Most people who start working a nine to five job off of college believe that to succeed in business means working crazy hours, which has some truth to it. But Morten T. Hansen experienced firsthand that working to do less is more beneficial than obsessing about how everything can be more efficient and productive. Learn how to focus on one task and go all in as well as gain the ability to work well with others so you can make work lighter and better. There are a lot of people in the world with great stories, but they don’t know how to share them in an interesting way. Brook Warner of She Writes Press thinks that all stories are interesting, but need to be told in a compelling way that will have readers glued and asking for the next part. Brooke shares her insights on memoirs, ghost writing and how she became an expert in the traditional and new publishing realm.
We have Dr. Morten T. Hansen and Brooke Warner. Morten Hansen, as he goes on his book, is somebody that I found fascinating because I saw one of his articles about his book in The Wall Street Journal. I researched his work and he has co-written books with Jim Collins, The New York Times Bestseller, Great By Choice. We’re going to talk to Brooke Warner, who is a publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress. She can give us tips about book publishing. She had a great TEDx Talk. We’re going to talk to her about different things when it comes to publishing.
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Succeed In Business By Working To Do Less And Telling Compelling Stories with Morten T. Hansen
I am with Morten T. Hansen, who’s a management professor at University of California, Berkeley. He is the co-author with Jim Collins of The New York Times Bestseller, Great By Choice, and the author of the highly-acclaimed collaboration, Great At Work. Formerly a professor at Harvard Business School and INSEAD Professor Hansen holds a PhD from Stanford Business School, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. His academic research has won several prestigious awards and he’s ranked one of the world’s most influential management thinkers by Thinkers 50. Morten Hansen was also a manager at the Boston Consulting Group, where he advised corporate clients worldwide. He travels the world to give keynotes and helps companies and people become great at work. Welcome. It’s so nice to have you.
Thanks, it’s a pleasure.
I’ve found you through one of your articles you wrote in The Wall Street Journal. Caught my attention and it was hard not to because the title was How to Succeed in Business? Do Less. I’m sure a lot of people want to know what you mean by that because that’s coming from your book that you’ve got some of this information from some of your research. I want to talk about that, but I would like to have a background because you’ve got quite a serious resume going there. You’re not from the United States originally, right?
No, I’m originally from Norway. I moved here to United States because I wanted a career in academia and management and this is the place to be. This is where things are happening and great universities. That has been my path.
You talked about coming to America, but you also said, “Americans work impossibly hard.” How are we compared to other countries of what you’ve done a lot of research? Do you think we work harder than anyone else?
There are some numbers on that. It depends on the country you are looking at. People in Japan work also crazy hard. Some areas in Europe as well. Depends on the company. When I joined the workforce, I joined Boston Consulting Group, which is a global management consulting company. Everybody they worked hard regardless of where they are in the world. When I started out, I thought that the best way to succeed was to work crazy hard, so I poured on with the hours. 60, 70, 80, even 90 hours per week sometimes, you keep doing that because you think that’s the way to be a top performer. A few decades later, I did a study. What is behind this book is a study of 5,000 managers and then employees across corporate America. Across industries, financial services to retail, industrial products, across roles, and across junior and senior people. We have some senior executives with junior people innovative set.
I want to answer one fundamental question, which is why do some people perform better at work than others? Data to comeback has some surprising insights. That is that top performers, generally, they do less.
They’re extremely good at focusing on very, very few things that matter. They go all in on those few things with targeted intense effort. That little extra side there of going all in, which I call ‘obsessed’, is important because if you’re doing a few things, you better do them exceptionally well. Otherwise you’re going to look poor as compared to someone else who is doing a lot of things and getting stuff done. The exceptional quality to your work becomes important. You have to focus. You can’t be exceptional if you do too many things. It’s almost impossible. It’s a contrarian view because most of us are thinking the way you succeed is to do more. More hours, more activities, more assignments, more tasks, more customer calls, more is better. The reality, it isn’t.
You talk about Natalie in what you write about. You talk about the Natalie question. Did you see differences in generations? Male, female in your research? Can you explain what the Natalie question is?
