Tag: Alison Jones

Infrastructure of publishing business

Now We Are Five

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is founder of Practical Inspiration Publishing, a pioneering publishing partner for businesses, and host of The Extraordinary Business Book Club, a podcast and community for writers and readers of extraordinary business books. She sits on the board of the Independent Publishers Guild and is Head Judge of the Business Book Awards. 

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Infrastructure of publishing business

Launch tips: How’s an author to stand out in a big crowd?

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

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Infrastructure of publishing business

Talking Podcasts: The Extraordinary Business Book Club

In the second article in our Talking Podcasts series, Abbie Headon interviews Alison Jones, a regular contributor to the BookMachine blog and an expert commentator on all things digital, about her podcast, The Extraordinary Business Book Club.

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membership economy

The membership economy


Meet Millennia. Millennia doesn’t take a taxi to the airport, she books an Uber ride. She doesn’t buy a novel at WHSmith while she waits for the plane, she loads up the latest instalment of her favourite Wattpad serial on her mobile. When she arrives, she doesn’t head for a hotel: she’s going Airbnb and staying with locals, and she eats at the restaurants recommended by TripAdvisor, not a guidebook, wearing the new maxi-dress she bought off eBay, not the high street. While she’s away, she remembered to find someone on TaskRabbit to look after the garden.

Millennia doesn’t know it, but she’s a poster girl for the sharing economy, enabled and driven by the internet (which is itself of course fundamentally a peer-to-peer network) and disrupting pretty much every industry in the process.

But there’s a new business model on the block, which holds significantly more promise for businesses: the membership economy.

Strategy expert Robbie Kellman Baxter, author of The Membership Economy and my guest in The Extraordinary Business Book Club this week, explains:

‘The membership economy is a massive transformational trend that is really transforming virtually every industry, moving from an emphasis on ownership versus access, moving from the transactional to the relationship, moving from anonymous to known relationships, moving from one-way communication to community. All of those things together are creating all kinds of new ways to build business models and, most importantly, to build long-term relationships with your customers.’

In the membership model the assets belong to the company: sharing economy businesses provide the marketplace for discovery and transactions but don’t own the assets themselves. In contrast, Netflix – an exemplar of the membership economy – allows its members to access its own content, rather than giving them a way to share their own films.

A related trend is the subscription model, which has been the cornerstone of library journal and ebook acquisition for years, but membership need not involve a subscription, and a subscription alone is just a way to pay; it doesn’t necessarily imply membership. As Robbie puts it, ‘Membership is a mindset… there’s an emotional component there. A sense of belonging. A sense of building a tribe or people with a connection.’

Given how good books are at stirring emotions and building connections, it’s not surprising that smart publishers are tapping into the power of the membership economy. Small scholarly societies have been doing this for years of course, but more recently initiatives such as Pottermore and Osprey Members have shown what’s possible for trade publishers too.

In an adjacent space, The Guardian has successfully established its membership model as an alternative to the other two dominant models in journalism: paywall and advertising. Guardian membership appeals to the readers’ values (‘fearless and independent’) and sense of identity, and the various levels of membership (supporter, partner, patron) allow a range of price points – how often do publishers allow those who really love what they do to spend serious money with them?

So many of the most interesting initiatives in the world of books use the sharing model, driven by the passionate desire of readers to dive deeper into their experience with books, to connect with each other (and ideally their favourite authors), create their own stories based on the characters and worlds they love. Just take a look at some of the start-ups featured in the Bookseller’s Futurebook recently – Litsy, The Pigeonhole, Oolipo to name but a few – plus of course well-established players such as GoodReads and Wattpad. It’s been hard for publishers to gain traction with these models, with distrust flying in both directions.

The membership mindset, on the other hand, gives publishers the opportunity to host the conversation, rather than sitting outside it, and to create new revenue streams at high margin. It’s a model worth taking seriously.


