SEASON 2 – The Business Book Podcast – Harper Collins Leadership

Derek Lewis:Ladies and gentleman, I am sitting in the offices of HarperCollins leadership, actually in the storied Thomas Nelson building, Thomas Nelson became part of HarperCollins Christian. Inside HarperCollins, we’re using the offices here, they’re doing basically a startup, so publishing startup inside of HarperCollins, just six months old called HarperCollins Leadership. It’s a pretty neat team. 

So I am sitting here with publisher of HarperCollins leadership Jeff James, and then I’m also sitting here with the acquisitions editor Tim Burgard. I actually never asked you how to pronounce last name. 

Tim Burgard:It’s Burgard. 

Derek Lewis:Burgard, sorry. Tim is, this is a neat relationship aside from the fact that it’s a startup, because Tim was actually the Acquisitions editor that I worked with in Matthew Pollard’s book The Introvert’s Edge whenever Tim was at AMACOM. So we worked with the great agents, Cindy Zigmund, she was on an episode in season one, and Cindy brought us to AMACOM, and then earlier this year AMACOM was acquired by HarperCollins Leadership so everything is new.  

Jeff James:All fresh, always changing.  

Derek Lewis:That’s life. 

Why don’t I give y’all a couple of minutes. Tell us about, what’s HarperCollins Leadership? Why are we doing a startup inside of HarperCollins, one of the big five? 

Tim Burgard:Sure, hi, thanks for having us. 

Derek Lewis:It’s my pleasure. 

Tim Burgard:HarperCollins Leadership, our startup vision if you will, is to help activate the leadership potential that we believe is inherent in everyone. We have a little bit of a connection to the old world of Thomas Nelson as you mentioned because Thomas Nelson was the publisher of John Maxwell, who’s sort of the godfather of leadership content these days. Sold over 30 million books, he’s on our backlist. 

Jeff James:So 30 million, wow! 

Tim Burgard:Yeah, it’s amazing. For those people that recognize John Maxwell, he’s rated as one of the top- usually the top, leadership guru, if you will, out there. With that as a base it made a lot of sense for us to consider, “Well how do we just take that as a jumping off point and just going and develop a specific leadership imprint?”  

With that, with a lot of Maxwell backlist, and then also we decided to look out into the marketplace to see what other valuable content was out there and it turns out that we were able to acquire AMACOM, which was the publishing unit of the American Management Association. Just a really great legacy of very practical, sort of how-to business and leadership content.  

We combined that and we’ve created something that we think is gonna be very exciting because our vision for it is to help activate the leadership potential, you’re gonna have to get more than just the book. The book is a great core content source, but in these days people are like “How do I apply that content in a really practical way everyday. How do I, not just read it, but actually absorb it and live it out.” 

Our focus there is to really make a broad aray of content available. Everything from eCourses to digital tools that are associated with the book, but make it a little more activated when you’re in your day-to-day job. 

Jeff James:We noticed that in the marketplace, yes, there are great publishers of leadership and business content, but more and more we’re realizing that the stickiness of leadership training is not great. The research shows that people only retain and apply about 10% of what they get trained on.  

It’s a horrible return on investment. We also look at this from a broader perspective of, we’re not just publishing books here, we’re producing leadership development solutions. If we’re gonna do that, it has to be more than books; it has to be things like downloadable tools that help you apply the concepts in your day-to-day life. We’re also gonna be doing a vast library of eCourses based on the books. The book is the core content but we want that content accessible in many, many digital ways so that people can actually apply it. 

Derek Lewis:So specifically for HarperCollins Leadership, you’re looking at yourself as more than just a platform. Excuse me, as more than just a publisher. Sounds like you’re thinking of HarperCollins, HCL, as a leadership platform. 

Jeff James:I think that’s a great way to look at it. You’ll see things that come out of our group, particularly on the digital side, that you wouldn’t typically think of from a traditional book publisher. Not surprisingly, that’s actually attracted a lot of authors to us because they have a bigger vision for themselves as well so I don’t want to just produce a book, I want to produce sort of career changing, life changing content. That’s how we part [inaudible 00:05:33]. 

