Season 1 Episode 1: Traditional or Self-Publishing? How Authors Can Get the Best of Best Worlds
Derek: Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to another episode of Behind the Business Book. I’m your host, Derek Lewis. Today, I have CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, Tanya Hall. Tanya is a CEO, as I said, of this Austin-based publisher that has been pioneering the hybrid model of publishing that has arisen to, I guess, bridge the gap between traditional publishing and then vanity press or self-publishing, as it used to be known.
Before coming on to Greenleaf, she developed a number of successful publishing strategies that led to some bestselling New York Times books, as well as pioneering a digital imprint program with Greenleaf. Then, before coming to publishing, she was actually a TV producer with Extra! and E! Cable Networks. Welcome Tanya, and thank you for taking the time to talk with us today.
Tanya: Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.
Derek: That’s quite a journey to go from TV production to publishing, and then from publishing to being CEO of a hybrid publisher. How did that journey go and what has been a TV producer taught you about publishing?
Tanya: Yeah, I’ve been told I did it backwards. Usually, people go from publishing into television but hey, that was the non-traditionalist in me. I grew up actually in Los Angeles. I was a film major. I caught that bug early. I went to film school and worked in television straight out of college. I was very lucky to get a break over at Extra! when that show was still fairly young.
In a case of worlds colliding, I guess, by the time I moved over to E! Cable Networks, I was the person handling books amongst other bits. That was largely because I was the young rookie and nobody wanted to deal with the books because it was a celebrity news network. Most often, the stuffs that were being pitched was not celebrity-oriented.
That actually was fructuous, I guess. It all worked out in the end but I would say that the thing that I learned from television that carried over into publishing is that frankly, it’s all media. Whether it’s TV, or books, or film, we all really have the same core challenges which is oversupply and under demand. In television, we talk about eyes on screens. In films, it’s butts in seats, and in publishing also. We’re all vying for these eyeballs that, of course, are being pulled in million directions by all kinds of competing media platforms. We have to continually make sure that people are raising the bar content-wise, and also, of course, with our platform and mark.
The thing, of course, in media is that there are some core challenges across all platforms whether it’s publishing, film, or television. In television, we used to talk about eyeballs on screens. In film, it’s butts in seats. In publishing, it’s getting books off the shelves. All of that to say that we’re dealing with an issue of an oversupply of media product and under demand simply because our audience is being pulled in a million different directions, and more so every day as they’re reading blogs and playing new virtual reality apps, and all these other things that are taking up their free time or the time they would be reading as we’re hoping in this current business.
That is definitely the common thread that’s been pulled through my career and really, just the impetus for my drive at this company to make sure that our content is rock solid, and very compelling, and actionable, and creating value for the reader, and certainly, our drive to help our authors develop strong platforms, and really hone the approach they take to market their books, and reach those appropriate audiences.
Derek: Tanya, in introducing you and in the first couple of minutes here, I referred to Greenleaf a couple of times as a hybrid publisher. For one, is that how you would describe what you all are doing at Greenleaf? Two, am I even introducing you right?
Tanya: Thanks for asking. Yes, that is how I’ve been describing Greenleaf for a long time. Usually, I’d have to caveat it because an eyebrow would go up and people, “What does even mean, a hybrid model?” We were one of the first. This company has been around since 1997 with that model from the beginning. How I explained it to folks is our model really is, as you said at the beginning of the show, in between self-publishing and traditional publishing, and that we’re taking the strengths of self-publishing and those of traditional publishing, and combining them while eliminating the downfalls of each.
From the self-publishing side, we bring creative control. We bring speed to market. We bring a larger share of royalties because our authors are investing in the production of their books and ownership which is, of course, critically important these days for more and more of our authors who are also speakers or using this content in some other way to support their brand.
Then, from the traditional side, and this is where we’re very different from a lot of other people who call themselves hybrid publishers. From the traditional side, our company operates like a traditional publishing house, and that we handle distribution in-house. We are a master distributor. That is the roots of the company. We distribute internationally and have a field force of sales reps, and colony airport accounts, and associate co-op placements, and all of that good stuff. We have the distribution muscle that usually is self-publishing author lacks because they’re just the one person with the one tile. That’s obviously what brings the visibility and gets the book out into the marketplace.
To support that, we have to maintain a very high level of quality. We’re very particular about what we bring on. There’s a complete vetting process on the frontend. We do about 120 books a year which might sound like a lot but it’s less than 10% of what we see come through the doors.
Derek: Tanya, let’s assume that we’ve got a couple of people listening who really don’t understand the difference between traditional and self-publishing to begin with, much less that sweet spot of being a hybrid. Could you give maybe a couple of examples of how going with the hybrid? You listed what the disadvantages were versus the traditional publisher and self-publisher, but could you give maybe a story or a real life scenario of how the hybrid model that the Greenleaf has pioneered eliminates some of the disadvantages of going with one or the other?
