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How to Write Useful Books with Rob Fitzpatrick

July 26, 2021
Episode 23
The Recognized Authority Podcast Cover

The podcast that helps experts & consultants on the journey to becoming a recognized authority in your field, so you can increase your impact, command premium fees, work less hours, and never have to suffer a bad-fit client again!.

Many consultants consider writing a book. It can be an invaluable marketing tool that can generate new business, demonstrate your expertise, and position you as the authority in your field. But from a business perspective, most books are a failure.

In this episode Rob Fitzpatrick and Alastair McDermott discuss how to ensure your book is actually useful to readers, which will result in better sales numbers and reach.

Rob also shared how to build a community around a book, and how not asking the right follow up question cost him $60,000.

Show Notes

Guest Bio

Rob is an entrepreneur of 14 years and has written three books about his learnings along the way, including the best-selling handbook for doing better Customer Development, The Mom Test: How to talk to customers and figure out if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you.



book, people, writing, built, authors, read, called, product, reader, big, community, learning, beta, reading, contents, nonfiction, knowledge, business, beta readers, audience

Alastair McDermott, Rob Fitzpatrick


Rob Fitzpatrick  00:01

The mistake that authors make is basically trying to get all of the theory and foundation out of the way first. And what you want to do is you want to be like minimum necessary theory, actionable application. Next piece of minimum necessary theory, actionable application.


Voiceover  00:19

Welcome to The Recognized Authority, a podcast that helps specialized consultants and domain experts on your journey to become known as an authority in your field. So you can increase your reach, have more impact and work with great clients.


Alastair McDermott  00:31

I’m your host, Alastair McDermott, and today my guest is Rob Fitzpatrick. In the last episode I mentioned, it was a little bit less actionable than normal. So let’s fix that right away with an episode jam packed full of actionable advice. So Rob is an entrepreneur of 14 years, he’s written three books about his learnings along the way, including the best selling handbook for doing better customer development called “The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers and Figuring Out If Your Business is A Good Idea When Everyone is Lying to You”. Today, I’m talking to him about his latest book, which is called “Write Useful Books”.  And I want to give a shout out to Dr. Matthias Berth for sending in some questions. When he heard I was getting Rob on the podcast. I almost forgot to ask these but we did get these in before the end of the podcast.  So Rob, welcome to The Recognized Authority podcast. And thank you so much for being here with us today. The first thing I want to ask you about is writing useful books. Can you tell us a bit about where to start with that?


Rob Fitzpatrick  01:23

Yeah, absolutely. So the the main idea that if you look at nonfiction, I mean, this is true of most publishing, but especially in nonfiction, the expected outcome for a book you worked so hard on it, you put a year into it a considerable number of hours, and the expected outcome is very bad. Most nonfiction, the vast majority doesn’t even sell 500 copies. 70% never pay out their royalties, if they’re traditionally published, of the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers. They’ve lost 95% of their peak sales within a year and never recover. On average. Obviously, there are exceptions.  And so when I started taking books seriously, I really wanted to figure out is there a reliable way to become the exception to become the book that doesn’t peak at 12 weeks, and then fade away, but actually grows year after year and becomes one of these back catalogue classics. And there’s a bunch of issues, if you sort of work backwards from that goal. You go, well, books are a low value product, so I’m not going to be able to manually market these. And so what do I need to do to make the book inherently recommendable?  And the way you do that is you solve a sharp, painful problem for people, like, you know, you’re gonna help consultants kind of plant their flag, bring their customers to them, build their thought leadership, build their tribe, that’s super valuable. people sit down, they’re like, I need to solve this. And so that’s the problem. And then the second part is your book actually needs to be the best solution to that problem. Not for everyone, but for a certain type of person.  So my first book, “The Month Test”, it’s kind of about customer interviews and sales. It is not the best book about those topics, but it is the best for introverted technical entrepreneurs. And so for people like that there’s no better solution in the world. So when one of those people goes, man, talking to these customers is so difficult, it’s not going well, I don’t get what’s happening. Someone else goes, aha, I know the solution. Is this book, “The Mom Test”.  And so then you go, Okay, well, how do I become the best book? Right? And that’s where I spent so much of my writing process isn’t me writing, it’s me working with readers. It’s beta reading, watching where they get bored, where they disengage, trying to understand what drove them away? How can I tighten that if people are abandoning in chapter four, it means either chapter three was really boring, or chapter four is low value. So you can sort of use where they leave, they don’t say anything, they just leave. But that is the signal. And even earlier, you can use reader conversations you can teach or coach, the same outcome that your book is going to provide. If no one wants your free coaching, or your free teaching, are they really going to buy and read and implement a book about the same topic?  And so you can use these proxies as a way to remove a lot of the uncertainty without having to continually rewrite a whole manuscript. And this allows you to run the book through a lot more iterations, make sure it works for people and you know, build something that is able to grow rather than fade away.


Alastair McDermott  03:59

Yeah, I really like the the approach of of teaching what what you intend to put in the book first. And actually, I’ve started to do this through a few pre reader conversations. Let’s call them,


Rob Fitzpatrick  04:11

How’s it been going for you? Like anything? Has anything useful? Come out of them?


Alastair McDermott  04:15

Yeah, I think it’s been good. Because one of the things that’s come out of it is, and I’m really early days here, so so we’re talking about I’m still planning like the table of contents. So it’s,


Rob Fitzpatrick  04:25

the best time to be talking to people, because that’s what it’s easy to change. You don’t want to figure out you’re wrong after you’ve written the whole thing.


Alastair McDermott  04:31

Absolutely. Yeah. But what’s really interesting is am, is is when when the conversation kind of meanders, and I learned something is like, Oh, I didn’t think you would think about it that way. And those are the really interesting insights. So yeah, I find those super useful. What I like about this, as well as this is capturing a very big mistake that I’ve made in the past, which is where I built out a big e-learning site. So basically a failed startup that I had a maybe a decade ago, where we didn’t do any kind of pre testing, we built the thing first and then went to trying to sell it. So this is countering that completely This is like the the kind of the lean startup approach to to writing, I guess. So I really like that. So can we talk a little bit about derp? Or deep now?


