Is a book essential content or a talisman (and what does that mean for book quality?)

As I work with authors, I see two perspectives on why they are creating books.

The first is the author who just wants to be known as the author of [Book Title]. This is the “book as business card” strategy — you hand the book out to let people know who you are, and put it on your bio. (These are the people most likely to credit themselves as “bestselling author” even though they’ve never appeared on a major bestseller list.) Call this the “book as talisman” philosophy.

The second is the author who wants the book to represent every bit of their knowledge and make it as helpful as possible, and doesn’t care so much about getting credit; they just want to get it out in the world where it can help people. Call this the “book as essential content” philosophy.

I’m biased. The people writing books as a talisman don’t spend much money on publishing, so they’re far less likely to hire me as a writer or editor. The people focused on essential content have a budget to improve the quality of their book, and they’re willing to pay people like me. So naturally I think the essential content book philosophy is better.

The problem with the book as talisman

Here’s what’s wrong with the book as talisman.

No traditional publisher will touch it, and these folks won’t pay for quality hybrid publishing either, so the books will be self-published. They’re far more likely to look crappy and have an amateurish cover.

They’re probably short. And they’re probably not edited well. (One author I know spent $1,500 to have their book edited, and let’s just say the quality wasn’t impressive.)

Handing a book like this to someone as a business card is fine . . . until they actually open it up and read it. At that point, the fact that you published a book is no longer helping your reputation, it’s hurting it. Because the person reading the book is thinking “This is lame,” which reflects poorly on the author.

You may never have a second chance to make a first impression, but you definitely won’t recover from the impression made by a crappy-looking, poorly edited book as talisman.

The problem with the book as essential content

Of course, the other problem I see is people who focus only on the content. At the end of their process, they’ve created this shining example of authorship. But it’s a crap shoot whether anyone reads it.

The biggest mistake made by the book-as-essential-content crowd is failing to promote their books. Writing and publishing the book is a great start, but unless you promote, you won’t make an impact. You’ve now wasted far more effort than the book-as-talisman folks to create an icon of content that is purely symbolic.

Balance your goals

Don’t write your book just to show off. If it’s weak, it will backfire.

But don’t forget to show off after you’ve written your book. If you’re quiet, you’ve wasted lots of effort and money.

Success comes not just from content quality, but visibility.

Any book that has boosted an author to prominence balances both.

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