Business books

The truth about business books

I recently collaborated with an MBA student writing her dissertation. It was a fascinating experience, and a great opportunity for me to commission some top-class primary research into the way that the business of business books is changing.

One of the key findings of her research was that for business authors, the value of the book is its symbolic and cultural capital, and specifically the effect of that on the author’s brand, rather than any direct revenues. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that, but I WAS surprised at the unanimity of this view, across all stakeholders: existing authors, aspiring authors, publishers and agents alike consistently expressed the view that:

‘book-related earnings, or economic capital directly derived from publishing a book, are not the main source of books’ continued value to the business publishing network. Rather, intangible benefits, such as brand building and enhancement through added prestige and a bolstered position of authority, contribute the most to books’ value. Tangible benefits were ascribed to publishing a business book, including more clients and more (paid) speaking opportunities; however, it is important to note that this economic capital was indirectly derived from the book… All stakeholders in the business publishing network generally hold this view, irrespective of their diverse experience and expertise.’

So how do we square this circle? On the one hand, business authors want to publish with a big name publisher, to maximize their symbolic capital, which will bring them significant economic benefits (‘more clients, more speaking engagements, more consultancy work’). But traditional publishers don’t get a sniff of the real value they help create – they can only monetize sales of the book itself, and quite frankly that’s not going so well these days.

There are fewer and fewer traditional publishers as the market consolidates, chasing fewer and fewer customer dollars. They’ve already cut costs to the bone – cut any further and they risk losing the reputation for quality that brings authors to them in the first place. Most are focusing their efforts on selling more books through the regular supply chain, but that’s a marginal game. They could raise prices, but that would mean fewer customers, and less visibility for their authors, which (it turns out) is what they’re mainly interested in, rather than revenue.


So where are we heading?

One potential solution is that the credibility of self-publishing or partner publishing simply stops being an issue. This has happened already for some authors: ‘As long as it looks professional,’ one of my authors told me when she signed up, ‘and works for my business, I’d rather have the control than a big name on the spine. Nobody really recognizes publishers’ names anyway.’

Another potential solution is that traditional publishers move to capture more of the value beyond traditional book sales through traditional channels. There are several possibilities here:

  • Servitisation – selling services to authors and/or readers that complement the publishing itself, such as coaching support, social media training, workshops, etc.
  • Non-traditional channels – thinking beyond both online and offline bookstores and supporting authors to sell direct, working with non-book retailers, negotiating B2B branded or promotional deals, partnering with service providers or network owners… the options are pretty much limitless, once you start looking.
  • Recalibrating the contract (which Richard Nash semi-joked about in Frankfurt – see my blog on his talk about 360-degree value) – changing the way we remunerate business authors to make it more of a profit-share, with incentives for the publisher to make the book work for the business.

Books are cheap, yet for business authors in particular they create enormous value. Imagine if more publishers saw their role with their authors as a partnership, maximizing the total value of the author’s brand, rather than simply trying to sell more copies.

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


Seth Godin’s three charges against publishers

“As repressed sadists are supposed to become policemen or butchers, so those with an irrational fear of life become publishers.” – Cyril Connolly

Publisher-bashing is a popular sport, particularly for authors. Always has been. We shouldn’t feel too special: we’re in good company along with lawyers, journalists, traffic wardens, estate agents and used-car salesmen as the punch-bag of the dispossessed and disenchanted.

Much of the bile against publishers comes from authors who feel themselves poorly served – either because they didn’t get a deal in the first place or because they found the terms or the treatment less than they’d hoped for.

But just occasionally you get a really interesting, constructive anti-publisher rant that serves the book industry and society well by asking good questions and offering good ideas.

George Monbiot attacked big scholarly publishers – aka ‘parasitic overlords’ – in an influential Guardian article in 2011.

Hugh Howey put the boot into big trade publishers with his Don’t Anyone Put Me In Charge post in 2014.

And Seth Godin did it this week on The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast. He’s an author, of course, but he spent his early career as a book packager, so he has more industry insight than most.

