I certainly never set out to be an author, but when you look back and connect the dots, the path reads like a Stephen King book.
An author's life in 10 chapters.
According to writer Joseph Epstein in The New York Times, “81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them — and should write it.” That’s approximately 200 million people who aspire to authorship.
And yet he goes on to say:
"Without attempting to overdo the drama of the difficulty of writing, to be in the middle of composing a book is almost always to feel oneself in a state of confusion, doubt and mental imprisonment, with an accompanying intense wish that one worked instead at bricklaying."
So what compelled me to eventually take this path? Let's explore:
Chapter 1: Maybe it's in the genes
My grandfather Joseph Hopkinson was a teacher and co-authored a book -- on Latin no less!
When you consider that my sister has a Master's Degree from Harvard in Language & Literacy and my brother has two degrees in Spanish, maybe writing and communications is just in our genes. I was off to a good start.
Chapter 2: To be a great writer, be a great reader
Perhaps Stephen King said it best in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
"Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
I tend to agree with Mr. King. I certainly devoured his books while in high school, and to this day can't get enough content into my brain: be it books, magazines, articles, or podcasts.
Every piece of content you consume helps you discover your voice, learn what you like, discard what you don't like, and mature as a writer.
Chapter 3: Realizing I had stories to tell
Another remnant found while clearing out my parent's basement: a stack of Archway newspapers containing every article I wrote for my college newspaper.
In retrospect, learning that I was "a good writer" happened in three stages:
I joined a fraternity and was asked to write our contribution to the "Greek News," a weekly column by each fraternity and sorority mostly made up of crass inside jokes that only they would understand. Usually a different upperclassman brother took the role for a semester because someone had to do it. So to be trusted as a freshman to do this was unprecedented, so I viewed it as an honor that I got to do it.
After one week, a few brothers said it was pretty good. After two weeks, even more brothers made comments and told me to push myself farther. After three weeks, a senior declared, "No one else is allowed to write the Greek News except for Hoppy." I went on to write every edition for the next 7 semesters.
As I progressed, I was shocked to find that it had even broader appeal. Sorority sisters were reading my column. Non-Greek students were reading it. I remember a member of our biggest rival fraternity coming up to me and saying, "Hey. I only read two things in that entire newspaper. My fraternity news, and yours."
Chapter 4: Writing on the job
A note to aspiring writers: If you do great work, people will generally notice, give you the benefit of the doubt, and be willing to take a chance on you.
At ESPN, I was writing copy and content for landing pages, advertorials, banner ads, sponsor promotions, game rules, and legal regulations. So when I had our engineers pull interesting data and statistics about our users and pitched a column called Best of the Worst to our VP, he said "Sure, give it a try."
At WIRED, I was writing emails, curating newsletters, posting on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and live-streaming events. So when I pitched the editor-in-chief my podcast idea and asked to write a few columns for the site, he said "Sure, give it a try."
Chapter 5: Writing for yourself
For those that aren't able or willing to do some writing at their main job -- no excuses.
The opportunity to start your own blog is always an option, which I did. Read more here.
Chapter 6: The Book Deal
On my path to paying my dues, honing my skills, and writing 250 blog posts, I was fascinated with the new topic of passive income from books like The Four Hour Workweek. I chose a topic I was passionate about (career development) and a niche where I saw a need (salary negotiation), and began researching, writing, and teaching everything I learned. Then a funny thing happened.
I started to make a real difference in peoples’ lives.
People were really listening and they realized the opportunities they had missed in their careers. People were taking my advice and having huge results.
I was all set to follow the “new media” model and self-publish, when three fortunate interactions unfolded:
I had dinner with author, entrepreneur, and former podcast guest Rana Sobhany, and at the end she urged me, “Why don’t you just try to get it traditionally published.”
Then I had lunch in Montreal with author, speaker, mentor, and former podcast guest Mitch Joel, who urged me, “Why don’t you just try and pitch it to my book agent. I’ll set up an introduction.”
So I met with the amazing literary agent Jim Levine, and I thought he would say "It's just an ebook" or "It needs work" or "I just took this meeting as a favor to Mitch." But that’s not what he said at all. In short, he said three words: “We loved it.” [Stunned silence].
From that point on, it was a whirlwind. Editor Rick Wolff of Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing gave us a deal, with the ebook launching in April 2011 and the paperback following in August. Holy crap. I was a published author.
Chapter 7: Leverage your book for more writing opportunities
It's an interesting thing ... writing leads to more writing.
Between a PR push, being quoted for articles, and pitching interesting stories you want to tell, writing opportunities arise. I wrote more than 75 articles for Salary.com, they syndicated those as far away as China, and most importantly, I was able to help people around the world get paid what they're worth.
Chapter 8: Book #2 -- Website Copywriting
My second book* combined writing on the job (while at Mirasee) with a new twist:
The book would be self-published, under quick deadlines
We would simultaneously take the script and create a supporting online course
The result was that I pushed myself harder than I ever thought I could ... completing the entire book manuscript in just 17 days. Then my team and I filmed, produced, and launched the course in just 63 days.
The book reached #1 Best Seller status in 4 Amazon categories
400 students signed up for the course in the first 24 hours; we topped 800 students and 100 reviews in the first 10 days
Chapter 9: Book # 3 -- Blog Post Ideas
This was a really fun book to write*, and followed the same structure as the previous one, written in a matter of weeks and self-published on Amazon, with a corresponding online course to add visual pop for visual learners.
Chapter 10: Book #4 -- How to Quit Your Job the Right Way
My fourth book* combined so many things that I loved ... all the writing skills I had accumulated to that point, my snarky sense of humor, the knowledge and experience of going from full time corporate work to entrepreneurship, and telling great stories.
While the manuscript for the online course topped out at 18,500 words, I had the honor and privilege to interview 10 friends and colleagues and include their unique "quit my job" stories, which pushed the book to more than 30,000 words.
Many people ask, what comes next?
While writing a book is an arduous task not to be taken lightly, I generally reply that "I feel like I have at least one more book in me, if not more."
A few topics I've been stewing on (titles pending):
Salary Negotiation Case Studies and/or a 10-year update to Salary Tutor in 2021
Heyday, a book about unique work situations
The Filter, a book about screening out life's challenges
* Full Credit and Clarification: Website Copywriting, Blog Post Ideas, and How to Quit Your Job were published while I was working at Mirasee, as part of a project we called our "Business Reimagined Series." CEO Danny Iny is listed as co-author.
Danny himself is a multiple time best-selling author of books such as Teach and Grow Rich and Leveraged Learning, and his name recognition and Mirasee's large audience was a primary driver of marketing exposure and success of these books. He is a close friend and mentor.
Note however, that I was the project lead, conducted all market research, interviewed sources, acted and produced the online courses, and authored 95% of the content. For Blog Post Ideas, co-worker Lexi Rodrigo collaborated with me as co-author of the book.