[quote style=”boxed”]It took me a while to get good at self-promotion and I think everyone should figure out how to do that. I think if done properly—not obnoxiously—it makes people aware of what you have to offer.[/quote]
Walter G. Meyer began his writing career when he won a short-story contest when he was in the fourth grade. He turned pro when he started freelancing for the local newspaper when he was in ninth grade covering topics ranging from JFK’s assassination to the high school baseball team while he was a member of that team.
He wrote for the Daily Collegian at Penn State. He went on to freelance for numerous newspapers and magazines including the Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgher Magazine, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Out, Westways and the Orange County Register.
He has co-written two books. Going for the Green: Selling in the21st Century is a business book in the form of a novel which teaches the right way to sell.
His second book, Day is Ending: a doctor’s love shattered by Alzheimer’s disease was optioned to be a movie based on his script. GAM3RS has been performed all over the country including the New York International Fringe Festival, at MIT, UCSD and other schools and theaters and currently being made into a web series.
His own experiences on his high school’s baseball team and his work as a mentor with gay youth inspired much of the story of Rounding Third. Rounding Third was nominated for a Lambda Literary award, was a finalist for a San Diego Book Award and because of its timely topic of teens being bullied into attempting suicide, has been getting Meyer invitations to speak and write about the topic. He has been on NPR and appeared at dozens of colleges, high schools, libraries, bookstores and community centers across the US.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea to speak and write about bullying came from writing my novel “Rounding Third,” which came in part from my own experiences in high school. I didn’t set out to become an anti-bullying advocate, but once I was given this opportunity, I thought I had to seize it and hope to make a difference. I had been writing on a wide variety of topics for years and especially like to write about things that can help make the world a better place whether it’s creating awareness about Alzheimer’s disease, environmental issues or bullying.
What does your typical day look like?
I never have a “typical” day. Every day is different. Some days I am speaking at a school, or traveling across the country to speak somewhere. Other days, I am alone all day in my home office, writing. And other days I am driving to Los Angeles to work on my web series, or I have meetings, emails or phone calls about my next project.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I get some of my best ideas in the weirdest places: at the gym, in the shower, at the grocery store. I used to carry a small notepad and pen almost everywhere, but now that I have a smartphone, I can take notes on that. I often rush home from places and can’t wait for the computer to warm up so I can get to writing. I often wake up in the middle of the night and have to jump up and turn on the computer.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
There are so many trends that excite me, it’s hard to name one. The speed at which technology is evolving is amazing. I love having all of the information of the world at my fingertips and can google anything I want to know in seconds. The speed at which information spreads is incredible and I get excited when I see my book has sold in India or South Africa or been reviewed in France—so I guess the most exciting trend is that books from all over the world are now available electronically to almost anyone, anywhere.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I like to make and keep good connections. I attend so many conferences and speak so many different places, I have gotten very good at networking. As soon as I have a chance after I meet someone, I make a note on the back of the person’s business card as to where we met, what we talked, if there was something I need to follow up with them about. You think you’ll remember when you get home. You won’t. And then I do follow up. I call or email and remind them who I am, what we talked about and why I’d like to work with them.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I have had so many bad jobs, it’s hard to pick one. Being communications director of a solar energy information company was probably the worst. Even before I met the vice-president of the company, he had sent an email to every employee of the company blasting me doing something without his permission—but which I had been asked to do by the president of the company. He once gave each of us a list of our assignments, numbered in order of priority. I looked at my list and there were three number ones. I asked which of the three I was supposed to do first and he said, “All of them.” With leadership like that, the company failed after three months. But even from the worst jobs, I learned something or got interesting stories I will use in a book or screenplay someday. Many of that VP’s crazy antics show up in the character of the boss in my web series.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If I were to start over, I would have trusted my instincts and taken more chances. As a friend said when he quit college and took a chance on a musical career—and now is a very successful musician put it, “Just jump out of the plane and trust you can stitch a parachute before you hit the ground.” I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time working jobs I didn’t like and spent more time gambling that my writing would pay off. Once I really threw myself into my writing and forced myself to make it work, it did. I should have had more faith in myself sooner.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
