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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Interview with Inc Editor-at-Large Bo Burlingham


What type of books do you write?  I write books about entrepreneurs and growing companies. I search for the answers that the best of them have come up with to the questions they all face: How do you balance the idealism of your vision with the practical need to develop a sound business model and healthy financials?What does it mean for a company to be great? How do you have a meaningful life in business? What role can businesses play in building a better society? How do you handle the most difficult parts of the journey?

What is your newest book,Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top, about? Finish Big is about one of those difficult parts: the end of the journey. It addresses the question: How do you end your journey in a way that leaves you happy, fulfilled, proud of what you've accomplished, and able to move on enthusiastically to whatever comes next? I found that many business owners don't have good exits. The difficulties they have say a great deal about what businesses provide that can be hard to find elsewhere.

What inspired you to write it? I had worked with my friend and coauthor Norm Brodsky on a series of columns for Inc. magazine about selling his business. The overwhelming response to the series made me realize that there was a great hunger for insights into the experience of leaving a business you've built from scratch. I discovered that almost nothing has been written about that aspect of the entrepreneurial journey, in sharp contrast to starting a business, growing a business, marketing, finance, managing people, selling, marketing, and on and on. That discovery gave me the courage to spend five years working on the book.

As the editor at large at Inc how would you compare writing a book vs. writing articles?
They are very different. Magazine articles are like short stories. You have to say everything you want to say in a few thousand words. You have to find a single question that will entice readers to dig into the article in hopes of finding the answer. In writing a book, you tackle a variety of different questions in the context of addressing a larger subject. 

What is the writing process like for you? Parts of it I love, and parts of it I hate. I love the research and interviewing. I meet fascinating people with great stories to tell, and that's a blessing. I also like the feeling I get when I'm all done, and I enjoy the feedback from readers, which I always learn a lot from. It's what happens in between that I hate. It's very intimidating to start with a blank screen on your computer and realize you need to fill it with words that will be of interest and benefit to others. It gets even harder as you go along because you soon lose perspective on what you've written. After a while, you may feel lost. You don't know if what you've written is good or bad. You have all kinds of self-doubt. Hemingway said "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." That's the whole challenge, and it's a big one. (By the way, when I say "you" above, I mean "me." I don't speak for any writer other than myself.)

What did you do before you became an author? I was a political activist. (It was the 1960s.) Then I got married, and my wife was pregnant with our first child, and I needed to earn a living. I had a choice between going to work in a ping pong paddle factory for $80 a week or writing for an alternative weekly in Boston for $125 a week. I chose the latter. I've been writing ever since.

What advice do you have for struggling writers? First, I'd advise them to find a better way to make a living. If they feel compelled to stick with it, I'd advise them to find opportunities to write as often as possible. The more you write, the better you get. Exactly what type of writing you do  depends on the kind of writer you want to be. If you want to be an investigative journalist for a daily newspaper, you will need to develop skills a bot different from those that a writer of long narratives must have. Early in my career, I was drawn to story-telling, and I wrote for weekly newspapers, which forced me to write a lot. That helped me become a better writer. Beyond that, I'd advise young writers to cast off preconceptions they might have and learn to listen and watch closely and try to recreate reality for your readers as accurately as you can--based on what you actually hear, see, smell, and feel. Don't be afraid to question what you believe. Pursue the truth relentlessly, even if it's hard to admit. Your first and only duty is to tell your readers the truth.

Where do you see business book publishing heading? I wish I knew. I believe there will always be a market for good writing, good thinking, good content. What form it will take, I have no idea. We're obviously in the midst of a profound change in how people deliver and receive information. If I knew where we'll be 20, 30, 50 years from now, I would probably be a very rich man by now--and not a writer. 

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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