When I start in BCG, I was working all these hours trying to be successful, and I was at this level. Then I came across this colleague and I called her Natalie in the book. We work on the same project. She works from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM every day. She worked hard, but she didn’t work the evenings, didn’t work the weekends, and I did. Her work was better than mine. Here, you’re confronted with an uncomfortable situation, which is, she was doing better work at few hours. I was doing also good work, not as good as hers, but in massive amount of hours. You got to ask yourself the question, “Maybe there’s a better way” I left BCG after three years and then I start academic career, but it was always in back of my mind, ” Why are some people performing better? They work few hours or they work differently?”That’s this quest of mine. These are the answers we found in the study. It’s do less than obsess. A few things that matter and do them really well. Get rid of the rest, the clutter, these things that are not producing value in any job. We have so much of it, meetings that are wasting time, phone calls, business trips. If we can get rid of that and concentrate on what matters the most, we will do far better and have a better life.
What do you think she was getting rid of that you weren’t that you could have?
I will never know the answer why Natalie did better than myself because I never pursued the question and studied her work. I saw it in her work. It was very much this idea of as a consultant, you produce analysis, figure out these are the two or three most important pieces of analysis. I’m going to write them up and I’m going to create 30 PowerPoint slides that show my analysis. I could not discern what were the three most important, so I would do ten pieces. I would write up 60 slides. They would think that 60 slides of ten pieces should be at the other three pieces of analysis, but those are the most important and the only ones that really matter and they’ve done better. I spent a whole chapter talking about what should you focus on. What creates value in a job? We often get that wrong in many jobs. We had the wrong metrics, for example. Chasing the wrong metrics is another bad thing happening in corporate America.
Can you give me an example?
I came across a person in the study. He was responsible for shipping products out of the company’s warehouse so they will get to their corporate customers. These were electronic instruments. His ship rate was 99%, which is impressive. Getting 99% of the shipments out of the warehouse on time. I did a survey on the customers and they complained that they only got 65% of the shipments in time when they needed it. He was chasing the wrong metric, which is when do the things leave my warehouse versus when do the customers need it, which is a value metric. We very often have these metrics that are internally focused, checking boxes, getting sure things get done without asking, “Are these things producing value?” In this case,35% of the time they came too late.
It’s interesting to me that you’re so interested in efficiency. I’m curious what you wrote your doctoral dissertation on?
I wrote it on Hewlett Packard as an empirical site. I was interested in the question of why were the product development teams faster to market than others. I started there, but I ended up with a very interesting piece of analysis, which was on collaboration. Some teams were bad at collaboration. They took way too much time to get to the market with their product. Others we’re very good at collaboration. That is another piece of data from this book. It’s this idea of collaboration. Sometimes, we collaborate in the wrong way and we collaborate too much. Other times, we collaborate too little. You got to get that collaboration right. That’s what I saw in my initial thesis data from my time there, studying Hewlett Packard. We think that more collaboration is better. In reality, it is not. Sometimes, you shouldn’t collaborate. I’ve done some other piece of academic studies that show that same result.
I am fascinated in things that make people successful. My dissertation was about emotional intelligence and sales performance. There’s so many factors to look at what make people successful and what they could do as far as practices to improve. Did you have seven work smart practices that you suggest at their portion of performance?
study identifies seven key practices. I’m also saying that they don’t explain all the performance differences. There are many other facets that explain it. There’s no magic bullet. There’s not one thing that’s going to make you a star performer overnight. There are certain things that matter more than others. These seven key practices in this new study in the book are key drivers of performance. If you can improve on these seven or even one or two of them, then your performance likely would rise.
Can you give us examples of couple?
When we spoke about work to do less than obsess, the ability to focus and go all in. Another one is I call it ‘fight and unite’. This is about working with others. So much of today’s work is working with others, not just alone. You got to master that. In other words, when you are running meetings or participate in meetings, are you getting the most out of those meetings? Those team meetings? We know from data that people find meetings unproductive. In fact, a lot of people hate going to meetings. That’s because they’re badly run. We’re doing the status updates in meetings and those status updates don’t need to be in a meeting, so we should be having debates and so on. What we found is that people are effective at debate, the fighting, having a good fight. Sometimes people think fighting is bad, conflict is bad, but constructive conflict, having a good fight over ideas and arguments, it’s something you have to have.
That friction creates the best decisions, the best outcomes. Learning how to have a good fight, but then comes also the uniting peace. Once we had a heated debate, we’re going to unite behind decisions made. We can’t continue fighting forever. They’re going to say, “Here’s appropriate amount of time for debate and somebody has to make a decision if the group cannot, and then we need to unite.” That’s the fight and unite principle. That’s a very important one and so many managers and leaders get that wrong. When you get that wrong, at least to cover almost like a perverse tendency in companies. What’s the consequence of a bad meeting? It’s a waste of time, people are fed up, but then you schedule another meeting as a follow-up meeting because you didn’t resolve the issues in the first meeting. If that one is bad, you got three meetings that could have been done on one meeting.
