Getting your first book published: Lessons learned!

Do you dream of writing and publishing a book some day?  It was always something I’ve wanted to do and I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to do it this year.  Here are some lessons that you might find helpful from my journey with Return On Influence.

How did I get a book contract?

I was in an unusual position.  Beginning in 2010, publishers actually sought me out to write a book. Why? I think there were three things that boosted me into that position:

1) I had demonstrated my writing ability through my blog

2) I had successfully self-published my first book, The Tao of Twitter (a great stepping stone!)

3) I had an engaged community who would be advocates for the book

I think this last part is particularly important.  Like any content on the web, you have to be able to “ignite” it for it to be useful.  Even if I had written the world’s greatest book, it would never sell if I couldn’t light the match.  Establishing a blog or Facebook community seems like a good first-step for publishing today.

The good news is, these opportunities are available to anybody today to get them into a position to get a publishing contract. The bad news is, it takes a LOT of work to get there.

How did I choose a publisher?

After meeting with several publishers, I developed a good personal chemistry with the people at McGraw Hill. They really respect and support their authors. It ended up being a great decision.

When I turned in my proposal, it ended like this — “I really don’t know what this book is going to be about because the topic is entirely new.  I don’t know what I will find and I have to let the research determine the outcome of the book.”  They let me write it any way, which I think is cool.  And the book ended up being 80% different than the original proposal!

How did I choose a topic?

There was no master plan, really.  The emerging marketing trend of social influence was simply something I was interested in — Is there anything to this Klout stuff? How does power show up on the web? Why are companies scrambling to implement these Klout Perks?

If I was going to devote months of my life to a project, first and foremost, it had to be interesting!

I also realized that I had to write a book that had not been written before — something COMPLETELY different. Choosing this topic of social influence was a big risk. When I started the project, nobody had heard of Klout or social scoring — the trend was just emerging — but I thought this was going to go mainstream and I was right, thankfully.

What was the writing process?

The biggest challenge for me and other writers I have talked to is blocking out the chunks of time necessary to get the project done. A project this size cannot be accomplished with an hour here and there. Even when I reserved a whole week to write, I looked up at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night and not written a word — my week had been filled solving client problems. This was a panicky moment. How was I going to get this done?

So I blocked out another week and made a decision I have never made before or since — I was going to write, even if it meant disappointing customers. That’s gut-wrenching and wrong but I had to do it.

My wife helped me as a research assistant and also transcribed about 50 taped interviews.  From start to finish it took about nine months to research and write the book, with about three solid months of intense writing and re-writing.

Editing and promotion

I completely under-estimated the time required AFTER the book was written.  The manuscript went through four editing phases. Although the final product is probably 95% the same as what I first turned in, there were a lot of decisions about the title, the tone and direction of the book. McGraw-Hill wanted it to be a “how-to” book and that just didn’t align with my vision. They let me follow my own path, but all these discussions took a lot of time.

Once the book launched, I was doing 2-4 interviews a day for eight weeks. This time, I warned my customers ahead of time and I was able to put off some projects to allow enough time to properly promote the book. I took a financial hit but I realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I needed to go for it.

Did I make money from the book?

I knew going into it that the goal for this book was to expand my reach and reputation, not become rich from book sales. So I approached it realistically. Even though I received a generous payment upfront and the book is selling very well, on a per-hour basis, this would have been a bad economic decision.

However, I am already receiving the benefits of being a published author through new invitations to speak and consult. In that regard, I forecast that there will be a long-term financial benefit.

What’s next?

I feel really proud about where I am right now with Return On Influence.  I proved to myself that I could do it and the publisher is happy with a best-selling book (the first printing sold out in eight weeks).  My community and the reviewers have embraced the book.

I do have a few ideas for a new book but the scope of these ambitious projects is quite daunting because of the time it would take to pull it off.   It will be a difficult decision to make but you can be assured that if I write a new book it will also be “out there.”

In the near-term, I’m happy to announce that McGraw-Hill bought the worldwide rights to The Tao of Twitter and a new edition with about 30 percent new content will be available by the end of the year.

So those are the highlights.

What other questions do you have that I can answer for you?  Was this helpful?

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  • Anonymous

    Really well done Mark. Great achievement. Congratulations once again and thanks for sharing your insights.

  • Thanks for the loyal support Claude. I can always count on my friend in Switzerland!

  • great write up, Mark. It was exactly what I wanted to know.

    I would love for you to expand on the subject of getting, and booking interviews. Your network is vast, granted. And many bloggers are happy to have you on. Myself included.

    But the interviews had to be done on some channels (blogs, radio, TV, etc) to which you did not have previous connections/access to. How did those come about?

    Also, how did you manage the whole thing logistically? I lose track of things if I have to chew gum and send email at the same time…so how did you manage to stay on top of it all during that time?

  • As a fellow published author, I agree with Mark completely on the post-publication time and commitment. Few authors realize going into a full-on book deal what happens AFTER you turn in the manuscript. What I’d add to Mark’s experience is that experiences vary vastly between publishers, so never be shy about asking questions. Even if you’re a previously published author, there’s no shame in asking about procedures and protocol. And here’s a tip: whatever your paid as your advance, that’s the marketing budget for your book. Marketing your book is primarily an author’s responsibility, so the day the manuscript gets turned in is the day you need to get to work on that.

  • I eventually do want to write a book, even if that ends up being 5 or 10 years from now. It was nice to read about your experience during the whole thing and congrats on the book!

    You said you did a few interviews a day to help promote the book but I have already heard a lot of people say that they do some crazy guest blogging to help promote. Did you ever use this tactic and if so, was it beneficial?

