Is writing a book a marketing tactic or a long-term strategy?

Mark Schaefer
Nov 4, 2019 · 5 min read
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I was asked this question about writing a book on a podcast interview a couple weeks ago. I apologize — I can’t remember who asked it but it is an interesting question I have never been asked before. Good job interviewer who I can’t remember.

There can be very different motivations for writing a book and many people are surprised that things usually don’t work out as they planned when they get into it the process … so let’s explore this topic today.

Why write a book and what can you expect?

The Marketing Tactic

People who write a book as a tactic may go through an agency to help them write and promote the book. Usually they only write one book — that’s enough. They have their social proof. They are the author of something.

Here is a quote from prolific author Ryan Holiday:

“In my work with authors, I’ve met with no shortage of smart, accomplished people who, I’ve realized, don’t actually want to write a book despite what they say. They want to have a book. We find these types in every industry. We should pity them — because they’ll never get what their ego craves so desperately.”

I think that is a good summary of tactic versus strategy.

Are you writing for your ego? Or are you writing because your spirit yearns to create and serve an audience?

One word of caution — If you’re only writing a book to check a box, this can backfire on you. If the book sucks, you will certainly attract negative online reviews, a permanent stain on your reputation. It can also cause negative word of mouth buzz about you if you’re only writing a book to enhance your short-term reputation.

Look at it this way: Writing a book is the single-most risky thing you can do for your brand. You can’t take it back. You can’t say “whoops! … didn’t mean it.” Once it is out there, it is a permanent installation in your personal branding gallery.

So my advice is, if you’re going to write a book, even as a short-term tactic, take the job seriously. Put out something that is worthy that reflects your expertise and reputation.

Writing a book: The strategy

Here are some foundational ideas about why writing a business book can be part of a long-term strategy.

1) Making money (or not)

I don’t know of one single person who has made meaningful money on their first book. Selling business books is excruciatingly hard. Prepare to lose money, especially if you count the value of your time. There are only three ways to make decent money on a book:

  1. You’re an established superstar like Kawasaki, Godin, or Vaynerchuk with an immense audience.
  2. Customers buy a quantity of books for speaking engagements
  3. You accumulate a small income off of many books.

I am in category two and three. My customers often buy books for my talks** and my long-term strategy is to write a number of trusted and meaningful books to create some income. I was never making any measurable income until my fifth book. If people discover you and love your books, they may buy all of them!

** You can only make decent money selling books at events if you self-publish and have access to an inexpensive supply of books at a high margin.

2) Becoming KNOWN

In the four-step process in KNOWN, the first stage is determining what you want to be known for. A book can be a bold manifesto to help clarify your thinking and declare “this is me!”

Some people struggle with clearly defining what they want to be known for. Writing a book on your most closely-held ideas and philosophies can provide an “a-ha!” moment.

I put my heart and soul into my books with a single driving ideal: I will never let my audience down. I sweat over every story, every paragraph, every word. That quality and passion and have been recognized over time and have built a personal brand that people trust.

3) Writing a book for career gains

  • Several universities immediately assigned this as required reading to their classes.
  • New speaking engagements emerged based on interest in the topic of the book.
  • The ideas behind the book became the foundations for an entirely new speech.
  • I was approached by foreign publishers for the right to translate the book in other languages. Depending on the country, these contract can vary from $5,000 to $20,000.
  • Company executives who read the book hired me to do workshops and talks at their companies.

4) Validation and awareness

Remember what I said about how hard it is to sell books? It’s even harder to get reviews. Far less than 1% of the people who read your books write a review. So you have to sell a lot of books to get positive reviews and this requires a long, patient strategy.

Writing a book is a big decision

So, whether you want to write a book (strategy) or have a book (a tactic), this is a big career decision.

If your dream is to write a book, go for it, but just go in with your eyes open and determine if this a tactic or a long-term strategy.

Here are additional posts I’ve written about HOW to write a book:

I appreciate you and the time you took out of your day to read this! You can find more articles like this from me on the top-rated {grow} blog and while you’re there, take a look at my Marketing Companion podcast and my keynote speaking page. For news and insights find me on Twitter at @markwschaeferand to see what I do when I’m not working, follow me on Instagram.

Originally published at on November 4, 2019.

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Mark Schaefer

Written by

Chieftain of the blog {grow}, strategy consultant, educator, podcaster, author of Return On Influence, The Content Code, and The Tao of Twitter.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +754K people. Follow to join our community.

Mark Schaefer

Written by

Chieftain of the blog {grow}, strategy consultant, educator, podcaster, author of Return On Influence, The Content Code, and The Tao of Twitter.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +754K people. Follow to join our community.

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