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 what he learned there shaped his writing philosophy. In short, Murakami learned “you can’t please everybody.” But he takes that lesson to its logical extreme, which is to say: 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, no 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.