Adam Cole

Any progress towards your goals is good work, even abandoning something you thought was valuable, or trying something you’ll later disregard or throw out.


Adam Cole is a public speaker, educator and curriculum designer. His writings cover subjects as diverse as writing instruction and mathematics. As pianist, educator and Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, he has offered his guidance to students and teachers throughout the United States and around the world.

For thirty years he has chronicled his journey in his popular blog series. Creating many effective music education resources for teachers and children, he also puts his passion into fiction, representing the struggle in story. He shares what he learns on his journey through his books, workshops and public speaking engagements.

Adam is a co-director with Katherine Moore of the Grant Park Academy of the Arts. His books on music include Solfege Town, Authentic Ways of Teaching Jazz and The Only Piano Primer You’ll Ever Need. Check out his video page for more teaching resources and archival footage of the Adam Cole Trio.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

I struggled for years to find a brand name that would convey both my interests and my unique strengths. I floated a number of them and checked out the reaction. I invariably felt that I was either leaving something out that was important to me, or trying to pack too much into a single idea.
Finally I stumbled on “A Jazz Musician Who Writes Books.” I thought: “Oh…the jazz musicians will be interested because most of them don’t write books, and the writers will be interested because most of them don’t play jazz…and then everybody else will be interested because what a crazy combination!” It’s been a great fit and seems to be catching people’s attention long enough so that they check out what I do.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I get my kids going to school in the morning, and then commute to my job as a preschool music instructor where I work until 1. Most afternoons I’ll have a couple hours break before my afternoon lessons kick in, and I can use that to write or work on the business. Then I’m teaching until 6 or 7.
I go home and do household stuff, make dinner or clean up a little, walk the dog. Then I get the youngest kid ready for bed. I’m usually done between 8:30 or 9:30. Sometimes after that I have a gig or rehearsal. If I don’t, I make use of the time in the evening to write or organize a little more until I hit the hay around 11:30 PM
I stay productive by reminding myself that any movement in the right direction is satisfactory. If I don’t have a compelling deadline pushing me to complete something, then my task is to advance any distance in the direction of progress. That might mean reading something useful, writing a paragraph in a book, or reaching out to someone online.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ideas, even really good ones, are not always hard to find. Everyone will tell you their idea for a book. Not everyone is able or wants to do the rest of the work.
That’s because it’s months or years of writing, editing, vetting, marketing, and distributing. The idea has to be crafted in such a way that it will engage its best audience, and that audience has to be reached and convinced to pay attention. Only when the work is done to make the circuit complete does the idea “come to life.”

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love the movement towards organized groups of beta-readers, people who specifically want to check out your work-in-progress. It’s so difficult to get family and friends to offer their opinion about your work because they either lack the time and interest, or do not want to get into an uncomfortable situation with you. And yet that feedback is absolutely essential to create something that will succeed.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am very organized, with my various projects in carefully categorized places on my computer. That means I can work on lots of projects at the same time, kind of like a plate-spinner on those old variety shows. If he’s good, he can keep lots of plates spinning and balancing at once.
Because I can work on so many things, I tend to avoid wasting time. If I’m blocked on one project, I can move to another one. I’ve left a project alone for years and then was able to dive right back in when I found the thread again.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Invest some of your time learning business skills: accounting, finance. The more you know how money works, the easier you’ll understand what successful publishers are doing. When you create your own business plan, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

You don’t have to focus on just one thing that you love. I was always told I needed to concentrate on one thing I really wanted to be good at. Every time I tried that, I just ended up getting bored and feeling crazy.
I agree that you need to have focus in order to succeed. But that focus can come from good organization rather than single-minded determination. In fact, if you work on several things, each one offers you clues on how to succeed with the others.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Think about what the audience is seeing. A lot of times what you think you’re presenting is not what other folks take away. You may believe that showing everyone how smart you are with that complex wordy novel will attract intelligent readers, when those readers are passing it by because they think it’s aimed at an exclusive group that they don’t belong to.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I’ve been sharing my books serially, chapter by chapter, on a site with a community of readers who frequently review the content. I “give away” the content, but I do it in pieces, gradually, so that my audience sees I’m not only consistent, but I’m with them on a long journey. Along the way, I can share these posts with the rest of my world on my social media, bringing in fresh views.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I spent a long time submitting work to publishers and agents and getting nowhere. Eventually I realized that I wasn’t writing to an audience. Once I started thinking about who was reading and who would want my work, I was able to think far more intelligently about who would want what piece, and how to promote it.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There are a lot of “book doctors” out there that charge an exorbitant amount of money to “fix your book.” It can be very hard to know how good they are going to be ahead of time, and if you hire them and you’re inexperienced, it can be very hard to know if their advice is helpful. There really should be a cheaper, more honest option.
We have communities of beta-readers. I’d suggest that someone sell their services as a beta-reader, offering to read your work three times for a very low fee, making it clear that they’re only going to offer very general feedback each time: “I stopped at page 15.” “I couldn’t put it down.” Three readings gives the author a chance to ensure that they’re not just paying someone who is pretending to read the book, because the feedback should get better each time.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I got me a killer haircut before I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference! Usually I don’t bother with expensive grooming, but in this case I knew that first impressions could make a difference between making a good contact and being passed by. Also, I was very nervous about attending, and the haircut made me feel more confident!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Dude…Pages. I use it every day. Not a sexy answer, but I don’t rely on software to keep myself productive.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The best book on writing I ever read was Verlynn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing. He said all the things I felt were true in my heart about the work of writing, and he organized and expressed them clearly and compellingly. I love it, because he shines a spotlight on the essential elements of our work and leaves the more flashy things that are touted as important out by the curb where they belong.

What is your favorite quote?

“Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” Dale Carnegie. Man, is that hard to do.

Key learnings:

  • Any progress towards your goals is good work, even abandoning something you thought was valuable, or trying something you’ll later disregard or throw out.
  • You have to complete the circuit with your audience to get anywhere as a writer. You can complete it quick and dirty, or you can complete it with the most backbreaking work. But you won’t get anywhere without reaching them and hearing back from them.
  • Good organizational skills can greatly expand your reach, energy, and options for the use of your time.