Ep 30 We talk to business author Steve Sammartino on his new book ‘The Great Fragmentation’

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In Episode 30 of So you want to be a writer, a book is published every five minutes, the newbie writers' podcast, the book with the world's biggest twist (and how you can benefit), 6 word wows, meet up with @melbreaders for a quiet read, the 10 must-read books on blogging, what to put on your business card, Writer in Residence Steve Sammartino, accessing multiple gmail accounts at the same time, how to extract your kindle highlights in a usable form and much more!

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

Show Notes

Newbie Writers' Podcast

There Is One New Book On Amazon Every Five Minutes

Maze of Keys- website no longer available

Hemingway for Hotels: The Ritz-Carlton’s Flash Fiction Ads

@melbreaders

The 10 best blogger must read books on blogging

What to Put on a Blog Business Card

Writer in Residence

p01Steve Sammartino had his first startup before the age of 10 running an organic egg farm in the 1970s before the words organic or startup had been invented. The first phase of his adult career was in marketing working his way into senior executive roles in global consumer goods companies and advertising agencies.

He escaped his cubicle for the first time in 2005 and founded rentoid.com – a peer to peer renting portal. After a successful exit more than 3 years ago he has embarked on a number of crazy projects including putting a lego space shuttle into actual orbit, building a jet powered bicycle, and crowd funding to build a full size lego car with an engine made of lego, which runs on air.

Steve now travels the world helping companies transition from industrial era thinking into the digital age. He is a shareholder and advisor of Tomcar Australia (Australia’s first car startup in over 30 years) he guest lectures on Marketing at Melbourne University, writes on business & technology issues for the ABC, Marketing Magazine, Fairfax and for his blog, which has over 30,000 readers a month. He’s regularly asked to comment on the technology issues in the business sector.

Start Up Blog
The Great Fragmentation
#SuperAwesomeMicroProject
Steve on Twitter
Wiley on Twitter

Web Pick

How to access multiple Twitter accounts at the same time.

Working Writer's Tip

How to get your Kindle highlights and out of your Kindle and into a form you can actually use.

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Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers' Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait
@valeriekhoo

Email us
podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Transcript

Valerie

Thanks for joining us today, Steve.

Steve
Thanks of having me, Val.

Valerie
Tell our listeners: what is The Great Fragmentation all about?

Steve
The Great Fragmentation is a book about the technology revolution. The idea is that all of the main factors of production are getting smaller, so smaller technology, smaller processes, highly distributed systems. What that means is that small business has much chance to do well as big business did because all of the factors of production are being democratized and available.

Valerie
Why did you want to write this book? Perhaps give listeners a little bit of context on what you do. You’ve been writing a popular blog called The Startup Blog for many years, but you do a whole range of things in the tech space and also just in the digital innovation space. Give listeners an idea of what you do and why you wanted to write this book.

Steve
My background right from the start was a marketing person. I worked in consumer goods for around about 15 years at large consumer goods companies like Procter and Gamble and Kraft, Kimberly-Clark, I also worked in the world’s biggest advertising agency. About ten years ago I got heavily involved in the startup scene and had my own startup Rentoid.com, which I built and then sold. I’ve been involved in the startup scene. By having that breadth of knowledge in the world’s biggest companies, in the world’s small companies, which is me and my laptop on a kitchen table, I really got to see the breadth of what was happening in business. The overriding thing that I could see is that we’re going through a shift really akin to the industrial revolution, only this time it’s three times bigger.

I thought that all of the books I was reading were too thin. When I say ‘too thin’ they were kind of like in a business context just writing about one idea and then going through that idea over a number of chapters. I really felt as though there was a need for something that really had the breadth of looking at all of the pieces of the puzzle and summarizing how they’re different from the industrial era to the technology era. I just thought that I wanted to pull that together. That’s how the idea came about. I really wanted to write a manifesto for doing business in the technology age.

