Not content with being all over the big screen, little screen, or music scene, a lot of celebrities publish books. Many of them are writing the books, but a growing number are now publishing other writers' works. According to an excellent article in the Guardian Online, some high-profile celebrities include Sarah Jessica Parker, Lena Dunham, and Stormzy.
Of course, this trend is a boon to the big publishers because many of the celeb publishing companies are imprints of the big players, such as Penguin Random House. But how much those celebs are actually involved, and how knowledgeable they are about publishing, is unknown. So what kind of books are they publishing? You might expect celebrities to go for popular fiction, but it seems that some of them are going for books with spine.
Here is some info about two notable examples:
LENNY is Lena Dunham's imprint at Random House and was reputedly inspired by her weekly feminist e-newsletter. It has published three female-centric titles so far:
goop press is Gwyneth Paltrow's publishing company that operates in partnership with Grand Central Life & Style and Hachette Books. It clearly began as a vanity press, putting out cookbooks created by Paltrow, but in 2018, the output is being diversified. Recent titles include
This celebrity trend is one I can get behind. Is it just a way for celebrities to raise their income and cachet? Of course. But the benefit to writers is potentially huge, too. If you're discovered by a celebrity who endorses your work and puts his or her name somewhere on the cover of your book, your work will almost certainly make waves. My only hope is that, in future, some of these imprints will come out of smaller, indie publishers so that this trend is not giving the big guns an even greater advantage.
It's been a while since I last posted, and I'm thoroughly ashamed of myself. The reason for the radio silence was, of course, life. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that everyday stuff has an irritating habit of derailing our momentum and diverting us from our goals. But there's no point in kicking ourselves. The best thing we can do when we realize our mistake is to figure out how it happened so that we can avoid falling into the same trap next time.
So, I'm going to leap right in with the "secret" as promised in the title. The simple secret is ... IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. I had temporarily forgotten this, which is why there were no blog posts in June.
MISSION-DRIVEN, NOT EGO-DRIVEN
This blog is not about me, and any book that you write should not be about you: it's about your mission, remember? It's about the passion, message, and ideas you have to bring about meaningful change. But your mission is nothing without people who support it, and those people, of course, are your potential readers. So think of the reader, whoever he or she may be, as someone who is waiting for YOUR book (blog post or article), whether they know it or not. They need you to step up, and your mission needs them to read your work and take action.
Writing a mission-driven book inevitably involves self-sacrifice. It involves sitting down to write when you'd rather be binge-watching your favorite Netflix series; it might also mean not spending as much time with a loved one as you would like. But these sacrifices should be worth making for a few months if you believe enough in your mission. If you cannot motivate yourself to get it done, well, perhaps you don't care about your mission as much as you thought you did.
TICK, TOCK ...
Time and tide wait for no man, so if you don't write that book now, will you miss the boat? This is another aspect to the secret: it's not about you; it's about timing. If your mission is a hot topic, you'll want to get your book out as soon as possible so that you can capitalize on the general public awareness and PR opportunities.
But even if your topic isn't especially zeitgeisty, the publishing industry is pumping out books at a rate of knots, meaning that another (more motivated) author may steal your thunder. By telling yourself that at any given moment there are at least 100 other people writing a book on your topic, you'll light a fire under yourself that will help you get your book done ASAP.
IT IS ALL ABOUT YOU
Wait ... what? Didn't I say it wasn't about you? Well, yes, but there is one important way that your book is all about you, and that's with regard to accountability. When you're struggling to meet your writing targets and there is nobody breathing down your neck, it's easy to put the book project aside and watch all seven seasons of Game of Thrones. You can find someone to fulfill that monitoring role (a colleague or spouse, perhaps), but ultimately, only YOU can get it done.
Hopefully, the tips above will motivate you to keep writing and hold yourself accountable ... they have certainly reminded me to keep blogging.
