Episode 23: The Philosophy Behind Todd Sattersten’s Immense Success in Creating & Publishing Bestselling Business Books

In this episode Todd shares insight and learnings from his publishing journey- from co-writing The 100 Best Business Books of All Time to working with Bard Press and its unique publishing model…

read the audio transcript.


Episode 23: The Philosophy Behind Todd Sattersten’s Immense Success in Creating & Publishing Bestselling Business Books

Derek: All right, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got the distinct pleasure of introducing our guest today, Todd Sattersten.

Now Todd is actually linked to not one, not two, but three of previous guests that I’ve had on the show. So, Todd and Jack Covert co-authored, co-wrote- The 100 Best Business Books of All Time , the first edition and the second edition. On the third edition, it was Todd and Jack and Sally Haldorson. All three of them over there at 800-CEO-READ before Jack retired and now Sally is the general manager over there.

Todd is now deputy publisher at Bard Press, which was the interview that I had with Ray Bard and we talked about all kinds of cool stuff in his book, in his publishing company, as well as his, then-upcoming book, Fired Up! Selling a great book of awesome quotes. And, that was really fun.

So, if you recall, I mean 800-CEO-READ is the go-to…well now it’s, Porchlight Books I believe.  They’ve grown to be a bit more inclusive. But they are still the go-to organization for anything business-book related. And Bard Press, Ray Bard, has had more New York Time number one bestsellers than, I believe I’ve got this right, than any other publisher, ever!

So ladies and gentlemen, Todd Sattersten, who not only is a part of both of these awesome books and awesome goings-on, but he was also GM of IT Revolution and published…if you’re in IT you’ll know, The Phoenix Project and The DevOps Handbook.

Now, The Phoenix Project, some people say is the best business fable ever written. And, that’s saying quite a bit, ’cause there’s quite a few of them out there. And then The DevOps Handbook, I mean almost single-handedly reinvented project management, whenever it comes to tech development.

So, this is quite an honour to have you on, Todd. Thank you.

Todd Sattersten:  Derek, thanks for that amazing introduction. I don’t know if I’m responsible for all of it, but there’s a lot of good things that have happened around the books that I’ve sold and the books that we’ve published.

Derek Lewis:  Todd, let’s start off by talking about what are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned after being in the business-book sector for going on two decades now, right?

Todd Sattersten:  Yeah. Oh my gosh, I think that you still can’t predict ahead of time what books are gonna work and what aren’t. I think that’s always a good starting point for almost anyone who’s moving into that space, in particular authors. There’s a lot of things that we can do to stack the deck in our favour. But knowing whether or not a book’s gonna work is dependent on some things that you do, but a lot of things that I think over time get more and more out of your hands. So, I think the reality of that I think is always good for a good starting point for people to work with. I think after that, I understand that the book industry like many ventures in the world- it’s not an even market. And what I mean by that is, a lot of times people ask me, you know, “What’s the average number of copies that a business book has sold?” And I tell them, “You’re, you’re starting off by probably asking the wrong question.”

Derek Lewis: [laughs]

Todd Sattersten:  Because, when you take an average of something, it usually means that roughly everything is the same within that set of things that you’re trying to look at. And books, as well as movies and music and income distribution and it turns out earthquakes, and a whole set of phenomenon are governed by a completely different set of factors. And so, what we find in book publishing is that there’s a vital few.

There’s a set of books that are gonna do demonstratively better than the…not just the majority but the vast majority, 80 or 90% of all the other books that are sold. And so, again I think understanding that in advance and understanding, what factors you can do to improve your chances of being successful and which ones are out of your control. So, I always think that’s a good starting point for people to understand about book publishing.

Derek Lewis:   I think that it probably serves them then to make the distinction between a business book as a retail product and a business book as a specific tool.

So, whenever we talk about book publishing, you’re immediately talking about creating the book as a commercial product, to create a profit, to generate a revenue center in and of itself. That’s very different than writing a book and, as a loss-leader, as a kind of a way to build a platform or as a way to sell your services.

I mean if my memory is right, I think only 60% of the books that are created and printed, actually go through the established publishing industry. About 40% go through other, what we might call unconventional channels. And so, at the beginning, some of the important things about whenever you’re thinking about writing a book is are you writing this to go into the publishing industry or are you writing this to be the 40% that doesn’t go into those channels?

