Publish or Perish!

Publish or Perish!

As someone who has spent a good amount of years in and around academia, the age-old phrase “publish or perish” is one that was constantly heard at faculty meetings, and one that continues to thrive in academic circles.

And as you give some thought to this, you might begin to see both its implication and application to all of us in the speaking profession. In days of yore, all speakers were told “you gotta have a book!” if you want to thrive in this business.

You Gotta Have a Book

Ask anyone who has been around our speaking profession for more than a few years, and they’ll quickly acknowledge the truth in that statement. The reasons, you would be told, are seemingly obvious. It gives one credibility, shows your expertise in a given discipline, and will lead to increased speaking opportunities. Moreover, as the legend goes, you can charge higher fees, as it establishes your eloquence and experience. You can even use it as a business card.

But with all the increasing emphasis on digital and social media, does anyone even buy books anymore? Check the circulation figures for your local newspaper (if indeed, your city even has a daily newspaper any longer!), and you’ll see decreasing readership, especially among the Gen Y and Millennials.

The World of Publishing

Let’s take a look at what’s happening with the publishing industry these past few years. According to, the total book market in the U.S. is a $27 billion industry. In the year 2001, there were some 150,000 books published. In 2013, that figure rose to almost 300,000. Some other sources tell us that figure should be closer to 400,000. Impressive indeed, you might say— and you’d be right. Of that $27 billion number, trade books account for over half, namely $15 billion and eBooks are around $3 billion — which is up over 40% from even two years ago.

On the other hand, take a look at the bookstore industry and you’ll see some rather distressing figures. For example, in 2001, there were around 150,000 bookstores in the U.S. Contrast that number to today’s count at around 15,000. (Been to a Borders lately?)

Book Trivia

To borrow a phrase from the broadcast arena — “We report; you decide.” To make sure we see both sides of the equation, take a look at some facts and figures.

  • The average person reads one book a year.
  • 33% of high school graduates never read another book in their lives.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 70% of adults have never visited a bookstore in the last 5 years (except perhaps to have a Starbucks!).
  • Almost three-fourths of books in the library (73%) are never checked out.
  • The average shelf life of a book is three months, and 50% are returned to the publisher.
  • Literary agents receive over 200 proposals each month, and over 95% are rejected.

I could go on, but you get the picture!

But Wait…There’s More!

Lest we paint too dismal a picture, there is light at the end of that tunnel. While these figures shown above are “averages,” our members are obviously all above average!

So with that in mind, consider these tips to help you make that best-seller list. Most publishers will require a proposal for your work. While various publishers have various requirements, use this guide as a format for your work.

  • Cover page — with the suggested title and subtitle.
  • Sales handle — this is your elevator pitch, i.e., why your book is so important.
  • About the book — what are some suggested chapters and features you bring to the market.
  • Competitive analysis — what other books on this topic are out there and why yours is better.
  • Marketing information — how your experience and contacts will sell your book.
  • About the author(s) — don’t be modest. Detail your expertise and describe your client list.

Just Do It!

While this article presents a look at the world of publishing, it was not intended to suggest that your book won’t ever become the best-seller you know it will become. While it may have been rejected by a major publisher, take heart! The world of self-publishing is wide open for you. The advantages are many and fruitful. Turnaround time is days not months. You have better control and likely will even make more money. Your back-of-the-room sales will be “money in the bank.”

And for more ammunition, look at such best-sellers as Kenneth Blanchard’s, CPAE, The One Minute Manager and the Chicken Soup books. Both were self-published before being taken on by publishers. And for a few more war stories, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was turned down by 19 publishers, and NSA members Jack Canfield, CSP, CPAE, and Mark Victor Hansen’s first books had dozens of refusals.

So what’s stopping you? If you have a speech, you have a book! You really do! Have that presentation transcribed, do some wordsmithing and get it done! Just do it!

Ed Scannell

Ed Scannell

As a former faculty member at both the University of Northern Iowa and Arizona State University, Edward E. Scannell, CMP, CSP, is currently the Executive Director with the Center for Professional Development and Training in Scottsdale, AZ. Ed has served as National President of ASTD, IFTDO, MPI and NSA, and was awarded the Cavett in 1999. He has written or co-authored 25 books including his McGraw-Hill “Games Trainers Play” series which have sold over a million copies.
Ed Scannell
Ed Scannell
Ed Scannell

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