  • Great question Dino. Nearly all of the publicity work was handled by McGraw Hill. I was fortunate to have a bright young publicist behind the effort driving PR opportunities. It took us awhile to learn to work together but within a few weeks we became a very efficient PR machine. I simply keep everything straight on my Outlook calendar. If I wrtie it down, it gets done! Miraculously, we did not have a single missed interview or scheduling problem!

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective. Great to have an additional point of view. Technically, i had no contractual obligations to promote the book. No book tour, no nothing. Of course I WANTED to work on PR and marketing because I’m proud of the book and I wanted it to go well. Business books do not sell themselves. It’s hard work. Luckily this book took off. It was a great learning experience and the next book will go much more smoothly!

  • I did do some guest blogging but it was pretty selective and often in non-social media channels. For example, I did a guest post for Psychology Today and for some leadership sites. Also did quite a few international posts. Does it work? Who knows? Creates a lot of buzz but difficult to tie to book sales.

  • Thank you Mark for sharing your journey, and the lessons you learned while writing, and publishing your book ‘Return on Influence’

    I’m honored to know you, and learn from your inspirational, and your motivational marketing leadership! ~Rae

  • I am a writer. I am writing. (I just keep saying it out loud to make it real:)This helps…a lot. Having a brother as a published writer (Curtains, Random House, top ten non fiction books in Canada last year) and a contributing writer for the magazine Walrus (up for yet another award) is a tad daunting, but I’m plugging along. Cheers! Kaarina

  • You are very kind to say that and of course the feeling is mutual. I smile every time I see my friend in the comment section. You add so much to the community Dr. Rae!

  • You really are a great writer Kaarina. And progress does come with practice. Also confidence! Just completing the book was a great confidence booster. A difficult task completed!

  • Thank you Mark… I thoroughly enjoy reading, and commenting on what you bring to the ‘grow’ community my friend!

  • Mark, congratulations and thank you for sharing your experience.

    It sounds daunting. It is daunting. I don’t know many people that are willing to go through the process, and that is what makes (some) books still worth the time to read and ponder, in this age when content seems to be spilling out from everywhere.

    It’s on my reading list. Now to find the time to sit down and read.

  • Aigen Digital Marketing

    Congratulations Mark, and thank you for sharing your experience. It’s really interesting here in Europe.

    A big salute.

  • Mark, Great post, great lessons and insight, and great book. First and foremost, you created a great book. All the PR in the world would not help you sell a book that was poorly written or that lacked new insights and creativity. If all you did was research and report, this book would not be selling like hot cakes, despite your reputation. Your network can only help you so much, if the product is not worthy. But the product in this case is VERY worthy.

    I respect very much your determination and the willpower to get it done. I have written chapters for a number of medical texts, and that alone is a humongous task. Can’t imagine writing an entire book from stem to stern. So congratulations and thanks so much for adding another solid hold-in-your-hand example of authentic helpfulness and commitment to making us all a little smarter about the social media world in which we have chosen to exist.

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  • Thank You for a peek behind the title…
    You are the real deal, and I enjoy the watching of your journey.
    The right road leads out at the right place, and you are certainly on the right road.
    Sincerely Billy

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  • Anonymous

    Mark – why did you decide to go with a publisher instead of self-publishing?

  • Mark,

    Your post are always helpful and it was a help to hear this perspective. One of the phrases people use about blog is “great read.” Not only is your blog a “great read” but Return on Influence was a “great read” from cover to cover. It was instructional and conversational – a great blend of education and storytelling. Keep teaching us. We want to learn from you.


  • I won’t lie. It was a big job! But it was also a very good intellectual challenge to see if I could do it. And I was determined to write something that was meaningful, different and fun to read so i put a lot of pressure on myself. In the end — it was worth it! Thanks Eric.

  • That is such an obvious question, I’m wondering now why i didn’t include that in the blog post! There were two reasons:

    First, this was going to be an ambitious book that was going to suck up months of my life. I needed to be paid for that time so I really had to go the route of traditional publishing for the money.

    Second, this is not a “social media” book and I needed some marketing fire power to get it out of the social media bubble, which I believe worked. My book is showing up on the shelves of book stores in airports and I never could have got that kind of exposure with a self-published book.

    Thanks for the great question Chris!

  • That is very high praise coming from you my friend!! Thank you!

  • Thanks for that very kind and supportive comment Alice! Very humbling to hear praise like that from somebody I hold in such high regard!

  • I guess we’ll find out soon enough if I’m on the right road! : ) Thanks Billy!

  • Pavel Konoplenko

    Congratulations Mark! I just bought it and can’t wait to read it when I get home. In your post, you mentioned it was 80% different from the original proposal, so what was your original proposal?

  • great question. The original proposal was going to be more Klout-oriented, almost like an embedded journalist with a start-up. That ended up being too complex and much less interesting than what I ended up with — an examination on influence and power on the Internet.

  • Anonymous

    That makes sense – thanks Mark

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  • Mark thank you SO much for your generosity in sharing behind the scenes of your publishing journey. I especially loved the bit about reaching 9pm on Thursday without having written a word.
    I’m glad you found a publisher that respected you for the value you bring.
    Looking forward to reading the next one!

  • I’ve always had an end goal to write and publish a book one day. Reading about this process and getting the opportunity to speak with you in person about it has helped me gain understanding into what that process is like. Thanks for sharing the insights into this process!

  • Mark,

    If you were you write another book would you self-publish or engage a publisher?


  • This was an enlightening post Mark. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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