Tanya: Sure. Of course, there are a number of different cases in which we might be an appropriate choice and other cases in which we’re not. I’ve always been an advocate of the mindset that’s there plenty of room in this industry for all kinds of different business models, and there’s no right or wrong. There might be a few wrong ways but really, there’s no right or wrong way. We can talk about those in another show. Really, it is a matter of choice, and of priorities, and goals.
Let’s see an example would be, quite often, our authors are speakers, and consultants, and people who, as I said earlier, have the book serving a greater purpose in terms of driving their visibility and often used … I’m really sick hearing of books being called a glorified business card because it’s so much more than that but, to a degree, it’s a marketing piece and it’s a tool that people use to create word of mouth. Folks like speakers and consultants who have what we call a large direct sales platform, meaning in theory, they could directly invoice a sale for an audience, and a speaking engagement, and so forth.
Often, those people will do better in a model that’s either self-publishing or one like ours that’s hybrid where they’re investing on the frontend because then, they own the books. When you own the books, you are essentially paying production cost. Then, when you sell them back of room, of course, the money that you make in the delta there is yours to pocket versus in a traditional model, a lot of people don’t understand this in the beginning. You actually have to buy your books back from the publisher because they’re fronting all of those initial cost.
I love speaking with business authors because they get it when I say that it’s very much like comparing bootstrapping in business to venture capital, and our model is bootstrapping. Bootstrapping, of course, you’re putting money in on the frontend but that’s because you recognize that there’s a likelihood that the math is going to favor you on the backend when you’re keeping a bigger piece of those per unit sales or royalty.
Of course, venture capital is playing with other people’s money, and there is less risk in terms of what you have to invest on the frontend, and that would be the traditional model, of course, because you’re beginning in advance, but the royalty on the backend is much leaner, if anything at all, ultimately, and you give up some creative control, and that’s another example of … Actually, I haven’t given you an example yet. Back up and give you an example of one author who bounced between some different models which is interesting.
Mary Lou Quinlan is just a dear friend of mine, in addition to being one of our authors. She’s a New Yorker. She runs a very successful market research company called Just Ask a Woman. They do, as you might guess, market research oriented around female consumers and they serve big Fortune 100 clients. She had done a number of books traditionally. I believe she was a Random House author and maybe did one with Simon & Schuster. She came to us with a business book called What She’s Not Telling You.
Before she ran Just Ask a Woman, Mary Lou actually had a design firm. She has some very strong ideas about how this book should look and its format. She wanted it to be small, and playful, and very designy, not like your standard business book. As you might imagine, that was going to be a tough sell in a traditional market where you’re probably more likely to have a traditional publisher say, “We’re going to take control of how the book look’s to be because we know it’s best.”
Mary Lou decided she wanted to have that creative control. She came to us to do What She’s Not Telling You. She did, in fact, end up with this really interesting-looking business book that’s full of great stories, but also is visually compelling all the way through because she knew that that was a book she wanted to use primarily in her speaking. For her, the retail sales were gravy, and they were helping to drive her awareness. We did have her in the bookstores in an airport but she really wanted that book to have for her back-of-room speaking sales.
As it turns out, a few years later, she did a book with us completely unrelated to the business side of things called The God Box which was about her mother’s passing. It’s very interesting and heartfelt lessons that she learned just about letting go. The woman is just a one-woman marketing machine. She’s absolutely amazing. She puts so much gusto behind that launch because it was really coming from the heart. She switched genres. She went from business over to what was borderline. I would say, it was almost a religious book. It’s really inspirational.
Often, a traditional publisher will look unfavorably at an author jumping between genres because they think that they’re going to be alienating their core audience or moving away from where their sales actually might be. That was something that Mary Lou recognized and she said, “I want to have, again, the creative control on this book.” She certainly knew how she wanted it to look and how she wanted to honor her mother through its publication, but she also needed to get it out in a hurry. She came to us in November and we crafted this book, as we would say in TV, and had it out by Mother’s Day.
She also knew that on the traditional side of things, it wasn’t going to get done that fast and that they weren’t going to let her or they won’t look favorably on her publishing on a genre that she had never even dipped a toe in before. It’s a risk and a risk that she was confident about taking. She was right because, like I said, it became a New York Times bestseller in its second week of release. That was definitely a great story for us to tell.
Derek: Whenever I came to the Greenleaf, I’ll say, earlier this year, I remember seeing The God Box on the shelves there where you have all of your authors’ books displayed. It’s a beautiful book.
Tanya: Thank you. Yes, I love talking about that book because it’s a little different one for us since so many of our New York Times bestsellers are business books, and that’s great. That’s definitely our sweet spot. This one, we all understood, I guess, the power behind her wanting to honor her mother. She was an only child. If you have a chance to read it or gift it to your own mother, it’s the most beautiful book. The fact that it was so intimate to her and that we were a part of it, first if all, was an honor to be able to help her bring it to the world.