Valerie
What do you want readers to come away with after reading the book?

Steve
The main thing I want them to come away with is, “I can actually do anything anyone else can do.” And, I want them to come away with, “If we’re working for a big business the thing that made us big is probably going to be the thing that will kill us, because all of the rules of business have changed.”

Valerie
You’ve written this book, but what else do you do at the moment?

Steve
At the moment the main thing that I do is write and speak for a living is the main part. I do a lot of writing for some journals. I do public speaking, mostly at large corporates, talking about the technology revolution. I’m also involved in a few startups. One of the startups is Tomcar Australia, actually we’re an example of the great fragmentation. We make and sell all-terrain vehicles here in Australia, but we don’t own a factory. We’re a seven person car company. We’re proof that you don’t need a lot of physical assets to be involved in a revolution.

Also I work for some venture capital firms, I do some work with Pollenizer in Sydney, and I’m involved in some other people’s start ups where I mentor and I help them grow their startups.

Valerie
Great. How did you get the publishing deal? Also just bear in mind if you’re giving some lessons, because I know you’re big on giving lessons to people, bear in mind that the listeners of this podcast aren’t just business people, they’re aspiring writers who may want to write fiction, they may want to write the next Harry Potter. They may want to write a book that’s got nothing to do with the business space, but they certainly want to get a publishing deal as you have. How did you get your publishing deal?

Steve
The one thing that is true is that I wasn’t a stranger to the publisher who I went it, Wiley, which I know published your book as well, Power Stories. A fellow author through Wiley, Trevor Young, he had a book that he did through Wiley and I’ve been friends with him for quite some time. I asked him to give me an intro. I pitched them on an email, which is one of those emails that you spend weeks writing and going back and forth before you press ‘send’ because you’re so nervous, you feel like it’s an all or nothing deal. He was the person who gave me the intro to Wiley.

Actually, Wiley were the first publishers I went to with the idea for the book. I kind of did a little bit of social hacking, if you like, to get them to publish the book. One of the things that they normally do is they want you to fill out a form and a proposal of what your book is about, the layout, the content that it’s going to cover. I actually asked them if I could come in and tell them a story about what the book would be like and not fill out the form. I said, “Look, if I can speak about it you will see if you like it. Instead of me wasting your time having to read it and my time to fill it out, if you just give me 45 minutes of your time I’ll tell you the story of the book.” I said to them, “All you need to know is I write the way I speak.” I did a presentation which was essentially the book to them in kind of an unusual fashion. I kind of took a risk in asking them to do something that they don’t normally do and it worked out really well.

The reason I did that is one of my strengths is speaking. I thought, “How can I turn that around so that I can get that as a way to get a publishing deal for a book?” I think the one thing for aspiring authors out there is that while there are rules, and often we have to follow them, we can ask the question and say, “Can we do this a different way,” if we can point out to the other party how that might be a benefit to them. I just kind of turned that around and it was kind of refreshing. I know they liked hearing the story in that narrative and then we went onto the formal process after that. But, I felt like it gave me more of a chance by first of all not being Australian, I came through a friend and said, “Hey, why don’t we do it this way to see if this is the kind of content you’d like to publish in a book?”

Valerie
Did they give you an immediate reaction or response to your presentation?

Steve
To be honest I knew they would publish it after I presented it. In fact, I knew they would publish it before I did the presentation because it’s a presentation that I had done more than 20 or 30 times. In fact, that for me reminds me a lot about the whole pitching process of writing a book. We so very often hear about authors who have gone onto to become best-sellers globally, where they say, “I went to 20 publishers before someone accepted me,” or 50 publishers, and I’m starting to wonder whether the reason that their book didn’t get agreed to be published was because they weren’t very good at pitching. It took them 20 times to learn about pitching, and get good at that, before someone bought into it, rather than the book idea not being right or finding the right person.

