Episode 135 – Be More Pirate with Sam Conniff Allende

Be More Pirate‘You’ve got to ask yourself what is more important. Is it selling books, or starting a movement?’

Sam Conniff Allende is in the business of movement-making. A young entrepreneur himself, he’s since inspired a generation of young entrepreneurs and hustlers, and when he decided it was time to write a book he began by writing ‘the worst book on earth’.

Luckily it didn’t end there: find out how he found the metaphor that transformed his message from worthy to world-changing, how he learned the secret of translating the energy of the stage to the page, and how he stayed true to his pirate principles in the marketing as well as the writing of the book.



LINKS:

Be More Pirate site: https://www.bemorepirate.com/

Sam on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SamConniff

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

Sign up for the Extraordinary Business Book Club newsletter, including a review of what I’m reading now and a weekly writing prompt: https://www.getdrip.com/forms/887338035/submissions/new

Join the wait list for the next 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge: https://alisonjones.leadpages.co/proposal-challenge/

Alison Jones:                        Hello, and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. I’m here today with Sam Conniff Allende, who is a multi-award winning serial social entrepreneur, co-founder and former CEO of Liberty, Don’t Panic, and Live Magazine, and since he started his entrepreneurial career at age 19 – it makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with my life when I talk to people like this – he has mentored thousands of talented young entrepreneurs and hustlers around the world.

He’s received numerous accolades for his work, including EY’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year and Global CSR Leader at the Global CSR Awards. He’s an acclaimed public speaker, strategy consultant, and author of Be More Pirate, or How to Take on the World and Win, a manifesto for each of us to create the sort of good trouble the world needs.

The reason I’m so excited about this is I’ve put this on my Extraordinary Business Book Club summer reading list, and it absolutely blew me away. I tweeted Sam immediately saying, “Please, please come on the show.” So Sam, so pleased to have you here.

Conniff Allende:                 Thank you very, very much for the invitation. As we were just saying before, I’ve been a fan of the show as well, so it’s a real … It’s a total honour actually, when these kind of things coincide and collide, so thanks very much, pleased to be here.

Alison Jones:                        Brilliant, mutual fan association, love it. So, Be More Pirate, it’s just honestly like no other book I’ve ever read before, so just tell us how it came about, and what your ambition was for it.

Conniff Allende:                 I remember… Not to continue the mutual appreciation for too long, but considering what you do, being a book club, that’s high praise indeed, so thank you very much. I think part of the reason for being, it has had a response that blows me away, it’s probably because I didn’t really have much of an intention to write a book.

It was more a distraction project, I’d been running Liberty, my social enterprise that’s been trying to change the world, or help young people change their worlds, for nearly 20 years. And I’ve joked, having said that up in my early 20s, that when I turned 40, I’d be too old to run a project so, kind of, central to youth culture in the UK. But actually, as 40 rolled around, it turned out it wasn’t a joke. Everyone was eager for me to leave. And I needed something that was going to help me hand this amazing and wonderful enterprise that I’ve been part of over to a new generation without getting under their feet.

I’ve really always held that, I think it’s that Eleanor Roosevelt line, about if you know the thing that scares you most, then you probably know the thing that you should be doing next. I’m paraphrasing it in the way that I’ve given it to tons of young entrepreneurs. The book scared the life out of me. I’m dyslexic, I have a chip on my shoulder about not going to university. I have a secret inner fear that all those wonderful successes that you’ve listed out have got nothing to do with me. They were all the brilliant people I had around me.

So could I write something? Could I do something on my own? Could I structure an argument? All of these thoughts really scared me. I began the process of writing as a distraction project to face my fears, so I am as surprised as I think everyone else is that actually it’s been a success.

Alison Jones:                        That’s so funny. And it’s really good, I think, for people listening to hear that somebody with your CV, somebody who’s written a book as successful as Be More Pirate, started off with that massive insecurity and massive sense of imposter syndrome. It just, it seems to be the only way to start a book.

Conniff Allende:                 I don’t know. I think … It seems to be a concurrent theme of my life, because I haven’t just started off with it, I’ve still got it. Yeah, I mean I … Imposter syndrome is an interesting one because that’s the phrase we use, but there’s no syndrome to it. It’s not a syndrome, is it? If you went into the garden and thought you were an imposter doing the washing, then it would be a syndrome.