I will tell you with full honesty and absolutely, one of my top three moments ever in my life, calling Mary Lou while she was sitting at a restaurant having lunch, and telling her she made the New York Times bestseller’s list. Her freaking out in the middle of this restaurant and the people all around her starting to clap, we’re both crying. I just love it. It’s such a great story.
Derek: Wow. That is great news to be able to call in and tell someone.
Tanya: That’s the best.
Derek: Actually, I want to talk about that here in a second because so many people aspire to be a New York Times bestseller but before we get to that, I wanted to say that I’m with you whenever you say that there’s not one right way to publish. Sometimes, whenever I’m talking to authors, I’ll push them towards the traditional model or I’ll push them towards the hybrid model or what they’re doing, I’ll push them towards the self-publishing model. The questions that I’m about to say, I don’t have an agenda. I’m really just maybe in a little bit of devil’s advocate but mostly just to help people get a better idea of how these three different routes function.
Let’s say that Mary Lou decided to go not the hybrid route but decided to go the sales publishing route, what would it have been like for her not having Greenleaf’s support, just going at it alone? Basically, being her own micro-publisher?
Tanya: When you self-publish, I think that’s one of the major differences is you become a general contractor. You’re the one who is marshalling all the different resources, the indexer, and the designer, and the editor, and so forth. That, in and of itself, is one thing to consider. Do you have the time and the skills, frankly? Not everyone is good at that to take on that role. Mary Lou being someone who is running a company on top of doing this passion project, she valued, of course, the one point of contact and the team of support that she would get by working with someone like Greenleaf. That’s one different quality.
The other thing because although most people have a vision for the book, most of us are not designers or editors. There’s a reason those people have that very specific role in this business. They’re great at what they do. You can still, of course, as a self-publisher, farm that out. It can be difficult to understand really what looks good and what doesn’t to the retail buyer’s eye which is super important when you work in vacuum and you don’t have that contact with the retail buyers.
That’s another advantage too even if it’s not through a hybrid publisher to maybe have a consultant or someone on your side who can speak to what works in retail and what the retail buyers are going to react to versus just what looks good to you and your designer. There’s different looks for different genres, and I’ve seen many cases of a design that’s okay but had they paid little more attention to fonts and so forth, it would have had a much stronger chance of being buyable in a book store.
Then, of course, the major difference is distribution. If she had self-published, that book would probably have been available on Amazon and the online retailers but had little physical presence. I think there’s a little bit of a dangerous misconception about the current state of brick and mortar because a lot of people will say, “Amazon is all that matters, right?” No. Actually, more than half of our book sales are in brick and mortar channels. I think, for most publishers, it’s probably closer to a 40/60 relationship with 40% of that being Amazon. They’re a huge player, yes. A lot of eggs in that basket but not all of them, and that’s an important distinction between self-publishing and traditional publishing because for a lot of books, there’s a lot more potential than just selling online.
Derek: Even Amazon themselves are opening.
Tanya: Yes, full circle.
Derek: One thing that you said in there, Tanya, about quality, I found that authors often just through sheer, I hate to use the word “ignorance” because that sounds degrading but just through sheer inexperience, even if they hire a professional graphic designer, they (a), may not realize that that graphic design is one thing, but then, graphic design for the cover of a book, and even if you have somebody who designs book covers to have someone who designs a cover that’s suitable for your genre. Cookbooks have a very distinct look. Fantasy book, very distinct look. Thrillers, very distinct look. Business book, a very distinct look. Even some or plenty of cover designers are used to working in fiction, not realize that there’s even genre-specific elements that have to go on.
One of the things that I find whenever an author works with a professional is just getting access to the vetted professionals that that professional, or consultant, or company has. I am sure that that’s one thing that plenty of your clients don’t even realize that Greenleaf is bringing to the table.
Tanya: Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that. I think that’s an excellent point. One that’s hard to make sometimes because we’re talking about visuals, and one of the things that comes up here on occasion, in addition to being a publisher as I mentioned earlier, we are a distributor at the core of the business, and we still bring on a number of books each year that are already produced. If produced through a strong level of quality, then we can just drop them into our sales system and a title to the trade. It’s a distribution relationship.
A lot of people will approach us for that and unfortunately, do not have a good cover. We’ll go back to them and say, “This is why we’re rejecting it.” They say, “Why can I do to improve the cover?” The answer is get a new one. Sometimes they really want like, “Is it the font? Is it this? Is it that?” especially for someone like me and most of my non-design team, it’s very difficult to speak in words around visual concept. Sometimes, you just have to show them the power of a before and after.
We have this whole drawer of before-and-afters that we’ve done here where I can sit down with somebody and say, “Here’s how this book came in.” Again, these are people who don’t work in publishing. I don’t expect them to understand that a flat gloss lamination is really not good. Those are things that we dork out over. They shouldn’t have to think about that but I’ll show them, “Here’s the before. Here’s the after.” “Oh.” “Here’s another before. Here’s the after.” Then, pointing out the distinction.
