Hi everyone, today we’re talking to Tucker Max,the bestselling author of I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell.
During the interview, Tucker talks about what it was like for him to discover his story-telling talent to sell millions of books, and how he’s now using his knowledge of the book industry to help busy professionals write and launch their own books to the market. He also shares a really insane story from his younger days, so listen up for that.
How Getting Fired Multiple Times Lead to a Writing Career
After graduating from law school at Duke, Tucker and his group of 8 or 9 good friends all landed jobs in law firms. But once they realized being a lawyer was not as thrilling as they thought it would be, they found themselves sending emails back and forth to each other all day long.
In the emails he sent, Tucker would write stories about the stupid things they did while getting drunk over the weekend, and they were so good and entertaining that his friends would actually forward them around to the point that they became an internet phenomenon. (Even before MySpace and Friendster.)
He got fired from his job as a lawyer, went to work for his dad’s family business, and got fired from that.
His friends told him he wasn’t good at law or business, but he might be onto something with the stories he was telling in his emails.
So, he sent out anywhere from 500 to 1,000 pitches to publishers with zero response. Not to be let down, he learned HTML (this was before WordPress) and put up a website with his stories to help spread them around the internet.
Now, rather than getting rejected by publishers, they were actually coming to him, and he launched his literary career with I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell.
Being a Person vs. Being a Brand
Tucker says that he never really ‘branded’ himself or the lifestyle of his books by selling Tucker Max vodka or Tucker Max shirts. Which was probably good, he says, because when he wrote his last book at 35, he was done with the kind of lifestyle he led in his 20s that created all the insane stories.
He says he feels it’s a little more authentic to have a ‘personal brand’ by accident rather than construct one from the ground up like Kanye West or Paris Hilton. With that, he was able to grow his following organically based solely on his content.
‘Fratire’ as a Literary Genre
‘Fratire’ is a term that Tucker did not make up, but he was one of the original people who got attention for putting an unapologetic masculine voice in culture and art.
The term itself came from a New York Times piece that said his writing was like mixing fraternity-based ethics with satire… even though he wasn’t in a fraternity and didn’t write satire. So basically, a ‘fratire’ piece is something that’s both unapologetically masculine and humorous at the same time.
Content Marketing vs. Content as a Product
Content marketing, Tucker says, is different than content as a product because content marketing is about promoting something else other than the content itself.
For example, Hubspot does a great job with their content marketing because they use their content to promote their products. But a movie, for example, is not content marketing… it’s direct, paid-for content.
Moving Away from the Narcissistic 20-Something Version of Himself
The easiest, quickest answer Tucker says he has to not being so narcissistic anymore is that he grew up.
He says that when you’re young and haven’t done anything in your life, then you don’t know how to get attention and impress people, so you have to try a bunch of different things… and trying to talk about how awesome and cool you are is the route a lot of guys take.
But, he says, the more he accomplishes in his life, the more confident he gets, but he talks less and less about himself. He says he feels less need to promote himself or brag about what he’s done.
The big switch came when he realized that him talking so much was actually trading off with him listening and truly connecting with people. Narcissism, he says, is the opposite of connecting with people and having deep, meaningful relationships. So, he switched to listening more.
To do this, he started applying the lessons he’d learned in relating with women to life overall.
When he was in his 20s, he thought he had to convince women to be with him by talking. But, since women are really deciding who they want to be with, what he needed to do was interact with them better.
He realized his goal shouldn’t be to show off how awesome he is, but to find out what’s interesting about the other person and connect on that level. Now, in life and business, he tries to find out something about the person that he finds interesting so they can connect deeper.
Book in a Box
Tucker’s new business, Book in a Box, was actually something he just blurted out on a podcast interview before he and his partner even had a website for the idea. From the podcast alone, they ended up signing 4-5 clients.
The idea itself came from an entrepreneur who came to him asking how she could get a book done without having to sit down, write it, and go through the publishing process.
He started to scold her on hard work and how you can’t write a book without writing, but she turned around and burned him simply by saying that if he’s an entrepreneur, entrepreneurs solve problems.
He talked with his friend over the course of a couple weeks to come up with the process where they would outline her book idea, interview her, get the interview transcribed, and give it to a professional editor to turn the audio transcript into a book, and they would do the rest of the publishing process.
All the entrepreneur had to do was spend about 12 hours on the phone with them.
They tested it out, and it worked great. After the book went out, she didn’t sell many copies, but she’s signed several million dollar clients from it, and the ROI of the book has been at least 100x.
Since so many people want to publish a book but don’t have the time, patience, or skill set to do it properly, even with a minimum starting package of $15,000 and very little marketing, Book in a Box was able to do $600,000 worth of business in their first six months.
The Future of Book in a Box
Looking forward, Tucker says he’d like for Book in a Box to form partnerships with YPO, C-Level organizations, speaker organizations, and consultants to help grow their business and reach people that could most benefit from what they’re offering.
They’d also like to turn their process into a SaaS service so people that don’t have $15,000 but want to publish a family memoir, for example, can still publish their book.
Finding Top-Notch Freelance Talent
Tucker says hiring good talent has without a doubt been the biggest struggle for them in growing their business.
In fact, it took them about 4-6 months to establish a decent process for finding and hiring good freelancers.
Half of their best people, he says, came from his network of connections in the publishing industry, including an editor from Harper Collins, a Post journalist, and two best-selling authors who ghostwrite in their spare time.
He says he stays away from virtual assistant sites like Elance and Odesk that are really only good for low-level and mid-level talent, and prefers specific job sites like Mediabistro or Publishers Weekly.
His New, Domestic, Boring Life (That He Loves)
Rather than the crazy party lifestyle he used to live, now Tucker’s days look like this:
Advice to His 25-Year-Old Self
“I don’t know if I could say anything to him, because he would argue with me and tell me I was wrong. I would probably have to fight him… because he was such an idiot. I would be so angry at him in no time at all.”
But, even though 25-year-old Tucker wouldn’t take anyone’s advice, the current Tucker would still say:
“Stop thinking you know what you’re talking about because you don’t. Shut the fuck up and listen and learn from people who are smarter than you and who have done more than you.”
Psychoanalysis & Meditation
After a movie was made about his life and totally flopped, Tucker noticed that his life was headed in a direction that would land him in a place he didn’t want to be in.
With the example of the failed movie, he said he blamed the director at first, but realized that he was the one who picked the director. He said he realized he could usually place level one blame for a problem on someone else, but the level two and level three reasons for the problem were usually his fault.
He realized that even with a failed movie, he still had everything he could possibly ask for in life: he was rich, famous, and a best-selling author… and he still wasn’t happy. He noticed that he was the one messing up his own happiness, so he needed to get someone’s help.
He chose psychoanalysis and went four times per week to a talk therapy session to dig into what he was feeling, why, and how his emotions were interacting with him in ways he didn’t understand.
Combing psychoanalysis with meditation, he says, created a force multiplier to get past his demons.
Without it, he says he probably wouldn’t be married with a successful business… he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep landing on his feet. His life would be fundamentally different, but not for the better.
One Productivity Hack
He recommends meditation as a productivity hack. He says there’s a reason smart people talk about it, even though he thought it was total bullshit at first.
But after studying the science behind it, he decided to give it a try and realized how powerful it was.
The changes were slow, he says, but when other people started noticing changes before he felt them, he knew he was onto something.
He says it’s a way to get emotionally centered – to learn how to use your brain and interact with your emotions in a way that’s proactive rather than reactive.
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Eric Siu (@ericosiu) is the CEO at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid advertising and content marketing. He contributes regularly to Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes and more.