Although there's no chance whatsoever that he's going to land on The New York Times best-seller list — or even make a dime from sales — Brad Pine has high hopes for the book he wrote six months ago. Pine's e-book, 10 Tips You Need to Know About Your IRA Rollover, downloadable from his website, is part of a recently launched social media campaign to increase his visibility and build more prospects.
But the effort wasn't cheap — or easy. Pine, who heads Bradford Pine Wealth Group in New York City, a firm with over $30 million in assets under management, spent around $20,000 to hire a social media consultant, book editor and designer. “It was a big project,” says Pine, although he can't pin down exactly how much time he spent producing the book. Nonetheless, he's emphatic about the business possibilities a book can generate.
Although experts have predicted the death of publishing for years, you wouldn't know it from the sudden proliferation of works by financial advisors. Attracted by the ease of self-publishing and other alternatives, a great many advisors are producing their own books these days. Some are looking for a way to establish their credibility; others seek an additional revenue source; still others are fulfilling long-held dreams to author their own books.
But, as Pine discovered, writing just about any book is time-consuming and, in some cases, costly. Of course, the chances of becoming the next Suze Orman are remote. But even using a book as a fancy calling card can be a waste of time if you could be building your practice in more effective ways. The upshot: Writing a book can be a useful marketing tool, as long as you know what you're doing. “You need to have realistic expectations of what's involved and the ultimate payoff,” says John Nersesian, managing director of Nuveen Investments.
First, understand your options. There's good, old-fashioned, traditional publishing, through which you write a proposal and get an agent, who sells your idea to a publishing house, which, in turn, edits, prints and distributes your book. Or, you can pay a print-on-demand outfit like iUniverse or Xlibris; you'll submit a manuscript and they'll get you an ISBN number and design the book, in addition to printing limited quantities. And they'll get you listed on Amazon. You can also publish the thing entirely on your own.
There are other alternatives as well. Take Mark Snyder, who heads Mark J. Snyder Financial Services, a Medford, NY, practice with about $200 million in assets. About 10 years ago, he hired a ghost writer and published a book on investing, which he gave to clients and prospects. Then, last winter, he started thinking it was time to revise it. But, in the process, through work he did with a non-profit group focused on retirement investment issues, he began thinking he should change gears and produce a new book on the subject. Only, he really didn't want to go through all that work another time.
That's when he came upon a 32-page booklet called Planning Retirement Income from an outfit called Lightbulb Press. For about $7 a booklet, his name is printed on the cover, along with the two authors, and on the inside cover. He plans to give them out at conferences where he's a featured speaker and at golf outings and other client events.
Each of these routes to publishing a book has its pros and cons, of course. Traditional publishing carries the most prestige and makes your book seem legit. But, you get only a small part of any sale. Plus, even if you can find a publisher, it probably will do next to nothing to market your book. And it can be a year or more from the time you turn in your manuscript to final publication.
That long lead time can make a big difference. Take Matthew Tuttle, who heads Tuttle Wealth Management, a White Plains, NY firm with about $75 million in assets. He spent a year writing his first book, Financial Secrets of My Wealthy Grandparents. But it took only a few weeks to publish it in 2006 through iUniverse. On the other hand, he wrote his second book in just a month and a half, finishing it in June 2008, but he published it through Wiley, and the final product wasn't available until April 2009. Unfortunately, the book, How Harvard and Yale Beat the Market, looked at how individuals could mimic some of the university's investing strategies. But in the 2008 crash the endowments took quite a beating, making it a less than perfect subject for a book after the fact. Tuttle was able to make some changes “as the market crumbled,” he says. “My timing wasn't that good.”
As for the other options, with print-on-demand, you can have your book ready in a matter of weeks. But you have to pay them hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. And there's less cachet. Self-publishing is similarly fast and you have considerably more control over every aspect of the process. Plus anything you make, you keep. But you have to handle everything yourself and the prestige factor is even lower.
