May 6, 2024 #ContentChat Recap: Is Self-Publishing a Book the Best Way to Support Your Thought Leadership Goals?

A Content Chat header image featuring an array of flowers behind a text overlay that says today’s topic is whether self-publishing a book is the best way to support your thought leadership goals, with guest Joe Pulizzi.

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika Heald is joined by the godfather of content marketing, Joe Pulizzi, to explore the new imprint Tilt Publishing and what it takes to self-publish a book.

Joe explains the process behind publishing his new book The Content Entrepreneur, which was written with 33 content experts, including Erika! Read Erika’s chapter about how to use AI for content repurposing and order your copy of the full book today. 

Watch the entire conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below.

Q1: When is the right time for a content entrepreneur or creator to write a book? 

What is your goal as a content entrepreneur? What do you want to be known for?

“It depends on your overall goals. This whole conversation is couched in that. What are your goals? Whether you work for a brand or whether you’re on your own as a content entrepreneur, what are you trying to do, and what are you trying to accomplish? Do you really want to do this thing full-time? Regardless, if you want to grow your consultancy, if you have an agency, if you’re a marketer, what do you want to be known for?”—Joe Pulizzi

Publishing a book can create opportunities you never expected.

“Whatever that is that you want to be known for, I’m pretty sure you’re gonna need a book. I didn’t know how important a book was, and when I published my first book Get Content Get Customers, co-written with Newt Barrett, these unexpected opportunities opened that I never would have thought would happen. I was getting speaking invitations from overseas. And actually getting unsolicited requests for consulting.”—Joe Pulizzi

“I have a blog, I have a newsletter, I have TikTok, I have YouTube. That’s great. But I don’t know if that does enough for your credibility, depending on what your goals are.”—Joe Pulizzi

A book can become one of your best business cards and reinforce your commitment to your field.

“I have a blog and I have an email newsletter. But what I take out for show-and-tell is generally this book, and it’s the best business card that you could ever have.”—Joe Pulizzi

“When you have a very short time to make an impact on a person, you say, ‘Oh, this is what I stand for, this is what I believe.’ And if somebody reads that, you probably already sold them.”—Joe Pulizzi

“It makes sure that you have a commitment to your topic, that you’re serious enough about it, and that you believe in it enough that you actually took the time to put together a book. So many people call themselves experts, and they’ll pop up on a new topic every few weeks on social media. So you can’t really take some folks seriously. But if you put a book together, 70,000 words on a topic? You must be serious about it.”—Erika Heald

Aspiring thought leaders and content entrepreneurs should consider writing a book at some point. Include it in your business strategy and start thinking about how to create content in the coming months to support the book. 

“If you want to be a thought leader, if you’re a content creator, or if you have a content business of some kind, you probably need to put it into the strategy somewhere. Whether you’re writing blogs, a blog-to-book strategy, or an email newsletter-to-book strategy, put it there somewhere. The technology exists today that you could do this fairly easily and very much under your control.”—Joe Pulizzi

Q2: Why is self-publishing a book a viable option for content entrepreneurs?

The book publishing business has changed significantly in the past decade.

“The new direction comes mostly out of frustration with what’s happening in the book publishing business, specifically for nonfiction writers. I wrote a fiction novel, but I’ve written mostly nonfiction books. As I’ve seen this model sort of deteriorate, and I’ve been lucky to self-publish; Get Content Get Customers was originally self-published. And I was able to get a book deal with McGraw Hill and a couple after that with Epic Content Marketing and Content Inc.”—Joe Pulizzi 

“10 years ago, it worked fairly well. You work with a traditional publisher, they give you really good distribution, they put it as part of their sales network, and it can work fairly well. Well, you know what? McGraw Hill, at least the division that I was working with, isn’t around anymore. Because that’s not profitable for them.”— Joe Pulizzi

“If you look at publishing with a traditional or somewhat traditional publisher, the terms for the author are difficult at best. And I’m not saying there aren’t really good independent publishers out there. But it is a real challenge. If you’re somebody thinking, ‘Oh I’m going to get an agent, and I’m going to go find a publisher, and they’re going to promote the heck out of this thing. That’s a 1% of a 1% thing going on right now.”—Joe Pulizzi

Even if you secure good terms with a publisher, you likely won’t get any customer data from your sales. 

