the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Category: Professional

Turning writing into business

by MDY

On Wednesday, I launched Elocue, selling books which help you write better. I began working on the business (to call it a start-up seems presumptuous) about four months ago, and have in the ensuing time reached the following Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs):

  • Written 5 books
  • Sold less than 5 books
  • Gotten banned from 3 online forums
  • Undergone 1 strategic pivot (from online as-a-service courses to, well, books)
  • Sent 3 awkwardly-formatted newsletters
  • Missed 2 scheduled launch dates
  • Gone on 0 romantic dates

I’m in the middle of re-reading East of Eden and have just passed the bit where Adam tries and spectacularly fails to commercialise the process of refrigerating groceries. Like Lee says of Adam, I don’t have much of a head for business. I have almost 1000 copies of my children’s book collecting dust in my garage (I made the mistake of ordering supply before testing demand). My investment portfolio is redder than a scarlet macaw in a gunfight. I tend to bumble along, oscillating between loud bravado and wallowing inadequacy based on wholly unrealistic expectations.

I’ve learnt a lot in the past four months of building Elocue.

The value of market-testing is as great as any successful founder says. I’m not very good at this (the bravado/inadequacy cycle means I have a tendency to launch into big plans then mope at their consequences), but I’m getting better. The 5-Minute Essay, one of Elocue’s titles, received decent interest with only word-of-mouth marketing when I published it as a standalone book at the start of the year. I pivoted away from an online “courses” platform because I found myself having to explain it (and struggling to do so) to almost everyone I spoke to – which I realised meant that the value proposition was far from clear or worthwhile.

Selling is hard. I’m naturally reclusive, risk-averse to a fault, and take criticism or failure very personally – in short, all the things successful founders tell you not to be. In the past few days I’ve had many shows of support from my personal network as well as a major lack of sales. I’m rapidly finding that a humble, unassuming approach to selling is best, at least for my particular personality. Persistence counts too. Not all people are as conscientious as Elocue’s first customer, who has signed up or bought a book within an hour of any email (hi, William!). I’m hoping that regularly giving to my market – in the form of blog posts, newsletters, and other digestible tips for writing – will keep me at front of mind and maybe get some people interested enough to buy a book.

You can’t let other people define success for you. I’m a perennial worrier (once again, better writer than businessman) and the past few weeks have seen me wrestling fears that, like cobwebs in the garage, keep springing up no matter how many times you tear them down. What if I don’t get media coverage? Why aren’t there any sales this week? Is my product shit? My biggest fear is that I will disappoint myself, and everyone who’s encouraged me, by seeing Elocue turn out to be a wholehearted waste of time and money. The only way I manage to get out of this wallowing inadequacy is to remind myself that in many ways I’ve already succeeded. I’ve learnt a lot more in the past four months than I did in an entire university degree – from how online payments “tokens” work to why you shouldn’t launch until your platform looks and works great. As a PR and digital producer by day, I’ve become brutally aware of just why Return on Investment (ROI) is such a big deal nowadays: if you can’t sell, you shouldn’t bother. I don’t expect my business to change the world (which is why I don’t call it a start-up), but I do hope it will change me for the better.

Elocue was designed to last for years. Will its founder do the same? I certainly hope I will. Hopefully the rewards – financial, but more importantly mental and spiritual – will be worth it.

Elocue currently stocks titles for professional cubicle-warriors, high-school students, and aspiring creative writers. You can preview and buy them in the bookstore, including as e-books delivered straight to your email.

Originally posted on the Elocue Blog.



by MDY

Our graduation ceremony was held in the Big Hall on a tepid summer’s day. The mothers cried and the fathers tried not to as the Headmaster told us that in front of us stretched a brocade of untrammelled possibilities upon which we could walk, run, or eschew altogether for unworn paths of our own choosing. Next to me, I could see Alvin M. looking up “untrammelled” on his phone. We mingled for the last time on the vestibule outside the hall, ties askew as we ribbed our teachers (“yeah Sir, cool tie!”) and discussed summer plans and generally steered clear of our tearful and increasingly maudlin parents. All the boys were going out for dinners and movies and under-age clubbing that night, but I felt this restlessness in my gut and besides I hadn’t been invited by any of them anyway, so after dusk I took Dad’s car and drove out to the spot in the mountains where no trees grow. The hawk and the jihadist’s ghost were playing sic bo with ivory dice on the stump of the thousand-year oak.

