The Secret To Your Book’s Success: Be Strategic! with Sam Horn

TAC Sam Horn | Strategic Book Success

Strategy is key to successful book marketing. Your book has to be so evergreen that it can withstand the test of time. Make your book have a lasting impression on your audience. Learn who your book is for, why you are doing it, and more. Join your host Robin Colucci and her guest Sam Horn on finding the secret to your book’s success. Sam is a bestselling author and the founder/CEO of The Intrigue Agency. Together, Robin and Sam go through some tips on how you can make your book truly evergreen. Learn how to find where your readers are at and tackle their problems. Learn the secret strategy today!

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The Secret To Your Book’s Success: Be Strategic! with Sam Horn

One of my mantras about publishing is to make every decision a strategic one. From choosing a focus for your book to choosing a publishing route, picking the title and even the cover design, you want to base every decision on which is the best strategy to achieve your goals. I have with me another author expert who holds the same point of view. Sam Horn is the CEO of the Intrigue Agency, a positioning and messaging consultancy which helps people design and deliver TED Talks, keynotes, funding pitches and one of a kind brands. She is also the CEO of Tongue Fu!® Training Institute, a trademarked communication skills approach that teaches how to give and get respect at work, at home, online and in public situations.

Sam is the author of nine books for major publishers including Tongue Fu!, POP!, What’s Holding You Back?, Someday Is Not a Day in the Week and her Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? Sam’s work has been featured in dozens of publications including the New York Times, Forbes, Reader’s Digest, Inc. Magazine, Harvard Business Review, Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. She’s been interviewed on every major network including NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, NPR and MSNBC. Get ready for a mini-course on how to avoid disastrous mistakes and achieve success when you think and act strategically about your book every step of the way.

Sam, welcome to the show.

Thank you. I’ve been looking forward to sharing some ideas with your readers.

I’ve been looking forward to having you because I know when we spoke, we got on the subject of being strategic about your book. I don’t feel like this gets talked about enough. I think that too many people get an idea and then they leap into the writing. If they manage to finish, it does not go well. We’re going to backpedal all the way back to this idea of thinking strategically about your book. Let’s start by telling us a little bit about when you did first figure that out for yourself.

I had help. In the very first year of the Maui Writers Conference, I was running around to make sure things were on time. I went into Michael Larson’s session. Michael wrote a great book on how to get an agent and how to do a proposal. He was talking about the importance of titles. He said that as a non-fiction agent, he has represented authors based on a title because he knew that they could build a book around. Someone in the audience said, “What’s a good example of a good title?” He said, Tongue Fu! is the best title I’ve heard in years. Robin, I went out and brought in a chair. I’m like, “That was my title.”

We’re going to talk about strategy. Here’s the thing, I thought I was too busy to write. I was raising my sons. I was jumping on planes and speaking. Who had time to write? My clarity was the more I speak, the more I will speak. If I want to be a visionary on behalf of my career, I will put paid speaking aside for a few months, pour myself into writing a quality strategic book and it will drive my future more than anything else I can do. That’s what happened.

You were right. I bet.

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Tongue Fu! is still selling many years after it was first published. It is exhibit A of what you and I are going to talk about, which is it was strategic. It was in alignment with my career goals and what the world needed right then, which was how to deal with difficult people without becoming one ourselves. The stars lined up because it was a strategic book, the right book with the right message at the right time. When we do that, we write an evergreen.

To clarify for our readers, an evergreen book is one that stays on the shelves even when it goes to what they call the backlist. The bookstores continue to order it even months or years after its initial publishing date. You see them all the time because they take up most of the space in a bookstore. When you think about how few there are in a bookstore, it is a select few that make it to that evergreen status.

Both you and I believe in benchmark books. I love that we have used evergreen books as our benchmark books because they are the poster child of strategic books. They are an enduring message. They’re not a trending message. They’re not just reactions to something that’s happening at the moment. They’re this universal need and this ongoing problem that people now and in the future will need. When we pour ourselves into writing that type of relevant evergreen strategic book, it’s an ROI for all involved.

I’m hearing lots of traits of strategic books in here in what you’ve said. I’m going to recap. One is evergreen, which we’ve covered. Another is this enduring message. You are preaching to the choir on this one. I’d like you to unpack this idea a little bit more for our readers.