Alison Jones:                        No, it’s perfectly logical really.

Conniff Allende:                 Yeah, exactly. It isn’t a condition. It’s something that comes in response to circumstances. And it’s a manifestation of our doubts. We allow it to grow, to give ourselves that horrible feeling of being an imposter.

Alison Jones:                        So, when you felt that, when you felt that resistance, I mean obviously that’s a choice point. Most people just kind of curl up and go, “Oh well, I’ll do something different.” You felt it, recognized it, but recognized it as the thing you needed to do. I have a sort of visual image of you squaring your shoulders and leaning into it and all that kind of metaphorical stuff. But what actually happened? What was the first step from thinking, “Huh, I’m going to write a book”, to actually starting it?

Conniff Allende:                 I wrote the worst book on earth.

Alison Jones:                        Excellent.

Conniff Allende:                 That was the beginning.

Alison Jones:                        You did the crappy first draft.

Conniff Allende:                 I wasn’t even crappy. I wrote the most boring, hand-wringing, patronizing, awful book called Purpose First. And it was where all of my philosophy and experience goes, and it’s central to the argument within Be More Pirate, but it was the case for a more purposeful approach to business being one of the big solutions the world needs in the face of the kind of scale of challenges we’ve got from societal, to environmental, to political. And actually, an enlightened force of business can do so, so much.

Alison Jones:                        It sounds an incredibly worthy and worthwhile book. And it also sounds like it might’ve sunk without a trace.

Conniff Allende:                 Yeah, yeah, exactly. I think there’s about… the 800 people that would’ve already bought the argument would’ve bought it, and that would’ve been all of us talking to one another… If I gave a talk, it would’ve been … If Balham had a TEDx, it would be like that. It was everything I believe in, direction of travel I wanted to be. But the interesting thing was I was pretending to be a grownup. I thought ‘write a business book, this is about speaking to a business audience’, so this horrible narrative and some … And also, turning 40, I think played a lot into it.

Alison Jones:                        ‘I have to grow up now’.

Conniff Allende:                 Exactly, exactly. Really deliberate prose, trying to make a strong case, in case someone serious read it. It was hideous.

Alison Jones:                        So what happened?

Conniff Allende:                 My life is about the change that we can all create and trying as hard as we might to create the bigger change we can together. I was sat down with the entrepreneurs that I’ve always worked with, who always give me so much time, and I try to give them as much as I can. And they all were just looking at me, going “What the fuck are you talking about? Where did this narrative come from? Where’s the usual waving your hands in the air and metaphors of space travel and pirates?”

I went away, and I spoke to Penguin who I’d approached about the idea of me writing a book, which they were interested in, and working with the first editor that they put with me. It just made me really realize the worst thing I could do was to pretend to be the grown-up me now reflecting on the legacy of all that I’ve achieved. And I needed to stay where I was, where I am. My tone of voice is me speaking to this generation, who I think deserves so much and have been given so little.

Then the metaphor just came singing through. I went away and wrote the first new draft under a pirate flag, and I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with the process of writing, I fell in love with the argument I was making. It just started to flow really naturally. And so I didn’t let go of that lesson. Although it was scary, I sat down relentlessly with my target audience, this generation of change makers and entrepreneurs and social entrepreneur and hustlers. And I worked on the book relentlessly, fearful that “middle-aged and middle-class white guy leaves successful agency and patronizes world with his own particular view on it”.

Any group of entrepreneurs will hold you to account. But I would argue that a group of young entrepreneurs will suffer no bullshit. And so it was a very useful editing exercise to develop it in the real world.

Alison Jones:                        That’s absolutely fascinating. I didn’t know that background, and there’s a few things that I want to pick up on there. One is the fact that you had the humility to leave the crappy first draft at one side, because sometimes people fall into the idea that they’ve invested so much of their time in this, that it’s, like, we HAVE to publish it now. Knowing that you wrote that thing and it probably had to be written to get to where you are, but you know now it’s served its purpose, put it aside, do something else. That’s great.

