Episode 31 – Writing Books with Joel Comm

Joel dropped additional nuggets of sales and marketing goodness in the EXTENDED Interview. Be sure to click here to access all of our great extended interviews, transcripts and more within our Insider's Club.

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Joel Comm is an entrepreneur, bestselling author, public speaker, social media evangelist, and mobile marketing innovator. The leading authority on new media marketing tactics, Joel’s current specialty is using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to help companies market their brand. He has also created top-ranked mobile apps, including the most talked about novelty iPhone apps of all time. Not just another social media expert, Joel has been building profitable and cutting-edge Internet ventures since 1995.

Podcast Transcription

Brian Basilico: Welcome to My Marketing Magnet and man, I am super pumped because today we have a New York Times Bestseller. His name is Joel Comm and this guy is a prolific writer, an excellent author, great speaker, I've seen him, I've met him live and people, you're in for a treat. So Joel, welcome to the show, man.

Joel Comm: Hey, thanks for having me, Brian.

Brian: Thanks for coming on. I am super pumped today.

I got to tell you, man, one of my favorite things about you is I saw you on The Daily Show in a segment I think that was called “App Wars.” I'm not exactly sure what the title was. Can you tell us about that?

Joel: Oh, that was back in 2008. I developed the iFart mobile app. When Apple said we can use the software development kit and start creating apps, I pulled the team into the conference room. We came up with a number of things, but one of them that was really easy to develop was this digital fart machine. We did it with style as much as you can for something like that, and it became a huge hit. It was the number one app in the world for just over three weeks, got all kinds of crazy international media attention and one of the things that happened during that is that we got threatened with a lawsuit from a competing app called Pull My Finger. I won't go into the details about it, but being a savvy marketer, I chose to turn it into a public story and The Daily Show got wind of it – a little pun for you there – and they contacted us because they thought this would make for a fun segment.

So they said why it's a knack out to our Loveland, Colorado office and they sent him out to Florida where the competing app was based and they did this great segment. You know that if you are on The Daily Show, you're going to get skewered. That's just how it goes. And what I just found amazing was they went after the other guy and I really looked great in the piece – at least I thought I did. So, I actually have a book in my mind about the whole iFart story and I want to call it “How I Farted And Came Out Smelling Like a [inaudible].”

Brian: I love that. That is fantastic. You came across as the victor in that piece because I'm a big Daily Show fan. Loved it and watched it all the time.

Okay, as an ex-recording studio geek, I've got to ask, were those sounds sampled by staff, or were they repurposed from other sound effects libraries?

Joel: We can't reveal trade secrets, but if you came to the Infomedia Inc offices in Loveland, Colorado and you walked up to the men's room, you'll notice there was a sign on the door that said, “Infomedia Research and Development.”

Brian: That's incredible.

Let's get into writing books because that's why we're here today and you're the author of a whole bunch of books and I got to tell you, like I said I didn't even know it was you when I met you, but I've listened to Kaching, I've listened to Twitter Power, The AdSense Code and they're all excellent, excellent book, and I know you've written a ton of them, so I want to start talking about getting into writing books from your perspective because obviously, you've got a huge background in marketing and it has been a great tool for you.

So the first thing I want to talk about is the types of books because I've interviewed people on ebooks and things like that, but there are generally four types. There's the ebooks, self-published, traditional and then you talk about this kind of unique different way of doing things. When I say traditional, that means you're going to a publisher, you're submitting a transcript and the whole nine yards, but you worked with a company called Morgan James, which does it a little bit differently. Can you talk about that?

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Joel: Yes, David Hancock, the founder of Morgan James Publishing. I met him at an [inaudible] big seminar conference back in late 2005 and handed him a copy of my AdSense Secrets ebook on CDROM and turns out he had an upstart publishing house, he have been working on it for the last about couple of years or so and he told me that he thought my ebook would make for a great traditionally published book. A coach I was working with at that time said, “Book brings great credibility. This could really help kick things up a notch for you.”

David came up with a new model. As a former mortgage banker then with a publishing background, he was fascinated with books and he discovered that the traditional book publishing world model was very broken. It was very focused on how many books you sell and the publishing houses really cared very little about the author. It was never about the author, it was always about number of units sold. The only other alternatives that people had were to self-publish, which meant that you did everything on your own dime and that you bought a bunch of books that sat in your garage and then you ended up getting a divorce. It wasn't a good model either way.

