Regardless if you can write the most extravagant book in the entire world, it will never sell itself without proper marketing strategies in place for you to properly optimize authorship returns. Sitting down with Robin Colucci is author Mike Michalowicz, who started as a self-publisher and eventually found his way to the traditional method, thanks to Penguin. Mike explains how to make yourself and your books visible in the competitive market, particularly when deciding to make a class out of it. He also highlights the lasting power of books by sharing that one time they offered them as event memorabilia.
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Mike Michalowicz On The Best Ways To Optimize Authorship Returns
I’m especially excited to introduce to you Mike Michalowicz. He had founded and sold two multimillion-dollar companies by his 35th birthday. Confident that he had the formula to success, he became a small business Angel investor and proceeded to lose his entire fortune. This kicked off a quest for Mike that led him to write one of my favorite books, Profit First, which is used by hundreds of thousands of companies, including mine, across the globe to drive profit. He is the creator of Clockwork, a powerful method to make any business run on autopilot. His most impactful discovery is Fix This Next. In his book, Fix This Next, Mike details the strategy businesses can use to determine what to do to ensure healthy, fast, permanent growth, and avoid debilitating distractions.
We talk about Mike’s journey to becoming an author and the many different ways that he has utilized being an author for greater success in his own business and experience. One of the things that’s interesting about Mike is he is both a self-published and traditionally published author. He shares a little bit about his journey of how that unfolded. He also shares some great ideas on how to maximize your book sales and your profits as a result of having a book. I invite you to sit back, tune in and enjoy.
Mike, welcome to the show.
It’s a joy to be with you, Robin. Thanks for inviting me.
I’m thrilled to have you here. I need a lot of amazing people and work with a lot of amazing people, but I’m having a little bit of a fangirl moment here.
That’s super kind of you.Books are better than catalogs. They sit on shelves forever. Click To Tweet
Your book, Profit First, was referred to me by a colleague. I’ve probably sent dozens of people to get your book. It’s become an integral part of how we operate my business and it’s life-changing. I’m thrilled to have you.
I’m honored to hear what you’ve done with it. Congratulations on the implementation. Thank you for those kind words. It touches me.
It’s my pleasure and thank you. There are many aspects of your journey that I know will be interesting to our readers. What I first wanted to ask you about is your author’s journey in particular because you’ve done something that a lot of authors asked me about, which is starting out with a self-published work, and then transitioning into traditional publishing. Could you share with us a little bit about what that looks like for you?
I’m a huge fan of self-publishing. It’s interesting how history repeats itself. I didn’t realize Benjamin Franklin self-published his books. I’m happy to see the resurgence of it. My first book was self-published. It was called The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. I knew nothing about authorship at that time. I thought the only way was through traditional publishing. I approached some traditional publishers and I got laughed out of the room, without the laughter to my face at least, maybe behind the scenes.
Publishers in the traditional format are looking for a platform. If you have a lot of folks that you have access to, that at a snap of your fingers will buy your books. They’re looking for an extraordinary story. Did you land a plane on the Hudson River? You might get a book from it. They’re looking for accreditation. Do you have every degree Harvard’s ever offered? They’re looking for certain elements, and I didn’t have any of those. I was forced into a self-publishing platform. The thing about self-publishing is the degree of control I had. I could write what I want and how I wanted. I could sell it at the price I wanted. I could market it the way I wanted. I could run discounts, do promotions, or anything I wanted with pricing and stuff.
Back then, I know it’s changed a little bit, but Amazon has a thing called Amazon Advantage, which I don’t think still exists. It was a platform where I could print my books at a printer of my choosing, stock out the Amazon warehouses, and sell them through that. When I first launched my book, this is how close I was, I bought with my last penny 20,000 hard copies of my book. I was like, “I’d sell those the first week, so I need to have enough.” The first time I launched, I sold zero. To drive home the impact of zero, my own mother did not buy a book that day. It was trial by fire. What was interesting is when your garage and every room in your house, including your bed platform, has been replaced by books, it’s the necessity to sell them. I started to hustle in ways like I never had before. I did guerrilla tactics to promote it.
Sure enough, over time, I moved my first 10,000 units. That’s significant because to a traditional publisher, if you can move 10,000 books, particularly within a year’s timeframe, that’s atypical, that’s palatable. They want to buy that. It went on to be 20,000. Ultimately, I have sold over 100,000 copies of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. Not just the print platform, audio is big. My publisher, Penguin, one of the editors approached me and said, “We’ve been tracking you on BookScan. You came to us a year ago. Your books are selling pretty well. Do you want to do your next book with us?” I said yes and I’ve been with a traditional publisher ever since. I’ve done some more self-publishing and I plan in 2021 to do another self-published book, but most of my books are through Penguin.
