– Melissa Gonzalez
It all started with that simple question from a frustrated entrepreneur.
Because I’m a writer (I’ve written four #1 NY Times Best Sellers), I get some version of this question on a nearly daily basis, and I had a canned answer to get out of these conversations as quickly as possible.
I’d usually tell people that sitting down to write the book is not an optional part of the process—in fact, it’s the very point of the process—and that they can’t have something (a book) without doing the work necessary to create it (write it).
I said it in a disdainful tone, sneering at the laziness of people who presume that books are something they can just “get” without having to do the hard work. I’d often throw in some version of the snide “everyone wants to be a star, but no one wants to do the work” remark.
Melissa Gonzalez, the entrepreneur who asked me the question, was different. She was a very successful and intelligent woman who’d done incredible things, all of which required a lot of hard work.
When she rolled her eyes at me and interrupted:
Melissa: “You’re an entrepreneur, right?”
Tucker: “Yeah, of course.”
Melissa: “I’m an entrepreneur too, and the most important thing I do is solve problems. Can you solve my problem, or are you just going to lecture me about hard work?”
This was a straight-up call-out…and she was exactly right.
I was too flustered to think of a solution in the moment, so I told her I would be in touch.
Because I got called out—and I was so clearly, embarrassingly wrong—I ended up obsessing over her problem for weeks. All I kept coming back to was there was no way to write a book without putting in the time to write it. The writing is part of the process. That’s why it’s called writing a book.
I eventually gave up on finding a solution, and a few days later—after I’d stopped thinking about it, of course—the solution hit me, like a lightning strike:
Wait—is writing really a necessary part of creating books?
Is there a way to get her ideas out of her head and into a book without her writing?
I went back to first principles and asked myself a basic question:
Is there another way besides writing to get an idea out of the author’s head?
Of course there is—talking!
In fact, this is how Socrates and Jesus and Buddha and Malcolm X got their words into books. Why can’t it work for normal people?
I refined the idea in my head, and then called Melissa:
Tucker: “What if I told you that I can take you from idea to a professionally published, completely finished book for sale on Amazon and everywhere else, and all you have to do is talk?”
Melissa: “I’d say that sounds great, and I want to do it. But it has to be my words and my ideas.”
The problem was that I didn’t really have a precise process to do this and, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure this was going to work. But like Melissa said, this is what entrepreneurship is about: solving a problem.
So I connected with a former employee of mine, Zach Obront, and the three of us decided to collaborate on this project, to test it and see what would happen.
Hell yes! In fact, this is how Socrates and Jesus and Buddha and Malcolm X got their words into books. Why can’t it work for other people?
It took a lot of work, but we finally found something that worked. Here’s the basic step-by-step process we came up with:
Form a book outline:
Zach did a few phone calls with Melissa, helped her clarify her book idea and figured out exactly what she wanted to say in her book. From these conversations, he and I wrote an outline for her book.
Interview her for the content:
Zach then scheduled four two-hour calls with Melissa, where he interviewed her using the outline as a guide. He asked her questions until he got all of her ideas, in her words, out of her head and into an audio recording.
Transcribe the recordings:
He used REV.com to transcribe the recording.
“Translate” the transcription to a book manuscript:
If you have ever seen a raw audio transcription, you know it’s basically unreadable. So we took the transcription and “translated” it by taking Melissa’s spoken words and ideas and making them flow on the page, while keeping it in her voice.
Do some content/copy edits:
Melissa took some time to go over the content to make sure it reflected her thoughts and vision for the book.
Design a cover:
Because Melissa has an amazing aesthetic, the cover had to look great. This was not a job for 99 Designs. We worked with a world-class cover designer (Erin Tyler, who is now our Director of Creative) to get Melissa a cool cover that she was proud of.
Do the rest of the professional publishing minutiae:
There are a million little things that make the difference between a professional book and a clearly self-published amateur book—internal layout, marketing, blurbs, copyright page, etc.
Publish the book:
Also, we did the deal such that Melissa owns all the royalties and all the rights to her book. She paid for a service, so unlike with regular publishers, she gets all the credit and all the upside. It’s her book, her credit, her money.
Start to finish, the whole process took about 9 months (that was because it was the first time we did it; now it takes about 7 months to go from idea to publishing date, and sometimes less).
…a lot of people really want to turn their idea into a book, but they don’t have the time, ability, or patience to do it the conventional way. We solve their problem.
As we were working through this process, I told a few people about this idea, and all of them loved it.
Yeah, yeah, everyone loves every start-up idea, until it comes time to pay, right?
Except two of them did pay. Like…with real money…that they gave us to do the same thing with them.
A few weeks later, I went on a podcast to talk about a whole different subject. During that podcast, I talked about this idea for 20 minutes, sort of by accident. Off of that single episode, we sold six more packages, which meant eight packages sold before we even confirmed to ourselves that we would offer this as a service to customers.
Zach and I decided to call the company “Book In A Box” (now Scribe Media) and officially started offering the services to customers in August 2014. In our two months, we did more than 200k in revenue.
When you’re selling a product before you even formally offer it to anyone, you’re onto something. That’s pretty much the ultimate definition of product-market fit.
That is what it looks like when your start-up actually solves real problems!
What’s really cool, at least to me, is how excited I am about this company. Not just because it’s making money. Yes, money is great, but in this case, the money is only the proof of what matters in a new start-up: that you’re creating real value for real people, by solving their real problems.
Scribe does that—a lot of people really want to turn their idea into a book, but they don’t have the time, ability, or patience to do it the conventional way. We solve their problem. And even better, we solve their problem in a way that’s easier and cheaper and more effective than any other potential solution.
Take ghostwriting, for example. To hire a ghostwriter, you’re going to pay at least $40k for a decent one (and $75-$150k for a good one). You have no guarantees of quality or fidelity of process with them, and they don’t do anything but help you write the book manuscript—no publishing, no marketing, no distribution, no book cover, nothing. You have to pay for all that separately, from different places.
Our package costs $36k—and we do everything necessary to take your idea out of your head and turn it into a professionally published book that’s still in your words and your voice.
This is a 10x improvement over any other option that existed to get an idea out of your head and into a book.
As I write this, it’s been over three years and 600+ books since we started. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
–Tucker Max, Co-Founder & Director of Product