How Writing a Book Promotes Thought Leadership

Hint: It’s not quite what you think

You hear this advice everywhere: If you want to be a thought leader in a subject, write a book about it.

It’s not bad advice, although writing a book is not the only option, nor is it right for everyone. It takes stamina to find success with this path.

But it may not play out like you imagine: you write the book, get on Oprah’s list, and become the go-to-expert.

Thought leadership: It’s about the thoughts

First, let me restate what Jay Baer says so wonderfully in this video: thought leadership is given, not taken. Watch the video — I love it.

You cannot claim “thought leadership.” However, you can develop expertise and opinions, express those thoughts in a way that resonates with others, and help others by sharing them.

Writing, publishing, and promoting a nonfiction book can help you develop and earn thought leadership in the following ways.

Researching: Expanding the depth of your expertise

Before you write a nonfiction book, you do a great deal of research. Even if the book is based on acquired experience in the field, you’ll talk to people and delve deeper.

By the time you’re done, you will know more than when you started.

Drafting: Expressing and refining those thoughts

Personally, I don’t know what I really think about a topic until I start writing about it. I discover new connections and angles while doing the hard work of writing and think of how to communicate with others.

When approached in this way (and with a growth mindset), the act of writing deepens your perspective on the topic.

Promoting the book: Sharing and expanding those thoughts

While many authors groan at the hard, ongoing work of book promotion, here’s another way to look at it:

Book promotion is the act of developing thought leadership

This is the phase in which you truly cement your expertise and earn any “thought leadership” credibility you may get from being an author.

It doesn’t matter whether you publish your book with a major publishing house, a small press, or independently — you, as the author, are responsible for promoting your book.

Perhaps you’ll do podcast interviews. You may attend conferences and speak with people about the book and its topic area. People will bring up examples, question your assumptions, or otherwise put your ideas on trial.

In doing all of these activities, you’ll bend and stretch the ideas in the book for different audiences: defending the ideas in one situation, expanding them to cover a slightly different perspective in another.

This is where it gets interesting — and where you think even more deeply than before.

You keep developing those thoughts

In the two years that passed after publishing Subscription Marketing, I spoke with countless people. I heard their challenges, learned from them. And doing so, I forged stronger opinions about the topic.

These conversations strengthened my convictions about the evolving role of marketing in the Subscription Economy. They also led to a more nuanced understanding, and revealed different facets of the marketing situation.

So I decided to revisit the book and layer in some of those attitudes, stories, and ideas. Thus the second edition of Subscription Marketing was born.

The revision turned out to be much larger than initially planned. I admire people who undertake it regularly. David Meerman Scott revises the New Rules of Marketing and PR every two years. Every two years! I am in awe.

The second edition of Subscription Marketing is 50 percent longer than the first, including updated data, additional stories and strategies, and more attitude. My opinions have strengthened and matured since the first version.

These concepts have been tested and proven in the real world. The thoughts have taken the leadership role — I’m simply putting them out into the world.

Who’s the thought leader in this story?

Writing and defending the book transformed and clarified my opinions and ideas. And that’s the point.

The real “thought leader” was the process of writing, publishing, and discussing the concepts with others. I’m just along for the ride.

There’s nothing like writing a book, and then defending what you have written, to reveal the true depth of your expertise, as well as its limits. It’s a wonderful journey filled with growth and discovery.

Now, back to writing and learning more about what I really think!

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Originally published at on March 28, 2017.

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta).