It was late 2016, and the combination of a number of factors meant that my family and I were soon to relocate to New York City.
This meant an evolution of my career, with the goal of developing a platform for my speaking and consulting business through North America, and away from the more European and global footprint. The idea came that to help with the transition, publishing a book could provide the catalyst for attention and credibility I was looking for.
This would not be just any book. This would be a book that broke many of the rules of what a book “should” be. It was not so much the launch of a new idea or concept—instead, it was something that was already a key component of my business and I hoped would be the fulcrum of the next chapter of my professional career.
With the decision made to publish a book that synthesized a decade’s worth of workshop material into a concise how-to guide, I had three options:
1) Go the traditional publishing route and give up a lot of control, my intellectual property, and work to someone else’s timeline and set of objectives.
2) Go it alone as a self-published author.
3) Work with a professional publishing company that would help me produce and distribute a top-quality book, while allowing me to retain full creative control of my work.
The obvious choice, for me, was option three. I connected with Page Two and, in July 2017, we released Exactly What to Say: The Magic Words for Influence and Impact .
Two and a half years on, the book continues to top bestseller lists in print, e-book, and audiobook the world over, with 750,000 copies sold, and counting.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how Exactly What to Say became what my family likes to call “the tiny book that made $1 million.”
Why choose a publishing partner like Page Two?
Retaining creative control and the ability to produce a product that I believed in, and was considerate of all the commercial objectives I had for the release was essential—but I wanted to do it with a partner that understands the publishing world. Access to the trade distribution network and having the ability to work with a professional editorial team were two of the pieces I knew I would struggle with alone.
This was my baby. Essentially, I wanted to direct the show, rather than star in someone else’s movie.
I’d also heard horror stories from traditional publishing, where authors lose all control of their signature work and get very little back in return, resulting in them losing interest in a key asset in their body of work.
This was my baby. Essentially, I wanted to direct the show, rather than star in someone else’s movie. Page Two provided me with the type of expert editorial, design, sales and distribution support you would find at a traditional publisher, with me in the driver’s seat at every stage of the process. I covered the costs of production, and retain full royalty and licensing rights.
It was also very important for me to go straight to paperback. The book was written as a guide for busy people and paperback delivers the information in a format that is lightweight and portable.
It is also a book that I expected to be revisited by readers, to serve as a companion and be filled with sticky notes and readers notes. This had to be a paperback, and I believe this decision was a key factor into why we actually made money on our Hudson’s airport placement.
Many authors run the Hudson piece as a loss leader, but because I was in paperback and I had such a significant margin on the book, I actually made money on the deal, and ran it for a year. I don’t believe there is a traditional publisher in the land who would see that opportunity for a tiny 17,500-word manuscript.
How bulk sales and custom editions helped me land more business
Until recently, I’ve spent a lot of my time on the road as a professional speaker, and I’ve sold over 50,000 copies via bulk sales at events.
I couldn’t have done that with a traditionally published book, for a few reasons.
One is price point—it can become too expensive for the organizer to gift the book in bulk with unit prices still in excess of $15 a book; and secondly, there would be little margin in it for me. But because of the level of control retained, it is possible to create highly attractive pricing for event organizers and still make healthy profits.
Printing in bulk means that it is possible for me to produce a book for as little as $1.25 a copy, and this provides a lot of opportunity to be creative with the book, Including the gifting of thousands of copies to worthy causes.
An even bigger asset is that we hold the details of everyone who’s purchased bulk books and can add an improved customer experience. Traditionally published authors may sell thousands of copies in bulk, but they don’t know who is reading them, so they can’t follow up with video messages, they can’t nurture relationships with that organisation and turn those relationships into future business.
In addition, we’ve been able to easily create custom editions for organizations that go far beyond just changing the color palette of the cover.
