What happens when your book finally goes out into the world ?
Gladwell has been attacked time and time again for his chapter on the 10,000 hour rule. But was the attack justified? Or was it all wrong? How do you defend yourself against something you're innocent of, in the first place? Plus, a bonus on how much time it takes for a book to get traction—and more—in this episode.
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How many bad reviews can you find of Psychotactics, online?
Possibly fewer than ten, and I've personally seen one or two.
When you consider that we've been online with a marketing site since the year 2000, that's quite a track record. So why did it bother me when a client wrote a bad review—just one bad review? The answer seems obvious, doesn't it? You and I want to defend ourselves.
Whether the review was justified or not, a review is a review. Which is the point Gladwell brings up in this next section called: When Your Story Enters The World. “Once you've written something, it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to your readers”, says Gladwell.
To emphasise this point, he defends his book, “Outliers.”
“Outliers” was a book on the story of success. Moreover, in that book, Gladwell brought up the concept of the 10,000 hours. He seemed to suggest (at least to the vast majority of us) that if you put in 10,000 hours of work in any field, mastery is somewhat assured. That concept of the 10,000 hours was quickly adopted and almost instantly reviled.
People loved and hated the concept simultaneously. “When I was writing Outliers, says Gladwell, “I was trying to estimate how long people had to do something complicated before they master it. So I wrote this in a chapter of my book and thought nothing of it. I didn't think it was that significant.”
Gladwell says that he was trying to make an entirely different point
He was trying to say if it took so much time, 10,000 hours, which amounts to roughly ten years of work, then no one can prepare for something so tricky all by themselves. “You've got to have help, says Gladwell. “Parents, spouse, government—somebody's got to help you out if you're to do ten years of preparation. You can't do it on your own”.
According to Gladwell, that was his point, and he went on with the book. However, when the book came out, the 10,000 hours hogged the spotlight. By the time the book got traction, the 10,000-hour idea was repeatedly simplified to the point where it said, “Talent is unnecessary. All you need to do is practice for 10,000 hours”. It was a position he'd never taken, he says.
The very same feeling washed over me as I read the review online
The client suggested he'd spent over $10,000 with us (what is with the number 10,000 anyway?) He said he got no return on his investment at all. Both Renuka and I knew differently. We knew this person very well, as we know almost all our clients. However, this one, in particular, was better known to us. He'd done a couple of one-on-one consulting sessions with me and was extremely pleased with the advice. As a result, he bought into the copywriting workshop, flying all the way to New Zealand.
Later he joined the cartooning course. Months passed, and he purchased the home study of the Article Writing Course. He finally even became a member of our membership site at 5000bc. For someone who wasn't getting results, it seemed a bit strange to keep buying more products and services on an ongoing basis over a period of two years. His figure of $10,000 was also grossly exaggerated. What were we supposed to do? How could we counter this review?
It was a valuable lesson for me both from the point of what I write and also from the reviews that pop up
“It's better than being ignored,” says Gladwell. However, you have this feeling of always trying to correct the record and defend yourself. You get frustrated, and it plays on your mind. It's then you realise you're not the police of your readers or clients. If readers interpret an idea in some way, that's their call. It's not something you can or even should control—partly because you can't.
The not-so-good reviews are fewer than most other writers, which is why I've not developed a thick skin.
Even so, this advice to let readers or clients give their point of view is what enabled me to let the matter go. It's easy to debate that the information was factually wrong, but you can't monitor everything that's being said about you. Even if you can track—you still can't override the client's perception of the value they've received. And so you let it go.
It might seem like a small point but letting it go is a big deal for most of us
Our books, our courses, our service—they're our babies. We work extremely hard to get them to a very high standard. The client is going to give their verdict, just like we did when the barista asked us about the quality of the coffee today. She thought she'd done a fabulous job and came over for some praise.
We hesitated and told her there was a bit of the grind on the coffee, but otherwise, it was perfect. We're the clients. We have a perception, and she's put her coffee out in the world. That's the price we pay for putting our work out in the world. People are going to like it, and some of them will merely misconstrue it or even tear it down.
We have to keep working and just let it go.
However, this “letting-go-bit” only applies to the response and criticism. You can't let everything go—and certainly not the promotion. This takes us to a fascinating tidbit where Gladwell reveals that his first book went nowhere. He had to do something to get the story out into the world. What did he do?
When Your Work Enters The World: Promoting Your Work
The rock band Queen, has sold approximately 200-249 million albums to date.
However, their first album, released in 1973, didn't seem to go anywhere.
Though Queen was reasonably well promoted by Trident/EMI Records, their first album was a complete flop with fans. A year passed, and in 1974, they released Queen II and reached number five on the British album chart. It was the first Queen album to chart in the UK.
