I’ve been writing and publishing books for years now, but last year marked a new mile stone for me: I published my first non-fiction book. The Uber Author Planner is very different to anything I’d done before, and I caught the bug. I wanted to write a business book, dedicated entirely to my specific niche, my zone of genius: writing. How I write, blog, and publish is my own particular brand of awesome. There’s nothing unique about being a writer, or a blogger, or having a book or two out. But nobody does it quite like I do, which means there isn’t a book out there that can teach you the things I know. So I decided to write one. I also though I’d share the lessons about being an entrepreneur I learnt in the effort…
Writing is my passion. You might call it my obsession.
My fictional books are my darlings, but it was time I put my mind to creating a different kind of baby: one that would teach you how to do what I do. Things I learnt through trial and error, success and failure. They’re methods born of creative imagination, a classical education, considerable teaching experience and a bipolar brain that is never, ever quiet.
Early this year I started planning my book. It was a good time to be doing it. I was in the middle of a re-brand, shifting the focus of The Bookshine Bandit so that I was centred on helping business women with their blogging and corporate stories. These two topics intermingle, but exist as separate entities. I needed one book for each, so the project was split in two.
The Tao of Corporate Storytelling is now well underway and will be unleashed on the world in the new year (if you’d like to be the first to read you can sign up to get Chapter One, free, ahead of the launch here!). The second book, The Divine Blogging Design is planned, and will be written once the first book has been released.
I was surprised by the number of lessons about being an entrepreneur that I’ve learnt so far. As my first full-length non-fiction title (academic papers not withstanding) I expected a fair few lessons on writing, but I got considerably more than I bargained for…
Lessons About Being An Entrepreneur
#1 Refuse To Settle
Early on in the process I sketched out eight chapters for The Tao of Corporate Storytelling. The narrative of the book centres on an old Chinese proverb about a dragon and a phoenix. Each chapter focuses on one element of the lesson drawn from that proverb. I knew I wanted illustrations. I had in mind beautiful, traditional water colour images that depicted the various stages in personal and professional development that the book guides you through.
I love art, but water colours are not my thing. This was well outside my skill set, so I set about looking for an illustrator.
With a fixed budget for the illustrations I immediately ran into trouble. All the illustrators I wanted were too expensive. I needed eight illustrations and could find nobody I liked who worked for less than £150 per image.
This was beyond my budget, and more than I was willing to invest in an element of the project that was pure indulgence on my part – I didn’t require illustrations. I just wanted them.
I’m a fantasy author and there was talk of dragons and firebirds, what can I say, I’m a slave to my inner fantasist.
Eventually I found a wonderful artist who did pen and ink images of animals that I absolutely loved. She was very enthusiastic, and her prices were very reasonable.
Or so I thought.
Except it didn’t work out.
Disappointed, I looked again, and finally got hold of an illustrator friend. We discussed it, he asked what I’d been paying the first illustrator, and agreed that was fine.
Except it wasn’t.
Back to the drawing board AGAIN. Thoroughly pissed off by this point, I spent a full day researching and reviewing portfolios and finally contacted a German artist through DeviantArt. Her prices were more than my budget could handle, but she was exactly what I wanted and not as high as they could have been.
I ordered two of the eight illustrations I wanted, and low and behold she delivered perfection.
There was nothing terribly wrong with the first illustrations, but the artist wasn’t the right fit. Everything was wrong with the second, but by that point I almost felt compelled to accept them because of the time and effort I’d already wasted. Fortunately, like Goldilocks, I found the solution on the third try. The artist was a perfect fit, the art was how I wanted it, and the level of professionalism displayed couldn’t be faulted. Lesson learnt.
Even if it means trying some mediocre porridge until you find a bowl that’s just right.
Even if it means reassessing your priorities and deciding to get a smaller amount of a much higher quality.
Never. Ever. Settle.
I have two illustrations rather than the eight I originally wanted, but they’re gorgeous, and two quality images are infinitely better than eight of poor quality, or the wrong style.
#2 Always Speak Your Mind
My experience with the illustrators led to a bit of an epiphany. I had reservations about the first when I saw the concepts, worrying that her style of art wasn’t suited to what I wanted after all. I quashed my fears and forged ahead.
In hindsight, I should have listened to that reservation. The artist herself later said she’d harbored exactly the same concern but, like me, had forged ahead instead of speaking her mind.
There was no issue with the concepts from the second artist, the problem was his professionalism. I’d worked with him once before and he’d been impossible to get hold of, missed every deadline (though he set them himself). I never felt I could voice my concerns, because he’s a friend. I worried on hiring him that I’d have the same problems again, but this time, he was the one with an issue with me. He felt I wasn’t paying what his work was worth. I’d have paid him more had he asked, but he didn’t, instead choosing to do a poor job.
