The career-boosting power of your name on a book

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.

Three Authors

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.

Their Stories

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.

12 Responses to The career-boosting power of your name on a book

  1. Verna

    Great article. After reading, moved more than ever to write my book …a draft which has been sitting on my computer for a while now. Politics remains and continues to by passion since high school and beyond. Was my minor then a major area of study in college.

    But was told by associates, that I may need to find a ghost writer to help..and not easy to find one in my area that’s affordable . Where to I do a search to find all– as I think politics, non-fiction? Thank You.

    @VernaPolitics

  2. Alan Rinzler

    Verna,

    Ghost writing is an honorable and very popular way for busy people to get a book written these days. Be sure to pick carefully by searching the Internet where you’ll see a broad variety of services and prices.

    Evaluate the track record, qualifications and success of those books the ghost has written and insist on clear financial terms. Then have a phone call or video Skype to get acquainted, since you need to trust and respect whomever does it. Build in an opening interview to express your intentions for the draft on your computer, and also a schedule of chapter delivery dates so you can see it as it’s going along and approve the work.

    Good luck.

  3. RC

    Alan, great post as always. I’m finally within sight of land on my first novel. Daydreaming about how my life may change has been a lot of fun.

    I’ve always been a big dreamer and my life has been full of peaks and valleys. Because of that, I do believe that if a person has a positive attitude, you never know what good things might be lying around the corner.

    I already had one period in my life where my life underwent a relatively sudden alteration. In June of 1987, I failed to graduate with my high school class. I was forced to repeat senior year of high school. At the time, I had a guidance counselor tell me I might not be college material.

    But I loved basketball and was determined to get into college. Twenty seven months later, I had been admitted to Penn. I remember sitting in a Statistics class inside the Wharton School of Business, surrounded by my fellow classmates and thinking how surreal it felt to be enrolled at Penn less than 2 1/2 years after breaking the news to my parents that I was not going to be graduating high school.

    Ever since then, I’ve been a great believer that a person’s life can change with a combination of hard work, big dreams, and a little luck.

    I should mention that before getting into Penn, I applied to 6 colleges all of which rejected me including my “safety school.” Only because one person at LaSalle University, a school I applied to with time running out, decided to take a chance on me did I even get into college and then I was finally mature enough to take advantage of the opportunity. I went to LaSalle for a year and then transferred to Penn.

    That also showed me the power of one person believing in another. How lives can be transformed and future trajectories altered forever.

    So now, as I finish my novel, I’m hoping once again for some magic that will transform my life. This time, thought, it’s not just me, I have a wife and three children.

    I can also say that this pattern of altered trajectories has run in my family–my sister took 9 years to get through college (including being asked to leave b/c of academics at one point) and she is now a successful attorney who graduated law school within 3 years.

    And my father, who has passed, might have had the most remarkable change of direction of anyone in my family. He went from living in the Stamford CT YMCA for a couple of years in the early 1980s to traveling the world as a consultant for one of the world’s best banks four years later. To this day, I marvel at the juxtaposition of having to sleep on a dusty tile floor and use an Irish sweater for a pillow while visiting my father at the Y, to five years later spending a week with him in London and staying in style at the Grosvenor House.

    Miracles happen and lives do change. Even if I never sell one book, my life has been altered by writing it because I took the risk of stepping into the ring and taking my best shot.

    Most Sincerely,

    RC

  4. Alan Rinzler

    RC

    What a story! The grit and determination you’ve demonstrated in life will serve you well as a writer. Keep writing and rewriting, get professional feedback, sustain that positive attitude for self-marketing, and you may sell a lot more than one copy.

  5. RC

    thank you Alan! Your words mean a lot and are very encouraging. I feel very fortunate to have discovered something that has given me such joy and personal fulfillment. I will continue to be a faithful and appreciative visitor to your blog and will update you on any significant milestones during my journey.

  6. Tamara

    I’ve actually heard Seth Kahan speak. Very intelligent! I was searching for his name online and ran into this site. Alan, I can see you provide some very useful information and will continue to visit this site. Thanks!

  7. Harold Timmis

    Indeed my career has enhanced since my first and second book. I found one of my jobs right after finishing my first book (Practical Arduino Engineering) and my interviewers were very impressed with my career as an author (publishing my first book at 25), My second book came out this year (Arduino Adventures Escape From Gemini Station) and again it escalated my career to another level I have been turning down jobs for some time now (not to disrespect anyone I just love what I currently do) The second job I received due to my books gave me around a 20k raise, and finally my new job works very close with the community that I write my book for, so needless to say this was another promotion. I actually tell anyone who wants to get a raise, or better job to write a book on your passion (in my case my love of electronics) I will continue to write about my passion in order to teach all about programming and hardware design.

  8. Petra E. Lewis

    What a really great, inspiring story, RC! Thanks so much for sharing–and I hope your story, and that of your remarkable family, eventually makes their collective way into a memoir, or self-help or business book.

  9. Petra E. Lewis

    I meant to type “make” their way. : )

  10. Daryl Urbanski

    I’ve been pouring my heart and soul into my books. I think its a great way to consolidate all your cumulative experience. A quality book is the equivalent of our community elders, passing down all they know to the next generation.. Except books can live longer then we can. I recently just finished an amazing book copyright 1936. I’m hoping what I write will be able to touch peoples lives for years and years to come like this book did.

    I really appreciated the input from Michelle, Seth & Jinny. It was a great idea for a topic Alan.

    I just published 3 books on Amazon this week.. Am working on the finishing touches of my website to accompany the series.

    Maybe in the near future I’ll have accomplished something with them worthy of an interview like this.

    Much Respect.

    Warm Regards,

    Daryl

  11. Marcia Naomi Berger

    Thank you for this great article. I’m looking forward to nice surprises once my book gets published this February. I’m glad I went with a mainstream publisher. Thank you, Alan, also for your help early on in structuring my book and for your advice to build my platform before seeking a publisher.

    Best wishes,
    Marcia Naomi Berger
    Author, “Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted.”

  12. Alan Rinzler

    Marcia,

    Congratulations on your upcoming publication with New World Library.

    Happy to hear my advice was helpful and I’ll bet that “Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love” is going to add to your platform while enhancing your career.

Leave a Comment