How to Save Yourself From a Disastrous Book Launch with Scott Duffy
Scott Duffy is an entrepreneur and business strategist who’s listed as a “Top 10 Speaker” by Entrepreneur and has been named one of the “Top Influential People To Follow” by Yahoo! Finance.
But that’s not why I brought him on the pod. I brought him on because he’s also the author of three different business books on three different topics, from three different publishers and launched in three entirely different ways. When I was at his mastermind a few weeks ago, he articulated why entrepreneurs should launch books in a way that was clearer than I’d ever heard. That’s why I wanted him on the show but what I actually got out of our talk was so much more.
In this episode, we got into the importance of subtitles, why authors should be featured on their book covers and how his most recent book launch was a disaster.
Anna David: Thanks for being here, Scott.
Scott Duffy: Hi. Great to be here.
Anna David: So you are a genius and author. And also, as I was just telling you, someone who articulated what I have been trying to articulate for many years, and you just did it off the cuff. Well, let’s talk about what you said that I loved so much.
Scott Duffy: So what happened was you and I were having this conversation in Park City. So, I was throwing an event we had, say, 50 entrepreneurs, small business owners there, and a whole bunch of them wanted to write books. But the challenge that I saw, which is a challenge I’ve seen since the last 30+ years they’ve been around this industry, is that most people don’t know why they’re writing a book. So, when we start a business, we write a plan, I always like to say start with the end in mind, right? Think about where it is that you want to be, what you’re doing this for, and then back out a strategy. So what we were talking about was this, you know, I always ask people, are you writing a book, because you want to be a New York Times number one best seller, and you’re willing to invest the time and the money in this project, because you believe it’ll bring you a tremendous amount of business, whether that’s in speaking fees, or in other ways that help you and your company to grow? Are you writing a book number two, because you want to have a business card, that you’re able to hand out to everybody?
And this is like your introduction to them. And the strategy for doing that is much different, it costs a lot less to do, you’re going to have to your cost per book is going to have to be super low. So, you’re going to be able to give away a lot of these books, right? Are you writing a book number three, because you want to, for example, build a list. So what you want to do is you want to have a book online, people enter an email address, or they enter a phone number, and then they’re able to download your book in exchange for you being able to send them marketing messages. So, what is your strategy? What is the reason that you that you’re doing this? And what you and I were talking about is like your client, that you primarily is writing because they want to hit? You know, they want to be that New York Times bestseller.
Anna David: Well, this is actually the way I remembered what you said, it’s slightly different. When entrepreneurs write books it’s for three reasons. One is the free plus shipping, or give away for free, basically, they want your email address is that it’s my business card, but I kind of hope you don’t read it. Like it’s there. And you know that I did it but there’s probably tons of typos and stuff like that. And then the third is the legacy book. And I don’t look at that as like the number one New York Times bestseller. You know, I don’t believe in shooting for things that .00001% of the population can get the don’t make a difference. Take it from someone who is a New York Times bestselling author and was borrowing money to pay my rent after I hit that list. So, to me, a legacy book is it does those things, those other two ideas too, but it’s something you’re proud of. I think it’s the way you feel about your book for entrepreneurs, maybe you feel that way about all three of your books. I don’t I don’t know, you tell me. Are they legacy books?
Scott Duffy: No, one of them is one of them. Maybe two. So, the first book that I wrote was called How to Invest in Self Storage. And the reason I wrote that book is I’ve been in the tech industry, I’d had a series of kind of wins financial wins in the tech industry. I decided I wanted to invest in real estate, and create passive income. This is a long time ago. And it’s back before there was a self storage, you know, like a Public Self Storage where you put your stuff and you keep it. Like before those were on every corner. And before I’m a real data driven person. And so before I invested anything, I wanted information, I wanted to learn about what I was going to potentially invest in. And the challenges the self storage industry didn’t have a lot of that. So in the just for perspective, in the self storage industry, there’s like 50,000 self storage facilities in the United States. And the biggest owner of self storage facilities only owns 3% of the market.
So, the majority of the industry is people that just own a one or two, so it’s a lot of mom-and-pop businesses, meaning you don’t have big companies that are aggregating public data in order to share it, they don’t have to do. So what I did is I went out there to talk to everybody, I could assemble all of my notes. And I’m like, if I want this, I’ll bet there’s somebody else that wants it too. So, I went to the biggest publisher in the industry called Mini Co. and I said, “What do you think?” And so they said, “We think that’s a great job that doesn’t exist out there.” So, they helped me to hire an editor and we put the notes together and we launched it. I think to this day, it’s the bestselling book about self storage in the industry, which is kind of ironic. So I wrote that. I wrote that entirely because I was trying to aggregate research so I could decide if this is a good decision to invest it in. Crazy. My second book was called Launch and that was a whole different process.
