In this conversation we talk to Tucker Max, who has the remarkable honor of being one of only three writers ever to have had three books on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list at the same time. We talk about his company (Book in a Box), as well as how to turn an idea or your knowledge into a book, and then how to make that book a bestseller.
In this Episode
- [01:59] – How did Tucker go from having no bestsellers to having a bestselling book?
- [03:09] – Tucker discusses his view on the importance of having a perfect writing voice or great writing chops.
- [05:48] – We learn about Tucker’s evolution, and when he realized that his writing was book-worthy. He also shares his experience of the process of getting published.
- [09:57] – Tucker shares his reaction when publishers started approaching him after having previously sent him some pretty harsh rejections.
- [11:00] – How did Tucker manage to get three books on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list at the same time?
- [14:32] – Tucker came up with the marketing strategy he just described on his own. He also talks about the influence he’s had on Ryan Holiday.
- [16:46] – Amazon doesn’t like it when you make ebooks free, but there’s a trick, Tucker reveals.
- [18:07] – We hear the story of how Book in a Box started. It turns out it was mostly accidental; Tucker didn’t originally set out to create a company.
- [23:49] – The Book in a Box Method outlines the methods that Tucker’s company uses to create these books.
- [25:26] – Tucker shares his thoughts on what Stephan has said about people being either writers who speak or speakers who write.
- [26:17] – Tucker offers some examples of some of the templates in the book.
- [29:58] – We hear Tucker’s thoughts on Stephan’s 1000-page book The Art of SEO.
- [32:07] – At every stage of the outline, Tucker’s method has templates or questions you go through.
- [33:12] – The pop-up retail book that started Book in a Box ended up being called Pop Up Paradigm. Tucker makes suggestions on how to title a book.
- [37:30] – Tucker talks about when to start working on the cover for the book.
- [40:51] – Tucker shares his thoughts on Stephan’s book cover.
- [42:52] – It takes 6 months and costs $25,000 to have a book created through Book in a Box. It also requires about 30 to 40 hours on the phone over those 6 months.
- [43:30] – Book in a Box can go pretty fast, but authors often can’t.
- [44:13] – Tucker talks about why the price is $25,000 now instead of $10,000, as it was for the first woman to go through the process.
- [45:32] – There have been several Wall Street Journal bestsellers through Book in a Box, but there haven’t yet been any on the New York Times bestseller list. He then talks about the problem with the NYT list.
- [47:06] – We hear about the impact that Pop Up Paradigm had on its author’s business.
- [49:18] – What would Tucker recommend for people who have something to share, but aren’t in a position to go through the $25,000 Book in a Box program?
- [50:19] – Is it a good idea to release a second edition of a book that didn’t sell very well in its first edition?
- [52:33] – Tucker shares his thoughts on sharing free several-chapter excerpts of books as a marketing strategy.
Hi and welcome to Marketing Speak. I’m you host Stephen Spencer. Today, we have Tucker Max with us. I’m a big fan of Tucker’s. He’s a huge New York Times bestselling author. He sold three million books worldwide. His books include I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell which I’ve read myself and it’s hilarious. But that’s not we’re going to be talking about on this episode. We’re going to be talking about how to turn an idea or your knowledge into a book and make that book into a bestseller; he’s an expert on that. He’s also the co-founder and chairman of Book In A Box which is a company that does that very thing, creates your book for you and gets it promoted and marketed. Tucker has been credited with being the originator of the literary genre fratire and he’s only the third writer after Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis to ever have three books on the New York Times’ nonfiction best seller list at once. That’s amazing, mind blowing. His book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell was turned into a movie which is based on the book and he was nominated to the Time Magazine 100 Most Influential list in 2009. Great to have you on the show, Tucker.
Thank you, man. It’s nice to be here.
Let’s start by talking about how you got from no best sellers to having a bestselling book. Is there sort of a secret process? You have to be in a skull and bones club to get those?
I wish, man. It’s funny, a lot of people think that. They’ll ask me, you’ve written books. You get a lot of the authors question too. But people are like, “What’s the trick?” I’m like, “Well, it’s a really neat trick and I’ll tell it to you and if you do it, you’re guaranteed to succeed. Sit down on your computer for maybe a decade, maybe five years. Keep writing until you write something that a lot of people like and then promote that.” They were like, “Thanks, [explicit]. I knew that.” That’s really what it breaks down to, man. To do it the conventional way, because I do it the conventional way, you just have to put in the work. You’ve got to have the right voice, you’ve got to be saying the right thing at the right time and I was, and it works.
You just have a style that is pretty special. It’s not everybody who can write that quality and I think that’s probably the first thing, right? It’s to make sure that you have a quality writing style and you have quality things to say because trying to put lipstick on a pig, no matter what tricks you use and how much money you throw at it, it’s not going to turn out well, right?
