Before we address branding, authority marketing, writing a book, publishing a book or any other topic that I promise we will delve into, allow me to share with you a bit about Rusty Shelton.

Meet Rusty Shelton: Publicist, Author, Speaker, Branding Expert and Mensch

Rusty Shelton Author of Authority Marketing

With Rusty Shelton at Harvard Medical School’s publishing course in 2011

When I think of the top three people who’ve influenced my career as a book writing and publishing coach, Rusty Shelton is there at the top. Rusty was the publicist for my first book and got The Ultimate Guide to Transforming Anger a ton of national publicity—from Glamour to USA Weekend to CNN and much more.

Rusty stood out from the pack of publicists from our very first conversation. While other publicists tended to send boilerplate proposals (more than once failing to replace the title of a different book with ours!), Rusty’s team read our book and had some innovative ideas for pitching.

Rusty’s support went beyond the terms of our contract and, after our contract was up, he recommended me to teach a writing workshop for Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course, well over a decade ago. And that one simple yet generous act catapulted my career as a book coach.

So, if the ideas of branding and marketing make you uncomfortable, or sound like self-promotion, know that here you’ll be learning about branding and marketing from someone who sees all these activities in the context of service, helping others while using your gifts and connecting with people to make a difference in their lives and yours.

What is Authority Marketing? Tweet This

authority marketing bookLisa: You do a great job of defining what “Authority Marketing” is, in the book, but can you give our readers a brief description?

Rusty: Sure—Authority Marketing is the systematic process of growing your personal thought leadership instead of the traditional approach, which is growing your corporate brand. Authority Marketing has 7 pillars that we describe in detail in the book:

  • Branding & Omnipresence
  • Lead Generation
  • Content Marketing
  • PR
  • Referral Marketing
  • Speaking
  • Events

Each of the pillars feeds the next but, as we’ll talk about later, if you don’t have a specific framework for the first two in place (Branding and Lead Generation), the other five are only marginally effective.

The Hardest Thing for Authors

author rusty sheltonLisa: Why is authority marketing such an important concept for entrepreneurs, experts and visionaries?

Rusty: The hardest thing for entrepreneurs, experts and visionaries who have a message to share is breaking through all of the noise to grab the attention of their audience. The only way to do that is to differentiate yourself in the eyes of that audience—in other words—why should I pay attention to you vs. the other hundreds of thousands of physicians (or financial planners or coaches, etc.) out there?

So the question becomes—how can you differentiate yourself?

Most entrepreneurs, experts and visionaries are trained to focus on the wrong thing—the corporate brand. The reality is that the hardest “brand” to differentiate is a generic corporate logo—particularly in today’s environment.

We are increasingly skeptical not only of corporate media but also corporate brands, because we are concerned about their motives and, as a result, the speed of trust is dramatically longer. It takes many more impressions for a corporate brand to build affinity with an audience than it does for an individual. We have our guard up when we hear from a company because we’re expecting to be sold to. When we hear from an individual we perceive as the thought leader or Authority, we’re not expecting to be sold to—we’re expecting to learn something.

For that reason, those who want to differentiate themselves need to focus on building their own thought leadership—what we call “Authority” and our book is focused on showing them how to do just that.

How to Choose Anecdotes in a Nonfiction Book Tweet This

Lisa: You start the book with a story—which I love. How did you decide on the stories to use in the book? Did you think about the points you wanted to make and then the stories that would help make them, or did some stories stick out as “I have to tell this story in the book.”

Rusty: I am a huge fan of story-telling in nonfiction books that aren’t normally known for great narratives. I think of stories as a “bobby-pin” for your key points in the mind of the reader—often the story is the thing that sticks with them and it serves as a “sticking point” for the takeaways you want them to have.

In terms of choosing the right stories, I like to mix stories about really well-known books like The One Thing and Chicken Soup for the Soul with stories of individual experts who started with very little platform and grew large email lists and Authority platforms, like Dr. Craig Malkin, Dr. Scott Symington and others.