So, he came up with the entrepreneurial publishing model that takes the best of both worlds, where it empowers the author so that the book is really about the author and how and where is the vehicle, where the book is going to take that author, of course providing great content along the way but gets the distribution opportunity like the traditional publishing world. Entrepreneurial author was born when I met David and I decided to do the book with him. I said, “I'm going to be your first New York Times Bestseller.” He laughed at me and I said, “No, seriously.” And he laughed again and then he stopped laughing in March 2006 when I hit the New York Times Bestseller list with the AdSense Code.

So, I've been a big fan of this model ever since and I've helped a number of my peers to publish their book with Morgan James. In fact before we began this interview today, we joked at it briefly about our friend Brian G. Johnson and his crazy hair because both of us confessed that we have crazy hair when we wake up. Brian used that model as well and as of right now while we're recording, his book is number 480 out of all books in the world on Amazon.com and number one in three different categories. He's thrilled and it's a great model that really helps to leverage the power of having a traditionally published book and taking it to the next level.

Brian: Yes, I got a copy of it and I read your foreword and read the whole book. Man, it's incredible and it's a very interesting model. I've noticed you said something pointed to me as having a selfpublished book. One of the models is that you can order as many as you want. Now, we're used to have to order thousands to get the price down which helps. The average published book most authors are making about a buck a pop. With a self-published book, you tend to make a lot more money, but all of the onus is on you, then with the Morgan James model, it's a little bit more of a shared compliment and then of course we got direct publishing, the ebooks on platforms like Amazon.

Can you talk a little bit about how all those worked together, or do you recommend one more than the other, or do you integrate all of those strategies? What makes the most sense for somebody who's going to write a book?

Joel: Well, several questions there and the answer to all of them is yes and no. It depends upon what you're trying to accomplish. If you've never done a printed book before, if you are in a business where you're the authority in your field and you're wanting to be recognized as the authority, it is the single greatest thing you can do to boost your credibility level with consumers, with your customers, with prospects. There is nothing else in the 20 years that I've done business online. If I look at all the things I've done, the one that's had the greatest impact overall with ripples that continue out is writing and publishing books – not ebooks – physical books. So doing that first one is extremely important. Now that Brian G. Johnson had done several ebooks before, but now that he's got this physical book, he sent out – I actually talked to him this morning on Facebook – he sent out 160 copies to influential friends and associates and he signed the front of each one and they took pictures with the book and post them on Facebook. He has collected this massive library of credibility of people holding his book. You can't do that with an eBook.

Now he's had this launched and people will remember him and he'll always have the story of the successful launch and the credibility that comes from holding this business card that's 200 pages. So whatever else you do, getting that first book done and getting it done professionally, and having the opportunity to have it distributed beyond your garage, beyond the gigs that you appear at, beyond Amazon.com, is really very important and that's one of the things I enjoy helping people to do.

Brian: I love that. There is a couple of strategies that are built into that, I know some people that used their books, when they're trying to get into a certain company they do projects, they'll sign the book and they'll send it to an influential person inside that company and hopefully it's going to trickle up the ladder to the person that makes the decisions. It's a great way to get speaking gigs because there's a lot of people that will not hire a speaker unless they've got a physical written book. So you've kind of answered my second question, it is who should write a book and why because you just answered that – everybody – if you want to be an influencer in your business.

You mentioned the thing about “professional” and this is where I think a lot of people fall flat because I can tell you from experience, my book is self-published. It cost me $5,000. Tell me from your experience, where are the places when people are writing a book that they need to focus on to make it a great book?

Joel: Usually when you self-publish, it means you're managing the cover, and the [inaudible] and design, the internal guts of the book yourself. Most of us are not graphic designers and so I can usually spot a self-published book the moment you hand it to me. In fact I've done it myself and when I do it myself and I haven't brought in others to help with it to the degree that I should, it looks self-published to me. Even I'm not beyond this because I'm not a graphic designer and a pro at this. My books that are printed by a traditional or entrepreneurial publishing house look much better, much more professional.

I think that even when people self-publish a book and they're like, “I'm an author.” And they hand me that book, there's that little bit of, “Yes, you ran this yourself. These are one-offs.” There is definitely I think in the minds of people when they handle a book, if it doesn't feel like it's been done professionally, then it doesn't quite have the same punch. I think it's important to have it done right if you're using it as a credibility piece.

Brian: One of the things that I learned in the whole process is there's a lot of moving parts to doing a book. Not only you as a writer, but then there's an editor who can not only fix flaws, but also give it a little bit more flavor if you get the right kind of editor and then there's a proofreader that somebody has to actually proofread everybody else. The one thing that I didn't realize when I was writing a book is there is no software in the world that can do an index for you. You have to find a professional indexer and I love the whole thing about – the cover is probably one of the most important things especially when you're selling it online, they say that you can't judge a book by its cover. I think it's different on Amazon. What do you think?

