Renting vs. Owning Your Fans

Conventional wisdom says it’s better to buy a home instead of rent. There are exceptions to this rule, but generally over a long period of time, it is better to spend your money, time and effort on an asset that you own instead of one someone else owns.

Traditionally, authors are in charge of writing the book and the marketing job is left to publishers and publicists.

If you leave it completely to other people to sell your book, what asset do you have once the whole process is done? All of the money you spent on the publicist and publisher is gone and you have nothing besides book sales to show for it. The next time you have a book come out you have to spend the exact same money to reach the exact same people. And considering how quickly the markets are changing, you will more than likely spend the same money to reach fewer people.

Is there a better way?

By building your own tribe you are creating something that will help you for the rest of your career. By gaining permission to stay in direct contact with your fans, you will be able to grow a relationship over a long period of time that will not only help book sales, but also your speaking career, consulting company, products sales or whatever else you plan on doing in the future.

Where do publicists and publishers fit in?

Depending on your goals and resources, publishers and publicists can still be a significant asset in selling your book, however this should be done in conjuncture with building your own permission list. Make sure the work they are doing to sell your book also builds your own online platform.

Your goal should be to build your online platform to the point where it alone can sell thousands of copies of your book.

What is a Tribe?

The short answer:

A tribe is a group of people connected to an idea, connected to a leader and connected to each other.

What does this mean for you, the author? Let’s go through each element individually.

Connected to an idea

When people join your tribe, what are they becoming a part of? What is the bigger “idea” behind your work? If you are a non-fiction writer, answer the question “How are you trying to make the world a better place?”. For the fiction writer, start with a question like “What is the world I’m inviting people to be a part of?”

People join a tribe because they want to be connected to something bigger than themselves and, even when it’s your fans, something bigger than you. What are your ideals? Why are people connecting with you instead of one of the other millions of authors out there?

Answering these questions is a key step towards building your tribe. The ability to put this into one phrase or sentence allows you to easily communicate to people why you are someone worth following and connecting with.

Connected to a leader

In this case, YOU are the leader. In next week’s email I will go into more depth as to what your job is as the leader, but for now, know that for your tribe to exist, you will be inviting people to connect with you.

This can look different depending on the tribe you are building (more on this subject in the weeks to come) but start thinking about how your tribe is going to connect and interact with you.

Connected to each other

You are one person and can only do so much. It is important when you build your tribe to connect the people in your tribe to each other. This will allow them to engage around you and your ideas without your direct involvement. Give your fans opportunities to share with each other how your work has changed their lives for the better.

By connecting your fans with each other you will increase their enthusiasm about your tribe, give them comradery around your idea and allow you to distribute the work of building and supporting your tribe to others.

Your Homework

Take the time to sit down and put together your tribe’s “idea”. Start by writing out everything you are trying to accomplish with your book(s) and your career. What are you calling people to be apart of? Then put that idea into one sentence. This will be the sentence that drives everything else you do.

Extra – Download our free 16 Principles for Building and Leading a Tribe ebook.

The 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing

This content was written by Steven Piersanti, President of Berrett-Koehler Publishers. It’s been posted elsewhere but I received permission to post it here as well as it is very relevant to anyone looking to build a community around themselves and their book. This list was last updated June 15, 2009 June 10, 2010 (I got the updated list!).
  1. The number of books being published in the U.S. has exploded.

    Bowker reports that over one million (1,052,803) books were published in the U.S. in 2009, which is more than triple the number of books published four years earlier (2005) in the U.S. (April 14, 2010 Bowker Report). More than two thirds of these books are self-published books, reprints of public domain works, and other print-on-demand books, which is where most of the growth in recent years has taken place. In addition, hundreds of thousands of English-language books are published each year in other countries.

  2. Book industry sales are declining, despite the explosion of books published.

    Book sales in the U.S. peaked in 2007 and then fell by nearly five percent between 2007 and 2009, according to the Association of American Publishers (April 7, 2010 AAP Report). Similarly, bookstore sales peaked in 2007 and have fallen since, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (Publishers Weekly, February 22, 2010). The major bookstore chains have been especially hard hit, with a 12 percent sales decline between 2007 and 2009 (Publishers Weekly, April 12, 2010).

