In the last few weeks, I’ve written a couple of essays about book throughlines. Creating a strong connection between the elements of the throughline makes your book a better product for readers. Today, I want to take it a step further and suggest that you extend the throughline beyond the book and into the marketing of the book itself.
A Magical Moment
The most powerful example I have is from an event I attended in 2012. I can still clearly remember sitting in the balcony of the Newmark Theatre in Portland for the final sessions of the World Domination Summit. This was the second year of the event. Speakers that year included Brene Brown, Scott Belsky, Susan Cain, and Cal Newport. For the closing, organizer Chris Guillebeau took the stage to reveal a surprise he has been hinting at for the last two days. “Don’t miss the final session,” he said repeatedly.
Guillebeau that year was launching a book called The $100 Startup. This title was an extension of a community offering he built a few years earlier with Pam Slim called $100 Business Forum. Those first 150 people in the community served as a sounding board for the concepts. The World Domination Summit audience of almost 1,000 attendees would provide the next launching point.
The closing started with Guillebeau sharing a simplified version of The Bible’s Parable of the Talents and he wondered out loud about why the traveller chose to leave his money with these others. He, then, revealed that a donor had stepped forward and wanted to contribute to the WDS community. In looking at the profits from the event and the donation, the extra money available was equivalent to $100 per attendee. That got him wondering what it would be like to invest that money in the audience and their ideas. I encourage you to watch Chris tell the whole story from the stage.
As you might guess by now, each attendee received $100, and the delivery was special. As everyone left the theatre that day, there was a person standing at each exit to the hall with a basket of envelopes. Inside each envelope was a $100 bill, freely given, no string attached.
I have never seen anything like it—the magic of receiving that gift that day as I left, the generosity shared with the entire community, and the trust that everyone there would act appropriately. The hallways were buzzing with shock and excitement and possibility, as everyone asked each other what they were going to do with their $100. In that one action, Guillibeau conveyed the idea of his new book and left you with no excuse for not founding your $100 Startup.
Give’em Something To Talk About
In January 2003, a headline on the front cover of Fast Company read “Memo to Marketers: Boring Always Fails, Winners Are Remarkable (and Purple Cows Are The Future). Seth Godin had been writing his Change Agent column for the magazine for over three years and in this issue he had a full length article pitching his new idea on the importance of being remarkable. The essay was great and provocative, but many might have missed the offer in the byline (because who put offers in a magazine byline).
First, readers were directed to check out Apurplecow.com (no longer active, but image below). On the site, they were offered the opportunity to buy 13 copies of Purple Cow, the new book he was self-publishing for $60. The second offer was the ability to get one copy of the book if you sent $5 to cover shipping and handling. In a few weeks time, 10,000 copies of his new book were sold and were shipped out into the world.
What no one knew was that the books were going to arrive in special packaging. If you ordered a single copy, your book arrived in your mailbox inside a Purple Cow milk carton. If you ordered the dozen+ books, you got a box of cartons. Be sure to read Seth’s version of the backstory of the book on what it took to make it all happen.
Getting those books was magical. I can still remember that moment when I opened the box. When I tell people this story, everyone loves how clever the packaging is. It is a story you want to share with someone else. What gets missed though is that Seth is teaching by doing. He has written a book about creating attention doing things that are remarkable, things that people will want to talk about. And then he extends that throughline to the marketing for the book itself.
What Others Might See
I published a book with Gene Kim in 2013 called The Phoenix Project. When Gene came to me with the idea of writing a full-length fictional novel to teach lean concepts from manufacturing to technology workers, I was apprehensive about the idea, but after I read the first 100 pages, I became more convinced. Gene had written a compelling story and he’d shared the manuscript with dozens of people, who couldn’t wait for its release. The book got off to a solid start and sales grew the next year as interest in the book grew.
Late in 2014, we were approached by Microsoft. For years, they have used fictional companies in their products and training to help customers get up to speed quickly with their products. In the world of tech, Northwind Traders and Contoso are just a few of the well-known, completely made-up companies the software company has used. Rather than create another new company from scratch, the folks in Redmond wanted to use our fictional company Parts Unlimited and the characters from The Phoenix Project in training and demos for their Visual Studio products.
The folks we worked with were outstanding. The IP deal was a simple three page document that gave them the rights to use material from the book, with a handful of clauses that didn’t let them alter or denigrate the materials or story. No money changed hands. It was a win-win for both companies. You can see their demos on Github for the company website and the manufacturing resource planning system.
Not all througline extensions are apparent in the development or the launch of the book. Sometimes, other customers see value in your work that you didn’t know was there. As an extension of The Phoenix Project’s throughline, the Microsoft folks could teach their developers the same concepts as were advocated for in the book. In agreeing to work with them, we gave Microsoft the opportunity to build our book into a training ecosystem that served over three million developers.
More Examples, Big and Small
Extending the throughline doesn’t require $100,000 in cash or a corporate sponsor.
- The ONE Thing has a door hanger in the back of the book. It says, “Do Not Disturb. Working on My ONE Thing.” That hanger is a tool to teach people to prioritize time-blocking and a way to communicate to others the important work the reader is doing.
- Assessment tools like those found in StrengthsFinder 2.0 give the book a throughline beyond the covers that is powerful because of the personalized results the reader gets and the reinforcement that you should spend more time getting better at who you already are.
- The Business Model Canvas looms larger than the book it came from— Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur’s Business Model Generation
- Imagine a book like First 90 Days or The 12 Week Year coming with a calendar that only has twelve weeks on it.
Notice that in every case, that marketing throughline matches the book’s throughline and what the author wants the reader to do after they are done with the book. Also, notice that each extension creates the singular marketing focus point beyond the book.
Every book may not be able to have this clarity, but through this lens of throughline, we can continue to improve the questions our books are asking, the solutions we are offering, and just as importantly, the marketing we build for the books themselves.