Rob Fitzpatrick  05:18

Indeed. So this is kind of the the milestones that a book goes through, and you ideally want to do them in order. So deep or derp, it stands for desirable, effective, so desirable, as do people want the outcome that is promising. So you know, I kind of care about my patio garden, but I don’t care that much, right? So if someone’s like, Hey, here’s a book about it’s like, for me as a reader that’s not desirable enough to motivate me to seek out the book to buy the book to read the book and to implement the book. So did they really care?  And I use their willingness to spend time with me these reader conversations as a proxy as a way to figure out do they care? If people are excited to sit down with me and learn it’s like, Okay, then they’ll probably also want to read a book and learn. After that. It’s is it effective. And this is like, do the contents actually work for people. This is called the curse of knowledge. It’s kind of the when a book isn’t effective, and you’ve all had smart professors, teachers, you’ve been to lectures, keynotes, you can tell that the speaker is smart, you can tell that they know how to do it but for whatever reason their knowledge isn’t crossing the air gap to you. And so you’re listening to them, you’re like, I can tell you’re smart. But I’m not any smarter by listening to you. And a lot of books fall for the same trap. And this is where the teaching conversations, the beta reading, all of this comes in.  After that, it’s about the are the the switch from dirt to deep as the acronym at first it was readable. And then I switched it to engaging. And they mean the same thing. It’s just my editor didn’t like derp. And the idea here is that when people are reading a fiction book, they’re or infotainment, like pop, sigh, you know, it’s like, well, we’ve made this incredible discovery about human nature. They tend to keep people reading by using the hooks of fiction by using suspense by using drama by using storytelling. But for books that solve a problem, like what you want to build as a consultant, or a thought leader, or to, you know, have an impact by sharing your knowledge, you don’t need to do that. That’s kind of a it’s superficial. It’s stylistic.  What keeps people reading is they bought the book for a reason, every couple of pages, at least at the beginning, they need to get a piece that they feel moves them meaningfully toward that outcome. So like my book about workshop design, the best reviews and testimonials I get is someone saying, I couldn’t read more than two pages of this without putting it down and changing my workshop. It’s like, aha, I got to the value. And to me, if someone reads the book and goes interesting, that means nothing, possibly less than nothing. But if they read the book and go, that caused me to change my behavior in the real world, that I consider that extremely strong feedback. And so you know that that’s what I’m looking for.  And then the last the P is polished, so desirable, effective, engaging, and polished and polished, is all the stuff that we normally think about going into a book. Is it well, proofread? Is it well copy edited, it doesn’t sound good to read is the interior layout. Beautiful is the cover professional, does the Amazon page represent all of that. And interestingly, most authors do it backwards where they make a beautiful manuscript, and they kind of polish it first. And then they try to figure out if people want it, and it works. But by then you you’ve like you’ve sunk so much effort in. It’s like the same mistake that startups made, you know, before lean startup. It’s just backwards. And so the authors take so much risk, they don’t have enough time to iterate because every iteration takes them two years. And so of course, their book doesn’t reach its full potential.


Alastair McDermott  08:35

Yeah, being there bought a T-shirt. Not a pleasant experience for a very great educational experience, but not a pleasant experience. So I just want to talk to you about the readable, engaging part there. Because what you mentioned was you said that fiction, what they do is they use a lot of suspense. So like, they use things like open loops and things like that, and kind of leave you hanging and cliffhangers is one thing that they do in fiction to keep people moving forward. And you talk about not doing that you talk about actually putting your big reveal upfront, like right there on the first page. And that so there’s there’s a few things that go through my mind. But that is like, okay, for before we get to the like the big reveal, or the the piece I need to do some pre setup, right? And you’re talking about countering that. So can we talk a little bit about that?


Rob Fitzpatrick  09:23

So you you want to give give the knowledge away as fast as you can. But it’s not possible to give it all the way for every topic. So of my three books in the “Mom Test”, I was able to front load it very heavily, because it’s kind of one big idea plus figuring out how to implement it in different contexts. And so I can just start on like first page. Here’s the big idea. And people who have a lot of sales experience, they read the first couple chapters, they go, I get it and they put the book down, but they’re happy because I haven’t tricked them into reading a whole book they don’t need. They get the idea they get how to apply it to startups. They understand how their enterprise sales background applies to a different context. And and they’re grateful and they become an evangelist because they’re like, wow, I, you know, I got a lot of value. Whereas people who are newer to it like an introverted startup founder, they read cover to cover, and they get value from start to back, because they need all the additional detail.  The “Workshop Survival Guide” work differently, because it’s not built around one big idea, it’s more of a toolkit, a mix of it’s a design process, which you actually have to go start to finish is the first half. And then the second half, it’s kind of a grab bag of facilitation techniques. And so what you do in those cases is you go Well, I’m not going to be able to give them everything upfront, just because of the nature of the content. So what I tried to do is, is what the review said: Every couple pages, they go, Wow, I can use this or like, wow, this changes the way I’m going to approach this problem or like, aha, this is an insight I can use in my work.  And the mistake that authors make is basically trying to get all of the theory and foundation out of the way first. And what you want to do is you want to be like minimum necessary theory, actionable application, next piece of minimum necessary theory, actionable application. And a book that did this brilliantly was “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. And that’s now sold, it’s got to be 10 million copies. And it was essentially the same content as a previous book, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. But James, the way he’s structured the book, it’s so rewarding to read. Because every page, every two pages, you’re like, wow, I can use this, I can do this hold on, I need to put the book down and do something in my life. And that’s where you get the readability from at least for this type of nonfiction.


Alastair McDermott  11:30

Yeah, absolutely. So, so do we, so you’re talking about Okay, we’re, we’re kind of compressing the theory down to the minimum necessary. In order to get to the actionable step? Do we take the rest of the theory and put it like in the back in an appendix or something like that? Or what do we do with that?


Rob Fitzpatrick  11:48

Different authors do it different ways. April Dunford, with her book, “Obviously, Awesome”, she made visually distinct call out sections where she would give in depth case studies and theoretical explanations. And her idea was, she wanted them to be easy to skip. But they were too big for a footnote. So she made them in these kind of call outs, and she’s kind of like, you can skip these, it’s okay. But if you’re interested, they’re their appendices work fine. And the appendix is also a really nice way to bring people back to your website.  So in my current book, I’ve been using digital appendix, because the stuff I’m putting in the appendix is based on tools and implementation details and links to the latest theory and resources. And that stuff changes. And so it feels pretty honest for me to say, Hey, this is a fast moving topic. But here’s the link to my site. And I keep it updated there. And it’ll always be the latest. And that’s an important thing, like how do you move people from from holding a book to engaging with the rest of your offerings, and you don’t want to be too salesy about it, you never want to withhold value, the book has to work as a stand-alone unit of value, it can’t just be a two hour long advertisement. But you know, you’re allowed to do these things.  And then also, once people believe in you, they’re much more willing to dig through theory. And where they believe in you the least is at the beginning of the book. And so authors again, get it backwards, they put the boring stuff at the beginning, but that’s when a reader is still making up their mind about whether or not to trust you. And whether you’re respecting their time. The same is true of workshops and education and coaching. You don’t want to wake up and be like, here are the fire or start the day and be like, here are the fire escapes. Let me talk you through the agenda. And yet, this is what everyone does. You want to start with value because then people trust you. And then they have the goodwill for you to do the boring stuff.


Alastair McDermott  13:30

So how do we get past the idea that it’s not logical to put it that way? It doesn’t feel right. Because, because I can imagine that being like, I can feel even the pressure a little bit now. And I’m not even started, right. So how do we do that?


