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Learn How to Publish with Purpose

My book, Publish with Purpose, is based on a framework that Emerald Lake Books developed for the authors we publish. We use it for every project we work on.

The process has proved to be so beneficial to our authors that I decided to write about it in my book and often speak about it at conferences.

Here’s a quick overview of what publishing with purpose means and how to do it yourself. And if you’re looking for help figuring out how to apply this to your own works, we invite you to reach out to us for a coaching call.

What Does It Mean to Publish with Purpose?

Publish with purpose is a goal-oriented framework that is intended to help authors identify three specific goals.

One is for their reader’s goal in terms of:

  • What is the reader looking to get out of the book that they’ve picked up?
  • Why did they pick it up?
  • What made them buy it?
  • What are they hoping the result will be after they’ve read it?

The other is the goal for you as the author. Every time you read a book, you have a product that you are selling. You are in the business of selling that book.

  • What are your goals in terms of selling that book?
  • Do you have sales goals?
  • Are there other things that you want to accomplish from having written a book, something like establishing your thought leadership or things along those lines?

And the third goal is about the purpose beyond the purpose. It’s about those more esoteric things that are harder to pinpoint.

  • Is it an opportunity for you to take your success and give back to others?
  • Is it about building communities?
  • Is it about making a difference in the world?

Trying to identify those three specific goals for why you’ve written this particular book will help you as you go along in both the writing and marketing of the book.

What Inspired Publish with Purpose?

Let me give a little backstory as to how we developed this goal-oriented framework for authors. It actually started when I was in a work-study program in college. I was working for a Fortune 500 company as a junior technical writer, and I was writing user documentation for computer systems.

What I heard often from the end-users of these computer systems was that it seemed like the developers had coded things in a vacuum. They came up with ideas that they thought would be neat and fun to work on, but with little understanding of how people needed to use that system in the real world.

And so as a result, I used to start thinking about these developers as “happy little coders.” They were putting out the content that they wanted to put out. Yet, it often had little bearing on what that software system actually needed to be used for.

Oftentimes, I find that authors can do the exact same thing. They get into what it is that they want to write. They’re passionate about writing a particular story. You’ll even hear fiction authors say that the characters took control and ran away with the story from there.

The challenge is, if you don’t have a clear picture of who your reader is and why they’re reading that book, you can actually have this disconnect between the story that you want to write and put out into the world and those readers are anticipating reading from you.

So, spend a little time in reflection to understand your reader and why they’ve picked up the book. That way, as you write what you’re passionate about, you can be writing it directly for them.

Know Your Ideal Customer

Publishing with purpose affects everything that you do from here on. And so we ask our authors to start with getting an idea of who their ideal customer is first, because your ideal customer is not always the same as your ideal reader. Your ideal customer is the one who all of your marketing messages are going to be sent to. And certainly, it can be readers. When it is readers, you may be thinking about what the comparable titles are that they’ve read or authors that they’ve enjoyed. After all, if they liked that particular story or they liked that author, perhaps they would like yours as well?

And the other is considering genre expectations. Are they into paranormal sci-fi? In which case, you want to make sure that you understand what paranormal sci-fi consists of so that you can be writing to that audience.

Another audience might be librarians. And librarians, as much as they’re interested in the quality of the book, have many other things they’re going to look for in the marketing materials as well.

They’re going to want to see something called a “CIP block” (or a “PCIP block” for self-publishers). This is something that the Library of Congress issues to help libraries understand exactly where and how the book should be shelved, so that an acquisitions librarian, when they get the book in, can immediately get it on the shelf, as opposed to having to wade through doing research to figure out what the book is about and where it fits for their library patrons.

Another thing that can be helpful for them is if you have something called a sell sheet. This is a one-page informational sheet that tells about the book and the author. It also includes purchasing information as well as BISAC codes and other bits of information that are useful to both librarians and retailers.

And so retailers, bookstore buyers, can be your next customer to think about. There are certain expectations that they have as well. So they’ll want to see a sell sheet. They like to see the CIP block. But something that’s really important in order to make a book appealing to them is to ensure that your barcode on the back cover includes the price.

I know in the self-publishing industry, there are a lot of questions as to whether or not you want to include the price in the barcode, because if you do that, then you don’t have the flexibility of changing your list price as easily. You’ll have to upload a new cover each time you do it. But in all honesty, if you want your book to be in bookstores, having a price barcode is going to be important. As a matter of fact, for some bookstores, it’s a requirement. If the price is not in the barcode, they’re not going to carry it on their shelves.

