This is one of those books that was not what I was expecting, but was still fascinating to read. It made me wish I had a project that I was working on, so that I could apply the wisdom of the book to said project.
The unfortunate part of the book is that it is not a "here's how to do this thing you want to do so well that you have a hit, and as such, you can spend the rest of your life satisfied with that knowledge that 'you done good'." But really, if such a book did exist, it would be said hit, and then everything would be amazing, and we'd be back to the point where when everything's amazing, nothing is.
So, what is the fortunate part of the book? Eh.... it says, 'If you have a good idea and work really hard at it, and focus on it, ignoring all the distractions," you'll be successful (not necessarily financially or famously successful, but successful for some definition of successful).
At that point, promote the hell out of the work.
And here's how to do that.
Again, I really wish I had a project I could apply this book to. Honestly, I'm likely to come back to this book when I do. Worth reading if you have a project / product that you're willing to embrace the long-tail on, and not some flash in the pan, fleeting, POS thing that modern society seems to thrive on these days.
People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don’t, and track their progress not in years but in microseconds.
Promotion is not how things are made great—only how they’re heard about.
To be great, one must make great work, and making great work is incredibly hard. It must be our primary focus.
Phil Libin, the cofounder of Evernote, has a quote I like to share with clients: “People [who are] thinking about things other than making the best product never make the best product.”
When we look to great works of history as our example, we see one thing: that powerful work is a struggle and that it requires great sacrifice. The desire for lasting greatness makes the struggle survivable, the sacrifice worth it.
I’ve met with no shortage of smart, accomplished people who, I’ve realized, don’t actually want to write a book despite what they say. They want to have a book.
To make something great, what’s required is need. As in, I need to do this. I have to. I can’t not.
Every project must begin with the right intent. It might also need luck and timing and a thousand other things, but the right intent is nonnegotiable—and, thankfully, intent is very much in your control.
willingness to trade off something—time, comfort, easy money, recognition—lies at the heart of every great work. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always a significant sacrifice that needs to happen. If it didn’t, everyone would do it.
“If you focus on near-term growth above everything else,” he has written, “you miss the most important question you should be asking: Will this business still be around a decade from now?”
Doing so is not simple, however. It can mean tough choices, saying no when everyone wants you to say yes—sometimes even the people closest to you who are counting on you.
Frank Darabont, the director and writer of The Shawshank Redemption, was offered $ 2.5 million to sell the rights so that Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise could be cast as the stars.
As Hemingway supposedly said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library has some forty-seven alternative endings for Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. He rewrote the first part of the book, by his own count, more than fifty times. He wrote all of them, trying them like pieces of a puzzle until one finally fit.
On the other end of the creative spectrum, the brilliant military strategist John Boyd utilized what he called “drawdown periods.” After a one a.m. breakthrough, he’d spend weeks just looking at an idea, testing whether others had already come up with it, identifying possible problems with it. Only after this period ended would he begin the real work on the project.
Creative people naturally produce false positives. Ideas that they think are good but aren’t. Ideas that other people have already had. Mediocre ideas that contain buried within them the seeds of much better ideas. The key is to catch them early. And the only way to do that is by doing the work at least partly in front of an audience.
These conflicting, contradictory notes can be simultaneously ego-boosting or soul-crushing if you’re not careful. The proper approach is to have a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish, so you can parse the constructive criticism you need from the notes you need to ignore.
Creating is often a solitary experience. Yet work made entirely in isolation is usually doomed to remain lonely.
You don’t have to be a genius to make genius—you just have to have small moments of brilliance and edit out the boring stuff.
Ask questions. How can I give people a sample of what I’m thinking? How does the idea resonate in conversation? What does an online audience think of it? What does a poll of your friends reveal?
Instead, it’s about finding the germ of a good idea and then making it a great product through feedback and hard work. Forget going off into some cave.