Rob Fitzpatrick  13:46

There’s a distinction between the way that knowledge is conveniently organized for the expert, versus the way that it’s accessible for a beginner. The example I’d like to use that I use in “Write Useful Books” is learning chess. Kids hate learning chess, because the parents sit them down and go, let me explain rules to you for 45 minutes. But from the kids perspective, they’ve been promised a game Hey, you want to play a really interesting game? Yeah, do Okay, sit down, be quiet. I’m going to explain things to you for 45 minutes. And they’re like, ah, actually, there’s some studies on this. And the best way to teach chess to a kid is to only introduce the king and the castle. And then allow them to play for checkmate.  The kid gets a king of the castle, you get a king, and you teach them the ladder mate. You teach them this and that and they’re like, Oh, I get it. And then you add one more piece, you add the queen, for example. Then you add the bishop because the bishop just a simpler queen. And the pawn is actually the last piece you teach because the pawn is actually the most complicated piece because it only moves in one direction it attacks differently from it moves. And so it’s a case where the teachers intuition Oh, I’ll start with the pawns, they’re the least powerful, is completely backwards from what makes sense to the learner and I call this, in the context of books, I call it reader empathy. And it’s spending the time to teach to understand to, to engage with them, and to figure out where your message isn’t sticking. And then to have the humility never blame the learner. It’s always the teachers fault. That it that’s not technically true. Sometimes the learners drunk or asleep, but you know, it’s like you improve if you believe that it’s always the teachers fault. And then it’s like, it’s never gonna work a 100% but you can get it from like, 10% to 90%. And that’s enough.


Alastair McDermott  15:27

Yeah, yeah. Okay, so so we’re front loading the big information. We’re putting in minimum theory, we’re making it really actionable and making it easy to skip theory that’s there. We’re giving them meaningful information that’s moving them directly towards their outcome. So that’s desirable and effective. The readable and engaging part. That’s, that’s that momentum. Again, we know what the polishes so we have our deeper our dare po everyone that’s put it. So we have that part. So let’s talk about engaging the beta readers and how that part works. So let’s, so let’s just use me as an example. So right now I have a, I have a working title. And I have the outline of a potential table of contents. So I’m starting to talk to a few people about the topic. So what’s the next step, they’re in kind of in the process of engaging those beta readers. And,


Rob Fitzpatrick  16:25

I’ve seen a few different ways that this is done. I was talking to Marty Cagan the other day, who wrote, “Empowered” and Inspired that book sold more than 100,000 copies, he’s super successful. And he brings the same process, the same kind of product designer is iterative process. The way he does it is he does less beta reading than I do. But he writes each chapter as a blog post. And he basically iterates them as blog posts. And the way he structures his books is he does very short chapters, where each is is valuable in and of itself as a stand-alone unit. And he says that of his finished books, roughly 70% of them have already been iterated and tested as blog posts. And then 30% is kind of necessary transition and filler to kind of turn this this cluster of ideas into a cohesive whole. And so when he actually compiles the manuscript, his book is already pretty tested, and Arvid Kahl who wrote “Zero to Sold” the abetted entrepreneur, he has the exact same approach.  I do it differently, they still do beta reading after that, but they usually only have to do one or two iterations of beta reading, because they’ve done all this writing in public and testing it that way. I tend to do my teaching coaching, listening conversations, make sure that I’m happy with both what my book is promising, who it’s for, and how the Table of Contents is structured. But then I could just go into the tank, and I write three drafts, like first draft and two revisions. And then I go


Alastair McDermott  17:48

The entire manuscript.


Rob Fitzpatrick  17:50

The entire manuscript.


Alastair McDermott  17:51



Rob Fitzpatrick  17:51

And I think this is partly personality driven, because I find that easy and pleasurable, the bit I find hard is the editing and the polishing. And so I enjoy going into the tank for a couple weeks. And just like, you know, losing the world and turning outwards. And I found that if I teach it is really quick, because I’m just typing out the things I’ve already been telling people, I know what their questions are going to be, I can anticipate their confusion and their concerns. And so it gets pretty close to the mark. And then I start doing beta reading, I used to use Google Docs. And then we actually built a tool just for this because at scale, Google Docs starts to fall apart. It’s good enough, but and so we built a thing called, which is like really designed around the beta reading use case.  And the way I structure it is I try to do a beta reading iteration every two to six weeks. And I basically at first, I’m starting with friendly first contacts and kind of tapping my personal network. But I don’t want them to be too friendly, because I don’t want them to read it as a favor to me. I want them to read it because they want the outcome that book is promising. And they want it so badly, they’re willing to suffer through a half baked manuscript. And at this point, the manuscript awful full of typos incoherent, when we started beta, reading the “Workshop Survival Guide”, not a single person from our first cohort made it through the second chapter. And we’re like, wow, we’ve got some work to do.  And each each iteration, what happens is you can see that cohort and you invite new people at each each point, you might invite between 12 and 20. And somewhere between three to five, so about a quarter of the people you invite who say they want to read, it will actually put in the time and read it. And they’ll kind of go until they get either massively confused or bored. And that is shows you your next set of problems. They don’t need to finish the whole thing, they just need to show you your next set of problems. And so then you fix that you figure out where they’re bored, you fix those issues, you figure out where they’re confused, then you invite a new batch. And I just run that.  And early on, I tend to get my iterations done in like two weeks a week for the feedback to come in a week to make changes, because they’re only getting through a couple chapters. And then later in the process, as people are getting through the whole book. It takes them longer to read it and there’s more for me to fix. So the iterations slow down over time. And by the end of the book process, the iterations might be eight weeks, but it means that I don’t need to do a lot of unexpected rewrites at the last minute. It’s very incremental, like the problems are getting solved in order. So it feels it’s still hard. It’s hard to write a good book. But it feels like the waste is being minimized.  And by the time I’m ready to launch, I know it’s going to succeed. Because I’ve seen beta readers reaching the end in one sitting, I’ve seen their comments changing from confused to getting value. I’ve seen them inviting other beta readers, which shows the my recommendation loop is going. And that’s the whole point. You don’t want to be doing publish and pray. You want to be doing this incremental, like any other product or business and bring the learning forward?


Alastair McDermott  20:37

Yeah, absolutely. So what if the, what if the problem that you’re solving with the book is something that takes a significant amount of time, possibly years? So what? In that scenario, you’re not able to give people a quick win, like over the course of reading the book, it’s something they need to implement. And it’s, you know, it’s a bit longer.


Rob Fitzpatrick  21:01

It’s, give me give me an example here, what, what, what topic or outcome do you have in mind?


Alastair McDermott  21:05

Well, let’s say somebody wants to become an authority in their fields. They’re an expert, but they’ve got no audience No, no, no authority.