When I am exploring a nonfiction book idea with a new client, one of the first things we discuss is the hook. What makes your book different from the hundreds of others that also deal with your topic? What can you do to grab the attention of the potential buyer? In all honesty, a lot of clients struggle in this conversation, and it goes back to the point I made about originality in an earlier post (Tony Robbins Doesn't Need Your Help): although you may not have a unique subject, you can be unique in how you address it.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a book with spine that struck me as truly different: Chapter One: You Have the Power to Change Stuff by Daniel Flynn (Thankyou Group, 2016). Flynn's business, thankyou., began by selling water to help alleviate the world's water crisis and now sells more than 55 products to support a campaign to end poverty. According to Flynn, he began his company with no business experience, only an awareness of global poverty and the simple question, "What if that were me?" Unlike many social enterprises, thankyou. gives 100 percent of its profit to its mission. Respect.
Flynn states that the purpose of Chapter One is to encourage readers to "Dream with us. Write with us. Change stuff with us." This book fits within the social entrepreneurship genre that will feature prominently in this blog (Walk a Mile in Blake Mycoskie's Shoes), but it takes a really interesting approach and has several "hooks" I've never seen before. If the company itself is half as innovative as the approach it took to this book, it could do amazing things for the world.
One. Unlike Mycoskie's book that was written when his business had become successful, Flynn's book is about his brand's beginnings ... hence the title, Chapter One. His idea is that he will write sequels (Chapter Two, Chapter Three, and so on, presumably), chronicling the fortunes of the company as it grows. It's a brave move, given the high failure rate of startups, but I like the idea that, over time, Flynn will create a complete business biography.
Two. There is no recommended retail price; instead, people pay what that want to. By asking purchasers, "How much are you willing to invest in an idea that could change history?", some people may pay a dollar, but others might pay thousands simply because they believe in the company's mission and want it to continue doing good work. The "pay what you like" approach was possible because, cleverly, the company pitched the idea to Australia's largest book retailer, which liked what the company was trying to do. I haven't seen the sales figures on this and can't say how effective the idea has been, but I'm impressed by Flynn's commitment to thinking differently about bookselling, a mindset which reflects his entire business ethos. (The downside, of course, is that selling via Amazon and other such platforms won't allow buyers to pay what they like.)
Three. The interior of the print edition is laid out horizontally. This is the most gimmicky aspect of Flynn's approach, which he spends some time justifying at the start of the book. Just as with the pay-whatever tactic, the purpose of the landscape layout is to challenge the reader to depart from the norm and think differently, however uncomfortable that may be. It's a great idea for the printed version, but readers of the ebook have to settle for imagining the reading experience that Flynn describes in the introduction.
Chapter One shows that you do not have to confine your "hook" to the content. There are other ways to differentiate a book from the crowded literary category you might be competing in. But beware: a hook can too easily become a gimmick if it's not done in the proper spirit. However, I believe Flynn gets away with the gimmicks because they fit squarely within thankyou.'s business model, which is founded in thinking outside the box, and I sincerely hope that the company is around long enough for us to find out what interesting ways Flynn can find to write Chapter Two and many more chapters thereafter.
Book Review: Start Something That Matters (Random House, 2011)
At the start of 2018, I made it my resolution to read one fiction and nonfiction book per month for pleasure. Now, that may not sound many, but I probably read at least two other books per week as part of my day job, so it’s a realistic goal rather than an ideal one.
In February, I chose Start Something That Matters, by the founder of the TOMS shoe brand, Blake Mycoskie. It's been in publication for seven years now, but I only came across it recently and was curious. I was interested in it because social entrepreneurship is such a growth area, and since TOMS launched, other “one-for-one” initiatives have sprung up. Did TOMS invent that model? Perhaps not, but it is certainly the highest profile example, and as such, it has undoubtedly inspired other for-profit companies that give one of whatever they sell to someone in need, including Warby Parker (eye glasses) and Smile Squared (toothbrushes).
Having worked in the nonprofit sector for 15 years and seen the struggle organizations have in raising funds, I LOVE the “conscious capitalism” movement. Companies like TOMS would never replace the not-for-profit sector, which often plays such a critical political role, but social entrepreneurs are adding something valuable to the philanthropic landscape. I have high hopes that, one day, giving will lie at the heart of every successful business and that corporations that don’t follow suit will simply not survive.