I have a wonderful case study in the book about a CEO Bart Becht of a company called Reckitt Benckiser in England. Cher Tommy found them. Together with two colleagues, Herminia Ibarra and Urs Peyer, we did a study of a CEO ranking for Harvard Business Review. It has been published several years in Harvard Business Review. We used an objective measure of CEO performance. What was the stock price or stock performance the day that CEO started and the day that the CEO left? What was the appreciation in the intervening years? How did they compare to their industry and the rest? We ranked the CEOs from one to 2,000 in the data set. Number one was Steve Jobs is not as a surprise. Jeff Bezos was up there. We got to number sixteen was Bart Becht from this company of Reckitt Benckiser.
I looked him up and to see what do they do because it was a surprise to me to see a company I didn’t know at number sixteen. They sell soap. Detergent for washing machines. They do more than that, but that’s the key. How can you be a top 1% performer and sell soap? I was so curious, tried to read about them, and there’s so little written about them. I contacted the CEO, Bart Becht, and I said, “Can I do a business school case study on you because they will figure out what you’re doing? He said, “Yes.” We went there and we interviewed all these people. We found the secret sauce, which is around how they run meetings. They follow this fight and unite principle. They have a set of norms for running meetings, which is that it’s going to be a good fight, everybody comes 100% prepared. We’re going to go to great lengths to get the minority of you out so that we have a healthy dialogue around alternatives, opposing views.
At some point, we’re going to stop the debate. If the team cannot get to a natural consensus, the senior person will call the decision, and then people unite. They’re not pursuing consensus. That can be lethal for debate. What does this give them? They’re so good at this. First of all, they have high quality decisions, I’d say around pricing of products because they have great debates. Two, they have speed because they do this debate in the first meeting. They don’t need five meetings to debate something that should’ve been done in one meeting. They have speed of execution. They have unity, they commit to decisions made, so they implement fast and well. It’s a huge advantage for them. It explains in part why they have such a great performance. This is one place where leaders can really move the needle, to have this fight and unite in meetings.
You were talking about how you were curious about the soap CEO. I’m writing about curiosity, so you obviously are a very curious guy. Did you always have that nature? How do you develop that in people? Do you think that that’s important to be curious in the working world to be successful and efficient?
Absolutely and we found that in our study as well. For me, I’ve been fascinated by big questions. I did this other book with Jim Collins which was Great By Choice, which was the sequel really to Jim’s Good To Great book. It was motivated by a question. I’ve known Jim for many years now since the first book Built To Last. Jim was fascinated by the big question ,”Why can a good company become great? If so, how?” That led to the book Good To Great. It’s is a great question. You might think of a wonderful way of asking great questions. We both had an interesting question for Great By Choice, which was, “How can you become a great company in a world full of change?” This was not answered by Good To Great. It’s a different question because we live in a world that is so full of disruption, uncertainty, and change.
The pace of change is quicker and quicker.”How can you thrive and become great in that?”was a wonderful question. We did that book and then I was left with this question, “What about individuals? How can you become great performer?” I said, “Everybody has looked at a question. I’m going to go and read books about it.” What I found was a very fragmented world of advice. I counted more than hundred pieces of advice, 200 pieces of advice at least, of what you should do. I looked at and I said, “I want to answer that question.” Driven by questions, it’s a curiosity. What is going on here? Why is it like that? We found this in the top performers too. They asked the question. Asking great question is a driver of curiosity. We suddenly found that people were asking questions, “Why are we doing it this way.”
I saw that you wrote that there’s not been evidence-based books out there to help us with some with this stuff. There’s books that are popular like Stephen Covey’s. Why do you think some of these books are so popular? Do we need more evidence-based research in some of the books?
I think we do. There are different ways of making contributions. I think Stephen Covey made a wonderful contribution. It’s a book that is 25 years old. This book as an evidence-based kind of compliment to The Seven Habits of Effective People, more like for the modern workplace. That’s a good compliment, not a substitute. There’s a lot of wonderful academic research out there, but they tend to be very narrow slices of answer to a very, very specific question. Surveyed all of that and put it together, and we got some great books like that. Dan Pink’s current book called When: The Science Secrets of Perfect Timing, it’s a great collection of science around that question. That’s one model. Another model is to do a study like I did and say, “Let’s ask a question and get some data to answer it.” This is a question I answered it in this book. We tried to answer is one, that is so fundamental to all of us. We would like to know how we can perform better. It’s not the only question, but it’s a very big question.
