James Altucher is the Managing Director of Formula Capital and Founder of Stockpickr. He writes the popular blog, “Altucher Confidential.” He is also the author of the new book, “Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream.”
James first first went through big publishers to get your investing-related books out, but you now self-publish everything. James explains how viable self-publishing is and how he gets the word out for his books.
James frequently holds Twitter chats with his followers and has even written books based off these conversations. Now he is paying people to read his new. book. This strategy is already revolutionizing content marketing.
James is the first person to pre-sell a book on Bitcoin. He describes his outlook on this currency, and how will it affect gold’s value.
Visit Altucher Confidential at www.jamesaltucher.com.
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Start of Interview with James Altucher
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome James Altucher to the show. He is managing director of Formula Capital, founder of Stockpickr. He is the writer of Altucher Confidential and author of the new Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream, as well as 10 other books – some self-published, some with big name publishers. And so we’ll talk about that today. James, welcome. How are you?
James Altucher: Great, Jason. Thanks for having me on the show.
Jason Hartman: Well, the pleasure is all mine. And I should say to our listeners for this show, the Speaking of Wealth Show, that we had you on my Creating Wealth show and you were a fascinating guest talking about Wall Street and investing and your investment philosophies and economic outlook and that was just a great interview. And if you’re interested in those topics, go check out that show as well because James was a great guest. But we want to talk now about the world of publishing and why you made the conscious decision to self-publish and how your publishers would love to have you back and publish your more recent books through their companies, but you didn’t go that route – why not?
James Altucher: Well, first, a lot of people think that the decision is between publishing with a mainstream publisher and self-publishing, but that’s not really the important decision at all. That might have been the important decision like 2 years ago, but this is an industry that’s moving very fast. And so the real decision is you want to publish professionally or unprofessionally. There are many ways to publish unprofessionally, even with the highest brow, most traditional publishers. No matter where you go, they’re gonna tell you we’ll edit your book, we’ll market your book, we’ll design your book, but there’s very few good editors, marketers and designers. So they may be with the traditional publishers, but they’re more likely now starting to move out of the traditional publishing industry and offer their services independently. So my last book’s a great example where I feel like I professionally published and I beat the mainstream publishers at their own game. So the book’s called Choose Yourself. The foreword’s by Dick Costolo who’s the CEO of Twitter. I hired a great designer for the cover – he had designed many bestsellers before. I had hired a great editor. He had edited many bestselling authors. I hired a good interior design company. I hired a great marketing agency that have marketed may bestselling authors. So I was putting together my own…It was almost like I was putting together my own mini publishing company to publish my own book.
Jason Hartman: You know, I kind of like it being if you want to build a house, for example, you can hire a contractor and they will hire all the subcontractors and manage them for you – theoretically they will. That’s open to debate maybe. And you’re basically being your own contractor and you hired all the subs yourself, right?
James Altucher: Right. And I will say it’s a lot of work. Now, obviously it would have been more work if I decided to edit my own book and design my own book and market my own book. But a lot of people simply, when they self-publish, they just upload to Amazon and then it’s published. And then they wonder, well, how can I sell more copies of my book? You have to prepare months in advance. This was a 7 month process of really making sure this book was professionally done in every level. I mean I probably rewrote it 20 times thanks to the pushing of the editors that I had hired. I had went over dozens of designs. With marketing, I probably had a spreadsheet of about 50 different marketing things I was going to do and I would track then how sales were going depending on which marketing event I was doing and so on.
So it was a lot of work for me. I had probably never done this much work on a book even when I was professionally publishing, probably because the professional publishers, the traditional publishers kept claiming they would do all these things, but they wouldn’t really do it as well as I would do it. Now, I know how to run a business, so I knew how I wanted to publish my book. And the results have been great. I mean I put out a fair amount of money but I made that all back within the first week of my book’s release. My book was on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. It’s still a bestseller. 4 weeks later, I’m still in the top 100 on Amazon, which means for non-fiction I’m probably in the top 10 or the top 20. On Kindle, I’m still ranked number 1 for all of my categories. So my book’s still a success and it’s still selling tons of copies every day. And now it’s only been a month, so we’ll see. But everything’s been going really well and there’s been a lot of it’s already my bestselling book.