Derek Lewis:Tim, how many years have you been in publishing? 

Tim Burgard:Almost 20, maybe a little over 20 years now. 

Derek Lewis:Wow, so let’s talk about, for the second part let’s talk about what Acquisitions looks like for HarperCollins Leadership in that context, if not looking for just a book but for a much wider ecosystem or platform. Before that, contrast your, and I wouldn’t ever ask you to speak ill of your previous experience, but just contrast. What did it look like working in more publishers, and even AMACOM was kind of unique because it was a for-profit publisher that was the printing arm of a non-profit, the American Management Association. Contrast that, in those past 20 years you’re not working at what basically is essentially a startup. 

Tim Burgard:Yeah, no this has been a great experience. We’re about 6 months in and it’s a nice, I look at it as a hybrid almost because we have this kind of dedicated group at HarperCollins Leadership that we can be pretty agile, we can work with authors and collaborate one-on-one in ways that it’s difficult if you’re just part of huge machine but we have the benefits of being a sub-group within this kind of [crosstalk 00:07:08] huge publishing machines.  

So we get the benefit of the machine because we get the large sales floors, we get the distribution internationally, all the translation- we just have this great way to maximize these sales and potential in all different kinds of ways with audio and different mediums and languages and all that, which is fantastic but we can also still have a nice relationship with our authors where we’re regularly communicating or we can kind of try to maximize their speaking and other events that they’ve got going on and try to snowball some of that stuff as well so it’s a nice combo. 

Derek Lewis:That’s a very different approach than traditional publishing. So traditional publishing is essentially a commodity business- you want to sell as many books as you can. Y’all’s approach is a bit more selective. You’re looking for authors who kind of have that much broader platform. They either had or they have a vision for a whole ecosystem of tools and ideas. A book is a big piece of that, but it’s just one piece of that. 

Tim Burgard:It’s been very fascinating as we’ve sort of let our valued proposition get out there in the market through agents and other sources, that it’s actually attracting phenomenal authors to that vision because they know they don’t want to just have a book and it sits on the shelf and doesn’t really have the impact that they envisioned it having, but when they hear our broader vision of how they can truly affect people’s careers or lives they get pretty excited. We’ve been very pleased with the response of authors since we’ve started. 

Jeff James:Yeah, and you’ve old been 6 months old, is that right? 

Tim Burgard:Yeah. 

Jeff James:So this is an exciting time. With publishing you don’t usually use the word exciting, it’s a pretty blatant industry. 

Tim Burgard:I will say that’s another reason that our New York parent company, HarperCollins wanted us to stay here in Nashville and start this. It’s a very entrepreneurial environment here in Nashville, the city as well as this particular division. On the face plate side we pioneered a huge direct-to-consumer platform over 5 million people every month visit WebProperty’s email list, and you just don’t see that in normal publishers because they’ve very much kept a standard model of, sell through bookstores, sell through Amazon, which we of course do, but we feel like it’s really important that we have a direct connection to those readers so that we can deliver them those extra tools, that extra value, and that’s unique. 

Derek Lewis:Coming back to the authors, and the kind of authors that have been attracted to HarperCollins. Tim, let’s walk through what that looks like for HarperCollins. Who are the best kinds of fit, what y’all are looking for, and then if somebody says that HarperCollins is the, sounds like the home for them- what does it look like to become part of HCL’s family? 

Tim Burgard:Basically, with the Acquisition of AMACOM, which as Jeff said was kind of bread and butter business looks across the full range of business categories, in addition they had a couple of other areas but primarily business. So HarperCollins Leadership is continuing that AMACOM brand in that we’re gonna continue to publish those same bread and butter books… 

Derek Lewis:Wait, wait, wait, so HarperCollins Leadership is a startup and the startup itself already has an imprint? 

