There are many reasons to write a business book. Books can generate revenue, enhance your credibility, demonstrate your insights, and even help you network. 

The benefit of writing a book is directly correlated to that book's reach. After all, a good book read by millions is more impactful than a great book read by few. So, for my next book, a child's fable about entrepreneurship starring a resourceful beaver, I committed to myself, my family, and my bank account that I would learn from my past, learn from others, and apply the success I've had teaching and using the Lean Startup method to increase the chances of reaching a wide audience. 

Over the last 20 years, I have written six books. One was a textbook on entrepreneurship, one was a graphic novel about the trial of a superhero, and four were nonfiction books about entrepreneurship and startups. Although my textbook is used at many universities, my only best seller was Startup Opportunities, which I wrote with investor Brad Feld. 

Some of my books were self-published, while others were distributed by big name publishers, but all were done in what I call "publishing 1.0." A firm approached me to write a book. They paid me some money upfront and offered me a single digit royalty on my work. In return they would publish my book.

For all six books, not one publisher (big or small) did anything more. Yes, they proofread and edited it, they put it up on Amazon and in bookstores, but in truth, they added no value to the content and did absolutely nothing to launch it.  

Essentially, publishers use all their marketing money on a few bankable authors who already have bestsellers. If you aren't one of those authors, you get nothing. So you are left to spend your own time and money to market it. If your book becomes a bestseller, the publisher takes 95 percent of the money.  

So I decided that for my children's book Beaver Perseveres! I would try a leaner approach. Here's what I did:

1. Look outside the standard publishers.

Steve Blank said it best: "No answers reside inside. You have to get out the building to turn your assumptions into answers." I knew writing the book in secret by myself was a recipe for failure. So I decided to adopt a lean startup approach. I would engage influencers, innovators, and potential early adopters during product development (that is, while writing the book). I launched it early, and iterated often.  

2. Get feedback.

Even before my book had illustrations, I circulated the draft concept and a sample to a dozen authors in my network. I asked them to estimate the likelihood that my product would resonate. After several of these feedback sessions, I realized that my idea for the book was off. It was failing to deliver on the value proposition--in this case, the lesson. A children's book about entrepreneurship must at minimum show children what an entrepreneur is, and my alpha prototype wasn't doing that.

3. If your first idea doesn't work, pivot.

The parts of the book that didn't work, we punted. The parts of the concepts that did work, we stuck with. But the real learning came from the pivot. We moved away from using "famous animal entrepreneurs" (Steve Frogs, Elon Tusk, Motha Stuart, etc.) and instead stuck with the story of one animal entrepreneur, the eponymous beaver. 

4. Find freelancers to help with construction.

I can't draw, so I hired an artist overseas through Fiverr for less than $5 per image. Those illustrations would serve as placeholders. If I delivered on the value proposition and generated interest, I could then hire a professional illustrator to redo the basic images. This led us to our second book, or product--let's call that the beta.

5. Create a landing page.

Once I had an illustrated draft of the book, I created a landing page. It allowed potential early adopters to review the book in its raw form, share feedback, and leave their name and email to receive a digital copy of the finalized book if they participated in a customer discovery survey. After reading the book, several of the early readers liked it so much that they offered to help by buying a copy in advance. 

6. Do as much crowdsourcing as you can.

Crowdsourcing allows you to pre-sell products that don't yet exist. You know you're on to a real opportunity when early adopters are willing to purchase a copy in advance. Crowdsourcing also lays down the foundation of a community to help collaborate with the book and its distribution. 

This is the step I've reached for my latest book, and so far this method has saved me thousands of dollars and dozens of false starts. 

Published on: Nov 20, 2019
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