Here are three of the charges he levels at publishers:

1) They don’t have the imagination to take risks

‘In [Unleashing the Ideavirus], I gave the advice that ideas that spread, win, and that an idea that’s not bounded by paper, is going to spread faster. How could I publish this as a traditional book?

I went to my book publisher, I said, “Here’s the deal. I’d like to publish this book, but a) I need you to bring it out in 90 days, and b) I want to give it away for free, online.”

They said, “We’d love to publish your next book, but we’re not going to do it in 90 days, and you can’t give it away for free, online.”

I made the bold decision to take my own advice, and I refused to take this book and do anything commercial with it. Instead, I just put the entire book for free, online. 3,000 people downloaded it the first day, 4,000 people the second day. By the end of a couple months, it was in the millions.

Then I started getting email from people that said, “We hate reading this in a PDF. Where’s the book?”

Because I had a background as a book packager, I know how to make a book. In three weeks, we turned it into a hard-cover, sold it only on Amazon, and it went to number 5 on the Amazon bestseller list, a book that we gave away, and that cost $40 in the year 2000.’

2) They’re locked in an outdated model

‘You would think that [publishers] are in the tree business or the paper business, the way they behave. They value paper books more than they value the spread of ideas… they think of the world in the scarcity model of paper. Once you get rid of that model, the opportunity for a book publisher is huge, because now, it’s true, anyone can publish their ideas, but very few people can curate them, and very few people have the wherewithal to promote them. The idea that an institution of people with good taste and resources, could find ideas on Monday, edit them on Wednesday, and promote them on Friday, is astonishing, but they’re just walking away from that and leaving it on the table.’

3) They serve the bookseller, not the reader

‘The giant cultural problem of western book publishers is, they think their customer is the bookstore… Since that’s your customer, that’s who you wake up in the morning, seeking to serve… I have discovered over time that the single best way for a book to spread, is for one reader to hand it to another reader.’

You might feel some of this is unfair, but you have to admit much of it hits home.

Publishers themselves would probably be the first to admit that as an industry, we’re not known for our responsive, risk-taking, entrepreneurial hustle. And to be fair, I see more and more publishers engaging directly with their readers – I’d like to think we’re making progress in this area at least.

But there’s much thoughtful criticism here that should challenge us. Do a quick audit: what risk-taking are you currently engaged in, and how are you learning from it? What opportunities are others seizing in your field from under your nose? What are you doing to connect directly with your readers and inspire them to share their love of your authors’ books?

And if you’re lucky enough to have one of those imaginative, challenging, high-maintenance authors on your list, make the most of them. Listen to what they’ve got to say and think about how you can support their ideas.

You might hit a home run, it might not work. But if you never try you’ll never know, until your author gets tired of not being heard and goes and gets the home run off their own bat, proving one again that if you want to innovate, you have to part company with your publisher.

future of the bookAlison 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 books

It’s summer – quick, grab a book

You are what you read. Barack Obama is a voracious reader, who releases his own summer reading list every year (you can see last year’s here). Donald Trump ‘doesn’t have time’ to read. Draw your own conclusions.

But what’s beside your sunlounger/in your backpack/on your Kindle right now? Some frivolous chicklit or gritty noir thriller?

Well, yes, me too. But here’s some REAL brainfood, as recommended by some of the greatest business brains going…

The 12 books Bill Gates reckons everyone should read: less dominated by white US men in suits than I’d expected.
My score: 1/12. Could do better.

EOFire’s compilation of the top 15 books as recommended by 350 leading entrepreneurs. Utterly dominated by white US males, but to be fair they’re all cracking books.
My score: 10/15. Not bad.

The 9 business books you MUST read this year (according to Startups). I bet you won’t believe it, but it’s all male too.
My score: 2/9. Pitiful.

Ryan Holiday’s Books to Base Your Life On. I’ll be interviewing Ryan shortly for the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast so I’d better get myself clued up on these. The antithesis of chicklit.
My score: 4/8. (But that’s only because I did Classics A-level.)

