Scott Pape broke every non-fiction publishing record in Australia with his first book, The Barefoot Investor. First published in 2016, it has sold more than 1.3 million copies and been updated three times. With an initial print run of 300,000 copies, Scott’s second book, The Barefoot Investor for Families, is likely to have the same impact in 2018.
In addition to writing two books, Scott has been writing to his audience via email for more than a decade. He also writes a weekly syndicated column for News Ltd and appears on radio on Triple M and television on Channel 7. In 2018, Scott consults to the Australian Government about financial eduction in schools.
Astrid: Scott Pape, welcome to The Garret.
Scott: Thank you.
Astrid: Scott, you are the Barefoot Investor, and you have been mentioned by several of our previous guests, always in the context of a publishing phenomenon. In June 2018 you were profiled in the New York Times – well done – as, and I quote, ‘The biggest selling non-fiction title on record in Australia.’
Astrid: What have you been up to lately?
Scott: Well, I just actually came back from... I did a father-son trip yesterday, and we went to McPherson's Printing, which is in Maryborough, country Victoria, and they are one of the largest book printers in Australia. So, what was really cool is that they've been printing a lot of my books, and I got to take my five year old son there and he is just obsessed with Lego.
And I felt like, for the first time, like a published author, because getting to see, there's like nearly 200,000 copies of the book there. But going around and seeing the conveyor belts, and just seeing the people there, and the fact that it's regional Victoria, they're providing jobs there, it's not being printed in China. I thought it was great.
And for me, it was such a wonderful thing to take my son to, because a couple of years before that… he thinks I'm a bit of a bum. Right? Because I'm on the farm all day with him, but I'm not like other daddies that go to work. I just go upstairs and I tap away on my computer, and that is the same computer that he watches Dorothy the Dinosaur on. So, I may as well be a Wiggle up there. And so I took him to the bookstore one day, because I had to make sure that he knew that Daddy actually does work, even if I don't go to work. And so I took him to Dymocks in Melbourne, we went down the escalators. And I said, ‘Mate, you're going to see my book here, it's a best seller’. And he's like, ‘Oh, great!’
And he's like holding my hand, he's like nearly jumping out of his skin, ‘Here's my chance, here's my Daddy!’ And we went to the business section, it's like, ‘P, no that's not there, maybe it's under B’, and I'm like, ‘Nah, it's not there’. And I could just feel… he's sort of squeezed me, his little hand squeezed me, and he said, ‘It's not here, is it, Daddy?’
Scott. And I said, ‘No, mate, it is a best seller’, and he's like, ‘Sure it is’. And then one of the Dymock's staff was walking past and they said, ‘Just come here with me’. And they took me out the back and there was a sign that said ‘There are no Barefoot Investors on the shelves because they've been stolen, too many are being stolen’.
So, I said, ‘There you go mate, Daddy is ith criminals. Criminals are the people that are buying Daddy's book’. And anyway, so that was a funny story, true story that my book is popular and so popular it's being stolen.
But no, it's been... it was a great trip to go with my son. It really connects you... we hear so much about digital and obviously my book's done very well with Audible and it's done really well with eBooks, but there's nothing like seeing thousands of books actually being printed and going, wow! This is a living breathing industry but even better, it's being printed here in Australia in regional Victoria which I though was just awesome, so ...
Astrid: And your son can see it.
Scott: And he can see it. And for that one moment, he was like, ‘Wow, good on you!’
And he was also more excited though that Andy and Terry books were there, which he loves. I'm hopefully going to beat them with my new books, so that's just another thing that Daddy can win for.
Astrid: You always written, you've been writing for your audience directly to them and in media outlets for years. How did you develop such a distinct voice?
