The Jay Kim Show #33: Tucker Max (Transcript)
Jay: All right. Tucker, thank you so much for coming on the show. We’re excited to have you here today. It’s particularly exciting, because I’m launching my book this week, so I think it’s very special that the person that actually helped me write my book is on the show. For audience out here [inaudible 00:51], and listening around the world, why don’t you just give us a quick introduction of who you are, and what you do.
Tucker: My name is Tucker Max, I cofounded the company Book in a Box that you use to write your book. I mean, I wrote three number one bestsellers, you know, I had a movie made about my life. That’s kind of the different part of my life. Right now I’m mainly focused on Book in a Box.
Jay: Right, for the audience that’s listening, you guys can just Google search Tucker Max, and you can read all about his other stuff in his past. But he is doing exciting things now at Book in a Box, which is what I’m, it’s affected me the most, because it’s actually helped me write my book, so why don’t we jump straight into talking a little bit about Book in a Box, exactly how did you come up with this idea? I mean, you obviously have a background in writing, you were a very successful author, and you had some background in publishing as well, is that right?
Tucker: Yeah, I mean, not background really, just, I wrote my first book in 06. I was writing on the internet, I was one of the very first people to kind of write good quality stuff and put it up for free on the internet, in like, 2001, back before Myspace even existed. I’ve been doing this for coming up on 20 years now.
Tucker: Basically, the whole thing started … I wish I could, everyone has this image that entrepreneurs are these, successful entrepreneurs have these flashes of genius, and insight, and they come down from the mountain with their amazing companies already done, and that’s just not what happens. I think my story is actually a really good example of that. I almost, it’s kind of funny, I almost had to be beaten into doing a successful company. I’ll tell you the story.
I was at this entrepreneur dinner, and this woman comes up to me. At this point, I’d already written three number one bestsellers, I’d sold millions of books, I was well known as an author, but I didn’t have a publishing company really, or anything. At least nothing substantive. She said, “Listen, people have been asking me to write a book for a decade, I don’t have the time or desire to sit down at a computer and type this thing out, but my book would help people and they want it. How can I get this thing out of my head without having to go through the normal process?”
I kind of looked at her and I said, “Hold on. You’re asking me, ‘How can you write a book without writing it?'” She said, “Yeah, actually, I kind of am.” Of course, I started making fun of her, and I started lecturing her, like, “Everybody wants to be the star and nobody wants to do the work,” and telling her, “The writing is part of the process, and blah, blah, blah.”
After three to five minutes of me being a really condescending prick to her, she rolled her eyes and said, “Tucker, this is an entrepreneur dinner. Are you an entrepreneur?” I was like, “Yeah, of course.” She’s like, “Yeah, I’m not so sure that’s true. An entrepreneur would help me solve my problem, not lecture me about hard work.” I was like …
Jay: Called you out.
Tucker: Totally called me out. But the thing is, she was a hundred percent right, man. I mean, this woman had this super successful company, she had a family. She was doing ten times more than I was, and I was lecturing her about hard work instead of helping her solve her issue. Of course I became obsessed with this idea. How do I get her book out of her head without her having to sit at a computer and type it? It took me a month or something, then it all came at once. It was like, “Oh, God, this is so obvious.” Think about how many people never wrote a word down but have really famous books. Socrates, Jesus, Buddha, Malcolm X, Marco Polo, all these people used scribes to write their books, right?
It was like, of course. Why can’t I just be her scribe? I got on the phone with her and I said, “Here’s the thing. I’m not going to learn anything.” She didn’t want a ghostwriter, right? She didn’t want me to research her subject and write my book about it, and I didn’t want to learn about her subject, so it had to be her words and her voice, like a true scribe. No one thinks Jesus had a ghostwriter, or Socrates had a ghostwriter. This is what they said and thought.
