July 17, 2005

book proposal (version # 657)


"How To Be Creative"

A book by by Hugh MacLeod

[As regular gapingvoid readers will know, I'm hoping to turn "How To Be Creative" into a book. This is my latest attempt to write the book proposal, as I see it in its finished form. Apologies in advance if you've already seen a lot of this before.]

In 2004 I wrote a post on my blog called "How To Be Creative". Its premise was very simple:

"So you want to be more creative, in art, in business, whatever. Here are some tips that have worked for me over the years."
It really wasn't so much a How-To laundry list, "The 7 Steps Of Highly Effective Creatives" etc. It was more of a series of meditations on the lessons I had learned the hard way over the years, as I tried to bridge the nearly impossible gap of making an OK living without letting my soul die from the inside out.

Somehow it ended up striking a chord with a lot of people. Lots of people ended up reading it (I'm guessing several hundred thousands). It went viral, to put it mildly. Later it ended up as a PDF file on Seth Godin's ChangeThis.com. At last count it was the third most downloaded PDF on the site, topping manifestos written by people far more famous and talented than me, like Tom Peters or Guy Kawasaki.

Like I said, it hit a nerve.

Most of the Change This manifestos were written by people to be read by their peers. People in their thirties and forties, interested in the same kind of business-orientated subjects, whatever. Mine wasn't. Mine was written for people far more younger than me- kids just leaving college, or folk who haven't been in the real world very long, just looking to figure things out for the first time. Kids who want to do the same as me when I too was just starting out- stay alive spiritually while still being able to function in an adult world, without being eaten alive or turned into robots.

A few months later I started getting people from the publishing world asking me if I would be interested in turning it into a book. Of course I would, who wouldn't? So they asked me to write a book proposal. This is what you're reading now.



The Book Idea.

The book is an informed meditation on "creativity" and how to live with it. It is not a book on how to become "more creative". It is a book about understanding it more, so a person can manage it better without it ruining their life. It's a book about how to deal with being bitten by the creative bug. The world we live in is not geared up for "the creative life" very well and it's damn hard to know what to do at first. By sharing my perspective and experience, I hope to make it a lot easier for people.

Like a friend of mine said, "You didn't write it for your friends, you wrote it as a gift for those coming after you." Exactly.

As I am primarily known as a cartoonist, there will be lots of cartoons, 150-300 or so, interspersed randomly throughout the text. They will take up a sizeable part of the book. Some cartoons will be directly related to the written text, and some won't. This format already works very well on my blog. The random juxtaposition between text and cartoon enhances the reading experience of both- creating a "third experience", as it were. This isn't rocket science- The New Yorker inserts cartoons in its magazine in the same fashion for precisely the same reason.


Why I think the book will be commercially successful.

I think the book will be successful simply because I consider the work already successful. In its rough, online form, it's already been seen by a large number of people (again, my estimates vary between half a million and one million folk, though it may well be more than that), if you include both its HTML and PDF versions. It's already been at the top of the most-linked-to lists in the blogosphere. Seth Godin, no book-slack himself deemed it good enough to publish it on ChangeThis, where in terms of eyeballs and downloads it's topped many already-bestselling authors including Mr. Godin himself.

What gives me even more confidence in this regard is not just all the eyeballs, the blogs talking about it, all the people linking to it, and the hundreds of pieces of "fan mail" I've received. What really does it for me is, every couple of days or so, I get an e-mail from a reader basically saying, "I read it, loved it, and I have forwarded to my son/daughter/nephew/favorite 22 year old" etc. People aren't just reading it, liking it and telling their friends about it. They're passing it on to the next generation. I think that says something.


Why I'm The Guy To Write It.

I'm the person to write it for three reasons:

1. Because I've already written it (obviously).

2. For all my many faults, I'm considered an authority on "Creativity". Besides cartooning, I've worked as an advertising creative for 15 years, I've written TV shows, and my blog is in the Top 150 of the Technorati rankings, which is the primary measure these days. In blogging terms, I'm about as well known as anyone.

