The first time I ever spoke to Derek Sivers, I accused him of ripping me off.
I had seen his great TEDx video called "Why You Need to Fail" and I wrote him to complain. (Jokingly of course.)
I told him "I wrote THE book on failing."
Derek gives his e-mail address on his website and he couldn't have responded quicker or have been nicer (or have used a more amusing adverb to explain why he hadn't heard of my book) :
"Holy crap! That's awesome. Wow. I'm sorry I didn't know about this. Oh, I see it's only been a few months since it came out and I've been quite ostriched lately..."
Soon, we were talking about books. Or, rather, he was asking me about them, telling me he was considering writing one himself.
"It's a lot of fucking work writing a book, though, isn't it? Why do you do it? Not for the money, right? Bigger speaking fees afterwards? Side-effect for consulting?" (this conversation here)
Little did I know, he was already working on his own book. That sneaky guy!
So, when he was done, and he wanted several sets of eyes to give it a quick read through, I was more than happy to.
I'm not sure if I helped improve even a single letter in the book--it was pretty much "there" when I read it--but he thanked me on the inside cover nonetheless. My first career thank you and THE first thank you in the book! (I'm glad Derek alphabetizes by first name.)
I respect Derek because, unlike so many others, he's a self-helper that's actually done something in his life.
Derek writes like a guy you'd immediately want to be your friend, your co-worker, your employee...your boss.
(I really don't like audio books, but I implore you to listen to Derek speak to get his cadence and voice running through your head. It truly makes his text pop more.)
"Anything You Want" is THE greatest manual for running a business. For creating your own Utopian business world that will make both you and your employees happy. It's not about making money, or growing larger, or conquering the world, it's simply about filling a need that makes both you and your customers happy. It's simple, but genius.
The book tells the story of how Derek's "little hobby"--CD Baby, a company; no, not even a company, a website created to sell his musician friends' CDs--became a big business. It was all an accident.
Why? Because Derek was filling a need for others.
If you're filling a need for the world, and making yourself happy, that's all you need in life says Derek. In many way, "Anything You Want" reminded me of a more streamlined version of Tony Hseih's "Delivering Happiness," also recommended. The crux of Tony's business plan is to "WOW" customers. Derek would agree with that sentiment as "Anything You Want" tells wonderful stories of all the little things he encouraged his employees to do to make customers happy (a story involving a frozen squid is a major highlight.)
"But please know that it's often the tiny details that really thrill people enough to make them tell all their friends about you."
There is seemingly so many things to worry about in life. Even more if you're running a business. But, that doesn't need to be the case. Derek says:
"Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn't that enough?"
BUY: "Anything You Want"
The first time I read "Self-Reliance," I didn't. It was assigned summer reading before my senior year AP English class and I was too busy golfing and playing pick-up basketball to waste my summer on a book written by a dead guy with weird sideburns. At age 23, I read it the second time, printing out a public domain edition using a temp job's laser printer then plowing through it on my lunch break. This week was my third time to read it and by far the most valuable thanks to the Domino Project's beautiful new special edition.
Stunning design by my friend Alex Miles Younger places all of Emerson's original text on the right side of the page in this slim 73 page volume, with notable pull-quotes from the book as well as complementary and supplementary quotes from famous people on the left side (pictured above). OK, fine, it's a bit ironic that a book that preaches you needing to think for yourself highlights the lines that you SHOULD think are the most important. Except for the fact, those ARE the most important lines. They were to me at least.
I somewhat always dismissed and ignored Emerson because I thought he was like his friend Thoreau, who I kind of hate. But, whether it was because of my age or this special edition, "Self-Reliance"--finally!--resonated with me on this third read like few books have ever before. (It could be a fitting companion to my beloved "Meditations" even.)
"Self-Reliance" is truly a book about artistic confidence and belief in one's own genius: "To believe your own thoughts, to believe what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius." It's a book about not sitting around waiting for someone else, someone anointed, to say the things you want to say: "Else, tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly sense what we have thought and felt all time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another." Devastating, and often so sadly true.
