In this final installment of my interview with Olivier Blanchard, author of Social Media ROI, we talk about discoverability, time management, and why the best books don’t always get the visibility they deserve.
Liz: Olivier, we were talking earlier about the marketing and promotion of your book. What more do you feel you could have done (or could still do) to boost its “discoverability?”
A glowing review in the Wall Street Journal wouldn’t hurt, for starters. Becoming a regular expert contributor on CNBC, Bloomberg TV or CNN would probably help too, as would my own monthly column in Fast Company or Forbes. (And I’ve mentioned airport bookstores, right?) But you know, that’s kind of the typical thing.
It’s mass media exposure. There’s tremendous power to being everywhere. I think if the book were sold at the checkout counter of every service station in North America, I would accidentally sell a few more copies. People naturally want to buy things they see. So that’s kind of the basis for exposure: the more places you are, the more likely you are to sell more of your stuff. Every writer and publisher knows this: even if your book sucks, a great cover, a whole brick of copies front and center of the store, and cool promotional posters everywhere will move copies. It’s a given.
We aren’t talking about a meritocracy here. The best books don’t necessarily get pushed to the front; the ones with the most money behind them do. The reality for a new writer like me is that no publisher is going to throw a lot of marketing money behind a book like Social Media ROI, no matter how good or important it is. So you have to get creative. You have to work with what you have.
Interviews like this help a lot. I speak at conferences around the world. My blog is also kind of well read and I have a decent following on the twitternets now. All of those things add up. You have to put your eggs in a lot of different baskets, even if you start off with a bunch of really, really small baskets. And sometimes, you just get lucky. You catch a break. That’s important too.
I would say that going into its second year, sales of the book are being driven mostly by two things: word-of-mouth, and search. Most people who discover the book and read it end up liking it a lot, so they tell their friends and coworkers – even their bosses – about it, and so it spreads that way, organically. When it comes to search, I haven’t focused on “owning” the right keywords, but I’ve kind of put my stamp on the topic of social media ROI for the last few years, so it’s kind of difficult to google the term without running into me or the book. That’s the very definition of earned media for you, and it works very well.
One more avenue that might be key to the book’s longevity is universities. Social Media ROI works very well as a textbook. There’s a massive opportunity there for a book like this at the university level – graduate and undergraduate – and we’re seeing the start of that already. Increasingly, I find myself being invited to speak to students by professors who used the book as a teaching tool. I love that and hope I will see more and more of it. When you look at the sales numbers from university book stores as opposed to just, you know, the Amazons and B&Ns of the world, you realize that there’s a lot more to the publishing world than meets the eye. Don’t underestimate niches, either when it comes to genre or distribution.
Liz: My clients are senior executives and very busy people. Many struggle with finding the time to write their books while holding down high-level positions. What time management (or self-management) tips could you give them?
That’s a great question. They have a few options:
1. Hire a ghost-writer. It isn’t uncommon for high-visibility CEOs and celebrities to go that route. It becomes more of a collaboration than what the average writer goes through, but it takes care of the two biggest hurdles facing a busy, high profile executive: the time factor, and the very real possibility that they might not be talented enough to actually write the book themselves — even though they are probably smart enough to be the driving force behind what the book has to say.
2. Write a short book. Some of the best management books I’ve read were less than two hundred pages. Nobody needs to write a three-hundred page brick like Social Media ROI. (It comes in at one pound, give or take a few grams.) My next book probably won’t be that big. It just so happened that this one needed to be. Small works. Look at books like the seminal The One Minute Manager, by Kenneth Blanchard (no relation) and Spencer Johnson, or Do The Work, by Steven Pressfield. Writing a book doesn’t have to become a Herculean endeavor. Keep it simple. Keep it short.
3. Really want it. Nobody can expect to write a book unless they have a fire burning inside them to see it done. It’s a long game, this book business. Writing seems like the hardest part, but you realize it’s actually the easiest once you come through that initial gauntlet. Anybody can write a book. Look around. Walk through any book store and pick up some of those discount books that sit around in the bargain bin. Somebody sat there and wrote those. They were living the dream, right?
Well, the reality of it is that there are worse things than not getting published: like publishing a really horrible book nobody likes; a book that flops and ends up in some bargain twelve-books-for-a-dollar bin in some frozen corner of Nebraska. That’s an aspect of this kind of project that any aspiring writer, especially an executive, needs to consider. Finding the time to write a book is just part of the equation. They also have to make damn sure that six months later – and years later, even – the book is something that can be seen as a feather in their professional cap rather than a stain on their career, if not an outright black eye. So… there’s that. Think beyond just making time to write the thing. Look well beyond the crest of that next hill.
Writing a book is just the beginning. You have to follow through and make it count.
Liz: Thanks so much, Olivier.