This is a transcript of a Q&A session with Seth Godin. Seth is probably the only business author/blogger that I read every day without fail. Enjoy.
Hi everybody, this is Michael Port. Welcome to our Q & A with Seth. I’m going to give you a brief introduction on Seth. Of course most of you know him but, for the few of you that don’t know what he’s up to these days, I’m going to just give you a little introduction.
So, Seth has written 13 books that have been translated into more than 35 languages. Everyone has been a best seller. He writes about the Post Industrial Revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.
American Way magazine calls him “America’s Greatest Marketer” and his blog is perhaps the most popular in the world written by a single individual. His latest book, which I love, is called PokeThe Box and it’s a call to action about the initiative you’re taking in your job or in your life. And Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through the Domino Project which we will talk about today.
And, as an entrepreneur, he has founded dozens of companies, most of which have failed. Yoyodyne, his first internet company, was funded by Flatiron and Softbank and acquired by Yahoo! in 1999.
It pioneered the use of ethical direct mail online, something Seth calls permission marketing. And he was the VP of Direct Marketing at Yahoo! for one year.
But for me personally, he is a shining beacon in a sea of charlatans and false idols. Welcome Seth.
Wow. You should follow me around and you could do that introduction every day.
I do pretty much. You just don’t know I’m there.
So, what I’ve done (I received over 300 questions) is I’ve chosen questions that represent a number of different questions. So I’ll tell you who asked the question and where they are from and, hopefully the questions ask will cover the broad range of questions that came in.
So, the first question Seth is from Marjorie in Sacramento. She said we’ve all heard the traditional book publishing industry is dying if it isn’t already dead; but, most writers are not publishers and don’t want to be.
What will the new publishing model look like? Will every writer be forced to become her own publisher? So, for those of us interested in becoming a publisher for the new age, where should we look for ideas and inspiration in addition to your work, of course, she says?
Well, I want to start by pointing out the tyranny of being picked. That once you buy into this model that says you need to be picked to succeed; picked by Oprah or picked by Random House or picked by someone to get into Harvard. The good news is that if you do get picked, it looks like clear sailing. The bad news is that almost no one gets picked and I think we change our work to get picked, I think we change our lives to get picked, and it’s probably a lousy deal.
We are giving up something which is the magic of being J.D. Salinger and living in your little cabin in New Hampshire and someone else doing all that stuff you don’t want to do. But, we are trading it for the incredible open road and freedom of picking yourself, and I believe the future, as we are seeing in the music industry already, is in people who believe enough in their work to pick themselves.
So I know you don’t want to be a publisher but I want to beg you to reconsider. And, if you care enough about your work, you will care enough to give it away. You will care enough to help it spread and then you will care enough to figure out how to make a living doing that.
Now I do believe that market niche is developing for a new kind of publisher, someone who will take someone and help their work spread. I’m trying to do that with the Domino Project but, I don’t believe that we are doing anything magical and I believe that in many cases people are better off picking themselves.
So, let me ask you a follow up question which will cover a number of different questions. What is the general process that you suggest people go through if they want to ship this new model of publishing?
Well, the old model of publishing is built around scarcity and risk. That’s what traditional book publishers are; they are venture capitalists for ideas. They put up cash. They cause the thing to be created.
They take a risk printing a whole bunch that can be returned and if it works they get to keep most of the money. It’s not about being able to print. Anyone can print. It’s about being able to take that kind of risk.
The new model, the model for example the Kindle is, you don’t have to print anything. You don’t have to take any risk whatsoever that is financial. You just have to take intellectual risk. So what is scarce? What is scarce is permission; the privilege to talk to people who want to hear from you.
If you have a thousand people who are lining up to but your next book, you can make a little bit of a living if you can write enough books. If you have a hundred thousand people like Amanda Hocking does, you can make millions of dollars in one year writing on the Kindle.
So her asset is people who want to know where her next book is and who are willing to pay for it when it’s ready.
So, let me move into a slightly different section, but of course it still applies. Christine from New York had a question about intellectual property. She said, “I’ve been giving my intellectual property away for free for years as a service to a charity I manage.” She says she has a large following. “Now I’ve been encouraged to monetize this expertise but what do you do if the consumers are used to getting it for free?” She says, “PS, I love Poke and all of your books.”
That’s nice to hear.