Todd Sattersten:  Yeah. I mean I think that’s a really important distinction. I think you know, really early on, when we worked with people at Bard Press, we spend a lot of time to get a deep… an understanding of what their goal is around why they’re publishing the book. And I think that the two factors that we always think about when we’re looking at this are- one is what’s the potential audience size for the book, and then how strong is the felt need for it? So you know, in that first factor of size of audience if I was going to write a book about walking trails in Portland, Oregon, where I live, we know that would be the size of the audience for that kind of book. You know it’s a given city. It’s a very particular activity. You know the audience gets pretty small for something like that versus say a book like What to Expect While You’re Expecting.

Derek Lewis: [laughs]

Todd Sattersten: So, audience size, really different, you know?

Derek Lewis:  Yeah.

Todd Sattersten:  Thousands of people versus millions of people. You know, three orders of magnitude difference. So that’s one factor that I think’s important around that.

And then I think the second decision around that is have you chosen a topic and have you framed that topic in a way that resonates with a particular set of people?

Or are there things you can do to make that book even more meaningful to the people that you want to write it for?

And what I mean by that is I think that and I’m sure you probably had experiences like this, there are some authors that want to write books, and they kind of want to write them for themselves. And I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing, but they want to write them for themselves and it’s for people that are close around them. It could be very memoir based. It could be for a company. There’s lots of different versions of that. They feel like they’ve got a book inside them, they’ve got to get it out.

Derek Lewis:  Yeah.

Todd Sattersten:  The felt need that, someone’s gonna feel for that book is going to vary widely based on the distance that that person is from you. And so the reason felt need is such an important component is that if you really are going for that bigger, wider audience, you have to make sure that you’re doing the best you can that when you are no longer the person telling the next person about the book, that it’s someone you don’t know,…

Derek Lewis:  Yeah, yeah.

Todd Sattersten: That they feel as strongly about the topic that you’re writing about hopefully as you do and that you’ve conveyed it in a way that could be helpful.

So, I think that decision, getting back to what you were getting at, that decision about what the right way to publish, I think it depends on a couple things. And I think, again, being realistic about the kind of book that you want to do- I think informs deeply the way that you go to market with it.

Derek Lewis:  You know, you have no idea how many times I have quoted, from The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.  So whenever I’m helping out an author, you know, with business books, I quote I guess it’s probably in the introduction or the foreword to the book- that the number one reason people buy business books is to solve a problem.

And so, whenever you say, you know, felt need, it’s how they’ve got a problem. How big is this problem? How, deep is this problem to them? And the bigger of a problem it is, the more likely it is that they will, you know, buy something that promises, if not to solve it at least to help them figure out how to start addressing it.

Todd Sattersten:  Yeah. I think it’s important to understand that there’s lots of different kinds of problems that people may solve by buying that book. And I think you alluded to one that I think is what the majority of reasons that we buy books is we’re struggling with a dilemma, a problem of some sort, and we’re hoping that an author is gonna have experienced the same problem and they’re gonna provide wisdom to us. I think that’s the majority of the reasons why we buy books. But I think sometimes we buy books like t-shirts, where we want them…

Derek Lewis:  [laughs].

Todd Sattersten:  … on our shelf.

Derek Lewis:  Well, I certainly do. I certainly, I buy more books than t-shirts.

Todd Sattersten:  Right. And sometimes we want to walk back to that experience of whether there’s a band we liked or an artist we enjoyed or whatever the case might be, a documentary that maybe was turned into a book, and we want a touchstone for that experience. And again, maybe to have an even broader experience than we had in the original case. So, I think that…

Derek Lewis:  Wait. Wait, wait, wait, wait. Are you saying that the book might be better than the movie?

Todd Sattersten:  Uh, that would be another way to go with it, wouldn’t it?

Derek Lewis:  [laughs].

Todd Sattersten:   We don’t have time to unpack that one today!

Derek Lewis:  [laughs].

Todd Sattersten:  But, I think sometimes it’s more. You know, I’m looking at this book on my shelf right now… There’s a designer that I really love who lives here in Portland. And his name is Aaron Draplin and people may not know Aaron by his name but they certainly know Field Notes.

Derek Lewis:  Oh.

