How to Convert Readers into Customers

A common misconception of first-time authors is that books cause fame. Usually it’s publicists who cause fame. Books give them something to publicize.

Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, books don’t bring fortune, either. Though a reader might tell you that reading your book was a life-altering experience, only about $2 of that reader’s money is likely to wind up in your pocket. If you want to do better than that, you will have to figure out how to convert readers into customers for other products or services.

Let’s say that you are presently an HR manager, and you hope to make a transition into executive coaching. To this end, you publish a book called Lonely at the Top. What happens next? The CEO of a Fortune 50 company reads your book, loves it, hunts down your phone number and invites you to become his coach? Maybe, but don’t count on it. Consultants, coaches and other advice-giving professionals are basically selling a relationship. Before prospective clients commit to it, they must be wooed through a series of low-risk encounters. If we rewind the sequence of events that leads to landing your ideal client, it might look something like this.

  • You first met the CEO at a company retreat, where you gave a talk about loneliness in the workplace. He’d never heard or you or your book, but your talk struck a chord with him.
  • You were invited to give that talk after the scheduled speaker cancelled at the last minute. The retreat coordinator got your number from a client of yours who works out at the same gym.
  • Your relationship with that client began when you made a follow-up call after obtaining her business card at a convention where you were a presenter.
  • At that presentation, you had passed out an assessment questionnaire and offered a free trial consultation as a pretext for obtaining participants’ business cards.
  • You got slated to make that presentation by contacting the convention’s organizers. Your query letter to them included a clipping from a newspaper interview you gave while promoting your book. The clipping is what decided it for them.
  • Your publicist had contacted twenty different newspapers before finding one that would agree to interview you.

The point is that the book itself doesn’t get you work. It gets you publicity. Publicity doesn’t get you work either. It gets you opportunities to make contacts. Before you write the first word, you should have a specific idea of the contacts you desire and what you will do with them once you’ve got them.

Design your book to open specific doors. Say, for instance, that you believe a particular annual convention would be a great source of prospective clients. Find out what presentations were big hits last time the convention was held. Come up with a title and a brief description of a presentation you could make that would go over well with your chosen audience. There’s your book idea.

Books that work well as door-openers are short (25,000- 50,000 words), and offer a clear, practical benefit to the reader. The main idea is easily grasped, and catchily conveyed by the title. These characteristics improve your chances of getting media coverage, because journalists can catch your drift without having to read very much. The topic should be rather narrow and not too abstract: you need to be able to say something meaningful and memorable about it in a five-minute TV interview. Don’t try to put everything you know in one book. A comprehensive volume called Communication in the Workplace would probably take years to write, and generate very little buzz in return. Instead break your vast knowledge of the subject into smaller and more provocative units, such as Cubicle Gossip or The Power of Thanks.

Once the doors are opened, you’ll need a plan for following up on the resulting contacts. If you’re invited to make a speech, how will you get audience members to hand over their business cards? Or say your book draws readers to your web site. How can you get them to interact with you there? Is there some small purchase (a workbook, newsletter subscription, tutorial, etc.) they might make from you online?

Book fame lasts longer than five minutes, but it’s finite nevertheless. Your window of opportunity for media attention is about nine months—three months prior to publication and six months after. Beyond that, the mere existence of your book is no longer news. You’ll want to hire a publicist to take maximum advantage of this brief opportunity. Meanwhile, you will need to be getting other methods of connecting with readers—website, newletter, seminars, etc—into full swing, so that you can continue to leverage the book for as long as it remains in print.