Well you see here’s the thing. Giving stuff away for free shifts the power clearly because people don’t have to pay so they are more willing to try it. It sometimes leads to people downgrading their work a little bit and making it a little less distinctive so that it’s easier to give away. The problem with that is that there are lots of replacements.
I’ll give you an example. If you are a book designer and you donate your services to some PDF that’s raising money for charity, most people aren’t going to notice the design you did because a good book design tends to be sort of invisible. If you are trying to make a living as someone who does something that is sort of invisible, sort of average, giving it away is not a good way to make a living because people won’t pay extra for you to do it because they really can’t even tell who did it.
I’d go back to, if the work you are doing is unique and personal, and people will wait in line to get your version of it instead of someone else’s, and I would put Michael Port in this category, then folks will say, “I want to get to the head of the line. I’ll pay.”
That’s when the true fan thing kicks in. That’s when someone is willing to pay double for a front row seat, when someone is willing to pay extra for the one-on-one consult or extra for the signed edition, and then you know that the work you are creating is resonating with people and you will be able to make a living.
On the other hand, if you are just one of many journeymen who can do a job, an important one, but not a distinctive one, then you are not going to grow your practice by giving it away.
Carla Lumen says, “Seth, I really like the way you think. Thank you for the challenges.” She said, “I recently read about the idea that people will not buy information because it is so freely available but they will buy products that increase their skills. What are your thoughts on what we should be writing for people in this internet world of overflowing and free information?”
Well, it is true that if I can find it on Google it is unlikely that I’m going to pay a premium to buy it from an unknown person. It’s not true though, that a known person can’t charge a premium. In fact, they can. The security you get and the reassurance you get from buying information from a known person is extraordinary.
McKenzie sells consulting services for millions and millions of dollars a year. You can buy the same advice from an ex-McKenzie partner for a tenth of the price and yet, most corporations don’t because they are looking for the security and the reassurance of buying it from McKenzie.
The other thing that goes into this is there’s a difference between writing something, a PDF, and trying to sell it forever versus the bespoke one-on-one interaction, actually training someone. Obviously people have always paid extra for that and will continue to pay extra for that.
So, if one combination that I think makes sense is to say to the world, “Here’s my baseline advice, the best I can give to the world. It’s free. Take it, share it, and spread it. And by the way, if you want one-on-one coaching, if you want me to pay attention to your particular skill set and help teach you – that costs money.”
Speaking of remarkable, generally I find that no matter what you are talking about, there is always a theme that runs through it that suggests people should do everything in their power to be remarkable and develop remarkable products and services. There are a number of questions that relate to that concept; for example, Shari from Athens says, “I feel like what I’d like to write about has been done dozens of times. How do I make a topic fresh?”
Well, this model of average stuff for average people and the mass market and sitting inside the box and being reliable and unremarkable goes way, way back. It goes back since before all of us were born.
The way wealth was created in this country was efficient mass and the argument for remarkable starts with this idea – that if your idea doesn’t spread, no one knows it. If no one knows it, no one will pay for it and the only thing that spreads is something worth remarking on, which is something that is remarkable.
Then we go beyond it, which is – the only thing worth paying for is something that is scarce; meaning that if something is abundant, if I can get it everywhere, like a breath of air or a glass of water, I’m not going to pay a lot for it because it’s all generic.
So this comes back to the very difficult conversation that I have with people all the time which is that many people want to get paid for their average stuff. Many people want their average work to spread and it won’t. So the answer, I think, should be self evident which is, in the back of your head, in your heart you might have something scary to say.
You might have something that will offend some people. You might have something that will upset the status quo. Those are the things that are remarkable. If you say failure is not an option, then I think you have to acknowledge that success is not an option either.
Can you speak a little bit more about that just to clarify?
If you look at the reviews of Poke the Box on Amazon, which I refuse to read, you’ll see that there are more than seventy reviews and five of the people who reviewed it gave me one star.
Now, to write a book that will not get a one star review, even if that book was a pre-order and a buck is impossible unless you write a boring book. If you write a boring book that no one reads, a boring book that’s beyond reproach, a boring book that just says things that are easily defended, no one will give you a one star review.
If you look at any book that’s a best seller, it has one star reviews – everyone. The reason is, somewhere along the way of it becoming a best seller the authors had something interesting enough to offend someone. They said something scary enough to scare someone.
If you’re not willing to do that; if you’re not willing to have someone in your circle say, “How dare you write what you wrote? How dare you say what you said?” Then you have to be prepared to be boring and if you’re boring, don’t expect to be remarkable at the same time.
