Writing a book meant venturing into a new form of creative expression, one in which I had limited skill and experience. The natural thing to do was to seek advice.
With creative expression comes judgment and concern for how things might fail often stops us from completing what we set out to achieve.
Given that we all have enough internal self-doubt, I thought I might share and dismiss some of the external causes for doubt that came up for me in the process of creating a book and sending it out into the world.
The trick is knowing when to seek out advice and determining what to listen to and what to dismiss.
Some advice is just dumb. Perhaps it is unhelpful, irrelevant or even damaging, but ultimately it is up to us (as advice seekers) to listen to our instincts and skip over the misguided directions that could set us off down the wrong path. Here are some of the misguided directions I skipped over.
1. “The world doesn’t need another book”
This gem came my way before I had even shared my concept for what would become What She Said. Just mentioning the idea of writing a book triggered an eye roll of epic proportions and this exclamation.
This advice did not really give me pause because I happen to be a book addict. I can’t even begin to imagine a world that has enough, let alone, too many books. The New Release table in a bookshop is the definition of happiness and I love nothing more than wandering through the shelves of a newfound bookstore in any new city where I happen to find myself.
Perhaps there are too many books out there of poor quality, that have been written with the goal of self-promotion. Maybe too many authors have forgotten that every book – in fact, every post, article or interview – must somehow add value to the audience.
So long as a book has been written with purpose and has something unique to say, the world will need it.
2. “Everything has already been said”
This is an interesting one and actually can be flipped to be somewhat helpful in the planning process. But it is wrong to assume that there can be nothing new to say in your area of expertise, whatever that might be. After all, academics continue to write about the works of Shakespeare and Homer, so surely there is more to say on your topic of interest.
When I consider the subject matter of What She Said, ie. remarkable speeches made by women, I can unequivocally tell you that this is one subject area that is far from over-saturated.
That is not to say that there aren’t some fine books out there that also examine speeches by women. But that is a good thing – it demonstrates interest and readership. All the more reason to expand the conversation with your unique perspective.
3. “Nobody is going to read it anyway”
This one was tough for me to deal with. I had to come to terms with the fact that there is definitely some ego involvement in the process of publishing and publicizing your work. In fact, more than a little. It is also A LOT of work. Not just for me the author, but for the publishers, editors and everyone else involved.
The idea that so much effort would be spent on something that is in essence, as one well-meaning adviser put it, ‘a heavy business card‘ was soul destroying.
Now it might be that somebody receives a copy of my book and they never break the spine. That in fact, that particular copy has only served to raise my profile a tiny bit for one individual. I’m ok with that. Maybe one day it will come down from the shelf or be plucked from the community library and somebody will read it with curiosity.
But I could not and did not spend all that time deeply (obsessively) immersed in my subject, in crafting sentence after sentence, with the belief that nobody would read it.
If you were to give this statement any credence at all it would not only severely impede motivation it would stand in the way of quality, therefore it is more than a little damaging.
4. “Don’t judge a book by its cover”
Style matters. It just does. The cover of a book is a signal to the world that the book is worth picking up. It should attract and intrigue the potential reader. It is a kind of promise of things to come. No matter how vehemently we deny our propensity to be swayed by form over function, many of us – myself included – need to experience a kind of coherence between form and function. To put it another way – looks matter.
Of course, the content needs to live up to the promise of the cover, but an ugly or misleading cover will actively repel potential readers and we don’t want that.
Advice still matters
Despite the unhelpful tidbits that can my way I still believe that seeking advice is worthwhile and useful in supporting you, especially as you embark on a new venture. However, you must remember that you are in control and must evaluate every offering objectively (is it valid and well-founded) and subjectively (does it help motivate me to bring my vision alive).
The power of hindsight
What She Said received two awards at the recent Australian Business Book Awards. It won best book in the category of Communication and Sales and Best Cover. I am extremely proud of the external recognition of the work. It is with this in mind that I have been able to look back on some of this advice, and the process in general, and only now extract some something meaningful. I hope it helps.