So, I wanted Launch to be a legacy book. And my goal was to make that a number one New York Times bestseller. And so I ended up getting an agent, she was amazing. We ended up selling that, that book to portfolio, which is a division of Penguin Publishing, and we were scheduled to be the number one big release for Thanksgiving weekend for the holidays that year, in business books. So here’s the thing, I had never written a book like this and I wanted the book to be written about how to scale a company. That was the goal. Okay, and this will come back, it’ll be important. So because it was the first book I’d ever done for a publisher like that, they required that I have an editor and they were very hands on in helping me determine who that editor was. The editor was the head of entrepreneurship, and did those kinds of articles for one of the two biggest business publications in the world. So, we’re thinking to ourselves, this is going to be a home run.
Well, here’s what happened, we had one year to write this book. So we started to work on it. And number one, he started to get all of these covers for that magazine. He had three while we were working together, so he would disappear. So, it just never really worked. It never really gelled. I kept going back to the publisher saying, I need more time, or I need different help. And they kept saying no, no, no, just every entrepreneur goes through this, every writer goes through this, just put your head down. It didn’t work. Until one day, the book, it just was so bad. It was so bad. And nobody would listen. I wrote a text-actually I wrote an email to the head of Penguin Portfolio. And the subject was in all caps: THIS BOOK FUCKING SUCKS. Okay, I wrote this book fucking sucks. Because I had to get somebody’s attention. Yeah, he was on vacation in Mexico. He called me right away. He said, “This book does suck. You’re right, we need to make a change.”
And he said, “The change starts with you.” And it’s really important for authors for writers, that change starts with you. He said, “We’ll do our part, we’re going to help find you another editor. But what do you really know about what you’re writing about?” You see, my core competency had always been launching companies taking ideas from idea to market. And he said, “What would naturally just kind of pour out of you? And it would be those stories versus the stories about growth and scale?” So, what it is I sat down, I was so by the way, depressed after that call, I’m like, shit, now I got to change the book. I got to change the title. I got to figure this out. We don’t have much time. And what happened in a is I went home that night, and I was talking to my ex wife was looking at my kids. And she said, “Well, what if the book wasn’t about like, you weren’t doing it for yourself? Who would you do it for?” And I said, “You know what, I would use this book to tell my kids who their dad was. That’s what I would do.” That became the purpose.
And then over the next six weeks, I started from scratch. And I wrote every word of the book from front to back.
Wow, in the book was called Launch and it was all about doing what I really knew. And so for me, that was a big lesson. And I think that, you know, when you’re writing a book, it’s really important not to focus on what you think is going to make money or what you think is going to do something you’ve got to focus on what it is that you know, it naturally comes to you. Because those are the stories. And those are the lessons that will truly connect with an audience. And so, I think, you know, that’s kind of what kind of what happened.
Anna David: But don’t you think it’s where what you know, meets what you know your audience wants? Don’t you think?
Scott Duffy: I think that if you’re writing about seeing this is the mistake I made, I was trying to write. Okay, I have to answer your question. I have share the story. The day the book was published, and I got my first copy, got my first hardcopy, I drove up to one of my mentors’ houses. And he was going to be the person first person I gave it to. He was like ADA, an iconic venture capitalist. I walked up to him and said, “I got the book I’ve been telling you about, you get the first copy.” He asked if I’d sign it and I signed it. And he looked at the cover. He said, “Your book is called Launch?” I said yes. He said, “You’re going to be broke.” That’s what he said to me. And I said, “Why would you say that? He said, “Scott, you have to make a decision before you do anything in business: do you want to have a rich customer or a poor customer?” And he said, “If you’re talking to people that are launching companies, they’re probably broke, or at least they don’t have a lot of free cash, because they’re investing everything they can into this business.”
He said, “So you can be the very best in the world writing this book or doing what you do. But if you’re going to have a poor customer, you’ll be broke because they can’t afford to pay you.” He said, “Where would you rather have a rich customer?” And I said, “Well, these are the stories I know how to tell.” He said, “If you told them just a little bit differently, what you know, they would appeal to that person too.” So that was a really big shift. I wouldn’t try and invent. First of all, I would get really clear on who my target is and can they afford to pay me what I want them to pay me? Number one. And number two, I would focus on the content that they really know and understand. And if I have to tweak that a little bit, to make it relevant for a different market, I would do that. But I wouldn’t start from scratch. I wouldn’t try and lie, or not stretch the truth about what I was really good at.
