The Why I Don’t Do Interviews Interview, Plus
Wednesday, Steve did an interview with Chris Brogan. When we scheduled the time with Chris, the idea was that this would be an interview on why Steve isn’t doing Turning Pro-related interviews.
Chris asked some great questions, but while watching it, I thought back to how we’d gotten there, as well as my two-cents on a few of the questions.
First: The Background
Ten-plus years back, Steve and his former editor Shawn Coyne met up and talked about a new publishing house Shawn started, called Rugged Land. After the meeting, Steve called Shawn up.
“He had a bunch of pages in his drawer that he’d been Xeroxing for aspiring writer friends,” said Shawn. “That’s right, not photocopying, Xeroxing. Remember the term Xeroxing? It wasn’t weird back then. Steve estimated that the copies he gave out had saved him hours of time explaining the unromantic, but indispensable blue-collar attitude he found necessary to getting his ass in a chair and confronting a blank piece of paper. He called the wad of manuscript, A Writer’s Life.”
Steve spent decades trying to make it as a full-time writer. He’d been homeless, worked as a truck-driver, picked fruit, and hit many other odd jobs on his way to selling his first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance. He was in his early fifties when he stopped living a shadow life, making a living doing what paid the bills instead of what he loved, and wasn’t going back.
But there were calls from friends and friends of friends, asking about writing—“You lose it if you talk about it” was Hemingway’s take on talking about your writing—so he pulled together that “wad of a manuscript” he shared with Shawn.
In his article Why I Don’t Speak Steve, explained his reasons for writing The War of Art:
“1. So I wouldn’t have to talk about it, and
“2. Because book format was, in my view, the only appropriate way to deliver this material to the individual who might profit by being exposed to it.
“Writer-to-reader is private and intimate. It’s soul-to-soul. If I’m sitting on an airplane reading War and Peace, I’m in Russia, I’m with Natasha and Pierre, I’m with Tolstoy. As I read, I may start to cry. I might read a passage that changes my life. The passenger next to me reading Zen and the Art of Archery is in another universe as well. I can’t enter his sphere and he can’t enter mine. We’re sitting side by side but each of us is immersed in a private and intimate communion with other thoughts and other beings.
“The material in The War of Art is serious stuff. In the pages of that book I’m confessing some of the darkest hours and most shameful failures of my life. But more than that, I’m holding these moments up to the reader, who no doubt has experienced the same in her own life, as a means of confronting her and making her face her own shit. I don’t know how to do that in a public setting, and I wouldn’t want to try. It’s too private. It’s too personal.”
In 2002 Rugged Land released The War of Art.
In 2009 Steve started blogging and his weekly column Writing Wednesdays took off. Steve was still being asked about The War of Art, so instead of traditional interviews, we connected with different bloggers and, for almost a year, Steve did a three-questions series, answering three questions (via e-mail) from different readers. It was interesting to see how the Q&A’s were shared. Some went up on the different bloggers’ sites, just as Steve had e-mailed them, with a short intro. added. And some, as was the case with Jeff Sexton and Jenny McCoy, incorporated the three questions into larger articles, which ran on the sites Copy Blogger and The World’s Strongest Librarian.
During that time, Steve was writing The Profession, and Do the Work, The Warrior Ethos and Turning Pro were on the horizon. He didn’t have time to keep up with the interviews. And: he found, that he started running into the same questions. What he’d hit with radio interviews in the past was popping up among bloggers. Some had taken a page out of old PR packets—those awful Author Q&As, with questions no one really cares about (but which the publicist has been advised by his/her boss to include as they are always included in these packets) such as “Why’d you write the book?” The questions were stale and Steve was at different stages with four books. Interviews hit the backburner.
Steve stopped doing interviews, but it was hard to ignore what had happened during the year of three questions. Readers became individuals. They weren’t fans or consumers. We began to know their names, their favorite books, projects they were working on themselves, and more about their personal lives. All wonderful! Barbara Winter got me thinking about being “joyfully jobless” and the ups and downs of moving, of changing locations. Darrelyn Saloom and I have talked agents, books-in-progress and grandchildren, and Scott Oden and I have talked Orcs and going back to all the fantasy books I loved as a kid. As Steve worked through the four books, I continued connecting with these amazing individuals, and Steve chimed in on Facebook and via the comments section of his blog when he wasn’t writing the books.
And the more we connected, the more the book sold. Reaching out to say thank you wasn’t a strategy. It was the right thing to do. As Steve finished his books, I helped by reaching out to different individuals writing about Steve’s work. Simple thank you’s for sharing. We didn’t ask them to share, they just did it on their own, and we wanted to make sure they knew we were grateful.
And even more books sold.
And then Grand Central Books’ contract for the paperback edition was up for renewal and Steve and Shawn decided to publish it through Black Irish Books instead. “Only three months before (March 2011) Steve and I had published Black Irish Books’ first title, The Warrior Ethos,” said Shawn. “Despite having no bookstore presence or big time publisher behind it, The Warrior Ethos was finding its audience.”
