In today's guest post, BookPage contributor Carla Jean Whitley discusses what it's like to go from critic to critiqued on the eve of the publication of her first book.
I was recently part of a group of readers who were assessing recent reads and recommending a variety of books. A dozen people curled themselves around cups of coffee in the second-story nook of my local bookstore, eager to hear what upcoming books the booksellers would suggest.
Some of those gathered—including me—were equally excited to share the best books we’d read lately. But as the conversation grew more analytical, I was taken aback by a realization: Soon, readers could be assessing my book.
I’ve grown accustomed to reviewing other people’s work. Review writing was my favorite course in grad school, and my first writing paycheck was for a book review. I’ve reviewed books and music for much of the 10 years since that first piece was published. I try to consider the reader or listener, not the author or musician, when I write a review; even so, I’m keenly aware that there’s nothing to be gained in beating up on an artist. Even when I’m editing at my full-time magazine job or grading the work of college students, I’m quick to offer criticism coupled with praise.
Will reviewers be so kind when they read my work?
My first book, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music, goes on sale today. It’s a history of a tiny recording studio in northwest Alabama and how it became a destination for artists such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, The Black Keys and the Rolling Stones. Eleven-and-a-half months lapsed between the day I received a signed book contract and the moment I hit send on an email containing my manuscript. I spent those days buried in research, poring over album reviews and old interviews, watching documentaries and searching for mentions of the historic Alabama recording studio. And as I did, I battled the voices in my head, which were quick to assess every stroke of the keyboard.
As I wrote, I often returned to my writing mantra, care of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: shitty first drafts. I practice this daily as a magazine editor, but writing a book amplified every insecurity I’ve got. Rather than obsessing about whether people would like the book, if it would sell well or what I might write in the future, I labored to redirect my attention to the thing I know best: Writing.
After months of questioning myself—but never the story of this remarkable recording studio—I’m ready to hold the finished product in my hands.
Carla Jean Whitley is a writer, editor and teacher based in Birmingham, Alabama, where she is managing editor of Birmingham magazine. She is a regular BookPage contributor, and is still talking about her favorite book of 2013, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Carla Jean volunteers with literacy organizations and teaches journalism at the University of Alabama and Samford University. Connect with her at carlajeanwhitley.com.
Author photo by Cheryl Joy Miner.
Science and love? At first, it may seem like an unlikely pairing, but in his highly informative new book, The Science of Happily Ever After, Ty Tashiro, PhD, presents tips for how to best go about choosing a mate—wisdom generated from examining lots of true-life stories and scientific research in the fields of sociology and psychology. In this guest post, Tashiro explains how we should stick to three wishes—and no more—when it comes to selecting our ideal partner.
If a fairy godmother granted you three wishes for your ideal romantic partner, then what traits would you wish for? When a bright undergraduate in my Psychology of Relationships course at the University of Maryland asked me this question five years ago, I found it so compelling that I eventually decided to devote two years of my life searching for the answer. I knew that guidance about how to wish wisely for enduring love was buried somewhere in the thousands of scientific papers about dating, sexual attraction and marriage. The answers I found are explained in my new book The Science of Happily Ever After.
I know that three wishes does not sound like much, but consider the following thought experiment to see why three is the magic number: Imagine that a bachelorette has an opportunity to choose among 100 eligible bachelors who are randomly selected from the population. Let’s say that her three wishes for traits in a partner include some who is: tall, college educated and employed at a good job.
1. If we conservatively say that someone “tall” is 6' or taller, then 80 of the 100 eligible bachelors would walk out of the room because only 20% of men in the United States are 6' or taller.
2. The wish for someone who is college educated would rule out 16 of the remaining 20 bachelors because 30% of men have a bachelors degree.
3. If having a good job were code for someone who has a job that pays pretty well, maybe someone at the 70th percentile in yearly income ($60,000/year) then only one man would remain out of the initial 100.