I had that in my mind when I flipped it around. I thought, “I’m going to see if I can do it that way first, rather than just being a bunch of words on a page.” If they buy into you as a person first, I think, even though writing is a thing that we need to. So that was top of mind when I did that.

Valerie
Tell us what you think are some essential elements when you’re pitching your book idea to a publisher? What do you think worked for you?

Steve
I think having a clear narrative, like really being able to explain it in a couple of sentences so they could see the start, the middle, and the end is really important. The other thing that I think they’re looking for is, and I don’t use this word very often, sightgiest, if they can see where it fits, certainly from the business perspective, but even from a storytelling or pop culture perspective or a political viewpoint, if they can see how this has a sense of fitting with ideas the world is exploring at the moment, then I think they’re more open, they’re more attentive to that idea. So, a start, a middle, and an end, so there’s a clear narrative and also that the narrative fits with the sightgiest in some capacity, even if it’s fiction. If they can see how that has got some currency in the marketplace and those types of stories are doing well, then like all industries, including publishing then there is a trend element, it’s not just clothing and music that has that trend element, publishing is strongly in that arena too, because it’s a pop culture business.

Valerie
Did you put forward any strategies to them about how you would assist, or what your involvement would be in selling the book? Because I know that you told me that you told them, “I told them The New York Times lists is a bestseller list, not a best writer list, and I told them I know how to sell.” How did you show them you could sell? What sort of strategies did you show them that you would do to sell your book? To help them sell your book?

Steve
I showed them I had a reasonable social footprint. I think one of the things that they look for is what sort of a following do you have or digital footprint in the media. So, I showed them how I had that social footprint, the blog, the number of Twitter followers I had, email sign ups, I showed them the day I press ‘send’ I’ve got 1,000 copies that I will be able to sell overnight to the readers of my blog, which is a big risk reducer for them.

But, I also pointed out the process of after I did the presentation of how I sold them on the idea of doing things the way that they normally don’t do it. I showed them the startups that I’ve built — actually, I’m a salesperson deep down and I think that really resonated. We all very much focus on being a writer, and that’s just one part of it. I think increasingly, and they even said increasingly they’re looking for people who are good at selling what they do, because with the book industry, the way it’s going, increasingly electronic and digital, the thing that we need to sell is going to be off shelf and not on the shelf. That really resonated. It was really just a combination of showing them my chops as a salesperson with the projects that I’ve done, and also pointing out the process that I used to sell my idea to them, and saying, “Look, if I can sell it to you in this way, then I can certainly do that through the business community.” And also showing them how I’m distributed within the business community and how that will expose my book to a number of people.

One of the things that I also did was show them how every startup I’ve had has been able to get coverage on TV and mainstream media, so that they know that the projects that I do… I regard my book as a startup project, this would be no different to those.

Valerie
Give us some key timelines. When did you get your introduction through your friend, Trevor Young, and when did you do the presentation? About how much later did you do the presentation, how much later the book deal, and when did you have to deliver?

Steve
I got the introduction in late October from Trevor, 2013. I did the presentation in mid-November, 2013. Then I got the book contract, I think it might have been the 15th of December.

Valerie
Great. When did you have to deliver?

Steve
I had three months to write it. I was a week late, isn’t that naughty admitting it on a podcast? Oh my god I was panicking. I thought, “Three months. That’s nothing, Steve. I can write 60,000 words in three months. I wrote 1,000 a day on my blog.” Most days on my blog I’ll do 500 words or 1,000 words. I did the old calculation… “Well, if I divide 1,000 by 60, that’s only two months. Then Christmas came, then January came, party time, then I wrote 80,000 words in five weeks. I went a little bit over as well, which was a bit silly of me. But, I didn’t see a friend or family or anything for about five weeks. I was hiding away in a dark room writing.

Valerie
Tell us about that process of writing? Did you actually just extract yourself and focus on it 100 percent in order to get it done?