Todd Sattersten: The very popular notebook series. It’s probably his most popular product that he did with Coudal in Chicago. But he’s done so many things. And he put a book out maybe three years ago, and I had to buy the book immediately because not only did it capture all of his work in one place, I got to enjoy the experiences that I’ve had with his work in a wonderful, beautiful different way.

So, what I love about the word felt need and the reason we use it kind of next to problem is because felt is the emotional side of it and need is the rational side of it. You really need to have both and if you miss that, I think whether you’re giving up one side of the brain or the other or you’re giving up head and heart. I think if you leave one on the table, you’re missing a big opportunity with the books that you create.

Derek Lewis:  Oh, that’s a great point, Todd. I like that. So, let’s switch gears for a sec and talk about Bard Press and becoming a New York Times bestseller that’s like people ask all the time, “How do I become a New York Times bestseller?” “Man, this is gonna be a great book. It could be a New York Times bestseller.”

And I have tried to help people not just reset their expectations but to help them understand why that is not even necessarily a good thing and why it’s not necessarily depending on the book, a worthy goal. But that’s on my side.

On the other side, I mean oh my god!

I mean becoming a New York Times bestseller is amazing. So for all of the people out there who want to know, Bard Press, number-one New York Times bestselling publisher- what’s the secret?

And, when is that a worthy goal and when should that not be the goal?

Todd Sattersten:  Sure. Let me try and unpack that.

I think… it would be good for me to first probably, offer a correction. I think Ray would probably if he were here, we’re certainly probably not the…we probably don’t have the most New York Times bestsellers. But we do have a very good batting average… excuse me, a lot of our books end up doing very well on the bestseller list. And I think I’d go back to what we were just talking about a minute ago, in that when you’re thinking about what it is that you want to have happen with your bookmaking the bestseller list can be a component of your marketing plan.

Derek Lewis:  Uh huh.

Todd Sattersten:  And the reason that that might matter, it could be that the ability for you to say that you got a New York Times bestseller may lend you credibility with a variety of audiences.

Derek Lewis:  Of course.

Todd Sattersten:  As a publisher, it lends me credibility in the distribution and retail channels. My ability to go to retailers and say, “This was a New York Times bestseller. It did really well and it continues to do well,” changes their decision making around whether or not they’re going to stock the book.

So, there’s commercial decisions that connect with that. Being a New York Times bestseller works really well to be able to put that on the top of the book. It still matters. People are still moved by it.

Derek Lewis:  Sure.

Todd Sattersten:  So it also influences a reader’s decision about whether or not they should buy the book. To this question of whether or not is it something you should pursue, I think that’s kind of the back half of the question that you’re asking.

Derek Lewis:  Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good way to put it.

Todd Sattersten:  Right? I think it depends again on the kind of book that you are publishing. I think to say in some abstract sense, “Oh, this book would be a perfect New York Times bestseller,” misses the fact that to dig into how books make the bestseller list is sorta like trying to dig into how past interference is now called, in the NFL. There’s lots of nuance, there’s lots of different ways it might be called, and, you know, we could spend an entire hour just talking about The New York Times list.

But the couple things I would say is The New York Times, is from The New York Times. So a lot of times they make decisions editorially about what books are and are not on the list, there are a lot of people who want to make the list, and so like an Olympian who wants to get on the top of the medal stand and be holding that gold medal, they may do any number of things. Both through hard work but also through nefarious means to get there.

And so, any sort of record like that that requires some sort of, you have to create some rules around it. And so what ends up happening then is, if we’re gonna talk about The New York Times just for one more minute, it means that The New York Times wants a book that really represents a book that’s being read, which means it’s a book that’s being bought across all over the country. It’s a book that’s being bought in many different retail outlets, not just one.

Derek Lewis:  Right.

Todd Sattersten:  And those sorts of… those sorts of decisions start to slow down the ways that someone can quote-unquote buy their way onto the list. And so there are so many pieces that go into, gosh, how did this book get to be on The New York Times list? How did it get to be number one?

I think, first and foremost, it’s understanding way back at the beginning what your goals are with the book. And there could be some really great reasons to do it and there could be some reasons where you could make a run to try and do it and it may not get you to the endpoint of where you wanna go overall with your book.

