Ask James: Self-Publishing, Kissing, Super Energy, Italy, Righteous Anger, Optimism, and The Meaning of Life

Via on Nov 21, 2011

This a summarized and expanded version of the Twitter Q&A I do every Thursday from 3:30-4:30. I get about 100 questions during that hour and answer most of them in sort of “blitz answer” mode. I then take about a dozen of the questions and expand them out further here. The results will eventually be summarized and expanded further into a book in my never-ending quest to be the new “Dear Abby”. I definitely encourage people, if you have different answers than the ones I have below, to help out the questioners by putting your answers in the comments. I fully intend for this to be crowd-helping. Enjoy!

AUTHORS ARE ONE-PERSON BUSINESSES

@ReadHeavily Sean Giorgianni asks: Do authors need to know about marketing.

ANSWER: I have one story, which I’ve told before. A friend of mine was visiting a publisher who had published a book of mine. Now they wanted to publish my friend’s book. She she asked them specifically, what marketing did you do for James Altucher’s book?

They answered, in all sincerity: we got him a review in the Financial Times, a segment on CNBC, and an excerpt in thestreet.com.

Here’s the facts: 1) I had a column in the Financal Times! I wrote my own review as a joke. 2) I had a regular weekly segment on CNBC. I used one of those segments to promote my own book. 3) I wrote 3 columns a day at the time for thestreet.com. I used one of those columns to do an excerpt and nobody complained.

So that’s the “marketing” that publisher did for me.

Here’s the truth about book publishing now: there are only two characters in this grand production: the writer and the readers. Everyone else in the middle: booksellers, agents, editors, packagers, distributors, marketers, etc is in massive upheaval and transition and they are seldom willing to admit it. Book publishers don’t provide ANYTHING.

Here’s my “Why and How I Self-Publish”.

If I were a book publisher I would transform myself instantly in the following ways:

– reduce the lag time from book acceptance to publication from one year to one month. There’s no such thing as a “catalog” now. Just get the book on Amazon and bn.com and if the book does well the small bookstores will start calling.

– become digital marketing agencies. Learn how to use social media to really start the discussion on books. Zero book publishers have done this correctly although they think they have with outdated email lists that generate zero sales.

And as an author, the main thing I can suggest is: read my link above about self-publishing but also take control of your own marketing:

– book public speaking engagements where you give your book away for free.

– syndicate blog columns related to your book content on popular sites related to your content

– engage with twitter, facebook, google+ to have an active discussion (throughout your life) about how your book’s content is important to you. If you believe in what you are saying this is not “marketing” but “honesty and sincerity”.

The sincere voices will always rise to the top. Oh, and also Snooki will rise to the top.

SHOULD YOU CALL BACK ENERGY DRAINERS

@Bert_Hancock Bert Hancock asks: Like you, I hate calling people back that are energy drainers. Do you think I will have bad karma if I don’t call them back?

ANSWER: Unless it’s the IRS, there’s rarely a need to call back the people who drain you. I say this for the general case (if someone’s in the hospital and it’s their dying breath then you might as well pick up, for instance).

Let’s think about it out loud for a second.

If you don’t call them back several things happen:

- you save energy instead of lose it during the 30 minutes that phone call would’ve taken. What will you do with those thirty minutes? Maybe you’ll walk by the river? Maybe you’ll take out a notebook and be creative. Maybe you’ll call your kids and tell them you love them? Almost everything you can do that’s positive will be better than talking to a zombie that wants to drain you.

- the person whose call you didn’t return will begin to hate you and will stop calling you. Great! Youve trained them well. Future energy will be preserved.

Energy is finite for everything in the universe. We run out of it. Eventually the big bang will reverse and implode. So whatever you can do to build energy (see below question) and preserve it (see this question) is CRITICAL for the quality of your life.

But there’s one more question that needs to be asked: why does someone drain you? Sometimes we let people drain us?

We feed off of it. We get provoked. We attack back. We engage in the “game”, the “dance”, we get in the three-legged race with the people we hate most. Part of avoiding energy draining is not only training the other person but really being honest with yourself.

