58: Automate Your Bestseller with Alinka Rutkowska

Alinka Rutkowska is the CEO of Leaders Press, a USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling press. We talk about how writers can turn their books into bestsellers, the benefits of using books to grow your business and the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing. 

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Automate Your Bestseller with Alinka Rutkowska

Our guest is Alinka Rutkowska, the CEO of Leaders Press, a publishing company that helps nonfiction authors achieve USA Today and the Wall Street Journal bestselling status. She’s also the author herself of several bestselling books, including Write and Grow Rich. And her books in combination have sold over 80,000 copies. So, welcome to the show, Alinka.

Thank you so much for having me here, Steve.

I’m excited to have you. And it’s in the morning here in Virginia, but you’re in Italy, right? So, it’s in the afternoon for you.

That’s right.

Just after lunch. So, hopefully that’s not going to slow us down. So, I’d like to start our conversation as always about your entrepreneurial journey. So how does one become the CEO of a publishing company that helps entrepreneurs publish best-selling books? How does that even happen?

Well, for me, it all started with passion. I used to work in multinational corporations. And at a certain point, I just felt like there was a ceiling that I sort of couldn’t push through. And it wasn’t definitely, you know, the top of the company was middle management. And I was being pushed into roles that I didn’t want to do. I wanted to do something that they didn’t want me to, to do. And so, the best way out was actually leaving. And so, as I was considering that move, I wrote a book and self-published it at the time that was over a decade ago. And the royalties from that book basically exceeded my corporate salary.

So, when that happened, I thought, hey guys, I don’t really need you anymore. I’m leaving. They even paid me to leave. So, I had those funds, funds from the royalties, and that allowed me to comfortably explore what I really was meant to do here in this world. And so, it started with writing more books, with marketing those books, with helping others do the same, and steadily it grew into Leaders Press, where we now help entrepreneurs turn their book ideas into bestsellers, including the big list and distribute through Simon & Schuster, which is traditional publishing. And we’re now a 30 people business. So, this all happened step by step, starting with passion and the desire to do what excites me.

Wow, that’s almost unbelievable because I hear so few people who actually hit the jackpot with their first book. It’s very rare, isn’t it?

It is very rare. And it’s also quite naive to think that you could, you know, live off of the royalties of your one book for the rest of your life. I was very lucky when I did that. I had some marketing background. I asked a lot of questions. I looked for the answers. I tested things and I had that early success which got me super excited. Then, you know, that might have been a one-off for that one book, but eventually I created a system that is working now every time. We do a book. So, you know, sometimes it’s the early lucky when that gets you excited and gets you in business.

Well, definitely you need some luck, but I don’t buy it that it was just luck. It must have been more than that. So which one was the first book that and why do you feel, why do you think it became so successful? How did that, you know, hit a chord with the readers?

Well, it was a self-help book that I don’t really even advertise anymore. It was called Read Me, I Am Magical. Why was it successful at the time? I think the market was not very saturated. It was just the beginning of the self-help book excitement and self-published books were just hitting the market in a massive way. But still, it was 10 years ago, so it was much easier to succeed and get noticed. So partly it was finding a niche that appreciated the book, a lot of marketing strategies that traditional houses didn’t use, so it was a lot of guerrilla marketing, just digital door to door, no large campaigns, so a lot of creativity and some of those strategies worked.

Okay, that’s great. So other than launching a book and obviously learning the lessons and then incorporating that into your business and using that to do it for other people that are successful for yourself, figuring that recipe out. Other than doing that, was there any other management blueprint that inspired you to build your business? Maybe a book that you picked up some concepts from that you implement in your business. Can you talk about any such thing?

Yes, definitely. Well, at the beginning, it was just me and maybe one assistant and one writer. It was more of a try to figure out how to do it in the most cost-effective manner, how to spend as little as possible. But then as we started growing and realized that we’re dealing with premium clients here, we changed our approach and decided that we need to systemize things. So now we’re very strong as far as processes are concerned.

