The Right Position Makes Enemies

by Mark Levy

The other day Audible sent me an email advertisement that read, “Rants & Raves: 25 Books that Have You at Extremes.” It featured audio books that had each received a considerable number of listener ratings on both ends of the rating spectrum: admiring five-star reviews and damning one-star reviews.

These bestsellers were polarizing. Each had thrilled some customers and enraged others.

For example, a five-star reviewer used “The 4-Hour Work Week” to start his own software company and live “my life as I want it.” A one-star reviewer thought some of the book’s practices “deceptive and unethical.”

A five-star reviewer said “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” is “universal in its appeal” and moved him to “good tears.” A one-star reviewer called it “a nauseating patchwork of cliché that inspires only suicide.”

In a write-up for “Exit Ghost,” a five-star reviewer called author Philip Roth “the greatest writer of all time,” and said Roth has taught him more “about my country then from any politician, history book, or New York Times’ editorial.” A one-star reviewer compared listening to Roth’s novel as “akin to root canal at the dentist.

The Audible advertisement illustrates a lesson for those of us trying to position a book, a business, or a concept: If you create something that strongly speaks to one kind of person, you’re likely going to turn off people who don’t fit that group. It’s to be expected.

In his book “PyroMarketing,” Greg Stielstra makes a similar point in talking about mushrooms:

“I hate mushrooms. I can’t stand their texture, their appearance, or their flavor. Yet – despite knowing full well they are a fungus – many of my friends and relatives love them. And what’s more, they love them for the very same reasons I hate them. They love their texture, their appearance, and their flavor. If you removed the qualities that make a mushroom a mushroom, your attempts to pacify the haters would alienate mushroom lovers. Making a mushroom less ‘mushroomy’ won’t attract both groups.” (p. 78)

The way to sell more mushrooms, then, is not to tone them down. The way to sell more mushrooms is to find those people who adore them for exactly what they are.

Jerry Garcia also used food to draw a parallel between Grateful Dead fanatics and the rest of society. Garcia compared the Dead to licorice. Some people wouldn’t touch the candy. But those who liked it, really liked it.

Know what makes you, your service, or your product valuable and different, and don’t back down from it. Get it out to the people who will love you for it.

Prepare Mexican food for Mexican food lovers. Write romance novels for romance novel readers. Create shooter games for people who stay up 24/7 playing shooter games.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Casey

Hi Mark,
You write in such an engaging style while making a powerful point with few words! I can see there is much to be learned from you! I’m so glad Jeanne Male’s post connected us this morning.
I love the mushroom analogy, and also Jeanne Male–in spite of the fact that she “loathes” them and I love them! Look forward to reading more of your posts too, Kathleen


Mark Levy

Much appreciated, Kathleen. I too am glad we’re connected now. I’m excited to learn more about your work.


Jennifer Wong

great post, Mark! I agree and it’s kind of been my philosophy in life…there are always going to be people who love you and what you’re about and on the flipside, those that don’t. By focusing on those who love and support you, you minimize the don’ts.

Love applying it to marketing your work! Keep rockin!



Jeanne Male

Mark, this post is pure kismet! I had a literal minute to glance at Twitter before leaving my office. I saw @caliyost’s tweet about this post and opened the browser to be sure to catch it upon my return. I needed to read this: ” If you removed the qualities that make a mushroom a mushroom, your attempts to pacify the haters would alienate mushroom lovers. Making a mushroom less ‘mushroomy’ won’t attract both groups.”

I’ve become increasingly unable to play the game in order to fit-in and have struggled with the importance of authenticity at the risk of rejection. As a part of convincing myself, I wrote a series about it “Fitting-in vs Authenticity”

After 26 years in an industry where I may no longer fit, I’m struggling with whether I should stay in my field so I pulled, “Accidental Genius” off the shelf in the hopes that some private writing would help. Just this week I posted a comment about your book to a blog:

Kismet is pretty cool – thanks!

P.S. I loathe mushrooms.


Mark Levy

Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful comments, Jeanne. (By the way, isn’t @calliyost great?)

I left a comment at your (excellent) blog, but in a nutshell here’s what I wrote: I don’t think committing to authenticity is a one-time thing. For me, at least, I have to do it over and over.

One way I do it is through freewriting. When faced with a problem, I write about how me-at-my-best would handle the situation. Seeing through that “Authentic Mark” lens makes me more likely to act on it. Acting authentically is, of course, the goal. (I can be authentic in my mind all day long, but unless I behave that way in the world, I’m fooling myself.)

Thanks for trying freewriting. Some people take to it right away. Others approach it gradually. I know I’m going to sound like a doctor giving a prescription, but consider trying it for seven minutes each morning when you arise. (Why seven? It’s as good a number as any.) Write about whatever comes to mind, do it fast, don’t stop for anything, allow yourself to digress, and don’t expect any one session to produce anything interesting. Please let me know how it goes.

Good luck with your “stay or go” decision.


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