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Years ago when I was trying to market my IT services, experts came out of the woodwork and told me I needed a gimmick to succeed.  They had lots of ideas. One biggie was, do a direct mail campaign and hand-address the envelopes. That would make me stand out when everyone used computer generated address labels for their direct mail campaigns. As I read this to myself now, it sounds like satire. But as sure as I’m sitting here typing–and not handwriting this–it’s true.

There’s more. Bloggers who succeed have catchy headlines. Headlines with lists and a call to action are especially good at attracting attention. How do you like mine? Dos and don’ts are also good. So, as a bonus, here a couple of don’ts.  Don’t bother with gimmicks. And don’t pander. People aren’t stupid. Save your energy for something worthwhile.

Which means, I’d better deliver on my attention-grabbing headline. Short and sweet, here are the two things you need to achieve success:

  1. Excellence
  2. Legitimacy

Feel short-changed? I never promised succeeding would be easy.

First, excellence. My favorite author, Jerry Jenkins, leads a couple of paid authors’ groups to which I’m a member. I know of no better learning tool than ongoing conversation with other authors tempered with guidance from a giant in the industry. I treasure the dialog we all exchange regularly, even when Jerry barbecues writing samples I share.  I keep trying to apply what Jerry and these groups teach me, and one day, it will all come together. But it won’t happen overnight.

Jerry says, and I agree, without great writing, nothing else matters in the publishing business. Well, unless it’s a book about weird sex in Seattle. The rules of math and physics are absolute. The rules in life have exceptions. You might say, shades of grey. But the exceptions don’t happen very often – that’s why they’re exceptions; better to go after excellence than luck. This is true about all aspects of life, not just writing.

Don’t get me wrong. If somebody were to offer me a million dollars for a random piece of my writing, I probably wouldn’t turn it down. I can buy lots of writing lessons with a million dollars, even with taxes taken out. But, when I really think about it, I’d like to achieve success the right way. My grandsons are watching and they need a role model. And that means, I need to learn how to be excellent.

Next is legitimacy. Jerry Jenkins and I disagree on this one. Which is okay. I’m the student, Jerry is the teacher, but sometimes students need to draw their own conclusions. I say legitimacy is an essential ingredient for success.  Jerry says excellence will carry the day. Maybe we’re both right. Maybe one leads to the other.

Here’s a quick story from 1995 when I was starting up my first independent IT consulting business. A customer with headquarters in Chicago and a major site in Minneapolis was in trouble after key IT people left, and needed specialized expertise I possessed to keep operating. The sales rep from DEC, my former employer and the customer’s IT vendor, called me and asked me to contact this customer and offer my services.

I called and introduced myself, but before I could finish two sentences, they shut me down and said I needed to talk to the HR Department. Story of my life.

A couple weeks later, the IT Director called me – this group’s boss’s boss. Apparently, the DEC sales rep had called him, told him about me, and he needed his problem solved. Immediately. He flew from Chicago to MSP the very next day and we set up the engagement on the spot at the airport. It lasted more than a year.

On my own, it didn’t matter what I had to offer. Without legitimacy I wasn’t getting in the door. With legitimacy, the customer literally–and I really mean literally–flew to me.

Now, here’s where Jerry and I might meet in the middle. While it’s true that endorsement from DEC gave me legitimacy, it’s also true I was one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet about the specific topic this customer needed.  Without that expertise, the endorsement may have opened a door, but no amount of legitimacy would have kept it open.

It’s the same today as it was back in 1995. I busted my butt to make Virus Bomb the best book it can be. I’ll keep working on the legitimacy part and one day make some waves in the marketplace.

May anyone who reads this also pursue excellence, earn legitimacy, and succeed.

Oh – one more thing. The hand-written signing gimmick. I almost forgot.