And finally, in an attempt to redress the gender balance, here are Inc.com’s 9 books every female entrepreneur should read.
My score: 3/9.

So that’s a total of 20/53. I think it’s safe to say there’s room for improvement. How did you do?

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

Alison Jones and Aimee Coveney win book marketing competition

Congratulations to Alison Jones and Aimee Coveney for winning Marketing the latest book: a competition for publishing people.

The idea behind the competition was to generate marketing ideas for the third book in the Snapshots series. BookMachine have kicked off the campaign with 4 free events in 4 cities (starting on Wednesday 8th), adverts in weekly emails and rolling out interviews with the speakers (including Seonaid MacLeod and Jasmin Kirkbride).

Alison thought of joint ventures for her winning marketing idea. She thought of APE (Association for Publishing Education), IPG, PTC, PA and pointed out that we could ask them to promote the book on our behalf with a special members’ offer. Definitely one to do! It gives partner organizations members something to read, and helps to spread the word.

Aimee suggested a social media competition, but something better than ‘win a book’. She came up with the ‘Snapshots Binge Box’ – which would include all 3 books and other goodies. We love this idea, reminded us the Boolino Book Box, which we heard about from Sven Huber at February’s event.

Thanks to everyone else for your great ideas too. The book launch series starts this coming Wednesday 8th June, and we hope to see lots of you there! (in London, Oxford, Cambridge or Brighton)

membership economy

The next 5 years of publishing: Alison Jones interview

On the 8th June we’re launching the third title in the Snapshots series, BookMachine on publishing: the next 5 years, with a free event in four cities. Here Allison Williams interviews one of our speakers from the London event, Alison Jones on current publishing trends and predictions.

1) What are current trends and predictions that excite you most about the future of the publishing industry?

I’m enjoying the social reading developments from players such as GoodReads and Wattpad, which empower authors and readers (and to a lesser extend publishers) to build excitement and engagement around books. I expect to see this model extend beyond its home in genre fiction into other areas, particularly non-fiction. For publishers specifically, I think the trend of partnering intelligently, bringing the content and publishing expertise that brands so desperately need to partners who have the reach and funds the publishers in turn need, is exciting: in the attention economy, we’re stronger when we work together.

2) What is the trend or prediction that scares you most about the future of the publishing industry?

Amazon’s dominance, particularly in the UK where it controls c.90% of the ebook market, still worries me, and as I write Waterstones has just followed most of the other players out of the arena leaving Kobo the last challenger standing. I don’t think many publishers are comfortable with the fact that the ebook market in effectively owned by secretive company for which books aren’t even a main source of revenue any more.

3) How do you think we can best combat that trend or prediction?

There are many interesting experiments going on with direct and social selling (I love Aer.io), new subscription models for libraries and individuals (particularly digital audio), so I don’t think the game’s over yet. For publishers, I think it’s essential to build a direct-to-consumer stream and find the right partners or activities to help build that – your customer’s data is more valuable than any one sale to that customer.

4) What is one thing you’d like to see the publishing industry start doing in the next 5 years?

Some have already started, but I’d love to see more publishers getting into events. These are a great way to support direct sales, they facilitate the direct relationship between author and reader that publishers are in a prime position to nurture, they can be a profitable additional source of revenue as well as helping upsell books themselves, and they’re so versatile – from festivals to workshops, readings to conferences, there’s something to suit every type of publisher.

5) Can you give us a sneak peek of the ‘snapshot’ of the industry that you will be sharing with us at the launch?

Let’s just say it’s all about connections!


The business of books: 3 publishing trends

rachel bridge businessThis week’s guest on The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast was Rachel Bridge, journalist, speaker and author of Ambition: Why It’s Good to Want More and How to Get It (Capstone, 2016).

From our discussion I drew out three interesting observations about business book publishing in the 21st century.

