ONE OF THE most daunting, but effective, ways to market your practice is to write a book on a subject that will have value to potential clients. Literally, you will become the person who “wrote the book.” Most lawyers write daily, yet they consider a book to be something that’s out of reach. Perhaps I was just a naïve 26-year-old when I ignored the admonitions of colleagues that I was biting off more than I could chew when I wrote my first book in 1994, on a subject that was new to me. But I can personally attest that you can successfully write a book on a subject even if you aren’t a seasoned practitioner in that area. In fact, the process of researching and writing a book becomes one of the best ways to master a subject area.
I’ve also chaired the ABA Law Practice Division’s (LP) book program and learned how the publishing process works from the planning and production side. This demonstrated to me that, while writing a book takes a lot of discipline, many more lawyers have the ability to pull it off than ever make the attempt.
A book I co-authored that has been published annually by LexisNexis for the last 15 years, the J-1 Visa Guidebook, is my best example of the power a book has to transform a practice. Back then, I was still a new immigration lawyer in Nashville, Tenn., home to the country’s largest concentration of hospital system headquarters. Physician immigration had a lot of potential as a practice area niche, but I had no health care clients and no credentials to persuade anyone to give me a try. But I did notice there was no book on J-1 visas, the main category used by doctors to enter the U.S. My friend Bill Stock and I got a shot at co-authoring a handbook on the subject. That title helped launch my practice in physician immigration, and my firm now has one of the largest doctor practices in the U.S. And Bill? He was also a junior lawyer when we wrote the book but is slotted to soon take over as president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
There is, of course, the possibility for royalties, though it’s a rare book on a legal subject that generates large royalties for its author. Royalties should be viewed as a bonus on top of the marketing benefits a book can deliver. A book can help establish your credibility with reporters, potential and existing clients and fellow lawyers. And it can be a great source of content for your firm’s website.
Coming up with the right book idea is critical. Ideally, you’ll find a subject that people care about and has not been covered previously in book form. But even if a book exists, another book still might be worth writing if you can add to the subject or the marketplace has enough room for more than one title. And even if a subject applies only to a small audience, if the clients you’re seeking would be interested in it, the effort may well bear fruit.
Each of my four books has been accepted for publication by a major publisher without having to submit a completed manuscript, and that seems to be common in the legal field. However, publishers often have a detailed proposal form that seeks specific information about your book idea. Be prepared to submit:
- An introduction of the book’s concept.
- A description of the intended market (other lawyers, potential clients, etc.).
- A list of competing books, and a clarification of how your book will add to the subject.
- A highly detailed table of contents and/or summary of each proposed chapter, as well as the estimated length of the book.
- Your intentions to update the book, and how regularly (hint: many publishers want successful titles updated frequently since new editions sell better).
- Your curriculum vitae.
- An estimated timetable to complete the manuscript.
Another critical decision is choosing a publisher. Some publishers are very well known and offer a prestige that may prove useful in your practice marketing efforts. But a “hungry” publisher that is interested in really marketing a title may also be worth considering. Talk to authors who have written books for a publisher to find out about their experiences. What were the marketing efforts like? How fast did they turn the book around after the manuscript was final? How easy was it to work with the publisher during the editing and formatting process? How much input did the author have on subjects like pricing, marketing, cover design and the like?
Publishing contracts can also differ significantly. Some publishers pay no royalties. Ten to 15 percent seems to be the maximum. And how royalties are calculated can differ. Is the royalty based on gross sales or net revenue? Some publishers will also agree to provide a complimentary copy of all books published on the specific subject matter of the author’s book, something that can be a very nice benefit even if the royalty check is small. The contracts also will speak to copyright ownership and the rights to republish. And find out how many complimentary copies you will receive as well as what sort of discount you’ll get if you go over that initial amount.
But do you need a publisher at all? A game changer in the last 10 years has been the rise of self-publishing. In the past, self-published books lacked the quality of commercially published books. Today they can look just as good, if not better, and they can be produced in small quantities at affordable costs. If an author is prepared to spend a few thousand dollars—I’d budget $5,000 to $10,000—on the various expenses in the process, print-on-demand companies like CreateSpace or Lightning Source can produce a book that can then be distributed on sites like Amazon. The costs associated with self-publishing may be recouped more quickly since you’re retaining most of the revenues from the book sales.
Self-publishing has also been enhanced by e-books. Most e-book reader manufacturers have free software to make it easy to produce a book in their respective format, and they will also sell the book for a cut of the sales. Amazon, for example, takes 30 percent. While an e-book won’t provide all the same marketing benefits as a print publication, it could serve as a nice complement at little extra cost.
And, finally, there’s the actual writing of the book to consider. (Oh yeah, that!) There’s no getting around the fact that the actual process of writing a book can be a tough slog. No single system works well for everyone. I essentially approach the process as writing a series of articles on a subject, thus breaking the project down into manageable steps. I’ve also recruited co-authors when I’ve thought it could help, though that can complicate the process as you’ll want a uniform style throughout. Finally, I’d recommend budgeting time every day over several months to the project. If you turn to writing only when you feel you have the time, it won’t get done. Hopefully, the enormous prize at the end of the process will keep you motivated. And seeing your book in print can be one of the most rewarding professional accomplishments you will experience.