Story behind the Passage
Today, it has been two years exactly since I started Companypoets. On Nov 9, 2018, I signed my first contract with a book client. The decision to “choose myself,” to say it in the words of James Altucher, had happened several months earlier. Still, this was the real start into my entrepreneurial life. And it was the best decision ever.
I still do not know what exactly my company is doing but at least, I have managed to survive for two years by creating value for customers. These have been the most fulfilling and liberating years of my life, exactly because they were tough at times and filled with worries but also plenty of exciting surprises. It all started with my decision to make my living from writing. This was bolt and crazy and whatever people might call it. But if you choose yourself, you do not give a shit about what others and even you yourself might have been saying in the past.
James Altucher in his book Choose Yourself: Make Millions, Be Happy, Live the Dream describes all this and many more facets that you discover when you start doing what you enjoy most and get rid of all the other things that are simply causing you to waste your lifetime. I know, this sounds really “American,” which is strange for someone who is not American. Still, this is what it feels like to me.
When I made that decision, I did not know about Altucher yet. What is quite striking about his book, however, is that he talks a lot about writing as entrepreneurial endeavor. In fact, I do believe that some of us writers become entrepreneurs in some other business sector simply because these adventures make us grow in a way that allows us to write the best stories. What I am saying: Even Altucher might be known as a marketing and investment genius. But to me, he is a writer first. This is also why I have chosen the passage above today. The issue of publishing is occupying my mind a lot these days. It feels as if I were living exactly on the border line between the old world and the new and there is no hybrid space yet that feels right. What do I mean?
“Fuck those people. You do great work, and I really appreciate it.” The passage above is from an e-mail Altucher received from Tucker Max, a best seller author who has indeed reached millions of people with his writing. Altucher also devotes a chapter in his book to self-publishing and gives hands-on advice on how to turn your book into a best seller. But the passage also hints at the negative side effects of the digital media business. Above all, this present-day book business requires more than choosing yourself — it takes marketing yourself.
I am concentrating on this sentence above because I really feel lost these days. If you get into publishing a bit more seriously, you know exactly that everything Altucher writes about self-publishing is right and helpful. Yet, I also see so much bullshit around that makes it to the bestseller list. Yes, this is my subjective judgement. This is exactly where the trouble starts. I see the publishing issue from at least two perspectives at the same time. Taking various perspectives as an observer is the key to writing. But it also makes the business of writing a lot more complicated.
On the one hand, as an entrepreneur, I have learned that running a business is not a piece of cake. It might sound easy to some “intellectual” smart asses. But the truth is, it takes talent and hard learning, just like most other things in life. And publishing books is a business, no matter how many other things you do or sell as your primary occupation. If someone really makes it to the bestseller list, it means this person did something right. And that in and of itself is an achievement.
On the other hand, however, landing a commercial success with a book says NOTHING about the content yet. This is because marketing is the №1 success factor of a book. Altucher also mentions so many cases of now famous authors and entrepreneurs who celebrated their first breakthrough when they were in their 50s or much older. This is because: In the old world, i.e., the pre-digital world without self-publishing options, you simply depended on a publishing house to get your book printed. You could not just upload a pdf somewhere and post something about it on LinkedIn and on your friends’ blogs.
Today, however, everyone can publish anything via self-publishing on Amazon & Co. The price you have to pay for this is between 0 and a few hundred USD/EUR, depending on whether or not you have to hire people for doing the layout and editing. What you will have to take care of yourself, however, is MARKETING. And for those of you who have not started a company themselves: Marketing is not just what you see on television or on some internet ads. Marketing in its most basic definition, which even people without an MBA or business education can understand, simply means making sure that your product makes its way to customers.
Alrighty: Why is all this confusing me so much? If I know how it works, why do I hesitate? Why have I not published any self-published books yet with the nasty side-effect that I have published almost nothing at all while I have a novel, poetry, and many more things completely ready on my hard drive. How can I even talk about Choosing Yourself if I am obviously not walking the talk by still running after “old-fashioned” publishing houses that plan their book releases more than a year in advance?