Derek Lewis:  Right. All right, let’s talk about The Phoenix Project. I mean why in the world would an IT guy, who wants to present a methodology,

why a fable? And so that’s question number one.

Question number two, how did y’all create such a great fable that connects with other techies who are usually, you know, Rosen and Collins, “Let’s have the code and just the facts, ma’am,” and here they are in love with a story!

Todd Sattersten:  I think that’s a great question.  I think if I were to start very generally, what I would say is that we’ve always used fiction to teach things whether it’s nursery rhymes or Aesop’s fables. Every tradition, every cultural tradition has, storytelling at the base of it. And I know that sounds like, “Oh wow, that’s really cool, but what does that have to with business fiction?”

I think there’s some things in business fiction that are very particular, that if you’re trying to do something, fiction may be the best way to do it. I think the first is that you can speak a truth in fiction that you cannot normally in non-fiction. And what I mean by that is in particular in the business realm. If I go and try to read a CEO biography or autobiography, it is soo… the only word that comes to mind is sanitized.

Derek Lewis:  [laughs].

Todd Sattersten: And that may not be, exactly the right word but what I’m trying to get at..it’s very rose-coloured glasses that we’re looking back on the story of that particular person.

Derek Lewis:  Yeah.

Todd Sattersten:  And while there’s things that we can learn from that, potentially we are also limited in that maybe we don’t get the stories of the difficulty or struggle or really gross mistakes that that individual made.

In fiction, we have that opportunity. We actually have the ability to tell the story from multiple people’s perspectives- from inside their head depending on how the books written.  In the case of, The Phoenix Project it’s largely written from a single person’s perspective, Third-person, but from a single person’s perspective.

But we do get a sense of what he’s thinking from the story.

So, I think that fiction can do a really, really good job. You know, one of the books from The 100 Best is a book called Questions of Character by Joe Badaracco. He’s a Harvard Business School professor who uses fiction in his Harvard Business School classes to teach leadership. And the book is sorta the recording of that experience and he makes such a good case for exactly what I just said, which is we can learn more oftentimes from stories because we do get to feel more of what the characters are experiencing than we can really in any sort of business non-fiction. So that’s the first thing I’d say about business fiction.

In the case of The Phoenix Project, Gene Kim with his co-authors wanted to write a book about how to bring principles of lean manufacturing to the world of IT. There were certainly lots of great books about lean that IT people could’ve read, to get essentially the same principles that you’ll find in The Phoenix Project. But what Gene figured out was that unless it is packaged with precisely the kinds of situations that IT people are gonna find themselves in, that they’re going to naturally resist that translation process and that only the earliest of adopters are gonna go look for it in other places.

Derek Lewis:  Yeah, yeah.

Todd Sattersten:  So Gene ended up using a book called The Goal by Eli Goldratt. And, his co-author I think was Jeff Cox. And he really used that as a model for the kind of book that he wanted to do. And The Phoenix Project is pretty unusual in that it’s a novel. Like it’s a 300-word…

Derek Lewis:  Yeah.

Todd Sattersten:   I’m sorry, it’s a 300-page…110,000-word book about these concepts. Most business fiction just, it runs so much shorter. It’s…

Derek Lewis:  [laughs].

Todd Sattersten:  … 20,000 words or 30,000 words.

Derek Lewis:  Yeah, that’s right.

Todd Sattersten:  You know, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Pat Lencioni is 21,000 words.

Derek Lewis:  Yeah, Who Moved My Cheese is only 10,000 words.

Todd Sattersten:  Right, right… but I think this idea of fiction as a potential mechanism to teach in the business realm, I think it has potential. The trick that you run into is that I think we’re generally good at telling stories about ourselves, like what are we doing here on the podcast but fiction requires a very particular kind of writing. And if you mess up, writing the story and writing fiction, then I think you end up in some ways potentially taking a larger risk with the book you’re gonna write. So, lots of upside, a little extra downside I think when people do business fiction.

Derek Lewis:  Can you take us behind the scenes a little bit on The Phoenix Project to the extent that confidentiality allows, and tell us what it was like to be the publisher of a business fiction book that’s essentially a novel?

what was the process like?

