For over 20 years I worked in Silicon Valley for companies large (IBM, 400,000 employees at the time) and small (UpShot, where we started with three employees). A couple of years ago, I decided to change careers and become a full-time writer.
The joke was on me. I didn’t really change career paths as expected. Instead, I just veered a little. Let me explain.
When you’re coming up with product ideas in the high tech world, you look for a niche that will make your product distinctive and competitive. I did the same thing when I wrote my first two novels. I set them not in New York or even San Francisco but amidst the ambition, greed, and wealth of Silicon Valley where almost no crime fiction had been set before. Silicon Valley crime fiction has become my niche as a writer.
Next, and most important of all, when you’re seeking financing for a high tech company, you need a compelling story, you need to draw the listeners in and have them buy into your dream. You need to expand on that initial elevator pitch, too, with a business plan. Your objective is to get venture capitalists to invest their time, money, and resources into making your story come true. And when you are writing fiction? Your objective is to get a publisher to invest time, money, and resources into turning the story you tell in your manuscript into something tangible, a book.
In telling your story, both investors and publishers are searching for the next blockbuster, for the next Google or the next Da Vinci Code. I’ve had a VC tell me that I had a terrific, useful idea but it was only a $250 million idea, and he was looking for multi-billion ideas. Similarly, I’ve had a manuscript rejected with this comment: “Good as this is, I think it would quickly fall into midlist realm for us here.” Here’s the problem in both cases: No one knows what will make a blockbuster. What investor looked at Facebook when it was a roster for undergrads at Harvard and imagined it with 400 million users? And what about Stieg Larsson’s books? No one, no one had a clue that they would be an international publishing sensation including him. What you want in both cases is to bring a great idea to life. Those who just look around for blockbusters are going to spend too much on what they invest in and miss great stories that end up much bigger than they’d imagined.
I’ll just hit one more too-close-for-comfort-similarity. It’s not enough to build a great software product nor to write a great book. You have to spend your time and ingenuity promoting them. I don’t know what drug Emerson was on when he said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Right. There are so many new products, so many new books that you need to stand out. You need to get word of mouth going. How? Who knows? But I do know it’s as hard standing up at a trade show as it is at a bookstore.
Entrepreneur? Novelist? Loved both careers (or one-and-a-half of them), but maybe I should have stuck with my original dream – playing center field on the Giants.