Scott: Well I think it's because I'm not a trained writer. And I'm not a journalist, I'm a finance guy. And what I've always tried to do is write in a way that my family and friends would understand. So, right from the start, I mean, I went to university and have been right through the industry, but what I've always tried to do is write and speak in a way that everybody understands. Because once you start dropping economic terms and you lose people, what that means is basically if they don't feel like they understand you, they are not going to hear the message. So what I've always tried to do is to talk as plainly as I can and as clearly as I can, so that… I don't want to lose anyone. So kind of my last book was really just me... the picture was me sitting down at a bar sketching out a plan with you if you were my mate. And so that's how I wrote it and that's how I think it reads, and yeah it's been really popular.
Astrid: That is an understatement statement. Now, before we go on to The Barefoot Investor, the first and the second book, tell me about the emails that you write to your audience.
Scott: So, I've been doing that for... I would think it must be 13 or 14 years. So, right when email started we started doing it. I started sending it out to my list, and it was just something that I've always done, and created a connection with it. There's something about writing an email to people, and I try to make mine as personal as I can, and I guess over 13 or 14 years, however long I've been doing it, the feedback I get from my list has helped me become a better writer, because I’m… It's a two-way conversation, and what I've always tried to do is to write to those people.
I often say to a lot of finance guys that I read in the newspaper, ‘Man, I don't fff clue what you're talking about, what the hell are you on about?’ And it's really confronting for people. If you don't understand what GDP is, if you have a pre-supposed knowledge having to read something that's in a daily newspaper, mate, you're not doing your job. Because if you make somebody feel stupid – they may be a doctor, they may be incredibly intelligent – but because they don't know the finance lingo, if you make them feel silly, they'll shut off. So what I try and do is write in a way that hopefully everybody can understand.
Astrid: I think you do that. What's the harshest piece of criticism or feedback you've got from your audience?
Scott: I mean, what I have learned, when you start writing for the mass media, often what I'll do is I'll interview politicians, because I'm interested. I don't have a political bone in my body, but if I interview a politician, that is one hot button that people don't like. My view is that I'll interview both sides of politics, because they shape and effect policy that effects other people. As far... I mean, I get people saying, I remember one of the things that an editor came to me to give me from the newspaper, and he said, ‘Mate…’ I was writing about ... let me think, what was I writing about ... I think I was writing about my grandfather, and he came back to me with decades of experience, and said, ‘Mate, this isn't finance’. And I said, ‘You know what, yeah I know, I know it's not, it's about my granddad and he's a great guy’. And I think that was the difference potentially, is that people have often said, ‘No, no, you have to get back in your frickin' box, and you have to talk about finance and interest rates and the stock market and things going forward’. And I have never really felt a need to conform to that box.
I remember the last time The Herald Sun got me to ever do something – because I have free reign to talk about whatever I want – it was a twelve month forecast of what the market would do over the next 12 months. And my view is that I'm not a tarot card reader, no one knows. So what I did was I interviewed all the great older, well known economists that arise on the news, on the television. And then the final one I interviewed was my golden retriever. And I asked him all the things of what he thought the share market would do, but by getting him to shake paws. And we put him in the newspaper, and I remember being... my editor said, ‘You are in so much trouble, this is terrible’. And I had one of the economists, leading economists, takes it on himself, ring me up, and was abusing me, just said, ‘How dare you put me in the newspaper next to your frickin’ dog!’
Twelve months later my dog outperformed by a incredible margin the accuracy of where the share market was going to go, beat the pants off all the economists. So, therefore, he's now retired to his dog box. But my point is that, I guess I don't take myself too seriously, and one of the things I've tried to do is always do the right thing by my audience.
Astrid: I think you do, and the first question that prompts in me is did The Herald Sun write the results after the year?
Scott: No, but I did. [Laughter]
Astrid: Oh that says everything. Now, Scott, your subject matter is finance and money. What does it mean to you, personally, to have entered a new industry, book publishing, and done it so well?
