September 20 | Keynote Address
Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, addressed ACFW members Thursday evening declaring, “Now is the best time ever to be an author!”
To a few barely suppressed giggles and snorts, Hyatt noted many writers today believe the opposite.
“My guess is some of you think this is the worst time to be an author—that you got to the party a decade or two late. Some of you are fearful about what’s coming and wondering if you’ll even have a job or be successful.
“To that, I want to answer an emphatic ‘Yes !’ ”
Hyatt shared about the transformative effect books have had on his life—both personally and professionally. He took attendees on a travelogue of his professional life, beginning as a director of marketing who had no marketing experience, through being an acquisitions editor, a vice president of marketing, the owner of a publishing company, a literary agent, and an author.
“I was publishing authors and representing authors, but I’d never written a book,” Hyatt said. “I had a secret desire that I could one day write a book, but I didn’t want to admit it.
“But, I put together a book proposal—which, as it turned out, was a huge amount of work. I didn’t think I’d be able to give birth to the proposal, let alone the book.”
He persevered, shopping the book to 29 publishers who allsaid no before number 30 said yes. From being on the other side of the publishing equation, Hyatt understood the importance of delivering the manuscript on time.
Don’t be high maintenance
“The last thing I wanted to be—and the last thing you want to be—is a high maintenance author,” he said. Editors have limited resources, he noted, and if you’re a pain they may decide to focus on another client.
But, with his best effort, he still found his deadline looming and little progress being made. “I’m tracking my word count every day and I’m adding up the days I have left and I find I have more words than I have days.
“So I went to a residential hotel and checked in. For 12 hours a day—four of which were productive—I attempted to write this book. I hired a copyeditor who went through it and cleaned it up. I wanted it so squeaky clean that they would say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the best manuscript we’ve ever seen.’ ”
After turning it in, two months went by before he heard from the publisher. One day, a FedEx truck showed up. When he opened the package, it was the edited manuscript from the substantive editor—with extensive changes. “My heart sank and I felt like I was at The Gong Show and was being gonged offstage.”
After turning it in again, following essentially a rewrite, the publisher called just as it should be going to press and announced they weren’t going to publish it after all. “I was stunned,” Hyatt said.
But he summoned his best sales mojo and convinced them to publish it. Within 90 days the book hit the New York Times bestseller list, where it stayed for 12 months.
Then his second book, Invasion of Privacy, came out—two months before 9–11, and stiffed.
“The point of these stories is that for most of my publishing career, as an author I had to wait on someone else to move,” Hyatt said. “You pour blood, sweat, and tears into your book and then you’re waiting for someone—anyone—to respond. It feels like everything is outside of your control and all you’re doing is waiting.”
The power is shifting
However, he suggested that over the last 10 years the power has been shifting to the author. Now, he said, is the best time to be an author for five reasons.
- It’s easier than ever to do the writing. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but that it’s easier.” Hyatt noted writers now have conferences, instructional books, courses to take, software to use, support groups, and, with the advent of the Internet, research is easier. “Google made that possible, but Twitter and Facebook make (research) personal.”
- It’s easier than ever to do market research. “Twenty years ago we published it and that was our research,” Hyatt said. “If it didn’t work, it didn’t work. We had no way to engage with readers.” Unlike today, when you can engage directly with your tribe through social media.
- It’s easier than ever to get into print. “Traditional publishing is no longer the only game in town—that genie’s out of the bottle and self-publishing is a viable option.”
- It’s easier than ever to build a tribe. Hyatt noted that relationships with readers are no longer mediated by another entity. “It’s possible for you to build a tribe today and that means it’s possible to have a conversation with real people who are reading your work. It’s no longer a shot in the dark.”
- It’s easier than ever to build a business. “Speaking, coaching, consulting. Whatever you want it to be,” he said. “It’s easier to build a sustainable business around your book.”
Hyatt stressed he’s not saying being an author today is easy. “It’s not easy, but it is easier,” he said. “One of the reasons your role (as an author) is so important is we live in chaotic times. People desperately need stories to sort out the meaning of what they’re experiencing.
“They need a way of thinking about the world that helps them make sense of it. What do you choose to do with the gift you’ve been given?”