How to Write a Book Tweet This

Lisa: Can you share a bit about how to write a book, in particular, the book writing process you used? How much structure did you create before writing?

marketing bookRusty: Writing a book used to intimidate the hell out of me. It’s hard to know where to start. When Barbara Cave Henricks and I were writing our first book, Mastering the New Media Landscape, we looked around for help on how best to plan and attack it.

The process we used is one we learned from a good friend of mine who has written several bestselling books and has the best process I have seen for scoping out the content of a book once you have the table of contents in place.

You start with several poster boards and a ton of multi-colored post-it notes. Each poster board represents a chapter of the book and you use different color post-it notes for each component of the chapter. For example:

  • Yellow post-its represent the intro
  • Pink post-its represent stories or interviews with experts (you want 2-4 in each chapter – thus you want to see 2-4 pink post-its on each posterboard)
  • Green post-its represent key points for the chapter
  • Blue post-its represent key statistics/research that support your key points
  • Purple post-its represent the closing to the chapter

You tape the poster boards on the wall, each with a chapter title on top, and you then go about the process of planning out what you want to use where. By the end you should have a very colorful string of poster boards on the wall. You take pictures and then “bite” each chapter at a time.

creating book structure

An example of the post it note process: In preparation for a workshop I (Lisa) taught in Bangkok, Sebastien LeBlond, founder of NLP Top Coach, set up his post it notes at Au Bon Pain, along with a few books that inspired him.

Lisa: I have my clients and course participants do something similar. We usually use colored index cards, but have also used post it notes. And  I’ve had clients use all kinds of ways to display them—one even hung hers up on a clothes line, others have used wallspace, a large table, or a box with index tabs.

creating book structure

Coincidentally, a few days ago on Twitter, Matthew Rehrl, MD recently shared this picture of his index cards using my technique to help create his table of contents and outline.

One thing I do differently is we start with the index cards or post it notes before creating the Table of Contents (using different colors for the different aspects like stories/anecdotes, scientific information or research, key points). Then we play with different ways to organize them—that’s how we come up with the chapters…a similar idea though and it works powerfully for most people. We also have different index cards or post it notes for exercises, quotations and other features.

Inspiration and Branding Tweet This

What was the inspiration behind Authority Marketing? Can you say a bit about your position as Marketing Strategist and Publisher at ForbesBooks and how that plays into the content of the book? 

Rusty: The inspiration behind Authority Marketing is the desire to empower entrepreneurs, leaders and mission-driven thought leaders to make a bigger impact. For many years, experts have understood the importance of “thought leadership” but there has never been a specific process in place for building it. As a result, we see a lot of people waste a lot of time, money and resources and not really get anywhere, which prevents a lot of important ideas from making the impact they should.

For example, I see a lot of experts spend a lot of money on PR, social media, advertising and other tactics before they do the two foundational things that allow them to get traction from those efforts—branding and lead magnets.

Lisa: Let’s talk about branding—what’s your definition and advice?

Rusty: We define branding as creating an image in the minds of your audience. In today’s media landscape, you have two phases to creating this image. Phase one is what we call “pre-engagement,” which is before that person meets you, reads your book, buys your product or uses your service. The initial image isn’t created directly, it’s created on page one of Google and—if you’re lucky—your website. Phase two is what we call “post-engagement,” which is after someone hears you give a speech, reads your book, buys your product or hires your service and that image is dictated by one simple question – did you over-deliver or under-deliver? Most experts are great at phase two but neglect phase one. If you don’t have a home base website that provides clear positioning and Authority-by-Association for your brand, you will likely never get someone to phase two, which is why if you’re spending money on PR, social media, advertising or other marketing and you don’t have a high-quality phase one brand in place, you’re likely getting fractional benefit on the money you’re spending.

Lisa: I so agree. I’m always a little nervous when someone has placed all their attention on something like Facebook—a space they have no control over, that changes all the time and where all your work on your business page, for instance, can mean little if Facebook decides no one can see your posts unless you use paid advertising. Your website is the place you really want to get people to visit. Social media’s a part of the mix, but your author website is where you have the power to make things happen.

