John Jantsch: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Tucker Max. He’s the co-founder at Book in a Box and a four-time New York Times bestselling author. We’re going to talk about books today, so Tucker, thanks for joining me.
Tucker Max: Thanks, man. Thanks for having me, brother.
John Jantsch: I’m just going to totally throw you up the softball question. What is Book in a Box?
Tucker Max: I’ll answer that. It’s a company that I started a long with Zach Obront, but I’ll answer that by telling a story, the origin story, which is pretty quick and really is indicative of what we do. I was at an entrepreneurial dinner and this woman said, “People have been asking me to write a book for 10 years, and it’s a huge pain in the butt. I don’t know how to do it and I don’t have time. How can I get this book out of my head without having to do the normal process?”
Tucker Max: So I looked at her, and I’m like, “Are you asking me how to write a book without writing it?” She’s like, “Yeah,” so of course being this snobby elitist writer that I am, I started lecturing her about hard work, and all the nonsense that all the writer elites always say. She stopped me and she’s like, “Tucker, is this an entrepreneurial dinner or a writer dinner?” I said, “It’s an entrepreneurial dinner.” She’s like, “Okay, so if you’re an entrepreneur,” she’s like, “I don’t think you’re an entrepreneur because an actual entrepreneur would help me solve my problem and not lecture me about hard work.”
Tucker Max: I got all mad at her, but she was 100% right. So, I got obsessed with this idea. How do I get a book out of someone’s head, their ideas and their words out of their head and into a book without them having to sit at a computer for a year? I realized, it took me about two months because I’m slow, but I realized that scribes have been doing this for 2000 years. Jesus never wrote anything down, apostles did. Socrates never wrote anything down, Plato did. Buddha, his disciples. And we go down the list, right? So I was like, “Well, if Jesus can do it, why not Melissa?” I basically got her on the phone, interviewed her. It took me a while to really refine the process, but the book worked great. Then, turns out a lot of other people had this need, and now we’re three and a half years later, we’ve done 750 books and we’re steaming along.
John Jantsch: You know, it’s funny. On a much smaller scale, I’ve been doing that for years because so many of my clients, I told them, “You need to content, you need content,” and they’re like, “I can’t. I don’t know what. What do I write?” So I started that practice. I would just start recording them and then give that to somebody and say, “Here, make 700 words out of this.”
Tucker Max: Yep.
John Jantsch: So you’ve taken it to a whole nother level. But it is, there are a lot of people who the blank sheet is scarier than anything else, but they’ll talk to you for days.
Tucker Max: Yep, exactly.
John Jantsch: I think that’s the key.
Tucker Max: Well, that’s the way the human brain is designed. It’s designed to speak and to interact in person. It’s not designed to … Writing is a whole different medium. Some people are really good writers, and they don’t really have anything interesting to say, and then some of the smartest, most brilliant people I know can’t write at all, so why not be an interpreter for them essentially, a scribe. That’s what a scribe is.
John Jantsch: What have you learned about growth in this crazy ride? Because 750 books, that’s a lot of growth.
Tucker Max: Oh man. So like business growth or personal growth because I’ve had [crosstalk 00:03:32]-
John Jantsch: It’s hard to separate those.
Tucker Max: It’s funny. I forget who said it. Someone really smart said that your business problems are almost always your personal problems in disguise. I feel like, at least that’s been very true for me.
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Tucker Max: I know almost every problem we’ve had in Book in a Box is a problem that I didn’t know I had, so for example, oh here’s a great one. I fired myself as CEO of my company, and we hired a real CEO professional who’d done this a bunch. The guy was like … The only reason I was able to do that emotionally, step out of that role, is because I’d done enough therapy and I’d realized, “You know what? This company is not about me. It’s about our mission, it’s about our people, it’s about the clients we serve, it’s about writing books. And if that’s true, then I need to focus on the thing I’m good at, which is product, not scaling a company.”
Tucker Max: Dude, we had done about two and a half million in sales before we hired him, and we’re closing in on 20 million now. That’s in like two years, that difference. He 10x’d us in two years just because I was able to thankfully have just barely enough humility to get out of the way of someone great at that role.
John Jantsch: Yeah, that’s interesting. I’m sure that there are countless stories of organizations that you have an idea but the idea is pretty easy to outgrow the founder of the idea, isn’t it?
