Why Book Quality Doesn't Matter with Angela Lauria

Jan 26, 2022

Dr. Angela E. Lauria is the founder of The Author Incubator and creator of the Difference Process for writing a book that matters. A Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon bestselling author of several books, she has helped over 1,000 authors write, publish and promote their books and her clients have been responsible for over $100 million in cumulative revenue.

In other words, she's a big believer in using your book to build and grow a business—a woman after my own heart!

In this episode (transcript below), we talked about when the publishing industry broke, how why she believes it's possible to write a book in a week and why the people who read your book are never the people who hire you.


TRANSCRIPT:

Anna:

I would love to have my listeners hear about your approach to books. I think you were very early in going, "Hey, book sales don't matter; it is really about what a book can do for your career." And I really liked that because in a way it was controversial.

Angela:

Oh yeah, it was super controversial. I started in the publishing industry in 1994. I was a senior in college, and one of my professors recommended me to work for this New York Times bestselling author, who was a investigative journalist. And then I worked with all the DC investigative journalists on like journalism e-books. That was the beginning of my career. And they all made money from writing books, and they all had big book contracts, which at the time for like a journalism book was like 500,000 to $2 million book advance. These were dudes, and they were all old white dudes that I worked with, just that's just who I worked with at the time. And these were dudes who had all made money on a salary from a newspaper. All the fancy publishers that I worked with, they would wine and dine the dudes that were producing the content that was making them money.

Angela:

It was very classy. I used to get to go to dinners at like Duke Zeibert's, which was like this CNBC place in Washington, DC, for all the investigative journalists. They were held on a pedestal in a very special way as published authors, like these were the best journalists. And now, instead of making a hundred-thousand dollars a year as a reporter, they were making $500,000 a year to write books. It was beautiful. It is not the way it works anymore, and it's not the way that it works for the coaching and consulting industry. When I started in publishing, there wasn't really an internet in it. There was America Online CD-ROMs. And so when you run into a bookstore, that was how you got books. You were not buying books online. People were afraid to put their credit cards in online. So when you walk into a bookstore, there's about 250,000 books, the average bookstore. When you pick a book from 250,000 books, that book has a very good chance. One out of 250,000 is actually really good compared to what happens now, which is we go to Amazon. There's about 25 million books to choose from with 250,000 books coming out every month. There are 250,000 books published every month. How do you stand out in that? Those numbers don't make sense anymore.

When David Wise, my first boss, was giving up 90% of his revenue to a publisher, he was giving up 90% of his revenue because how the fuck else was anyone going to find his books? We needed an intermediary to take a book from his hard drive and turn it into something and put it in bookstores. People think they're paying publishers for marketing. Publishers don't do marketing; they do B2B marketing to get your book in bookstores. They do printing and logistics. And most of us don't need that anymore. We don't need printing and logistics.

Anna:

I come from traditional publishing, too. And I sold my first book to Harper right when it broke, when everything changed, so I was like right on the cusp. It was 2005. They took me to lunch at Michael's. You know what I mean? That movie, Down with Love, did you ever see that?

Angela:

Yes.

Anna:

I was like, oh, this is my life. It's super glamorous. I'm very important to my publisher. And then I sold six more books to Harper and I just watched it dwindle away. And it kills me, because they never did anything. I'm a very slow learner. Even when I had a New York Times best seller, they did nothing because it wasn't like a number one.

Angela:

Yeah. You weren't Dan Brown.

Anna:

I wasn't Dan Brown. So I listen to people all the time go, oh, I want to go on a book tour. I was like, oh, good luck, good luck. I want that support that a publisher brings. And like, they just don't want to listen.

Angela:

Yeah. Because people have the fantasy. It's like an old fantasy. I remember coordinating David's book tour for a book called Nightmover that he had about a $1.5 million advance on. And they did a 25-city tour. They paid for hotels and flights and dinner. And I had to keep all the receipts, and I sent them in, and they got reimbursed, and then his next book came out and they said, we're going to... Which was '95, I think. Maybe it was '96, beginning of '96. And they're like, "We're going to do five cities for this book." And then by the next book, which I wasn't his assistant anymore, but by the next book, there was no book tour anymore. They were going to set up an AOL, Ask Me Anything, with AOL keyword book. So it's this old fantasy of the way the publishing... And I think the publishing industry even has that fantasy. I don't even think they know how much it's changed.