You mentioned Lead Magnets as the other foundation for getting traction—and I’m with you 100%. I often hear from aspiring authors who have written a book proposal and still don’t have a lead magnet on their website. And I think of all the lost time they could have been building their community—and their email list—staying in touch with people who visited their website.

You Need a Lead Magnet, But What Type?

Lisa: Can you speak a bit more about the lead magnet in the context of building authority?

Rusty:  The first step to building Authority is generating awareness with your audience (getting them to your website) but the second step is extending your interaction with that audience by earning their attention. Put simply, most people who land on your website aren’t immediately ready to buy something or raise their hand for an appointment—instead they are there because they are trying to figure out if you are someone they can learn from. The best way to extend your interaction with your audience is with a high-quality lead magnet to get them on your email list. We organize lead magnets into one of three categories:

  1. Category 1: Click here to sign up for my newsletter! This converts at a horrific rate.
  2. Category 2: Some kind of free exchange of value like a free whitepaper, e-book or guide. This converts better than category one but we find it only works well when you already have a large brand in place.
  3. Category 3: Interactive content—offering a free quiz or assessment. The magic in quiz marketing is that when you offer a free quiz or assessment you give your target audience something they are interested in—free, personalized content. This gives them a chance to dip their toe in the water with regard to your message and gives you a chance to take the third step in the process with them—building affinity that makes them want to buy. We have had half a million people take quizzes for our clients over the past three years—it works so well because it is the purest exchange of value that exists and reinforces the Authority of the expert administering the assessment. For those wondering how to do this, we use Catch Engine ( as the software platform for our quizzes.

These are the two foundational pillars of Authority Marketing—once you have these two in place, everything gets super tactical in terms of how you can most effectively reach your target audience and that is where PR, social media and advertising can really pay off.

Lessons Learned from Writing a Book

Lisa: What did you learn from writing and publishing your first book Mastering the New Media Landscape that you applied in writing the second book?

Rusty: I think the biggest thing I gained from writing and publishing the first book was confidence. I delayed the process of writing and publishing the first book for years because I was intimidated by the process. When Barbara and I finished the first book, I recognized that it wasn’t as hard as I had built it up to be in my mind, so I moved much more quickly on the second book.

Lisa: I often see that people I work with write the second book with more ease and confidence. It’s wonderful to witness that. What does ForbesBooks bring to the table in terms of input, and in terms of promoting books, including Authority Marketing?

Steve Forbes and Rusty Shelton

Rusty Shelton and Steve Forbes, who wrote the foreword to Rusty’s latest book

Rusty: We got a ton of great input from the ForbesBooks team as we built the manuscript for Authority Marketing and one of the biggest areas of value is the crossover with Forbes Media. Not only do we get great reach into the and Forbes Magazine audiences but the editorial crossover is growing. ForbesBooks recently hired the former entrepreneurship editor from Forbes Magazine to help grow the editorial side of the business. It’s a nice balance between brand equity, author control and sizable reach with the imprint.

Lisa: That’s terrific. I can see how publishing with a brand like Forbes is not just the usual credibility with a name like that, but offers great opportunity for marketing the book, reaching more readers in a business audience and opening doors.

The Magic That Happens When You Write a Book

Authority Marketing came out six months ago. You were already a known expert, an authority, in the fields of digital marketing, branding and book promotion. What has the second book done for your authority and reach, for your career?  Are there any special highlights or surprises?

Rusty Shelton SpeakingRusty: This book has opened a lot of doors for me in terms of business media and speaking opportunities. I recently returned from Denver where I spoke at the Gazelle’s ScaleUp Summit for example, which is an opportunity directly tied back to the new book. I think one of the cool things about this particular book is that it has taken the conversation on thought leadership—which is a big one many people have had for a long time—and put some specificity around it for experts who don’t know where to start. In the past when someone has asked me “how do I build my platform?” I have had to give them a couple of book recommendations and now our goal is for all of that to be found in this book.

