I read as many books, articles and blogs about being an entrepreneur as I do about being a writer – and this is not an accident. I believe that if you want to take your writing seriously, you’ve got to think about how to reach you readers in a crowded marketplace, which means you’ve got to think about about marketing, sales, branding, competition, pricing and all the things that entrepreneurs think about.
My online course, The Book Startup, is all about thinking through these elements before you start to write. (And just a heads-up: I am working on a super cool live event to address some of these issues, so stay tuned to my newsletter to hear when that’s going to launch.)
One of my favorite business publications is the Personal Journal section of The Wall Street Journal. They cover a wide range of interesting people and ideas, their writing is stellar, and I always learn something surprising or new. Every once and awhile, they do a special report, and earlier this week, it was called How an Entrepreneur’s Zeal Can Destroy a Startup by Noam Wasserman. Wasserman starts by talking about the positive side of passion, but then he goes on to say this:
Passion… blinds entrepreneurs, leading them to get overconfident and make bad choices at the worst times—potentially dooming even the most promising startups. Only then do founders appreciate that the origin of the word "passion" is the Latin word for "suffer."
I first laughed when I read that line, and then I realized how deeply true it was, for writers as well as entrepreneurs. So often, we get so excited about our story, so wrapped up in it, so enamored of it, that we forget to stop and think clearly about the project, about our goals, or about what we might need to see this creation to fruition. We forget to take it seriously. The result is indeed suffering and pain, because the book doesn’t match the vision you had in your head, you find no readers, you make no sales, and you end being sad and depressed about your writing, which is decidedly NOT the point.
Wasserman has a list of signs the entrepreneur should watch out for – signs that passion is getting in the way of progress. I decided to adapt them for writers, but most of the initial questions are taken verbatim from Wasserman’s list (which is very telling in and of itself.)
1. Feel like you’re on a mission to change the world? For writers, this can often manifest in a belief that no one has ever written a book like yours ever in the history of all creation and that you don’t have to think about the market or the competition because people are going to flock to read it simply because it is so new and amazing.
2. Get insulted when someone points out legitimate flaws in your idea or product? This is a sign that you may not want to be better; you may just want to feel your passion – and to be right.
3. Find it hard to come up with pitfalls you might face or to detail a worst-case scenario for your venture? For writers, this often manifests as an unwillingness to make a budget for your project, or a timeline, or a deadline, or to think – even for a moment – what your reasons are for writing it, what your hopes are, what you want out of it.
4. Give your work to friends and family to critique? For entrepreneurs, it’s hiring friends and family. For writers, it’s asking them to read your pages and expecting to get back professional, even-keeled, honest, useful feedback. It almost never happens. You need a professional editor, or a writer’s group, or a writing workshop, or a writer friend with whom you can share your work. And then don’t forget #2.
5. Neglect to test your book idea with actual readers? An entrepreneur would never create a product without testing it with real live consumers. Why should writers be any different? A couple years ago, I wrote a long post on how, exactly, to do this.
6. Neglect to understand that you will have to invest money in order to make money? See #4, above. Many of those things cost money. Connecting with readers often costs time (which is money.) Writing for publication requires an investment, whether you are self-publishing or going the traditional route.
7. Resist talking honestly with your significant other about the money and time you expect to commit to your venture, and about the potential pitfalls you face? They may wonder why you keep locking yourself in a room or bursting into tears when your editor says you have to rewrite Chapter 1 – again. Help them out – and help yourself out – and talk about what you are doing and why.
8. Figure you don’t need to address the holes in your skills or networking? I made this mistake with my last novel, my first self published book, and it was a pretty big, giant, public mistake. I thought I knew how to market a book. I thought I had a list of committed readers. I thought I understood the demands of self -publishing. I was so wrong – and my education (though ultimately useful) was painful and embarrassing. Trust me: no matter who you are or what you do in your real life, there are holes un your skills and your network. Identify them as soon as you can, and start working to shore them up
Passion is an awesome and powerful thing. Harness it – and do whatever you need to do not to suffer from it.