Well, yes and no. Obviously, you can’t be illiterate, you can’t write nonsense and garbage but I’m not entirely sure that I’m like this amazing wordsmith or some fancy writer. I think what I did was, I did this a little by accident.. I don’t want to give myself more credit than I deserve but I think unintentionally, I looked at my writing sort of as a product. Instead of thinking okay, my writing has to fit some platonic ideal of perfect, I thought what job does my writing do? What job is it doing, and so I thought of it like a product, like what job does soap do? I thought of the same thing in my writing. In my case, I started writing emails to my friends and the job my writing did was it made my friends laugh and raised my esteem in their eyes. That’s how guys are, male friends are, you make your friends laugh. I got really good not at writing in quotes, but I got really good at making my friends laugh. To do that, of course I had to improve as a writer but I think one of the reasons I improved as a writer is because I never ever obsessed over my writing. I only obsessed over making my friends laugh and the ways to get that done. I think the problem that a lot of writers fall into is that they obsess over their writing like, “Oh, is my writing good?” I’m like I don’t know. People ask me all the time, “Is my writing good?” Before I even read it, I’m like’ “Well, tell me what are you trying to accomplish with this writing?” They’ll look at me like, “What?” Like they don’t even understand what I’m saying. And I’m like, “There’s no way I can explain this. There’s no way for me to assess your writing independent of the goal that you are trying to accomplish with it.” If you’re trying to sell your information courses, then you’ve got to write it in a totally different style than if you’re trying to tell the story of how you lost your virginity to make your friends laugh, they’re totally different things. A lot of people I think don’t understand that. If you keep that mind frame, writing has a job to do and first you need to know what job it is and then I’m going to make the writing do that job. It makes it a lot easier to write.
Makes sense, you started writing funny stories. You didn’t have the intention of creating a book out of that. You just started writing just to entertain your friends and then you created a blog. At what point did you decide that this is content that’s worthy of getting into a book?
When I was first doing emails, I knew my stuff made my friends laugh but writing a book just didn’t really occur to me. I thought everyone always likes this. I thought everyone could write like this because the reality is my friends were writing emails back, we go back and forth. They were writing emails back that I thought were just as fun. And I was like, “Okay, well, I’m keeping up with my friends, there’s nothing special in my writing.” It turns out that I was wrong. My emails were funnier than my friends’ and they were funny to other people, and not everyone was doing this. Or if they were doing it, they won’t be able to write it the way that I was. Because my friends are forwarding my emails to other people and then they just spread from there. The day I knew I had something was when I got an email forwarded to me. This is back before MySpace, this is back when email forwards were a thing like 2001, 2002. I got an email forwarded to me from a guy I went to college with. He said, “Dude if you read this thing, this is so funny.” I scrolled down past all the – email forwards had all the headers, right? I scrolled to the bottom header and looked at it. I’m like, “Wait a minute, this is an email I wrote to my friends. I wrote this email.” I wrote the dude back and I’m like’ “Hey [explicit], did you look at the origination of it? The origin? Did you see who actually wrote it?” He’s like, “Oh [explicit], wow! That’s amazing I didn’t know that you could write like that.” That’s when I realized, “Oh wow, I might have something on my hands, this might be something special.” It’s funny, it’s a typical story, same story that Tim Ferris has and J.K Rowling has and we all have this story. I tried to get it published. This is back 2002, most agents didn’t even have email addresses. I had to snail mail inquiries to every agent and every publisher in New York and I got 100% rejection. I mean literally 100%. Most of the people obviously never responded and the ones that did respond were like, “No,” I got form letters. Mostly were form letters but I got a few personalized. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever read, you have no business ever typing again, kill yourself,” type of responses. But I knew they were wrong. When you get your stuff forward to you from other people, unsolicited, you know you’ve got something.
And you sent out how many inquiries?
Somewhere close to a thousand, a crazy number, it was insane.
I know, right? Like 500 to 1000. Let’s not think about that. These people’s entire jobs are selecting the things that people will pay money to read. Every agent and publisher in New York missed on a book that created a new literary genre and sold three million copies. Think about that for a minute. It’s the same thing, it’s true with J.K Rowling was rejected by everybody, multiple times. Tim had to go to 14 publishers, etcetera. Anyway, I put myself on the internet for free. This is like 2002, or 2003. I think I had to put it on Geocities or something. That was back when they were still around and I had to learn to code HTML. It was just awful. I put it up and sent it to friends and then it got a little bit of attention. And then collegehumor, which was at the time just kind of coming online, College Humor and Fark linked it and it blew up. From there, it kind of got bigger and bigger and then this girl sued me which is a story of my second book I think, Ms. Vermont. She sued me and the New York Times wrote about it because it was a big first amendment case. And then after that, all the publishers came back to me and were like, “Hey, you want to publish a book?” It was funny.
And did you entertain those offers or were you like ticked off that they have been rude to you in the past and just went off with some other publisher? How did that all transpire?
This is really before self-publishing. This is back when self-publishing was called vanity publishing. I think Lulu had just started and maybe iUniverse had just started, they were like a year or two old. It was kind of a different world. The other options weren’t really there. You remember this one, there were maybe 50 million people on the internet or something and everyone was on the internet on a computer, there is no mobile internet and stuff. It’s a different world. I was ticked up, straight up to you, and I really was, but then one of those things was like, “Okay, I can be angry and anonymous or I can get over myself and prove that I was right and go sell a lot of books.” I did.
Yes, and you did sell a lot of books. How did you end up with 3 simultaneous New York Times best sellers, because I don’t even know how that’s possible?
