Tucker Max on Becoming a Published Author — No Writing Required

Does it matter whether you write your own book? Tucker Max says no. In fact, he co-founded a business to help you become a published author without writing a word.

That business is called Book In A Box, which is based on a method for translating interview transcripts into book prose. (I’ve summarized the method here and here.)

Do you know Tucker Max, by the way? He’s written several bestsellers, including I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and Assholes Finish First.

Don’t let those titles fool you. Tucker is a smart and savvy guy. I was reminded of this while watching his talk about Book In A Box at the 2015 TNW Conference Europe.

In this post, I’ll summarize his talk.

“You really should write a book”

Tucker starts with a question: Do you want to write a book? Have friends, family members, and colleagues said: You really should write a book?

If so, have you actually written a book? And if not, what’s stopping you?

According to Tucker, the best answer is that writing a book is really hard. This is what people mean when they say things such as:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I’m not good at writing.
  • I don’t like writing.
  • The process is too frustrating.
  • I don’t know where to start.

If you expect Tucker to chastise you for saying things like that, then breathe a sigh of relief. “I don’t think these are bullshit excuses,” Tucker says. In fact, he believes that the traditional process for writing and publishing books is simply doomed to fail for most people.

Three problems with publishing

Tucker levels some heavy charges against the book industry and the culture surrounding it:

Our image of THE WRITER is self-defeating. What’s the first image that pops into your mind when you hear the word writer? Chances are it’s the face of a tortured artist such as Ernest Hemingway. Embedded in this image is a whole set of assumptions about what writers are supposed to do and be.

But in truth, says Tucker, you do not have to conform to this image in order to write a book. You do not have to do things such as:

  • Buy a Moleskin notebook
  • Invest in special writing tools
  • Create the perfect writing studio
  • Take writing courses
  • Wear a black turtleneck and recite poetry in dim bars and coffee shops
  • Drink heavily or do other drugs
  • Starve for the sake of your art
  • Open a vein and try to bleed on the page every day

In short, acquiring the image of a writer has nothing to do with actually writing.

Publishers are out of touch with readers. Tucker believes that most nonfiction books are too long, leading to low reader engagement and abysmal read-through rates.

Even so, traditional publishers assume that books must have spines that are thick enough to be read by people who browse bookshelves. Too often this translates into products that are padded with extra pages.

It’s true that you can bypass arbitrary length requirements by self-publishing your book. However, Tucker says, that process is also “arcane and ridiculous.”

In addition, traditional publishers tend to equate popularity with lack of quality. Tucker excoriates them for refusing to touch books such as Fifty Shades of Grey until well after they become self-published bestsellers.

You might hear even people say something like: That book is really good — even though it sold a lot of copies. For Tucker, this is absurd. “Can you imagine if people talked about software this way?” he asks.

Most writing advice is self-defeating. People who struggle with writing get predictable advice:

  • Just work harder.
  • Just find the time.
  • Just sit down and do it.
  • Writing is supposed to be hard — that’s what makes it good.

But there’s a problem with such advice, says Tucker: It’s all bullshit.

What’s more, many popular books about writing actually spread the same manure.

Tucker singles out Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott as an example. “There’s nothing in here about how to actually write a book,” he says. “What this is, is a status manual” — as evidenced by Anne’s instructions for choosing a writer’s desk with the proper wood grain finish.

A different way to write a book

Tucker’s strategy for avoiding the aforementioned bullshit is The Book In A Box Method. You can follow that link to a book that lays out the method in detail.

For authors, the bottom line is that you spend 8 to 12 hours on the phone doing structured interviews with folks from Book In A Box. And that’s it, basically. The company does the rest — editing, typesetting, design, production, distribution, and initial promotion of your finished book.

Your price? A flat fee of $25,000. (Options beyond the basic package are available at additional cost.)

It’s worth it, says Tucker, because the Book In A Box method:

  • Forces you to crystallize your book idea up front
  • Focuses you on creating content with clear benefits for a specific audience
  • Takes much less time than traditional publishing — about 3 months instead of the typical 12 to 18 months
  • Requires little — if any — writing ability on your part
  • Removes uncertainty with a near-algorithmic process

Furthermore, the method “works with the human mind, not against it.” Our brain is evolved for talking, not writing, Tucker says. Many writers get writer’s block, but hardly anyone gets “talker’s block.” When prompted with the right questions, most of us speak freely and at length about our cherished ideas.

A couple of caveats

Tucker emphasizes two points about his company’s method:

  • You gotta have content. “If you don’t have anything to say, then we can’t help you,” Tucker says. But if you do have something to say, then Book In A Box largely frees you from worrying about the publishing process.
  • This is not conventional ghostwriting. That means paying someone else to write up their ideas so that you can slap your name on the book at the last minute as the author. In contrast, Book In A Box aims to act as a midwife for your content.

A time-tested method

Tucker claims that Book In A Box simply refines a process that’s been used for centuries.

For example, Jesus himself wrote nothing. The books of the New Testament were written by his followers.

Likewise, Socrates wrote nothing. His teachings exist only because Plato committed them to writing.

Marco Polo dictated his Travels to a scribe. And Malcolm X dictated his autobiography to Alex Haley.

Unfortunately, says Tucker, the wisdom of many other people throughout history has been lost because they didn’t write — and no one else ever bothered to document their ideas.

Book In A Box “unlocks new value chains” by solving this problem with a tested method. Tucker wants to see book publishing become more democratic, thus allowing more people to preserve their knowledge for posterity.

Do you agree?

Book In A Box is flourishing. This company offers a service that’s in demand.

But — assuming that you could afford it — would you hire them to do your book?

Do you relish the thought of avoiding writing? If so, are there potential downsides to that choice?

And can the processes of writing and “authoring” a book be separated in any meaningful way?

These are questions I’ll explore in my next post.

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