Can you “author” a book without actually writing it? Tucker Max — cofounder of Book In a Box — says yes. Absolutely.
And, his company has a method for helping people do just that.
Why does this matter? Because many business, self-help, and other “how-to” books are not written by their authors. And that affects the quality of what we read.
The Book In A Box method
Here’s the short version: You spend 12 to 15 hours on the phone doing structured interviews with “scribes” from Book In A Box.
And that’s it, basically.
Book In A Box does the rest:
- Editing the interview transcripts into a polished manuscript
- Producing a book that’s designed, typeset, and ready to sell
- Helping you promote it during a book launch
The advantages of avoiding writing
This business model has undeniable appeal for anyone who hates writing and publishing. For a flat fee, Book In a Box does that work — and a lot more — for you. Many aspiring authors will breathe a sigh of relief and sign on the dotted line.
I’ve had contacts with folks at Book In A Box. They are courteous and competent.
The company is flourishing, too. It’s done about 600 books to date — enough to disrupt the whole publishing industry.
Yet, for all its benefits, there’s also something that readers lose when authors don’t do their own writing.
You can’t delegate thinking
The process of writing a rough draft and revising it forces you to clarify, organize, and refine your ideas with a rigor that is unmatched by any other medium. The act of speaking your ideas — even during a structured interview — simply cannot do this to the extent that writing and revising can.
For a writer, the deepest thinking — and therefore the deepest learning — comes in the revision.
For this reason, I trust authors who do their own writing and revising more than those who don’t.
These authors have done the heavy lifting that it takes to create clarity and concision — page by page, sentence by sentence.
These authors have taken the time and trouble to crap-detect their own ideas. They’ve purged what’s illogical, unsupported by evidence, or just plain ugly.
As a result, these authors have changed for the better. They are thinking at a higher level than before. They have learned things that can only be learned by writing.
And, what authors learn passes down to us as readers.
As someone wisely pointed out, “You only know what you make.” People who hire Book In A Box don’t do all the making.
Yes, writing is hard — and it’s worth doing
In his talk, Tucker Max contends that writing comes hard to us simply because we are not evolved to do it. Biologically speaking, he says, we are fundamentally wired for speaking and listening — things that our ancestors did long before they learned to read and write.
Tucker does not present scientific evidence for these statements. So for now, I’ll suspend judgment.
But what I will say is that much of our progress — both on individual and societal levels — hinges on the ability to transcend our default modes of thinking and behaving.
For example, scientists (such as Daniel Levitin in The Organized Mind) tell us that our default mode of cognition is wandering attention. And yet our ability to learn anything depends on focusing our attention. Lord knows, this does not come naturally.
Reigning in our wandering mind is hard. And, it is still worth doing.
Likewise, consider the ability to sit down and have a rational discussion with someone who disagrees with you on a divisive issue. I doubt that this skill comes naturally to any of us. Our default mode is to argue, attack, and make the other person wrong.
Doing the opposite — disagreeing with people in a civil way — is hard. And, it is still worth doing.
Likewise, writing is hard — and still worth doing.
But the Book In A Box Method is based on the assumption that if something is hard, you should avoid it. And, since writing is one of those really hard things, let us do it for you.
This viewpoint is already widespread in our culture. I fear a subtle but significant decline in literacy if it prevails.
I still call this ghostwriting
Tucker also claims that the Book In A Box method is not ghostwriting. This is because he defines ghostwriter as someone who writes a book with no involvement whatsoever from an author.
In contrast, says Tucker, Book In A Box gets lots of input from their authors. During the interview process, his scribes ask authors a long list of questions. And they press hard for precise answers.
But the fact remains: The authors are still not doing the writing. They delegate that task to Book In A Box.
If we can’t describe this process as ghostwriting, then the word doesn’t mean much. A ghostwriter by definition is someone who does all the writing — even if someone else does all the talking.
And in the process, there’s still something that we as readers are losing.
Note. There is one level at which I wholeheartedly recommend the Book In A Box method: It offers a superb set of suggestions for doing your own writing.
Check it out for yourself — The Book In A Box Method (also available as a free PDF). In these pages, Tucker Max and Zach Obront reveal the company’s process for interviewing authors and editing book manuscripts.
And, as they acknowledge, you can use this process on your own — without hiring a ghostwriter.