“If you get those kind of deals, that’s great. You’re not necessarily getting any customer data off of it. But I’m assuming somebody’s giving you a big advance, and it’s driving business opportunities, and good for you.”—Joe Pulizzi

“What if you’re a content creator and you’ve built an audience, and you want your fans to buy your book? If I want to self-publish with Amazon, I’m going to say, ‘Joe Pulizzi’s got a new book out,’ and it goes to my page. Then it says buy here, you click that button, and it goes somewhere else. It goes to Amazon, or Kobo, or Barnes and Noble. All great private companies, but they set the price. You could set your price all you want as an author, but they will set the price. And you know what you don’t see? You don’t even know who buys that. The data for that deal is sent to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo or whoever else.”—Joe Pulizzi

“So your superfan who you’ve been sending a wonderful newsletter to for a year or two years, and they come to know, like, and trust you on your content niche. They go to your site, and you immediately direct them away. And you never even know if they buy your book.”—Joe Pulizzi

“If you’re a serious content marketer or if you’re a serious content entrepreneur, data, the information about your customer, is what runs your entire business. You need to have data on your customers if you’re going to launch new products and if you want to figure out methods to keep them loyal.”—Joe Pulizzi

“Content Inc., which has probably been my most popular book if there has been one, came out in 2015. And then I did another version in ‘21. If I’m looking at the data correctly, I’ve sold over 100,000 copies. I don’t have one name of who bought it. I know you bought it, I know lots of people who bought it, but I don’t have the data.”—Joe Pulizzi

“I wonder if that 100,000 was not 100,000 sales to nobody that I know. What if it was 10,000 people of an audience that I know, sold directly to, I have a direct relationship with, and I can remarket to to continue to grow my business. I wonder if that’s better, and I actually think it is.”—Joe Pulizzi

Don’t build your business on rented land. 

“If you want to build an audience on TikTok or YouTube or Instagram, that’s fine. But you have to remember it’s not your audience. That’s not your data. Those companies are letting you rent that data. And hopefully, when you wake up in the morning, you still have access to it.”—Joe Pulizzi

Q3: What is Tilt Publishing?

Tilt Publishing is a book imprint designed to give content entrepreneurs control over the publishing process.

“We ended up creating Tilt Publishing because we believe that authors and content creators should have control over the publishing process. We just want to say, ‘Hey, let’s get this thing up and running, and let’s get you the data. Let’s sell from your site, let’s get the book out there so you can sell directly.’ And I’m not saying you shouldn’t sell on Amazon or these other things, but I’m saying there are options that exist.”—Joe Pulizzi

Tilt Publishing aims to make the self-publishing process easier for prospective authors. 

“A lot of content creators are building their audience, building some super fans, but they also feel the importance of writing a book. Well, there are lots of things that need to happen when you write a book. You need this professionally edited, proofread, laid out in a certain manner, and designed the correct way. We can help them take the last 10% of that journey. Let’s say you have a final manuscript: You send it to Tilt Publishing, which is part of Lulu, where we’ll take it and help you finalize that book, make it an incredible book experience for your superfans, and then help you set up your website so you can actually sell directly.”—Joe Pulizzi

“We’re not forcing you to sell directly, we want you to. Because that’s the whole mission of this thing working. We don’t just want to create another product for you as a content creator where you have no control over. We want you to create a product, this book, this amazing experience for your audience that’s going to position you as a wonderful expert. You’re going to get your customer data. And you can sell directly off your website and do that in that direct fashion.”—Joe Pulizzi

“This model really reduces a lot of the friction. [Like] most content creators who’ve spent their whole lives writing, I have like three or four book proposals and outlines sitting online. Of course I do, everyone does. And it just always felt too overwhelming to go out there and pitch myself to an agent and to a publisher, it felt like too much. But at the same time, going into a self-publishing process on my own and doing all the things, that felt like too much. It feels like this really takes a lot of the friction away and makes it so much more approachable.”—Erika Heald

The model helps content entrepreneurs sustain long-term business models centered on content. 

“I believe the long term mission of a content creator who wants to be a content entrepreneur, this type of self-publishing imprint, I think that’s important. I don’t know right now what’s out there that helps content creators get their books into shape and then says ‘Hey, we’re going to help you sell directly, we’re not taking royalties. You pay us for services, we’re going to get this professionally done, you’re going to absolutely love it, your fans are going to love it, you’re going to sell directly.’ And now you have a key piece to your business model that’s going to fuel your model for a long, long time to come.”—Joe Pulizzi

“We’re at CEX listening to a lot of amazing content creators, and most of them are talking about ‘Hey, I’m on these social channels, but at the end of the day, I need to make sure I get them to my email newsletter or my membership site, because then I can actually identify them as a customer.’ And that’s when the beauty of this business model works. So this works the same way, but your customers don’t have to go somewhere else.”—Joe Pulizzi

Tilt Publishing is also a community of creators that you can tap into. 

