The Secret to Publishing a Great Poker Book

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D&B Publishing is the brains behind some of the most successful poker books of the modern era, and Lee Davy sat down with one of their founders Byron Jacobs to find out why.

During my journey to uncover the most influential poker books in history, there was a company that cropped up with increasing veracity: D&B Publishing.

D&B Publishing is the mastermind behind the following classic poker books – to name a few:

  • Moorman’s Book of Poker by Chris Moorman & Byron Jacobs (Ranked #11 and the highest ranking book on online poker strategy)
  • Expert Heads Up No Limit Hold'em, Volume 1 by Will Tipton (Ranked #17 and the highest ranking heads-up strategy book)
  • Excelling at No-Limit Hold’em by Jonathan Little and friends (Ranked #26)

So what are they doing so well, and what advice can they pass on to would-be poker authors? I caught up with Byron Jacobs to find out.

Great Advice for Writers

In your opinion as a publisher, what are the vital ingredients that make a great poker book?

"As a player, I want a poker book to tell me things I didn't already know. Alternatively, it might be something that I did already know but needing reminding – or maybe needed it expressed in a way that makes it easier to understand and remember. We're doing a book by Alex Fitzgerald, which is coming out in the summer (The Myth of Poker Talent). He's excellent at this. He finds new and exciting ways to express the sort of information that strong players should know but doesn't always "stick" easily. Of course, it's important that books are well structured, well written, etc. but, at the end of the day, you want information that can make you money at the tables."

Of all the authors that you have worked with or received content from what have all the very best had in common?

"The best authors are passionate about getting their work right. They also understand what it is that they know now that they didn't know when they were weaker players, and they know how to communicate this. They are also very generous. They have achieved success by working hard themselves and want to help other people do the same. They are not interested in bashing out something lame to make a quick buck."

If a poker player is thinking of writing a book why should they choose to go via the publisher route as opposed to the self-publishing route?

“There is nothing wrong with self-publishing but it’s hard to reach a wide audience unless you devote a ton of time to marketing and promotion. If you go via an established publisher (D&B Poker naturally being the best....) all that is already in place. We have a well-established brand and distribute all over the world. It's hard to beat that simply by doing print-on-demand and uploading an e-book to the Kindle store. Going via an established publisher means that the author gets the immediate benefit of a whole machine that is designed to produce, promote and market poker books (and other products, audio, video, etc.). Hardly any poker players write books with the express aim of making money (although, naturally, they do make money). They are far more interested in establishing a name/brand for themselves and going via an established publisher is, without a doubt, the best way to do this."

What advice would you give to poker players who want to write a book?

"You have to ask yourself one simple question. Why would someone want to buy this book? You need to be able to answer this question quite specifically. Simply assembling some material and hoping it all falls into place is just not going to work. Also, plan it out. Then, when you've done that, plan it out again. Writing a first class book is a long and difficult process. If you don't have the scaffolding in place before you start, the project will likely either stall or spiral out of control. It's fine to have a collection of notes, hands, ideas, etc., but when you start to work on the book, it MUST be planned out."

There seems to be a lot of poker books that extend into a series (the classic Harrington on Hold’em is a great example). What advice would you give to writers wanting to go down this route? 

"Plan it out in advance. We've done series like this, and they can work well because players who buy the first book and like it will already be a captive market for the follow-ups. However, it must be planned well. Don't just churn out more of the same stuff. If Vol. 1 is a theoretical guide, then having Vol. 2 as examples of practical application makes sense."

Choosing the Right Subject Matter

Why do you think there so few biographies and memoirs in poker when the ones that exist are so good?

"You need two things to come together. Firstly, you need an absorbing personality who has seen and done a lot of interesting things. Secondly, they need to be able to write well enough to convey the excitement of their experiences, particularly in the poker table. I've occasionally read biographies (non-poker) of people I thought were fascinating, and their biographies were utterly dull. A good biography should convey the sense that the author is chatting to you in an animated way about something really interesting and exciting and is passionate about sharing their enthusiasm. Very few authors can do that. Can I plug that we have a fabulous biography of Mike Sexton coming out in the very near future?"

What are the most difficult poker books to write?