Jason Hartman: Okay. So a couple of comments on Choose Yourself, which is your latest book that your talking about. So on Amazon, you got 4 and a half stars and 95 reviews. That’s a lot of reviews. I mean some very controversial books will get more than that, but 95 reviews for a 1 month old book is pretty good. So congratulations on that and 4 and a half stars with that many reviews. But also, one comment, you have I guess made the choice, probably very consciously, and I want you to talk to us about this, to price your Kindle books pretty low, well in most cases except for Trade Like a Hedge Fund which is very expensive on Kindle, but the other ones much less expensive than mainstream publishers.
James Altucher: Well, yes and no, because don’t forget with a mainstream publisher, your royalty on a Kindle might be 10%. So if a book is $15, you’re gonna get $1.50. But on Amazon, when I’m charging $4.99 on a book, I’m getting a $3.50 royalty. So I’m actually getting a much better royalty than you would get with traditional publishers. Now, the difference is, I didn’t get an advance from a traditional publisher, but advances are steadily declining across the entire industry. Now, the other thing I don’t get is I don’t get distribution in Barnes & Noble. But there’s no more Barnes & Nobles in San Francisco. Barnes & Nobles are closing every day in New York City, and even when I was with traditional publishers, I found they would put my books on the coast but Barnes & Noble would only put the bestselling books, bestselling romance novels if you’re not on one of the coasts or Chicago. So I wasn’t really getting mainstream distribution from mainstream publishers anyway. Now, I could have hired a distribution arm of like Simon and Schuster to distribute my books, but that would have slowed things down even further and I didn’t want to do that. And Amazon’s always been the bulk of my sales no matter what anyway, so I decided to just focus on Amazon. And, look, even just focusing on that, 4 weeks in this has sold more than my other books. There’s not a single book that’s come close to this one.
Jason Hartman: Did you give us a number on sales 4 weeks in? Did you want to share that?
James Altucher: No, I didn’t, but it’s a little over 30,000.
Jason Hartman: And that includes paper and Kindle?
James Altucher: Yes. And that includes audio.
Jason Hartman: Oh, paper, Kindle and audio, okay. And what’s the ratio on your paper versus Kindle versus audio there, if you know it?
James Altucher: Um, I would say…I’m just thinking of today’s numbers – it’s probably about 2/3 Kindle, 1/3 paperback, and then audio could be, dilute that number, audio could be like another 5 to 10 percent. And then there’s some international sales too.
Jason Hartman: Right. And on your audio, you did your own narration too, I see.
James Altucher: I did my own narration. I booked the studio. It was the same studio President Clinton did his book in, so every step of the way I did this completely professionally. Nobody can fault the professionalism, and that’s why I beat the mainstream publishers at their own game. I mean, there were two days when the book was first released where I was the number 1 book on all of Amazon for non-fiction. And, like I said, still the number one for my category – no mainstream publisher is even close to me in my specific categories.
So, again, I think this one book proves that if you want to make the most money and if you want to beat the publishers, professionally self-publish is probably the best way to do it. Now, people can say “Well, I don’t have…” I’ll tell you the cost. It cost me probably about $23,000 to do this. So, again, I made that money back the first week. So even if you don’t have the money for it, it’s not so bad to spend the money and make an investment in yourself and, if you feel you have a popular topic, to put the book out that way and make the money back. And my final profit on this is gonna be many multiples of that – it already is.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, that’s fantastic. And that doesn’t include the ancillary stuff I assume. I mean you’re doing speaking engagements, and then certainly you’ll probably have more books coming out but maybe not in your case but in other aspiring author’s cases. They have upsell products, they have events coaching – I don’t know.
James Altucher: So for many authors, they do have that. I don’t specifically, but I do expect I’ll sell probably well over 100,000 copies of this book in the long run. And I’ve already sold the foreign rights of the book to Taiwan, Korea and Brazil. So that, by itself, paid back my initial upfront cost. And, again, I’ve never had a book that was on any of the bestseller lists before. This book hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. To reach the New York Times bestseller list, you only need to sell about 2500 copies your first week. And I sold probably 8000 or 9000 copies my first week. But, unfortunately, the New York Times doesn’t look at self-published books. That’s the other thing I gave up was that I could be on The Wall Street Journal bestseller list but not The New York Times bestseller list.
