In the middle of 2012’s NaNoWriMo, my laptop died. I was devastated, and stupidly poor. My new friend Andrew Whittaker, who I met two weeks before, was caught up in his own NaNoWriMo project. But when he heard about my plight, he promptly packed up his only laptop, brought it to my apartment, and begged me to keep it. When I returned it at the end of the month, he wrapped it up again and gave it to me for Christmas.
Writing a book requires an inhuman amount of work. The gaps between conception and publication can never be spanned by a single person. I’m not a goddess of willpower and creativity. I’m lucky. The name on the cover is there not for glory, but to mark someone upon whom a hundred threads of love have converged.
― Laura Shanae Crenshaw, Acknowledgements, Written in Our Bones
This is Part 2 / 6 in the Swimming with Sharks series. These Special Edition articles show simple principles for interacting with investors. In this series, Venture Capitalists are compared to Publishing Agents, since both groups are risk-adverse gamblers looking for shiny horses to bet on. Understanding business principles explains some quirks of the Publishing Industry that artists struggle with. Knowing what your Publisher needs puts you in a fantastic position to negotiate.
When Venture Capitalists are deciding whether to fund a company, team strength is one of the things they consider. In a TED talk, Chris Dessi reported which factors contribute to company success. He estimated the following weights:
- Funding — 14%
- Business Model — 24%
- Ideas — 28%
- Team — 32%
- Timing — 42%
Isn’t that crazy? By funding a company, Venture Capitalists are only able to improve chances of success by 14%. That’s a pathetic margin. And that’s why VCs spend so much time vetting companies. You also need to spend time improving your Business Model, Team, Story Concept, and do some market research if you want an Agent’s attention.
We’ve already conquered Poverty Brain at little bit. This article is going to tackle teams — Why you NEED one as a writer, and how to motivate them.
WHY YOU NEED A TEAM:
Having a team around you is TWICE as important as funding. In Publishing Industry terms, this means building an author support team is TWICE as important as having an agent. It’s even more important than the manuscript you turn in. But most debuting authors overlook this crucial part.
The marketers you meet in the publishing industry (aka, your Venture Capitalists) aren’t your core team, they’re partners. At home, you need people willing to handle:
- Accounting, including sales projections
- Inventory management and shipping
- Moral support, mentoring, and butt-kicking when you need it
Why? Because as an author, you’re an entrepreneur whether you like it or not. If they don’t do it, you have to. And that’s less time you have to write.
More importantly, social connections multiply motivation. As a raging introvert, I can write an inhuman 25,000 words if lock myself away for 3 days, but by the end of the third day, I require human connection. If I don’t get it, I hit immediate writer’s block that I’ve never been able to overcome except through reconnecting with people that love me.
Have you spent twice as time developing your team as you spend worrying about agents? Have you surrounded yourself with passionate people who want to spread your story across the world?
Here are some of the challenges I’ve encountered as I try to build a team:
- You are the source of accountability — Accountability is key to inspiring motivation. What we measure improves. When people know you will consistently follow up, it creates a beautiful ritual in their life. Regular human connection can be rare these days. When you go to someone weekly and say, “I need you”, that’s potent. It’s beautiful. And they begin to believe it — -but only if you’re consistent. That’s the hard part, because no one will follow up with YOU. One of the great, agonizing challenges of being a leader is that people look to you to initiate stuff. You are the clock. You must learn to be reliable. You must care deeply enough about your project that it propels you forward, even when no one is whipping you from behind.
- People have needs — Early on, you probably can’t afford to pay anyone. Be creative and find other things you can offer. Be aware, if everyone in your support team is poor, your team will be very slow. You need some advocates on your team who can afford to turn down outside projects to keep supporting your mutual dream. For every favor you get, be prepared to give something significant in return. And here’s the hard part — Don’t be generous right away. Be welcoming, kind, and enthusiastic. Budget your resources and save generosity as a reward for excellent work. I call this the “plus one” rule. Every time I give something, I ask for a “plus one” in return to keep my reserves full. This isn’t just good self-care. This is good team care.
- Diversity is key — We like people who have the same perspectives, interests, and personalities. Building a team of your closest friends means you will share similar blind spots and weaknesses. Learn to approach and include people who intimidate you.
- You are the most likely bottleneck — Money, information, and materials flow through you. If you procrastinate responding to people, that means they’re waiting. They’re not working. They’re stuck. It’s challenging to coordinate all the barrage of questions and decisions that float through you. To stay on top everything, first thing every morning I ask myself: Is anyone waiting for me? Do they have the money they need? Do they have the materials they need? Do they have the information they need? Then I ask, What am I avoiding most right now? That’s pretty much guaranteed to be the thing I should be working on.
Many aspiring authors resent the way publishers cherry pick already-popular people. And I sympathize with your pain. Someone wants to drag my cloudy-day-loving, coffee-addicted, raging introvert butt out of this sweet, cozy, cat-infested bed to do sales?
It’s hard to stay solvent as a publisher, too, though. If you have no support team, your chances of succeeding — of just staying solvent, even — plummet to 68% instantly. Those are terrible odds for publishers in an unsteady industry to take on.
On the flip side, if you have the courage to gather good friends around you, you’re already 32% of the way to bestselling stardom.