The free advice economy; 500-foot baguette; 40,000 robot narrators: Newsletter 8 May 2024


Newsletter 43: Free advice is the lubricant of the business world; PRH proprietary AI tool; hybrid insights, plus three people to follow and three books to read.

Beyond the old-boy network

The working world runs on free advice. This may or may not have been visible to you when you started working, but unless you’re living in a cocoon, you’ve surely experienced it by now.

I give free advice all the time. People I’ve worked with contact me for advice on writing and publishing. So do their friends, and their friends’ friends. So do people who’ve visited my web site, read my book, or read this newsletter. They ask for my help because they have questions about how books are created, or how publishing works — and, after long and painful experience, I know about that.

Sometimes this turns into business for me. Often, it doesn’t. That’s fine. I just want people to leave the experience of talking with me with more knowledge than when they started — and to think of me as a helpful expert.

I could structure take more jobs at a lower rate, so that I was twice as busy for the same money. But I’d rather work fewer hours for higher pay. That philosophy generates revenue from higher-paying clients and leaves me time for these free interactions, and for writing helpful things like this newsletter and my blog.

I don’t just give free advice. I ask for it. Just in the last month, I’ve asked for advice from AI experts I used to work with and from experts on home energy use. I also have asked experts on LinkedIn and on the software industry to help my daughter, a new graduate who is seeking a job in the tech industry.

There used to be an “old-boy network” for this stuff. My perception now is that the most useful network is neither for the old nor for boys. The people I help are young and old and men and women and non-binary. The people who help me are much the same. They are racially diverse and at all points in their careers. The only thing we have in common is a hope to make things a little better for each other.

Free advice is the lubricant that makes the working world function effectively. Unless you understand this, you cannot participate in it. That will hurt your career and make your work harder.

Here is my advice to you:

If you are young, cultivate your network. When you ask for free advice, say who you are and what you want. “I want to pick your brain” is not helpful. Something specific, like “I am considering a job in health care and would like to know what is the best approach,” is better. Be brief and respectful but not obsequious, connect using whatever method the person you approaching prefers and for only as much time as they agree to, and for lord’s sake, be on time.

If you are giving advice, be generous and clear and focus on sharing useful information. Time-box your requests and be clear about what you can and can’t help with. Create boundaries around what you can and can’t do. Don’t sell (unless what you do is just what someone is looking for) Try to learn from these interactions, not just teach. As long as an interaction seems rewarding, keep going; once it stops, stop. There is no obligation to go on with an interaction that’s a waste of both your and your contact’s time.

Stay connected on LinkedIn — that’s how people do this now.

This is they way the world works. It’s essential and it’s free. Participating is rewarding. Life isn’t just about getting paid. Free advice makes the world go round.

News for writers and others who think

Bakers in the town of Suresnes, France, baked a world-record size baguette, 500 feet long. At that size, shouldn’t it be called a full-sized bague?

Publisher Penguin Random House has made a proprietary AI tool available to its staff — presumably to make them more productive (Publishers Lunch subscriber link). It’s described as follows: “RH ChatGPT is a version of OpenAI’s ChatGPT housed in a completely secure environment, meaning no information is shared outside of PRH. It is the safe, preferred way for PRH employees to use OpenAI’s ChatGPT without the risk of exposing sensitive company data or intellectual property to external parties.”

Considering hybrid publishing? Here’s one expert take on it, by Gotham Ghostwriters.

Amazon’s Audible now includes 40,000 audiobooks narrated by AI. They’re still discussing ways to allow buyers to filter such books out of their searchers.

Douglas Hofstadter laments what’s lost when we replace human translators with AI translation (from the Atlantic in 2023, gift link).

Three people to follow

Bill Sherman , a really smart guy helping thought leaders be successful at Thought Leadership Leverage.

Rob Koplowitz , principal at the new tech analysis firm focusing on low-code, analysis.tech.

Sam Stern , customer experience wizard.

Three books to read

Bits and Pieces: My Mother, My Brother, and Me by Whoopi Goldberg (Blackstone, 2024). A highly personal memoir of the author’s childhood.

The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead, 2022). A new way of thinking about what you could have done differently, with insights from tens of thousands of other humans.

Nancy and Sluggo’s Guide to Life: Comics about Money, Food, and Other Essentials by Ernie Bushmiller (New York Review Comics, 2024). Absurd and sublime humor in comic-strip form.

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