The real key to being an “authorpreneur”

James M. Ranson
11 min readFeb 13, 2020

The real key to being an “authorpreneur”

As a business owner considering writing a book, you’re probably familiar with the term “authorpreneur.” The term has been around for a few years, but has gotten more popular recently, largely due to Jesse Tevelow’s book Authorpreneur, which came out in 2018.

The idea behind being an authorpreneur is twofold: first, that entrepreneurs should become authors, because the two professions share crucial mindsets and values (or at least can/should share them) and because books can boost business growth; second, that authors should act like entrepreneurs and treat their book writing like a business.

There’s a lot to like about this concept. Treating your book writing like a business means you’ll focus on writing for your audience, think about marketing the book as well as writing it, and ultimately view the book as a means to an end (business growth) rather than the end itself (getting published). I’ve got no problem with any of those ideas!

But I also like big BUTS and I cannot lie.

Here’s the big BUT: there is a problem lurking under the surface of the “authorpreneur” idea. It has to do with how people understand the idea of “entrepreneurship” today.

Generally, entrepreneurship is the same as starting a business, which makes all business owners entrepreneurs the same way all squares are rectangles.

But in today’s hyper-technological economy, “entrepreneurship” often means mimicking a Silicon-Valley-inspired, Y-Combinator-backed, X-Prize-winning tech startup whose job is to create the next big software app, more than starting a coaching business or becoming a consultant. (This, incidentally, is a big reason why I call my authors “business owners” rather than “entrepreneurs.”) And that approach creates some issues when it comes to writing successful books.

See, the startup mentality (often summed up by the pithy sentiment of “move fast and break things”) runs on the idea of creating something called a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The MVP is the fastest, cheapest, and most basic version of the startup’s product. It’s something they can show investors and early adopters as a preview of sorts, so those people will buy into the concept, fund the startup with their capital and/or early purchases, and then allow the people who built the MVP to iterate and improve it over time.

This process works great for software apps. It allows their creators to validate their ideas before putting years of work into them, and it gives them a bunch of money up front that they can then use to build up their businesses, which in turn gives them time to create something awesome one step or improvement at a time.

This process used to work well for books, too. In the days when traditional publishing was the only option, authors used the MVP idea to pitch publishing houses all the time. They’d draft the first three chapters or so of their book (basically their MVP), send the chapters out to publishing houses or agents, and if they got picked up, their publisher would give them investment capital in the form of an advance on the projected royalties of their book’s sales. This lump-sum payment was meant to give the author enough money to live on while they wrote the rest of the book, went through the publisher’s editing and design processes, and ultimately saw the book get published.

BUT…that process doesn’t work for authors anymore.

For one thing, traditional publishing is more exclusive than ever, and a first-time business author getting picked up by a publisher at all is arguably less likely than a first-time startup getting investor capital.

For another, publishers rarely accept MVP chapters anymore, preferring to receive full, finished manuscripts — and unless you’ve got a million Twitter followers or some kind of national presence, they still won’t likely pick you up, let alone give you enough of an advance to live on for very long.

Most importantly, self-publishing has far overtaken traditional publishing, to the point where trying to use this process to create and launch a successful book is largely a waste of time. These days I only encourage my authors to pursue a traditional book deal if they know it’s a sure thing (and even then only with select houses like Morgan James Publishing).

So you might think that the self-publishing community has abandoned the idea of writing an MVP, using it to get a quick influx of cash, and addressing its quality level later.

I wish.

What’s largely happened instead is that quite a few book “experts” have started to teach a self-publishing-based version of the exact same concept. Here’s what it looks like:

  1. Write the book as quickly and cheaply as possible, usually with no rewriting and minimal editing
  2. Publish it with as much hype as possible, ideally hacking it to be an Amazon bestseller
  3. Prime the pump with as many free and/or discounted sales as possible
  4. Hope the wave you create turns into a bunch of full-price sales and/or business growth within the first 30–60 days
  5. Determine whether or not the book was a success based on these results within that timeframe

Do those things, they say, and you’ll be a successful authorpreneur.

Does this system work?

Well, a lot of people would like us to think so. Every self-publishing school and book creation company out there has testimonial pages full of the top 1% of their authors, the ones who sold 20,000 books or got their first five-figure speaking gig or sold out their mastermind within the first month after their first book came out. And when we, the would-be authorpreneurs, read those pages, we think to ourselves “awesome, all I need to do is what those people did and I’ll have what they’ve got!”

Here’s the problem: those results aren’t typical. The average book published on Amazon sells under 300 copies in its entire shelf life. Even with big Amazon launches where you get a few thousand downloads, 99% of the time that works by discounting the book to either free or $0.99, and as soon as the price goes back up the sales numbers drop back off. And even if you’re fortunate enough to get a big client or a speaking gig shortly after your book comes out, that’s no guarantee there will be more once the hype dies down.

The hard truth here is that the MVP system works terribly for self-published business authors. It just seems way better than it is because it’s quick, cheap, and flashy. Kind of like how a Rolex watch looks great on the New York City street corner, but gives you a big letdown when you realize it’s fake.

Why doesn’t this system work?

First of all, it’s based on an incorrect premise: that you won’t make much money from your book, so you’d better not spend much on it in the first place. The truth is that you can make hundreds of thousands of dollars from a business book. But only if it’s a good business book. And writing a good book means investing in making it good by hiring the best help you can afford.