There is no question that planning is really important, but it’s seductive to get lost in that planning—to hope that the perfect project simply floats your way instead of deciding that it’s on you to make it.
An audience isn’t a target that you happen to bump into; instead, it must be explicitly scoped and sighted in. It must be chosen.
For any project, you must know what you are doing—and what you are not doing. You must also know who you are doing it for—and who you are not doing it for—to be able to say: THIS and for THESE PEOPLE.
If you don’t know who you’re writing for or who you’re making for, how will you know if you’re doing it right? How will you know if you’ve done it? You are unlikely to hit a target you haven’t aimed for. Hope is not helpful here; having something and someone to measure against is.
A critical test of any product: Does it have a purpose? Does it add value to the world? How will it improve the lives of the people who buy it?
People need to socialize, they need a job, and a place to live, and more.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten as a creator was from a successful writer who told me that the key to success in nonfiction was that the work should be either “very entertaining” or “extremely practical.”
You want what you’re making to do something for people, to help them do something—and have that be why they will talk about it and tell other people about it.
The bigger and more painful the problem you solve, the better its cultural hook, and the more important and more lucrative your attempt to address it can be.
So the creator of any project should try to answer some variant of these questions: What does this teach? What does this solve? How am I entertaining? What am I giving? What are we offering? What are we sharing?
They can’t seem to understand that most customers won’t get excited about a moderate improvement—because most people don’t even care. I’m always wary of any description that resembles “It’s like ______ but with ______.” I’m wary of it not only because it’s inherently unoriginal, but also because, again, it forces the creators to compete with the very dominant entity they are supposedly improving on.
The higher and more exciting standard for every project should force you to ask questions like this: What sacred cows am I slaying? What dominant institution am I displacing? What groups am I disrupting? What people am I pissing off?
The point is that you cannot violate every single convention simultaneously, nor should you do it simply for its own sake.
Great books of timeless wisdom offer the same joys. Pick them up and open them at random—something will call out to you and help alleviate your suffering, even if you’ve already read the book a dozen times.
If the first step in the process is coming to terms with the fact that no one is coming to save you—there’s no one to take this thing off your hands and champion it the rest of the way home—then the second is realizing that the person who is going to need to step up is you.
Adults create perennial sellers—and adults take responsibility for themselves. Children expect opportunities to be handed to them; maturity is understanding you have to go out and make them.
This is the most counterintuitive part of any creative process—just when you think you’re “done,” you’ll often find you’re not even close to being finished.
Here is another famous Hemingway line on writing: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
Imagine if every author or creator were given carte blanche to make whatever he or she wanted—a world in which no one ever challenged others’ work and green-lighted it sight unseen. As appealing as this might seem to creators, the result would be an avalanche of terrible first drafts released as final products.
The fact is, most people are so terrified of what an outside voice might say that they forgo opportunities to improve what they are making.
Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else. Nobody.
For that reason, Amazon actually requires managers who are launching a new product to write a press release about it before the idea is even given the green light.
For creators, it’s typically easier to reach the smaller, better-defined group. If you reach the smaller group and wow them, there will be many opportunities to spread outward and upward.
For books, the superagent and publishing entrepreneur Shawn Coyne (Robert McKee, Jon Krakauer, Michael Connelly) likes to use ten thousand readers as his benchmark. That’s what it takes, in his experience, for a book to successfully break through and for the ideas in it to take hold.
You must create room for the audience to inhabit and relate to the work. You must avoid the trap of making this about you—because, remember, you won’t be the one buying it.
The democratization of production was great news—it empowered people like you and me. The bad news is that it empowered millions of other people too.
Three critical variables determine whether that will happen: the Positioning, the Packaging and the Pitch. Positioning is what your project is and who it is for. Packaging is what it looks like and what it’s called. The Pitch is the sell—how the project is described and what it offers to the audience. Each is essential.
That saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? It’s total nonsense. Of course you can judge a book by its cover—that’s why books have covers.
