Book Launches Are Messy

Our new Bard Press title The Gift of Struggle by Bobby Herrera published two weeks ago and I got a wonderful reminder: book launches are messy.

Most people just skip right to the declaration that their book is a national bestseller. They want to show momentum and excitement. They want to show social proof of the thousands who purchased it and lead more people to buy the book.

In our opening week, we sold enough copies to be the #10 business book in America.

But here is the thing: we didn’t make any list.

There are several lists that matter. Each list has different rules. If I tried to explain it all, I’d still be writing about it in my newsletter for the next three months.

We knew the rules and we worked to do our best to accommodate the different requirements, but as I said book launches are messy.

We thought our one chance to make the bestseller run was in the first week on sale. There were a few events with book sales leading into the opening week. Bobby did his work to reach out to his network to support the launch (and they did). He did interviews and podcasts. His company supported the book, even making trips to stores to see the book and shared on social media. We had great support from our retail partners—15,000 books across over 1000 stores—to bring organic sales that opening week. To hedge our bets, we worked with our distributor to meter shipments to retailers, so no one could ship or stock the book early and report sales before our publication week.

On a big launch like this, there are so many pieces and parties involved. It’s really hard to make everything go right. In our case, books arrived late into stores at one retailer. A promotion didn’t come through at another. Orders were sold the week before the book’s first week. Others were delayed and sold the following week. We just didn’t have much wiggle room on the sales we needed to make the list and make everything work with the rules.

I feel like it is important to say I believe in those rules and fully accept that we didn’t make it. For a long time, it has been easy for authors with deep pockets to buy their way onto the bestseller list. Some of the other rules are more like editorial choice. Those can be harder to swallow but I accept most of those too.

My friends in publishing I am sure are shaking their heads in acknowledgement, thinking back on those campaigns that got close. For authors in this audience, publishing has lots of moving parts and you can’t plan enough. For everyone else, call this a small view into the work it takes to launch a book in the marketplace.

We had a great opening week for The Gift of Struggle, but it might be hard to see. I am proud of Bobby, the team at Populus Group, our account reps at National Book Network and the other partners big and small who have helped deliver this book into the world. I also need to thank my business partner Ray Bard for giving this book an extra push through his counsel and commercial reach with Bard Press.

The Gift of Struggle is a special book. I hope you’ll check it out.

The Next Step – Bard Press

In 2004, I went to my first Book Expo, the yearly convention for booksellers. The event still serves as the milestone in the calendar where publishers launch their new titles for the upcoming fall and holiday seasons (these days less than what it was then).

I’d only been working with 800-CEO-READ for a couple months at that point and I was lucky. That year BEA was held in Chicago, only 90 minutes from our headquarters in Milwaukee. The proximity gave me an opportunity to get a close-up of the industry. 

It was special for other reasons too. 800-CEO-READ was a part of the Harry W. Schwartz bookshops and that year David Schwartz, owner and son of the founder, was honored as Bookseller of the Year. David was very ill at that point and couldn’t make the trip. The company chartered a bus for employees, giving the opportunity for many to attend the convention for the first time. The group accepted the award on his behalf. David passed away a few days later. 

Most of the day in Chicago, I followed my client (and soon to be boss) Jack Covert from meeting to meeting. He was booked in 30 minute segments from 9am to 5pm each day of the show – 20 minutes to talk and 10 minutes to walk.

In our race between two publisher meetings that day, we turned a corner and we both heard “Jack!” We stopped. Jack and the gentleman shook hands. “Todd, let me introduce you to Ray Bard.” 

That introduction changed my life.

In the years since, neither Ray or I can point to what got our friendship started. Ray spoke at the 800-CEO-READ author event in one year. He gave Jack and I sound advice on publishing The 100 Best.  When I started attending SXSW Interactive in Austin, we’d have lunch.  Eventually I added a few days to that yearly trip to give us time to talk books, publishing and whatever else came up. 

We’ve helped each other on projects almost as long as we’ve known each other. A time or two, we joked about finding a way to work together on a more consistent basis. That talk got more real last year when I left IT Revolution. For me, I was excited by the opportunity but cautious about anything that could affect our 15 year friendship.

In this month’s note I wanted to share two pieces of news.