Second, a book is an iffy short-term investment, but a much more solid medium-term investment — and a flat-out fantastic long-term one. Trying to get insane business success or growth within 6 months of publication is, for all but the most famous of authors, laughable. Leveraging a book for insane business growth within 6 years, on the other hand, is easy.

Third, there’s a lot more to being a successful author than just writing the book. Many of the successful first-time-author testimonials I mentioned paint the book as the sole factor in the author’s success, the thing that got them from zero to six figures. But in reality, most of these apparent first-book wonders weren’t starting from zero at all. Yes, the book was their first. But most of them had a stable, profitable business and a wide, engaged audience already behind them before they started writing. In other words, they had a foundation for business growth and book sales already in place, which enabled their book to do as well as it did and get them the growth they wanted. So trying to duplicate that result by following the book system before you have that business foundation in place is a recipe for disappointment.

Finally and most importantly, your book is not a software app. So treating it like one and expecting it to give similar results is nonsensical.

Why? Because there’s a fundamental difference in how the two products are used.

Apps are designed to be used continuously — over and over again, day in and day out. Their goal is to encourage their users to keep using them. If a user notices a bug in the code or a feature that doesn’t work, they can give feedback to the developer and see the problem get fixed in real time. This not only improves the UX across the board, it boosts that individual user’s engagement in using the app going forward. So creating an MVP for an app and then iterating it and improving it based on customer or investor feedback makes a lot of sense.

Books, on the other hand, are designed to be used once. Most people only ever read a book one time — or if they do re-read it, they’ll do so at most a couple extra times (and/or wait several months or years between reads). Books are not meant for ongoing use the way that apps are. Their goal is to capture the reader’s attention long enough to convey a message, inspire a change, and/or direct the reader to its author’s business.

Which means that if your book has the written equivalent of bugs in the code or a problematic UX when it comes out, you as the author are probably screwed. Where a disappointed app user would expect to give feedback on their experience and see an improved product, a disappointed book reader knows that books don’t work that way. Instead of giving you constructive feedback, they’ll simply put the book down and never pick it up again — or if they do give feedback, it will be in the form of a bad review (and then they’ll never pick up the book again). They have no reason or motivation to stick around to see if you make the book better, because the one time they looked at it, it (and, more importantly, you!) didn’t give them what they needed.

In other words, an app may give you many chances to win over or win back an investor (buyer) or a customer (client), but a book only gives you one. Miss that chance because you wrote a crappy book, and you’ll never get it back. So treating your book like an app, where the version you publish is your minimum viable product that you can iterate and improve once it’s made you a bunch of money, doesn’t work.

(This is a real thing, btw. A lot of these self-publishing “gurus” teach to treat your book like an MVP that you’ll iterate later, because you can always reupload your book’s text to Amazon after the book is published. I’ve even spoken to a few who straight-up refuse to work with editors at all, saying they can just get their readers to point out typos for them!)

This practice is not only ineffective, it’s irresponsible to the future of your business.

Publishing a book that’s not the absolute highest quality it can be is nothing at all like launching the MVP of an app.

It’s like showing up for a job interview half-drunk, half-dressed, and half an hour late.

Yes, your book is like a job interview. Or a sales call. Or a keynote speech. Whatever parallel you want to draw, it’s something that only happens once — which makes the quality of what happens paramount. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is cliche because it’s true.

Do you really want to gamble your reputation, your bank account, and the potential future of your business on something you only put the bare minimum of effort into?

I sure wouldn’t.

So what’s the solution here? What should would-be authorpreneurs do instead of treating their book like a tech start-up’s first app?

Consider a different type of MVP. Instead of making your book a Minimum Viable Product, make it your business’s Most Valuable Player.

That’s really what your ideal readers and ideal clients are looking for. A book that gives them the most possible value. A book that shows them how much you care about them, not just about you. A book that positions you as the perfect mentor on their own hero’s journey.

How do you write a Most Valuable Player book?

Here’s a five-step system for you:

  1. First, care. Decide that the quality of the book and the value it brings to your reader is priority #1, and then make all your other book decisions based on that one.
  2. Second, strategize. Determine what value the book will give your reader, what goals it will help your business reach, and how specifically you’ll use it to pursue those goals — before you start writing
  3. Third, take your time. Quality takes time, and deep focused thought doesn’t happen in a hurry. Give yourself the time you need to make the book the best it can be AND to grow your business.
  4. Fourth, rewrite and edit. A lot. No shitty first draft ever turned into a high-quality final draft without a lot of rewriting and editing. Anyone who says different is selling something.
  5. Finally, get good help. As good as you are at running your business, to create a great book you’ll need help from people whose businesses help people create great books. Period.

If you follow those five steps (as opposed to the five minimum viable product steps laid out above), you will write a truly excellent book that will change your readers’ lives and make your business money. If you don’t, well…your mileage will vary.

This is the real key to being an “authorpreneur.” Not simply treating your book like a business, but writing it with the goal of advancing and growing your business over time, which means making the book the best it can be. So if being a successful authorpreneur is your goal, I invite you to book a free Six-Figure Book Strategy Session with me! I look forward to helping you write a high-quality book this year.