You can play this wishing game with just about any set of three wishes, and it almost always whittles down 100 possible options to just about no options. However, this is more than just a game. In online dating situations, it’s common for people to inadvertently narrow their pool of available dating options by specifying certain characteristics of people they will date. Although people should certainly maintain standards for who they will date, it’s unfortunate when something that is not a real necessity, but is rather just a preference (e.g., height, love of the outdoors), rules out hundreds of potential partners who might have possessed the traits that really matter for long-term relationship success.
I wrote The Science of Happily Ever After with the goal of explaining why it’s important for singles to prioritize the three things they want the most in a partner and to be stubborn about getting partners who fit those criteria. This is not a book about settling for someone mediocre, but rather a book about how to be smart about prioritizing what you really want.
The Science of Happily Ever After is filled with entertaining stories about people looking for love, the common problems they face while trying to choose a partner, and straightforward explanations of the vast body of research on romantic relationships. I also explain why many people squander their three wishes on superficial traits and provide suggestions about the traits that can significantly improve the odds of finding relationships that are satisfying and stable.
With Valentine’s Day upon us, sometimes it’s easy for singles to wish that they had somebody, anybody, who could fit the “responsibilities” of being a partner. However, one of the saddest situations is ending up with a lifelong partner who simply fills a role. For singles looking for happiness that can endure, they should be sure that they have a good idea about what it is that they want in a partner, so that they can be sure that they find exactly what they wish for.
Thanks, Ty! Readers, will you be checking out The Science of Happily Ever After? Visit Ty's website to learn more.
Melanie Shankle's best-selling memoir, Sparkly Green Earrings, delivered a laugh-out-loud portrait of the good, the bad and the hilarious aspects of motherhood. In her new memoir, The Antelope in the Living Room, Shankle turns her keen observation to marriage, sharing the ups and downs, the joys and disappointments of her own 16-year union with husband, Perry—all with her trademark, relatable humor. In this guest post, Shankle takes a refreshingly honest look at the holiday of love: Valentine's Day.
I’m sorry if the title led you to believe this was going to be any sort of actual researched work detailing the true history of Valentine’s Day. Because you’ll never convince me that it’s not just a holiday made up by Mr. Hallmark to find a reason to sell greeting cards and boxes of chocolate in that historically dead period between Christmas and some relative’s birthday.
And since the dawn of Valentine’s Day, it has proved to be a harbinger for most women as the day of the year we most prepare ourselves for disappointment. Maybe you’re in the minority of women and your husband actually shows up with two dozen roses and a piece of jewelry from the jewelry store at the mall to tell you he’d marry you all over again. If that’s the case, good for you. We’re all happy for you even though we may not like you. Also, you can quit reading now.
But for the rest of you, I will share a little story. In The Antelope in the Living Room, I write about the first Valentine’s Day my husband and I spent together. We’d been dating a little less than a year and he showed up at my apartment with a giant tin full of red cinnamon-flavored popcorn. And because I was a 24-year-old girl in love, I assumed there was a good chance that there might be a ring box containing an engagement ring at the bottom of that popcorn.
I was wrong.
My daughter read the story from my book out loud about the popcorn the other night, and she stopped at the end of it, looked up at me with a look I can only describe as pity and said, “I can’t believe you thought Daddy was going to put a ring in a bunch of popcorn to ask you to marry him. You didn’t know him AT ALL back then.” And I laughed out loud because she is so right.
Back then I had all these romantic, sappy notions of what Valentine’s Day should look like, and it involved candlelit dinners, roses and other grand gestures. But the truth is that real love isn’t just about a day of the year. True love is the daily commitment to share a life together that is sometimes messy and beautiful and frustrating and wonderful all at the same time. It’s the courage to pick up the pieces and fix what’s broken and constantly work to keep it all woven together.