Derek: Yeah, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Tanya: Absolutely. After we’ve done that five or six times, they say, “Okay, I get it.” You have to see it sometimes but yeah, there’s just these designers. That’s what they live and breathe. They study the trends. They study what’s selling. They buy the samples of what’s moving in that category. Of course, having the relationship with those buyers on the distribution side, we get their direct feedback to say … Sometimes, it’s an individual’s preference. For a long time, it borders back when that was still a player. There were the children’s book buyer who hated white covers. You have to take that into consideration. “Okay. If they have a children’s book, we know that this woman hates white covers so don’t go that way.”
Derek: Wow. Wow.
Tanya: That’s the fun stuff.
Derek: Wow. All I can say to that, you don’t have to freak about that anymore.
Tanya: Very true, unless she’s landed at Barnes & Noble or something. I don’t think she has.
Derek: I’ve got a couple of kids and I was just in the children’s section the other day. I saw white covers. Apparently, she wasn’t there. She’s not high enough.
Tanya: Good, yeah. She’s probably been cut along with most of the bookshelves in that section to make room for toys.
Derek: Yeah. Something that the Barnes & Noble has been doing, I don’t get into Books-A-Million much but Barnes & Nobles has been doing what I really think a lot of indie bookstores are missing out on. They’re transforming themselves from just a bookstore to a retail store that sells books but they also sell plenty of other, I don’t know if you want to call it lifestyle products but everything from music and movies, to educational toys. They’re selling Legos. They’re selling Pokemon action figures. It’s almost …
Tanya: An entertainment store. Really, information and entertainment. It was fascinating. The transformation is still happening. I’m surprised more people don’t talk about it but it’s very interesting to watch and to see how these stores are allocating their floor space.
Derek: Yeah. I know that bookstores, for so long, have been primarily about volume. Like in the other retail store, how much money can you get per square foot? How much inventory can you get per square foot of a store space? I think that a lot of the Indie booksellers, I don’t think that they realize that one of the advantages that they had, and I guess the remaining one have, over Amazon, over online is that you can’t deliver a real life experience online.
Instead of trying to compete with volume and price which is impossible whenever you have a digital platform like Amazon, then instead focus on impulse buys, focus on more entertainment things that are more lucrative per purchase but going with live events, doing more community buy-in, having more community events, and readings, and local authors, and even hosting authors. Barnes & Nobles, at least, they don’t have nearly as many author events or bookstore events as they could have. I think that’s one place that indie bookstores can really take on, not only the retail giants, but even take on the online giants.
Tanya: Yes, I think you hit the nail in the head when you said experience, and they definitely have an opportunity to be curating an experience. I think some of them do that well, and there are some shots that are very niche-oriented who almost do that well by default like the mystery bookstores, for example, or travel bookstores. I think that curating goes a long way, again, towards getting every dollar out of the pocket of the person that you do get in the door.
Derek: I’ll let you know. I don’t know. I got off chasing the rabbit throughout. I wanted to come back, Tanya, to something that you have had experience with before Greenleaf and then, at Greenleaf. One of the biggest questions that plenty of prospects calling me, they want to know, how do they become a New York Times’ bestseller? I could go on with what a little bit that I know but really, can I just dump that question in in your lap?
Tanya: Sure. How do you become a New York Times bestseller? Number one, I would say, you need to have great content. That’s a given. There’s plenty of folks who will orchestrate campaigns. This is a more involved strategy but a lot of folks will use the presell orders, as we call them, that are derived from speaking engagements, corporate clients, and so forth to accumulate some momentum in the first few weeks. It can help them hit a list. They do that because, of course, hitting the list is not only bragging rights but once they can say that they’re a New York Times bestseller, their speaking fee goes up by quite a bit. It’s a validation really to have that phrase following your name.
There’s no magic bullet or everybody would hit the New York Times bestseller’s list but it’s a combination of things really. It’s highly strategic and it does take a lot of involvement from the publisher’s side because, as I said, there’s timing involved because those lists are all based around velocity of sales. You can look at a book like What to Expect When You’re Expecting which sells gazillion copies every week but never enough at one time to hit a list. That’s been out forever. If we look at accumulative copies sold, it would probably be in the top ten but it’s all about having them in a really condensed window of a week or two.
It’s strategic on that end, and how are you going to drum up those orders, but that’s not enough. You also have to have wide distribution. The book has to be present in a number of bookstores across the country, and not just in one little corner. On top of that, there has to be a strong media push that that’s going to drive, of course, the organic demand, hearing about it on the video, or television interviews, and print ads, and all this other stuff.
