Derek Sivers

ASK DEREK: CDBaby founder Derek Sivers reviews & summarizes the best career books for musicians, authors, and artists

Editor’s note: Derek Sivers is an awesome book reviewer. Here are some of our favorite books summarized by Derek that will help you achieve your goals for 2018. Derek has been a musician, producer, circus performer, entrepreneur, TED speaker, and book publisher, but his biggest fascination is the usable psychology of self-improvement for business, philosophy, and culture.

David gave his companies (CD Baby and Host Baby) away when he felt “done.” He is currently a writer, programmer, and student living in New Zealand and Singapore. He is the author of Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur, originally published under Seth Godin’s, The Domino Project Portfolio and later by Penguin/Random House. You will hear more from Derek here at TribeLA Magazine.

Answering all those emails was practically a full-time job for Derek and we are sharing our Top-10 most intriguing questions for your review:

1. What should I do about my career?

Read the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.”

2. What should I do with my life?

Read “Happy, Smart, and Useful.”

3. I have a boring well-paying job. Should I quit my job to pursue my art full-time?

Read “How to do what you love and make good money.”

4. I’m a full-time artist, but can’t make money. What should I do?

Read “How to do what you love and make good money.”

5. What do you think of this business idea?

It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, except your customers. Nobody can predict whether it will work or not. So stop asking “in-theory” and go find out. Find just one paying customer, and please that person. Start lo-fi, right now.

Read “The Lean Startup” book, for more thoughts on this.

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers6. Where can I find a mentor?

First read “A warning to anyone receiving advice.” Then read the best books about the challenges you face, and let those books be your mentors. It’s dangerous to think that there is one special person that can give you all the answers and help you. Talk with many people, not just experts. Get a diverse group of opinions.

I never had a mentor. When stuck on a problem, I’ve always called many friends for feedback. Some of the best and most helpful insights came from random friends asking naïve questions.

7. Why isn’t my business or audience growing faster?

I worked on CD Baby for 12-18 hours per day, 7 days per week, for four years before it really took off. As for an audience, I’ve been creating and posting things online for free non-stop since 1994. Yep, that’s 22 years now. And keeping in touch with everyone I met that whole time. Keep pushing, but be patient.

8. How should I learn programming?

First master HTML and CSS, as described in “Should you learn programming? Yes.”

Then learn JavaScript, as described in “How to learn JavaScript”. If you just want to get a job or make a website, you can ignore the curiosity about other languages. Just master JavaScript, and it will take you far.

But if you still find programming fascinating, make a point of learning the basics of three or four other vastly different languages, like SQL, Racket, Swift, and Lua, because something clicks once you understand a few different ways of getting the end result you want. You don’t need to master them. Just spend a month with each, going through a couple tutorial books about it, and making something happen with it.

Definitely read “The Pragmatic Programmer” and “The Little Schemer”, no matter what.

9. How do I become a better writer?

First read “On Writing Well.”

Then read “Made to Stick.”

Consider hiring five translators to translate your writing into five languages. Since they charge about 10 cents per word, you’ll have to look at each sentence and decide if it’s really worth $5. And you’ll have to consider if each sentence might be unclear to someone who grew up in an opposite culture.

10. I’m a musician. What should I do?

Read “How To Make It in the New Music Business” by Ari Herstand, and do what he says. This is the single best book on the current music business. An absolute must-read for every musician.

Bonus: I’m really sad.

Read “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödrön.


© 2016 Derek Sivers @ http://sivers.org
If you would like to ask Derek a question about your business, career, life… Email: derek@sivers.org

This article originally printed January 28, 2017 and has recently been updated.

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