Innovating the Writing Process: How Change Is Coming to the Publishing World

There are few industries as steeped in traditional, old-school practices as publishing. Many of the major publishing houses have been around for tens (if not hundreds) of years and still haven’t really changed their business structures or publishing methods. But for Bec Evans, that just means there’s a lot of potential for things to become a bit more interesting.

Bec has spent her entire career working in and around the world of writing and publishing. She was managing a writer’s retreat when she had an idea for an app that would help writers complete their writing projects. By digging into the idea, she became interested in Lean Startup techniques — specifically what it would be like to work in a fast, iterative way — and began working on the app Prolifiko, a productivity tool for writers that helps them start and finish their writing projects.

But, she still needed to pay the rent, so Bec took a job working for a publisher. The company knew about her side hustle and got excited about the technology and the different things Bec was trying, so they created a new role for her in their company: Head of Innovation.

“I realized that the role of innovation is really around culture and it’s around people and it’s about bringing a company along with you.” Click To Tweet

The Right Way to Go About Change

Besides the bonus of having a cool title, Bec’s new role gave her the opportunity to practice Lean Startup methodologies — like rapid approach typing and user testing — in her day job. She had big ideas and thought she’d get to work on really exciting things to implement change.

In traditional publishing, many companies are still doing things the same way they’ve always been done and have a set number of steps and processes in place. Because of this, it can still take up to two years to get a single book published. To Bec, it feels like this leaves the door open for opportunities for innovation. But, change doesn’t happen overnight. Even in her new role, Bec quickly realized that she had to take a step back and look at the company and the systems that were already in place before she could leap forward.

“I realized that the role of innovation is really around culture and it’s around people and it’s about bringing a company along with you,” she says. So she started applying tools that they’d developed to better understand their customers — like empathy maps — to her own colleagues. By figuring out what they needed and how to better tailor messaging to them, they were able to better communicate with people in the organization to help implement forward momentum and change from within.

The Startup-like Business of Writing a Book

Eventually, Bec’s work led her to write a book called How to Have a Happy Hustle that breaks down tried and tested innovation principles and startup methodologies that people can apply to their startups and businesses. Of course, it only makes sense that she did so by utilizing new techniques she’d picked up along the way. “The book itself is on innovation,” she says, “so I wanted to apply principles of innovation to the whole writing process.”

Bec is the first to acknowledge the correlation between writing a book and beginning a startup. “I would say that being an author is very much like being a startup founder,” she says. The book proposal is similar to a pitch deck and you present it to publishers much like you would pitch a product to VCs. The publishers she visited all gave her feedback, which helped her iterate and improve upon the book along the way. That set her along the path of using beta readers throughout the entire process of writing her book to see what her audience thought.

In fact, Bec treated her book as a prototype the entire way through the process. She put everything she wrote online for her beta readers to “tear it to pieces.” The feedback she received helped her shape the book into what the audience needed it to be. It also had the benefit of keeping her ego in check. She compares an author’s work to founders bias, “I might be writing this, but I’m not the ideal reader,” she says, so she had to adopt some mental toughness and take emotions out of the equation.

Feedback has the added bonus of helping focus on how and where to pivot. In publishing, once a book goes to print, there is no going back, so finding the places to make changes or move in different directions early on makes a big difference. Bec points out that this is an area where technology within the publishing space could get really exciting.

“I would say that being an author is very much like being a startup founder.” Click To Tweet

Reinventing the Way we Read

In fact, Bec thinks there is plenty of room for publishing to apply new technologies and methodologies. Even though printed books will always have a place in our hearts (and they aren’t going away just yet), the world is moving forward, and with that movement comes a lot of potential for innovation. “There has been a huge change in digital technology, and audiobooks and ebooks have completely transformed how people read and what they read,” Bec says, adding, “I think voice is going to be phenomenal over the next few years.”

She points to a couple of UK startups who are already exploring new ways of approaching publishing. The first is Wonderbly which calls themselves a personalized publisher and they’re approaching publishing a book like you create a startup.

Bec also mentions Unrd, a startup which got started by putting out mobile stories and, in the course of about 18 months, have become a subscription service for stories that are intended to be read on your phone through messaging. “It’s a great way of delivering stories to people, which at the heart of it, is what publishing is all about,” she says.

But for her, the most important thing for the future of publishing is discoverability — focusing on whose stories need to be heard and how people find those stories. Well, that and solving the problem of finding the time to read. “Reading is one of the few things that is a solo activity,” Bec says, “you can’t multitask while you’re reading because [then] you’re not reading. The people who love books like that kind of deep immersion into a story, and you can’t get that anywhere else.”

Did you enjoy this companion blog? Catch the full webcast below!

If you’d like to read the full transcript of Elliot Susel’s conversation with Bec Evans, you may download it.


Thanks to Shannon Lorenzen for contributing this piece. If you seek to bring the entrepreneurial spirit to your organization, Lean Startup Co. can help.


Also published on Medium.