Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Betting, and winning, on indie publishing

Clint Greenleaf & Meg La Borde

by Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 7/7/2008

You might call Clint Greenleaf, president and CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, a betting man. In March, he was sitting in the Fox News studio in Austin, Tex., serving as a commentator on the Fox Business Network's morning business roundup, when he saw his opportunity to win a longstanding wager. “A friend bet me when I started this gig that I would never be able to refer to Al Sharpton and the Ukrainian Orange Revolution in the same sentence on national TV,” says Greenleaf, a glint in his eye. He walks over to the iMac in his office and pulls up a clip of himself doing just that. (The son of a Ukrainian immigrant, Greenleaf speaks fluent Ukrainian.)

In fact, it was a bet that set him off on his current career. “I was 22, just out of college and working at Deloitte and Touche in Cleveland, when someone said to me, 'Clint, you don't seem so smart. How is it you're working as an accountant?' I told him, 'I dress the part: I wear a tie and shine my shoes.' 'Okay,' the guy says, 'if you're so smart, then why don't you write a book about it.' ”

The resulting self-published book, photocopied at a Kinko's, was Attention to Detail: A Gentleman's Guide to Professional Appearance and Conduct. Attention was eventually picked up by Adams Media, sold 12,000 copies and drew the attention of the Wall Street Journal. As a byproduct of finding distribution for the book, Greenleaf left accounting and opened his eponymous company in his parents' garage.

Meg La Borde was living in Austin working as a book publicist for Phenix & Phenix when Greenleaf phoned her about a book. When she asked Greenleaf what he did, he replied, “What do you need?”

“I had just gotten in some good self-published books that needed distribution, so I asked him if he did that,” she recalls. “I expected it would take months to set something up, and then he told me, '24 hours.' He called back in five hours to say it was all arranged through Ingram.”

Soon the two were collaborating on various projects, and lured by the youth and entrepreneurial spirit of Austin, Greenleaf decided to move operations from Cleveland to Texas in 2004. Today, Greenleaf Book Group employs 25 people—including La Borde, who serves as the company's chief operations officer—and is publishing 80–100 titles per year, using a collaborative model whereby the author pays for publication, and Greenleaf is responsible for production, distribution and marketing.

Greenleaf estimates revenue for 2008 will hit $8 million; in 2006, Inc. magazine listed Greenleaf among its 500 fastest-growing companies

The move to Austin has enabled the company to retain and attract talented staff. “We get résumés from people at big houses in New York begging to be hired just so they can move to Austin,” says Greenleaf. “It's the lifestyle we have here that's most appealing.”

Asked if he plans to write another book, Greenleaf demurs. Over the past year, he's been blogging about entrepreneurship for Inc.com. “I may turn that into another book at some point,” he says, admitting that he has other priorities, including his 14-month-old daughter, Suzie. (Greenleaf's wife is an attorney and not involved in the business).

At the moment, Greenleaf is focused on publishing other writers, and has lofty goals for his company. “I think we can reach $100 million per year,” he says. That's not stopping him from launching other businesses. His latest project is TreeNeutral.com, a company that helps publishing companies pay to plant new trees to replace those cut to produce paper for books. “We need to plant 20 to 60 to cover the print run for each new book we publish,” he says. “Starting this new company is the least thing I can do for my daughter.”

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