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Good News At Last
Hey guess what, I have a majestic victory to report. From deep in the sulphuric ash-pit that is the year 2020, I’ve ticked off one of my biggest life goals. One that’s been on my mind since I was a bespectacled nerd-child.
I’ve signed a book deal with the world’s most beloved publisher, Penguin Random House. The publisher of Orwell. Attenborough. Barack and Michelle Obama. And a personal fave, 2020’s greatest lockdown hero Nat’s What I Reckon, the sweary nemesis of fucken jar sauce.
I know I joke about motivational things but this has been one of the most sustained, maniacal efforts I’ve put into anything.
It started five years ago as a pub bet. My friend Rob and I challenged each other on who could be first to get a book out, like two top-hatted, moustachioed gadabouts proposing a hot air balloon race.
Rob subcontracted his to a ghostwriter, who completed it four years ago and Rob still hasn’t read it.
Now To Get Published
I wrote a book all by myself, and like an optimistic fool thought ‘now to find a publisher’. Ha! Like the world needed to add one more to its infinite supply of business books. Seafaring legend has it there’s a vortex of business books the size of Tasmania, floating in the North Atlantic.
The manuscript got to a commissioning editor at a Big Name publishing house, who said ‘I love it, it’s like a business book only I want to keep reading, that’s never happened’. Yessss! Fist pumps and so on. I wondered if I should get a Mont Blanc pen for the official contract.
Two weeks later: ‘We did love the book but our sales and marketing people pointed out you don’t have much online presence, you really need that to sell non-fiction now, like The Barefoot Investor.’
So no deal.
Plus a better understanding of why there was no prospect of one for quite a while.
I cannot over-stress the importance of asking people why you lost the deal. They’re usually happy to help and it’s invaluable feedback.
I wrote ‘become well-known online’ in my to-do list.
Media Whore Time
Shouldn’t take long, I thought. I set up the blog in early 2018 and planned to do a story a week. I hired a PR pro who got me on TV, radio and print media. I became a shameless promo whore, the sort who ends each chat with:
“Host: It’s been great talking to you about these insurance scams, Ian. Our next …
Ian: Thanks Sonia, and if any of your viewers are interested in more information about business, I write about it each week at Ian Whitworth dot net.”
While the producer does the ‘wind this clown up’ gesture.
All the media appearances did zip for my online traffic. It’s hard to be informative yet amusing when you have three minutes to talk about workplace casualisation or whatever was that week’s issue.
So I thought: just write the blog mate. Everyone starts a blog. Very few are mad enough to keep going.
It’s quite the task writing a different story every week for nearly three years. On the upside, it does get your writing fitness up.
And along the way it’s helped me meet a lot of smart, interesting people, which was kinda the point all along. Business is fascinating and it’s nice to know what’s going on behind the scenes out there.
But the weekly deadline did feel relentless at times. People around me were like: you are insane and have businesses to deal with, do you have to do it every week?
Yes I did, because Clive James never missed a deadline and he was a greater hero to me than any business leader. It was my choice. If you choose to do something you believe is worthy: do the work. There is no ‘hack’.
Enter The Penguin
Penguin Random House got in touch earlier in the year. They’d been reading the blog, and were looking for a book on business and work in the new post-virus world. My live-eye reporting from the front line of our burning businesses seemed to fit the bill. Some of the original book still applies, but a lot has changed.
So one more slow climb up the ladder of approval meetings. Most things about publishing take months.
The commissioning editor email popped up after I got out of the surf one morning.
“Like me, everyone here at Penguin Random House has been really taken by your writing and the light touch and humour with which you share your business wisdom.”
Finally. A surge of steering-wheel punching adrenalin, then a strange out-of-body feeling.
I’d forgotten what good news felt like.
I’m so glad they picked it up, because for me they’re at the top of the mountain.
There are brands that feel like they’re beyond mere commerce. If you don’t like the Michelin Man, you have no soul. Lego. Disney. National Geographic. They just make people happy. Penguin Random House is one of those.
I love everything about them. If the pitch had failed at that final meeting, again, I would have been gutted.
Because if it did, I know I would eventually have got a book deal with some other publisher. And everyone would have said OH MY GOD THAT IS AWESOME.
And I would go: meh. It’s OK. It’s not Penguin though.
Workin’ For The Bird
I’ve printed a range of penguins around the room I work in, so wherever I’m looking, I can see one. If I’m tempted to slack off, that penguin is watching me with its curious side-eye stance and its 85 years of writer cred.
And I think: how could I let you down? Get back to work and write a book that’s worthy of all that penguin stands for.
No investor or board could make me work harder than those A4 wall-penguins.
And now, whenever I get a call with some new, super-fucked-up development for our our virus-plagued businesses, I can go: well at least that’s another book chapter.
It’ll be out later next year, hopefully airports are open by then. Apologies in advance for all the harassment to pre-order a copy, but that is what you must do to stop me bugging you.
The blog will still be out every Tuesday, though the stories will be a bit shorter until the end of the year while I get the book written.
And Rob, I believe I have won this bet and you owe me one (1) beer.
I write a story like this every Tuesday. Drop your email here to get it in your inbox, entirely free of charge.
Bonus: you get a free e-book on 20 Ways To Improve Your Business Right Now. Practical tips we used to build a $20M national business in about 10 years.
And if you liked this story you might also enjoy Are You A Karen? Take The Entitlement Test