Yes, I’ve done that, Malcolm Gladwell, and Michael Lewis. We have three books, a bunch about them were fiction but for non fiction, it was only the three of us. That’s not one of the things, 10 years or whatever. It obviously takes a while to be popular and well-known and write sort of good books, three books, but there was a trick to that. I’ll tell your audience a trick and you can actually still see what I did. If you go on Amazon, I have four books, actually I have multiple books but of the ones that were fratire, funny stories. There’s four of them, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is the first, second is Assholes Finish First and the third is Hilarity Ensues and there is a fourth, it’s called Sloppy Seconds. If you notice, it’s free. There’s a paperback or hardcover, that’s not free, but the ebook is free. You can download the book for free still to this day. What I did was when my third book came out, my first two books were still selling pretty well, Beer in Hell was still on the bestseller list. What I did was I released two books at once. It was kind of remember when Drake release this album without any sort of advance warning. It was like all of a sudden a new Drake album is out. That was like the big thing. I was one of the first ones to release a free book not in the marketing space, to release a free book to fans. I know when I did it, it was really cool. What I said was, “Alright fans, I think these are stories that I cut from my other books. Not because they’re bad but I just felt like they weren’t enough to par. Instead of just throwing them away, we’re making you pay for them, I’m going to give them to you for free. My fans thought that it was the coolest thing ever that I was doing that. And then what it did though, it was kind of sneaky what I did. I put the best story from each of the other three books into the front of Sloppy Seconds. The first three stories are three of the best things that I’ve ever written and then that’s the first half of the book. The second half are all these other stories that are fine but they’re not that great. What it does is if you hadn’t read any of my stuff, you could try all my stuff for free was Sloppy Seconds. And then, a bunch of people did. The first three things you read are stories from other books and I advertise those books in there. I’m like, “Hey, this is from Beer in hell, go order right here on amazon.” Giving that free book away on Amazon, I promoted the hell out of that free book. I think there were like stupid numbers, a million downloads on that thing in the first two months. What it did is ended up being this immense lead gen for all my other three books. The smart thing is because I linked the books in the ebook, and I also used my Amazon affiliate code, I don’t know if you could still do this but at the time Amazon let you do that. I not only sold a bunch of my other three books, I actually made the affiliate revenue on it too. It was pretty smart and it was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. It worked really well and that’s why I ended up with three books on the list at the same time is because I used the free book to promote all three. It ended up driving a lot of sales. It wasn’t that long, it was maybe a month that all three of them were on the list at once but it was enough.
That’s incredible. Did you come up with that idea on your own or did you have somebody?
Yeah. What’s funny now is there’s so many “marketing gurus” out there. You were the early ones in your field and you taught a bunch of people how to do stuff and then they all went out and made their own names doing exactly what you taught them to do. There’s so many that are doing that now.
Some have even used my own powerpoint decks. I used to share my powerpoint decks online, that was stupid because I would see in workshops and conferences my powerpoint with their branding.
It’s not quite as bad on my end, but a lot of the people out there that do this sort of marketing now as a job learned it from me. A great example is Ryan Holiday, I love Ryan. He’s a friend of mine but Ryan was my first assistant and I kind of taught him, I don’t want to say I taught him everything he knew, that’s not true, but I taught him marketing. He worked on marketing a lot of my books. He was the guy doing it. I would come up with the idea, and he came up with some ideas on his own. He’s a smart dude. We would come up with ideas let’s say, mostly me though, and then he would put it together and make it work. And then I helped him launch his marketing company and now he’s gone on since me and done all kinds of cool stuff that had nothing to do with me. But like oh yeah dude, when I was doing this, you remember the era like 2002 to 2008 was really the wild west on the internet. You can do anything. There was no one doing anything hardly. You can be an expert in 20 different spaces by doing it once. Now it’s a lot harder, I mean it’s not hard now it’s just harder, but that was back when no one was doing anything on that stuff. It was pretty easy to be in elevator and to be travelizer.
Those were good times, actually decided I could live in New Zealand because you could do the internet thing from anywhere and I did. I lived there from 1999 to 2007.
Yes, good times. Very clever idea to have that free book. Is that a common practice for people nowadays to release free ebooks on Amazon? Are they by policy allow the stay free, or is it just a limited time?
Great question. I would give you a pretty good trick that I’ve learned. Amazon doesn’t like it when you make ebooks free on their platform and they will not let you do that. How did I do it? Well, there’s a trick. What you do is upload your ebook to iBooks first and make it free on iBooks and Apple will let you do it because apple doesn’t give a [explicit] about their books platform, they’ll let you do anything. Make it free and then put it on Amazon because Amazon scrapes iBooks like every 30 minutes or something. Amazon will then let you make it free, they’ll match iBooks. But there is no default way to make it free on Amazon.
I’ve heard a similar strategy, I think Barnes and Noble might allow you to do that to make it free. I forget which site but iBooks is another one. That’s great. You’ve found that loophole and were able to make that book permanently free and it’s still free to this day.
Awesome. Now let’s talk about the process for somebody who’s never written a book and isn’t a good writer, doesn’t want to write. I know you have a solution for that. Let’s talk about that solution but also in the context of the general process because there are other companies that do that process too.