Is it different for how people want to work now than intercross generations? Many people, when I speak at groups, they all want to hear about generations getting along. What did you look at in terms of that?
We have older and younger people in the data set. We have men and women. 45% are women, there aren’t that many differences in that sense. How it was 30 years ago, 20 years ago, I don’t know because I didn’t compare that. There are some differences that I think are important today. One is people are interested in changing how we work. I guess it is ideal of trying to redefine your work. If you’re given a job or given a set of specifications, targets, and metrics, then can you take a step back from the job and say, “Can this be done differently? How can I create more value? How if we change things?”People today are much more willing of asking really good questions to get things changed. To give an example, is a high school principal called Greg Green out of Clintondale High school out of Detroit. His community and the student body consists of students, of whom 80% are on food stamps. In other words, they needed assistance. He asked this incredible question which was, “Why are we sending kids home with homework that they aren’t really doing?”
If I could then look and say, “What do you mean? That’s the way we teach?” Turns out, it’s a 300-year old model. We do it because that’s the way it goes. He said, “They’re not doing it.” They’re not doing because it because they’re lazy. They go home to chaotic environments. They have a job, they have to take care of their siblings, etc. He said, ”What if we slip the way we do things. We do homework at school where they actually get support and help to solve the problems they’re working on. We do lecture at home via video clips. We record some simple video lectures and they can watch that at home. They can come to school and do their homework.”It’s called the flipped classroom. He was the pioneer of that. He was the first principal in America who flipped entire school. All 800 students. He did it with a series of experiments first. That way of challenging a way we’ve done for 300 years because that’s the way we’ve done it, we see more of that. A lot of sacred cows are being targeted.
What’s interesting in some of the work that you’ve done is some of the comments you’ve made caught my attention. Not only do we need to work smarter and do less. You also said that if you’re being told to follow your passion can be dangerous advice. I’m curious what you mean by that and why?
That is something that we are being told, and particular this generation. The younger people coming out of college. The commencement speakers, they say, “Follow your passion. Everything else will work out in the end. That’s what I did and I’m up here super successful.” The problem is that we aren’t seeing from people who follow the passion and failed and they are unemployed and they are unhappy. They don’t get invited up on the podium to speak at the big universities. We have a selection problem. The problem with the term ‘follow your passion’ means that passion dictates what you should be doing, regardless of other considerations. You would become a pragmatist and you think about all the considerations like a safe job, then you’re not really following your passion. The problem with that is that it’s very self-centered. It’s about what excites you. It is about what the world can give you. It’s almost a humanistic quality. I want excitement for myself, so I’m looking for something that would have given me that excitement.
What we found is that the best performers, they did something else. They asked fundamentally the question, “How can I contribute?” That’s a question of purpose. Do what contributes. That’s the definition of purpose. What is the value I give to my organization, my clients, customers, and beyond the society? It doesn’t have to necessarily be a noble purpose. You have to be something where you contribute value. If you ask that question and answer that question, then now you’re doing something that others perceive as valuable as a contribution. That means that you’re more likely to have a safer job because you’re contributing that value. The top performers, they’re able to combine that with something they’re passionate about. This could happen in all kinds of jobs. You don’t have to be a medical doctor or running a hospital to have that sense. You could have it in all the jobs. What is from the book it sounds fairly mundane, but it’s very important, which is this concierge at a hotel in Quebec in Canada. Her name is Genevieve. She would say, “Give me a break. I’m in concierge. What’s the purpose there?”
While she defines her job as contributing to the guests that come to the hotel to have a nice vacation, how can she make a memorable experience for them? That’s her purpose. She loves interacting with people. The guests and everybody else, that is something that gives her that excitement, the passion. She has been able to combine passion and purpose. What we also found is that people who have both passion and purpose, they apply more energy to every hour they work, and that’s why they perform better. The leadership implication is quite large. It means as a leader or manager, it’s your job to infuse work with both purpose and passion. Can you connect people’s job to greater purpose? To articulate that, that’s the job on managers and leader. If you can, you will bring out better performance in those individuals.
