I first gave a talk about product management at TechStars during the summer of 2008. One of the things that I said that night caught the attention of all the founders, and we ended up talking about it for hours: “As long as I listen to my customers, I never need to have another original idea.”
It’s a simple concept. Go get customers, then listen. It really can be that simple.
The ability to listen is an important skill for any startup founder. We’re all accustomed to trying to persuade people to try our products, to invest in our companies, or to listen to what we have to say. If you’re doing that with customers, you’re doing it backwards.
Too many startups build things that they think their customers will want. If you’re looking for creative ideas that can make your company better, simply spend time with your customers. It’s not rocket science, but I’m always surprised by how few companies are really good at doing this.
I started thinking about how this might apply to publishing.
Philosophically, this is what editors do in the acquisitions process. They are looking for books that customers will buy, based on everything from past sales of books they have published to the popularity of the author to what is appearing in the haze of their zeitgeist.
The trouble in book publishing is one of both time and distance. Editors are shooting at a target 24 months in the future when they sign authors and their ideas. And publishers are often separated from the customers with the intermediaries of distributors and retailers, a chain which further lengthens the time before a publisher knows if a book is successful.
As authors more and more make the decision to self-publish their works, they are reducing both time and distance between them and the reader. While many authors cite control as the reason for going alone, what they should be considering is listening to what readers are saying and publishing two, three, or even four times inside the window of what would it would taken to have a single book published with a traditional publisher, AND THEN going the commercial route with a tribe of followers and a clear idea of what concepts would work for a broader audience.
There is an awful lot of educated guessing that goes on in book publishing and it just seems like getting a little closer to the person with the problem what help us figure out what book needs to be written.