Both you and I are pragmatic. If you want, shall we turn this into a working session?

I’m going to have to get a pen because I want to write down the next one I heard before I forget it.

Robin, you have pinpointed the number one takeaway of the Maui Writers Conference. Our authors didn’t agree on anything. Frank McCourt would get up and say, “You have to write first thing in the morning.” Dave Barry would get up and say, “I’m a night owl.” Larry Burkett would say, “You have to work with an outline.” Elizabeth George would say, “I never worked with an outline.” The only thing they agreed on was, “Ink it when you think it.” We make a living from our minds. We’ve got to jot the thoughts when they’re hot. Use it so we don’t lose it. You’re a writer. I’m a writer. Hopefully, everyone reading is a writer. Commit to this. Ralph Waldo Emerson talked about capturing the gleams of light that flashed across the mind from within. Our life is our lab and our world is our muse if we ink it when we think it. You and I couldn’t continue without writing things down.

I would have been distracted until I found a pen. You were talking about this enduring message.

How we write an enduring book both for ourselves and for our intended readers is through W5. If we don’t wing it, we W5 it. Do you want to do that? I believe this is one of the keys. Here’s a premise of what you and I are talking about. I know you deal with thought leaders, astronauts and CEOs. I deal with a lot of thought leaders. We don’t have time to waste, Robin. Books are an investment of time, energy, money and effort. If we want to ensure that this book will be an enduring evergreen that is relevant and resonant for years to come, then we fill out this form because we dramatically increase the odds that it will be everything we’ve talked about. By the way, are you brainstorming a project and we’ll do this in real-time?

TAC Sam Horn | Strategic Book Success
Strategic Book Success: If you want to be a visionary, pour yourself into writing a quality strategic book. It will drive your future more than anything else you can do.


I am but it’s confidential with the client. We can’t do it in real-time but I got you. We’ll go through it. If you’re thinking of writing a book, you’re getting a masterclass with one of the greatest mentors on the planet. Get out your notebook.

It’s like an intellectual Disneyland. Do people know how much fun this is, Robin?

They’re about to find out.

Everyone talks about hard work and writing as a grind. Certainly, there are times when we have deadlines to meet. We need to finish a project and turn it in on time. If we see it as a grind and hard work, Tara Conklin said that our greatest work of art is the story we tell about ourselves. What story are we telling about our book? This is the story we’re going to tell. We’re going to have a W5 form that serves as our North Star that helps us write a strategic, relevant enduring book. The first W is what? What’s the title or topic of your book? If you don’t have your title yet, just write down the topic.

Also, you want to shortcut to writing an enduring book. Under W, what are three benchmark books? They don’t have to be in your genre. Maybe you liked this book because it was left and right brain. It was prescriptive and it had how-to. It also had real-life stories that were relatable and kept you turning the pages. Maybe a benchmark book is that this was a scientist and they had new research that you knew you could trust the facts or the science. Maybe the person put themselves in the story. Brené Brown’s book takes itself off the pedestal and goes first. What is your title, topic, and three benchmark books? I’m going to stop because I bet you have commentary or things to add.

We did something similar. One of the first questions we ask is, what’s your book about? This is trying to get at the heart of, what’s that key takeaway if your reader got nothing else that you want them to get out of your book? We don’t have to know how we’re going to do it yet, but what are you seeing that this book might be about?

Robin, you probably know about You can print this out and then you can go to lunch or dinner with a friend and have them interview you through the W5 form. You’re going to get in that lovely stream of conscious flow state where you’re not even thinking about it. You’re digging deep and words are coming out of your mouth that’s your true voice. If you use, you’re going to have a voice recording and a written transcript of your language.

We poured our calls with clients for that very reason because they often say brilliant things. Isn’t it wonderful to only have to remember what you said once? You don’t have to remember what you said because it’s there in the recording. What’s our next W?

It’s who. Here are the three demographics that are target demographics. Robin, as you know, what do agents, editors and publishers hate to hear? “Everyone will love this book.” It’s one of the worst responses.

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Never say your book is for everyone if you want any agents or publishers to help you get your book out. That will be the end of that.

Is this for divorced dads, project managers in STEM, single parents or founders? Who is it for and your target audience, and then second and third. It’s a quick way to find this out because a lot of people don’t know about genres and target audiences. I’m going to tell a quick story about myself. Many years ago when Tongue Fu! came out, I didn’t know about genre and its importance. Guess what genre St. Martin’s Press put Tongue Fu! in?

