It's a question hundreds of budding entrepreneurs and thought leaders ask themselves. With the publishing world changing by the minute and the proliferation of self-publishing platforms, how is one able to navigate the waters of writing a book?

The big question is: When to take the leap? How do you know when the timing is right? I sat down with James Marshall Reilly, CEO of the Guild Agency and author of "Shake the World." He has become an expert on the topic not only because he went through the process himself, but also because his business helps create and launch new books he believes will succeed in making the world a better place.

What factors determine the right timing to write a book?

James: That is a tricky question. Part of it really needs to come from your gut. When it's time, you kind of know it. However, if you want to set some sort of clear guidelines, then there are a few things to consider. The right time is when the influence of your network is at its peak and you identify some sort of minimum viable service or product people are buying from you. For myself, I had an influential network that was peaking, and at the same time, an opportunity to start a new company. I thought to myself, if I can write a book, it may give me a competitive edge against my competitors. I think it's a question of both the size of your network and demand of services reaching a critical mass.

What impact does writing and publishing a book have on one's success?

James: So it really depends on several factors: how it's done, who publishes it, what the writer does with the work, and when it comes out. My general suggestion is not to self-publish unless you have a 1M+ mailing list. If it's done correctly--and by done correctly, I mean marketed correctly and leveraged correctly when it comes out--the outcome predictability model is generally positive on all fronts. It can mean more business and more consulting assignments. It can also be an insurance policy for your career. If you fail at everything else in your life, you will always have the achievement of writing a book. You will always be an author. While there is no way to say, "Here are the five things that are going to happen when you publish a book, and there is nothing negative that can come out of it," there are always strange, positive things, you would never expect, that happen.

What was the biggest reward from publishing your book and bringing it into the world?

James: For me, it was all about platform, platform, platform. I basically had no platform. I turned in the manuscript the day before I started my own company. When the book came out nine months later, I started getting phone calls from everyone all over the world. I started being flown around the world for speaking engagements. I started signing clients I interviewed in the book. For me it was all about unexpected platforms that emerged. Some people wanted me to come in and speak about the job market, and others wanted to talk about philanthropy and giving. There is no outcome predictability model for it--but when you put a book out there and push it, you can sit back and watch interesting things come in.

Isn't having a big platform an important requirement before getting published?

James: There is a difference between a platform and a network. I was very, very well networked. I was able to list amazing thought leaders, intellectuals, and celebrities that would contribute and share the book. I was almost like the Wizard of Oz. I was the man behind the curtain. I had built up all these great relationships and thought to myself, Hey, I can build a platform based on the network. Everyone talks about Porter Gale's book "Your Network Is Your Net Worth." I recognized that I had a great network, but nobody knew who I was. Why not synthesize all this information from the network and put it out to build a platform? It ended up working out. Right place and right timing, I guess.

As a CEO and agent for thought leaders who are changing the world, what advice do you have for up-and-coming thought leaders--whether it's writing a book or otherwise?

James: I think from my own experience with people like Blake Mycoskie (founder of TOMS shoes) and Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) and other business leaders, there are two key takeaways. One is: Trust your gut--there is science to back that up, and every entrepreneur and philanthropist I know leads with his or her gut. The second is: Find a mentor. Every successful person I know has had a mentor or someone to bounce questions off of and get feedback. Between having a mentor and going with your gut, those are the best things to keep yourself within the bumper lanes of the bowling alley as you are emerging with whatever ideas, company, or nonprofit you might be putting out there.

Published on: Oct 21, 2014