Yea and it’s often hard for many folks because when you put something out into the world that you stand for in a big way, you are going to get more of that kind of feedback. So, in one of my books, it was one of my most personal books, and that book is the most, for lack of a better word, controversial. It gets the most one star reviews. You either get five or one, five or one. And, there’s a lot in there that I think people respond to in a way that upsets them.
Right. And so this – it was really – two years ago I wrote a post that you don’t need a resume and my argument was, for the kind of job you say you want, if you bother writing a resume, you’re not going to get it. Writing a resume and trying to fit in more than everyone else fits in is a shortcut to getting an average job where you are expected to do average work. So I said, “Prove it. Don’t have a resume, have references, and have a body of work that speaks for itself.”
People yelled at me, “How dare you do that? We need these average people and I need this job and I need to fit in. My answer was, “Fine, but then don’t expect to get paid a premium.”
The person who doesn’t have a resume gets rejected all the time. The person who doesn’t have a resume is not considered for the Associate Senior Vice President to the Assistant Manager at Dell. Right? They are not qualified for that because they are not average enough.
Okay, well, I’m willing to not get that job but in exchange, I’m the one, not meaning me personally, but I’m the one who is going to get considered for that job as Director of Progress and new stuff at the Bronx Zoo because that job isn’t for an average person. So you’ve got to be willing to say that people who are looking for average aren’t going to like me.
And we are very good at hiding our fear which brings me to a question that I wanted to ask you that comes from PokeThe Box. On page seventy-three of Poke The Box you have a little story that you introduce with a head line that says, “Riding a Bike and Being an Adult” and I’d love you to speak to that section about the time you helped a kid learn how to ride a two-wheeler and what that has to do with fear and hiding our fear and overcoming our fear.
Sure, well, you know, the last three books I’ve written turned out to be about fear. More than marketing, more than business, they’re about fear and the thing is that for fifty-thousand years we have developed this ability to hide; to hide from saber tooth tigers, to hide from angry chieftains, to hide from villagers that want to burn down our house and it worked for a really long time so that none of us have great, great, great, great grandmothers that were eaten by saber tooth tigers or else we wouldn’t have been here.
And the thing that has happened is, over the last fifty years, that fear has come back to haunt us and bite us. And the reason it has is because the things that we are afraid of now aren’t the things that would destroy us. The things that we are afraid of now are the things that would help us succeed.
Any one of fifty people in the technology business could have launched the iPad but none of them did. Steve Jobs did. Any one of twenty or ten cell phone companies could have launched the iPhone but none of them did. The reason they didn’t is because they had a staff of people who are afraid. They were afraid of being criticized; they were afraid of failing.
What we do when we are adults is we have to figure out what are the things we are afraid of and are they getting in the way of the things that we really want. Now, once you’ve looked at that, it’s fine with me if you say, “Nope, I’d rather just not confront that fear,” which is okay. That’s your choice; but, at least you know the cost of that choice.
So when I was teaching Zach how to ride a bike, it became really clear that the reason he didn’t want to ride a bike had nothing to do with his long list of why he didn’t want to ride a bike. It had to do with the fact that when he was four no one taught him and ever since then the fear has built up.
He has got all these great rational reasons to not need a bike but what it really comes down to is that he’s afraid. If he wants to stay afraid, that’s fine but, he needs to accept the fact that there is a cost to it.
So, let me switch gears for a second back to book publishing because there are a lot of questions around that. There was one question that was a little long so I’m going to try to paraphrase it but, it’s from Paul Aaron Travis in Bainbridge Island, Washington.
He buys into your concepts around the ways to spread an idea in terms of making it, in the beginning, as easily accessible- breaking down all barriers but, his partner does not yet buy into it.
In fact, his partner rebuffs and this is what he said. He said, “My partner rebuffs that for two reasons. One, people will attribute no value to the book and two, we can never charge again because the cat is out of the bag.” So what advice would you offer to help make the case to free “the content?”
So the reason I want to ask this question is because you speak very well in a number of different books and in general in your work about how to bring people along to your point of view, from storytelling to poking the box and so on and so forth.
I think we can look at this as a larger question, and not just about this particular partner. How do you get people who are working in an older paradigm to move forward? For example, why didn’t Barnes & Noble become Amazon; why didn’t PayPal become American Express etc.?
Okay, so we are overlapping two conversations here. Let me try to look at them separately and then maybe together.