So, in order to build the business as it’s functioning today, there’s this book that really helped me, Traction by Gina Wickman, so I think it’s a must for any growing company. Actually, first listen to the audio book, then read this, then listen to the audio book again, then read parts of it again and implement it. This is the first time it’s, you know, sort of an eye opener and then you read it to actually implement it. And as far as what we do inside the business to create our books is concerned.

We have our process, which I described in Outsource Your Book, which is 17 steps that we use to create the book. So, the table of contents, you don’t even have to read it. Open the table of contents, you get our 17 steps. This is on our website, leaderspress.com, right there when you go if listeners want a copy. So, everything is structured. We work with Asana, so all our projects have timelines and clients get updated every week about what’s going on. So, it’s really process driven.

I learned that the more robust our processes are, the less human error we have. So, when the behaviors are driven by automatic reminder of your supposed to do this, you’re supposed to update this, and it’s all in one big master spreadsheet or software program, then we don’t have to rely on them remembering, ah, I need to ask for editorial reviewers to prepare the reviews. No, it’s there, so they know exactly what to do. And thanks to this, I’m not even involved in operations anymore, and I have my team taking care of everything.

The more robust our processes are, the less human error we have. Share on X

That’s very interesting. So, tell me a little bit about this Asana and how you implemented it and how does it help. I understand the daily reminders and stuff, but I’m sure there’s more to it.

Right, so within Asana, every project is assigned to a project manager and every task is assigned to a responsible person. So, let’s say that in order to create a book, okay, we have 17 steps, but each step has several sub-steps. So, let’s say there are a hundred things that need to be done to get a book done from scratch. And so, we would automatically, the moment we start working with a client, have this timeline created based on when the book will come out, of this day is when we need to do the strategic positioning.

And this is the person who’s going to do it. So even before that, we would have to schedule this meeting with the client. At a certain point, there would be a cover design and who’s going to design that cover. So, then the project manager would reach out to that person who would design the cover. And so it’s a hundred things that at first I had them all in my head, but I could have it in my head for one book, for two, for three, for five. But after that, it’s over.

You can’t scale having the whole system in your head. And I thought I had this black magic powers that allowed me to send these books to bestseller lists, but that’s not true. That could all be extracted and structured and put into a checklist and taught. So now we have a whole team of people doing that. And my up with new creative services, ideas, growing the business through ways that we’re not doing right now. So, whatever is now part of a process, once upon a time was something new and creative that I put together.

As soon as it becomes something that’s our normal modus operandi, I’m no longer so excited by it. Okay, well that’s how things are done and I want to create and do more and I might have you know a hundred ideas, 20 will be good, but those 20 good then they will become our processes and will stand by them, guarantee that they work and so I can do what I like to do which is do the creative things and inspire the people, grow the business and what does work becomes the process.

So, you are what Traction or EOS calls the visionary entrepreneur, right?

Yes.

Who is going to run the day to day. So, do you have an integrator or an operator of the company that does that? Or what processes do it for you?

I have, I would say even two integrators. So, we have two chief COOs, Chief Operations Officers. One is responsible for client relations. So, the front desk, so to speak, and the other one with all the processes, it’ll be the back office. And they have completely complimentary talents. Like we did the Colby tests, all of us, and we are really good fit because the visionary gets bored as soon as they figure something out. The integrator, they want to put it together.

But I’m not a total screw-up as far as integration is concerned. I also use some of that language and processes. When I ask people to do something, I want to know by when, by whom it will be delivered, and so I don’t just say, ah, let’s do this new creative thing. Now, I want to assign a person, I would want to have a report by a certain date, so this is what you need to do to integrate. But there’s a lot of integration going on. There’s a lot of detail. And, you know, I can’t go in and let’s say I see something on the website that needs to be fixed.

Let’s say it’s a typo, OK? So, keep it simple. I have the login to the admin panel. I can go in and do it. But there are a thousand other things like that. So, if I notice that I’m not going to do it, I’m going to send it to the right person to get it done because then that empowers them to keep looking at it. And you know, I can’t do their job for them. I couldn’t scale that way, so it’s great to have a team to rely on. It’s a little bit scary.

