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“Everyone Has a Book Inside Them” – Have You Started Writing Yours?

I decided I was going to write a book in 2000.

The idea struck me in 2008.

The book was published in 2013.

Here is the story…

2000: The Decision

Early in my career, I heard the phrase, “Everyone has a book inside them.” The idea pricked my brain and became more and more infectious over time. In 2000, I officially decided, “I’m going to write a book.”

At the time, I was a creative director at Fox, and we were in the middle of redesigning the Fox Kids website. Every day was an exploration in user experience design. How do we hook a user? What will make them click? What will make them stick? We knew all the right questions, but we didn’t know the answers. In the early days of the internet, nobody really knew the answers to those now-common UX questions. It was all one big experimental internet, with everyone trying to figure it out at the same time. My first inclination to write a book was about internet usability, using the lessons we were learning from creating the Fox Kids website as the foundation for advice.

These are a few pages from the Fox Kids website. I still have a deep, deep love for this site.

Alas, it didn’t happen. My wife and I had two young kids, and we didn’t really have our feet under us in life. Writing a book just didn’t fit, so I tabled the idea and didn’t think much more about it for many years. However, my passive mind didn’t forget the seed of “gotta write a book” that had been planted.

2002: The Journey Begins

You may know some of my story, but if not, here’s a quick summary. In 2002, I started freelancing, and my first three clients were Sony, ABC Family, and Warner Bros. Over the next few years, my freelance business grew, eventually becoming my agency, Riser. Five years into running my agency, I had built enough reputation to begin being asked to speak at conferences.

2008: The Lecture

The first event I was invited to speak at was the “Think Tank” design conference in Nashville in 2008. I decided to speak about “Nuggets from the Trenches: Real-world advice from a successful digital agency.”

I opened my documented systems and strategies that were leading to the success of my agency and began formulating them into a lecture for the event. The presentation consisted of 24 Nuggets, each eloquently titled: Polishing Turds, Design Like the Wind, Drama is for Soap Operas, Beware the Red Dot, Don’t Work in a Vacuum, The Venus Initiative, Shock and Awe, and, of course, my own personal mantra “OCD is an Attribute” made the list.

This is the only photo I can find of the Think Tank conference in 2008. Seated from left to right, Michael Janda, Armin Vit, Seymour Chwast and Rich Roach. It was an honor to be on a panel with these design legends.

The Book Lightbulb #1

After finishing my lecture and sitting back down, I leaned over to my buddy, who was on the AIGA Nashville board, and asked, “How was it?” He replied, “Amazing. You need to send those Nuggets to me. I want to make posters out of them and hang them in my office.” This was light bulb number one.

The Book Lightbulb #2

Light bulb number two came a couple of hours later, after the other speakers finished. Rich Roach of the amazing font design company, House Industries, had lectured about typography and font creation and gave away a copy of his book.

After the event I was chatting with him when the winning design student asked for his autograph on the book. He kindly obliged. Then the student turned to me in a moment of awkward sympathy, and asked for my autograph. I didn’t have a book to sign for her, so she opened her notepad and asked me to sign it. I was both humbled and embarrassed by the request. My motivation to someday “write my book” returned in full force.

The Book Lightbulb #3

The third light bulb moment came over the next couple of days. Several congratulatory email messages streamed into my inbox.

“Well, I’m sure you’ve received 37,592,374 kudos since your presentation, but you can never hear too many good things about yourself. So, let me say that I have truly never benefited from a speaker as much as I did/will from you. I graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design and feel certain that I have had more opportunities to take advantage of guest speakers than most. So when I say that yours was by far the best, that says a whole lot!”
“I greatly appreciate you and really hope you publish your nuggets someday. They are incredibly inspirational, insightful, helpful, and dead on! I wish I had them on a poster or card in my wallet to reread 10 times a day!”
“I attended the Think Tank conference in Nashville over the weekend. I wanted to thank you for offering up your ‘Nuggets’ of advice. Your presentation was very helpful to a full-time freelance web designer/developer who works in a vacuum. It helped me see what I am doing right and what I can do better. Again, thank you for taking the time to do the presentation.”

The Book Lightbulb #4

“Uh oh! I just gave away a handful of my success secrets with no copyright protection and no monetary compensation! I need to own that intellectual property before someone takes it.”

Light bulb number four turne on and I knew at that moment I had to start turning the Nuggets lecture into a book. Over the course of the next three years, I managed to expand the thoughts from my ’24 Nugget / 40-minute lecture’ into a 111-chapter, 400-page book.

In 2013, my book, “Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff they don’t teach you in design school but should,” was published by Peachpit Press, opening a new path in my career.

2013 Burn Your Portfolio release photo with my agency team.


Not gonna lie, I am humbled and grateful every time someone asks me to sign a copy of one of my books.

Have You Started Writing Your Book?

Have you decided to write your book yet? Once you officially make the decision to do it, your passive mind will get to work searching for the idea. It may come in a day or two, or you may have to wait eight years like I did, but it will come. You just need to decide to make it happen…someday…and patiently wait for lightning to strike. The get to work.

Michael Janda

I am Michael Janda, an executive level creative leader with more than 25 years of experience in both in-house creative departments and agencies working with some of the greatest brands in the world including Disney, Google, Fox, ABC and NBC. I create books, courses, workshops, lectures and other training materials to help creative entrepreneurs run successful businesses.