Patience and Faith

A "Patience and Faith" Backlist Bestseller

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The other day, Loren Kleinman at IndieReader sent me a bunch of questions about The Story Grid and about Steve and my publishing philosophy at Black Irish Books.What’s surprising about doing interviews is that the most fundamental and well-worded questions can make you reconsider exactly what you’re doing and why.

Loren’s full interview should run shortly, but in the meantime, I thought it would be fun to share just one of her questions with you.

Keep in mind that the opinions in here are mine only. I can’t speak for Steve or Callie or Jeff.  This is just my take.

Tell us about Black Irish Books.  Explain the motto and what kinds of authors are you looking for?  What can readers expect from Black Irish?

Bestselling writer Steven Pressfield and I started Black Irish Books in 2011.  We did it out of desperation.  Steve’s novel The Profession was about to be published and we wanted to pull out all of the stops for it.  We asked to meet with the publisher (one of the Big Five who’d paid quite a bit of money to publish the book) to go over some marketing ideas that we had.  They graciously agreed to hear us out.

This was our thinking:

Steve has a spectacular reputation among military fiction and nonfiction readers, especially among soldiers.  So as The Profession was about what it means to be a soldier in many ways, we thought it would be great idea to get the word about the book going by giving away a lot of free copies of the book to soldiers serving in the military.  Through Steve’s connections, and his outstanding publicist Callie Oettinger’s connections, we were able to put together a list of about 10,000 soldiers serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the U.S. at the time.  And we’d finagled ways to actually get the books into their hands…not just dumping them in a bin of “freebies,” but by having them handed off from one soldier to another.

We presented the idea to Steve’s publisher and while they were very nice about it, they turned us down flat.  They thought it was crazy to give away copies of a book to the core market.  If they gave 10,000 copies away to the people who were already interested in the subject…who would buy it?  We offered to pay for the promotion ourselves, but alas they were unconvinced.

Steve and I think just the opposite about marketing.

We think that it’s more difficult to give something away for FREE than it is to actually hammer them into buying it.  The reason being that with so many things FREE today and with FREE being used as a bait and switch since the dawn of man, when you say FREE, you immediately turn on the suspicions of your audience.

They suspect you’re bullshitting them in order to shake them down later.  I always think of Arthur Murray dance lessons…First three FREE!

Anyway, we believe that if you can overcome that suspicion (and the only way to do that is to offer something so cool and interesting to a core market that the nerds in that market can’t help but accept it) and if you can do it to a large enough audience (10,000 is our gut number), then if the book/product is great…and you don’t exploit the relationship…those 10,000 will become evangelists for the book/project over time.

No they aren’t going to run up and down the street telling everyone to buy your book the second they finish it…but when asked for a recommendation by a friend…they’ll definitely spread the word.  If it’s good.

This is a boring marketing strategy because it requires patience and faith.

It requires patience because FREE won’t put you on The New York Times Bestseller list…even though it will build a backlist bestseller that sells year after year after year.  And it requires faith in the book/product.  Faith that all of the hard work and sacrifice you put into creating the thing will make the book/product spectacular enough for one person to recommend it to another.

I don’t think this is a newsflash, but the Big Five publishers aren’t in the business of PATIENCE AND FAITH.  In their defense, no other corporation is either.  They want instant success to make the people who pay for everything happy.  If the book goes on to become a backlist bestseller (those are the things that do actually pay for everything by the way, not the frontlist) great, but what they want right now is a New York Times Bestseller.  And FREE ain’t gonna give them that.

So after Steve and I cried in our beer for a while about how no one understood us, we decided to start our own company.  One that is about PATIENCE AND FAITH.  That company is Black Irish Books.

That’s nice and everything, but PATIENCE AND FAITH (plus FREE) is a marketing strategy.  It’s not a founding principle for a business.

Steve and I needed to think very clearly about WHY we wanted to start this thing.  Which makes you face some other fundamental questions.

What is it that we would love to have our old pals (or better yet, our competitors) say about us when we are six feet under?

That we had a bunch of bestsellers?

Or that our books helped people fighting internal battles?

Now Steve and I have worked together since I edited Steve’s classic novel about the Spartans at Thermopylae, Gates of Fire, when I was at Doubleday in 1996.  We went on to work on The War of Art together too when I had my own publishing company in the oughts’ (Rugged Land Books).

After Rugged Land burned to the ground and I had to rebuild my career, Steve called and we joined forces again.  I started representing him as his agent and manager around 2009.

So walking it back to find out the WHY of Black Irish wasn’t that hard.

Hands down the book that defines Black Irish Books is The War of Art.  It’s all about Resistance…how to fight the inner war against that dark prince inside all of us.  The chattering monkey that tells us not to put ourselves at risk…not to dare speak up…not to do what we were put on earth to do.

So we got the rights back to The War of Art and Steve named the company Black Irish Entertainment.  He did so because of my heritage and my tendency to completely lose my temper at times…to fight for the right to make mistakes and be bullheaded.  I think his thinking was that we should encourage others to have my sort of “damn the torpedoes” attitude when it comes to the inner battle.  I’ve mellowed since then…thank God.