Todd Sattersten:   Gene lives with me here in Portland. And we live across town from each other. He attended a workshop I went to or a workshop that I hosted for business-book authors. And, I met him there. It was great six months later he showed back up and he said, “I’ve got this book. I need some help publishing it.”

And he was very particular about how he wanted to publish it. He wanted to quote, unquote self-publish it. He wanted to do it himself. He did not wanna use traditional publishers. He wanted the opportunity for the book, or for him to have just a lot more flexibility about how the book was published, how much money he could make from the book. You know, pretty typical things that we deal with when we’re working with authors at Bard Press, where they’re looking for something that’s outside the traditional mechanism. And I wasn’t sure. I mean Gene was a CEO of a mid-size software company called Tripwire. They did enterprise security. So, he was very well-known in the security space, not more largely known in the technology world.

And so I said, “Well send me the manuscript,” and knowing all of the things I just mentioned as the risks around doing business fiction. And I read the first 100 pages of it. And he’d done a really good job of making me want to keep reading. As someone who [00:25:00] certainly has not, does not work in corporate IT, but had worked next to it and  was familiar enough with it that I wanted to keep reading,

just because of the horrible things that were happening to people in…

Derek Lewis: [laugh].

Todd Sattersten:  … in the, their business situation, early in the book. And, you know, it gets to the point…

Derek Lewis:   soap opera.

Todd Sattersten:  Yeah. I mean it gets to a point pretty early on in the book where they literally can’t print checks for the employees. And, you know imagine working at a 10,000-person company, I forget how big the fictional company is in The Phoenix Project, but not being able to send checks that week.  It makes my skin crawl as a business leader, as a business manager, and so I think it’s something that worked not only for technology people, but it also worked for people who wanted to understand better the trials and tribulations of technology.

So Gene had a big enough audience when he started that, I think we sold 2,000 copies the first month. And I thought, “Well, this is a good start.” And then we sold 2,000 copies the next month. And I said, “Huh, this is cool.” And we sold 2,000 copies the next month. And I said, “Well, maybe there’s something to this,” like that, with that kind of just straight, super consistency really right out of the gate. We continued to do that through the next, gosh, year.  sales improved the second year and the third year and I think, gosh, I think now they’ve passed a half million copies that have been sold!

Derek Lewis:  Wow!

Todd Sattersten: So there’s a couple of decisions that we made along the way that I think were important decisions. Audio…putting the book out in audio before audio kinda became as big as it is now. But that’s turned into being a big piece. I think another piece that’s interesting about this particular book is it’s really split in thirds almost between paper copies that are sold, digital copies that are sold, and audio copies that are sold.

Derek Lewis:  incredible!

Todd Sattersten:  So… there’s a couple of pieces that, I think give you a little bit of behind the scenes. I think that the last piece that was really important, and I think it’s the, it’s the X factor that goes into a lot of books that, go on to be successful, is this was a book that was written at the right time.

Derek Lewis:  Yeah.

Todd Sattersten:  It really was this idea, what’s now become known as DevOps in the world of large-scale IT, was very early on, it was only a year or two into its existence, I guess is what I’d say. Maybe longer…I think it was a pretty nascent idea for about five years. And Gene did a great job of taking it from being an idea for early adopters and evangelists to being something that anybody who works in corporate IT could understand and implement.

Derek Lewis:  So Todd, you might remember, last year, I had reached out to you, about my two authors in London. And, they had just gotten finished talking to, I know they’d talked to over 100 people from like- the National Health Service to the makers of Candy Crush, to Electronic Arts, the huge game manufacturer,  Air Dubai- this whole,  gamut. And, you know interviewing people about best practices.

And one of the things almost universally, was if you really want to be on the bleeding edge… if you really want the competitive advantage that every company’s seeking, you’ve got to switch to DevOps. And, my two authors, they swore by The Phoenix Project. Well, you know, Steve Jobs talked about putting the dent in the universe, you know, with The Phoenix Project y’all really put a dent in the universe!

Todd Sattersten:  Yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s important to, also talk about when you think about the goals that you have when you publish a book…  what was the doors that that opened for Gene… Again, he was someone who was known very, very well in a really particular space within in IT.

Our ability to expand,  the variety of people that know, who he was, he was able to build a successful speaking practice and we went on to actually even build an events business, where they do events in London and I think it’s Las Vegas now, so he’s built a business now that, you know, employs himself and his wife runs it now and I think they have seven other people.