The first one is that marketers tell a story. People don’t buy facts; they buy stories and the story has to resonate with the story that the person that is hearing the story tells themselves. If I tell a story to someone on the streets of Mumbai, that same story might not work on the streets of Manhattan.
If you run an ad in Seventeen Magazine, you are not going to talk about the molecular structure of this lipstick. You are going to tell a story about Justin Bieber liking the lipstick. Stories are what we pay for.
So when you are trying to persuade somebody of a different way to do business, what you are really telling them is a story. You are not telling them fact. We need to understand that distinction.
The second thing that’s going on here understands what we want because lots of people have different risk profiles. It’s entirely possible that you shouldn’t make your books free because they might not match the goals of you and your partner. It’s entirely possible that turning it around and making it free would backfire on you.
I’m not standing here like Chris Anderson and saying that free is the only strategy. I don’t think Chris is saying that either actually. I’m saying that free is a strategy.
One of the things they do in airplanes sometimes is they will go closer to the ground to build up speed and then using that speed, use it to get higher up. That’s one of the things that an author that isn’t reaching their goals can do.
The author that isn’t reaching their goals can say, “How can I give some of this stuff away for free? Which is the best marketing tool to reach new people and then use that momentum to turn around and make money doing that other thing that I do?”
When I look at Edward Tufte, who has written brilliant books about graphic design; they are extremely expensive because when he did them twenty years ago, making them extremely expensive told a great story about what he was doing. Well, now he makes all his money giving $300 seminars in hotel rooms.
The best way to make more money, it seems to me, would be for him to take some monographs, make them free, give them to his fans, and help his fans spread them electronically. That would double the people who come to his seminars at the hotel.
Now if that is his goal, to get more seminar attendees, he should do it. If his goal is to be seen as the guy who can sell $60 hard covers, he shouldn’t.
Now we come down to this story. To answer your last question, why didn’t Barnes & Noble become Amazon? The answer is the people who worked at Barnes & Noble did not tell themselves a story where Amazon was the right answer.
They saw themselves as book sellers; people who touched pieces of paper or CDs and handed them to customers who then smiled in return. And you didn’t get that story better if you built an online digital store and so, they didn’t.
So, let me ask you a question from Bob Arnoff in Cleveland. He says,”Hi, Seth. Congrats on your new publishing company. I noticed that you stated that your new company will be able to simultaneously publish eBooks, audio books and hard cover. Is this strategy appropriate for most authors? When do you advise authors to space out these product offerings? What would the ideal timetable for this consideration be?”
Bob, I think it’s a fabulous question. I guess I would go at it this way. The thing that goes…you have to treat different customers differently. Traditionally, the book publishing industry said that the best customers pay the most. They get the hard cover and they get it first. The worst customers, the masses, the ones who care less get the paperback a year later.
That was the way that the publishing industry had to treat different people. They could price discriminate by using time as a differentiator because if they had had both formats at the same time, few people would have bought the hard cover because it didn’t seem like it was worth it.
Well now we are in a faster environment and it’s easier to distinguish between customers so, for example, I can say to a Kindle customer, “this book is 99¢ on pre-order.” The advantage of doing that is who is going to pay a buck to buy a book they haven’t read about, they don’t know about and its sight unseen?
The answer is the true fan. So, I’m treating my best customers the best by only charging them 99¢. My bet is that they will like the book so much that they will each tell ten friends. By the time they tell their friends however, the second group (not my best customers) won’t be able to buy it at 99¢ anymore because now the book will be out so I can charge $4.99 on the Kindle.
Then I say, “Wait a minute. What about the hard cover? What kind of customer wants that?” The answer is the customer who wants a souvenir; a souvenir for the shelf or a souvenir to hand out.
Souvenirs always cost more because they are souvenirs. T-shirts at Disney World cost ten times more than t-shirts should cost because you get more than the shirt. You get the story that comes with it, the idea of the shirt, and the memory of the shirt. So a hard cover ought to cost more than a Kindle edition and the question is when should it come out?
Well, I could have it come out in advance of the Kindle edition. I’m not sure that would treat my best customers better. I could have it come out after the Kindle edition but, if I do that, I’ll lose all the word of mouth that my Kindle fans are generating. So for me, coming out at the same time made sense.
Seth, there a lot of questions or there were a lot of questions.
I’ll try to talk faster.
No, no, I don’t mean that. I’m sorry. I mean there are a lot of questions about this next specific area so I’m going to try to paraphrase it.
