Friday, April 05, 2013

Wisdom for Writers From Steve Jobs (Yes, THAT Steve Jobs)

By Tiffany Reisz, @TiffanyReisz

Steve Jobs was many things--visionary, inventor, creator, tyrant, genius. You won't find 'novelist' in that list but when this writer needs inspiration, I turn to Steve Jobs. For
You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.
We're gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make 'me too' products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it's always the next dream.
Change "customers" to readers and "built" to "written" and you'll get why this is perfect advice for writers. Change "next dream" to "next book" and you'll see again why I drink from the Steve Jobs font of wisdom. You can't follow every trend in the publishing world. You run the risk of being a pale imitator by following trends instead of becoming an innovator by setting them. Steve Jobs knew HE had to be the trendsetter if he wanted Apple to make waves in a crowded marketplace. I knew from Day One I wanted to write a book no one had ever written before. No one was writing Gothic romance in 2004 (Gothic meaning 'a fusion of horror and romance') when I started writing The Siren in 2004. Very few if any novelists are writing Gothics in 2013 so my books (packed with more secret societies, wicked clergy, incest, and kink than you can shake a single-tail flogger at) stand out on a bookshelf crowded with light erotic romances.That's what Steve Jobs envisioned for his iMacs--blue, orange, and pink computers that stood out, bright as floodlights, in a wasteland of boxy biege PCs.
Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is worth more than two doubles.
Quality is more important than quantity. One five-star book is worth more than two three-star books. Years ago on a writing forum I mentioned that I spent years editing my first book The Siren. An author cautioned me to "Produce more books! Readers read fast, Tiffany, so you need to publish something all the time. Don't spend so much time on one book." Well, fast forward to two years later and that very same author read The Siren and said, "I wish I'd written that." No, you shouldn't spend years editing a book, but you should take the time you need to make it the best book you can make it. And if it's not good enough, don't publish it until it is. Employees would often show new ideas to Steve Jobs who would take one look at it and say, "I like it. Go make it better." If you phone it in, readers will notice, and it'll take a miracle to get them to buy and read your next book.
I've also found that the best companies pay attention to aesthetics. They take the extra time to lay out grids and proportion things appropriately, and it seems to pay off for them.
The best writers pay attention to aesthetics. What does this mean in fiction? If you buy a table, you'd want it to be functional and sturdy, yes? But ideally you also want it to be beautiful. Same goes for computers, phones, furniture, and books. Take the time to make your book aesthetically-pleasing as well as functional. Don't just tell a story, tell it well. Instead of a hackneyed but serviceable "I don't want to love you" have your character say "I wish I knew how to quit you." Instead of writing, "Lolita, she was pretty," write "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." Craft and hone your sentences, your scenes until your entire book is a work of art. Think about the structure of your book. I love meta-narrative, books within books, playing with timelines, teasing with cliffhangers. I put as much thought into the form of my novels as the content--one book is written as a book within a book, another book is structured like a symphony. All writers should give form as much attention as content. One should always follow the other.
My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.
Steve Jobs was talking about his employees. Writers should apply this statement to their characters. My job isn't to be easy on Nora, my leading lady. Who wants to read a book where everything goes right for a beautiful woman? No one. Where's the drama? Where's the schadenfreude? Nora might be funny and beautiful, but she's also indecisive, frustrating, and torn between two men, unable to decide who she wants to be with and what kind of person she wants to be. She has one foot in the BDSM world and one foot in the vanilla world and a handsome, intelligent, erotic man pulling her in seemingly opposite directions. On top of that, she has a bad habit of seducing anyone who interests her and getting herself into deep doo-doo because of her almost uncontrollable id. She's a feral woman in a world that punishes the undomesticated. I love Nora and I want her to be a better person. I want her to choose one path and put all her heart, body, and soul into living her life to the fullest. I want her to make a decision and stick to it. So I test her, torture her, and make her face her worst fears before finally letting her become the person she was meant to be.

When I walk into the fiction section of a bookstore, I see nothing but the same story told in the same way with nothing to distinguish it except maybe a grey cover instead of a blue cover. When I go into an Apple store, I see computers that are beautiful and look nothing like the Dells and HPs I was subjected to my entire working career. Steve Jobs was no saint or philanthropist. He worked his employees to the bone and had a notoriously nasty temper. That being said I have a MacBook upstairs (the best laptop I've ever owned), an iPhone in my purse, and am composing this post on an iPad with attached keyboard. I'm no brand snob. Half my clothes are from thrift stores. But when it came time to buy a tablet computer, my only decision was iPad or iPad Mini. Apple's commitment to quality is such that no other brand will do, which is why it warms the dark cockles of my heart when I get fan mail from readers who say I've ruined them for other books and no other erotica writer will do.

Steve Jobs might be gone but those of us still alive and creating can commit ourselves to giving the world the absolute best products we can. In my case, it's the best, most innovative erotic fiction I can create. Hand me those mom jeans and that black turtleneck--I have a new book to write. Okay, maybe I won't dress like Jobs. After all, a wise man once said...
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life...
Mr. Jobs, thank you and rest in peace.

TIFFANY REISZ is a Mac-addict and international bestselling writer of the Gothic erotica series The Original Sinners from Mira Books. She owns an iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and MacBook Air. You can find her on Twitter @tiffanyreisz or at the nearest Apple store with her face pressed to the glass and drooling.


  1. If you have unlimited time and energy in life, yeah, go waste it. Write lots, throw it up and see how it sticks, learn, rinse, repeat.

    However, if you can't do that, if your energy is a tiny spring with only a few cups of water a day, I believe it is much better spent doing one thing well, consistently, and carefully - regardless of what everyone else is doing.

    I agree with you: "those of us still alive and creating can commit ourselves to giving the world the absolute best products we can."

    In my case, it is the best, most innovative mainstream novel I can write about a writer with a disability who makes it the tiniest part of her life that she can.

    And now I must go back to the 2006 Macbook I love (her name is Amy) to write. Thanks for a lovely topic.

  2. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life...

    So true. You should always be yourself. Even if you need to smooth some rough edges.

    Steve Jobs was a great man.

  3. All of true and so applicable to the writing life. I totally agree quality does trump quantity, and I'd rather have one amazing book I'm proud of than have a whole shelf of "pale imitators."

    Thanks for this thought provoking post!

  4. I absolutely love it when my day and night jobs combine. I've always said there is more similarity between IT and writing than folks realize ;)

    Jobs understood vision, in some ways hes pioneered it for other folks in the industry. So much of our "traditional" work is thought to be profit driven, when really, in the world of ubiquitous services success is determined by customer delight. You don't get that by following the latest trend, you get it by setting it yourself.