In this show I talk to Mark Schaefer, international speaker and multiple best-selling author about his efforts to get the rights back to his book, the Tao of Twitter, from McGraw-Hill. As a publisher they weren’t keen to do a new edition of the book, which for a social media book, Mark thought was unacceptable. In addition we also talk about the lessons self-publishers can learn from his new book Known. I’m continuing with the idea of doing transcripts, so you can get the full glory of the interview in text form.
Tim Lewis: [00:01:44] Hi Mark welcome to the show.
Mark Schaefer: [00:01:46] Tim I am delighted to be with you here today.
Tim Lewis: [00:01:50] From your advanced studio and the Rockefeller Center?
Mark Schaefer: [00:01:53] Yes. Towering over the New York skyline.
Tim Lewis: [00:01:58] For those who don’t know your podcast won’t know the in-joke about the fact that you are probably not recording from the Rockefeller Center.
Mark Schaefer: [00:02:04] Yeah.
Tim Lewis: [00:02:05] I’ve got you on the show tonight to talk about the fact that you’ve managed to get the rights back to your famous book the Tao of Twitter. Can you explain basically from my understanding you self-published that book to begin with and then it was picked up by McGraw-Hill. And now after some time you’ve managed to get the rights back and you want to self-publish again. Can you explain that journey a little bit?
Getting the rights back to the Tao of Twitter
Mark Schaefer: [00:02:24] Yeah well when it was about 2010 and my blog was starting to take off and social media was hot. So I was actually approached by three different publishers to do a book. So I actually did have an idea for a book and when I tried Twitter for the first time I hated it. I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever seen. In fact, Tim the first tweet I ever received was it’s 4 a.m. – confirming this is the stupidest thing I ever saw.
Mark Schaefer: [00:03:03] So it took me about six months to figure it out. And the big revelation was that this was not about mentions and hashtags and retweets and all these confusing things.
Mark Schaefer: [00:03:17] There was this powerful human pulse behind Twitter. It’s the most human powered social network and it took me about six months to figure this out and I had this idea well maybe if I wrote about my observations of how Twitter really works it would reduce other people’s anxiety and it wouldn’t take them six months to get it.
Mark Schaefer: [00:03:44] So I wanted to write a little book that people could be like in 90 minutes on a plane flight maybe and kind of get it. Well the publishers didn’t want a little book they wanted a big book. It had to be 240 pages for them to get their price point and I didn’t want to do that. So I self-published and it took off.
Mark Schaefer: [00:04:08] I gave lots of the books away. I priced it very very low because I just wanted to get it into people’s hands and the beauty of self-publishing is as it took off I was able to raise the price of it.
Mark Schaefer: [00:04:23] So then I did get a contract with McGraw-Hill to write the first book about influence marketing, Return on Influence.
Mark Schaefer: [00:04:31] And that book was a sensation. It was the number one marketing book for a couple of months and then McGraw-Hill looked at what was happening with the Twitter book I wrote and they said we would like to buy the rights to that. You are right. People do want a little book. So I looked at the competitive landscape and there was some buzz with you know about another big publisher coming out with a Twitter bubble and I was number one and I wanted to stay number one.
Mark Schaefer: [00:05:01] I thought you know strategically it probably makes sense to have all my books in one place, so I sold the rights. We came out with a new edition in 2012. We updated the book again in 2014 and then in 2016.
Mark Schaefer: [00:05:19] I went back to McGraw-Hill I said, well, the book is getting out of date. People were starting to leave me reviews like a great book but certain sections are out of date. I said we can’t let that happen. It’s been the best selling book on Twitter for years. Plus it’s a big part of my brain and it’s just a beloved book.
Mark Schaefer: [00:05:43] I get messages from people every single week thanking me for writing that book for helping them understand this confusing little platform.
Mark Schaefer: [00:05:52] And McGraw-Hill response was No we’re not going to do any more updates. Business books don’t sell anymore. We’re not going to invest in business books anymore. We’re not going to do any more updates and we’re really scaling back the number of business books that we publish.
Mark Schaefer: [00:06:14] So this was very upsetting to me and I was locked in by a contract where I literally had no options. They owned my intellectual property and not only that but I couldn’t even write another book about Twitter.
Mark Schaefer: [00:06:30] I have a friend who is a lawyer who has the same contract with the same publisher and he said you’re screwed. This book is just going to die, they are going to let it die. So I began a campaign to get my book back.
