Making Survival First: Part 4 - Book Coaching
Anything worth doing is worth doing right. If I was going to do something as ridiculous as write a book I figured I might as well learn to write a good one. The best way to learn how to do something hard, at least for me, is to work with professionals.
This is where Scribe Media entered the picture. Basically, they help people write books. They do everything from ghost writing, editing, coaching, publishing and marketing. Instead of the traditional publishing model they do the hybrid/professional publishing model where authors come away with professional looking books while retaining full ownership and creative control. Scribe has published thousands of books. David Goggins’ Can’t Hurt Me and Tiffany Haddish’s Last Black Unicorn are some of their bigger success stories.
I couldn’t afford Scribe’s bigger packages, but I could afford their lower ticket coaching program they launched during the pandemic. It was effectively a Do it Yourself version of their premium service. It's unlikely I ever would have started or completed Survival First if it weren't for this program (which has been since discontinued).
This program included author coaching tutorials, access to weekly office-hour style calls with editors and other aspiring authors through Zoom, and three one-on-one coaching sessions with their editors. The coaching revolved around making sure we were writing the right book for the right people and not going too far off the rails.
The weekly calls were equal parts coaching and therapy. Writing a book is a lonely and isolating process. Getting to interact with other people going through the process was helpful. The editor calls gave me confidence that I was heading in the right direction.
This program culminated in an intensive three day in-person workshop at Scribe’s headquarters in Austin. The workshop totaled around thirty authors and was led by the founder, Tucker Max, and a team of editors and book coaches. By the time I started the workshop I had already spent a year and a half working on the book which was more than most others who were only a few months into theirs.
The workshop’s goal was to check critical boxes - positioning, audience, pitch, outline, and chapter outlines. Linked here is the full document I prepared for the workshop. This document sums up where I was at that time.
First was positioning. Positioning is everything - it’s the product-market-fit of the book world. Books, even good ones, often flop because they targeted to the wrong audience. Mediocre books can punch above their weight if they’re well targeted. Positioning makes sure we’re writing the right book for the right person. Nothing will save us if we get this wrong.
Next is audience - who is our book for? First there’s our typical reader’s broad demographic description, and then a specific person in our audience referred to as an Avatar.
A avatar is a fully fleshed out person who would love the book. Having a good avatar makes sure we’re writing to the right person. If you've read a book that seems like it wasn’t written for you, then odds are you weren’t in the audience OR the author failed in fleshing out their avatar.
My audience, fully described in the above doc, are basically small Four-Hour-Workweek inspired semi-nomadic digital entrepreneur who don’t want to lose the freedom they’ve earned from having their own business. The avatar is basically one of my best friends who matches that audience.
Next, is the pitch. Books need a compelling answer to the question Why would our avatar want to read our book? Without a good pitch, they won’t.
At that time I wrote: “[The Avatar] won’t live with the deep “I hope my business doesn’t blow up” anxiety that consumes them each day. Instead they’ll feel confident that they can survive as entrepreneurs which will mean they will continue to live their lives on their terms”.
Not perfect, but it was good enough to build off of.
One exercise I liked was the Parking Lot exercise. Many authors pack too many ideas into books which become messy sprawls of disconnected ideas. No bueno. This exercise forced us to decide what our book wasn’t about. Anything that wasn’t directly relevant had to be left outside in the “parking lot”.
Here is when I consciously decided the book would not be about growing or starting a business or managing a big business. This let me hyper-focus on risk for small entrepreneurs who already had businesses.
Next is the outline. Outlines are the plan of attack to take our readers from point A to Z. This had to make structural sense. Of everything I had prepared by this point my outline was by far my strongest asset. It barely changed as I continued.
Next are the chapter-outlines. This may sound obvious, but I wanted to write a book people actually read. Selling a book to somebody who doesn't read it is a fake victory. Writing a good book people actually read means learning how to continually sell the book once someone is inside of it. This is where chapter outlines come into play. Each chapter (and eventually, each sentence) has to be compelling enough for you to want to read the next.
Chapters follow familiar structures. There’s the hook to get you interested, the thesis that explains the chapter’s central idea, the supporting body that supports the thesis, optional stories to flesh out the chapter’s ideas, and a conclusion to wrap it up.
None of us were expected to have fully fleshed out chapter-outlines for the workshop, but the further we were along this stage the better we would be positioned moving forward. My outline was strong, but I only had a general idea of how I would approach each chapter. Solving those chapter outlines took a lot of the time later on.
All in all the workshop was incredibly useful. I’m not sure I would have been able to make the book I did without it. But the most surprising thing about the workshop was how emotional it was for me. Musing on what this was all for, why I was doing it, what it would mean to become an author all made me moisten up. I’m pretty sure I teared up more than anyone else there.
That’s ok. Churchill was great and he cried all the time. I’m great, and it’s my book, so I’ll cry if I want to. To me it was a sign of how deeply connected to the book I was and that I was doing the exact work I needed to be doing.
At the end of workshop I asked Tucker for some advice. I figured the guy who started the company and had himself sold millions of books would have useful directions to point me in.
What books, people or podcasts would you recommend I look into to help me along the way? I asked him.
Tucker paused for a few moments taking the question seriously. In a moment I notice something inside him shifts. Instead of an answer he hits me this:
What if you were already the person you needed to be? he asked.
I wasn’t expecting a question to be thrown back at me. Once I started to process what he meant it was like a slow moving gut punch. What his response exposed was that I was actually for were more ways I could procrastinate under the guise of learning.
If I was the person I needed to be, then what I didn’t need was more of other people’s advice and wisdom. What I needed to do…was the work I knew I needed to do.
Put up or shut up.
After the workshop I went on a warpath and worked on the book for hours everyday until it was complete.
...actually that's not at all what I did.
I didn't do shit...for the next six months. I never thought about quitting, but I wasn't sure how to move forward. At the same time I had to pivot to my non-book life. I was low on cash after buying my house and had to focus on my business.
Emotionally, I was falling apart. The deeper I got into the book the deeper I got into myself and my future. The further I looked into the future the more I began to sense that I was on the wrong path professionally. I began cycling through periods of depression. Between putting out business fires, recovering cash, and trying to keep my emotional shit together the last thing focus on was the book. This is when I started therapy.
Ironically, this off-time was some of the most important time for the book. While I didn't directly work on it, this time away let my background brain marinade on the many problems that I was stuck on. While not focusing on the book I found new ways to untangle, reframe, and simplify many of the things I was stuck on. The emotional roller coaster I was riding guided me to the deepest trenches of the ideas now in the book.
Eventually I solved my business problems, recovered financially, and got my emotional shit back together. When I was ready I came back to the book with fresh perspectives and a bottomless well of energy.
Once I restarted I did not stop until Survival First was done.
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