Jason Hartman: That’s very interesting.
James Altucher: If I was on the New York Times list, I probably would have been number 1 or number 2 for non-fiction.
Jason Hartman: Yeah. They’re very interesting, very interesting. So can you break down those costs a little bit for us, James? Cover design, how much did you spend there? Editor, how much there? How much for interior design of the book? But what you didn’t mention in the 23,000 number was your own time, of coure.
James Altucher: Yes. And for any author, it never pays for itself in writing a book. So you write a book for other reasons unless you’re gonna sell millions of copies. But the editor I used, Nils Parker, who has edited, as an example, all of Tucker Max’s bestsellers. I mean Tucker Max’s books have probably spent 200 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and they were all edited by Nils Parker. He cost $5000. The audible cost about $2000, maybe $100 dollars more, I forget.
Jason Hartman: With you being the narrator?
James Altucher: Yes, with me being the narrator. And I feel with me being the narrator I also did it unabridged so I could tell my own stories. It’s a completely independent work of art. Like I didn’t follow the text exactly. And so that cost about $2100. The marketing agency costs $5000 and I’m probably gonna continue working with him, so it’ll cost a little bit more money over time. Interior design, I forget the exact number, so forgive me – cost a few thousand dollars – and a video trailer which I actually think in retrospect I actually didn’t need, cost $7000. So that was the most expensive aspect actually and I probably didn’t need it.
Jason Hartman: Right, right. And with all of those things and those different service providers, if you want to mention any names, feel free to leave that up to you. But if you feel anyone did a great job and you want to…
James Altucher: Oh yeah, and everybody did a great job. So I should have mentioned Ryan Holiday, who was the marketing expert behind the book marketing, very good guy, he’s marked Tim Ferriss’s recent bestseller, The 4-Hour Chef. He’s marketed Robert Greene’s books, the most recent book, Mastery, and the prior book The 50th Law, both of which were New York Times bestsellers. He’s also marketed Tucker Max’s books. He marketed John Romaniello’s recent bestseller, number 1 bestseller, Man 2.0. So he does a lot of very good books. He’s very smart, very creative. I also have experience marketing books having done so many books, but he was a good person to work with and to bounce ideas off of and to get his ideas and our networks overlapped but he also knew people I didn’t know and vice versa and it worked out very well – it worked out extremely well.
Jason Hartman: But is that the same Ryan Holiday who wrote Trust Me, I’m Lying?
James Altucher: Yes.
Jason Hartman: Oh yeah, fantastic book by the way.
James Altucher: Yeah, it was a very good book. And he’s not a liar. He actually doesn’t like that title. He’s a very good guy.
Jason Hartman: It’s a catchy title, though. You gotta pander to the market a little bit.
James Altucher: It’s funny, actually. One of my last traditional publishers was the publisher of that book, but his subtitle though was a little better which is “Confessions of a Media Manipulator”. Like, he knows basically how to hit the media for different messages. And we constructed a lot of good marketing messages out of my book and he was able to execute, him and his team. And so they were well worth it. I actually think they undercharged. I’ve told him that. So yeah, so I mentioned Nils, I mentioned Ryan. I actually forgot the name of the designers, but I’m gonna blog about it at some point. But I use an interior design company, I also used a company managed by Tucker Max called Lioncrest. He introduced me to all these different experts, and he helped me coordinate the whole process.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. And did you ever release in hardback or just paperback for the paper editions?
James Altucher: I do a hardback in special edition. So I had one company that ordered 5000 copies in hardcover and Amazon was able to fulfill that order for me, although it’s not something you can order off the website. So I have a very good relationship with Amazon and I was able to call them and ask for the special order and they delivered.
