CXO

Six steps to publishing your own material

If you decide to self-publish your consulting materials online, consider following the same path as one of our TechRepublic contributors. You'll save time and frustration in the long run.


When I decided to become a full-time consultant after 25 years of corporate life, one of my main concerns was that when the contract engagement stops, the money stops coming in. One of the benefits of my corporate position was the security of steady pay; I wanted to also achieve such stability in my consulting business.

I wanted a secondary revenue stream that would run in background mode and on autopilot. The answer I settled on was to package and publish what I know the most about: managing an IT organization.

Publishing was totally outside of my skill set, so I researched the options so that I could set the right goals and put a successful plan into place. Looking back, I can see that I would have saved a lot of time if I had had a shortcut guide. So that you can more easily begin your foray into publishing your materials, I’ve put together a brief guide to the six steps I followed.

Third in a series
Mike’s previous articles discussed developing an Internet sales plan and an overall strategy for developing a second revenue stream for his consulting business. The last article in this series will focus on marketing your published materials.

Write your publication
Choose a topic and format that you want to develop: book, white paper, report, how-to manual, etc. Deciding on the type of publication to create helps you visualize the format you need.

The type of publication will be determined in part by your audience. Executives, for example, value high-level strategic thinking that spells out a clear “net value” for a strategy or an approach. Technical staff, on the other hand, want more detail. For guidance, review similar types of publications to determine formatting.

I usually start a book by developing the table of contents. It helps me to create a road map, or architecture, for the publication. When I’m satisfied with the flow of information, I sit down and begin to write the chapters. This work is harder than you might think and requires a strong commitment. For example, I devoted most of my weekends and nights for nearly a year to complete these publications. Set aside adequate time to properly focus on putting your ideas to paper.

During this stage, copyright your publication. Once you write “Copyright©YEAR Your Name” on one of the pages of your publication, it is copyrighted.

Edit your publication
When you’re writing, it can be difficult to see the flaws. A good editor can help clarify your content and clean up grammar and will increase the quality of your finished product. Like many of my other steps, I try to make the best uses of available resources for the least amount of money.

For example, I have three editors—two of whom are former IT managers—go over my work and give me feedback on the quality of the content and any grammatical mistakes. In exchange for their work, I provide free IT management help. My wife, the third editor, double-checks my work for grammar and organization. We use Microsoft Word and its Track Changes tool.

Take this step seriously; your readers will appreciate it. If you don’t have access to editors like I do, check with local publications or temp agencies to find dependable, experienced copy editors. Ask for references and check them thoroughly. The rate you pay will vary widely, depending on the length and complexity of your content.

Decide on your publishing medium
I wrote a series of 10 books that became the IT Manager Development Series. I selected Adobe Acrobat PDF files as the file format for my e-books because of the security features, the free Adobe Reader that anyone can download, the ability to convert from Microsoft Word files, and the wide acceptance of PDF file formats. It also gave me the ability to fulfill an order immediately over the Internet.

I also had five logistical reasons for self-publishing in this format:
  • Low startup cost
  • No inventory to maintain
  • No shipping charges, which offered several benefits:
    Overseas orders are handled easily
    Reduces the total cost to the buyer
    No labor involved in shipping
  • Higher margins
  • IT managers, my target audience, are comfortable with the format.

I plan to eventually publish the series in paperback. If number five on my list were not the case, I would have initially taken the traditional paperback approach.

How you will publish?
When I began planning to publish the books myself, I weighed the pros and cons of self-publishing and traditional publishing. The benefits of self-publishing include higher profit margins, lower startup costs, and more control over the entire publishing process. The disadvantages are that you will do most or all of the work yourself and will limit awareness of your product to what you can generate.

Compare this to trying to convince a publisher to pick up your book: Your margins are much lower, from 5 to 20 percent after all costs; just getting accepted by a publisher is difficult. However, a publisher already has marketing capabilities and can reach a wide audience quickly. It also has distribution capabilities and can get your paperback on the retail shelves of bookstores, which can create considerable awareness of you and your company. This exposure can lead to more consulting work, so don’t rule a publisher out.

When I create paperback versions of this series, I’ll seek a more traditional publishing source, such as Prentice Hall, or Doubleday.

Success and self publishing
Did you know that many popular books that have sold millions of copies were initially self-published? For example, The One Minute Manager was self-published by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson so they could sell the book for $15. They sold 20,000 copies in three months. Since 1982, the book, now published by Berkley Publishing Group, has sold more than 12 million copies in over 25 languages.

Another well-known example is In Search of Excellence, published by Tom Peters. It sold more than 25,000 copies in the first year. Since then, Warner Books has printed a new edition and sold more than 10 million copies.

Two books that helped me in my research are How to Publish and Promote Online, by M.J. Rose and Angela Adair-Hoy, and the 2002 version of Electronic Publishing: The Definitive Guide, by Karen S. Wiesner.

Both of these books provide excellent insight and references to information that will answer most of your questions about publishing for the first time.


Obtain an ISBN
An International Standard Book Number (ISBN), a unique 10-digit number, allows your book to be identified and retrieved from databases by potential buyers, retailers, and distributors. You’ll need one ISBN for each type of media in which you distribute your work. For example, if you sell the same content in e-book, paperback, and on CD, you’ll need three ISBN numbers. ISBNs are optional if you self-publish and decide not to register your work, but you can create additional awareness by registering.

ISBNs are assigned in the United States by the U.S. ISBN Agency. R.R. Bowker is the independent agent in the United States for this system; you can obtain ISBNs from the Bowker Web site . According to the Web site, ISBNs take about 10 business days to obtain. Fees for ISBNs range from $225 for a block of 10 ISBNs to $3,000 for 10,000 ISBNs. The fee is higher for those who want their numbers assigned more quickly. You can pay for the assignment using either an online or a mail form.

Package your material
If you ship a physical product by regular mail, you’ll need to produce copies and have an inventory or work with a printer that can provide print on demand (POD) services. If you ship e-books, you just need to create the e-book in the format that you have chosen. The bottom line here is that when the sale occurs, you must deliver the product immediately.

Here’s a broad packaging checklist for various formats:

Paperback
  • Create a cover.
  • Decide on the size, type of paper, and binding.
  • Decide on the style of book that you want (hardbound, paperback, report manual, etc.).
  • Produce an inventory so you can ship right after a sale is made.

CD
  • Create a CD cover.
  • Create a small inventory of CD copies for immediate shipping.

e-book
  • Create the e-book from your original document, unless you plan to ship in original form. For example, I write my publications in Microsoft Word and then convert them to Adobe PDF files. Be aware of the risk of pirated copies. You never totally eliminate the risk, but at least PDF and other e-book formats allow you to prevent copying the information.

  • Report or how-to manual
    • Create a cover.
    • Print and bind several copies for immediate distribution after a sale.

    Bottom line
    After you have taken these steps, you’ll be ready to promote your work. You will probably come up with another approach or add a step that I didn’t include in my process. If you’ve successfully self-published your consulting materials, we would like to know how you did it. Send your steps to publishing in an e-mail or post your suggestions below.

    Mike Sisco is CEO of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company in Atlanta. For more of Mike’s IT management insight, take a look at MDE’s IT Manager Development Series.

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