy
- Content Strategy
Without considering each, the book can feel like a side-project and regardless of its quality, it won’t feel useful to you. As a result, you risk de-prioritizing it in favour of other tools and tactics.
In this article, we'll look at the first of these three strategic elements. Then we'll cover Reader Strategy and Content Strategy in separate articles so that you've got the full picture.
The 5 core Business Strategy components of a Nonfiction Book Strategy
Your business strategy defines how you secure a competitive position in your market by creating value that customers will pay for, while also capturing some of that value for yourself. It's the first important element of an effective nonfiction book strategy. If your book doesn't tap directly and explicitly into this, you're going to leave value on the table.
As it relates to its business strategy, your nonfiction book strategy should lay out the following five elements:
- Your book's link with Your Core Business;
- The Business Objectives for Your Book;
- Your book's Go-to-Market plan;
- The Business Case for your book; and
- Funding Sources for financing your book.
1. Your Core Business
Considering your existing business, are you clear about who it is that you serve, the value you deliver to them, and your unique approach to delivering that value?
To be most effective, your book should mirror and support these core aspects of your business. If you haven’t already articulated these, now’s the time to do it or you'll be writing into a vacuum.
Do this: Clarify your niche/target customer segment, and the pains they experience, your solution to alleviating them, and the benefits your customers get when you do.
2. Business Objectives for Your Book
Goals are the heartbeat of a business, providing the rhythmic pumping of new milestones that push us forward to greater heights. Beyond motivation, they also help guide decision-making and give us something to compare results against so we know whether what we’re doing is effective.
You need goals for your book too. Knowing in advance what you’re trying to accomplish will ensure, for example, that you’re writing content, structuring your book, and including calls to action that support your broader objectives.
While your book can deliver many different benefits, it’s important you settle on a primary goal, know what metric(s) it will impact, and how you’ll track whether it’s having the intended effect.
Here are the most common goals that business-people have when writing an expertise-based book. But don’t get stuck on these if there are other, more appropriate ones for you and your business:
- Establish or increase authority in an existing area of expertise.
- Generate leads for existing products or services.
- Increase reach and serve more people in a scalable way.
- Create a new business based on the book.
- Effect change or influence opinion on a topic.
- Crystallize and codify knowledge in an existing area of expertise.
- Learn, create I.P, or establish credibility around, a new topic area.
- Generate direct revenue from book sales.
Each of these objectives, and any others you might identify, need to be linked to business metrics so that you can track your nonfiction book ROI.
Do this: Rank the importance of the common objectives that authors have for their nonfiction books, adding any unique ones you might have. Then identify what key performance indicators (KPIs, aka metrics) you expect to impact with your book. Bonus points for setting a target for these.
3. The Go-to-Market Plan
The Go-to-Market (GTM) plan details how you will take your book to market. As with any important business initiative, you must be intentional about this. Otherwise, your strategy won’t hang together, and you’ll end up being reactive instead of proactive.
You don’t have to (and often won’t be able to) define all this up-front, but you should familiarize yourself with the decisions you’ll eventually need to make and some of the options available to you.
You’ll need to decide whether your goals can be achieved by publishing your book in a single format (e.g. paperback) or if it requires a complete arsenal spanning hardcover and paperback, eBook, and audiobook. Certain strategies may even call for adapting your book to formats such as video for episodic television and documentary film, or interactive formats like online or in-person courses and the like.
Most authors will publish only in their primary working language. But for others, there may be benefit in publishing in other languages too.
Distribution used to be the biggest obstacle to authorship, but that is no longer the case. The challenge today is about how to choose among all the available distribution channels to optimize the benefits to your business against the effort and complexity of managing the various channels.
A major mistake that entrepreneurs make when publishing a book, is focusing only on the book itself while ignoring all the supporting assets that help to promote the book and allow you to extract value from having one. The possibilities are endless, which makes it all the more important to be explicit in identifying which ones are most important and prioritizing them.
4. The Business Case
A business case captures the reasons for undertaking a project, including a financial analysis of its expected value. How do you go about building a business case for your book? It’s not as complicated as it sounds. It comes down to making some informed estimates about the value of the benefits you expect and collecting information about the costs you’re likely to incur.
As with your Go-to-Market Plan, don’t worry if you can’t fill in all the blanks right away, but do treat your business case as a living document that you continue to refine as you make decisions and collect more information.