Jason Hartman: Mhm. Okay, fantastic. And tell us al ittle bit about the book if you would, because the book really, in itself, relates to the topics about which we’re talking. When we talk about disintermediation, like we did a little bit before we started the actual show, the book addresses some of these things. I mean tell us about the actual book.
James Altucher: I mean, the book starts off at a point where I was kind of like darkest in my life, where I had lost so much money that I was practically suicidal. And I had to figure out how to come back from this and nobody was going to help me come back. I realized very quickly – I had to figure it out for myself what worked well when I was making money and what stopped working when I was losing money. And what I determined that the best way I could choose and help myself was to be healthy. So I had to be physically healthy, which is very simple and it’s all the common sense stuff, but sleeping well, eating well, exercising well, I had to be emotionally healthy which means coming to grips with who the negative people in my life were and who are the positive people and focusing time mostly on the positive people in my life – the ones who inspired me and made me feel good about myself. I had to be mentally healthy which means get rid of all “junk food” for the brain, like bad TV and bad news and web surfing and all that, but focus on reading quality books. And, most importantly, I had to write down 10 ideas a day, not so much to have a good idea, but to exercise the idea muscle so I could become an idea machine. And I write down 10 ideas every day, I throw out the ideas. None of them are good. But the idea machine gets exercised and I start churning out good ideas in the long run. And then spiritually healthy, it’s very important for me every day to be grateful for the abundance in my life. Intellectually, whether I’m abundant or not, spiritually I always am. And it’s much better to feel that sense in your body that you’re grateful than to feel anxious or regretful because those hurt the body. But feeling gratitude helps the body. And doing just these 4 things, people always say to me I’m stuck, I can’t get out of a hole. Don’t worry about all that. If you just take a step back and just do these 4 things, if you build the foundation you could then build the house on top of it. And that’s what you only have to focus on is that foundation and then the rest really does happen magically. Opportunities start to present themselves and then you have the good enough sense to know which opportunities are good and which are bad. But you have to really, with discipline do this daily practice. And then I give stories about how it worked for me and I tell stories of how it worked for others and I go over a lot of common myths in self-help about what self-improvement means. So a big pat of the book also is I kind of analyze and debunk various myths within the self-help or self-improvement industry.
Jason Hartman: So in debunking some of those common self-help myths, one of them was procrastination. We normally think of procrastination as a bad thing. I remember I bought a book on procrastination once but decided I’d read it later – just fooling around. But is procrastination okay sometimes or tell us your thoughts on that.
James Altucher: Yeah, so often procrastination actually could be a very successful way to achieve many goals. So we have that primary goal that we’re procrastinating, but there’s always a lot of secondary goals. So whenever I feel like I’m procrastinating on my primary goal, I try to achieve as many secondary goals as possible. So I find procrastination, when used effectively, can be very productive. The other thing is if there’s something that’s causing us to procrastinate, it’s often our body’s way of telling us that this might be a bad idea, our primary goal. We might not want to do this primary goal. So it’s very important for people to listen to what their body is telling them on procrastination.
Jason Hartman: So, James, one of the chapters in your book is it doesn’t cost a lot to make a billion dollars. That’s a pretty catchy title. Tell us what you mean about it.
James Altucher: Well, a couple of things. One is a lot of people, particularly young entrepreneurs, think they’re gonna create the next Facebook or the next Google. This is actually incredibly hard to do. So you can’t go out there with the expectation to make a billion, but you can go out there and say, look, I’m gonna make a good, profitable business because I’m going to solve a problem. Now, whether this turns out to be a million dollar business, a $10 million dollar business, a $100 million dollar business, this is a little bit out of your control. It just depends on how big the market is. Nobody really knows in advance how big a brand new market is, but it depends on how big the market is, how much you’re going to work, and so on.
Keep in mind it’s just as good for most people to build a million dollar business. That’s great for 99.9% of people. Make a million dollars, don’t always go crazy trying to make a billion. But that particular chapter is about Sara Blakely who created Spanx. So that’s that kind of undergarments that hold things together basically for women.
Jason Hartman: Those are very popular. Now they have them for men, too, even.
