Scott Berkun on Writers’ Laziness
Hard work is one of the many things that authors and startups have in common. We know we should expect it, and always think ourselves ready to embrace it, but the truth is that we’re constantly looking for a shortcut. With countless get-rich-quick schemes, myths, or even documented success-stories out there, it is easy to lose oneself in the dream and never really pursue it.
To break free of the dream, we’ve invited one of the most famous myth-busters out there to share his thoughts with us. Scott Berkun is a bestselling author of 6 books and renowned speaker on creativity and innovation. Scott has a simple message for authors, which we all need to hear: “stop being lazy”.
You spend a lot of time myth-busting. What is the No. 1 myth you come across to do with writing? Why do you think this myth is perpetuated?
Everyone believes there’s a way around the work. People are genuinely mystified when they describe a hard part of it, hoping for a cure, and I tell them, yes, I feel the same thing, the difference is I keep going. You can’t run a marathon without running many miles first. There are tricks here and there but they only help if you do the work, the tricks don’t eliminate the work.
We’re all prone to dreams and that’s a good thing if we don’t confuse them with reality. Sadly many of us do. Myths about life will always be popular because people confuse dreams with reality, that having a dream is enough. There is no dream of writing a novel or changing the world that comes about without sacrifices. Many people use dreams just as something to talk about and never something they really want to do.
You answer a lot of questions from new writers. Which are the most common things these writers get stuck on? What are the causes of these problems?
Laziness. It usually comes down to laziness, which sounds mean but it’s totally true. I’m not that famous and even if I were, there are far easier places to get coaching on writing from than an author. It’s an old field you know, with plenty of courses, books and coaches waiting to be used. Generally it’s the dreaming thing again. People who are serious will ask serious questions. Instead of “How do I start?”, which is answered by opening a word processor and typing, they ask “I’ve written a draft and want to make it easy for friends to critique it. Suggestions?” It’s a very different question that starts by explaining the asker has already put some sweat in.
You first self-published back in 2011 - light-years away in the self-publishing world - what are the most exciting developments you are looking at right now in this space?
It gets better every year. Even now the quality is so good most people can’t tell the difference, especially for digital books. I see many boutique publishes cropping up that are challenging the old models, and treating authors differently, which is fun to see.
You recently wrote that many publishers are “stuck in an antiquated notion of their value”. In five years time, what do you think will the core value of a publisher?
The core value remains the same - sell great books to people and help authors make great books. I just hope they’ll take more advantage of modern tools and ideas in what they do. They’re still catching up to social media, still catching up to how to use Facebook, still catching up to blogging. There’s a new generation of editors that are rising in influence and as they do publishers will change with them. What you folks are doing at Reedsy, and other shops like Booktrope, it is fascinating to watch - unlike big publishers you have no legacy to hold you back and can dive in with fresh ideas on how it’s all supposed to work.
But many publishers are asleep at how the romance of getting published has changed. The technological advantage is almost entirely gone, or worse, is a liability because they’re stuck on ideas from the 1980s. Anyone can publish a book today and if they are talented they can publish good books faster and cheaper than a publisher can. Every publishing exec should, on their own, self-publish a book and compare with what their company does. They’ll see how easy it is to replicate what publishers do with freelancers. Many still haven’t done this simple exercise and there’s no excuse for it.
There is a romantic notion that marketing shouldn’t be a writer’s job. Is there a place for introvert writers in today’s landscape - those who don’t necessarily like to engage with their audience and cultivate their fan base?
The romantic notion is mostly an invention as writers and artists throughout history largely had to hustle to survive, or they wrote for reasons other than fame (a notion often unheard of today). Being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate a fan base. Social media, blogs and mailing lists makes it easy for someone who writes to use writing as their primary way to interact. It doesn’t have to be personal, but if you want more fans you have to give them something to be fans about. If you don’t want to engage your own audience how can you expect to create or maintain one? You’d either need to be wealthy enough to pay someone to do if for you, or incredibly lucky to find a following without it.
Do you agree that struggling authors’ main problem is laziness? What do you do to keep writing and engaging with your audience?