What’s the Best Way to Publish a Business Book?

Posted January 10, 2021 by Joe K.
You’ve found a new way to do business that works. A new marketing tactic, a new way to measure success, or an application architecture best practice guide. Whatever it is, your colleagues are interested in the topic and encourage you to publish a book about it.

Great! You’ve confirmed you have a market.

But how should you publish it? Your company’s content team is salivating over the thought of a book under the company’s name (and yours… in much smaller font), and they’ve even offered to help write the book. This means less work for you and a guaranteed published book with your name on it.

While it’s tempting to take them up on the offer, we encourage you to think through what you want out of the experience.

Writing a Business Book as a Professor

If you’re a professor, chances are you have little time for writing if you aren’t tenured yet. Research and peer-review publication requirements are all-consuming, and sadly, books are not considered peer-reviewed by most universities. This is a bit silly considering that your book will undergo intense scrutiny by your peers if you go through a university press, but we aren’t in charge of these decisions.

There are several plusses and minuses to each potential publishing option, and we’ve broken them out into timeline, author rights, market coverage, and marketing. Before going any further, review your contract with your higher institution to ensure there aren’t any clauses that determine the copyright of all (including books) written works.

Commercial Publishers

Timeline
Authors who go this route can expect to spend a lot of time querying for an agent and then waiting for a book contract with a publisher. For the lucky few who get published, it takes an average of two years to land an agent. Suppose you have an outstanding social following (we’re talking hundreds of thousands of followers or more), public speaking engagements, and an established record as an expert. In that case, the publishing road will be much less bumpy.

Author Rights
Provided your contract with your employer doesn’t have a clause claiming all written works' rights, your rights will depend on the contract between you and your publisher. Typically, your publisher borrows the rights necessary to bring your book to market. Contracts may contain clauses that only claim rights to publish and market your work for a limited amount of time with an option to renew.

Most large publishers do not claim perpetual or complete rights. A publisher may claim print rights for eBook and print, but not pursue rights to an audiobook. However, it’s always wise to review your contracts carefully.

Market Coverage
Large publishers have good relationships with book outlets, reviewers, and publications. The amount of effort they’ll make on your behalf will be directly proportionate to your existing following. Meaning, if you’re a little known author, you’re going to have to put in a lot of effort to be noticed.

Marketing
Once again, the amount of effort you’ll need to put into marketing will be inversely related to how well known you are. If you’re just starting out, you’ll need to spend money on online advertising budgets and look for innovative ways to get your book into the hands of influencers.

University Presses

Timeline
The nice thing about university presses is that you don’t need an agent. Your book will go through a committee review before the press commits to publishing. You’re likely cutting two years off your publishing process, which is ideal for subjects that may be less relevant in the future.

Author Rights
Generally, university presses claim complete rights. This means you won’t have the opportunity to change your mind and go with a different publisher or use your content in a different piece of work.

Market Coverage
University press market coverage is much narrower than commercial press, which will limit your earning potential. While you will gain respect with your peers for making it through the committee review, it won’t win you coverage in popular non-academic publications to reach a wider market.

Marketing
While commercial press demands a lot of their authors to build an audience, you won’t get a lot of pressure from a university press.

Self-Publishing

Timeline
Self-publishing goes as quickly as you’d like. We recommend you do splurge for an editor, professional designer, and proofreader for the sake of quality. Even language experts need an editor.

Author Rights
Provided you don’t go through a “boutique” or “hybrid” publisher, you retain all rights to your work. Some hybrid publishers have some funky ownership clauses, so make sure you review your contracts.

Market Coverage
Book stores, online retailers, and book reviewers will not pick up your book unless you work to sell your book.

Marketing
If you’re checking an item off your bucket list and don’t expect sales, you can put your book up on Amazon and let it sit. Aiming for a break-out best seller? You’re going to have to work very hard on your advertising and social media skills.

Writing a Business Book as a Subject Matter Expert

If you’re a subject matter expert and aren’t writing a book as part of your day job, your options are pretty straight-forward.