Rob Fitzpatrick  21:11

So the the cheeky first thought is that it might be multiple books, which they pick up at different points throughout their journey. And so there’s kind of the first steps book and then there’s like the overcoming the deep book. And there’s, you might have few, and actually that improves the business model, from your perspective, because a book that’s twice as long might take five times as long to edit and polish and perfect, because you’ve got this big monolith, if you can break it apart, it disproportionately improves your production cycle. And you get it out, you start getting the cash flow and the reputation earlier, maybe after six months instead of after two years, because it’s a smaller, more focused book. So that only benefits you.  And then as people are progressing in their journey you’re you’re following up with the books for so you know, that’s a nice option. If it works, it doesn’t always work. Another option is what Alex Hillman did with “The Tiny MBA”, where he wrote 100 short lessons about business in a very short book. And he said, he said, not all of these are going to resonate with you right now. Some of them will resonate with you. Now some of them will resonate with you in six months, reread this book in six months, do it every six months, it only takes an hour to read. And he took that approach. And he made it very easy to skip around. He had the humility to say I don’t expect you to read every word.


Alastair McDermott  22:26



Rob Fitzpatrick  22:27

There’s some good stuff in here, but not all of it will be good for you right now.


Alastair McDermott  22:31

I love how these podcast conversations become a coaching call for me. Now, there’s some brilliant, brilliant suggestions. Okay. So what


Rob Fitzpatrick  22:42

One one final thing I wanted to say on that, because it’s relevant to what I’m doing. Also, I mean, my book is about writing books. And that’s obviously a year long journey. But there’s moments, think of it as little wins. Like, what when you onboard someone into a community, for example, the onboarding goal is to get them to their first win. And what is that when. And so in the book writing process, it might be clarifying exactly who they’re writing for, or what they’re writing about, or even getting them to write out a table of contents with more clarity than they had before. Any of those things, they’re going to be like, Wow, my project has moved forward. And maybe they they aren’t ready for the marketing stuff yet. That’s fine. It’s like, but if you can get them to that, that first win, and they receive the value in their life, and it’s helped them do something, then you’ve unlocked their evangelism. That’s all you need to do. You don’t need them to get to the end, you just need them to receive value.


Alastair McDermott  23:38

Okay, I love it. I love it. I want to ask you about, you mentioned earlier on, you’re part of a writing community, which Philip Morgan is another person who has been on this show and he’s business coach mine. He’s part of that writing community as well. You mentioned to me that it’s for people who don’t want a business card book. Can you talk a little bit about that? And then also about the community?


Rob Fitzpatrick  24:02

Yeah. So if you if you go back 10 years, it was rare to have a book. And it was hard to make one. So the simple fact that you made one signified that you’d hit a certain level of value. And it didn’t even matter if people read it or not, the simple fact that you had it was enough.  Now, that’s no longer the case. And there was a funny moment when self publishing first became possible. But the understanding of books hadn’t really caught up with that reality. And so suddenly, everyone’s like, wow, I can just publish 100 pages of garbage and get to say, I have a book. Yeah, it and I even read advice books about this. And they’re like, no one’s gonna read it. That’s fine. It doesn’t matter. You just need a book. And maybe that were 10 years ago, it does not work anymore.  Now you need the reviews. You need the recommendations, you need the referrals. saying like I have a book isn’t enough saying like I have a book that people love and use and talk about isn’t enough and that’s completely game changing. Like, I don’t know, like April Dunford, she told me that she wrote obviously awesome about product positioning, she was already fairly successful as a solo consultant. And she said that after the book came out her consulting business quadrupled within 18 months.


Alastair McDermott  25:17



Rob Fitzpatrick  25:17

And she got to set her prices. She was booked as far into the future as she was willing to commit to, everything changed. And I asked her about it. And I was like, but it has to be good, right? And she said, I mean, absolutely, that’s that’s the linchpin. And that’s the hard part. She talked to so many other business executives, and I’m sure you know, plenty, and they just wanted to write a book, any book. It’s like, it didn’t change their career, it didn’t change their business, it didn’t do anything. So I don’t believe in business card books anymore. I believe in good books, it’s like, if you’re going to write a book, it’s always going to be hard. So put in the extra effort and make it as good as you can.


Alastair McDermott  25:51

Yeah, and I think I have one of those books. It’s a little thin blue book, which is basically about how to write the best business card in the world, I think it’s called. So yeah, and now there is a thing still where some people won’t want to read what’s in the book. But I take your point, you know, for, for those who do write a good book, that starts getting shared around, it’s got this kind of, it’s got this power of kind of snowball effect.


Rob Fitzpatrick  26:16

And so to clarify one small thing, good doesn’t mean beautifully written, good means valuable to the reader. And my first book, the mom test, I’ve since updated and fix this. But when it launched, it had more than 200 serious typos. But people were willing to overlook that. My early reviews on Amazon were like five stars look past the typos, there’s real value in here. And I don’t suggest that you launch a book with typos intentionally. But I’m saying like, it’s not the most important thing. The writing is almost an implementation detail. What matters is the the the underlying knowledge.


Alastair McDermott  26:51

Right? Yeah, that’s a great point. That’s great point. Okay. And I mean, it’s the same thing that we want for our clients is we want to improve their condition, we want to give them value. So it’s the same thing with the book, you want to do the same thing?


Rob Fitzpatrick  27:02



Alastair McDermott  27:04

What about the writing community? How did you start that? Did you become part of it? I’m just interested in that.


Rob Fitzpatrick  27:10

Yeah, I started it alongside writing the book, because so the way I think about, I think, if there’s kind of like opportunities, and then there’s commitments, let’s say, and I was very much in the lifestyle camp, based on book royalties, I kind of on paper retired when I was in my early 30s. And I took a couple years off, I learned to sail I rebuilt a small sailboat with you know, I spent four months in the boat yard, rebuilding the whole hole. And then I spent three years basically just sailing around England, France, Spain, and eventually landing in Barcelona.  And I thought that I was done with work, you know, and I was like, I like writing books, I can do it by myself on my own style. Like I like the passive income from royalties, I thought it was perfect for me. And at a certain point, I was like, Man, I’m like, ready to build a business again, I want to get serious about this. And so when I was writing my current book, write useful books. I was thinking, like, I think of it as a business stack. So the book is kind of top of funnel and education. Because for people to use my other products, and whatever is they need to kind of buy into this philosophy of you’re not just writing a book and secret, you’re testing it like a product.  And then then there’s software and the software help this book is for beta reading. But the issue we have is that from a business model perspective is that beta reading is a temporary activity. And it’s really hard to market to authors, because most authors only write one book. And it’s hard to catch them when they don’t identify as an author. It’s just a thing they’re doing. So they’re not like content marketing doesn’t really work for this. They’re not like googling things for authors all the time. And you have to catch them right when they’re committing to their their tools for beta reading. And we couldn’t figure it out, we couldn’t figure out like the customer acquisition or the marketing. And we came up with the community, it’s kind of a business model solution, because we could say, hey, if you buy into this book, the community serves the same purpose. Like it’s to help you write successful nonfiction. And it’s gonna do all this stuff. And the way it functions the business model is is a, we charge for it as $19 a month. So all the authors are serious there. We’ve had a bunch of books launch out of the community, It’s so inspiring, and it’s very exciting. And that kind of keeps them in our orbit in a semi profitable way until they’re ready for beta reading.  And once they are ready for beta reading, which tool are they going to use? Of course, the one that’s a part of their community. So for us, it was kind of this almost like pre retention. And now that we have that in place, there’s no 140 authors in the community. And now that we have that, like holding pattern in place, we’re able to start creating products that touch different pain points along the journey.


