Sunday, October 14, 2012



This is a longer blog than normal; but, since the subject is rather important, please bear with me. But how would an author know about such matters? Well, I was in business before I became a writer; and just so you know, book-writing is just about as entrepreneurial as you can get.

I don’t profess to know all the answers to my own question, but as I work away towards getting my books published, I have had a few thoughts on the matter. However, before I elaborate, let me explain a little about my own situation.

I have always been entrepreneurial and creative. I am blessed with what is known as an original mind. Quite why, I don’t understand exactly, but I know that I have always had a vivid imagination, and have been intensely intellectually curious. Part of it is doubtless genetic, but I was also brought up in a creatively stimulating (if over-emotional) home environment. When I was at boarding school (a decidedly less emotional location where histrionics were unacceptable), a rather marvelous math teacher called Father Bede – he was a Benedictine monk - told my mother – during one of her rare visits – that I was both highly intelligent and a dreamer, and he meant it as a compliment. He meant I tended to question the status quo and dreamt of what might be.  He was entirely right; and I haven’t changed in that regard. I will die the dreamer.

Unfortunately, my attributes were offset by certain serious faults. I was impatient; I had a terrible temper; and I lacked what I tend to call emotional resilience. I tended to over-react in the face of setbacks, and to have great difficulty in viewing them calmly and dispassionately. I had not yet learned that matters are rarely as bad as you think they might be; and that most issues can be resolved if you keep your cool and take your time. Easy to say and hard to do, but the truth is: COOL IS KING. Have that tattooed on the inside of your eyeballs. It may be the most important lesson you need to learn.

Suffice to say that my considerable talents were, at least partially, offset by my flaws, so I have been less successful than I otherwise might have been. But, I have had my successes, for all that; and have certainly lived an interesting life. Beyond that, I live in hopes I have learned a few things, and mellowed somewhat; and I’m not dead yet.

A very good friend of mine, Vaughn Forrest to whom my third book THE DEVIL’S FOOTPRINT is dedicated (the fictional character, Cochrane was inspired by him) likes to stress that life is hugely about managing one’s fears. He is entirely right, but he is also saying much the same thing as ‘Cool Is King’ – but, perhaps more elegantly.

So what are (some of) the secrets of putting a new venture together?

