I just finished reading The $100 StartUp by Chris Guillebeau and decided that I am now going to recommend that all my clients read it – and yes, that means the fiction writers, too. Every writer should start with Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott because she captures what it’s really like to be a writer, to be immersed in the creative process, to put your butt in the chair and feel the despair and feel the satisfaction and then to contemplate what it might mean to share your work in the world. Bird by Bird is a perfect primer for the writing life. But once they get their fill of Lamott, the next step should be The $100 StartUp. Here’s why:
1. If you want to be a writer who is read, you need to start thinking like an entrepreneur. The paradigm shift in publishing has put all kinds of power into writers’ hands, but that power has to do with access to readers, which is to say that is has to do with understanding the marketplace, thinking like a businessperson and knowing how to operate out there in the world of competition and commerce. Writers hate this. They like to think that what they are doing is art. And it absolutely IS, until you stop writing for your own pleasure and you start writing with the hope that someone is going to pay for your work. Publishers used to insulate writers from the realities of the marketplace. That era is long gone, so you might as well get used to it.
2. Guillebeau makes launching a business (which is what your books is) seem so do-able. He breaks it down and shows you the steps. You don’t need an MBA and you don’t need to take a second mortgage out on your house to succeed. All you need is to be smart and strategic, but writers are smart and strategic by nature – even if you don’t know you are. No one can conceive of and design a 200+ page document, bring it to fruition and make it clear and coherent and emotionally engaging unless they are smart and strategic. Guillebeau shows you how to translate those same skills you used in writing the book to selling the book. It’s empowering. It’s awesome. You’re going to love it.
3. Guillebeau talks a lot about passion and connection. He’s always saying, “Do what you love,” but he’s also saying, “Do it in such a way that you connect to what other people want.” This is excellent advice for writers. My friend Dan Blank wrote a post today on exactly what connection looks like for writers. It’s not having 10,000 twitter followers who have no idea who you really are. It’s not selling your soul to the gods of facebook. Read Dan’s post HERE and see exactly what it is.
4. Guillebeau talks a lot about hustle – about making sure that people know about what you have made. He does this in a way that does not make it seem slimy and salesy and yucky. He does this in a way that makes it seem like it will be just FINE and maybe even fun. And make no mistake: when your book comes out, you’re going to have to hustle.
5. Guillebeau talks about failure and how to survive it. He talks about failure as fodder for getting better at what we do. This is writer-talk for sure. Failure is writing 100 pages and realizing they’re horrible. Failure is working for three years and realizing your book is not commercially viable. (I had two clients this week to whom I had to give this news. Both of them said, “Okay -- what do I have to do to move forward and make it viable?” These, my friends, are real writers. ) In startup world, they have a term called “fail faster.” They also have a whole philosophy based on failure and iteration – you do something, then you do it better, then you do it better, until finally you get it right. Guillebeau is speaking our language. I say we listen.
I Think in Books
I cracked open Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch last night. I read three pages, and here’s what I know:
· Something big is amiss in the main character’s life. He’s hiding out in a foreign city, refusing to leave the hotel. He’s watching the papers. He’s having nightmares. I have no idea what is amiss – but it’s enough to know that something is amiss. This is not just a collection of things that happen. This is story.
· The main character knows something about painting and art. This is shown in his response to the paintings on the hotel wall. Part of the reason I can surmise this is that I know what the story is about – a stolen painting. But regardless, the author is shining a light on these paintings on purpose. She is saying, “Look! Over there!” And she is saying it with confidence. I’m ready and willing to give her my attention.
· The main character’s mind is messed up. He keeps pinging around topics Time folds in on itself. Something is not right here, too. I’m intrigued.
Do I want to keep reading? Absolutely. Will your readers say the same thing at the end of three pages? Make sure the answer is YES.