Deliberate, focused, generous, confident, thoughtful, these are all good things. Being pushy isn't.
Imagine you had a check for $100,000 made out to someone else. Someone you don't know but can reach out to. How hard would it be for you to cajole this person to take the check from you and cash it?
We call someone pushy when they are trying harder for forward motion than we are. We call them pushy when they have more at stake, or more to gain, than we think we do.
It's easy to rationalize your pushiness, imagining that the other person really wants to do this project. And it's just as easy to minimize the value you add, hiding in a corner instead of bringing your value forward.
Pushiness is in the eye of the beholder. Generosity requires that we be aware of how the other person is feeling about the forward motion we're trying to make.
It really ought to be called the core list, because it's fundamentally misunderstood as something in the background, an afterthought.
The backlist is the stuff you sell long after you've forgotten all the drama that went into making it.
Book publishers make more than 90% of their profit from books they published more than six months ago. And yet they put 2% of their effort into promoting and selling those books. Editors, agents, salespeople all focus on what's new, instead of what works.
It's more exciting, more fun and more hopeful to seek out and launch new books. It's the culture of many industries, particularly ones that are seen as creative.
Nike and General Mills and the local freelancer all generate a bigger contribution with their classic stuff.
It turns out that time spent on packaging, promoting and spreading the ideas in the core list is almost always a solid investment.
There's a simple explanation:
Successful backlist products have crossed the chasm and are selling to the mass market, the largest chunk of any market. These are people who don't buy a lot of books (or sneakers, or cereals) a year, but when they do buy one, they buy a popular one. And so, every year, year after year, millions of copies of Dr. Seuss books are sold. Not because they're new, but because that's what people buy.
On the other hand, frontlist products, the new stuff, are bought by a smaller group, the early adopters, the people who like buying new books. These people are easier to reach, probably more fun to work with, but because they seek variety, they rarely all align and buy the same product.
[FWIW, the readers of this blog and followers of my work are almost all in this category–focusing on early adopters is a fine way to build a platform for work you care about—it's something that I do on purpose. But it doesn't always make economic sense.]
The way for an enterprise to build a core list, then, is to latch onto those frontlist titles that have proven themselves, to persistently and consistently work with the retail channel and the existing customer base to make them into classics—useful, reliable products or services that the masses can rely on.
This takes discipline and effort—product creators like me find this difficult. But publishers of all stripes, the organizations that exist to bring new ideas and useful technologies to the world, need to dig in and do this work.
[Expiring today, Saturday: For the first time ever, Linchpin, one of my backlist books, is on promo on the Kindle. It's less than $2.]
The best way to build a brand that matters, a story that spreads, an impact that we remember, is to understand a simple but painful trade-off:
If you want to stand for something,
You can’t stand for everything.
“Anyone can be our customer and we will get you what you want…” is almost impossible to pull off. So is, “we are the cheapest and the most convenient and the best.”
It didn’t work for Sears, or for Chevrolet or for Radio Shack. It definitely doesn’t work for the local freelancer, eager to do whatever is asked.
Relentlessly trimming what’s on offer, combined with a resolute willingness to say, “no,” are two characteristics of great brands. And linchpins, too.
Organic chemistry doesn't care if you believe in it. Neither does the War of 1812.
Truth is real, it's measurable and it happened. Truth is not in the eye of the beholder.
There are facts that don't change if the observer doesn't believe: The age of the Eiffel Tower. The temperature in Death Valley. The number of people in the elevator.
On the other hand, there are outcomes that vary quite a bit if we believe: The results of the next sales call. Our response to medical treatment. The enjoyment of music…
If you believe that this wine tastes better than that one, it probably will. If you believe you're going to have a great day at work, it will surely help. Placebos work.
We make two mistakes, all the time. First, we believe that some things are facts (as in true), when in fact, belief has a huge effect on what's going to happen. In the contest between nature and nurture, nurture has far more power than we give it credit for. In countless ways, our friends and parents matter more than our genes do.
At the same time, sometimes we get carried away. We work to amplify our beliefs by willfully confusing ourselves about whether the truth is flexible. It makes belief a lot more compelling (but a lot less useful) if we start to confuse it with truth.
But belief is too important and too powerful to be a suspect compatriot of the scientific/historical sort of truth.
We can believe because it gives us joy and strength and the ability to do amazing things. That's enough.