Anna David: Did you rewrite it after he said that? Or you just said, fine. You leave it?
Scott Duffy: I said, “Fuck, are you serious?” And by the way, it was really awful. For me, my stomach, like I love this man. And so to my feet, and I was so embarrassed, you know, but it was the right lesson for me at the right time. I actually, it was the right lesson for me. It would have been great if the timing was a little different.
Anna David: It was the right lesson at the wrong time. But also, the Jeff Walker book Launch was already out or?
Scott Duffy: No, so Jeff and I were talking. So, Jeff was working on Launch while I was working on Launch and a mutual friend Travis Euston put us together because Travis was in the product launcher world. And so Jeff and I talked by the way, our books came out like the same month. In there’s two things I learned from that experience. Number one, you can’t trademark the title of a book. So a lot of people will seek see that they can stay claim to a title, you can’t trademark that right. What I learned is the most valuable part of selling a book is the subtitle. And that was just what Jeff and I talked about. He said, “We can both have the same title. It can look the same way it can be identical. But your subtitle has to talk to your market. And my subtitle has to talk to my market.” And that was a really big lesson for me.
Anna David: That’s so interesting. I don’t want to interrupt you but I do think it depends on the book. I think there are subtitles where you don’t the reader doesn’t even notice what the subtitle is. A short title, absolutely. And especially like your subtitle is no pun intended, critical. But I don’t think that’s always the case. I think it is true in this case. Okay, so keep going.
Scott Duffy: I think that the subtitle really has, because if you’re in a bookstore, I mean, I don’t know how many people are still going to bookstores but when Launch came out, if you’re in a bookstore and then your target customer is looking at a shelf and they’re skimming, you only have a few seconds for them to know if that’s the book, right? So what attracts the verse? It’s going to be the color and the font, the positioning on the shelf, who you’re around or who you next to. By the way, when I wanted to sell more. I went into every bookstore I could wherever I was. I moved my book next to Gary Anarchic. I moved in next to whoever was hot at that time. You have to do that. You got to have a little bit of Sara Blakely from Spanx in you.
Anna David: And nobody stopped you. Right? You’re like an affable big dude. Nobody’s going to be like, ah, that guy stopped the guy moving the books. You just did it, right?
Scott Duffy: No, I did. And here’s the thing, the people in the bookstore couldn’t care less, because they just want to sell books. Right? So, I did, I would take pictures. So I learned about the importance of a subtitle learn about the importance of the impact that your cover, and that needs to have in a very short period of time. So that if two people are looking at books, the subtitle for Launch was: the critical 90 days from idea to market. And the reason was, our publisher had research showing that in the next year, having a number in the subtitle was going to be like the thing. So they actually did that.
Anna David: I mean, the publisher research…you don’t even want to hear my rants about traditional publishing. So it sounds like that was a great learning experience, but not necessarily a wonderful publishing experience.
Scott Duffy: It was a terrible publishing experience. It was awful. It was incredibly stressful. The book fizzled, because by the time it came out, I was so burned out from the project. I just I had no energy or desire to go out into to promote it the way the way that you should do, you know.
Anna David: Me too. And so, the next one, you said, “This is going to be different.” Right? Is that what you said for your most recent book?
Scott Duffy: Well, I actually said, “I’m never going to do this again,” first. That’s what I said, I’ll never do this again. And then what happened was, I had a video series called Business and Burgers. I would travel across the country, Alan Taylor, and I, and we would go the awesome burger places. And we would interview entrepreneurs like Daymond John, and people like that, over burgers and sides, and it was a blast. We ran about 45 episodes of that show. While that show was airing, I was contacted by Entrepreneur Magazine, and they said, you know, the publishing group, Entrepreneur Books, really enjoyed the first book and didn’t understand why it didn’t get bigger pickup. They said, “What if we went in and we updated the book, and we updated the stories, and we added some more connective tissue, would you be open to that?” So, that’s what we did. Now, the problem that I ran into in this circumstance was a disagreement about the title and the subtitle.
