HOW I DID IT

How I Did It: Clint Greenleaf, Chairman and CEO, Greenleaf Book Group

TURN THE PAGE For some writers, Clint Greenleaf represents a chance to tell New York publishers to take a hike. This, however, is his reject pile.
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Industry: Media

2006 Inc. 500 Ranking: 224

Three-Year Growth: 562%

Clint Greenleaf looks like he stepped out of an advertisement. But he is, after all, the author of Attention to Detail, which established his reputation in the field of business dress and etiquette (while he labored at his first real job) and launched his unlikely career as a publisher. The details now? He's 31 years old, he's published 700 titles, and his 2005 sales hit $4.4 million.

As a joke, I wrote a book called Attention to Detail: A Gentleman's Guide to Professional Appearance and Conduct. That was in college. I went to Deloitte & Touche, but I found that I could do all my work in four hours a day, so I wrote a second edition in my spare time. I did the illustrations with a black Sharpie. It sold like crazy. I got mentioned in The Wall Street Journal in the spring of '98 and they called me a business etiquette expert.

I retired from Deloitte after seven months. I was bored and miserable. I started Greenleaf to help authors get self-published.

The author pays for printing, but we don't really make money on that side of it. We make money when the book sells. We take 10 percent of the cover price of every book when we help broker the sale and the authors keep 35 percent. They keep 100 percent when they sell the books themselves. New York publishers pay 10 to 15 percent after authors earn out their advance.

In most cases, we have authors who could get attention from New York publishers but don't like the economics. They're looking for a better way to publish. So they invest in the project--they pay all the up-front costs and we offer à la carte services like editing, design, distribution.

Our best-selling book is a novel called The Loch by Steve Alten. It's sold close to 100,000 copies. Steve had a New York Times bestseller with a book called Meg; he was disgruntled with the New York publishers. Big sales are nice, but if we can sell 5,000 units of a book we're in a pretty good place.

There is no shame in our game. We knew distribution was a big part of the picture, so I went down to Nashville to Ingram, the biggest wholesale book distributor, and kept talking to them. We ended up as a resource on their website. We originally got volume pricing on printing because we took the reps out drinking. They liked us.

It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The publishing industry is so stodgy. We are a bunch of goofy kids in an industry that is anything but goofy and young. People got a kick out of us. We weren't a threat.

IMAGE: Photograph by Misty Keasler
Last updated: Sep 1, 2006

DONNA FENN | Inc.com Contributing Editor

Donna Fenn is the author of Upstarts! How GenY Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.




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