Many people wanted to know what the best route is. Traditional publishing still exists. It is here, right? There’s also self publishing and then there is hybrids and there’s a whole bunch of different models. I think a lot of folks are confused with respect to what path to take.
So should they first go out and try to get a big name trade publisher and then if that doesn’t work then self publish. What do you think the best path is for people that are in this position of not yet having a reputation as an author?
What do you want? Do you want cover with your mother-in-law because Knopf is the best way to do that? Do you want the benefits that come with being on the New York Times Best Seller list because there are benefits that come with that?
Do you want to get checks every quarter for the rest of your life? Do you want to have a team; do you not want to have a team? There isn’t one answer for everybody.
I can tell you strategically that the following is certainly true. The book publishing industry will no longer pay significant revenue to non-bestselling authors who do not have their own following.
That’s over. I made my living doing that for 15 years. I was a book packager. I came up with an idea for a book on stain removal or gardening or a book called Buzz Word Bingo that had little sheets you could tear out and play in the office. I loved it. You could go to lunch with someone on Monday, email them an idea on Tuesday, sell it on Thursday, get a check on the next Monday and finish the book 4 weeks later. That’s over.
That doesn’t mean that there won’t be best selling books. It doesn’t mean there won’t be million dollar advances. Some of those are going to be lottery type things where an unknown person wins a giant prize. That’s not going to be you and it’s not going to be me; so I wouldn’t bet on that.
On the other hand, if you have a following, if you can get a hundred thousand people to show up when you ask them to, publishers will pay for that. But you have to get it before you get the publisher and not the other way around.
My general advice, if you were my sister and you wanted to be in this business, I would say to you the following. Write something great. Give it away.
Do everything you can to help it spread. Have it spread farther and farther and farther to the point where lots of people start reading your blog or lots of people start following you on Twitter or lots of people want to get your updates.
Then do it again. And then do it again. And do it to the point where people start showing up asking you to write something for them or do a seminar for them or get a souvenir edition of the novel you just wrote so that once you have an audience, then you have power.
That power lets you have the power to follow the path you want which might be Knopf, which might be self publishing, which might be seminars, which might be novels on the installment plan, which might be Amanda Hocking. You have lots of choices at that point but only after you have people who want to read what you have to say.
I did a workshop the last couple days and there was one really, really earnest fellow in there who wanted to do a book and I gave him this exact or I offered him this perspective. He was pushing back on me but I hope he is on this call because maybe if he won’t listen to me he will listen to Seth.
I can tell you why he doesn’t want to listen to us. He doesn’t want to listen to us because the romance of being picked is almost overwhelming. The lure and the history of those who have been picked are marvelous. Anytime you have a sentence that starts with, “If I was only on Oprah…” Then you know that you are dreaming.
Yea, that’s true, very true.
Next question: Aloch from Cincinnati, Ohio says, “There are many different types of channels available to present an idea and stir the pot so that action is taken around it. We have social media channels, private web sites, public web sites, print book publishing, digital books, eBooks, blogs, word of mouth, gatherings, webinars and more.
In general, what do you find to be the best use of each of these when initiating, strengthening and coordinating a tribe or movement? What kinds of ideas are best shared through each medium?
It’s a good question but I don’t think it matters.
I think that for every example I could give you of doing it one way, someone else is successfully doing it another way. I find that the time I spend saying what should I do on a Ning site versus what should I do on a blog versus what should I do on an audio book is often time not well spent.
We have lots and lots of ways that people communicate and they tend to pick the ways that work for them and I haven’t found a magic formula yet. I think that what separates those that have resonated with those that don’t is that they went for it. That they pushed.
I ran into Ashton Kutcher, who I had not met before, and the vibe I got from him is that if it wasn’t Twitter it would have been something else. It’s not that Twitter made Ashton Kutcher popular. It’s that Ashton Kutcher happened to pick the medium that resonated, but he could have picked a different one.
And he committed to it and stayed consistent with it.
Yes, you have to use the tool right once you’ve got it, no question about it. But Gary V. uses totally different tools than you and me, Michael. And Gary V. has nailed it. I don’t want to be him. He doesn’t want to be me. Different tools, different people. It doesn’t really matter.
That’s right. Michelle Horowitz from Hadley, Massachusetts said, “Seth, you have moved away from traditional book publishers. I’m trying to self syndicate a column to both media and corporate clients. What advice would you give me?”
