‘That book that’s for everyone is for no one, right?’
Naren Aryal is laser-focused on the business of publishing for business. In this week’s episode he talks to me about how Amplify Publishing Group developed from a single title to one of the world’s leading business imprints, the unique goals and expertise of business authors, and why it’s so important that you’re clear on the target market for your book. (Spoiler alert: it’s not ‘everyone’.)
Amplify Publishing: https://amplifypublishinggroup.com/
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The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
Alison Jones: Today, I am here with Naren Aryal, who is the CEO of Amplify Publishing Group, which he launched with a single title in 2003, and which is now one of the fastest growing and most respected hybrid publishing companies in the world. APG is home to six genre focused imprints, including Amplify Publishing, which is an imprint for business and thought leadership titles, and 100 Coaches Publishing, which is a new partnership dedicated to amplifying the voices of the 100 Coaches community.
So first of all, welcome, Naren. It’s very, very good to have you here.
Naren Aryal: Wonderful to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m looking forward to this conversation.
Alison Jones: Always really interesting and fun to talk to another publisher because we have such synergistic but different perspectives on the market as well. And I’m always interested to find out what brought you here and particularly for you, because I know that publishing wasn’t your first career. Just tell us a little bit about your journey to where you are now.
Naren Aryal: Yes, thank you. So I was a lawyer initially, of all things, and about 20 years ago, we got started by self publishing a children’s book, and it was a children’s book starring my university’s mascot, and what I found is there was a real market at that intersection between children’s literature and licensed sports products, and so not knowing anything about the industry, we went into the market, on the backs of brands that people recognized.
And, whether it’s where I went to, the university at Virginia Tech, or the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, we had a product that appealed to fans looking to share their love for their team with their children and grandchildren. And so that’s how I got into this crazy world of publishing.
And since then we really expanded our genre expertise. Today we spend most of our time in the thought leadership space under our Amplify imprint, working with business folks and consultants and thought leaders across various industries.
Alison Jones: And actually, you might be listening thinking, wow, that’s quite the jump, you know, it’s completely unrelated. In principle, actually, there’s something really profound there, which is that you realize that a book is a brilliant part of an existing ecosystem. It locks into something that’s known and understood and gives it a new dimension.
And in fact, that’s really what you’re doing for authors when you’re talking about thought leadership as well, isn’t it?
Naren Aryal: It really is. And so when we started in the children’s market, there was an affinity toward a team, call it. Now what we’re doing is we’re tapping into an affinity for a subject matter, be it leadership or marketing or executive coaching. So it’s really understanding who a given book is for, really understanding a target market, and not worrying about the rest of the world.
Alison Jones: Just the people following that mascot.
Naren Aryal: That’s right.
Alison Jones: So, but it is an interesting journey from, certainly in terms of producing children’s books, it’s a very, very different story than producing non fiction. So just talk us a little bit through about the kind of key milestones on that trajectory.
Naren Aryal: Sure. So, I would say the first seven or eight years, we initially produced our own books and then after a certain time, people started contacting us asking for help in production and distribution in the children’s market. And so, as it turned out, and I didn’t know this at the time, we were one of the pioneers in the hybrid space, in that we would help authors create books that were professionally produced and marketed and distributed just as one of the big houses might. And then as we sort of defined that market and owned that market, as a business person I started thinking about, what next? And what next for me was the type of books that I enjoy, and that’s the business and thought leadership space.
And so that’s how we got from that start, where it was just me in the basement, to where we are today, where we’re a 30 person shop, 30 full time employees and working on 200 or 300 titles a year.
Alison Jones: It’s a classic kind of Ansoff matrix thing, isn’t it? We’ve got these products. Where’s the new markets for that? I think we’ve got this market. What’s the new books for that? Yes, absolutely brilliant. So what’s your vision now for Amplify Publishing Group?
Naren Aryal: Great question. So what we’ve noticed is the hybrid space continues to grow. Non traditional opportunities continue to grow stateside. And we want to continue to be a leader in that space.
We are working with more and more authors who were and have been traditionally published and for whatever reason they want to try something else. They want to own their intellectual property. They want to get creative in distribution. They don’t need the houses to reach their readers. We’re seeing a lot more work with authors that have been previously traditionally published.
So I imagine a lot more of that.
Alison Jones: And I really want to dig into that use of the word non traditional actually, because when we talk about non traditional publishing, we often mean non traditional sales, don’t we? Sort of selling through channels that aren’t traditional bookshops. So as well as the non traditional model of publishing, you’ve also got that non traditional distribution.
Tell me a little bit more about what you see happening there.
Naren Aryal: Sure. So I say this often, but you have to sell two and a half books on Amazon to make the same amount as you’d make selling one direct to consumer so that’s a plus.
