Painting with Numbers

“Presenting financials and other numbers so people will understand you.” That’s the subtitle of “Painting with Numbers,” a book by my client, Randy Bolten, that’s just out from Wiley. It’s getting enthusiastic reviews from sources as diverse as academics, bankers, politicians, and IT professionals, and its initial sales are gratifyingly strong.

From the book’s introduction: “This book is not about numbers. This book is about presenting numbers, and doing it clearly, concisely, elegantly, and, most of all, effectively.” And it successfully conveys its message in practical, take-it-home-and-put-it-to-work terms.

Bolten served as chief financial officer of several Silicon Valley firms and learned his skills “in the trenches.” He endured numerous presentations that left him scratching his head and wondering, “What was that person trying to say?” Determined to never do that himself, and to help others do better, he began to record and organize his insights regarding good and bad communication behavior in the numerical context.

This is a “how-to” book in the very best sense of the term. You can read it cover-to-cover and learn a great deal from it; you can also flip it open anywhere and gain helpful tips for the presentation you’re supposed to give in the next 10 minutes.

If you are an aspiring author, here are some key learning points you can model from Randy:

  • The focus of the book is his unique expertise, organized and articulated in bite-size chunks for easy consumption.
  • He invested time in learning what others have to say on the topic, and cites items of interest that can help his readers.
  • He micro-managed the book design process. Specifically, he knew that his spreadsheet examples would have to look like screen-captures, not like a gussied-up artist’s version of spreadsheets, if readers were to feel, “I can do that!”
  • His writing demonstrates his awareness that his reader is unlikely to feel excited and enthusiastic about his topic, to begin with. So he makes excellent use of humor and beautiful layout to engage the reader and drive home the power and utility of learning the skills he so eloquently presents.

He went with a major publisher, although we had considered self-publishing. Here are some reasons:

  • He didn’t want to undertake the work of creating a business to produce and market the book.
  • He was able to network his way to an appropriate editor, without an agent.
  • The implied imprimatur of a major publisher was meaningful to him.
  • Maximizing his profit was not his major goal.

I’m very proud of Randy, who has become my close friend from what began as a coaching relationship. Check out the book!

The publishing war is over; self-publishing wins

I’ll start from the conclusion. Here’s why you should ONLY self-publish, and not seek a publisher:

  • publish #01

    You get to market MUCH more quickly by self-publishing (days or weeks versus a year or more)

  • You keep your intellectual property; you can reprint, translate, sell movie rights, go to multiple distributors without limitation
  • You keep 70% or more of the book’s selling price, versus 14.7% or less with a publisher (including for the ebook version)
  • You are in control of everything from design to editing to production to distribution

In the past, before the Web and print-on-demand technology, authors were at the mercy of publishers. That’s when the “rules of engagement” were established by the publishers, and they remain today as they were then: The publisher controls everything about the relationship, if the author signs the standard agreement. That means a production schedule that commonly stretches out 15-18 months from receipt of manuscript; a royalty rate that is nominally as high as 15%, but due to hidden costs, is more like 10% (payable six or more months after it is earned); total transfer of ownership of intellectual property to the publisher (meaning that if the publisher decides not to reprint the book after the first printing, the author must negotiate to re-acquire the rights to it); and other onerous strictures.

The author was ostensibly relieved of all responsibility for editing, design, production, distribution, and marketing of the book. Unfortunately, the author usually learned that she was actually stuck with marketing the book, and all the costs thereof–at the paltry royalty rate specified in the standard contract.

In recent years, an author could not even submit a manuscript to a publisher; he had to find an agent who would agree to undertake on his behalf, for 20% or more of the deal. And finding an agent was no simpler than finding a publisher had been in earlier times. A common question posed to the author: “Do you have a platform?” Meaning, do you have a coterie of loyal fans who are likely to buy your book? If not, your chances of finding an agent or a publisher were small.

Today, the author has been emancipated in the age of self-publishing. She is no longer in bondage to the system of publishers and agents. She can have her manuscript edited herself, get a cover designed to her liking, and take them to or, set her sale price–and have the book available for purchase within a week of submitting the manuscript and cover. At no fee for the service; production costs are taken out of the sales price for each book, and the balance sent to the author. Monthly.

These publishers take no ownership of the content. The author is free to submit it to multiple such services.

Moreover, both they and others offer a service to convert the book to the most popular ebook formats. Since the production cost on an ebook is virtually zero, it is reasonable that the authors receive 70% or more of the sales price of their books, and they do. If the ebook is published by, say, John Wiley and Sons, the author gets 14.7%.

Well, what about editing? It is true that the leading publishers employ competent editors. But so can an author–and at a lower rate by far, with the expectation of far faster turnaround.

And marketing? Most authors seeking to be published by one of the “Big Six” do not realize that the big marketing bucks are reserved for the “sure bets”–books by celebrities and already-popular authors. All the other books on the publisher’s list get very little in the way of marketing dollars. And if they do not sell in significant numbers–thousands–in the first three months after their debut, they will not be reprinted.

A client asked me the other day about the “cachet” of being published by a well-known publisher. Certainly there is something to that. But let me ask you, prospective published author: What value does it actually have for you? Will it establish you higher in the firmament of author/experts? Will it get you more clients? I doubt it.

The big publishers are not foolish, and they employ very smart people. But the traditional publishing world is stuck in an antiquated paradigm, and has not found a way out.

If you are an author, save yourself grief: Do not invest your energies in petitioning agents and publishers. Recognize that your book represents a business, of which you are the ceo. Act accordingly. Self-publish.

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A blog worth reading: A Newbie’s Guide To Self-Publishing

I was going to quote and link to one particular article on Joe Konrath’s blog, but the more I read, the more I realized you should read it all. So click on that link and head over there. Joe shares powerful lessons for people wondering whether self-publishing is viable vs. finding a publisher.

