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The business of books: The lean author

Recently in The Extraordinary Business Book Club I interviewed Brant Cooper, author of The Lean Entrepreneur (Wiley, 2013). I’m a big fan of lean methodology, for digital products and service development but also as a mindset in general, and Brant is a great demonstration of how lean principles lend themselves to books at every stage:

‘I think that for authors it’s important to view their book endeavour as a startup… even back then [for his first book The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development with Patrick Vlaskovits in 2010] we were doing interviews based upon contacting early adapters and we knew our market segment really well. They were tech startups. We already had access to them and we called them on the phone, we met them in person and talked pricing. The lean entrepreneur was the same thing. By that time, I was travelling the world and doing workshops and speaking engagements and so I would test out content. I would test out frameworks and my methodology inside the workshops to try to figure out what resonated and how could I get entrepreneurs thinking along a particular way that I thought would expose their assumptions and allow them to develop experiments to test those assumptions. It really was being down there in my market segment, testing, running experiments, trying to figure out what was the right way to construct the next book.’

Although the book was published by Wiley, Brant and Patrick ran a crowdfunding campaign ahead of publication partly to provide a ‘war fund’ for marketing, but also to ‘test out the messaging’ and to create a body of engaged fans, ‘early evangelists’, to spread the word about the book because they had a stake in it.

The messaging, like the movement, goes beyond the book. Brant cited Brian Clark’s concept of the ‘entreproducer… producing in a variety of media in order to increase the market size’. This I believe is core to how business books work today, as part of a bigger platform that encompasses video, blogs, elearning, podcasts, a whole range of content types.

And when publishers understand this and support it – by allowing authors to use their content in other media, providing visuals, offering advice and resources for digital content creation and so on – they not only sell more books, they give authors a reason to continue working with them rather than defecting to the growing self-publishing service sector (where people like me are providing exactly those services). It means looking at the bigger picture, investing in the author not just the book and accepting that the brand benefits will be the author’s rather than the publisher’s. But the cost of NOT collaborating effectively in the digital marketing game could be unacceptably high.

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com. 

business models, crowdfunding, lean methodology, Startups, The Extraordinary Business Book Club

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