How I Discovered the Art of Entrepreneurship

How I Discovered the Art of Entrepreneurship

In 2004 a casual acquaintance made an audacious statement to me.

A music producer with a chinstrap beard that was way ahead of its time, Dave was the father of one of my daughter’s friends. I was chatting with him by the school gates and fretting about my upcoming move away from London, where I had a fun job at a cool magazine, back to my hometown Vancouver, where there were virtually no print media jobs. How would I find work as an editor? He flapped his hand at me. “You’ll be fine! You’ll do something cool and entrepreneurial.”

His words hit me like a sharp smack on the rump; startling and presumptuous. Where does this hipster dad get off dismissing my employment concerns on the grounds that I’m going to do something “cool and entrepreneurial”?!

His remark really got under my skin. You’ve got me all wrong, Dave! I’m not interested in business. I’m creative. For one thing, I hate doing things I don’t want to do, and as far as I could tell, businesspeople have to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t ever want to do, like wearing conservative clothes and pretending not to have emotions. They have to value money more than people. They have to be ruthlessly competitive. They have to be utterly obsessed, neglecting their health and their families in order to get ahead. They have to “eat stress for breakfast!” I wouldn’t want to care that much about anything, let alone a line of t-shirts / pasta sauces / dog grooming services.

Furthermore, Dave, if I were to live my life fixated on one narrow obsession, it would have to be something meaningful. It would have to be art! Artists are obsessed with their work too, but that’s different. Workaholic entrepreneurs were delusional slaves in a prison of their own making, but artists who lock themselves in their studios for weeks on end were my heroes.

The Artist’s Passion

I have wanted all my life to make meaningful art.

What better purpose could my life have than to touch the mind of another human being in a way that makes us both feel less alone? I had so much to say, and there were so many ways to say it. Films, music, painting, conceptual art, fashion, literary fiction, dance, theater… It was all so inspiring — and also paralyzing.

Trouble was, I couldn’t seem to muster the attention span necessary to master any particular art form, although I dabbled in them all. I’d had an on-screen film and television career in my teens and early 20s, but I didn’t love acting enough to, say, do non-equity theater. I liked painting, but was lazy about dragging out my brushes or my sketchbook. Pattern cutting courses. Piano lessons. Life drawing classes. Jewelry design. Sure, I was interested. But not obsessed.

I clearly wasn’t going to cut it as any kind of artist, so I figured I’d better just get a damn job so I could pay my bills. So that’s what I did. In fact, I managed to snag a damned good job, as Arts and Lifestyles editor for the Vancouver Sun newspaper. I threw myself into my career as a mid-level manager in mainstream media, covering the arts instead of contributing to them. But Dave’s prediction must have planted a seed. Ten years after that fateful conversation outside Fox Primary School, I did indeed do something cool and entrepreneurial.

The Birth of a Business

The newsroom was downsizing for the fifth time in eight years, and I wanted out. I was leaving what I considered to be the best editorial job in town, so there were no more rungs left to climb on that particular ladder. That’s when it became clear: if I wanted exciting new career opportunities, I was going to have to create them myself.

And so in 2013 I left the paper to found LifeTree Media, a hybrid book publishing company specializing in nonfiction books that help, heal and inspire. In the three years we’ve been in business we have published eleven books, and I am proud of every one. I am exhilarated by the challenges of running my own company, and by the freedom and responsibility that come with it. So it turns out that Dave was right, but what’s more important is that I was so, so wrong. Wrong about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Wrong about my own suitability for the task. Most of all, I was wrong about the difference between business and art.

Start-Up Fever

Right after making the leap from secure employment into the uncertainty of an early-stage startup, I sat down and made a very long to-do list. It included fun, creative things like choose a name, have a logo designed, and write website copy. It included philosophical things like define our brand values and write a mission statement. And of course there were practical things: set up accounts, brush up on Excel, learn some bookkeeping fundamentals.

