Startup of the week: Book In A Box

Startup of the week: Book In A Box

The concept behind Book In A Box - that aspiring authors can outsource the entire writing and publishing process - might be controversial, but then founder Tucker Max has made a bestselling publishing career out of profitable controversy.

The pitch

Book In A Box promises to turn anyone into a published writer by taking an idea out of their head and putting it into a book, retaining their words, their voice, and their concept.  It's “book writing and publishing as a service.” 

Who's behind it

Controversial American author and public speaker Tucker Max. Since 2000 he has launched the massively popular website, on which he chronicles his drinking and sexual encounters in short story form, written three #1 New York Times bestsellers, including I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and founded and sold Tropaion Publishing, "which pioneered the current author as publisher craze." "Before that," Max admits, "I didn’t really do much, mostly drank and screwed around in college and law school." 

Now he's teamed up with COO Canadian Zach Obront, previously of charity fundraising deals site GiveGetWin, to "take the conventional writing process out of book creation". They have 10 full time employees, but also work with dozens of freelance editors and book cover designers - in fact, Max urges any relevant FutureBook readers to get in touch as they're on a hiring spree.

What's the gap in the market?

"There are WAY more people who have books in them than there are people who have the time and skill to write them," explains Max. "Our customers are NOT writers. If you can write, you don’t need us. Our customers are people with good (non-fiction) book ideas who don’t have the time or ability to write their own book, but still want to get their ideas (and not a ghost writer's ideas) into a book." 

All clients have to do is spend about 15 hours on the phone with the Book In A Box team, over 3-4 months, who will then transcribe the audio, position the ideas into proper book structure, and “translate” them from spoken word into book prose—"using your words, your ideas, and even your 'voice'."

Success so far?

Launched in autumn 2014, Book In A Box "did about $2.5 million in sales" in 2015 and is currently working with over 200 authors. Tucker and Obront have written a book about their method, with two more on the way.

Biggest challenges?

"Scaling," Max asserts. "There is a huge demand for this service, and we’ve had to limit our customers up to now. Building a business is not easy."

Ultimate ambition?

Again, the future for Book In A Box is all about scale - which will mean driving the cost of a resource-intensive service down. "That will probably mean turning it into a SaaS [software as a service] product," Max says. "If we can do this, we can 10x or 100x the number of books that people write every year. We think this would be amazing—there is so much wisdom locked up in the heads of so many smart and accomplished people around the world, and no way to really get it out at scale."

Advice for other publishing entrepreneurs?

"The biggest mistakes I see publishing start-ups making are these two," Max explains. "First, they aren’t solving real problems that real people have. Most publishing start-ups begin with a solution, then go looking for a problem. Or they focus on something that is clever or neat, but not something that people actually want to pay for. 

"Second, they either don’t understand publishing, or they don’t understand technology. Publishing people are still trying to operate out of the old, scarcity based publishing world, which is dead and gone. And the tech people don’t understand the publishing business and the psychological dynamics of books and writing—they think everything can be solved with software. There aren’t many people who understand both fields and can integrate them."