Why does this person have permission to call you in the first place? So the first steps come not whether or not to return a call but to prevent the call from even happening. And this requires constant awareness of who you are associating yourself with.

You ultimately become like the people you associate with. Start today being more aware of who those people are.

BEST WAY TO SUCCEED IN FINANCIAL JOURNALISM

dyer440David N. Dyer: What’s the most important factors in succeeding in financial journalism??

ANSWER: I can write a book on this one topic. So here’s my top 8 points on succeeding financial journalism:

(cub reporter Jimmy Olsen)

1) Scoops are no longer important. It used to be if you had a scoop you had at least a 24 hour lead on all the other news sources so scoops actually meant your circulation went up and business improved. Now, because of the internet, any scoop has a 1 second lead at most on its competitors. So chasing scoops is a waste of time.

2) Help people understand complex issues. Break it down in easy to understand language. Why did Italy cause such a panic three days ago and then manage to borrow $150 billion no problem the next day. It’s because the headlines are just trying to scare people. Fear has replaced Scoops to drive circulation. Then it becomes a race to the bottom, who can scare people the most.

3) My personal rules in 9 years of writing for financial sites (and creating a site with millions of users, Stockpickr.com, which sold to thestreet in 2007):

– always create value. Can people use your article to have a better understanding of the markets

– provide analysis and proof. Don’t just give a random rant. Give real numbers to back things up.

– be honest. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. But don’t just cave in to whatever the current panic trends are.

4) Like with anything, build your network. Everyone’s got a story. As your network of contacts grow, the value of it grows exponentially. The network will be your source of interesting stories.

5) Be positive and optimistic, because in the long run (like for the past 200 years) you will be right.

6) Tell a story. Don’t just give numbers. Tell a story of where the world will be five years from now and how we will get there, starting with the events happening today. As the story developes into the real world, you will have the fuel for more and more stories/articles.

7) Be a little voyeuristic. Everyone wants to know about their heroes. Who are your heroes. Why are they your heroes. What are their “secret origins”? Write about them and follow their stories. Many journalists have made a living off of just Warren Buffett.

8) For me, personally, I don’t trash anyone. A lot of well-known writers disagree with this. They lose in the long run. And the long run is all I try to care about.

Note: I stole #1 from a discussion with Kevin Ryan, who is one of the founders of Doubleclick, Gilt, and financial media site, Businessinsider.com.

WHAT’S MORE IMPORTANT: IDEAS OR EXECUTION?

@kortessIgor: VC companies say “idea’s worth nothing, execution is worth everything”, do you agree with that?

ANSWER: I’m going to break it into two parts:

What’s good for you?

And what’s good for VCs. Both are important.

What’s good for you is to get the idea muscle flowing. Everyone says “ideas are a dime a dozen.” This is true. But 99.99% of those ideas are bad ideas. The idea muscle atrophies within days and most people don’t exercise it.

Get a pad today (I use waiter pads) and start writing down ideas. Pick any topic: ideas for businesses, ideas for how your neighbor can get more customers, ideas for novels, etc. Doesn’t matter. Cross out obviously bad ideas. Stretch your brain (it hurts, it’s like a yoga stretch) to come up with 10 ideas. Ok, now come up with 10 more. Hurt yourself.

Now, are these ideas doable? Cross off the ones that don’t have a concrete next step. Fill up the idea list to replace those you crossed off. Now, do you believe you can do these ideas? Cross off the ones you can’t or the ones you are not interested in. Replace those on the idea list. Your brain should be sweating by the time you are done.

Note: you just wrote down ten bad ideas. Do this every day. Within six months (assuming the other three areas of your life are healthy) you’ll be an idea machine. Don’t worry about that yet.

Now, execution. You just came up with ideas that have a concrete next step. So we know you can execute (again, as long as health is ruling you)

But here’s what VCs really care about: “what have you learned so far?”