I started a company called Book In A Box and I’ll tell the story of how it started which basically explains the process. I was at an entrepreneur dinner and this woman, real smart has her own business basically it was like, “Hey listen, people will ask me to write a book for 10 years, I don’t have the time and I have a family but I want to get this out. People have been asking me for it. I think you could do well and then help people. How do I get this book out of my head without having to sit at a computer for year?” I asked her, “Are you asking me how to write a book without writing it?” She said, “Yes, kind of.” And of course, being the snobby, elite writer that I am, I started making fun of her. There is no way to write a book without writing it. The word is literally in the title, and she rolls her eyes at me and says, “Tucker, is this an entrepreneur dinner? Are you an entrepreneur?” I’m like, “Yes, of course.” And she’s like, “Yes, I don’t know. I don’t think you are because a real entrepreneur would help me solve my problem and not lecture me about hard work. I was like, “Alright [explicit], okay,” but she was right. She was 100% right and I became obsessed with this idea. How do I get a book out of someone’s head without them having to sit on their computer? It took me months until the obvious answer came to me. How did Socrates write the ending of his books, because he never wrote anything down. How did Jesus do it? They used scribes. Obviously, they used scribes. I could just be a scribe for her. How would I do that? I sat, I got in front of a whiteboard, me and Zach who is the co-founder of my company and we wrote out every single step that I used when I write a book. Down to an obnoxious granular level of how many word docs I open and all that kind of stuff. Because I never actually mapped out my process before, I mapped the whole thing out. And then I realized I didn’t need her for any of it except for the content. That was the thing she said and I agreed. She’s like, “I don’t want a ghost writer. I don’t want someone to just listen to an outline of my ideas and then write it in their voice or their words. I want to it to be my voice and my words. I just don’t want to be the one typing it.” And I was like, okay because I didn’t want to learn about it. She’s like in pop up retail. I don’t want to learn about this, I’m not ghost writing this book. It’s got to be her. I realize, alright I’m just going to call her and interview her every time I need her. As I went to the outline process, I would just call her and interview her and we refined the process as we went and then I did a full outline and then I kind of got all the content I ever had with interviews, and then I edit it, I transcribed it, edited it, and then all of a sudden it was like, “Oh [explicit], this process works.” We ended up creating this amazing book. I realized this is pretty cool and it is not funny. That’s how dumb I was as an entrepreneur, even this is two and a half years ago. It didn’t even occur to me immediately that this was a company, that people would want this service, even though she had paid me 10 grand for it. I told a bunch of friends that I was doing this and a bunch of them didn’t just say, “Oh, that’s a good idea,” because anyone could say that. They cut me a check, “Hey, when can we start?” I was like, “What? What do you mean when can we start? This isn’t a business.” “Yeah, just do the same thing for me you did for her.” I went on a podcast, totally randomly, just like yours about a different topic and I talked about this because the host was dyslexic. It blew his house actually. He’s dyslexic and he just finished writing his book with the help of my friend Nils Parker who was kind of a ghostwriter for him. And I’m like, “Lewis, let me tell you about this, what we just did to solve this similar problem for another woman.” And Louis was like, “That’s so cool. What do you call that?” And I’m like, “What do you mean what do I call that?” He’s like, “What do you call your company?” Because he thought, obviously, like anyone smart would, he thought this was a product, a company. I joked with Zach that we were building a Book In A Box. I just blurted it out. I don’t know, we called it Book In A Box. He laughed, he was like, “Oh yes, that’s a great name. Alright everyone, if you want to write a book but you don’t know how, you don’t have the time, go to Book In A Box.” I was like, “Whatever, Lewis.” We just went back to the podcast. The next day, I get an email and I knew his podcast wasn’t out. It was like, “Hey Tucker, this Book in the Box sounds so cool but I cannot find anything on it in the internet. Where can I sign up?” I was like, “Who the [explicit] are you? How did you know about this?” The podcast wasn’t going to come out for a month or something and he was like, “I’m sorry man, I’m Lewis’s sound editor.” I was like, “Are you kidding me?” Then I was like, “Zach, maybe we should put up a landing page because something might be here. Let’s put up a landing page, podcast comes out, and we did $200,000 the first month. I was like, “Oh [explicit], maybe I’m an idiot. This maybe a big business. Now, it’s like two and a half years later, we’ve done I think it’s seven or eight million in revenue, we’ve done 400 books. I think we’re just under, like 395 or something like that. The process is the same basic process, it’s a lot more refined. Now we have freelancers, it’s really sophisticated the way we do on the back end but we basically structure an interview. We interview you so we can structure, outline your book. Get everything out of your head and then turn it into a transcript and then we do all the publishing.
You took this process and you documented it and you put it in a book that people can buy today. You don’t have to be a client of Book In A Box. You just buy the book. And what’s that book title?
It’s called The Book in the Box Method, and that’s it. It details pretty much exactly our process, like the templates we use and everything. Yeah, we used this method to write that book. It was funny, I’m like you. I don’t know if this is true for you but I think through my fingers. Most people want to figure out what they think, they’ll have a discussion about it or conversation. I’ve got to go sit down and write it, but that’s because I’ve been writing for 15 years professionally. It was really hard for me to do this verbally. For Zach, it worked great because he’s not a professional writer. He was spinned to the process and he was just killing it. I had to unlearn how to be a professional writer so that I could use our process; I can eat my own dog food to get the book finished.
Yes. I love what Robert Owen says that you’re either a writer who speaks or a speaker who writes. I know I’m a speaker who writes. It’s a lot easier for me to use your process and get interviewed and get that transcribed, have that edited, and then work with that rather than try to stare at a blank screen and try to type something up because I will just agonize over that blank screen forever. Whereas if you’re something like yourself where you’re a writer who speaks, you’re great on stages but the way that you get stuff out of your head in the flow is more through writing rather than speaking.
It’s funny you said a writer who speaks. I haven’t heard that before, that’s totally right. Once I kind of got used to the flow, Zach, we were doing our book. He was doing some of the transcribing just because of that specific book. He was like, “Dude, I don’t know how you do it, but you speak in complete sentences.” Once I kind of figured out, that’s exactly what you said. I had to learn to almost translate typing into words first and then speak them. Once I got that flow down, it started going well for me, and he’s like, “Dude your speeches need almost no editing. You are speaking complete sentences somehow.” And it was hard. It took a lot of concentration, I had to reverse engineer my process to get it to work.
What are some of the templates that are in the book and that you used Book In A Box?