Please don’t tell me it’s sports.

They put it in relationships. Back in the days of brick-and-mortar stores, self-help is two aisles long, and relationship is one shelf. It was John Gray and me. The book is still selling so I can’t complain. It’s just that it was not a strategic genre because, at that point, it would have sold more books for all the browsers, all the people who went to self-help as a destination and look for titles. If you want to know a way to get your demographic, when you have your three benchmark books, go to Amazon and go down to product details. It will have the name, author, publisher, date and number of pages. Underneath, it will have the three genres that it’s selling in.

I guarantee you, it will come up with genres you never even thought of. Maybe your book is going to be like Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s both in business success and in psychology self-help. This is a way to start researching what genre you want to be in and what target demographic you want to write for. What are your thoughts about that?

Here’s a question that we ask. Who will read it and why? What we look at is, what is the problem that they’re aware of and they want to solve that your book will address?

What you’re bringing up, we both know, is a difference-maker. Often people will write a book for aspirational reasons. John Cotter out of Harvard said, “The number one prerequisite for change is a sense of urgency.” I wrote a book on ConZentrate. Stephen Covey gave the cover endorsement. I’ll tell another story about myself because we’re constantly learning as authors and so forth. My preference is to write, think, speak and act proactively. It’s to focus on the solution, not the problem.

I am guessing that many of your clients and our audience prefer to do the same thing. It’s just that if I were going to write a LinkedIn blog or a book about how to focus better, that would get some interest. Do you know what would get more interest? It’s the people who want to cure brain fog or people who can’t focus. The problem of like, “I can’t concentrate in a crazy office. I can’t keep my attention on anything for more than three minutes.” We start with the problem and then the book is the solution.

Another thing that happens so often with experts is you love the solution because that’s your life’s work. It’s fun to share the solution. I get it. I love sharing my solutions too but if you don’t meet the reader where they are and acknowledge, “I see you, your struggle and your pain,” then you’re never going to get the chance to share the solution. It’s how I look at it.

TAC Sam Horn | Strategic Book Success
Strategic Book Success: Evergreen books are the poster child of strategic books. They are an enduring message, not a trendy one. When you pour yourselves into writing an evergreen book, it’s an ROI for all involved.


Let’s come to the next W. This is where and when. Let’s talk about when first. When is your launch date? Sometimes people have a deadline. They have a TED Talk coming out. They want a coordinated launch of their book with their TED Talk. They’re going to speak at South by Southwest or they’re going to have an online program.

Sometimes your launch date drives your timeline. If it doesn’t, I often ask people to pick a significant date and to start thinking about their launch party because sometimes it takes 6 months to 18 months for the whole book process. The book comes out and then it’s marketing it. Why not have a launch party like at the National Press Club or your favorite restaurant or an independent bookstore. That way, you have this event to celebrate the book on your birthday, on your anniversary or on some significant date to add this lovely celebratory emotion to the launch, instead of just picking a date on the calendar.

I love that idea. That’s great.

Let’s talk about where. You and I both know we could do a whole five-day seminar on, are you going to go with a traditional publisher, self-publisher or hybrid publisher? I have a whole process on the pros and cons of each. I’ve got a client, Terry Jones, who’s the founder of Travelocity and Kayak. He self-published because it was strategic for him. He’s an entrepreneur. He likes control. He didn’t want to publish if you’re telling him what to do. He has the wherewithal to invest himself in doing a very fine job of it. Terry’s strategy was he wanted to customize books for his major clients.

Robin, that makes your point about strategy. If you just look on the surface, you’ll think, “A famous founder who’s known globally for his role in innovation and disruption likes self-published. Isn’t that vanity press? Isn’t that second class?” No, if it’s strategic and in alignment with your goals, it can be the smart thing to do.

I give the identical advice. I always tell people, “Regardless of which path you choose, it should never be an ego-based decision.” That goes both ways because I’ve also seen some people say, “I would love to get a traditional book deal but I don’t think I could.” I think that is also a poor decision if it’s strategically the right thing to do to get the traditional deal, which is also the case. Especially if you’re writing something that is going against the grain or is controversial, it can be extremely helpful to have the gravitas of a publishing house behind backing you. That is one example of where it would be strategic.