In order to learn from your execution you need traction. You can’t just have a product (the first steps of execution) or a service but no traction. You need customers, users, and a learning curve that includes at least one or two mistakes you’ve learned from along the way. VCs want to hear what you’ve learned and how the business changed because of those experiences.

Then that shows you have traction, which meant you executed, which meant you developed an idea that they MIGHT be willing to fund.

 

WILL OPTIMISM MAKE YOU SUCCEED?

 

catalin357Jitariu Catalin: Do you think optimism and being positive even if you fail, and start again, and fail will make you succeed?

 

ANSWER: This is a trick question. Because the answer is “yes and no”.

You need “rational optimism”. If I say to myself, “damn, I failed to make that time travel machine but I’m optimistic my next try will be IT!” then I’m doomed to fail.

How do you be a rational optimist?

 

1) Be realistic. It’s like the above when question where I describe coming up with ideas. Make sure you have realistic ideas, make sure you have a concrete next step, make sure you have an idea in your mind how you can get your first customers and users (if you can get a committment for a customer even before you build then that’s the best of all).

2) Understand that some things are out of your control. Having a sense of surrender, “ok, I did all I can. it’s in your hands now” will help you to have an optimistic and flexible and PERSISTENT outlook on life. If you just say, “Ugh, i did everything I can and I failed and now that’s it” then of course, THAT’S IT!

3) Who is the you in “it’s in your hands now”. It might be your own creativity and flexibility that wants to get out and help you on your next idea. That creativity is a sleeping monster and it never gets smaller if you keep feeding it, nurturing it, loving it, taking care of it. Persistence in developing that creativity will make you better at execution, better at idea generation, and more optimistic (simply because over time you will be more confident that you can always awaken it). Creativity becomes your loving friend instead of your enemy. And optimism, creativity, and persistence are all close siblings that want to play together as much as possible.

 

UPPING YOUR SOCIAL GAME

 

randyaaronRandy De Montalegre: How do I improve my social game? meeting new people, potential love interests, etc.

 

ANSWER: Instead of constantly boring people with my own story I’m going to steal from my wife Claudia’s story. In February 2009 she was out of a job, was going to lose her house, run out of money and then…what? Maybe move back to Argentina for the first time in 15 years?

No. She decided to up her social game. Meet more people. She signed up tango classes, painting classes, I wish she had taken a goddman cooking class, she went to Spanish-speaking meetups, she signed up for dating services, she went to yoga classes every day, she asked all her friends who should she be meeting and got good advice (advice that ultimately led her to me!).

She was honest about what she wanted. She cut losses quickly. She wouldn’t waste time on dinners (our first date was a “tea” date and nothing more). She kept disciplined and didn’t chase after intrigue and false hopes. But she kept expanding her “list of things to do” so that her social network would expand.

Again, as the network gets bigger (in whatever you do: social life, business life, journalist life, etc) the value goes up exponentially. And it worked for her. Now we’re married!

So:

1) picture the people you want to be around, and then make sure every day you get closer and closer to where they are.

2) Be honest about what you want and who you are. While, of course, always being polite, don’t sacrifice your soul for meaningless and fleeting rewards.

 

HOW DOES ONE IMPROVE EVERY DAY, EVEN IN A SMALL WAY (OR…HOW TO WRITE THREE NOVELS IN A YEAR)

randyaaronRandy De Montalegre: What is one small way to improve my day to day routine? I need to add another positive piece to the puzzle

ANSWER: I have several answers, and all relate to blog posts I’ve written:

- The Daily Practice, which gives advice on how to make improvements physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually

- Developing your Gratitude Muscle. This is perhaps the easiest and most useful meditation: spend just two minutes thinking of the people in your life you are grateful for. Even better, pick one out from the distant past and reach out and tell them you are grateful.

- Nine Ways to Light Your Creativity On Fire

Is it possible that a small improvement can be TOO small? No. Improvements compound exponentially and add up to great success over time.

Someone just wrote me, for instance, and said they want to write a novel (they have the idea) but don’t know how.