Mark Schaefer: [00:06:48] And I met with them in New York early in 2016. I want to say it was probably January, then I gave them some very generous proposals because I have more power than they do. I should take a step back and explain another problem that we had with the book.
Mark Schaefer: [00:07:08] When I published with them and I updated the self published version I added about 50 percent more content. I had priced the book back then you have to remember this is probably 2011. I priced it at I think it was 10.99 or something like that. Through McGraw-Hill the plan we’re going to price it at like 14.99.
Mark Schaefer: [00:07:31] When they publish the book through Amazon they made a mistake. They published the book, the new updated book, at the old price. It was like five dollars less than it was supposed to be. I noticed this immediately and I said you need to change the price.
Mark Schaefer: [00:07:51] They said we can’t change the price we are locked in by Amazon, we are forbidden to raise the price. So the fact of the matter is Tim, I had more power as a self-publisher over that price and the distribution of that book than they did.
Mark Schaefer: [00:08:13] So when I met with them in New York I began to understand that their economics versus my economics were drastically different and I could start to understand why they wouldn’t want to do another edition. I had a lot more flexibility a lot more power than they did.
Mark Schaefer: [00:08:35] And so I try to convince them I said “Look just give me the book.” All these problems that we have go away. If I have a book I will give you a residual for every book I sell.
Mark Schaefer: [00:08:52] “Well, our legal department won’t let us do that, well you know we can’t do that”. I just couldn’t get their attention and I just gave them such a very generous offer. It was an amazing business deal and it almost seemed like they didn’t care.
Mark Schaefer: [00:09:10] I was like giving them free money. Couldn’t get their attention. So every single month I sent them a message someone would write me a note saying Mark thank you for doing this but this changed my life.
Mark Schaefer: [00:09:24] I would send it to them. I said please help me. This book means something to people. Someone would leave me a review saying “I love this book but it’s out of date.” I would send that to them. I’d say please help me.
Mark Schaefer: [00:09:40] Well month after month after month this went on. So in June they backed off a little bit. And they said we’ll let you publish a new book on Twitter if it’s different enough from the Tao of Twitter. We’ll let you out of that part of your contract.
Mark Schaefer: [00:09:58] So they they shifted a little bit. You know the more I thought about it the more I thought I don’t want to publish another book on Twitter. The book I have is excellent. It just needs to be updated. It’s a beloved book.
Mark Schaefer: [00:10:14] I have a lot of equity. It’s a big part of my brand. So I became determined I’m not going to stop. I’m going to go as high as I need to go in that company and I’m not going to stop till I figure out a way to get those rights back. So again I started my campaign again month after month after month.
Mark Schaefer: [00:10:34] Finally in December I talked to this editor that I had and I sent her a note and I said I’m coming to New York. I needed to be there in business any way. Please help me get a meeting with who ever can make a decision on this. This is vital to my business. It’s vital to my brand.
Mark Schaefer: [00:10:54] I can, I can deliver you a lot more money than you’re making now off the book if I could self-publish and I don’t really know what happened but they gave in. I wore them down and they gave me the rights to the book no strings attached.
Mark Schaefer: [00:11:20] No financial commitment no legal commitment nothing. They just said OK we’re going to give it back to you. And so now I’ve kind of been in this process of getting the i’s dotted and t’s crossed on the legal aspects of this so that the title will be assigned back to me.
Mark Schaefer: [00:11:43] I’m thinking now I’ll probably do it. I’ll probably bring out a new book or work on it this year and probably bring out a new edition in early 2018. So that’s that’s my epic story.
Tim Lewis: [00:11:57] So in the end it sounds like I took a worse deal than what you been offering at the beginning which was kind of like a royalty plus deal but with you self publishing but they’ve just basically given it back to you now.
Mark Schaefer: [00:12:09] Well I think, what I found is that part of it might just be a legalistic type of culture in their company.
Mark Schaefer: [00:12:24] Part of that might be that the cost of making an exception would be more than just give it back to me. But you’re right. They turned down a much better deal just to turn it over to me and you know I’m happy for that.
Tim Lewis: [00:12:45] So if you were back at the point where you signed over, you sold the rights to McGraw-Hill the Tao of Twitter, what would be screaming that yourself to get put into the contract that you have with him at that point. What advice would you give to your old self in that situation.
Mark Schaefer: [00:13:05] Well I mean this is going to sound strange I suppose but I’m not sure I would have done anything different or could have done anything different. So it may look like a dumb decision and maybe I should have protected myself in some way.