So, here’s the thing. If you read the breakthrough book, the title and subtitle don’t tell you what’s in it. So you don’t know what you’re buying. That was a big disconnect and that hurt. I’m just sharing. I mean, I’m committed to sharing the good and bad of everything, you know. And so what I learned is I was much happier with the book itself, but I think that the title and subtitle got in the way of it, and so we’re actually in the process of redoing that with new stories. And I can’t show the title yet, but it’s very descriptive to come out next year.
Anna David: Okay, wait, stop. Breakthrough is your brand. So I would think that that’s the perfect title for you?
Scott Duffy: Well, here’s what I learned. Breakthrough is a brand. But if you are a personal brand, your name has got to be your brand and that was a lesson for me. It was a lesson for me because my brand was Launch. Oh, no, no, no, it’s not. My brand is Breakthrough. Oh, no, no, it’s not. I’m in education, technology. I’m working on a book right now. Education right, is that my brand? No, my brand is Scott Duffy. And so, for me, that was a real big lesson. And I think it’s interesting, because if I used to be back in the day, you’re too young for this, but it used to be when I was starting in the industry. The way you got to know somebody and see who they were, was there was a one inch by one inch picture on the back cover of the book. Yeah. So like when I worked for Tony Robbins back in 1990, right. The way anyone got to see him before the infomercial was he had a book and on the back there was the picture. That was it. I think that as it relates to books, and today when personal branding is so important, I am an advocate of putting your picture on it somewhere on the cover. Yeah, because you are the brand. And I’d be curious to see to hear what you have to say about that.
Anna David: You know, it’s very interesting that you say that. I’m a narcissist, and I’m very vain. So, I think I should not just be on the cover of all my books, but on every book, and yet I’ve never done it.
Scott Duffy: Why not?
Anna David: Out of fear of being judged as vain. And also I really vacillate between, is it my experience? You know, it’s sort of like that idea about marketing, change all your eyes to use, make your stories. I don’t know the answers. I do this. Because every book, I learned more. I mean, I think I approach it a lot like you do, but I also have to so that I can stay on the cutting edge for my clients. So I mean, I’m kind of excited. I’m like feeling something inside, like, ooh, could I go on the cover my next book, but I don’t know. So you didn’t do that. So, this is how you feel now, you didn’t do it before?
Scott Duffy: That’s how I feel now. And like in terms of change, you know, a change in approach, one thing that I did really learn what was the Breakthrough that I really loved versus the way I wrote Launch. The way I wrote Launch is I literally sat behind a computer all day, and just wrote, and then what I would do is I would write a chapter, I would send it to an editor. The next day, the editor would send it back, I make corrections. And then we move to the next. Now, I’d like to say that I wrote a chapter every day that in practice, it doesn’t work that way, you know, some take longer than others. But that was kind of like what the flow was, with Breakthrough the flow changed. So, with Breakthrough, what I started to do is I love to move and I love to be active. So I downloaded an app called Rev. And I actually wrote a lot in the book while I was walking. So I would be walking, or I would be in the gym or whatever and I’d record on Rev and then what we would do is I hit play, and then when I was done, I would have that transcribed. By the time I was back from the gym, or my walk, or my run, or whatever it was, it would be in my inbox, I would send that to an editor. The editor would then organize it and compile the thoughts in there was my chapter. What was really cool about that also is, once that was done, I can take that I could turn that into a blog, quote boards, a million other things. So I highly recommend if you’re not the kind of person that wants to sit behind a computer all day, leverage a tool like Rev. If you’re a blogger, and you’re in the car, just talk about what you’re thinking, and boom, you’re done.
Anna David: Here’s what I want to say about that. Yeah, and I’m this is not like, this is not sucking up, you speak the way a lot of people try to write you just are naturally like that, I do not think that works for everybody. And I say that because we’ve had clients who have said, oh, I’m just going to send over my like brain dumps. Tt is very hard for us to make that into written material, it is far more effective for us to interview them, I think somebody interviewing you is going to be more effective. However, if you’re like Scott, and you’ve got the gift of the gab, then I do think that can work more effectively. But sometimes you are making an editor’s job hard if you do it like that.
Scott Duffy: Okay, so a couple thoughts on that, because you’re right. I think an interview is like the gold standard. If you can get interviewed, I mean, like that’s freakin awesome. I think, if you’re a speaker, a professional speaker, it can really be a challenge. And you got to learn to get better when you’re dictating. The reason is, a speaker can just talk forever, and say nothing. They’re really awesome at it. Right? So, it’s almost like you got to get that inner TikTok voice working in you where you got like, eight seconds to a minute, or whatever it is. Yeah, you got to learn how to talk in shorter in shorter sound bites. I think I’ve seen that with speakers. When I wrote Launch, the way I would tell a lot of the stories because the way I teach is story based; the way I would tell a lot of the stories was almost like dictating a speech. And this is really important for right for people who want to be authors. The way you speak at people, right when you’re onstage, is different than the way people read. It’s really important.