"Self-Reliance"--just like my more curse-filled book--preaches that one force himself to reject the conformity around him if he truly wants to live: "...for he who does not postpone his life, but lives already." It wonders why we're scared to bring our deepest, most private thoughts out into the real world: "These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world."
You're betraying yourself when you're not letting your voice be heard and I'm reminded of both poet Alexander Pope and pimp Iceberg Slim.
Alexander Pope who said: "Whatever is, is right."
Iceberg Slim who said: "Chumps prefer a beautiful lie to an ugly truth."
Don't be a chump. Quit lying to yourself. We all lie to ourselves and to the public far too often. We need to stop doing that. We need to believe in ourselves, worship at our own altar, be our own philosopher. No one can do a better job of teaching you to be you...than YOU.
"Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles."
This book could have been written yesterday.
Today and tomorrow, May 25 and 26, 2011, the Kindle edition of "Self-Reliance" is FREE thanks to sponsorship from Ibex.
That's a nice (but not really) way of calling something self-published.
It's a euphemism for what you really want to say:
"Oh, that's cute, no 'real' publishing house wanted your shit so you self-published it, huh?"
As in, the only people with the nerve to self-publish are those not skilled enough to write something commercially worthwhile yet too vain to realize that.
This might have been true years ago, but no longer.
In fact, self-publishing is anything but vanity nowadays. Self-published authors are typically some of the most interesting, hard-working, boot-strapping artists out there. From having to find editors, to designing a cover and interior, to acquiring copyrights and ISBNS, to getting the book up for sale online and in stores, to figuring out how to market the work and perhaps even sell a few copies. Investing their own money and working without the net known as an advance. And I haven't even discussed the actual writing of the damn thing.
Self-publishing isn't vanity, it's a labor of love. It's done by people that truly have something to say and would die inside if they weren't allowed to say it! Even if they don't expect to make a buck or garner any fame doing it. Is that vain? I sure wouldn't say so.
You want to discuss "vanity"? How about Gallery publishing a book penned by Snooki. St. Martin's publishing books by the Kardashian sisters. Or pretty much every "important" publisher under the sun releasing ghostwritten books for Donald Trump over the years. These aren't worthwhile books, they're nothing more than commercial packages "written by" vain people to further their fame, published by publishing houses to make an easy buck.
(If the person that "wrote" the book is pictured on the front of the book, it's usually a true vanity project. Think of the book as a mirror, with Snooki or Khloe Kardasian or Donald Trump holding it up to their face, admiring the cover of something they'll never even read.)
Snooki, the Kardashians, Donald Trump, none of them would ever have the balls or chutzpah to self-publish. They wouldn't even know where to start. If we can even assume they could come up with a unique idea then hole themselves up for a few years to write the damn thing, it would still be hard to believe they'd figure out how to accomplish everything else to get the book to market.
But for them to get a book out there from a major publishing house, all that involves is them signing their name to a contract (or writing an X in Snooki's case), smiling wide for the cameras at a few signing events, and letting a huge team of people at the publishing house do all the rest of the work.
Now how vain is that?
My "vanity" work:
A lot of people seem to think that if they aren’t failing then they are succeeding. Like they’re one in the same. They aren’t.
The opposite of success is actually not failing because if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.
“There is no failure except in no longer trying.” --Henry Ford
Failure is the “close, but no cigar” of the success industry. The silver medal of success. Come back next Olympiad and you’ll be the favorite for the gold. Luckily, in the real world, you don’t have to wait every four years between attempts at success.
Someone who failed to make a jumpshot was a lot closer to being successful than someone who never took the shot (unless you’re Shaq). Someone who never took a shot never had a chance at succeeding.
Sure, he can haughtily say: “I didn’t fail at making the shot. Like you did.” But so what? That’s nothing to be proud of.
The thing is, we actually admire the sports stars that fail. Why don’t we adapt that thinking to our own lives? We admire Carmelo Anthony when he misses a game-winning shot because we know he’s the only guy on the court with the balls to attempt it.
To be so audacious!
No balls, no babies.
