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Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content Paperback – August 9, 2010
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“I’ve been a fanboy of Accidental Genius and the genius of Mark Levy for five years now, and I couldn’t work without these ideas.”
—David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR
About the Author
Mark Levy is the founder of the marketing strategy firm Levy Innovation (www.levyinnovation.com). Mark has written for the New York Times, has authored or co-created five books, and has taught writing at Rutgers University. He is also a magic illusion designer—his work has been performed off-Broadway, in Las Vegas, and on all the major television networks.
More About the Author
Mark was born in Flushing, Queens in 1962, and lived in spitting distance of Shea Stadium. He was frightened of public school, loved playing baseball and football, ran home to watch ape films on the 4:30 Movie, listened to The Jam and The Buzzcocks, and read magic trick books.
At 18, he went to Queens College -- a school whose most notable scholar is Jerry Seinfeld. Mark enjoyed college, because he got to pick his own subjects. Instead of Math, he took a course in which he analyzed monster pictures. Not surprisingly, Mark received excellent grades, and graduated with a Magna Cum Laude writing degree in 1985.
Outside of college, no one cared that he could analyze monster pictures, so he became a bookstore clerk. That started his long affiliation with the book industry. He moved from retail to publishing, and from publishing to wholesaling.
Along the way, he was steadily promoted, and became a sales manager, a director of special projects, and helped his companies sell over one billion dollars worth of books. He was nominated three times for The Publishers Weekly Rep of the Year Award.
Why was Mark so successful at selling? One of his colleagues said it best (and she didn't mean it as a compliment): "When you think a particular book is important, you're messianic about it. You won't stop."
In 1997, Mark was having dinner with his friend David Pogue, author of Macs for Dummies, when David said it might be fun to work on a book together. Since Mark knew nothing about computers, they settled on writing a book about the only subject they had in common: magic. Both Mark and David were amateur magicians. They created Magic for Dummies, and Mark got the bug for bookwriting.
Mark's next effort was solo: Accidental Genius: Revolutionize Your Thinking Through Private Writing. Lots of luminaries loved it: Tom Peters, Ray Bradbury, Al Ries, Jay Conrad Levinson, and Ace Greenberg. Mark did a publicity stunt for the book, which did wonders for its sales. To date, it's been translated into six languages: Spanish, German, Korean, Chinese, Indonesian, and Japanese.
(Did you know that certain American phrases don't translate well into other languages? It's true. None of the translators could make sense of the phrase "Accidental Genius." The Spanish changed the book's title to "Writing and Creativity." The Germans called it "Genius Moments." But the Japanese version is Mark's favorite: "Everything Will Go Well As You Write And Think.")
Mark started writing for magazines and newspapers (including The New York Times). One such gig led to his next co-authored book. He was interviewing NBC-TV magician Mac King for an article about Las Vegas magic. During a break, Mac reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a dozen stapled sheets, and handed them to Mark. Those sheets were the beginnings of what would eventually become, Tricks With Your Head -- a book in which the human head is the central prop in each trick. Readers learn how to safely stab a fork in their eye, suck a French Fry up their nose, and read a person's mind with a drinking straw.
About this time, Mark started pursuing other business interests, particularly on the magic front. A New York City magician, Steve Cohen, met Mark, appreciated his business savvy, and hired him to do positioning work. The upshot of their association? Steve became "The Millionaires' Magician," began staring in his own off-Broadway show, Chamber Magic, and made Mark the show's Creative Director. Mark began to see life outside the book industry.
In February of 2002, Mark made the decision to leave books, and use his business, writing, and magic talents to make companies memorable. He started his positioning and branding firm, Levy Innovation. Even early on, Mark's marketing solutions were unconventional. An example? Says Mark:
"A famous e-book author phoned me and said, 'One of my old paperback books went out of print. I bought the final 2,000 copies for a buck a piece. How do I sell them?'
"I said, 'Selling them is a waste of time. Here's what you do. Take 1,800 copies, shred them, put them in a bathtub, sit in the tub so that just your head sticks out, have a photo taken, and put it on a news release that says, 'Author Takes A Bath In His Own Books.' Use the body of the release to talk about how you went from a near-destitute paperback author, to a six figure a year e-book author. That way, the white elephant of your paperbacks supports the profitable side of your business, e-books.
"'What do I do with the 200 copies I didn't shred?' he asked.
"They become valuable collectibles. Sell them at triple the cover price."
Mark's latest book, How to Persuade People Who Don't Want To Be Persuaded, was published by Wiley in June of 2004. He wrote it with legendary tradeshow pitchman, Joel Bauer. The book has been as high as #6 on BN.com and #71 on Amazon.