Consider how someone would describe your book, movie, restaurant, campaign, candidacy—whatever—at a party. Consider someone trying to tell someone else about it in just 140 characters. What would they say? Will they feel stupid saying it? It’s a ______ that does ______ for ______. Have you made filling in those blanks as easy and exciting as possible? Have you done the hard work for them?
That is: What’s your sell for this thing? How do you tell people what it is and why they should care?
At some point in the near future (the third section of this book), you’re going to have to describe to other human beings what this project is in an exciting and compelling way. You’re going to need to explain to reporters, prospective buyers or investors, publishers, and your own fans: Who this is for Who this is not for Why it is special What it will do for them Why anyone should care The one sentence and one paragraph can be taken and tweaked for public consumption. It’s creating a literal elevator pitch: You’ve got fifteen seconds to catch an important person’s attention.
The answer should be clear by now: I am making a ______ that does ______ for ______ because ______. The “why” doesn’t need to be public—but if you can’t define your goal for yourself, how will you know if you’ve achieved it? How will you know how to make decisions in situations where that goal is threatened or jeopardized?
Once that has occurred, there is one last thing you must do. You must deliberately forsake all other missions.
Nothing has sunk more creators and caused more unhappiness than this: our inherently human tendency to pursue a strategy aimed at accomplishing one goal while simultaneously expecting to achieve other goals entirely unrelated.
Only crazy people would compare themselves to people on totally different tracks.
The fashion designer Marc Ecko has good advice: We can’t prioritize the gatekeepers (the media) over the goalkeepers (the audience). To do so is foolishly shortsighted.
Herb Cohen, considered one of the world’s greatest negotiators, famously said, “You’re better off with a great salesman and a mediocre product than with a masterpiece and a moron to sell it.”
The idea that you won’t have to work to sell your product is more than entitled. “‘ If you build it they will come’ can happen, but to count on that is naive,”
I always prefer to start from a place of reality, not from my own projections and preferences. Humility is clearer-eyed than ego—and that’s important because humility always works harder than ego.
The mark of a future perennial seller is a creator who doesn’t believe he is God’s gift to the world, but instead thinks he has created something of value and is excited and dedicated to get it out there. Guess what? A sense of entitlement is not how you’re going to reach them. Hunger and humility make the difference.
Our marketing efforts, then, should be catalysts for word of mouth. We are trying to create the spark that leads to a fire.
no one gets coverage for thinking about maybe doing something. You get coverage for taking a stand, for risking something, for going out there and creating news where there wasn’t any before. You don’t get coverage for what you feel or what you believe. Only what you do with those beliefs or feelings.
And that’s a useful standard for good advertising: is it about your ego or is it about doing something of value? The fact is, humor and levity will probably do more for your brand over the long term than trying to beat people over the head with brilliantly effective advertising copy. So if you are going to advertise—if you have determined that it is wiser to spend a dollar there than on anything else you might do—then at least make sure you have a good time and that your audience has one too.
The best strategy is to try everything and see what works for your project—because it’s going to be different for every single project. When you find something, stick with it. Marketing is the art of allocating resources—sending more power to the wheels that are getting traction, sending it away from the ones that are spinning. And investing in each strategy until the results stop working. Then find the next one!
Everyone wants a platform when they need one. People want to have a big list—they just don’t want to lay the groundwork for one beforehand. They think a robust platform is their God-given right for being so smart and talented. Or they think that since they’ve been successful in the past, obviously everyone is going to line up to buy whatever they’re doing now. Sorry—not how it works.
It’s hard to be an artist when a middleman gets to decide which pieces of your art make it to viewers.
They’re afraid of carving their own path and finding nothing at the end of it. They’re overly concerned with the vanity and status consciousness of fans who are comfortable in the traditional system.
Mainstream media is learning the hard way what happens when you outsource audience engagement to search engines or social media.