It might mean that you have a little bit more work to do up front before you approach agents and publishers but I’ve never had any client where it’s been flat-out off-limits. You should not underestimate your ability to get a traditional publisher and you should also not feel that that’s the only way that you can be successful. Self-publishing can be a great strategic choice. I especially like it for people who do a ton of public speaking. You’re going to sell all the same number of books but you’re going to keep a lot more of the money. You can do these custom things. You can put something special in those early pages or whatever you want to suit the group that you’re speaking to.

I can imagine people reading are getting the thought that goes into this, the intention and why it’s customized and personalized, that there is no one best answer. That’s why getting clear on your strategy and your goals and then act in alignment with them is specific to you, your situation and your priority. Another goes into whether you go with a hybrid, a self-publisher or a traditional publisher. I have one client who’s a global speaker. He wanted international deals. As a self-published book, that’s a whole another animal to deal with if you’re selling all that.

That can be tough too because it’s hard to monitor that and make sure that you get paid if you’re on your own as a self-publisher doing international book deals. That’s cool.

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His goal is to be a global speaker and international speaking. In fact, one publisher offered him more of an advance. However, he went with a very big name publisher that’s renowned for its foreign deals. It was the right choice for him because he thought it through, which is what we’re doing.

I want to throw in one more point though. If you’re going to go with a traditional publisher and you think you’ve picked your launch date, pick your top five dates that you would love to do your launch party and make sure they’re spread out across the year.

Robin, what you talked about is that when I work with people through this process, we have three columns, self-publishing, traditional and hybrid. CONTROL is the acrostic, the acronym. Each of those letters is specific. Do a deep dive into what your priorities, intentions and plans are. Here is where traditional publishing is going to be a better option. We are talking about control. That is the lead domino in terms of this choice of, do you want to control the time, the money, the revenue, the cover and the foreign sales? That plays a role in the decision.

Let’s go to our next W. Why will it be an ROI for readers? I deliberately use the word ROI, Return On Investment. Why should they spend their $20 or their 20 hours? Why of all the books on the topic should they read yours? Why of all the experts should they trust you? Of all the things competing for their attention, is this going to be an ROI? I believe in metrics. Let’s have three numbered reasons. The more measurable, surprising, specific or original they are, the more likely you’re going to have a competitive edge. Jack Welch said, “If you don’t have a competitive edge, don’t compete.” Would you like to know a sample of three things we can put in there that will position us as a book that people will think that’s going to be worth it? Are you ready for a surprise, Robin?


You know me, a 60-second story is a backstory to set it up and then the answer. The very first time I spoke for a large convention for a speaker bureau was with Sandra Schrift. She booked me for Associated General Contractors of America. Eighty thousand people descend on Hawaii. When I finished speaking, she looked at the evaluations and I talk with her. I asked what she thought. She said, “Sam, people loved your content. They all praised your content,” then there was a little pause. I said, “Okay.” She said, “Sam, people will respect you for your content. They will ask you back if you make them laugh.”

It’s very interesting. She said at that stage that she felt that many women speakers were trying to prove themselves, trying to prove they were smart, and trying to prove their value. They over-delivered on the content and it was worth it. The bottom line takeaway is, “Thank you very much. I’ll use this.” However, they were leaving a little bit of their personality on the table. They were not as likable as they could be. The number one on your book, and it’s not for all books, just think about it. Is it funny? Is it going to make people laugh?

If you are writing a business book, people can only pay attention to a business or you’re writing a cause book or an issue book. They can only pay attention for so long. A quick example of this is Denise Brosseau. She is a client and a friend. She is the Founder, CEO of the Thought Leadership Lab. She proved her manuscript. She’s turned it in the next week and she gets in touch with me. She says, “Sam, I humbly submitted the book Ready to Be a Thought Leader?” It’s brilliant and it is packed with immediately useful and relevant strategies and techniques but it was a little dry. This is a week before she turns it in.