She wanted the same thing. She wanted her voice and her book. I said, “All right. I’ll do everything.” I wrote own on a white board every single thing you have to do to write a book. I realized the only parts I needed her for were the for the actual knowledge. I could do everything else. Me and Zack [Obin 05:45] who’s my co-founder, we basically got on the phone with her when we needed her, got everything out of her head, and then we did the work on the back end. We kind of structured or outlined her book by interviewing, then we kind of got all the content out of her head by interviewing her. We transcribed all the interviews. We cleaned up the prose. She gave us notes on it. Then all of the sudden, we had this really good book.
Here’s what’s so funny, Jay. I was so dumb. I didn’t even think this was a business. I was like, “Okay.” This is an interesting project, she paid me money, it was kind of fun, and I was done. She started referring people to us. Then I told some of my friends about this, and they actually cut checks to me. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen, man. It was like, “Look at this cool thing I did.” They were like, “You can do that? Here’s a check, let’s start.”
I was like, “What are you talking about? I don’t understand.” That’s how dumb I was. [crosstalk 06:48]
Jay: The thing is at that point, you probably hadn’t thought about how could we scale this. Because I imagine your clients want … You must have put in quite a significant amount of work, you must have created a great book, and you probably didn’t streamline it just yet. Maybe, at that point, you probably would have been like, “I don’t know if I could do a hundred of these a year …”
Tucker: You’re being too kind to me, Jay. It wasn’t even about, “I wasn’t sure if I could scale it.” I was so dumb, dumb, blind is the right word. I was so blind it just didn’t even occur to me that this was a business.
Tucker: Because in my mind, this is not how writers write books.
Tucker: That’s not the way I had ever done it. I had a blindness in me.
Then I went on Lewis [Haus’s 07:36] podcast to talk about something totally different. Lewis is very dyslexic, and he had just finished his book. He had a conventional ghostwriter. He used my buddy Neils Parker. We were talking about that process, and I was like, “Lewis, I wish you had called me and we’d talked about this earlier, and I told him about this new thing I was doing with this woman.” I wasn’t pitching this as a company, but Lewis was like, “That’s the best idea I’ve ever heard, what do you call it?” Zack, the day before, had joked with me, like that we’re doing a book in a box with her. I said, “We call it book in a box.” We didn’t even have the name at that point.
Lewis was like, “Such a great idea. All my fans go check this out.” I didn’t really think more, we continued with the podcast.
The next day I got an email about Book in a Box, which made no sense, because I knew the podcast wasn’t out. I’m like, “Dude, who are you, how did you know about this?” The guy was like, “Sorry man, I’m Lewis’ podcast producer. I was just wondering where I could find Book in a Box and look at it and maybe sign up.” I was like, “Zack, dude, this may be a company.” Zack is like … Zack is smarter than I am. Zack is like, “Of course it’s a company you idiot, what did you think we were doing?” Then we put up a landing page, and then we did 200 000 dollars worth of business in the first two months, and I was like …
Tucker: That’s Jay, that’s when I started thinking about scaling, and started thinking, “Oh man. How do we …” Then we started hiring freelancers. Then, now, two and a half years later, we’ve done 450 books, and yours is about to come out.
Jay: Wow, unbelievable. That’s so cool. Let’s take a little bit of a step back Tucker, because you have a lot of experience in the traditional publishing world, as well. Why don’t you just quickly … I know there’s a lot to it, but if you could quickly summarize the differences, maybe just quickly run us through how a traditional publishing model works, and how that differs from now the other end of the extreme which is self publishing, where any Joe Schmo can just type up an Ebook and publish it on Amazon, and then how you guys are sort of in the middle somewhere, right?
Tucker: You’re exactly right. There’s a long … It’s a very deep, complicated, weird subject, books are. If you go to Book in a Box dot com we have a blog, and there’s a piece that runs you through, in deep detail, what are the three ways to publish? There’s three basic ways. There is traditional publishing, there’s professional publishing, and there’s self publishing, right? Traditional is what most people think of when they think of books. They think of Random House, or Simon and Schuster, or the big companies, right?
Professional is sort of those companies in between, like us. Like Book in a Box. There’s a bunch of other companies of varying degrees of quality, that basically assist you with your publishing. Then self is essentially when you just do it all yourself. Right? I’m kind of glossing over categories, but those are the three basic breakdowns.