Who we don’t admire is the player who slinked to the corner and avoided any chance at taking the final shot. And potentially failing. (see: Jared Jeffries)
“I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” --Michael Jordan
I too, like most every one, have serious problems at even attempting to fail. At battling the Resistance that Steven Pressfield talks about in "The War of Art" and "Do the Work." Problems which are, sadly, all too similar to Stu Fish's struggles in HOW TO FAIL Chapter Four: "How to Fail to Do Something Productive All Day."
HOW I FAIL AT CONQUERING THE RESISTANCE
*By being lazy -- Lounging around, watching TV, "getting to it later," is so much simpler than doing the work.
*By being stubborn -- Claiming I'm not quite ready to work, it's not the perfect time to work, I'll start soon enough.
*By being insulting -- Making fun of other people's work and claiming, "If I chose to do that work it would surely be so much better," is so much easier than doing my own work. You should never make fun of people that have actually finished something, even if it's hacky garbage. Try to write your own hacky novel. It's ain't that easy.
*By sabotaging myself and my projects -- Starting a project is a piece of cake. Writing a first line, an opening scene, the first act is a simple. Writing the third act, the ending chapter, the final line, "THE END" seems impossible. Easier to sabotage my project halfway through and just bail out.
*By letting my mind wander --I wonder what's happening on Twitter, what new beers are on tap at Rattle 'n' Hum, whether the Yankees have a home game today, what's playing at the Angelika, etc, etc, etc...
*By indulging in other's arts -- So much easier to read a great book, enjoy a wonderful movie, become entranced by a great TV series than actually create my own. I make the excuse I'm getting "inspired" for my own work by indulging in these things. Bullshit.
*By choosing lizard brain hedonism over hard work --I mentioned yesterday how a few drinks can help me release the tension and conquer The Resistance, oil the pistons to actually start the work, but too many drinks just leads to hedonism, primitive goofing around, and waking up the next morning feeling too lazy to work.
*By lacking balls -- Writing a witty Tweet, dashing off a quick blog post, creating an outline for my new book takes no courage. Any one can do those things. Millions of people do every day. But closing the door, turning off my phone, setting the computer to offline and writing for the next five hours, and then for the next two years til I finish another book...that takes real balls, baby.
“This is what you deserve. You could be good today. But instead you choose tomorrow.”
I am not a rereader of books. I prefer to try the new as opposed to revisiting the old. But there are two books I reread every year, that are constantly with me, both in physical form and on my mind. The first is Marcus Aurelius's stoic masterpiece on how to live a life, "The Meditations." The best thing ever written in my opinion. The second is Steven Pressfield's "The War of Art," a brief manifesto on how to "break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles." This book has helped me immensely in my own writing output.
This week sees the release of the companion manifesto to "The War of Art," the second Domino Project release "Do the Work."
In "War of Art," Pressfield introduced the idea of The Resistance, that unexplainable inner force that prevents us from accomplishing things. Something we all suffer from, yes, but something some of us are better at managing.
I met so many people on my 30 Bars in 30 Days book tour who had their own apparent dreams of writing a novel. They'd see my book and go, "A self-hurt guide? Ha. I don't need to buy that. I could have written that!"
And, I'd always snap back, "Well you didn't. I did."
They couldn't have written it. Because they'd also wonder: “So, how long’d it take to write HOW TO FAIL?” When they found the answer was several years of intense effort, you could see the look of fear and self-doubt and mercy in their eyes. They would never do that work. Too much Resistance to overcome. Too much lack of immediate gratification. Too unreasonable to write that long with no road map laid out, with no potential reward.
I know other writers, good writers, that just can't quite finish things. They have 90% of a manuscript, 95% of a screenplay, but they're frozen with an inability to complete the work. It's not perfect. It's not good enough. It could suck. It could flop. It's not "ready." What does that even mean? It's means The Resistance is defeating them. It means they are being too rational. "Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego," says Pressfield.
It's too easy to think how utterly ridiculous it is to write a novel or make a movie or start a company or even get six-pack abs. No one you know does these things so you become an outlier amongst your friends and family for even attempting them. You become a source of mockery even for having such outlandish dreams.
Thus, we are forced to become unconscious in our own work if we have these unreasonable dreams. "Let the unconscious do its work," say Pressfield. I do this through irrational confidence in the future success of my work. And by drinking. No better way to release the unconscious, to be irrational, to silence The Resistance in me than by popping a few beers or nursing a few glasses of bourbon.
