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Lead Generation Books Don't Build Sales... and Here's Why

Updated on May 19, 2020
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Heidi Thorne is a business author and speaker. Her podcast, The Heidi Thorne Show, discusses self publishing and small business.

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Recently, I had chats with a couple of entrepreneurs who are thinking of writing and self publishing books to help market their businesses and build sales leads. I told both of them that I don’t think it would be worth their investment right now, given their circumstances and what they hoped to accomplish.

The books these entrepreneurs wanted to publish are commonly called lead generation books. They can be great marketing tools for building your expert status in your field and could—emphasis on “could”—help generate sales leads. But I’ve seen so many entrepreneur and small business authors get overwhelmed and over-invested with these books, only to be disappointed.

How Does a Lead Generation Book Work... or Doesn’t?

Lead generation books are usually nonfiction. The author could offer tips, explanations, or use their personal story to illustrate important points. The hope is that readers will associate the book and the author as helpful resources. Then when readers have a need for the products or services the author offers, they may connect with the author to do business.

That’s how it’s supposed to work in theory. But in reality, these books aren’t a reliable source of sales leads, at least they aren’t these days.

Years ago, when authors had to get a book deal from a traditional publisher, the clout attached to getting such a deal would definitely boost the author’s authority in their field. Back then, publishers may have had more interest in promoting the author and his or her work, too. So these types of books packed a marketing punch.

But then Amazon and the self publishing movement happened. Now everyone and anyone can self publish a book. This is both good and bad. Good in that authors who own businesses can package their knowledge into book form to share with potential customers and their industry. Bad in that there are now literally millions and millions of self published books. So standing out among fierce competition on the likes of Amazon is near impossible. There are likely tens of thousands of other similar books, both traditionally and self published, in most topic categories on Amazon.

You have to remember, too, that people who are using your book as a resource are likely DIY (do it yourself) people. You may be providing just enough information for them to do it alone. They might buy your book and be done with you.

Even from a conceptual perspective, lead generation books are a bit laughable, given today’s instant gratification mindset. If people have an issue that needs solving, you’re telling me they’re going to go to Amazon, select from possibly thousands of books on their issue, purchase the book, and then read a 100-300 page book to find someone who can help them? I don’t think so. Likely, they’re going to Google and search for someone who can solve their issue now! If sales leads and online sales conversion are what you want, you should be investing in SEO, online advertising, and making sure your website is geared for sales conversion.

A lead generation book is also a difficult to track public relations move. There is virtually no way to accurately assess the sales results.

The Free Book Incentive Myth

I hear some say, “Well, I’ll give away my book for free.” How? Electronically as a PDF you offer as an incentive to sign up for your email newsletter? Good luck with that these days. In my experience, people often sign up for the freebie, then unsubscribe. Many people, myself included, don’t even bother signing up because they get too much email already.

Other authors say they’ll give a free print copy as an incentive to get people to meet with them. Oh, I’ve tried that, too. It was an expensive outreach program that included cold calling, direct mail, etc. It was a waste. I got one client that didn’t even really pan out except for an initial consult.

Giving away your book and hoping it will incentivize or obligate people to do business with you is a myth. There's just too much good information available from everywhere these days. Offering more information just adds to people's information overload. Therefore, your freebie book doesn't have as much value as it might have in the past.

What Entrepreneur Authors Secretly Want from Self Publishing a Book

Compounding the problem is that most of these entrepreneurs-cum-authors are secretly hoping that their books will be wildly successful on their own, not just as lead generators. They’ll be on easy street then! Rarely does that happen.

And if my Thorne Self Publishing Survey research in 2016 and 2018 is any indicator, around 73% of self published authors make less than $1,000 per year in royalties and income from their books. Plus, that doesn’t even take into consideration the cost to produce the book. It's not a money maker, and could actually cost more than the revenues it could bring to the business.

My Lead Generation Book Experience

I’ve toyed with self publishing for many years, publishing books or other multimedia products on business topics. Did they work for me?

My first official self published book in the Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing era was designed to generate sales leads for my promotional products business. Buying promotional items such as printed mugs and pens seems like a simple purchase, but it has a lot of hidden costs and details. I thought people would like to learn how to buy these things in a way to save money while effectively building their marketing brand. Well, they want to buy promotional products at lower cost, but don’t want to “learn” how to do it. So that book only generated sales leads for speaking at promotional industry conferences, not client sales.

Even my existing clients at that time had a “that’s nice” reaction to my book, and couldn’t have cared less. They already had me to do the heavy lifting when it came to handling the details of their promotional purchasing.

True, my lead generation book is still my best selling book many years later. But those who are buying it are likely promotional industry folks or the rare few who are invested in learning about the business.

Why Did I Tell the Entrepreneurs to Reconsider Self Publishing a Lead Generation Book?

Entrepreneur #1

The first entrepreneur has a thriving community that pays a monthly fee to be part of her tribe. She also sells products that she developed and manufactures. She would be the envy of many of my small business and consulting friends.

Yet she feels that having a book would offer her more public relations and media opportunities, and reach even more people with her message. Maybe.

She also feels overwhelmed at the prospect of finishing the writing and publishing of the book. Her business is demanding and it’s hard to focus on the writing. She’s heard all the “you gotta be committed to getting it done” advice, and stresses about not being able to do it.

Even if she was able to get the book done, it doesn’t automatically mean that media and PR opportunities will magically show up. The amount of competition for books like hers is astounding. No one is looking for the next self published book in this field, regardless of how good her book or message might be. In order to get major media coverage, she would have to hire some pros who know how to get her where she wants to be.