The Freddie Mercury-written lead single “Seven Seas of Rhye” reached number ten in the UK, giving the band their first hit. It had been a long wait from 18th July 1970, when the band performed their first gig, to the first hit in 1974.
Gladwell seemed to run into a similar sort of black hole when he released his first book, “The Tipping Point”. He'd write his book in the morning and go to his job at The New Yorker in the afternoon. That was his routine for a year. When it was released, the book had a similar response to Queen's first album. It just didn't do well at all.
This caused Gladwell to keep touring because somehow he wanted to revive the rather modest sales. “I basically did endless promotion”, says Gladwell, “for two or three years. If you called me and told me to come to some small town in Wisconsin to speak at your library, I went”, he says.
Two or three years had to pass
The book was released as a paperback, and like a second album, it became hugely successful. This seemingly minor point of patience and constant promotion is something that most of us seem to miss. We assume wrongly that a book will come out, and we'll instantly sell a decent number.
We might not expect it to be a runaway bestseller, but we hope that a fair bunch of people will come knocking at our door. We expect the support of friends, of family, but that's not how the real world works. While your friends and family may well be supportive of your work, the real grunt work has to come from what we do to promote our work. It may take a year, two years, sometimes longer.
When The Brain Audit was first released online we sold a copy a month for many months
Some months we'd sell a bit more, but by and large we'd make $29 per copy. To boost the sales, and to improve my speaking ability, we'd go to every possible speaking opportunities that came up. Some trips I'd do alone, but many of the trips were with my wife, Renuka. I spoke locally in Auckland, sometimes at 7 am, sometimes while people were having their dinner at 7 pm.
We travelled to farmer conferences, dentist conferences, networking meetings—or just about any place that would have us. Sometimes we'd drive over 150 km, to find ourselves with three people in the audience, and trying to compete with other noises in a Chinese restaurant. Some of these were paid, but most of them were to get exposure.
I even flew all the way from New Zealand to Pittsburgh in the middle of the northern winter to speak at an event with just 30 people in the room, then turned and flew back to Auckland with a brief stopover in Campbell, CA. A few years ago, when we sat down to calculate how much the earning of The Brain Audit, that book alone had generated over ½ million dollars and even today continues to be the doorway to many of our courses, workshops and membership site at 5000bc.
Many a time, I wished there was some kind of magic button I could press and get the book to be successful, but it's not necessarily how you write the book that matters. When that book is published, your work has just begun.
That's what Gladwell reminded me of, as I went through this course
That to have even a smattering of success with any venture, you have to put in a lot of groundwork. Which is why you can be Tom Hanks or Beyonce, but when your next project is released, you still have to do all the legwork yourself. You still have to travel, do the countless tours, get on a constant stream of programs and radio shows. That's what it really takes even if you're a superstar.
When your story enters the world, your story is just beginning
How will your story unfold? That's what you have to ask yourself if you want to make a success of your book. Which of course brings us to the last bit in this series on “what I learned from Gladwell”. And it's a bit of a surprise because it's titled, “how to read”.
Surely we know how to read. Or do we?
How to Read
The musician John Mayer wasn't happy with digital music.
With the advent of digital music, you didn't have to buy an entire album.
Instead, you could buy a single and play the songs in any sequence you desired. Mayer's grouse lay in the fact that a musician lays down the music like a chef serves dinner. There's a sequence, a sense of order, and an intention. When digital music came along all of that intention seemed to be strewn in the wind.
When Gladwell talks about reading, he too takes on intention
A writer tends to have a specific goal in mind when he/she writes the book. He seems to suggest that you avoid the indulgence of speed reading and go through the books in little pieces, slowly, deliberately. “Reading,” he says,”is an act as consequential as writing”. Now that's pretty profound when you think about it. Writing is often hard. You have to think up a concept, put it on paper, nitpick your way through the exact phrase—and then and only then do you present it to the reader. As a reader, it would be quite the exercise to absorb the ideas at a reduced pace.
Let's slip in an analogy here, shall we?
Let's say you went to a gourmet restaurant. The chefs take hours to put together that perfect meal. And as the courses come out, it's not a mountain of food. Instead, what you get are tiny portions to savour. We're no longer looking at our phones, and gobbling away mindlessly. Instead, we're eating almost at a far reduced pace.
Sure, it's not quite the same pace as it was put together, but we're still trying very hard to enjoy the energy that was put into that meal. There's an intention on the part of the writer and Gladwell is undoubtedly suggesting we should have a similar sort of intention when reading.
