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Lee Constantine

Lee Constantine

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cofounder / Head of Growth at Publishizer

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About the author

Lee is a literary agent and scout for a book publishing marketplace and crowdfunding literary agency. He works with business, politics, and self-help book proposal submissions. He also works with YA and literary fiction. Recent books he's worked with include The Age of Influence by Neal Schaffer (HarperCollins), Live Big by Ajit Nawalkha (BenBella Books), Experience: The Revolution by Derek Loudermilk (Wiley), and That One Cigarette by Stu Krieger (Harvard Square Editions). Previously did sales and growth for startups in Silicon Valley, and then marketing and editorial for agencies, magazines and accelerators in Las Vegas and New York.
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The Book Entrepreneur

How to treat your book like a startup

The most lucrative books are backed by entrepreneurial authors who treat them like a startup. This is your guidebook to save time, hack sales and land a traditional publishing deal.

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Post 1 - Entrepreneurs who become authors

Entrepreneurial Author, Kristyna Zapletalova

Kristyna Zapletalova, Author, Digital Nomad, Founder and CEO at MAQTOOB
“Learning is a nurturing process that helps you grow from a teeny wrinkled seed to a stout and graceful tree.” — Kristyna Z.

What’s more interesting than this aspiring diplomat turned entrepreneur activist turned book author, is her approach towards discovering anything worthy of occupying her precious time and attention.

Kristyna Z. explains her decision to write a book as a series of organic occurrences and evolutions that would ultimately get her message into the hands of more people. In fact, obtaining the title of ‘Author’ was furthest down on her list of reasons.

Having founded and bootstrapped MAQTOOB, a platform which allows entrepreneurs to find the best business tools and unique handpicked apps that will teach you practically anything, from making hummus to building apps in node.js, most of them for free, Kristyna of course would like this book to get sales and bring in revenue.

However, the true purpose behind why she is writing her book, Born To Be An Entrepreneur, remains more of a diplomatic endeavor.

Last year, Kristyna also launched an initiative to give free workshops in emerging countries where locals can learn how easy it is to start a business and become an entrepreneur. “We are talking to so many entrepreneurs in so many countries during our workshops. This experience is something much greater than myself and this company; it’s something I feel I must stretch the vision even further to reach more people,” she says. And to show she was serious about it, MAQTOOB skipped the seed round and self-funded the entire project.

Now, what was suppose to be a one-year project will turn into a two-year project. Kristyna will connect and work with hundreds of entrepreneurs of different cultures and backgrounds. This experience will all be reflected in the book.

It will not be a collection of case studies, however. It will be an introspective piece on how Kristyna views entrepreneurship and what it means to create value for your community through social impact, all while having control over your own life.

Big things start with experimentation

Kristyna started experimenting with her writing on medium to see if going deeper into the topic of entrepreneurship would also appeal to her followers who already read about technology apps. She published typical startup articles and one went viral with 3+ million views and 32k recommends.

Her articles have since been published in TIME, The New York Observer, Business Insider, The Next Web and many others.

Everything she does appears to be somehow connected. The blogs she writes are related to technology or mindful entrepreneurship, which evolved into a book, which will in turn connect with and share the purpose of MAQTOOB and entrepreneurs all over the world.

“I never woke up thinking I wanted to start a company. Same as the book idea. It started tiny and grew bigger and bigger.”

She’s gained followers on Medium and Twitter, made more credible connections on LinkedIn, and had the attention of potential partners and investors through large international business publications. This momentum now allows Kristyna to command more attention when she publishes something.

It also allows her to experiment with her book in measurable ways not necessarily available to other authors. She recently published the first excerpt from her book to her existing followers and subtly offered a free copy to anyone who subscribed.

“When I first did this, it was idea validation to test if people would be interested in a book that I was writing,” she said. “Once they clicked on the link from by blog, all they saw was a simple cover design. I mostly wanted to make them aware of it, and then if they wanted it they had to find out how to subscribe to get it when it launched. I didn’t even describe the book.”

Turns out, a lot of people are subscribing, and therefore figuring out where to
find the book. Clearly, a great way to build a loyal audience around her area of expertise.

This is motivating to say the least. Her Medium followers are inching towards 8k, overshadowing her 1.6k followers on Twitter, not to mention her growing newsletter subscribers from MAQTOOB. Which means Kristyna has a solid community she can use for promoting her book and ensure a successful launch — or at least test it out and learn from it.