It’s a big undertaking. I wish there was a two-minute answer I could give you. Everybody could run off and go hit the bestseller’s list, and be happy, but as I said, there are folks who spend years really plotting out, “Here’s the approach. Here’s what we’re going to do during this time. Here’s how we’re going to build our marketing list. Here’s how we’re going to create our incentives for preorders.” You’ll see this quite often where if you buy, even Seth Godin does this, you buy ten books, you get a copy of my last book signed directly to you. You buy a thousand and I’ll come speak to your organization, that kind of thing. Those campaigns are very effective in driving those initial presell guaranteed orders that you can then run through retail in an effort to try and really rack up as many of those sales in the first few weeks if possible.
Again, you can’t just do that. You really have to couple that with your promotional efforts and good publicity which is harder, of course, to time precisely if you’re really at the whims of whenever the media channel wants to run it but it’s a little bit of magic, and a little bit of science, and a lot of hard work.
Derek: Yeah, it sounds like it’s quite a bit. I remember reading an article a few years ago about how the New York Times, the people that have compiled the bestsellers list that, for a time, people had figured out how to game the list. They would buy 10,000, or 20,000, or whatever copies of their own book, and basically pull a couple of shenanigans so that they could be called a New York Times bestseller and make the list.
Then, the people at the New York Times, they redid their algorithm. Now, it’s almost a top secret as Google search algorithm but the basics of it remained that it’s based on a survey. They do a survey every what? Every week, every two weeks. It’s not total number of sales. It’s just however many people or however many stores, whatever they conduct that survey happen to be reading of have that book in stuck. That’s the crux of it.
Tanya: Right. Again, it has to be a book where they’re seeing the answer to that survey is brought out across the country. You’re right. What you said is absolutely correct that there were some folks manipulating that list. I think very famously, L. Ron Hubbard and at my house now, the Scientology folks. They would by thousands of copies of Dianetics, and sell it back to the organization, and just keep buying their own books to raise the profile of the book, and keep it on that list trying to recruit more people into the religion. They’re one of the first ones to do that.
Yes, the Times, it’s very sensitive to that. They’ll flag things. They’ll flag books for book sales. They’ll flag books. We’ve learned that a second edition is not eligible to hit the list which I didn’t know previously but learned that the hard way. If you have a book that’s been out before, and you reissue it in an effort to hit the list, it’s not going to happen. That’s one of the rules. You’re right. They have a lot of rules that are not disposed, and all of them, and they shouldn’t be frankly. All of those exist to try to maintain the integrity of that list.
Derek: I always caution my authors whenever they start talking about wanting to hit the New York Times list, one, because it’s not a guarantee that their book is going to be literally a bestselling book. It just so happens that it hits that list. If I had to choose between either hitting the New York Times or having a book that had good enough content, strong enough platform underneath it, good enough promotion behind it that it continually sold copies such as, that you used a great example, What to Expect if You’re Expecting, everybody knows that book. The book has sold God only knows how many copies but like you said, it never hit a bestseller list. If I had to choose between hitting the New York Times bestseller or having a book that’s steadily sold copy after copy after copy, I would go with What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
Tanya: I completely agree. I think that most of the folks who are writing business books, given that generally they are hoping the book will drive long term business, and their hearts of hearts, they probably agree, although everybody’s ego appreciates, especially after the hard work of producing a book, I think everybody would love to have that recognition. Yeah, you’re right. There’s a lot of expectation setting that have to go along with any discussion of wanting to hit a bestseller’s list because it absolutely is no indicator of future performance. I’ve seen books hit the list and fall right off.
I think, other times, people think that the book hitting the list is a publicity event. That, in and of itself, is going to beget all of this media attention. No, not at all. Nobody cares. It might matter in the speaking world, again, to help maybe receive, to differentiate you from some of your competitors, but on the retail side, it is not a game changer like some people think it is. It doesn’t necessarily widen or guarantee distribution. That is coming from the publicity and ongoing demand that you need to be generating through, like you said, the ongoing efforts to convey what the value is of the book, and be within a community where you’re participating.
Derek: Let me play devil’s advocate again because that’s something that I love to do.
Derek: I’ve been there for almost 11 years. It’s somewhat …
Tanya: You understand that role.
Derek: Is it worth it to go after New York Times bestselling strategy? Like you said, it takes some luck. It takes some science. It takes a lot of hard work. Like you said, it doesn’t necessarily pay off.
Tanya: It really depends on the person. I can speak for myself. If I was looking at what it takes to hit that list, and frankly, let’s assume I am also running a business which is what most if these authors are doing, I frankly don’t know how they do it without their heads spinning right of their bodies. It’s a huge, huge, huge commitment. I personally agree with you and I’ve seen it with authors on my own list where they’ve not hit any list ever but their book is a steady performer over time because the content is good and they’re out there hustling day to day, and they’ve just made that a part of their practice, and it pays off, and stays over time.