As a reader should look for elements in the book that make you happy
It's not your job to be a critic. “One of the things you learn if you've done any sort of criticism is that being a critic is one of the easiest things in the world. You can do a hit job on the novel, “War and Peace” I could make it seem like a piece of trash. The hard thing,” Gladwell says,”is to tell you why the novel is so great”. I think that's a much higher calling.
Gladwell is talking about reading, but he's suggesting that reading with intent makes you a better writer.
I'm particularly taken by this point because 100 books a year was my goal. I got that seemingly magic number when I first moved to New Zealand and started out in marketing. Author Jim Collins, mentioned somewhere that he read 100 books and he even made a list of the books. I figured, if he's busy and he has time to read, I can too. Since then, my reading habits have changed dramatically.
Instead of speeding up, I've slowed down. I use a software called Liquid Text on my iPad. It allows me to go through and mark up a PDF or move words or whole paragraphs across the page, write notes, make annotations, etc. It's like writing in a book, only a lot better. This has reduced my speed of reading to a crawl, but the level of understanding to a whole different level.
Gladwell says you'll become a better reader by reconstructing the writer's thought process
“Find a book that you really like—a non-fiction book—and go to the back of the book and find all the sources that writer used. And start reading some of those sources. Not all of them that will take you forever,” says Gladwell. Pick some of the books that seem interesting to you, or if they mention articles they've read, go down that rabbit hole. It helps you get into the mind of the writer and in turn makes you a better writer, because now you have a feeling for how the work was constructed.
Anyone can eat a meal and criticise it. If you plan to be just a diner for the rest of your life, then it's not so much of a problem. On the other hand, if you want to be a chef, you need to understand the structure of how everything was put together, how the plating was done, how it was presented to you and as John Mayer would suggest: you don't eat dessert before the appetiser.
There's a sequence and science to everything, and that's really what you're doing when you're reading a book. You've stepped into a different world and rushing through it means you miss out on the nuances a lot.
To learn to write, learn to read Be deliberate. It's what good writers and readers do.
This brings us to the end of what I learned from Malcolm Gladwell
These six parts were just six nuggets I got from an entire smorgasbord of 24 chapters on Masterclass.com. I guess, in a way, it's kind of interesting that I'm not a critic. That instead, I'm saying, “here's what I like about this series”. But it's been a long ride, and it's only fair that we run a summary of what we've learned so far.
What are the six points?
– Candy vs the main meal
– How to gauge reader interest with conversation
– The power of juxtaposed titles
– Why you need to walk away from drafts
– What to do when your story enters the world
– And finally, how to read
1) Candy is the little bit that's interesting that a reader can hold onto.
In some cases, like in The Brain Audit, the candy could be the story of “stepping in dog poo:”. It's memorable and funny, even. It can be the little bit that a reader passes on to a friend, instead of trying to explain the entire book. Give the reader some candy in your writing, and they will happily pass it on.
2) It's not always easy to tell if what you're writing is interesting, but there's an easy way to find out.
Get a friend or client you trust and take them out for a coffee. Run your ideas and stories past them. How do they react? When do they change the topic? Do they pitch in with their own sources? What does it remind them of? That shows reader interest. We make the mistake of sending a chapter or a book to read. That's hard for someone to critique. It's much easier when you're just having a casual conversation.
3) Contrast creates drama.
Silent Spring is a great title. Two words that seem almost to cancel each other out create curiosity. But you can also use the power of the title and subtitle. You can have a title like “Everything happens for a reason (and other lies I used to love)”. That's contrast. Boring titles are like what we had when we named our series, “Blackbelt Presentations”. It's almost demeaning to what is indeed an excellent series on how to do presentations and webinars. Add contrast. Make the titles curious.
4) Writer's Block emanates from pressure.
If we give ourselves just three-four paragraphs to complete in a day, that's a low level of pressure. Thinking of writing 1000-2000 words a day? That's a fair bit of pressure that can end pretty badly. Write and walk away. Come back another day to pick up where you left off.
5) When your story enters the world, expect to get arrows headed your way. Critics abound, and often enough someone will interpret your message in the wrong manner. It's not your baby any more. You're not the police of your reader. Let it go.
6) Finally, savour the reading process.
It's easier to sound impressive and say you are reading 100 books a year. How about nibbling your way through 10 books instead? That depth of reading and following the sources at the end of a book, allow you to reconstruct what went through the mind and pen of a writer. In turn, it's the stepping stone to becoming a great writer yourself.
What's the one thing you can take away?
I'd say it's about reader interest. We all want to write stuff that's interesting to others. We want to make sure we're being heard, but also being talked about. If you don't get the reader genuinely interested in your work, it's hard to get them to the next chapter, let alone another book.
The more you are able to test your ideas casually, the better your book, course or speech will turn out. Take a walk, buy someone a coffee and enjoy the rain (or the sun, as the case may be).
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