The fact that you used the input of other people, the energy of other people, and also them holding you to account, just going, “No, no, this is rubbish”, I love that. I think again, if you isolate yourself from the world, it’s very easy to put something out, and then everybody gets it and goes, “This is rubbish”, and it’s too late. So I love that.

And there was a third thing, and it’s completely gone out of my head…. That was it, it was the power of metaphor. Once you get that kind of strong, single idea that’s the thrust of the book, it has its own energy, doesn’t it? And it transforms the way that you write. And as you say, it makes it much more fun, more light.

Conniff Allende:                 Well, the metaphor did really come to have a life of its own. I started off with pirates. And I, like many others in business and otherwise, like the idea of pirates as the antihero or the rebel. But my knowledge was really only surface level. So when I began to investigate the metaphor, I took myself down to the Greenwich Maritime Museum, the British Library, and everywhere I could lay my hand on primary and secondary resources about pirates.

Something happened, it’s exactly what you said. The momentum of the metaphor became something completely otherworldly. Every single page I turned, I discovered that these really were the millennials of the 18th century, and actually it’s completely true. A group of 20-somethings didn’t just reject the broken rules of society, they rewrote them. And oh my God, this innovation that took place in pirate organizations where they had agile network systems or they had a new management.

I mean honestly, every single time I turned a page, found out something new, I had to go cross reference and reference again because I couldn’t believe what I was uncovering, a history that we don’t know, a history that was so relevant to what I was writing, that the metaphor kind of fell away and became a very, very clear manifesto. And for someone with a chip on their shoulder, and a non-academic background in the first place, right, an imposter syndrome for sure writing a business book, to start writing a history book where I’m challenging the history that we’ve got that has been covered up by the establishment, went deep into levels of anxiety.

It was a fascinating process in terms of the research and that manifesto coming to life around me.

Alison Jones:                        Hilarious. And obviously, you’re channelling the spirit of Blackbeard to get you to do it, that’s so funny. The marketing campaign for the book was just as imaginative as the writing and the sort of thrust of it itself. Just tell us a little bit about some of the tactics that you used and how they worked.

Conniff Allende:                 Well, something that became clear to me was that the whole process of writing the book … Well, maybe it’s just the process of writing a business book, but it is like a business in itself. And I think I came into it a little naively, that perhaps you just perform your function and then pass it up to the great publishing gods.

Alison Jones:                        “Ha ha ha,” she said, hollowly.

Conniff Allende:                 Exactly, and any entrepreneur will know that every single time they’ve made a new function or got a new person in, you think for a second, “Oh great, I don’t have to do that”, but of course, you do. It’s put upon you to know all of it. The same is true of publishing. I was very lucky that my team, I think sometimes reluctantly, but mainly enthusiastically, let me into places I don’t think all authors get.

Thinking about book writing business from a P&L right through to the journey that it goes on to production obviously also includes marketing. I was really keen to get my head around what we could do. And there is … There’s a truism that parts of publishing can be a bit old fashioned and just really aiming for the classic, broad-sheet, business book reviews. My publicist David Over was really clear with me how competitive that space is. And a book that is kind of multidimensional like ours was going to be difficult to land.

So, we embarked on quite a different way of thinking. From a reviews point of view, we had podcasts first, absolutely, and prioritized those over the rest. We went quite deep on social media, doing a lot of analytics and research and thinking about different audiences that we thought the book would appeal to so we could grow quite quickly in that space. And then I really wanted to kick off with something that would, I don’t know, meet the kind of energy that I discovered in the workshops. Once this testing was over, I was describing to you, begun to really work, I was taking the book … I took the book to Athens to the kind of reverse diaspora community over there, entrepreneurs who have gone back to prop up the Greek economy, to entrepreneurs in the townships of South Africa, to young change makers and hustlers in Baltimore and Detroit, and tough areas all over the world where I’d just been met with this appetite for the material. I wanted to do something that met that.

I gave a talk at Penguin, at the head office on Vauxhall Bridge Road. And my long ago background was in club promotion, so I’ll come back to … always around flyer posting and stunts and have a guerilla approach to taking over some space. And as I gave this talk, I was looking out of this window, this huge window directly onto the main street, and all I could think was how well it would look if it was fly-posted. And so… early investigations realized that it had been suggested before internally, but it was categorically not allowed. It would require planning permission, it was a listed building, all these sorts of things. I got a quote for doing it, and it was about £1700 and something.

