Making It Up as You Go Along

La Crosse, Wisconsin

Phil Neumark, who’s cycling across the country and shepherding me as I accompany him for a few days, doesn’t like the noise and traffic on main roads. So he looks for state and county roads that go through towns and have more picturesque views. This requires him to supplement his map for the day by improvising, and asking for directions on which roads to take and where to stop for lunch.

People are always impressed with Phil’s mission and are as helpful as they can be.  They aren’t always right, which can mean climbing hills in vain, asking for more directions, and climbing the hills again to get back on the right route. But then, an adventure is what happens when things go wrong.

I had my first flat ever not long after leaving St. James, where we had stopped for lunch. It was on the rear tire which is harder to fix. Phil was too far ahead of me to help. Left to my own devices, had enough time elapsed, passing motorists would have spotted my bones, like a steer that didn’t make it, next to the bike. But the first vehicle I waved to, driven by Kathy and Laurie, two angels in distress, gave me a lift to our hotel in Mankota.

Writing and building a career involves asking for help and improvisation: choosing the right idea, word, agent, publisher, and ways to reach your readers. Not of your choices will work, but keep asking for advice and improvising, and you’ll get where you want to go. Assume that you will back into accomplishing your goals by trying alternatives that don’t work. What you will have left are the right choices for you.

Stay loose!

Wribrid or Toast—Which are You?

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing an editor sitting across a desk from a man who looks like Charles Dickens, and the editor is saying: “Make up your mind, Mr. Dickens. Was it the best of times or the worst? It could scarely have been both.”

As I wrote in my first post, now’s the best time ever to be a writer. But if you’re a new writer who wants a major commitment from a large publisher, it’s the most challenging time ever. One way to make yourself attractive to big houses is to reinvent yourself as a wribrid.

Wribrid rhymes with hybrid and sounds like it should be sliced and wrapped in cellophane. But it’s really the new model for writers. We live in the age of hybrids, the transition between gas and other forms of energy, between analog and digital, between the world and the Web.

Put writer and hybrid together and you have wribrid. Author Lee Foster rightly predicted that “This will be the golden age of the content creator.” But to succeed, you have to be a wribrid. You have to strike the right balance between

* Being online and off

* Writing for free and fees

* Writing short work and books

* Developing your ability to write for and promote in as many media as you can

* Writing, selling, test-marketing and promoting your work

* Doing work that generates income and building your visibility and communities to help you

* Receiving help and reciprocating

* Making a living and making a life

* Being a writer and, if you can get paid to speak, a speaker

I’m looking for someone to write a book about finding the best balance in life between form and content. Content is what you love to do; form is what you have to do. The goal: maximize content, minimize form.

If you love to write, your goal is to spend as great a percentage of your time writing as you can, and as small a percentage as possible doing everything else. There’s a tension between maximizing your writing time and all the other things you have to do to build your career. So you to keep fine-tuning the most productive ways to use your time to achieve your short- and long-term goals.

If this was easy, everyone would be doing it. You have what it takes but no time to waste. So if you don’t have comments or questions, resume your quest now.

Learning to Kiss Change on the Lips

We owe a lot to Thomas Edison. Were it not for him, we’d all be watching television by candlelight.

–Comedian Milton Berle

A high-tech innovation can transform two guys in a garage into billionaires. The irony is that the big companies they build can’t innovate. No matter how profitable they are or how smart and creative their employees are.

Fear, size, jealousy, competition, how companies work, and the creative destruction of existing products and services help explain why innovation is hard for technocracies. So they buy innovation instead.

Thanks to techno-auteur Steve Jobs, Apple is an exception.  It’s driven by the vision of one demanding, relentless, irreplaceable man. Google understands the need to innovate or die, but its string of innovations have less impact and alienate companies whose territories they invade. Both companies also buy new technologies.

Technology used to advance in stages. There would be an innovation in trains, planes, and automobiles, and then they would remain at that level until the next innovation came along.

Today, we’re living on the vertical slope of technology trying to thrive during a time of accelerating change. The torrent of high-tech innovations is transforming publishing just as it’s transforming other media. But the larger any business, organization, or institution is, the harder it is to adapt.

In the eighties, writers were early adopters of computers. It took far longer for publishers to computerize. They had to create systems that were capable of both running a large business and carrying out the unique, complicated tasks involved in publishing every book. Publishers also had to integrate their systems so they could function together, a huge challenge that took years to accomplish and continues as technology evolves.

Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel observed that: “It’s a lot easier to change when you can than when you have to.” As a multimedia, multinational conglomerate of one, you can innovate by changing what you write about to whatever

* most excites you

* is most salable

* you can most effectively connect with your readers about

You can change directions faster than publishers can, and you have more ways than ever to test-market your work to make sure you’re on the right track.

