How author Mike Lipkin turned a setback into a breakthrough
Most authors would see a print-run delay as a huge inconvenience. But Mike Lipkin, president of Environics/Lipkin, believes it saved his book. In March 2020, after 18 months of sweat and tears, the motivational speaker and coach was about to pull the trigger on a large initial print run for The Potentiator. All that was missing was one illustration—a hiccup for which he remains eternally grateful.
“We had to delay the printing until we had this specific illustration in,” he shares. “And then, on March 15, 2020, everything shut down because of Covid. And this was one of the moments where you start to believe there truly is a higher power, because I would have gone for an initial printing of 20,000.”
Had the book gone out then, he says, it would have been “palpably out of date.” The Potentiator is a guide to enabling others to perform at their best—and the pandemic had changed everything about how people work, collaborate, and lead. While it was painful, Mike felt he had no choice but to pull the emergency brake.
“If it wasn’t something as apocalyptic as Covid, I may have said, ‘Hey, you know, let’s just go for it.’ But because it was about managing the future, and because COVID was truly such a massive game changer, it prompted me just to say, ‘Let’s put a hold in this,’” he recalls. “I know how I feel when I’ve got communication that is palpably out of date. And I thought, if I multiply that by 10,000 times, that’s how I’m going to feel getting this book out.”
For nine months, he put the book out of his mind. And then, with the prompting of Page Two’s co-principal Jesse Finkelstein, he was convinced to give it a second chance. He recalls, “Towards the end of 2020, Jesse reached out to me and she said, ‘Look, this is a book whose time has come. This is a book that people need to read now, more than ever, so that they can get out of their own heads and focus on the impact they can make on others. And that’s what leaders are in these times.’”
But it needed some reworking. With editorial consultant Matt O’Grady, Mike reviewed the material and gave it a renewed focus. “We reorganized it and updated it, and excised those pieces that were non-essential, because the other key consideration was to make it as concise as we possibly could,” he says. Mike estimates that about 30 percent of the material had to go, due to it being outdated. The remaining 70 percent was tweaked, and updated to reflect our current reality of hybrid work, virtual meetings, and elbow bumps. “It went from what I was thinking about as a literary work into a stripped down, easily applied handbook for success in this post-pandemic reality.”
Countdown to launch
To set it up for success, he did a small print run and sent personalized signed copies to 500 people on his promotional list, along with a special letterhead notecard, designed by Page Two’s Creative Director Peter Cocking, that fit snugly inside the front cover. “I would brand these as my advocates, mobilizers and even evangelists,” he explains. “They advocate for me, they mobilize other people on my behalf, and some of them, thank goodness, are motivated to make the investment in me.”
And he consciously timed it to land in people’s hands over the winter holiday season, when people would have time to crack its pages. “I positioned it as an end-of-year culmination,” he explains. “I said, ‘This is exactly the book you want to read as you reflect on 2021 plan for 2022.’ We had two print runs of 500 copies each and those are the books that we sent out. In the first couple weeks in January, we experienced a surge of demand for speaking events, because people had the time over the holiday season to do some reading.”
Instead of chasing bestseller lists, [Mike] deploys the book primarily as a calling card for his speaking work.
Some authors may balk at giving away their book for free, but, as Mike notes, “it’s about knowing what your end-in-mind is. If you want to be the high priest of knowledge, where people have got to travel for days and then climb mountains to access your wisdom, well, don’t send the book out. But if you are someone who really wants to maximize and accelerate his impact and accessibility, then I would say get your book into the hands of your target audience any which way you can.”
Mike calls himself a speaker who writes—rather than a writer who speaks—which encapsulates the strategic approach he’s taken with The Potentiator. Instead of chasing bestseller lists, he deploys the book primarily as a calling card for his speaking work. “A book like this captures the imagination of decision-makers, and then they decide, based on what they see and feel and hear from the book or the audiobook, to bring me into their organization,” he explains.
He uses the book as an ice breaker, helping to open the door with organizations he’s interested in connecting with. “Every morning I read the news, and when I see the names of people that I may have met at some point, or companies that I have an affinity with, we’ll just send them the book with a little note,” he shares, adding that it’s also a helpful tool for negotiation.
“I’m often using both the print version of the book and the ebook version as leverage. I’ll go in with a fee and then inevitably, if I’m dealing with a conference organizer, they’ll come back to me and go, ‘Well, it’s a little steep.’ I’ll say, ‘I’m going to hold you to that fee, but I’m willing to include the books. Or, if you want a discount, I can’t include the books.’ Oftentimes that makes them pause and think, ‘Okay, I might save a couple grand, but I’m losing an opportunity to wow this audience.’”
Walking the talk
The audiobook is also an impactful tool and promotional hook. Mike, who also published Dancing with Disruption with Page Two in 2017, says, “The audiobook is something that I talk about in every conversation. If I’m being asked to give a keynote or if I’m doing a workshop or if I’m just having a one-on-one, I’ll mention that they can go to audible.com and download a sample of The Potentiator.”
“In the first version [of the book], I was endeavoring to elevate the content through the packaging. Now, the content really speaks for itself.”
Not everyone purchases it—Mike estimates it makes up about 10 percent of his overall book sales—but those who do, he notes, “are what I call my superfans, because they’re people who are willing to listen to it for six and a half hours. That individual is going to have a disproportionate influence over other consumers of the work.”
It may have taken 18 months, a pandemic, and a rewrite, but today, Mike feels the book has been worth all the blood, sweat, and tears it took to get here. “The net result, I think, is a paradoxically much better product than the first one would have been,” he reflects. “In the first version, I was endeavoring to elevate the content through the packaging. Now, the content really speaks for itself.”
He adds, “This is really proof of the fact that when the need is stronger than the fear, you take action. There’s a threshold that we all have in our own minds, and only we know when we’ve crossed that threshold. Thank goodness, my need became stronger than my fear. Now I’m ready to cross the next one.”