My workload was heavy but I felt light as air because, much to my surprise, I found every one of these tasks intensely absorbing. I spent hours on the weekend building a colour-coded project budget spreadsheet. I wrote sales kits for our service packages. If I woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep, I was delighted to have a few extra hours to browse the internet for cool fonts. I even spent Mothers Day creating a brand guide, because that’s how I most wanted to indulge myself on my special day.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I was hit by a pair of realizations.

Realization 1

I was officially obsessed — and loving it. Obsession, I discovered, isn’t draining, it’s energizing. It’s like a perpetual motion machine. The more I learned, the more I wanted to find out. The more systems and tools I created, the more excited I became as I watched the business take shape. And this triggered:

Realization 2

In my youthful ignorance, I had thought of business strictly as a soulless money-making exercise. And of course, it can be that for some people. It’s absolutely true in that every company’s business model must be designed to turn a profit, or it can’t survive. But that’s just what the business does. None of that describes what it is. What my business is, I discovered, is a vehicle for my personal self-expression and a tool with which I can make an impact on the world around me. It is the manifestation of my life purpose in action.

In other words, my business is an art project.

Business is My Creative Medium

Just like an artist, I get to decide what my company looks, sounds and feels like. What kind of people it’s for, and how it should affect them. What it stands for, and how it gets its point across. And I do this using every piece of me: my skills, talent, aesthetic sensibility, intuition and guts. Just like making a film, building a business is terrifying at times. I can’t completely control how it will turn out, or be sure that anybody will “get it”. Like a painting or a song, it’s highly revealing; I must stand behind it, but I can’t hide behind it. And it is intensely creative. In fact, it is the most creative, complex, exciting, bold, multi-faceted and dynamic art project I’ve ever made.

Above all, it is mine, all mine.

Nobody forced me to start my own business, just like no one forced me to draw in my sketchbook. But unlike the visual art I never made, this business demanded that I breathe it into being.

By answering its call, I unblocked my own personal channel to universal source energy; the same energy that inspires the painters and poets. What is creativity, after all, but the power to make the imaginary real? I have chiselled this company out of a lump of raw potential and watched in fascination as its features emerged under my hand. Looking back on my years as a frustrated failed artist, I see that my problem wasn’t laziness or lack of talent; it’s just that I was trying to work in the wrong medium.

At long last, I am making the art that only I can make. LifeTree Media generates meaning in my life as well as money, and the further along this path I go, the more certain I am that I am in the right place, doing the right thing. My business is a living expression of the things I care most about, and the instrument with which I will leave my mark on this world. And that’s just about the best definition of art that I can imagine.

maggie langrick
Founder and Publisher, LifeTree Media
 
Maggie Langrick is the President and Publisher at LifeTree Media, a publishing company specializing in nonfiction books and ebooks that help, heal and inspire. Before founding LifeTree in 2013, Maggie was Arts and Life editor for the Vancouver Sun newspaper. In June 2016 she was shortlisted for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, Canada's only national peer-reviewed editing prize, for her work on Shell, by Michelle Stewart. She is the author of the forthcoming book Bold, Deep and High: How to Write Your Best Book. Maggie calls herself "an optimistic cheerleader for the human race", and thrives on a balanced diet of yoga and ribald humour.
       

3 Essential Questions to Ask a Hybrid Publisher

3 Essential Questions to Ask a Hybrid Publisher

What the heck is a hybrid publisher, anyway? And how do you know if you’ve found a good one?

At its best, hybrid publishing offers many of the benefits of being published by a traditional publisher — including access to market (i.e. brick-and-mortar bookstores), high quality editing and design — as well as the benefits of self-publishing, such as higher royalties, ownership of rights and creative control. I founded LifeTree on this model because I wanted to offer authors the opportunity to have the best of both worlds. But not every company that calls itself a hybrid publisher delivers on all these criteria.

Because hybrid publishing is a relatively new and emerging model, different firms use the label in slightly different ways, which understandably leads to a lot of confusion among authors about what it is, how it works, and who it’s for. If you’re wondering whether hybrid publishing is right for you, you’ve probably Googled it and discovered some inconsistency in the services offered, which can be a frustrating experience.

