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What Every Entrepreneur Needs To Know
I hadn’t planned to put the horse sex scene up the front of the book but I’m not the publishing professional.
So there it is on page 20, essential information for the budding entrepreneur.
For me, one of the best things in life is getting the chance to work with experts in all sorts of fields and learn from them. Now the book’s gone off to press, here are some things I learned.
Publishers Are Worth It For The Reader
Buying a book is a bit of a punt.
I only just learned people don’t even need to write a book now. You can buy pre-written, white label books on a bunch of self-improvement topics. They put your name on the cover and boom: you’re a published author.
Some books you slam through because they’re interesting and fun to read. Others, it’s a battle, like starting an exercise routine. You feel an obligation to finish it, because you paid for it and you know it’s good for you. But it feels like work.
If a book is a pleasure to read, some of that is down to the writer. Lots of it is due to the team behind the scenes.
When you buy a book from a major publisher, they’ve put a vast amount of quality control into it behind the scenes. It’s a long process with many eyes on it.
You get your manuscript in. You think: this is top stuff, I could publish this now. You are wrong.
Step 1: the commissioning editor reads it over and over. They get back to you with a structural, big-picture edit: write more of this, less of that, move things around.
Guess What Liquid Is $1.2M A Litre?
Another Penguin author warned me about one feature of the structural edit. “They’re going to want to shift the stuff about you up front, because that’s what readers are interested in,” she said.
And I’m like: if we must. Through gritted teeth.
All my life I’ve trained myself to not talk about me.
If you want to get on with people in conversations, you make it all about them. I spent a whole career in marketing telling clients: shut up about you, it’s about your customers.
The idea of opening a book with some yarns about me feels horrifying. But the whole point of editors is external perspective on topics you can’t judge yourself.
They’re like: we love that scene where you have to collect a flagon of horse semen at catastrophic personal risk.
Turns out that stuff is worth up to $1.2 million a litre, maybe I should have set up a business there instead. Except horses are fucking terrifying.
Entire chapters went into the bin at this stage. Not because they were bad. They just didn’t fit the flow after things were re-ordered. The correct mindset is to rejoice in the cuts, it makes everything stronger.
Back Your Claims Up
After the structural edit, the manuscript goes to a different editor for the fine detail. That’s another couple of months of forensic work.
Every word in that book has to fight for survival. The story might be good, but your work is riddled with mistakes. Pedestrian grammar bugs, but also laziness.
They won’t let you get away with bullshit like ‘many studies show that …’. You have to back it up with facts and footnotes.
So you, the reader, don’t get led astray by Trump-style anecdata. Or by inspirational quotes that you see everywhere online but aren’t true.
It’s a good reminder to do more fact-checking in real-life conversations, before you pass on that too-good-to-be-true story.
My editor was really nice about not applying the excellent Penguin Random House style guide every time.
As she put it, it’s a fine line between correcting mistakes people will write in about, and sounding like a butler. I’m not going to write anything I feel weird saying out loud, and I can’t deal with “the people with whom you start a business”.
I really enjoyed those can-we-break-that-rule discussions. We’re a metric country, but for me, ‘fuck-tonne’ is not a legit unit of measurement. We reached an agreement that literal measurements were metric, and metaphorical ones could be imperial.
Aggressive editing improves everything, not just books.
It makes your emails, staff manuals, website and speeches so much better. Stop thinking everything you think or write is solid gold. Aim to kill a third of everything and people will thank you for it.
Meet Interesting People
Another excellent thing about the book experience is who you meet through it.
People ask me why I wrote the book, and why I go to the grinding effort of putting out a blog essay every week for years. It’s a good question and needs digging down through a lot of layers.
At the bottom of it is: I do it because it leads to meeting interesting people, and that will lead to adventures. Not literal tigers-and-jungle adventures, because I’m an indoorsy kind of guy, but interesting conversations with smart people.
The book has led to banter with one of my business heroes, Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chair of Ogilvy in the UK. His book Alchemy analyses the deep-down illogic of humans. And how spreadsheet logic will cost you customers.
He was kind enough to provide a suitably Rory-ish book review:
“It may be something to do with evolving in relative isolation, but Australian businesspeople – like Australian fauna – are just more interesting than everyone else’s. Ian Whitworth is no exception. I like to think I talk straight, but I am a Versailles courtier compared to this guy.”
At some point when international flights resume, there will be beers with Rory and his giant brain. All the work will have been worth it just for that.
Best Review Ever
I get emails from people saying they enjoyed that week’s story and each one is wonderful. They keep you going.
The loveliest thing in the whole book process was an email from my editor, who forwarded the proofreader’s comments.
Proofreaders are clinical and detached. That’s their job. She said:
“The book itself is superb and I enjoyed every minute, which is not something I ever thought I would say about a business book – this old socialist was chortling out loud all the way through.”
I’ve made a proofreader enjoy a business book.
A socialist proofreader.
That’s a great deal of pride and pleasure right there. Got to be at least a fuck-ton.
SO BUY THE BOOK
The one I was just talking about in this story. It’s out real soon, but pre-ordering it makes you a better person.
I just recorded the audiobook, so you can get that if you’re a listener.
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