The problem is: I definitely know that this old-fashioned way of publishing runs counter to what I think makes sense in the digital world. If books are part of public discourse and you feel the urge to respond to something and/or contribute something new, it is simply a no brainer to have such long planning horizons. Still, the value that publishing houses created in the old world — and according to my experience, they still do so — is that people with book market expertise and a fairly well-read brain provided quality assurance.
Quality assurance by some “expert”? Is that not the exact opposite of “choosing yourself”? Why would you still depend on others to accept your manuscript if you already know so much about the book market and you also know that even publishing houses care more about personal branding and trends than “quality” these days? Who determines what quality is anyways? If you keep depending on some old opinion leaders’ judgement, you will never get out of the “fear of rejection” cycle.
True! Still, I cannot simply wipe out my concerns. Choosing yourself above all means one thing: You follow your inner compass. You do what feels right for you, while also accepting that some overarching well-being rules apply to you, including mental and physical healthcare. The most important choice for me was and still is that I need to write on a daily basis in order to be happy. But I do have an internal quality assurance mechanism that determines whether I am really happy about a text or not.
The self-publishing issue is disturbing my inner compass.
I see that so many of the books that sell thousands of copies are simply translations or poor imitations of U.S. originals from decades ago. And I am not saying that you do not need brain or skills to sell these. To me, all these sales hits give testimony to the fact that communication is an art that is not easy to learn and it usually takes much experience to exactly hit the nerve of your particular audience. In my case, however, I can only truly enjoy writing if I develop original thoughts that are the result of my research and my knowledge.
Does that sound arrogant?
However, I cannot change it. It has taken me a long time to find out how much of a chronically critical thinker I am and that it is exactly my brain power alongside my witty humor and empathy that provides value to people who like the things that are out of fashion: complexity, big picture thinking, and solid old-fashioned education. And these people are not just leftovers from the old world. You find them in any target audience if you look carefully. But all these audiences have their own language, even if they are linked by shared values underneath the surface. If you want to reach them, you have to speak these different languages. I do that and I love it. But it does not make publishing easier.
In summary: What is holding me back is that I have no idea anymore what good writing is and what is not. If you apply entrepreneurial success criteria, I should not care at all, as long as my stuff would sell. If I use my inner criteria, my stuff might not sell but I am more happy. Given the advice by Tucker Max above and Altucher, I should tell myself:
“Fuck you, inner critic, I am just going to publish what I think is truly original stuff that creates value for those people and companies that I care about.”
I know that I will definitely follow the second self-recommendation. The point is, this might not pay my bills in the near future. But it will never make me give up “choosing myself” either. This might sound contradictory but it is not. My decision to focus on writing has gone through many ups and downs but after each and every downturn, the likelihood that I give up on it shrinks to almost zero. This is only, however, because I started acting two years ago. If “choosing myself” would have remained a mental decision, a mere declaration of intent, things would look different.
After going in loops with all these thoughts today, I simply need to move on and trust that I have made all necessary preparations. This is what Altucher argues as well in the book and my personal experience totally confirms this. Yes, I have not quite found the right balance yet. There are things that I definitely appreciate and value about the “old world.” And education and original thinking that creates value completely independent from any marketing stuff is one of these things. You directly work with decision makers who influence the life of thousands of people with your solutions.
The value of living a happy and fulfilling life every day without self-sabotaging compromises is characteristic of the “new world,” especially since the Generation Y entered the workforce. Writing is the essential ingredient of this for me. My inner longing to reach people with this writing, including businesses that can gain inspiration and guidance from my thoughts, is linked to this. Writing to touch people stands above all of this. Maybe I just have to trust that people are already reading my contributions without “speaking up” all the time, as Max writes above.
And if not — who cares?
If you choose yourself, nobody can take the thing away from you that you love doing. And by following this route, I will find a way to bridge the old world and the new. The only thing it takes for this it to continue doing “great work” — whatever this means to me.
1) If you were to “choose yourself” today — what would you start doing from now on? What would you stop doing?
2) What prevents you from actually doing 1)?
3) Is there a topic or an issue on which you simply cannot form a clear opinion because you are caught between two stools?