Monday, July 28, 2008

Building a book bottom-up

When someone approaches me about producing a book, we engage in a dance in which we determine whether we’re going to be able to work together successfully. Usually, this takes no more than a couple of emails or a single phone call. Sometimes—as in a recent case—it takes a little longer to get to the crux of the matter. But in replaying this recent exchange in my mind, I think I’ve hit upon a key factor that I hadn’t considered before.

There’s a certain pragmatic way of looking at the world based on the assumption that what I want to do is the right thing to do and that all I have to worry about is finding people to carry out my wishes. This is the top-down approach taken by many of the gurus of success. Don’t bother me with the details, ’cuz I’m a big picture thinker. Just tell me the bottom line and maybe three bullet points, and you take care of the little stuff. And be quick about it. I want it yesterday. The typical grumble from the subordinates of a manager with that attitude is: “There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.”

Frankly, that approach does work for a lot of people and in a lot of situations. However, publishing your first book that way takes deep pockets, because it inevitably leads to failure on the first go-around.

I’m a bottom-up sort of person, though. I like to understand the fundamental principles of a discipline and then build on those principles with practice until I develop a level of expertise that enables me to confidently market my services. Admittedly, this takes patience. And I’m a patient guy.

But I’m not a doormat. And when someone with a top-down mindset comes to me and tells me what I’m going to do for them and what they intend to pay me, then refuses to provide the basic information I need to do my job to the standards I’ve set for myself, I tend to get my back up. The customer may always be right, but not everyone is destined to be my customer. The ones who are destined to be my clients are people who share my bottom-up, craft-based view—authors who have developed their own expertise in the same way I’ve acquired mine and who are willing to learn about how publishing works so they can improve their chances of success the first time around.

Attitude matters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Never really thought about quite so explicitly, Dick. But that's pretty much how my most successful work has gone. I’m reminded of how that does seem to be the “correct” way to work, having just finished a straight layout job that progressed in a decidedly not bottom-up approach.