Steve
Yeah, about 90 percent. I still stopped to have showers and food, but essentially yeah. I really did lock myself away. I even had some of those tough days where I think with every book, whether it’s fiction or otherwise, you have parts of the book that you kind of know you need to write about, but the words don’t flow as easy. I had some days where I literally stared at the screen for an hour with nothing, or two hours. I just wouldn’t leave my seat. I was like, “I’m not leaving until it comes to me.” I would literally stare at the screen until it came. I really did lock myself away for a long period to finish it, because I was really late on the deadline. I had to ring them and ask them for an extra week, Wiley was very generous and gave me an extra week. In fact, they told me they always have to have a couple of extra weeks, obviously, because this happens often. I hoped that would be true, but I wasn’t exactly sure because it was my first book.

I’m not going to lie, it was a stressful, stressful situation trying to get it finished on that deadline. I reckon it might even be the most stressful thing I’ve ever done.

Valerie
Really? Because you left too little time for it, or –?

Steve
Yeah, I think it was because I left too little time in the end, and I just had to finish on that deadline. I mean the one thing that we need to get better at I think with writing, especially, is use all of the time available. I really think we need to use all of the time available. It’s easy to psych yourself out with deadlines, and to break it down into chunks by day, but I don’t think writing works that way. We need to understand at various points in time we get flow, you get that natural flow, and that’s a non-linear process. If we start straightaway then we give ourselves more chances for those flow days to occur. But, if you leave it too late then you’re kind of opening yourself up to in some ways creative risk, and I think the best way to reduce creative risk is to start straightaway. Then whenever the moment happens you’ve just got to stop and go with that moment, which is something that I do on my blog. It was silly, I didn’t listen to my own lesson, writing a blog for ten years, I should have followed the same process with the book, but I didn’t. I kind of viewed it in some ways as a different type of project when I really should have viewed it as the same way.

Valerie
Did you write all of the words fresh or did you use anything from your blog?

Steve
No, it was fresh. There were a couple of concepts that were covered in the blog, it’s hard to avoid it. But, it was all fresh. I wanted to do that for a number of reasons. I knew that all of my blog readers would be reading my book. Also I think that you owe it to yourself to push yourself as a writer, to go to that next level, to explore the ideas in greater depth or greater currency in the now moment. In addition to that I know that Wiley has a lot of bloggers come to them. We all self-publish in some capacity, we want to take what we’ve already done and publish it to the wider world, but Wiley is pretty keen on making sure that everything is fresh content. What they sell is fresh content, unless you’re one of those books that gets famous for being famous and becomes a big global hit, they tend to want new content.

Valerie
When you locked yourself into your cave in that five week period did you have any kind of routine or ritual to start the day? You went for walks in the afternoon or whatever? Or did you just put your bum on the seat and make yourself just start typing?

Steve
No, I did have some rituals. There was a little café in Yarraville that I go to, called The Little Men, I’d have a coffee and a croissant. I would take the croissant, I would have the coffee, taste that, it was almost like I couldn’t start writing until I had done that. I would also go for a jog everyday. My view is I have my best ideas often when I’m exercising, the oxygen’s flowing. I make sure that I did some exercise everyday as well. I mean I was locking myself away from things, I would go for a jog and I seriously would come up with ideas, fresh ideas, and I would just stop, I would get my iPhone out and sometimes I’d type down a 100 or 200 words on that next bit in that chapter while I was jogging.

I’m convinced that oxygen flow and that energy from exercise helps you find that stuff that’s inside your mind. The jogging and the exercise I think are a super big part of me finding those little bits of inspiration. The ideas are in there, what you need is that connection of oxygen and energy, just seeing different things, being in a different environment sometimes I think opens up the ideas. They were a couple of the things that I did everyday. I actually wrote a good chunk of this book in this one particular café. I remember when I got published I brought it in and said, “Thanks for helping me write this book,” and gave them a signed copy of it. They found out halfway through and they were like, “We can’t wait to see it.” Like, “Cool, a book is being written in our café.” That was kind of fun.