Mark Schaefer: [00:13:25] But you have to look at everything in context. And the context back then was first of all 2010 and 2011 this was still the maybe the last gasps of the heyday of the publishing industry.
Mark Schaefer: [00:13:47] And you really needed that publishing industry. You didn’t have as many options to self-publish as you do now. At least I wasn’t aware of them.
Mark Schaefer: [00:13:59] And so number one I didn’t have a lot of different options in terms of protecting myself with this book. So that they were powerful. The other piece of the context here is that they had already published Return on Influence and it was a blockbuster.
Mark Schaefer: [00:14:21] And it wouldn’t have been the blockbuster without them because they put marketing behind it. They leveraged the network and I was just starting out in my career. I wasn’t that well known.
Mark Schaefer: [00:14:36] I didn’t have a huge audience the size of like I have now. So there were a lot of benefits and I didn’t have a lot of leverage to ask for a special contract other than what they would offer anybody else.
Mark Schaefer: [00:14:50] So I really don’t have any regrets. Yes it was a learning experience. I would say in the context of the business situation back then. I made the best decision I could. I signed the best contract I could. I didn’t foresee that the publishing industry would implode as quickly as it did.
Mark Schaefer: [00:15:15] I mean starting about that time 2011-2012. So you know I’ve had some sort of publishing contract with McGraw-Hill for what six years now. I think I’ve had six different editors in six years. I’ve had so many public relations contacts there I’ve completely lost count because people are leaving and shifting and they see that you know how the industry is going.
Mark Schaefer: [00:15:42] So I know this is going to sound like a weird answer but you know. You know I’m not going to be too hard at it myself. I don’t think I would have changed too much. I just had to live with those lessons.
Tim Lewis: [00:15:57] So I mean obviously you’ve self-published your recent book Known which I think was actually out yesterday.
Mark Schaefer’s views on self-publishing
Tim Lewis: [00:16:08] What have you noticed in terms of the differences between self-publishing and being traditionally published. What are the big differences to you?
Mark Schaefer: [00:16:16] Yeah I mean I’m very passionate about that topic and I can’t see any scenario where I would go back to a traditional publisher. I don’t see any downside to self-publishing and there’s lots of upside.
Mark Schaefer: [00:16:32] So for me the four big advantages you’re supposed to have I think have been diminished or neutralized.
Mark Schaefer: [00:16:42] So one advantage might be that a book publisher will support you and have patience with you and do marketing for you. They don’t do it any more. You’ve got to be a star. And most publishers expect you to sell a certain number of books to even get a contract.
Mark Schaefer: [00:17:04] Well if you can sell those books why in the world would you go through a publisher just do it yourself and keep the money.
Mark Schaefer: [00:17:11] Number two you get an advance which kind of helps justify the time you spend writing the book which is significant, at least for me.
Mark Schaefer: [00:17:22] Well in my last book The Content Code I had sponsors for the book. I had companies like Dell pay me money to have their logo on the front page of the book and I got more money from these companies than I would have got for an advance I didn’t have to pay back and I used that money toward marketing which the publisher would never do anyway.
Mark Schaefer: [00:17:49] Editing and design : advantage number three. Well I think the books I’ve put out self-published Content Code self-published, Known is self published. There are beautiful books in every way. The covers are beautiful and professional interior design is fantastic.
Mark Schaefer: [00:18:11] Been professionally edited. You know Wiley laid off all the editors because they didn’t want to pay benefits.
Mark Schaefer: [00:18:19] A lot of editors out there right now are looking for freelance work and that’s you know typically what I would do.
Mark Schaefer: [00:18:26] Now the fourth benefit: distribution. If you self-publish a book it’s going to be difficult or impossible to get into a bookstore or an airport or something like that.
Mark Schaefer: [00:18:39] But realistically even if you’re a popular author with a book that does really well unless you’re a superstar your books is only going to be in a bookstore for four weeks anyway.
Mark Schaefer: [00:18:54] And so as long as you’re available online: Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other places that’s sufficient. The distribution advantage is neutralized.
Mark Schaefer: [00:19:06] So then you look at the advantages like the power I have by owning my own intellectual property. The advantage that I have I still have three books that are published by McGraw-Hill. If I want to buy those books to give out a speech I have to buy them through Amazon at the same price you would buy them.
Mark Schaefer: [00:19:27] Self-published, I can get as many books as I want for $3 a copy. I can change the books, I can update the books, I can create audio books because I own the rights.
Mark Schaefer: [00:19:38] The books through McGraw-Hill: there are no audio books. That wasn’t part of the contract I didn’t have that flexibility and I’m making probably more money from the audio books than the other forms.
