My review of Australian entrepreneur & consultant Gihan Perera‘s excellent self-published book — Fast, Flat and Free – will appear in my Thought Readership column on ActiveGarage.com shortly. In the meantime, I took the opportunity to ask the author — #5 in Forbes magazine’s worldwide list of the Top 10 Social Media Influencers in Book Publishing — what he did to publish a book that enhances (rather than detracts from, which is so often the case with self-published business books) his reputation – and his perspective on what many might consider “giving away the store.”
Dr Liz: How aligned is the advice and content you offer in Fast, Flat and Free with the way you do consulting? I’m thinking specifically about how many great examples you include and specific advice that the reader can follow…is this just your way of “doing business?”
Gihan Perera (GP): I’ve been in business for 15 years and, yes, the book is closely aligned with my consulting work. In fact, one of the first readers commented to me that the book was “Gihan’s Greatest Hits!” That’s pretty accurate, because much of it is a distillation of what I’ve done in my business over that period of time.
This wasn’t really a coincidence, either. I’ve written a number of books, but part of my motivation for writing Fast, Flat and Free was for it to be a flagship product for this aspect of my consulting business (that is, Internet marketing and online strategy for experts). So I set out to write something that was intended to position me as an authority – and open new doors for me – in this area.
Dr. Liz: To what extent did your thinking about your area of expertise change as a consequence of writing this book? For example, were there “aha” moments or opportunities to more deeply consider a particular aspect of your business that came about because you were writing? In short, would you say that “thought leaders” should write a book because they’re already thought leaders (i.e., just expressing what they already know), or that in writing a book a person can become a thought leader, where the discipline of writing is a form of discovery about themselves and their topic?
GP: Yes! Thought leaders should write a book only when they have something really worth saying; AND the discipline of writing a book enhances and refines your thought leadership. But I think the former is far more important than the latter, and if I had to put a figure to it, I would suggest the 80/20 rule. In other words, 80% (or more) of your book is based on your existing thought leadership, and 20% (at most) comes from new insights during the writing process.
This is especially true now that books are easy to write and publish, so they no longer have the positioning power they used to have (in the days when the only realistic way to be published was to be picked up by an external publisher). The world is awash with bad books, so don’t write a bad book. Get good – really good – first and then write a book.
Dr. Liz: I know a number of consultants who want to write books but are afraid of “giving away the store.” By which I guess they mean that if they put everything in a book then folks won’t hire them. What’s your answer to that?
GP: Yes, I can understand that fear, but it’s irrelevant. The question is not whether people can find solutions to their problems (they can, and from dozens of other sources), it’s whether they will get those solutions from YOU. And your book is one of the strongest tools you have to persuade them to choose you.
One of my friends and colleagues, Domonique Bertolucci, told me that when she published her first book she loved it because it finally allowed people to get access to her for $30. She no longer had to turn people away because they couldn’t afford her, nor did she have to offer free consulting sessions. Her book gave her a way for people to engage with her at an affordable level, and many of those people eventually did become clients as well.
Dr. Liz: How much of a reader are you? What kinds of books do you gravitate towards in the non-fiction genre, and did you use any of them as inspiration when you came to write your own — not just regarding content, but with respect to tone, structure, and layout?
GP: I’m an avid reader, and always have been! I’m sure I have been influenced in so many different ways by the books I read, but one that really stands out is in the area of storytelling. I’ve always been envious of the non-fiction authors who share their messages through compelling stories (think Malcolm Gladwell, Chip and Dan Heath, and Ori and Rom Brafman), and I would love to be able to write like that. My topic seems a bit dry and technical for that sort of narrative, but I decided to start each chapter with that sort of story – as my attempt to model that style.
I also took inspiration from the movie “The Social Network” – not because I’m particularly a fan of Facebook or Mark Zuckerberg, but I figured that if somebody could make a full-length movie about a Web site, there’s some hope that a book about Internet marketing could be mildly interesting!
In Part II of this interview, we talk about how Gihan designed and executed his book’s layout using Word, how he markets his book, and his perspectives on thought leadership. Coming soon!