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The Business of Being an Expert

Last week I got an email from an author who wrote a book on how to be rich by the time you’re thirty. Not just rich, we’re talking never-have-to-work again rich. She wrote enthusiastically about her book in an email, telling me how she planned to turn the book into a bestseller (sigh) and how she wanted speaking gigs and, basically, world domination. But when it came to how much she wanted to spend, she wrote: “I only have $100 to start because I’m pretty broke. Can you help me?”

Wait, what? Yes, you read right. The person writing about financial independence is on some sort of government subsidized income. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m just not sure you can call yourself an expert or, for that matter, write a book about being financially independent if you’ve just run out of Food Stamps. Yet it happens all the time.

I’ve met folks who write about succeeding in business when they can’t keep the doors open for their own company, or the relationship expert who spends every weekend knitting sweaters for her cats and posting them on Instagram.

In fact, I have a friend who once worked with some of the biggest names in the new age movement. I won’t name them here but you could probably guess who I’m talking about. Well, one of them has a massive gambling problem and the other screams at and berates all of her staff, regularly.

I’ve worked with a marriage councilor who has been married six times (though I guess maybe after number five you’d sort of know about finding the right man as opposed to dating a serial killer) and a Zen focused author (who you see a lot on PBS) who is known for hiring hookers.

It’s no wonder that, considering this, I feel a little skeptical about experts. I mean look, some consider me an expert on publishing or marketing. I’m not sure that’s true but ok, let’s say for argument’s sake that it is true. I live in the world of publishing and do marketing for a living. I have done so for almost twenty years, I get paid to do this and I don’t live out of a cardboard box or share a worn sofa with some guy under a bridge. I guess you could say that I’m nearing expert territory. But even then, expert status is pretty tricky.

So what about the experts who do make it, big names like the new age folks who are about as far from Zen as you can get? Well, I think most of them started out being all cum-ba-ya but, at some point, success became the master.

When you write about something, you must walk the walk. The problem is that many people write a book with the intention of being famous, using the book as a way to make the money to fund becoming an expert, or living the life they write about. Trust me when I say, it just doesn’t work that way.

Well, sure, you can try to do it that way. Go ahead and celebrate the release date of your diet book with a box of Cronuts, but at some point someone will spy you nose-diving into that tub of Ben and Jerry’s with your muffin top making a joke of your Spanx and there goes your hopes to co-host the Biggest Loser.

Being an expert in a world of endless experts is a tricky thing and in the end, if you’re not really an expert, with fresh, new, no-fuss proven ideas and strategies, somehow this will come back to bite you in your you-know-what.

It’s easy to publish these days, and it’s tempting to write about something you think you’ve mastered.  But there’s an old saying that we teach what we most need to learn. And this is true, even using myself as an example, I am constantly learning about the changing landscape of publishing and marketing. but the trick to making it work is staying on the cutting edge. Don’t get to the point where you’re accepting your 6th marriage proposal, or selling things on eBay to pay the rent.

And frankly everyone would rather learn from someone who’s done the time, as it were, rather than someone who is hopeful that a truckload of book sales will help them become the expert they want you to think they are.

When it comes to publishing and being successful, be careful what master you serve and don’t let a little sliver of fame turn you into a diva with a demands list a mile long. You may think that the consumer is easy to fool but they aren’t. And the ones that you do fool just long enough to buy your book will not be shy about calling you out in a review – and once that starts happening, say goodbye to your reputation.

So if you’re a therapist with a massive passive-aggressive problem that keeps you from confronting your mother, maybe you’d better spend some time in therapy instead of writing that book on how to have great relationships. Or consider writing fiction.

~ Christina