Many authors I’ve worked with have written books that promoted and enhanced their professional lives.
Some have written a book precisely with this hope in mind: to advertise their special skills and passions. Other writers have enjoyed the surprise of being propelled in their careers with major elevations of their workaday status and financial potential.
“Writing books literally changed my life,” says author Michele Borba. “The most interesting parts of my career couldn’t have happened without publishing all those titles.”
I recently interviewed Michele and two other authors who’ve written both non-fiction and fiction books that gave them the opening to expand their non-writing professional careers. Each has a unique story, but all of them have become more visible in extended professional activities as a result of writing their books.
Michele Borba is the resident parenting expert on the Today Show, and has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, People, on Dr. Phil, The View and other mainstream media for her views on parenting, children and adolescents. The author of 22 books, she started out as a classroom teacher in special education.
Seth Kahan is a performance improvement expert specializing in change leadership, helping businesses create the vision and roadmap to achieve organizational transformation. He’s the author of Getting Change Right and Getting Innovation Right (March 2013), and writes regularly for Fast Company. His clients have included the World Bank, the Peace Corps, NASA, Royal Dutch Shell, and Prudential Retirement.
Jinny Webber taught writing and literature for 32 years, with a focus on women writers and William Shakespeare. An author of several novels, her most recent book The Secret Player is Volume I in the Shakespeare Actor Trilogy, with Volume II, Dark Venus to be released mid-2013, and Volume III, Bedtrick, coming late 2013.
Did you write your first book as part of a business plan to build your professional career?
Michele: No. I was a special ed teacher and developed my own original lessons for nurturing children’s social-emotional growth and self-esteem. A series of educators who visited my classroom convinced me I needed to publish the material. I was naïve – had no knowledge of how to approach the publishing industry. I wrote one chapter, submitted it simultaneously to ten publishers and, miracle of miracles, eight of the ten offered contracts.
Seth: Yes. I first self-published a book and was speaking regularly, but it became clear that I would need a book published in the mainstream press to achieve a new level of esteem in the market for my consulting business.
Jinny: No. I write novels for love: I have to. My first novel, Serpent Wisdom, was set in Bronze Age Greece, so I visited there to do my research. I wrote a murder mystery Paradise Bent, to teach myself plotting; it won honorable mention in the St. Martin’s Best Malice Domestic competition. Then I launched into my greatest passion, Shakespeare’s England, and began writing about a young woman pretending to be a boy who played women, after joining William Shakespeare’s troop in London. There are now three novels about her in the series.
Have your books boosted or changed your career?
Michele: Very much. My first contracts jump-started my “speaking profession”. Educational group, organizations, and church groups from all over the country began calling me. I started by speaking to local small groups and soon was doing keynote addresses. The books that followed – Parents do Make a Difference, Building Moral Intelligence, No More Misbehavin’, Don’t give me that Attitude, Nobody Likes me: Everybody Hates Me, 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know, and The Big Book of Parenting Solutions — and those speaking engagements became my training ground for not only how to improve my speaking ability and connect with a group, but also for media.
Seth: Absolutely. First of all it has spread my name much further than I imagined. It’s not at all unusual for me to meet people in the course of my work who’ve already ready my book. I also get inquiries from people I’ve never done business with as a result of their appreciation for the book. Most of my work is around change, innovation, and targeted growth. Being able to hand a copy of my book to a prospective client is a powerful validation of my expertise. I’m often introduced to staff or Boards of Directors by a CEO who waves my book in the air while reciting its virtues and utility.
Jinny: Yes. I’ve found that I have new opportunities, for example lecturing on “The Authorship Debate: Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays?” and “Sex and Gender in Shakespeare.” I’m also researching the relationship of women’s needlework to women’s writing in Shakespeare’s day. I’d never have stumbled on this fascinating topic if it weren’t for my novels. Besides the intriguing research, engaging in the writing itself, tapping into one’s creativity, is a huge boon for a professional life. We want to stay alive in our careers, and writing, even projects not directly related to our paid work, stimulates and invigorates the mind.
Was anything about this unexpected, or come as a surprise to you, good or bad?