James Altucher: And I kind of use her as an example because I feel like inadvertently she had used many of the ideas that I talk about in terms of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. She was so focused on these things that it almost became like money was an afterthought for her. And a funny story when her fiancé proposed to her, she had to kind of finally tell him I think you should know I don’t just have like a small business, but this business is worth a billion dollars. And obviously he was pleasantly surprised, but that’s how much of an afterthought the actual money was for her. So she started off very early reading like self-help books and Wayne Dyer books and trying to improve herself. She was very good at sales. So she always tried to analyze not what her problems were but what the other person’s problems were and how she could solve them. She had no shame in that. She would do a lot of preparation, and preparation involves having a very strong idea muscle because you have to constantly read and study your clients and your potential customers. So, again, she was very focused on delivering value rather than making a billion, and I think she achieved her goals, so that was very important. And in that chapter I give more examples of how she did this, but I think it’s a very good example of the study.
Jason Hartman: I love your chapter titles here. Was the editor a big part of coming up with your chapter titles or are you just really good at writing catchy headlines like that?
James Altucher: I think the titles is more me than the editor. The editor really helped, though, with the flow from chapter to chapter and he did a very good job.
Jason Hartman: Great, good stuff. How about “The Curious Case of the Sexy Image”? Since we’re talking about spanks, well tie it in with that one.
James Altucher: That’s a funny one because I had written some articles, and sometimes when I’m doing articles I’ll just pull images off Pinterest and put them in the articles. And I had pulled these several articles in a row – I had pulled the image of the same woman doing these yoga poses on a beach and then suddenly she emailed me and said someone forwarded my articles to her and I got a little nervous, like oh my gosh, is she gonna be upset I used these images of her? And she turned out to be incredibly generous and let me use the images and she told me her story how she had come from a position where she was very physically unhealthy, but through, again, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual work she had basically become this incredible yoga instructor and she has a site, Dashama.com, and she let me use her images and she told me her story. And she told me something that’s actually very useful that’s unrelated to yoga, but in general when responding to comments we all get hate comments on the internet because that’s partially the role of the internet is to spew up the most hate they possibly can. And she said something very interesting. She said basically when you get any comments, assume that 1/3 of your comments are gonna be positive, 1/3 are gonna be neutral, and 1/3 of the people are gonna hate you. Just assume that automatically off the top and that turns out to be a pretty accurate ratio, so I’m grateful for her for many reasons and that’s one of them.
Jason Hartman: Mhm, fantastic. Well, James, just to understand, you have 11 books and the last 6 of them are self-published?
James Altucher: Yes.
Jason Hartman: Okay, so you really left the traditional publishing world. How long ago was that that you consciously made that decision to self-publish? When was that 6th book?
James Altucher: I think the first self-published book I did was in 2010.
Jason Hartman: Okay, so fairly recent then actually, yeah.
James Altucher: Yes. It’s been very successful. My self-published books have more than outsold my mainstream published books. But, again, the most important thing I’ve done was to change how I was looking at it and to professionally publish instead of unprofessionally publish. So this last book is the first book out of all 11 which I feel was professionally published. And I prove that because I beat the publishers in every category that I focused on, including all of non-fiction for a while. So I’m very pleased with the result.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Well, good for you. Well, give out your website if you would and of course the books are available on Amazon as we mentioned with very good reviews and good sales as well. But give out your website if you would so people can learn more about you.
James Altucher: Sure. It’s JamesAltucher.com and that’s where my blog is and I kind of tell personal stories there every day or so. And on Twitter you can follow me @jaltucher. And of course the book is Choose Yourself and you can find it on Amazon along with all my other books.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. James Altucher, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing these insights. And congratulations on your success.
James Altucher: Thank you.
Narrator: This show is produced by The Hartman Media Company, all rights reserved. For distribution or publication rights and media interviews, please visit www.HartmanMedia.com or email [email protected] Nothing on this show should be considered specific personal or professional advice. Please consult an appropriate tax, legal, real estate or business professional for individualized advice. Opinions of guests are their own and the host is acting on behalf of Platinum Properties Investor Network, Inc. exclusively. (Image: Flickr | jessica mullen)
Transcribed by Ralph
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