Derek Lewis:  Wow!

Todd Sattersten:  So that’s the power of…

Derek Lewis:  Yeah.

Todd Sattersten:  … What can happen when you create sort of an industry-defining book,  and you sort of try to check off all these things that I think we’ve been talking about today in terms of doing the things that you can to improve your chances of success.

Derek Lewis:  Let’s see…so I’m looking at the clock. I want to be respectful of your time. We’ve got about, another 10 minutes. So in that time let’s cover two last things. So one, talk to us about, Every Book is a Startup and I loved the concept, I loved the experience. I thought it was a really cool idea. And then wrap up by telling us some cool stuff that y’all are doing over there at Bard Press.

Todd Sattersten:  Sure, I can do both.  Every Book is a Startup is a book that I didn’t wanna write and…

Derek Lewis:  [laughs].

Todd Sattersten:  … and I know that there are some authors that have that experience so I just wanted to say that, I had just left, 800-CEO-READ, now Porchlight, and I was doing a lot of writing about what I thought were some really strong parallels between what was happening in the world of lean startup with Eric Ries and…

Derek Lewis:  mm-hmm

Todd Sattersten:  …Steve Blank and a whole bunch of other people that were sort of the founding folks behind the lean startup, movement, that there were a lot of things that they were teaching that fully applied into the world of book publishing. And I sorta took the same track that I just suggested that Gene took, for I didn’t think people were gonna read The Lean Startup.

So I wondered if I could take the concepts within The Lean Startup and figure out how to wholly apply them with different examples to the world of book publishing.

What I also knew is that the phenomenon that you were talking about earlier of more and more authors taking more responsibility, either for the success of their book and/or publishing their own book that more people needed more skills. They needed more different mental models for how to approach during book publishing because one of the advantages of being a book publisher is that you get to do it more than once and so, you learn things and you build relationships. Most authors, most authors, not all authors but most authors are gonna write one book, maybe a couple of books, and so there’s so much knowledge that you need to acquire.

Derek Lewis:  Right.

Todd Sattersten:  Right…to be successful, and so that was my attempt. And I say that I did it, not wanting to do it in that I was writing a lot about it and then a publisher approached me. The folks at O’Reilly approached me about, writing a book for them. And I said, “Only if it’s interesting.” I said, “Only if we publish it in an interesting way.” So what we did and what was really great is we were, we were able to leverage a set of technologies that O’Reilly already had in place that they used for their technology books, but just with a couple of twists that they’d never done before…so what we did was we released the book as I wrote it.

So I think when the first release of it was two or three chapters. I followed up that with two or three more…I followed it up with two or three more…and what we did is we started it at a price, I think it was 99 cents to buy it the first time. And what we said was, “If you buy it now, we will give you all the updates for free.” So, we were treating almost like software and it was such a fun, wonderful experiment in how do you gather customer feedback, what are the sorts of things you write, how much do you let that influence what you’re writing.

I think authors a lot of times will, they’ll say, “Oh, I talked to so many people and they told me what to write,” and I don’t know if there as honest about the variety of opinions that they’ll get in that process, and I can certainly say that was the case with mine. There were a lot of people who wanted me to write in certain directions and I had to actively say, “That’s not, I don’t think that’s what this book’s about.” Or, you know, “I think that’s a blog post, not a chapter in the book,” and the reality of that book was that I think we sold 600 copies. Not very many, I mean almost by any standard. And what worked well for that and the reason I so love the story is there’s so many books that’s all they should ever be.

You should try to find an audience for them, and if you can’t, is there some way that you can say, “I’m gonna stop now and not invest any more resources in it.”?

And so, what was great is we published it digitally. We were using O’Reilly technology to deliver it and when we both, when both sides said, “Yeah, it doesn’t look like… We’re not gonna be able to do much more with it,” we both decided to stop.

And I guess about two years ago, I picked the project back up again and decided to… Oh, and what happened was when it was all said and done, O’Reilly even gave me the rights to the book back, which is, which was just so great. I didn’t do much with it, but… I think it was about two years ago. The book’s about 10 years old now, so about two years ago I decided to pick the book back up and take all the additional stuff that I’d learned in the following five years, more examples, and rewrite the book almost from scratch, and really turn it into a full-length book. And there, there’s a lot more that had happened in the world of lean startup. There was a lot that had been hap- happening around growth hacking and I just felt like there were better questions now for us to present to authors for them to think about. And self-published it again.

