Process and automation are keys to scaling a business. And in the case of serial entrepreneur Tom Libelt, they are the keys to him being able to publish as many as 300 books each month — and sell thousands of copies each month. And this combination of process and automation also allows him to run three other businesses.
Libelt shares with us how a few of tips about how he’s been able to create processes and systems that allow him to publish so many books each month, do so with a limited number of people involved and limited number of hours of his personal time, drop cost of producing a book by 90 percent (from $75 per book down to $7.50), and why platforms like CreateSpace are helping him sell thousands of books each month.
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Tom Libelt: We put out between 125 and 300 books per month. They equal out on both the Kindle, some of them on CreateSpace, some of them go out on some other channels, and it’s completely hands off for me now. I maybe spend a little time coming up with titles and helping with templates by all the high ranked firing, and writing, and editing, and posting, and everything else is done by the team. It sounds like a lot, but I actually don’t spend more than 2-3 hours a week on this business.
Small Business Trends: How many people are involved helping you out with this?
Tom Libelt: It fluctuates, between 7 and 14 usually.
Small Business Trends: Okay, so 7-14 people are a part of the process. You spend a couple hours a week on the process, and you’re producing hundreds, 200-300 E-books per month.
Tom Libelt: I don’t check the actual number every week, but the last time I did look, we had over 5,000 books out right now, and these are quality books, too. Don’t get it wrong. We have 5 star ratings, we have really good reviews. It’s like with any book, we have the 1’s, we have the 5’s, it’s all over the place. The people that pick them up get the information that they need from each book.
Small Business Trends: You have about over 5,000 books in total, and once a book is out there, it’s out there. People can buy it whenever. Give us an idea of the kind of subjects?
Tom Libelt: For example, like if you see things like dog training, or how to treat your dog, or how to build muscle, or how to diet, just any topic which is fairly comprehensive … something bigger than a blog post, but maybe less than 150 page book. The fair idea of books are between 30 and 90 pages. If I can solve their problem, then it’s a good book for me.
Small Business Trends: Between 30 and 90 pages, and what are the average prices of these kind of books?
Tom Libelt: Used to be $2.99 for each book, now we’ve moved to $3.99, $4.99, sometimes $7.99, and I’m still seeing growth.
Small Business Trends: You have to have a pretty stringent process for making sure that number of books gets done, and like you said, quality books, not just anything strung together, but quality books. What kind of systems do you have in place to make sure that these books are getting done … and in such a way that you only spend a couple hours a week on it, you personally?
Tom Libelt: In the beginning, you have to find a new niche, right? Find something, whether it’s cars, or health, or something. Then brainstorm the titles; this will actually take a few hours, once every couple of months … like say, I’m coming up with the next 600-700 titles, so I will spend sometimes 4 hours one week, and 4 hours the next week just doing that. The writer already knows how to help me create a template. A layout of the book. In the middle, the overview; 10 things about this, and this problem, how to solve it. Additional places to look for information, how to do this, maybe the side effect, different things. They’ll go through all the books in that niche.
Then we tell them exactly which info we’ll fill into each book for each title. It’s going to be kind of similar, and all they need to do is fill in the gaps.
It’s definitely very strict, the way I do things. I have a guy that works on the covers, so he’s just cracking those out, too, when the books are coming out. I do have editors, just overlooking the stuff. I have the manager, and so we definitely have a lot of processes in place to make this happen.
It wasn’t overnight, it did take a while. In the beginning, it was a mess, but now it’s running on autopilot, and it’s growing. That’s the funny thing. It’s still growing.
Small Business Trends: How long have you been doing this?
Tom Libelt: I think it’s been probably 2 1/2 or 3 years.
Small Business Trends: How much does it cost to put out a book?
Tom Libelt: People will not like this. Between $5 and $7.50.
Small Business Trends: Wow, okay. It costs that much to put out a book, and you’re putting out a couple hundred books a month, right?
Tom Libelt: It’s not expensive, yeah. We got the pricing down from $75 a book to about $5 or $7.50.
Small Business Trends: How many books, roughly, are you selling a month?
Tom Libelt: It’s a couple thousand books, I think. The only thing I make sure my manager shows me is, is it growing or is it not growing? When the money comes in the bank via direct deposits, I just count that up, and look at the last three months, and see if it’s better or not. If it’s not, then I got to go back and solve things. If it’s okay, we’re good. I focus on other stuff.