If you just gave them a speech, they’re not going to get through if you give them something like should be written about. Totally different. The other thing is if you’re hiring an editor, this is a lesson I learned in Launch. The person that we used was a magazine editor. Okay. So think about this. They were exceptional at writing things that were really short and it stood on their own. So if you’re writing a book, and you need an editor for a book, you need somebody that understands basically how to craft a story that builds as it goes, right? And where there’s connective tissue from one thing to the next. So, when I wrote Launch, and I was dealing with that first editor, the reason the book didn’t work is everything was totally disjointed, like a bunch of articles. So, it’s really important to know the perfect target avatar of who your writer or your editor is, in order to have a book be as successful as you want it to be.
Anna David: The good news is that most magazines have gone under. So most magazine editors have transitioned into being book editors. I came up as a magazine editor and then I learned to edit books, because you know, necessity is the mother of invention, you just learn, right? But that’s great. That’s a great tip. So let me ask you what have and we got to get close to wrapping up? Tell me what these books have done for your career?
Scott Duffy: Well, I mean, they done a number of things, I think that the one thing they did is they helped me to, actually, I’ll tell you what the most important thing is, the most important thing that they’ve done is they’ve helped me to develop a business philosophy that became like, I was successful doing things. And I didn’t necessarily know how I was doing them. I thought I did. But what I did is I was able to codify my superhero power. I think that that’s incredibly powerful. And if you want to be a great speaker, you want to be great at growing an audience on social media, you want to be great at building a personal brand, I think you really unmeet to understand who you are, what you stand for, and how you get to the results that you get to. And so, this really helped me to learn that, and it helped me to find where there were holes in what I did, where I really needed to, like grow myself.
And I really worked on those areas when writing the book. In fact, on the book breakthrough, I added a section on growth and scale. But instead of doing it myself, I went to a friend of mine named Rolan Frasier, who is exceptional at scaling a company, and almost made those chapters more like interviews, where we talk back and forth. And the way we positioned it is here’s how we work with this company. Here’s how we work with that company. So the content was organic, it was authentic, but I couldn’t have done it on my own. But when I was done with it, I’m like, I understand that now I can really help a company in that area now. So, in addition to a branding tool, it was like a growth hack for me as well.
Anna David: I love that because it’s kind of like I think a lot of successful people. They can’t teach what they do because they don’t know how they did it. It was so organic. It was when I started teaching that I’m like, oh, I got to figure out how did I write a book? I don’t know, I just did it. So, I think that I’ve never heard someone say that, the book is the opportunity for you to drill down and articulate. How did you do this? How can your reader do this? And so, and in terms of business, in terms of speaking, I mean, you were already killing it on the speaking circuit, but what difference has it made in your business?
Scott Duffy: You know, I think the book, it enabled me to market myself in the bigger companies was one of those things. So it’s one thing to have a personal brand, it’s one thing to have success with companies that you’re a part of. And for me, many of those were big media companies, big media brands, but having your codified philosophy, how you did it. I think, you know, that really helped me to open to open more doors. You know, I feel today that the book is like it’s a learning tool for us as authors. But I think that as a door opener, it’s incredible. It’s just you need to get clear as to which doors you want to open. Do you want to open the door of somebody hiring a speaker in a fortune 500 company? Or do you want to open the door of an entrepreneur that wants to learn how to create sales funnels?
So, if I were to share with anybody, like if somebody said to me, “where do I start?” And so, we’ll start by getting clear on what you want the end result to be and my second step would be create the perfect avatar of who it is that you want to speak to. And the more narrow you go, the more successful you’re going to be because if you try to talk to everybody, you’re not going to connect with anybody. The riches are really in the niches and when it comes to writing and when it comes to author when it comes to putting out a book, if you nail who your target audience is, I mean from the beginning. You’re going to be on fire.
Anna David: Yeah. You are fantastic Mr. Duffy; how can people find you?
Scott Duffy: Go to scottduffy.com. There, or you can you can find me on social media @scottduffymedia across all the platforms.
Anna David: I love it. Thank you, Scott. Thanks, you guys for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
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