Breaking the rules of publishing

Kristyna is an avid book reader and knows how the book ecosystem works and functions — especially on Amazon, and she’s eager to apply it to a book of her own. Like her workshop project in emerging markets, she’s also self-funding — and self-publishing — this book project.

“I shared the idea, got feedback and then wrote more. Then I researched
publishing options to see the best path. I discovered that self-publishing is trendy and appealing. Successful books are often driven by a committed authors, usually a CEO or entrepreneur. I can do this entire process on my own,” she says.

Being in the business world, it also makes sense to consider every option, including the benefits and expenses of each. When asked if she would turn down a publisher, Kristyna told us, “I would listen to the offer and choose the best deal for my book.”

Running a startup breeds experimentation, but it also takes up a lot of time. Ultimately deciding not to look for a literary agent or a publishing company or an editor, Kristyna sets her own book deadlines and tries to hit them — so far, successfully. She’s in a good position without a literary agent, it seems.

Actively growing her book subscribers and increasingly dedicating more time to writing chapters, she doesn’t consider treating her book like a business. She does, however, consider her skills running a successful startup transferrable to getting her book out there. Which is “how you should approach anything you are doing in life,” she says.

“You need to make sure your product has a market fit. You don’t want to invest $10k in a product or a book nobody cares about. You also don’t want to invest your time in something that doesn’t make you happy.”


The most lucrative types of books are backed by entrepreneurial authors who treat their books like a startup. These are the top 10% of authors. They do their due diligence on what it really takes to spread their book and their message to the masses.

“I’m not in it for the vanity. I’m in it for impact.” — Kristyna Z.

They test things, learn and then test again. And the more they discover they’re playing in an industry ripe for disruption, they’re all the more motivated to succeed at it. Entrepreneurial authors are realizing that you can break the rules of publishing, hack growth and redefine what it means to be a successful book author.
Kristyna Zapletalova is an entrepreneurial author in every sense of the word.


Post 2 - You are not your book

It’s never about you or your book. It’s about what potential readers think your book can do for them. Think I’m wrong?

You are not Steve Jobs.

Does a memoir about your life or a few grand experiences you’ve had relate to your readers? Probably not. Considered writing an autobiography to share how exciting and unique your life has been? Please don’t. It’s not an original concept, no matter how original your life has been. And it surely won’t relate to your readers — even if you get some interested nods after telling a few detailed stories at a local gathering.

“And yeah, fucking everything I say is intended to be quoted (so long as I’m properly attributed).” — A writer I’m not going to properly attribute at this time.

When you make a book all about you (the author), it becomes unmarketable, and publishers don’t want to touch it. Or they’ll persuade you to rewrite your stories with practical information that can relate to the masses, a.k.a make it less about you and more about the readers. This is smart.

Every book needs a lucky break. (This is bullsh*t).

“There I was, speaking at a conference with major authors like Garrison Keillor. You know why I received an invitation? A year or so earlier, the director of the conference bought a copy of my book online and found it helpful in his self-publishing process. Every book needs lucky breaks to really make it. That was mine.” — Mark Levine, Author of The Fine Print

Bullsh*t. Don’t wait for your lucky break to happen.

Create it. You want someone important to find your book? Share it with them, over and over and over again. Find the people that benefit from your words and get your book in front of them. Do you think the director of a major conference just ran across Mark Levine’s book and decided to make a purchase? No. It required hustle and persistence in getting his book out there that made the sale to the right person at the right time. He calls it a lucky break, but he’s just being a modest prick. I call it commitment to his own success.

Who needs to read your book?

Not sure how to answer that question? Then stop writing. Fiction writers should be the only writers who don’t know who their target audience is. Non-fiction writers better not put that pen to the paper until they know who they are writing for. Otherwise their words will have no connection with their readers because they’re not writing for anyone but themselves. (Go back and read You are not Steve Jobs).

Press doesn’t move the needle.

“I was quoted in The New York Times on major stories about the self-publishing industry. Both reporters found me through my website. After each story had been published, my book sales briefly skyrocketed.” [Briefly.]