Alastair McDermott  29:45



Rob Fitzpatrick  29:45

And it’s so powerful from a business model perspective, and we do simple stuff. Obviously, people ask questions, they get answers from people who know they get good feedback we do writing accountability groups where we show up and do the work and get stuff done. We have awesome guest authors who come in and do interviews, a funny quirk is famous people are always asked about their specialty, but never about their writing process. And so we’ve been able to get these insanely famous authors, just happy to talk about writing and books, because no one ever asked them about that. So yeah, it’s been a real pleasure to be a part of.


Alastair McDermott  30:17

Yeah, that’s really cool. And so now I think you’ve done the opposite. You’ve now sold me and your community. So I think we’ve got equity in this call. So what’s, okay, there’s a few things I’m thinking. So, so one thing that you did there was he built a community before he tried to sell to them? That’s what you’ve done before you, you build a community as a, as a way of, of accessing that audience, right?


Rob Fitzpatrick  30:42

Yeah. So we did. Okay, so we had the book, basically, the way it worked is I had the book as like top of funnel. And we were doing beta reading, like free beta reading. And at a certain point, I said, the book is good enough, I’m now going to charge people to be beta readers by calling it early access.


Alastair McDermott  30:59



Rob Fitzpatrick  31:00

And that was actually great for me from a product design standpoint, because it brought in a more demanding sort of beta reader who had paid to be there. And I knew that it was desirable, right, because they paid the cover price. And so if they paid for it, and then they didn’t read it, I knew something was deeply wrong with what I’d written. And so that was very helpful for me for product design, it helped on the cash flow. And basically, we started inviting people.  And I remember hearing, there’s a podcast and a community called “Tropical MBA”. And they talk about building location independent, heavy manufacturing businesses, which is a very interesting niche. And they’re not trying to do like location independent lifestyle. They’re trying to do like, million dollar a year, like manufacturing serious stuff. But anyway, so and they built a very interesting community. And the question they ask themselves, when building it is how many smart people that knew about this would need to be in a community for me to be willing to pay $1 per day, to listen to and talk to them. And I was like, that’s a smart way to think about it. And I was like, and they decided it was 100.  So they invited 100, smart people that they could find and that they knew. And they’re like, Great. Now we’re going to start charging next person, $1 per day. And I took the same approach. We started charging once we had 60 smart authors in the community. So from like, 60 onwards, people had to pay the the monthly membership. And yeah, it’s been great. I think it’s still a loss center, because it takes a lot of work and maintenance, but it creates all these other strategic benefits. It’s a customer development superpower, the evangelists that have come out of it, because they’re so close to us, we deal with them every day, I spot people’s problems in advance, they ask questions in the community that they would never ask through an official support forum. And so I’m learning so much. And it’s allowing us to build all of our other products with extreme confidence.


Alastair McDermott  32:47

Yeah, that the benefits, just the massive. So I just want to call back to two podcast episodes. Previously, we had we had Paddy on from Informed Decisions. And he talked about how he started his podcast first round his podcast for two years, built a community around the podcast, and then launched his business, which after two years was a six figure business, six figure consulting, financial advisory consultancy. And then we had Louis Grenier on who is from Everyone Hates Marketers. And he did the same thing. He built his podcast and then built his his, his business on the back of a hugely successful podcast. And so in both those cases, people building the audience first. And that’s what I was trying to get to figure out had you gone and deliberately built that audience and how did you do that? So that’s really interesting.


Rob Fitzpatrick  33:38

So I think I just want to say that I think I’ve seen some entrepreneurs, especially in the indie hackers community use audience building as an excuse not to do the real work.


Alastair McDermott  33:49



Rob Fitzpatrick  33:50

Because they think they need to hit a certain number of Twitter followers before they’re allowed to start asking for money.


Alastair McDermott  33:55



Rob Fitzpatrick  33:55

One of my businesses, I think, my second or third business, we sat down and my potential co founder, we hadn’t even committed to it. We said, if we can get $50,000 of pre orders within a week, then we will start this business. And so we just hit with sales driven, right? So like, each customer was worth five or 10 grand, so it wasn’t that many. And we’re just like, Great. Let’s go do it. And we just walked around London, and by the end of the week, we had 50-60 grand, we’re like, okay, like, let’s build this business. And at that point, we had zero audience, we were just willing to hit the pavement. And so


Alastair McDermott  34:27

Yeah, just so absolutely different approaches we’ve been working there. Yeah. Yeah.


Rob Fitzpatrick  34:32

So audience first is super powerful. It does work. But I’m just saying it’s like, don’t use it as an excuse. Sometimes there’s a quicker path to your goal. You know what I mean?


Alastair McDermott  34:40

And I would also suggest that I, Twitter being my favorite social network on, I’m in Twitter all the time. The number of Twitter followers that you have is not really audience building. So I would suggest, so, yeah, I think you got to do a bit more than that. So, okay, I want to talk about your other book, The Workshop, a book. Sorry, I don’t know the…


Rob Fitzpatrick  35:01

“Workshop Survival Guide”


Alastair McDermott  35:02

“Workshops Survival Guide”. Can you just because I know the people listening to this are the kind of people who are running workshops, can you give a quick cliff notes of this book what we what what what you’re suggesting to people to do.


Rob Fitzpatrick  35:15

There’s two halves, the first half is about designing the underlying education structure. And then the second half is about facilitation techniques. And the mistake that most people make is they focus entirely on the facilitation, and they forget about the underlying structure. And a genius facilitator with incredibly high charisma and energy can drag an audience through a poorly structured educational session. That’s true.


