Following a lot of entrepreneur-author-speaker types over time I’ve seen some patterns emerge around different inflection points in the journey to authority.
At some point you reach a measure of success. It comes in different ways. You put everything into some project, a book, or a course, or whatever. And then you do it again. And again.
I really enjoy the new year or birthday type reflection summaries a lot of thinking type authority builders push out to their email lists. (They don’t really all hang out complaining or asking questions in forums together, so it’s one of the only ways I can easily identify key pain points, without, you know, talking to them.)
Something I think Tim Ferriss got right was instead of goal setting around the new year, you should do a year in review and reflect on what could be different. But I digress.
Here’s a recent excerpt from Paul Jarvis’ “State of the Union 2020”, developer-entrepreneur and author of Company of One.
For context, his book was a breakout success and he ended up doing over 200 interviews around it this year, in addition to relaunching a course, juggling multiple projects, and trying to only work 5 to 6 hours a day, with, what for the rest of us would be, pretty long strategic hiatuses.
At the risk of taking this out of context, here’s something he felt like didn’t go well:
My voice. I struggled with being able to truly and honestly express myself this last year too. It’s tiring to consider how other people will react to everything you say, and take almost everything in a way you didn’t intend. So I’ve been a lot quieter, not in terms of sharing less, but in terms of sharing less of my own perspective… I don’t think I’m cut out to be a “brand as a business…”https://pjrvs.com/union2020
I imagine Jarvis went from slow list growth to main stream exposure pretty quickly. A bit of a jolt, I imagine. When you experience rapid growth, your audience gets quickly diluted, engagement with your audience gets harder, and ultimately, criticism doesn’t help.
Scott Young shared some similar feelings in a birthday type summary in 2018 around writing his book Ultralearning, his first traditionally published book, which also ended up being a breakout success:
… I felt a lot of anxiety about my own performance at times. I often got stuck, either because I wasn’t sure what direction to take, or because my own fears about how the book would turn out meant it was easy to avoid working on it…
My previous ebooks and courses… I was mostly writing to my own audience, with no real expectations of mainstream success. However, with an agent, advance, publisher expectations and my own internal ideas of what I wanted to accomplish, it was harder to de-escalate those expectations that led to feelings of perfectionism.https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2018/08/19/im-30/
And the following year in review from Scott about 6 months after its release:
Writing this book has been, without a doubt, the hardest project I’ve undertaken. Not because of something intrinsic to writing a book, but because I felt enormous pressure, and that often made it challenging to make progress.https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2019/08/19/im-31/
Scott’s had a lot of success prior to Ultralearning. He’s been above the 50k subscriber mark for almost ten years, well known in how to learn better circles, and particularly for his year long MIT challenge, where he passed all the online exams of a four years of a computer science BS courseload in one year.
One of the points important from a timing standpoint is, I think, how much writing a book takes out of you, and then how much promoting that book takes out of you. A publish date is sort of a midway point in the high pressure challenge.
I use Scott Young and Paul Jarvis as examples because I think they’re both open and highly introspective in this regard. And they’ve both managed to figure out the selling to your audience to make a good living without compromising on putting their core audiences first.
That said, I don’t think anyone is immune to the pressures around getting a publisher-book published. They have to think about:
- mass market appeal
- pleasing a bunch of people you don’t know
- how to present ideas in a lowest common denominator type way
You basically go from leaning out over your skies in a constant state of evolution with some intimacy in service of your actual audience to suddenly being in middle school, caring too much about what some imagined audience thinks.
There’s a lot more to what happens here, how different people handle this inflection point, the effect that has on their brand, reputation, growth, success, burnout rate, relationships, audience, and probably everything else.
But if that difference is so significant, it has to be visible to an extent in their writing right?
I combed through the old posts leading up to breakout best selling books from a few authorities. It’s sort of a weird sample biased by availability heuristic, the idea that there is this well worn path of publishing hundreds of articles on the web, based around years of work thinking about something, and then getting enough of an audience to reach the visibility required to get a book deal.
So I started looking for first published book best sellers and then trying to track back to what (if) they were writing articles about that before.
What about Simon Sinek? He just sort of appeared out of nowhere with that viral Tedx talk and wrote a book by the same title, “Start with Why” in 2009.
Turns our he was also publishing to a blog pretty consistently going back as far as 3/2006.
Did what he write about change before, during, and after his book was becoming a best seller?
Is that even something I can figure out with my baby machine learning pingers?
So pulling down the content from his blog and chopping the posts into four periods of about 30,000 words for a total of 125,000 words analyzed between 2006 and 2013. Very roughly: pre-book, book-writing, book launch aftermath, resettling period.
Using a text summarization library called Gensim, pre-book words with high TextRank (like PageRank for words) reveals what you’d expect from a corporate strategic communications consultant (hand organized by me):
business, businesses, busy,2006 to 2008 (33,670 words in about 60 articles)
marketing, marketers, marketed, marketer,
market, markets, customers, customer, consumers, consumer,
products, product, production, productive, goods,
difference, different, differently
stopwords exluded: companies, company, like, likely, liking, likes, new, news, good, people, peoples,
What’s interesting in the above is that it’s pretty concrete, direct, precise. Sinek is analyzing lots of companies, consolidating those analyses into key takeaways.
Some examples from a 0.05% extracted text summarization:
The companies that are successful at driving long-term growth and developing strong, loyal relationships with their customers are those that communicate their purpose, cause or belief first.summarize(text_1, ratio=0.005, split=True)
When was the last time a company simple laid out what they believe about the world and how their products or services are helping to advance their cause and then said simply, “do what’s right for you.”
In order for your company to communicate on a Limbic level – driving preference and loyalty for your products or services, you will need two things.
Okay, one, Gensim summarizer does a banging job of basically summarizing key tenants of the book that hasn’t even been written yet, and two, what two things, Gensim?!
As an aside, I found them here: “Define your audience and find an emotionally driven message based on an insight from their lives, not your company.”
The book gets published sometime in 2009. Around the time we know Sinek is working in public with the book lingering over his head, here’s what we get from him (text 2):
great, greatness2009 to Q2 2010 (29,131 words in about 60 articles)
start, starting, started, starts
stopwords excluded: companies, company, likely, like, likes, new, news, good, people
Generic or just more abstract? “Greatness,” “starting,” talking in terms of “things” more than companies, it’s like his insights are being abstracted from the more concrete writing he was doing, or, you know, he’s being forced to generalize for mass market appeal of a book in the context of having just had a TedX talk go viral.
downloadQ2 2010 to 10/2010 (30,332 in about 60 articles)
feel, feeling, feels, feelings
work, worked, working, works
stopwords excluded: companies, company, like, liked, likely, likes, good
“Download” is related to a new CTA added at the bottom of pages, makes sense. Other than that, not really sure what to make of all the “feelings” and “work” talk vs “companies,” “customers,” “products” type talk we had in text 1.
goodness,10/2010 to 08/2013 (31,081 words)
stopwords excluded: company, companies, like, liked, likely, new, news, good
To be expected? The aftermath of the book has died down a bit. We see sort of a fusion of highlights from before and during book times. Some circling back to “customers,” some consolidation of thinking around greatness, work, maybe?
More tomorrow maybe.