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Stacy Ennis of Nonfiction Book School: How to Grow Your Business or Brand by Writing a Book

Leverage the power of your community. One of the things that helps Nonfiction Book School students be successful is the megaphones of others in their communities. My own community has been incredibly impactful in my success, and I do my best to support my friends and colleagues too. Build relationships during the book-writing process and make direct asks when you launch your book. Provide swipe copy (text they can copy, paste, and share) and social media graphics. Ask them to share your book with five friends or if you could join them on their social media profile for a live discussion about your book.

As a part of our series about “How You Can Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacy Ennis.

Stacy Ennis is a best-selling author, coach, and speaker on a mission to help leaders clarify their ideas and harness their unique story to make an impact. Along with being the founder of Nonfiction Book School, an accelerated author program, her background includes ghostwriting for a Nobel Prize winner in medicine and leading as executive editor of Sam’s Club’s Healthy Living Made Simple, a publication that reached around 11 million readers. Her best-selling book, co written with Ron Price, is Growing Influence: A Story of How to Lead with Character, Expertise, and Impact. Learn more at www.stacyennis.com.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what motivated you to become an expert in the particular area that you are writing about?

I fell in love with writing at the age of seven, when I read the Chronicles of Narnia and then later placed in a statewide poetry contest. That poetry competition unlocked something within me, and from second grade on, I set out on a mission to become a great writer. Throughout middle school, high school, and college, I studied writing. But it wasn’t until I landed a coveted magazine internship — and had the opportunity to work with a great boss who eventually became an incredible mentor and friend — that I began to believe I could pursue a profession doing the thing I loved. The power of mentors! I still shake my head in amazement at how different my life could have been if I hadn’t taken that internship.

I went on to teach at international schools, and eventually started my business and got a master’s in writing. Along the way, I discovered my calling: to help leaders uncover their unique stories so they can impact the world.

Can you share a pivotal story that shaped the course of your career?

In 2012, I was approached by a small publisher to write a book about book editing. I was a book editor at the time, and I’d even coached people through the book-writing process, but to be honest, the idea of writing a book terrified me. I had a lifelong dream essentially handed to me on a silver platter, but I still had to take several deep breaths, whisper good vibes in the universe, and close my eyes as I hit send on the reply email: “Yes, I’d love to write a book for you.”

Then I felt that strange mix of excitement and panic. A whole book? Me?

It turns out that book changed everything for me. I developed deep clarity about my ideas and business, benefitted from the PR around the release, and became a more confident version of myself. My revenue doubled and eventually doubled again.

When I coauthored my next book with a dear friend, Ron Price, I experienced a similar boost in clarity and confidence, and watched with awe as our book hit major best-seller categories next to books by Brené Brown and Stephen Covey. Our book has now been translated into multiple languages, received an Axiom Gold Medal award, and was an Eric Hoffer Award finalist. I started getting invitations to give keynotes and deliver corporate workshops, plus saw a marked increase in inbound clients. Today, I have a phenomenal team that supports the transformative work I do through coaching, speaking, and my accelerated author program, Nonfiction Book School.

The success has been humbling, motivating, and powerful. And I know saying yes to that first book influenced the trajectory of my career and life.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Are you working on any new writing projects?

I’m most excited about Nonfiction Book School, my accelerated author program to help aspiring authors achieve the dream of writing a book. I’ll be running the program starting in April 2022 and am already welcoming new students.

A bit about the program: Drawing on my work with hundreds of aspiring authors, Nonfiction Book School provides a step-by-step system to help aspiring authors write their nonfiction book. Over twelve weeks, students walk through targeted trainings, live workshops, expert coaching, and deep-dive QA sessions alongside other future authors. I guide them through each step of writing a nonfiction book, from idea to finished manuscript, and teach a clear process to take the guesswork out of writing and unleash their creative genius — even if they don’t think of themselves as writers!

It’s an honor to get to guide people through the process of writing a book. Students describe the process as “transformative” and “the best investment I’ve made.” Just like when I published my own books, I get to watch their influence, impact, and income grow as they publish their books and share their unique stories with the world.

Thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you please tell us a bit about your book? Can you please share a specific passage or story that illustrates the main theme of your book?

I am deeply proud of Growing Influence: A Story of How to Lead with Character, Expertise, and Impact, coauthored with Ron Price.

A bit about the story line: Emily, one of the main characters, is a career-driven thirtysomething with big ambitions and a young family. She is making an impact as a leader at a tech company, but after being passed up for multiple promotions, she finds herself at a loss for how to improve. Fate answers her in the form of a kind — and surprisingly direct — older man in a coffee shop. A well-respected CEO before he retired, David has deep and rich leadership knowledge. Emily needs direction, and David is the perfect mentor.

Growing Influence offers readers both practical advice on how to develop leadership skills and a relatable account of one woman’s growth by applying the principles in the book. Unlike nonfiction business books or business memoirs, this story is a business fable that is both impactful and transformative.

