Today, I spoke to J.D. Roth, who is one of the blogospheres most beloved personal finance experts (Get Rich Slowly) and the author of Your Money: The Missing Manual. In this interview, J.D. talks about his new book, how he got the idea of it, how he’s differentiated himself in his niche, how his blog led to his book deal and more.
How did you get the idea for writing “Your Money”?
It wasn’t actually my idea. I started Get Rich Slowly in 2006, and by the end of 2007, I was being approached by agents and publishers. I explored the book idea a little bit, but never pursued it. Why not? Because I was filled with self-doubt. I’ve shown that I can blog on a daily basis, and people apparently enjoy what I write, but I just didn’t feel like I could do a book. For one thing, when you do a book, you usually have to have a concept that you pitch to a publisher. I didn’t have a concept to pitch.
Last spring, however, I was approached by O’Reilly to see if I was interested in doing Personal Finance: The Missing Manual. I liked the idea, and thought I could use what I knew to create a book that would be useful to folks. I suggested the title Your Money: The Missing Manual, which they took, and then drew up a proposed outline. They liked the outline, signed me to a contract, and the rest is history.
So, short answer: I didn’t have the idea; a publisher did. But I liked the idea, and was pleased to be given the chance to write the book.
Is there a connection between personal branding and money management?
I don’t see any inherent connection between personal branding and money management. HOWEVER, I do believe that money management is important for *everyone*, so it’s just as important for somebody tying to brand herself as it is for anyone else. Does that make sense?
How did you become a personal finance expert and differentiate yourself from the Suze Orman’s of the world?
I’m an accidental personal finance expert. Seriously. I never set out to become a voice in the personal finance community. Originally, I had a blog about “cats and comic books”, as I always say. I just happened to write a post about personal finance that spread across the internet. On a lark, I started Get Rich Slowly to write more about the subject as I learned more. For some reason, my journey and writing really connected with people. I still don’t understand why, but I’m grateful for the audience I’ve built. The folks who read Get Rich Slowly are smart, and I learn as much (or more) from them as they do from me. I really feel like the blog is a collaborative effort. I don’t have all the answers, and people know that. We discover them together.
In a way, Your Money: The Missing Manual is the culmination of everything I’ve learned over the last four years at Get Rich Slowly. It’s the sum of the entire community’s knowledge — not just my own. So, I guess if I differentiate myself in any way, it’s because I don’t pretend to be an expert. I’m not one. Instead, I’m sort of like a moderator, highlighting the best money advice from around the internet, and giving other writers a chance to share what they know.
Did you blog make it easier to write the book? Do you think you’ll be able to sell more copies because of the blog?
My nearly ten years of blogging *did* make it easier to write the book, and in a number of ways.
For one thing, I felt like I had some of the muscles I needed already. The analogy I use is this: Writing Get Rich Slowly every day is like running sprints. I know I can sprint and do it well. Writing Your Money: The Missing Manual was more like running a marathon. Now, sprinting and running are very, very similar, but there are some key differences. I was able to run my marathon, but it wasn’t always easy, and I stumbled a couple of times along the way. But in the end, I’m pleased with how things turned out.
Get Rich Slowly also helped me write Your Money: The Missing Manual in another way because I’ve been writing about the same subject for four years now, I’ve developed a sort of philosophy. I know what I believe, and I have certain ways I phrase things. I was able to draw on this past experience to produce the book. (And I was able to re-use some material from the site in the book. I tried to keep that to a minimum because I don’t like blog-to-book dumps, but it seemed foolish to reinvent the wheel when I’d already written something good that could be used in a specific spot.)
Will I be able to sell more copies of Your Money: The Missing Manual because of Get Rich Slowly? Absolutely. There’s no doubt. If I didn’t have this audience, O’Reilly would never have approached me, and I’d never be able to sell any books. I have a proven track record, and that makes people confident that the book won’t let them down.
What strategies did you use to get people to trust your financial advice?
I don’t have any conscious strategies to “get” people to trust my financial advice. I just go out there every day and write about what I’ve learned and experienced. I try to be honest, open, and fair. I listen to opposing viewpoints. I’m willing to change my mind if I discover something doesn’t work or if I find a better option. For the most part, I’m not trying to sell one point of view. I’m trying to get others to take responsiblity for their own situation, and to see that they *can* destroy debt and build wealth if they’re willing to put time and energy into it. Though it sounds sort of lame, my goal is to empower other people to do the same things I’ve been able to do.
J.D. Roth is the author of Your Money: The Missing Manual. He is an accidental personal-finance expert–a regular guy who found himself deep in debt. After deciding to turn his life around, he read everything he could about money and finance. In 2006, he started the award-winning website Get Rich Slowly, which Money Magazine named the Web’s most inspiring personal-finance blog. Over the past four years, Get Rich Slowly has grown into an active community where thousands of readers a month share ideas on how to improve their financial lives. J.D. lives with his wife and four cats in a hundred-year-old house in Portland, Oregon.