Commercial Publishers

Timeline
Authors who want to be published through a commercial publisher can expect to spend an average of two years pursuing an agent. Your social media following and the amount of press you receive can make or break your book deal—even if you’re an amazing writer.

Author Rights
Usually, your publisher borrows the rights necessary to bring your book to market, but you retain ultimate rights. Contracts may contain clauses that only claim rights to publish and market your work for a limited amount of time with an option to renew. Always review your contracts carefully.

Market Coverage
The amount of effort a commercial publisher will make on your behalf will be directly proportionate to your existing following and perceived sales potential.

Marketing
Once again, the amount of effort a commercial publisher will make on your behalf will be directly proportionate to your existing following and perceived sales potential.

Self-Publishing

Timeline
Self-publishing can be extremely fast, but we recommend taking the time to go through a full editing cycle, hire a professional cover designer, and use a proofreader. This will take a minimum of three months.

Author Rights
Provided you don’t go through a “boutique” or “hybrid” publisher, you will retain all rights to your work. Make sure you review any contracts.

Market Coverage
Market coverage will depend on your connections and the level of effort you put into marketing your book to retailers and book reviewers.

Marketing
Again, with self-publishing, you choose. You can spend money on digital advertising and grow your social media following or just let your book sit on Amazon.

Writing a Book to Promote a Business

Most non-fiction writers have to beg to get published. A lot of company-published books are the result of encouraging an employee to write about a relevant topic and then marketing it to the company’s existing network. 

The market coverage can be enviable. However, the writer's name may not even get a mention.

Company Funded Limited Release

Generally, these limited releases are a lower word count than traditionally published non-fiction and offered exclusively in ebook format. Note that we recommend that companies hire a reliable editor and not rely on internal copywriters to proofread ebooks.

Timeline
Company projects run on a quarterly timeline, so you can expect to be pushed to finish a company-published book quickly. Companies will bring on contract writers or leverage internal copywriters to help get the book done quickly in many cases. Realistically, it takes two to three months to finalize a shorter form eBook.

Author Rights
Because you’re writing this book during the course of business, the company retains all rights to your work. You may not even get your name featured in the book. It isn’t uncommon for someone on the executive team to take credit without mention to contributors. Be sure to ask if you can list the writing in your portfolio.

Market Coverage
If you do get a nod as the author, your network will have some incentive to check out your book. Otherwise, you’ll rely on your company’s reach. For those at enterprise organizations, your market reach can be extensive.

Marketing
Because your company is publishing the book, they will be responsible for marketing. You can expect emails to their database, social media coverage, paid digital advertising, and possibly direct mail.

Commercial Publishers

Commercial publishing is an unorthodox choice for company driven books. If the company is small and the writer is a founder or partner, it may make sense to go through the effort to get an agent. However, this scenario would typically fall under the “subject matter expert” category.

Self-Publishing

A limited-release is generally limited to eBook form. Self-publishing opens the option to offer the book in print or eBook form via online marketplaces.

Timeline
If you're going to offer a book through online marketplaces, please take the time to edit and design the cover professionally. This will take up to three months.

Author Rights
This is a tough one. Technically, your company owns the rights to your work unless they waive the rights. This means you may or may not get credit for your work.

Market Coverage
If your company retains rights, it will be in their best interest to market your book to their social following.

Marketing
Your company will likely leverage its market. Whether or not they spend any money on digital advertising is entirely up to them.

What About Co-Publishing?

Multiple contributors can complicate copyright determination and publishing decisions.

If your co-author writes a significant share of the book or the contributions are significantly intermingled, both authors are considered joint copyright holders. The exception is contract writers or writers producing work through the normal course of business. 

If a contract clause exists between yourself and your company or university that claims rights to written works, the company owns the rights to your work. We advise reviewing your contract before collaborating with a co-author.

If an independent contract writer or freelancer is hired to write content in your book, their rights depend on their contract. If they agree to a “made for hire” clause, you own the rights to their work. This is fairly standard practice.



We hope this helps clarify your options! Please check out our blog for more on publishing and marketing your novel.
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