Mar 30, 2009

Take a Look at the eBook to Market Your Practice

A couple of days ago, I came across an interesting piece from Portfolio.com about a deal between major publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and the online document document-archiving service Scribd that makes an increased number of best-sellers available for free as ebooks.  Though at first blush, giving away a core, revenue-generating product free seems crazy, publishing houses report that the freebies generate increased buzz and exposure on micro-blogging platforms and thus get the author's name and book title out to a wider circle. After reading this, I got to wondering why lawyers don't take a page from publishers and use and promote ebooks to gain greater exposure for their practices. Why indeed?

Turns out, some lawyers are already using ebooks as part of their marketing portfolio.  For example, consider Florida-based firm, Ricardo, Wasylik & Kaniuk, which released a 30-page ebook, The Consumer's Guide to Defending Florida Foreclosures.  The ebook helps consumers avoid the increasing number of sham "foreclosure prevention assistance centers" cropping up around that state which prey on consumer fears.  Plus, it's a way for the firm to demonstrate their expertise and provide useful information to the public. Finally, by requiring users to register for the ebook, the firm can build a mailing list.

Another Florida lawyer, Miami Criminal Defense attorney Brian Tannenbaum, devised his own innovative ebook concept.  Tannenbaum penned a 28-page ebook entitled The Truth About Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer.  Tannenbaum's book offers prospective clients straight-talking advice about what factors clients should consider in hiring a criminal defense lawyer and what clients can do to work with a criminal defense attorney to ensure the best possible outcome.  Tannenbaum's book gives his firm exposure and also educates clients about basics, such as: Be prepared to pay your lawyer!  My guess is that Tanenbaum's book deters those clients who don't realize that attorneys need to earn a living. 

Even more interesting, in order to generate exposure for his book, Tannenbaum asked A-list criminal defense attorney-bloggers like Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice and Mark Bennett of Defending People to review his ebook.  Thus, Tannenbaum set off a nice discussion about various approaches to criminal defense practice and in so doing, gained more visibility for his book.

If these examples have convinced you that an ebook may have marketing value for your firm, here are some ideas for getting started:

1.  Select a Topic That's Either Timely or Unique to Your Firm.  Don't bother writing  ebooks that offer general overviews of a particular area of law.  Excellent books (including those by Nolo) already abound.  Moreover, a book on general concepts can take a considerable amount of time, which means that you're less likely to actually complete the ebook.  

Instead, focus on a timely, critical and narrow issue -- just as Wasylik chose foreclosures in Florida.  For example, you might consider an ebook on what the Ledbetter Fair Employment Act, the first bill signed into law by the President, means for employers, or what contractors can do to protect themselves against potential lawsuits for use of Chinese drywall.  You might also choose a small sliver of a general topic, such as Ten Ways to Dads Can Increase Their Chances of Getting Custody Under Arkansas Law.  You could also follow Tannenbaum's approach and create an ebook that educates clients on how to hire a lawyer in your practice area.

2.  Recycle Content.  If you don't think you'll have time to generate original content, consider recycling content from your blog or work that you've already done.  For instance, if you've researched a new corporate law in your state as part of a project for a client, you could take some of that information and use it in an ebook (obviously, you'd exclude any analysis specific to the client).  Another rich source of content is your blog.  If you've posted a series at your blog on a particular topic, or even just addressed frequently asked questions (FAQs) about basics of a practice area, you could bundle those posts into an ebook.  Though the material is already up at your blog, many prospective clients would appreciate the convenience of aggregated content that they can print out and read all at once instead of scrolling through old posts.

3.  Set a Schedule.  Once you've picked a topic for your ebook, you must set a self-imposed deadline and adhere to it as rigorously as if it were a court-mandated due date for a brief or motion.  My suggestion is that you don't drag out the process.  Though an ebook can seem intimidating, the truth is that you can write the content in a day and pretty it up on another (assuming that you'll do the design yourself instead of outsourcing it). 

4.  Rules for Writing An eBook. First and foremost, remember your audience.  You're writing for the general public, not for a bunch of lawyers.  Use simple and straightforward language, but don't patronize.  And don't be afraid to let your personality come through in your writing.

Second, try to divide your book into digestible pieces, either short chapters or sections of no more than a few pages. Keep the content narrow -- focus on 10 important points instead of creating a laundry list.

On the other hand, you don't want to skimp too much.  If you bill your book as "Inside Secrets to Winning a Case Against A Creditor" and then write about how clients need to hire a lawyer to learn those secrets, readers will be put off.  You certainly don't need to give away every detail of your strategies, but you need to provide readers with enough salient information so that when they put the book down, they feel satisfied that they've learned something of value.

Then, choose a catchy title that will attract readers' attention and make them want to scroll through the ebook.  A title like "What Bankers Don't Know About [Law X] and Why Ignorance Isn't Bliss" is preferable to "An Overview of Law X for Bankers".

Finally, don't forget to include a bio and contact information somewhere in your book.

5.  Production.  Once you've drafted your ebook and proofed it carefully, it's time for production.  While you can certainly hire a graphic designer for an attractive layout, there's much you can do yourself.  You can either run some internet searches for "ebook templates" and purchase them, or see what you can put together with your word processing program. 
Even if you use a plain layout like Tannenbaum, you can make it reader-friendly with a clear, attractive font and plenty of white space.  Once you've finished, be sure to convert the file to PDF format.

6. Distribution.  So now that your ebook is ready, how to distribute it?  There are two schools of thought here.  Some favor requiring potential readers to register to download the ebook.  You can set up a registration system either through auto-responder systems like Aweber or Constant Contact, two of the most popular and easy-to-use tools, or with an ecommerce shopping cart program.  The benefit of registration is that you capture prospects' names and emails (and any other information you specify) so you can add them to your mailing list or send them updates.  On the other hand, registration may deter some users from downloading.

The other approach is to widely circulate your ebook like Tannenbaum, asking bloggers to review it and posting it (without a download registration) at your website.  For added exposure, you could put the ebook on one of those document archiving sites that I discussed earlier.  Free circulation probably gives increased search engine visibility -- but also makes your book more readily available to potential copycats.  Plus, you don't get the benefit of capturing names.

Because many lawyers still aren't producing ebooks, they provide an easy -- not to mention dirt-cheap -- way for lawyers to stand out.  Plus, even though ebooks do serve as part of a comprehensive marketing plan, the best ebooks also help educate the public about the law, which is part of our ethical obligation as attorneys. 

So, when is your first ebook coming out?