(Yeah, I know this is unorthodox thinking, I doubt the fine Mr. Pressfield endorses it, but it works for me, and I've written two more books than 99% of you.)
Pressfield wants to encourage us to release this "second self, an unlived you" from inside of us. The second self that wants to write books, make movies, etc. but keeps convincing himself otherwise for the most silly and rational reasons.
"Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur's indispensable allies." Again, drinking helps get that ignorance and arrogance released, just like the sauced lout hitting on every pretty thing at the bar, thinking he's as suave as George Clooney.
"Don't think. Act." Drink some more. "Get your idea down on paper. You can always tweak it later." Drink. Then start writing.
Be impetuous. Drink. Quit having an inner critic that judges you, that prevents you from doing things. Drink. And become impervious to it all.
Work isn't pretty. Writing and creating art is just as primitive as hoeing fields. Pressfield says it's "better to be primitive than sophisticated, and better to be stupid than smart." Drink, drink, drink and you'll be pretty damn primitive and stupid eventually. Pressfield uses the indelible image of a women giving birth:
"The hospital room may be spotless and sterile, but birth itself will always take place amid chaos, pain, and blood."
To produce work we have to get dirty, we have to have this killer instinct, focusing only on the work at hand and the joy in creating it, and ignoring every inner and outer voice of resistance around us. "The War of Art" laid the ground work for tackling Resistance, "Do the Work" gives you the road-map. And, I'd add, a few drinks will give you the courage to slay the dragon of Resistance.
"Do the Work" is free on Kindle until May 20 so I'd pick that up now, but I'd also grab "The War of Art." I think that's a better overall book and a better place to start conquering The Resistance. Both these books could be knocked off over this weekend (perhaps while having a few drinks). No better time to start than the present. Then, on Monday, you can begin doing your own work.
Tomorrow: How to Fail at Conquering Resistance
Seth Godin's new book "Poke the Box" could be a companion manifesto to "How to Fail." Forgive my arrogance in saying a thirteen-time bestseller's highly-anticipated new book could be a companion to my own, but Seth essentially says in "Poke the Box" that egomania can be good. Especially when it turns you into an initiator.
"Poke the Box" is Seth's call for initiative. We live in a world predominantly without initiative, where people would rather maintain the status quo than shake things up. And, you're not going to succeed that way. "You can't get blander than bland" as Seth says. Because you know what often happens when you try to shake up the status quo, when you try to not be bland?
You have the nerve to approach the attractive woman at the bar? FAILURE.
You try to start an innovative new company? FAILURE.
You produce art and put it out into the world? FAILURE.
"The more you do, the more you fail." And, Seth says that's great: "Be promiscuous in your failures" he adds. Poke lots of boxes, I think to myself and snicker. (Seth is smarter than me, but I'm much crasser than him, so I think we're even.)
Don't react, initiate. Don't be a pussy, SHIP. Find some balls and go after your dreams. Don't be the wallflower in the corner waiting to get picked. You never will.
Quit waiting to be chosen. Quit blaming others for not picking you. Pick yourself.
I meet countless people every day that tell me, "You're lucky. You're lucky you got published. I wish someone would publish me." And, yes, perhaps I was a little lucky for getting picked once. But all being picked taught me is that the picking part is the most irrelevant part. Now I know you don't need to be picked, you can create your own destiny all by yourself. In fact, you have to. "Draw your own map" as Seth says. Self publish. Start a blog. Throw that short story collection that's gathering dust in your desk drawer up onto Kindle. Do you want to be the author who whines for the rest of his life that no one has "discovered" him? Or, the one that throws her book up on Kindle just to see what happens? That latter option is much scarier. That latter option could produce a work that never sells, that could be hated by everyone who reads it, that could truly fail. And, the onus would be 100% on you. Whining and blaming others is just cowardly.
"Somehow, we've fooled ourselves into believing that the project has to have a name, a blog, and a stock ticker symbol to matter."
It doesn't. Certainly not in the year 2011. All that matters is putting it out there and affecting people. As I said, no one cares who published it. Not any more.
