Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at Mercury Radio Arts? Just how do all of Glenn’s crazy ideas get done? Does anyone ever get a chance to sleep? Well, over the next few months we are going to take you inside MRA, giving you the inside scoop on everything from publishing to special events, Markdown to GBTV. We will be interviewing members of our New York, Columbus, and Dallas staff, bringing you all the info, so you can know what it’s really like to work for Glenn.
Sitting in his office high atop Sixth Avenue, one thing is for certain: Kevin Balfe has a lot of books. From signed copies of Broke to foreign language translations of The Christmas Sweater, books line the windowsills, the shelves, and the tops of desks. As for the wall space, it is occupied by – you guessed it – posters of various Glenn Beck and Mercury Ink book covers. For Balfe, Senior Vice President/Publishing at Mercury Radio Arts, being surrounded by books has become just another day at the office, but it wasn't always that way.
After graduating from University of Connecticut as an accounting major, he went to work for a few accounting and consulting firms and eventually ended up at an online financial start-up at the height of the dot com era. That company was bought by a newsletter publisher and Balfe became chief operating officer. It was there that he had his first foray into the publishing world.
"I got a couple years’ experience of running a direct to consumer publication," Balfe said. "And when Glenn decided his first business outside of radio was going to be a magazine – that was sort of how I got hooked up with him."
Balfe joined Mercury in January 2005 and was tasked with starting a monthly magazine for fans of The Glenn Beck Program. "I took over Fusion magazine which is The Blaze Magazine now, and launched that soup to nuts. I got that whole thing going."
Within two years of Balfe's arrival, Glenn inked a deal with Simon and Schuster, the world’s largest publishing house. Being that he was the only member on staff with some form of publishing/writing experience, Balfe became the go-to person for the new book.
"Since I was the only person with 'writing' experience at the time, I went over and did the book thing – An Inconvenient Book it was called." The book was instantly a hit and became the first of seven #1 New York Times bestsellers for Glenn. It remained on the chart for 17 weeks.
"When that one did so well, Simon and Schuster signed Glenn up for more. That’s how I got my start in the book business," Balfe recalled.
Today, Balfe oversees Mercury’s partnership with Simon and Schuster, which encompasses the books Glenn publishes each year, in addition to Mercury Ink – Glenn’s imprint with Simon and Schuster that publishes books from third party authors. Mercury Ink’s first book, Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25, by Richard Paul Evans hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
"I was hired to start a direct magazine – 10 issues for $35/year – and now I am writing and editing and coordinating the production of – I think we are doing 14 books this year or something. So it’s quite a bit different," Balfe said with a laugh.
"And I had no book publishing experience, which is the cool thing. I think if you take a look, most people around here didn’t get their education in the field they are working in, including Glenn, so we take it from the top. So (this job) bears no resemblance to what I was doing, but I love it."
He may love what he does, but his job does not come without its headaches. One of Balfe’s favorite stories about Glenn has to do with a book promotion they were running.
“We did a promotion, I think it was for Broke, and BarnesandNoble.com agreed that one week before the book went on sale, if you went to BN.com, for one day only, they were going to sell the book for 50 percent off,” Balfe explained.
“I wrote it all up for Glenn and gave it to him to read on radio. What that translated to on air was ‘Today only Barnes and Noble is selling this book for 50 percent off.’”
Glenn, not always realizing the power of his words, mistakenly sent thousands of listeners to Barnes and Noble retail stores, instead of Barnes and Noble’s website to purchase the book. “So, all of a sudden, thousands of people across the country in their cars are pulling into Barnes and Noble stores and going up and saying that Glenn told me this book is 50 percent off. The stores had absolutely no idea what these people were talking or that the online promotion even existed. So essentially we had thousands of very confused customers and Barnes and Noble employees across the country.
“That was fun,” Balfe said sarcastically.
And when it comes to Glenn’s book pitches, headaches can also come in spades. Glenn's thoughts come a mile a minute on the air, and his book ideas are no different. Balfe has heard it all over the years, but he says the one of the worst book ideas, from an economic perspective, that Glenn has ever pitched is one they actually ended up publishing.
"The worst pitch that we actually ended up acting on is We Are Brothers," Balfe responded while walking to the windowsill to pick up a copy of a book created in the wake of Beck’s “Restoring Courage” trip to Israel in 2011. "This book is so typical Glenn. He does this trip to Israel and sends his photographer over there on two trips, which is not inexpensive, and then tells me we need to do a book."