Michele: All aspects of my career were unexpected, none planned. For example, General Mills loved my book Building Moral Intelligence, and asked if I’d fly to Rwanda as part of their Win One-Give One campaign on instilling altruism in US Kids. So I’m now the world Goodwill Ambassador for the One Laptop per Child project in Uruguay, Armenia, Karabagh, Columbia, Argentina, Nicaragua and Rwanda. Each experience has been profound. I was literally hugged until it hurt in gratitude by those kids and saw how empowering those special XO laptops were in providing not only education but hope to children.
Also, can you believe it: The Pentagon discovered my work on bullying so now I’m working for the Department of Defense on how to reduce bullying and create safer schools, training youth mental health counselors for military children in Asian-Pacific and European bases.
Seth: At first it was a bit of a shock to experience the response and even deference that I received as a result of being an author. When I enter into a conversation with clients my opinion is treated with greater respect. They’re looking to me for answers.
Jinny: It’s gratifying to see the interest in my young heroine and her life as a 16th century pre- feminism feminist. The ideas for my Shakespeare Actor Trilogy kept coming and I’ve never been discouraged about the hard work of being an author.
Do you sell copies of your book when you’re speaking or appearing at an event?
Michele: I do, but have a caveat: I ask the group who has contracted me to handle the selling and book ordering. I always include an order sheet with my audience handouts and volunteer to do any publicity for the group prior to the event.
Seth: Yes, and the amount of these sales depends on how well organized the client is. For example, I just spoke to the Center for Excellence in Educational Leadership. They had professionals running every aspect, from audio/visual to their bookstore. The book signing followed my speech and people were given clear instructions on where to go. As a result, the bookstore sold out of my book while I was signing copies.
Jinny: I do, but I’ve found it works better to have someone else at a table rather than simply me. I’m thinking of having my 18-year-old granddaughter help sell the books in the future. It’s her image that’s on the cover of The Secret Player.
Are you promoting the book in other ways?
Michele: Yes. I have a website, with bio, media clips, speaking topics and all my books. A social media platform is critical for an author’s career. I write weekly blogs and have an active twitter account (@ MicheleBorba) with close to 40,000 followers. I also keep up with parenting trends by following certain feeds.
Seth: Yes, I work at it constantly. I write a blog for Fast Company. In the signature page of every post I mention my book and I’m also beginning to include my upcoming book, Getting Innovation Right. I also write a weekly newsletter. My website has sample information and advice, testimonials, interaction, ways to order products or reach me easily.
Jinny: I have a beautiful website that features stories from the book, writing about sex and gender in Shakespeare’s time, information about upcoming speaking engagements and book signings, interviews with me on video, and reviews.
Do you have any advice for fellow authors?
Michele: Do I ever. Here goes:
1. Keep writing. The first book, second, third, even fourth, it may take awhile to create your platform.
2. Think of writing as two equal parts: publishing the book and publicizing the book – both take equal time.
3. When there’s a knock on the door, take it! Those doors open bigger ones.
4. Turn each book title into a speech and offer it. Your audience is more likely to buy the book if after hearing your speech.
5. Get involved in social networking — it’s fun! But it’s also a fabulous way to create a fan base, connect with media as well as fellow authors. Twitter is only 140 characters — you can tweet from your smart phone at a stoplight.
6. Keep it fun! You have to be passionate about your topic – that’s what the audience is first listening or looking for – energy! You can’t fake passion. For me, everything I do has to achieve one aim: make a difference for children.
Seth: Don’t underestimate the power of a book in the mainstream press. Your book is a significant accomplishment and places you in a tiny percentage of thought leaders who have a) taken the time to codify your knowledge; b) put it in a form that is digestible by others; c) achieved a professional milestone by getting it into the market. Use it as a foundation to increase your repute and help your readers get the value you’ve worked so hard to publish.
Jinny: It helps to have a publisher, since promoting a book is tough! It’s a learning process, and if I agreed with Samuel Johnson that only a blockhead writes except for money, I’d not be a novelist. Don’t do it in hopes of fame and fortune, but because you love and enjoy it. Surprising results inevitably follow.
What about you?
If you’re published, has your book had an impact on your professional life? If your book is in progress, have you thought about how it could boost your career?
We look forward to reading your comments, along with any advice you have for fellow writers.