It’s a foreword from a key person within the organization; it’s repositioning language and examples in the book to their specific industry; it’s a testimony or an endorsement from me to the company in the back of the book. The book becomes a genuine asset and also a great prospecting tool. I can show up with an example of what the book could look like in their cover colors, or just send them a copy. That’s been a fun thing to play with.
How I negotiated licensing deals and a spin-off edition
Page Two has international representation with Transatlantic, a literary agency that sells rights in territories and languages around the world, and this has enabled us to land a number of translation rights deals—we’re up to sixteen now, with another eight in progress.
I’ve also been able to produce licensing deals for the content. I did one deal in China, where I licensed them to print 10,000 units inside an organization, not for retail distribution.
In September 2019 we also released our first spin-off edition, Exactly What to Say: For Real Estate Agents, with a completely new ISBN, and rewritten from scratch. It’s sold 25,000 copies to date, which is fairly significant, and it allowed me to create a six-figure partnership with a marketing agency within the real estate space.
It’s added another significant arm and credibility to my business in that niche. I’m now in talks with another niche about doing the same thing in 2021. If there were a traditional publisher involved, I couldn’t have any of these conversations without involving them—and then we’d hit a dead end. It just wouldn’t happen.
The creative freedom to actively work with the rights to my content has also resulted in an exciting new project for 2021, in which my book will be one of the launch publications of a well-funded startup that is launching a series of VideoBooks as an entirely new genre of consumption.
Why the audiobook outsells print editions
We’re about two years into the audiobook, and our audio sales are about five to one over any other medium, which is quite unusual.
I think there are a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, the book is about the spoken word, so if you’re reading a book about how to be more effective in spoken word, tonality and cadence are likely to play a factor —“listening” to the content could possibly be the book in its strongest format.
The content is also designed to be repeated; I know that a lot of people hold both paper and the audiobook copies, using the paperback for reference and the audiobook for retention. Audible themselves have confirmed with me that the book is one of the most “listened to” books on the entire platform, with most people listening to the complete book more than twice.
We’ve also priced the audiobook on Audible in a way that encourages people to buy it, rather than use credits. It’s $7.99, which is less than the monthly fee which gets you one credit every month. While the credit system is great, because it keeps people spending, it tends to stop people buying more than one book a month. This way, people use their credit on another book and purchase mine as a one-off, in addition to using their credits.
Why I receive thousands of customer reviews
Creative control has meant that inside the book itself, readers are encouraged to connect with me—I include a call to action in the book to connect on social media —and they do.
When people pass on a compliment about the book, I thank them and ask them what they liked best about it. When they reply, I then ask if they could share those same exact words in the form of a review. This way, the ask is more genuine, and they’re not worried about what to write because they’ve already written it and shared it with me.
There are a significant number of one-star reviews, as well as five-star reviews. I think that is a good thing.
Perhaps an even bigger reason I believe the review count is high is that people have strong opinions about the book. There are a significant number of one-star reviews, as well as five-star reviews. I think that is a good thing, particularly given the 4.5 average, because it drives people to find out for themselves. And when they do find out, they share their opinion because they want to add their perspective to the discussion. If everybody’s already reviewed something positively, what use is another review?
The bottom line when choosing a publisher
If you’re looking for somebody to publish your book, a traditional publisher can do exactly that. If somebody is presenting you with an upfront deal that shows their level of commitment to making that book a success, that’s worthy of looking at. But if you’re looking to partner with somebody where your book is a business system and evolves and grows with you, owning that IP long-term is a smart decision. I’d rather back myself than sell the idea cheaply to somebody who is not as committed to the long term success of the book as I am.
Copies sold across all platforms: 750,000+ including bulk, foreign-language, and special editions
Trade print royalty: > $250,000
Kindle royalty: >$245,000
Audible royalty: >$400,000
Bulk books direct: > $150,000
Custom edition profits: > $75,000
International edition advances: > $35,000
VideoBook advance: > $5,000
Total revenues: >$1.16 million
Phil M. Jones has trained more than two million people across five continents and over fifty countries in the lost art of spoken communication.