So, I said that operations, I’m not really very invested anymore. I mean, I’m not operational. I don’t do the D, I’m not the operator anymore. I’m very invested in the success of operations. So, I speak to my COOs every day and we have one-to-ones and we have operations meetings and leadership meetings and 15-minute catch-ups and all that stuff. So, if there’s like a dilemma or a bigger thing, I always know about it. But I don’t meet with the clients. I have excellent people who do that.

As far as sales are concerned, until recently I was involved in sales, doing sales calls. Now I don’t. Now we have a sales team. So, it’s very rare that I would actually do a sales call. It would have to be through some sort of, you know, we’re in the same mastermind together and so let’s talk. Okay. That would be awkward to say, oh, you know. So then in that case, we would chat. But, you know, being responsible for bringing in a significant chunk of revenue directly, to going to, no, I have these people who are now responsible for that, and all I can do is inspire them and motivate them to bring in the numbers that I would be able to bring in, that’s uncomfortable, that’s getting out of my comfort zone.

But that’s what I need to do to scale. Like I have 24 hours a day, okay? I need to sleep, need to eat, to spend some quality time, okay. Let’s keep it politically correct, I have eight hours. Okay, I have eight hours. Let’s say I’ll do eight meetings, but I can’t do 16, I can’t do 24. I can if I am two, three, four people. So then that’s, you know, that’s the way we grow.

I have to go out and do the hardest stuff. And that’s our cyber comfort zone. I always tell my clients that if they want to grow this company, it means everyone has to step out of their comfort zone and do the uncomfortable thing and delegate all the things that are comfortable already. Because if they don’t raise their productivity to two times, three times, then the company is not going to grow two or three times.

They all have to grow personally to take the company with them. So, let’s switch gears here a little bit. It’s very, it’s fascinating. Obviously, Traction EOS is a system that is well known, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much on this podcast. Our listeners can check it out, but I’m really interested about how an entrepreneur can use a book, a best-selling book to grow their business. So, a lot of entrepreneurs do that these days. How does it work? How does it help a business owner?

Right, so the two main types of books that we do are legacy pieces. So that’s more about let’s leave a legacy so that what I’ve done, what I know, what I experienced isn’t gone. And then a lead generator. And the lead generator, so I’ll just give you an example. The legacy piece is like what we did for the co-founder of DHL International, 50 years of DHL. We did this book for him. He doesn’t care about growing his business, a billion, multi-billion dollars business. He’s good, but he wants to leave a legacy.

So one day the book will remain. Then the other type is a lead generation piece. So, this is what Outsource Your Book is. There’s a lot of wisdom in here. You can take this and basically do your own thing. Well, you’ll become a project manager of your book, which the idea is that you don’t because you have your business to run. But I don’t hold back. Everything is in this book. So, it’s also a lead generator because when you go in, there’s a link that says, hey, go to this URL and see if we’re a good fit to work together.

So, this takes people directly into our funnel. That’s what the lead generator is. You can use it on podcasts like this. So, I will say go to our website, leaderspress.com and you know, you see the pop-up, put in your email and get the book. What happens then is I’m able to communicate with you and potentially offer, you know, cool, the cool things that we do, so there’s that. Whenever you speak, whenever you write a blog post, you mention that so that people can go and get the book.

A book is a really great opt-in thing, an ethical bribe, let’s call it, because it’s like buying candy at the cash register. There’s this instant gratification. So, for a webinar, unless it’s evergreen, you have to wait. A workshop event, you have to wait. A PDF, you put in your email, you get it immediately. Why are you thinking about it? So that’s a really good tool. Then there’s Amazon, which is huge. The books that we do, we make sure they’re easily findable, so whatever the topic is, like if you put how to write a book or how to ghost write your book or something like that on Amazon, a bunch of my books will come out because that’s how they’re all tagged.