Anna:

So you have this realization, what year did you realize this is all broken?

Angela:

It was really 2014, and it happened by accident. I had been a ghostwriter, helping people write books, researcher, publicist, since 1994. Then in 2013, I launched The Author Incubator. And that was specifically with the goal of working on personal development books. So all my books before 2013 were espionage, politics, and then technology. Those were kind of my spaces, so I've ghostwritten a lot of books with Microsoft MVPs. Very exciting.

Anna:

Very.

Angela:

The books I would read, I would take the money from ghostwriting a book on Windows Server Backup. And I would take that money and I would go buy personal development books. I would go buy Marianne Williamson books. And all the books I bought were from Hay House. And I was like, why don't I do books like Hay House does? I want to have the next Hay House. I want all those authors.

Angela:

So I started working with those authors, and I realized something in that first year in business that changed everything for me, which was these personal development authors didn't have any fucking clue what they were doing. So everyone I had worked with before, they were like journalists and writers, and they had a strategy, and they were being paid by publishing companies, but that was their salary. And they worked, it was like a job. The only thing they did is they were a writer, and they would get up in the morning and they would go to their office and they would write and research and do interviews. They were journalists. Or I was working with these computer companies. These guys knew nothing. And they were like, "We are going to give you $50,000 to ghostwrite a book for us," and I'd make between 30 and $50,000 a book.

They're like, "We know nothing, you do it." They knew how to make money from software. They knew what they were doing. Personal development authors, I would do all the things I did with my other authors, and these people would change their topic five times, they didn't fucking finish their books. That first year I had 350 clients, maybe it was 250, 350. It was around 300 clients, which is great. Who gets 300 clients in their first year? One person finished her book, Jill Farmer, bless her heart. She like saved my soul I think that year. They didn't even know how to write books. They didn't even know what the fuck they wanted. They wanted to call me and talk about books.

Anna:

How did you find these people?

Angela:

I went to events for life coaches, and I would be like, "Hey, I've been in the publishing industry for 17 years. I'm a ghostwriter and a book coach and an editor," and everything I've been doing, "and a publicist. And if you need help with your book, I'll help you." I think I charged so many different, I didn't know what the hell I was doing either, but I don't know, $50 an hour I think is where I started. I was like, "I will help you with your book." And then I had this crazy idea that people would come to me with a book idea like all my other clients had ever hired me in 17 years. They're like, "I want to write a book about Windows Server Backup." And then six months later we had a book on Windows Server Backup. And I'm like, these people are fucking crazy. They just want to talk about writing a book. If you want to write a book, you'll have it done. It doesn't take that long. It's three to six months.

Anna:

I know. What takes a long time is, first of all, not knowing what you're doing when you're writing. And second of all, making a lot of excuses and claiming writer's block. That takes a lot of time. A lot of time.

Angela:

Oh, yeah. You can spend years on that. And nobody that's a real writer does. Like as a ghostwriter for 17 years, in 17 years I wrote 29 books. I also had a whole other career as an editor. That was my side hustle. In my free time, I wrote 29 books in 17 years.

Anna:

It doesn't take that long.

Angela:

It's really not that fucking hard.

Anna:

It's not. I'm with you. It's not that hard.

Angela:

You might need to do research, and that might take time. Like if you're doing a study over a year, you might need to put the study into the field and wait a year to gather, but writing up your findings, it takes three months to write a book. It's just not that fucking hard. And so I tried all these different things in my first year in business, and then I realized, oh, I'm asking the wrong question. The question isn't, do you want to write a book? The question is, do you have a business that would benefit from a book? Once I switched that question, then I had personal development professionals that had a business, and they were like, "I would like more clients for my fork-tuning sound healing business." I'm like, "Great. I can get you sound healing clients." Or "I do life coaching, and I would like life coaching clients," or "I do career coaching, I'd like career co- "

Angela:

Once I flipped the question and started with what's your business and do you need more clients? Then I went to, we now have a 99.6% completion rate. I think this year we have one person who didn't finish.

Anna:

How many books do you launch a year, and is it under your publishing company?