I said, “Denise, start thinking of something that made you laugh recently.” She said, “Sam, this has nothing to do with thought leadership.” I said, “We can hook and hinge it. Think of something that made you laugh.” She laughed when she remembered it, which is a good sign because if it makes us laugh, it’ll probably make other people laugh, then we can tie it in. She’s in Silicon Valley. She was at a Babies R Us buying a shower gift for a friend. There was a couple in front of her that was buying a crib. The woman is pregnant. They’re arguing because the crib has all these complicated instructions. They got up to the cashier and said, “This looks complicated. Are we going to be able to put this together ourselves?” The cashier said, “Do you have advanced degrees?” The man said, “Yes, I have an MBA and my wife has a PhD.” The cashier says, “Then you’re going to need to hire someone.”

TAC Sam Horn | Strategic Book Success
Strategic Book Success: Look at similar books on the same topic. Check if the author is saying something outdated or no longer relevant. Also, look for what they are not addressing at all.


It can’t make us stop. That’s what she put at the beginning of her book. The segue is you may be thinking, “Do I need an advanced degree to be a thought leader?” The answer is, “No, you don’t have.” That is just an example. There are others where that in a business genre, and when people are reading a book and making up their mind, whether it’s going to be worth their time, that’s a competitive advantage. What are your thoughts?

One of the things that I’m fairly well-known among my clients for saying is that when you’re writing your book, you must remember that first and foremost, the industry you’re in is entertainment, not information. If you want the reader to get all the information, you have to keep them entertained. That includes some of your personality, some of your personal stories, maybe a couple of times where you messed up making yourself vulnerable, showing your humanity and please, make them laugh. I 100% agree with that.

You and I both believe in being one of a kind instead of one of many. We’re constantly trying to read the mind of a decision-maker, agent, editor and publisher. They don’t normally hear this. That’s why it immediately gives us a little bit of a leg up. It’s because most people write in business books, cause books and issue books. They’re not talking about those people who enjoy it and it will be a page-turner. Here’s something else too. Where are we going to be counterintuitive or contrarian? A shortcut to a competitive edge is you’re not just adding to the conversation. You’re taking exception to the conversation. Where is something outdated? Where is a truth in this industry or on this issue where everyone assumes that’s the case? Maybe it used to be, but it’s not anymore. It’s harming people. It’s jeopardizing their health. That is a way to get an agent and an editor. What you’re thinking and doing is backfiring.

I say bust the myths that are pervasive. A great place to look is conventional wisdom because by the time something becomes conventional wisdom, it’s no longer useful. Not always but often.

Here’s another example in alignment with what we’re trying to give our audience a competitive edge. If we can get in the minds of our decision-makers and we can identify the elephant in the room, their objections or their naysaying, we can get ahead of that and make it move. Another thing is based on something that Garry Marshall said. Did you see the movie Pretty Woman by any chance?

I did years ago.

Garry Marshall, the director, was one of our favorite keynoters. It was because he said something so profound. I remember this as if he said it this morning. He said, “Hollywood directors can predict when their movies will make money based on one thing. Do people walk out of the theater repeating something they heard word for word?” If they walk out and say, “Make my day. I’ll be back. Show me the money.” If someone says, “Have you seen any good movies recently?” They’re talking about you. They became a brand ambassador and it’s because you had a repeatable retweetable comment.

You and I both know that for publishers, one of their number one criteria is not just, “Is it a viable topic? Do you have credentials?” Their first question is, “What is your digital platform?” If we write a book that has a repeatable retweetable phrase that pays, that then can be used in the marketing of the book on Twitter, Facebook and whatever titles of our LinkedIn blogs or Medium posts. We are dramatically increasing the likelihood of this book being an evergreen because our repeatable retweetable means or our pull-out phrase that pays are creating a buzz in a way that keeps the book in sight, in mind and top of mind.

I love that, “Phrase that pays.” That’s a great one. Where are we?

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That was the fourth W. That’s was why it will be an ROI for readers and also for agents, editors and publishers. When they see that we’ve done our homework like this and that we have thought through a strategy for the book that makes it a win for the readers and the publisher, then it makes it an easier yes.

I’m going to add to that. One of the things that we do is identify 3 to 5 books in the same topic area, in the same space that the author is intending to write. We specifically look for two things. One is what the author is saying that might be outdated, no longer relevant or flat out wrong. What’s probably even more important is we look for what they are not addressing at all. What is the thing that our author has a lot to say about that this person didn’t even touch? That is going to be where we’re going to find a lot of the gold and where we are going to be able to show agents and editors that this book is not only unique and relevant, but it’s important that this gets out because no one else is sharing these particular ideas.