  3. Average book sales are shockingly small, and falling fast.
  4. Combine the explosion of books published with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. According to Nielsen BookScan – which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books (including – only 282 million books were sold in 2009 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined (Publishers Weekly, January 11, 2010). The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.

  5. A book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.
  6. For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. For example, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to approximately 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are 250,000-plus business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space.

  7. It is getting harder and harder every year to sell books.

    Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with many books on every topic. It is increasingly difficult to make any book stand out. New titles are not just competing with a million recently published books, they are also competing with more than seven million other books available for sale. And other media are claiming more and more of people’s time. Result: investing the same amount of effort today to market a book as was invested a few years ago will yield a fraction of the sales previously experienced.

  8. Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities.

    Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.

  9. Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers.

    Publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors, to cut costs and prop up sales. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from agents and experienced authors now have an extensive (usually many pages) section on the author’s marketing platform and what the author will do to market the book. Publishers still fulfill important roles in helping craft books to succeed and making books available in sales channels, but whether the books move in those channels depends primarily on the authors.

  10. No other industry has so many new product introductions.

    Every new book is a new product, needing to be acquired, developed, reworked, designed, produced, named, manufactured, packaged, priced, introduced, marketed, warehoused, and sold. Yet the average new book generates only $100,000 to $200,000 in sales, which needs to cover all of these expenses, leaving only small amounts available for each area of expense. This more than anything limits how much publishers can invest in any one new book and in its marketing campaign.

  11. The digital revolution is expanding the number of products and sales channels but not increasing book sales.

    We are in the early stages of an explosion in digital versions of books and digital sales channels for books and portions of books. However, early indications are that the digital revenues are replacing traditional book revenues rather than adding to overall book revenues. The total book publishing pie is not growing, but it is now being divided among even more products and markets, thus further crowding and saturating the marketplace. And although some digital costs are lower, other costs are higher while price points are lower – making digital profits even slimmer than print profits thus far.

  12. The book publishing world is in a never-ending state of turmoil.

    The thin margins in the industry, high complexities of the business, intense competition in a small industry, rapid growth of new technologies, and expanding competition from other media lead to constant turmoil in book publishing. Translation: expect even more changes and challenges in coming months and years.


    1. The game is now pass-along sales.
    2. Events/immersion experiences replace traditional publicity in moving the needle.
    3. Leverage the authors’ and publishers’ communities.
    4. In a crowded market, brands stand out.
    5. Master new sales and marketing channels.
    6. Build books around a big new idea.
    7. Front-load the main ideas in books and keep books short.

“The book is not the mother ship, the content is”

The title of this post is a quote from Debbie Steir of HarperCollins Publishers. She said it in reference to a physical, paper book during a panel discussion on the future of publishing at the South by Southwest conference.

“The book is not the mother ship, the content is”

I think you could also say it like this:

“The book is not the mother ship, the idea is”

What is a book?

The definition is quickly changing:

  • You can already get most new books as eBooks, Kindle downloads, etc.
  • Dan Pink gave away a huge part of his latest book’s message during a TED talk last year.
  • Hugh MacLeod takes blog posts he’s written and expands them into books. But if you read everything he writes on his blog, you’ve already read 99% of what’s in the book.
  • Same thing goes for Rework that was recently written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. If you’ve been reading the 37signal’s blog for a few years, you’ve already read most everything that is in the book. They have said that one of the main reasons for publishing their book was to take all of the ideas they have already written about on their blog and spread them to more people.
  • Vook is taking typical book content and combining it with video.
  • Gary Vaynerchuk recently used his audio book release to offer more content than you can find in the book.
  • Fourth Story Media publishes fiction stories for teens that continue across online and mobile media… with the fans being heavily involved in the story telling.

So if a book is no longer a bunch of paper pages bound together, what is it? It is the ideas and the stories that are found in the content. Exactly.