45 Banal Minutes with Steve Harrison

Steve HarrisonOne of my editors is a bully. Really. She’s also very business savvy. So she bullied me into listening to a conference call with Steve Harrison called “How to Achieve a Lot More Success as an Author by Discovering the 7 Things Rich Authors Know That Poor Authors Don’t.” It was a conference call in the sense that you have to call in. Clearly, the discussion was prerecorded. It had all the authenticity of a sales pitch on QVC. Of course, I didn’t want to listen to it. I don’t go in for this kind of stuff. I’ve read a fair amount about the publishing business and marketing. What’s more, I’ve been in the business a long time and I know that there is no secret recipe for success.

Boy was I wrong!

Just kidding! It was entirely what I expected. It reminded me of an article Thomas Frank wrote two years ago, TED Talks Are Lying to You. It was about how business books about “creativity” are all the same: they give the same examples, the same vague advice, and are generally useless. It is his contention that these books tell the professional-managerial class that they are members of the “creative class.” But of course, they aren’t; they’re just middle-managers.

This talk wasn’t exactly that. You could sum up everything that Harrison said in one sentence: “Writing is a business.” So for people just starting out, it is probably a useful introduction to the business of writing. Even writers who have quite popular books usually have some kind of day job that relates to it. For example, Ian Millhiser, writer of one of my favor recent books, Injustices, and quite a successful magazine writer, is at base, “a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice.”

Seven Things Rich Authors Know

So let’s go through these “7 things.” The first one is, “Poor authors think you just need a good book; rich authors know they need a good marketing plan.” Well, I kind of think you need both, but if you had to pick one, the marketing plan is the choice. And that is one of the big changes in the publishing industry over the last several decades: publishers used to provide marketing plans. Now, you really are on your own. But is this a difference between rich and poor authors? Most poor authors are well of aware of this — certainly the ones who have actually published a book do.

The second “thing” is, “Poor authors expect most money to come from the book; rich authors know their money will come from additional offerings.” What he’s saying is true in a way. As I discussed above, books open up possibilities for other jobs. I have offers to write books. I’m just not that interested, because I know they will not open up the kind of possibilities that I’m interested in — or really any possibilities at all. The main reason I would publish a nonfiction book is so I could get better freelance work.

But Steve Harrison’s discussion of this destroys what he is supposedly talking about. He talked about how the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad uses it to sell his board game Cashflow. So this really isn’t about writing, is it? It’s about people making money. And here’s a trick for all you people who want to make a lot of money: don’t go into writing! It isn’t a terribly good field. Go into business. If you happen to do some writing along the way to make tons of cash, great! If you happen to kill some people along the way to make tons of cash, great! Whatever. The point is money, not writing.

The third “thing” is that poor authors think their copyrights are worth something and rich authors most value their list of customers. Networking! Woo! Who are these writers who think their copyrights are so very valuable? In my experience: unpublished writers.

Fourth, “Poor writers market to everyone; rich writers market to people who say, ‘That’s me!'” And then he points out that books about tennis should be marketed to tennis players. This is something that literally everyone knows. I cannot image someone writing a how to book about tennis and thinking that it ought to be marketed to people in hospice. But this “thing” is just setting up the next one.

Fifth, “Poor authors sell books one at a time; rich authors sell books by the truckload.” First, this is question begging. If you are selling books by the truckload, you are obviously doing well. But what he’s getting at is bulk sales. You could sell to the “conservative book club.” Or to a vitamin company as a promotion. Or to tennis coaches who will sell them for you. This is pretty obvious. But it is also true that books are generally sold through a distributor. On this one, I think he shows that his market is mostly people who self-publish — which means he is mostly going after the fool market. (Note: I think people can self-publish really well; I just think that most don’t; and it generally requires that you already understand publishing, which means experience.)

On number six, we learn that poor authors depend upon publicity whereas rich authors depend upon a “predictable system for making money from their message.” So get those email lists! That’s something that Harrison should know about because that’s all he’s doing here is collecting email addresses. He’s already sent me four email messages and I’m sure they will continue. Of course, I created an email address especially for the event: richauthor@franklycurious.com, which I will delete as soon as I finish this article.

You would think that the seventh “thing” would be a doozy: something really great. But it is — What is that word? — pathetic: poor authors do everything themselves, and rich authors have a support team. More question begging? Not at all! You can get an unpaid intern. What college graduate wouldn’t want to work for free helping out an unsuccessful self-published writer?! Really, it was that bad. One of the biggest problems unsuccessful writers have is listening to people tell them to stop this writing nonsense. There aren’t people begging to help.

At this point (it took 45 minutes to get this far), Steve Harrison brought on some woman who had apparently made so much money with his Quantum Leap program (or another of his hugely expensive programs), that she spends her time hocking for him. I hung up.

My editor said that if you gain just one thing from these things, they are helpful. Well, I did: I gained this blog post. And that’s it. As I expected, it was your typical business for dummies nonsense: buy low, sell high; increase your volume; network. But if you really want to make a lot of money in the “writing” business, I suggest you do what Steve Harrison does: convince writers to give you tons of money for banal and questionable advice.

11 thoughts on “45 Banal Minutes with Steve Harrison

  1. It does bring up the question: who are TED talks for? The rich people who sponsor them aren’t going to change one iota because of anything they hear. I’d then say TED talks were self-promotions by hacks, but a lot of people I respect have done them. Julia Sweeney or Richard Wilkinson weren’t doing those talks just to build brand loyalty and sell more crap.

    It leads me to think that TED talks are sponsored by rich folks simply to give the illusion that rich folks are really, you know, intellectual and stuff. We should trust them to run everything, because they’re informed about everything. That’s why we shouldn’t snicker when they fuck up everything. They know how to make fuckups into learning/growth opportunities!