Robin, what we’re doing is exhibit A that hopefully, people are thinking, “Wow.” Most writers say, “Here’s what I want to write about.” We’re trying to get in the minds of our intended decision-makers, our audience and our buyers. We’re holding ourselves accountable, not just for writing what we want to write about, how we can position it, focus it, message it, and then market it in a way that if it is in a very cluttered space, people will say, “I haven’t seen that before. I need that. That intrigues me.” One more thing we’re talking about is competitive analysis like in a proposal, a pitch or something like that and identifying comp books.

I had a client who covered NASCAR for ESPN that she wanted to write. When we got to the competitive analysis, I know I’m painting with a broad brush here. Please forgive me for speaking in a generalization. We knew that many people in New York think that people who go to NASCAR don’t read. That would not have been strategic to simply compare here to other books on NASCAR because they would think, “Small book, not for me. I’m not interested.” We asked ourselves, “What is it like with a twist?” We jumped the genre because sometimes, what your book is like is not in your genre. It’s in another genre and you can make the case with a twist.

Now you’ve elevated the sophistication of your pitch or proposal in a way that this is what keeps agents and editors in business, “I never would have thought of that. That’s brilliant.” They see it bigger. We asked ourselves because of what she is doing. NASCAR is an American industry. She was going to go behind the scenes and pull back the curtain on this American industry. It’s not that you don’t have to.

We compared it to Seabiscuit because, at that point, Seabiscuit was a critical commercial success. It was a non-fiction novel. It was an American industry that pulled back the cover. We then compared it to The Orchid Thief. It’s the same thing. You didn’t have to like orchids. It was made into a movie. It was a great book and screenplay. If we’re strategic with asking ourselves, “What is your book like with a twist?” It can be in your genre or it can be outside the genre. Now you have elevated the public and the decision maker’s perspective and probably made it a bigger book in their eyes.

The thing that’s occurring to me as you’re sharing this is that a mistake that a lot of wannabe authors make, especially people who’ve had illustrious successful careers is when they think about writing a book, they go right to the idea of doing a memoir, which is a very difficult sell. They don’t tend to do very well unless you’re a real celebrity or some extraordinary writer who happened to have the right book at the right time and had an MFA level of writing skill.

One of the things that we’ve helped a lot of clients do is you have all these fabulous stories from your experience that you’d love to share, how can we pull this together in a more of a thought leadership book, a business self-help book or a prescriptive memoir where you maybe are writing a series of essays with some learning or teachings? They still get to tell all of their favorite stories but they’re doing it in a way that’s a lot more salable and easier to digest for a mass market. When you’re not a household name, that can be a great way to put a twist like you’re talking about too.

You’re playing the long game, Robin. A lot of the clients that we’re talking about have come to the end of one career and they’re ready for meaningful next. If they want to get paid to speak, if they want to be a consultant, a corporate consultant or a global resource, then they have to look for the river that runs through their work. It’s like a memoir. It’s based on your celebrity and if your celebrity is “over,” that’s not an evergreen book. A quick lovely example of that is my agent Lori Lis. Lori represents Rachel Maddow. All the publishers want a memoir from Rachel. However, the strategy is she’s thinking, “My career is not over. That’s premature.”

TAC Sam Horn | Strategic Book Success
Strategic Book Success: Try not to make New York Times bestseller as one of your goals. Come up with a more meaningful ROI because a quality book is a pebble in the pond of the book industry and your legacy.


Furthermore, Lori is a big thinker. Rachel wrote about oil and Russia and so forth because it positioned her as this big thinker about global events. That’s where she wants to play. That’s where she wants to roll. You’re at a crossroads. Are you going to go for low-hanging fruit or a book that 1 or 2 years from now is going to be outdated? Condoleezza Rice says, “In my opinion, we should never be a former anything.” Isn’t that interesting though? Identifying the enduring stories with the universal lessons that will be relevant 10, 20 years from now is more strategic.

Do we have a fifth or was that good? I think we have one more.