It’s hard to shop around for something if you don’t know what you’re looking for. So how can you tell a quality hybrid publisher from a time-waster? When speaking to J.S. Leonard on his Bleeding Ink podcast, I mentioned that there are three essential questions to ask. Now I’ll also give you the best answer you can hear for each of the three, as well as the worst answer.

sm-divider

1. How is your distribution handled?

Best answer: “We are distributed to the book trade, which means that we have a national (or international) team of sales reps who will actively sell your book into stores. We supply these reps with a full set of sales materials relating to your book, including cover art, a sell sheet, excerpts from the text, and sometimes Advance Reader Copies (ARCs), which are also referred to as ‘bound galleys’. Each season, we meet with our distributor to present our upcoming titles to the sales team. In turn, the reps meet with buyers at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, airport stores, specialty retailers, libraries, and all other sorts of booksellers. Through our distributor, retailers sometimes offer us the opportunity to participate in ‘co-op’ arrangements, in which your book is given special placement in the store such as the front table, in exchange for a fee. We also handle warehousing, shipping, order fulfillment, and the processing of returns, as well as calculation and payout of royalties.”

Worst answer: “Your book is available to order in any local bookstore.” Some hybrid publishers and self-publishing companies claim to offer “worldwide distribution,” when really what they mean is that your book is listed in the catalogue of a book wholesaler such as Ingram. This means that, although a customer could technically walk into a store and order your book, they will never find it on the shelf there: no sales reps are presenting it to retailers, so no retailers are stocking it. This is not true trade distribution.

2. Do you do developmental editing?

Best answer: “We sure do! In fact, we consider developmental editing the most important part of the book creation process. This is editing at the bird’s-eye level, in which we examine fundamental aspects of the book such as its topic focus, structure and tone. What are its core messages, and are they clearly expressed? Have new ideas been introduced in the right sequence so that each one builds on what has come before? Is anything missing from the book, and does anything need to be taken out? Is the book geared to appeal to its target market? These are critical questions to resolve before the manuscript can be revised and copyedited. Our editors are industry-seasoned book publishing professionals who will bring sound, informed guidance to your collaborative relationship.”

Worst answer: “We will copyedit your book to make sure it is free from typos and grammatical errors.” Many vanity publishers and self-publishing companies tout their copyediting services to authors, who may be unfamiliar with the  various levels of editing. Yes, copyediting is essential to any book – but only once the deeper developmental work has been done. Otherwise, you’re icing a half-baked cake.

3. Who owns the rights to my book?

This one’s a bit more complicated, because it depends on whether or not the hybrid publisher jointly invests in the book’s production with you, or whether you have put up all the money. If you’re the sole financial backer of your book, then you should own all the publishing rights, now and forever (as you would under LifeTree’s model). If your hybrid publisher is jointly investing with you, then there are a number of different ways the deal might be structured, but be wary of any hybrid publisher who insists on acquiring your rights without making a financial investment in the book.

Of course, there’s much more to know about hybrid publishing. I covered a lot of it in my conversation with J.S Leonard, when he interviewed me for his Bleeding Ink podcast. Click here to listen to it.

This article was originally published on the LifeTree Media blog.

maggie langrick
Founder and Publisher, LifeTree Media
 
Maggie Langrick is the President and Publisher at LifeTree Media, a publishing company specializing in nonfiction books and ebooks that help, heal and inspire. Before founding LifeTree in 2013, Maggie was Arts and Life editor for the Vancouver Sun newspaper. In June 2016 she was shortlisted for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, Canada's only national peer-reviewed editing prize, for her work on Shell, by Michelle Stewart. She is the author of the forthcoming book Bold, Deep and High: How to Write Your Best Book. Maggie calls herself "an optimistic cheerleader for the human race", and thrives on a balanced diet of yoga and ribald humour.
       

Announcing my forthcoming book

Announcing my forthcoming book

I have an announcement to make.

