Writing Your First Book: Lessons from The Lean Startup
A guest post by Jacqueline Jensen, author of Travel Isn’t the Answer: Live With a Sense of Curiosity, Passion, and Awe Anywhere and Everywhere.
“What is the hardest part about writing a book?”
As I’ve read interviews and talked to writers, their answers range from challenges landing a publishing deal and feeling overwhelmed as a slow writer, to fears around vulnerability and the struggle to shed self-doubt. Will people read the book? Will my ideas resonate with anyone?
Most writers I have come across tell me writing a book is both extremely rewarding and at the same time one of the biggest challenges they have ever taken on.
When I decided to write my first book, I came across an ideation framework that made perfect sense to me as a former venture-backed startup founder. Even better, many of challenges I heard from experienced authors seemed to be helped along with a new approach, too.
The idea is simple, but powerful: Test your idea for a book before investing too much of your time actually writing the book.
In the startup world, we call this The Lean Startup methodology. Tech entrepreneurs around the globe have followed principles introduced by Eric Ries, an entrepreneur and author of the New York Times bestseller The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business.
Rather than create a product – or write a book – in isolation, Ries says that by getting ideas out into the world as quickly as possible, we rapidly see what works and can discard what doesn’t without too much invested effort.
While it may make sense to some of us to start with an idea for something we think people may want and then spend time building it, there’s a better way. What if we publicly shared the idea in its most basic form to hear what people think? What if we chose to create smarter, not work harder?
This rudimentary form of an idea is called an MVP. In the tech world, a “minimum viable product” is a version of a new product that is used to collect the maximum amount of validated learning with the least effort. In this new world of writing my first book, my book’s MVP would take the form of a 30-day pre-order campaign to gather feedback about the idea.
I connected with the team at Publishizer to get started on creating the campaign. We explored how we could move fast and embrace the idea of failing quickly, which for someone new to publishing like me felt both a little scary and incredibly bold.
“We are a NYC-based startup and crowdfunding platform that has helped hundreds of authors get published,” said Lee Constantine, Head of Growth at Publishizer. “Authors have used Publishizer to earn over $1 million in funds. Our goal is to enable exciting new book ideas and help authors land an advance-paying publisher. We launched in 2014 and graduated from 500 Startups Batch 13 in Mountain View, CA. We pride ourselves on working with world-class thought leaders, speakers, coaches, investors, and people doing interesting things.”
Within weeks, I had a Publishizer campaign page ready for the pre-order launch on September 15, 2017. I filmed a video explaining a bit more about the book idea, worked with a designer to create a book cover, and conducted research on the potential market. I even asked a creative I admire to partner with me. Carl Richards, New York Times Sketch Guy columnist, agreed to write the foreword and produce original sketches for the book!
During this process, I have felt the same fears, doubts, and challenges as the experienced authors I look up to. I realized my initial urge to plan every step before unveiling a finished book was because I was stepping into the unknown. I wanted to avoid failure. However, the secret key to creating something awesome is to get the feedback necessary early on to make it great!
During the creation of the campaign, I reminded myself over and over that the goal wasn’t to create a final product. My focus was to share budding ideas, create a space for feedback, stretch my assumptions, and show up with a learner’s eye. Bringing the “experimentation-first” mindset I cultivated at tech startups has been just what I needed jump start momentum in this new adventure.
How have you tackled new creative projects? What have you learned by sharing ideas before they are fully baked? I’d love to hear from you!
Jacqueline Jensen is a digital nomad, former venture-backed startup founder, speaker, and recognized community builder. Jacqueline’s next ambitious project is publishing her first book. Watch her TEDx talk “Playing nicely with fellow entrepreneurs pays off.” Jacqueline’s interests include travel, yoga, entrepreneurism, startups, and learning to code. You can connect with her at @JackieMJensen or on LinkedIn.