Used a really cool website called Leanpub. It’s a really great place that lets you publish books as you write them.  They’ve got just a really amazing platform. I’m a huge fan, if you’re thinking about something like that and I also made it available on Amazon as a print-on-demand book and so it’s one of those pieces that when we were talking about size of audience, not very big, felt need, for some people huge felt need, they totally get it, they totally, they’re already entrepreneurs at heart and they read the book and they’re like, “Oh, this was so helpful.” Um, but for a lot of people, it’s probably not the right book for them. So I think the way I’ve ended up republishing it, it made just made a ton of sense. Yeah.

Derek Lewis:  Well, and,

true to, you know, the idea of the entire project, is that, instead of doing what most authors do, which is investing an inordinate amount  of time and effort  to create it and then to take it to a publisher and the publisher invests so much time and money to bring it together and vet it and edit it and then produce it and then distribute it.  I mean the costs, you know, aside from your time, of course, were minimal. But by doing little pieces at a time, I mean you, you’ve come out with  a great book that can help a lot of people,  at a fraction of the cost that it would’ve been if O’Reilly would’ve said, “We want you to publish a book, and let’s do it like, publishers normally do.”

Todd Sattersten:  Yeah. You know, in the world of lean startup, there’s a concept called minimum viable product.

Derek Lewis:  Mm-hmm

Todd Sattersten:  And I think the most important part of that phrase is the word minimum. And I think minimum a lot of times people think, “Oh, I could write a blog post and that would be enough.” There’s certainly books that you can see that the genesis of them came from a blog post but that there’s a lot of additional stuff that happened after that and that idea of what that minimum threshold is sometimes a lot higher…

Derek Lewis:  Yeah.

Todd Sattersten:  … than what people think. And so the reason I mention that is because if I publish that book and then suddenly I was on the road, doing 20 speaking events a year and I had a conference and I was,  I could see people wanted more stuff and I needed to write a handbook, that’s very different that’s a… the trajectory of that book is very, very different from

Derek Lewis:  Right.

Todd Sattersten:  Uh, but there’s still a minimum threshold of what I think you need to do to prove to people that there’s enough depth to the idea that it should be turned into a book. So, I think a lot of times it’s turning what I just described around, that if you have an idea, find some audience who wants to… have you come speak about it.  That’s really minimum viable publishing.

Derek Lewis: [laughs].

Todd Sattersten:  It’s can you go find a set of people who want… to hear you talk about your idea…

Derek Lewis:  Yeah! That’s a great idea.

Todd Sattersten:  Right…

Derek Lewis:  That’s a great point. So, in just the few minutes we’ve got left, Todd talk about some cool stuff y’all are doing at Bard Press.

Todd Sattersten:  Well, Bard Press is I think we’re going into our 25th year this year.

Derek Lewis:  Wow.

Todd Sattersten:  S- so that’s pretty amazing for people that aren’t familiar with Bard, I know Ray talked about it a little bit on the prior episode, but we’re a unique publisher in that we publish one book with one author each year.

And that affords us a whole variety of things that other publishing options don’t. I mean basically, we have a hypothesis, if you want to look at it like that. We have a guess and our guess is that rather than, and most publishers do this, almost every media company in the world does things like this, they publish a portfolio of products every year. So, they’re gonna publish 20 or 30 or 40 books, albums, movies, whatever the case might be, and we take a very different approach, and we think…and actually, our model’s proven out over time for this to be true, that if I focus my time on one thing for a very particular, for a given period of time, that it affords us some advantages that you don’t get in the other model.

So, it’s almost like we’re a stock picker, not a mutual fund.

So, what happens when we just focus on one book is we have the ability to really focus on that book- packaging, title, subtitle, table of contents, the prose down to the sentence level.  We also have the ability to spend a lot of time building a marketing plan, because we’re only gonna do one book. And when we go out to the marketplace and we say to our distribution partner and the retailers who support us, we say, “This is our one book this year and we think it’s gonna do really well for you. And here are the reasons why,” there’s a wedge that we kinda create in how we publish books that I think

makes the books better and then, when we introduce them into the marketplace, has put the potential for them to do even better than that because of the focus that we bring really to that entire process.