Lisa: It’s a terrific book and one I recommend for aspiring authors because it helps them perceive their book as part of a big picture plan—and helps them make the leap to creating a business plan around the book—and seeing the book as a source of income beyond book sales. Those authors who only imagine selling books and don’t plan other income producing activities are often disappointed because it’s just not a sustainable model.

When authors have a plan for how the book will bring in income—such as the speaking gigs you mentioned—it makes the whole project sustainable. The book supports additional income producing opportunities and those opportunities fuel more book sales. It’s a wonderful cycle.

One of the concepts you share in Authority Marketing is the use of a book as a lead generation tool—a way for different markets to find out about you—potential clients, conference organizers, TV show producers, for example. I love how you immediately, even before the table of contents, open the book with several invitations to readers that help them become part of your community, join your mailing list and participate in your offerings. You walk the talk.

And by making these invitations up front, even those who don’t buy your book, but someone who does a “look inside the book” on Amazon, can see the offers and sign up for your “Authority Weekly” Newsletter, take a quiz to test their authority status and apply to be a Forbes author.

Rusty: Ha—we definitely walk the talk! As much as I talk about using quizzes and assessments as lead magnets, I had to have that and other calls to action in the book.

The book has been a really valuable lead generation tool for the business. What I love about using books to grow a business is that they allow your potential customers to really understand your business and approach before they work with you. I often hear it said that “the worst way to make money off a book is by selling it” and for some authors that’s really true. In other words, whether you are looking to make an impact with your message or use the book to drive lead flow for your business and Authority for you, the goal is getting copies in the right people’s hands (whether they are sold or not).

Rusty’s Advice on Writing a Book

Lisa: What advice do you have for Entrepreneurs, CEOs and Leaders who are considering writing a book, or who are in process?

Rusty: My encouragement would be to get over the hump. If you’re like me, you have sat on ideas for many years telling yourself that you’ll write it when you have time in the future. We both know that can will probably continue to get kicked down the road. One reason many leaders put off a book is that they don’t consider it directly connected to the growth or success of their business and my encouragement to them is that they can do very few things that allow them to ‘punch above their weight class’ in terms of marketing and visibility than writing a book and building their Authority.

Lisa: Yes, you and I see that all the time—the huge leap in authority and opportunity that comes with becoming a published author of a strong, well-written book.

About That Speaking Reel

Lisa: I love your new speaking reel. It does such a great job of clearly articulating who you are, the expertise you have and does so simply. Can you say a bit about your objectives, what you wanted to get across and how you did that in the speaking reel? I know a lot of my readers need to create video and I think yours is particularly instructional, something we can all learn from. 
Rusty: Thanks! I’m super happy with it as well. I wanted to balance “Authority by Association” from showcasing speaking experience, media coverage and endorsements with personality and approachability. I wanted someone to watch it and think—”wow—this guy would be fun to have at our event” and I hope that came across.
When creating a speaker’s reel, I always encourage clients to re-market the most recognizable brands possible. Those could be places where you have spoken, people who have endorsed you or media outlets that have featured you. When someone watches your speaker’s reel those brands accelerate your speed of trust, which is the most valuable thing a speaker’s reel can do for you with a skeptical meeting planner.

Branding is Not a Dirty Word…and Neither is “Authority”

Lisa: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Rusty: When a lot of people hear “Authority” they think “ego” and some recoil at the thought of “building a brand” for themselves. I get it—that was an initial reaction that I had many years ago. But the reality is that Authority Marketing isn’t about building a “hey—look at me” ego-first brand. In fact, if that’s your mindset (and it certainly is the mindset of some), you’re not going to get very far in terms of building a platform. Instead, Authority Marketing is about building mission-driven thought leadership. The reality is that if you don’t take your personal brand seriously, that important message you have to share with the world may never find an audience beyond the individual patients you see—or customers you work with. The goal of Authority Marketing is elevating your credibility and visibility so you start to reach an audience at scale—and your impact expands along the way. Lisa—I think you are a great example of this by the way!

