Being stumped is an essential part of the creative process. Step beyond discouragement.
For the past 6 months, I’ve been thinking about my next book. I want to travel more globally, and I want to expand my speaking topics from pure branding to a message of motivation, self responsibility and personal empowerment.
As a keynote speaker and consultant a published book can open lot of new doors, generate new streams of income and be a platform for a plethora of media interviews that can help me meet my new goals.
This past week I believed I came up with my next big idea and title, something that I could sell to an international publisher. I drafted a 2 page summary that I had planned on sharing with my last publisher who has the first publishing rights on my next book.
I ran the idea by an editor, a former acquisition editor for Simon & Schuster, I’ve worked with on my last two books, Brain Tattoos and Brand Turnaround. She liked my idea and did a search on the premise and not much showed up with other published books. I was feeling really good about my idea, and I was anxious to start writing my proposal and get this puppy going.
As I was reading my draft summary one more time before I hit send, I tried a few more different key words and phrases similar to my topic and Holy Crap!, three books showed up. How could that be? I researched this topic several times and nothing showed up and now I see three, by credible authors on my big idea.
My balloon felt deflated. My big idea shrunk to a tiny crumb. I was so bummed. For a couple of days, I wallowed in my disappointment. Then a light went off in my head. I’ve been reading a really good book on creativity by Jonah Lehrer called Imagine. The book uncovers how big ideas get hatched, how innovation happens and how creators come up with killer stuff. Lehrer contends being stumped is an essential part of the creative process. And this state of hitting a wall helps lube creativity. He cites many cases of before the “brilliant next big thing” was a dark hole that seemed too deep to get out of.
I convinced myself his concept had merit. I also revisited the New York Times best seller list of books, and there was the proof. Nothing is new. Nothing is original. The winning horse prevails because they find a new way to spin an idea. They present it from a different perceptive. And they are resilient and don’t give up. For every best selling book on success, leadership and happiness, there are thousands of equally as qualifies works that never even get printed because those authors gave up.
I’m not going to give up. I’m going to go back to the drawing board, research the three similar books I found and find a way to present this idea in a compelling, different and better way.
If you are working on a project and got a little push back too, join me and leverage that temporary setback and invite your creative will to find a way to keep moving forward. I’ll keep you posted on my journey.
I have read two contentious and highly critical book reviews in the Wall Street Journal from the past 30 days.
The first review is about a book by an author who is a great friend of mine.
As an author who knows the kind of blood sweat and tears that goes into writing a book, my first thought was extreme sympathy and a big felt ouch!!! As I’m sure both book authors were feeling the sting of a public scolding as millions of readers and potential book buyers were exposed to this one reviewer’s negative opinion.
Granted these reviewers have earned an elite spot as book critics for an international media venue like the WSJ, congrats to them, but does their opinion really matter? Does it hurt or help the book and author? and what should the receiver of such a public work product beating do next?
I suppose it’s no different than a movie review. I’ve read many scathing movie reviews and then I went anyway and totally loved the movie.
I’ve got a new book coming out in a couple of weeks, Brand Turnaround and I hope my book is not added to this list of WSJ bad reviews, but if that’s in the cards, it’s not going to kill me if every single person doesn’t love my book as much as I do.
My views on not so nice reviews
Criticism comes with success, accept this.
- This goes for brands too. The more famous your brand is the more you will get shot at from both legitimate, credible critics and plain old grumpy, angry people.
- I believe at least 50% of all critics have not earned expert stature to be a credible reviewer. With the Internet, anyone can post opinions about a book or product with not an ounce of relevant expertise.
- Even bad reviews draw new attention to a product and can generate sales. After I read the bad review on The Secret thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young, E.d. D.
- I bought the book and really liked it. I’ve also recommended it to several friends.
- You can never please everyone.
- Take politicos who taste victory with a land slide win and 49% of the voters didn’t like them.
- If you give your work your all, do your homework and use your best creative thinking, that’s really all you can do.
- Sometimes as the creator of the work under fire, you can actually pick up a few gems of good insight that will make you even better, and that’s always a good thing.
And should that big bird drop a lump of poop on your parade, whether you are an author, singer, film producer or you gave a presentation and got some bad reviews, shake it off, shower it off, feel proud that you finished something and know that it’s very likely the cranky reviewer has never even started a piece of work and never will.
If you just joined in, yesterday I shared my journey of getting two book deals with major publishers. Brain Tattoos and Brand Turnaround my new title that will be out later this year. I covered what it takes, the process and outcome. In future blogs I’ll address other publishing details, but for now here are 5 big lessons straight from the author’s keyboard or pen, I use both.
Lesson #1- It’s never too late to find the writer in you and author a book.
Go figure, I owned a successful ad agency for almost 20 years and never really wrote anything. How in the heck did I do that?
I produced good creative work, developed new business, crafted and found solutions and spit out ideas like a machine, and most importantly I knew how to hire people to do things that I did not want to or didn’t know how to.
Lesson #2- Most books will not make you cash rich.
Like I mentioned in Part I, the book advance is not as important as the doors your book can open. While my current book earned me double my first book advance, I will invest at least four times that on research, editing and promotion in addition to what the publisher provides. Certainly there are unique situations like if you are a very high profile personality, or have an enormous following or are like one cool wine dude like Gary Vaynerchuk who bagged a 10 book, 7 figure deal with Harper Collins. I’ll drink to that Gary!