Valuing the expected benefits of your book
The right place to start thinking about the benefits you’ll get is to consider the goals you have for your book. However, there’s overlap in the metrics that these objectives impact. For example, building your authority may generate media features that in turn generate leads for your business. So, we need a different model to help us think about value – REBO.
REBO is simply an acronym for Revenue, Expenses, Business Assets, and Other Intangibles, and you can group all the value that comes from your book into one of these. I'll summarize these here, but if you're interested in going deeper down this rabbit-hole, see this separate article about tracking your nonfiction book ROI.
R - Revenue
The Revenue category is typically where you’d expect to see the most obvious, direct benefits. Pulling apart the economics of your business and identifying all the underlying value drivers often uncovers surprising opportunities for how you might use your book. These will relate to increasing the number of leads generated, improving conversion rates, raising rates, and introducing new revenue streams.
E - Expenses
The expenses category of REBO captures any benefits you expect to come from cost reduction (or avoidance) opportunities that come about as a result of your book. Some expense-related benefits could include improved marketing efficiency, the value of earned media, improved sales productivity, and the education and training value of the content you produce for your book.
B - Business Assets
The Business Asset category is intended to include any ancillary assets created from your book's content as well as the increased value of both your business and your personal brand.
O - Other Intangibles
Revenue benefits, expense benefits, and business asset value are all quite tangible, and while some can be harder to quantify than others, the conceptual approach to estimating their value is easy to grasp. Intangibles, by contrast, are often vague. Business owners can usually wrap their heads around the fact that there is value in intangibles, but they’re reticent to attach actual dollar amounts to them.
Examples of intangibles include new partnership opportunities, impact on company culture, social impact, and improvements to your quality of life.
For intangibles, I recommend you consider whether there are specific, quantifiable benefits that can be associated with each. If so, include that value. If not, write down the benefits you expect in qualitative terms with a sentence or two. Some of these may feel immaterial. However, you may consider others, if truly realized, to be invaluable, so much so that you weight them more heavily in your assessment.
5. Funding Sources
The ROI tells you whether your book project is worth pursuing economically, but just like other business initiatives, you still need to identify how you’ll finance it. Fortunately, there are a variety of sources for financing some (or all) of your book.
Talk to your accountant about how to best fund your book within your business’ operating budget with a focus on expense timing, cash flow, and tax considerations. Progressive service publishers often have flexible payment terms that can help you either time payments to fit with your business cylces or spread payments out through into smaller payments.
Pre-sales can take two forms. First is individual pre-sales, which can be done directly through your own network, but the sophistication and multiplier-effect of crowdfunding sites make them a potentially more potent method. The second is organizational pre-sales. If you have strong relationships with businesses, associations, and other relevant organizations, you can approach them in advance to inquire about bulk pre-sales. This tends to be the better approach as each sale is for a large number of books, and thus a more efficient use of time.
Sponsorships are another way to engage organizations with a special interest in your topic, and you can get creative here with your offering.
Consider the following:
- Advertisement at the back (or front) of your book;
- Advertisement on the back of a bookmark or postcard inserted into your book;
- Mention in an email to your email list; or
- Guest speaking at the sponsor's event.
You can also combine some of these with pre-sales to potentially cover the entire cost of printing and publishing, and perhaps even make some initial profit.
You might also consider partnering with another individual who may be willing to contribute financially to the book, in exchange for an author credit. These partnerships can run the gamut from you doing all the writing and the partner bringing all the funding, to a true co-author relationship where you each split both duties. Where many of these partnerships land is you do the writing, you engage with them to get their thoughts and ideas on the content, and they contribute some, but not all of the funding. In the end, it's a negotiation with a goal of meeting the needs of both parties.
Some publishers offer various forms of financing, from early payment discounts, to installment plans, to third-party lending facilities. Traditional and hybrid publishers, of course, cover some or all of the entire cost of publishing and printing and may pay an advance on royalties in exchange for taking the bulk of the future proceeds of your book sales.
Just as a successful business, whether small or large, needs a clear strategy and plan to guide its activities, so too does a successful book. An effective nonfiction book strategy points to a clear destination and maps out a coherent path to reach it.
By spending some time up-front, you'll eliminate re-work, completing your book in less time than it would have otherwise taken. But, more importantly, you'll proceed with confidence knowing that your time, effort, and resources won't be wasted. And you'll produce a book that builds your authority as a thought-leader in your field and that grows your business.
After all, was that not the whole point in the first place?