There’s really only two things you need to think about, or two things that differ. Who owns your book, and who does the work of creating the book?
Tucker: In traditional publishing, they completely own your book. They give you an advance usually, not always but usually. Then they own the rights. You can’t give it away free. You can’t excerpt it and use it on your blog, none of that stuff without their permission. They own it. Then, in most cases, they do the work of publishing it. They used to do work in marketing, they don’t anymore. Really, what’s happening is you’re essentially giving them ownership in exchange for a little bit of upfront money, then the status and prestige that you perceive that they have, that most people just don’t care about anymore. That was definitely true twenty, thirty years ago, that they had a lot of status and prestige, but now it kind of just isn’t true any more.
The middle option, which is professional publishing, you own … It kind of varies, but with us, your book, you own it fully. If you want to give it away free, you want to charge a hundred dollars for it, anything you want you can do. Then we do all the work of publishing. Not just we help you write it, and we help you publish it. All you’re doing is paying us for our service, right? There are other companies that will take some ownership, and will do less of the work. It kind of varies. You have to be very specific with the company. Like Benbella is an example, or there’s plenty of other companies, that for varying … Either they will take a little bit of ownership and they’ll do some of the work, or not … They’ll do some degree.
We’re kind of at the extreme, we do all of the work and we give you all of the ownership, and you pay us.
Jay: Right. With traditional publishing, when you … Let’s talk economics real quick. When you say that they own almost everything, literally, what percentage of royalty does the author actually get.
Tucker: Even more important than royalty, they own the rights. You cannot … This cannot be printed or reproduced in any form without their explicit permission.
Tucker: The royalties, in America, the royalties are very common. The author gets 15% of hardcover, 7.5% of paperback.
Jay: Does the advance … That’s separate from the advance. Advance gets …
Tucker: That’s separate from the advance. The advance is basically they give you money. You can think of it like an interest free loan that you don’t ever have to pay back. Then any sales are credited against the advance until you outsell it. For example, if you get a hundred thousand dollar advance, you’re not going to get any money from book sales until your royalties are in excess of a hundred thousand dollars.
Jay: You’re at 15% you mean?
Jay: Oh well. Okay, you have to sell three quarters of a million …
Tucker: A lot of books.
Tucker: Tens of thousands of copies, if not hundreds of thousands.
Jay: Wow. It’s pretty bad economics for the author. You definitely … Right. Okay. With Book in a Box, it’s basically a fee that you pay to Book in a Box, and you own everything, and you keep whatever less the, I guess, the printing and Amazon costs that are associated?
Tucker: You keep all the profit, yeah, of course. You keep all the profit. Here’s something a lot of people don’t even consider. When you own the rights … With us, you have the final creative say. In your book, we’re going to tell you what we think the cover should be, or we think a good look is, but you get to decide what the cover is, what’s in the book, what the name of the book is. You made the final decision on all of those, Jay. If you were with a traditional publisher, you don’t make the final decision, they make the final decision, because they own the rights. If they wanted to call your book, Jay Kim Stinks, they could. They couldn’t, because that would be stupid, but they could absolutely call it that. They could make the cover something you hate. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, actually.
Jay: Right. As someone who has gone through that side of things, here’s a question for you Tucker. Is there a hierarchy so to speak, within even traditional publishing, where people look down on people that use ghostwriters versus … There must be some sort of unspoken hierarchy, right?
Tucker: Yeah, I mean, it kind of depends. People who are professional writers, like I used to be? That group of people … It’s like, every group of people thinks that their group is the best, you know? The story I told at the beginning of the show about how I looked down on Melissa because she was asking me to figure this process out, it’s embarrassing for me to admit it, but that’s the normal attitude for writers. Most writers aren’t embarrassed by that. They think if your fingers aren’t the ones touching the keyboard, you are somehow invalid. Right? But then when you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense. The greatest thinkers in western history did not write down the words. What they did is they came up with the ideas. That’s what matters.
Tucker: Who came up with the ideas, and how well did you articulate those ideas, is what matters.