Eight-and nine-figure social media metrics can be very intoxicating, but we should be wary of overinvesting in social platforms, because they come and go—ask all the folks who had large Myspace followings—and it’s entirely outside our control. Their policies can change; they can get acquired or go bankrupt. They can suddenly start charging you money for services that you once expected would be free.
The best way to create a list is to provide incredible amounts of value. Here are some strategies to help you do that: Give something away for free as an incentive. (Maybe it’s a guide, an article, an excerpt from your book, a coupon for a discount, etc.) Create a gate. (There used to be a Facebook tool that allowed musicians to give away a free song in exchange for a Facebook like or share—that’s a gate. BitTorrent does the same thing with its Bundles—some of the content is free, and if you want the rest of it, you’ve got to fork over an email address.) Use pop-ups. (You’re browsing a site and liking what you see and BOOM a little window pops up and asks if you want to subscribe. I put such pop-ups at the back of all my books.) Do things by hand. (I once saw an author pass around a clipboard and a sign-up sheet at the end of a talk. It was old-school, but it worked. Also, at the back of my books I tell people to email me if they want to sign up, and then I sign them up by hand.) Run sweepstakes or contests. (Why do you think the lunch place by your office has a fishbowl for business cards? Those cards have phone numbers and email addresses. They give away a sandwich once a week and get hundreds of subscribers in return.) Do a swap. (One person with a list recommends that their readers sign up for yours; you email your fans for theirs.) Promise a service. (The last one is the simplest and most important. What does your list do for people? Promise something worth subscribing to and you’ll have great success.) Lists vary in size and quality, but they all have one thing in common—they start at zero. I
To get your first one hundred subscribers, Noah recommends doing this: Put a link in your email signature. How many emails do you send a day? See which social networks allow you to export your followers and send them a note asking them to join. Post online once a week asking your friends/ family/ coworkers to join your mailing list. Ask one group you are active in to join your newsletter. Create a physical form you can give out at events. That’s a pretty decent start, requiring very little effort.
Some of Tim’s strategies: Never dismiss anyone—You never know who might help you one day with your work.
Play the long game—It’s not about finding someone who can help you right this second. It’s about establishing a relationship that can one day benefit both of you. Focus on “pre-VIPs”—The people who aren’t well known but should be and will be.
Be generous, do favors, help other people with their products.
The comedian Marc Maron perfectly encapsulates how we feel when we see a peer or competitor snag some big opportunity or score a big break. In such moments of jealousy and envy, we say, “How did you get that?” The emphasis there on “you” is important, as in, “It should have been me,” and the “that,” as in, “You don’t deserve something so great.” We’re mad that others were more successful than us, that somehow everything seemed to break their way, perhaps bitter that people opened doors for them and not for us. This is not only a miserable way to live, but it also misses the point. No one is entitled to relationships only because their work is genius. Relationships have to be earned, and maintained.
As I see it, not everyone who publishes a book is an author. He or she is just someone who has published a book. The best way to become an author is to write more books, just as a true entrepreneur starts more than one business. The best way to become a true comedian, filmmaker, designer, or entrepreneur is to never stop, to keep going. Obviously there are exceptions to this—there are plenty of brilliant creators who have made only one thing. They are still entrepreneurs just as Harper Lee is clearly an author.
As Goethe’s maxim goes, “The greatest respect an author can have for his public is never to produce what is expected but what he himself considers right and useful for whatever stage of intellectual development has been reached by himself and others.” This is true for any type of creative person.
There’s another reality of creative businesses that we need to consider: Most of the real money isn’t in the royalties or the sales. For authors, the real money comes from speaking, teaching, or consulting.
Luck is polarizing. The successful like to pretend it does not exist. The unsuccessful or the jaded pretend that it is everything. Both explanations are wrong. No matter what we have heard from our parents and internalized as part of the American Dream, hard work does not trump all. At the very, very top, the world is not a simple meritocracy, and it never has been.