Mark Schaefer: [00:19:50] So there’s just tremendous upside no downside and I think the only thing really, the only benefit today is ego to say you know I’ve got an agent, I’ve got a contract with Simon and Schuster or something like that.
Mark Schaefer: [00:20:12] But if you can put the ego aside and just do good work and sell books and help people there really is literally no advantage I see today and lots of disadvantages to going through a traditional publisher.
Tim Lewis: [00:20:30] Yeah. I mean I think what you’re saying about the ego thing there’s also some people use is kind of a social proof indicator that is published by whoever though it has to be somebody they’ve heard of that.
Mark Schaefer: [00:20:43] But the thing is my books sell very very well. They’ve even been translated in different places in the world now. I don’t think people even know I self-published: a lot of people were surprised. I mean who really cares.
Mark Schaefer: [00:20:59] And you look at some major important authors are self publishing now. I mean Seth Godin went that route. James Altucher just came out with a new book self-published through CreateSpace.
Mark Schaefer: [00:21:14] That’s the way the world is going and I think if you if you create a beautiful professional book you know the quality is not determined by a publisher.
Mark Schaefer: [00:21:26] We don’t have to wait to be picked by publishers these days. We can pick ourselves and we can create that power, we can create that voice, we can create this document that becomes part of our legacy and we don’t have to wait for the people in New York to give us some sign of approval. We can just do it now I think in a better way.
Being known and why self-publishers need to become known.
Tim Lewis: [00:21:49] It seems a bit off of me to have a marketing and a social media expert and not to ask you any questions about marketing. So what you say in your experience of marketing your own books is the most important marketing tip that you would give to people who are self publishing a book. I mean obviously your experience is in non-fiction but I would guess there are probably things you could say for everybody.
Mark Schaefer: [00:22:13] Well ironically this really ties quite directly to my new book which is called Known, the handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age.
Mark Schaefer: [00:22:31] So why is this important. To sell a book today you have to have not just a social media audience, you have to have an actionable audience and make that distinction in the book.
Mark Schaefer: [00:22:48] Today if you have 100,000 followers on Twitter it really means nothing. If you have 100,000 followers on Twitter and you say hey I just wrote a book, buy it everybody.
Mark Schaefer: [00:22:59] How many books will you sell? Zero.
Mark Schaefer: [00:23:02] And I actually have an example about that in the book. By far the most important thing you can do from a marketing perspective is start now to become known, to create that emotional connection that moves you from these weak relational links of social media to stronger actionable links who will buy something from you.
Mark Schaefer: [00:23:29] There’s no shortcut.
Mark Schaefer: [00:23:31] It takes a plan and it takes consistent effort. And it takes time and that is by far, for a self published author, that it’s the most important thing you can do and that is the biggest disappointment I think that most new authors have.
Mark Schaefer: [00:23:55] I mean I’m in the marketing business right? I see a lot of people a lot of my friends and colleagues are writing books and they’re thinking oh this is going to change everything. This is going to change my life and I have all this, all these book sales and all this money coming in.
Mark Schaefer: [00:24:13] Let me tell you something: If you’re not known, if you don’t have an actual audience here’s how many times that works: none, zero, no exceptions, none.
Mark Schaefer: [00:24:28] If you look at in America we have these like National Book Awards. Last year the five finalists for the National Book Award averaged three thousand copies sold. These are the best books in our country. I sell more than that!
Tim Lewis: [00:24:51] Not that your bitter or anything!
Mark Schaefer: [00:24:54] No, it has nothing to do with being bitter. It’s just the fact that if you write the greatest book of the year and you’re not known you’re going to sell 3000 copies OK.
Mark Schaefer: [00:25:07] Now I’m known, I’ve worked eight years to become known and I’ve been consistent. I’ve been tenacious and that’s the path I lay out in the book.
Mark Schaefer: [00:25:18] It’s not just my path. I did a tremendous amount of research on this book: interviewed nearly 100 people who are known in many different fields to really determine: what is the process, what are the steps anyone can follow to figure this out.
Mark Schaefer: [00:25:36] And there is path there is a process and I don’t think we have any choice Tim. I mean that’s that’s what must be done to really make this work. Any author has to do that today.
Tim Lewis: [00:25:50] OK, so what you are saying it is eight years you’ve been doing this for. I mean this is something that I’ve maybe anecdotally have seen and I haven’t had a chance to read your book yet so.