All the stress and disappointment with the first artist could easily have been avoided had either of us brought up our mutual fear: her style wasn’t suited to the job. She was an excellent artist, it just wasn’t the right fit. In the second instance, the problem would have never arisen had the new artist told me the problem and asked me to pay him more. Which leads me to lesson number three…
#3 Pay People Their Worth
The lack of communication with the second artist was a two way street this time, as the issue arose from the amount I was paying him. He had asked what I was paying the first illustrator and I had told him, expecting him to ask for considerably more. He hadn’t. I assumed he was giving me mates rates as a favour and, knowing how much he loves to draw, didn’t think it an issue. He, however, resented it from the start, and reached a point where he decided I wasn’t paying enough to justify the time spent, so he half-arsed it. The result was appalling. He knew it, I knew it, but it wasn’t until he gave the me first image and I was forced to raise my concerns about the quality that he finally told me what was wrong. By that point it was too late – neither of us wanted to work together. Knowing why he did it, I almost can’t fault him for it, because he was right – I wasn’t paying him anywhere near enough. Yet he had every opportunity to tell me the problem so we could solve it, and he didn’t…which of course leads back to Lesson #2.
Pay people their worth.
I’m not saying offer people a shed load more than they’re asking for. Assess the job you need doing and get a realistic idea of the amount it will cost for the level of skill you want. Expect to pay that price, possibly a little more. Then look for someone with the level of skill you want, in the price range you have predetermined is fair, and affordable.
Don’t complain when you have to pay what someone is worth, because that’s what you want. You’re in control, you decide the quality and quantity of what you ask for.
If you want quality, you have to pay for it.
#4 Value Yourself As You Would Others
The money train is a two way street. Just as I learnt that I needed to pay people their true worth, so too did I suddenly comprehend that I was guilty of doing exactly what my friend had done. I knew the value of my work, yet my rates at the time did not reflect that value at all. My rates were a third of what they should have been based on my skill level and experience. And I resented certain clients for paying me below the odds. I felt they were being unfair, yet what else were they going to do? I’d never asked for more. I’d never told them they were getting a special price. They were not experts in my field and had nothing to compare it to.
Value yourself, your skills, and your time, for what they are truly worth. Expect to be paid that amount. Ask for that amount. People will either pay it, or they won’t. When I finally found my artist, I understood her value. I didn’t run at her prices because I knew she was worth it. Paying her was a no-brainer, she was solving a huge problem for me and doing it in style. When I put my prices up, I flinched. I didn’t put them up to where they should be, but met them half way. Still, they felt terrifyingly high.
“Nobody’s going to pay me that!” I thought. “I’m not worth that much.” All evidence points to the contrary – my years of experience, my glowing testimonials, my list of happy clients etc. yet still, even now, there is a voice in the back of my head telling me, “You’re not worth that much.” That’s a really difficult voice to silence, or even ignore. Believe me, I know, I’m really trying to kill it.
But the thing is, when my prices went up, nobody batted an eyelid. I didn’t have a single complaint, not one word was said on the subjects. I simply notified existing client what the new price would be, and when it would take effect, and introduced new clients to my services at my new prices.
Totally painless in fact.
Why the fuck* didn’t I do it years ago?
Here’s the thing: the people who understand your value will pay what you ask them to pay. Ask for what you are worth. The people who tell you you’re too expensive, or try to wrangle you into giving them a lower price, do not understand your value. It doesn’t matter how low you go, they will always think you’re over priced. So do yourself, and them, a favour – send them on their way.
They’re not a good fit.
#5 Get Out Of Your Head
I got really stuck in my own head on this project. I’m ridiculously pleased with how the written content of the book turned out, it’s exactly as I envisioned it, but the rest… well…
I had a really clear idea of what I wanted for illustrations. I had a really specific, narrow view of how my book would look. Sometimes clarity of vision is a godsend. Other times, it’s a curse. On this particular project it was a double edged sword. My clear vision for the book allowed me to write it exactly as I wanted, and the end result is something I’m very proud to claim as my own. But the creative elements – the illustrations, the cover design, even the title… these things were problematic.
You see, I’m a fantasy author. I’ve been writing fiction a lot longer than I’ve been writing non-fiction. I only started blogging and professional non-fiction writing in my early twenties. I’ve been writing fiction for as long as I’ve been able to hold a pen (or a crayola). The Tao of Corporate Storytelling is the first full non-fiction book I’ve ever written. The Uber Author Planner has written content, but it’s sparse, the majority of the book consisting of planners, templates, outlines, and writing aids.
The Tao of Corporate Storytelling is a full length non-fiction piece, and the only creative elements in it are the cover, illustrations, and title.
And if I’m honest it doesn’t need illustrations. The addition of traditional water colour illustrations was a pure indulgence on my part, especially as I was illustrating the story element of the book – the fantasy – and not the factual element. But to me, this made sense: it’s a book about storytelling, about the creation of narrative in a business context. The odd juxtaposition of the fantasyesque illustrations and the corporate content was fitting.