Small Business Trends: You said you hire writers, so I guess you have a team of writers at this point that you feel comfortable enough that they will get whatever needs to get written in the timely fashion that you need it to.
Tom Libelt: For the most important parts of the books, I have my full-timers, and then stuff that doesn’t matter if it gets a little messed up, then we get them to the free lancers.
Small Business Trends: How many full-time people do you have on this?
Tom Libelt: I don’t do hiring or firing anymore, but I think it’s going to be around 7 the last time I checked. I don’t even speak with them, I just speak with my manager, and the free lancers. She does all the hiring, firing, we have … all the processes are in place for that, too, for the company culture, just everything. We have everything in place. I could not do this 3-4 hours a week if I have to look into all of these numbers.
Small Business Trends: Without that manager being in place.
Tom Libelt: Yeah.
Small Business Trends: The manager’s really key to all of this it sounds like.
Tom Libelt: Well, it is, but the processes, even for her, are in place enough that I can replace her pretty fast if I needed to, but I just don’t want to. She’s amazing.
Small Business Trends: Talk a little bit about the tools, the platforms that you are using to make all this work the way it is.
Tom Libelt: It’s actually very simple, we’re quite old school. The books just get done in Microsoft Word and the covers are done in Photoshop, and I think we need .jpeg’s for the Kindle and then PDF for CreateSpace, and everything in between works with both. For proofing, just to help us a little bit, we do use Grammarly, and we do use Copyscape just to make sure new writers are not messing with us because it’s been a problem in the past, copied sentences from somewhere.
Small Business Trends: Once these books are created and ready to roll, talk about how you market them?
Tom Libelt: Some of the secrets are actually quite simple. When I say systems for everything, I mean systems for everything. The titles, there’s a system to getting those done right. The description, the key words, using the pen names for authors. Some of these books are written by multiple authors for a reason … It let’s Amazon cross-market them. Putting them out the way we do, some of them are a series, some of them are not, there’s a system to everything.
We make sure that Amazon’s going to market this for us, so we created systems to make sure that it ranks on Amazon, and that Amazon sees it as something that it should market. Instead of looking at this as needing to market this ourselves, why not use the best search engine in the world and let them do the work for us?
The beauty about the system is we have books we’ve put out 3 years ago, and they’re still selling just the same, and we haven’t done anything to them.
Small Business Trends: It’s all about the way that you have the initial setup that will …
Tom Libelt: Yeah, it’s very important. Some people are like, yeah, let’s just put stuff there. No. You have the right sub-title, too. There is a couple different fields in there, too, which you can mess with and see if it helps ranking. Some of it does. You can’t do stupid stuff, like you can’t put “bestseller”, or stuff like that in the title, which we never did, but I’ve seen people do and then books are getting pulled now.
If we upload 100 books this month, they’re going to sell. The growth is very stable. CreateSpace is one of the hidden gems. We’re growing at over 25 percent on CreateSpace. A lot of people think it’s tougher, but it’s not. It took us maybe 3 days to figure out the system for that.
Small Business Trends: What are some of the things that people should be aware of when they use a platform like CreateSpace, to roll this stuff out?
Tom Libelt: The difference between CreateSpace and Kindle is, if someone gets a physical non-fiction book, they want to use it as a resource. So when you create the template … When you think of how you’re going to lay out this book, make it a resource. Make it easy for people to find things. You got to make it really easy for them, and they appreciate that.
What you could actually do is you could create one book for the Kindle and create something in a little different format, with the same content, and maybe an extra chapter, on CreateSpace, and sell it for double, which we’ve done, and it sells just fine.
Small Business Trends: In the end, over the span of about 2 1/2 years, you came up with a process for the creation of books like any other manufacturing business, it sounds like. An operation that has a really limited amount of people to push out that many books over, and over, month, over month, over month.
Tom Libelt: Yeah, but it’s like any business, right? I mean, if you think of anything. Any business I’m running, any business people are running, listeners are running, you get a couple of fundamentals in business, right?
Then it’s why wouldn’t you scale, you know? You want to make more money. I mean, that’s what the business is for. It’s not a glamour business. I definitely am not going to be holding up any of these books and taking pictures on Facebook with them, because it’s not that great, but it’s good. It’s good.
Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more from you?
Tom Libelt: smartbrandmarketing.com. Also yourownwayout.com, that’s the movie that we filmed, and then there’s a community, too.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.