For example, Martin Luther King was a great example. He didn’t write any books. He was an amazing public speaker, and had amazing ideas. His ideas inspired a lot of people to write a lot of things. No one would ever say Martin Luther King is not one of the most influential, beautiful thinkers of this century, right? Just because he didn’t write stuff down. That doesn’t make any sense. Same with Socrates, same with Jesus, same with whatever. It’s just that any group is going to try and make what they do special to try and make themselves feel better. I ended up rejecting that, I thought it was total BS.
Just like people in publishing will tell you, “If your book isn’t published by us, then it’s not valid.” Basically is what they’ll say. Which doesn’t make any sense. You look at the last ten years, some of the most, the bestselling, most influential, most important books are self published. James Altucher sold millions of self published books. Hugh Howey, Amanda Hawking, my God, 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades of Grey sold five million copies before E.L. James basically sold it to a publishing company, right?
I don’t like that book, I think it’s terrible, but a hundred million women disagreed with me. You know? Clearly I’m wrong about that.
Tucker: The idea that … If you look at books and ideas as a social signaling mechanism, I think that’s what’s invalid. I think what you should be worrying about is what do you have to say. Not who chose you. In fact, what I tell people now … It used to be that self publishing was considered vanity press, like if you couldn’t get selected by publishers, you had to go pay someone to get published. That was before the internet existed, right? That was like in the 80s and early 90s. But once the early self publishing companies like Iuniverse and Lulu kind of democratized the press, what you saw was all these amazing ideas start springing up out of self published work. Then you realized, oh wow, there’s all these great voices that are not being picked. Maybe it’s the publishers that are wrong.
Now, the real vanity press is actual traditional publishing. It’s the people who think they have to be picked by Random House to be important. Because their ideas stink, so they need the name of a publisher on their spine to make them look valid.
Jay: Wow, that’s quite interesting. Very interesting that it’s flipped that way. It sounds like there’s no reason whatsoever to actually want to go traditional publishing unless it’s just something like a vanity metric personally, or something that you want to brag about to your friends to say.
Let’s talk about … Obviously economics wise, it doesn’t make sense to go that direction, either. Now lets talk about, how you make money writing a book. Because I think a lot of people have a misconception about this as well.
Tucker: Yeah. The narrative that most people think in terms of making money from a book is, “I have to sell a lot of copies.” People … I know you know this, Jay. But I hope your listeners can learn if they don’t know this. We live in the 21st century now. If you can make a copy of something for free, then it is not going to be where you can make money. That is a fact. That is a axiom of the digital economy, is that copies are free. If you’ve got a book out there, and you’re selling a few thousand copies a year, or whatever, great, good for you, milk that cow while it’s still alive. But that cow is dying.
The way you make money from books now, the smart way, is to use the book as a multipurpose marketing tool to market something else. For example you can use the book to get you speaking gigs, which tend to pay a lot for some people. Or consulting gigs, or coaching gigs. Or it can drive leads to your business. There’s a hundred things you can do that can help you establish authority, credibility. It can share your ideas to bring people to you. For some reason or another, that you can then generate revenue off of.
Basically, look at a book as one of the best marketing tools possible, then figure out how to use it to make money. Does that make sense?
Jay: Yes, absolutely. I think it makes sense if you have, if it’s just a, like you said, marketing tool or business card, you like to say it’s the new business card, right? It’s like an ancillary marketing tool of your core business that will drive revenue to your core business, and get you speaking gigs, or open other doors for you. It certainly builds credibility when you have a book. It could be something very niche, in a very niche segment that only you and a handful of others know about.
Tucker: Absolutely, the more niche the better, Jay.
Jay: Yeah, okay.
Tucker: I’ll explain why. Here’s the thing. If you want to be a famous self help guru, good luck. You’re competing against, now you’re competing against Tony Robbins, and Dale Carnegie, and Tim Ferriss. You’re competing against the titans now, right? But if you want to be the self help guru to pregnant women living in Hong Kong, right? You’ve got no competition.
