Every Publication is a Startup: A Q&A with Chris Heivly, “The Startup Whisperer”

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/Beth Wareham

Chris, when I read your book about how to get to yes in the startup scene, I was relieved that the startup I was working on – in this instance, a publishing company – had made many of your moves instinctively. It turns out that I was building my own publishing fort. I also realized your book, Build the Fort, was about startups and each publication was a microcosm of that launch.

1. Do you view your book as a fort-building experience?

Yes very much so. I can even take it a step further and share that I viewed the book as a startup in itself. So if fort building is like startups . . . you get the picture. Like every startup, I had a concept that I thought people would enjoy. I also experienced highs and lows as I built out the product (the book) and now I get to enjoy the feedback (good or bad) from my customers (readers).

2. In Build the Fort, your 5 essential steps for startup success are presented as a parable about building a hideout in the woods with your friends when you were young. The analogy works. Step 1 in Build the Fort is to socialize the idea. Many a book has failed because it could not be described succinctly. How should an author “socialize the idea”?

The first thing is to go talk to your target audience and share the concept and point of view. In Build The Fort, I had a thesis that there are no books that concentrate on the months leading up to your decision to leap. So, I asked a bunch of people about that and determined that I was right. Interestingly, I also used the socialize the idea to talk to potential publishers, agents, other writers and industry people so I could understand how this was going to play out and what my options were.

Writers need to be matched to publisher carefully or the entire project can derail. How do you recommend, as you do in your book, that a writer find the right people? Obviously, information is power and the only way to get information is to talk to as many people as possible. Or Step 1 in the parable. Some talk to too few and others dont talk to as diverse a group as they should. I talked to major publishers, agents, hybrid publishers, 1st time writers, freelance editors and startup publishing services folks. Sound like a lot? It is easy when you have no fear and nothing to lose.

3. Every author confronts the same difficult beast: marketing and promotion. Can you talk about how you gather the assets closest to you to move your book sales.

Yea, this is the biggie for me right now. I decided early on that ultimately the success of the book was going to be on me. I heard that from everyone during my socialization tour. Turns out that writing the book was the easy part. The marketing assets are a mix of mine and others. My assets were the 6,800 email contacts I had amassed over the last 5-6 years. It took me all weekend to get them into one email database. I also started turning every one of my speaking opportunities into a Build The Fort story a year ago. Every public opportunity was a chance to tell people that a book was coming out. Call it brand building. I also researched a ton of ideas on marketing a book and took the ones I thought I could execute and put them in a spreadsheet of ideas. I am still adding, subtracting and rolling those out.

4. Create short term goals is perfect for the independent authors. Many get discourage when their book doesn’t perform immediately, but it is a process for the tortoise, rarely the hare. Can you talk about your short term approach for Build the Fort?

This makes me laugh as I am struggling with this right now. Let’s start with the actual writing of the book. I have a full-time gig so I needed to give myself permission to only write 3-4 times per week for 1-2 hours per sitting. My overall goal was to finish by the end of 2014 (I started writing in April). My near term goals were to write 1,000 words per sitting.

In terms of sales and marketing, I set a personal goal for sales and then asked the publishing team their goals. I then readjusted mine down. But, like any startup, I am not satisfied with the pace. That will never change for me. The one point I will make is that with 2 other businesses (The Startup Factory and Big Top Reverse Job Fair) the book comes in third on my priorities. To that end, I needed to give myself permission to execute at 30-40% of what was possible. Time is my enemy. I told me to not beat myself up for not executing everything that was possible. Knock off the big items one by one when I can. That is good enough.

5. At what point in your publication will you be satisfied that you have Built a Fort?

I have already built many forts, and look forward to building more, it is my passion. Now, I have a published book that thousands of future entrepreneurs are reading. It is an exciting life.

To order, click on the title, Build the Fort

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