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What It Takes

What It Takes

Acting “As If”

By Shawn Coyne | Published: July 25, 2014

I had dinner with a friend the other night who makes a fine living investing in Silicon Valley start-ups. It’s his passion to follow online innovation, so I threw out a hypothetical to him:

“Say you had to set up a website/blog/online store today…how would you do it?”

UNBROKEN, the gazillion copy bestseller about a pilot shot down, held prisoner and forced to fight like Hell to survive.

And then, as I often do, I started to answer the question myself before he got a chance to respond. I blabbed on about what the conventional wisdom is for creative blogger types whose value is in their authenticity and uniqueness. About how they’d need to invent something…a look and feel…that would express their singularity in the very design of their site. It would have to be handled very delicately and done just right to reflect their particular sensibility.

He laughed at me and simply said,

There is absolutely no value in being a snowflake on the Internet. In fact being “unlike any other” can kill you. No one will know how to use your site, or even read it, if you get too cute with it. Most people get caught up today on their mobile phones, so the site has to be easy to use on a tiny screen.

He then went on to explain that what he would do and has done is to find a “plug and play” website building company that does all of the technical stuff for him. One he can fix or change in ten minutes and not have to call someone else to do it. He’d make the site look like the most popular ones in the particular blog or online store arena he was looking to emulate. He recommended that writers using the web make their material unique, not the packaging. Don’t kill yourself over aesthetic designs that detract from the core mission.

“They call embraced innovations that work ‘best practices’ for a reason…”

It was my turn to laugh because his philosophy was exactly like mine in terms of how a publisher needs to behave. No matter the publisher’s size or traditions. When Steve and I pitched Giora Romm about publishing his Israeli bestseller in English, we told him that Black Irish Books would act “as if” we were Random House.

No, we wouldn’t be paying cooperative advertising to Barnes & Noble to get the chain to pre-order in bulk. And we would not be sending out a bunch of sales reps at great expense to convince the nation’s dwindling independent bookstores to take a flier on his book and stock a single copy and to “keep their eye on it.” That traditional method of “publishing” would prove silly for a non-celebrity or proven track record bestselling writer. I don’t know why the Big 5 still do that for all the books they publish…but they do.

If your name is not James Patterson or Walter Isaacson or Elizabeth Gilbert, you cannot depend on the old “two week blitz” publishing strategy to find a critical mass of readers.

Obviously Black Irish’s competitive advantage is in not wasting our time on old school methods wooing retailers or putting all of our eggs into a two week National Publicity basket. Our books are not “frontlist.”  They are “backlist, evergreen” long-term commitments. So we spend weeks, months, years on every single one we put out there in an effort to reach what we think is the publisher’s job…getting the book into the hands of 10,000 readers. We have plans to promote all of our titles every chance we get, in any way we can do it, for as long as we’re around.

So we explained to Giora that we would act “as if” we were Random House in terms of production and packaging with only the people who will actually want to read the book in mind. So what are the Big 5 “best practices” for production and packaging?

First off, we needed to have a great cover, something that was indistinguishable from a Big 5 approach. It had to not only look like a Random House book; it had to promise even more. So we looked at all of the covers published by Big 5 publishers that were comparable to Giora’s book…UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand and A HIGHER CALL by Adam Moss and Larry Alexander were the closest comparable. And we directed our designer Derick Tsai to follow their general graphic layout sensibility. Likewise our interior design was inspired by these titles too. (more…)

Posted in What It Takes

What It Takes

What It Takes

Why You Need to Know About Crowdfunding

By Callie Oettinger | Published: July 18, 2014

Want to wage a successful outreach campaign for the launch of your new book or album or film or restaurant or _________ (fill in the blank)?

Mimic successful crowdfunding campaigns.

While you might not be raising funds via Kickstarter or Indiegogo, you’ll need to employ the same steps as those driving crowdfunding campaigns on these sites. (more…)

Posted in What It Takes

What It Takes

What It Takes

How We Got the Deal Done

By Shawn Coyne | Published: July 11, 2014

So Steve and I both recognize that Giora Romm’s Israeli bestseller, TULIP FOUR, is the perfect Black Irish Book. It epitomizes the WHY of our little operation. Anne Hartstein Pace did an amazing job with the Hebrew to English translation and, with some editorial work to make it more in keeping with the American market, it’s got what it takes to be a classic.

Tulip Four

The Israeli cover of Giora Romm's SOLITARY. The title in Hebrew is TZIVONI ARBA, "Tulip Four."

Now what?

Black Irish doesn’t own the rights to the book. We’ll have to somehow convince Giora to make a deal with us. While Steve and Giora are friendly, Giora would be nuts to sign with us just because Steve’s a nice guy.

Obviously, Black Irish Books is not Random House. We won’t be able to toss out our imprint name and have instant credibility. But if we’re going to publish a book like this, we damn well better act as if we are Random House. This book is in the exact same arena as the blockbuster bestseller Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand as well as Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and A Higher Call by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander. Plus a very long list of other backlist performers from decades past. That’s our goal…to give the book a backlist life…not to become Unbroken. That’s a bridge too far for us.

While there is a huge potential market for this book, in order to reach even a small slice of it we’ll need to pull out all of the traditional stops that the Big Five use just to get people to notice it. More on those later.

That doesn’t mean that Steve and I have to run to our respective mortgage brokers and double down on our personal equity to publish the book. We won’t be able to write a big check to induce Giora to publish his book with us like a major publisher could. This is the big rub for mini-publishers like Black Irish.

We have limited capital. We use what cash we have to create the books themselves…the covers, the interior designs, the eBook conversions etc. Whatever surplus we have after that, we reinvest for the next title.

Now if someone told me in 1992 that this limitation would prove to be the biggest asset for a twenty-first century publisher, I’d have laughed him out of the room. But it’s true. Having limited money today is a huge advantage.


It keeps you honest.

You can’t throw money at a project because you think it will sell or because it would be good for your ego. You can’t indulge those specious reasons if you have no green. So every project you pick must meet an incredible personal and specific set of standards. And to even get the project in the first place, you have to summon all of your creative gifts to convince the other party to work with you.

By the time you’re ready to actually publish the book, you’ve toiled relentlessly just to convince yourself and the other party that it’s not just a good idea to work together…it’s essential to do so. So by the time the book goes on sale, you have no regrets. You shipped something tremendously important to you and that is HUGE!

While we don’t have the money that Random House has, we have something far more valuable. Between us we have over a half a century’s worth of experience in book publishing on every single side of the operation (author, editor, agent, publisher, production, art, publicity and marketing). And after all of that time, we’ve both figured out that there is only one indispensible element to publish a book properly.

It’s called personal commitment. Not financial or corporate or conditional commitment. Personal commitment.

What that means is that Steve and I:

  1. Must not only be entertained by the book and
  2. Make sure that it fits in our company’s limited raison d’etre and
  3. See an opportunity to make money by publishing it…just enough to break even works for us… (more…)
Posted in What It Takes
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