Today, I spoke to Michael Hyatt, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing company in the world and the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S. In this interview, Michael talks about how and when he started using social media tools, the impact blogging has had on his life, what types of authors get book deals, his thoughts on the future of publishing, and more.
I began blogging in 1998, before it was even called blogging. I blogged in fits and starts, usually around the launch of various projects. However, I began again in April 2004 because I wanted to be able to better engage with our employees, authors, and customers. In April 2008, I began twittering at the recommendation of a close friend. I just was going to try it out for 30 days, and it stuck.
- Blogging helps me clarify my own thinking. This is probably the primary benefit of blogging for me. Sometimes I am not sure what I think about a topic until I have written on it. Writing helps me untangle my thoughts.
- Blogging has given me first-hand experience with emerging technologies. I have listened to many CEOs pontificate on this or that technology. But they are not speaking form personal experience—and it shows. When you actually use a technology, your learning and insights go to a higher level.
- Blogging has provided me with a mechanism for instant feedback. I love the fact that people can comment on what I have written.
- Blogging has helped me bypass traditional media when necessary. I didn’t really understand this at the outset, but it has proven very helpful. When the media fail to get the story right, I can quickly address it and provide my side of the story. This has been particularly helpful when we make big decisions that cause people to speculate. A blog post can stop a rumor dead in its tracks. Blogging has made our company more visible. I currently have more than 100,000 readers a month. I have received scores of emails from people who had never heard of Thomas Nelson before stumbling onto my blog. Also, my blog has given me a way to “put a face on the company” and, I think, make it more personal.
- Twitter allows family, friends, and others to follow my activity throughout the day and keep up with my life. Twitter enables me to meet new friends. I am following several people that I would have never met otherwise. These are relationships have proven very fruitful.
- Twitter encourages me to think consciously about my life. What am I doing now? What kind of story is my life telling? Is this really what I want to be doing? Could I—should I—be choosing something different?
When you, and your company, look to bring on authors, how important is their personal brand and marketing platform? Is it more important today than it was ten years ago?
As a publisher, I would love to have a great book from an author with a giant platform but you rarely get both. I still believe in the power of a great concept and great writing. Authors should focus on the aspects of the publishing process they can control beginning with writing the best manuscript possible. That being said, it is important for an inspiring author to do what they can to build their audience.
What do you think about these new publishing platforms, including the iPad, Kindle, and Nook? Are they the future?
Yes, I believe that over time the bulk of publishing will be done digitally. New devices are being designed everyday that make it easier for consumers to digest words and ideas. This is definitely an exciting time to work in publishing.
How important is it for you to be out in the public as the human face of Thomas Nelson? How do you and your company benefit by this?
As CEO, I feel that one of my main responsibilities is to get visibility for Thomas Nelson. Networking and communicating are two of the most important parts of my job. In today’s marketplace, companies need to have personality. Customers don’t want to champion a corporation, they want to champion people. As my team and I get more involved in social media, we commonly hear that customers seek out Thomas Nelson products because of their interaction online with our people.
Looking back, what business decisions did you make early in your career that have helped you be successful today?
I decided that even though I had completed my formal education that I would be a life-long learner. I seek out experts who can broaden my knowledge base through executive coaching, mentoring, and reading. These resources have helped me take my leadership to the next level.
Michael Hyatt is the Chief Executive Officer of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing company in the world and the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S. His company is privately-held and he has worked at the company for a total of fourteen years. He began my publishing career at Word Publishing while a student at Baylor University. He worked at Word for a total of six years. In addition to serving as Vice President of Marketing at Thomas Nelson in the mid-80s, He also started his own publishing company, Wolgemuth & Hyatt, with his partner Robert Wolgemuth in 1986. Word eventually acquired his company in 1992. He was a successful literary agent from 1992 until early 1998. He has also written four books, one of which landed on the New York Times bestseller list where it stayed for seven months. He is currently working on two new books, which he plans to announce closer to publication. He is also the former Chairman of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).