Tim Burgard:That’s right. It can be confusing, but yes. The HarperCollins Leadership brand will actually be on the spine of all of the books but we will keep the AMACOM branding for the AMACOM level books on the back cover of the books, so we’ll continue that because it is a very, kind of highly regarded, respected brand. 

Jeff James:Yeah, the American Management Association is an incredible non-profit and AMACOM has put out a huge backlist. 

Tim Burgard:Yeah so we want to continue to do those types of books. We look for those, for the AMACOM type of book we’re looking for authors that have kind of a reputation of being a thought leader in their space. A lot of the AMACOM titles are in a category so they’re in sales, even topics like supply chain or project management, real estate, whatever it is. The author that we would find attractive in that space would have, the first thing would be a compelling message, kind of a pain point that they’re solving that is either something, maybe a new development that’s happened in the industry that people are kind of struggling to understand or implement, or it could be that they’ve had great success with a process that they’ve been training or teaching on their own that they want to get out to a broader marketplace because it’s really been effective and it could really help people in that space.  

Something that we see as gonna be highly valuable to those target readers in terms of they’re gonna immediately get the value of it and be attracted to learning that so that they can do their job better and be more successful. That’s kind of the messaging side of what we like to see.  

From the author themselves, depending on the space they’re in, we just want them to become a known quantity that is speaking or have maybe a contributor to a large magazine in that space where they’re known and people look to them for guidance and expertise. That gives us much better chance, obviously, of getting that message in the book to that target market. Those are the main things that we look for. 

Derek Lewis:So would you say that for, you were talking in the context of AMACOM. Let me back up to the question behind the question. One of the big problems that authors have is that publishers usually want some kind of platform, tried of people that they’re already talking to and selling to, to set the up with a book. Then there’s plenty of authors who say “Well I need to have a book in order to establish my platform.” So it’s this chicken or egg problem. You’re saying that they don’t necessarily have to have a million followers on Twitter, they don’t already have to have a group of people that they’re already selling to as long as they’re basically a big fish in a small pond. A recognized thought leader in a specific niche, they have influence, they already have a reputation so then a book is just a natural extension of what they’re already doing in this space. 

Tim Burgard:What are we looking for is, it can be discouraging for an author who doesn’t have a hundred thousand followers. 

Jeff James:Yeah, it’s the chicken or egg thing. 

Tim Burgard:Yeah, yeah, it’s just like, “Well how do I get there?” 

What I would recommend for people to think about, here’s a good example: we have a book that has become kind of a go-to book in it’s category. It’s called ‘The First-Time Manager’, and I think we’re on what, our 7th or 8th edition of it. That was an AMACOM book, right, that came with that purchase. But the reason why I think that has done so well is it found a specific problem and provided a solution for it. What happens when you’ve never been a manager and now you are? Well, millions of people go through that in their careers but there was really no, sort of, standard content for that. 

So I would encourage writers to think about what are some of those scenarios in your niche? There’s a lot of stuff already written about how to start a business, how to do broad things, but when you start getting into a specific- almost like a career life stage, or a business life stage problem that everybody goes through but no one’s really written about it. Even if you don’t have a big platform, we’re gonna be interested in that because it solves a problem, it has a market and now it’s just how to get it out there. 

Jeff James:Just the title alone I mean, [inaudible 00:16:01]. 

Tim Burgard:It is established itself as kind of the resource. I think we’ve sold 300 something thousand copies of that.. 

Derek Lewis:That’s really cool. 

Tim Burgard:It’s really great.  

Jeff James:Paul Falcone is a really big in name in the human resources space and he’s got books, most of his books are a large number of specific kind of, like there’s 101 great interview questions, or a 26 hundred sample of performance review phrases. But again, it’s very practical content, people can go to it like as a resource and pull what they need quickly. So those, anything that’s gonna give that kind of value and can kind of establish itself over time as kind of the resource for that problem, can have a great, can be great probably sell for years and years and really be just a really successful title for us. It doesn’t have to be something that sells everything the first year and falls off. 