Tucker: There’s probably a lot of pregnant … I’m assuming, I don’t know, but there’s probably a lot of pregnant women in Hong Kong. But if you’re going to be the woman who teaches pregnant women … You take all the stuff that pregnant women should be doing and you make it specific to Hong Kong, like these are the five doctors you need to see, these are the three places to avoid, these are the five midwives I would recommend, these are whatever, right?
Now, every pregnant woman in Hong Kong, instead of going to some international person, you know, Tony Robbins or some woman who is famous for helping pregnant women all around the world, like doctor Spock or whatever, you go to this woman because she speaks to you specifically. She helps you, she knows you who you are.
Tucker: So many of our authors, what we do is we recommend that they try and position their book wide, cause they want to impact the most number of people. They want to go wide and shallow, but what they end up doing is go narrow and deep. That ends up helping them substantially more than trying to hit everybody. Almost no one has something to say to everybody. But almost everyone has something important to say to a small number of people.
Jay: That’s right, absolutely. You hit the nail on the head there. Okay, all right.
Let’s say miss female, Miss Hong Kong Tony Robbins is sold, she’s like, “Okay, Tucker. I want to write a book. I want to reach my audience of 200 Hong Kong pregnant women, and I want to make an impact. Let’s go, let’s sign up with Book in a Box.” Let’s go, let’s walk through exactly what the steps are, because I want the audience to actually know just how easy the process was for me, personally. Can you just walk us through how that works?
Tucker: Yes. Basically, just to let your viewers know, you guys can go to Book in a Box dot com slash book, and you can actually put in your email address and we’ll send you a copy of our book for free, which kind of details our entire process. Cause you can do it yourself. We charge 25 grand as sort of the base price now, so it’s expensive, but you can do this yourself just as easily. Not just as easily, but you can do it yourself.
Basically, we start by positioning your book first. What we do is, we begin by asking you questions. There’s three main questions to understand when you’re starting a book. Why are you writing this book? Meaning what result do you personally want to get, meaning what’s the thing that your ROI. The thing, not for the reader, for you. You’ve got to understand what you’re looking for first. Then you need to understand what audience you have to reach to get that. Then you have to understand what you have to say that’s relevant to your audience.
If you want to be the self help person for Hong Kong pregnant women right, then understand the first thing, why are you doing that? Because you want to coach and consult and sell products, and build a business around serving those people. That’s your goal, right? The audience are women who are pregnant in Hong Kong. What you have to say is, essentially I’m just kind of spitballing here, you’re kind repackaging all of the best pregnancy advice in a way that is specifically relevant to women living in a ten mile radiance, or I guess less in Hong Kong’s case, right?
Now you understand, now you have positioning for your book. Now you know what your book is, how you’re trying to say, who you’re trying to reach. We start there, then from there we help you build a structure, what exactly are you going to say, and then we build an outline. You’re not doing anything. In this case, if you’re a client of ours, except you’re on the phone with us. We’re interviewing you. We have a pretty specific way we that we go about asking these questions. It’s almost like an algorithm. For you as an author, all you do is answer questions and talk about what you know. For us on the back end, we use all your answers to kind of build up first the positioning, then the structure, then the outline.
What we end up with is about a fifty to twenty page outline that details exactly what’s going to be in the book. It’s the architecture for the book. From that point, you look at it, you approve it, then we move on. Then someone else, we bring a different person in, someone who is very skilled interviewer, usually a journalist, and they interview you off of that outline. Right? They get everything out of your head, everything you have to say about all of the subjects in your book. That usually is about maybe five, six, seven calls, about an hour and a half, two hours a piece. We record all those calls. We then get that recording transcribed. Then that same interviewer, also a writer, they essentially edit that transcription into book prose. It usually takes a couple rounds, but their job is to end up with a book that is completely your ideas, that is all in your words, and in your voice.
Tucker: Cause we don’t shit about pregnant women in Hong Kong, or how to sell tractors in Nebraska, or any of these things that we do books on. But we do know is how to structure information, how to create a book, and how to write.
You come out of this with a book that is everything you’re trying to say in your voice, but you didn’t have to sit at the computer and type it out.
