Today, September 7, is the 25th anniversary of the publication of my first book, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. As I reflect on these years, here are five things I’ve learned.
#1: Becoming a published author transforms you. You write and write, for months and years, hoping to become a published author; then one day, you are one. No one can take that away from you. Since then, I have written and published seven more books, and each was a thrill. But the first one transforms you in a way no other can.
#2: Getting published is hugely difficult. Every one of my books was a struggle—not just to write but to get published. The world has far more would-be authors than the publishing companies can welcome, and the consolidation of the industry into the Big Five (about to become the Big Four) publishers makes this harder every year—from an author’s perspective. It feels far more selective than Princeton did. After starting with traditional publishing, I moved to self-publishing and then hybrid publishing. Each has its advantages. None is easy.
#3: The best reward is not best-seller status. I was thrilled when my first book reached several best-seller lists: New York Times, Business Week, Los Angeles Times, USA Today. Okay, not #1, and not for many weeks. But it did. Not one of my subsequent books reached any bestseller lists, unless you count Amazon rankings for a day or two in a category or two. But those achievements are fleeting.
What matters most is that I am still connecting with readers. Pour Your Heart Into It has been translated into more than twelve languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Hebrew, Spanish, and German. It continues to sell well and is required reading at business schools around the world. Recently, I spoke to a young grad student in Singapore who was assigned to read it this summer, 2022. Why? It tells the story of how Starbucks went from nothing to something, from a shaky startup to a successful company. It is also a case study in how to found and grow a business with values. Hearing from readers like that student warms my heart.
#4: The more hard-won the struggle, the sweeter the reward. None of my books had a smooth path to publication, including the Starbucks book. It nearly died before it was born, when the first editor tried to convince my co-author, Howard Schultz, to find a different writer. To his credit—and my eternal gratitude—Howard stood by me and agreed to switch publishers instead. Hyperion editors were thrilled to get it, and I was able to write the book the way that seemed best to me; the new editor loved it. The drama was painful, but the outcome was reassuring. Thank you, Howard Schultz, for your confidence. And Rick Kot, for topnotch editing.
#5: In the long run, it’s about the quality of the writing. I’m super proud of how I wrote that book. But wasn’t it “ghost written”? That’s what my college alumni magazine said when they refused to review it. (Ouch.) The front of the book clearly shows my name: “By Howard Schultz and Dori Jones Yang.” Of course, his name is in a bigger font, since it is his story, but I’m not invisible, as ghost writers are by definition. As co-author, I wrote the book—every word—in his voice, as if Howard Schultz were talking. Howard is a fantastic communicator, by spoken word, but he left the writing to me. Capturing someone’s voice authentically is not easy.
One of the best compliments I heard was from Howard’s wife, who said it sounded so much like him it was almost as if I had been in their bedroom! (I was not.) My goal in writing the book was to make it readable and accessible to latte drinkers who know little about business—to bridge the gap between business experts and consumers. I think I achieved that—and that’s why it is still selling well.
So—I’m celebrating my first born today. A toast!