It’s W5 plan. The number five is why it will be an ROI for us? Are we going to pour time, effort and money into this? How can we be sure that this is going to pay off for us? This can be emotional. Maybe you want a TED Talk out of the book. With my own clients, I suggest, “Let’s not make New York Times bestseller as one of your goals.” Unfortunately, you can buy that. You can game it, even if it’s for ten minutes. Let’s come up with more meaningful, more enduring ROIs because I believe a quality book is a pebble in the pond of our industry and our legacy. A book is not a business card.

Whenever somebody says that, I get all cringy. It’s awful.

Maybe we’re in a position where the book does need to make a certain amount of money, does need to drive paid consulting, does need to position us as an online resource or it’s going to be in coordination. We can have business-related and career-oriented metric goals for it. Let’s balance them. I get emotional with this story. I wrote a book on Take the Bully by the Horns. There was an independent bookseller in San Francisco who asked me to come and speak. This is why it’s not just about the numbers. It’s a smaller book store. At the most, we could fit maybe 30 people in it. Some people would tell you that it wasn’t worth speaking at that bookstore because only 30 people would be there. It was not an ROI.

Pablo Picasso said, “The purpose of life is to find our gifts. The meaning is to give them away.” I will always remember, they’re setting up their folding chairs and a couple come in with their daughter. They walk over and the Bully book is dog-eared, starred and underlined. The couple told me that the book had saved their daughter’s life. She grew up with friends in their neighborhood and when she was thirteen, she went to lunch at the cafeteria like she normally did. The girls shunned her. They closed ranks. They would not talk with her. They would not tell her what she had done or said. This young girl started having stomach aches, fell into a depression, and dropped out of sports. Was it worth it to write that book? Yes, it is. What are three reasons, heart reasons and head reasons that we’ll always be glad we wrote this book, that it served us and others, and it was our contribution? What are your thoughts?

I have two questions that cover this in the Develop Your Concept core questions that we ask. One is, “What’s in it for you? What do you want to get out of writing this book?” I’m always trying to get the hard numbers ROI answer when I asked that question. To my client’s credit, they always first answer the other question that I’m about to ask instead which is, what difference do you want to make in the world? I love that I get to work with people who have trouble telling the difference between what they want for themselves and what difference they want to make in the world. We help world-class experts write world-changing books so we’re very interested in what difference they want to make in the world. We know that having the book out will help cause that difference.

You bring up such an important point because it’s not just about this global scale of all the millions of people out there. Another thing I always advise authors is when you’re writing that book, you should be writing to one reader. You have one person in mind and in your heart because that’s how they’re going to receive the book. They’re not receiving the book as all you readers out there. They’re sitting probably in bed with your book propped up in their lap and are reading your words in the most intimate space that they have in their entire world. It’s important to honor that by treating that as an intimate conversation and connecting with, who is that person on the other side? How can you connect with them? What difference do you want to help them make in their own life?

The metrics, of course, because it is part of the reality. What I tell my clients there is, “I know your publisher mainly cares about book sales, but you have a much bigger world where you can get your return on investment in a multitude of ways. Whatever you do to sell your book, make sure it also drives and supports your bigger mission, your business, your greater concern, your greater mission on this planet.”

Your book is not your business card. Share on X

Sting had writer’s block for years. For those years, no words, blank screen. He went back to Newcastle, where he grew up by the great iron ships. He interviewed the welders and the ship makers. He was so inspired that he wrote a musical that premiered on Broadway. I’m reading this article in Vanity Fair and my light bulb went off because I was working on Tongue Fu! at school at that point. I normally love to write. It did become a grind. I was busy and I had a deadline.

As Robert Frost said, “No joy in the writer, no joy in the reader.” My light bulb went off and I realized writing had become an intellectual exercise. Writing is not supposed to be an intellectual exercise. It’s supposed to be an empathic exercise. I got up. I went over to my son’s high school. I interviewed the principal, “What do you do when a teacher comes in and says, ‘I don’t get paid to deal with this?’” I interviewed teachers, “What are you doing when you’re accused?” I interviewed kids about bullies on the bus. I came home and the words flowed out so fast. My fingers couldn’t keep up.

I did what you talk about. Instead of focusing on what I wanted to say, the word count, the number of pages and all of that, which is intellectual pressure, and the critical voice that kills the creative voice, I reconnected with the source of creativity. The source of creativity is to talk with our intended readers and to steep ourselves in what they’re going through, what they can’t figure out, what keeps them up at night, what they’re worried about and what they want. It will fill us and fuel us in a way that it will flow out through our fingers and onto the page.