Scott: Well, I would say that my... I got a traditional publishing deal, first time around. I didn't really, I wouldn't say that I... to say that anyone expects that a book is going to sell 1.3 million copies and growing, you would be a wanker if you thought that. There was no... I didn't ... I wrote it from the farm, I wrote it from the heart, and I saw a lot of things in the finance industry that I really didn't like. A lot of things now, sort of a couple of years later, we are coming out in the Royal Commission. And what I wanted to do was to write a book that was for my family and my friends, for all the questions that I got. And it resonated! And it did really well, and then that allowed me to learn a lot more about the book publishing industry for my next book.
Astrid: I have no doubt. Now tell me about your second book deal.
Scott: So, well my next book is Barefoot Investor for Families, and it's about, it's a passion play for me, because it's all about everybody who ... it's dedicated to people who finished my last book and said, ‘Why wasn't I taught about this when I was younger?’
So this is the book for... it's written for parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, anyone with kids in their lives. And what it's about is giving people, giving them the tools to teach financial education and values to the kids that they love. So that's the premise of it.
The book deal. So I went to renegotiate the deal. When we'd gone through about 500,000 copies, so it was, it had done very, very well.
Astrid: And this was with Wiley, for the first book?
Scott: It was with Wiley, yeah. And so what I decided to do, once I decided that, look, I wanted to write this next book for families, I got on a consultant by the name of Andrea McNamara, and she is the smartest person I know in book publishing. She really helped me. I had really no idea, I just thought that the publishing deals… that was just what you got. And she spent a lot of time explaining how these things work.
And so what we came up with is a deal that some people have called disruptive.
So I put it out to tender. And for any author who has maybe had the runaround from publishers, I did sort of a little bit cheeky, and I said, ‘Look, I'm willing to pay you guys in advance, because I know that publishing is a tough industry, and you're not earning a lot of money. So I'll pay you in advance, and I'm going to retain all the rights, and you need to probably go and see a lawyer about this because us authors, we can be pretty tricky with the fine print. So you guys just need to back yourselves’.
And so, there was a lot of confusion from the publishers.
Astrid: I imagine there was a universal gasp.
Scott: Yes. But it worked out very, very well, because I signed with HarperCollins. HarperCollins have been amazing. I can... just that whole team has been really great from the CEO down. I can't thank them enough, and they've really helped get this book to the point where the first print run was nearly a couple hundred thousand. So they've backed it every way.
Astrid: That's amazing. I have actually drawn a blank for the question now because that truly is so amazing. Now I subscribe to The Barefoot Investor...
Scott: Thank you.
Astrid: …and I know that you offered the book to your audience first.
Astrid: Tell me about that.
Scott: So, I mean, that's the thing that... I've learned a lot from Harper, and I've learned a lot from Andrea, but the one thing that I guess I'm known for is that what I've sort of taught them is that my audience comes first, second, and third. I put my audience in front of everyone.
So what I did was that I wanted to offer the book to them first, because they were the ones who bought it when... we went in, we couldn't get into , they're like, ‘Dude, it's finance book, we're not putting this in the big sellers and stuff’, and so they were the guys that actually bought it and bought it for their friends. And that's the thing with Barefoot, I get told from the industry, is that people don't buy one copy, they buy five or they buy ten.
And so I wanted to support them. So, we did this deal, and my view was that I wanted to, though offering lots of affiliate deals and stuff at retailers, I didn't take an affiliate deal, I said, ‘Just,’ I negotiated really hard and then I said, ‘Take that off the price, because I want to give that to my audience’.
The other thing that I did was given that Barefoot is a book or tends to be books that people give away, I said that if you buy three copies, I'll donate one to a school. So we've donated a book to every school in Australia, so 10,000 books, because there are... even though a lot of people have bought Barefoot, I want to get it to the families that perhaps would never read Barefoot Investor, and the best way of doing that is to have it in school libraries.
Astrid: Now is this second book... can kids read it? Or is it really for the adults in their life to interpret it for them?
Scott: My view is that it's written for parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. And it's... the first book for anyone that has read it, is all about date nights and sitting down and getting your finances sorted over a beer with some garlic bread.