We definitely have seen a problem with engagement. I can see all of what you write about is going to be very helpful to so many people. Many people would love to read your book. Can you share how people can find you and find out more about what you do?
The best place is to go to my website, which is www.MortenHansen.com. We have a brief quiz for people that they can take. They can score themselves against the seven practices that I have in this book to see how they stack up and where they might want to focus to improve their performance.
Thank you so much for being on the show.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Succeed In Business By Working To Do Less And Telling Compelling Stories with Brooke Warner
I am with Brooke Warner, who’s the publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress. President of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-Light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, How To Sell Your Memoir, and the co-author of Breaking Ground On Your Memoir. Her expertise is in the traditional and new publishing realm. She is the former executive editor of Seal Press and sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She writes a monthly column for Publishers Weekly and blogs actively on Huffington Post books and SheWrites.com. It’s so nice to have you here.
Thank you for having me.
I am interested in how you got involved in book publishing to begin with? Can you give me a little background?
I came into book publishing right out of college. I was one of those people looking to do something totally different than what I had majored in. My parents said, “Buckle down and figure out what you want to do, and then get some informational interviews.”That was wise advice. One of the places that I informationally interviewed at was a book publisher. It turned out they were looking for someone and I got a job. In some ways, I stumbled into it. In some ways it was intentional, but it has turned out to be a fantastic fit for me.
You do a lot of different things within the publishing. I noticed you had a lot of memoir associated with the type of books and things that you deal with. Why memoirs?
Memoir came about later in my career because I started in book publishing in 2000. In 2004, I got a job at Seal Press and Seal is a women’s publisher, feminist leaning women’s publisher. I ended up being there for eight years and I worked on a ton of memoir. The focus of the list was very memoir driven. It was very story-driven because it was women’s stories and we were exclusively publishing women. By the time I left Seal Press after eight years, I realized inadvertently in some ways, I had become an expert in memoir because I had been doing it for so long.
There’s so many people that want to tell their story. I’m sure you had to turn down a lot of people because not everybody’s story is super interesting as they think it is, don’t you think?
It’s not so much that their stories aren’t interesting. That is less the case than they don’t know how to tell it in a way that is interesting. I find that people drawn to write memoir almost always have an interesting, compelling, and worthwhile story. They don’t understand that in memoir it’s so necessary to make the story not just about them, that there are these universal components to writing a memoir that are for the reader as much as they are for the author, him or herself.
It ties into your TED Talk, how you were saying you don’t have to necessarily be already famous. There’s so many other aspects to what makes somebody interesting, right?
Absolutely, and I believe that to be true. One of the things that is problematic in our culture, where we are worshiping celebrities and where the big publishers are almost insisting that people be celebrities before they get a book contract. It tracks or doesn’t shine light on these amazing personal stories that people have to tell it. They’re everyday people. I’d rather read a really great story by an everyday person than a celebrity whose life has nothing to do with mine.
The platform is how many people follow you. You have a TV show, radio show .Can you explain it a little more?
An author platform is also a bit of an industry obsession. It’s how many people are following you. The concept is very clear. You’re up on a platform, you are above the crowd that you are trying to get attention driven to you, that you’re doing stuff, like what you’re doing, hosting a podcast, or any kind of content you might be creating that is getting you out in front of people. It might be a monthly column, it could be your social media, but it truly is a mosaic of all of the things that you’re doing to engage your audience. A lot of people find it annoying. I agree on some level that it is, but It’s because of the focus on it by the industry that makes it annoying. The actual act of building your platform is really important and can be exciting, fun, and rewarding. A lot of times, I spend time with my clients trying to reframe the conversation around platform, so that it’s not so intimidating, annoying, etc., and feels like something that they can engage in.
Is there some special number that they’re looking for? Do you have to have 100,000 people on this, or 10,000 on that? Is there one particular formula for figuring out what they’re looking for, or not?
No, I don’t think that there’s a particular formula. It’s about figuring out what your story is and then getting clear on that. Structure is important And there’s craft, so there’s not one right way to do this, which is what makes it such an art form.
You talked about green lighters, what is that?
In my TEDx Talk, I have a book called Green-Light Your Book. It came from the book. That term comes from the movie industry. This notion of green lighting, and I adopted it for books, for authors. I talked about it in terms of creative artists in general. In the TEDx Talk, I talk about authors. I also talk about film makers and singers. This applies to everyone, but the idea is that you give permission to yourself, that you would be a person who, if and when the industry says ‘no’ to you, which is essentially pretty common these days for all sorts of reasons, I make the point that have nothing to do with how good your material is. You say, “I’m not going to listen to that necessarily. I’m going to do my work anyway. I am a creative artist and I believe in my project and I’m going to green myself.”