1) It’s social

Rachel and I hooked up in the first place simply because I bought her book on one of our ritual family trips to Waterstones in Basingstoke: once a month or so I take the kids in, we all choose a book, and then we head upstairs to Café Nero and ignore each other happily for an hour or so, each immersed in our chosen world.* Rachel’s was the book I bought – I loved the stark challenge of the title, that ambivalent word, which feels simultaneously stirring and disturbing, and particularly intriguing because written by a woman. (We talk more about this in the podcast.) I took a picture of the book beside my skinny cappuccino and was about to tweet it when, on a whim, I searched for Rachel on Twitter. I found her, tagged her in the tweet, and settled down to read. Within a few minutes the response came back, and within an hour we had an interview set up. Boom.

2) It’s secondary

Rachel articulated perfectly the attitude that most business writers have towards books: ‘There isn’t any money in books unless you happen to be Malcolm Gladwell… it’s not about making lots of money.’ Not every author can afford to be so phlegmatic, of course, but when you’re writing a book to support your main revenue-generating business (speaking, in Rachel’s case) your concerns go beyond a simple focus on the royalty rate to questions of control and collaboration. Business authors need to be sure that the publisher will be a good partner as they build their wider brand, that they’ll have their say on questions of design, timing, publicity and so on. Book people love books and we can tend to have an over-inflated view of them as ends in their own right: it’s salutary for us to realise that for many authors they’re simply (beautiful) means to other ends.  Which leads me neatly to…

3) It’s multiplatform

I believe passionately that books are the jewels in the crown of your content strategy, but they’re not the whole crown. I help my authors identify the best mix of content and channels for their market and their message – podcasts, vlogs, blogs, online courses, guest articles, infographics, webinars, talks, workshops… you get the idea. But Rachel has taken this to a whole new level: prepare for Ambition: The One-Woman Show at the Gilded Balloon this Edinburgh Fringe. Because why not? When you have a powerful idea a book is a great tool for communicating it, but it’s certainly not the only one. The beautiful thing about a book, though, is the way it complements other platforms: I’ve no doubt Rachel will sell copies of the book at the show, just as my authors sell copies from the back of the room when they speak at a conference. Publishers like Canongate and Faber do this blending of online and off, book and other platform particularly well, but it’s one reason authors choose to self-publish, to retain unfettered rights and create campaigns that include the book but aren’t necessarily focused on it.

Three trends that open up incredible opportunities for publishers with ambition enough to follow Rachel’s advice to us all: ‘do and be more’.

*One of my favourite book-y quotes, by Neil Gaiman: “Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.”

future of the bookAlison 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. 


The business of books: social selling

At the London Book Fair’s Quantum conference last month I listened to Aissetou Ngom talk about Penguin Platform, the young adult brand which she manages. She revealed that market research on the design of the new website had produced something of a surprise: there shouldn’t be a ‘website’ in the traditional sense at all. ‘That feels kind of old-fashioned,’ was the general response from the teens they talked to. So Penguin Platform inhabits the social web: Tumblr is its main home, with offshoots on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. (And if you’re a publisher and you’ve been congratulating yourself on finally getting your website sorted, I’m sorry.)

Might online bookstores one day become equally passé? The social web is where we share ideas and consume content, and increasingly it’s where we purchase, too.

In the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast this week I talk to Marcus Woodburn, Vice President Digital Products at Ingram Content Group, about Aer.io, their new social selling tool (Ingram was an early investor in Aerbook, which became Aer.io, and acquired the start-up at the end of 2015). I am hugely excited about this, and I don’t think most publishers have quite realized how it could revolutionize the book supply chain.

Aer.io makes any touchpoint on the web a sales opportunity. An author can embed a buy button in a tweet, for example. Yes, we’ve had Amazon ‘buy now’ widgets for years, but an Amazon widget sends your customer straight to Amazon. Aer.io’s button keeps the ownership of the transaction with you, which means you get your customer’s data. Which means if you’re smart you can sell more stuff to them in future. This is game-changing.