Jay: Right. There’s a percentage of people that might not have the expertise that’s necessary. That’s another thing that you have to suss out during the initial round, right, of interview?
Tucker: Right. Our process does not work if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Cause we don’t add content. That’s really the essential thing that makes us different than ghostwriting, is we’re not adding content, and we’re not adding ideas. These are your ideas, and your content.
Okay. I went through the process. It was very quick, very streamlined.
I think the outlining part was the hardest part. I think speaking with other authors that have gone sort of traditional, that route, that’s the hardest part, is actually setting up the framework for it. Once that structure is in place, filling in the blanks is usually much quicker.
Tucker: It is, that’s exactly right.
Jay: Then so, what happens after that?
Tucker: Then we do all the publishing. We kind of guide you through process, although we do all the work. We do the interior layout, the book design, then we do the book cover. We have a whole process where we put you through, you tell us the book covers you like, the designs you like, the ideas you have, we come back with three to five comparative covers you can look at. You give notes, we go back and forth on that. We do all of this sort of marketing materials, surrounding the book. Your author bio, your picture, the book description. Everything that you need, so that your book looks and feels professional, we do all of that.
Then we do all of the distribution. We upload it on Amazon, Ibooks. We make it available on Ingram, which is the big book database that all the bookstores order from, Barnes and Noble, etc, so that anyone can order it. Then we do a little bit of marketing on the release, and it’s good to know. It goes out into the world.
Jay: That’s awesome. Personally, the thing that I liked about it as well, is that during the editing process, and sort of the follow up with the book covers and stuff like that, as the author you can be as involved as you want to be. I guess some authors are very hands off, and they’re kind of like, “I got the idea done, I’m out. I’m busy, I can have other things to do.” Other authors, I believe, would want to get more involved. That’s the case with me, my experience was I really sat down with the editor and I went back and forth. They were great, very patient with me. Making amendments after amendments, and edits after edits. We did three or four rounds of covers.
I’m pretty anal, so you might have heard from your guys that I was a pain in the ass. But in the end, it came out great, so I was very happy with the finished product. Yeah, I’m excited for it all to come to fruition. Thank you for your help with that Tucker. I appreciate it.
Tucker: Of course, man. It’s our pleasure, it’s our job.
Jay: Thank you for being on the show. Last couple questions, Tucker. Thank you for explaining the process and educating our audience. I’m pretty happy that you get to come on and share this. What do you guys have in store for Book in a Box in 2017, what sort of goals do you have for your company?
Tucker: Man. Right now our job is growing. Now we’re really in the scaling phase, where we’ve got so much work to do. We’ve got a lot … We could be doing probably 100 books a month, like the demand is out there at least for that, maybe two or three or more times that. But we just don’t have the structure for that yet, so we’re kind of building structure to take on a lot more work. Then not just maintain quality, but ideally we’d like a structure that actually improves as it gets bigger. Which is hard to build, but doable. Then we’re also going to start expanding into other sort of fields. At this point, we’ve worked with 450 plus authors, and a lot of them want more than books. They want blog posts, they want video stuff, they want podcasts, they want all these other things. We’re going to start rolling out these other offerings. Kind of slow at first, with a few people, then just build and build and build.
Our goal is eventually to be the company that anyone comes to to turn their ideas into finished media products. If you want to start a podcast, or write a book, or do whatever, you’re going to have two options. Either you do it yourself, which is always available. I guess three options. You either do it yourself. You go try and find people to help you, and hire them and manage them, which is a huge pain in the ass, or you just come pay us, and we do all the work to turn your ideas into finished products.
Jay: In a box.
Jay: Awesome. Where is the best place my audience can find you, connect with you, maybe learn a little more about Book in a Box, and get that book that you said that you’re giving away.
Tucker: Yeah, it’s probably just Book in a Box dot com. Book in a box dot com slash book should give the book away, then the site, the site’s pretty good, pretty comprehensive. Has everything people should need in there.
Jay: Right. Thanks so much Tucker. Really appreciate you coming on the show, excited for the book launch.
Tucker: Definitely, thank you man. Thanks for having me.
Jay: All right, take care.
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