There’s a lot of people who have great content, but they don’t know how to write very well. They want to write a book, you can be a ghost writer and spend a ton of money or you can take courses and become a better author. What do you tell people like that?
People need to be clear if they don’t want to do the writing themselves, that there is no shame in ghost writing. I feel like sometimes people want to get their story out. I’m a big believer in that. If you don’t have the writing chops and you’re not inclined to learn. Taking classes, becoming better at the craft, I admire people a lot who do want to learn it because there are a lot of books out there, unfortunately, the story might be good but it’s not well executed. This is the criticism around self-publishing that people go out with their books before they’re ready, that they don’t do the heavy lifting of learning the craft. That does lower the bar for self-published authors everywhere. Because I am a publisher of an alternative press, where we are not a traditional press giving advances, I do lump myself in with the non-traditional crowd, meaning that I support self-publishing. I’m a big advocate for self-published authors, but not if they’re not doing it well. Not as they’re not taking it seriously and making sure that it’s up to the standards of their traditional counterparts. I’ve been a big advocate for standards.
Do people keep their rights in your type of publishing? Or do you have the rights? How does it work with you?
We do give the author the copyright. We licensed the right to publish, to be the exclusive publisher of record because that’s important to you. You don’t want to have two versions of the same book out on the marketplace. In that sense, we keep certain rights in the contract. The right to publish your book, for instance, the right to publish your eBook, the right to distribute to foreign markets. The author keeps their rights, which is important, keeps their copyright.
What kinds of things can an author expect then from somebody, like a house like yours compared to a traditional publishing house. What’s the difference?
We call ourselves a hybrid press and the reason why is because it’s the best of both worlds. The benefits of self-publishing are creative control and that you make more money. The ways that we’re much more like a traditional press is that we function like a traditional press. We have traditional distribution, we pre-sell into the marketplace, and we’re a publisher. We are the ones that are controlling the design process and the interior, the cover, the editorial. What that means is that we’re vetting and so does the industry that we have high standards. One of the problematic parts of non-traditional publishing is that there hasn’t been a defined standard. If there is, people are overriding it.
They say they were trying to decide between going with a regular publisher or having their own book. Somebody was saying that he wanted the signing tours and that type of thing from a publisher. Do you offer things like that? Is it up to the authors to set up their own tours?
It is up to the authors to a certain extent. We do recommend that our authors hire publicists. Oftentimes, it’s the publicity people who are setting up the author tours. She Writes Press has experimented with a lot of stuff. We did an author tour, we hosted an author tour a few years back, but the problem is that touring is not as effective as it used to be. If you don’t know people in those cities, if you’re not a big name, it’s hard to bring people out. It’s not that we don’t recommend that people don’t tour, but we recommend that it be only in cities where you know people and where you are going to bring out a crowd. It’s not the case and if you show up at a bookstore that the masses of people are going to come in off the streets. It’s tough to get people out.
You give them a publicist who you recommend or do you ask them to get their own?
We do recommend publicists. We have recommended publicists in our author handbook, but we also say, “If you want to bring your own publicist who is someone that is not recommended by us, that’s fine as well.”By all means, people can research, and sometimes people know people that we don’t know.
You do a lot of one-on-one support for authors and I saw a lot of the stuff that you do. I liked in your talks and the different things that I saw that you think that some of these authors are turned down for the wrong reasons. Maybe they’re attractiveness. How much does their attractiveness have anything to do with whether they get published or not?
I think that it matters a lot. Sometimes, it’s couched in language euphemisms, like is the person “media-genic”? That’s something that publishers love to ask. What they mean is attractive. Networks, for instance, if someone is going to go on TV, they want to see a clip of that person before they bring them on. That is certainly true of places like the Today Show and big shows that bring on authors. In part, they want to know does this person know how to articulate themselves because that’s an important piece. They’re looking at their attractiveness and the industry is ageist. Older women, especially, have a hard time getting traditionally published. There’s no question in my mind that that’s a thing. Women in general have a harder time getting published. Women write more books, and yet men are published more. It’s a baked in our DNA problem, not just on an industry level but on a cultural level. The ways in which that permeates into book publishing, it mirrors our culture. We’re in the worst time ever around that, in terms of how blatant the misogyny is and the sort of the double standard is. It needs to be talked about because I have a women’s press.
