One of the articles mentioned that a boutique publisher was looking for professional writers to author some forthcoming books. One was on a topic I knew nothing about, wasn’t sure I believed in, and sounded like a job for a New Age nut rather than a serious journalist.
But I was unable to shake off the strong sense that this was a book I was destined to write. So I picked up the phone and persuaded the acquisitions editor that, with one book already under my belt and a reputation as a talented and reliable alternative health writer, I was the author they were looking for.
The result? The Book of Crystal Healing was published in 1998, went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide and was quickly followed up with a commission to write The Book of Chakra Healing. Some 13 years later, that book is about to be republished as a Gaia Classic. Because of that one moment, I went on to fulfill a number of childhood dreams, not least becoming a full-time writer and consulting co-author whose 14 books continue to generate royalties.
Frans Johansson would call that early experience a “click moment,” which just happens to be the title of his latest book, subtitled Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World. In it, Johansson clarifies something you may have wondered about (because I have): why is it that some activities require long hours of hard, focused effort in order to achieve success, while in some spheres a total novice can come in and enjoy instant fame and fortune?
According to Johansson, the “10,000 hours rule” that Gladwell cites in Outliers is necessary to succeed in rule-bound domains like chess or tennis, but isn’t required for more fluid arenas. Which is why folks can open a business like The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn, New York, having never “had any deep experience making chocolate.” Or first-time novelist Stephenie Meyer can score best-selling status with her Twilight trilogy.
Likewise, business success today is largely serendipitous, the result of greater complexity and chance encounters. But don’t shrug your shoulders and attribute it all to dumb luck. As Johansson discovered and reveals in The Click Moment, there are many ways to increase the odds of coming face to face with unexpected opportunities. Indeed, publishing a commercially and critically successful book seems like it has a lot to do with what Johansson calls “the purposeful bet.”
For example, scientists who publish many high-quality papers and low-quality papers (and aren’t necessarily smarter or more experienced than their peers) are the ones found most likely to write a groundbreaking paper. In Bird by Bird, nonfiction author and novelist Anne Lamott writes about the benefits of crafting “shitty first drafts.” She’s prolific – and her books sell. So do Stephen King’s, with each early success increasing the odds that readers will like the next book, and the next.
According to Johansson, Stephenie Meyer “broke all the rules…because she didn’t consider them.” But here is where I think many aspiring authors of nonfiction, as well as fledgling novelists, are misled. There are some generally accepted rules of storytelling that you must either learn or intuitively understand in order to write a compelling book. They are absorbed best, I believe, by doing a lot of reading — not least in the genre you wish to inhabit.
Johansson’s The Click Moment is a masterful example of great storytelling in action. In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink and others, he has the ability to grab the reader’s attention right from page one and never let it wander until the end of the final chapter. I don’t believe you can do that without considerable understanding and effort, not least writing plenty of “shitty first drafts” that never see the light of day (or maybe your blog)!
If one of the opportunities you’re looking to court involves writing a commercially and critically successful book, I strongly suggest you read The Click Moment. Not just for guidelines on how to create more defining moments, to place purposeful bets and harness complex forces, but to see how superior nonfiction is crafted.
—Liz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website