One 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: email@example.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.