I’ve Been Thinking… #19

Thinking and walking is what I have been doing…

To stay sane over the last 16 months, I started walking every day. Our house sits on one of the walking trails in southwest Portland and, not far, there is a small park that contains a tree-filled ravine. Round trip, the walk is about one and a quarter miles along a hilly path. Most days, someone joins me. Some days, I walk alone. Some Saturdays, we’d get ambitious. One weekend, it was a drive out to Klickitat Trail in Washington. A few weeks ago, we left early in the morning to explore Ecola State Park on the Oregon coast during one of the lowest tides of the year. All the walks made the world seem a little bigger. 

As the current shift in the US around COVID, I have labored to keep the walking habit and get out even more. There is a larger network of urban trails that run through our city quadrant. The trails connect parks, paths through side yards, and neighborhood streets. The trails are marked with brown signs with a hiker and the trail number. You see them sometimes if you pay close attention driving through a neighborhood or walking through a larger park. 

I decided to walk all of the SW Trails this summer. My son Zach took up the challenge with me. They range between 4 and 10 miles in length with 500 to 1000 feet of elevation change.

We walked on Saturday mornings when it is cool and the sun is low in the sky. We run into people on various sections of hikes but we have yet to cross paths with someone truly hiking the trail we are on. So far, we’ve walked Trails 3, 4, 5, and 7. Trail 1 is next and we’ll end with Trail 6  that runs from Goose Hollow in downtown Portland, south 10.6 miles, to Lake Oswego. 

Changes at Bard Press

There has been a lot going on behind the scenes at Bard Press over the last several months. It was the kind of work that was interesting and important but couldn’t talk about publicly until recently.  

The first piece was our decision to move our sales and distribution to Two Rivers, a part of Ingram Publisher Services, the second largest book distributor in the US. We’ll be distributed alongside Harvard Business Review Press, Plata Publishing, the publisher of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, The New Press, Spiegel & Grau, and Molly Stern’s new publishing house Zando.    

We have also been working on the future of Bard Press itself.  In addition to my current role as publisher, I will become the owner and operator of Bard Press in September. We’ll continue to work with all the authors that we have published over the last 25 years and explore new ways to expand the reach of our amazing backlist. I will be announcing new projects in these coming months with our existing authors and new authors to our publishing house.

I am so happy to have reached this point and feel honored to have the opportunity to continue the tradition of publishing amazing books at Bard Press.

2021 Mid-Year Business Book Publishing Review

I mentioned before that most of my writing on book publishing takes place over on the Bard Press website now. Since my last newsletter, I have posted a 2021 Mid-Year Review for the world of business book publishing. 

  1. This year has been a good one for book publishing, with the industry up 21% year-to-date.
  2. Atomic Habits by James Clear is the fastest book to reach a million copies in print sales.
  3. Adam Grant’s Think Again is the breakout business book of 2021, with over 200K copies sold.
  4. Jon Gordon, the author of over twenty five books, managed publish FOUR more in the last 12 months.
  5. If you wanted to read books about Amazon, rather than buy books from Amazon, there has never been a better time. I count six new books published in the last six months.
  6. And four books you might have missed – the new and expanded edition of Robert Cialdini’s Influence, the hardcover edition of The Psychology of Money, The Scout Mindset, and Ask Iwata, the collected writings of the former CEO of Nintendo.

The more detailed version is posted on the Bard Press website.

Reading/Watching/Listening

  • Watched the Season One of For All Mankind on Apple TV. I don’t know why this show isn’t getting more love. Ronald Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame, is helming the series and it is a historical reimagining of the Space Race. So good. We are starting Season Two and reports are that a third season has been ordered.
  • We have also been watching Marvel on Disney+. I feel like each series has been better than the prior one. Loki has been my favorite so far. Falcon Captain America and the Winter Soldier was really good and pushed hard on race like nothing before in the MCU. WandaVision was just OK for me, with the rolling sitcom treatment. Last weekend, we watched Black Widow through their Premier Access. The movie was good with its focus on “family” and gave more insight into what made Natasha a complicated character, both morally and with her fame as an Avenger.
  • I also want to share some love for Raya and the Last Dragon from Disney and Shadow and Bone on Netflix. I have also enjoyed The Playbook on Netflix, which interviews successful sport coaches about the work they do to prepare their players for games.
  • There are SO many books in my To Read pile. I have almost 40 books that I purchased and another 15 books that are checked out from the library.  It’s so bad that I have started a list of “Books I Will Not Read in 2021.” My Not To Read list is a nod to the fact that many of these books caught my attention and I need to record them somewhere, while acknowledging there is no way I will get through all of them.
  • Right now, I am reading The Bhagavad Gita, Leadership On The Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksky  and just started Michael Lewis’ pandemic book The Premonition.
  • My music playlist has been all over the place lately. New releases I would point you toward would be Summer Bird by The National Parks, Nathan Evans’ version of Wellerman (the TikTok remix is amazing), and If Ever by Paula Fuga with Jack Johnson and Ben Harper.