Alison Jones: Because of the retail discount.
Naren Aryal: Yes, and another plus is selling directly affords an author an opportunity to get buyer information, which is worth its weight in gold. It’s gold. And so a lot of authors are coming around to that realization; whereas before people would just be focused on getting on, for example, an Amazon bestseller list or trying to get the book in a bookshop, not really fully understanding what you’re losing by going straight to retail and only retail in terms of returnability, in terms of no data from your readers.
I’m not saying that that is the right answer across the board, but there are plenty of authors that will say, you know what, I’ve already been a New York Times or a Wall Street Journal bestseller. What’s really important now is to get buyer data because I’ve got a whole host of things to sell my readers beyond just the book.
Alison Jones: Yes, and actually the hybrid model is the best, I think, at providing both of those because there are advantages going through the book supply chain. There’s a credibility thing, but also it can go beyond the people that you already know, which is really important as the discoverability piece. And, actually what you’re selling isn’t the book. It’s your services, it’s your expertise, it’s your business and having the buyer…. it’s yourself, right.
And none of the revenue that you make from the sales of the books is going to come close to the return on investment that you can get if you get that right and build the business. And as you say, having the customer data, actually knowing who’s buying and who’s reading your book, massively more helpful from that perspective.
Naren Aryal: Yes, that’s right. And, you know, the big houses and Amazon, they’re focused on one thing, and that’s selling as many books as possible,
Alison Jones: That’s their only revenue stream.
Naren Aryal: Which is a wonderful endeavour, right? And of course, all of our authors want to sell as many books as possible, but there are other opportunities that frankly, the big houses just don’t care about because it doesn’t impact their bottom line.
These are opportunities that Amazon just doesn’t care about because it doesn’t impact their bottom line, but authors are more and more aware of these opportunities and are looking for ways to try to exploit and monetize their expertise.
Alison Jones: Yes. So going back to that idea of non traditional distribution, what are you finding, what routes to market, what ways of selling are emerging as really meaningful, that you can see?
Naren Aryal: So direct to consumer, you know, getting somebody onto your author website, there’s a ROI right there, whether they leave buying a book or not, they can learn about your keynote speaking, they can learn about your consulting. And so getting somebody on your website and if they happen to buy a book there. Fantastic, right?
And so what we do is we integrate to a lot of author websites, so the authors don’t have to worry about picking, packing, and shipping. We make it easy for them. And so I think that’s a big thing. And then, we also work with a lot of keynote speakers where, of course selling in bulk to event organizers or back of the room sales.
Those are the types of things that really seem to be things that people are most interested in these days.
Alison Jones: Yes, and that actually is a beautiful synergy, isn’t it? Because the book, you can take away with you at the end and it taps into that… it’s almost like going right back to the mascot, isn’t it? There’s the excitement of the game and seeing the mascot in front of you and then you sort of take something away that you can keep forever.
And I think there’s that same, beautiful synergy between hearing somebody speak in a room and then getting them to sign your book and take it at home and it sits on your bookshelf and every time you see it, you’re reminded of that experience and what you heard in the room.
Naren Aryal: That’s right. And, I always say there’s plenty of room for all different ways to market and I’m, of course, a big fan of traditional publishing. I am a huge fan of self publishing. And, the beauty of where we are right now is there are options.
Alison Jones: There are options. Yes.
And that’s right, I think that’s a really important point to make is that it’s not that one is better than the other necessarily, they all offer different things. You just need to think about what it is you want to achieve beyond the book, and see how those different solutions can fit in there. Yes.
What are the trends do you see happening particularly in, I guess, in the content that people are writing? What sorts of books are becoming more interesting to you?
Naren Aryal: Yes. So, you know, I would say three or four years ago, there was a whole slew of DEI books, which is fantastic. We worked on a ton of them. And so, as current events dictate, we’ll see, now we’re seeing fewer DEI books, but we’re seeing a lot more leadership titles, it seems these days.
We’re doing a lot of books on AI because the technology is in the news. And so, the interesting thing about what we’re doing is what’s going on in the world has a direct correlation on the types of books that our authors want to produce and that’s exciting.
Alison Jones: It is exciting. It’s also not unproblematic because, AI is a good example, isn’t it?
Naren Aryal: Yes.
Alison Jones: Books have a longer shelf life. What’s your strategy, because there are ways, I think, of writing books that future proof them, that focus on principles rather than the current latest state of the technology.
But how do you square that circle when you’ve got somebody who’s really, really keen to write a state of the art book on a fast changing topic?
Naren Aryal: Yes. And again, it’s goes back to what we talked about before it is really getting buy in to the author and their views as opposed to what’s specifically in the book, because what’s specifically in the book, particularly in an area like AI, might be dated in two or three months. But if that reader knows the source, this author is a source of information moving forward. That is the difference right there.