  • OBJECTIVE: You need a clear objective. Feel free to call it a vision. You may have to modify it a bit in the light of events, but the substance should remain. Where writing is concerned, it may be a story outline. It may be as simple and intangible as an idea which inspires you. Creativity operates in strange and wonderful ways.
  • PLAN: A vision is a fine thing, but if you don’t know how to achieve it, you won’t get very far. A plan doesn’t have to be perfect, but you need something; and it is probably best written down. If you are planning to raise funds, you will also need a Business Plan. Books on the latter are widely available. Being a writer, I’m rather biased in favor of the written word and Business Plans, but I will admit that plenty of businesses get started without them. Where a book is concerned, editors like story outlines; but many authors just like to write. If the seed is there, both story and characters have a habit of developing on the page.
  • EXECUTION: This boils down to the ability to get things done, and it is a rarer attribute than one might think. Why so? Well, it involves determining priorities, dealing with people, enduring bureaucracies, coping with administration – and much else besides. It is extraordinarily important. Remember ideas are common. It is what you do with them that counts; and the pitfalls are many. It is useful to be a competent executioner. If you are a writer, first and foremost, you execute by writing. True, there is more to writing than that. You have to market your work. But, first you have to write for as many days, weeks, months and years that your work takes.
  • PEOPLE: You need people. No one does anything entirely alone (even if they think they do). In business, it is called a management team. Where a writer is concerned, it may be a support system. Either way, we ALL need help. One person – in addition to you - may be enough. It depends upon the situation.
  • WEAKNESSES: It is both helpful, and painful – especially to the go - to know yourself really well; and compensate accordingly. This does mean swallowing humble pie, because, no matter how talented you are, you almost certainly have weaknesses too. Best to admit them and compensate for them from the beginning. If you don’t, the stresses of a new venture are likely to expose them. This is why most new ventures operate best when a team is involved. Where writing is concerned, you need solid emotional support, and, most probably a good editor – or at least a few people who can assess your work critically. That said, where creativity is concerned, over time you will discover that you will develop the best guide of all; an inner voice. Learn to trust it. Does that fly in the face of words like ‘team’ and ‘cooperation?’ Yes, it does. But such is the nature of creativity.
  • FORTITUDE: You need fortitude. This is a truly marvelous word which the dictionary defines as: Strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage. If I can guarantee one thing about a new venture, it is that you will run up against adversity. Things will go wrong. People will try and stop you. Keep cool, and keep going regardless of any, and all, obstacles. This can be extraordinarily hard to do; but it is what you must do.
  • STOICISM: You need to be prepared to live with lack of encouragement from most other people including some, if not many, of those closest to you. That comes as a shock. But, most people are not entrepreneurial, and work in a reactive job within structured systems. Given that reality, they tend to regard the new (unless it is a new gadget from Apple) as an implied criticism of their ways of life. This is no more than human nature. Don’t take it personally. It is just something you have to expect and live with. And, if you are a writer, or otherwise creative, it is worse still. No regular income. Prospects poor. Spends all day alone (probably) drinking). Clearly a social misfit. Endure – perhaps for years; and keep going.
  • PATIENCE: You need patience. Boy, do you need patience! Most people can estimate how long things take because they are doing the same kind of thing all the time. But, where a new venture is concerned, you are pioneering and can only guess; and you will frequently guess wrong. Beyond that, almost everything takes longer than you think – particularly the first time around. Take up Yoga. Take cold showers. Go for long walks. Buy yourself a hammock and chill out. You really do need patience.
  • EXPERTISE: You really, truly, and absolutely need expertise. This is hard to be precise about, but I am generally of the view that the more you know about your business the better. Sometimes, of course, you have to learn as you go. Writing a first book is a good example. If I had known what it took to write a big thriller I might never have started GAMES OF THE HANGMAN (I lie) – but I will say that although I had never written a book before, I still had decades of other writing experience under my belt. You need at least some expertise. More is better. Professionalism is really what I am talking about. Watch a  pro at work in virtually any field and it is hard not to feel respect; and more to the point – trust. Trust underpins everything. Understand the concepts of trust and decency and there is not much else left.
  • RESOURCES: You need resources. This is a complex issue because there is such a thing as having too many resources. That said, it is hard to progress when you are on the breadline. Trust me on that point: I have been there. The trick is to operate as minimally as you can while having the essentials. For instance, if you are a paratrooper, you do not need a brand new uniform, and shiny jump boots, for your first combat jump; but both a parachute and a weapon are highly advisable. If you doubt me, and feel like experimenting without, be my guest.
  • HEALTH: You need your health. Doing anything entrepreneurial requires energy and stamina over the long term – and the long term could be years. Setting up a new venture is hard pounding. I give credit to the Duke of Wellington for that last remark. The man both wrote and spoke with humor, style and elegance. He would be remembered for such qualities, but then he defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, and is primarily recalled as a soldier. It’s a sad fate for a man of such literary talent; not to mention the inventor of the Wellington boot.
  • LUCK: Some people believe you make your own luck. I don’t think that is entirely true. Bad things do happen to good people, and vice-versa. What I will say is that the expression: “What goes around, comes around,” seems to have some validity to it – certainly as far as I am concerned. When I have behaved badly – something I have been guilty of more often than I would like – there have been adverse consequences (which I well deserved). Conversely, I have been astonishingly lucky on many occasions; probably more than I deserve. Accordingly, I do believe there is some relationship between one’s behavior and luck. Either way, it is probably a good idea to be a decent human being - just in case.

The above reminds me of one of my favorite new venture jokes. I am supposed to have originated it – I wish I had – but I cannot claim authorship.

“If at first you don’t succeed; well… so much for skydiving!”





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