More soon. Take care of yourselves. -T

I’ve Been Thinking… – #18

I have been thinking about Amazon.

1.

This weekend, I was on the retailer’s website, searching for the product page for The ONE Thing. I had gotten advice earlier in the week that there was real value for publishers to add certain elements to the page, because Amazon weighed the inclusion of those elements in their search algorithm. When the page loaded, I noticed a special offer – buy two, save 50% on 1. The marketing copy was a little awkward, but it’s always great to see a Bard Press title included in a promotion like that. I clicked through to see what other titles were included in the promotion, and the results showed 1000 business titles to choose from, along with other items in office products, electronics and home improvement.

The promotion instructions said to put two participating products in your shopping cart and the discount would be automatically added.  I choose Humor, Seriously by Jennifer Aaker and the new edition of Robert Cialinidi’s Influence. In the shopping cart, I could see the promotion reduced the two books’ cost by $9.15. I clicked the ‘Place your order” button and was informed the books will be here tomorrow. I can share the link to the promotion, so you can see what they offered, but the promotion has ended. 

Amazon is always running experiments. Also this weekend, I researched or ran across:

  • A front list title offered for 80% off the retail price – that’s crazy low for a new book. 
  • A book format option called “Print on Demand (Hardcover)” – why call it out?
  • Made for You Custom T-shirt– download the app, take pictures for measurements, and order your custom made shirt
  • They are crowdfunding new products through their Build It program with Day 1 Editions.
  • Prime Wardrobe will pick out clothes for you for a five dollar styling fee and each month send you a selection to choose from – yes, I am going to try it.

2.

For the company that got its start selling books, there have been an amazing number of books written about it in the last two years. Amazon, Think Like Amazon, and Bezonomics are among the books that predate the pandemic. In the last six months the pace has quickened. 

Invent & Wander, edited by Walter Isaacson is a collection of Jeff Bezos’ shareholder letters, speeches, and interviews. Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America by Alec MacGillis, which came out in March, is described as a “a literary investigation of the America that falls within that company’s growing shadow.” Working Backwards is the business book treatment of leadership principles and cultural values by former Amazon executives Colin Bryar and Bill Carr.  And this week Brad Stone’s Amazon Unbound is being released, the sequel to the BusinessWeek reporter’s 2013 book The Everything Store.

If you need more to read, you could subscribe to Tim Carmody’s newsletter Amazon Chronicles by or What Did Amazon Do This Week? written by Paul Armstrong.

3.

Six weeks ago, my daughter and I opened a seller account on Amazon. She wanted a way to earn money and I needed to recover floor space in my office from the overflowing piles of books. Of course, as a book publisher, I was also interested to see if I could learn anything about the used book market by dipping my toe in as a seller.

We did some research before we started and checked what the internet had to say about our new venture.  Non-fiction sells better than fiction. Books with higher sales ranks sell faster, with #500,000 being the lower limit if you want to sell something fast.  We found all of that to be true.

Since the first of April, we’ve shipped over 80 orders and sold almost $1500 in books. Like anything, we had to learn the system. Fees and shipping mean you can’t sell for less than eight or nine dollars. You can buy shipping from Amazon which is great, but they will only sell you shipping methods that meet the promised delivery times. Rather than economical media USPS media mail, you can get locked into Priority Express. Some adjustments to the lead times on our account reduced the need for faster shipping and the higher costs.

I learned that Amazon’s marketplace is robust. We sold books ranging from $6 to $100. Sellers are heavily competing on price—watching each other closely and adjusting continuously. Our buyers tended to live in populous states like New York, Florida, California, and Michigan. We sold through two-thirds of the books we listed in these last six weeks. We also have an equal number of books that we didn’t list because there was too much inventory or the price was too low for it to make sense for us.

4.

I just got done watching The Planets, a 2019 documentary series from NOVA and BBC Earth. I’d started watching it on Amazon Prime during one of the free windows to subscription content. It was so good I spent the $9.99 to buy the series outright. The five episodes were outstanding. My wife and I kept saying “How did we not know that?” The series pulled together 20 years of findings into a fun and informative highlight reel of scientific discovery. Interviews with NASA project managers and scientists were weaved together with imagery and animation from a wide variety of missions to other planets. Loved it.