It took me a while to get good at self-promotion and I think everyone should figure out how to do that. I think if done properly—not obnoxiously—it makes people aware of what you have to offer. Because I talk about bullying, and often get asked to do interviews in the wake of another teen’s suicide, I have to be careful to make not seem self-serving. I don’t want anyone to think I am exploiting a tragedy to promote my book or speeches. But if I can address the problem in a thoughtful way, I also feel that I can help in some small way to prevent the next tragedy.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Maintaining a large network of publishers and editors and experts has enabled me to grow my business bit by bit over the years. I know people in so many fields and at so many publications, that I usually know the right person to call for anything. I think having a good memory to keep track of these connections helps, but some may have a filing system of who to talk to where. When I have an idea for a story, or want to book a speech somewhere, I usually can think of someone I know, or someone I know who knows someone to make it happen. I am also willing to make similar connections for friends. Recently I connected two friends who happened to be working with different charities in Liberia to help the people in that war-torn country. I like to think that because I took a few minutes of my time to connect those friends via Facebook and they are now working together that I may in some small way have helped a lot of people who desperately need it.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I have had so many failures in my career that it is hard to pinpoint one. But in each case, I think of the many variations of the advice that it isn’t how many times you get knocked down that matter, but how many times you get back up. And remind myself of the old quote from Edison, something the effect, “I have not failed. I have merely discovered over 10,000 things that make lousy light bulb filaments.” J.K. Rowling had the first Harry Potter book rejected by dozens of agents and publishers. When I get a rejection, I just think of another possible outlet. When our pitch to make our stage play, GAM3RS, into a web series, wasn’t getting anywhere, we took matters into our own hands and called in a bunch of favors and shot the pilot ourselves. We used that to sell the idea to a major Hollywood production company. Sometimes I think of it terms of a military campaign: if a frontal approach doesn’t work, is there a way in from the side or rear? Could I just lay siege and keep chipping away at the problem until I breach the obstacle?
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have had so many ideas for businesses, even as a child that I have seen other people make over the years. Someday I’d like to start an idea factory to make them. I thought of everything from self-driving cars to lazy susans for kitchen cabinets long before anyone started making them. One idea I haven’t yet seen come to fruition is plastic sidewalks that could be opened. Every time I see a street or sidewalk being torn up, I think of the waste involved knowing it will have to be done again the next time a water main breaks or an underground cable needs to be replaced. I want to make heavy-duty, skid resistant plastic sidewalk panels and have them hinged so they could be unbolted (with a special wrench to make them tamper-proof) that could be opened as needed without digging. In new neighborhoods, the new sidewalks would be a series of trap doors. In older neighborhoods, each time there is a problem, as the pipes or cables are replaced, the pipes would be moved to under a new plastic sidewalk. In the long run it would save money and mess.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
When I was about twelve, I once almost drown off the coast of New Jersey and had to be rescued by the life guards and was so embarrassed about being so stupid as to get swept out by a riptide that I never even told my parents. I used the scene as part of my novel, but later cut it for space.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Probably my favorite recent discovery is Scrivener. I used to keep stacks of index cards with notes on them for various projects and Scrivener operates exactly the way I do for writing to be able to rearrange cards, be able to pin things—photos or links to the cards—to have everything organized in one place and searchable. (Searching index cards is a bit more difficult.) And I can store the whole project in Dropbox so I can access the files from anywhere and not have to have my note cards with me.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
There are so many great books that have influenced my life, it’s hard to recommend just one, but lately I have been recommending Jane McGonigal’s “Reality is Broken.” It really opened my eyes to how the younger generation views technology, and video games in particular, so differently. One example: most people my age see a distinct difference between an interaction in person and one that occurs on line. For people who have grown up chatting on line and now texting and Facebooking and tweeting, they see no difference between seeing their friends and that digital interaction. Reading her book has given me a new appreciation for the generational difference and how older people must evolve to stay in touch with the younger crowd—which I need to do for the sake of my play, web series, and book.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Reading the blogs of fellow writers and friends, Brent Hartinger, Noel Alumit, and watching Video Game High School and their behind-the-scenes videos.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.