I was interested in it one of the stories you told about some authors that get overlooked. It started to make me think about some of the books that have been very successful, like Fifty Shades of Grey, maybe fluff over substance maybe? Would you say or not?
That was a phenomenon. That was a self-published book that was getting so much attention that it was undeniable to publishers that they should scoop it up and repackage it. It’s probably one of the worst books ever written that has done so phenomenally well. I wouldn’t blame that on the publishers. I would blame that on readers because people were over the top about it. Random House was the highest bidder, and it happened to be a self-published project. Is it fluff? I don’t know. Erotica is tough because erotica is a genre that is and has been popular for a long time and it’s popular in the self-publishing space. The kind of fluff that I think of when I think of fluff that publishers are making bad decisions on are things like, I remember a few years ago there was something like Christmas Letters To Santa From Dogs. These kinds of books where you’re like, “Why are you publishing that?” That’s fluff, stuff that is random, kitschy, and that doesn’t have that much merit. Maybe it was acute gift book but did that many people buy it? I don’t know.
It’s interesting how many people are coming up with these quick overnight books so that they’ll have a book, either quotes or they’re trying to be Chicken Soup For The Soul kind of things. What do you think of that type of thing to get? Because there’s a lot of people that have heard the book is your new business card so they want anything.
I would caution those people. Your book is an extension of you and it’s certainly part of your brand. If your brand is kitschy, silly and ridiculous, then sure. Is that what you want? There are certain people out there in the world, I see this all the time, self-publishing as much as they possibly can and then re-purposing their content and packaging it. I see people who host webinars on this kind of thing and that’s the basest level of publishing that can possibly exist. I believe in trying. I think there are a lot of people who are putting together whatever random content, it’s more a numbers game and it’s about money. I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking about publishing. Publishing is an art form that the thing that you put out in the world, you better be damn proud of because it’s going to be out there for a long time. If you happen to self-publish and you made a few mistakes, do it better next time. There are those people out there for sure, but there are people who don’t care at all about this statement that they’re making because they’re simply trying to accumulate inventory of books. It’s almost like, “I accidentally bought this book.”That’s who I think the readership is for that book.
What kind of books do you publish? Are they business books? What’s your focus?
At She Writes Press, we publish mostly novels, memoirs, and some self-help. The majority of women who gravitate to us are novelists and memoirists, in part because those are the books that are the hardest to sell. Because they’re hard to sell to the traditional industry, we’ve opened up a space for those books to be able to happen, which I think is important. I would say that’s about 80% of our list as the novels in the memoirs. The other 20% is anything. We’ve done photography books, we’ve done leadership books. We do a lot of different kinds of things.
That’s great because there’s a lot of people that really are starting to look at this because it’s opened up to so many more people. You’ve said that you think more people should be looked at not necessarily based on their platform. How important is their platform when they come to you?
Platform is important. I also believe that you have to have a book to build a platform. I wrote an article that in essence this is a Catch 22 of book publishing, which is how can you hope to build a platform without a book? We don’t require authors to have a platform and that’s an important piece of what we do. I believe that if She Writes Press book can be an author’s platform. That has certainly happened for authors. It’s open doors to paid writing gigs, to paid speaking gigs, to sitting on panels, in some cases to agents. We’re young enough that we’ve had two authors have gotten agents and been sold to traditional houses. A number of other authors have gotten agents, but they’re still maybe working on their second book. We haven’t seen a whole lot of that going on yet. We’re just five years old, so these things can take time to measure. For some other authors, that’s not their goal. Plenty of authors come back to us for a second book. We do not require that an author having an author platform and it’s not what we’re judging the books on.
CreateSpace wasn’t designing covers anymore. Is that true? Do you know?
I did hear that they changed some things, but I thought it was around their editorial. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not doing that. It’s not what they do well. I always tell people CreateSpace and IngramSpark, they’re best used as printers. They’re not a great service to hire for your interior and your cover design because it’s not their focus. They happen to add those on as services because they’re like, “We could be a one-stop shop.” People who are self-publishing should hire professional cover designers and not use templated designs.
Do you tell people this is how much you can expect with a book of what you should have out of pocket or what should they expect you think?