Tucker Max: Yes, it did. It did.
John Jantsch: In terms of what the leverage and the pulling, and all that kind of stuff happens, few entrepreneurs are really capable of doing that part.
Tucker Max: Well, because they’re different skills. Seeing a need in a market and creating something that will meet that need is a very valuable skill, but it’s totally different than … Scaling a company is about operations and about coaching people, and about all those sorts of things. It’s totally different.
John Jantsch: I can’t tell you how many founders, entrepreneurs that I’ve had on the show that have grown pretty good size businesses that will come … Almost every single one of them will tell you their biggest problem was people problems, but what that was really saying is they didn’t know how to manage people.
Tucker Max: You are 100% correct. It was such a relief for me when I let go of having to be the CEO and we brought in someone who was good at coaching people and loved it, because I’m not. I love our tribe and our people are amazing, but sometimes I just want to go home and be selfish, and leave me alone. But you can’t if you’re the CEO. It’s not possible. You’ve got to be there for them, and I just … I’m okay now saying I’m just not, I wasn’t enough to fill that role.
John Jantsch: Let’s go back to books. Does everybody need a book? Is that like a calling card now?
Tucker Max: Yeah. I’ll say this. I don’t believe everyone needs to write a book. I believe that if you are in … Let me scope it down. If you sell your knowledge, and that’s part of your business, if you’re … I don’t mean to dis construction workers, but construction workers don’t need a book. Probably even contractors don’t need a book. That doesn’t even make sense, right? Contractors do really well, construction workers do really well, but if you’re a knowledge worker, lawyer, doctor, consultants, coach, executive, things like that, if you essentially sell what you know how to do, I think above a certain level, having a book has become essential to distinguish yourself and to really move up. I do. I would say yes.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I would agree. In your process, well and maybe we need to talk about some of the steps in the process, so maybe let’s start there. Quickly, you already alluded to the idea that you interview somebody, but then how does it turn into a book from there? Is there a prototypical story or book that makes a better book? I’ve asked you about 10 questions in one there, but-
Tucker Max: Yeah, right. I’ll answer, it’s sort of a followup to your last “Does everyone need a book” and how does our process work. The big thing that we always emphasize to our client is that you’re better off with no book than a bad book. So we really emphasize … We won’t work with clients who we think don’t have a good book in them because we don’t want to do bad … No one wins if we do a bad book. We look bad, they look bad. There’s no winners there. Then also, the big thing with our process, our process is designed, well it’s an interview process.
Tucker Max: So you basically just have to know what you’re talking about and you have to get on the phone with us and be able to talk about what you know. If you can do those two things, we can get a really good book out of you. The problem that we face is that sometimes we’ll deal with people who don’t actually know … Either they don’t know what they’re talking about or they want to write a book that’s way beyond what it is they know. We’ll get a doctor in who’s a world class at one specific thing, but he wants to write a book on finding your passion.
Tucker Max: It’s like, “Dude, you don’t really know how to do that. Let’s focus on what you know.” To answer, to sum it up, yes. The very best books are the ones that pull the curtain back and share the knowledge and wisdom you have that is valuable to people. That is the most important thing you can do in a book because if you don’t do that, then the book is not valuable to anybody but you. It’s just an ego piece.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I’m sure you coach folks on how to prepare because obviously they show up at that interview and you’re going to ask them questions, but is there a process that you have to help people get their thoughts organized or to prepare for those interviews?
Tucker Max: We actually, we have two different offerings now, like the high end turnkey solution … We don’t really tell people to prepare, a little bit, but the idea is they should be able to show up with just their knowledge and be ready to go. Usually, what we’ll do is at the end of specific calls, it’s a very … The details of the process don’t really matter, but you’re working with several different people, and each person has a specific role. It’s kind of like gates. Once you get through one gate, then you can do the next gate, etc., etc. So positioning, outline, interviews, all that kind of stuff.
Tucker Max: But here’s the key with this. We will give them homework after a call sometimes. Okay, before your next call, think about this, collect this story, etc. We definitely do that, but we don’t … The more people prepare, at least in our process, generally speaking, the worse they do because they don’t even know how to prepare, so we’ve structured our … Our process is really structured and algorithmic almost on our side, but we take all the burden on. We don’t want them trying to prepare because it’s sort of like become a chef or just pay for the meal.
