Tag: Prolifiko

publishing innovation

How to be more innovative

What springs to mind when you think about ‘innovation’? Do you imagine mind-blowing technical disruption, or headline-grabbing initiatives that no-one needs, or super-simple improvements that smooth your daily life – things that you could have designed if you’d had more time or money? I believe that everyone can be more innovative whatever their job, skills or budget. When I worked in publishing innovation, I loved sharing practical approaches for people to try, and when writing my first book I experimented with different tactics. Here are some easy-to-implement innovation principles to get you started.

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The author platform: Why it matters for publishers

Adrian Zackheim, founder of Portfolio, Penguin’s prestigious business book list, knows a thing or two about acquiring and marketing business books. So when I spoke to him in The Extraordinary Business Book Club this week I asked what he looked for in an author. An existing platform – a strong social media following, highly ranked blog, YouTube channel, podcast or the like – is certainly one factor.

‘When we’re taking on an author who has never had a book published before, one of the indications that this is a person we should consider is the pre-existence of a significant platform… because that means that this person has already started to attract a community, and that that community can be built upon. It’s an obvious strategy for publishers to seek out people with pre-existing platforms and attempt to extend them.’

It’s not the only factor, of course. Zackheim describes the acquisition decision as a triangulation of three key elements – platform, sure, but also person and concept:

‘There is this calculation that one has to make about: where is that platform? How significant, how important is the platform, and how good is this person as a communicator? Then how significant are the ideas that are being developed here? You have to triangulate those three considerations in order to determine the prospects for an author, and obviously we’re wrong as often as we’re right.’

There’s a potential Catch-22 for publishers here, of course: if someone has a strong platform, they may be asking themselves if they need a traditional publisher at all.

And many authors, who see a book as a way of establishing a platform, certainly feel it’s a particularly vicious double bind: ‘You mean you won’t publish me until I’ve got a following? But I need the book to get a following!’

Zackheim’s logic is irrefutable, though. You may have needed a gatekeeper such as a publisher or broadcaster 10 years ago to get your ideas out and build some energy around them: now you have an embarrassment of channels and tools through which and with which to disseminate them. If you’re not using them, the inescapable conclusion is that something is lacking.

As Zackheim puts it:

‘Anybody who is a compelling thinker and communicator, who has been completely unable to build any sort of following or to even create a ripple of interest in the media world, when they come to us with their book proposal, we have to consider it with some suspicion, because how come nothing has happened around this idea set so far?… Particularly if [they are] now coming to us and saying, “I am dying to get this idea in front of a large community. You need to help me because this idea is so important, but I really have not been able to attract a single follower.”’

The age-old dance between publisher and author, the delicate power balance played out in pitch and offer and negotiation, has evolved: while the principle remains the same – to communicate an important idea effectively to the people who need to hear it – today the publisher is just one of a number of partners on the floor.

What’s exciting about this of course is that the partners aren’t competing: if the publisher takes the time to understand what underpins the author’s platform and finds ways to support and build those channels, the reward is more attention for the idea and more sales of the book.

The art of acquisition – it gets more interesting by the day.

membership economyAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

Top 5 productivity books for writers

I’m a productivity nerd – nothing delights me more than a how-to guide on getting organised and getting things done. Over the years I’ve gathered a collection of titles that have inspired me to start writing, helped me deal with distraction, and offered advice on building a regular writing habit. Here’s my selection of those that made a difference.

Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity by David Allen

This classic productivity book was written in 2001 and has organised a generation of business people. Affectionately called GTD it has spawned many imitators and new systems like ’43 folders’.

Although the book is primarily about managing an overwhelming workload there are tactics that writers can use in their writing.

Get it all out of your head
This approach to collection can help writers get into the habit of gathering new ideas, edits and rewrite notes. By putting ideas into a ‘tickler’ file writers can get organised and – more importantly – stop getting distracted by shiny new thoughts when there’s work in progress that needs finishing.

Function often follows form
Allen has a section on thinking tools and writing instruments with advice for keeping notepads around the house. He says: “Give yourself a context for capturing thoughts and thoughts will occur that you don’t yet know you have.” Also having a cool looking pen does wonders for inspiration.

Creating the option of doing
This basically means get started. Allen uses a quote by Mark Twain to illustrate this: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” Rather than focus on the complexity of plotting a complete novel, ask yourself what’s the next action I have to do to contribute to that task.

In short: Getting organised frees your mind to create.

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Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind edited by Jocelyn K. Glei with a Foreword by Scott Belsky, founder of creative community Behance and brought to you by the inspiring types at 99U who provide insights on making ideas happen.

These next two were written with the academic writer in mind but are crammed full of practical advice that bloggers, creative and non-fiction writers can benefit from. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul J Silva and The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations and Books by Eviatar Zerubavel.

No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

The founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) distils years of running the annual writing sprint into a 50,000 word book (hitting the NaNoWriMo word count target). He outlines four lessons that we should all take notice of:
1. Enlightenment is overrated.
2. Being busy is good for your writing.
3. Plot happens.
4. Writing for its own sake has surprising rewards.