And so for me, I’ve learned that Valentine’s Day isn’t going to look like it does in the movies or on Hallmark commercials, which is probably for the best because I really do not care for the chocolate assortment contained in those heart-shaped boxes. (It only takes biting into something with coconut filling once to scar you for life.)
So Valentine’s Day at our house is going to look pretty much like every other day of the year. There will be dishes to wash and dinner to cook and kids to drive to soccer practice. There might be pizza delivered for dinner and maybe a card that says, “I Love You” if it happens to be a particularly good year. There will be a car already started in the morning to warm it up for me before I have to leave the house and trash cans rolled out to the curb and leaves blown off the back patio because he knows they drive me crazy.
And what I’ve learned is that all those things look a whole lot more like real, true, lasting love than any piece of jewelry ever could.
Thanks, Melanie! What do you think, readers, will you be checking out The Antelope in the Living Room? Learn more on Melanie's blog.
(Author photo © 2013 by Leslie Lonsdale)
Very few people are lucky enough to love their job as much as David Menasche loved teaching high school English in Miami. One of his favorite lessons was called "The Priority List," in which he asked his students to rank ten words—wealth, love, education, for example—in order of importance to them.
Even after he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2006, David continued teaching—until a debilitating seizure in 2012 made returning to the classroom impossible.
Instead of giving up and letting his illness become the focus of his life, David reevaluated his own priorities, ultimately deciding to end his treatment and embark on a journey to reconnect with former students, who were scattered across the country. Fifty cities and 8,000 miles later, David has reunited with more than 100 students, all eager to let him know the positive influence he's had on their lives.
Menasche shares his courageous journey in his new, incredibly moving memoir, The Priority List, which will inspire readers to reflect and reassess their own priorities. In this guest blog post, David shares the story of the "no-going-back" day he realized he wanted to become a teacher.
For me, teaching wasn’t making a living. It was my life. Nothing made me happier or more content than standing in front of a classroom and watching my students “catch” my passion for language and literature.
For 16 years I taught 11th graders at a magnet high school in Miami, and my classroom was my sanctuary. So much so that on the day before Thanksgiving in 2006 when, at the age of 34, I was diagnosed with Glioblastoma multiforme, an incurable form of brain cancer, and told I had less than a year to live, I did what I always did: I went to school.
I am a pragmatic man. I know there is no reason I should still be alive. The cancer never lets me forget that it and ultimately it will win this battle of wills. But I choose to live for today and cherish the memories of yesterday. I may no longer get to be in a classroom, but my time as a teacher was time well spent.
The novelist Alice Sebold wrote, “Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had.” I backed into my dream-come-true while I was studying journalism at Eugene Lang College at the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village. One of my favorite professors convinced me to sign up for the Teachers and Writers Program. The program placed aspiring writers in New York public schools and gave them the opportunity to teach. I was sent to teach a group of eager first-graders in upstate New York.
The small village, with its frozen pond in the center, was enchanting to a Miami kid like me. On my very first day, I decided that I wasn’t going to teach the kids by the book. Instead, I read to them from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I couldn’t help but be animated and energetic when I read it, as Whitman had always had that effect on me. When I looked out at my six-year-old students, sitting Indian-style in front of me, I saw wonder in their eyes. Their hands shot up, and they called out questions before I’d even finished reading. Watching their reaction to Whitman’s poetry, I got an idea. “Tell you what,” I said, “why don’t we go outside and write our own poems.”
The kids squealed with delight. I bundled them up and marched them outside like a flock of ducklings. Giving each one a small stack of yellow Post-it notes and crayons, I asked them to write down the things they saw—one item per piece of paper. They ran around looking at everything, and like Whitman, I thought, they had a blissful enthusiasm for their surroundings. They wrote words like “rock” and “leaf” and “snow.”
After I noticed one of my little duckies with frozen snot on her upper lip and shivering, I shepherded everyone back inside and asked the kids to stick their notes up on the board and rearrange them until they were in an order that they liked. When they were finished, they had written a poem. The students jumped up and down with the same sense of accomplishment and joy that I felt watching them learn.
