Today, more and more authors, organizations, and companies find themselves pursuing self-published, printed products as a content strategy for earning revenue, spreading ideas, and engaging audiences.
But, what actually is “self-publishing”? Who’s it for, and how do you do it well? Polymath sat down with two leaders in the space to talk about how forward-thinking brands are capitalizing on the opportunities afforded to them by creating their own bound material.
CHANDLER NAVARRETE, Polymath: Jacqueline and Garrett, thanks for joining us. “Self-publishing” can be an elusive concept. Who is even a good fit for it? Not everyone or every brand sees themselves as “author material.”
JACQUELINE ISAACS, Bellwether Communications: Printed content makes a lot of sense for anyone or any brand that’s running into limitations in conveying their ideas. Sometimes 600 words in a blog post or 90 seconds in a video is not enough to explain a complex issue. We’ve found that the best authors are people or organizations who are an expert in something, who are passionate about a topic, who want to get their ideas in front of a wider audience of people. You may be seeking more engagement; you may be building a sales funnel; you may be looking to brand yourself or cement your legacy; you may be wanting more donors to your nonprofit organization…a book is an excellent way to accomplish all of those.
“Now, when people have an idea, they can produce it themselves, which is extremely empowering.”
GARRETT PERKINS, Bookmark: The Internet age has really expanded the definition of “who is an author.” Instead of calling yourself an author, now, you’re a content creator. There’s been a massive shift in how content gets produced today. Now, when people have an idea, and they don’t want to go the traditional route, they can produce it themselves, which is extremely empowering. …Especially if the goal of your authorship is to sell books, as opposed to just “getting published.”
POLYMATH: Why even consider self-publishing a book or creating your own print product, when you could just make a video, podcast, or blog instead? What does print get you that other types of content don’t?
JACQUELINE: For any brand’s audience, a book is such an easy ‘ask’ compared with other methods of long-form content… Asking your followers to sit through a 10-hour-long video course or sign up for a three-month-long certification program demands so much more of them than just buying a book. It’s a pitch that people are very open to, that doesn’t feel like a huge commitment. That’s why having a book at the top of your engagement funnel is so successful.
GARRETT: There’s also a certain credibility that’s gained when you have a book to your name. A book can be like a business card—something you leverage to get notoriety, speaking gigs, email subscribers, and the like. Having a book says that you have the expertise you say you have, and you are an authority. You can use the book to build your platform, attract more customers, and get your name out there in a way that you just can’t with other forms of media.
POLYMATH: When most people think of making a “book,” they think of the traditional, published-author format that could wind up on The New York Times bestseller list. But, there are many other types of printed products that brands can make via self-publishing. What are they, and why would they create them?
GARRETT: A big part of any organization’s mission is bringing people into their ecosystem. What’s so great about something bound and printed is that it can be either a format for original ideas or an “extender” of existing content. If you create podcasts, blogs, video series, teaching courses, or even host conferences, you can formalize or re-package that content in the printed form to share it with more people. A book—or a journal, magazine, workbook, or companion guide—then becomes just another way to monetize the same content and get it out to a larger, even different audience. Printed products also make for great “keepsake” items—ways to memorialize important ideas or stories associated with your brand.
POLYMATH: Why are more people choosing self-publishing to print their content?
JACQUELINE: Authors we work with are often surprised at how much work they have to do themselves when going the traditional publishing route, and so, the leap to self-publishing doesn’t seem like all that much when you start to zoom out. If your name isn’t “Michelle Obama,” for example, a traditional publisher will probably do very little in terms of actual marketing to support your book. And, so, if you’re gonna be the one spending the money, time, effort, and resources to engage your audience, why should the publisher take the margin from your sales?
GARRETT: Not only that, but self-publishing allows you as an author or organization to own your content, instead of giving somebody else the legal rights to your thought leadership. When you own your content, you get back two things: your customer data and your dollars. You actually know who your customer is and are able to engage with them in the future. When your print product is sold exclusively through traditional retailers, you have no idea who’s buying your book and no way to re-route those people back to your ecosystem.
JACQUELINE: Right. And if you self-publish, you could make the same amount of money selling fewer books and have that data about where those books go. From a marketing perspective, that’s money, too. You could easily spend $10–$15 acquiring a good, qualified email address if you were doing it through other means. If you were able to capture an email address by selling a book, well, that’s just as valuable as the book sale.
GARRETT: And, then, you can market future products to that customer, raise money from them, and even send other communications to them, all from just the book sale. Contrast that to the traditional approach: you’re gonna have a really hard time building your brand via Amazon, because you’re competing for space, the algorithm always changes, and you just have no idea who “your people” are at the end of the day.
POLYMATH: When self-publishing, how do you solve for the many important services that traditional publishers do provide to authors, like manuscript editing, book layout design and typesetting? Do you just have to figure that out on your own?
“As a self-publishing brand or author, you control the entire process.”
JACQUELINE: When you self-publish, you really need three big buckets of support: first, you need to write (and edit the book), then you need to print the book, and then you need a place to store and ship all those books and have all those books sell. Going this route, the burden is on you to produce a product that’s just as good as if it was traditionally published—from the quality of the printed book to the content within. But there are companies like ours that exist help you all do that, whether you are traditionally published or self-published. Writing a manuscript takes a lot of work and discipline, and sometimes you want or need someone like us to give you feedback along the way, to set deadlines, coach you on writing strategies, and provide editing support, so that you’re not putting something out there that’s full of typos and just not readable. The goal is to self-publish a high-quality product that people don’t even notice was self-published in the first place.
GARRETT: And you often can’t get that kind of quality by printing with just anyone. What is special about bringing on people like Bellwether and Bookmark is you’re gonna get people that care about your ideas and your success. We want to make your print dreams a reality and help you create a product that you’re ultimately thrilled with. You’re still gonna get all the services that you would get from a traditional publisher and more, but you get supported by a team that’s successful only if you’re successful. I think as more and more people engage with publishing, they’re realizing that they want service providers who will help them with their ideas, move fast, and actually care about getting the end product exactly how and when they want. As a self-publishing brand or author, you control the entire process, and that’s a very empowering place to be as a creator.
Jacqueline Isaacs is managing partner of Bellwether Communications, where she helps thought leaders craft measurable, well-researched content strategies that achieve their goals.
Garrett Perkins manages strategic partnerships for Bookmark, the go-to partner for brands looking to create quality printed and bound products.