The outline template? What are the things that need to be sort of for an outline, right? How do you understand what to put in each section? I’ll give you a good example. This actually should be the first stage before you even decide if you want to write a book or if you have a book in you. It’s called positioning. The basic idea, it comes from the book Short Term. You just have a positioning statement because the bookstore wanted to know which shelf the book went on. Was it a marketing book or business book or self-help or whatever? That’s basically what you’re figuring out is where in the market does this book fit? The way you figure that out is you ask yourself three basic questions. Why am I writing the book? Who is the audience? And why is that audience going to care? When I say why are you writing the book, I mean what result are you hoping to achieve with the book? For example, if you want to be a professional speaker and get more gigs, that’s a result. If you want to drive leads to your business, if you want to sell a lot of copies of your book, these are all goals that a book can get for you selfishly. Let’s say you want to keynote tech conferences. That a great thing that a book can help you get. If that’s your goal, then the next question is who’s the audience? The only way you can really see who is the audience is to understand what the goal for the book is. If you’re keynoting tech conferences, you only have really two audiences you need to focus on. The people who book keynotes speakers for tech conferences are obviously an audience, and then the people who attend those conferences because those are the type of people that obviously the people book speeches want to appeal. Those are your two audience, the people who book the speakers, the people who go to these tech conferences. Third question, what do you have to say or why are they going to care about your book? You need to figure out and understand what’s in your brain, what knowledge do you have that would be appealing to those people, both in the book and in this case in the speech. For someone like you, that’s an easy answer. What happens sometimes is people realize, “Oh man! I don’t actually know anything that’s going to be able to get me my goal.” In that case, you need to go understand what do those people care about and where are the areas that could use some work and some development and some innovation and let me go work in those areas and develops new ideas and innovate some things and then I’ll have something to say that that audience will care about so I can write a book and give speeches to them. Does that make sense?
Perfect sense, yes. I didn’t go through this process when I started to work on The Art Of SEO with my co-authors and now we’re at the third edition, that’s a thousand pages, and I think we kind of alienated some of our potential audience because it is a daunting book. You could get hurt if you drop it on your foot. It’s heavy. With my positioning, I want to reach business owners, entrepreneurs, executives, people who are not in their website coding it and worrying about canonical tags and all the geeky stuff, the structured data markup and everything. And yet, that’s what the book is mostly comprised of is getting really down into the details of SEO, it is a comprehensive textbook. But I were warning to reach university students, perfect, I nailed it. But positioning of going after let’s say a CEO, not so much with a thousand page book.
You’re exactly right. Although I would actually say two things. One is that that book is never a book that I’m going to read, but the fact that you were literally the guy who wrote the bible on SEO, immediately that’s a credential you have that’s better than any university degree or any blurb on your website or anything. The fact that you are the writer of the handbook for this tells me, “Okay, if I’m going to go hire an SEO guy, you’re at the very top of the list.” That’s one thing that a book like that gets you even though I’m never going to read it. But what else you could do, I feel like you did this already because I feel like I took this book from the event where we met but you could just pull out. You could just do a really short 50 to 100 paged book that is what a business owner needs to know about SEO. And then it’s the nine things that are super actionable for me, you can probably pull it out of that book and make it a separate book, which I think you’ve done, right?
Kind of, not really. I created a small, 72 page book called Google Power Search which is all about how to be a power user of Google. Market research, competitive intelligence and SEO, but just that aspect of finding anything, confidential business plans, force to research supports, even I found credit card number files with expiration dates just by knowing the right kind of search queries to type in. That’s the book.
Yes, that’s the one I took. You want to reach those people because you want them as clients for your firm, right?
I’m telling you it would be the easiest thing for you to just pull out, call it something like Cut To The SEO Chase, What A Business Owner Needs To Know Today To Double The Revenue, or something. And it can be 7,000 pages and it could kill it, super simple way.
I could even make it perma-free, upload ebooks.
Very cool. What would be another example of a critical template that you want to drive our listeners to?
Every stage of the outline, we have kind of the questions you go through. We have templates but it’s more like examples and then the process. You almost want to think of our processes like a multi-stage algorithm, where at each stage, to get through, you’ve got to get everything right. That’s kind of what it teaches you. I’ll tell you, there’s some other good templates though. We have a really good sort of template for book names and titles, it’s 20 pages. It’s kind of too long to go into because it’s way too like how the sausage is made. But, a part of the book is on how to title your book. It kind of gives you the best framework that I’ve ever seen for titling. Titling is one of those thing that if you get it right, it is amazing, and if you get it wrong, it really, really hurts. We kind of walk you through the steps for titles.
You talked earlier about this popup retail book, what was the end title that you guys came up with?
Popup Paradigm, How Small Businesses Can Use Pop Ups To Engage Customers, something like that, some sort of thing.
The subtitle is really important as well as the title so that you could get the keywords in and get found on Amazon, right?