I know, risk is scary, right? Failure is scary too. But, in today's world, being non-risky and never failing is an even bigger risk. And, obscurity is the worst thing in the world.
"The person who fails the most, usually wins," says Seth. He's right. "Poke the Box" will hopefully be the kick in the ass that makes you go, go, go.
I did one of the best interviews I've ever done, and surely the longest, with Catherine MacDonald for the first ever Meet the Author Podcast at BookLending.com.
Here's a time breakdown of key points we touch on:
0:00 -- Intro
2:45 -- my invention of "footchapters" and David Foster Wallace & Junot Diaz
4:20 -- screenwriting and why I put that aside for awhile to write books
7:00 -- themes of success and failure in "How to Fail"
11:00 -- how I was forced to format "How to Fail" for the Kindle myself
12:30 -- falling in love with reading on the Kindle
13:30 -- thoughts on lending/sharing my books
14:50 -- Paulo Coelho pirating his own books
15:30 -- my 30 Bars in 30 Days book tour and why I don't like doing bookstore signings
17:30 -- "picking up" customers at the bar
20:00 -- the state of publishing today and where I think things are going
22:00 -- the lack of bias on Amazon
22:50 -- self-published authors such as Amanda Hocking selling better than published authors
24:30 -- "The Cheat Sheet" (now only 99 cents on Kindle!)
26:00 -- the future, Aaron? The future...
27:00 -- my appearance at West Point and meeting people on my bar tour
30:00 -- the importance of having a great sample on Kindle
30:30 -- "The Cheat Sheet" film festival
It didn't make the cut, but I also talked about the book I'm currently working on, "Failing to Fail," which is a non-fiction novel detailing all the sordid details behind the publishing and selling of "How to Fail" and featuring guide-like elements on how to get a book made.
Since I have somewhat of a name online, I'm frequently contacted by random people wanting to give me free shit, presumably so I'll write about it. Mostly beer and books. Cool with me. It's not spam if you're offering me free stuff (unless the free stuff is Spam). I accept all the beer with no prejudice because even a bad beer will still get me drunk, and I accept any books that sound interesting to me. I never guarantee that I'll read the books (I always guarantee I'll drink the beer), I certainly never guarantee I'll write about the beer or books, and I absolutely don't guarantee I'll write about them in a positive manner...but the breweries and publishers and the like never have issue with this and keep sending me shit.
Well, lately, ever since my book came out, and now that I have an even bigger name, and am getting sent even more shit, I decided to start flipping things on the publishers and publicists that write me. Just to see what would happen. I now say something along the lines of:
"Sure, I'd love a copy of your book. And, here, have a copy of my book too!" and attach a HOW TO FAIL ebook.
At best this gets a mild thanks from these corporate robots, though often not even a response, but yesterday I got the best response ever:
"We don't accept unsolicited material."
Oh, but you do accept your employees unsoliciting little ol' me using form e-mails?
I couldn't let this one go, especially because the book this major publisher was trying to get me to read and review on my blog, was a book I happened to know had sold quite worse than my own book over an even longer amount of release time. (And mind you, this book comes from a major publisher/mine from an indie minor; this book had a solid marketing budget/mine, squat; this book had a publisher with enough employees to dedicate one to spending all week sending out unsolicited e-mails/mine, I'm not sure even has an e-mail account).
"My book isn't any more unsolicited than your book. And it's not like I'm sending you a manuscript. I'm sending you a free copy of my published book. You note in your form letter that 'based on my blog I seem to be the target audience for [redacted book]' and I'd have to say based on me being the target for your book, then you must be the target for my book. Right?"
Didn't matter, he didn't want a copy and advised me to "consult a local library" to find books on pitching publishers and landing publishing agents if I'd like to pitch projects to him in the future. You'd think this publishing person would have at least sucked it up and tolerated me, hoping it would lead to a good review of his author's book, but no, he just wanted to use me as easily as possibly. He didn't want no lip. More importantly, he didn't want to exist in a world where a no-name like me with an indie book could try to turn his own Big Six publisher tactics on him, to ram my book down his face.