Joel: I think that the cover really has to punch. Bruce Barber who has been in the publishing industry for his well, whole life, once I saw him at the Author 101 University and he had several of my books in his hand, he stood 14 feet away and he held up the title and says, “Can you read this?” He says, “If you can't read the title from 14 feet away, then your cover is not what it needs to be.” He says, “Your title should be big, you should be able to see what it is from a distance.” That's a criteria that I remember. If you try to put too much on the cover, or if it's hard to read, if the colors aren't right for your eyes to see it well, the contrast is bad, the words aren't big enough, then you've got some issues.

Most people don't take that into consideration, but he called it the “14-foot rule.” You're right, there are a lot of moving parts. Not only is there writing your content and not only is there editing and proofreading, but the layout and design of both the cover, the spine, the back, the internal matter when you open that book, there needs to be an elegant design to it that looks professional, then you've got banners that need to be made for promotion, you've got copy that needs to be written for both promotion and for on websites and in the book distributor catalogs, you've got your launch process and web pages, there's really a lot that goes on in order to pull a book launch off.

Brian: Joel, some awesome stuff. I really appreciate that insight. So now I'd like to dig a little deeper. What are some of the most common book publishing misconceptions that people have?

Joel: Well, I think one of them is that doing an ebook gets you the credibility that you need. It gives you a little bump up, but not like having a physically traditionally published book. Another one is that they can make a lot of money selling books or that they're going to make a lot of money selling books. I hate to break anyone's heart, but even as a bestselling author, New York Times' list with several bestsellers, there's not enough money in royalties to support me, nowhere near you can make some money from royalties off your book. But you do write a book to make money off the book. You write a book as the single greatest vehicle to help you monetize and get exposure in other ways.

A member of Jay Conrad Levinson once said – the late Jay Conrad Levinson, father of Guerilla Marketing, sold countless books – said something to the effect of he has made $10 million off of his book. Only about $30,000-$40,000 was off royalties. The rest was off speaking engagements, consultations, other book offers and so on. Everything else that came from having that book. Most authors don't know how to monetize their book. They're all about the content of the book and they want to write the book, but they don't stop and think through, “Where is this taking me? Where do I want it to take me?” That's probably the greatest misconception of all. With a little thought, a little planning, you can leverage that book for some very powerful things.

Brian: Yes, that's incredible. One of the things that I heard and you're so right, is the average self-published book – and I can't speak for actual published books, but self-published books, they sell around 150 copies and…

Joel: Less. Far less than that. If we're talking about distribution, right now anybody can do a book and then sell them to people at events where they might be speaking or something. But in terms of people going to Amazon, or going to the bookstore and buying self-published books, the average self-published nonfiction book in its lifetime will sell 10 copies.

Brian: Really? Wow!

Joel: Now, the average traditionally published book, nonfiction in its lifetime will sell 1,000 copies. Realize that there's a 99/1 rule here. 1% of the books are 99% of the sales. Somebody like Tim Ferris or Gary Vaynerchuk, or Jeff Walker, these people who have sold a lot of books are going to bring that average up, but most authors don't sell a lot of books.

Brian: Wow! And that's a huge misconception. That's incredible. It just goes to your point about this is not about making money, it's about building credibility.

So what are some of the most common marketing mistakes that people who publish books or do self-published books? What do you see in that arena?

Joel: Well, the first is not marketing it. They publish the book and then they leave it to a traditional publishing house. They believe that a traditional publishing house is going to do all the marketing. They'll do some, but these days for example John Wiley & Sons owns the title for Twitter Power, so the third edition of Twitter Power, I'm doing with them and my co-author Dave Taylor comes out mid March and one of the things they ask me when we put a book proposal in is, “What are you going to do to market it?” They want to know that they have solid author support to sell the books before they'll even sign the contract. So you have to be prepared to work your book.

Publishing houses want you to do the marketing. They want you to create a story that's compelling, they want you to bring partners and affiliates on board, they want to know that you're going to be working this book because they're only publishing it. They don't necessarily know best how to market your book. That's definitely one of the greater misconceptions. Another one is that traditional publishing houses pay these royalty. Do you know the average royalty for first-time authors of a nonfiction title is around $500? That's not even enough to keep you starving as an artist. That's sub-starving. There's not a lot of money there.

Brian: That is. That's crazy, the amount of money that you can potentially make up something that you spent probably hundreds or thousand hours doing. It's just amazing. It's almost worse than being a musician.

Joel: Yes, just about.