Exactly, yes. That’s not the only way to title a book but that’s one of the best ways is a catchy title. Here’s the kind of high level framework. What you want a title to be is you want it to engage people emotionally and tell people who it’s for. The Art Of SEO is a great title because it is allusion to one of the great books of all time, The Art of War. Even if you didn’t do that intentionally, immediately I’m psychologically placing this book next to a classic. It immediately tells me exactly what it is, it’s SEO. I know exactly if this is for me or not. Am I looking for SEO or not, right? That’s basically what you want. Here’s actually a really good framework, this is also in the book. Imagine two people who are in your audience at a cocktail party that don’t know you talking about your book. Now, picture them saying the title. One person saying the title, how is the other person going to respond? What will they immediately think? I’ll give you a great example of a bad title, someone who failed this test and I wish she had not. This guy, Bill Bonner. The book is about hormesis which is a sort of biological principle, stress leads to resiliency and a system without stress becomes fragile, etc. It’s a really cool principle and he’s writing about the financial system. He wrote a book called, I’m not kidding, he insisted that it was titled Hormegeddon, like Armageddon and Hormesis put together because his point was that a lack of hormesis will cause armageddon, and it’s very clever. The problem is, say that word out loud. Hormegeddon, What does that sound like?What you want a title to be is you want it to engage people emotionally and tell people who it’s for. Click To Tweet
It sounds horrible.
I know, dude. It sounds like a catastrophe of whores, like there’s a whore armageddon. I’m like Bill, say the word out loud, harmageddon. Bill’s such a buttoned up religious type that it just didn’t even occur to him that anyone would take that reference, which of course is the first thing everyone thinks. You’re talking about the whore apocalypse and that’s a great sort of rubric too for titles. If people will feel stupid saying it in a party because it’s either the word is dumb or it’s hard to say, then they’re not going to recommend your book because no one wants to feel stupid.
That title sounds like it would go on into the monster erotica category in Amazon.
Imagine someone say, “Man, there were so many trashy girl there, it was like a whoremageddon.” That’s what it’s about.
That’s horrible. That reminds me of a funny article. I read an article about this company back in the .com days of 2000 or 1998, 1999 or whatever. The company was called Accompany, like we accompany you. “Hi, this is Bill from Accompany, can I help you?” “Hi, this is Bill from Accompany, can I talk to the CEO?” Like, “Which company?” “Accompany,” and of course they went out of business. What a terrible name.
Oh, my God. That’s amazing.
The title is super important and you need to be able to understand what the value proposition is to somebody who’s never heard the book title. If you can’t make that cut, you’re kind of doomed. It’s like a movie title, it’s so critically important. What about the book cover? What’s the process there? Is that something that you do very early on to get inspiration or is that something that you wait till the end so you kind of have things flashed out and you know what the whole story arch of the book and all that?
Once you have the title and once you’ve had the positioning on the title, you can start doing the cover. You don’t even have to have a finished title, just a basic idea. The positioning is the important thing. What is the book about? Who’s it for? Those are the things that you’ve got to know. We have a whole process for walking through how to figure out both what their cover should be and whether their cover’s good or bad. A title is the most important piece of information about a book. It is the first for almost everyone who comes across your book. Literally, the name of your book is the first piece of information they will ever get about the book. It is how they will make a huge portion of their final judgement about your book would be based on the title. The second most important sort of piece, this is excluding of course the referral source. If you tell your listeners about a book and the fact that you are telling them is a piece of information, but let’s hold that variable constant, the title is the first thing you say and then they click on Amazon or whatever, they’re going to see the book cover, that’s the second piece of information. T think there’s actually pretty good data on this that once they hear the title and they see the book cover, most people have actually made their purchase decision or they’re 80% all the way there. Here’s the thing about the book, most people are looking for a reason not to buy them. Your title has to be good and appealing and then the cover at a minimum can’t be repellent. In the book, I kind of run through exactly how to think about book covers, how to look at them. The important thing to remember is that a book cover should be a visual representation of what you want people to take away from the title and that’s all it is. It doesn’t have to be some incredible work or art. Although if it is, that’s kind of cool. It should not be really clever because really clever stuff, unless this is literary fiction designed for people who love clever things, really clever stuff tends to confuse people. They don’t understand what the hell it is. You’re going to lose most people and that’s what you really need to focus on with the book. The other big lesson is pay for good design; either go very simple or pay for good design. Don’t have a bad or mediocre cover because people don’t just judge your book by the cover, they judge you as a person by the cover.
Yeah, that’s funny. Don’t judge a book by its cover is the old adage but everybody does it. They judge you as a person and the quality of your services and your reputation and everything. Don’t go to fiverr.com and spend $5 designing your book cover, not a good thing. My book cover for The Art Of SEO has a humming bird on it. What do you think? At the time, we did not know that there was going to be a hummingbird algorithm update with Google. I don’t know if they actually got inspiration for the name of the algorithm based on the book because it’s been out for several years and it was a pretty well-known book by then, but I’d like to think that the Google engineers were inspired by our book.
Any sort of natural representational thing is a pretty good safe option. Assuming that it either makes obvious sense or it doesn’t in some way weirdly conflict. If I was looking at this, I kind of like the green one which is the second edition more than the third with the orange, but they’re both fine. Knowing humming bird is now an impression and kind of amazing, but if we took that out, I’d be like yeah, that’s a pretty solid book cover. With a title like The Art Of SEO, honestly, all you want to make sure is the book cover isn’t an [explicit], it’s such a good title and it so perfectly summarizes what your book is, just make sure the cover doesn’t get into the way of the book and you’re fine.
Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book by Marie Kondo about tidying up. It’s called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, great book. She recommends going through your bookshelf and purging every book that doesn’t spark joy for you goes to the recycling or to donation. You’re not even allowed to open the book. You just base it on how you feel looking at the cover and just holding it in your hands.
That’s very Japanese.
And it works. I actually purged several hundred books because I felt guilty looking at those books. I didn’t feel good, “Oh yeah, I really should read them.” I didn’t take her advice and I started cracking them open and started reading little bits and everything, you go down this rabbit hole, it’s not a good idea. Actually, I really like that process, judge the book by its cover and how it feels to you and what kind of emotions it sparks for you. Does it spark joy? Pretty cool.
