I started to explain all the complicated reasons why I pull back a little every time I go to the Poetry Slam. â€œI don’t just want to compete for the score. I want to say something meaningful, to be more about community than about trying to win. The scores are so unpredictable, and I never seem to do well in these types of slams. So if I don’t win . . . .â€
â€œWell, if you don’t want to care about the score, why don’t you put yourself out there and go for it?â€ Justin asked as we walked into the first quarterfinal slam-off for this year. â€œSay it like you mean it.â€
His encouragement smacked the prideful posturing out of my mouth. It was exactly the type of thing that I tell other people—–so often the things that work aren’t new and clever. They’re things we know are true but don’t have the courage to do.
Take, for example, Greenleaf Book Group. In an industry where sales of adult hardcover, paperback, and mass market books are down 15.5%, 11.2%, and 5.3% so far this year, they’ve seen their profits almost double since 2006. After referencing an article by him a month ago, I interviewed Clint Greenleaf, author of the Attention to Detail business books and CEO of Greenleaf, hoping to find out his innovative and daring publishing secrets.
PETER: â€œYou say you focus on the success of your authors and employees. How do you prove that to them?â€
CLINT: â€œBy focusing on their needs. Many of the author-centric terms that drive our business came from feedback from frustrated authors and publishers looking for a new way to make publishing work. I keep an open-door policy and encourage an open dialog with my authors and my staff, and I defer to their opinions on many important decisions. If you hire the right people, theyâ€™re usually better equipped than you are to make good decisions.â€
PETER: Tell me about the two Attention to Detail books. Why did you write them and how excited were you about the content? Did you ever think, â€œOh, crap! Now I actually have to know something about business etiquette?â€
CLINT: Training with the Marines taught me the basics of personal appearance, and that gave me an edge over my peers in job interviews. At the time I wrote the books, I did so to fill a need expressed by my friends and fellow job-seekers. Etiquette is not rocket science; itâ€™s all about respect and doing the right things in different situations.
PETER: What mistakes did you make when you tried to get them published?
CLINT: I consider myself lucky that I was published as a young, unknown author. I made a ton of mistakes, but publishing is a relatively forgiving industry. If I can do it, anyone can.
PETER: Can you name any of those mistakes specifically that would keep someone from getting their work published?
CLINT: A couple of areas where authors make critical errors are in overpricing their books while not understanding the competition and shotgun publishing . . . do it with the proper research and lead time.
PETER: Why Greenleaf Book Group? Why not be comfortable as a published author, a business etiquette expert, or do something else?
CLINT: So many people came to me after my books were published and asked me how I did it â€“ I recognized a need in the industry. They were in the same spot that I was â€“ unknown and no distribution. I started Greenleaf Book Group to help independent authors compete with the big guysâ€¦and the same holds true today.
PETER: What do you do differently than other publishers?
CLINT: We are more collaborative than most publishers. Greenleafâ€™s authors retain all of their publication rights. We keep a smaller published list so we can devote more time to each title, and our authors are not bound to us for any length of time. We can bring a book to market much faster than a traditional publisher; it takes us six to twelve months on average as opposed to their eighteen months to three years.
PETER: In 2006, your sales hit $4.4 million, and you’d published 700 titles. What’s your growth been like during the recession?
CLINT: Itâ€™s been solid. Weâ€™re at over $8 million in sales now and weâ€™ve worked with over 1000 titles.
PETER: What advice do you have to send to already-published authors? Authors just starting out? Book publishers?
CLINT: For all three, itâ€™s critical to dig deep and really understand your goals. There are different business models and companies to suit different needs, so take the time to educate yourself on the industry and stay up to date as it changes.
PETER: Rank, in order of importance, what an author needs to have to get published with you and explain why. Money? Fans? Writing quality? A marketing plan? Other?
CLINT: 1)Writing Quality 2) Fans 3) A Marketing Plan 4) Money 5) Passion. Content is king, as they say. We can push a lot of books out there, but they wonâ€™t sell through to consumers unless the writing is top-rate and the marketing support is appealing to readersâ€™ need for the content. A platform (fans) is also critical, as there has to be demand for the book.
PETER: Where do you see the book industry heading into the future?
CLINT: More emphasis on content versus ink on paper. Consumers have more choices, so quality will be imperative for publishers to stay competitive.
Greenleaf’s business model isn’t successful because it’s revolutionary or because Clint Greenleaf has some shiny, slick vision of a brave new publishing world. It’s successful because they simply address all the simple details better than other publishing companies do.
1. They empower authors to produce their own content and challenge them to make that content as good and as thoroughly researched as possible.
2. They only market books that will fill a need in the industry and then bring them to market faster than other people could.
I asked Clint if he felt like an expert with the success he’s experienced…
CLINT: â€œNo – Iâ€™m not convinced thatâ€™s an appropriate term for me. Iâ€™ve been called an expert, but thereâ€™s a lot I donâ€™t know, and a lot we in the publishing industry donâ€™t know. If the publishing industry was truly full of experts, weâ€™d be better able to predict the bestsellers. Every day, I learn more about the practice of bookselling and the industry in general.â€
That’s a good attitude for the entire publishing industryâ€”and meâ€”to remember. My roommate’s simple, effective words changed my attitude last week as I walked into that poetry slam. They propelled me to lay my heart on the line, to perform like I meant every word that I had written. Not only did it thrill me and the audience, I ended up winning.
Most of the time the secrets to success are things we already know, but just haven’t made a commitment to doing well. If you’re constantly searching for revolutionary ideas and never-before-found concepts, it may not be a quest for knowledge but your fear or pride that’s keeping you from accepting the uncomplicated truth.
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