While press can turn your noteworthy story into public appeal, your fifteen minutes of fame do little for long term effects. Yes, word of mouth will get a kickstart from mentions in major publications, but traffic and sales will drop off just as quickly and steeply as they started.

Get press. But don’t rely on it for book sales. If anything, rely on it to motivate you to live up to whatever fancy shit the hotshot journalist has to say about you. Get out there and hustle. Sell your ass off to every man, woman and millennial who takes the time to listen to you. And don’t be afraid to talk about it. If you think people won’t be interested in what you’ve written, then you’re not ready to become a bestselling author.

Vanity publishing is for suckers.

If you don’t plan on spending any significant time or money to properly edit and design your book, whatever time and money you’ve spent on publishing is wasted, and you’re vanity publishing.

If you are talked into purchasing three hundred or ten thousand copies of your book even though you have no real marketing plan or dollars to spend, then you’re a sucker.

Those who sit around all day admiring themselves for having published a book are the vanity publishing crowd. Those who spend quality time marketing their book, and understand that sales opportunities down the road may be hatched by marketing ideas today, are what the spirit of publishing is all about.

But you just know this book will sell, right? Right…

The bottom line is that paying for competent publishing services will make your book look and read significantly better.

Marketing your book takes mad skills.

If you don’t market your book, your publisher loses. But so do you. Nothing comes free — especially not book sales. Superb writing will make a book a classic, but it will not give it short term sales. That’s the job of the author.

Typically, the traditional publisher eventually breaks the bad news to the author that their budget doesn’t allow for a marketing campaign or book tour. Which means this insanely heavy task is left to the author. (Are you a fiction author? You should be very afraid).

No problem, you say? You can sell your book as good as the rest of them? Sure. But consider that if you do kill it at selling your book to the masses, your publisher (since they hold the higher percentage in book revenue) is going to benefit a great deal — more than you (the author) who made book sales happen in the first place.

Marketing is typically the most expensive part of the book publishing process, so while not having to pay for upfront production expenses is attractive, that alone may not be a sufficient reason to sign with a traditional publisher. Is distribution and editing worth 80% of lifetime sales? You be the judge.

So then, you want to self-publish?

This is not a bad option. This reader-powered publishing company will get you ten or so — on average — to express interest in just your book proposal (not to mention a few major traditional publishers). I’d check them out.

Self-publishing can certainly be a happy medium that many authors choose to take. They take a smaller percentage, which means more money in your pocket at the end of the day.

The downfall?

Less credibility than a traditional publisher. A major publisher may take more money from you, but they’ll get your book in WAY more hands than you or your self-publishing company probably ever could.

It’s all a game of opportunity cost — and the more hands you have in the pot (and I’m not talking about readers this time), the better off you’re going to be.


Post 3 - F*ck literary agents

Don’t get me wrong.

Literary agents do serve a purpose as an acting gatekeeper to the publishing world. But the only forward thinking thing about them is their authors. I believe they know this. I also believe it takes authors about eighteen months to realize this as well.

Aside from rejecting 96% of book proposals that hit their inboxes, literary agents make themselves elusive — to authors and publishers. The less they talk to authors, the more valuable they appear. And the fewer publishing deals they make, the more illustrious they become.

“I’m going to run this idea by my literary agent to see what she thinks.”

If you wrote a novel where a dominant vampire becomes master to a naive, submissive, shape-shifting werewolf, or where a dominant white male businessman becomes the sexually charged master to a naive, submissive, sexually-curious subordinate, I’m sure you’d spark interest. Maybe. If you’re a non-fiction author, just show them your email list.

Lit agents are concerned with commercial viability, that’s first and foremost. Period. Literary quality is a secondary bonus, if present.

Atop their mountain of crumbled proposals, lit agents can get you a publishing deal. They can. How much that deal benefits the author is often difficult to objectify — even if you do have an “A-list literary agent.”

The top 4%

Lit agents cater to the top 4% of of authors — and the top 1% have standout success. It’s lucrative up there. And the bigger deals you get, the harder it is to separate from a lit agent. Jeff Goins and other successful authors, including Tim Ferris and Seth Godin, agree.

These authors also want ease and convenience. They’re busy. Why would they ‘try out’ another option if they know something is doing a good job at making them even more successful — without them having to do a whole lot?