And then luckily for me, I was invited to a breakfast with Tom Weldon, who’s the chief exec at Penguin. And he was interested in my experience as a real entrepreneur that he’s known going into the company and also, what my reflections were. I gave them to him over breakfast. And he asked if I would come in and share them with his leadership team, and I said, “Yes, of course, but I need to ask you for a fee”, and I think he was a bit surprised. And he points out that we were actually publishing my book, and I said, “Yes, yes, of course, but it’s not for me, it’s for something I need. And it’s going to be about £1700 and something.” And he said “That’s really specific, what is it?” And I said, “I can’t tell you.”

On that basis – and he’s a smart guy, and he probably thought he was better off not saying too much – and so I went away and created the thing. And it’s amazing. Then we showed up, me and the guys, three of us with high vis vests. I got a clipboard, and I forged a letter from Tom Weldon, the chief exec, giving me permission to do the thing I didn’t have permission for. And we flyer posted the front of the building, the size of a double decker bus, bright pink, the colour of the book, the afternoon before it was released. Nobody but nobody gave us any trouble whatsoever. And it is amazing, ladders, high vis vests, and a few clipboards, what you can get away with.

Alison Jones:                        A clipboard is a passport to almost anything, isn’t it? That’s hilarious.

Conniff Allende:                 Pretty much, yeah. Sunny afternoon, and it just absolutely was glorious. It was so good. And there was a bit of a cold breeze blowing in my direction. I didn’t hear from anyone and I was a bit worried, perhaps it had been taken the wrong way. And then a few of the younger guys were hanging out taking pictures of themselves outside the building and momentum grew. I’d lined up a few odds, of course, and I made a little video that I managed to start circulating. That got a bit of pick up. I had written a few op eds.

On that day, furiously, I was trying to put wind into the sails and I had a few talks signed up for the morning. By the afternoon, it really started to garner some traction. And late afternoon, Richard Branson got wind of it, and he re-tweeted it, kind of in line with the kind of stunts he was known for when starting out with Virgin.

And then that just flew and the book went into the top 100 of all books in the UK by the afternoon on Amazon where you get that kind of real-time data.

So, for a very small book with no marketing budget and very low expectations, I think we all knew we were on the outsider to achieve that kind of noise, it felt great, felt really like we’d gone about it with authenticity. With everything that the book talked about, there is a benefit to challenging and rewriting the rules.

Alison Jones:                        That’s brilliant.

Conniff Allende:                 So we’ve continued in that vein and I intend to continue as the book goes on.

Alison Jones:                        I love it and I love that Penguin actually paid for the fly… for the poster, that’s just hilarious. That’s just a lovely… How did he take it?

Conniff Allende:                 Really well and they were great and once I got the Branson thing, I dropped Tom a line and he wrote me a very funny one-liner. He said I needed to stop causing a nuisance. And he has continued to when I also did a projection of Donald Trump against the Houses of Parliament to announce the U.S. book deal which was the week Donald Trump was arriving. Donald Trump has called himself a pirate before and so I was pointing out that he was the wrong sort of pirate. And Tom gave me a line for that press release as well.

Basically, he’s saying how pleased he was that I got a U.S. book deal and hopefully that meant I’d go and make a nuisance on somebody else’s walls from here on in. The support and challenge I’ve had from Penguin has been great and it was Penguin who put it to me mid way through and said, “You’ve got to ask yourself what is more important. Is it selling books or starting a movement?” Tom has said that line many times. I’ve heard him say it. It’s not about book launches it’s about lifetime. And the power of books is that they can begin movements, even when it’s very easy to get sucked into analyzing the Amazon sales rank or trying to work out what is the business model that’s behind it. That reminder really held me to account so I owe them a great deal for giving me that air cover and the space within which to cause a nuisance and not coming down on me too hard when I’ve caused a nuisance on their own doorstep.

Alison Jones:                        Be careful what you wish for. I think that’s so true. For me, a business book works best when it isn’t just a book in isolation. When there’s stuff going on around it, when there’s communities, and as you say, a movement, and there’s maybe a podcast, there’s something there- there’s like a back end of it. It’s those multiple touch points because if it matters then it matters across all those different touch points and you’re more likely to get engagement and action if it’s more than just a book that then gets put away.

