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Making it as a thought-leader in 2013

April 26th, 2013
Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

By Arik Abel

As media superstar Malcolm Gladwell has proved, a book as thought-provoking as The Tipping Point or Blink can lead to an amazingly multi-faceted career. But unlike Gladwell’s path, subject matter experts (aka thought leaders) don’t have to team with a traditional publisher to help them connect with an audience.

Just as self-publishing is attracting armies of novelists and memoirs, it also holds promise for professionals seeking to turn their knowledge into speaking opportunities and a role in the national and international conversation on a topic — whatever that topic may be.

“A book is the best business card you’ll ever have. Personally, the day my first book came out was the day I started getting asked to keynote events, as well as the day I saw my consulting client list grow by 200 percent,” says Jim Kukral, an internet marketer who has  published several of his own books. “When you have a book showing you as the expert in your field, you have a severe advantage to everyone who doesn’t.”

Self-publishing establishes expertise

Scott Steinberg, author of several books on managing creativity in organizations, believes that self-publishing a book not only establishes you as an expert on a subject matter, but is a powerful force for making your name in a very crowded field.

“The traditional publishers might not find expertise in certain fields all that profitable,” says Steinberg. “If you’re an expert in a specific sector of engineering, publishers might not want to devote resources to that. But by self-publishing, you can reach the 200 key decision-makers in your field.”

In addition to engineering, fields like self-help, philanthropy, social media, education, law, and finance are all ripe for individuals looking to spread their expertise.

How to get speaking engagements

Books that are independently published can easily be distributed in as many formats as those that are traditionally published, at only a fraction of the cost to produce. That’s important for experts looking to land that prized presentation, whether the ultimate goal is a TED Talk or a keynote spot at a highly specialized association happening.

“A majority of this research by conference planners  looking for speakers is done through the internet, as well as by word of mouth,” says Dawn McEvoy, the director of education at the Professional Convention Management Association.

“In my opinion, the best way for an SME (subject matter expert) to optimize the likelihood of booking speaking engagements is to develop a reputation as thought leaders within their industry and honing presentation skills.”

Obviously, publishing a book is only one step toward establishing a reputation, but it has been a critical one for so many successful speakers and experts. Yes, there’s the mighty Gladwell, whose books have paved the way to prominent speaking engagements at the likes of TED and The New Yorker Festival.

Seth Godin’s example

Seth Godin, author of “The Dip,” among other works. Godin spoke at a previous TechMedia event in Atlanta, where his book was a gift to those who attended. The next TechMedia event is the Digital Summit May 14-15.TechMedia event in Atlanta, where his book was a gift to those who attended. The next TechMedia event is the Digital Summit May 14-15.

There’s also Seth Godin, entrepreneur, advertising guru, and motivational speaker used books (the latest one was crowd funding) to promote his ideas about advertising and marketing.

Gary Vaynerchuk, wine  aficionado and video blogger, turned his ideas on monetizing passions through the internet into a bestselling book, “The Thank You Economy”. He now speaks around the world at large conferences like Gov 2.0 and in front of large businesses like RE/Max.

(Editor’s Note: Both Godin and Vaynerchuck spoke at previous TechMedia events in which their books were gifts to attendees. The next TechMedia event in the Digital Summit in Atlanta, May 14-15.

For those who aspire to similar success, self publishing can be a game changer … once you get past a challenge common to all authors. “There are a lot of reasons people don’t write a book,” says author Kukral. “One of them being fear. Fear that they can’t do it. Fear that it won’t be good enough, or long enough. Fear is what stops most people from being successful.”

Putting your life’s work onto the page is, indeed, daunting. However, the hardest step to take is that first one. Authors like Gladwell took unconventional approaches to explaining their ideas. By focusing on decision-making and crime, Gladwell was able to explain much larger societal issues.

Maybe the easiest way to explain your subject matter is to think of exactly where it doesn’t apply — then connect it to that subject. By think more like a writer and a little less like an expert, you can challenge yourself and write a provocative, interesting, and successful book.

Having conquered your fears and hit on an engaging formula, publishing a book is one of the smartest career choices a thought leader can make.

Arik Abel

Arik Abel

Arik Abel is the director of online marketing for, a leader in self-publishing since 2002.

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