First, I have joined Bard Press as Deputy Publisher. Ray and I plan to keep the same approach to the business—publishing one book a year, focusing on helping authors bring their best work to the widest audience of readers possible. In 2020, Bard Press will celebrate its 25th year and our plan is to keep publishing for another twenty-five years. 

The second piece of news is about our first collaboration together. 

On June 3rd, Bard Press will be publishing The Gift of Struggle: Life Changing Lessons About Leading by Bobby Herrera. Bobby shares the leadership lessons he learned from his life growing up in a migrant farming family, serving in the U.S. Army and building a successful career in business. Bobby co-founded Populus Group in 2002 around the core idea that everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed. 

Ray and I believe this book serves that same mission by showing, as Bobby says, “struggle is the most honest and revealing measure of progress towards the leader you desire to be.”

The book is available now for preorder in print and ebook.  The audiobook, narrated by Bobby. will publish the week of June 3rd.

If you would like to find out more about The Gift of Struggle, there is a three chapter excerpt you can download here

P.S. I will be in New York City from May 27th to June 1st for BookExpo 2019. If you are going to be at the show, stop by the Bard Press booth. If we should meet up, drop me a note.

We’ve Changed The Books We’re Reading

The books we read for business are not really about business anymore.

Consider these titles:

  • The One Minute Manager
  • In Search of Excellence
  • MegaTrends
  • Positioning
  • Guerilla Marketing
  • Influence
  • The Goal
  • Competitive Advantage
  • The E-Myth
  • Out of the Crisis
  • Leading Change

All these books represent the class of business books that were published in the 1980’s. The first three titles on the list were all published in 1982 and kicked off a new trend of accessible mainstream business books. Forty years later, we are still impacted by their insights into small business, marketing, strategy, operations and change management. The mental models these books created exist now in job titles, commonly used vocabulary and a host of other thoughts about how we think the business world works.

Now consider this list:

  • StrengthsFinders 2.0
  • Stumbling on Happiness
  • Made To Stick
  • Four Hour Work Week
  • Start With Why
  • Gifts of Imperfection
  • Lean Startup
  • Quiet
  • Lean In
  • The One Thing
  • The Power of Habit
  • Extreme Ownership
  • Grit

These are the high impact books of the last ten years. These books represent a pool of advice wholly different from their late 20th century predecessors. They center around the individual with emphasis on meaning, power, motivation, and self-awareness.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson might be the prototypical book for this shifted emphasis. The book was published in 2010 and it advocated for a new set of work practices. The book questioned everything the 20th century organizational business book extolled.  The value of growth, planning, work ethic, and meetings are all reframed. Good is the enemy of great says Jim Collins; good is good enough says these authors. “Hire managers of one,” they say.

For me, the popularity of these books is based in work, in the general sense of the word—”an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” We have more responsibility than ever for our own output and our own success. Our slash careers having us freelancing, moonlighting, organizing, or leading in formal and informal settings.

For the last several years, readers have told me they choose books that can have an impact across multiple aspects of their lives. They are trying to be more efficient with that time. The advice of productivity experts supports a spiritual practice. Deep research from social work informs their creativity and parenting. Entrepreneurship impacts corporate R&D and community crowdfunding. These books give us an opportunity to be more effective in areas of our life inside and outside of the office.

There will always be books about business, but observing this shift in the books we read tells us how work has changed and the growing desire we all have to improve the work we do.

#YEARINREVIEW 2018

In 2010, Seth Godin asked people to make a list of what they shipped. I did the exercise in 2010, 20122013,  20142015, 2016, and 2017. I have come to believe that this is a important exercise, especially for entrepreneuers to see what they have accomplished.

2018 felt like a reset year for me.

In April, I stepped out of my role at IT Revolution, something I had been involved with since 2013. It took me some time to get figure how to spend my time. Walking away from something that was a significant chunk of my life and professional identity made it feel like I didn’t accomplish much this year.

And then I started making this list and it proved yet again why it is such a good exercise.

What did I ship this year?