I certainly am willing to talk to people about money. At She Writes Press we have a package and that package costs almost $6,000. We’re putting ourselves as a kind of high-end service for people, but it’s totally possible to publish a really good book for a lot less than that. It’s what we’re bringing to people is our brand and high level cover design. We spend of that package $1,000 to $1,500 for covers. For some people that are like, “I’m going to get my cover on Fiverr.com for five bucks.” I’m like, “We’re not talking about the same quality.” You can have anything. It is important to try to publish something that you’re proud of and something that meets industry standards, but it certainly doesn’t have to be $6,000. People have different levels of expectations in terms of what they’re trying to do in the world.
If they wanted to do an audio book, would they be able to create their own free version? Or is that something they’d have to have your approval for? How does that work? If they already had a book with you.
We retain audio rights in our contracts, but the reason that we do that is because we get offers from third parties. We don’t do audio books as a company, so lots of people just retain their audio rights. It’s something that people negotiate out of their contract or they ask us to revert the rights. We have a pretty good track record of getting audio rights.
I had an actor on the show, Dion Graham once. He does amazing jobs, but I can’t even imagine what it would cost to get somebody of his quality. Does it cost quite a bit to get to hire an actor or a person to do your audio books?
ACX is what we recommend. I don’t think it’s cheap because that takes hours and hours and hours of professional beliefs, person’s time. I want to say maybe $3,000 or $4,000 if you do it through ACX. You better believe that this stuff starts to add up for people. If you’re doing audio and print and you’re publishing with a company like ours and you have publicity, it’s a big deal. I do like to think of it as investing in yourself for the future and investing in your brand. For me, like the books that I’ve published, have absolutely been about building my business. I’m not a novelist or a memoirist. I’ve written five books about memoir and publishing. There’s no way I would be where I am today bringing in the kind of income that I bring if I hadn’t had books published.
A lot of people are going to want to know how they can find out more if they wanted to maybe publish with you. Can you share your site and your information?
We are at SheWritesPress.com. You can see everything about us. We have a ton of information on there, a Q and A. We’re very transparent about our costs, our expectations of authors, and a submissions process. People can find out about me at BrookeWarner.com. I offer coaching, memoir classes, and publishing consultation.
I appreciate that you took time to be on the show.
Thank you for having me.
I want to thank Morten and Brooke for being on the show, such great guests. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
About Morten T. Hansen
Morten T. Hansen is a management professor at University of California, Berkeley. He is the coauthor (with Jim Collins) of the New York Times bestseller Great by Choice and the author of the highly acclaimed Collaboration and Great at Work. Formerly a professor at Harvard Business School and INSEAD (France), professor Hansen holds a PhD from Stanford Business School, where he was a Fulbright scholar. His academic research has won several prestigious awards, and he is ranked one of the world’s most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50. Morten Hansen was also a manager at the Boston Consulting Group, where he advised corporate clients worldwide. Morten travels the world to give keynotes and help companies and people become great at work.
About Brooke Warner
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, How to Sell Your Memoir, and the co-author of Breaking Ground on Your Memoir. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She writes a monthly column for Publishers Weekly and blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and SheWrites.com., Morten T. Hansen is a management professor at University of California, Berkeley. He is the coauthor (with Jim Collins) of the New York Times bestseller Great by Choice and the author of the highly acclaimed Collaboration and Great at Work. Formerly a professor at Harvard Business School and INSEAD (France), professor Hansen holds a PhD from Stanford Business School, where he was a Fulbright scholar. His academic research has won several prestigious awards, and he is ranked one of the world’s most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50. Morten Hansen was also a manager at the Boston Consulting Group, where he advised corporate clients worldwide. Morten travels the world to give keynotes and help companies and people become great at work.
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, How to Sell Your Memoir, and the co-author of Breaking Ground on Your Memoir. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She writes a monthly column for Publishers Weekly and blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and SheWrites.com.
- Dr. Morten T. Hansen
- Brooke Warner
- Great By Choice
- She Writes Press
- Great At Work
- How to Succeed in Business? Do Less
- Reckitt Benckiser
- Herminia Ibarra
- Urs Peyer
- study of a CEO ranking
- Good To Great
- Built To Last
- The Seven Habits of Effective People
- When: The Science Secrets of Perfect Timing
- Greg Green
- Green-Light Your Book
- What’s Your Book?
- How To Sell Your Memoir
- Breaking Ground On Your Memoir
- Huffington Post
- Dion Graham