Unless she’s willing to cut back on the business that is making a living for her, and also be willing to make a serious investment in public relations, she might be doing her business and her community a true disservice by shifting gears to concentrate on a book.

What people fail to realize is that even if you do get some momentary PR coverage, it is fleeting and needs constant effort to keep a continuing media presence. In my experience, I wrote articles for relevant trade press that got me a bit of notoriety. But it didn’t result in a mass of quality sales leads coming my way.

So I told her that when the timing is right, and she feels capable of handling the challenge of writing the book, opportunities will still be there to explore.

Entrepreneur #2

This entrepreneur doesn’t really enjoy the marketing aspect of business. So when she attended a seminar/webinar where the presenter emphasized that books would help with sales lead generation, she was interested. She told me the book didn’t have to be a money maker initially, but she would use it for lead generation.

As discussed earlier, the whole lead generating book concept is flawed. Having a book will not—repeat not!—automatically generate sales leads for you. In this entrepreneur’s case, she’d be better off investing in some professional help to build a sales and web strategy.

What also concerned me about this entrepreneur was that she said the book didn’t have to be a money maker “initially.” I read between the lines on that one. Sorry that I have to predict it may not be a money maker, initially or eventually.

Is There Any Justification for a Lead Generation Book for Business?

If you’re writing and self publishing a book as part of your overall public relations and marketing strategy, and you have the ability and money to do it, then a lead generation book is worth considering. But it cannot miraculously build sales. And don’t expect it to work like more quantifiable and effective sales building methods such as Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising, SEO, and personal selling.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne

Comments

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  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    10 days ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Adrienne! It is SO competitive it's crazy on Amazon. I just hope that these new authors understand the landscape they're entering when they self publish. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Have a lovely day!

  • alexadry profile image

    Adrienne Farricelli 

    10 days ago

    Hi Heidi,

    You offer a wealth of information about self publishing books and it's great that it's coming from your personal experience. I enjoy reading all the helpful tips. I can see how competitive the market has become on Amazon with so many authors publishing there.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    11 days ago from Chicago Area

    Peggy, yep, just sharing what I've experienced and observed. Hope it helps prevent some headache or heartache for authors, especially new ones.

    We're doing good so far with all the pandemic stuff. Hubby works in healthcare. So it's a day-by-day thing. Hope you're doing well, too.

    Thanks for your kind support, as always! Have a beautiful day!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    11 days ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Pamela! Glad you found it helpful. Hope you're staying safe and well. Have a beautiful day!

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    12 days ago from Houston, Texas

    You freely offer such good advice in your posts about everything to do with the publishing of books, advertising of them, etc. I hope you are doing well during this pandemic.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 

    12 days ago from Sunny Florida

    This was a very interesting, informative artuckem Heidi. I always learn from you and this artice was no exception.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    12 days ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Linda! Glad you find my posts useful. Thanks for your support, as always. You have a great week, too!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    12 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Your articles are always very informative. Thank you once again for sharing your knowledge and experience, Heidi. I hope you have a good week.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    13 days ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, that is one of the things that these entrepreneur authors just don't understand. Even if they charge for the book, they are truly giving away their work for pennies compared to what they'd earn if they decided to concentrate on the business. From personal experience, I can attest to that.

    As per usual, these people hear about some outlier who made millions from being an author. That's really not the case because there are so many factors that go into making millions. Often, these anomalous authors have some unique advantages that propelled them into the success-o-sphere. Then they say "you can do it, too." Not.

    Anyway, thanks for always adding some thoughtful perspective to the conversation. Have a wonderful week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    13 days ago from Chicago Area

    Bill, I think you gave your customer some sound advice. Once they realize the cost, both in time and money, usually it becomes a back burner or burn out. Thanks for sharing your experience with lead gen books. Have a great week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    13 days ago from Chicago Area

    Liz, this is one of those things that sounds great in theory, but in practice, not so much. Glad you found it informative. Thanks so much for commenting, as always. Hope you're staying safe and well. Have a great week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    13 days ago from Chicago Area

    Mary, I love it when people ask me questions. It provides such good material for blog posts. And it really helps me understand what's going on in their heads.

    Always appreciate you stopping by and commenting! Hope you're staying safe and well. Have a great week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    13 days ago from Chicago Area

    Carrie, you're not kidding! Way more competition than we've ever had in the past. Thanks for chiming in and have a wonderful week!

  • carrie Lee Night profile image

    Carrie Lee Night 

    13 days ago from Northeast United States

    Thank you for sharing :) Interesting. There is so much competition out there. Have a wonderful week :)

  • aesta1 profile image

    Mary Norton 

    13 days ago from Ontario, Canada

    As always, your article is very informative. I like the examples of your interaction with two entrepreneurs. Very instructive.

  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    13 days ago from UK

    I have learnt a lot about lead generation books from this article. You make a sound argument on why they don't build sales.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

    A couple years ago one of my regular customers wanted me to write such a book for his business. I told him what it would cost him to hire me, told him I didn't think it was a good investment...end of discussion!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 

    2 weeks ago from USA

    It sounds like many of these folks should just tighten up and focus on their key business rather than branching out into writing, publishing, and marketing. This is especially the case if they aren’t naturals at those things. Plus, they are possibly going to give away their expertise and any potential advantage they have over competitors like tips and tricks for dirt cheap.

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