And so, this author can be trusted to go back in three months, in six months, to provide more information on this topic that continues to evolve. And, again, getting that person back to the website, or getting on a mailing list, or a newsletter, or following them on LinkedIn, all these things, sort of are just important.
Alison Jones: They are so important, and you have to, as an author, I think, sit down almost right at the beginning and go, how does this book fit into that bigger ecosystem? Where do people go after the book? As you say, how can I, if it’s a topical book, how do I continue to provide resources? I always think that giving resources beyond the book are so valuable, partly because it saves space in the book, and people don’t want to write in books, do they?
So you can do that, but also because it gives people a way to connect with you in a way that makes them visible to you, which, of course, when they’re reading their book, they’re not.
Naren Aryal: Yes. And you’re so, so spot on, what I tell people is you have to create a connection well before you’re going to ask them to buy a book. They’ve got to be invested in you as a thought leader well before the book is going to come out. And so the sooner you can make that connection, the easier it’s going to be when you have to make that ultimate ask of asking the reader to buy that book.
Alison Jones: Which seems crazy in a way, doesn’t it? Because books are so cheap. It’s a couple of coffees at Starbucks. You know, I always find it amazing that people don’t value books more. I don’t know, do you have any thoughts on why that is?
Naren Aryal: Well, there are a lot of books being published.
Alison Jones: It’s hard to argue with that.
Naren Aryal: So that’s, I think that’s one thing and then again, people tend to purchase books from people that they know, that they’ve called upon to get information in the past, that they follow, and so breaking in is the hard part and once you’ve broken in, I don’t want to say it’s easy because nothing’s easy in this industry, but it just becomes easier and you’re a trusted source.
And it’s more likely to go back to the… you could go back to the well for book number two and book number three with that same reader if you’ve delivered value in book number one.
Alison Jones: Right.
And I think actually, maybe we’re looking at it the wrong way around. Maybe what people are looking at is the amount of time that they see they’re going to have to invest in this book. So when they’re paying for the content, they’re weighing against that, the cost of their time and attention, and just trying to work out if that’s actually going to be a good use of their most precious resource.
Naren Aryal: That’s so true. And that’s a great point. I hadn’t thought about that. And you know, that sort of relates to the conversation that I frequently have is how long to make a book, right? And so on one hand, you don’t want to make it so big that it becomes onerous to just even think about reading it.
But on the other hand, sometimes we’ll get a 20,000 word manuscript and I’ll say, look, we have got to make this something other than a brochure, a pamphlet. And so there’s a real fine line there. Good point.
Alison Jones: At the very crudest level, it’s got to have a spine, hasn’t it? It’s got to actually be visible on a shelf and under 100 pages, that’s not going to happen. It’s a pamphlet. Yes, terrific. What about writing for yourself, Naren? How do you lean into that or do you leave it to the authors or, what do you love most about it? What do you find most frustrating about it?
Naren Aryal: Yes, well unfortunately I just don’t have the time because I’m busy reading manuscripts a lot. But there is a project in the works. Of course, well, I’ve written one book about book marketing, of course. And so I’ve got in my future a book about the publishing industry that is sort of taking shape right in here.
You will be the first to know when it turns into something substantive.
Alison Jones: Yes, it’s funny, isn’t it, that we know that when we’re writing, we’re almost better versions of ourselves because we’re thinking more deeply about the world and we are more creative and we’re engaging with people more purposefully.
And it’s amazing how still even, you know, I’m exactly the same, I finished a book which published just about 10 months ago now. That’s terrible. I kind of know I need to start another one because I want to be in that space. But hey, who’s got the time?
Naren Aryal: Well, you have to make it, right?
Alison Jones: You’re never going to find the time. You have to make it, right?
Naren Aryal: And you know, my first book was seven or eight years ago. So I am due.
Alison Jones: You are well due for the next book. But it’s not like you haven’t been putting out books by proxy in the meantime.
Naren Aryal: That’s right.
Alison Jones: There is a great creativity in that as well, and a great thought piece in that. I am going to ask you though I guess, I’m going to ask you twice. I’d love your perspective as a writer on the question I’m about to ask you, but I’d also love your perspective as a publisher.
What’s your one best tip for somebody who’s listening and who is in the process of writing their first business book?
Naren Aryal: Oh boy. So it goes back to target market for me. I often hear, I’ve got a book that everyone’s going to love, and we all know what that means.
Alison Jones: Everyone! It’s for everyone!
Naren Aryal: It’s for everyone.
Alison Jones: It’s not though, is it? Yes.