That is the really long tail approach that I think works best in terms of serving the book and the business, but I’ve had some people who pointblank have said, “I know it’s an ego thing but for me, I’ve dreamed about this for years. This is what I need to feel like my book was successful. This is what I need to get this off my bucket list.” “Okay, if that’s what it takes to make you happy, let’s give it a go.”
Derek: There you go.
Derek: Tanya, honestly, if I had had the money, I’d want to be able to brag that I was a New York Times bestselling author.
Tanya: Surely feel good.
Derek: Yeah, I can’t blame them at all. Let me ask another question and get your take on this. There has been a couple of authors that I’ve worked with and they had sold 25,000 or 35,000, 50,000 books that didn’t make any bestselling list but, Tanya, in my book, if you’ve sold 25,000 or 50,000 copies of a book, I think it’s a bestselling book but whenever I’ve tried to get them to use that in their sales copy or in marketing, they always push back because they say, “I’ve never made any bestselling list.”
I work almost exclusively with business authors. I tell them most business books don’t sell even 500 copies. If you sell 5000 copies, most publishers, by most standards, a book that sells 5000 copies is a decent performing book than if you sell, again, 25,000 to 50,000. You are in the top 10% of your graduating class. I think you’ve bragging rights but I’ve never put the question to the publisher.
(A), how do you feel about that; and (b), if you sell an author who said they were a bestselling author, would you feel that they were being deceitful or lying if you found out that they never actually made a list, even a list of a smaller newspaper, a different newspaper? Not just New York Times has a bestselling list but you’ve got The Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, and a couple of others.
Tanya: Yeah, that’s a great question and I see that all the time. As you might imagine, a lot of the books that come in to us for review, the authors will either indicate in the materials that it’s a bestselling book or it will be in a Starburst. They’re on the cover. I think it depends, first of all, in your audience. I believe that people should be transparent.
If you are saying it’s a bestseller, I believe you should say what kind of bestseller it is. It’s an Amazon bestseller. It’s an international bestseller because there are some books that maybe you hit a list in another country. It’s a bestseller, not in the United States. Okay, it’s an international bestseller. There are some folks who we have a few titles that only hit the Wall Street Journal e-book bestseller’s list which is fascinating. There’s a separate list just for e-books. With the right promotional approach, you can just similar … Actually, it’s much easier to do on the e-book side because you’re not hustling physical properties of a book that have to be in a certain place on a certain date. There are e-book marketing strategies that can push a book up on to that list. Then, you’re a Wall Street Journal e-book bestseller.
I think people should be transparent about it. The reason I say that the audience matters is that a publishing person will always hear that skeptically simply because we hear it so often and quite often, there is no substance behind the claim. There’s a tool, of course, that you’ll know. BookScan, Nielsen operates it. The same folks who do Soundscan and they do most of the metrics that help the media industries measure performance.
Derek: Yeah, the Nielsen Writing.
Tanya: Yeah. BookScan is the primarily tool that we have to actually understand the sell through rate of books in the retail channels. Sadly, we get very little of that data from our retail partners. That’s how we can tell which books are actually moving and that’s how we can research titles to understand how something has performed in the marketplace to date. If a book comes into us that’s already been out in the world, and someone says it’s a bestseller, then the first thing we do is pull it up on BookScan, and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen that it’s sold 200 copies. That brings it down a notch in our eyes because the author does feel like it’s rather deceitful. They’re not being fully transparent to know what that means.
Derek: They’re deceitful or they’re just ignorant.
Tanya: If you like, they’re naïve.
Derek: Either one is not a good [crosstalk 00:43:50] in their corner.
Tanya: Not a plus, not a plus.
Derek: In the very least though, you’re saying that if you’re going to say bestseller status that it needs to be third party validation, the bestseller in this category or bestseller according to this list. Even if they’re an independent published author, and even if they sell 25, or 30, or 50,000 copies, it still needs to be a bestseller status that needs to come from some external validator.
Tanya: Yes. Absolutely, I agree with that.
Derek: That’s true. You know what, whenever you were first coming on, you were talking about whenever you were at the E! and Extra!, you explained that the people had to pitch books to you. Talk a little bit about being the rookie, looking at those books, and you hadn’t had, at that point, any real formal training or maybe mentoring in which books to look for, which to weed out. What was it like having to go through those decisions and making those decisions, especially as the newcomer?
I guess, what I’m digging for is what lessons that some authors can take away whenever they’re pitching books to different places. Maybe not at publishing professional like a literary agent or a small house publisher but if they’re pitching books to these different places that are niche or different gatekeepers, what should they be looking for? What kind of lessons can you give them from your days in vetting books to pass on?
