Podcast 8: Tucker Max on How To Write a Bestselling Book in 4 Hours
Tucker Max is a 3 time #1 NYT Bestselling author and entrepreneur. He has been a prolific blogger on TuckerMax.com (college humor like the books) and the TuckerMax.me (more “mature” posts). He has started and sold publishing businesses and is currently working on a startup idea that could revolutionize not only writing books, but how we learn online.
- You went to law school, were you good at law? I am very good at excelling at law school without doing any work. I am very good at hacking that system. I wasn’t good at being a lawyer. I got fired from my first lawyer job within 3 weeks of starting it.
- Were you surprised at your success selling millions of copies of your books (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, Assholes Finish First, and Hilarity Ensues)? No.
- Did you know they were going to be awesome bestsellers when you were writing them? Yes.
- How did you know that? I was applying “lean startup” methods to my writing long before lean startup methods existed (testing, failing fast, trial and error).
- When did you decide to write the first book? There is nothing more foolish than taking a bunch of time to write a book if you don’t know there is an audience for it. I knew there was a massive audience because I spent 3 years building a website with multi-millions of unique views and a huge fan base.
- Many people don’t do that, right? A lot of people decide what they want to do and then go search for demand. People don’t ask themselves if there is latent demand exists before starting on a project. That’s really the wrong way around. The better thing to do is to figure out what people want and need and then create that.
- How did you go beyond writing books into creating publishing companies? I created the content and built the fan base, but was only getting 15% of hardcover royalties. Because I had a leveraged position (I knew my books were going to sell no matter who the publisher was), I made the publisher into just a distributor and took 89% of net receipts for my third book.
- Did any of the negative press have backlash and affected your long-term strategy? Yes, of course. Every action has consequences. There have been negative consequences, but at the same time there have been positive results. I’m not exactly sure, to be honest, if it was the optimal strategy for me. But it was the strategy I took. There was a point in time that I thought it was the strategy I needed to take. I wouldn’t recommend a negative strategy for most people. The other side of that coin is that this is the reason I am now so good at marketing, branding and media is because I had to learn it to manage the negative strategy.
- Do your decisions still haunt you today? Nothing haunts me, dude. I’ve sold millions of books and I’m famous and super successful and I have fuck you money. A legitimate argument could be made that I could have been more successful or could have achieved more without doing that. I don’t know if it’s true.
- What are you doing now? Two major projects:
- Mating Grounds – the definitive guide to sex and dating for guys. Most of the information out there is offensively bad (pickup artist stuff) or political or incorrect or foolhardy. There is a lot of good information but nobody’s pulled it together in a way that guys can use.
- LionCrest Publishing, The BookStrapper Guide to Marketing Your Book and Book-in-a-Box.
- What’s Book-in-a-Box? I developed it by accident when a client wanted to have a book written with the specialized knowledge in her head. I wondered: is there a way to have anybody be able to write a book in let’s say, fuck it… 4 hours. And I thought about it and realized there might be a way. What is a book? A singular idea in a self-contained unit (digital or physical). So I wondered how do I get the information out of her head? Ghost writing is a broken process that doesn’t work. Can we do it quicker and better?
- So how do you write a book in 4 hours? I helped her create an outline of the singular idea, how do you want to convey it, who is your audience, what do they want to learn, why do they care about this? Through those answers we came up with a great outline of exactly what she had to say. Her thesis, main point, 3 supporting points, evidence, conclusion. It ended up taking 6-8 hours of interviews. But we just interviewed her following the outline. Transcribed it into 35,000-40,000 words and then edited and structured it down to 30,000 words. With one more review and 12-16 hours total (not in a row), the full book was done.
- So anybody can be the author of a book now? Yes. Writing is a skill that you don’t need to have in order to be an “author”. We are de-coupling the writing from the authoring process. Ghost writing costs $40,000-50,000. The one-on-one high-touch Book-in-a-Box process generally costs $8,000-10,000 right now, but we are building automated software solution that will only cost $100-200 per book without having to do the writing themselves. Tell us you heard about Book-in-a-Box from Lucas Carlson to get a discount.
- What will this do to Amazon? Self-publishing took the universe of books published a year from 50,000 to 500,000 books per year. Book-in-a-Box systems could add another 0 and take that to 5,000,000 books per year.
- What’s the definition of a good book idea? It is cogent, it make sense, and there is an existing audience for it. That’s it.
- Who will be writing books? Anyone with something to say. There are so many people out there who don’t write books because they don’t have the skill to write. We’ve developed a practice to turn ideas into books.
- How do you get attention for your books in a noisy world? The first and best thing you can do to market your book is to create a great book. All marketing eventually funnels down to word of mouth. If you don’t create something great to start with, marketing won’t help it spread. Next is focus on the title, subtitle, cover and author bio and how it relays value to the consumer. Most people skip over these parts but they are the most crucial steps to marketing.
- How do people choose to buy a book? The price of the book is not the choice. The choice is the investment of time. Buying something and not reading it is the fear people have and then feeling guilty for having wasted their money. So the question is why do I care about this fucking book? because reading is much harder than sitting around with your dick in your hand and doing nothing.
- How do you market fiction books? Informal word of mouth. The only real way to market fiction is to write more books because discovery for fiction books is broken. BookBub, BookVibe and GoodReads is the best you can do right now, but they are not that good.
- Solving the book discovery problem in fiction is a pretty good startup idea then? Yes, but it’s tough. If you can solve that problem, you can probably solve discovery for something way more lucrative than fiction. And that is a HUGE business.
- What are some common mistakes startup founders make? There are so many…
- Worrying too much about competition. For the vast majority of startups their competition is entropy (lack of focus or order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder), not their competitors. Once you get to a certain point, your competitors do matter. When you are small your competitors don’t matter. What matters is getting traction.
- Focusing on something besides having users or customers. Customers are always a function of you creating something people want. Are you creating value to people’s lives. If you are doing that, then you will generally have customers. That causal chain is something a lot of founders loose sight of and forget.
- What’s the best pieces of advice that’s the most valuable things you have ever heard?
- Recognizing and dealing with emotions appropriately. I took things too personally like my identity was getting attacked. I had a lot of problems appropriately dealing with my emotions in a business context. I see that a in a lot of people… 80% of unsuccessful founders have this problem and 30% of successful founders have it. It’s the reason my first startup failed.
- Ask why does anyone care about what you are doing. Are you solving a real problem? That’s the fundamental question.
- What’s the one thing you would like to change most about the world? Our educational, governmental and social institutions do not sufficiently prepare us for our lives. One way I am working to solve that is through Mating Grounds (sex, dating, and relationships). I’m trying to help people turn great ideas, knowledge and wisdom into value for other people. The common thread is helping people understand what we need to do to be happier and more content in our lives. Societies and institutions of power don’t teach us this. The stronger relationships between people are, the weaker the state is.
- In another great podcast you did with Joanna Penn, you said that the future of books isn’t printed word, it is multi-media. Is that where Book-in-a-Box is going? You are giving away my fucking long-term strategy dude! I want to be part of a team that makes creating all creative things easier. Imagine if you templatized education. If you can reduce the barrier to creating ideas, the best ideas win.
About the Author
Lucas Carlson is a hands-on consultant, author and entrepreneur. He helps founders discover opportunities for growth, both for their companies and for themselves. He was the CEO and founder of AppFog, a popular startup acquired in 2013 after signing up over 100,000 developers and raising nearly $10M in venture funding from top angels and VCs.