Something I noticed is it looks like you’ve continued to carry The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur in your self-published catalog.
It still sells. It’s a Steady Eddie. That book is twelve years old. Every month, it brings in $2,000 of royalties.
That’s pretty good for book sales.
It’s good. It’s the ultimate backlist. I don’t have anything. I don’t promote it, nothing. It’s part of my catalog now. Being an author, at least in the nonfiction space, the bigger your catalog, the books support each other. My breakthrough book in popularity is Profit First. When that started hitting, all my books elevated up.
Speaking of Profit First which I’m a big fan of, another thing that comes up a lot and I’m often explaining to others about how book sales are cool, but there’s a much bigger opportunity in terms of being a profitable author. What does it look like to profit first as an author? What would be some of the advice that you would give to authors who are looking at, how can I optimize my returns on having a book?
I first committed to myself that if only I sold books that would be able to support a lifestyle that I define as comfortable, I’d put an effort into that. There are two ways to do that. One is to write an extraordinary book. That’s so obvious yet it’s skipped by some authors. They write a book that’s a sales gimmick or something to promote, but it’s not extraordinary. Therefore, it doesn’t get word of mouth. Most books sell when a colleague shares this and says, “You got to read this book.” That is the best marketing. Writing an extraordinary book, and then hustle hard. Promote it in ways that will get it recognition and get that momentum going. That was step one.
Behind it though, once there’s a book out there, there are ways to further monetize it. The obvious things are like you can make a class out of it. It’s still confounding how people ascribe value to stuff. A book is hard to sell for more than $25, maybe $30, if you’re lucky. You can say exactly what’s in the book in a grainy video with horrible editing and complete the whole course within a day, and sell the same content in a video course for $200 or $300. It’s the same thing, but that’s how people ascribe value. To monetize it further, there is a portion of readers that will consume a course work.The world is starving for good books from authors, with the rarity of such material these days. Click To Tweet
I also then started up a membership program. Profit First is a methodology. There is a community that wants to leverage this methodology to enhance their own business like accountants, bookkeepers and coaches. I started a program for them where they can get certified in this methodology. It’s almost like a franchise model. McDonald’s is a franchise and every time, McDonald’s opens up another store. The fact that there’s more awareness for McDonald’s allows the other stores to get more recognition. You drive on a highway and you see fifteen McDonald’s. They’re all advertising for each other. They all get elevated. It’s the same thing with Profit First. As more accountants and bookkeepers became certified in this, they were promoting them more, which then encouraged more accountant and bookkeepers to get certified, which promoted it more, and the book sales have continued to rise.
The last thing I do, which I don’t know if many authors do, but it’s a great monetization opportunity. It’s licensing and sponsorship. Licensing is where I go to an organization and say, “Do you want to buy the rights to teach this?” It’s similar to that membership model for accountants and bookkeepers. I go to a single company and say, “You can you can license this to teach it internally.” A large corporation may buy that or something. Sponsorship is another thing where a company may want exposure to your community but doesn’t have a gateway to get there. I’ll pick on American Express which is a mega-corporation. They sell services to small business, but the fact that they themselves are not a small business is a disconnect. They want then the author and their brands around like Profit First, the book, to be the spokesperson. You got Amex pitching their new credit card, “Amex’s new credit card is Profit First-certified,” or something like that, and they pay for that sponsorship. Those are all ways to monetize a book.
The sponsorship one, I hadn’t heard before. That is a new one. That’s interesting.
Here’s a hack. This was unbelievable. I go to this speaking event. Most big events for me are 200 or 300 people. This was a couple of thousand people. It was all computer technologists. This one company that sells cellphones wanted to get in front of all these computer companies, but they weren’t ready to get a booth and do all that stuff. They said, “What if we bought a book for every guest there?” They bought 1,000 or 1,500 books, which was a big investment. First of all, the host was thrilled because now they have books to give away. The company is called Nextiva. They put a sticker on every single book and said, “Enjoy this book as a gift from Nextiva.”