So we came up with GET IN THE RING as our motto and got a friend to create the Black Irish boxing glove as our logo.

And here’s another key decision we’ve made.

After working with some amazing other writers (Our dear friends David Danelo, David Feherty, Jim Gant, David Leddick, Jason Riley, Giora Romm and Patrick Van Horne) Steve and I have decided to focus on Pressfield/Coyne projects from here on out.

That is, we’re only going to publish stuff we write ourselves.

We are PATIENCE AND FAITH publishers and we just do not want (nor can we) to compete with those other publishers angling for instant bestsellers.  And the last thing we’d want to do is keep other writers from getting on the list.  There is nothing wrong with gunning for an instant bestseller. It’s just not our thing.

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  1. seth godin on May 29, 2015 at 4:10 am

    Is there a patience and faith bestseller list?

    I think it would be absolutely fascinating to see…

    • Alex Cespedes on May 29, 2015 at 7:42 am

      The BLACKlist: a Black Irish-curated annual list of titles that represent their mantra.

    • Jeff Goins on June 4, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      Love this comment. 😉

  2. Mary Doyle on May 29, 2015 at 6:07 am

    Patience and faith – can’t think of a better foundation! Thanks for sharing the genesis of Black Irish.

  3. David Ward on May 29, 2015 at 6:33 am

    my hardcopy of ‘the story grid’ arrived yesterday. i’m only 35 pages into it, but it’s everything i knew i would be — it’s amazing. and i bought it. yet it was available to me free. so i believe in you guys and what you’re doing. plus i’ve purchased much of steven’s previous stuff.

    my question: if you live in a country (like canada) of 35-million people, what does your “gut instinct” say that ‘10,000 free’ number should be? 1,000? or is it still 10,000, in a country where 5,000 books constitutes a best seller? i ask because i never saw my book (my first!) to be an instant success, but i’ve never doubted whether it could be a backlist best seller.

    thanks for everything you bring to this industry. keep up the wonderful work.


  4. Jared Dees on May 29, 2015 at 7:10 am

    You could say that the “Patience and Faith” approach to launching a books is one reason why so many self-published authors have found success today. They are willing to give their books away for next to nothing in order to earn a life-long fan. It’s a great way to earn that “1,000 true fans” that Kevin Kelly talks about.

    Great response, Sean.

    Like Seth, I’d love to see that “patience and faith” bestsellers list. I certainly have a few of those on my shelf at home. Working for a publisher, I always loving seeing that handful of books that didn’t start out with a bang, consistently sell week after week years after they came out.

    The best form of book marketing is a good book. It’s plain and simple.

  5. Faith Watson on May 29, 2015 at 7:25 am

    You had me at “help people fighting” — and are there any more worthy battles than the internal ones?

    To build a business (and a life) on what you stand for is… well I actually get a lump in my throat when I think about it. I used to hate my name when I was a kid, but I feel it’s been a gift, and automatic mantra for me, you know?

    Thanks mom and dad. And thanks Steve, Shawn and Callie!

  6. Regina on May 29, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Number 2 on the Deming’s list of deadly diseases for a company is…

    Emphasis on short term profits.

    Number1? Lack of Constancy of Purpose.

    And Shawn, don’t mellow too rapidly. 😀

  7. Stacy on May 29, 2015 at 8:33 am

    I know this is about the genesis of Black Irish Books (a name I love, by the way), but it’s something I needed to read. Thanks, you guys. Sometimes this blog works as a salve for me.

  8. Joel D Canfield on May 29, 2015 at 8:36 am

    Skipped like a stone across this one.

    Patience and faith? Oh yes indeedy.

    Finally finally reading Gates of Fire. 3/4 through and it is changing me. It is.

    Only your own books. Now there’s faith. I’d be terrified. So terrified that it would become the only possible choice.

    Some days, it’s knowing you guys that keeps me going.

  9. David Villalva on May 29, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Ha, I went from dreaming about my book being published at Black Irish to dreaming about launching my own Patience and Faith entity.

    Thanks for helping me dream all around.

    And thanks for sharing stuff like this because it encourages me to continue on my path to create the reality I dream about…

  10. Sonja on May 29, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Consider me a lifelong reader and fan! I have bought and continue to recommend Steve’s books…and I can’t wait for the detective story! No pressure, Steven! :))

  11. Adam Thomas on May 30, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    I’m in. I love what you guys produce and have bought everything from BIB :-).

    It’s a marathon not a sprint.

  12. York on May 31, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    When people ask for recommendations I definitely tell them to grab the War of Art. And most times I even buy it for them!

    It’s the only book that I ever finished in one sitting. I didn’t close that sucker until I finished it.

  13. Aviah Laor on June 2, 2015 at 6:31 am

    My take from this post is to make sure you have nowhere to hide. Pursue your real target, and strip down everything else. Resistance hates it.

  14. Fawn on June 3, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Just finished Turning Pro. A kickass book! Thanks for this one. Turned a friend of mine onto it and she loved it too. Hammered things home. Gotta get to work. See ya!

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