Brian: So can you give us some tips about writing books? When you're putting these things together, what kind of things are you thinking about as you're starting to do your manuscript, do your outline – what are you thinking about?

Joel: Well, I like to write books on a lot of different subjects because my whole career has been built upon doing different things that are interesting to me at that time. So I get into something and then I think, “This would make a great book.” I have got a lot of ideas that I've not pursued, but the ones that I feel driven enough, that, “Yes, this is the direction that I want to go, this is something that I think will bring value to people. I would like for my brand to have credibility that goes along with this subject matter.” And then I begin laying out a plan for how are we going to do this thing. Sometimes it's a long range plan, sometimes it's something that happens really quickly.

For example, a book that I just released was actually – I believe the first self-published printed book I've ever done just came out last month as called Social Poetry and basically it's a book full of photo quotes that I've created and posted in social media that are either inspiring, educational or entertaining. It came about in a presentation that I gave here in Denver about six months ago where I share these photo quotes with people from the stage and told them the back story, the reasons for each of these photos with quotes on them – why I created and posted them and why they got great engagement with people on social media.

Somebody suggested to me that this will make a great coffee table book. I thought this is simple enough that I just want to have it as a piece that I could hand out to friends or drop in the mail to associates. I don't want to go either the traditional or the entrepreneurial publishing route on this. I just want this to be a quick and easy piece. So I put the book together myself, had somebody help me layout the guts, had the cover designed, used CreateSpace on Amazon and I even go to Amazon and either get the Kindle version or the physical version of Social Poetry. Every book that I do, there's a different MO and I think for me there's a lot of freedom in trying to figure out what's the best thing for me to do with this right now.

Brian: Cool. Now, are there any other tools that you use like Scrivener or you just go right into Microsoft Word when you're doing your books? Do you do any outlining?

Joel: I'm a Word guy. I'm basic tools. It's amazing how few applications I really use to get things done. I guess I'm kind of old school and perhaps it's because I was brought up using DOS on my PC. Even though I use both PCs and Macintoshes now – Apples as we call them – they were Macs back then. I'm old-school with a lot of tools. When I got started building websites in 1995, we did HTML so I know a little bit about some hand coding as well. I never really adapted Frontpage back when we had that.

Now we've got WordPress that makes it a lot easier to drag and drop and insert images and stuff. But whenever I do a book, it's usually a Microsoft Word.

Brian: So you don't need to be super sophisticated in order to write a book?

Joel: Are you saying I'm not super sophisticated?

Brian: Well, you got a drone. As long as you got a drone…

Joel: I don't think I'm sophisticated all, so I'm glad with that.

Brian: And you have a nice car, too, by the way. I love your Mustang.

Joel: I love that Mustang. Yes.

Brian: That's cool, man.

So Joel, in your opinion as an author and I think you touched on this a little bit, but I just want to expand on is how do you measure success, or how does an author measure success?

Joel: Well, I measure success not by book sales, but by how many people engage with this book. Do they post on Facebook that they've read it or what they liked about it that maybe that they'll listen to the audio book version? Do they share it with others? Do they comment? Do they want me to sign a copy for them? And then more importantly, does the book help take me where I want to go? Am I able to leverage it to get more speaking gigs? To get more consulting gigs? To enhance my brand so that people will ask for more of what I have to offer?

Brian: Awesome. Joel you have something that you'd like to bestow upon my audience. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Joel: Yes. I've got nothing to sell today while I have plenty of books and products out there. People can Google me and find my blog at Joelcomm.com, but I mentioned to you briefly this new book that I've got called Social Poetry and you can go to Amazon and buy a physical copy, or you can buy the Kindle version, but I just want to go ahead and give your listeners a free copy, a PDF that they can download. If they'll just go to Socialpoetrybook.com, you can find it there. Put your name, your email address and we'll send you a link for you to download it.

Brian: So if people wanted to get a hold of you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Joel: Well, I could say my blog is Joelcomm.com, love for people to contact me there or find me anywhere in the social space. I'm the only Joel Comm in the world to my knowledge, so I'm the easiest guy to find on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, you name it.

Brian: Yes, I figure we could find you on Twitter because you did write the book on it so it makes a lot of sense.

Joel, thanks for joining us, man. I appreciate it. I know my audience will as well and it's been a pleasure talking to you and I hope to see you again at another conference. Man, thanks so much.

Joel: Sounds great, Brian. Take care, buddy.

Brian: Wow! That was some seriously incredible great advice from Joel Comm about writing books. Guys, I hope you enjoyed these interviews as much as I do doing them. We get some great experts so give us a review on iTunes. Until next time, rock on.

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