These are exceptions in the publishing world where authors hold more of the bargaining power but decide to remain exclusive with their agents. It’s a vicious circle. Literary agents grab on to successful authors and don’t let go. They’ll leverage the author’s fame, success and insanely large networks to make better publishing deals. It’s a good relationship for the top 4%.

Simply, some authors are more appealing than others. This is publishing and it’s probably not the lit agent’s fault. Well, ok, it’s partly their fault.

Publishing is like the Wild West. It’s everyone for themselves, and aspiring authors no longer have to — nor should they — take multiple rejections as a sign that anything is wrong with their book. Which is why book authors are now rejecting agents.

Kristyna Zapletalova: I can do this entire process on my own. I’m an entrepreneur. I learned the process through research and heard that self-publishing and kindle direct are good ideas.

Me: You’re not overwhelmed by the task?

Kristyna Z.: I have 8k followers on medium and a solid newsletter. I have a network I can leverage. I am in a good position without a lit agent.

Me: What do you believe a book will do for you? Credibility? Increase speaking rates? Bring more business? Fame?

Kristyna Z.: None, I just want to push my message. I was simply driven to do it and publish it myself. Of course, credibility and money would be great.

Me: Would you go with a publisher if they gave you an advance?

Kristyna Z.: It depends on the deal.

The most lucrative types of books are backed by entrepreneurial authors who treat their book like a startup.

Entrepreneurial authors

These are the top 90–96% of authors. They do their due diligence on what it really takes to spread their book and their message to the masses. They test things, learn and then test again. And the more they discover they’re playing in an industry ripe for disruption, they’re all the more motivated to succeed at it.

Entrepreneurial authors are realizing that you can break the rules of publishing, hack growth and redefine what it means to be a successful book author.

They’re realizing that a literary agent isn’t necessary — especially if the agent believes this author isn’t in the top 4%. And for that matter, neither is the publisher. They don’t need some traditional, old-school process holding them back from getting their message out there and reaping the rewards that come with it. Number one being accomplishment. Credibility, career growth, speaking rates, even money take a back seat to this feeling of accomplishment.

This is a rare breed, but self-publishing is trending upward and bigger and better authors are joining the crowd.

I’m not JUST talking about self-publishing tho. Many times, these authors don’t want the title of Self-published Author. They want to get published alright. They want the credibility, the status, higher speaking rates and of course the money. Which means they are going straight to the publisher.

Janet DeNeefe: After I pitched them my book, they knew they would sell it. And then I backed it up with a great story.

Me: How did you get a $5k advance from HarperCollins [plus another $10k at launch] without using a literary agent?

Janet: I broke down my target audience and told them venues and distribution in my network that would help sell. It was a business transaction and I gave them reason to give me an advance for it.

Me: This is not exactly hindsight for authors.

Janet: It thought it was quite easy, actually. You write a book and then figure out ‘who will buy my book?’ You have to be unique tho and you have to market it.

No lit agents

100% of publishers we surveyed said they will work directly with authors. If lit agents provide so much value, or do an amazing job at vetting their authors, then why would every publisher we talk to say they will gladly cut out the agent? Hm.

Having no basis for comparison (or knowledge of any better option), most authors don’t realize that their agent really isn’t that good or the best way to become a published author. Agents relationships and connections to publishers are usually personal and exclusive. The amount of publishers they work with are few, which means they don’t have a lot of wiggle room in the publishing world.

Publishers usually have many agents they get book ideas from and peg agents against each other. Agents take a cut of the advance that publishers give to authors, as well as royalties on sales, which are both negotiated on a per book basis, which is also why agents are so selective and don’t necessarily work in the best interests of the author when making a deal.

“We don’t take royalties because that creates perverse incentives that actually hurt both our authors and us,”

says Tucker Max, (not a lit agent) who prior to Book In A Box founded and sold Tropaion Publishing, which pioneered the current “author as publisher” craze that many bestselling authors now use (e.g. Hugh Howey). He also wrote several #1 bestselling books. Tucker is an all around badass in new age publishing.

Authors in the process of shopping their books, especially those who have the confidence that their books are good, start to distrust the idea of agents — even editors at publishing imprints, it appears.

The bottom line

Everyone in the publishing world works in their own best interests. 96% of the time, bargaining power is passed down the chain of command until it runs out — and then it reaches the author.

It’s time to break the rules.