If your marketing strategy doesn’t include wanting to get your book into bookstores, for example, if your focus is on Amazon only, then that’s not as big a deal. But if you want your book to be in bookstores, that’s a consideration.

You also may find that one of your customers is educators. And this goes beyond just writing textbooks. Educators use all sorts of books, especially at different grade levels. So you want to think about what their expectations are for a book that they might bring into a classroom setting or into an advanced reader catalogue. They want to see things like measurements that have been taken. The two most popular for children’s books would be the Lexile score and the F&P score.

Understanding your ideal customer and what their needs are will help you identify exactly what you need to be providing them with in your marketing.

And of course, the last category of potential customers is your gift-givers. They are buying books for the holidays, for birthdays, for special occasions, and they want to know:

  • Why will receivers of this book love it?
  • What makes them stand out as a good gift-giver if they give this particular book?

So as you’re working on your marketing material, you want to be making sure that you are taking into account these different ideal customers.

Know Your Ideal Reader

Now, the next step in being able to really make that connection and publishing with purpose means knowing your ideal reader. You want to be talking to them in terms of benefits, not features. So here, you’re not going to be focusing so much on, this is a paranormal sci-fi book, but:

  • What is compelling about the book?
  • What does it explore?
  • What themes are there?

And so we have an exercise that we do with our authors that’s covered in the book too. It’s called the Dear Reader Exercise. This is a letter that we have the author write to an ideal reader. We ask that, if possible, they picture somebody they actually know because that will make it easier for them to connect with their ideal reader.

The letter varies a little bit in terms of the framework, depending on whether you are writing a fiction or a nonfiction book. But if we start with nonfiction, there are certain questions you want to answer in writing that letter, and this is going to be written exactly like you would write a letter to your grandma.

“Dear Ideal Reader,” and then it’s going to answer these questions in the narrative of that letter. You’re going to identify:

  • Who is the reader?
  • What are they looking for?
  • Why did they pick up this book?
  • What appealed to them about it?

You want to tell them what the book is about and what makes it special. You want to tell them what inspired you to write it so that they have that backstory, the creation story for it, because those can be very compelling stories for readers.

Then talk about who it will help as well as why you are the expert on this topic. Why is this story something that you are the only one who can tell it in this way? And what makes this book unique so that they understand how it stands out from the comparable titles that it’s sitting on a bookshelf next to.

The last bit of this letter answers what promise are you going to make to the reader? If you ask the reader to make an investment of both time and money to purchase your book, and they take the time to read it and pay the money to buy it, what are they going to get out of this exchange? Because you want something that’s going to be beneficial to the reader.

When it comes to doing the Dear Reader letter for fiction authors, some of the questions overlap. You’re still going to talk about who the reader is. You’re going to talk about what the book is about and what inspired you to write it. But instead of focusing on why you are the one to write the story or why you’re the expert on this topic, you want to talk about why you love this story. What compelled you to write it? You want to talk about what you hope readers will get out of it. And of course, then you want to wrap up the letter with the same kind of promise that was in the nonfiction Dear Reader letter. What are you going to promise them if they invest time and money in reading the book?

Know What You Want to Achieve as an Author

So that covers knowing your ideal reader. And then the next thing you want to focus on is knowing what you want to achieve from having put the book out there. So this ties into business planning, if you’re thinking about a normal product launch. You want to think about what’s the purpose of the book from your standpoint as an author, as a business owner?

All books should either educate, inspire or entertain, and hopefully they do a little bit of each. But beyond that, there are other things you can do with a book as well. You can use it to build your mailing list or generate leads. You can encourage engagement with people to try and build a community or get a topic talked about that’s seldom talked about. You can establish your expertise and thought leadership or secure speaking engagements that may lead to helping you increase your fees for the work that you do or create partnership opportunities for you with people who are in the same space as you.

It can also create a passive income for you from book sales, although honestly, that’s typically the lowest revenue generator when you write a book. Usually, it’s consulting and coaching and the other things that come along with it, such as merchandise.

For some authors, it also allows them to set the record straight. So maybe this is a historical novel, a local history novel or other history book, where you’re taking a complex thing and talking to readers about it and explaining how things actually came about. It’s an insider’s story.

Next, you’ll want to focus on what your marketing plan is going to be. We have another exercise we do with our atuhors that’s also outlined in the book. It’s called the Dear Author Exercise. This one is a little bit different because this one helps you get a good understanding of what success looks like to you. So if you’ve managed to do your business planning properly, you’ve reached the right ideal customer, your book is resonating with your ideal reader, what happens next?

