Dorie Clark on how writing a book makes you stand out from your peers

2 years ago   •   5 min read

By Dorie Clark

Writing a book can also be a major brand enhancer, says Dorie Clark in this extract from her best-selling Entrepreneurial You. Join Dorie live in a Decision webinar on November 12th


Writing a book is no longer mandatory. If you do enjoy writing, however, it’s still one of the most effective tools for demonstrating your expertise, engaging new audiences, and building your credibility. That’s valuable at any stage in your career. But it’s especially important early on, when others may doubt your expertise. 

Dan Schawbel, a consultant and entrepreneur, started writing his first book, Me 2.0, when he was twenty-three and published it two years later. “Having a book says, ‘Maybe I’m not like the other twenty-two- or twenty- three-year-olds,’ and maybe you’ll give me a little bit more of a chance,” he told me.

‘Content creation wasn’t just a means of building my brand. It was also a form of market research that revealed what audiences were most interested in.’

These days, self-publishing has lost its previous stigma and is a desirable choice for many authors (including Flynn). Even ebooks, if they’re well written, can become a powerful marketing tool. But at least for now, there’s still nothing like a traditionally published book to cement your reputation.

For years, I spoke frequently at local events—for free—to promote my consulting business. The talks were well received, but the audiences were small and certainly no one offered to pay me. But all that changed once I published my first book, Reinventing You, in 2013. All of a sudden, event organizers looked at me differently; I was now an expert worthy of being sought out, rather than a run-of-the-mill consultant trawling for business.

I had wanted to publish a book for years, and had tried, but my previous proposals were rejected because I didn’t yet have a large enough “platform” (i.e., I wasn’t sufficiently well known). To remedy the situation, I started blogging, and in the process, I discovered something valuable: content creation wasn’t just a means of building my brand. It was also a form of market research that revealed what audiences were most interested in.

A post I wrote for Harvard Business Review, “How to Reinvent Your Personal Brand,” wasn’t intended to be my statement to the world. I didn’t think of it as being different from, or more special than, dozens of other posts I had done previously for my own blog or other publications. But it caught on, and HBR asked if I’d be willing to consider expanding it to a 2,500-word piece.

When it came out, three different literary agents approached me, and that’s when I realized that I’d inadvertently hit a nerve. A book on professional reinvention turned out to be a much better topic than the ones I had dreamed up and pitched previously—a guide for millennials in the workplace, and a book about how business executives could learn communication techniques using case studies from the world of politics. But I had no way of knowing that, or testing those assumptions, until I wrote a post and saw the audience reaction firsthand.



Try This:

If you’re thinking of writing a book, consider these key questions and thoughts:


  • Determine if you’d like to self-publish or commercially publish your book. Self-publishing is good if you’re writing for a niche audience (“social media marketing for real estate agents”), if you want to publish quickly (traditional publishing takes at least one to two years), and if you want a greater share of both control and revenues. Traditional publishing is good if you’re seeking credibility (there is perceived value in being   chosen and vetted by a major publishing house), and you’d like to focus on writing and promotion (the publisher will handle design, distribution, foreign rights, etc.)


  • Which of your blog posts, podcasts, or videos have been particularly popular? That may reveal emerging trends or book topics that your audience would respond to.


  • Once you’ve identified a possible topic, create a list of competitive works. Even if you plan to self-publish (and therefore don’t need to create a book proposal), it’s still useful to survey the field and determine who else is operating in your field. What angle did they take? How will yours be different or unique?


  • If you’re planning to approach traditional publishers, read the acknowledgments section of the competing works. Almost always, authors thank their agents there (and agents are necessary if you want to sell to a large commercial publisher). Doing this will give you a short list of agents who have successfully sold books very much like yours, and you can loop back and approach them once your proposal is finished.


  • Create a back-of-the-envelope outline for your book. This doesn’t have to be a final product; it’s just an exercise to determine whether you have enough content or ideas to fill a book. For starters, imagine that you’re writing a ten-chapter book. What would you want to cover in each chapter? Try to write at least a one-paragraph description for each. If you can’t come up with enough material, you may need to think it through more or create a short ebook. If you have way too much material, you may have chosen a topic that’s too broad (“The History of Western Civilization”) and you might consider narrowing your focus.


  • Start to develop your book marketing plan. How will you get copies into the hands of your readers? Are there special resources you can tap (a client’s company would be willing to buy five hundred copies, or you speak frequently and could waive your speaking fee in exchange for a bulk book purchase)? What media outlets are most important to reach? Start making a list of the blogs or magazines where you’d like to be featured, the podcasts you’d like to appear on, and so on. Start monitoring them to see if they profile books similar to yours (which implies they might be open to a pitch when your book is ready) or if they have written about colleagues you know (in which case, you can ask those colleagues for an introduction)


  • Now, you’re ready to start creating your book proposal (if you’re planning to commercially publish) or dive into writing the first chapter (if you’ll be self-publishing). Good luck!


Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from  Entrepreneurial You. Copyright 2017 Dorie Clark.  All rights reserved


Catch Dorie Clark live at the next Decision webinar in conjunction with the MBA Association of Ireland on Nov 12th, 18.30 onwards:


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