So, it’s all the keywords, all the categories, how the descriptions are written. So, what we do for our clients is we make sure that whenever somebody writes, whenever somebody is looking for their area of expertise, their books come out, come up. Actually, funny story, this is the way, through this book, the co-founder of DHL International, found us on Amazon, and then we did this book for him, designed to win. And now we have a lot of out reach, like to reach out to people and find them. But some people have a lot of gatekeepers. They don’t have a LinkedIn profile. I’m all about LinkedIn.

Everybody, you need a LinkedIn profile. However, Mr. Pochang is not on LinkedIn. And if you go and find an email on the website, his assistant will take care of it and not send it to him if you’re pitching something. So this was the only way he could find out about us. So if you’re a business and you want to grow, if you don’t have a book on Amazon, or in bookstores is a secondary thing that is very valuable. But if you don’t have it on Amazon, you’re not visible to people who are looking for the services or products that you offer. So that’s why it’s so important to be there.

So, it’s all about people, finding the people who are looking for the information that you can provide. A book is a credible source of information where you can get a concentrated amount for a small price. You can absorb it as fast as you can. That’s why I like to read books, because I can browse the book. I can download it immediately. I can basically educate myself on the topic of interest immediately. And then you can, you know, they find you if you have the book.

So that’s fascinating. And I really haven’t thought about it as legacy as or lead generation as an alternative of the two. But it makes a lot of sense. So talking about bestseller, does a book have to be a bestseller to help the author or a non-bestseller book can also help. And the second question is, what types of bestsellers are there? Is it the same being an Amazon bestseller to being a New York Times bestseller? And what are the degrees in between? So, I guess two questions in one.

It all depends on your goals. So, what we just described, the fact that you are an Amazon, even if you’re not a bestseller, you still have the presence and you’re still searchable. So, if what you write resonates, people can find you. So that’s important. You don’t have to be a bestseller to have a significant benefit from having a book. If you do get bestseller status, that helps authority, that increases your rank as an authority.

So, whenever you can say you’re a bestselling author, and usually bestselling means Amazon bestselling, that looks really good on your book cover or on your signature. Then when you can say USA Today or Wall Street Journal or New York Times bestselling author, that even further increases your authority levels. So, I mean that’s the top, but it’s better to be an author than not to be an author. It’s better to be an Amazon bestselling author than a non-bestselling author. And it’s better to be a USA Today bestselling author than an Amazon bestselling author. So those are sort of the grades.

And as far as the different bestseller statuses are concerned, I’ll give you some numbers so that you can draw the conclusions yourself. Amazon has tens of thousands of categories and the ranks change every hour. So, every hour you have a chance to be a bestseller in one of the tens of thousands of categories. So, it’s pretty easy if you know what you’re doing. We guarantee this for every book that we do. We have no doubt that we can get that done. Then you have USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers. USA Today has 150 spots on the list weekly.

So, every week, only 150 books will be on that list. So it’s a huge difference, right? Not every hour, but every week and not tens of thousands But 150 so in order to get on that list you need to sell at least 6,000 copies in a week. Okay, so that’s not so easy to orchestrate probably can’t make you know can’t probably email your friends and they will all buy. You have a lot of friends and they’d have to open your emails and do what you’re asking them to do. So none of these books on the list are there by chance.

Okay, 99.9% of those books are there due to an orchestrated effort that’s been lasting for months to get on those lists. Okay, so it doesn’t happen by chance. Oh, wow, I can’t believe my book hit the USA today myself.I didn’t do anything. No, it doesn’t happen. So, you know, huge marketing efforts behind it, either by the author or the publisher or a whole team of people. But, you know, this is what people really look up to. Wall Street Journal is for business books, mostly for nonfiction books, like broader nonfiction books, so no fiction.

And there are a couple lists and each have 10 slots. So since it’s a narrower, it’s fewer genres. It takes about 3000 sales in a week to get on that list. And so these two lists are compiled based on sales and editorial review. So you might have the sales, but the editorial board will say, you know, we don’t like this author. We don’t like the cover. We don’t like the publisher. We don’t like their faces. So we’re not going to include them. So it’s subjective. Like it’s not a pure, it’s not a pure list. It’s, there is somebody saying you, yes, you know.

