By Brian Schwartz
I want to share with you an analogy that is likely familiar to most of you. As you begin to read this month’s letter, I’d like you to role play with me. Put on your farmer/gardener hat. Think of your actions as the seeds, and your book as the crop you’ve planted. I think you’ll find that gardening/farming and publishing actually have a lot in common!
Both farming and gardening provide wonderful analogies for the mindset to succeed in publishing (and maybe even in life). I’d suggest you use this analogy, as I do myself, to build your own publishing empire. I’ve personally found the days I think like a farmer, are the ones I can call my most fruitful.
As farmers, we don’t get immediate results – instead we must await the result of our actions taken today. In order to reap a harvest tomorrow, we must plant seeds today. The reality is that most results are largely outside our control anyway, yet they often take our attention from what we can control. What you should give your attention to instead, are the seeds of action you plant today. For it’s the rewards you reap tomorrow that can be attributed to those seeds.
Crops can’t be harvested unless seeds are planted, cultivated, and allowed the space to grow. A smart farmer knows that the right variety of crops will grow high and become profitable. Other varieties, not so much. Every season, it’s a bit of a gamble. The key to be a successful farmer is in selecting the crops that will be in high demand and short supply at the time of harvest. This is similar to an author writing a book today that will be in high demand tomorrow. If there’s no demand for your crop (ie. topic), then you can’t expect to demand a high price for it either. Trust that over time, the value of a crop will fluctuate. If too many others are selling the same crop, the price goes down… eventually, nobody is making any money until someone invents a new variety that makes the others less relevant.
Last month, I shared the importance of making space for the important items on your plate. If you plant too many seeds in too small a space, none will survive – in fact, they may all grow a little, but not enough to be harvested. Instead, plant the seeds that you want to see grow and give them space to grow. See the result as the goal, and seeds as the steps to get there.
You can plant seeds all day long, but there’s no guarantee they’ll grow. In fact, throw a seed in the ground and ignore it – most of the time, it won’t grow. We are bombarded with distractions all day long that will try to pull our attention away from what is most important.
The fact is that the most successful farmers focus on one crop at at time. They don’t try to plant a bunch of different crops, but instead pick one they can grow the best, and work at creating the best crop available anywhere. Don’t dilute your efforts. The smart publishers pick a niche and dive as deep as they can into that niche.
Just remember that if other farmers see increased demand for a crop, they’ll likely rush to plant the same crop, and when they do, the price will often fall and demand will be diluted. But trust that it’s good to be in early and often.
Are you using the right tool for the job?
In order to succeed in farming, you will need a set of tools. Like a farmer, the tool shed of a publisher includes key partners, technology, wisdom, experience, and other farmers. Successful farmers are always looking for the best tool for the job. Always be asking: Is this the right tool for the job? Be sure to talk to your fellow farmers – what tools are they using? Is there a more effective tool (or process) I should adopt? CIPA offers a wonderful venue for this type of exchange.
Early to rise
Farmers are early to rise. The work ahead demands an early start. There will be times of the year when you must get up early, work long hours, and do it again the next day. Other times, you’ll be able to throttle back, give yourself some time off, and reap the rewards of your harvest. This reminds us of the importance of having passion in whatever it is you do. A person with passion will always outwork someone doing something simply for the profit. One caveat – some people’s passion is profit!
Are you planting annuals or perennials?
You need to have a good balance of annuals & perennials. If you plant too many perennials, you may end up with a yard in the winter that doesn’t have any plants. Too many annuals and the perennials can get lost in the landscape. The smartest gardeners plant a variety of perennials that bloom throughout that year. That way, the landscape looks beautiful year round! As a publisher, can you think of titles that will be in demand year after year? I think about the authors who write relationship advice and books about love… they reap a harvest every Valentine’s Day!
Annuals = immediate abundance but short lived beauty
Annuals are readily available, and may be in demand. As a publisher/author, they may show up in the form of services that meet the immediate needs of your readers. But to stay competitive, each year you will need to update your services. Think of it as the opportunity to assess the needs of the marketplace (or changing environment), and plant the appropriate annuals. Annuals can be used to backfill your income while you wait for perennials (see below) to multiply. The drawback of a business full of annuals is that you must constantly plant a new crop of annuals (ie. clients) each month.