Publishers large and small are queuing up for this (it’s live in the US but delayed in the UK and Europe owing to our Byzantine tax and data protection laws – Marcus promises it should be live here by the middle of the year), as are independent authors and retailers. Authors I understand, I say, but retailers? Sure they must hate this? No, says Marcus: they see an opportunity to carry vastly more inventory than they can stack on their shelves, and to sell ebooks, which has always been problematic.

That makes sense: when I was building a direct-to-consumer model in traditional publishing years ago, ebook fulfilment was a huge problem: for most publishers it was easier simply to point customers in the direction of Amazon or other ebook retailers to deal with the nitty gritty of different formats, different devices, DRM and technical support. But with Ingram’s massive ebook and print infrastructure behind it, Aer.io can deliver print and any ebook format in the same basket. Nice. Basically if a book is in the Lightning Source print-on-demand catalogue (which includes IngramSpark for indies), it’s deliverable via Aer.io.

The possibilities are infinite – you can create a custom button for a channel (a promotional link from a speaker biography page, or an email to course participants) to deliver a bespoke version of a book. You can also customize how much of the book is included in the preview, so if your aim is visibility rather than revenue, you can be generous in what’s discoverable and viewable before purchase.

I should make it clear I have no financial interest here, and I’m not acting as an affiliate. I’m just genuinely excited about a technology that can help readers discover and buy books more easily, and which creates a more interesting and diverse book retail ecosystem.

As Marcus says: ‘Every time we sit down with a publisher they have a different way they’re thinking of using it.’

I’ve got some ideas of my own, and I can’t wait to try them out.

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 book author

Every business book is a start-up?

It’s a terrible irony of nonfiction publishing that the people with the most interesting things to say are often too busy actually doing their thing to sit down and write a book about it.

Business leaders are not natural writers, at least not usually. They’re often great communicators, especially on a conference stage or in a training workshop, but writing a book is a sustained, lonely effort and there’s no reason why your average extrovert entrepreneur should be any good at it.

Which is a problem for publishers.

We Have a Deal – the book that nearly wasn’t

What got me thinking about this was this week’s Extraordinary Business Book Club interview with Natalie Reynolds, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She trained as a barrister, has negotiated on behalf of top companies and government, and is now CEO of AdvantageSPRING, training companies around the world how to negotiate more effectively.

She’s also written a book, a damn fine one, called We Have a Deal (Icon Books, 2016), and it was Icon’s Andrew Furlow who recommended that I talk to her after my Guardian article in February bemoaning the fact that there are so few good business books by women out there, and even fewer that are not aimed specifically at women.

(That’s one reason Natalie’s book is so refreshing, by the way: it’s by a woman, it explicitly engages with the question ‘is negotiation a man’s game?’ [spoiler: No], but it’s aimed at ANYONE who wants to get better at this key business/life skill.)

But forget negotiation and gender politics; what really blew me away was Natalie’s experience of writing the book.

She had around five months in which to write it so very sensibly, in textbook fashion, carved out time to write a few hundred words each day. By the time she left on a trip to Hong Kong, about three weeks before the submission deadline, the manuscript was finished and she took it on the plane with her to read it over in full for the first time.

‘I hated it,’ she says, simply. She hated it so much that she threw away the manuscript, deleted the file and then, to make REALLY sure it was gone, she emptied the trash folder on her computer. Her husband ‘went quiet’ when she told him, she says. Then when she got back home, he pointed out the obvious: ‘You do realise it’s due in in three weeks?’

The story has a happy ending: after three weeks of pretty much non-stop writing, Natalie submitted her manuscript on schedule. When you know the backstory, you appreciate the freshness and immediacy of her book that much more.

But it could have been very different.

Each book is a start-up

Now, Icon Books are very strong on supporting their authors editorially (Natalie was very clear on this, and I’ve heard it from other authors too), which is one key reason for the happy ending here. But it made me think: how many stories must have ended differently for other authors with other publishers? How many lost books are out there? How many authors have simply failed to deliver, or delivered too late to hit their moment, or produced something that didn’t live up to its potential, because they didn’t get the right support?