Probably my favorite topic in the book is the discussion on “discretionary time.” This is a concept I implement in my own life and teach in Nonfiction Book School. In the book, Emily is struggling to grow her influence at work, and through her conversations with David, discovers that she can start by making space in her daily schedule to influence herself. Put simply, discretionary time is focused time devoted to creativity, thinking, growth, or deep work. When Emily implements the simple but profound daily habit of creating space, she notices a powerful shift in how she shows up — and how she’s able to influence others.

You are a successful author and thought leader. Which three character traits do you feel were most instrumental to your success when launching your book? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Three character traits that have influenced my success are vision, discipline, and focus.

When I launched my business back in 2009, I started with a vision of the life I wanted. And each year, I revisit that vision to ensure it still holds true. I define my vision one year, five years, and ten years from today, getting really clear about the exact life I want to create. Clarity of vision enables me to stay the course when things get tough, and to have something to measure against as I pursue my own version of success.

Then, once I’ve defined that vision, I create a strategy and tactical plan to achieve my one-year vision, with my five- and ten-year visions in sight. This is where discipline comes in. You have to show up every day and do the work, and discretionary time has been hugely important to my ability to remain disciplined. I protect my discretionary time like a mama bear — I have to, because no one else will do it for me. As an example, I protect from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily, and avoid all “digital input,” including email, social media, text messages, and anything else that could steal my attention. The discipline of showing up every day has been a top contributor to my success.

And finally, focus. This is both in-the-moment focus and big-picture focus. Each day during my discretionary time, I focus intently, with all distractions out of sight and mind. My phone is on silent, door is closed, and I have protected my mental space by staying off email, social media, and texts. As an example, I’m writing this response during my discretionary time, and I’m able to do so with complete focus. Big-picture focus, on the other hand, is about not getting distracted by shiny new ideas. I have 100 new ideas a day and can go down mental rabbit holes by getting overly excited and even creating outlines or materials for my next great idea. Then I catch myself, slow down, and ask: What is the one thing driving all my decisions this year? I actually already answered this at the end of last year, so I have deep clarity around how to anchor my decision making. If the idea doesn’t align, I put it on a “shelf” (i.e., track it in my favorite project management software, Asana) and let it sit while I go after the thing that is going to drive actual growth and impact.

In my work, I have found that writing a book can be a great way to grow a brand. Can you share some stories or examples from your own experience about how you helped your own business or brand grow by writing a book? What was the “before and after picture?” What were things like before, and how did things change after the book?

Writing and publishing my first book back in 2013 and my second coauthored book in 2018 completely transformed both how I saw myself and how others saw me. Internally, I gained deeper clarity, new frameworks, and clearer language; this impacted how I carried myself, invested in my business, and pursued opportunities. I began taking bigger risks, hiring a team, and even investing in my wardrobe. Clarity of self is empowering.

Externally, all this newfound clarity and confidence contributed to crushing it at the opportunities I was given, which led to more opportunities. As a published author, people began to see me as an expert industry leader. I began to steadily grow an audience. I secured keynotes and opportunities I’d only dreamed of when I started my business as a side hustle back in 2009, teaching high school language arts in the Dominican Republic.

I’ve seen the same in my clients and students and as I’ve watched the journeys of colleagues. Writing a book is a deeply introspective journey, and it forces a person to sit with her thoughts for hours, days, weeks, and months. The process pushes boundaries and forces us to test our discipline and follow-through. And if you can emerge on the other side of the long and meaningful journey of writing a book, you’ll be profoundly transformed.

Some examples include:

  • A consultant who developed an entire new framework for teaching and implementing her expertise while writing her book. After publication, she hit best-seller lists, potential clients lined up outside her digital door to work with her, she’s been sought after in the media, and she’s developed additional offerings — including a digital course — that have led to additional revenue streams.
  • A speaker who put all his great content and ideas into a clear, compelling book . . . and landed a corporate keynote that paid for his entire book investment. Best of all, the clarity he gained influenced how he spoke, consulted, and coached, and impacted his future business decisions, leading to increased revenue (and more joy!).
  • A phenomenal coach who decided to invest in herself and her dreams through writing a book, and developed clarity of niche, process, and language that has led to a steady stream of clients who deeply value her amazing work. She is now a thought leader in her industry and sought-after coach, consultant, and keynote speaker.

I’ve seen different versions of these same stories over and over again throughout the years. It’s powerful to watch a person’s transformation when they step into their purpose, with a book as a catalyst for impact.

If a friend came to you and said “I’m considering writing a book but I’m on the fence if it is worth the effort and expense” what would you answer? Can you explain how writing a book in particular, and thought leadership in general, can create lucrative opportunities and help a business or brand grow?

I have this conversation all the time! I’d suggest that my friend first get crystal clear about her big vision and how that book can be a catalyst for achieving her vision. Then, I’d recommend writing a list of the potential ROI of investing the time, energy, and expense into becoming an author.

Most aspiring authors do the wrong math when determining the ROI of writing a book. They’ll total up the potential investment (time, energy, money) and then divide that amount by profit per book. But that’s a false equation, because calculating the true ROI of a book isn’t so simple.