While all of this is happening, I was turning down speaking events and interviews because Steve was too busy.
And then Do the Work was released, and Steve did the first round of interviews he’d done in a while. And then The Profession hit stores, too.
And Steve wanted to get back to writing. He was already researching his next book.
No more interviews. No more speaking events.
But the requests kept coming in.
And then there was Turning Pro.
Would Steve do interviews?
I ran through the pro’s with Steve–nudged him a bit.
He agreed to do six. And then he pulled back. The first launch date was set when Steve was out of country researching his new book, but then it was pushed a month. He was due to return about a week after the launch of Black Irish Books and Turning Pro. He wanted to dig into the new book rather than do interviews.
I contacted the hosts of the two interviews that had been scheduled and explained that Steve wouldn’t be doing interviews after all.
And then Chris Brogan e-mailed Steve.
And Steve sent a nice reply, with a decline.
The Interview About Not Doing Interviews
Steve, Shawn and I had a conference call scheduled for the same day Steve replied to Chris, and during the call, interviews came up. Steve explained why–in addition to time–he didn’t want to do interviews related to Turning Pro. He’d do them for his other books, but Turning Pro and The War of Art are too personal.
Back to why he wrote The War of Art: so he didn’t have to talk about it.
It’s about falling into the shadow career.
Steve could make money doing speaking events, but he doesn’t want to. That isn’t a knock on professional speakers. Many of them work within a certain industry, do speaking engagements to share their work, and write books, too.
Steve is a writer first. That’s his industry. And when he shares, he does it through his writing. By hitting the speaking circuit he stops writing. He stops his career. He takes a job for the money instead of for the passion and the love. He enters back into the shadow career that he left almost twenty years ago.
Back to the conference call.
Shawn suggested Steve do an interview about why he isn’t doing any Turning Pro-related interviews.
I e-mailed Chris. He liked the idea. The date/time were set.
Interview day, Steve e-mailed me, saying “Chris is a good guy. I didn’t come away feeling that usual bad way.”
Great questions from Chris. He’s a Pro.
My Two Cents
There were a few things that came up in the interview that I want to pull out.
There’s a line in Steve’s book about pro’s working and amateurs tweeting. That doesn’t mean Steve doesn’t embrace social media. It means he doesn’t tweet when he should be working. While Steve isn’t on Twitter (More on this via the article “On Sharing“), he is on Facebook. You can catch him replying to comments when he’s not working.
Steve doesn’t want to do interviews, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to connect.
If you e-mail Steve, he replies. And though he doesn’t reply to everyone, he’s pretty good about touching base via Facebook, too.
And: interviews just aren’t the only way to go. Social Media provides a direct-connect between authors and readers, and readers and other readers. The middle man sharing used to be TV and radio hosts/reporters and print journalists. Now, its the readers themselves doing the sharing. The interview is one way to get in front of a large group of people, but it still relies on a middle man, and how that individual conducts and then shares the interview.
Or, you could just say thank you to those supporting you. ALL. THE. TIME. AND MEAN IT. I keep an eye out on what’s being written about Steve and his work, and have connected with thousands that way. Is the motivation to sell? No. Do I hope they’ll share? Sure. But if they don’t share will I be upset? No.
I once had a professor who wanted our class to negotiate for final grades. (The class was on negotiation and conflict resolution.) I refused. I told him I’d done my work. I knew what I produced, as did he. Ultimately, he was going to make the decision, and I was going to rely on him to make the right decision. I wasn’t going to negotiate for the grade. (I got an A.) The same thing comes into play with outreach. We’re working hard, in a way that is comfortable to Steve, and which is the right thing to do. Ultimately, the individuals will make up their own mind. If they share, fantastic! If they don’t share, that’s fine, too.
And you know what, the books keep selling–without the monster advertising campaigns, the interviews, and speaking events. Would these things increase the sharing? Yes. Do we want to? No.
For all the innovations in how we can share now, the one that means the most–that is remembered and has existed through all the eons of communications–involves saying thank you.
Shawn wrote a great post that expands on what Steve shared with Chris, titled “When the Ladder Becomes the Wheel.” There is a place for traditional publishing, but more along the lines of the Medici’s supporting artists back in the day.
Traditional publishing still has its place–and there are some amazing editors and marketing/PR pros who live there.
But there are some real problems, too–and part of the problem is the authors (More via the post “What Have You Done For Yourself Lately?“). Too many authors enter into contracts without educating themselves on the business of publishing, without finding out what their publishing house will or won’t do. I experienced this once via an author who yelled at me for not setting up a non-stop, minute-to-minute NYC media blitz for him. His publisher hired me to do basic radio and print. No tour, no major media blitz. The author had certain expectations. He didn’t communicate them to the publisher and the publisher didn’t communicate with the author. Not pleasant.
Both the authors and the publishers need to do better jobs communicating with each other. And if something isn’t going to work, identify it up front and sort out how to hurdle it. And if it isn’t something that can be worked out, don’t go mainstream. There are some wonderful small presses, too.