The answer is really simple: first practice staring at a blank screen for 20 mins a day. Then start writing 500 words a day.

A novel is 60,000 words.

(Snooki "wrote" a novel)

500 words a day is 180,000 words in one year (and that assumes breaks for 5 holidays). 500 words is only 2-3 paragraphs. So you can write 3 novels in one year. Or one good, highly edited novel. And that’s if you limit yourself to 500 words.

With practice you’ll go up to 1000 words, 2000 words, etc. Any small improvement (staring at a blank screen to get used to the idea of writing) will add up to success beyond belief (who would think you can do 3 novels in a year so easily?)

 

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU QUIT TODAY?

 

RobbieAbRobbie: quitting my enterprise consulting job after 7 years & starting my own company (technology services based). any advice?

 

ANSWER: Three things. First off, pat yourself on the back for quitting your job. Quitting is not for everyone. But when you do it, and you do it for the right reasons, it can lead to an enormous feeling of freedom. Here’s 10 Reasons You Should Quit Your Job.

#2: Now’s the beginning of the rest of your life. I used to write for AOL’s DailyFinance site. When all of the great employees of that site got laid off I felt really bad for them and wanted to help. I wrote this post, which is good on any occasion where yesterday was the last day of your job: 10 Things to Do if You Were Fired Yesterday.

#3: Since you are going off to start your own consulting business I also recommend: The Easiest Way to Succeed as an Entrepreneur

 

HOW TO APPROACH AND CONNECT WITH TOP NOTCH PEOPLE

 

@joTorsvik: how to approach and connect with the #1 top notch people if you’re young and ambitious?

 

ANSWER: This has happened to me on several occasions. It happened to me when I wanted to get my first real job. It happened to me when I launched my first business. It happened to me when I transitioned my career 360 degrees (twice) and on a daily basis it happens to me.

Several things:

1) Develop ideas and give them away for free to the top people in your field. 1 out of 10 will respond. Not because the other 9 are bad people but the ideas might not work for them or they might just be busy. OR, the ideas might be bad. So you have to keep practicing the idea muscle and keep sending out the ideas.

Why for free? Because you have to give in order to receive.

2) For more: 9 Ways To Become a Super-Connector. These ideas work no matter how young you are.

 

HOW DO YOU END RELATIONSHIPS

@chucklecoq asks: How to end relationships (personal, business, etc):

 

ANSWER: I can only answer by counter example. I have NEVER ended a relationship of any sort well.

The last business relationship I ended I wrote about here. I basically had a job as a partner at a private equity firm. I decided for no specific reason other than a general discomfort that I didn’t want to be there. So I just walked out mid-meeting. Left all my stuff there. Never returned calls or emails and never returned to the office. They might still have my name on the website. I don’t even know.

VERY BAD!

Same thing with relationships. My basic technique: Move to a new city. VERY BAD.

I wish I could follow my advice on this one. And I hope to do so in the future. So take it for what it’s worth (i.e. I haven’t been able to do my own advice)

- Honesty. Be up front that you are unhappy and want to leave and it’s not really open for discussion.

- Love. Be sincere that you wish the best for the person. Even if you feel betrayed or angry in some way. Betrayal and anger will become part of ancient history after a short while.

If you don’t end things in those two ways I know from very personal experience that there are only horrible, horrible consequences. We only have a short time on this planet. Goal #2 is to avoid horrible consequences to any of your actions.

 

WHERE DO YOU STAND IF ITS THE FIFTH DATE?

eugenephotoEugene: on relationships. Suppose you’ve gone on three or four dates with a girl. Do you ever ask her: where do we stand?

ANSWER: There’s several things I don’t know here:

  • how good are you at reading emotional cues?
  • where are you going, what are you doing on these dates?

For instance, is she afraid to say “no” when you ask her on another date? Is she delaying or postponing dates? There are lots of clues that you probably have gathered by this moment.