When a publisher signs a business writer, or indeed any writer, they’re investing in them. They’re effectively getting in on the ground floor of a promising startup. When hopeful entrepreneurs pitch on Dragons Den they’re seeking more than purely financial investment – they know that having access to the mentoring and experience of a Dragon will help them succeed.

So it makes sense for publishers to protect their financial investment, to do everything they can to make it come good. Generally they’re good at doing this after delivery: creating imaginative covers, selling translation rights, publishing in multiple formats at a variety of price points to hit all the markets.

But the critical time is the lonely period between the signature of the contract and delivery, when authors are up against a thousand different ways to fail and facing them pretty much alone. Procrastination? Self-doubt? Overwhelm? Imposter syndrome? Competing priorities? Writer’s block? Lack of clarity? Scope creep? Check – and more besides.

What do writers need?

Sometimes agents fill this gap for literary or celebrity authors, but business books are a perfect storm: typically unagented, usually written by people who wouldn’t consider themselves writers and who have competing demands on their time.

Many business book authors who’ve made the decision to self-publish recognize very early that the actual publishing is only a small part of the process: their immediate need is a book coach to help them clarify their ideas, overcome these pitfalls and allow them to create and, crucially, complete a book they can be proud of.

I’m seeing more traditional publishers recognize that many authors – particularly those who aren’t professional writers – need access to this kind of support if they’re going to deliver on their full potential: think of Springer’s Author Academy and Random House’s Author Portal, amongst others. This will be an interesting space to watch over the coming years, as the rich ecosystem of services for indie authors shapes the expectations of traditionally published authors.

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 books

The business of publishing: on writing a book live

You’d think that publishers would be in the perfect position to turn their hand to writing a book, wouldn’t you? Especially one who actually began her career – back in the Cretaceous Period – as a writer: my first gig fresh out of university in 1991 was to write a dictionary of saints’ lives for W & R Chambers. (I’d turned up for a speculative interview on the day they’d been let down by an author. In publishing, as in life, it’s all about putting yourself in the way of opportunities then grabbing them with both hands.)

But actually, publishing and writing are wildly different skill sets. As a publisher you take a big-picture view, creating a commercially focused commissioning strategy, putting in place systems and processes to optimize throughput of titles. You’re out there networking at conferences or lunching agents, getting sales reps fired up about your latest acquisition, planning a new campaign with your marketing team. You’re taking what the authors give you and making it fly. It’s creative alright, but it’s a special type of creativity: collaborative, coordinating, commercial.

As a writer, you’re typically sitting alone at your keyboard for days at a time. You’re immersed deep, deep in your subject; there are probably only a handful of people in the world with your level of expertise and you’re too worried about them stealing or rubbishing your ideas to talk to them about your book. Whereas your editor has a stake in many titles simultaneously, you’re completely invested in this one. It can be a lonely business. You need deep reserves of self-belief and stickability to build a sustained, original narrative from a blank page.

It took a conversation with my friend Sue, herself a powerful coach, to make me see that I’m naturally a publisher, not a writer: I’m an extrovert, I get my energy from connecting and engaging with others, not sitting alone with a keyboard. The interesting thing is that this holds true for many people, particularly entrepreneurs, many of whom have fascinating books inside them that will probably never get out if they don’t find a new way to write, one that suits their busy, multitasking lives and extrovert personalities.

And in any case, why should a business book be created as something apart from the business? Can’t it be created dynamically from its day-to-day activities, becoming an intrinsic part of the business itself? I’ve spent my career at the forefront of innovation in the publishing industry, so it seemed logical to treat this business book challenge as a live experiment in the book business.