Conniff Allende:                 I think so, yeah. If I think to myself, “why do I come to those books in the first place,” it’s because you want something, you want furtherment, and you want to learn, you want to move, and it’s rarely just- I mean there are those books, aren’t there? And I was so adamant not to write one where you kind of got the sense of it from the synopsis on the back, and by the time you’re at chapter three you’re thinking, “are you really just going to say the same thing, again?”

And I was adamant that I wanted to make something that was more useful. I’ve heard said from people who know me that they can feel and hear my voice as you go through the book and one of the great bits of editing advice I got was trying to capture the energy that I can do in public speaking, or in a room, or in a taped session actually on a page, because at first it didn’t transfer. It’s just me sounding really enthusiastic actually just came across quite annoying on the page.

I really, really, really, really, really, really believe this!

Alison Jones:                        Well, let’s talk about that. How do you do that? What does writing look like for you? When you got it right how did you bring that energy and that communication skill that you have face-to-face in the room to the page?

Conniff Allende:                 One clinical piece of advice I got was, in the moment where you would use the physical skills you’ve got for creating some chemistry or a connection with an audience, you need to insert something in that moment. And ideally insert a fact, and a compelling one. It was a really interesting, very precise piece of advice.

Alison Jones:                        That’s fascinating. Let’s unpack that a bit. What’s the need, what’s the thing that’s going on? When you’re in the room you’re using something physical. Is it emphasis? Is it a pause? Is it bringing people back into engagement? What is the thing that needs to happen that then translates into the fact in the book?

Conniff Allende:                 The freelance editor, M.O. Warren, she’s a journalist and she worked with me for many years. She’s seen me talk with young people, she’s seen me talk at conferences, and I asked her to edit my proposal before it even went to the sort of formal kind of Penguin site, and paid for just a couple of days at a time, and it was great- really useful, but it was that one moment- the insight was there because she knew me well and she could totally see on the page where the writing actually got lost. It felt empty because I was over-enthusiastic. And so she was able to draw a line between the physical space … in a physical room you can read the room. You can see how engaged people are and you can either use the volume or you can use your tempo and you can start to make a point that you really deliberately believe in, and you can build up to some kind of crescendo or …

Alison Jones:                        That’s very hard to capture that on a page, right?

Conniff Allende:                 Exactly. And you can- I’ve had the massive good fortune of spending my entire professional career doing things I believe in, working with people who I can champion, or they are setting about to go and change things. I’ve had young people walk into our offices with very bleak outlook on the world to go on to then transform their reality and now have their dream career in front of them. I’ve witnessed that. I’ve been able to be part of that- taken huge clients and organizations and helped them overcome their inertia and do things that matter.

That’s an incredible privilege. And so I’m able to speak frankly about the processes I’ve been through, and I wouldn’t have got there had I not fucked it all up a good dozen times along the way and had to let people go and make people redundant, and apologize, and get into all manner of trouble from near financial ruin to death threats. None of it makes sense unless you tell it all together. I felt the benefit of telling an honest story. I’m really lucky to have a good story to tell and be able to where people want to listen, and you go on a journey together.

But to put that on a page was very hard. And that piece of advice changed everything. It meant that I could get very excited but that at the point you’re going to just start shouting, insert the story that you need to tell. Insert the example that you put the story against, and once I began to research it, insert the historical piece of evidence that’s true about pirates that’s surprising. Or insert the modern pirate story that you’re saying that’s equally inspiring.

That really helped. It really helped balance me out. So then the final part was incredibly lucky- my first editor of Penguin left town after a couple weeks and I was really sad because we got on really well. I think we would have had a real laugh.

Lydia became my editor; Lydia Yardin. And she had been the most junior member of the team when I’d joined Portfolio, and let’s be honest at first, once again, even though I’ve come this far, working against prejudices that I’ve been finding everywhere in the world, I had an ingrained prejudice. I’d got on with this guy- was this young woman a bit too junior? She hadn’t fully edited a book before. My ingrained prejudices played out and it was the most fortuitous thing because not only is she an exceptional editor and diligent editor, but she’s of the age range that the book is speaking to.