Alastair McDermott  35:39



Rob Fitzpatrick  35:39

However, you don’t need to be charismatic. I’m not especially charismatic on stage. But the way I designed my workshops, it holds the audience energy levels high, it keeps the energy high, and it holds the attention. And when you’ve built your workshop in the right way, it’s very easy to be an engaging presenter, because they’re not tired, they’re not getting bored. So you don’t need to be doing this big song and dance, you can just be telling them things. And part of that, in terms of practical tips, like don’t start with the slides, the slides should be the last thing you do. Because it’s kind of like when you’re writing a book, you don’t start by writing the book, you start by designing the outcomes and the structure and the you did the same in a workshop you start with, like, Who’s my audience? Where am I trying to get them to get them to that major learning outcome? What are the important sub learning outcomes, you know, and then you kind of build this this bullet list of learning outcomes, then what I do is, there’s different types of education that these people haggle over these words. But hopefully, if you if you interpret generously, it’ll make sense.  I divided into knowledge, skill and wisdom. So knowledge is kind of academic theory, it’s just you need to facts you need a framework, and that allows you to, you know, advance, then skills are things that you need to practice. So skateboarding is a skill, but also running customer development interviews, or sales conversations or writing a sales proposal. That is a skill. And you’re never going to teach a skill by lecturing, you have to teach a skill by try it now exercises, you have to let them try. And so you basically look through your learning outcomes, and you go is this knowledge, skill or wisdom. If it’s knowledge, you can do it with a short lecture, if it’s skill, you need some sort of like, try it now exercise. And if it’s wisdom, you need a decision making exercise, which is like a case study challenge or a scenario challenge.  And if you match the method of teaching to the type of knowledge that you’re that that learning outcome depends on, immediately, things get better. So that helps it land. And then the last thing I’ll say, two last things, I guess. And these are both about maintaining energy levels, you want to change your style of teaching at least every 20 minutes. So maximize your lecture segments at 20 minutes, and then switch to something else, it could be small group discussion, it could be a case study challenge, it could be a stand up and do a posted exercise.  These breaks can be short, you can do a 20-minute lecture or a five minute exercise a 20-minute lecture or a five minute small group discussion. You can alternate like that all day, people never get tired. And then every 90 minutes, they need a 15-minute coffee break. And they need a full hour for lunch. And when I’m actually planning these things out, I have my learning outcomes, then I put the coffee breaks in the lunches in the schedule first. And then I start slotting my learning outcomes with these like format switches in into the open space. And the biggest mistake people make is as teachers is they think that it’s about how much they say. And it’s not. It’s about how the audience feels and whether the bits you do say, land and lead to action. Is it going to does it reach their brain and does it cause them to behave differently? You’re never going to be able to cover everything. But if people just wanted all the facts, they would go to Wikipedia, they’re coming to you for a curated experience that creates some sort of outcome without making them feel like they’re being waterboarded.


Alastair McDermott  38:57

Yeah, I think there’s there’s a huge overlap between this and “Write Useful Books”. I think if you read both, you get a very tiny, very, very good basic understanding of how to teach people, anything in any any format. So,


Rob Fitzpatrick  39:12

My friends joke that I’ve written the same book three times just applied to different industries. You know,


Alastair McDermott  39:17



Rob Fitzpatrick  39:18

Listen to what your customers need and like build the right thing for them, but applied to startups applied education and applied to nonfiction.


Alastair McDermott  39:26

Absolutely. Well, it works. It works. So. Yeah. Okay, cool. I love that. So. Okay, let me switch gears a bit. I I’m a big fan of talking to people about failure. People have heard me say this a million times before. I think it’s really important to embrace failure and learn from it. Do you have any business failures that you could tell us about? What happened and what did you learn from it?


Rob Fitzpatrick  39:49

Yeah, so many. My first startup was a debacle. And it was surprising because on paper we ticked all the boxes. We got into Y Combinator with basically no experience. We were in a great class where 2007 alongside Dropbox on kick, a lot of great companies, it was so cool to see them growing from scratch, and you know, taking over the world. And meanwhile, we were fumbling and we got a little bit of success. We raised a, you know, a seed round a series A from Super world class investors. And we got some big customers, we had Sony, we had MTV, we had the BBC, but we move so slowly. And the issue was that it kind of fell on me to be doing the sales and the customer understanding. And my biggest regret is that I didn’t hire a sales coach, because it was a skill I needed to learn the business depended on it, we just raised a bunch of money.  In my head, I was like, well, that’s too expensive. But what a trivial expense compared to the amount of money that was at stake. And we ran that business, it was clear, we were failing after about the third year. And then we took a year to shut it down. And a couple of particular examples. When I was talking to one of our first big clients, you know, one of the ones I previously mentioned, and we were building kind of Interactive Advertising, social advertising technology. And they were saying, Hey, we need a Can you send us some analytics? And well, I was like, analytics, I’m listening to my customers, I’m doing what people told me. So I go back to the team, and I’m like, we need analytics. And they’re like, what sort I’m like, I don’t know, good analytics for the campaigns. And they’re like, okay, so we start designing and adding features and adding features. You know, it takes us six months to build or something, maybe three months, but it was a while.


Alastair McDermott  41:32



Rob Fitzpatrick  41:32

Every week, the clients calling me and being like, hey, do you have those analytics, I’m like, trust me, we’re working on it. It’s gonna be awesome. We finally finished I do the big reveal. They’re like, don’t get why it took so long. But thank you. And then they email me the next week, and they go, so could you send us your analytics. And I was like, I built you this whole dashboard. You know, it took a long time, we put a lot of money into it. But like, here’s your password, you know, but okay, for this week, here’s your thing. They go great. Thank you. The next week, the exact same exchange, the next week, the same, I’m losing my mind.  And then then they go, you know, the week after that, they go, Hey, do you think this week, you could send us our analytics as a PDF instead of an email, you know, maybe put our logo on it. And I just exploded? I’m like, why do you possibly need this? You can look at all of the data in the world. You can explore it. It’s got real time graphs, everything’s beautiful. And they reply, they go, Oh, I mean, we never look at the numbers, we just need something to send to our clients.  And they’re like, and it would save us some time. If you sent us a PDF since then, we wouldn’t need to make it look pretty. And I was like, wow, I so deeply misunderstood what they needed. Because I didn’t ask I took the feature request at face value instead of digging into why they wanted the feature request. And as a result at the time, we were burning 20 grand a month. So say we spent three months on that. It’s like that simple mistake of not asking the right follow up question cost me 60 grand that moves our business one step closer to the grave, right?


Alastair McDermott  42:57

Yeah, yeah, I can just hear like Jonathan Stark. What are you doing, buddy? Dude?


Rob Fitzpatrick  43:03



Alastair McDermott  43:04

So that’s, that’s, that’s one of his thing is like, keep asking, keep. So okay, that’s it. That’s a good one. What was the name of that business? By the way, can you tell us?


Rob Fitzpatrick  43:13

Habit industries, when we went through yc, we were called the switch. And we were kind of consumer facing, it was a tool for kids to make cartoons. And then the enterprise side was called.


Alastair McDermott  43:24



Rob Fitzpatrick  43:25

Well, but the idea the advertising tech worked off of animation technology. So we started and the idea was, it would be white labeled to advertisers. And they would use it for their user generated content campaigns, because it could be curated because it wasn’t video, and it wasn’t images. So we could curate it automatically, which made it much safer to do user generated content. And so and then from there, we had some other advertising products, and it was all the same tech and the same vision. It’s just, you know.


Alastair McDermott  43:51



Rob Fitzpatrick  43:51

We had to kind of proof of concept it with a consumer facing destination site. And then once that kind of worked and kids liked it, we’re like, we were able to approach the brands and say, Hey, you should white label this and use it for your, your musicians, your movies, your whatever’s.


Alastair McDermott  44:06

Yeah. And just for anybody listening this, who happens not to know Y Combinator. It’s a very famous kind of incubator, the tech industry in Silicon Valley, so. Okay, so what else should I have asked you about writing books, writing useful books. That would be, that would be really useful for our listeners to hear if I missed any key parts.


