In writing Consumer Republic, Bruce Philps set out to present retailers and customers with a manifesto for change, couched in the form of a great read. No small goal. Here, in the second part of my interview with him, he talks about getting his book out there, including advice to aspiring specialist writers looking to pen their thoughts on their field.
What was the biggest challenge in putting this book together?
The usual challenges were there, of course: finding time and a place to write, organizing my thesis, researching, all of the things that go with non-fiction writing. But there were also two unique challenges in this book. One was that I was catching a very specific moment in history, and I had no idea where the zeitgeist might go by the time I was finished. It was a gamble that the finished product would be seen as relevant. And, as I mention in the Author’s Notes, the research material was coming at me like patio furniture in a hurricane. It was like what I imagine being a journalist is like, except that I have no such training.
The other challenge was more about fear than about the process, but it bears mentioning: This book attempts to be reasonable about a very big and freighted issue. Reasonableness isn’t very fashionable these days. People can too easily love their simple black hat-white hat narratives, love someone to blame, love to wallow in fear and anger. Heated rhetoric sometimes feels as if it’s replacing critical thought. Meanwhile, here’s “Consumer Republic” saying, “Well, this mess was kind of our fault, too. And in any case, fault-finding is a waste of time. Because this is a free market economy, the only change there can be is change that begins with consumer demand.” I was afraid I was going to have to get Naomi Klein to start my car for a while, there.
So far, I’m happy to report, this fear seems unfounded. People seem very open to the idea that they have the power to turn things around and are excited by that.
You worked in marketing for years before deciding to write about it. What advice would you give to other would-be professionals looking at writing about their field?
There are a couple of ways to answer this question. The first is for the more common situation in which a practicing professional wants to write about what she does as a form of self-marketing. To her I would say, treat your book as your platform, not as your product. For a book to help your career or even just to be a business, you have to leverage it into public speaking and consulting work, and you have to be your own best, most tireless promoter. Examples of people who have done this are countless, but I think that Sall Hogshead’s “Fascinate” or Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Crush It” are great current cases in point. They may do better with their books than most writers of this kind will do, but I can assure you that the books in both cases were pillars of bigger, longer term personal branding strategies.
My situation wasn’t exactly like that, though, and that leads to the second answer. Although I will continue to consult, I left the company I founded before this book came out, and in some respects left the industry itself. “Consumer Republic” wasn’t meant as a business book, but as a book for consumers and a manifesto; there was no ‘business model’.
To someone who wants to do this, my advice is a little different. Yes, you are still going to be your own brand manager as any writer today is, but you’re also going to have to let go of what you were, at least while you’re writing. You’re going to have to be a writer, not a consultant who writes, with all that implies. I spent a lot of time on my own, and I spent a lot of time doubting myself, two things that were not characteristic of my business career or my lifestyle, but very much are characteristic of being an author. I also had to be willing to fail, utterly. That, again, isn’t a sustainable business strategy, but it’s the only way to go into a project like this. And, with that, I had to realize that I wasn’t a CEO anymore, I was a helpless little bunny with a book to write. I relied on an editor, a very smart woman who marked my work like a schoolteacher and without whom the book wouldn’t have been possible. Likewise, an agent, and likewise a publicist, and so on. You have to learn trust and dependency and humility all over again, and if fortune favours you with mentors, embrace the opportunity tightly.
What would you like to write next?
I’ve had another project in development since a couple of months before “Consumer Republic” was released here, another book about consumerism that reimagines it as a pop culture phenomenon. I won’t say more, but even at the conceptual stage, it was great fun to gnaw on. Since “Consumer Republic” has come out, though, it’s had a great deal of media attention and interest and attracted enough fresh questions that I’d love to be ‘forced’ to write a sequel. Hey, a guy can dream.
Consumer Republic will be released on March 28th, but you can pre-order now from Boomerang. You can also check out his blog at “Brand Cowboy”.