BUT, I will tell you this. There is NO NEED to ask her if you are on the fifth date. By the fifth date, you two know enough about each other. At the end of the date, simply move in for the kiss.

You will know very quickly where you stand, or sleep, that night.

 

WORDS OF ADVICE THAT HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE

adriennetranAdrienne Tran: words of advice someone said to you that changed your life?

ANSWER: I had a real hard time with this at first. Most of the people who have “mentored” me I ultimately got distanced from for a variety of reasons. [See, "The Worst Boss I've Ever Had"]

But here’s a couple of things that people have said to me that I have not forgotten:

“Try to improve every day” (Jim Cramer told me that one)

“Focus on today only” (Claudia told me that one when I was worrying about a hypothetical event that could happen two years from now)

“I’m only worried about what’s in my pocket, not what’s in your pocket” (a good way to focus on your own needs and finances and not be obsessed with the mythical Jones family we always try to keep up with. Yitz told me that one).

“Always be honest” (my dad taught me that one, the hard way).

Unfortunately, most other things I’ve had to learn on my own.

 

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN A NEGOTIATION:

CandriawanCandri

What’s the most important thing in a negotiation?

ANSWER:

This is something I’ve had to learn the VERY hard way.

So I’m going to make it the topic of a future post!

 

ITALY? GREECE? UMA?

wesbroxsonWesley Broxson: I know you don’t think Greece is a big deal, but what about italy? Big deal, maybe or nothing?

 

ANSWER:

- You’re right. Greece, with 0.15% of the world’s population, and a similar affect on the EU GDP as Rhode Island has on the US GDP, doesn’t concern me at all.

- Italy is of course bigger, and one of the largest borrowers in the world. But let’s not forget, the headlines were all panicky about Greece. So now they are all panicky about Italy. So you have to take headlines with a grain of salt and let’s look at the reality:

- Italy managed to borrow $150 billion the other day at much lower yields than people had predicted.

- I looked down the list of the largest banks that lent Italy money and I did not see ANY US banks on that list.

- Italy, unlike Greece, is made up of people who are increasing their savings rather than decreasing it. So the money is there and now it’s up to the government to get them to spend it (as opposed to putting in austerity measures).

- Mario Monti, an economist, will be the new Prime Minister and provide a much needed injection of confidence than the scandal-prone Berlosconi

- Let’s not forget, NOBODY in Europe has actually defaulted yet. And our top 5 banks have only 8% exposure to all the PIIGS countries.

- Compare this with 1981: Almost the entire continent of South America defaulted. And our top banks were 263% (!) exposed to their debt. What happened? We went on a 20 year stock market boom.

So I don’t read the news. I don’t panic. I ignore the headlines. Italy is a nice place to eat dinner and sight see but I’m not going to ever think again about their debt.

 

CAN ANGER BE JUSTIFIED?

 

TheopaulsonTed Paulson

@jaltucher Is there such a thing as righteous anger? (example- being outraged at Joe Paterno)

 

ANSWER:

Anger and fear are twins out of the same evil womb. “righteous” anger only dresses it up in pretty clothes.

Example, a lot of the Occupy X crowd (both the protesters and the police) are being fueled by anger. There is over 1000 documented cases of violence, anti-semitism, anger on BOTH sides. Both sides feel righteous.

The USA felt righteous when it invaded Afghanistan. Thousands of civilian (and 18 year old military people) deaths later and ten years later we’re still there. Did our righteous convictions win? Do we feel better now? Is the world safer? Less corrupt?

I can’t thing of any case where anger is righteous or justified. Let’s say your boss yells at you, for instance? Should you get angry back? That’s probably the easiest strategy if you want to get fired. But you’re never going to win an argument against someone who is angry.

Best thing is to walk away and then come back and talk when he is more rational, or quit if he is permanently irrational, or just do the best job you can with a horrible boss.

Let’s say your spouse cheats on you. Will your anger be justified? It wont’ change the past. You should then figure out what the best thing to do is? Move out? Divorce? Address the issues that caused the betrayal (it always takes two to tango so no reason to get angry when you also are at fault).