What happens is everyone gets a free book. Books are better than catalogs. They sit on the shelves forever. Maybe some are not going to read the book, but it’s going to be sitting there. Everyone’s got their book display. Nextiva, had their sticker promptly positioned there, and sure enough, they got some immediate business. They also got business months and sometimes years later because someone pulled out that book and said, “I remember that company.” It was a cool way to sponsor.
That is so true. I’ve said this to people many times, “A book lives in that person’s house.” People say to me, “Should I have a free eBook download as an opt-in gift?” I’m like, “No, send them a free booklet. Send them something that they can get in the mail because it will be sitting there reminding them of you every day.” Coca-Cola can get that on a Super Bowl ad spending $30 million.
It is unbelievable. I look at all these promotional items I get, the mug with someone’s logo or the sunglasses that came in from someone with their logo. Everyone sends their stuff but it’s all disposable. The one thing I don’t ever throw out is a book. I don’t know if it’s part of the human psyche, but I can’t throw it out. It’s like throwing out knowledge. Therefore, it sits and I look at it regularly.
There it is like, “I meant to call that person.” The next thing I want to talk with you about because this is another question I get a lot. People aren’t sure about when is the right time to make that move into authorship. I was thinking about your book, Fix This Next, and it seems you’ve outlined some ideas around when is the right timing to focus on fixing things. I’d love to hear your point of view on, when is the right timing for someone to focus on putting out their first book and taking that on?
The world is starving for good books from authors. There are not enough good books out there. Here’s what’s interesting, a news release I saw on BBC announced that the COVID Pandemic 2020 saw an uptick of book consumption by 25% or 30%. People are reading more than ever in traditional formats or print formats. Kindle and audible too for sure, but print exploded. There are more books released at this time than there ever has been because they’re so cheap and easy to do. The world isn’t starving for just more books, but the world is starving for good books.
The process of creating a good book is a long process. For me, it’s not years of writing but years of research. My book that’s coming out has been in the works for ten years of research, testing, and so forth. It’s 1.5 years of earnest writing and consolidating and stuff. My argument is if someone wants to be an author, start now. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the throes of writing chapter by chapter and trying to move it on to production. It may be in the research phase or testing out ideas with other people. I’m a nonfiction guy, in the fiction space, maybe it is getting right into the throes of building a story outline and character development and so forth. You’ve got to start now.
The mistake is thinking that a great book can be produced in a couple of days. Some programs say, “30 days and have your book.” To me, it sounds like there are some shortcuts there. If a book like that is successful, it’s probably lightning in a bottle. A good book is a lot of writing for the trash, at least that’s what I do. In my recent book, we call it kill the babies. It’s the phase I hate the most. My editor comes back and says, “We got to cut this down more. We’re going to cut out the story.” At a certain point, you’re like, “Please don’t cut that part, it’s my favorite part,” but it’s got to go for that cohesiveness.
I’ll say, 50% of the writing will never see any version of light, but the only way to get to the other 50% that will, I got to start writing now. Get going now. I believe this vehemently. I write every morning. I start at 6:00 AM until 7:00 AM guaranteed, every weekday morning, and usually more into the day. That period is a sacred time for me where I’m always writing. Usually, with other authors, we do it over Zoom. We sit and write just to hold each other accountable. Most of that stuff is for the trash, but from there, I find certain diamonds that had been added to my books.
It’s so true because the clarity that you need to be able to produce the quality book comes in the writing, trying out, testing, and getting the ideas out of your mind into that document where they can be examined.
I remember reading the book called On Writing by Stephen King.If you want to be an author, the best time to start is right now. Click To Tweet
It’s a great book.
He’s telling stories at the beginning that are remarkable vignettes from his own life. He concludes with that horrific accident, but throughout, he shares these little tips. One of the common themes I heard is, “Just write.” How many stories did he write that got thrown in the trash? The other thing I remember is to try to avoid adverbs. Every time I write something with a “ly,” I’m like, “What am I doing? Stephen would kill me.”
Often when I’m working on one of my client’s pieces, I’ll be like, “Dial back on adverb abuse.” The thing that I remember too from his experience as a novelist was how he collected those pink slips. He kept sticking them on the nail. He used that as motivation.
This is where I get a breakthrough. I do know that Profit First would have never happened if I didn’t write Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, Surge, and all my other books. Being an author is a little bit what a rock band is like. You got to write songs. Not all songs are going to make it to the radio, but if you keep writing songs, the possibility of one being a hit is there. The bands probably love all their songs equally. It’s what the consumer likes. Once you have that hit book or a hit song, you better start performing that. When the Eagles show up and perform a concert, they better do Hotel California. When I present and I’m not talking about Profit First, I am jeopardizing what my clients and my readers want to hear. I don’t get tired of it because I know they’re never going to get tired of it.