Tanya: Sure. At both Extra! And E!, very, very celebrity-driven programing. For me, it was really quite simple. It’s just personal full name. That’s what I’m looking for. I could make a decision in two seconds and I did based on that. I felt bad. I would get these packages and our authors still send them out as well. You get these very well-thought out cover letters, and a whole nice little promotional thing, and the decision is made in a split second, but they have to fit the volume of submissions of stuff that they have sort through so high. Of course, they are the experts in the audience that they’re serving. The television side, it’s not unlike that really any morning show, let’s say. They’re really driven, I would say, primarily, by who’s the author and why should we listen to you? Why should we care? Then, of course, what’s the message?
If an author has already established a known, then, that’s much, much easier. Of course, the book versus … It’s not out of the question that somebody who is not known can get books but then, you’ve got to really focus on what is really, really interesting about this message that hasn’t been said and perhaps is little controversial. That’s what helps reading. I think people need to understand that when you’re developing your pitch, it’s smart to have, I would say, at least, four or five because you’re going to be dealing with different types of channels depending on whether they’re personality-driven or story-driven. Sometimes, you have more off a local angle. Different angles work for different channels.
What else? I think, this is important actually for business book authors, actionable content, that’s a drum that I just beat constantly. I hear a lot of gritting from readers in cocktail party conversations. “I work in publishing.” “Gosh, books are so long.” It’s just like, “I just don’t want to read all fluff,” especially in the business sector, they’re busy. I get it. People want actionable content that they can apply. If somebody who is pitching the media says, “Here’s a challenge that your audience has. They’re struggling to, let’s say, manage their personal finances. I help them do that by A, B, and C, and it’s something new ideally.” “Okay, that’s an interesting story. That gives people something to act on. They can actually create value and solve a problem or fill a need. That’s a compelling hook.”
The other thing that I learned from actually being the person who pitched books for years at Greenleaf, I started the distribution program here. I built that department, I built that team. I hired all the reps. That’s my background in the company. I know it like the back of my hand. I’ve sat across from buyers and pitched them. It was not unlike being on the other end of the table from when I worked in television because it’s a split second pitch. They’re either glazed over and you’re just like, “Okay, what am I going to say to make them sit up a little bit straighter and pay attention?”
Sometimes, you have to take two known things and use those to convey what this new thing is. You might say, “This is Harry Potter meets James Bond.” Now, instead of me going through ten minutes of, “You see, there’s a wizard and he lives in this castle. Then, there’s the spy.” If you can take these two known things, and combine them, and pique their interest, and then go from there, I found that that’s very effective especially in the publishing world where they have access to a lot of different types of content, and they know what their strong sellers are. We’ll try to connect what we know that they’ll react to, and make a case for something new that way.
Derek: I imagine you probably take that trick up from your days in Hollywood, but one of my favorite pitches was whenever they were pitching Alien with Sigourney Weaver back in … When did Alien came out? In ’84 or something. They’re pitching it to the producers or whoever. They said, it’s Jaws in space.
Tanya: Oh my, gosh. I love that.
Derek: Yeah. That’s everything. That’s the whole Jaws in space.
Tanya: You get it, right?
Tanya: Yeah, that’s very, very true.
Derek: Tanya, let me ask you the three standard questions I try to ask everyone who comes on. First, what is one of your favorite business books of all time?
Tanya: Favorite business book if all time, it’s a very hard question for me because there are so many on our own list that I absolutely adore and I certainly don’t want to upset any of my own authors.
Derek: Okay, let me be fair. Let me be fair. Taking out your own authors which I am sure you’re a bit biased.
Tanya: I am biased.
Derek: Taking out your own authors, a non-Greenleaf author, what’s one of your favorite business books of all time?
Tanya: You know what, I’ll jump back in. I’ll make my own death bed here and pick one of my authors because I’m on case for it. One of my favorite business books is a book that we published and it’s Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. This book actually did hit the New York Times bestsellers’ list. It also has enjoyed ongoing sales since then. It’s one of my favorites for that reason, of course, but also content-wise, this is one of those books that I’m always referring people to.
I think that’s always a great indicator when you’re speaking with somebody and the first thing that comes to your mind is, “I got the perfect book for you.” So often, it’s this one because he gets into some areas that I’ve always been fascinated by that deal with neuroscience and the makeup of the human brain, and why we think the way we think, and in particular, why we often have some self-sabotaging thoughts or behaviors that we all have to work through, the little devil and angel on our shoulders.
I am also just a lifelong learner and a big believer in constantly improving and growing self-awareness. This book has a strong emphasis on that as well. I wish I’ve read it 20 years ago. I’m a completely different person now than I was then and a lot of it has to do with really understanding attitude and self-awareness. This book applies that really in a business setting and with the special emphasis on working with teams. In management, in leadership, obviously, that’s critically important, but it’s a very accessible book in terms of how it’s written, beautifully done. It’s quick. You can put it to work right away. The folks that I refer the book to also responds to say, “Thank you. This book was fantastic. I am so glad you told me to read it.” That one is definitely the first book that came to mind.
Derek: I haven’t come across that one before.
