Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In the age of thought leadership, you don’t have a complete personal brand without a book. The most notable entrepreneurs of our time published books that redefined business operations on a global scale and accelerated their rise to fame: Jim Collins, Eric Ries, and Robert Kiyosaki, to name a few. These authors recorded their experiences and shared their everyday strategies to reach their companies’ objectives, meaning that you can do the same.
If you’ve never written a book before, the process can seem daunting, not to mention intimidating. Many people believe they don’t have the necessary knowledge to fill an entire book when, in reality, anyone can write a book. Even someone with an ordinary job, such as a bus driver, school teacher or mechanic, can produce engaging work with stories about their experiences and insights.
Fortunately, with services like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing now available, book publishing is more accessible than ever. Say goodbye to the days of hiring a literary agent or vying for attention from traditional publishing houses. New publishing avenues streamline this once-inefficient process, allowing anyone to create work that will separate them from the competition and lead to career-defining opportunities.
Why should you write a book?
Books remain the single greatest way to explain and demonstrate deep knowledge about complex subjects, issues or expertise — all while building the author’s credibility and brand.
The amount of return you gain from writing a book is immeasurable. I’m not talking about becoming a bestselling author and generating significant profits from sales. The odds of that happening are low unless you’re the next Stephen King. However, a book does afford you opportunities that no other medium can: legitimacy as an expert, speaking engagements and deeper connections with new customers.
When you go online to check someone’s credentials or trustworthiness, a book is a shining example of winning the personal branding game. If an author has planned accordingly, a Google Knowledge Panel will pop up as soon as their name is searched. That, paired with their book listing on Amazon, will legitimize your perception of them. Right off the bat, you consider them an expert in their field — after all, they’ve written an entire book on it.
Anthony Bourdain’s writing, for example, is what catapulted him beyond the kitchens of New York’s top restaurants. His New Yorker article, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” gave him public credibility within the first paragraphs, allowing him to spin off the piece into his book, Kitchen Confidential. As this took off, it led to more books, recognition and even a TV show.
If this seems like a uniquely modern experience, the same experience happened to Julia Child. Her TV career was tied to a book she co-wrote, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In 1963, she graced television screens for the first time, promoting the book on WGBH’s book review show, I’ve Been Reading, by cooking an omelet. When viewers wrote in wanting to see more, she taped three pilot cooking shows, eventually leading to her most popular one, The French Chef. None of that would have been possible without the book. She was able to legitimize herself live on television and prove she was a resource for fine French cooking. By extension, so was her book.
That’s a tall order, I admit. Writing isn’t everyone’s strength, including mine. Plus, people are busy with their lives, and if you’ve never written a book, you’ll likely never start by yourself. Luckily, in this day and age, you don’t need to do it alone.
Writing a book when you’re not a writer
Do you think Hilary Clinton wrote her books by herself? No, of course not. All the way down to her first book, It Takes a Village, she had a team of writers, editors, publishing experts and marketing specialists guiding her. Even Martha Stewart wrote her first book, Entertaining, with the help of writer Elizabeth Hawes.
These high-profile people I’ve mentioned did not put their books out alone; they had help. They still had to sign off on all the material and share their experiences, but someone else put the right words on the page. This service is not limited to multimillionaires and politicians like it used to be. There are resources available for everyone. I should know; I’ve worked with a writing team.
I have no shame admitting that I had difficulty sitting down and writing my book on paper. That’s why I turned to author Zoe Rose to assist me with A Nerd’s Guide to Negotiating Salary. Though I had valuable insight to share, I knew I couldn’t write it by myself. The democratization of the writing process, with online resources and fellow writers, allowed me to publish my book and expand my own brand.
Even knowing I had extra support along the way, writing and publishing my book was still an incredibly empowering experience. When I held the book in my hands for the first time, I was overcome with a strange feeling. I was proud of this work I hadn’t technically written, but I still had a sense of ownership. After all, every page overflowed with my thoughts, experiences, and expertise.
Publishing a book feels like graduating college again. In some circles, it is almost comparable to a college degree. When you have someone reviewing your accomplishments and professional experience, whether this person is a potential customer or a job interviewer, a book opens doors for you. Your book becomes a passport to move you from point A to point B. You’re building an identity and credentials just by having the book written.
I’ve had people on Zoom calls go, “Oh, yeah, I looked up your book. Very impressive.” Had they read it yet? Nope. They merely saw it online and acknowledged the burdensome task of putting a book out there. In their eyes, I stood out for this accomplishment.
Not everyone will find your book by themselves. Books allow you to “show off” and promote your work; all authors must do it. As French writer Stendhal said, “Great success is not possible without a certain degree of shamelessness, and even of out-and-out charlatanism.”
As shallow as that seems, that’s half the battle of building your brand. For some people, including myself, endorsing your own knowledge and skills is difficult. This is why I personally identify as a “shameful self-promoter.” I am just self-conscious enough not to let talking about myself over-inflate my ego. That’s what it takes to get your book in front of readers.
The other half of the battle is developing relationships with those who read your book. What you write does need to make sense and offer value to readers. Then, your brand grows uniquely when you pair that value with interviews, speaking engagements and more content.
Compared to other mediums, books give you and the reader plenty of time to become acquainted, more so than simple articles or blog posts. Once brand attachment forms, your readers will want to see you in talking head interviews, TED talks or conferences. Those appearances will point others in the direction of your book, your business and any other work you’ve published. From a single book, your personal brand can build off of itself into something greater.
I believe “personal brand” is a verb: it’s the act of shaping what people find out about you. A personal brand doesn’t organically happen by itself. You have to shape or control the narrative around you, and a book makes that much easier. If you bet on writing a book, know that it’ll be a worthwhile gamble. Just don’t expect to sell a million copies.