This is what the Domino Project is going to help address. The Domino Project isn't going to just find a massive list of names, of random people that have blogs somewhat related to the material, and then throw them all on a massive BCC'ed e-mail form letter hoping on a wing and a prayer that someone will bite, accept a free book, and then quid-pro-quo praise it. The Domino Project is going to actually figure out and find the people that want the books before they are even marketed and ultimately sold to. Seth Godin's latest idea for doing this is a real beauty, lowering the pre-release price of "Poke the Box" based purely on the number of opted-in fans. What a revelation!
I'm sure I'll still get that major publisher's free book sent to me. And, I might or might not read it and review it in this space. But, whatever the case, it doesn't matter, I just went on Amazon and saw my book is still selling much better than his author's, and I've never once solicited some random person using a form letter to make that happen.
In Manhattan, when people find out I've written a book, the first question they always ask is: "Who's your publisher?"
Which is weird because, aside from maybe McSweeney's in its earlier days, and surely some supermarket harlequin novel publishing house, no one buys books because of who published them. You'll never hear this conversation:
"What books do you like to read?"
"Books published by Random House."
You see, people in Manhattan are still stuck on the "prestige" of publishing. As if every book the Big Six publishers release is great and anything not released by them is either occasionally decent but always poorly selling (if it's from an indie publisher) or abject garbage (if it's self-published). This thinking simply is not accurate any more. It's certainly not prevalent in the rest of America which is great for us authors. When I was on How to Fail's 30 Bars in 30 Days book tour, I learned this first hand.
In the "rest" of America, when people find out you have a book, the first question they ask is:
"What's it about?"
Which should be the first question. Because isn't that all that truly matters?
What is the book about?
How well is it written?
And, I suppose, what's it gonna cost me?
After people found out what "How to Fail" was about, some people showed no interest, but, luckily, many more people did. But the most interesting thing would happen, and this happened too many times to count, after the purchase when the purchaser would offhandedly remark, "You know, I think it's really great you self-published your own book and figured out a way to sell it."
I'd have to tell them, actually, NO, I didn't self-publish it. It's just published by an indie you've never heard of and I prefer to sell it in bars rather than bookstores (where you can buy it too if you truly want to).
The thing is, NO ONE cared. Whether I was published by Random House or an indie they've never heard of or even simply by me, people didn't care. Whether my book was on the front table of Borders or on a corner table at the Felie pub or Bukowski's Tavern. They only cared that the book sounded interesting and had ideas they wanted to read.
Major publishers seem to have lost track of this, focused only on sell sell selling books, any books, to the uninformed masses. Admittedly, they're still winning at that game because they have the money and contacts to control the most important thing of the moment, good table placement at Barnes & Noble and an ability to manipulate bestseller lists, but these things won't matter much longer.
Enter Seth Godin's The Domino Project.
Working directly with Amazon, Godin's goal is to reinvent what it means to be a publisher while finding better ways to spread ideas. He's going to do this by ignoring what the annoying and increasingly obsolete middle men (bookstores most notably) want, by finding ways to sell directly to the kinds of readers that want to read certain things. Whether a zillion people want to hear about a certain book, or only a few thousand, The Domino Project plans to find them and deliver them the materials the way they want them delivered (paperback, audiobook, ebook, who gives a damn? Bookstore, online, at the bar, likewise).
I have no shame in unabashedly admitting that Seth Godin is my idol and his words of wisdom have been mentoring me for the last decade. Within the past few months I've gotten to know Seth a little, who has even paid me one of the greatest compliments of my life when he told me he admired my marketing of "How to Fail."
Now, I'm pleased to announce I'll be doing some "street team" work for The Domino Project. These are ideas I believe in and ideas that I've discovered actually work through my own struggles and successes with "How to Fail." Of course, Seth is much smarter than me so I'm happy to be a follower. I've been evangelizing Seth's ideas for years and would have been evangelizing The Domino Project too, even if I wasn't working with them.
The ironic thing is that one day soon when people ask me what books I read, I could actually see my reply being:
"All the books published by The Domino Project."
The Domino Project's first book is by Seth Godin and will be released next month:
A few of my other favorite Godin books: