Venturing Into the Chaos of a Published Book

Venturing Into the Chaos of a Published Book


Linda:
Who should think about turning their ideas into a published book?

Nathan:
Companies who venture into the chaos of developing a book do so to anchor their thought leadership in areas that are “hot” and relevant to their desired target audience. This audience may or may not be the buyers of their products today; it may be influencers higher up the food chain that have more power to drive change in the organization.

For example, several years ago integration competency centers [ICCs] were an emerging trend that few vendors or industry experts were talking about. A leading data integration vendor for which I worked was well suited to address ICCs, although much of its business at the time was in the narrower data warehousing category. The company decided to publish a book to get on the forefront of the ICC trend. This helped them to reach a broader, higher-level audience in their target organizations.

The best books bring out new ideas about how to approach a key business problem, not just technology. In the case I just described, the problem was integration. Companies weren’t addressing it with a holistic view; doing so required a significant mindset change. The ICC concept was floating around but hadn’t had significant airtime from anyone. It was a great topic to expose and for my company to tie itself to.

A book also lends itself to multi-faceted topics where there are many aspects to explore. For example, if you have 5-10 different white paper topics you’d like to write, you may actually have a book.

Linda:
Who needs to be involved in the project to make it a success?

Nathan:
A book gains so much more credibility if you have an independent contributor. Or, in the case of a book I’m working on right now, a collaboration between many companies. It shouldn’t be a single vendor’s specific view. For the ICC book, the company was in the fortunate position to collaborate with the chairman of an independent consortium as a co-author. This individual brought a wealth of information as well as an independent view, and he was very committed to the project. Another book project I’m working on looks at SOAs [service-oriented architectures] from a bunch of different perspectives, with co-authors from a bunch of different companies. When I first was approached for the project, I didn’t think that it would be possible to make it stand out. I went on Amazon and found dozens of books on SOAs. But the multi-author, multi-vendor approach is what is going to make this new book resonate.

Linda:
What about within your company?

Nathan:
Well, you need an executive sponsor – there are no two ways about it. And, this executive sponsor needs to be committed to the project from the beginning and willing to own not just the project but the book’s direction. There is a lot of emotion around a book project, and one single person needs to have the final say. The executive project for one project that I worked on was the company’s CEO himself; in another case it was the CTO.

Linda:
Who typically are the content contributors and how much time do they need to be prepared to commit up front?

Nathan:
I have seen both the roles of the content contributors and the time commitments vary quite a bit. With the ICC book, one key author dedicated a lot of his time to the project. In another case the content has been a side project for a number of contributing executives.

Linda:
How long does a book typically take from start to finish?

Nathan:
Linda, that is a tricky question. If the book’s idea is well thought out and there are contributors available with time allocated for the project, it is reasonable to self-publish in six to nine months. It also depends on the complexity of the project: the number of contributing authors, reviewers, etc. If you’re going through a publishing house, the process can take up to two years.

Linda:
That brings up a good question: how do you recommend publishing?

Nathan:
I think that for technology companies, self-publishing is the way to go. In a fast-moving industry where time is key, you need to get your thought leadership out there more quickly than you can with a publishing house. Also, with a publishing house you lose editorial control. The publisher’s review team might change the content so that it doesn’t quite reflect the end product you were looking for.

Linda:
Once the book is published, what then?

Nathan:
You definitely need a comprehensive merchandising plan to launch a book: who should care about this book and how can you reach them? The components might include a PR campaign (press release, media outreach) and analyst outreach. You will probably want to include outreach to bloggers and to the general public. The ICC book was launched at a conference, which was a very successful way to get in front of the right people. Also, webinars to your customers and prospects can be a great way to get buzz started. And don’t forget about internal preparedness.

You also need to think about how you will distribute the book. How many copies do you want to make available to field-facing employees or customers? Do you want the book to be available on Amazon? Do you want it only to be distributed in print or electronically as well? Or do you want everything to be free?

One company that I am working with is setting up a website for the book, with an abstract, chapter listing, author bios, etc. They are also setting up blogs for the contributing authors, who then can invite the public to contribute to future editions of the book. By doing so, they are trying to create community around the book and be able to take the best ideas forward to make it a better product. [Note from Linda: check out www.wikinomics.com for an example of this type of collaborative book updating.]

Linda:
What do you believe are the critical success factors for any book project?

Nathan:
Here’s what I think they are:

  1. A committed executive sponsor
  2. Good up-front organization, including clear expectations set for contributing authors by the executive sponsor
  3. A well thought out, detailed content outline, especially for collecting contributed content from a variety of sources. Without this, you end up with a “spaghetti bowl” of content. I work directly with the executive sponsor to develop this outline and then we present it at a kickoff meeting with all of the key stakeholders. In keeping with the need for the executive sponsor to truly own the direction, I have found that it is best not to come into the kickoff meeting with a blank slate. You can’t do an effective outline by committee. Instead, you come in with a clear position and collect feedback and concerns from there.
  4. Team members who can check their personal preferences at the door for the good of the project. The tone for this again comes from the executive sponsor.
  5. Effective internal preparedness. Field-facing people will get questions about the book and you need to be sure they have the right answers to give. How should they talk about the book? How do they use it? When do they give it out? The field needs to be able to bridge the gap between the thought leadership in the book and the products they have to sell, and you can’t expect them to figure it out themselves. They need a presentation that ties the book to their sales efforts and products and comprehensive training on the presentation. When preparing field-facing materials, keep in mind that they may be talking to a very different audience than the readers of the books.
  6. A carefully thought out and well-executed merchandising plan, with all of the components we talked about

Linda:
Thank you Nathan! These are some great insights!