  • Published a completely updated version of Every Book Is A Startup.
  • Started a networking group for book publishing professionals in Portland. We met four times throughout the year.
  • Worked with three authors on their book projects.
  • Helped my wife Amy move into and open her new office for Silver Mountain Health.
  • I posted a series of 40-ish blog posts to test what it was like writing with that frequency again.
  • I started a podcast called Better Books and posted three episodes.
  • Signed the next author I’ll be publishing in 2019.
  • Walked 12.5 miles from my house to Dharma Rain Zen Center on an early morning to mark the opening of our Fall Ango training period.
  • I sat for my first week-long meditation retreat at Dharma Rain. I also sat for two other four day retreats.
  • Celebrated a company I helped start got sold to Google.

 

Art and Business

Jessica Lessin wrote an interesting bit in The Information‘s newsletter last Saturday.  I couldn’t find a link to the piece online, so I am including the whole excerpt below.  Jessica’s riff is the kind of piece that I love, because it is a universal struggle told through the tech lens of Silicon Valley.

In the past few weeks, as some of the Valley’s most mature internet companies have faced crisis after crisis, there’s been a theme circulating that these companies, and Facebook in particular, has lost their product way.

This chatter peaked when journalists and others suggested that Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom should run Facebook, in part, because he’s a fabulous product leader.

It’s an oh-so-familiar theme in the Valley where every VC and entrepreneur you meet will tell you “product wins” and that the quickest way to a $1 billion—or $1 trillion—business is to have your finger on the product pulse. It’s the core tenant of the myth that anyone with the right ah-ha moment in the shower can change the world and become rich in Silicon Valley. All you need is product mojo, and when it’s gone, you’re toast.

There is some truth to this. No one can build a successful company without a product that people want to use. But that product isn’t ultimately why they win—why they become Facebooks or Googles or Microsofts. It’s the systems they build to scale those products and the relentless way they fine-tune those products to maximize their business that ultimately crowns them.

It’s some luck—but mostly execution.

Google didn’t become Google because it built the perfect search experience. It became a $775 billion company because it figured out how to distribute and tune a superior search algorithm and use the cash that spewed off of it to acquire businesses like YouTube, DoubleClick, startups that formed the basis of Google Maps, and Android. Then it used the same system of great engineering and hyper-data-driven refinements to turn those products into global hits too.

Facebook’s detractors like to say that despite its success, it has only created one product: newsfeed, based on the once-novel idea that people wanted to be entertained with a stream of updates from people, businesses and publishers. I see it differently. Facebook’s leaders had excellent instincts in creating newsfeed but their talents were in scaling it and refining it endlessly so that people spend hours a day on it.

Criticizing Facebook as a “one-trick pony” fundamentally misses why it is Facebook. Also, if these companies were special because of their magic touch, why would they have long laundry lists of failures from Paper to Google+?

The product spark myth has been deeply entrenched through companies’ founding stories. Why? Because it makes their leaders seem superhuman. And who wants to work for a mere human?

Remember when you couldn’t read a story about Uber that didn’t mention that one fated Paris evening when the soon-to-be founders realized: “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could get a limo with the press of a button?” But Uber isn’t Uber because of that evening. Plenty of other entrepreneurs had the same idea. Uber just hustled its way to a bigger network of drivers, faster.

I am sure I am going to hear from many subscribers this morning telling me how wrong I am and that I just don’t “get it” because I am not a product person. (I am not, by the way, by either definition of the term. But I do work with some wonderful ones.)

But I hope that I can convince at least some people to change their minds about what makes great technology companies great.

The product-as-genius myth creates false hope for companies that seem just one good product idea away from a turnaround. (Snap comes to mind at the moment.)

More importantly, it perpetuates Silicon Valley exceptionalism—the idea that tech companies aren’t like other companies. This mentality has created the blind spots around privacy, safety, and content responsibility that are coming back to haunt Facebook, Google, Twitter and many more.

So now would be a great time to abandon the notion and admit that Silicon Valley is great because of the people whose ideas and efforts scale and grow great products. In other words, tech companies are just like every other company.

Please dear authors, Jessica is right. Always remember – you need a good idea AND you need to be able to build on that idea. Daily effort, insight and some luck give us the opportunity to be next to good ideas as they arise. Daily effort, building an audience, and scaling your work creates traction. You need both to create bestsellers.

The Two Objectives

Beowulf Sheehan oftens takes photographs of writers. He wrote an article for Literary Hub about what he learned from taking pictures of that cadre.