Valerie
You were saying before we started recording that you like the fact that you can now say that you’re an author, because you can easier explain what you do to people. Can you expand on that a bit?

Steve
I call myself a projecteer.

Valerie
A project-what?

Steve
A projecteer.

Valerie
A projecteer — like a marketeer?

Steve
Yeah, I do a lot of projects. You may have even been involved in some of my projects, this micro project, which was the Lego drivable car, for the listeners. If you just go to YouTube and look up ‘full size Lego car that drives’ you’ll see a car that I built out of Lego.

Valerie
Incredible project.

Steve
Incredible project.

Valerie
We’ll put a link in the show notes.

Steve
Yeah, we’ll put a link in there. I regard myself as a projecteer and because of that it’s hard to explain to people what I do. Essentially all of my projects are about business, startups and technology. But, now that I’ve written a book about business, startups and technology I can just say, “I’m an author.” Then they say, “What’s the book about?” And that explains the projecteering, so I’ve kind of reversed it in, but it’s such a relief to say, “I’m an author, because it was just really hard to explain to people what I did.” I’m so relieved. I’m actually really proud, to say you’re an author for nerds like me and maybe you a little bit, Val, in the most loveliest tone, it’s nice to have something that my mom can understand as well. She would always be like, “Why don’t you just get a normal job, Steve?” She always struggled with it. Now she can tell people what I do and so can I, which is good.

Valerie
What results have you seen from the book? Has it opened any doors? Other opportunities?

Steve
Absolutely. In fact, I think of all of the projects that I’ve done this is one of the ones that has more quickly opened doors.

Valerie
Really?

Steve
Absolutely. The fact that we’ve got a physical printed version is terrific. What we do as an author is if you’ve got a physical printed version you cross that chasm, self-publishing, I think it’s terrific and amazing, it actually gave me my end, obviously being an independent blogger for a very long time, but to have that physical version means that anyone can understand who you are and what you do. People know that there’s quite a process that someone has to go through to be given the opportunity to write and get published in a physical format. That has a certain amount of respect that goes with it.

With the public speak that I do, and I guess it’s a form of corporate training, because it’s always in large companies, just having the book in the meetings that I have with these people and giving them a copy just changes their perspective immediately. One of the large consultants who I have just organised a speaking gig with ten different occasions, I was with the chairman of Asia Pacific, who was kind of an old-school chap and he was like, “So, what makes you so clever?” That kind of thing. I said, “I’ve recently published a book.” He was like, “An eBook?” I handed him the physical copy, I handed him the copy of The Great Fragmentation and he was like, “Good, good. Good to see you doing something serious old-school.” I got the gig.

But, I swear just having it, it really does change things and it’s opened up a tremendous amount of doors in the kind of consulting, speaking kind of arena that I work in. It actually validates the work. I’m no better than I was last year or yesterday, but it changes the perception. Perception, as we know in life, is sometimes a big thing.

Valerie
Has it been easier for you to get more speaking gigs and consulting gigs? Have you gotten more speaking and consulting gigs as a result?

Steve
Yeah, absolutely. It’s just grown exponentially since the book came out. Even since they knew it was coming out it would be used as, “His debut book is coming out in July,” or August, that was always a big thing as well.

Valerie
What was the most challenging or surprising thing about the whole process?

Steve
This is the thing that I’m most surprised about, and in hindsight I shouldn’t have been surprised. That the publisher doesn’t read all of the book, from a business perspective, I know that they haven’t read it all. I even asked them because I was so curious at some point. They know that the only people who have read the entire book are the editors, but the publisher, the commissioning editor, I know hasn’t read the entire book. I know that other staff members haven’t. Then I thought about it, I thought, “Of course, how could they possibly — how many books are they working on at any one time? If they were to read all of the manuscripts of all of the books they wouldn’t be able to get any work done.” I mean in hindsight, of course, how could the possibly do it?