That was it for me. There was no turning back. That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a teacher.
Thank you so much, David. Readers, The Priority List is out now, and you can continue to follow David's journey on Facebook.
(Author photo by Chris Granger)
guest post by Megan Smolenyak, author of Hey America, Your Roots Are Showing!
Mention DNA and many instantly think of crime shows and medical dramas, but did you know it can also tell you about your past? As an incurable genealogist and tackler of history mysteries, I’ve been playing with DNA for more than a decade and would like to share some of its unexpected uses:
1.) Family history buffs use Y-DNA, which is passed intact from father to son down through the generations, for surname and geographical studies to determine which participants share a common ancestor. While results don’t reveal the exact nature of the relationship between any two people (that’s where conventional research comes in), it’s a handy tool for testing theories and figuring out which are “your” Smiths and which you can ignore in your future sleuthing.
2.) If you’re curious about the direct maternal branch of your family tree, you can take a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test. mtDNA is passed from mothers to both their sons and daughters, but their sons don’t pass it on. Among other things, you can learn about your seriously deep ancestry—as in, roughly how and when this part of your family migrated out of Africa. 3.) Whenever you hear about a history mystery—say, the Romanovs or the Titanic baby—chances are that mtDNA was used. While scientists would love to use Y-DNA (and have recently had some preliminary success), mtDNA is much more plentiful, making it more reliable in degraded remains situations. That’s why documentaries often mention that the subject’s maternal relatives were involved.
4.) Familial DNA is used to help identify remains of American soldiers from past conflicts including Vietnam, Korea, WWII and WWI, so if you have a great-uncle who lost his life in Korea in the 1950s, don’t be surprised if you get a call one day asking you to consider swabbing.
5.) Dozens of male adoptees have identified their birth families with the help of Y-DNA, but this possibility was closed to women since only men sport a Y-chromosome. But the advent of autosomal testing—which can spot relatives of various degrees throughout your family tree—has finally opened that door. Just recently, a woman found her brother when her results popped up a previously unknown half-sibling. It will take a while, but DNA testing will revolutionize how most adoptees search for their birth families.
Genealogy specialist Megan Smolenyak has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, NPR and BBC. She is the author of six books, a Huffington Post contributor, a cold case researcher for the Army, NCIS and the FBI, and former Chief Family Historian and spokesperson for Ancestry.com. She has helped many clients—including Michelle and Barack Obama—discover their family's roots. Hey America, Your Roots Are Showing! (Kensington) goes on sale on Tuesday.
Manning Marable, the African-American author and historian whom the New York Times called "a leading scholar of black history," passed away two weeks ago on April 1, at age 60. His last book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, was published three days later, on April 4. In this guest post, BookPage contributor Ron Wynn reviews the book, which occupied Marable for more than a decade and is now an integral part of his legacy.
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention
By Manning Marable
Viking, April 4, 2011
Noted historian and scholar Dr. Manning Marable spent much of his professional career examining the impact and extraordinary life of Malcolm X. Marable, who helped create Columbia University's Black Studies program in 1993, spent two decades compiling the material in his extensive (592 pages) new book Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention. The book is proving as controversial as its subject, especially given the amount of new information not included in any prior Malcolm X biography.
Bombshell allegations include the contention that much of esteemed author Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X is at best erroneous and at worse bogus. He characterizes Malcolm's marriage to Betty Shabazz as troubled from the start, more an arrangement than a romantic union. Marable also disputes prevailing notions about Malcolm X's supposed transformation following a pilgrimage to Mecca. While acknowledging he abandoned the separatist rhetoric he'd previously championed as a member of the Nation of Islam, Manning contends Malcolm remained a political and social radical rather than the benevolent voice of brotherhood and understanding that's been his post-Mecca image.