Angela:

Yeah. So that's a trick question because we did change that during COVID. Our biggest year we did 400 books. This year is definitely a slower year for us on purpose. I moved to the beach, half retired, and I've been much more selective about where I spend my time. I also have a teenager, but I think it will do about 200 books this year.

Anna:

Do they do all the writing and you guide them through it?

Angela:

Yeah. I find it's much faster and better to do your own writing, and I'll tell you why: as a ghostwriter for 17 years…when I write books for people, if you want me to write your book, I'll write it. It's a hundred-thousand dollars now and I'm happy to write your book for you. I don't think you should, though, and this is why. When you write your book, you change. Your brain just gets more organized. And you could think about this. If you ever had to put together a slide deck to pitch anyone anything, your potential clients or an investor or your mother, you have to organize your thoughts to do a slide deck or to write a proposal. And when you write your book, you become a better coach and you get more clients just from your own confident. You'll be like my shit's badass.

If I write it, you'll think I'm a badass. And luckily I already know I am, I don't need help with that. So it will change you and you could do it in less time and with less frustration, because when you work with a ghostwriter, you're going to tell them what you want in the chapter. That's going to take as long as it would take for you to just fucking write it, then I'm going to write it up slightly wrong and you're going to read it, and it's going to be like nails on a chalkboard. You're like, "Why does she say it takes two weeks? I told her it takes two months," but you actually misspoke and said two weeks and you don't remember that, but you would've caught it if it was your own thing. And so you're going to read it, you're going to be annoyed. And then you're just going to rewrite the chapter, or you're not going to read it, and you're going to say "That's good, publish it."

Anna:

I vehemently disagree, but we're all allowed as fellow bad asses!

Angela:

Tell me your perspective. That's just my experience after ghostwriting, I don't know, 50 books now I guess.

Anna:

Well I only ghostwrote one, but it did become a New York Times best seller. So I do think, I do know... And I'm a writer. I wrote for every magazine. I wrote for the New York Times. I majored in writing.

Angela:

Yeah, but did the person who came to you have a book contract?

Anna:

No, we sold it together. I got him the agent. He was a disaster. I don't ghost write at all. I won't do any, it was such a bad experience. I would never write another person's book. And the way I started my company is that so many people came to me and said, "Would you write my book?" And I said, "No, no, no." And finally someone said, "I don't care." So I said, "Look, I'll ask my friend to write it." And then that started the company. I believe if you don't write every day all day and you haven't for a decade, you're not going to write as good a book as someone who does

Angela:

Yeah, I get you on that. I get you on that, but I think that happens in the editing phase.

Anna:

I find it really hard. My team does the editing, I don't do it. I find that I watch them struggle - it's easier to start from scratch than to fix something that's broken.

Angela:

A hundred percent, a hundred percent. But I really feel like if the purpose is to get clients, then the quality of your book, not that it doesn't matter, but if your focus is on writing a really good book and not on attracting clients, then you're just doing something different, not better or worse,

Anna:

Fair enough.

Angela:

Just a different thing.

Anna:

I think that's a middle ground, too. I mean, I think it can be... Look, a lot of people not only don't care about quality, but they can't even tell the difference. They can't even tell-

Angela:

Most people can't tell the difference, and 16% of people read the books they buy. None of them are your clients. The way you know someone is going to buy from you is if they get your book and don't read it. Once they've read it, they're not a client.

Anna:

That's so interesting.

Angela:

Now after they become a client…

Anna:

Then they read it.

Angela:

They will then read your book, but people will read your book after they become a client.

Anna:

Basically, how does it work? People come to you and you say, "Go write the book and we'll help you with the cover, and we’ll launch”?

Angela:

No. We do an elaborate developmental editing process. We're developmental editing every single chapter. There's three months of work before they're allowed to write.

Anna:

Okay.

Angela:

We have to figure out what the fucking book is. Because most people's ideas are horrible, and they would never finish. So for each chapter, we design...We do this for the whole book first. And then we go chapter by chapter and we design a purpose statement, which is like a main topic sentence. And then we have a certain layout that we have them use, and then they come up with 10 slugs. The slugs are what's going to be included in the chapter. You don't have to include all of it. So when you go to sit down to write, I know everything that's going in that chapter. I might not know the order, and I can finesse the sentences, our editors can finesse the sentences, but we've crafted what is each chapter, what's in it, what's the purpose of the book, how do we want the reader to be different?