Tanya: I’ll send you a copy. It’s great.
Derek: Thank you. I would appreciate that.
Tanya: Yeah, my pleasure.
Derek: That’s one of your favorite books of all time. Here’s another questions. Tweaked it a little bit. What’s a great business book you’ve read recently?
Tanya: Recently, I am someone who jumps between books which is a terrible habit but one …
Derek: I’m the same way. I’ve gotten some that was great going at any time. You know what my problem is? I can’t keep enough bookmarks. I pick up, “This is interesting.” Put a bookmark in that one. “I forgot to finish that one,” and go back to it.
Tanya: That’s funny.
Derek: It’s a reader’s problem.
Tanya: Literacy problems, yeah. One that is started and then I put it down, and literally, I forgot about it because it got pushed under my bed, and then I found it again, and I was like, “Yes, I do want to finish this book.” It’s terrible but I am glad I picked it up again because the …
Derek: Literally, yeah.
Tanya: Quite literally, I picked it up again, yes. I don’t know how it got so far under the bed but this book, it’s Onward by Howard Schultz. It’s about Starbucks.
Derek: Yes, Starbucks.
Tanya: Yeah, and he had previously written a book that was more about Starbucks’ boom phase, and their amazing growth, and rosy-rosy, everything is great. That’s fine but I am always so much more interested in reading about when things went wrong and what the challenges people face, their problems. Then, what they learned from it and how they changed. That’s what this book is about. I think it’s absolutely a fascinating counterpoint to his first book.
Onward really talks about the phase in which Starbucks grew too fast and they lost a lot of the control over their operation side of the business. They were losing control over their quality and their further brand. Business is suffering. As a business person myself, it’s also just a fascinating read because you get it. You read, “Oh my, gosh. They couldn’t even get beans to their location.” Very, very interesting, and he had a whole culture to rebuild. That company, he’s huge on cultures.
Just fascinating to understand all the trials and tribulations that he had to deal with. The people situations, I know he had to make some difficult changes at some point. Then, how he had to reenergize not only his people but that entire brand. Really well written. It moves along at a great pace and fascinating to read about because it’s something that we all experience every day. Starbucks is sitting right on my desk all the time.
Derek: Yeah. I’m a coffeeholic myself. In fact, I found a meme the other day. I posted it on Facebook. It said that my blood type is coffee.
Tanya: I love that. True, same.
Derek: Third and last question, what is a book in any genre that everyone listening should read?
Tanya: When people ask me what books they absolutely read, it’s like, what’s the one book you’d take to the, proverbial, desert island?
Tanya: I know it’s a little cliché but my answer is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I really believe everybody should read that book. As somebody who is in publishing, and I am an avid reader of self-improvement, absolutely no qualms, that book rises all the way to the top. It’s also really interesting. It’s something that I reread from time to time. I think it was written in 1920 but a lot of his initial commentary in the book is dealing with the politics of the time and you realize really quickly like nothing has changed. You can switch out the names but really, nothing has changed.
It’s just fascinating but the cardinal rules that he lays out in that book, it’s just driving how you conduct yourself with other human beings to be a decent person, and to feel good about yourself, and be a positive influence on those around you. I really believe that everybody should try to incorporate those into their lives because it’s a game changer. I’m a big advocate of that book.
Derek: Yeah. How does the saying go? Classic is a book that everyone recommends but no one ever reads. This book is different. You’re right. It’s one of those where it’s not just that it’s been around forever. It’s maybe one of the few business books that people have read but it’s one of those books that you keep going back to because there are timeless pieces of advice in there. He’s so positive. Whenever you’re reading the book, you can’t help but feel better. “Wow, yeah. This is doable. I can do this.”
Tanya: Right. The voice that it’s written in, I want him to be my grandpa.
Derek: Yeah, it is. That’s Dale Carnegie, right? He’s a legend.
Tanya: For good reason.
Derek: Tanya, before I let you get back to the business of running Greenleaf, is there anything that you’d like to leave us with, anything you’d like to say to the people out there who are either supporting business authors, or who are business authors, or who want to be business authors?
Tanya: I would say, above all, and in the spirit of Mr. Carnegie, if there’s any way I could help, I am always happy to even if it means I refer you to someone else, that’s totally fine. I am completely comfortable, if it’s all right with you, Derek, giving out my email address if you want to reach out to me.
Tanya: Okay. It’s just email@example.com or on Twitter, I’m @TanyaHall. Yes, absolutely happy to connect, happy to help, happy to refer. We have a small industry and we all try to help each other out. Also a big supporter of just helping people bring their ideas into the world. I think it’s a very honorable thing to do. Again, happy to lend a hand however I may. Then, our website, if anyone needs more info on us or what we do, is www.greenleafbookgroup.com.
Derek: All right, Tanya. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.
Tanya: Thank you for having me. It was fun.
Derek: My pleasure.