Well, let’s talk about syndication for a minute. You know, Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy, has made millions and millions of dollars multiplying 2000 news papers times X number of dollars for every Dilbert cartoon. It was magical. Dear Abby was magical. This model that lots and lots of people will pay a small amount to get something over time is fabulous when it works.
The key is that you need to find a bunch of outlets that tell themselves a story where the story is that it’s okay to pay for a little bit of content on a regular basis. That’s the challenge.
For example, if you could figure out a way for 5 big corporations to have their HR department syndicate a newsletter that you are going to send to all their employees, I would imagine that getting from 5 to 20 would be pretty easy. And that getting from 20 to 200 would be easy as well.
The hard part is finding the first 5 that tell themselves the story that they are willing to pay money for a stream like that. It’s totally doable. This is the art of it. The art of it is to figure out how to put you into that section of the market.
There’s a couple of really good, short questions that I think may have long answers but, they are short questions so I will give them to you now.
Rick from Sulberry, and this is interesting, is doing a big email campaign with joint venture partners for an eBook. Is it marketing or is it SPAM?
Okay, well, I’m not the king of deciding what is or is not SPAM. I may have written a book about it but I don’t get to decide. Who gets to decide? The recipient gets to decide. If someone gets an email and they think it’s SPAM then it’s SPAM. It’s that simple.
You have to figure out what’s the promise and how are you going to keep it. So, I’d bend over backwards to make it clear to people who subscribe to me what they are going to get. I never give them anything but what I said they were doing to get even though I might decide that they might like something. It’s not my decision. It’s theirs.
The thing about these large joint venture mailings is that they are also about storytelling. The same way that those web sites that are long, long, long web sites with testimonials and pictures and buy my digital eBook for $49, they tell a story. And what has happened in the last couple years is a small group of people love that story and respond to it. In fact, it’s the only story that will get them to buy an eBook.
But, an increasingly larger number of people look at these stories and they say, “You know, that’s not for me. That feels a little like a midnight infomercial. I don’t want to go there.” So our job as people who want to spread ideas is always to be in touch with which story we are telling and whether it resonates with the people we want to reach.
It might work on some people. The question should be, “Are those the people you want?”
So let me give you a question from 2 people. I’ll give you 2 different questions and I’ll let you answer them in whatever way you think is appropriate.
So, Robert Kyle from Tucson says, “How do you determine the demand for a book title or information product before spending too much time on the project? So that’s Robert’s question.
And then Joy’s question is, “How do you get your books completed so quickly? What’s your process?”
They are related because there’s a process issue in there.
Okay, the first one I think we need to sort of divide between those who are creating art and those who are looking to make a living. I don’t think that Blonde on Blonde was market tested by Bobby Z.
I think he had an album in him, a song in him and he sang it. He was willing to go on the road and get booed off stage and do whatever it took to get people to hear his music. So for a lot of people, I don’t think it’s a valid discussion of how do I test this or market understand it. You have your art and you make it.
There are other people on the other hand, who, quite understandably, are doing this to make a living only and have many choices about what they can write on and teach on etc. Part of the skill of it is being able to understand what people will pay for.
That kind of person rarely creates a breakthrough. That kind of person often makes a living. The guys who invented radio didn’t do any market analysis or television. They just made this thing and the world changed.
If you look at the reviews of the iPad, just a year ago, almost all the reviews at the beginning were negative saying we don’t think there is a need for this. So, I don’t think that’s what Apple was thinking. Apple said let’s make something that’s amazing and the need will show up.
So, given that you are now trying to change the universe, I think that what you do is you look for things to copy. What other things have been paid for that are sort of like this one? Has the market demonstrated that it will pay money for a cookbook? Has the market demonstrated that there is money to be made in a $200 book about how to think about SEO?
If in fact, the market is paying for stuff like that, then go ahead and make something like that because the market is too big for you to invent it. If you are doing this strategically, you should go ahead and be a fast follower that does something better and that does something that the audience you have already earned is likely to resonate with.
There is nothing to be ashamed of with that. That’s just fine but, I would hesitate to call it art in the way I have been calling other things art.
To answer the second question, I think my process is largely irrelevant because I think all of us are really different about the way we create content. Some books I’ve done, like Linchpin, took me more than a year of 8-10 hour days. I read at least 600 books to write that.
Other books I do, like Poke the Box, I wrote in 10-days because I write like I talk. I had something to say, I knew what it was and I wrote it. That doesn’t mean you need to be able to write a book in 10-days.