Tucker Max: When you go to a restaurant, you don’t go in the back and help the chef. You either work at the restaurant or you pay for the meal. We want people to almost feel like they’re going to a restaurant and paying for the meal. They’re part of the experience, what they do matters, but they’re not prepping and they’re not cooking.
John Jantsch: Yep. Where would you … You probably have had people come to you and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about your approach,” or “I have a friend that has an agent that’s going to talk to a publisher,” or “I could self-publish.” How do you guide somebody to say, “Well, you know what? This is the path you ought to take”?
Tucker Max: Yeah, it’s a great question. A lot of people ask us that. The basic answer, the two basic ways are traditional or self. Traditional means you’re going, finding an agent, or you’re going to HarperCollins or Simon & Schuster, whatever. Here’s the reality is that most people cannot get a traditional deal. The only way you’re getting a traditional deal is if you already have an existing audience that you can sell your book to, like John obviously you could get a deal. You have one, but if you hadn’t done books before, you could get a deal because you have an audience, right?
Tucker Max: It’s not just a small audience. The traditional publisher for the most part, they don’t expect you to sell a minimum of 25,000, maybe somewhere 10, but the real ones want a clear path of 25,000 copies. If not, they’re just not going to invest their time and effort because really all they are now is IP, they’re just an IP arbitrage place. They’re existing in this space hoping to monetize your audience. Now, traditional works makes … I like to say if you’re a celebrity, if you’re an athlete, if you are someone who is, call it a public figure and that’s your job, then traditional still makes a lot of sense.
Tucker Max: For business people, entrepreneurs, executives, coaches, that kind of thing, in the broadest sense, self-publishing makes a ton of sense, but I always tell them, “You’ve got to do professional self-publishing. So even if you don’t work with us, you’ve got to make sure everything about your book looks good because if you don’t, people will judge you. If you have a cover that looks like it was bought on Fiverr or 99 Designs, people will think you are less professional, and they’re right, at least in a book sense. But they’ll judge all of you, which fair or unfair is just true. It’s just what they’ll do.
Tucker Max: The other big thing too as a business professional that working with someone like us or doing self-publishing, why it helps is because you own the book. So you get to give the book away for free or in any way you want, you can use the book in your marketing, which is really why you’re writing a book, right? But if you have a publisher, they don’t want you to use the book in marketing. They want you to sell copies because that’s their business, and so for most people for whom a book is a gateway to something else, they should be in some form of self-publisher.
John Jantsch: Yeah, and part of it, before you start thinking about a book, you need to think about where is it going to fit into everything you’re doing, or what’s your overall objective and what’s the end game? Do you want to make a certification course out of it? I think those are all considerations on considering a book period, aren’t they?
Tucker Max: Yep. Yes, 100%.
John Jantsch: Have you had anybody come to you, and again 750 books, surely you have, that you’re like, “Hey, we want to do a book,” and you’re like, “Okay,” and you start to process and you go, “Oh man. We’ve discovered somebody. This is going to be a killer book.” Have you had that experience?
Tucker Max: Oh yeah. There’s a guy, Philip McKernan we’re working with who his book has not come out yet, but it’s called One Last Talk. He has this underground speaking thing where people give what would be their deathbed speech, but they do it when they’re alive. It’s pretty remarkable. Here’s the thing, John. Most of our books, almost all them are really, really good, but all of them, most of them are deeply niche. They’re for a very specific type of audience, which is what we recommend our authors do, write a niche book. If you’re writing to sell copies, that doesn’t make sense.
Tucker Max: If you’re like a traditional sort of model, that doesn’t make sense, but if you’re writing to promote yourself and your business, niche is the way to go. What’s the saying? Riches are in the niches, right? Because if you’re running to a niche, chances are no one else is talking to them and no one else is talking to them specifically about this problem, so you get to own the niche, and then you become the authority and the expert in that niche. Now, everyone who wants that service or that knowledge is coming to you. So we’ve written a lot of books that are huge in a really, like in a niche of 5000 or 10,000 or 100,000 people, but no one else out of that niche has ever heard of.
John Jantsch: Yeah, and then obviously you’re not going to have the competition in there either probably.