Rob Fitzpatrick  44:30

One is that you can start before you’re ready. I think I’ve seen a lot of authors, they they expect to have a perfect vision of what their book will look like before they start and that’s not the way it works. What you need when you start is the belief that you have something worth saying for someone, and you’re embarking on a quest to find out exactly who that person is, and exactly how to describe this, like this core important thing that you know, or believe or understand. And it’s a path of discovery, and it’s a long path. So you need the confidence that you have something worth saying you need that belief. And you need the ability to find one or one to three hours per day for an extended period of time to work on this. It’s a big, it’s a big project.


Alastair McDermott  45:09

And one question I have for you on that, because like I hear this all the time, is, well, there’s already five books on that. Why should I write another one? And so what’s your answer to that?


Rob Fitzpatrick  45:22

There’s different people have different lenses through which they see the world. There’s a million books about customer research and enterprise sales. And yet I, I wrote one about the same topics, and it’s sold 100,000 copies and put $500,000 in my bank account through royalties, and it’s still selling and it’s still growing. I expect the next two years will be better than the first eight years at its current growth rate.  And there was nothing new about my topic, what I did was essentially translation, I took a body of knowledge that that was described in a way that worked for salespeople, and I made that accessible to technical people. And that was enough. And the way you speak, the way you write, it’ll, it’ll resonate differently with different audiences. And frankly, the bar is pretty low. Like most books are really bad. If you think about all of the common criticisms of nonfiction. Oh, that was a blog post padded out with 200 pages of fluff.


Alastair McDermott  46:15



Rob Fitzpatrick  46:15

Like, oh, that like, whatever it was so academic, it was such hard work to figure out what I was supposed to be taking away from this, if you just don’t do that. And most books go through like two iterations in front of users if that maybe one iteration, because the the the normal flow, if you’re from a development background is very waterfall. It’s like write the book proposal, write the table of contents, do the draft, do the revisions, do the developmental editing, the copy editing, then send it out for feedback.


Alastair McDermott  46:46



Rob Fitzpatrick  46:46

But by then you’ve burned like 90% of the the time you’re supposed to spend on the book. So if you find problems, you either


Alastair McDermott  46:53

Do energy committed to it as well.


Rob Fitzpatrick  46:54

Yeah, exactly. You either restart from scratch, essentially, or you make superficial small changes. Whereas my books go through 20 to 50 iteration cycles, I would say, as opposed to one to two. And that fundamentally makes a better product. But that that’s just math, that’s just reality, right? And so if you use a modern process, it kind of doesn’t matter who you’re competing against. Obviously, there are some exceptions, like you need to find your way to position it and frame it and stuff. But there’s an old like, quote about about writing, it’s like, when you sit down to write a book, whatever you do, don’t check to see if it’s already been written. Because it certainly has, yeah, there’s a million books published per year, right now more than that, like new titles, like someone’s written it, it’s just probably bad. Like, don’t psych yourself out, write your version for your people through your lens and do a good job of it. And I think that’s enough to stand apart.


Alastair McDermott  47:48

That’s a segues nicely into a question I always ask, which is, do you have a book that you would recommend to people to read a resource to get started? So you may you may use your own or if someone from someone else, I know link, all everything that’s been mentioned so far, in the show notes, including the tropical MBA mentioned earlier, by the way, that


Rob Fitzpatrick  48:10

There’s a lot It depends, like with this sort of book, they’re not good in a vacuum. They’re good because they solve a problem. So if you have that problem, they’re worth $10,000. And if you don’t have that problem, you’re bored to death by them.


Alastair McDermott  48:21



Rob Fitzpatrick  48:22

But a couple that have really blown my mind recently, about negotiation “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss. Now, I’ve never been a hard negotiator. So I didn’t think this book was gonna matter to me. But I eventually read it cuz I was curious, it was getting so much buzz. And oh, my gosh, what a pleasure to read and what impactful knowledge, even while reading it, I was like, I’m gonna try to buy someone’s business. And I basically used every tool in the book. And the deal fell through in the end due to a trivial issue. But that was a conversation I wouldn’t even have been able to have. And it blows my mind how much better I would have been with difficult clients with difficult investors with the press with its, hmm, “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss. So good.  And then if you’re thinking about scaling your consulting into an agency, or some sort of business with more staff, an incredible book is the “E Myth Revisited”. And it’s kind of about how do you process eyes people? How do you build the processes into an organization? So because you know, not everything can be done by machines? And it’s fascinating. It was written in the 80s. It’s got kind of a very strange style to it.


Alastair McDermott  49:32



Rob Fitzpatrick  49:32

But I still think it’s absolutely crucial. It’s a must read before you hire your first employee.


Alastair McDermott  49:36

Yeah, I hate how it’s written. It’s the number one business book I recommend.


Rob Fitzpatrick  49:41



Alastair McDermott  49:43

It’s, it’s weird.


Rob Fitzpatrick  49:44

But that speaks to our whole point here. Right.


Alastair McDermott  49:46



Rob Fitzpatrick  49:47

Of content over style.


Alastair McDermott  49:49

Yeah. Yeah. And I’d recommend that anybody reads it, even if they stay solo, because I think it’s just, it’s just important enough.


Rob Fitzpatrick  49:56

It’s helpful for yourself also. Yeah, cuz you’re building the documentation. I have terrible memory. If I don’t write down stuff, I have to redo it every time.


Alastair McDermott  50:03



Rob Fitzpatrick  50:03

And so even when I’m solo, I still follow the advice. And it’s kind of if you do it, if you have these processes in place, then going remote and asynchronous is so much easier, which is otherwise such a chore. And now it’s like every business needs to go remote and asynchronous.


Alastair McDermott  50:18

But that’s a conversation for another day. But I am remote and asynchronous. I’m totally with you. Sometimes asking, how did you come up with the idea of testing the book early before it’s ready?


Rob Fitzpatrick  50:30

Just practicality and kind of looking at like writing a book is such a long process. And the way I think about building products and startups is you want to bring the risk forward. So I don’t want to build a business and then find out whether it works. I want to find out whether it works and then build the business. Now in practice, this sounds good to say, but reality is a little bit messier. In practice, what happens is you learn a little bit, you do a little bit of work, you learn a little bit more, you do a little more work, and the learning and the work kind of go in parallel throughout the process. I think one of the myths is that you can get 100% certainty, you’re never going to get 100%. But you should also never have 0%. Right? And so it’s just and then I was looking for ways, how do I how do I learn that as I’m talking to other authors, and this is the toolkit I built. Other people do it differently, like Arvid Kahl did it by blogging, you know, I did it by reader conversations and beta reading. People use different toolkits, but it’s all the same goal.


Alastair McDermott  51:22

Yeah, and just de risking. So another question from Matthias is where does the number of seed readers are 500 to a thousand come from? Why not 50 or 200, sorry, 50, or 2000?