You still can talk about your other books, but you have to at least bring that into the conversation.
You got to honor what they honor.
You just burned through my questions. We’re so efficient. Our readers are mostly doing nonfiction. What other words of wisdom do you have for them?
I would argue and I think it is the most important tip. I don’t know if I write great books, I just know it’s great when the consumers confirm it’s great by buying it repeatedly. I do everything I can to make a great book, but the consumer decides that. Writing a great book is the tip of the iceberg. That’s what’s confusing for so many authors. I thought when I write a great book, the world will discover it. Build it and they will come. They didn’t come. My mother didn’t come. I came to realize that authorship is not writing, otherwise, we can just be called writers. Authorship is owning a concept, being an advocate, which means promotion. We have a responsibility to market.
I’m releasing a new book and I remember my first book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur was such a flop out of the gate. I met with an internet guru. His name is Yanik Silver. He’s a nice man. He invited me down to his house and I said, “I know you know me from Adam.” He was kind enough to invite me down and spend some time with him. I said, “I’m struggling to sell.” He looked at me and he goes, “Tell me about what you’re trying to sell.” I tell him, “It’s a book.” He goes, “Let me ask you, do you feel your book is better than the alternative books that are out there?” I said, “In many ways it is. This is my life’s work. I’ve consolidated it and made it simpler. Yes, I believe it’s better.” He goes, “Do you feel if a reader buys someone else’s book as opposed to your book, it’s a disservice, that they’re being compromised in some way because they didn’t get your book?” I said, “Absolutely.”
He looks me right in the eye and he goes, “You then have a goddamn responsibility to market the hell out of your book.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. If we do something that’s of significance, that we’re truly proud of, and that we can serve people, we have a damn responsibility to market it relentlessly. This is not a time to be bashful. If you are, the client, the reader is not going to get it. It may be their problem, but it’s our fault. That’s when I got the chutzpah to start marketing. I went guerrilla. I’ll give you one tip and I challenge everyone reading to do this. I strongly suspect this still works. Even though I’ve told hundreds of people this, I question how many people have even tried it. I had 20,000 books. I had my own inventory.
Talk about urgency, though. I love it.
It was panic. I saw that as money sitting on my shelf. “I got to sell this.” I couldn’t afford 20,000 books. I was like, “These are going sell.” I called some of my friends and said, “Would you be willing to take a stack of books like 40 books, and go to the local Barnes & Nobles in your area?” We saturated the tri-state area. There are about 40 Barnes & Nobles in the New York area where I am. What I did, and my friends helped me with this, we go into a Barnes & Noble with a stack of five books, put them in our backpack, and then stack it on the shelf. It was the reverse of stealing. True story, we put it in there. I hoped that if the book was there, that someone would try to buy the book. If someone tried to buy the book, I know there will be a problem. I want that problem because then the conversation of the problem is around my book.
This is a 100% true story. After doing this, a few weeks later, the phone rings. It says Barnes & Nobles. My hands are shaking. I’m like, “Crap.” I answer the phone and I say, “Hello.” She goes, “Is this Mike Michalowicz?” I’m like, “Yes, this is Mike.” I’ll never forget hearing her voice. She goes, “We have a little problem. We have customers trying to buy your book, Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, but we don’t carry it. Do you understand how we’d have it?” I’m like, “I’ve no idea.” She goes, “Here’s what we need. We need 3,000 units in our stores immediately. Who’s the distributor that’s sending this?” I said, “What’s a distributor?” She goes, “We will assign you a distributor immediately. Can you ship these books if we get you someone tomorrow?” I said, “Yes.” They gave me a distributor. They sent a semi to my house, the distributor. They picked up a couple of skids of books and within four weeks, it was at every Barnes & Nobles. There was another author named Gary Vaynerchuk who was releasing a book called Crush It!, this black book with a green cover. It was on an end cap right when you walk into the store. Next to it was The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, my book. I couldn’t believe it.
They gave you an end cap. Publishers pay for that.Almost around 50% of your writing will never see the final version. Click To Tweet
I didn’t pay for it. My book comparatively exploded in sales. Hundreds and hundreds of books like 300, 400 started moving every week through Barnes & Nobles, which for me was a huge deal. Amazon, because of BookScan, they start ordering more books for advantage. I can see the trajectory jump. It wasn’t the only strategy, but it was one of the highly effective ones. I encourage people to do stuff like that that gets you noticed.