Tucker Max: Exactly. Not competition, not only for book sales but really more importantly for consulting, for speaking is a big one. Our very first client, Melissa Gonzales, wrote a book about popup retail, like how to set up a popup retail thing, which is crazy niche. There may be 5000 people on earth who care about that, but those 5000 people really care and so now she’s keynoting like big conferences, like three or four Fortune 500 companies are clients of hers because they’re all retail companies, right? She’s the expert in that space now.
John Jantsch: So writing the book, as we all know, and getting … I suppose you could say there’s three parts: you write the book, then if you’re self-publishing you get it designed and edited and printed, then distribution. I think that’s one of the real challenges. The sell of a traditional publisher is they’ve got all the connections, the sales, distributions in place. So you’ve had to actually bridge that gap, I’m assuming, by having distribution channels for your books as well.
Tucker Max: Yeah. We use pretty standard distribution channels to be honest. We put the books on Amazon, iBooks. We put them in IngramSpark so that … Ingram is a big book distributor, so like BNN and a bunch of the major chains source from Ingram. Our authors can get, any author who publishes through us, anyone can walk into Barnes and Noble and can order their book, and it’ll be there in like a day or less.
Tucker Max: Now, we don’t have established sales relationships with borders and stuff, but dude, the reality is less than 20% of book sales are physical sales through stores anymore, and almost all of those are novels. It’s crazy. Airport book stores are the only ones that really sell any appreciable numbers of business books anymore, and even those only sell the very, very most famous top ones and that’s it. A retail shelf placement is just really not relevant to a book’s success anymore.
John Jantsch: Yeah, even the big retailers carry one copy of a book if they have it. They just don’t want it to sit in the inventory.
Tucker Max: Exactly.
John Jantsch: You mentioned a couple formats, so audiobooks, kindles, hardcover, paperback. All are available, right?
Tucker Max: Yeah, yeah. We can do all those easily.
John Jantsch: Do you offer your authors any advice on how to get their book to sell? Because obviously the success of the book is really going to depend on them getting out there. There’s no ad budget or sales team promoting it, so do you help your folks at least figure out how to sell?
Tucker Max: Yeah. Well, we do a couple things. Included in the package, we have a little bit of marketing at the beginning. It’s mainly just helping them launch into their list and helping them get reviews and those sort of things, so we kind of structure. That’s part of the package. Then we have a whole marketing course that all of our clients get for free, which is like a super high level book marketing course that really walks them through exactly, not what to do but how to think about it and how to make the right decisions, because here’s the secret to book marketing, John, that I know you know well.
Tucker Max: There’s no such thing as the right way to market a book. There’s only how to use that book to achieve your specific goal, and so most of our clients, there’s almost no generic advice that fits even a third of our clients. We have clients who are financial advisors who specialize in a certain type of client, and so getting them in the New York Times would be useless because they need to only be in front of high network divorced women or something like that, whatever their client base is. Other clients, they’re totally different, so what we do is the big thing we help them with, with marketing, is reframing a book to understand their job is not to sell copies of the book.
Tucker Max: Their job is to use the book to get the deal or the authority or the speaking, or whatever it is, the thing they want, and so we tell them exactly how to use the book. Then a lot of times, we connect them to people who can help them do that thing, whether it’s speaking or Facebook ads, or whatever their specific strategy is.
John Jantsch: Yeah, awesome. We haven’t talked about cost. Is that something that is case by case or do you-
Tucker Max: No, no, no. It’s flat fee. Right now, we’re about to raise our prices to 30 grand, but for the next month or two … What is it, March 6th? Two months, it’s still 25. It’s like we’re criminally under-priced. We did that on purpose to gain market share because we … You know how it goes. You go high end as you establish market share and you can add on services and all that kind of stuff, so we’re 25 now. We’ll be 30 on June 1st. Yeah, it’s flat fee. Everyone pays the same. The only way you pay more is if you add certain specific services.
John Jantsch: Tucker, where can people find out more about Book in a Box?
Tucker Max: Bookinabox.com. Pretty simple.
John Jantsch: Yeah, pretty simple. I appreciate you showing up and telling us about Book in a Box, and hopefully we’ll see you out there on the road again sometime soon.
Tucker Max: Thanks, brother.
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