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  • Writer's pictureAllison van Tilborgh

Maximize Your Message: Thinking Beyond the Book

Plenty of pastors and business leaders dream of writing a book one day. The thought of walking into a Barnes & Noble or a Books-A-Million and seeing their work proudly displayed as a “new release” gets them giddy. But there are some hard realities that need to be considered.

Perhaps you’ve started your journey as an author: you’ve written your manuscript, gotten it edited, and have approached various publishers hoping one will take you on. After 50 pitches, one agrees to take on your book. You’re thrilled—they’re even going to pay you an advance!

But this is where reality sets in. That is likely the last money you’ll ever see. Most books never sell enough to pay out more than the advance. And now your intellectual property is the publisher’s, so you are missing out on the most profitable aspect of your book ... your message.

What—at the end of the day—is a book, anyway? It’s a text—true or fictional—that takes a person out of their day-to-day and shines a new perspective on what it means to be alive. That perspective can radically change the course of a person’s life by giving them insight on how to better communicate with their teams, explore their childhood traumas, or plan their succession at their mega-church.

But if this information is so life-changing, how is it that we are only charging an $18.99, one-time purchase? After the publisher, the distributor and Amazon each gets their cut, you can be left with as little as 10%. There has to be a better way.

Your manuscript is simply a message placed within you that is ready to be shared with the world. Accordingly, it is important to step back from the idea of “publishing your book one day.” Instead, the emphasis must be on distributing your message—whether it be through a traditional publisher or perhaps more advantageously by self- or co-publishing.

Messages can be communicated (and consumed) in a plethora of ways: listening, watching, participating, attending, and of course, reading. Here are five additional ways to capitalize on your message to reach more people and change lives:

1. Audiobooks

If your publisher has retained intellectual rights to your book but has not planned to produce an audiobook, you are probably out of luck. Traditional publishing has decided it is more important to retain the rights than allow you to own and produce your own audio content, despite the increasing popularity of audiobooks (which have surpassed e-book sales, across the board).

Chances are, not everyone that buys your print book will read it. Maybe they don’t have the time to digest 300 pages—no matter how impactful they may be. Others struggle to focus or simply dislike the hassle of carrying around a print book. It’s very well possible that these same “lost customers” would engage with your message if it was presented in an audio format so they could listen on their commute to work or while exercising or doing chores.

If you can publish your own content, I highlight recommend recording an audiobook in your own voice. This is not only economical but also highly engaging for the listener.

2. Masterclasses

Imagine your “message” comprises 10main points you are trying to communicate. In your book, you’ve broken these down into 10 chapters. It wouldn’t matter if you had 15 points or 50; you would still be limited to selling your book for $18.99 because that's the rate books seem to sell at.

If you filmed a 10-part video masterclass, however, the perceived value would be higher. Instead of having to read for themselves, video content allows the audience to engage with you face-to-face and engage with your message in a visual format. Masterclasses can also be an opportunity to share a bonus story or material that did not make it into the book.

And on average, you can sell your masterclass for three to five times the price of your printed book, with no print fees or Amazon royalties—and that’s just if you sold it separately. (You could sell it bundled with the print copy.)

3. Study Guides

One pitfall of one-way communication—such as a book--is that, by definition, it does not allow the audience to engage. Even with audiobooks and masterclasses, some of your target audience may grow frustrated without a way to exercise the principles they are learning. An economical way to do this is to develop a digital or print study guide or curriculum to go alongside your book. Study guides typically retail for about the same price as your original book, but self- or co-publishing can significantly increase your margins.

For each chapter (or section) of your book, develop a set of thought-provoking questions that an individual can answer on their own or as part of a group study. Sell this additional material as a bundle with your book and masterclass for peak financial benefit. Study guides can even be licensed to church small groups under bulk pricing.

4. Online Communities

If you want to take your “message” to the next level, develop an online subscription program centered on the topics most dear to your heart. Perhaps this includes a monthly live call where you cover a new aspect of your message, with a weekly newsletter excerpted from your book. Alternatively, this could be two on-demand sessions released monthly, including one guest session and a quarterly mailing out to members. At the end of the day, it has more to do with what you are comfortable with.

The great thing about these “expressions” of your message is that you are able to profit from them on a regular basis, rather than settling for just a one-time purchase. Individuals pay to be a part of your program, and you then have the opportunity to engage them and keep them coming back. It should surely be a lot easier to keep engaged people paying monthly than to find a new lead to sell your book to every month in perpetuity. Depending on the breadth of your program, individuals are likely to be willing to pay anywhere from $19 to $49 a month to be part of your program.

5. Events

“Okay, Allison, I get it. I can make all this extra content, but who am I going to sell it to? At least Barnes & Noble can get me distribution.” I’ve heard this statement so many times in my 10-year career in this digital and print media space. Although publishers may have “distribution,” what many first-time authors are unaware of is that they can sell back any unused copies that don’t sell at full price. There are no guarantees that your book will stand out against the thousands of books on the same bookstore shelves.

There is good news, though. Any opportunity you have to be “in front of your audience” is an opportunity to present your product funnel—even if that audience is a small handful of people. Some examples:

  • A branded launch event

  • A Facebook Live event

  • A free online webinar series

  • A local speaking event

  • Guest preaching

  • Networking at high-profile seminars

The aim of the game is to be consistent and incrementally share your message. Now that you have a lineup of message expressions, you will not be limited to an Amazon listing and your church congregation.


So many people are hurting—in need of your message. Believe it or not, some of them will loathe sitting down and reading a printed book. But there is no need to turn these folks away because of publisher limitations or the paradigm of “books” being the only way to distribute key messages. At the end of the day, multiplying the message formats in your toolkit will also multiply your reach--and your financial return.

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