You have to balance building your visibility and credibility on subjects that you enjoy writing about and promoting with the need to be ready to take advantage of the next big thing.

You also have to balance change with stability, a growing challenge on the fun, scary, bewildering, exhilarating, accelerating ride during history’s most exciting century.

If you hang on tight, you can experience the thrills and spills as they happen and perhaps make a living writing about them.

Changes and innovations threaten the status quo, but they can also be an opportunity for

* changing how you work

* finding new ways to reach readers

* generating new sources of income

The future of writers who best communicate the perils and promise of life on Spaceship Earth is assured. I hope you’ll be one of them.

The Building Blocks for a Writing Career

Anne Lamott begins a chapter of her wonderful book Bird by Bird like this:

There’s an old New Yorker cartoon of two men sitting on a couch at a busy cocktail party, having a quiet talk. One man has a beard and looks like a writer. The other seems like a normal person. The writer type is saying to the other: “We’re still pretty far apart. I’m looking for a six-figure advance, and they’re refusing to read the manuscript.”

If you find yourself pretty far apart from publishers, perhaps you need to consider using the following seventeen building blocks to construct your career as a successful author:

1. Read: Ernie Gaines, author of the Oprah book club selection, A Lesson Before Dying, believes that you can only write as well as you read. So read what you love to read and write what you love to read. Reading will enable you to establish criteria for your books.

Also read about authors you admire to learn how they succeeded.

2.  Establish models for your books and your career. Choose those that most inspire you.

3. Understand how publishers and agents work: You want the best editor, publisher, and deal for your books. Having a positive but realistic perspective on the business will help you find the right publisher for you and your book, and an agent if you decide to hire one.

4. Set personal and professional goals: Establish goals that keep you motivated to do all you can to achieve them.

5. Practice nichecraft: You can write any kind of book on any subject. But a faster way to build a career is to come up with an idea for a series of related books that sell each other and that you will be passionate about writing and promoting.

6. Develop your craft as a writer: Make every word count for your readers. Find early readers to help you make sure your work is 100% before submitting it.

7. Build communities: You can’t get your books right or make them succeed by yourself. Get the help you need by helping people and asking them to help you.

8. Develop your craft as a marketer:

 * Build your platform: your continuing visibility, online and off, with the readers for your books.

 * Build the communities you need to succeed.

 * Test-market your work: Maximize the value of your book by proving it will sell before trying to get it published.

9. Promote your work: Whether Random House publishes your books or you do, you will be the person most responsible for promoting them. Regard promotion as an essential part of your mission to spread your message.

10. Be passionate about your books: You want all of the people you meet to be as passionate about your work as you are. You are the well from which they will draw.

11. Make Mistakes: Jame Joyce said that “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” As long as you learn from your mistakes, you will make fewer of them. Eliminate  failure as an option, and success is inevitable.

12. Staying committed to your writing and your career: No one will know or care as much about your books as you do. So you must be relentless but professional about writing and promoting them, and about building your presence in the industry and in your field.

13. Put your life in the service of your readers: The better you serve them, the more they’ll help you achieve your goals. If you want people to keep buying your books, establish and maintain a relationship with them. You have more ways to do that than ever.

14. Be an authorpreneur: Speaker Sam Horn’s brilliant word which, for me, means:

 * having the entrepreneurial ability to create something out of nothing: an idea; a book that you can sell in more forms, media and countries than ever ; an international 365/24/7 business; and a career

 * coming up with ideas that you can sell in as many forms, media, and countries as possible

 * being responsible for your success

 * being unique by being creative in writing and promoting your books

 * being resourceful in meeting challenges

 * looking at everything you experience and reflexively wondering if there’s a way to use it to enrich your personal or professional life

 * using speed, creativity and flexibility to compensate for size

 * embracing and taking advantage of new information, technology, and opportunities created by accelerating change

15. Have courage: Believe in yourself and the value of your books. You will overcome the obstacles that await you.

16. Take the long view: A writing career isn’t one book but ten or twenty, each better and more profitable than the last. So you have to balance and integrate your short- and long-term goals.

17. Grow yourself: You are the most important factor in your success. You have to challenge yourself to improve physically, mentally, spiritually, and professionally. You have to keep learning if you want to keep earning.

You are Needed Now

Creative, resourceful people keep proving that anything is possible, that we are limited only by our ideas and the time and resources we devote to developing them. The world needs all the information, inspiration, help and entertainment you can provide. Enjoy the journey and best of luck!