“I think this is likely subjective but, in my opinion, theoretical books are hard to get right. It requires a great deal of good organisation and very hard work to create a first class theoretical work.”

What are the most common types of draft submissions you turn down?

“Essentially, it's usually something that is clearly not well thought through. When someone sends an email and says things like, "I could add this, or do that, and people will love this, etc." it sounds an alarm. I want to see a clear structure, contents list and a list of reasons as to why everyone will want this book."

Where aren’t there more books on the work that people have to do outside of the technical game (like Mental Game of Poker and Yoga of Poker)?

I think this market is an evolving one. We’ve done a mental game book (Positive Poker by Patricia Cardner and Jonathan Little) and have another one coming out this summer by the same authors, 'Peak Poker Performance'. I can foresee this market expanding.”

Learning from Poker Books

So many poker players I approached for my book project had never read a poker book and still reached a high level of play. What’s your view on this?

"Obviously, it's likely they've watched a lot of videos or maybe spent a lot of time on forums. These days there are many different ways to learn a skill such as poker. However, it is very much my opinion that there is simply no better learning tool than a good instructive poker book. You might suggest that I would say that wouldn't I, as I am a poker publisher, but I believe it passionately. There is nothing wrong with, e.g. videos (we produce a lot of these ourselves to complement our book output, or audio). However, reading a book is an active process and ABSOLUTELY FORCES you to interact with the material on the page. If you're on page 33 and you start daydreaming, you'll still be on page 33 half-an-hour later. Watching a video, in contrast, can be a very passive process. If you start daydreaming, the video will finish, and you'll have learnt nothing, although you probably won't realise it. Don't get me wrong – videos can be great. We make them and sell them, and I've watched hundreds of them. But I am sure I've learnt very much more from books."

What poker book would you love to see written and why?

“I like books where really strong players outline their thinking processes at the table. That’s what we tried to achieve with Moorman's Book of Poker, and I think we succeeded. I would love to do a book where a top player wins a major event and then recounts all the key hands and thought processes that went into all the decisions. Such a book combines the excitement of the event with an insight into what the great players focus on at the table. Anyone who wins a major event and has made notes of the hand histories – please get in touch.”

How do the old classics of the Harrington era stack up against the new classics such as your collaboration with Moorman?

"The Harrington books are exceptionally good – it would be silly to claim otherwise. However, they are very much a product of their era, which by now is about a decade ago. Anyone who has competed consistently over the last 15 years or so will know that the theory of all forms of poker has moved on dramatically. The more modern books (I think I can say that ours fit this bill) reflect this. Concepts such as constructing betting, checking and check-raising ranges on different board structures (which are now second nature for strong players) simply didn't exist then, or at least only in a rudimentary form."

Why haven’t we seen more books on mixed games?

"It's simple supply and demand issue. It costs a lot of time and money to produce a top quality poker book, and so obviously we (and other publishers) want to focus on games where we know there is a very strong market so we can be confident of generating sufficient sales to make the project worthwhile. If you look online, for example, there are tens of thousands of people playing the popular games while the niche games sometimes don't even run."

What are the top 5 most influential poker books you have ever read?

"From other publishers I'd have to say the Harrington series, and I also really enjoyed Every Hand Revealed. I also enjoyed The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King, although it's not an instructive book, it is a fun read. Obviously, I think all the D&B Poker books are good. I would have to say that anyone who doesn't buy our Excelling at No Limit Hold 'em is simply missing out. I doubt there is a player on the planet who wouldn't (at the very least) learn several interesting things from this book. I would say this book is simply essential for anyone who isn't an absolute top-flight player."

Looking to the Future of Poker Books

Where do you see the future of the poker book industry?

"Traditional book publishing, in general, has been badly hit over the last ten years as so much information has now moved online and there are so many competing formats that simply didn't exist a decade or so ago. However, with poker we are fortunate that we have a good strong market and numerous different formats to develop our material - eBooks, Audio, and Video all do very well for us. In the same way, that formats like vinyl and CD's have made a comeback in music, the same can be said for book publishing. Indeed, the latest industry figures indicate sales of physical books have grown in last 18 months. Our figures back that up. As a company, D&B are extremely positive about the future. We hope to continue being the leader in the poker book publishing world for many years to come."

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