How Becoming an Author is like Founding a Startup

By Photo & Story by Jeremy Gotwals

By Photo & Story by Jeremy Gotwals

The long and winding road of becoming a successful author is often not what people imagine it to be. In the same manner, nor is the artful and treacherous path of starting a business or founding a startup. With the many artists, authors, and musicians that I've known and worked with over the years, even the greatest amongst them often forget something critical: their identity as an artist is a business, and should be cultivated as one. 

If you want people love what you have to offer, leave them wanting more, and get them to share it with their friends, then becoming an author or an artist is truly like founding a startup in every way. Here's how you can accomplish that: 

You must have complete conviction 

Above all else, many investors agree that it's conviction that sets apart entrepreneurs in their startup pitch. How determined are you to see your vision through to success? How far are you willing to go? Your conviction to your idea, or to your product, will draw the line between selling books, and not. As an author, you need to infect readers with the contagion of your conviction to your books, and writing process. Your enthusiasm about your books should be like an infectious disease that people can't escape. No one can be excited if you're not. No one can be sure until you are. 

Diving in, and taking Risks

How far are you willing to go? You can't go far without taking risks. People in business recite this like some kind of mantra, but it's at the core of every great success. Take risks with your books. Don't be afraid to get them out there. Don't be afraid to invest in promoting them. You can't possibly hope to succeed if you're not taking risks. 

Building the Brand

Every author has their own personal brand. Many outstanding writers forget this when starting their journey. Think of successful brands; what made their brand successfully stick out in people's minds? Twitter has an iconic name, logo, and symbolism that ties into the function of their simple, yet addictive, product. It's important that you create an emotional connection with your audience that engages them to recognize not only your name, but the appearance of your work from a distance. You're not just selling books, you're selling a brand, when you've built the basis of your identity as an author. You're selling your name and self. 

Building the Tools and the Team

Being a great writer alone in today's age is not enough to be a successful author. You must build a platform and a means by which people can connect with what you're putting out there. This means the proper tools, and the proper team. There are all sorts of little nuts and bolts and tiny pieces that many great writers overlook when seeking to publish. In reference to turning the manuscript into a published book: Who's going to Edit this thing? Who's going to make the the art for the cover? Who's going to actually design the cover? Who's going to format the interior typeset of the book? Who's going to manage my social feeds? How's this thing going to get out there? These questions must be answered, but simply are not always answered appropriately. Each of these details is equally important and should not be overlooked, and should be professionally addressed. As an author, you should be building a team around you, that can handle these things, and also acquiring the tools, both metaphorical and physical tools, by which you can share your work. 

You must build a Tribe

Every great startup, and every great artist, built a tribe of friends, followers, and supporters. Your tribe is much more than your fan base; it's your community. Build a tribe around you, with which to rely upon, for making critical decisions, or propagating your works. A tribe can't be bought, it must be built. You must work diligently to connect with your fans and supporters in a way that encourages them and engages them to be on board with what you're doing, or what you're writing. Anne Rice has built an outstanding Facebook presence, with whom she is constantly connecting with on a personal level. Arguably, it is her relationship with her tribe that contributes to the maintenance of her power and relevance in writing culture. Building your tribe is not the same as building your team. Your team should be hired professionals, or at the least, your inner-circle. Whereas your tribe is the outer circle. Your tribe are your regulars at the coffee shop, whilst your team members are helping you serve them. 

Create Products that Enhance People's Lives

Quite simply; are you creating something that enhances people's lives? Do people want to consume your product, in the way that they might consume a sandwich? The answer to these questions should be "Hell Yes!" - what you have to say and share must be worthy of consumption. Sometimes, as an author, you are the product. As Ira Glass said in a recent Podcast on This American Life, "it's not the product, it's the person." While this doesn't mean that people should consume you, it does mean that they should be excited and invigorated in some capacity by the brand that you have created - enough maybe to wear it on their sleeve, literally. 


Yep. Money has to be spent. Even if it's just a little. Money alone is not the cause of money, but it certainly helps. If you're sitting there thinking "I can do this without spending any money," or "I'll do this one day, when I have the money"  your peers, equals, and indeed, those ahead of you, are already doing it. If your product is great, or if you're great, yes, you can get your tribe and your team to invest in you. If your tribe and your team are investing money in your product or brand, like in a Kickstarter, then they become like your partners. When that happens, a beautiful thing has occurred, and suddenly a weight is lifted. But how can you get to that point? How can you define yourself strongly enough so that people want to give you their money? You have to answer this question. You must make people want to give you their money, or at least, you must make people want to buy your product or person - in the way that they would want to buy a sandwich. Your readers aren't thinking of it that way, however. But as an author, you should be. 