Rob Fitzpatrick  51:33

The honest truth is I pulled this number out of a hat. It’s what I did accidentally for my first book, and it ended up being enough, and the growth was still slow. My first book, I gave away 500 copies at an event they paid for printing costs, then I gave 200 copies at another event, they paid a discounted but slightly profitable price. And I sold 100 copies myself. So that was my 800 seat readers, that I ignored the book for three years. And next thing I knew I was earning more from the book that I was from my business. So I was like, well, I should start taking this seriously. Because it was built to, you know, have this recommendation loop. And so I figured, well, I did 800. So probably 500 to 1000 is enough. It’s completely unscientific. And one of the challenges with books is that it’s really hard to run rigorous experiments. Amazon is cagey with their data. Everything’s biased by authors platforms. So it’s really hard to compare one author’s results to another author’s. And I know that that’s enough. Maybe fewer is also enough. But, but I don’t know. So that’s just what I’ve done. And that’s what I recommend.


Alastair McDermott  52:33

Yeah, yeah. I know, that Matthias is coming from a place of, of kind of engineering science background. So that’s why he’s asking. Another question is, is should you try and estimate a market size for total readership, before you start, or does that,


Rob Fitzpatrick  52:48

I think in some ways, market sizing can backfire. April Dunford, who wrote obviously awesome, she told an amazing anecdote when she was talking to publishers about that book, she ended up self publishing, but she had good publishing offers. And they said, Hey, it shouldn’t be about positioning products, it should be about positioning yourself, because only some people position products, but everyone has to position themselves in their careers, we can sell one to everyone.  And she sort of pushed back on that. She said, That’s not the book I’m trying to write. That’s not what I’m trying to do here. You know, and enough people do positioning, you know, every marketing executive, every startup founder, every product lead every product manager, she’s like, that’s big enough for me. And a quadrupled her consulting business, she’s earned quite a lot of money through the book itself. I’d estimate she hasn’t told me this, but I’d asked her make quite a few hundreds of 1000s. And that’s because she was willing to focus down and we’re focusing down allows you to do is to be the best book in the world for some outcome for some person.  If you’re writing for everyone, then you’re probably not the best, at least not for all of them, you might be the best for like one subset, but not for all of them. And unless you’ve got massive marketing budgets behind you, I think it’s more important to be the best for someone than to have a large market. I may be proven wrong on that. And there’s obviously some markets that are too small, but, you know, introverted techies doing customer development. That was my first market. And it was like, that was big enough.


Alastair McDermott  54:08

Yeah, I know. The listeners here are delighted, because we’ve gotten onto the topic of specialization, which we risked not getting on to. So you know, that’s perfect. And then so last last question from Matthias is, what is the top reason that people fail in writing useful books, in your opinion?


Rob Fitzpatrick  54:29

I’ll just tell you what I was told by Alex Osterwalder who wrote “Business Model Generation” was 10 years ago, we were at a whiskey bar in London after an event drinking while whiskey, I guess. And I hadn’t even planned to write a book at that point. It was just something I was vaguely interested in. I was full in the startup world. And he just released “Business Model Generation”, which was this insane breakout success. They self published the first 10,000 copies and then transitioned to a publisher once they had proven that the book worked. So that’s how they locked in good terms and they got an insanely great deal. And he told me he said, You know why most business books fail, because the authors are too in love with writing. And so they focus on the words instead of the outcomes that the readers are receiving.  And they actually their design process I talked to today, Vicki, who now works in their in their team. And he’s written three books he’s won awards for them is, you know, also a great author. He says that Osterwalder his writing process starts with illustrations, not with words, and he’s like, let me explain this illustration to you. And then he writes the minimum number of words around the illustration, to basically set the context and allow it to click, and his books are very few words. And I think that’s true. Because if you write all the words, first, you fall in love with the words, it makes your iterations, much slower.  Rewriting a manuscript takes at least a month. Rewriting a table of contents takes an afternoon, you want to do your iterations before you’ve piled the words on top and the more iterations you can do, the better the product will be. And the more in touch with your readers you’ll be. It builds this reader empathy, this understanding and allows you to nail it.


Alastair McDermott  56:00

Awesome. Yeah, that’s, that’s super. Okay. I think that’s it for Matthias the question. So thank you for coming back.


Rob Fitzpatrick  56:07

Thank you, Matthias for the questions. They were, they were great.


Alastair McDermott  56:11

Let me wrap this up, because we’re running out of time. Do you, do you have a favorite fiction book? Are you into fiction? Reading fiction?


Rob Fitzpatrick  56:18

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’d say to that. I’m just thinking of the ones that I absolutely tore through. “The Martian” is so good. Even if you’ve watched the movie, it’s such a pleasure. And another is “Ender’s Game”. Also sci-fi. And “Ender’s Game” is such a delight to read. I don’t recommend the whole series, but that that one book is,


Alastair McDermott  56:38

Yeah, it gets a bit weird.


Rob Fitzpatrick  56:40

It gets a bit weird.


Alastair McDermott  56:41

But what I liked about “The Martian”, I think, is that it’s another book where he actually outsourced some of the some of the science and, and beta tested the concepts and, and talk to people said, Well, this really happened this way. And can he correct my logic and all this? So? Yeah, that’s, that’s good. That’s anywhere. So yeah, we’ll link to those.


Rob Fitzpatrick  56:58

And then one other these are all sci fi and fantasy. I feel like I have enough drama in my regular life. So I don’t need drama in my books. I like you know, escapism.


Alastair McDermott  57:07



Rob Fitzpatrick  57:07

But the the “Stormlight Archives” is is so exceptional by Brandon Sanderson, right.


Alastair McDermott  57:13

Yeah. And one of my favorite authors actually. And what I love about Brandon, sorry, I’m interrupting you guys. Live with Brandon Sanderson is is he’s like, okay, so I’m now you know, 65% of the way through my next book, here’s the ticker. Here’s what we’re aiming for by next Wednesday, we’re going to be at you know, 81%. And he is he does hit that, like he, he’s a machine. So yeah,


Rob Fitzpatrick  57:38

He executes. And he’s also made a bunch of very generous YouTube videos, and that kind of lessons and instruction, like teaching courses, recording videos, he really shares his knowledge generously.


Alastair McDermott  57:48



Rob Fitzpatrick  57:48

And he’s the best world builder right now in fiction, I think is world building. It’s just exceptional. It’s such a pleasure.


Alastair McDermott  57:54

Yeah. Well, I’ll easily be able to link to those in the show notes. Because he’s, he’s one of my favorites as well. So. Yeah. Okay. Rob, thank you so much. I really do appreciate you being here. Can you just tell us our listeners where to find you, where the best places to go are.


Rob Fitzpatrick  58:10

So all my stuff is at, And if you want to write a book, if you want to put let that flag you know, and bring your audience to you is both the guidebook and the community. If you join the community, you get the book for free. And yeah, we’d love to have you there. And it’d be great to hear what you’re working on.


Alastair McDermott  58:31

Cool. And I’m pretty much finished reading that book, and I highly recommend it as well. Rob Fitz, thank you very much.


Rob Fitzpatrick  58:38

It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me and best wishes to everyone.


Voiceover  58:44

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