And so in this Dear Author letter, what happens is the future You from eighteen months in the future is writing a letter to the You of today, explaining all of the things that have been accomplished because you put the time and effort and energy into marketing your book effectively. And so you’re writing this letter to yourself. The idea here is this is intended to be an encouragement from the future You to the You of today so you actually put in the effort to do that hard work. Because marketing a book is not always easy. And let’s be honest, it can be pretty boring sometimes. But the idea is if you want people to be able to find your book and discover it among the thousands of other books that are being published on a daily basis, you need to stand out in some way. And so this Dear Author exercise will help you figure out what success will look like to you.

So you write this letter, and after you’ve written it, the next step is to go through with a highlighter or a pen and identify all the different accomplishments that have been noted as a result of publishing this book. We often find that most people, when they’ve written a two- to three-page letter, will end up with anywhere from seventeen to twenty-five different accomplishments, covering the reactions people had, the personal benefits, the invitations that came from it, and the opportunities or partnerships that developed as a result of it.

I often refer to this letter as a “verbal vision board.” I’m not one who pictures things very well, and so I find it to be very effective to write myself a letter along these lines. And it can be a very emotional experience to claim your success and really stand up and say, “This is what I want to be doing. This is what I want the outcome of this to be.” It can be very invigorating and give you the energy and moral support you need in order to actually put that time and effort in.

So once you’ve identified those outcomes, the next step is to prioritize them. Pick the top three outcomes. If only these three things happened, your book would be a success. So what are they?

Creating Your Marketing Plan

After you’ve identified what success means to you, look at where you are now in relation to those three outcomes and identify what you need to do to get there.

  • Who do you need to meet?
  • What education do you need?
  • What opportunities need to unfold?

Then start making plans, while figuring out how to get there. As soon as you’ve accomplished any of those goals, you can always go back to your Dear Author letter and choose another one so you always have three goals that you’re working toward.

The nice thing about having this in place is it gives you a clear focus for your marketing efforts. That way, as new opportunities come along, instead of being overwhelmed by all of the different things that you could do, it’ll allow you to identify those things that you really should do because they’re going to move you closer to the goal you’ve established for yourself. Anything else is a distraction and can be deferred until a later time when that is on the path to where you want to go for your next goal.

Know What You Hope to Accomplish

So at this point in time, you’ve got your goals for your reader, you’ve got your goals for yourself as a business and an author. This last goal, as I said before, is a little more esoteric, a little harder to pinpoint. But we refer to it as the purpose beyond the purpose. What are the things you want to accomplish as a result of this book being out in the world?

  • Is it an opportunity to give back?
  • Are you going to donate proceeds from the book to your favorite charitable organization?
  • Is it about making a difference or changing people’s minds and hearts in terms of how they perceive a certain thing?

I like to tell the story that Andy Andrews shares called the Butterfly Effect that talks about Edward Lorenz, an MIT professor who was actually a West Hartford native from here in Connecticut. His butterfly effect is the founding principle of the chaos theory.

Back in 1963, Edward Lorenz was running a mathematical model for weather patterns, and it had twelve different variables in it. He changed one variable just because he wanted to run the model a little more quickly, changing the variable from six decimal places to three.

Now most of us would think that probably wouldn’t have much of a significant effect. But when he ran the model, what he found is that the infinitesimal change in this one variable out of twelve was significant enough that the weather pattern of a two-month model changed dramatically.

That encouraged him to postulate that something as infinitesimal as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the world could ultimately create a tornado on the other side of the world.

Now, of course, his peers scoffed and laughed at him at the time. They didn’t think that was at all a possibility.

And yet it has since become proven and is the founding principle of the chaos theory. And so it’s something that I like to think of in terms of what we as authors can do.

Your Words are Powerful!

We have the power of putting our words out there, and our words may seem like very small things. We say things without thinking or considering what the consequences might be. But the result is that our words matter and the words that we put in print especially matter because they can change hearts. They can change lives. They can introduce us to people we would never meet otherwise. And it has an effect. Not just now, but for as long as our books exist.

And so you have to think about yourself, as an author.

  • What is your butterfly effect that you want to put out there?
  • What do you want to create as a result of people reading your content and loving your book and sharing the ideas from there?

Because what you say matters. Your words are powerful. They are able to change hearts and minds, and they should be a force that’s used for good.

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