Perennials = long-term recurring reward
Perennials require little maintenance and will reward you with blooms (cash-flow) year after year; they can also multiply, providing you with additional profits over the years to come. Plant a perennial this year (ie. publish a book) and you will be building a recurring cash-flow for years to come. But since perennials multiply, to stay healthy, they will require periodic thinning. If you do make space, overcrowding will occur and flower production and disease will naturally decrease the population. Thinning requires digging up some of the plants, pulling or cutting them apart and replanting; this process must be repeated about once every three years. Some Perennials self-multiple with little maintenance. Strive to find a theme in your work that allows for the seed you plant to be a perennial. This begins early in the ‘idea phase’ of your topic by picking ideas that can be ‘perennialized.’ You can see this in action with publishers who create multiple spin-offs of their topic and multimillion empires as a results. Some better known examples include: Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guerrilla Marketing, and The Dummies Series.
Benefits of Using Both Perennials and Annuals
Most gardeners prefer a mix; perennials provide constant beauty, while the annuals give the gardener the opportunity to change things up a bit. As an authorpreneur – it’s up to you to find a mix that works… even the most successful farmers get caught in dry spells when the crop they’ve planted is in abundance without enough demand.
Care & feeding of your crops
Initially, seeds need water to germinate. They need to be planted in fertile soil. The right conditions are key during a seed’s infancy. Some seeds will go dormant if ignored, and they may be hard to find later.
Things that are in your control, things that are not
You can control things like the water you feed your plant, the weeding, and attention you give it. You can set it up so it can get plenty of sunshine (exposure), but you can’t control the sun or the rain. The most important thing you can do as a smart farmer is to be wise in knowing the care and feeding a particular crop will require. Do you have space in your ‘yard’ for it? Will it steal sunlight from your other plants that are already growing?
Weeding and maintaining your crops is a never ending process, so you are best to accept that fact and get used to it. The most successful businesses fail when the owner takes the success for granted and starts to ‘kick back’ and just watch his crops grow. Truth is, successful people work harder once they are successful to stay successful. Weeding is a daily battle. So be sure to always be on the lookout for weeds and the sooner you pull them, the less work it’ll be. Let them go too long, and it becomes harder and harder to remove them. Think of your bad habits as weeds – the sooner you eliminate them, the easier they’ll be.
Your relationships are seeds as well. You’ll need to do some occasional wedding so others in your ‘yard’ can thrive. You can sell your ‘seeds’ to other farmers who will plant them in their pasture, and you’ll both receive a reward at harvest time. Keep in mind, the partner farmer can do much better when you provide the tools and training to help them thrive. Also, many will use that training to create their own crops and eventually could become a competitor.
One of the many facets to running a successful farm is to participate in marketplaces that allow you to sell your harvested crops! One unique model that creates a high margin is co-ops and farmers markets. Co-ops are ongoing ‘store fronts’ where customers can buy at a discount. Farmers markets are events that showcase a farmer’s crop to a targeted group. What Co-ops can you participate in as a publisher?
As you think of yourself as a farmer or gardener, ask yourself:
- What seeds have you planted this week?
- What weeds have you pulled?
- What season are you in? And what are you planning for your next crop?
- What is your CASH CROP? And are you paying it enough attention? How are you improving it?
Are you a farmer or hunter?
One of the reasons I left my job in sales was because of the ‘farming vs. hunting’ mentality that existed where I worked. Management saw each of us as either a ‘farmer’ or a ‘hunter’. The hunters were expected to find new clients, the farmers job was to cultivate existing clients to yield a profitable harvest. I was a farmer in a company that valued hunters. We all have unique experiences that make us better suited as farmers or hunters. I’ll plan to expand on this article next month by creating an analogy for those of you who might have a tendency or preference to be a hunter. But until then – put on your farmer’s hat and get to work!
CIPA President 2012-2013