Derek Lewis:Tell me about what it looks like for HarperCollins Leadership to go from “I have an idea, I think HarperCollins Leadership would be the perfect fit for what I’m doing.” Or even specifically AMACOM with them, to actually publishing with y’all. Should they have an agent? Should they try put it all together themselves? Should they, what’s the process look like? 

Tim Burgard:For HarperCollins Leadership we generally prefer agent-less submissions. We do have a great backlist of AMACOM authors with, that kind of established themselves in the space, and we’ve kind of got relationships with authors that we accept if they have a proposal they can come and direct at us and we’ll be happy to look at those. The benefit, especially if you’re a first time author, of going through an agent is, I think, really big because you don’t know, you don’t know. There’s a whole world here in publishing that’s hard to navigate if you’re never been. And if it’s not logical in a lot of ways we have these processes. You have to really have someone that can give you a little lay of the land is really important. 

So if you’ve got a really idea and you feel like you’re building something up and you really see this kind of growth pattern for yourself in a book would really help solidify yourself as a thought leader in your space, I would say go ahead and talk to an agent. Find an agent that has had some success in kind of the space that you’re writing in and then work with that agent. They can do things like own a proposal, really focus your idea, and really make maximum impact of what you’re bringing to the table. You might not realize some of the things you’re doing would really turn a publishers head and make sure that you’re emphasizing those things that really make a publishing decision easier for the publisher.  

They can have a big impact on getting the book signed and then once the book is signed the agent will stay involved, but the relationship at that point becomes more with the author and the publisher, would be me in this case, where we start talking about time line for getting the manuscript in and all the marketing milestones and what happened with the publication and that whole process. From there you’re kind of an editor with the publishing company kind of walks you through that. Up to that point it’s that, having an agent is really kind of key. 

Derek Lewis:You make the joke that publishing isn’t always logical, or doesn’t always follow reason, and that reminded me of a prequel thing that you were talking about earlier, Jeff, you were saying that y’all, basically y’all prototype ideas. Walk us through what that looks like and underscore why that is so different than what most publishers dig for. 

Tim Burgard:One thing to be aware of is I, I didn’t really come from the publishing world, I was in the technology space with Microsoft for many years and marketing consulting for many years. It was a little surprising to me when I came to HarperCollins and then with the leadership space that for the most part publishing has had a very intuitive approach to product development.  

In other words, you’ve got some experts, like in the form of editors and those experts have often made some great choices, but if you look at the success rate of most books, it’s not very high. Most books fail. So I just sort of started thinking, “Well what kind of intelligence can we sort of filter into this process to make our batting average a little stronger?” If you’re familiar with the movie Moneyball, where scouts feel like they always know what the best player looks like, well in fact you can use data to use some better decisions in those scenarios.  

We’ve developed a process here at HarperCollins Leadership where we do, it’s kind of a radical thought, but we actually like to hear from the potential readers. And so if it’s a concept that we’re considering we sort of always want to collaborate with agents and authors on what that is, but it’s really valuable to get feedback from targeted readers. How many readers are there? Even how you describe the concept makes a big, big difference, as you can imagine. 

Then once we’re signed, once we have a project to place, we partner with those authors and agents to test titles, test covers, do a lot of infusion of strategic insights that just make the product that much better. That has been very unique in the publishing world, it’s just because of the business process of publishing, which is very deadline driven as you can imagine, very traditional. It’s been done a certain way for many, many years.. 

Jeff James:Well for at least a hundred. Modern publishing came about right at the beginning of the 1900s and you got all of these conventions trying to turn the Titanic around. 

Tim Burgard:We’ve been able, because we’re nimble, we’re in our little startup world of Nashville, we’re able to do some things that some other publishers have not been able to pull off. It’s just been incredibly useful. It’s just amazing to see the feedback from target readers before you go through the very arduous process of editing a book or putting it on the market. 