Sheehan mentions advice he got from fellow photographer Nigel Parry:

 “With each shoot, make the picture the client needs and, if you can, the picture you want.”

That is wise advice in many circumstances.

In particular, authors should do the same with the books they write.

Figure out what the reader needs and, if you can, write the book you want.

Michael Schrage – Author of Innovator’s Hypothesis (Better Books Podcast – Episode Three)

Better Books Podcast Tile EP3

In this episode, I talk with Michael Schrage about designing customers and running experiments in the world of book publishing.

Michael Schrage is a visiting fellow at MIT and the author of several books including Who do you want your customers to become? and The Innovator’s Hypothesis.

In the first half of the interview, we talk about an better way to think about customers and why cheap experiments are than good ideas. In the latter half, we apply these ideas to readers, authors and the world of book publishing.

Enjoy!

Books By Michael Schrage:

Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?

The Innovator’s Hypothesis: How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More than Good Ideas

10 Networking Questions That Work Every Time

You will find this list and lots of other amazing advice in Endless Referrals by Bob Burg.
  1. How did you get your start in the widget business?
  2. What do you enjoy most about your profession?
  3. What separates you and your company from the competition? (permission to brag)
  4. What advice would you give someone just starting in the widget business? (the mentor question)
  5. What one thing would you do with your business if you knew you could not fail?
  6. What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession through the years?
  7. What do you see as the coming trends in the widget business?
  8. Describe the strangest or funniest incident you have experienced in your business.
  9. What ways have you found to be the most effective for promoting your business?
  10. What one sentence would you like people to use in describing the way you do business?
AND…
How can I know if someone I am speaking to is a good prospect for you?

Tips for Better Titles

  1. The title needs to clearly describe what the book is about – I know this sounds obvious. And It is! Yet, too many books fail this most basic test. Clarity is the most important quality for a book title. Most books never get picked up because the reader doesn’t know what the book is about. So, avoid jargon and made up words. And yes, Freakonomics is a made up word but we immediately know what the authors mean.
  2. Great book titles signal the change – Good To Great. Getting Things Done. Daring Greatly. Lean In. There is no question what is going to be different after you are done reading the book. These are very direct routes to the change.
  3. Great book titles signal positive change – Books are paper devices filled with hope.
  4. Subtitles deliver the promise – If titles are about being clear, then subtitles are about making promises. What is the reader going to get? This is the So What? of the pitch.
  5. Never repeat words in both the title and the subtitle – Use different words to create variety and add more meaning.
  6. The best titles use three word or less– We are all lazy and don’t like to remember long titles. And if there is a long title, the public will shortened it anyway. And this rule is primarily for non-fiction; other genres follow different conventions
  7. Use an odd number of syllables – Titles sound better ending on a downbeat. Try it. 90% of your favorite titles will have 3, 5 or 7 syllables.

Books Can Change Form

They can become:

  • Recorded as An Audiobook
  • Rejacketed with a New Cover for a Special Audience
  • Shortened into A Book Summary
  • Lengthened into A Trilogy
  • Translated into other languages
  • Composed as an FAQ
  • Adapted as A Graphic Novel
  • Shot as A Video
  •  Laid out as A Magazine
  • Published as A Newspaper
  • Divided out onto A Deck of Cards
  • Released as An App
  • Extended into A Workbook
  • Constructed as An Assessment
  • Illustrated as A Poster
  • Printed as A T-Shirt
  • Die-cast as A Pin
  • Converted into A Training Class
  • Presented As A Slidedeck
  • Delivered as A Speech
  • Scripted into A Movie
  • Staged as A Musical [it sounds crazy until you say Hamilton]
  • Coded as Software
  • Made Into Other Art
  • Molded as Vinyl Dolls
  • Shipped In A Milk Carton [also sound crazy until you read Seth Godin’s story]

Eyes and Ears

Colbert-Gladwell

I was watching a segment from The Stephen Colbert Show, where Malcolm Gladwell visits to promote the launch of his podcast Revisionist History. Colbert asks him why he wanted to create a podcast and Gladwell replies:

This is what my friend Charles always says, ‘You think with your eyes and you feel with your ears.’

After a quick Colbert joke he continues:

If you write a book, you can communicate very complicated ideas and people will grasp them, but you can’t move people emotionally…it is very hard.