The section generating the most public attention covers Malcolm's assassination. Marable maintains that the original investigation was seriously flawed, and the guilty parties have not been caught. Indeed, the book names 72-year-old Al-Mustafa Shabazz (formerly known as William Bradley) of Newark as one of the killers. Shabazz has denied any involvement and threatened legal action against the publishers. Marable even gets current Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to speak on the record regarding whether he had any involvement in the assassination (Farrakhan vigorously denies it).
While Marable's book has its critics (most notably Betty Shabazz's two daughters as well as some other Malcolm X biographers) his research seems solid. Sadly, he died two weeks ago at 60, three days before Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention was released. Hopefully the book will stimulate not only plenty of discussion, but also ample re-investigation and scrutiny into Malcolm X’s murder.
Linda Leaming's memoir Married to Bhutan, published today by Hay House, is a story about following your dreams and finding true happiness. In Leaming's case, that journey led her to the remote mountain kingdom of Bhutan. In a guest post, Leaming writes about what Bhutan is doing right, and the magnificent creatures who call the country home.
Living in a magical mountain kingdom
guest post by Linda Leaming
So many of us educated, plugged-in Americans are trying to be socially responsible and responsive. So we immerse ourselves daily in news of wars, natural disasters, and celebrity recidivism—it’s an endless stream on our Twitter, Facebook, and TV. It’s the way of the world. But every once in a while I have to switch off. I have to have some good news. And it has to be more than a cuddly kitten video on YouTube, although I do love those.
I live for part of the year in, and write about, a small corner of the world that isn’t particularly tragic or mired in problems. Bhutan is a happy, magical little place whose king would rather have Gross National Happiness than Gross National Product for his people. It's 200 miles from east to west and 100 miles from north to south, deep in the Himalayas between India and Tibet, a dot on the map. Yet it has every known climate zone, from snow-covered glaciers in the north to rainforests in the south, and hundreds, maybe thousands of endangered species of plants and animals.
The Bhutanese people do a lot of things right. They’re Buddhist and they’re not mad at anybody. They live close to the earth and they eat seasonally. They honor their traditions. They are aware that they have something very special, and as the world encroaches, they try to keep a balance between modern and traditional. They take their time, and they believe if it doesn’t get done in this life, then they can do it in the next. The Bhutanese environmental policy is the envy of the world; they are good stewards of the earth, and they’ve made a law that says the country must remain sixty percent forest-covered in perpetuity.
Bhutan and the Bhutanese escape the notice of the rest of the world. That’s good for Bhutan, because it can carry on and keep going. But it’s bad for the rest of the world. The world should know a place like Bhutan exists.
Bengal tigers that have historically inhabited the Duar plains of India to the south are shifting their habitats to Bhutan. They’ve never lived above 3,000 feet. But now they’re migrating to escape poachers, crowded preserves, and farmers who use slash-and-burn agriculture on their habitats. There are now fewer than 3,500 of them in the wild. A meditating lama that I know who lives in the mountains in a hermitage about 15 miles from Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, says he’s seen tigers in the forest near his hut. The tigers have found a safe haven in Bhutan.
And so have I. And when the world gets to be too much, I think of the tigers and how Bhutan is buying them some time. I am so grateful and thankful that I have been able to have an association with this marvelous country for so long. I believe with all my heart that not just the tigers, but the rest of the world could use some of what Bhutan has.
[Thanks, Linda! Readers can find out more at MarriedToBhutan.com.]
Less than a year after the publication of South of Broad, Pat Conroy has signed a deal to write My Life in Books, a nonfiction account of the “people, writers and books that made him into the reader and writer he is today, from Tolstoy to Thomas Wolfe and beyond,” according to an announcement yesterday in Publisher’s Marketplace.
This will not be the best-selling author’s first foray into nonfiction. The Water Is Wide (1972) is based on his experiences as a schoolteacher, and in 2002, Conroy published My Losing Season, a memoir inspired by his senior year season as starting point guard on The Citadel’s basketball team. In 2004, he published The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life, which includes personal stories in addition to recipes.
