Shipping

by | Jun 26, 2010


Seth Godin’s got this great idea of “shipping:” getting something out the door, and not just something you’ve done a hundred times before but a genuine effort at producing something new, doing something you haven’t done before. Do-ing. Sticking your neck out, revealing yourself in some way that might actually be risky. Like writing a book, for instance. I get this idea of shipping, because I’m constantly helping my authors “ship” their books.

Producing a book is a lot less complicated than designing a car or creating a new restaurant. And yet. There are numerous details, lots of little decisions, things to remember, places where you thought you would “go back later” and fix up that reference, or clarify a point at the end of Chapter 2. Just tons of details. And I get that, too. You want it to be the best it can be. After all, for a lot of people, it’s been years in the making.

Then at the end the proofreaders, the authors, the authors’ friends, the author’s advance readers all find things that need to be corrected. You go through and run another proof, inevitably there are a few things that weren’t caught.

When it gets to this stage I try to get the author to stay on the project, to not walk away, to not “take a day to think it over.”

The human mind is a strange device. There is no way to totally escape ambivalence, it’s just part of us. No matter how passionate you are about something, no matter how dearly you’ve been waiting for this day, there are other parts of us plotting to sabotage the plan. Ironically, sometimes more passion for a project just fuels more resistance from the forces in the shadows.

Seth Godin in Quieting the Lizard Brain:

The resistance grows in strength as we get closer to shipping, as we get closer to an insight, as we get closer to the truth of what we really want. That’s because the lizard (brain) hates change and achievement and risk.

There are endless reasons to not ship. Maybe the research could be better. Perhaps someone you’ve mentioned will take offense. Somebody’s written a better book on the subject, who needs yours?

So I stay with them. Rather than a designer, or a book producer, I’m playing the role of midwife. I’m helping the author get through the difficult end process. I tell them to breathe, I get them to push. You know the drill.

It’s almost like a physical effort, dragging yourself across the finish line. I keep asking for the “final” proof—they keep finding things to correct. It’s a dance I know well, and I have the cure: I just don’t stop. I become relentless, I won’t let go until every correction has been made, no matter how inconsequential it seems to me.

I know that those last changes are more about what’s going on in the author’s mind than what’s happening on the page, and I honor the process. But I don’t stop.

I turn each proof around faster, sometimes in 15 minutes. Without the pressure, it’s too easy to not ship.

It’s All About the Resistance, Isn’t It?

I acknowledge the resistance. After all, the lizard brain is pretty smart to have survived so long. And it’s right: maybe people won’t like what you wrote. Maybe they’ll disagree with your conclusions, or argue with your memory of things.

It’s all true, it could happen. But you know what? It’s not your problem. Your problem is to get the book out the door, so I won’t stop until every page is signed off, until there is nothing left. My author is forced to let go, because she can’t come up with even one more thing to change or correct.

I write the files and upload them to the printer. This, to me, is shipping. It’s shipping if the book is really part of you, if you’ve put yourself into the book.

Every book project is unique. You cannot phone it in, not if you yourself are part of the book. The way I engage the author requires a kind of all-out commitment, and we become partners in the birth of their book, even if it’s only for a month or two or six.

The tension builds to that moment, when the book finally ships out the door—that’s it. That’s what it’s all about. Of course for the author, most of the real work lies ahead; the marketing, sales, hopefully the integration of their ideas into the world. But for me, this moment is sweet: we shipped that bad boy out the door, and now he’s walking all on his own. I’ve done my job.

I’m fired up by this time, and there’s only one question in my mind: who’s next?

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