He has also contributed chapters to two other books:
The E-Code: 33 Internet Superstars Reveal 43 Ways to Make Money Online Almost Instantly - Using Only E-Mail!, by Joe Vitale and Jo Han Mok (Wiley, 2005)
Positively M.A.D.: Making a Difference in Your Organizations, Communities, & the World. Stories and Ideas From 50 of Today's Leading Experts, Edited by Bill Treasurer (Berrett-Koehler, 2004)
Recently, Mark returned to school; this time, as an instructor. He now teaches "Writing for Businesses and Professionals" at Rutgers University.
He lives in Clinton, New Jersey with his lovely wife, Stella; his Shiba Inus, Jofu and Bea; his cats,Tiger and Jinx; and Betsy the parakeet.
Top Customer Reviews
People ask me all the time how I can be so prolific. "Where do all your ideas come from?" they ask.
The answer is simple: I put my internal editor on hold for first drafts. This allows me to crank stuff out very quickly. A technique called "Freewriting" that I learned from Mark Levy in his terrific "Accidental Genius" allows me to get ideas down very quickly without seeing if it is "good."
With Freewriting, I write and write and write for ten minutes or thirty minutes without caring about spelling or grammar. Then I look for nuggets of inspiration, which I edit to become blog posts. The better blog posts then become raw materials for books and stories in my speeches.
Accidental Genius is your guide to Freewriting. But it more than that. It is your guide to success.
How did he become a "genius"? Well, I think he's naturally bright, but I also think it's because he practices what he preaches. He regularly uses the freewriting ideas he teaches in this book. These ideas help you to see what other people don't see, and see what you typically don't see. Freewriting is how Mark sees things differently, which is the heart of "genius".
Mark may be a genius, but his approach is completely simple, hands-on, creative, fun, and doable by anyone. Here's how it works...
When we set out to solve a problem, position ourselves or our businesses, come up with interesting new ideas, or anything else that determines a "solution" we face a problem: Our internal editor takes over. It wants to keep things status quo, safe, low-risk. We reproduce the same type of ideas and remain stuck in place. Of course this comes at a cost, which is that we prevent breakthroughs and neglect our own genius.
What we need to do is to quiet this internal editor, but we can't just say, "shhh!" Instead we need an approach that circumvents this editor and silences it. Freewriting is one such way to silence the editor and allow our inner genius to speak.Read more ›
Levy's insight on freewriting and how to incorporate it is fantastic. It has inspired me to keep a journal and re-evaluate all of my work processes. Chapter 4 titled, "Secret 4: Write the Way You Think" is invaluable. The process that Levy takes the reader through in Chapter 13: Getting A Hundred Ideas is Easier Than Getting One" is spot-on for marketers, writers and idea generators.
This book is a must read!
Somebody may look at this book and say, "Well, it's just about freewriting. I don't need a book to tell me to just write a bunch of words on the page." Even I was saying that after the first few chapters. But after completing the book, I realized that the book wasn't "just about freewriting," it was a general technique for getting past your inner critic, truly brainstorm solutions to a problem, and come to a decision that is more correct, because you have considered all the options without censorship. I lock up when it comes to decision making, and the process pushed me to open up on why I get stuck on these decisions, and all too often once those blocks are out of the bag, the solution presents itself in that free flow of ideas. I like to call it unthinking my way out of a problem.
I have used the techniques to dig into some philosophical conflicts I have had recently. They have given me a new clarity about my career and my outside interests, and gotten me a little bit closer to that thing that is the purpose of my life. So yes, it is "just about freewriting," but the technique unlocks so much more if you stick with it.
The only warning I have to offer is that there are no surprises. He pretty much puts the entire system in your lap in the first few chapters. After that, it's all more of the same. The chapters are short, but I suggest you take it slow. I read the book over a weekend, but plan on going back and rereading parts after I've tried to implement what I've learned. Even though the core pieces are in the first few chapters, it was the last few chapters that I enjoyed the most.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In my opinion, the only useful concept in this book is the most basic idea of free writing to generate ideas. Read morePublished 7 months ago by daedalus359
This is one of the books that has changed my life both personally & professionally. It taught me how to use free writing to solve problems & move past blockages I encounter. Read morePublished 10 months ago by C. Betty
I found several ideas that were helpful, many that were similar to what I've been doing for decades, and quite a few that, as the saying goes, didn't resonate with me. Read morePublished 11 months ago by tig
I'm not sure what turned me on to this book but it was a quick read and did have a valuable idea. Beyond that, I'm glad it was a short book. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Robert Kirk
My husband is always jotting stuff down. He says this book is great for writer's block.Published 13 months ago by Ella M
I fell prey to the 35 or so "professional" reviewers who dishonestly pimped this book. The essential message is good, but I can summarize it in one sentence: Freewriting is a good... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Aaron U. Bolin
I have not completed reading this book yet, but would recommend it to anyone interested in learning to write to influence and to bring out the writer in each of us.Published 17 months ago by SherryLee