Initially, Balfe didn't mind the idea. "Fine, we will do a photo book. We did a photo book for 8/28 (the Washington D.C. event called “Restoring Honor,”) and it was beautiful. We sold a lot of them."
Unfortunately for Balfe, this photo book would not be like the others. He said that Beck told him, "This has to be the nicest book ever created."
Simply looking at a copy of We Are Brothers proves this book lived up to that mandate. With a luxurious imported cloth cover, embossed gold lettering, and high quality paper, the book feels expensive – and it is.
"I mean the whole thing is beautiful. The problem is it is literally the most expensive book ever created. Like these things cost – I won’t even give you the number because you wouldn’t believe it – but it’s more than most books even retail for," he lamented.
"So we have sold like four of these. And I have thousands and thousands of them sitting in a warehouse. And I blame Glenn.
"Do you want one... or 20,000?"
Editor's Note: I took one home with me, and I have to say it would make a lovely gift... Father's Day perhaps?
Despite the minor misstep with We Are Brothers, exciting things are coming up for the publishing department. Cowards, which was just released, returns to the oversized, color, non-fiction issue type books like An Inconvenient Book, Arguing with Idiots, and Broke that have been so popular with the audience.
"This was really about getting back to Glenn’s roots. He loves these types of books – when the book is not about one topic, but rather a theme." In this case that theme is how radicals, politicians, and the media refuse to tell us the truth out of their own self-interest. Each chapter of the book focuses on a different issue, which satisfies Glenn's desire to basically fit five books into one.
"It lets him focus on violence at the border, and the media, and economic terrorism, and George Soros, and religion, and all these things that would typically not fit inside one book," Balfe said. "We all know that Glenn is so ADD, and he wants his books to be like he is on-air, which is all over the place. It’s basically a brain dump, and my job is to make that cohesive and make it feel like it was actually meant to be one book."
Cowards deals with 13 different issues that all tie back into the theme. "Again, there is a common thread in that it is all about the idea that we are five months before the biggest election of our lives and people don’t know the truth about these things, and that is frustrating to Glenn."
A book of this caliber would typically take at least a year to create. Cowards, however, went from concept to completion in just 12 weeks.
"I would say normally if someone just came to me and said we need to write this book, I would say this is a good year because it takes a ton of research,” Balfe explained. “This thing has 35 pages of footnotes and it requires going out and finding experts in the field that we can consult with because, as much as Glenn really knows his stuff, when you get into drug cartel violence on the border, there is a lot of nuance there that Glenn doesn’t necessarily know. We have to have a series of meetings and calls with experts and really understand the stuff before we start writing.
"So you have that whole process. And then you have the writing and editing process. And then, of course, Glenn wants artwork and sidebars, and text boxes, so you have all that stuff. So I would say a year—and we did it in 12 weeks, which was definitely a record for us. And it was not anything I ever want to do again. I basically did not sleep for three months."
And what about the army of people it would take to research, write, and edit a book like this? "I would say 20 people probably contributed in a material way to the book,” Balfe said. "I kind of play general contractor. Like if you want to build a house – no one guy can go and build an entire house. You have to hire the specialists like the plumber and the electrician. You have to make sure they are all in the right order and that no one is stepping on each other’s toes. At, the end of the day, someone has to make sure it looks like a cohesive house.”
There is no rest for the weary, and this is shaping up to be an exciting summer for Mercury Ink. The second installment of Chris Stewart’s Wrath and Righteousness series is due out next month. This 10 book series is unique in that a new e-book will be released every six weeks over the course of the next year.
Also hitting shelves next month is The Communist, which chronicles the life of Frank Marshall Davis – mentor to a young Barack Obama. “It’s a good history lesson of the Communist Party in the United States,” Balfe said.
In August, the highly anticipated sequel to Richard Paul Evan’s New York Times bestselling book Michael Vey is due out: Michael Vey 2: Rise of the Elgen. It already has Balfe’s seal of approval. “I just read it, and it is very good!"
As for Glenn’s next book – Balfe gave us the inside scoop. “Glenn’s next book, knock on wood, is going to be the sequel to (Glenn’s #1 New York Times bestselling political thriller) The Overton Window (actual title TBD). We hope to have that out in time for Christmas.”
It's clear there is a lot coming up for the guy who began his career as an accounting major, but he is enjoying every sleepless second of it. "Yeah, it bears no resemblance to the original job I was hired to do," Balfe said smiling. "Although, there are probably not many people around here that have the same job." And that is most certainly true.