It means you need to be honest with yourself about what kind of writer you are and what voice you want to adopt. I don’t think Joyce Carol Oates writes like she talks and, as a result, it’s probably a lot more work for her to write than it is for me. That was her choice and my choice.
It’s very David Mamet-esque. David Mamet would write a play, actually he wrote Glengarry Glen Ross in 2-weeks. Then when he did the film, he gave it to the producers and they pushed it back to him and said that it was just the play. He took it back and crossed out the word play and he wrote film and gave it back to them, which was very clever.
I learned a lot about writing from reading his plays because I started to get a sense of how to write as I speak as opposed to trying to think about writing the way that I was taught in school. It was very different.
Right, and again, what people who are listening to this can learn from you is that you didn’t have this grand plan. You are Michael. You are Michael from your heart and your soul and your brain and you don’t have to check every time you open your mouth whether you are in the role or not because this is who you are and this was your choice to be this. And, you can be your authentic self in your generosity and where you are taking people.
That’s so much more powerful and productive than always wondering what the market is waiting for you to say next.
Thank you. That’s right.
I think there were maybe 20-questions that asked this same question but I chose Stephanie Holmes Lincoln’s question. She’s from Halifax.
She says, “I’m just finishing up my second book. My first book was self published. This one is with a publisher. I’d like to collect some great quotes for the dust jacket. How do you recommend I approach someone, even if I don’t know them, to provide comments for a book cover? I want to shoot for the moon and I’m not afraid to approach anyone but I’d love some guidance.
We had a lot of questions on that specific topic.
Okay, first embarrassing story. Andy Tobias, I almost did a big project with him years ago. He wrote a great book called The Only Investment Guide You will Ever Need. He’s very smart and very funny. I sent him my very first book Business Rules of Thumb with a note that said, “Will you please write the foreword?”
He wrote me back a note saying, “Seth, foreword is spelled f-o-r-e-w-o-r-d and no.” So, ever since then, anyone who has ever asked me to write the foreword a book tends to spell it wrong but I try not to be quite as abrupt as Andy was.
I don’t write forewords for books because Amazon would list me, or anyone else who writes a foreword, as the co-author and I don’t think that’s good for anyone.
I do blurb a lot of books but the reason I do is interesting. I wrote a book called Get What You Deserve and Tom Peters blurbed it. Tom is one of my heroes and I was thrilled to pieces when I got his blurb back. I figure that I should pay that forward. I would like to say that every piece of evidence that I have ever seen says that blurbs do not sell books.
A book with blurbs on it does not sell more copies than a book without blurbs on it. So, you should not get blurbs if your goal of getting the blurbs is to sell more books because you won’t. If, on the other hand, it will help your ego and maybe help you rejoice or get your editor off your back, I’m happy to pay for it and so are a lot of other authors.
But, it’s really not worth your time. I know you don’t believe me but it’s true.
That said, in my experience, the very best way to do it is not to send a form letter, not to pre-write the blurbs, which I find insulting, not to send 5 pages of the book and ask someone to blurb it without reading the whole thing and not to give someone 10-days’ notice.
The best way is to have a relationship with the blurber in advance long before you need it. Don’t start making relationships on Tuesday and ask for blurbs on Thursday. If you are generous and a member of the community that you have been leading and that you’re part of it, the blurbs will take care of themselves. It’s only when you show up at the last minute saying me, me, me, that I think you are going to have trouble.
It reminds me, on my fourth book I put no blurbs for the exact same reason that you’re talking about and I just didn’t even want to take the time to do it. But on my first book, when I got blurbs from you and from Dan Pink and some others, what it did for me was make me feel good.
That was very helpful in building my confidence when going out into the world and trying to share what I put down. I just remember that very specifically that it made such a big difference emotionally in that process.
Next question is from Dana Wild in Clearwater. She said, “Do you do any kind of mental preparation to see yourself at the next level?”
There were a lot of questions that relate to how you behave and how you see yourself as very successful; how you move to that next point. I just wanted to put that out to you that, instead of doing very specific questions. Is that relevant? Is there something you have to say about that?
This is again personal. It’s just me but the mindset of the last 26-years has been the following. I love doing this. How can I keep doing this? For 6-years I was near bankruptcy. I used to go window shopping in restaurants and eat macaroni and cheese. I was close to missing payroll for years and years in a row and I knew that if I hit zero that I had to stop doing this and go get a job as a bank teller or whatever.