Now I have to revise my blog, Mike. Thanks a lot. Some time ago, I did a post on Why Your Self-Published Book Will Never Be In Bookstores.
Here’s the funny thing, I’ll tell you the front story that prologues that. I called Barnes & Nobles once I started self-publishing. They have a small business department. I said, “I’d like to have a book at your stores.” The woman started laughing. She was like, “You’re self-published, right?” “Yes.” She’s like, “We don’t,” which they do in unique circumstances. I don’t know if our pursuit should be a bookstore. The 800-pound gorilla still is Amazon. There’s a new thing called BookShop.org. It’s starting to get a little bit of momentum. Some bulk buyers are starting to play, but Amazon is still it. I still devote a lot of time like every single week, I’m spending a few hours investigating how is Amazon working this week, and how can I leverage it to my advantage. That guerrilla tactic is not alone on Barnes & Nobles.
I’ll give you a tip before we wrap things up here. There are some popular authors like Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath is one of his books. If you go to Amazon and you scroll through his page, you’ll notice there’s one section that says videos about this book. It’s a blank space. I was like, “I can review other authors’ books right here in the space with my books positioned behind me.” I’m not marketing my books. I just say, “My name is Mike. I want to tell you about David and Goliath, and why I think this is a great book,” and I review it. In truth, you can look at many business books, you’ll see my videos up there. It’s a tactic to honestly and integrally review a book I like, but also my books are positioned behind me as a curiosity element. It may move more books, I. It’s hard to measure that. I’ll tell you this. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell and so forth look at their page. I’ve had other authors call me to say, “Thank you for reviewing my book.” It’s a great way to build connections to other authors too.
Videos stand out and it pulls people in more. That’s such a brilliant tactic. I love that idea.
It’s worked wonders for me. I’m constantly doing stuff like that.
Working with other authors in your space that way is huge.
You can do a collaborative effort. There are so many things we can do. The one thing that we’re not permitted to do is just stand back and think the book will sell itself. Be your biggest advocate.
What is it about that fantasy? Everyone has that phase of that fantasy of like, “My book is going to be found and sell 100,000 copies.”
Everyone has that. It’s like entrepreneurial successes. You see on the cover of the magazine people like Sara Blakely of Spanx. She cut pantyhose in her dorm room and now she’s a billionaire. That’s all I have to do. First of all, she’s a lottery winner. Most entrepreneurial journeys are not like that. Second of all, she hustled and did a lot of work to make that a reality. We always hear the vignettes. In the author space, you hear J.K. Rowling got rejected by 40 people that she called, but the 41st picked her, and now she’s a billionaire. There’s a lot more than that. We only hear little tidbits of the story and think that we can have the same trajectory. It’s unlikely. You got to work your tail off.
That is a terrific thought to leave our readers with. Thank you again for sharing all your great wisdom with us.
It was my joy. Thanks for having me. Go, authors. Authors rule.
- Mike Michalowicz
- Profit First
- Fix This Next
- The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur
- On Writing
- Crush It!
- Why Your Self-Published Book Will Never Be In Bookstores
- David and Goliath
About Mike Michalowicz
By his 35th birthday, MIKE MICHALOWICZ (pronounced mi-‘kal-o-wits) had founded and sold two multi-million dollar companies.
Confident that he had the formula to success, he became a small business angel investor… and proceeded to lose his entire fortune. Then he started all over again, driven to find better ways to grow healthy, strong companies. Mike has devoted his life to the research and delivery of innovative, impactful entrepreneurial strategies to you.
Mike is the creator of Profit First, which is used by hundreds of thousands of companies across the globe to drive profit. He is the creator of Clockwork, a powerful method to make any business run on automatic. And his latest, arguably most impactful discovery, is Fix This Next. In Fix This Next, Mike details the strategy businesses can use to determine what to do, in what order, to ensure healthy, fast, permanent growth (and avoid debilitating distractions).
Today, Mike leads two new multi-million-dollar ventures, as he tests his latest business research for his books. He is a former small business columnist for The Wall Street Journal and business makeover specialist on MSNBC. Mike is a popular main stage keynote speaker on innovative entrepreneurial topics; and is the author of Fix This Next, Clockwork, Profit First, Surge, The Pumpkin Plan, and The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.
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