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The Ultimate Form of Content Marketing

With much of the business world abuzz about content marketing, smart marketers are taking stock of opportunities for their clients to use the power of story to convey a message and build stronger brands. Conspicuously absent from most content strategies, however, is the granddaddy of all content marketing: writing a book.

The benefits of launching a book are many—increased visibility and credibility, tighter messaging, an angle around which to build a publicity campaign, a tool to acquire new business, and more—but writing a book is a daunting task for most, and a long process to boot. On top of that, many would-be authors doubt whether their ideas are book-worthy. So when should you, or your client, take on the challenge of writing a book? Here are four key elements to consider:

1. Commitment: Writing a book requires a significant commitment of time and brain power, but if the author wants to see any degree of commercial success, he also will have to commit to promote and hustle sales. It takes months, sometimes years, to write a book. Once it’s complete, you’re looking at another six to nine months for a national distribution rollout. (Digital publishing options obviously can shorten that timeframe, but they limit availability.)

An author should be focused on the long term for the book project to succeed, and it’s a great way for you to stay engaged around very deliberate content and marketing plans to create lasting value.

2. Differentiated approach: If an author has a highly differentiated approach to business, in general, or to customer service, health and wellness, product development, or whatever he or she specializes in, the book-writing process will go much more smoothly because the value proposition already is clear and there likely is a lot of supporting material. The book launch, itself, also will be more successful since readers and the media are drawn to fresh ideas, in turn bringing attention back to your overall brand.

3. Flexibility: Ideally, writing a book is a collaborative process, so the author should be open and coachable in terms of feedback and changes to make the final product as marketable as it can be. Authors also shouldn’t get tunnel vision when it comes to the content’s format. Some ideas originally intended for book form really are more appropriate for magazine articles, short e-books or blog posts. A carefully executed piece at any one of these shorter lengths is just as effective, and probably more shareable, than a full-length book, so there’s no shame in forgoing writing a book in favor of producing shorter-form content.

4. Willingness to engage: I’ve been on the frontlines of the publishing business for more than a decade and in the broader media business for almost twice that, so authors often ask me for the secret behind successful launches. While the bibliophile in me would love to say that a well-written book ultimately finds an audience, it’s just not true in a climate of oversupply and under-demand. Generally, the most successful books are attached to an author who is committed to engaging his or her audience, building a community and serving those people from a place of purpose. A book is a social product, and there’s no overstating the need for ongoing participation by the author. That engagement is imperative to growing the reader relationships that drive word of mouth, positive reviews, strong brand connections and retail book sales.

Today’s print-on-demand digital publishing options make it possible for books of all lengths to be published and available online in a fast and relatively inexpensive model. The multiple benefits of creating long-form content remain, and the pressure and risk around a traditional retail book launch are removed. That said, a digital-only distribution model greatly limits bricks-and-mortar distribution (and discovery), so the author’s team would be wise to consult an expert to weigh the pros and cons of digital publishing versus a traditional or hybrid publishing model to determine the best approach for their project and goals.

Writing a book is not for the faint of heart, but neither is the process of building a brand and growing an audience. With the right author and support team in place, a book can serve as a foundational piece for the messaging, marketing and publicity efforts needed to build awareness, value and influence for your client.

Tanya Hall is CEO of Austin, Texas-based publisher and distributor Greenleaf Book Group. Connect with her on Twitter at @tanyahall.