I’m taking a short break this week from posting about the principles of public speaking to put a couple of Q and As out. This is the second. Enjoy! Next week I’ll return to the principles of public speaking.
The traditional book publishing business is getting up-ended in a number of ways. Many of them have to do with bringing books to market more quickly in this instant era. One of the players in this evolving world is Tucker Max, the always-controversial co-founder of Book In A Box, a company that’s created a new way to turn ideas into books. And Tucker knows his way around the book business: he’s written three #1 New York Times Best Sellers, which have sold over 3 million copies worldwide.
Nick: You’ve done some research recently on the changing nature of a New York Times bestseller. What did you learn?
Tucker: Our team put together data on the page length of every NYT #1 Non-fiction bestseller since the list started. Our goal was learn about the average lengths of the most successful non-fiction books to better inform our authors, and to see any trends that might exist.
Once we crunched the data, we found something surprising: after floating in the 450-page range from 2000 to 2011 (the year the Kindle Fire was released), the average length of a #1 bestseller has steadily fallen every year.
Today, it’s down to 273 pages, and the downward trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Nick: That’s amazing, and probably important, too! Does that mean that authors should write to spec if they want a NYT bestseller?
Tucker: No, I don’t believe so. Obviously writing a 273-page book isn’t a formula for hitting a bestseller list. We’ve seen #1 bestsellers as long as Robert Caro’s 1234-page Master of the Senate, and as short as Harry Frankfurt’s 81-page On Bullshit.
This number should form a loose guide for roughly what is expected from readers and what’s been successful recently. Most importantly, it should stop authors who are writing hundreds of pages of fluff to fill out their books from doing so, and help them accept that a shorter book in the 200-page range is no longer seen as a negative. In fact, it can be positive.
Nick: What else is involved in achieving that coveted distinction of a NYT bestseller?
Tucker: Well, first off, I would highly challenge that the New York Times Bestseller List is a distinction. In fact, it is pretty much a made up, bullshit honor. That list does not actually measure best-selling books. Not in the least. It is an “editorially curated” list that the New York Times uses to promote the books they like or think should be read. It’s basically the opposite of a best seller list. I wrote a long piece explaining this on the Book In A Box site: http://bookinabox.com/how-best-seller-lists-actually-work-and-why-to-avoid-them/
The honest answer to “how do you become a New York Times bestseller” is that you have to write a book that is published by the “right” companies and chosen as valid by the “right” people. It has nothing to do with actual sales. It’s the height of snobbish elitism. And I say that as a guy who has personally written three #1 NY Times Bestsellers and helped dozens of other authors put their books on the list as well.
Nick: Agreed on the curated nature of the list; it’s still important to speakers because it increases recognition, bookings, and fees. But let’s move on. Can you tell us about your Book in a Box process? How does that work?
Tucker: Our process is very different from the conventional idea that most people have for writing a book. That idea is that you have to take a year or more sitting at a computer, typing a book out, opening a vein and crushing yourself to get it done. But what’s funny is that if you look at the great works of Western civilization, none of them were written that way. Jesus never wrote a word down, Buddha did not, Marco Polo did not, Dostoyevsky, Malcolm X, Winston Churchill–go down the list, many of the great thinkers used another method: Scribes. They spoke their thoughts, and someone else recorded them to share with the world.
So why can’t everyone do that?
That is what our company does. We turned the scribe process into a system that anyone can use to get their ideas out of their head and into a book, without having to spend a year sitting at a computer typing.
You can think of it like ghostwriting, except that in our process we interview you and ALL of the ideas and words and even the voice in the book is yours, not ours.
Nick: Sounds like a great alternative to writer’s block! Thanks for the look into the NYT list and your company. Finally, tell us something else about Tucker Max.
Tucker: You mean, my bio? Here goes. I was credited with being the originator of the literary genre, “fratire,” and am only the third writer (after Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis) to ever have three books on the New York Times Nonfiction Best Seller List at one time.
I received my BA from the University of Chicago in 1998, and my JD from Duke Law School in 2001. I currently live in Austin, Texas, with my wife Veronica and our children.
Nick: Thanks, Tucker!