3. Because of my very non-linear, haphazard background I've had a lot of experiences that a lot of "creativity" gurus have simply not had. Besides my cartooning, I've done a lot of other things. Worked offshore in the oil business. Made TV commericals. Started businesses. Embraced the internet. Worked in ERP software markets. I've been all over, a loose cannon, living in cities in England, the USA, Scotland, France, Africa etc and its given me a very wide perspective.


The Book's Target Market.

As I've said before, the book is not for my peers, but for the generation coming after me. But it's more than that. It's for the first generation of people hitting the job market just as "The Creative Age" starts rising above the horizon like a bright, orange sun.


The Book's Structure.

1. The book will be a combination of cartoons and writing. The cartoons will be a selection of my cartoons, maybe 300 or so, in no particular order. Interspersed between the cartoons will be small chapters dealing with all aspects of "How To Be Creative."

The writing will be divided into FOUR distinct parts:

1. An introduction.

2. "How to Be Creative". The main body. Divided into 30 small mini-chapters:

1. Ignore everybody.

2. The idea doesn't have to be big. It just has to change the world.

3. Put the hours in.

4. If your biz plan depends on you suddenly being "discovered" by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.

5. You are responsible for your own experience.

6. Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.

7. Keep your day job.

8. Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.

9. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.

10. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props.

11. Don't try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.

12. If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you.

13. Never compare your inside with somebody else's outside.

14. Dying young is overrated.

15. The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not.

16. The world is changing.

17. Merit can be bought. Passion can't.

18. Avoid the Watercooler Gang.

19. Sing in your own voice.

20. The choice of media is irrelevant.

21. Selling out is harder than it looks.

22. Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.

23. Worrying about "Commercial vs. Artistic" is a complete waste of time.

24. Donít worry about finding inspiration. It comes eventually.

25. You have to find your own schtick.

26. Write from the heart.

27. The best way to get approval is not to need it.

28. Power is never given. Power is taken.

29. Whatever choice you make, The Devil gets his due eventually.

30. The hardest part of being creative is getting used to it.

3. My personal favorite cartoons and the story behind the all. Insight into the creative process etc.


4. My back story. How I came to be a "creative" professional. How I discovered the cartoon format. How I ran with it and finally made a success of it after many years of struggle. This section ends on a very high note, talking about how "The Creative Age" is upon us and what that means to people who want their lives to be more than the mundane; who want to make an actual difference in the short time they've been given on this earth.

zzzjzzzzjoiu03.jpgIn Conclusion:

1. The book is already written.

2. The market is already established. The work already has a sizeable and enthusiastic following.

3. The time is right for this book. It's a message that a lot of people who haven't read it yet, are very much ready and willing to hear.

4. The idea has legs. I already have other book ideas that can follow this one. A "Cluetrain Manifesto meets Edward Gorey" franchise, as it were. As Cluetrain co-author Doc Searls called my work, "It's like Dilbert for people whose jobs don't suck."

Posted by hugh macleod at July 17, 2005 6:51 PM | TrackBack

So I guess my questions are:

why have you not have this made yet?


I'm willing to invest in this book, why not do it now?

Posted by: Daniel Nicolas at July 18, 2005 12:22 AM

Ha! I didn't see the next post. My bad.

Posted by: Daniel Nicolas at July 18, 2005 12:23 AM

Hey Hugh,

I guess I am a slow learner, older person stuck on bar stool so to speak, since many of your ideas are just starting to make real sense to me. People go decades without enlightenment, some wake up and others never get it. Often times, negotiating the terms of our surrender are fought with blind ambitions tied to baseless assumptions and false gods.

I am happy to see you got a book deal. My corp friends, who need your insights the most, cannot access it at work since it is flagged as porno. What's the big deal anyhow? Hell, most businesses would do themselves well since porno sites are on the bleeding edge in applying new technologies.

Although we've never met, I am happy for all of your successes! Cheers :-) Let's hookup the next time you're in NYC.

Posted by: Jim Wilde at July 18, 2005 2:54 PM

Yeah... I'd buy the book. I discovered 'How to Be Creative' too. Read it, downloaded and I would buy it.
Rock on.

Posted by: Rosemary at July 18, 2005 3:10 PM

My Amazon hand is twitching, both for me and for some recent-graduate friends who could use a copy.

Posted by: Anthony St. Clair at July 19, 2005 11:21 PM