Yes, it’s a great model.
The whole process here, how long does it take? What is the cost if someone hires Book In A Box to do this for them?
It’s $25,000 and it takes six months. Basically, you spend 30 to 40 hours on the phone with us over that six months.
How much of that is recordings of talking through the content and how much of that is just brainstorming things like title names, book cover options, and things like that?
I would say if it’s 40 hours, then probably 30ish is interviews and the other 10 is sort of admin stuff, like books cover, all that kind of stuff.
What’s the fastest timeframe you’ve had somebody go through this process?
We can go pretty fast. The problem is authors can’t. I think the fastest we’ve done is five months. Anything faster than that, I would be afraid that we would start to sacrifice quality. If someone came in and someone had been giving a speech for a decade and they knew a topic cold, we can probably go faster than five months. For anyone who wasn’t at that stage, I’d be afraid that we would just sacrifice writing quality.
What do you tell to somebody who’s listening to this interested hiring you or your company? You charged $10,000 to the lady with the pop up retail business, the consulting business. Why can’t I get that kind of pricing instead of $25,000?
That was back when we were beta and we had no proof of concept. She was rolling the dice with $10,000. You’re not rolling the dice with $25,000. You are now coming into a well oiled machine. Quite honestly, our process is way better now. In fact, if you look at her book on Amazon, it’s called Pop Up Paradigm, it’s in the second edition. Her book turned out really well but we went back and read it a year later and I was like, “[explicit] this, man, we need to come up to update this based on her current process.” We ran her through the process again in a much shorter time because it was much faster but the book that you would read now is actually a reflection of the updated process. The book is even better. We did that for free with her or not for free but it was basically for cost because she’s pretty, she’s Hispanic, she does media for us all the time, she’s like the perfect first client, she’ll talk to anyone about us. She’s the greatest cheerleader we could ever have. I’m willing to do anything that she wants, I love her to death. The two answers are she took a gamble on us and you’re getting a better process.
She was your inspiration to create a whole business. Very cool. How many New York Times bestsellers have you produced through this process?
Through Book In A Box, we have not produced any. We’ve done two or three Wall Street Journal bestsellers and God knows how many Amazon bestsellers, a bunch. No New York Times bestsellers because New York times still, they won’t put books in their list that are self-published unless they are just selling so many copies that it’s embarrassing to not put them on the list.
Got it. And was the Pop-Up Paradigm book self-published?
New York Times considers everything to be self-published if it’s not done through a New York City Publisher. There’s six publishers. If you look at the list, every single one of the books on there pretty much is from one of five or six publishing houses. It looks like they’re different but they’re all divisions of Harper and Simon Schuster and whatever.
Right, just different imprints, right.
Yes, exactly. It’s a racket. It’s total [explicit]. That’s what’s so funny is that the most honest list out there is really the USA Today list. Wall Stress Journal list is just business books. USA Today list is the closest thing that exists to an actual list of bestselling books. Although they still curate that list now. The New York Times list is not at all a list of bestselling books, it is a list of what the Manhattan Media elite think the people should be reading.
If the Pop Up Paradigm didn’t make it into the New York Times bestseller list, or I’m presuming not the Wall Street Journal list, was it one of the two?
No, it was not one of the two.
What was the impact for her business, having that book?
It was profound. We actually have a case study in our site that describes what happened and she’s got more stuff. She got a flood of media. Some of them we got her, we helped her because she’s our first client but most of it she got herself and she got it because of the book. A book is the best hook for media that there is. Everyone in media wants to talk to the expert and the expert is the person who has a book. She got a ton of media. What ended up happening is that she’s only sold a thousand books, that’s not very many, you probably sell that in a month or two with your SEO book but she’s tripled incoming leads to her popup consulting firm. I think she’s done near seven figures if not more of business pretty much based exclusively off of her book. She signed a long term consulting deal with the second biggest mall company in the world and all kinds of other amazing stuff like that.
That’s amazing. How does she track where the lead comes from if it comes from the book or not?
She’s not super analytical like that. She says now at this point everyone who talks to her at the very least knows she has a book. She’s getting calls now and dealing with clients at a level that would not return her calls before. I know early on, the calls are literally like, “I just read your book, we need you to have you come in and talk to our executive.” Or we need this or we need that. At this point, it’s impossible almost for her to track what leads are due to the book because the book is actually now part of her brand. The fact that she is the number one expert in the space because of the book. It’s kind of like asking how many rebounds does Lebron get because he’s tall versus fast? How do you measure that?
Okay, got it. What would be a key take away that you’d want our listeners to get out of this? Let’s say they don’t necessarily have $25,000 to drop on getting a book out of their head and into prints and get it promoted through your process but they do have something to share and they do want to establish some level of authority, what would you recommend for these people?
The book. Go to, I’m going to get this wrong, pretty sure it’s at bookinabox.com/book and you can download our book for free, The Book In A Box Method. It’s on Amazon for like $4. Even if you don’t have $4, you can get the book for free and it will walk you through the process. We’ve had multiple people who wrote books not through us, using our process, that have come out and done really well. If you can’t afford it, it’s great. Write the book now, use it to generate clients or business, make a bunch of money and then come to us to do your second book.
Or your second edition.
Do you have any thoughts about taking a book to turn that into a second edition even if it didn’t really sell very many copies? I have two books that didn’t sell very well, Google Power Search and Social Ecommerce. They didn’t even come close to the sales volume that The Art Of SEO did. Is it worth doing a second edition of either those books? Just generally speaking.