But I was stuck in my own head.
My head is a fantastical place full of dragons and firebirds and magic. It is not the typical mind of a business person. Most entrepreneurs are extremely creative, but not that many are fantasy authors.
Which means not that many will appreciate the high fantasy elements I was bringing to the book.
The original title for the project was Copywriting for Female Entrepreneurs: Soulful Selling Through Stories. The more I wrote, the more I came to hate that title. The book is about finding yourself, your stories, finding your magic and power. My personal strength and stories are drawn from fantasy, and I really riled against the sensible nature of that title.
It bored me.
And thus I assumed it would bore everyone else.
So I changed it, to When the Phoenix Dances: Soulful Selling Through Stories. I loved this title, and merrily went on writing, ordered my illustrations, and when the phoenix image finally arrived, happily created my cover.
Then I got The Fear.
Because something I should have realised much sooner had suddenly become blindingly obvious: it looked nothing like a business book.
I posted it on social media and asked for opinions, only to have my suspicion confirmed: everyone either thought it was fiction, or was simply confused by it.
Had it been a fiction book I could possibly have got away with confusing them – enigmatic covers are often appealing to fiction readers. But this isn’t a fiction book, and the impression the cover was giving was the exact opposite of what I wanted. In my quest to not be boring I’d come across as something I wasn’t, and I was presenting the book as something it wasn’t.
Hardly in keeping with the spirit of authenticity.
But I was so stuck in my own head, I just couldn’t see it.
Even if you are 100% convinced you’ve nailed it. Even if you’re completely certain you’re on the right track, that what you’re doing is exactly what your ideal clients want, that it’s going to go down a storm and make you millions.
We are not omnipotent. We are not our ideal client. We are not the answer to life the universe and everything. We are but individuals, one, not many. The view of one is narrow, the view of many is broad. GET FEEDBACK.
#6 Be A Duck
Accept criticism and comment, even if you disagree, even if it makes you fuming mad, even if it makes you vomit. Accept it. Let it run right off you, the proverbial water sheeting down upon the back of the equally proverbial duck.
Feedback is water.
You are the duck,
Ducks don’t sweat water, they love it.
Be the duck.
You will resist what people are saying to you at first. Even if they’re being nice and very helpful, even if they’re agreeing with you or saying they love what you’re doing. They will say something, use some inflection, phrase, word, or emoticon, that convinces you they hate you. Or they think you’re shit. Or they think you’re stupid. Or maybe they’re stupid.
All this is normal.
All this is water.
Be the duck.
After you’ve been kicking around in the pond for a while you’ll start to see patterns forming, ripples. These are SHARED OPINIONS. If the shared opinion of your ideal clients is that your title is misleading, your cover is confusing, and you need to scrap both and start again, you’d damn well better listen.
They won’t care if you ignore them.
Really, they won’t.
But they’re your ideal clients, you want them to love your stuff, and they’re telling you, very clearly, that there’s something about it they don’t love. Something not quite right. If you listen very carefully they will tell you exactly what it is and how to fix it. But if you’re so busy squawking about the fact you’re getting wet you won’t be able to hear them!
BE THE DUCK!
#7 It’s Okay To Change Your Mind
No matter how far you get into a project, no matter how much you’ve promoted it, no matter how much people have seen of it, it’s okay to change your mind. I made two huge changes to this project off the back of the wonderful feedback I received. One was to change the title to The Tao of Corporate Storytelling: A Guide to Copywriting and Business Narratives. The other was to completely change the cover.
At this point nobody but my friends and people in a business group or two on Facebook had seen the cover idea I originally had, so that wasn’t a big deal.
The title on the other hand…was.
For weeks I’d been tweeting quotes from my book, sharing them on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, all with the title included, all with the hashtag #WhenThePhoenixDances. It wasn’t a minor tweak to the title, it was a total change. Aside from ‘the’ and ‘through’ every word had changed and the entire feel of the title had changed.
That was good.
That was needed.
It was also bloody terrifying!
But it’s okay. It’s okay to decide something isn’t working and change it so that it is.
It’s okay to decide a project just isn’t right for you at all, and give it up as a bad job. Shelve it. Put it on the back burner. You can always come back to it later, if you want, but it’s better to stop, not waste any more time, or worse still release something into the world that’s totally wrong for you.
Change is good…
The original cover and title.
The revised cover and title, based on feedback from my Tribe and potential ideal clients.
*You must forgive me the occasional F-Bomb. It’s my way. I have a terrible potty mouth. I keep a lid on it most of the time for work, as I know some people find it offensive, but just occasionally it’s necessary for emphasis. If you’re wondering, no, I don’t swear while writing other people’s copy – unless they specifically ask me to, in which case they are usually pleased by the extensive range of expletives in my arsenal.