To learn more about Authority Marketing and access a bunch of free resources, including the Authority Assessment, please visit

Lisa: Before I share your bio, Rusty, I want to say that I usually only have a one to two paragraph bio on these interviews, but your bio offers such a great example of building a brand that I’m including it in full for my readers to study and emulate!

About Rusty Shelton

Rusty Shelton first spoke at Harvard on the changing world of PR and marketing at the age of 23. He is the Founder & CEO of Zilker Media, the country’s premier agency for authors, thought leaders and brands who want to build a platform and make an impact in the new media landscape, Publisher of ForbesBooks and co-founder of quiz marketing software platform Catch Engine.

He is the co-author (alongside Adam Witty) of Authority Marketing: How to Leverage 7 Pillars of Thought Leadership to Make Competition Irrelevant (ForbesBooks, 2018), which featured a foreword from Steve Forbes, and co-author (alongside Barbara Cave Henricks) of Mastering the New Media Landscape: Embrace the Micromedia Mindset (Berrett-Koehler, 2016), which is endorsed by David Meerman Scott, Tom Rath, Sally Hogshead and many others.

Rusty’s commentary on the changing world of PR and marketing has been featured in Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Wharton, Huff Post and many other top media outlets.

Prior to founding Zilker Media, he built and sold two businesses before the age of 35. Rusty launched his first business, Shelton Interactive, in 2010 and worked alongside a dream team to grow it into one of the nation’s most respected digital marketing agencies. The company handled the launch of more than 30 New York Times & Wall Street Journal bestsellers and represented some of the world’s most recognized authorities, including Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger, Tom Rath & many others. The company was also named one of the nation’s top 10 social media marketing agencies in 2014 and 2015 by research agency Clutch.

Shelton Interactive was acquired by Advantage Media Group in early 2016 and Rusty is honored to continue to work with the Advantage Media Group | ForbesBooks team, where he currently serves as Publisher of ForbesBooks.

An active NSA speaker, Rusty speaks regularly at top conferences and leads workshops for businesses of every size. He has spoken at EO Alchemy, SXSW Interactive, FPA (Financial Planning Conference), Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) and has been a faculty member at the Harvard Medical School Publishing Course for the past 10 years.

An avid Texas Longhorns fan, he sits on the University of Texas Texas Exes PR Committee and is a proud member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) in Austin, where he sits on the board.

He lives just west of Austin in Spicewood with his wife, Paige and three children (Luke, Brady & Sadie) and their very rowdy black lab, Charlie. Rusty loves to play golf, fish and coach his sons’ sports teams.

For my readers, I’d love to hear you share any takeaways you got from this discussion. Anything new you plan to experiment with or emulate? Anything you’d like to share that you’re doing now in your branding? Any questions for Rusty? Share your questions and comments below.

3 Responses to Branding, Book marketing, Publishing and How to Write a Book: An Interview with Rusty Shelton

  1. sym says:

    great interview, thank you! so many helpful strategies here. i’m curious about the assessment tool.
    I’m publishing a non-fiction ebook which also promotes the work of others who are more expert in the area i’m focused on. One entrepreneur in particular because she offers a program that I think is excellent and I want to promote as an affiliate as that feels most aligned for the stage of business i’m at (getting started). Also, this person has a lot of experience, has built up a lot of trust in her field and already offers a self-assessment on her site. My site is for a similar audience but the tilt of my content is distinct. So i’m wondering if i should have my own quiz/lead-magnet and if not, what to offer instead…? Many thanks!

    • Hi Sym – Thanks for the feedback! I definitely think it’s important for you to have your own lead magnet/assessment in place, as this will help you build an “owned media” list that you directly own. You can promote others with this list as well but it’s crucial for you to have a group of people that looks to you as the Authority.

  2. […] excellent track record. Plus, I wanted to have a partner who could help with marketing. Writing and marketing a book can be lonely. He and his company did an outstanding […]

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