Murakami’s advice on business and writing: make (at least) a few customers very happy

Before he became a novelist, Haruki Murakami ran a jazz bar in Tokyo.

In his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami says that running the bar taught him important lessons about writing. In short, “you can’t please everybody.” But Murakami takes that lesson to its logical extreme: you CAN do well pleasing just a few people, as long as you do it extremely well. In Murakami’s words:

A lot of customers came to the bar. If one out of ten enjoyed the place and said he’d come again, that was enough. If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive. To put it the other way, it didn’t matter if nine out of ten didn’t like my bar. This realization lifted a weight off my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure that the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to make sure he did, I had to make my philosophy and stance clear-cut, and patiently maintain that stance no matter what.

Successful writers, according to Murakami, require a nearly monastic isolation from nearby people, so the writer can focus on the reader:

I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not association with all the people around me. I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers. As long as I got my day-to-day life set so that each work was an improvement over the last, then many of my readers would welcome whatever life I chose for myself. Shouldn’t this be my duty as a novelist, and my top priority? … I can’t see my reader’s faces, so in a sense it’s a conceptual type of human relationship, but I’ve consistently considered this invisible, conceptual relationship to be the most important thing in my life.