And so that’s, that’s a pretty unique deal.  Ray was doing it for a long time before I met him. I’ve known Ray for about 15 years. he’s been an incredible mentor. And a lot of the work that I was doing before I joined Bard last year was, you know, building a model that looked a lot like his and The Phoenix Project and the books that we did after that really was finding authors that wanted that next level of service, wanted more control around what they did. And it was really exciting, a year ago when Ray and I got to talking and where we thought it made sense for me to join forces with him and, really keep this model that we think is working really…The ONE Thing which is probably our biggest title that we have going right now, it’s going into its seventh year,  we’ve just passed two million copies sold worldwide and I think we’re on 38 languages, which is really just, it’s really unheard of in business-book publishing to get 38 languages. So that’s the kind of thing we’re looking for. We’re looking for more books that match that profile with the kind of authors that, want a partner around the risk of publishing their books with a lot of more upside around the reward and who want, who are willing to work with, you know, Ray and I to really be open and be open to making their book better than probably what they came, come in the door with. So…

Derek Lewis:  Wow. And which book is, is that with two million copies in 38 languages?

Todd Sattersten:  The ONE Thing.

Derek LewisThe ONE Thing…Man is it a good book!

Todd Sattersten:  The Surprising Truth About Extraordinary Results. It’s from Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.  Gary is the CEO of Keller Williams. They’re the largest real estate company in the world.

Derek Lewis:  Wow, in the world. I didn’t realize that.

Todd Sattersten:  Real estate agency.  they don’t own real estate, they sell it.

Derek Lewis:  Right, right.

Todd Sattersten:  and Jay is now the head of training there. So…

Derek Lewis:  Everybody knows, Keller Williams.

Todd Sattersten:  Yeah, yeah.

Derek Lewis:  You know what? So y’alls approach to books, it reminds me of that famous quote by Warren Buffet. He said, “You can put all your eggs in one basket if you watch that basket very, very closely.”

Todd Sattersten:  I agree with that. I think a lot of people think it’s risky but we’ve found that in our particular market, that we’ve got the ability to just bring more to a book than I think is afforded a lot of times in the other publishing processes. And I think we have enough success to show that it’s, that it’s worked. So…

Derek Lewis:  Yeah. [laughs] Yeah, more than, more than enough. Wow. Todd, this has been great. Thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate, your time and sharing all of your insights and letting me cherry-pick your different experiences and you just rolled with the punches, really appreciate it.

Todd Sattersten:  Derek, I always appreciate you having me. we always have great conversations about books.

If there’s anything else I can ever do to help, let me know.

Derek Lewis:  So another incredible podcast episode because of my incredible guest. If you’re looking for more ideas on how to write a great business book, then I suggest you, you take a look at my book. I, I literally wrote the book on how to write business books called  The Business Book Bible.

Um, y’all, I’ve been doing this for more, than a decade.

I’ve written, ghostwritten, authored, coached, edited,  well quite a few dozen books by this point and I used all of my experience, to write The Business Book Bible just for people like you, business authors struggling to get their book out of their head and, and onto paper. So in my book, I cover, you know, how to act like a publisher, even if you have one. I talk about my, you know, five-step Frankendraft process that I use to write and ghostwrite multiple books a year. I talk about, uh, revealing the… the secret sauce in your business book. Talk about the unforgivable sin in, in writing. Talk about how to keep your book focused and how to cut the unnecessary material.

it’s a practical guide to how to go from knowing that you know enough to write a business book to actually, uh, getting it out into the world. So, um, if that sounds like something you’re looking for, go to amazon.com or Barnes and Noble and get your own copy of The Business Book Bible. It’s available there in paperback and, uh, hardback and, and Kindle.

I’ve been fortunate to have my book recommended by literary agents, publishers, Fortune 500 consultants. it’s, it’s really been in- incredible. And if my book helps you as much as I hope it does, I’d really appreciate, uh, an Amazon review. But more importantly, I hope that it helps you create the book that you know that you are more than capable of, of writing.


Episode 22: The Philosophy Behind Todd Sattersten’s Immense Success in Creating & Publishing Bestselling Business Books