She’s in her mid 20s. Everyone around her is in this sort of hostile space and she held me to account. She called bullshit on what could have been the most patronizing moment from a 40 year old bloke who thinks he’s better. We hit a groove very early on. And so I was incredibly lucky to have her there. I was working on my first written book, her first complete edited book, and it became this really great working harmony.

Alison Jones:                        That’s brilliant. It really shows the parallel too. Of course, you wrote a book, but you write a book with this massive cast of people helping as well. And I love, again, that sort of sense that you can’t be too precious about your book because you have to trust the people around you to bring their value as well and make it better as is.

Conniff Allende:                 Absolutely. When there were finally bits that I was proud of I would print them out and start putting them up so I had a compass point north back to: that’s what it feels like, when I knew I had hit the right tone of voice and these little paragraphs began to assemble themselves in my writing. That was also really helpful.

It began to feel like it was me, then me and Lydia, then the people that you shared it with, then the work shopping, and it began to amass around you- getting clearer and clearer, and building momentum…

Alison Jones:                        I love it. That’s brilliant. Now if there’s somebody who’s listening to the show who’s still at the beginning of this process what would you want to say to them? What’s your best tip for a first time author who’s still struggling with it?

Conniff Allende:                 I think it’s all kind of out there. I found a lot of things really useful but I don’t think there’s anything more useful than just writing every day. And like any kind of exercise you pass a mark, whether it is a few weeks or a few months and suddenly you’re better at it. Suddenly, ‘Wow, that wasn’t so hard. I didn’t hate every single thing that I wrote so drastically the following morning. That’s bearable.’

Alison Jones:                        ‘This is progress.’

Conniff Allende:                 Yeah, it’s progress, and just doing that. Just getting it down and having faith in the process. Someone said to me early on, “writing is actually re-writing.” And that’s the case.

Alison Jones:                        Yeah-

Conniff Allende:                 You write a 40,000-word book by writing 240,000 words and editing, and editing and filtering it down. There’s no other way around it than that. There’s no magic bullet or secret shortcut … I’ve just found … I have small children, and my wife was pregnant during the process of writing so there was a lot of other things going on. Plus I was transitioning out of a business so I found making a single period of time every single day and being pretty religious about it and writing in that period or then switching everything else off. I got given a little pirate treasure chest with a bottle of rum in it and I drank the rum and I put my phones in it, so there was nothing, during that period of time you are just writing.

Alison Jones:                        Brilliant. I think that’s probably going to be unpopular advice but I couldn’t agree more. Brilliant. And I always ask people to recommend a guest onto the show- someone with something interesting to say about the business of business books. I’m fascinated to know who you think would make a good guest for this show.

Conniff Allende:                 I would say my publicist at Penguin; David Over.

Alison Jones:                        I know David. That’d be great! Okay.

Conniff Allende:                 I think that he’s passionate. He’s a bit pissed off. He talks at great length. He’s got great ideas. He analyzes. He idealizes. I’ve disagreed with him as many times as I’ve agreed with him but out of that kind of really great conflict so much good stuff has come.

Alison Jones:                        Brilliant, and I love having- I mean, obviously we have authors on the show most of the time but it’s brilliant when you get those different perspectives in. We’ve had your publisher, Adrian Zackheim, who came in. I’ve had a couple of publicists before and it is brilliant because they just bring something that most people just don’t necessarily think about up front and I think bring a different perspective. Great recommendation. Thank you.

Conniff Allende:                 I don’t want to over state it, but I think I’ve come into a space that’s very interesting to observe. I think what we do is a) little bit under threat, and b) the timing of sharing ideas feels more important than ever. The process of writing a book filters out the bollocks we have about fake news. Books that have an intention and a positive inclination towards one really are a building block of bigger movements. You need across any portfolio of good, smart thinking, or business books otherwise … and the risk is that this little industry talks to itself about itself and my grandmother always told me that was a sign of madness.

We need to turn that tide around and take even bigger and braver ideas out amidst those industries struggling against the tide of its own volume of books. There’s an opportunity for a bit of a rethink and an even more important role that this world has got to try out yet. I think that different thinking, different approaches in what can be- let me call it, at least sometimes in an industry that’s comfortable with carrying on doing things the way it’s always done things is really important.