In fact, the greatest benefits are harder to measure — but can equate to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of opportunities. There is external ROI to writing a book, including opportunities like speaking engagements, media attention, a steady stream of inbound clients, new career opportunities, and new frameworks that lead to programs or other revenue streams. And there is also internal ROI to writing a book, such as deeper clarity of one’s story and message, boosted confidence, and showing up as the “next level” of yourself.

Take an example I gave above, of the consultant who wrote a book that enabled her to create a number of additional revenue streams. She was an expert, but she hadn’t taken the time to bring all that expertise together into a simple, clear framework she could utilize. Not only did she write the book around the framework, but she now uses the framework in her consulting, is launching a program with the framework as the core teaching structure, and has been invited to numerous media interviews to share her expertise. The book launch and media attention have enabled her to organically grow an engaged audience who are excited to enroll in her program or hire her as a consultant for their companies.

What are the things that you wish you knew about promoting a book before you started? What did you learn the hard way? Can you share some stories about that which other aspiring writers can learn from?

I wish I’d understood the importance of my author platform. Put simply, your platform is how you show up in the world, both in person and online.

Like so many new authors, I wrote the book, went through the publishing process, and then went, “Oh, no! My website is terrible, I have no business social media profiles, I’m not publishing regular content, and I’m not out doing speaking engagements or interviews.” Then I scrambled to try to get something together before my book launch. The trouble was, I had my first child a couple of months before my book came out, so I didn’t end up getting much done. (Turns out a newborn takes up a lot of time. Who knew?)

I was much better poised with my second book, which enabled me to harness all the opportunities a book launch brings, namely eyes on my business and brand. Those eyes move on, or they can stay with you and become part of your audience or new clients. Because I had a more intentional, consistent platform, I saw even greater results from the release of book two.

Today, I’m always looking to refine my platform, especially through regular content (which boosts my Google results and supports audience building). And I’m constantly encouraging aspiring authors to work on their platforms alongside writing their book.

Based on your experience, which promotional elements would you recommend to an author to cover on their own and when would you recommend engaging an expert?

This really depends on the specific skills, interests, and budget of the author. You can DIY almost anything, but for most authors, I also recommend hiring a web designer, since a website is such an important cornerstone of an author brand. If they have the budget, I also highly recommend hiring a good PR pro. A lot of the cost of PR is the relationships the pro has built over the years — relationships that can open doors that would otherwise be firmly shut.

Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your own experience and success, what are the “five things an author needs to know to successfully promote and market a book?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Because my expertise is in the writing process, I’ll focus on that stage, because there are some foundational pieces that should happen while writing a book.

  1. Fully engage in the writing process. Half-efforts equal half-rewards. A great book is a solid foundation for future success, not just in book sales but in media and speaking opportunities, client attraction, and audience growth. Plus, you’ll reap the benefits of clarity and confidence that will contribute to growing your influence, impact, and income.
  2. Create a strong author platform. Build your author platform with intentionality rather than as an afterthought, and you’ll significantly improve your chances of success as a new author. Begin writing and publishing content (articles, videos, or podcast episodes) and sharing on social media (just pick one platform to start — you don’t need to do them all). This consistency will support success during the launch.
  3. Focus on building your email list. Social media followers are nice, but an engaged email list is gold. Rather than blasting the ether on social media, you go straight to the inbox of people who have asked to hear from you by subscribing to your list. Plus, any social media platform can flip a switch and — poof! — your audience is gone. This happened to a friend of mine, who lost more than 10,000 followers overnight. Guess what she did next? Focused on building her email list — and her business has grown significantly.
  4. Remember it’s not about the book. When building a brand or business, a book should be a catalyst for impact, not the end-all be-all. Use the attention of a launch to get eyes on your brand but stay anchored to the core reason you’re writing the book — the impact you want to make on the world. Build the book launch in a way that drives deeper engagement with your brand.
  5. Leverage the power of your community. One of the things that helps Nonfiction Book School students be successful is the megaphones of others in their communities. My own community has been incredibly impactful in my success, and I do my best to support my friends and colleagues too. Build relationships during the book-writing process and make direct asks when you launch your book. Provide swipe copy (text they can copy, paste, and share) and social media graphics. Ask them to share your book with five friends or if you could join them on their social media profile for a live discussion about your book.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

I deeply admire the work of Brené Brown, not only because she’s a phenomenal writer but also because of how she’s able to integrate solid research in a persuasive, thoughtful way that transforms lives. (I’ll admit I fangirled a bit when our books were next to each other on a best-seller list.)

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’d love to connect with readers! My website is stacyennis.com, and I’m on Instagram @stacyennis, Facebook @stacyenniscreative, and LinkedIn.

I also have a brand-new, highly valuable guide readers can download for free: 10 Things You Must Know Before Writing Your Nonfiction Book. In it, I share industry secrets, actionable advice, and some of my top tools and resources.

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success with your book promotion and growing your brand.

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