Fear, jealousy, anger, envy are all mirrors of each other. Better to calm those tendencies, to be aware of them (being aware of anger is the easiest way to change it from a flame to a simmer), and use these techniques to restore health in every way.

I know from my own experience: anger has led to me getting fired, having bad ideas, not completing things, not sleeping, wasting moments when I could’ve been happy, building bad businesses, and on and on. Better to avoid, no matter how “righteous”.

 

SHOULD MY DAUGHTER MARRY A RATIONAL ANARCHIST?

agquarxagquarx

Would you let your daughter to marry a rational anarchist?

 

ANSWER:

Only if she is a lesbian.

 

WHAT IF YOU CAN’T AVOID A CRAPPY PERSON BECAUSE YOU REPORT TO THEM

shoaglundshoaglund asks:

In your post: “How to Deal With Crappy People” – what do you do when you cant ignore the crappy person because yuo have to report to them??!!

ANSWER: Here’s the issue with crappy people – the people that drive you the most crazy, the ones you can’t stop thinking about and the ones you are constantly imagining arguments, responses, counter-responses, things they did that were wrong, etc. I sometimes wake up thinking about these things and it’s a discipline (hard) to divert myself:

almost by definition they are the people you can’t avoid. Bosses, colleagues, family, friends of friends, etc. That’s why they are in our lives in the first place, else you’d ignore and move on.

The trick is to just not engage. If they want to provoke, or yell, or spit, or do something crappy, then:

#1. Be as polite as possible but dont’ respond to anything provoking. Silence and minimal words are best things to do.

#2. Remove yourself from the situation/phone/location as quickly as possible.

Why be around someone crappy when you can try to be around someone you love?

An interesting thing happens. A few months ago I heard a phrase “the herx reaction”. It occurs when you start taking antibiotics. Sometimes you get worse first.

@Unpacktherat even said yesterday during the Q&A: sometimes the more I don’t engage the worse they get.

When you don’t engage, they go crazy. You know the phrase, “ignoring is the best revenge”. When you ignore or don’t engage with whoever is trying to provoke you, you cut off their supply of food and oxygen. They feed off of being crappy to you. Don’t feed the monster!

It’s up to you to stop feeding them. And at first they will scream in anger and hunger. They desperately want to be fed!

Then, bit by bit they will starve. Then finally, they will be extinguished. And you will be more alive than ever.

 

PURPOSE IN LIFE

adriennetranAdrienne Tran: What do you think is the purpose of life?

 

ANSWER:

Somewhere in the middle of “have everything you want” and “to want nothing” lies “purpose”.

We have to feed our families, we have to be responsible, so we can’t just hide in a cave (i.e. want nothing) but at some point there needs to be room to develop the soul.

So if we get everything we want, but we want as little as possible, somewhere in that spectrum lies our true purpose to be found.

 

HOW TO HAVE ENERGY?

yoda_2littleChris asks:

How do u get so much energy to do the things you do?

ANSWER: Thee key for energy really is to skip dinner (so your body is not trying to digest when you sleep) , go to sleep early, don’t expose yourself to news, avoid pop culture, don’t drink alcohol, try to only be around the people you love, and have a sense of surrender and gratitude.

This may seem like you are sterilizing your life. But it’s quite the opposite. When you have energy to do whatever you want, then you have more possibilities than ever.

Sometimes I can pull this off. Sometimes I can’t. but I’m always trying.

 

 

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2 Responses to “Ask James: Self-Publishing, Kissing, Super Energy, Italy, Righteous Anger, Optimism, and The Meaning of Life”

  1. john says:

    WTF! Why am I reading this?

  2. Anna Sheinman SOFLY_Anna says:

    Hello James,

    You're the most inspirational blogger I've read on ele! I love your articles on gratitude, college, daily practice, etc.
    I added my 5 cents to your "how to deal with crappy" people and used it in my newsletter with a link to your article.

    btw. Where do you get the funny pics?

    thanks,
    Anna.

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