What this one harks back to is the family dinner table, and it's doing really practical things with the kids, not lecturing to them, but giving them experiences. Blending your credit card in front of your kids, doing a grandparents' dinner party where you cook for them, so they can learn not to have Uber Eats all the time, doing a treasure hunt around the house and selling stuff. So really practical things.
And so yeah, it is for parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. I will be writing another book which I hope will be kind of the bible for kids leaving school. That'll be probably next year.
Astrid: Wow, that's awesome. Can you tell me a little bit more?
Scott: Well I mean, look, I've just gotten over this one. And I guess that's the other thing that I have learned in doing Barefoot Investor, is it's one thing to write a book, but then it's to promote it, and to relentlessly promote it, and that is just as much work, if not more, than writing the book.
I'm very particular on the content that I do. I don't have people that write in my name. I spend a lot of time working with my audience. I've had a lot of people go through this book, a lot of single mums, a lot of grandparents, a lot of aunties and uncles, just so that I know that it can be as practical as possible.
So I guess I... but then to the other extent, once you actually have a book out, it's then relentlessly promoting it because I do believe not a day goes by that I don't get somebody who emails me. I have the most amazing people who email me about stuff, like one of my favourite was there were a bunch of people sitting in an oncology ward reading my book, and talking about how it changed their lives, some of whom won't be around, but it gave them hope financially for that time. So, I have amazing stories that people write to me, which is great, and all those single mums, it came at the right time for them.
So I'm motivated, I put a lot of research into it, but I also sell it, because I do believe in the message. And I think that's one thing that maybe authors don't get is that I'm an overnight success with this book, and I didn't expect it to sell as many, no one could. But I also have spent 15 years nurturing my list and looking out for them and telling them the truth.
Astrid: You're writing to them every week.
Scott: And building a relationship with them, and putting them first. And I think that that's their payment in advance. And so for me now, the next one with kids is that I really believe in it. Like I've got kids right now, so it's a real focus point, and then the other thing is that kids that leave school, we know if you are normal you are not prepared. The most financially illiterate people of the country are school leavers. And so what happens if you're not... if you don't have your money sorted when you're 18, is you get a credit card. And then you go on holidays, and then you get a car loan, and then three or four years later down the track, you go, ‘See, I am dumb with money, I've got the credit card balance to prove it’. And once those beliefs get locked in, it's very hard to change them. So, what I try and do with The Barefoot Investor is to lift people's confidence, and that's the passion project.
Astrid: A lifelong passion project.
Scott: It is.
Astrid: As we've said you've been writing to your audience for more than a decade. Now with the second book and the focus on children, have you thought about, I don't know, a newsletter for children or how are you going to start engaging this whole new generation?
Scott: Yeah, I mean, I think, again, this is the launching point, is that I... So the pre-orders do really well, it will be a bestseller because of the amount of people that have the first print run. But what I really want to do now is to get it into the hands of people that won't buy the book. And so that's why we donated 10,000 copies to schools, but more so what I want to try and do is get this into the school system.
And so, again, I've got a really simple way of doing things, which is, three jam jars, three jobs – because if there's like 30 jobs you're wanting your kids to do, you're not going to do it, you're going to get sick of it – but three jobs you can do on a Sunday afternoon, so they understand that they're working and it feels good to work. They divvy that money up into three different jam jars, and the parents, it takes three minutes to do.
So, what I'm trying to do now is to get it into primary schools. I'm trialling it at a primary school next year, with the idea that, sorry guys, that if I help the kids, that's great, but really it's also about the parents. Because if you teach the kids they go home with some homework and the parents start thinking about their finances. So again, that's really where I'm really focused now.
Astrid: Yeah, I mean, finance works in all ways in a family, all of the decisions have to make sense. So, you've spoken a lot about your audience, and how you put them before everything else, and that has clearly…
Scott: A relentless focus.
Astrid: A relentless focus.