Divided into two halves the first section deals with planning and preparation – Baty highlights the importance of coffee, scheduling, not over planning and tips to get your loved ones onside. Section two is a week by week overview to ‘bashing out your book’.

Basically, Baty believes that all you need to write a book is a deadline, he says a deadline is “optimism in its most ass-kicking form”. Successful writing is presented as an attitude and his energetic good humour provides a snappy can-do riposte to procrastination.

In short: Write the damn thing and have a jolly good time to boot.

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If a month is too short, why not take it easy and stretch your novel writing over 12 months? Read A Novel in a Year: A Novelist’s Guide to Being a Novelist by Louise Doughty. Once you’ve mastered novels it’s time to branch out to other writing with the expert How to Write Everything by David Quantick.

The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self by Julia Cameron

In comparison to Baty’s short-term tactic to writing Cameron’s 12-week course takes a holistic approach to integrating creativity into your everyday life – for the rest of your life. She outlines ten basic principles such as, “Creativity is the natural order of life,” and “The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.”

Cameron’s spiritual slant to engaging the ‘Great Creator’ to free latent creativity might not be to everyone’s taste. Regardless of whether you agree with her style, she offers tools that have helped artists and writers for over twenty years. The two pivotal ones being:

The morning pages are the primary tool of creative recovery. They are simply three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done immediately on waking, every day.

The artist’s date is a weekly block of time set aside to nurture creative consciousness. It has to be time alone, such as a solitary walk to watch the sun rise, listening to music or even going bowling.

The workbook outlines a week by week set of activities, tasks and reflections. To commit to these practices Cameron suggests signing a creativity contract.

In short: Get in touch with your inner artist to realise your creative dreams.

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The original morning pages habit came from the 1934 classic Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. If you’d prefer a kick in the pants to a spiritual awakening read The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win your Inner Creative Battles by straight talking Steven Pressfield.

Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors by Celia Blue Johnson

Johnson takes us on a tour – and detour – through the literary landscape visiting writers’ homes where we find Agatha Christie munching apples in her bath while she considers plot, watch Colette pick fleas from her pets, and avert our gaze from Victor Hugo who hid all his clothes until he finished writing The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Johnson’s guide to the superstitions, habits and quirks of famous writers balances the tendency for self-mythologizing with rigorous research from multiple sources. Johnson puts details like the description of Maya Angelou’s workspace – “a bottle of sherry, a dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, yellow pads, an ashtray, and a Bible” – within the full scope of a writer’s career elevating it from writerly tittle-tattle.

The practical details of schedules, word count goals, and productive habits such as John Le Carre’s writing commute are fascinating. You may be tempted to adopt some of the practices but Johnson warns us the “chances are you still won’t invoke genius”. So sit back and enjoy the gems and boost your literary gossip.

In short: Writers’ quirks are as fantastical as their writing.

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Published before Odd Type Writers Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a Who’s Who of creative habits and includes artists, composers, filmmakers alongside writers, poets and playwrights.

If biography is your thing there’s no substitute for the Paris Review Interviews. Started in 1953 this canonical series allows writers to discuss their writing life in their own terms and contains unparalleled insights into the greatest literary minds.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

After conquering happiness in her last book Rubin turns her attention to self-improvement by exploring how we change our habits. Rather than share the habits of productive creative people she urges us to get to know ourselves and choose strategies that work for us as individuals.

Rubin develops a framework called the ‘Four Tendencies’ that categorises people by how they respond to expectations – outer ones like deadlines or inner ones like New Year’s resolutions.

  • Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
  • Questioners question all expectations; will meet an expectation only if they believe it is justified.
  • Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner.

Tens of thousands of people have taken the Four tendencies survey and I urge you to do so. If you hadn’t guessed already from my own quest for productive habits and this glance at my bookshelf that I’m an upholder.

Rubin, a fellow upholder, offers advice on foundation habits, namely:

  1. Sleep
  2. Move
  3. Eat and drink right
  4. Unclutter

She explains the principles of good habits by sharing research and homespun wisdom on tactics like scheduling, monitoring, accountability and reward. She wears her intelligence lightly and the book is a delight to read, peppered with quotes and anecdotes. In this guide to getting to know yourself you come to care about Rubin’s family and friends and their struggles with habits.

In short: Self-knowledge is the first step to becoming a better version of yourself.

You might also like

Get in the habit of habits with theses accessible academics: The Power of Habit: Why we do what do and how to change by Charles Duhigg; Making Habits – Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes that Stick by Jeremy Dean; and Willpower: Why Self-Control is the Secret to Success by Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney.

What productivity delights have I missed?

My bookshelves are heaving with books on the psychology of habits, self-help productivity guides, and writers’ biographies. I tried hard to keep the list short and only recommend those I’ve read and which had an impact on my life and writing. What delights have I missed? What are your top productivity books? What inspires you to start and keep writing? Comment below or tweet us at @beprolifiko @eva_bec

Bec Evans is a co-founder of Prolifiko a digital productivity coach which uses a research-backed productivity system to encourage writers to start and stick at their writing projects. She writes, works in publishing innovation, and was highly commended digital achiever in the Bookseller’s Futurebook 2016 awards.

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