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Should You 'Write the Book' on Your Business?

This story originally appeared on Business on Main

Should You Write the Book on Your BusinessCatrise Austin was already a successful celebrity dentist in 2009 when she published her first book, 5 Steps to the A-List Smile: How the Stars Get That Perfect Smile and How You Can Too! Then her -based practice really took off, thanks to the national media exposure her book started to bring her way, including spots on the Today show and Good Morning America.

“I would estimate my business has increased 30 to 40 percent as a result of the book,” Austin says. “People trust and support people who appear in the media or are published. I get to reach audiences I never would have had access to without the opportunities this book has given me.”

Entrepreneurs have been publishing books to burnish their credentials and attract attention to their for a long time, but now it’s a little easier thanks to the debut of print-on-demand publishing and other technological advancements. With a computer and the right software, almost anyone with good ideas, a way with words -- or the money to hire a ghostwriter -- can be an author.

“I’ll never become a New York Times best-selling author,” says Austin, who estimates that she’s sold or given away about 3,500 copies of her book, with virtually all of the sales made through online vendors or at speaking engagements. “And I certainly haven’t made a ton of profit from my book. But it has given me a platform that has led to other benefits, like national media exposure and paid speaking engagements.”

Austin says the book even helped her land a role in a toothpaste commercial in 2011, and a side job as a brand ambassador for a line of well-known teeth whitening products.

Fred Zeglin, a custom rifle builder in Kalispell, Montana, also has reaped the rewards of his own book. In 2005 he published “Wildcat Cartridges, theReloader’s Handbook of Wildcat Cartridge Design.” Besides bringing in more work, he says, the book led to a call from an executive recruiter that led, in turn, to a job with a rifle barrel manufacturer. He left that post about 19 months later of his own accord, but acknowledges that he never would have had the opportunity without having published his book.

He’s also parlayed the experience into an instructional DVD and teaching gigs, published a second book, and begun work on a third. “I will continue to write,” he says, “partly because I enjoy the process but mainly because it’s good for business.”

If you think writing and publishing a book might be good for your business, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You’ll probably be footing the bill. Unless you’re a brand-name expert in your field, you’re unlikely to be able to sell your first book to a traditional publisher. That means you’ll have to self-publish, which leaves you responsible for the costs involved with layout, design, copyediting, printing and publicity. Prices are all over the map, but plan on spending at least a few thousand dollars for something that looks and feels like a traditionally published tome. Read one of the many books available on the subject, and compare costs and services carefully before deciding which publisher will get your business.
  • Consider hired help. Writing a book is a big undertaking, and writing well is not in every business owner’s skill set. Unfortunately, a poorly written book could hurt your image more than help it. Austin, like many business executives and entrepreneurs who’ve been published, hired a professional writer to whip her book into shape once she’d gotten her basic ideas on paper.
  • Be prepared to promote your book. There are exceptions for best-selling authors, of course, but in general publishers are putting less time and money into and promoting books these days and relying more on authors to do it themselves. Self-published writers generally do all their own marketing. “It takes a lot of extra personal time,” Austin says. Here again, you may want to hire help, this time from a professional publicist, assuming it fits in your budget.
  • Don’t count on selling your book in bookstores. Getting a traditionally published book into bookstores is a big challenge. Getting a self-published book onto their shelves is almost impossible. Plan on selling online and at personal appearances. Also, unless you use a print-on-demand publisher, be prepared to store books and fulfill orders on your own.
  • Don’t lose focus on your day job. “No level of ‘fame’ will feed your family,” observes Zeglin. “I still have to work hard at my business and offer great customer service. Just because you build up a reputation does not mean the milk and honey will flow.”

“Writing the book” about your industry may not lead to big royalties and could cost you a fair chunk of change up front. But it also could lead to more riches for you and your business, both in the form of new customers and new opportunities to capitalize on your expertise.

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