5 Tips on: The Essence of Branding

By Jeremy Gotwals | Photo by Nilesh Agrawal

By Jeremy Gotwals | Photo by Nilesh Agrawal

Be True to your Purpose

Without purpose, a brand does not have life. This goes for personal brands, as well as corporate brands. A purpose is not simply a mission statement, crafted by copywriters. A purpose is the core of why you are here, of why you are producing, and why you are in business. Being true to your purpose as a personal brand, or business brand, means that you do not stray from the core ideals that define your brand's reasons for existing. If you exist to provide a particular level of service or care to a particular niché, why would you lower that level after having set the standard? If your purpose is simple, and you simply provide a few basic things to the world, why would you try to do something outside of your nature? This does not mean non-innovation, this does not mean you cannot change your purpose, or change your goals. But if you know your brand's purpose, stay true to that, through all stages of development. That is how truly great brands change the world. 


A great brand is recognizable. You, a viewer, may have never read an author's books, or never tasted a company's coffee, or never driven a particular brand of vehicle. But you know their logos, you know their look and feel. You can recognize Starbucks, Apple, Toyota, Amazon, from many feet away - without ever having purchased on Amazon, used an Apple, driven a Toyota, or drank a single Latte. 

Therefore, your brand must achieve recognizability in order to establish itself in the public consciousness. Your logo and appearance should be dynamic enough to withstand the test of time. 


If purpose is at the core of every brand, culture is the heart of every great brand. Without culture, there is no community, there is no brand. Some brands have very narrowly, or limitedly, defined cultures. A brand with a culture that is broad can appeal to many demographics. The Beatles are a brand that have withstood the test of time, because their culture is so unique, diverse, and eclectic. Similarly, Starbucks has achieved a very particular culture, that gravitates people to its stores. Nonetheless, people outside of the scope of that culture will frequent their locations and drink their coffee. 

The "Culture" of a brand cannot be forced, or contrived. When you produce the look and feel of your brand, with recognizability, with a shared purpose, the culture evolves naturally. Building your culture means constantly sharing, and constantly getting people excited about your brand. Historically, purpose is one of the strongest ways to spread a culture. But all of the points mentioned here are the basis of building a brand's culture, and therefore its ability to scale in the public consciousness. 

Consistency with Spontaneity

Very simply, for your brand to be recognizable, share its purpose, and create a culture that will sustain its existence, it must have a unique alchemy of consistency and spontaneity. Your brand must achieve consistency, in that people know precisely what to expect when they get something from you. If someone comes to you, for your books, or music, they know not only the level of quality to expect, but also the taste. Similarly, if you own a thai restaurant, they're not going to expect cheese burgers, unless it has your own unique touch. With spontaneity, the greatest brands have achieved the ability to introduce new and exciting elements into what they offer their public, in completely unexpected ways. The greatest brands are not afraid to create new things, to break rules. So, if you own a Thai restaurant, people would never come to you for a Cheese Burger, but they might come to you for your own Thai Twist on the Panang Peanut Curry Salmon Burger with Avocado and Lime. I imagine, as a fan of Thai food, I would be quite excited to find that on the menu at my local Esan Thai.  

Accessibility & Connectivity

We recognize your brand, whether you're an author, a startup, a band, or a non-profit. We know your purpose, it's very clear. We are in tune with your culture. We know what to expect, and that there might be exciting surprises every once in a while. Is your brand accessible, and connected? Do I have to drive 50 miles to hear you play, to taste your food, to go to your book signing? The internet solves many of these common problems for some brands. An author, musician, or even a restaurant, may easily export their brand with social media and eCommerce. Ironically, some of the most remote brands, where we might get food, can be the most appealing. But this isn't the only definition of accessibility and connectivity. Is your brand Accessible, in the sense that, do people get your brand? As a prospect follower of your brands culture and purpose, with no past experience of your brand, can I easily access what your brand has to offer? Furthermore, your brand has no culture, or existence whatsoever, if its not connected. You must be integrated in whatever ways possible so that people can connect with you - otherwise how can they eat your food, hear your music, read your books, or donate to your cause? Make sure that you have an outstanding website, and social media presence, whereby people can connect with your brand.