Steve mentioned book stores, too. True, that’s one thing the publishers can do. For the explosion of e-books, there are still readers who want old-school print–and who want to buy them in the stores. The publishers have the distribution systems set up.
And there are the editors Steve mentioned–and I’ve worked with some amazing in-house marketing/pr teams, too. But there are the rotten eggs, too.
Bottom line: Mainstream publishing is a mixed bag of pros and cons. Authors entering into that world should be prepared for both.
When I started doing outreach for authors/publishers, things operated in a one-size fits all mode, with a few variations depending on the author.
Steve has challenged me to trash everything I’ve done in the past and find different ways to connect and share. And he’s challenged me to redefine what outreach means. Is it defined as an interview or a guest article? Or paid advertising? Or is it that one-on-one direct connect? Or is it a mix?
I don’t have an answer.
I just know that doing what feels right has been the right way to go–and we’ve done it without interviews.
Callie, thanks for the mention and thanks for the perspective. I had wondered why Steven does so little media, but the answer’s not surprising!
Keep talking and we will keep listening. If the things you say are interesting, they mean something to us, we will spread it around-no doubt about that!
So there is no need for a continuous on-line communication,interviews etc, but just to say a few words once in a while that have a meaning.
And it is sure that there might be a more effective way to make massive advertise of your clients books than these posts.
I believe that this situation here is based mainly on finding our clan worldwide. Someone to share the same thoughts, ideas, insights, fears…
It’s not sure that we can do that with people from the neighborhood/town/city/country we leave.
Your approach and the content have built a very strong trust on my end. When I see something from the SP Team–or when I come here at least three times a week–I pay attention because I know it will be worth my time. Well done.
Callie, I’d just like to say that, in regard to Steve connecting with his readers, I’ve sent him 4 or 5 personal emails over the last couple of years, and he’s answered every single one. He’s truly one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered, and I have just as much respect for Steve as a person as I do for him as a writer, and I think Gates of Fire is the greatest book ever written. You all do a fantastic job with this blog and with promoting Steve, and I for one will buy every single book that Steve writes.
Thanks for mentioning the e-mails, Jim. There are so many ways to connect. Interviews rep one route.
Callie, THANK YOU for writing such a revealing piece. I am following Steve’s advice for my next book, Ciao From Roma! A Romantic’s Spring in the City of Eternal Love, and bypassing agents and editors, though I have had four books (2 were six figure advances)published by Random House. One was nominated for a Pulitzer.
I still do interviews and as a means of sharing and connecting with readers here, I hope it’s OK to post the link to my recent PBS interview.
I have two drawings signed by a jerry ellis? I was just wondring if you ever did any drawings of the hampton water front at any time?
Integrity, Preference and Honor.
What I’m hearing you say Callie is that audience with Steven is attainable, just not in interview form. Get over it. Move on and keep writing.
Many writers don’t like to do public presentations. Sounds like this isn’t a popularity contest, it’s about life.
After reading Turning Pro, I picked up The War of Art again cover to cover. The two books belong on the desktop side by side. It is a Self to Self interaction and if you aren’t hurt AND cheered by these pages as an artist, then your eyes are only moving across the text.
In regard to the question on what would you want people to say if they saw Steven Pressfield out and about in public, my response would totally be like this => http://tinyurl.com/pete-seeger2009
Regina, I followed your link and fully enjoyed it. I lived in New Orleans for eight years so it really resonated with me. It was while living there that my life changed. I waited the table of a director/producer from NY who became my friend. He optioned one of my screenplays and that sent me to LA, another changing point that led me to start writing books. Hope all is well. Jerry Ellis
Thanks, Regina. You nailed it. AND – thank you for the Pete Seeger link, too. Perfect! Callie
I think perhaps missing from the discussion on interviews and media spotlights is the word humility. I would suggest is it very humble of a man to do what he does well, and pass on things he does not. One thing in the interview comes across to me crystal clear, Steve does not feel a need to have his name trumpeted everywhere. Good on him.
Steve’s connection to writers and readers through this site – especially “Writing Wednesdays” – is fantastic. It’s a must-read for me every Wednesday morning. So I agree that Steve is connecting in his own way, and it’s a very compelling and enlightening way.
Thanks to Steve and all of you for what you contribute on this site.
Echoing what Jim said, I’ve emailed Steven a few times, primarily about the Warrior Ethos, and he replied every time. He is friendly and encouraging and a Class Act.
As always, many thanks for this!
It made me remember a series of portraits I was once asked to do of a British crime writer during her reading tour.
She was very beautiful – still is – but her stories, well, were as gruesome as murder is.
So, after two interviews starting off with the question: How can it be that such a lovely woman like you comes up with such horrible blabla.etc.etc. we made a bet that 90% of the others would probably start off the same.
We lost. In the end it was up to 99,9%
Needless to say we had a terrific time laughing our heads off – often into the face of the slightly bewildered journalists…
Guess why I wouldn’t want to start doing interviews either.
A great story André! Thank you for sharing it.