Lesson #3- Writing a book is a lot of work and a huge investment by most authors.
To date on my current book, Brand Turnaround, I’ve logged over 1,200 hours – from proposal writing, research, book writing, promotion and therapy. So if I earn between an average of $175 an hour, which is on the low end, do the math. I’ve already invested over $200,000 in other opportunity costs (because if I was not writing the book, I could generating other income) even before hard expenses. Expenses to promote the book can run another $50,000 for PR, web costs, bookmarks, blah, blah, blah.
Lesson #4-Writing a book takes a strong emotional skin.
Can you say rejection, rejection, rejection and then two scoops of criticism on top of that? Welcome to publishing. Seth Godin was rejected over 900 times, Adrianna Huffington at least 36, even Alex Haley The Roots author wrote every day for 8 years before finding success. And then sometimes when even great work is published, grumpy, mean people will publicly criticize your work too. And when your writing and researching at least 50 people will never return your calls. So if writing is a goal, put your big girl or boy pants on.
Lesson #5-Writing a book is a wonderfully rewarding experience.
Like MC Hammer said so well, “Can’t touch this.” Book writing is a mirific journey. It’s scary, ludic, and exuberating. You’ll learn stuff about you and other people. You’ll meet many grateful fans that will beg for your autograph and a handful of jerks that will try to rattle your soul. In the end, it is all worth it. The prize is indescribable.
Here are some excellent resources too.
The Creative Penn is an excellent blog filled with book writing and marketing tips
Chris Brogan writes a solid blog packed with insight. He recently wrote several great posts on his book writing experience.
Read. Write and have fun!
I’m sure I did not make much more than a “C” grade in any English class that I survived.
Other than writing my dad’s eulogy, I never wrote much more than a paragraph until I was 39 years old.
So how did I score my first book deal Brain Tattoos with (AMACOM) American Management Association in 2004 and a second book deal, Brand Turnaround, with one of the most respected publishers in the world, McGraw-Hill, this past year?
Here are a few of the “must have” ingredients.
o An understanding of “the find a publisher” process, standards, fruit
o Good ideas that a market will buy
o A platform and voice to sell books
o Investing the time and money to hit this goal
In 2000, after recovering from a start up meltdown, I needed to reinvent myself. As a veteran ad gal/CEO, I knew marketing and branding was my calling, but after 20 years of running a company, I wanted freedom, more creating and less managing people. So I ventured off to Tampa with my new dream and business plan to become a branding speaker and consultant. Early on, I joined my industry trade association, NSA, and through networking I connected with people that opened doors and gave me guidance. I first gave boatloads of free speeches, then starting getting the business of speaking down and soon started earning some bucks. After one of my presentations, a client said they had a newsletter and wondered if I would contribute an article. I said sure. So basically I summarized my talk and it sounded pretty good. Of course it was full of minor grammar goofs, so I found an editor to clean it up. The client was thrilled, in fact they said, “Karen, you are a great writer”. To my surprise, they were right. The odd thing was, it took learning the art of speech crafting to develop my writing skills. A part of my early years hesitation was because I was insecure, while I didn’t remember much from my English class, I did recall the times my parents were not happy with “C”s.
Fast-forward, those articles that I wrote (my ideas and stories) with the polish and help of an editor was my path to my first book proposal. And thanks to my long-time friends and mentors—Jill Griffin, a loyalty author and expert and Alexis Gutzman another business writer, who I connected with online, by complimenting her work—they were the golden door openers for me. They opened the confidence door, the book agent door and the publisher door. And those doors are very important because publishers get thousands of worthy book proposals every week.
I elected to get my book published by a major publisher rather than self-publishing. Both venues have different benefits and challenges, depending on your goals.
For me as a speaker and consultant, having a major publisher adds significant credibility, distribution and additional marketing fuel. The down side of a major publisher deal is the timeline can be 12-24 months from idea to book in the stores.
So if you have an idea for a book, then your next step is to write a proposal. If you go to any reputable publisher’s site there is a basic template to follow. This 25-30 page document should include: the big idea or book concept, who the market is, an analysis of the competitive landscape, why your book will sell, your marketing platform, the table of contents and brief snapshot of each chapter, a complete sample chapter and about the author information.
From here, you can start pitching to publishers. You build your list by finding similar titles, styles or topics that they have published. But, unless you have relationships with top editors there, or you are very high profile, it’s tough to get noticed in the stack of many.
For both of my books, Brand Turnaround and Brain Tattoos, I first pitched my proposal to a literary agent. You can find literary agents on the Internet, but again relationships and referrals from them are gold. If an agent likes your idea, they do the pitching and the contract negotiations. Terms can include a cash advance, royalty commissions on books and book rights sold, (my first book was printed in the US and Korea) and promotional considerations. My advance and royalties almost doubled on my second book, and it will be printed in hard back.
My first book was a huge spring board for my speaking career, my fees tripled, it also became my best marketing tool for consulting contracts and was the vehicle that made me appealing and credible to broadcast and print media like the CBS’s Early Show, New York Times, New York Post, Fast Company to name a few, which have all been great fun and an awesome adventure.
So this blog post doesn’t become a book on line, (it’s getting kind of long) I’m going to sign off and post the 5 lessons tomorrow.