I am writing a book. I’m writing a book about writing a book. (To which Paris, our marketing and communications coordinator, said: “That’s so meta…”)

This should be a cinch for me. I have been an editor for nearly twenty years, over which time I have worked with hundreds of writers. Most of them were professional journalists or feature writers, but in recent years in my role as publisher at LifeTree Media, I have worked almost exclusively with first-time authors.

Every day I support people in writing their very first nonfiction book. I give them a framework to follow, help them choose a focus for their book, and supply them with tools to organize their thoughts, overcome self-doubt, and follow through to completion.

Over time, I’ve developed quite a colourful bag of tricks to help even nervous, inexperienced authors to get the words out. We now have a neat and effective system for turning a glimmer of an idea into an outline, and then a manuscript, and finally a finished book on store shelves. It works.

So you could say I know a thing or two about the process. Documenting our system in a book of my own should be a walk in the park, right?

Wrong. The truth is, I am totally intimidated by the size of the task before me. (Just like the authors I work with.) You see, although I have worked on many books, I have never written one myself. (Just like the authors I work with.) I find myself fretting: What if nobody likes it – or, worse, if nobody reads it? What if I never even get it finished? I am a busy person, you know! Hm. This is sounding all too familiar.

Clearly, it is time for me to practice what I preach.

Luckily, I have a program to follow. I’ve seen it work for others; now it’s time to put it to the test on myself.

As I write, I’ll be sharing my experience and excerpts from the manuscript on this blog and in our newsletter. (Pro tip: accountability boosts productivity!) It’s bound to be an exhilarating, exhausting, sometimes nerve-wracking ride, so send me your own tips, suggestions and words of encouragement. Every new author needs a coach, and I am no exception.

PS: to all those brave and brilliant authors I work with… I get it now.

maggie langrick
Founder and Publisher, LifeTree Media
 
Maggie Langrick is the President and Publisher at LifeTree Media, a publishing company specializing in nonfiction books and ebooks that help, heal and inspire. Before founding LifeTree in 2013, Maggie was Arts and Life editor for the Vancouver Sun newspaper. In June 2016 she was shortlisted for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, Canada's only national peer-reviewed editing prize, for her work on Shell, by Michelle Stewart. She is the author of the forthcoming book Bold, Deep and High: How to Write Your Best Book. Maggie calls herself "an optimistic cheerleader for the human race", and thrives on a balanced diet of yoga and ribald humour.
       

How to turn fear into fuel for your writing.

How to turn fear into fuel for your writing.

Writing is scary. It means exposure – putting ourselves out there to be judged, criticized, mocked, ignored, enjoyed, learned from and admired. And it’s not only what we have to say that makes us anxious; we also worry about how we say it. We are afraid that our ideas aren’t original enough. That someone else has already done it better. That our style is bland. That our jokes are lame. Really, there is so much to fear about writing, it’s practically a miracle that anyone has ever managed to publish anything.

TS Eliot quote

It helps to know that none of us is immune. I’m scared. You’re scared. The truth about being human is that we are all scared all the time. Hopefully not of everything, but certainly of something. Fear is uncomfortable. We would generally rather do almost anything else except the thing that brings it on.

And so we procrastinate. We over-research. We get sucked into a Facebook wormhole. We make a snack. We re-read old notes. We suddenly feel incredibly sleepy and we wonder if we’re coming down with something. We wait for that magic moment when the fear will go away and we will know with absolute certainty that we are safe and beyond reproach. We wait to be sure that the whole world is waiting to receive our words with open arms. Yeah, that’s when we’ll finally write that book. Until then, lemme just text my sister about this weekend.

In truth, there’s no way to banish fear, and we wouldn’t want to if we could. The secret to dealing with fear is not to try to get rid of it, but to understand it for what it is and then use it.1

Fear is what happens when the body detects that it is about to gain valuable experience. Fear is preparation for growth. Fear is a compass that tells us where we need to go next. Fear is a message from the person we are destined to become, calling us to move forward.