So it’s important to note that when you’re considering the various levels. This is why we do not guarantee New York Times bestseller. Now, because you can’t, but we can guarantee USA Today and Wall Street Journal because they’re pure list based exclusively on sales and we know how to get sales.

Okay, that’s fascinating. When you have, you’re associated with the Simon & Schuster, so does it mean that you are a professional publisher or you’re a self-publisher? Some people talk about vanity publishers. So, what are the difference between these types of publishers and how does it matter anyway for an entrepreneur launching their book?

Okay, self-publishing means you do everything yourself. So, you might have some freelancers help you edit or do the cover. And then you upload it on Amazon, and you self-publish the book. You’re done. Validate publishing is, as far as I understand it, you pay and you get published. So that’s a pretty straightforward model. We consider ourselves a hybrid publisher, so we won’t publish anything even if we get paid. We do reject projects, whether it’s an idea or a manuscript.

So, a manuscript is poorly written and we can’t edit it. We can offer to do the book from scratch or we won’t be able to work with it. And then there are also some ideas that we don’t think they fly or if you know these could result in some problems then we will also not publish it. So, it has to be a business or maybe not purely business but our goal is to work with leaders in their niches. So, it could be a non-business but we want to help leaders increase their authority.

So, there is a recruitment sort of process that our authors go through. And we have a distribution partnership with Simon & Schuster, meaning that the paperbacks that we do are distributed through their traditional channels. That’s the bookstores, potentially airports. And we do, as opposed to Amazon self-publishing, which is print on demand, which is a great system, very easy to do, I love it. With traditional publishing, we have print runs and inventory. So, it’s quite a different beast, it’s a whole new world, a whole added level of complexity that we just took upon ourselves, but it’s part of the game.

And then the traditional publishing is, you know, you need an agent, the agent will pitch to traditional publishers. You might or might not get an advance, this advance might be smaller or larger and it will probably take like two years for your book to see the light of day. That was the only way books could get published a long, long time ago. Right now, whether you go with self-publishing, hybrid publishing, traditional publishing, you can then be picked up by a traditional publisher, either domestic or foreign. So, what we do is we pitch our books to foreign publishing houses and get deals for our authors. So, then those publishing houses would pay in advance, they would translate the book and launch it in those countries. So that’s a really neat way to get an extra return on investment.

OK, that’s definitely very intriguing. I might ask you offline more about that. Is there any advantage for someone to go with a traditional publisher as opposed to go with a leader’s press, what you call the hybrid model? So how, I mean, I understand the hybrid model’s advantages. You can get there faster. You can guarantee bestseller status, all that stuff. What are the disadvantages as opposed to a traditional publisher? Are there still any advantages to be a traditional publisher?

So, to me, the advantages of traditional publishing is the distribution. That’s the main thing, which we now offer. So, you get the traditional distribution, which self-publishing does not give you, but hybrid publishing, as I understand it, as we are at Leaders Press, gives that to you. What traditional publishing gives you is an advance. And I have heard opinions that unless you get a six-figure advance, don’t do traditional publishing because your rights will be taken. It will take like two years to get the book out. You don’t have any guarantee of marketing.

The advantages of traditional publishing is the distribution. Share on X

So, if you’re already well known, there will be marketing. If you’re not, not so much. I mean, those six figure advances are probably only for like really high profile authors. So that’s a recommendation I’ve heard by some well-known entrepreneurs who’ve had successful business books. I’ve talked to entrepreneurs who’ve self-published and were then approached by a traditional publisher and their reaction was, so they asked, okay, so you’re going to do the marketing?

Well, no, you’re going to keep doing that. So what are you going to do? And well they explained that there would be the distribution, but then when the author calculated the royalties, which are like 7% maybe when you’re doing the traditional deal, they said, well you know actually I’m already one of the top 100 best-selling authors, I don’t really think I want to give away my rights and it just doesn’t make sense for me, so they stayed.