Scott: The publishers, their customers are retailers, and that's why they often get you to go and sit in a cheap card table at the front of a bookstore looking like a dork, because they're building up relationships with the booksellers, who I love. The best compliment I got from a bookseller was that he made more money on my book than he did Harry Potter.
Astrid: Well done!
Scott: I love... but most people don't realise is that book retailers are small business people, they're just like me. I want to see them win, I don't like seeing my book discounted. I want people... and that was the other thing with The Barefoot Investor which I didn't do right at the start, is that I didn't sell it to my list. So I made them go out to a bookstore, and the reason that I did that, it was a conscious choice, because booksellers have always supported me, and I wanted my audience to go out to a bookstore and actually go in and support the industry. And what I found is in doing that it's actually the booksellers have helped me as well, symbiotic relationship.
But, the publishers, their customers are the retailers, whereas for me, my relentless focus is on my reader.
Astrid: So why did you not self-publish?
Scott: Because... well, I benchmarked the entire publishing industry on self-publishing, and because I had that list. I think the deal stacked up for me, the deal that I've got now. What I have learned now, having just launched the book, is just what a good publisher can do for you, and HarperCollins have been a great partner, I've got to say that.
In terms of the audio deal, like the Audible Barefoot Investor is sort of the top-selling audio book as well, and I've been able to negotiate a pretty good deal with them as well.
So yeah, I mean, I guess maybe I'm an outlier in dealing with publishers this way, other authors may not be able to do it. But I think that there are benefits to publishers if you can negotiate a good enough deal.
Astrid: So you're used to giving advice to others on money and finance, not on publishing books. You did use the word ‘disruptive’ before. I have no doubt you've thought a lot about this, and I'm sorry to put you on the spot, Scott, but is there anything that new authors or maybe well established authors can learn from what you've just done?
Scott: Yeah, I think the main one is to build the audience. That is something that I did without really understanding why I was doing it. I wasn't looking for a commercial opportunity when I did it, I just wanted to connect with people.
So it had two advantages. One is that it helped me become a better writer, because I was a terrible writer to start off with. I had no idea what I was doing, I was a finance guy. And they taught me how to be a better writer. But secondly is that if you are in their inbox every week consistently telling them the truth, looking after them, sharing a bit of your life, I think that connection that you have with people, and if they genuinely... if you do that over years, you build up a familiarity with the audience that they trust you.
So for anyone, any author it is having... you don't wait for a... so publishers are kind of like banks. Right? Like, the bank don't want to know you if you don't have any money. A publisher doesn't want to know you if you don't have any influence or any connection with your audience. But if you have a great connection with your audience, they will fight to get your name on the dotted line. And that's what I've found.
So, if there's one thing it would be, it sounds really simple, but so few people do it. Are you emailing your list every week with something that helps them or develops a personal connection in some way, shape or form? Do you add value to them? That's what I would say.
Astrid: You've been talking about email. Do you feel that you have that connection with your audience over social media or is it just in email?
Scott: No, I mean, yeah, so I started before Facebook and all the rest of it. I think a lot of the social stuff, I've had people come in and talk to me, and, ‘Look, you have to be posting five times a day’, and I'm like, ‘Who has time for that? I'm a dad. I don't have time for that’. And so a lot of the stuff that people tell me I should do, I just don't bother with. We do have Facebook, and I think we have about 250,000 people on Facebook. I do a post, a lot of them are stuff about what's going on with the book. But I don't feel the need to have a publishing content schedule. I think once a week, something well thought out, that I've put effort into, I think is a good thing. But as far as having to connect on social media all the time, I'm a dad, I’ve got too much on.
Astrid: So, with everything that you have on, how do you write? What is your writing process?
Scott: You know, what was interesting, I was being interviewed the other day, and someone said after, ‘You sell 1.3 million books, like how's your life changed?’ And it was really interesting, because I think she thought I bought a Ferrari or something, and I don't know, like... But the truth is that I spend... I have structured my life so that I spend 90 per cent of my time on my farm with my kids and my family. That's what I do. I've become more of I guess, more intently focused on spending more time on the farm, because that's who I am, that's what I enjoy doing.
