THE BLOG
12/09/2012 05:52 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2013

How to De-Risk Book Publishing

The nature of book publishing is changing in ways big and small. In fact, the very nature of what a book 'is' is shifting. But that's not what I've been thinking about these past few days. No, my exploration today is about authors -- and what the author of the future needs to do in order to be good partners with their publisher.

Wow, did I just say that? You bet I did. Partners. Because the nature of how books are conceived, written, and brought to market, is being dramatically re-invented.

The concept of de-risking comes from Venture Capital. VC's look at new investments, and find themselves more inclined to write a check when they can de-risk an investment. Which is to say, find some indicators or elements that reduce the risk and improve the likelihood of success.

Historically, books weren't published that way. Books were chosen on merit, or in some cases, an author's previous track record. But risk analysis wasn't artistic, and didn't tend to lend itself toward the work of creative, idiosyncratic, often insular people known as authors.

Today social media makes all those old world attributes charming, but antiquated. Authors are the spark plugs of their ideas, both the makers of the books they write, and the conveners of conversations around their topic.

When I wrote my first book, the publisher asked me about my 'platform.' I confess, I didn't know that I had one. Of course I did. I was already a well-regarded blogger and organizer of tech events and conferences. I spoke, paneled and had a growing profile in the thought leadership space.

But today, de-risking an investment in an author and a book means asking some new questions about how they can activate a readership, and move people from the sidelines and into the important space of paying customer. A book buyer is a rare and wonderful thing.

So, in looking to form a partnership with a writer, publishers need to look for writers who are both prolific and passionate. Voices that can break through the increasingly overwhelming noise, and attract attention that can be sustained and amplified.

For many writers, social media is thought of as a chore, or an obligation. But for a new generation of authors -- the book is the lynchpin to a conversation that crosses media boundaries. A successful book can have a life that begins in blog posts, grows to magazine articles -- launches in print -- and then is amplified and magnified via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and even sharing sites like Pinterest and FourSquare.

Simply put, in a world of way too much free content, asking someone to pay for content requires more than a nifty marketing campaign and a snazzy book jacket. It requires a promise. A promise that you're joining an exclusive club that is 'hosted' by the author. This club promises deep knowledge, ongoing conversations, and shared information. The decision to buy a book now often comes after you've met the author, heard his or her public speaking, and read blog posts and tweets.

Social Media has turned book marketing upside down.

So, how can publishers 'de-risk' decisions about a book's potential in the marketplace? Start with this five-point checklist.

  1. Twitter.
  2. Facebook.
  3. Paid Speaking (speaking agent)
  4. Moderating / Convening Conversations (Meetup)
  5. Blogging / Website

TWITTER. While it's easy to disregard Twitter as a noisy world of too many, too short posts, Twitter followers are incredibly important. They reflect people who've 'voted' that your point of view is important. And, Twitter followers are your most likely form of re-broadcasters. They're both fans and advocates. Building a Twitter following takes time, consistent nurturing, and effort. An author with a large Twitter following is more likely to sell books than one who's opted out of this new communications format.

FACEBOOK. Yes, Facebook used to be a connecting point for friends and family. But today it's more more than that. For writers who tend to want to use words with precision, the idea of having thousands of 'friends' seems disingenuous. Fair enough. But Facebook friends are engaged fans who want to engage and share. So an active Facebook community is good evidence that book sales will follow.

SPEAKING. In the old world of publishing, authors often swapped speaker's fees for book sales - driving the always important best sellers list. But today, speaking is far more than a way to front load book sales. Speaking gigs generate blog posts, Instagram pictures, tweets, and buzz. People who connect with you while speaking will buy your book, and become your advocates. So authors with speaking agents, and a track record of successful public presentations, are doing more than a book tour, they're selling memberships into a community of ideas - paid for with book sales.

CONVENING CONVERSATIONS. Paid speakers are always having to balance a speaker's fee with a great venue or community opportunity. I organize the NY Video Meetup, the largest group of web video professionals in the world. I don't make a dime, and it's real work. Why do I do it? Because the topics of entrepreneurism, video, curation, and content, matter to me -- and I enjoy leading the conversation in this community forum.

BLOGGING. I used to have a blog and a website. I still do, but most of my writing is for others. I'm a regular contributor to Forbes.com, FastCompany, HuffingtonPost, TribecaFutureOfFilm, and Mashable. Yes, I'd like to have that traffic on my blog. But I've come to realize being a spark-plug and conversation starter is often better accomplished on other blogs with existing readers and traffic.

It used to be that having conversations with readers came after publication. But today a book is the outcome of thought leadership, blogging, and conversational leadership. It is the deep, valuable synthesis of a thought leader's vision and understanding. It's paid media, and as such -- needs to provide something that free media doesn't.

So, if you want to know if an author can sell books, search Twitter. It's a good place to start.

Steven Rosenbaum is an Author, Founder, and Public Speaker. His book 'Curation Nation' was published in 2011 by McGrawHill Business. He is currently writing 'Adventures in the Cloud Economy', an exploration of how new technology platforms are providing entrepreneurs with flexible and cost effective building blocks for the new digital economy. Rosenbaum was named NYC's first Entrepreneur at Large, and blogs and speaks regularly about digital overload, emerging video form-factors, and curation. You can follow him on twitter @Magnify

This post was originally published on the TOC (Tools of Change) blog.