What I would do is I would release them both with different titles. Both of those titles feel very technical to me. I would not have guessed that Google, even though it seems obvious. Your argument’s going to be but the title’s very obvious and you’re not wrong, but the title Google Power Search doesn’t hit me the same way titles like Find Anything You Want On The Internet. It just doesn’t strike me the same way. I’m like kind of a smart person, there’s a bunch of people out there who aren’t as smart as me who probably would love that book but the title isn’t resonating with them. Like I told you, what business owners have to know about SEO. I bet you could pull that book out of The Art Of SEO just about and it might take you a day or two and you could release that. I bet you that thing would drive more business than maybe not The Art Of SEO but almost like anything else you’re doing. I would just reverse engineering like what I’ve said. What goal are you trying to accomplish and then almost the coolest thing then come up with a title, what title is going to be the most attractive to the group of people is trying to reach? What problem is causing the most pain for them? What solution would be the most profitable for them? How can I title my knowledge to reflect that? You’ve got that all in your head. I took so many notes from your presentation at the place we met. It would not have occurred to me that Google Power Search would have all that stuff.
Actually, I taught a lot about SEO from The Art Of SEO and from just out of my head I taught a lot about conversion optimization, it’s kind of a mix of different topics on that presentation but yes, I get your point. Find Anything On the Internet sounds a lot better than Google Power Search, there’s a value proposition built right in and it makes sense. You don’t have to guess what it is. Cool. And then what do you think about these publishers offering three chapter samplers or two chapter or five chapter? Is that a good teaser for folks? Is it a good incentive?
There’s two different questions here, it depends. If your goal is to sell books, I think the best thing to do is to do a really short one or two page PDF that summarizes the specific issues. For The Art Of SEO, you could just do this. Instead of doing a book, you could do a two page PDF, almost like a blog post that’s like the Four SEO Tricks Every Small Business Owner Has To Do Today. You could just use that, give that away for free, Facebook Ads, and tie it to a landing page and that will definitely increase sales. That’s different, that’s if you want to sell books. If you’re using the book as a marketing tool to sell something else, then I would just give the book away for free. It doesn’t make sense, giving four chapters away, I don’t think about that [explicit]. Either give a little bit away to sell the book or give the whole thing away to sell something else but don’t go in between, like don’t play just the tip.
I love that, that’s a great quote. That’s definitely tweetable right there. Okay well, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experience with our listeners, incredible stuff. That was very generous of you to offer to give people a free copy of The Book In A Box Method. Thank you, Tucker.
We’ll include all the links and also a checklist of actions to take from the episode. What sort of things will move your authority positioning forward, we’ll have that in a handy 10-point checklist for you. That’s all at marketingspeak.com. If you are interested in hiring Tucker’s company Book In A Box to help you with your next book, bookinabox.com.
I’ll tell you actually, it’s the best thing they could do. Tell them if you want to hire my company, just email me [email protected]. Tell me that you heard me on Stephan’s podcast and then I’ll set up a call and then we’ll go right from there.
Alright, perfect. Alright guys, this is Stephan Spencer signing off. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak.
- USA Bestseller List
- [email protected]x.com
- The Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing
- @TuckerMax on Twitter
- @TuckerMax on Facebook
- I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
- Assholes Finish First
- Hilarity Ensues
- Google Power Search: The Essential Guide to Finding Anything Online with Google
- The Pop Up Paradigm: How Brands Build Human Connections in a Digital Age
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
☑ Instead of focusing on creating “perfect” writing, ask yourself what job your writing is doing. Focus on
getting better at doing that job, instead of trying to be an objectively better writer.
☑ Once you’ve created something great, have self-confidence in the face of rejection. Keep in mind that
Tucker got around a thousand rejections before becoming a bestselling author.
☑ Giving something away for free can be a great marketing technique. Come up with three ideas for free
giveaways you can do to help advertise or promote your main product(s).
☑ To give away an ebook for free on Amazon, upload it to iBooks first, and make it free there. From there, put it on Amazon, which will then match iBooks’ price.
☑ Ask yourself three basic questions before you start writing your book: why am I writing a book, who is
the audience, and why will that audience care?
☑ Give your book a title that engages people emotionally and immediately tells people who the book is for.
☑ Once you have a few potential titles in mind, imagine two strangers at a party talking about your book
by name. If they would feel stupid saying it or it’s mis-understandable, don’t use that name.
☑ Avoid creating a really clever cover for your book. Clever things tend to confuse people, and you may
lose much of your potential audience.
☑ When you’re creating your book cover, pay for good design. People judge your book by its cover, and
they also judge you by the quality of your book’s cover.
☑ Get Tucker’s book The Book in a Box Method for free on Amazon, then read it and follow the advice to create your own book without needing to hire his company.
About Tucker Max
Tucker Max is the co-founder and Chairman of Book In A Box, a company that’s created a new way to turn ideas into books.
He has written three #1 New York Times Best Sellers, which have sold over 3 million copies worldwide. He’s credited with being the originator of the literary genre, “fratire,” and is only the third writer (after Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis) to ever have three books on the New York Times Nonfiction Best Seller List at one time.
He co-wrote and produced the movie based on his life/book, also titled “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell.” He was nominated to the Time Magazine 100 Most Influential List in 2009.
He received his BA from the University of Chicago in 1998, and his JD from Duke Law School in 2001. He currently lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife Veronica and son Bishop.
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