Mark Schaefer: [00:26:00] Shame, shame on you! Yes it’s been up two days! What’s your excuse?
Tim Lewis: [00:26:06] Well yes I haven’t got around to buying it on Audible yet, I usually listen to audiobooks. I’ve noticed that what seems to happen is it’s almost like people trudging along for maybe a year if they’re lucky maybe two years maybe for years maybe four years and then suddenly that’s sort of known factor just sort of jumps in.
Tim Lewis: [00:26:26] It wouldn’t be like a consistent sort of upward trend. It’s kind of like not a lot happens and then suddenly you get a sort of lift off, is that your experience?
Mark Schaefer: [00:26:37] Well you’re exactly right. You’re exactly right. And as I said I interviewed almost 100 different people and on average it took about two and a half years for the brand to tip, to all of a sudden like you said it just all of a sudden Boom it hits.
Mark Schaefer: [00:27:03] And that’s really the biggest challenge is that people quit too soon. When I interview these people the last question I asked everyone was if you could reach out through this book and give one piece of advice to one of my readers who wants to become known if you want to encourage that what would it be?
Mark Schaefer: [00:27:25] And almost every person said something about consistency, resilience, tenacity. Several people said it’s the most important thing.
Mark Schaefer: [00:27:37] That consistency really covers up a lot of other problems. It really overcomes a lot and so in my book I actually even have like this little measurement system. I think you know your observation is very keen that you may not know the impact that you’re having.
Mark Schaefer: [00:28:04] You may not be getting feedback and then all of a sudden, Boom it starts to take off. So in the book I have like this little template where you can look for signs that things are happening. You look for indicators that your brand is still progressing and as long as that is happening you’ve got to keep going. It might be a few months away maybe a year away but nobody starts as an expert.
Mark Schaefer: [00:28:33] Nobody, nobody is born a celebrity. Everybody starts from the bottom. Nobody starts as an expert.
Mark Schaefer: [00:28:43] It’s an evolutionary process. Everyone is learning, adapting. ,adopting, growing without exception. And there’s no reason that the people listening to the podcast today can’t do that too.
Tim Lewis: [00:28:59] Yeah I mean on a recent show I interviewed a guy called Adam Croft who just been number one in both UK and in the U.S Amazon stores and it had taken him nine books before he had a real sort of hit and then it was he had an enormous hit with that and then he was picked up by one of the Amazon Imprints and I think if you are going to get this traditional route as such then the Amazon imprints are the best because I actually do do marketing for people.
Tim Lewis: [00:29:28] I think I’ve seen that over and over again with people it’s like they’re all there are occasionally people who have a big hit like straight away. But even they usually have had lots of little failures you just haven’t heard about.
Mark Schaefer: [00:29:41] Oh absolutely 100 percent. I think we mistakenly view success as some innate genius.
Mark Schaefer: [00:29:54] And it’s not it’s not the case. Years of failures and getting knocked down and getting right back up again. And so really to be known it really takes the right mindset. You have to have a certain grittiness to persevere when you’re unsure of what your impact may be.
Tim Lewis: [00:30:15] Yes. How can people discover about you, your podcast, your various books and how to follow you on social media?
Mark Schaefer: [00:30:26] You can find out everything about me and businessesgrow.com. You can find my books I’ve written six books including the best selling book on Twitter. It’s still the bestselling book on Twitter. It will be more so when I get it back in my clutches!
Mark Schaefer: [00:30:47] I wrote the bestselling book on blogging, called Born to Blog, a book on social media, Social Media Explained, and a book on influence marketing, Return on Influence. We talked about the Content Code in 2015. My new book is called Known.
Mark Schaefer: [00:31:03] I also have a blog podcast and lots of other resources that people can use to learn about marketing their own businesses and their books.
Tim Lewis: [00:31:14] Yeah it’s a market companion, your podcast isn’t it?
Mark Schaefer: [00:31:17] Yes that is the podcast.
Tim Lewis: [00:31:19] And you don’t actually record it from the top of the Rockefeller Center?
Mark Schaefer: [00:31:22] No no. It’s amazing how many people think we really do. But my office I’m sitting in right now is in the middle of the woods in a rural area of Tennessee.
Tim Lewis: [00:31:33] Well it is close enough!
Mark Schaefer: [00:31:35] It’s as far as you can get from Rockefeller Center which is why it’s part of the joke.
Mark Schaefer: [00:31:39] Yeah. It was great to talk to you today.
Mark Schaefer: [00:31:42] My pleasure.
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