We’re very excited about that capability that’s pretty unique. 

Derek Lewis:I think that’s especially important for y’all because you’re putting the book out there as really the flagship for all the products and spinoffs that are coming behind it, so it’s even more important to get it right. 

Jeff James:That’s exactly right. If we’re gonna successfully sell an eCourse or other versions or experiences of that content, we want to make sure it’s the right content. 

Derek Lewis:Last question before we wrap up. Tell me about some of the books that y’all have coming out.  

Tim Burgard:So we’ve got Matthew Pollard’s book just came out a few months ago and that is how we got to meet [crosstalk 00:23:41] lovely people.  

Donald Miller’s Storybrand 

Jeff James:Building a Storybrand. 

Tim Burgard:Yeah, Building a Storybrandhas already been a phenomenal success. 

Jeff James:That was our first book on our new imprint. It was #1 Wallstreet Journal seller. 

Derek Lewis:That’s amazing. Congratulations. 

Jeff James:Unfortunately not every book is the #1 best seller but it’s nice to start out with a bang.  

Tim Burgard:Yeah. Now the expectations are very stellar. 

Derek Lewis:I think y’all have a new, no y’all had with John Maxwell, he just put out the, what’s it like, kind of a remastered… 

Tim Burgard:John Maxwell has a few classics out there that of course have sold millions. One of them was ‘Developing the Leader Within You’. He put out a revised version last January. He literally, he kept track of this, he rewrote 89% of it, so truly almost a new book. That’s done incredibly well, that’s out in the market now. He has a new frontlist title coming out in March called ‘Leadershift‘. 

Derek Lewis:Leadershift? Okay. 

Tim Burgard:It’s basically 11 shifts that leaders must make in this new world that we live in because of the pace of change in our world. That’s gonna be a really phenomenal book.  

Our other sort of monster author that is on our imprint now is Rachel Hollis. She’s a current #1 best seller on the Thomas Nelson side. She’s sort of flipping over to doing a more business and workplace oriented book called, “Girl, Stop Apologizing” and it’s about how women have a tendency to talk themselves out of their ambitions. It’s gonna be phenomenal and that comes out in March on our imprints. 

Derek Lewis:Oh, very cool. Awesome. 

Jeff James:Yeah, we have a lot of other titles this fall that Tim has been working on if you want to mention those. 

Tim Burgard:Yeah, we have one of our big titles coming out is a book that collaborated with Franklin Covey on and it’s called ‘Fierce Loyalty’ and it’s about how companies and pretty much any customer-facing person, whether internal or external really, can be better at being more empathetic with the customers and generating a real alliance with your customer where the customer is really kind of a passionate follower of your brand kind of thing where it’s more than just a convenience purchase or something for them. Not only will they steadily go to you over the competition but they will tell their friends and family. It’s kind of very practical oriented where they’ve got these, they each got with like a huddle where you can, if you’re a manager or something you can say “Group together and talk about the concept or the..” Kind of really reinforce that with your team and stuff like that, so we’re excited about that one. 

There’s another book we’ve got coming out in the next 2 months, it’s coming out in 2 months and that’s called ‘Speak with Impact‘ which is by Alison Shapiro who’s had a very successful training business in the public speaking area. She was one of the, she rose very highly in the Toastmasters organization, so she’s got a lot of great tips and advice on people that struggle with public speaking and things like that. 

Jeff James:The data supports the idea that at a funeral, most of us would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.  

Derek Lewis:That’s Seinfeld at it‘s best. [crosstalk 00:27:55] 

Tim Burgard:#1 fear was public speaking, #2 fear was death. 

Derek Lewis:Y’all this has been fun. Thank y’all so much for the time and I can’t wait to see what else HarperCollins Leadership does. It’s a privilege to have a front row seat to watching this new little startup. 

Jeff James:Well thank you. Thanks for contributing to a great catalog with the project with Matthew Pollard. It’s a fantastic book. 

Derek Lewis:My pleasure.