Mycoskie’s book is a clear attempt to influence people of his generation and younger to follow his lead. He says, “I feel a deep responsibility to share everything we have learned at TOMS, so that as many others as possible can start something important.” It could have been a straightforward business biography, with some advice thrown in, but in keeping with his view of the world, Mycoskie explores a range of other inspiring stories of mission-driven people with a simple idea who are making a difference.
“Simple” is a key message of the book. You cannot save the world yourself, but you CAN solve one of its problems. It’s a powerful point. Mycoskie had a lightbulb moment in 2002 while on a trip to Argentina. He liked to wear the locally made alpargata shoe and thought they would have a market in the United States. But then he discovered that local children were walking barefoot to school, and he realized how much easier and more comfortable the kids’ lives would be if only they had shoes, which is something we all take for granted in the affluent West. In 2006, TOMS carried out its first “shoe drop” of 10,000 pairs in Argentina and the brand was truly born.
The book is a useful guide and giver of inspiration. However, it’s not the most riveting read. My principal criticism of the book is that the writing is somewhat sterile, and I don’t get a clear impression of Mycoskie. He had a cowriter, which may explain this absence of voice. This is an issue for people who have something to say but need a cowriter or ghostwriter to say it for them, and even the best ghostwriter in the world will still act as a filter (perhaps unconsciously) that sifts out some of the nuance of an individual’s voice. But in this case, I doubt “voice” was Mycoskie’s main concern. He set out to honor his responsibility to share the TOMS experience, not blow his own trumpet, and he achieved it. And, if you yearn to start something that matters, you should definitely add this book to your reading list.
In June 2002, Kyra Oliver experienced the worst tragedy imaginable: the loss of a child. The death of Hayes, Kyra’s four-month-old son, as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), was a catastrophic event that prompted her to embark upon a personal healing journey focused on helping other parents understand SIDS and on her health and wellbeing.
The journey began with the Hayes Foundation, which Kyra established just a few months following Hayes’s passing, with monetary donations that she requested be given in place of floral tributes. Four years later came the “This Side Up” campaign that provided invaluable SIDS information for parents of new-borns. During this time, Kyra turned to extreme fitness as a way to find strength and community. She says, “I realized there was no way I was going to be able to handle this pain that I will have the rest of my life if I didn’t take care of myself. I feel so lucky that I saw this and felt it. I didn’t even realize just how amazing it could be at the time, but I did know that I had to take care of myself. I had to be healthy in order to survive.” This move toward physical health ultimately led Kyra to establish Your Own Utopia (y.o.u.), a business that focuses on helping individuals find the wellness approach the works best for them.
For about 10 years, Kyra had been working on a book about her experiences and insights. “I knew that I needed to get this information out, and it was kind of in my head for a while. Then finally I started writing stuff down and typing it up. It just kept nagging at me, ‘You’ve got to get this thing done, but how can I get this focus?’” While she struggled with her book, a friend had noticed some inspirational material that Kyra had been posting on Facebook and encouraged her to use them as the basis of a different book. And so, this shorter book became her first; however, the book she truly needed to write was still unfinished.
Finally, Kyra realized the way to get it done. “I work really, really well with deadlines,” Kyra says. “You give me a deadline, it gets done.” After this epiphany, she decided to set a release date for the book of June 11, 2018; the anniversary of her son’s death. Having the date to work towards gave her all the impetus she needed to complete the book: “I have a lot of work to do, but it’s going be released! It is called Lifestyle That Feels Good: Finding y.o.u. (Your Own Utopia).”
It is a book that pushes the message of wellness and how to achieve it based on what works best for individuals, including recipes and fitness suggestions, and positive mindset. The first book, entitled 8 Ways of Being: How To Motivate Yourself to Live Happy and Free Every Day, was released early this year, on January 23, which is another significant date because it’s Hayes’s birthday.
By using these key dates, Kyra found a way to not only make the books available but also make them part of Hayes’s story. Most importantly, though, her books are a gift that share a message of healing with other people. Kyra says, “While my growth has been huge—I’ve worked really hard at that growth—my intention is to give back and to try to create a better world.”
And books that are at once cathartic and generous are true books with spine.
(A digital version of Kyra's first book, 8 Ways of Being: How To Motivate Yourself to Live Happy and Free Every Day is available on Amazon now. The print version will be available on Amazon in March.)