Promotion: It’s up to you

If you want people to buy your book, you have to let them know of its existence, and where to order it. To do this, you need to know who they are, and where to reach them. And much to the surprise of many new authors, this is not only the case for self-publishers; it’s true for authors whose works are published by major publishers, too.

Most major publishers put promotion dollars behind winners, not newbies. So if promotion was a reason for you to seek a publisher rather than publishing yourself, strike it off the list.

For most non-fiction authors, the very best way to sell your books is through speaking engagements. For corporate gigs, you can often offer your book at a discounted price to the client, so that they can buy a copy for each attendee. I’ve sold thousands of books this way, and so have many other speakers.

In other speaking environments, you can sell them in the back of the room after your talk, if the venue allows it. (Although I would suggest having a higher-priced product at the back of the room, such as a CD series, a DVD series, or a course, and throw in the book as a free bonus. But if you do this, do not offer the book for sale as well; most people will just buy the book.)

One of the best investments an author can make is to buy “1001 Ways to Market Your Books,” by John Kremer. Then read it, and start implementing just a few of the hundreds of excellent ideas in its 700+ pages.

Here are a few starting places:
  • Find out what your most important keywords are. Search on “keyword research” to learn this important skill. Then begin to identify your book’s audience with precision, and the words that they would enter into search engines that ought to lead them to your book.
  • Find blogs read by your reading audience, and find a way to participate in them. Offer to write guest articles. Comment on the entries. Include your book’s website (you have one, right?) in your signature.
  • Create a Facebook page around your book and its topic.
  • Blog about your topic and your book on your own blog, at least 3 times a week.
  • Find out how to get on radio talk shows. They need people to interview, and will allow you to promote your book. Make a special offer–a low price or bonus if they mention the radio show. (Search for Alex Carroll; he offers help along this line.)

Self-publishing and POD (publish on demand)

My buddy Bill Quain and I are doing a podcast series on behalf of It’s called FastPencil Pointers, and you can get it on iTunes or here. As we were preparing next week’s issue, I realized that many people do not know what self-publishing and publish-on-demand are.


Self-publishing: The publishing of a book or books where the author is also the publisher.

Publish-on-demand: The use of print-on-demand equipment to produce books in as small a quantity as one.

Thanks to the Internet and modern printing and binding technologies, it is possible for an author to publish his or her own book without having to invest heavily in large quantities of printed copies and the attendant logistics.

A self-publisher can use a publish-on-demand company for producing the book, or simply have it printed by a traditional book printer.

POD companies often offer additional services to the author, such as ISBN codes; cover design; connection to distributors, like Ingram (who supply bookstores, like Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.); editing; and more.

The initial POD vendors were not always transparent about the specifics of their service offerings, and sometimes left customers unsatisfied with the value of the “packages” they had bought. Today, competition has forced these firms to be more open about precisely what they do and do not provide. It’s easier for an author to make comparisons than ever before.

I recommend self-publishing to all my authors. If you publish your book yourself, and sell a few thousand copies–and then pitch a major publisher–you will be in a FAR better position to bargain for royalty rates, promotional budgets, intellectual property rights, and more. But frankly, at that point you may ask yourself whether the imprimatur of the major publisher is worth what you may have to give up.

As an author, you will make out better financially if you get a cover designed; get your book printed; and control your own promotion. Now, you may not have the time or the inclination to do those things, and there are plenty of people who will gladly undertake to do them for you; but whichever way you go, you should study the process so that you will understand what you are buying.

Do you have to write your own book to have a book?

No. You can have someone do it for you.

Different people have different ways of working with authors. And of course, it very much depends on the type of book you want written.

I’m writing a book for an inventor/engineer right now. He does not intend to use it to market his services; he wants to simply put forth some of his ideas, many of which are quite provocative, into the world.

I’m speaking with another person who also has provocative ideas, but wants to use the book to build a speaking platform and additional products.

Different purposes, different processes. With the first book, we worked to come up with a detailed table of contents. Then I interviewed the man accordingly. Now I am turning those results into a manuscript.

And he wants me to be the author.

With the second, the client will be the author. I will structure, interview, and write. I don’t plan for my name to appear on the book.

In both cases, I will take care of the publishing, and consult on the promotion and sales.

Is this a good way to do things? That depends on your goals. My time–and that of anyone who you’d want to have write a book for you–is valuable. The question you have to answer is: How valuable is your time? Would you be better served creating new products for your business, or writing your book yourself? (I can help you do that, too, of course.)

Do you want it done quickly? What’s it costing you not to have a book out yet? When you consider the whole picture, the cost of having someone write a book for you might show up as a good investment.

There are other–less expensive–shortcuts to getting a book out. For example, I have a template-based book kit for coaches, and will soon have them for other professions. For a few hundred dollars, you can create a good book, and have it published inexpensively.

If you’d like to discuss your options and possible strategies, click on the calendar in the right-hand column to pick a time for a no-obligation strategy call with me.

Advice for self-published novelists

Dayna Hester invites you accompany her on her self-publishing journey. Good advice, authentic voice.

Outside the Box Thinking Inside My Community

I used to be a court stenographer (…still can be if my book completely flops, by the way). The beauty of that career was I had to learn how to listen: I listened for a living.
I’m seven years out of the career now, but I can still sense my listening skills kicking in, especially when someone gives me advice that I don’t need. My little voice yells out to me, tell the advice-giver, “I don’t need to hear this crap,” but I stop the thought … and listen. I think to myself, after all, if the advice doesn’t apply to me, it may apply to you.
Advice from a Barnes & Noble manager:  click for more
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