Even today, I can clearly remember the feeling of overwhelm when I began my publishing company in the 1980s.
It seemed that every day I was confronted with decisions to make on matters I knew nothing about. Some of these decisions, I sensed, could torpedo my efforts to create a professional, competitive publishing program. But which ones?
One day it was ISBNs, those mysterious numbers everyone talks about, and which show up on the back cover of books. The next day it was the Library of Congress instructions for copyright, and the fear that if I did it wrong somehow a black helicopter would swoop in and declare my book “null and void.”
Irrational? You bet, but that’s what happens when you confront obstacles in an unknown field. Since you don’t know anything, you make stuff up, because “nature abhors a vacuum.”
And keep in mind this was all before the Internet. In those dark ages reliable, actionable information—the bread and butter of many nonfiction authors—was hard to come by, impossible to “sample” and took a long time to be delivered.
How People Find the Information They Need
Today, authors thinking about publishing their own books, or starting micro-publishing companies, have lots of resources to turn to for education on the many subjects publishers need to know.
For instance, when I started in self-publishing there were only two books widely available on the subject—from Dan Poynter and Marilyn Ross—now there are dozens.
Since there was no internet, there were no “searchable” sources. Now there are many, although users will have to decide for themselves just how authoritative, accurate or useful they are.
There are also non-profit groups that can help aspiring publishers learn their trade. Many of these are associated with organizations like the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) that run excellent educational programs, and they are quite worthwhile.
But unless you live near one of these groups, you’re out of luck.
We also have the burgeoning field of e-learning. These are programs available online where you can get information and instruction in different formats. Again, you have to assure yourself that the people presenting this information are the people you can trust for guidance.
I think the future of specialized education inevitably lies online, in this digital delivery of educational materials from trusted sources. The kind of guidance any newcomer can use. And the kind that you can access from anywhere, at any time you have the need.
Experts Agree on This
And why not? Digital learning has some clear advantages:
- Reasonably priced—By breaking subjects down to their component parts, prices can reflect just the piece of the puzzle you are interested in today.
- Immediately available—If you need to know today how to get an ISBN, and the best way to do it, you don’t want to wait until the next meeting of the North Lansing Book Publishers Club, do you? You want it now.
- Access to experts—As more and more business moves online and into the social media world, we have access to all sorts of publishing experts in design, marketing, editing, all sorts of disciplines. These folks used to be locked up in tall buildings on Sixth Avenue in New York, but now they are only as far away as your inbox.
- Targeted learning—Rather than having to wade through 400 pages of information to find what you’re looking for, digital education can create “learning modules” that address just the subject you want to know about, a huge time-saver for busy people.
You can see that nonfiction authors, and particularly authors of how-to and instructional books, or any book whose subject matter would lend it to being broken into subject areas or convenient “chunks” can be used as the basis for e-learning projects. This is the raw material for content marketing.
You may have to look at your content in a new way. E-learning concentrates on addressing specific areas in which the reader wants to increase their knowledge or acquire new skills. Some subjects work better in one format than another. Here are the three most popular formats:
- teleseminar—group conference call where a presentation is made and listeners may be able to ask questions and get responses in real-time. Also available as recorded sessions for download.
- webinar—like a teleseminar but with visuals, which might be PowerPoint slides or live-action presentations. Can include audience participation or be made available on its own.
- e-courses—while the teleseminar and webinar involve instruction, live or recorded, e-courses are a way to deliver progressive instructional content over a period of time. Might include lessons, activities, goals, worksheets and other educational aids, these courses are often delivered by email.
The Time is Now For E-Learning to Become Part of Your Plan
Millions of people are looking for training right now. Community colleges are overwhelmed with applicants exactly at the time their budgets are being cut. We’re learning that we have to be creative just to survive.
Nonfiction authors with skills and experience and a serviceable style for presenting their material should be finding every way they can to get their content to the people who need it the most.
Would your book lend itself to e-learning? I’m actively involved in exploring these methods for delivering educational content, finding ways to put into action what I’ve been writing about in this article. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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