And of course, if I am talking about Prime, I have to mention The Expanse. The series has been exclusive on Amazon Prime, since they brought the series back from near-death after the cancellation on the Scifi Channel. The Expanse is the best science fiction TV series since the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. They just finished the amazing fifth season and have started filming the sixth and final season of the series.

5.

Thanks for reading this month!

There was a big influx of new folks to the list over the last few months.  

If you are interested in hearing from me and what is going on in my life, you are in the right place.

If you are more interested in book publishing as an industry and my work at Bard Press, I suggest you go check out the Bard Press blog. You can also sign up for Bard Press email updates.

I’ve Been Thinking… – #17

Today, I am 18,000 days old.

I don’t remember exactly what caused me to calculate this. I vaguely remember a “How To Survive 2020” article from early in the summer and its encouragement to shorten the timeframe you were focused on.

The pandemic has shown how foolish we are in thinking we know what will happen next, how strong the illusion that all our plans will unfold and all our goals will be achieved. Our plans never survive first contact with reality, but the needed adjustments are often minor. We forget all the tinkering and how easily the direction of our lives is nudged towards another unknown destination.

I don’t know anyone who is not noticing the adjustments now, all that change that feels like has been forced on us. There is an enormous amount of denial about that change. We seem unable to accept. We cling to being certain, mostly certain that reality is something different that it really is. In times like these, “I don’t know” is a good antidote. Not knowing can be a good place to sit. The tension between ‘what we want’ and ‘what is’ is relieved.

The actuary tables say I have almost exactly 11,000 days left. I turn fifty this year and that is coming with some denial. There is also nostalgia. I want to hold onto things that aren’t true anymore. There are not more days ahead of me than behind me. Maintaining my weight is no longer automatic. My three amazing teenagers will not be here forever.

Right now, I am focusing on today and finishing writing this newsletter. That feels like a good place to sit.

Best of 2020

Last year, I wrote a piece for Medium about the best business books of 2019. I looked at all of the important lists—Financial Times/McKinsey competition, Amazon, Inc. Magazine, Porchlight Books, Strategy + Business Magazine, and Bookpal—to see how much agreement there was between them. Last year, there were three books chosen by five of those six sources. That was some incredible consistency across such a wide range of perspectives. RangeNine Lies About Work and Loonshots are all great titles if you haven’t read them.

Medium invited me back again this year and I am working on the essay for 2020 now. It will be published next week but I thought I could give you a little sneak peak 🙂 There wasn’t the level of consistency that there was last year. One book appeared on four of the six lists and that was No Rules Rules by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and INSEAD professor Erin Meyer. I like this book alot. The book explains the media company’s culture that has propelled them forward as they disrupted their own business multiple times. The teachings are also intriguing because I am not sure they can be easily applied in other places. Hastings and Meyer talk about the convincing upsides and downsides that they knowingly accept.

Four other books were selected by three outlets: No Filter by Sarah Frier, If Then by Jill Lepore, Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire by Rebecca Henderson, and Uncharted by Margaret Heffernan. I’ll have more to say about those in the article.

The Season of Celebration

December is a month full of celebrations. There are almost too many to list: Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day in UK, Omisoka in Japan. You could certainly add the various forms of Thanksgiving and Diwali. I’d like to add one more to your list.

In Buddhist tradition, this week is the most venerated time in the yearly calendar. In Zen, this week is called Rohastu, which literally translates as ‘the 8th day of the 12th month.’ December 8th, which was yesterday, commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment. The story goes that Siddharta sat under the Bodhi Tree for 49 days without moving. On the final night, he finally found the answers he had been searching for most of his life. His insights became the core teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. In temples all over the world, even this year, people are sitting seven day sesshin, in respect to the Buddha’s and their own enlightenment.

In 2017, I visited India and made a trip to Bodhgaya, where the Bodhi Tree is located. I was immediately taken by the place. There were practitioners making their way through 100,000 full prostrations in front of the temple with their kneeling boards and digital counters. Monks were circumambulating the temple, most walking, some one prostration at a time. For most of the week there were several thousand Tibetan monks on the grounds each day chanting.

Before all those ceremonies started, I spent a day sitting under the tree. I didn’t bring Siddharta’s commitment to finding the path. My intention was to just be there and be curious. I watched people chase the precious leaves that fell from the tree. I sat with my teacher for a while. I looked for images to capture with my camera, trying to hold onto the indescribable feeling of devotion and peace that this place held. As I got up to leave, someone walked over to me, smiled, and handed me a leaf.

Last Words

The secret to happiness, of course, is not getting what you want; it’s wanting what you get.”