Naren Aryal: That book that’s for everyone, is for no one, right. And so as a publisher, I would say that’s critical and I’ll give you one more, as a publisher, I would say that it’s critically important that the content be exceptional.
You work with editors because at the end of the day, you’re selling your ideas. And those ideas come in the form of words, and so the content must be exceptional. And then, gosh, I can’t stop. Have …
Alison Jones: …keep going, it’s great.
Naren Aryal: … have an eye toward marketing while you’re writing the book. Because if you wait until the very end and the book shows up, and then you start thinking about marketing, sorry, it’s too late.
Alison Jones: It’s too late. So, well, let’s dig into that a bit. What does it look like to have an eye to marketing while you’re writing the book?
Naren Aryal: Yes, it is really understanding, again, I say this so many times, is understanding the target market and understanding how to reach the target market. Once you have a clear understanding of who’s going to care, understand those people that are going to care, where they’re going to potentially run into your book, and then be there.
Alison Jones: Yes.
Naren Aryal: And I don’t mean physically, I mean, you know, what they read or you know, where they consume their content and maybe physically show up.
Alison Jones: It is, it’s about relationships as much as ideas, isn’t it?
Naren Aryal: It really is.
Alison Jones: And if I’m going to push you as well as a writer, what have you learned about writing that you’d share someone who’s… because the thing is about, you’re not writing a business book. You’re not a writer, typically, you’re a business person.
So it’s a craft, isn’t it?
Naren Aryal: Yes, it really is. And a lot of the folks we work with, they have really strong ideas, but they don’t have the time. And so we have this discussion about, you know, when to bring a writing coach in or when to bring a ghostwriter in. And so you have to be really honest with yourself, in terms of, sure, you want to do this, but do you have the time?
Is it a high enough priority? And what does it look like if we bring in assets, editorial assets, to help you get to the finish line successfully?
Alison Jones: Needing help is not a bad thing. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just a realistic, it’s a business decision, isn’t it? You’ve just got to look at your resources and your assets. And that’s a really, really good, helpful form of words to think about it. Brilliant.
You publish several hundred books a year. I’m slightly nervous about asking you the next question. What’s your book recommendation for us, Naren?
Naren Aryal: my gosh.
Alison Jones: Which is your favourite?
Naren Aryal: Well, I can’t say that I’ve got a favorite.
Alison Jones: You can’t because your authors will tear you limb from limb. And it doesn’t have to be an Amplified Publishing Group one of course. It could just be…
Naren Aryal: Well, you know what, I’m going to give you a recent one that we did with a gentleman named Marshall Goldsmith.
Alison Jones: Oh, we happen to have heard of him. Yes.
Naren Aryal: Yes, yes, and it’s called Becoming Coachable, and you know, you talk about somebody that’s developed a relationship with his readers over many, many years, and he’s a trusted figure, and he’s writing about what he knows, and so because of that, this book has come out, and it’s been wildly successful, and I’m really proud of our work.
It’s been wonderful working with a legend like Marshall Goldsmith. So, Becoming Coachable. There you go.
Alison Jones: Brilliant and actually, it’s a great nod as well to the deeper partnership of the 100 Coaches community. Maybe you just want to say a little bit about that?
Naren Aryal: Sure. So Marshall Goldsmith has published, you know, many, many books and he started this organization called 100 Coaches, where his idea was he was going to give back and tell everything that he knows about the world of coaching. And so what started with the initial cohort of I think 10 or 15 coaches is now a cohort of 450 of the world’s ,best executive coaches.
They produce, you know, something like 50 or 60 books a year. And as part of helping the community, we helped 100 Coaches establish this imprint called 100 Coaches Publishing, that we handle the editorial, the book production, the distribution and we go to market under that name. And again, it goes back to the very first question you asked me.
There’s name recognition in this 100 Coaches imprint, which of course helps in the marketing and the sales and just the brand equity that Marshall Goldsmith’s organization has developed over years. So that’s what we’re doing with them. And we also do it with other organizations, media organizations like Real Clear Politics, Sports Business Journal, and a few others.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. And actually, traditional publishing has always been about those sorts of partnerships as well. So it’s great to see hybrid extending in that space. Wonderful.
I could talk to you all day Naren and it’s absolutely brilliant, but I can’t. So if people want to find out more about you, more about Amplify, where should they go?
Naren Aryal: Sure. Thank you. So amplifypublishing.com is our website. And if you want to drop me a note, it’s Naren, N A R E N at amplifypublishinggroup.com.
Alison Jones: Amazing. I will put those links, well, I won’t put your email address, perhaps you’ve got that people, but I will put the link to Amplify up on the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com along with the transcript of this conversation.
So thank you so much for your time today. It’s been fascinating.
Naren Aryal: Wonderful. Thank you.