“Do you know what truly, honestly separates people who succeed from those who fail? It’s simple: People who do the work succeed. People who don’t fail.”
– Sean M. Platt, and Johnny Truant, Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) (p. 405). Sterling & Stone. Kindle Edition.
Over the past six months or more I’ve read maybe a dozen books on entrepreneurship, as well as a bunch of articles and podcasts and such, and one reassuring theme that comes up regularly is the observation that there’s no singular formula for success. And since there is no one if/then statement you can apply to get where you want to go, it must be true that no one else really knows what they’re doing.
This idea gives me comfort in the same way the quote from my favorite book on “self-publishing”, Write. Publish. Repeat does. (By the way, I can’t help but put self publishing in quotes because self publishing is the norm, not the exception . . . if you want to add a qualifier, it should be something like “externally published”—the kind where you give your rights away). The thing I like about both these ideas is it reminds me that 1) I am in control (at least to the extent that any of us are in control), and 2) that the amount of effort I put into my project has a more or less direct effect on the yield.
These two ideas are related, but they’re not exactly the same, so let me explore them each, just a little bit.
I’ll start with the principle expressed in the quote from Johnny and Sean at the top of this post. Again, it’s appealing because it reminds me that I’m in the driver’s seat. If I do the work, I’ll at least have the best chance to meet my goals.
It’s also a worry, of course, because I’m not the most disciplined person in the world. I’ve found that when it comes to a writing project—specifically working through the next draft of the next book—I’m pretty good. I feel like I cracked the code, more or less, on this front, and it’s all about setting a schedule with weekly deliverables that all add up to a finished draft inside of three months. I wrote more extensively about this in a previous blog.
But when it comes to the other aspects of publishing, specifically building an audience—the outreach and marketing stuff, for example. This is where the procrastinator and the cynical prick in me comes out. What’s the point of doing another blog that no one will read? Social media’s stupid and fake. You get the idea. These are, of course, just excuses I tell myself to make it easier to avoid doing the work.
There’s another aspect of the work required to build an audience that’s perhaps worth talking about. I’m certainly struggling with it, so you might be able to relate too. It’s the challenge of starting from scratch. I have a fair amount of experience with marketing and outreach, but most of my work has been focused on an internal audience of the organizations I’ve been with. A pre-existing, more or less captive audience, in other words. This is very different from the New Bayou Books projects, where I’m trying to introduce new pieces of Louisiana literature to the world. The big obstacle for me has been, how do I find that small group of early adopters?
I’m sorry to report that I don’t have an answer to that question. The only piece of insight and inspiration I have circles back to the two main ideas of this post. Which is that 1) it’s first about doing the work (even/especially the shit you don’t like to do), and 2) everybody else is more or less in the same boat.
Which is a good enough segue to the main thing I wanted to talk about this week. To put it bluntly, when it comes to the entrepreneurship side of things, I don’t think anyone else in the “self-publishing” industry is any better equipped than I am to succeed. There are certainly better writers out there. In fact, the whole business strategy for New Bayou Books is built around my strong intuition that there are some kick ass Louisiana authors hiding in plain sight. But setting that aside, when it comes to selling books, I think we’re all in the same boat. Which is to say nobody really knows what’s going to work in a given situation. The key is, I think—and it comes back to that work ethic thing—doing your homework, making a best guess, trying something, and making adjustments as you learn more.
If you want proof, I can’t really offer you any. But what I can say is I’ve seen plenty of situations where people who I assumed must be especially brilliant or had some kind of special access to information or intuition turned out to be just regular, flawed individuals like the rest of us. Whether it’s growing up to realize that the adults you thought had all the answers are just as clueless as the rest of us, or getting to the C suite only to realize that those people are just as capable of getting caught with their pants down (sometimes literally) as anybody else. I could do a whole ‘nother post on times when I thought I was walking into a situation where all the people were brilliant and special and they turned out—big surprise—to be just as capable of fucking up as the rest of us.
There’s no special set of skills or insights reserved for a select group of people. At least not anymore. We all have access to the same information and we all have more or less the same ability to acquire new skills.
I choose to believe that work ethic, discipline, creativity, and problem solving will be enough. I’ll let you know how it goes.