—Alex Trebek

I’ve Been Thinking… – No. 14

When we read the definitive account of the year 2020, the publisher in me wants a book that opens with the events of July 30th. You could pick any number of other days in this crazed year but I don’t think you will find a single day that encapsulates everything.

At 9AM Eastern Time on that Thursday, the Commerce Department announced that the Gross Domestic Product dropped at a record 9.5% in the second quarter. That was coupled with the news of yet another week with over a million people filing for unemployment. They joined the 30 million that already had. At that point, the historical comparisons start to fail.

The economic impact will be just one effect that people will talk about when they talk about the year that COVID-19 hit. It would be hard for the writer to skip the 150,000 deaths in America due to the coronavirus. During his press conference that day, the President acknowledged the number and the loss of life. That writer might give other examples of the effects like the overall death rate in America and the fact that there were 190,000 more deaths in those prior five months than what’s found in a normal year, eliminating some of the doubt sowed in whether COVID-19 was anything to worry about or how easily it could be fixed.

The writer would address the theme of doubt in 2020. At that same news conference, the President would answer questions about a tweet he sent out earlier in the day, just ahead of the GDP announcement.

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???


Journalists would try to pick the right verb to describe what he was doing in the tweet. Was he floating the idea? Was he suggesting that election be delayed? Maybe it was all a smokescreen for the horrible economic news? Asked directly at the news conference if he proposed delaying the election, he would just cast doubt, saying mail-in balloting won’t work. “Everyone knows it,” the president said, “Smart people know it. Stupid people may not know it. And some people don’t want to talk about it.” The writer might cite all the states that already allowed mail-in ballots, the research that shows it helps neither political party, or the fact that studies showing fraud occurs at less than one in a million mail-in ballots, meaning in a typical election there would be fourteen ballots that were falsified . The writer also might introduce the concept of gaslighting or save it for a later chapter in the book, one based on the corrosive effects that confusion, misdirection, and suspicion had grown to have on American society.

In this imagined book, the author would also write about the national conversation about race in 2020. Pages would be devoted to the shootings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks. The announcement that Breonna Taylor would be appearing on the cover of O magazine, the first time Oprah herself would not, would also be mentioned as having taken place on that day—July 30th.

Portland, my hometown, I imagine would get a mention. The author would write about Black Lives Matter, the sixty nights of local protests, and the response that spun out of control when federal forces arrived. July 30th would again be shown important, because it was the day that federal law enforcement left the city of Portland and that night, peaceful demonstrations returned to the city.

And incredibly, that wasn’t everything that happened that day.

In a day marked by economic strain, a pandemic, questions about an election, protests and even a rocket launch to Mars…in the state of Georgia, they were celebrating the life of Representative John Lewis. The writer would debate if the first chapter only be about the funeral, attended by three past presidents and many members of Congress. It would be easy to recount the speeches made about a man who fought his entire life for the rights of others and how all the speakers alluded to the divisiveness in the country. And how they also struck notes of hope and called for action. From the grave, Lewis called back, seeming to know the stories that would unfold that day.

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

For this book, the rest of the year still needs to write itself, but July 30th, 2020 is a compelling opening. The events of that day show the past, the present, and the future all unfolding together. Whether we admit it or not, this weaving is happening all the time, and in rare moments the intertwining threads become a little more visible and we can see causes and effects in the complicated, myriad ways that the world reveals itself.

I hope someone writes this book; we all need more ways to make sense of what has happened this year.

I’ve Been Thinking…(#13)

Here are some opening words…

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

-James Baldwin

“Why you?”

This is one of the questions readers ask themselves before buying an author’s book.

“Why are you the person to listen to as an authority on this topic?”

Publishers and editors bring a similar lens when they make decisions about signing book projects.

We bring all sorts of biases to that question and we are fooling ourselves if race isn’t one of them.

While black authors are dominating the major bestseller lists right now, there are no black authors on the business book bestseller list this week. Or last week. Not the Top 15. Not in the Top 50. The last book I could find by a black business book author was back in the first week of May. Before that, it was a week in March.

Try this exercise: go to your bookshelves and find the business titles written by black authors.

What did you come back with? Malcolm Gladwell (maybe), and… My guess is that most people will come back empty handed. For me, I had two business books by black authors. That’s crazy and sad.

So, I started a real search for business books by black authors. I checked list after list. The same books came up. I bought all of them. There might be a total of twenty books sitting on the table in my office. Twenty books. That’s it.

A third of the books were biographies and memoirs that aren’t really business books. The next third were self-help titles with authors writing books framed around their experiences. The final third were straight up business books.