So, I have a lot of time to write. I think being out on the farm is a good way to clear my head. And yeah, I really enjoy the process of sort of being removed from the world and hanging out on the farm.
Astrid: How long does it take you to write an email to your list?
Scott: I could do that, depending on the time crunch, probably in three or four hours.
Astrid: That's pretty quick. How long did it take to write the first and then the second book?
Scott: Oh, it was an arduous process. I'm not a... when it comes to writing a book I find it like a marathon. And what I'm kind of relentless on is trying to keep it as practical as I can, because it's finance book, and most... I have people that tell me that they've read my book cover to cover, which is awesome, because most finance books, people will read the first 10 pages or something.
The tip that I would give is that you go onto your Kindle version of your book. Right? And what you do is you look at the comments and the underlines, and often what you'll see is that the first few pages are really underlined, and then it sort of spreads out. But with my book – which is really lovely – is that people have highlighted right through, so the pressure is to try and make things as engaging as you can, and that takes a lot of work. It's not easy.
Astrid: So, was there anything that you learned by writing the first book that helped you with the second book?
Scott: Yeah, I think the main one for me was the date nights. And that was borne out of something that I did with Liz. And that was... you never know in advance what's going to hit. Like I was sitting there writing this book, not knowing... I didn't know, I thought maybe 10,000 people would read it, I had no idea.
Astrid: Which would still be large for the Australian market.
Scott: Correct, yeah, and I didn't know. And then there are those ideas that just sort of hit, and people have said that they can tell when people are on date nights now, because you see them having dinner with my book. [Laughter] It's nice.
So yeah, those things take off and then writing the next book, one of the things that I grew up at home with the television off, around the table with my family, hearing them save for their first... for our home. And that was something that I wasn't paying a lot of attention to but by osmosis I learned what it was like to be an adult, and to save for things, and to have adult conversations.
And I think a lot of parents these days are trying to protect their kids from those things, whereas really what you're doing is harming them. You really want to involve them in those conversations. And that's why I have this thing now called ‘money meals’, where you actually, every Sunday night, you actually sit down with the kids and you do something practical.
Astrid: Yeah, that's fantastic. Have you had any international interest or plans?
Scott: Well I hold the international rights. I probably should do something about that. Yeah I have, I mean, so The New York Times article hit, there were a lot of publishers that came back on that. I'm still working through it.
The thing for me, I have no real aspirations to be global. I'm quite happy just being an Aussie guy on the farm, to be really honest with you. I don't feel the need to take on the world. I'm quite happy serving my little audience, which has grown to be quite a large audience. But they're the people I care about. I don't really, that's... social media, I don't really think too much about what people are saying about me on social media.
When you write one of the biggest selling books in history, Australian publishing history, there's a lot of people that have a lot of comments, but really the people I care about are the people that subscribe to my list.
Astrid: Scott, is there any other advice you'd like give to writers, or even publishers?
Scott: Well, I mean, I think that there is a lot... I hear a lot of people talking about, you have to be on social all the time, and I often... I remember sitting there one day as I had a sort of a guru talking to me about all the social and all this stuff, and the content plan, all this stuff I had to do. And I came home, and I said to Liz, ‘I just need to have a lie down’, because I'm like, ‘If I have to do all this content stuff, if I have to be posting five times a day, and reaching out to influencers, and surveying my list, and doing all this stuff, where am I going to get time to write my book?’
And I think there a lot of people that have a lot of very in-depth plans, but I think if... again, it sounds really simple, but if you a connection with people, if you put your audience first, and if you write to them, I think that that, again, sounds really simplistic, but it's worked for me.
And I'm not the best writer, and I'm not the smartest guy, but what I have tried to do is look after people and sit down in a book sense, on a bar stool, and explain what I've learned, and share it with them, and it has resonated.
Astrid: Scott, thank you very much for coming on The Garret.
Scott: Thank you very much.