Once all that developmental editing is done, when you go to write the book, we do it as a timed test. We'll actually proctor it with you. You have two hours to write the chapter. And I want the shittiest job, if that's what it is, but it's just the best job you can do in two hours. I don't care how good it is or how bad it is, just give me something in two hours and no more. And then the editors take it over and we can turn it into good writing.

Anna:

When you say proctor, are you sitting on a Zoom call with them?

Angela:

Sitting on a Zoom call. Ready? Go. You got two hours. And then I do a little Tim from Project Runway and I say, "All right, you got 30 minutes.”

Anna:

Make it work.

Angela:

"Even if you haven't started writing, make it work, because this is your chapter." And then we pull it out of their hands and they can't look back at it until the whole book is done.

Anna:

And then you do copy editing, layout, launch?

Angela:

Yeah. We have three levels of edits. We do a high-level edit, and then we do line edits, which take about six weeks, and then we do a proofread.

Anna:

Yeah, and it's launched under your imprint?

Angela:

Yeah, you asked that before. We've done three things with this. I have an imprint, which is called Difference Press. We also have partnered with companies that have in-store distribution. So we put it out as a collaboration, a Difference Press collaboration with another partner that gets it in bookstores. When we do that, we give up 80% of the book revenue to get it into bookstores. And when COVID hit, I shut down all of those partnerships, because I'm like no one's buying books in bookstores, and they're not buying these books in bookstores. And they're definitely not buying these books in bookstores when the bookstores are shut down. So we canceled all those partnerships, which I had kind of wanted to do anyway, because I looked at how much money we were giving up and the percentage of sales online versus in stores, and it just didn't make sense.

Eight-five percent of our sales were happening online, but we were giving up 80% of the revenue. So we now teach self-publishing, and if people really want their books in bookstores, we can hook them up with partners, but then it's not a collaboration anymore. We make an introduction, and they put it under their publishing label. For most people, I don't see a good reason to put your book... That's not for everyone, but for most people we work with... If you want to make a quarter of a million dollars from your book in a year, don't work with a publisher. We have 76% of our authors make $250,000 in the first year from their book.

Anna:

Not from book sales.

Angela:

Not from book sales, not from book sales.

Anna:

Do you help them set up a system where they're going to get more clients? How does that work?

Angela:

Yeah. We build book funnels for our clients, teach them advertising, show them how to do what we call a thank-you video, so how to connect with their readers, how to build a list from your book. I teach something called the L.O.V.E. Sales Method, which is how to turn your readers into clients by just listening to their problem and offering to help solve it. The focus is get as many readers as possible. We have a really cool calculator. If you go to the author incubator.com/calculator, most of our authors can make $250,000 by giving away about 2000 books, between 2 and 3000 bucks.

Anna:

Who do they give them to?

Angela:

Prospects. We identify prospects. For instance, one of our clients, Lesley Moffat, wrote Keep the Job, Lose the Stress. And she works with teachers, stressed-out teachers. She now has a six-figure consulting business with teachers, and she specifically started with band leaders, high school band leaders. Turns out there are organizations of high school band leaders. Who fucking knew? She's in all those Facebook groups, all those groups. She speaks. We have a keynote speaking coach, as well, Nina Sossamon-Pogue, who trains all of our authors in how to use their book to get speaking gigs. She is the top speaker for high school band leaders. You find a high school band leader, they will know Lesley Moffat. She speaks at those events, and then she gets contracted by schools and teachers to work with them and has a six-figure business as the world's top coach for band directors. Who knew?

Anna:

You're a firm believer, I assume, in the riches are in the niches, like find your niche.

Angela:

Has to be. Has to be. If you do the kind of books that we loved growing up, like if you do the self-love for women in transition, generic books, those books that were successful, like my favorite book of all time from one of my best friends, Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love, that book changed my life and so many others, but it wouldn't sell now. If you are even as good of a writer as Marianne, which is like two people in a million, even now, that book just wouldn't sell the way it did then. There's too many other books.