    This shit’s pernicious. I’ve had perfectly sensible people ask if I watched, say, Johann Hari’s TED talk and I want to grab them and say “read the book! READ THE BOOK! It’s angry, it’s a call to reform, it’s everything he couldn’t express in a TED talk!”

    Sounds like Harrison is giving perfectly sensible advice, to people who write in order to try and get rich. And your advice — it’s a bad way to get rich — is better. Mine would be for people who like typing and want a job out of it to try fiction. There’s a lot of support out there, fiction writers (especially in genre fiction) tend to really back each other up, there’s great places where you can submit stuff and get constructive criticism, etc. But you have to be good at hooky plots. You either are or ain’t and you won’t know which until you try. (I ain’t.)

    Otherwise, writing seems like a hard way to make a living one could earn easier. Why write a tennis book when you can get a degree in tennis instruction (these exist) and teach people proper backhand form they’ll never master? (Business success books and business success gurus are their own category; at least golf caddies actually know what they’re talking about.)

    It seems to me that we have an awful lot of people who are really intelligent and would like to do something with their work hours rather than chug numbers for some useless middleman-to-a-middleman bureaucratic rent-sucking company. And so they watch TED talks and dream of the day they come up with “that idea.” Rather than wondering why we tolerate useless rent-sucking companies to begin with, or why we all are forced to work way more hours than necessary.

    • I think that the TED Talks are fundamentally about entertainment. I don’t think they were initially meant for the masses. But they do function as a way for the power elite to say, “See: the world isn’t the way you think it is!” Of course, when Nick Hanauer said something that conflicted with something that the rich believe, it was (at first) censored. Overall, it is a way for the power elite to push their ideas. You aren’t going to hear David Harvey discussing the contradictions of capitalism at a TED Talk. But you will hear those on the extreme right talk.

  2. I just read Millhiser’s Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted. An excellent and infuriating book.

    All these self-help books/videos/etc., from your book-writing conference call to the how-to-manage-a-winning-team books to the how-to-get-rich-in-the-stock-market books to the self-help books in other fields all remind me of something I heard said by (or attributed to) Steven Spielberg. Supposedly he said he stopped believing in UFO/Big-Foot/etc. stories because with all the video cameras in the world now, still no one has come up with convincing photographic evidence. (I’ll exclude self-help books written by actual experts in fields such as health, etc., although these books are often only useful to people who have the self-discipline to really follow what the books tell you to do.)

    • Yeah, if it is so easy, why doesn’t everyone do it? Also I do go along with that line in Citizen Kane, “It’s no trick to make a lot of money if all you want is to make a lot of money.” But most of us are socialized to want something more than that. This is why psychopaths have an advantage over the rest of us. But I figure it’s like playing the guitar: practice hard for five years and you’ll get it. Some will do better than others. But everyone can learn it.

  3. Frank,
    I just spent 2.5 hours on a free Steve Harrison teleseminar. After doing a bit of post seminar research, I learned that the success stories he touted(and the allegedly current interviews) are 10+ years old. The books were published from 2003-2006 and are basically barely selling on Amazon.com today.
    If he’s so great, where are the current success stories?

    • Interesting observation. I did recently see some author saying their book had been “number one on Amazon” and I immediately thought of Steve Harrison. The thing is, even if it worked, it’s a scam. During the heyday of conservative publishers, they did the same thing buying up books in New York to get the best seller list. I’m just not interested and I don’t think most writers are either.

  4. Steve Harrison and his national publicity summit are a complete fraud aimed at desperate people who think they have brilliant books ideas because someone once told them, hey you should write a book. Awful, expensive and worthless.

  5. Hey, I’m so glad I stumbled on your articles/essays. I was about to invest money that I don’t really have in Steve Harrison’s delusions of grandeur. Whew – that was a close one. Still want to write; it fills the lonely hours of a retiree. Of course, I could paint too. I went to art school. As for money, I learned how to marbelize cloth – it makes gorgeous napkins and scarves. How many would you like to order?

    • The economy would be terrible if it had to depend upon people like me as consumers!

      People like Harrison make me angry. I seem to get texts every day asking if I want a ghostwriter, which is funny given how much ghostwriting I do! But in terms of writing, books are a terrible market these days. You’re better off signing up for things like TextBroker and getting paid up-front. As for more creative writing, well, I’m still trying to figure that out myself. Good luck!

  6. Interesting conversation, albeit pretty cynical. I actually attended one of Steve Harrison’s Publicity Summits in NYC a few years ago and it did lead to meeting real and reasonably open/interested TV, radio, print and online media producers (and plenty of fellow ‘wannabe’ experts and celebrities, some with real credentials but all with a mission, message or dream to share) and to booking some radio interviews, in my case. It did convey some genuine ‘insider information’ about the publicity process and about how to properly ‘package’ yourself to meet producer’s needs, complete with recent testimonials of success by former attendees. I didn’t have the time or energy to expand my publicity efforts very far on my own and didn’t have a business platform ready to support my message sufficiently at that time, anyway, so I see it as a good experience but a poor-to-fair investment. Unless it leads me down a better path next time of course, by either shaping my DIY approach or by leading me to hire a professional PR person to promote my cause rather than reinvent the wheel.

    • I’m glad that your experience was reasonably good. I didn’t get into anything but the talk itself, which didn’t deal with PR. (But you are right: it isn’t that complicated to get on shows, but it is extremely time-consuming!) I noticed that one site is linking to a particular comment on this page, so many that is what you are commenting on?

      My big concern these days is that young or inexperienced writers are paying a lot of money when they would mostly be better served just talking to other writers. There are a number of great writing blogs, for example.

      Regardless, I’m glad to have a contrast to the more negative ones here. Thanks!

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