BUILDING THE BUSINESS
One Book Can Do Wonders: The Story Behind TalentSmart’s Emotional Intelligence Title
by Linda Carlson
Remember the maxim that writing is 10 percent creating and 90 percent promoting? TalentSmart founders Travis Bradberry and Jean Graves have made that their focus.
The pair created one book and works hard on promotion of its single topic instead of beginning research for other books. “It’s lots of fun funneling our energy into marketing on an everyday basis,” Bradberry says.
What is now TalentSmart was founded in 1996 as the industrial psychology consulting firm Workforce Development Solutions, with an emphasis on emotional intelligence. Popularized by Daniel Goleman when he was a writer for the New York Times, “emotional intelligence” as a framework was introduced by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990. It’s the theory that people have both a wide range of intellectual abilities and a wide range of measurable emotional skills that affect their thinking and action. Because emotional intelligence (or, as it’s sometimes referred to, the EQ, emotional quotient) is important in professional achievement and teamwork, it’s become a popular subject for professional development.
The company made a dramatic change in 2001 for two reasons. First, because of the September 11 terrorist attacks, its consulting business, like that of so many other firms, declined significantly. Second, the partners found themselves extremely frustrated by the quality of printed material available for the consulting they did do.
“So we switched to being a tools provider,” Bradberry reports, and in 2003 the consultants became publishers, issuing a 28-page saddle-stitched booklet, a self-scoring edition of their Emotional Intelligence appraisal test. Now priced at $39.95, with no discounts to the trade, it has sold 120,000 copies.
This led to more writing, but for other publishers. The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book, about 40,000 words, was published in 2005 by Fireside and became a bestseller. It was followed by The Personality Code (issued in 2007 by Putnam) and then by Squawk! How to Stop Making Noise and Start Getting Results (published by HarperCollins in 2008).
Doing It Better Than the Big Guys
None of those books, not even the bestseller, got the marketing support that the authors wanted. “Ours were just small books at each of the publishers,” Bradberry explains, “and it was a constant struggle to promote them.”
So two years ago, in mid-2009, they decided to be self-publishers with a national reach, and they brought out Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In 280 pages, it explains what emotional intelligence is, how to evaluate yours, and how to improve it. Introduced at $19.95, it is sold with a pouch-protected, scratch-off password that lets the reader access an assessment tool online at TalentSmart.com.
Thanks to advance sales, TalentSmart was able to launch the title with a press run of 42,000. The most recent run, which brought lifetime sales up to 200,000, was for 60,000 copies.
What Bradberry credits for many of their sales is the company’s relationship with Publishers Group West, which handles all trade distribution. TalentSmart, which has retained the rights to bulk sales (to companies, for example) and to sales through its trade show booths, is enthusiastic about the support PGW provides, especially after experiencing the way large publishers sometimes handle book sales.
“PGW wants to do business,” Bradberry stressed, “and they do it even without our getting extensive media coverage.” One major PGW achievement: sales of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 to FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s).
Promotion, Placement, Patience, and More
Of course, sales don’t happen without effort and investment. TalentSmart invests time in writing and promoting; it also employs two programmers to handle coding for assessments used by customers, and it maintains a knowledgeable customer service staff. “We want good word of mouth promotion for our service,” says Bradberry, who adds, “We spend a lot on placement to get the book into places like airport bookstores.” This year that expense will total $170,000.
Sometimes it takes years for placement costs to pay off. Several years ago the consultants had no luck when they approached an executive about staff training. Not long ago, though, he called TalentSmart after he’d seen the book three times in airport stores. And he bought $50,000 worth of workshops for his employees.
Today, although the company has five busy consultants, its product sales provide 70 percent of its revenue, and those product sales continue to trend up in absolute dollars. When we talked, Bradberry reported that 2011 sales were 30 percent above sales at the same time in 2010.
These sales rates make it clear that the TalentSmart crew, headed by two industrial psychologists, were quick studies when it came to publishing. They started out with no experience, Bradberry admits, and were “so naïve.” Originally, he says, they perceived no market except other consultants. They also underestimated both the cost and the importance of book design. Without any printing background, neither one understood the cost saving available by printing in large quantity through a book manufacturer instead of at the corner copy shop. (That pouch with the scratch-off code adds only 11 cents to the production cost of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, for example.)
Something else they learned that Bradberry emphasizes to other publishers: Huge events are not necessarily the source of most book sales. Although several of TalentSmart’s 15 employees staff booths at as many as a dozen trade shows each year, a conference that attracts 15,000 may result in only 300 book sales.
“Sometimes a smaller event, like a conference for personal and business coaches, is better targeted in focus, and because there are fewer exhibitors, we’re more visible,” says Bradberry.
And even though distributors and booksellers may continue to ask what’s coming next, he reminds business-book publishers that their titles may be evergreen. You may not need another title if your first one can be sold forever.
Bradberry also has this important advice for publishers—and for consultants who want to add publishing to their business: If you put the effort into developing a product, make sure it’s a product for which a market exists. Chuckling, the industrial psychologist says, “We’ve created a lot of assessments on topics that people don’t want to be tested on.”
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes for the Independent from Seattle. She is unsure whether she wants to be tested on her emotional intelligence.