The obsession during that period of time was, “How can I still do work that I’m proud of? How can I still be the person I want to be and not go out of business?”
And then once I didn’t have to worry about going out of business I have never since then thought about going to the next level. Never thought about how do I move 20 paces up a best seller list or how do I get a blog to be more popular. It just doesn’t show up on my radar.
What I worry about enormously is that I have a platform now. There are 1000 people that are going to read my blog tomorrow. How do I do it justice? How do I dig deep enough to say something worthy of their time?
If I can do that; if I can put on an interesting enough show every day to pay off the people who are gifting me with their attention, that’s what I woke up to do today and that’s all I’m trying to do. There’s nothing I’m trying to win because every time I try to win I am less proud of my work.
That’s really nice.
The next question speaks specifically to this.
Phil from New York City said, “You have been enormously successful with the brand that is Seth Godin. You have also been very successful as an entrepreneur who builds businesses that sell services and various products. Which has been your most successful business so far, Seth Godin, Inc. or Yoyodyne or other venture and why? What do you contribute that to and what do you think are the differences?”
Well, I think we need to have a 45-minute conversation about what does it mean to be successful? I was thinking about this yesterday. I’m giving a speech on Wednesday to the American Camping Association and one of the most successful professional days I ever had was in 1978 when I taught Joanna how to do a J stroke and changed her life in a 17’ long canoe in Canada.
She has never forgotten it and neither have I. I’m not sure that the guys at Flatiron Partners, who funded my company would consider that as big a success as getting all that Yahoo! Stock in 1998.
So, you sort of got to decide what does it mean to be successful? For me, I’m not a great entrepreneur to invest in because I’m not keeping track of the exit strategy and the money. There are other people who are great at that. I do entrepreneurship because I want to make an impact and because I want to stay good at it.
There is a change I want to see made, not because I’m aware that there’s this great money making factory that we call entrepreneurship. That if you do it right, you turn $10 into $100. That doesn’t really interest me but I know it interests some people. I’m all for it, if it’s what you want.
Almost in the same vein, last question for the day.
Brenda in Alexandria said, “Seth, if you were starting your business again what are 3-steps?”
I know you are not a big step person so, what would you do to go from no business to a successful or thriving tribe and income generating business?
Okay, I think the first thing you need to do is have something that you do during the day that doesn’t suck your soul but pays the rent. And that means the rent needs to be you live in your parent’s basement and you eat brown rice and black beans because you want it to be as low a number as possible.
The reason for that is you don’t want cash flow to determine what you are going to do on any given day. You want to have enough room to do real work as opposed to getting paid this minute.
The second thing I would do is I would hone a craft, a message, a skill that I can do better than anyone. Now in the case of Seth Godin, it’s I can be Seth Godin better than anyone.
But there’s lots of things that we’ve seen; whether it’s Chip Kidd designing book covers or the Flying Karamazov brothers doing funny juggling, but something that, at its heart, you are truly great at. I think that this is where most of the information product entrepreneurs fail.
The third thing I would do is, 10 people at a time, bring that work in the most generous way I could and the most generous way I could afford. Share it with people who need it, who will benefit from it, who will find they want more of it. And I think that works when you are programming in C++ or doing voice over work.
I would then repeat the 3 processes over and over and over again until I could stop doing the work that I was doing just to pay for my black beans and rice and make my income doing my art. I wouldn’t worry about making a lot at it.
If you want a model, I would look at the work of Shepard Fairey. I would look at how did Shepard Fairey go from, for free, putting stuff that some people called graffiti on the walls of buildings in LA to making a million dollars in a good week selling his fine art at a gallery in SoHo.
Step by step, Shepard Fairey did exactly what I’m talking about.
That’s beautiful. Hey, Seth, thank you so much for giving so much encouragement to people to express themselves through their work. I appreciate it, really.
I appreciate you. All the people on this call appreciate you so thank you for what you are doing.
Anything else you want to share before we wrap up?
You know, today is Monday. How about if we set a deadline for Friday for everyone on the call to do something that scares them?
Brilliant, that’s great. So let me think about where I can gather these folks to get them to say what they are going to do by Friday and then come back and celebrate together on Friday.
Cool. Thank you, Seth. Thank you so much and have a great rest of the week and we will talk to you soon.
Thanks for everything. See you. Bye.
I think this might be the most compelling talk on personal creativity I have seen.