Promote your company with a book

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(MoneyWatch) Publishing an advice book is a quick path to becoming the kind of expert who attracts new customers. So why doesn't every company with goods and services put out a book? Thanks to new technologies, not only is it possible today to publish a professional-looking book for under $1,000, but you can also market the it through reputable sales channels. In other words, the publishing world has given power to the people.

Just don't call it self-publishing -- that's old school. Call it independent publishing, which sounds much more hip (think independent films, like the Sundance Film Festival). Here's how it works:

Forget the "traditional" route. A decade ago, there weren't too many options to get into print as a book author. If a snobby editor at a traditional publisher wasn't interested in your manuscript, your only other option was to spend tens of thousands of dollars with a subsidy press or custom printer. And then, without ready distribution, good luck trying to sell the books. But the tables have turned, so forget about writing book proposals, trying to find an agent, and wooing editors.

Go print-on-demand. The publishing world has transformed because independent publishers today can easily print paperback and hardcover books using new "print-on-demand" publishing technologies. Going digital allows books to be produced in small quantities -- even one at a time -- almost instantaneously. Publishing no longer requires behemoth offset presses, hangar-size warehouses, and fleets of trucks.

Hire a great editor. Independent publishers have made a conscious decision to offer their services to everyone, rather than give control to an elite clique of editors and agents, as with traditional publishing. As a result, while incoming manuscripts are checked for formatting before a new title goes online, independent publishers do not edit for style and content.

Find the right publishing partner. Independent publishers do not make value judgments about the literary merit of books. The author decides what the public might want to read, and then the public decides if it makes good reading or not. It is a purely market-driven approach, allowing almost anyone to make a new book available to millions of readers at a small fraction of the cost of traditional publishing methods. Two of the biggest players are AuthorHouse and CreateSpace.

Have an e-book strategy. Remember to factor the growth of electronic books. Business authors today tell us that more than 50 percent of their sales come from Amazon.com's (AMZN) Kindle service.

Get writing help. Rather than taking a brochure and trying to turn it into a book, start by writing how-to articles. Those articles turn into speeches and seminars, giving you more to write about. Hire a ghostwriter if you don't have the time or talent. Eventually, you gather the articles and publish a book through print-on-demand independent publishing (we've seen it done in under 90 days and for less than $800).

Does it work? Here is a list of business best-seller titles by company leaders that started out independently published, according to Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine:

- "The One Minute Manager," by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, was eventually picked up by William Morrow & Co. and has since sold more than 13 million copies.

- "In Search of Excellence," by Tom Peters (of McKinsey & Co.), sold more than 25,000 copies directly to consumers in its first year -- and then went on to sell 10 million more.

"Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun," by Weiss Roberts, sold half a million copies before being picked up by Warner Books.

There are challenges, of course. Because print-on-demand books are not typically stocked on bookstore shelves, authors need to do a good job of marketing through publicity, direct mail, and the Internet. But if you are a nonfiction author willing to be a self-promoter and your book targets an identifiable market, then independent publishing may be right for you. Promoting the book is promoting your business.

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