No doubt My Life in Books will be eagerly anticipated; Conroy is a favorite of BookPage readers—South of Broad was our cover story in August (read a review of this “lush, remarkable new novel”), and we interviewed him in 2002 about My Losing Season.
I wonder how the book will be organized—chronologically based on what he was reading when? By author that inspired him? When Gay Talese (the husband of Conroy’s editor, coincidentally) described some of the stories and inspiration behind his books in 2006’s A Writer’s Life, I thought the result was a bit disjointed; he bounced from anecdote to anecdote, with long digressions thrown in. I hope Conroy’s book has a clearer narrative structure.
Will you read My Life in Books?
Longtime BookPage interviewer Alden Mudge talked to Greg Mortenson for our December issue. Here, he shares his impressions of the best-selling author and a few of the more memorable quotes that didn't make it into the finished piece.
I am by temperament knee-jerk skeptical of heroes and hero worshipers. So for several years I resisted the Three-Cups-of-Tea fever that had infected a good number of my intelligent, well-read friends. Then I was assigned to interview Greg Mortenson about his new book Stones into Schools. Call me a believer.
During a long phone call, I was utterly convinced and charmed by Mortenson. He was both forceful and self-effacing, remarkably candid, completely dedicated to his cause, and very opinionated. Not all of his opinions fit in the BookPage print interview, so I thought I’d offer a few outtakes here:
“I love to talk with students around the country, and one of the main topics we end up talking about is failure. As a society we’re very loath to talk about failure. When I ask an adult audience ‘who can tell me what the first chapter of Three Cups of Tea is called?’ not one hand goes up. But if I ask college kids or high school kids, nearly all their hands go up. They know it’s called “Failure.” Kind of interesting. I think in order to succeed you need failure. If we could admit that we failed a little bit once in a while—especially our government—we’d be better off. I think the military actually gets this. They’re willing to admit that in many ways they failed originally in Afghanistan.”
“The Afghanistan government was set up at the Bonn Conference in December 2001. Eighteen countries met and decided how to rebuild Afghanistan. The problem was that it was set up as a centralized, deprovincialized system, very U.S.-oriented, very bureaucratic. But Afghanistan is a feudal, multiethnic society. Power is really with the shura, the elders. I’ve studied the Marshall Plan extensively. It was quite a brilliant plan. The main component was that it was provincialized and decentralized, especially in Italy and Japan. In Afghanistan the U.S. completely flipped it around, made it exactly the opposite. Only in the last two or three years—ironically through the military—has this started to change.”
AFGHANISTAN, THE POSITIVE AND THE NEGATIVE
“What I try and tell the public is here’s what you have to look at, the positive things and then negative things in Afghanistan. The positive things are: In 2000, which was nine years ago at the height of the Taliban, there were 800,000 kids in school, ages 5 to 15, and 99 percent were boys. Today there are 8.4 million in school, including 3.5 [million] females. The goal is 13 million, so that is like 60 percent of the way there. The Afghan army is at 80,000 and the goal is 180,000, so that’s 40 percent of the way there. There is now a central banking system in the country, which started in 2006, which is huge. There’s an Eisenhower-era road building program; the road now from north to south is completely done and the road from the east to west is about half done, so the roads are about 70 percent finished—the main trunk roads. If you go into a district court, the amount of women and men, but especially women, filing titles and deeds for landownership is just skyrocketing. So those are the positive things.