“I’m just saying poker is a far better test of skill,” the jihadist’s ghost was saying.

“And how am I going to hold my cards?” asked the hawk. “Get the bear to embroider them into my feathers, is it? Hey, want to take old Assad’s place? He’s getting all radical on me.”

“No thanks, guys,” I told them, sitting down with my back to the stump. “I’m just a bit out of sorts today, that’s all.”

“You okay, man?” the jihadist’s ghost asked. “I can give the phoenix a yell if you’d like.”

“It’s cool,” I said. “I just had my graduation today, is all. And everyone seems so happy and excited but I can’t help thinking that it’s like a little death, you know? Not knowing what comes on the other side. I have to pick my university, courses, all of that – it’s like character selection in Kingdom Hearts except there’s no save point to go back to.”

“Did you know I used to be the CEO of one of Japan’s largest telecommunications companies?” the hawk said. “No, shut up, Osama, he obviously hasn’t and it’s very relevant to him. Now, after university I bummed around for ages, just playing video games and hunting pigeons and all that. I tried applying for some jobs, of course, but it just didn’t work out, and I kind of just gave up after the 52nd rejection letter. One day, my friend tells me there’s an opening in the mailroom where he works, and I manage to make it to my interview and end up getting hired. 25 years later, I’m sitting in the chair opposite the one in which I got interviewed, looking at a photo of old Junichiro-sama on the wall, and I suddenly have this epiphany, that there’s nothing more I can or want to do to serve my empire. So I smash my window and turn into a hawk and fly away.”

“Is there a moral to that story?” asked the jihadist’s ghost.

“Hey, patience, Bomber al-Bashir. What I’m saying, friend, is…well, I’m not going to say Do what you want, because you probably don’t know what that is and if you’re anything like me or 92 percent of the general population, you probably never really will. You should find something that interests you, but don’t let it define you. I think just do whatever, and remember that what you do is only who you are if you let it be.”

I looked at the jihadist’s ghost.

“Don’t look at me, man,” he said. “I waged war on infidels like you for the promise of an eternal caliphate, and look where I ended up. If you see any sexy Persian sprites, send them this way, will you?”

That night, I laid out my course preference form on my table, closed my eyes, and placed a dot on the page with my fountain pen. It fell next to Mechatronic Engineering. I looked it up on Wikipedia and it sounded like a pretty okay choice.

Writing matters for everything

by MDY

The only extra-curricular tutelage which my mother sent me to in primary school was for English – creative writing, in fact. It wasn’t because I was struggling in school – the opposite, in fact. Before I had some literary rigour drummed into me by a portly straw-haired chap named Roland, my standard creative output in exams and homework tasks could be best characterised as “Minimal Viable Product”. The word count of these contributions spanned from around 400 words to two sentences. “Less is more” was never an axiom I struggled with.

My mother sent me to these classes because, as she told me often, a good command of English was essential to not just the schooling years – where its eponymous subject remains mandatory for one’s entire education – but also to anything I wanted to do in later life. She was insufferably but inevitably correct. From those classes I learnt to control tone, diction, and (to my chagrin) word count so as to best address the expectations of any situation, from the newspaper article to the morbid fairytale. I also learnt that challenging said expectations often yielded superior results: for one task, which required students to write about their favourite place, I unleashed a lyrical tribute to the solace and inner clarity only achievable when perched upon a toilet bowl. I think I got an A- for that one, but it’s the only piece I remember more than 12 years on. I wonder if Roland does too.

Good writing matters whether you’re a journalist or a marine biologist or a behavioural psychologist. It is a prerequisite to (but not determinant of) good speaking, and both are essential for communicating your thoughts and feelings and ideas in a way that gets them heard, acknowledged, and acted upon. Lawyers and doctors must exhibit exquisite mastery of their verbiage; check-out dudes and chicks need at least an intuition of tonal control if they’re to avoid being fired or fired at. My mother gave me, amongst other gifts, the gift of a good kick up the semicolon – to take writing seriously, as the only basic skill I’d ever need. I’m no sadist, but I hope to pass this on to as many people as I can during my lifetime. Because when everyone writes better, everyone understands everyone else better. And that’s where all other hope in the world comes from.

Thanks, Mum.