“From a creator standpoint, having the ability to do something like publish on the Tilt imprint, where you become part of this community of creators who are doing this thing, who are going through this process that you can learn from, and have those conversations and that support. That’s very different, and something you don’t get if you’re publishing with McGraw Hill.”—Erika Heald

“This product we’re selling, Tilt Publishing, I think this will work, because I think the authors, the creators, will see this as more than just ‘Oh, they’re gonna help me get my book out the door.’ Yeah, we’re gonna get a great book experience out the door, but you have legions, hopefully, of people that want to support you and promote your book and market that.”—Joe Pulizzi

“That’s community, where you get a group of people, they’re not competing with each other, they really care about your future. They care about your business, and they want to really help you. And that’s what we’re trying to build with CEX and I think that’s what we’re trying to build with Tilt Publishing as well.”—Joe Pulizzi

Q4: What is the first thing someone should do if they want to publish a book?

Decide the story you want to tell. What do you have to say? What problem do you solve for your customers?

“A book is about having something to say. So, what do you have to say? What’s the story you want to tell? I’m under the assumption that if you’re watching this, you already have plenty to say, because you’re blogging, you’re doing webinars, you are doing e-newsletters, or you’ve got a YouTube show. Great, that’s a core part of your content strategy.”—Joe Pulizzi

“If we’re talking nonfiction, okay, what’s the key problem that you’re trying to solve for your customers? What’s that thing that you can solve better than anyone else? Anybody can publish a book today, and most books sell very few copies. I would like you to create a book that sells a lot of copies. And to do that, you have to find your niche, your topic that only you can do the way you can do it that really separates you.”—Joe Pulizzi

“If you’re serious about having a thought leadership platform, you’ve already defined what you want to be known for and you’ve already been figuring out all the different ways you can get your message out there. You’ve probably also done speaking engagements and podcast interviews. You have all these places where you’ve been really figuring out your messaging and trying it out on people, seeing what people care about, seeing what questions they ask you. So to me, it just really becomes this obvious kind of next step where you bring it all together and refine what you’ve been talking about. It shouldn’t come out of left field, unless you’re somebody who creates those kinds of books.”—Erika Heald

Why do your fans follow you? Your book should relate to this reason or topic. 

“Your superfans already know what that is. Why do you have superfans? Why do you have an audience? Why have they followed you? What are you solving for? What’s that book that you can put together and say ‘This is what I want to be known for.’”—Joe Pulizzi

Spend several weeks or months thinking about your topic. Write down ideas as they come to you and start to piece everything together. 

“It doesn’t come right away. You’ll start writing it down. Jot down thoughts. Here’s the mission, here’s what I think, here’s the key problem. And then one day it’s going to solidify. You’re going to be ‘boom, that’s it.’”—Joe Pulizzi

“We want to take you, the regular hobbyist content creator, how do you become full time? What are the things that you need to think about to become a content entrepreneur? That was our key mission. So what’s yours?”—Joe Pulizzi

Use your existing content to your advantage, and plan your upcoming content to help write your book. 

“Either you already have a lot of this content created or start planning for it. I started a blog in 2007. I had a regular blog, and I was responsible for creating content as part of the Content Marketing Institute. I have limited time. My time is valuable, and I have lots of other things to do. So I can’t write all the time, but when I do I want to write for multipurpose. I want to write this blog and I also want to make sure maybe that could be an ultimate chapter in my book.”—Joe Pulizzi 

“I love the blog-to-book strategy. I did that with Epic Content Marketing and Content Inc., where for six months I would blog basically what I thought a chapter could be. I’m fulfilling my goal for the readership at one point, and then I would edit that later to say this could be part of a compilation and take it to the next level.”—Joe Pulizzi

“If you’re thinking ‘Oh, I can’t reuse my past content,” that’s silly. I’ve done this four times, and nobody says ‘I saw that blog post.’”—Joe Pulizzi

Are You Ready to Publish a Book to Build Thought Leadership?

Take the next step in your journey and order your copy of The Content Entrepreneur to receive expert advice for building your brand, creating content at scale, and growing your business with content. Need help with defining your thought leadership strategy? We can help—get in touch.

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