Tucker is the only guest to have a repeat chance to talk to James and it’s mostly about his new company, Book in a Box. The company’s tagline asks, want to write a book but don’t have the time? “The Book in a Box process is a new way to write a book. We take your ideas and your words, and turn them into a professionally published book, in under 12 hours of your own time.”
There is a LinkedIn post where Tucker explains the model and process (and is similar to the content of his interview with James), but do be careful wading through the comments.
His idea for Book in a Box came from a LDV Entrepreneur dinner in NYC when Melissa Gonzalez approached Tucker about writing a book. After explaining to her that it’s a long and hard process to write a book, she called him to carpet and said, “in my job I solve problems. Can you solve my problem or not?”
(Eventually he did,The Pop Up Paradigm: How Brands Build Human Connections in a Digital Age)
Tucker has found what past guest Sam Shank says, is one of two things every consumer product should do; save someone time or money. Tucker is angling for saving successful people time, though toward the end of the podcast he shares how that may change.
Tucker explains that this system isn’t what someone like Neil Strauss does. For more about that, check out this interview Strauss had with Tim Ferriss to talk about writing and conversation.
The Book in a Box system begins with an outline that’s been formulated, refined, and distilled to the essence of what is needed. Tucker tells James, “the process has to be set before we can hire freelancers.” Then a freelancer comes in to have an eight hour conversation with the author, some transcription transpires, and an editorial polish cleans things up before a cover and marketing officially launch it. Tucker says that they have a team of freelancers that can turn an interview transcript into a book in a matter of days.
Throughout the interview Tucker repeatedly goes back to the idea of having good systems in place. It’s taken him and co-founder Zach Obront time to figure out what is necessary and what isn’t, but after finding these systems they can remove themselves from the process. James says he has a piece of paper taped to his computer that reminds him to take himself out of the equation.
Part of the way Tucker has succeed with this is by doing the work. He says that even now he’s applying the Book in a Box process to writing an actual book, this one about Book in a Box. He also introduces the analogy of using a lathe to make a lathe which should replace the eat your own dogfood mantra that exists.
One specific example from the middle of their interview is what they found with the interview process. Rather than sticking a microphone (or phone) in front of someone, there are specific questions that are asked. Tucker learned how to identify overloaded specificity. He tells James that the interviews are trained to ask for specific examples if the interviewee is being too general, and to generalize if they are giving too many specific examples.
Despite even this refinement (and many others) there are still variations. For the different types of non-fiction books, Tucker says there are different types of outlines.
“Our process is not for people who enjoy writing or are good at writing or like writing. It’s for people who have ideas that they want to turn into books, but don’t have the time or ability to sit through the writing process or deal with publishing process.”
When talking about the actual publishing industry, Tucker doesn’t have great answers. He says that 40-70% of all books sales are through Amazon and that number is as high as 90% for certain genres. It turns out that there really aren’t great answers. One Wikipedia page suggests 300,000 for 2013.
Besides Tucker’s company, there are people doing similar things online. Past guest, Steve Scott has dove, dug, and buried himself in the habit and productivity vein of Amazon. Tucker also says that he knows a guy doing content creation via books. That team will find a trend like paleo and pump out a number of high quality books. Then there is the James Frey, James Patterson stables of writers. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Patterson says that he writes an outline which the co-writer then contributes to. After that, the co-worker sends his work over every few weeks and Patterson decides, “This is terrific, I love the way it’s going,” or “We’ve come off the tracks somehow.”
Tucker tells James that he can see this Book in a Box idea expanding to other areas like painting, film, and fiction. It reminded me of the Jimmy Whales interview where he hoped the same thing, only for crowd-sourcing. Both Jimmy and Tucker have the same idea, let wisdom chisel this thing into something great. For Jimmy it’s many people with little experience or time, for Tucker it’s few people with much experience and time.
Both James and Tucker advice that it’s not great to be an employee any more. In Thou Shall Prosper, Rabbi Daniel Lapin put it this way. Always think of yourself as a freelancer, even to your current employer. If you think this way, you can see that you have one client, your employer, but you can always get more. In the realm of coding you see this all the time, people building side projects. Even something as simple as teaching means tutoring options are available too.
Tucker says he completely forgot about this SNL sketch when naming his company and that if Amazon came along and offered him 80 million dollars he would take it. (Sam Shank probably wouldn’t.)