I know they’ve read chunks of it and good amounts of it, but essentially they sample what you’re writing to see if they like and love which way you’re going in, because I submitted chapters as I was going and they told me that they loved it. But, I actually asked them, I said, “Have you read the whole book?” At the time all of them said, “No, we haven’t. We couldn’t read the entire book.” That, for me, was kind of surprising. It kind of caught me off guard, because I was almost like writing it for them, “I hope they like it.” “They’re going to love this paragraph.” Out of all of the paragraphs that were in there how could they hear all of them? I don’t know if it’s the same in fiction, because maybe there’s a bit more of a narrative that goes along, but there was just something that I didn’t think of.

Valerie
I remember, I think it was Tim Ferriss once saying he would just put some random crap in there, just to see if they were reading sections of the book.

Steve
Right. What a great hack that is.

You know what? I was also surprised they let me keep my voice. Like, I’ve written some kind of ridiculous — not ridiculous, but quirky things in there. I’m going to say ‘quirky’, I shouldn’t call myself ridiculous. But, I wrote some quirky things in here that I thought they would cut out, “They’ll cut it out in editing for sure.” Then when I read it back after that edit I was like, “They left that in, oh my god, I didn’t think they would.” I said, “I always tell people that zen is zen,” and then I wrote in parenthesis, after I wrote that I wrote, “It must be true because it rhymes.” And they left that in the printed version. I said, “Oh, I’m surprised you didn’t take it out.” They said, “No, that’s how you talk in real life. You told us you were going to write the way you speak, so we thought we should stay true to it.”

Valerie
Do you have another book in you? Are you working on the next one? Have you thought about a second one?

Steve
I have. I’ve got two ideas in particular. One, and I’ve pitched it to Wiley as well and they’re excited about, obviously we’ve got selling to do on this one, but next book idea is about nature and it’s about how all of the lessons in business we can learn from things like vegetable farming and the tides and all of that. I wanted to do a book — I guess it’s a little bit like The Art of War, but this will be the nature of business, if you like. So, that’s what I’m hoping for my next one.

Valerie
Awesome. Wonderful. On that point then, are you researching that? And, if so, how do you collate all of the information in a way that you can then use it later?

Steve
I’m actually keeping notes of what the ideas and the chapters are now, as they come to me, while I’m talking, so I don’t have to stare at a screen for hours on end, waiting for it to come to me. I’ve had this idea in my mind for a really long time, actually before this book. I’ve written a few blog posts on some of the ideas, but I’m starting to develop like a chapter outline now and talk about the different things that I want to go through. I want to go through things like seasons, tides, farming, agriculture. The ironic thing is that many of the words that we use in business, like ‘yield’, and, ‘return on investment’, and, ‘growth’, they’re all nature words, right? But no one has ever really pointed it out the simplicity. I want it to be a book that can almost like an introductory viewpoint on business that explains things in a way that we all naturally understand. I’m kind of just pulling together the pieces so that when this one is done I can jump into the next.

Valerie
Fantastic. Finally, what’s your advice to aspiring writers or people who want to be in a position like you now, who want to have their book out there?

Steve
My first piece of advice, and this is going to sound ironic, is don’t think of yourself as a writer. In business, I’m a business person who understands certain things about business. Even if you’re in the fiction area you have to think of yourself as a storyteller, or think of yourself in the area. As a scientist, if you’re a science-fiction, for example, you need to imagine yourself in that position rather than the person telling the story. I think of myself as a business person and it makes it easier for me to write about business. If I were writing in science-fiction I would think of myself as Capitan Kirk or a scientist and what I would want science to be like or what I would like science to invent and then tell that story. I think if we can remove ourselves from the ‘W’ word, because it gets all scary, being a writer, then I think it becomes easier to write.

Valerie
Fantastic advice. On that note, thank you so much for your time today.

Steve
Thank you, Val.

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