But you know, people have different dreams. Some people have a dream of putting USA Today bestselling author on their cover, some people have a dream of being published by a traditional publisher, and I honor those dreams. I will tell you a funny story. When we did one of our anthologies, because we also do anthologies, and it hit the USA Today bestselling list, and it was distributed by Simon & Schuster.

One of the authors said that this is their dream come true because they’ve always dreamt of having an association with Simon & Schuster and now they have an author profile because working with us you get a profile on SimonAndSchuster.com/author/your name because you are distributed by them. So, it’s exciting to make people’s dreams come true this way.

Okay, that makes sense. And what about IngramSpark? So, if you get your books distributed by IngramSpark, how is it inferior to having it distributed by a traditional publisher?

Okay, so IngramSpark is a branch of Ingram, and when you work directly with Ingram, then you get into bookstores, they’re actually there. Same as Simon & Schuster in the bookstores. IngramSpark allows you to be catalogued, so you are in the catalog. So, if somebody, the digital catalog, if somebody goes into a bookstore and they say, hey, you know, I want Steve’s book, they’ll be like, well, we don’t have it in stock, but we can order it for you.

So, they will look it up in their catalog, in the digital catalog, and they will order it and then they can come into the store and get it. So, it’s neat that way, it’s much more professional. So, if somebody’s considering self-publishing, I recommend going through Amazon and also going through IngramSpark for the largest potential visibility.

But if you go with Simon & Schuster, then you get more distribution because it’s actually going to be pushed rather than just pulled.

Yeah, so it’s traditional distribution, meaning that about six months before the books actually come out, there are already meetings with sales reps, and we create a catalog of what’s going to come out in six months. The reps take these catalogs and go to the retailers and start having meetings about, so how many copies of this book do you think you’d want for these tours? So, there’s a lot happening before the book is even ready. That’s all based on the description, the cover, the metadata. There’s a whole ecosystem connected to that. So, it is pushed into those stores as opposed to individual requests pulling. I mean, it’s the best if you have both requests pulling and there’s a team of sales reps that are pushing the book as well.

Yeah, okay, that makes a lot of sense. All right, so lots of information, great information. Thank you for sharing this. And I recently read your book, so maybe I’m overly eager to learn these things, but I think that it’s a great idea for entrepreneurs, business owners to do that, both for legacy purposes, as well as for lead generation, building the purposes, as well as for leas generation, building the author status and the thought leadership status. I started getting calls the last couple of months, people who saw my book, read my book, and they’re much more interested to talk to me. So, I already enjoy some of the fruits of that and definitely recommend. And if you can use a team that will do it for you, I did mostly have lifting myself. I used editors, but I wrote the book, but you guys can also write a book for your clients, right?

Absolutely, that’s how we were born, so to speak, from idea to bestseller

Yes, so that’s, I mean, that’s great. Someone who runs a company like DHL, they probably won’t be laboring away for a year writing their book. They will want professionals to do it for them. So definitely recommend checking that out. So if listeners would like to learn more about Leaderspress, about you, Alinka, where should they go? How can they find more about you?

Surprise, surprise, it’s leaderspress.com and when you go there, there will be a pop-up that will ask you if you want to outsource your book, put in your name and email and you’re going to get the PDF and also the audio book as a gift to you.

Okay, well, definitely, I think I’m going to do that right now after we hang up here. Check that out, Alinka Rutkowska, the CEO of Leader’s Press. Thank you for coming on the show. I got intrigued because I did my research and yours was one of the largest companies in this area. And I’m always interested if someone can systemize a business around, it’s one thing to just do a professional practice with a few helpers. If you can systemize a business around what you do, then that’s definitely some secrets there. So, thank you for sharing some of your gems here and coming on the show. And for you listeners, if you enjoyed that episode, please feel free to subscribe. And if you can give us a review, that’s even better on Apple Podcast or on YouTube or both. We’d love to have your feedback and stay tuned next week for another episode with an interesting entrepreneur. Thank you and have a nice day.

Thank you, Steve. Thank you to our listeners.

 

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