There are only two kinds of books in the financial planning world: best-sellers and resume-builders, insists Ken Fisher, who's the author of seven books and is CEO of Fisher Investments in Woodside, Calif. Producing a best-seller takes great content, a top publisher, a great deal of promotion and a certain amount of luck.
A handful of publishers sell the majority of these books, and they tend to focus on celebrity authors. To worm your way into the publishing world, "You have to find some way to make yourself important to them," Fisher says.
Even before you put your fingers on the keyboard, you need to be marketing yourself, making speeches and using social media, advises agent Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services in Chicago. A book that's intended to be a resume-builder, on the other hand, may not be worth the trouble.
"It won't sell 5,000 copies," Fisher says, and most clients will only thumb through it (at best). A better way to build credibility is to write for a magazine, he says, which will reach more people.
In the end, books cost many authors money, says Bill Bachrach, chairman of San Diego-based Bachrach & Associates, a financial services professional development firm. He's also the author of two books and co-author of three. "You're going to end up buying books back from publishers." He suggests advisors ask themselves: "Is it really worth it?"
It may be. Although Fisher didn't mention it, there's arguably a third kind of financial planning book - the one you feel you need to write because you have something you strongly want to say.
Michael Kay, president of Financial Focus in Livingston, N.J., wrote his first book, The Business of Life: An "Inside-Out" Approach to Building a More Successful Financial Planning Practice. It was recently published by AdvisorPress as "a model for other advisors to look at and say, 'Hey if this guy can do it, I can do it, too,'" Kay says.
The project required time, support from others, an editor and a public relations agency. "I think I will recoup the cost - if not financially, than probably emotionally," he says.
Be Your Own Publisher
Another route may be to choose to self-publish a book to be used as a marketing tool. You can make it available through online bookstores and hand it to clients as gifts. You can also give copies to people who might serve as a source of referrals.
A self-published book won't be sold in book stores unless you hire a distributor like Ingram or W.W. Norton, which is pricey. But many books are now sold online. If you take the trouble (and expense) to hire editors and designers, the apparent difference between a self-published book and one produced by a brand-name publisher will seem less dramatic.
Printing costs vary widely. They range from a single do-it-yourself, digitally printed book from an online service costing $30 or more, to a full-service book printing at a publishing shop at about $5,000 for 1,000 copies.
Total cost, including an editor, designers, printing and marketing — but not counting your time — could range from $10,000 to $75,000. Just be sure you're clear on your goal and the required investment in time, energy and money, experts say, or you could be extremely disappointed.
Ghost in the Machine
"Most advisors don't write well," Fisher notes. "If you think you are going to make a best-seller, find someone that knows how."
Ghost writers (and ghost editors, who work with your copy) usually ask for word counts. An average book page contains about 400 words or so. A book with 60,000 words (about 150 pages) can cost from $20,000 to $60,000 or more, says Sydney LeBlanc, founding editor of Reg Rep magazine and co-director of S. LeBlanc and Co. , a firm specializing in helping advisors with books.
A price quote usually includes all initial chapter drafts and one round of revisions. After that, writers can expect to pay $50 to $100 an hour for more editing, she says.
For complicated content, consider a writer with experience in the financial services industry. Accomplished writers may be more available these days because of staff cuts at many publications.
Even when you use a ghostwriter, you need to dedicate considerable time to the process. You can sit down for interviews with the writer, or outline chapters. You'll need to review the draft and discuss changes, and you may need to check with your compliance department or marketing staff.
Fisher's writing career started with an idea in 1982. This is where luck came into play — in a big way. Jim Michaels, then the editor at Forbes, said he would be willing to look at his manuscript.
Having read a book on how to promote a book, Fisher instead sent his two best pages. "The key is brevity — hook them like with a direct mail piece," he says.
Michaels asked for specific concepts, which led to two new chapter ideas for Fisher's book. Fisher wrote those two sample chapters with Michaels' help, and Michaels decided to write about his ideas in the magazine. "The story ran and I had no problem getting a publisher," Fisher says.
His tale is a good example of why it may be smart to write for a magazine. Fisher gained experienced, hands-on help fine-tuning his ideas and preparing his copy - and won a wide audience.
A second boost came when his book was chosen as the lead publication for the season's catalog. This ensured it would be in more stores.
Many authors think that their job is done when a book is published. Fisher still had to work hard to promote his book and sell copies. "I went on every radio show that would have me," he recalls.
A well-prepared author today would have already built the beginnings of a following online and must be prepared to devote even more energy to the process. For example, you should respond to people who send you questions on a blog or Twitter, and jump in on active discussion boards to make your name known.
Words for the Publisher
If you don't choose to self-publish your book, you will need to identify editors who are likely to be interested in your ideas or find an agent. Only a few publishers of financial books work directly with authors. One trick to finding an agent with contacts is to look in books that seem similar to yours. Authors often thank their agents (and editors) on an acknowledgements page, so that's a way to get leads.
Whether you're writing to an editor or an agent, you need your hook. Be sure you have thought of an original, clear and attention-grabbing title. Write a lead paragraph that would catch your eye if you saw it on a book jacket. If your hook prompts interest from an editor or agent, your next step is to submit an overview, a table of contents and a few chapters.
You will need a marketing proposal - including your target readers, competitive books and your promotion plan. Mention experience with interviews and social media. Think about recognizable names who might praise your book.
An agent will help you negotiate your contract. Authors often receive a 15% royalty on the publisher's net cost of the book, not the retail price. The publisher also maintains the copyright, but it can revert to you over time. You may have to buy your own copies.
As Bachrach points out, you're more likely to be shelling out cash on your book than raking it in. But you didn't become an author for the money - right?
Mike Byrnes is the founder of Byrnes Consulting in Boston.