It's also critical to be very clear about your goals. For most advisors, the primary objective is to use the book as a way of building visibility and authority. “There's an impression that if you write a book, you're an expert,” says Nersesian. That means not only strengthening your reputation among clients and prospects, but also becoming a resource for the media, as well as leveraging the book in other ways — contributing a column, for example, or building a seminar around it.
To that end, you need to zero in on the best topic. Of course, you should avoid writing about the same thing everyone else has covered. At the very least, you need to come up with a unique take on old material. And, you want to pick a subject of interest to your target market. In addition, you need to decide just how long your book should be. If you want it to be short, don't pick a topic that calls for a 500-page treatment. Pine, for example, saw that clients were becoming increasingly concerned about their retirement savings. But he wanted to focus on something that lent itself to more of a booklet than a book. That's why he decided to focus on IRA rollovers.
If you serve a particular client niche, that niche might be an obvious choice for a topic. Kathleen Miller, who heads Miller Advisors in Kirkland, Wash., a practice with about $130 million in assets, for example, devotes a large part of her practice to advising women or men in the midst of a divorce. She recently published an updated version of Fair Share Divorce, a book she originally wrote in 1995, with St. Martin's Press as her publisher. She self-published the original book. “It really helped to establish my credibility,” she says.
There are exceptions, of course. In some cases, advisors write about specific interests and passions — topics that don't directly affect clients or prospects, but can help build their reputation. That's why Eric Brotman, who heads Brotman Financial in Timonium, Md., recently published Debt-Free for Life (One Hour or Less Publishing, 2009), a book about getting out of debt. Several years before, Brotman had started volunteering for a non-profit group focused on financial literacy and had thrown himself into the work. When a client was looking for someone to write a book about debt, he recommended Brotman.
For Brotman, it seemed like a promising opportunity both to write about a passion and boost his gravitas in the market. “It's building my vitae more than anything else,” he says. “When we put together kits, my bio now says I'm an author and that's a powerful thing.” He also hopes the book will pave the way to another project more directly related to his practice.
Then there's the actual writing. For advisors who are natural wordsmiths, it's not a problem. Brotman, for one, was an English major in college and says he always wanted to write a book. Tuttle, for his part, comes from a literary family — his mother published six books — and he knew he had at least one tome in him. For everyone else, however, the writing can be a slog, lasting anywhere from a few months to a year or more. If that seems like an unproductive use of your time, you can hire a ghost writer. But even in this down economy you have to be willing to pay as much as several thousand dollars to find a good one.
No matter how you publish your book, you'll probably need to do the marketing yourself. It's a delicate balance: deciding how much time to devote to the project without taking away from other business activities. In addition, just because you get a lot of press doesn't mean it will attract the right clients. That was Tuttle's experience with his first book. He spent a lot of time marketing it through radio interviews and articles. Trouble was, a lot of that press wasn't in areas of the country likely to attract business for his New York City-based practice. “I realized that doing a radio show in San Francisco wasn't going to help my practice,” he says. Tuttle ended up scaling back his publicity efforts.
The most effective way to make a book work for you is to incorporate it into your overall marketing plan. “It should be part of a bigger strategy,” says Judith McGee of McGee Financial Strategies in Portland, Oregon, who has written several books. Pine's book, for example, is on his website and serves in large part as a way to attract visitors and provide a way to capture information about possible prospects. To that end, the book can be downloaded for free. But, visitors have to provide contact information, which Pine then uses for an email drip campaign. He also sends them blog posts. While he doesn't know exactly how many downloads there have been, he says it's a “tremendous amount.” In just three months, he's also already held meetings with several prospects that resulted from this campaign.
Ultimately, if you can produce a well-written, professional-looking book that helps establish you as an authority with a unique viewpoint, your investment can pay off — even if it's less than perfect. Consider Tuttle, who recently started offering wealth management services to CPA firms. That ill-timed second book on the investment strategies of Ivy League endowments? According to Tuttle, assets have tripled since the book was published. While much of that comes from his new revenue model, he thinks the book also contributed. “When you're up against another advisor and you have a book and he doesn't, it really helps,” he says.