Alison Jones:                        Yeah, and it’s quite ironic as well because you know piracy has been a dirty word in publishing for so long. It’s quite interesting.

The publishing industry today is in such a fascinating- and it has been in a fascinating place for so long that we’ve kind of got bored of it. It’s really interesting. But there’s so much going on down the small indie end which I think you’d approve of massively that’s really exciting.

But what’s really exciting as well is that the big players like Penguin have got this kind of bullishness which is brilliant. They’ve haven’t retreated, I think they did for a while- the big five sort of retreated into safety, and reactionism, and worrying about the dominance of Amazon and all the rest of it. And it’s like they’ve sort of come out fighting now, and they’re just-well you can’t beat them, let’s join them. Let’s do things a bit differently. Let’s shake it up. Let’s reach out to non-traditional channels, and I think some really interesting stuff’s going on in publishing- particularly at the marketing end. I’m not sure that the editorial side has changed that much.

There’s a different attitude, definitely. When you go to the book fairs there’s more chutzpah, somehow. It’s good. It’s good to see.

Conniff Allende:                 I agree with that. I definitely see that there and I think that is the direction of travel so I’m just going to break, defy your rules. I’d like to make two recommendations.

Alison Jones:                        Oh, you would, wouldn’t you. Go on.

Conniff Allende:                 Yeah, I would. And I will. The one moment of Penguin showing that was Blinkist – I asked very early on about Blinkist which is a service I subscribe to, actually. Love it. I think they do really good edits. An initial concern from Penguin was the old world: ‘Now we all know we don’t speak to them- they cannibalize books’ and that didn’t make any sense to me so of course I went and spoke to Blinkist and I had a really great conversation with them and they were very surprised because they think and they understood correctly that publishers were scared of them.

I was one of the first authors ever to approach them. They were excited about that. I was excited about that. We worked out a deal, and I said, “I think the thing that everyone’s fearful of is that you’re destroying book sales in a model that no one can afford that so if you let me help you author the Blinks we’ll make sure that it’s a taster rather than a giveaway.” “Yes, of course.”

And we made a link from the Blinks back to get a discount by buying the book. And then I created a chapter that was specifically for Blinkist. Together, we had one of the most successful Blinkist campaigns. It drove hundreds of sales of my book and now they’ve opened up conversations with Penguin and others.

I think speaking to either Niklas or Sebastian there about their huge growth that they’ve got. How did they go from being perceived as a threat to being perceived as a friend amongst publishing when there’s such disrupting would be really interesting to speak to as well.

Alison Jones:                        That’s fascinating. I love Blinkist. But, yes, I remember the fear around when they launched- well, hang on a minute if somebody can get the summary why would they read the whole book? Actually, it’s content marketing in a sense as well, isn’t it? That’s brilliant.

Conniff Allende:                 It’s a fine line. If they write too good a summary then it is a threat. But then if you write too much of a trailer then is it a good service? I think there is a really clear editorial line that they have to get better and better at. The more they collaborate with authors and publishers the better.

We’ve got the evidence of it because our collaboration, we were able to track it leading back to clear conversion. Good numbers of conversions, as well. There is a way to make it work but it’s only going to be done by collaboration. I think that’s probably the message. In the dark we’re told to fear what’s at the edges but usually that’s where innovation lies. If part of our job as an industry is to do more and change, more looking to the edges increasingly is important and not being lazy and looking to what’s in front of us.

Alison Jones:                        And that’s a really resonant, rousing note on which to end. I love that. Thank you. And if people want to find out more about you, more about being more pirate, where should they go, Sam?

Conniff Allende:                 #BeingMorePirate. Come and find us. There’s a growing Instagram community all around Being More Pirate- the most surprising to me is not the commercial successes but it’s the people out there who are responding to this rebel flag that we’ve raised, coming back with their stories of what they’ve done in response to the book from running campaigns to get people freed from illegal detention through to leaving their corporate jobs to start a social enterprise, there is a growing pirate community that I am watching and loving and trying to put as much wind into its sails as I can. Come and join us.

Alison Jones:                        Because goodness knows the world needs it. Brilliant. Thank you so much for your time, Sam. That was everything I hoped it would be. Thank you.

 

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