Bestselling Author James Patterson Shares His Advice for Entrepreneurs: 'Build a Business You Never Want to Retire From'
I interviewed Patterson about his new book, 'The Defense Lawyer,' and heard his thoughts on life, writing, business and chasing your dreams.
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There's a certain mystique surrounding the idea of being a writer who publishes bestselling books. You've no doubt read a book that pulled you in emotionally, simulated your mind and inspired you to take action. It might have even made you think about becoming a writer yourself.
James Patterson is a writer whose success can be traced to his Alex Cross series of novels, but his career and work are expansive. He's a Guinness World Record holder as the first author to sell more than one million ebooks, and his books have sold over 300 million copies since the first one was published in 1976.
I got the opportunity to interview Patterson about his new book, The Defense Lawyer, and hear his thoughts on life, writing, business and chasing your dreams.
James Patterson's new book is about the story of legendary attorney Barry Slotnick. I also got to interview Stuart Slotnick and hear firsthand how his father represented mob bosses, celebrities, casino magnates, won cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and even negotiated former First Lady Melania Trump's prenup.
Over the course of my interviews with Patterson and Slotnick, a common thread emerged: the importance of building a business you're passionate about — so much so that the hard work doesn't wear you down and discourage you from pushing forward. Perhaps now more than ever before, it's time for entrepreneurs to stop chasing success for the sake of it and identify what fulfilling business pursuits actually look like for them.
Related: How to Write a Book Like James Patterson
Do what you love
The one thing that clearly stood out while talking to Patterson and Slotnick is how much they love what they do for a living. They wake up excited for what they get to do and the people they get to touch every day.
Patterson doesn't plan to stop writing books anytime soon. "I'm not impressed with myself," he says. "I grew up in a little town in upstate New York, and I still consider this to be a blessing. I see the world through the eyes of this kid from Newburg, New York, so it's all fun for me. Whether I'm doing a book with Clinton or Dolly Parton, it's like, 'This is great.' I don't think of writing or the business I've built as work. I get to wake up and play. People ask me about when I'll retire and I say, 'Why would I retire from play?' I love what I do.'"
Slotnick shared this sentiment on work and retirement. "Growing up, I saw what my father did as a lawyer," Slotnick says. "On the weekends, he would have a fold-out table in the basement of the house I grew up in. He worked, and I saw what he did. He explained to me what he did, and it was exciting. That is when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. Since becoming a lawyer, I absolutely love what I do. I'm going to keep going; I don't see myself retiring. There are only so many hours a day you can play tennis and golf. What I get to do for a living is fun, it doesn't feel like work."
Entrepreneurs building their own careers can learn a lot from Patterson's and Slotnick's approach to work and life. The trouble begins when people focus on the dollar signs over the pursuit itself, and, in a bid to increase revenue, make several common mistakes: taking on clients that aren't a good fit, offering discounts to close deals that are a nightmare to complete, spending too much time convincing people of their value, stacking workdays with tasks that slowly drain their souls and following the advice of internet-marketing gurus whose only goal is to upsell their next (more expensive) offer.
It's possible to build a business and life you love, but it starts with clarity on what that looks like for you. The idea is to create a business with only the elements that align with your values. You can build a business that generates a lot of revenue but still be miserable. Money is essential in life and business, but let's not endorse the belief that you can't make money doing only the things you enjoy.
Related: Teach Others How to Treat Your Business
Don't let fear keep you from greatness
Patterson also spoke about why he decided to write a book that centers on Barry Slotnick's story. He detailed his backlog of current projects and his process for publishing so many books each year. At first, he wasn't sure if he could take on the project about Slotnick. "A small piece was meeting with Stuart and Barry, listening a bit, and then doing a lot of reading," Patterson says. "And once I started getting the stories in my head, I fell in love with Barry's stories. Then it became an easier decision."
Barry Slotnick was a New York City-based attorney who didn't lose a case for 10 years despite taking on some of the most high-profile cases in history. He represented mob bosses and had more than a few threats to his life. His son told me some of the stories that made James Patterson interested in writing the book.
"There were a bunch of dangerous moments in [Barry Slotnick's] life," Slotnick says. "One of them was when his office was blown up. Another was when he represented Joe Colombo, who he was standing next to when Joe Colombo was shot and ultimately died from those wounds. My father was standing right next to him when that happened. He's had clients who are controversial that have been assassinated. We had an armed security guard living in our house growing up for a period of time."
Despite all of those things, Slotnick continued doing what he loved.
Most entrepreneurs won't face such dangerous threats, but regardless of the circumstances, you can't let fear keep you from pursuing the life and business you desire to create. Everything you dream of accomplishing is directly on the other side of the fears your mind tries to make feel real.
Related: The Emotional Roller Coaster of Entrepreneurship
Our minds have one job: to protect us. Anything that feels like it could endanger us — such as doing the uncomfortable tasks that help us grow as entrepreneurs — shows up in the form of fear. We have to understand what's a real fear and what's an attempt to keep us safe.
Building a business is a fearful task, but those fears can be overcome with the right strategy, support and consistent action. Today's tools, access to knowledge and resources can help entrepreneurs overcome fear and do hard things.
The new year is a natural time of reflection. It's a time to get clarity and set the goals necessary to build a business. Use this time to map out the kind of business that's in alignment with the life you'd like to create. Don't chase an image of success that's not right for you.
James Patterson says to build a business that doesn't feel like work, and I wholeheartedly agree with that entrepreneurial philosophy because there's no fulfillment — and likely no meaningful success — otherwise.