So, the sum total of what I could find was seven business books written by black authors. Like I said, that’s crazy and sad.

To successfully publish a business book, you need a combination of expertise and popularity. For the first part, authors need to do the work, think about the work and start to tell people how the work can done better. The works needs to have scale. Do the work at a big organization or for big organizations. Or create big, remarkable things that get noticed.

And then you need an audience. People need to see your work. Write for a newspaper. Host a podcast. Make documentaries. Become a Youtuber. Publish, publish, publish. Give speeches. Host events. Do interviews. Show people your work.

That truth leaves us with a problem.

We might use the fact there are only four black CEOs in Fortune 500 as a proxy for the difficulty that black people have in gaining the business expertise and market awareness needed to publish a successful business book.

This creates a credibility problem for readers. This creates a credibility problem for editors and publishers. This starts to explain the lack of business books by black authors.

I knew there were not many black authors in the business category. The 100 Best Business Books of All Time doesn’t have any black authors. And the honest reality is that if I rewrote it today, it still wouldn’t because there are so few titles to draw from.

Not seeing scope of the problem—the almost complete absence of black authors in business books—is the part gnawing at me. The work that the black community is asking everyone to do right now is to just start looking for the bias and the blind spots you have. I am biased. I have worked in business book publishing for sixteen years and I didn’t see it. There is more to say and do on this.

Today, I am going to start with something simple. This week, there is an effort underway called #BlackoutBestSellerList. The point is to create awareness for black authors and put more authors on the list by encouraging people to buy two books this week by black authors.

If you want to support black authors in the business community, here are four great choices:

  • The Power of Broke by Daymond John – You likely know Daymond John from Shark Tank. He writes his books to push you. He also has written three other books including Display of Power, Rise and Grand, and his latest Powershift. If you want a brand name, buy one of Daymond’s books.
  • Starting Finishing by Charlie Gilkey – Charlie is a close friend and I am a fan of Start Finishing. The book covers all the things that get in the way of doing the work you want to do. Start Finishing is works well for the analytics who want a manual for better productivity and a better life.
  • It’s About Damn Time by Arlan Hamilton – Arlan’s book came out six weeks ago. She is the founder of a venture capital fund dedicated to the “underestimated” women, LBGT+, and people of color founding companies. For me, this book is about possibility and how grit and smarts embodies successful entrepreneurship.
  • Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins – Goggins completed the elite training in every branch of the U.S. military and has gone on to become a multiple world-record holder in endurance athletics. This book is for the drivers who work every day to be their best self.

If my work or the books I have published have helped you, my ask is that you buy one of these books this week.

I hope you are well. Please stay safe. More soon. -Todd

I’ve Been Thinking (#12)…

…about how long it has been since I wrote one of these.

I started to write this back in February. The mood was starting to turn. People were sick in China and Italy. I got preoccupied by all of it. And then I got sick with all the symptoms of COVID-19 at the end of the month. I just thought it was a strong flu. Even then, I was barely connecting my illness to what was happening. At some point, I hope to get a test for antibodies to see if I did get infected early in the cycle.

Right Now

I have found myself struggling to figure out how to respond to everything going on. I finally relied on what has long worked for me: starting reading. This is not the first crisis that I or country or the world has faced. Many, many people have written about the struggle and the hope that is always there.

I collected a set of those thoughts and writings into an ebook called Right Now. It contains less than twenty pages and you can probably read it in about 15 minutes. There is a wide range of perspectives. I hope you will find something that lands with you. You can find the landing page here.

I also want to thank my friend and long-time collaborator Joy Stauber for helping me put this collection into the world. She does amazing work as a designer. You should check out her work.

Trends in Business Books

Another way I have felt that I have been able to help is looking at the business book market and try to make sense of it.

I was already doing market research for authors and around some future projects, when this all hit. I just shifted my focus to start looking at the macro effects.

It’s been rough. Business and self-help sales are down roughly 40%. Launches are seeing less sales and many publishers are pushing their release dates later in the year.

If you are interested in more detail, check out my update from March 20th and my update from April 6th. I am working on a third update, but I need a little more data to know where things are headed next.

Fun and Games

We are a big board game family and one way we are spending time together at the table. I have been posting photos on Instagram of our choices if you want some inspiration.

I have to say that Wingspan from Stonemeier Games has been getting a lot of play in the last two weeks. The illustrations are beautiful. The gameplay is easy enough to learn but the strategies you can play are numerous. If you really want to nerd out, you can read about the birder and game designer Elizabeth Hargrave in the New York Times.

That’s all for now. Stay safe (I mean it!) and be well. -Todd