The whole segment is great, but it kicked off me thinking a bunch of things.

  • How true is that? Memoir is a pretty effective at generating emotion and connection in readers.
  • This American Life, The Moth, RadioLab, WTF and Revisionist History all generate emotion with their amazing auditory storytelling.
  • Aren’t photographs good at conveying emotion visually?
  • Does this push even further towards the power of having the author narrate their audiobooks?
  • Should books and audiobooks have the same content?

I am convinced that good books draw us in using both thinking and feeling, but now I am thinking about what makes one form working better than another for certain kind of material.

Lucky Number Seven

In the final weeks of being seventeen, I moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to start college as a mechanical engineering undergrad.

In the final weeks of being twenty-seven, I was working on the last details of my wedding in Columbus, Ohio.

By thirty-seven, we were living outside Milwaukee, had three kids and I was turning in the manuscript for The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.

Today, I turned forty-seven. This last decade has been defined by our move to Portland, Oregon. Amy went back to school, graduated and started her energy medicine practice. Our kids grew up here. I started a publishing practice. I started a zen practice.

Been wondering today what I’ll be writing when I turn fifty-seven.

Noticing What You Read

A few months ago, I noticed the songs I listen to give a view into how I am seeing the world. For a long time, I loved a good song about self-doubt. Lately the mix has been around positivity and growth. It’s interesting seeing myself drawn unconsciously to music ahead of the work I need to do in my life.

That insight about my listening habits lead me to look around at other parts of my life and what clues might be hiding in plain sight.

With my reading lately, I didn’t notice how much I was reading female authors. There was no plan for this curation, but it is again interesting to see.

Among recent reads are:

  • Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin – A recent NYT article pointed me to the book and its update this year.  The book does a fine job of talking about managing your money and managing the emotions that arise. Both matter.
  • Powerful by Patty McCord – As the former Head of People at Netflix, Patty had a front row seat for the growth and amazing change at the entertainment giant. I believe this is the first book from an executive at Netflix and you get a view into the company.
  • Advice for Future Corpses by Sallie Tisdale – You may not want to read a book about death, but you should. Sallie is a great writer.
  • Business of Being A Writer by Jane Friedman – So much has changed about being a writer and how to pursue it as a profession. Jane’s book is dense with wonderful advice.
  • Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski – This is the best book I have ever read about sex. It’s not scintillating or racy. It covers the biology, the physiology, and the psychology in a positive, clear way.
  •  Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat – A wonderfully different approach to cooking and the book is beautiful.
  • Pencil Me In by Christina Wodtke – I have never met a sketch note / visual thinking book I didn’t like.  This book is a wonderful compilation of original and complied material from other experts.

Have you noticed anything in what you have been reading lately?

Branding The Books of An Author

Visuals play an important part of the presentation of books.

One of the interesting problems is how you handle an author with multiple books.

There are advantages to readers being able to recognize titles from a given authority, but that can also introduce a symmetry which makes the books seems like copies of one another.

I noticed recently that Tor chose to rebrand all the books by Cory Doctorow. I honestly can’t decide if I like the decision or not. I remember the books by their original covers and I like these too.

CoryDoctorowStaehleDesigns

Here is the catalog of books from Pat Lencioni.

Books___The_Table_Group

The covers are smaller here but you can see how across the room you can identify his books.

My designer Joy pointed me to Marilynne Robinson’s books and how they have pulled them together. The balance of difference and sameness feels best to me in this series. The typography creates consistency but its placement and the images makes them feel like different books.

robinson series

So, this is just three examples. Cover consistency is an interesting question because there is no magic answer, but it is interesting to see how different publishers approach it.

The Mary Roach Approach

Mary Roach writes books about the science of being human.

The titles are one word and each offers a hint of humor.

Early in her career, she was a copywriter and then worked in PR for the San Francisco Zoo. As a freelance writer, Mary found the stories about science were always interesting.  For the books she writes, she looks for a combination of science, history and humor. She also says she had no idea she’d have a career writing about science.

What can we learn?

  • The titles are crystal clear and memorable.
  • Each topic of each book is universally human and a little surprising.
  • The utility the reader gets is entertainment for the curious mind.
  • The books she writes are uniquely her. Do same in your books.

Bonus: Mary visits with AV Club and talks about one syllable book titles.