There's too much other information. There's Netflix. You're competing on a totally different scale. So if you can focus on a group that we can access like band directors, real estate agents, divorce lawyers; if we can focus on a group that we can find, do your spiel on self-love for women in transition, because I can tell you everything in Lesley's book is all about self-love for band directors in transition. But if we can focus that information in a specific group we can reach, and you could be the best in the world in this blue ocean instead of a very, very bloody red ocean, then we can generate revenue.

Anna:

You used to do weekend retreats.

Angela:

Three Days to Done. So very interesting you should ask. I had a castle. The reason we got this castle, which we called the authors castle, was to do... All the rooms were themed. We had the Maya Angelou room and the Pablo Neruda room. All of the rooms had their own theme. And we would bring authors in every weekend, and over the weekend you would write your book. And then when COVID happened, we were like, well, no one's coming over to write their books at our house anymore, so much for that. So we left the castle, which we had a lease purchase agreement, so we kind of had to walk away from $2 million. It was a little bit sad, but we're like it's going to be a long time before someone wants to come over and do a writing retreat. So we paused. And then this year we got a bunch of beach houses in a little town on the Chesapeake Bay.

We now have those houses open to do Three Days to Done again starting in January. So I have my first one, the first week in January. You get a whole house with your weekend. You can take a friend, and we've got like three or four houses that are near each other in this tiny little beach town. So we meet up in the morning on the boardwalk. Everyone gets their assignments. We check in on Zoom during the day. Then we have dinner at night, but everyone's got their own COVID bubble to write in.

Anna:

If people are interested, what are the price points for all of these things?

Angela:

We have our virtual... We call it book week. So we have a virtual version of that, come to my beach house and sit with me and we'll get your book done in three days. So that is $500. Anyone can do it. We do it the last week of the month. It's 500 bucks. At the end of the week, your book will be done. And you don't even have to come in knowing what your book is about. You just have to have a business. If you have a business and you want more clients, come in on Monday, on Friday you will have a finished manuscript. Then if you want to work with us to do the editing and publishing and speaking and marketing, that is, I think it's like a 25K commitment for us to do all your editing, get you Amazon Best Seller status, do all your design, all your marketing, get you coached up to get speaking engagements, build your book funnel, get you out there.

That's a much longer engagement to do all that stuff. But if you just need your book written, 500 bucks, and then at the end of it, we'll tell you exactly how to do everything on your own. By the way, if you do it on your own, you're going to spend a lot more than $25,000 doing it on your own. It's a lot of work.

Anna:

If you want to do it right.

Angela:

If you want to do it right, yeah.

Anna:

You can do it wrong.

Angela:

You could do it wrong for less, for sure. But you'll probably get one editor, they'll flake out. They'll tell you things you don't want to hear. You'll have to get another editor. They'll ghost you. When we do it, it just gets done and we keep it on a timeline. Then our Three Days to Done, when you actually come and stay with us at the beach house and we feed you, and I literally sit next to you when you write your book, those are substantially more. So you pay 25K for the weekend. But at the end of the three days, your book is done, and that does include a round of editing.

Anna:

And you just stay in the beach house.

Angela:

And you have to stay in one of our beach houses and hang out, and hopefully eat crabs, since we're in Maryland, that's what we do here.

Anna:

So if people want to find you, what is the best way?

Angela:

The author incubator.com, and the trick with that is the article, T-H-E, the. If you go to author incubator.com, you won't find it. Although I do own that domain, and I should just set up a re-direct, but here's my take: if you can't figure it out, we weren't meant to work together. So, the author incubator.com. Then if you want to chat with me about your book, there's an application, which is really... It just keeps me organized, because I got a million things going on. So when you fill out the application, it drops you into like an automated funnel for me, telling me who you are and to follow up with you. That is the best way to get to me. A lot of times people DM me and be like, "Hey, I have a book idea. Can I talk to you?" I love you, whoever you are, just fill out the application, because then my team keeps me on track, and I get super disorganized. This will get you put on my calendar and everything will just happen the way it's supposed to.

Anna:

Do you charge for those calls?

Angela:

No. We'll talk about your book, and we'll see if it's a fit to work together and all that good stuff.



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