And the negative things are: the U.S. is taking more hits. A lot of that is because starting two years ago—it was actually General McKiernan and now General McChrystal—have put a huge emphasis on cutting down on bombings. There have unfortunately been some deaths from bombings, very tragic. But the amount of bombings has gone down 70 percent in the last three years—the number of bombs and the frequency and the weight. Two years ago the U.S. started deploying forward operating bases out into the very rural areas. Their job was to embed with villagers or with the Afghan army and build relationships. Unfortunately what that does is exposes the U.S. so we’re going to take more hits, more casualties. But the alternative is to do more bombings. One thing that all the shura agree with—and they’re very vehement about it—is that the top priority is not to kill innocent civilians. And their message is being heard quite loud and clear in the military. The military kind of has a choice—pull back our troops, put them in garrisons or compounds— but if they do that they’re going to have to do more bombing and then the civilian casualties will go up and there will be public outcry both there and here at home. The other thing that I think the military and our government has done a very poor job at is telling the public that nearly half of these troops are trainer troops, or brainpower; they’re not firepower. Eight thousand of the 22,000 troops that the U.S. put into Afghanistan this year are dentists, engineers, agronomists, horticulturalists, civil engineers, nurses, doctors, trainers, police trainers, anti-mining personnel. Of these 40,000 new troops they’ve asked for, they want approximately 15,000 of them to be what I call brainpower or trainer troops. I don’t know if the public is aware of that.”
ON BOOKS THAT SHAPED HIM
“The first real relevant book I read—I was about eight—was called Reverence for Life by Dr. Albert Schweitzer. He was a medical missionary in the Congo. He talked about how all living things are sacred—animals, plants, and humans. It actually had a big impact on me. My first big book—I read it at about 11 or 12—was called The Territorial Imperative which looked at the animal kingdom and at how humans also are territorial. It was a pretty heavy read but it had quite a dramatic influence on me. So did Jonathan Livingston Seagull—remember that book?—about thinking out of the box. After I read those books I was really inspired.”
Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for BookPage for more than 15 years. He lives in Berkeley, California.
Today at the Book Case, we're welcoming author Sara Morgan, an entrepreneur who explains how readers can achieve success on their own terms in a new book, No Limits: How I Escaped the Clutches of Corporate America to Live the Self-Employed Life of My Dreams. Today she shares her top 10 tips for successful self-employment with Book Case readers. Give your own in the comments, and you'll be entered to win a free copy of No Limits!
Top 10 tips for successful self-employment
I have been self-employed for the past four years, and in that time I have learned a few things about what to do and what not to do. The following are what I consider to be the top 10 tips for finding your way to successful self-employment.
#1 – Do something you are passionate about. Without passion, it will be very difficult for you to deal with the inevitable problems that will arise. Don’t pick a business just because it promises a lot of money. I think many small businesses fail because the person running the business did not really love what they were doing.
#2 – Don’t wait till the last minute to consider things like taxes. Schedule a consultation with a CPA if you need to, but don’t put it off until the end of the year unless you enjoy facing stiff penalties.
#3 – Use an accounting program to get organized—I recommend the online version of Quickbooks. It is very affordable and easy to use. Don’t make the mistake of trying to manage your finances with a pen and paper. You may quickly become overwhelmed.
#4 – Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others. This includes not only your family, but people in your community as well. You may be surprised to find out how helpful people really are.
#5 – Consider having multiple streams of income to ensure that you are able to survive financially, even in the event of a downturn or unforeseen circumstance. Just be careful not to take on too much. You do not want to compromise your primary business by putting too much on your plate.
#6 – Trust your instincts. Too many times we ignore our instincts, but research has shown that our instincts are typically correct.
#7 – Become a feedback machine. Get advice from everyone you can before starting out on your own and even after you are established. Don’t think of it as criticism, but rather a source of valuable information.
#8 – Schedule breaks and stick to them. It is very easy to let things get away from you when you own your own business. Resist the urge to over work yourself. You will not be doing your business or family any favors if you are stressed out from working too much.
#9 - Never give up. Most often people fail because they gave up too soon. Running your own business can be hard, but it can also be very rewarding. Hang in there, even during the tough times.
#10 –Don’t forget to have fun. Your business and life should be fun. If you’re not having fun, then it just ain’t worth it.