So earlier this month I launched The Extraordinary Business Book Club, a weekly podcast featuring a wide range of high-profile authors, gurus, futurists, publishers and business and writing experts all exploring what it means to write and publish a business book today, and giving their views and experience on the best approaches, techniques and tools to get the job done. And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing: trying out their ideas and writing my own business book live, week by week, reporting on my progress and discoveries, and encouraging others to do the same.

I’ll be blogging weekly for BookMachine on what comes up from the publishing perspective – the way the self-publishing and hybrid markets are evolving, the emergence of new services and tools (as I write, I’m just about to record an interview on the emergence of social selling), the role of agents, how authors can work alongside publishers on promotion, and so on.

If you have something interesting to say about the future of business books – or authors with interesting stories to tell about the writing of their books and how they work alongside their business – I’d love to hear from you: drop me a line on alison@alisonjones.com. And why not subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or at http://extraordinarybusinessbooks.com/?

Most authors have just one publisher checking on their progress and holding them accountable: I feel simultaneously privileged and terrified to have the entire BookMachine community on my back.

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. 

growth spiral book

The business book (r)evolution: the growth spiral

For most of my working life I’ve been involved in some way with the reinvention of the book – the technical, commercial and creative aspects of digital publishing. It’s ironic, then, that at the start of this year I find myself heading up a revolution in publishing that I failed to spot in all those years of future-gazing.

Turns out I had the focus on my future-of-publishing telescope adjusted too narrowly. Publishers tend to see books as quite literally the ‘end product’: their workflows, systems and supply chains are set up to create and distribute books and books alone. Not surprisingly, then, when I started my business as a publishing partner I saw my purpose as helping people plan, write and publish excellent books.

In this new role as a partner rather than a traditional publisher, however, I became more engaged with the lives of the businesses and organisations I’ve worked with, and over the course of the last year came a quiet revelation: to stretch the astronomical metaphor to its limits, the book is not a lone star but the centre of a solar system.

The growth spiral model

spiralSo today I take a very different approach to publishing, and one which I predict will become more prevalent amongst traditional publishers in the coming years too. I work with experts in all sorts of creative content fields – designers, illustrators, speaking coaches, videographers, podcasters, bloggers and vloggers, website developers, digital marketing experts, instructional designers and so on – to create for each client a progressive constellation of content that fits their message and their market.

I call it the growth spiral model, a multi-channel, evolutionary approach to building both the business and the content that supports it. The growth spiral, also known as the logarithmic spiral, is a mathematical construct but it also appears in nature, in the nautilus shell, for example, or the sweep of a galaxy. It captures perfectly the unfolding, expanding nature of both a small business and the thinking behind a book

This growth spiral approach has several benefits, not least:

1) You’re more likely to write and publish the book

It takes a long time to write a good book, and many writers lose their way and their will in the process, but planning to create intermediary outputs keeps you focused and motivated.

2) You see a faster return on investment

When you’re writing as a business, you recognise the opportunity cost; there are other ways you could be spending your time and energy to build your brand and your revenues. Creating these outputs along the way, carefully planned to promote and support your business activities, means you see the results of your hard work sooner.

3) You’ll write a better book

You wouldn’t launch onto an unsuspecting market a product you’ve been building in isolation. You’d create a prototype, have people test it out, refine it in response to user feedback, incorporate ideas that came up during the testing. Why should a book be any different? Start getting your message out in a blog, a talk, a workshop, a course, and take on board the feedback. See what lands well and rework what doesn’t.

If you want to try out this new approach to the book for yourself, you can download my Growth Spiral model here. If you want to discover more about the Practical Inspiration Incubator, get in touch and let’s find out if it’s right for you.


future of the bookAlison 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. 

A version of this post was originally published here.

Bootstrapping your book

There are basically three ways to start a business. You can use your own private fortune, you can pitch to investors for funding, or you can bootstrap: start at the beginning, plough the early profits back into the business, own and earn every scrap of the company. None of them is intrinsically ‘better’ than another, each has its pros and cons, they’re just right for different people in different situations.

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