Over the years, I have trained myself to eat fear for breakfast, by which I mean that I digest it and use it as fuel. In fact, I have developed quite a taste for it. These days, whenever I have to do something that makes me nervous, I get really excited because I know it means I am about to do something amazing.

So do that amazing thing. Write just one page, or twenty. But do it right now, and do it again tomorrow. Don’t wait for the fear to go away, because it won’t. It might dissipate for a bit, but it will come back. That’s ok. Fear will not make you a bad writer or turn your readers off. It is not an indication that you are unloveable or that you lack talent or insight. It doesn’t have the power to determine any of those things. The only negative effect that fear can have on your writing is to stop it from happening.

As author Susan Jeffers said in her 1986 classic self-help book, the secret is simply to Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. (With a title that good, who needs to read the whole book?) I often wonder how long she sat with her book idea, afraid to start. Afraid to finish. Afraid to submit the manuscript. Afraid to read the reviews. With each milestone comes a new fear. But the good news is that with the conquering of each fear comes a new milestone.

This post was inspired by the excellent Maria Popova over at Brainpickings.org. Check out her piece on 5 Timeless Books on Fear and the Creative Process.

maggie langrick
Founder and Publisher, LifeTree Media
 
Maggie Langrick is the President and Publisher at LifeTree Media, a publishing company specializing in nonfiction books and ebooks that help, heal and inspire. Before founding LifeTree in 2013, Maggie was Arts and Life editor for the Vancouver Sun newspaper. In June 2016 she was shortlisted for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, Canada's only national peer-reviewed editing prize, for her work on Shell, by Michelle Stewart. She is the author of the forthcoming book Bold, Deep and High: How to Write Your Best Book. Maggie calls herself "an optimistic cheerleader for the human race", and thrives on a balanced diet of yoga and ribald humour.
       

Big dreams begin with baby steps.

Big dreams begin with baby steps.

When your dreams are huge (as the best dreams are), it can be hard to clearly see the path you need to follow to reach them.

They might seem far away and out of reach, like a mountain peak from which you are separated by a deep and twisting valley. You know exactly where you are going and you know you need to navigate through the valley in order to get there.

It’s easy to feel on top of our plans when the sky is clear and we are enjoying a birds eye view of the landscape before us. “Hey, I’ll just head down that slope, bear left at the big boulder, and pop out of the woods right at the river’s narrowest point. Easy.”

But life, like long journeys, is full of switchbacks and unexpected obstacles: swamps, cliffs and rivers to cross that you didn’t even know existed when you first set out. Even if you have a pretty good sense of the direction you need to go in, many of the steps along the way will be unclear, especially if you are venturing into territory that’s new to you. We can prepare for our journeys, but we can’t anticipate every obstacle in advance. And that’s a good thing! If we knew the perils that await us along the way, we might never put our boots on.

So how do we keep moving in the right direction when we’re lost in the fog and the mountaintop is hard to keep in sight? How do we turn the detours into shortcuts?

This is how: You tune into your inner GPS and just do the next right thing. And then the next.

When you realize your map is missing a section, forget about fretting over the master plan. Look down at your feet and focus right there: the very next step. Make the call you’ve been putting off. Finish writing that proposal. Book that class. Knock on that door. Keep moving forward.

Baby steps will get you up the mountain – as long as you keep taking them.

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maggie langrick
Founder and Publisher, LifeTree Media
 
Maggie Langrick is the President and Publisher at LifeTree Media, a publishing company specializing in nonfiction books and ebooks that help, heal and inspire. Before founding LifeTree in 2013, Maggie was Arts and Life editor for the Vancouver Sun newspaper. In June 2016 she was shortlisted for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, Canada's only national peer-reviewed editing prize, for her work on Shell, by Michelle Stewart. She is the author of the forthcoming book Bold, Deep and High: How to Write Your Best Book. Maggie calls herself "an optimistic cheerleader for the human race", and thrives on a balanced diet of yoga and ribald humour.
       

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