That’s the source of everything. You have this desire to help somebody who’s having a challenge and you know your expertise can help lead them through it. To reconnect with that is so powerful. You’re right. You’ll never have writer’s block if you’re thinking of your reader. When you stay overly focused on yourself is where you’re going to be in trouble. I can’t believe how quickly this time has flown by. What incredible strategies. I have a feeling that our audience might have a notebook full of notes. You have to read this 2 or 3 times. Be sure to subscribe to our show so you can find it easily again. Sam, any closing thoughts or anything that I didn’t ask you about that you would love to add to this incredible feast that you’ve laid out before us?

Thank you. It’s two things. One is that in all the years that I’ve had the joy, and it is a joy of working with people in getting their books out of their head and into the world, I’ve never met any authors who were sorry they wrote their book, but I’ve met authors who were sorry they didn’t write it sooner. Here’s how to expedite that. Across the board, what we would hear from people after the Maui Writers Conference is that they would go home, all fired up, raving to go, and then life would intervene. A couple of weeks later, their intentions and the book get put away.

What I have found is that if everyone reading will draft up a cover of their book, and I believe on titles on an up slant. Titles on horizontal just sit on a page. Titles on an up slant engaged. In the upper right-hand corner, put a cover endorser and title on an up slant. If you post it on your refrigerator or by your desk where it’s in sight, in mind, where it stays top of mind instead of out of sight, out of mind, it will keep your book front and center in your life. If you do this W5 form or the form that you fill out, if you keep it in sight, in mind, it will serve as a North Star for your project. E.L. Doctorow was asked what it was like writing a book. He thought about it and he said, “It’s like driving a car at night. You can only see to the end of your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” This will serve as your headlights.

On that note, thank you again for being with us here on the show and for all your generous, timeless and outstanding wisdom.

You’re welcome. I enjoyed it. I hope people did too.

Important Links

About Sam Horn

TAC Sam Horn | Strategic Book SuccessSam Horn is the CEO of the Intrigue Agency, a positioning/messaging consultancy, which helps people design and deliver TEDx talks, keynotes, funding pitches and one-of-a-kind brands.

She is also the CEO of the Tongue Fu! Training Institute, a trade-marked communication skills approach, that teaches how to give and get respect at work, at home, online and in public.

Sam is the author of nine books from major publishers including Tongue Fu!®, POP!, What’s Holding You Back, SOMEDAY is Not a Day in the Week and Wash Post bestseller Got Your Attention?

Sam’s work has been featured in dozens of publications including NY Times, Forbes, Readers Digest, INC, Harvard Business Review (Ascend), Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and she has been
interviewed on every major network including NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, NPR and MSNBC.

Sam has had the privilege of speaking to more than half a million people worldwide and for clients including Boeing, Intel, Capital One, Cisco, Nationwide, Four Seasons Resorts, Accenture, National Geographic, ASAE, American Bankers Association, State of Hawaii, ServiceMaster, the U.S. Navy.

Sam’s books have been published in 17 languages and she has spoken internationally in China, Germany, England, Greece, Netherlands, Ireland, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Canada, Korea.

Sam served as the Pitch Coach for Springboard Enterprises which has helped entrepreneurs generate $1- billion (yes, that’s a B) in funding – and for the British Airways international pitch competition.

Sam was brought in by TED FELLOWS, SXSW, INC 500 and Richard Branson’s Virgin United NEW NOW Leaders to teach how to quickly and clearly communicate the value of their projects. LinkedIn hired Sam to produce a series on Communication that has been used by Amazon, Walmart, Accenture. NASA hired Sam to media-train their senior scientists and climate change specialists.

Sam co-founded the Business Book Festival (held at USA Today headquarters) and served as the Executive Director of the world-renowned Maui Writers Conference for 17 years.

Sheri Salata (Former Executive Producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Pres. of Harpo Productions and OWN) calls Sam “one of the bright lights and most accessible wisdom-sharers in our culture today.”

Sam has twice received the highest award from the Transformation Leadership Council, founded by Jack Canfield with members including John Gray, Dave Asprey, Vishen Lakiani of MindValley.

You can contact Sam through her Business Manager Cheri Grimm at and through her websites and or directly at 805 528-4351.

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