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The solution to overwhelm

This week, Joanna Penn shared an interview with me in her podcast. Within it, we cover a lot:

  • Is platform still as important as it used to be?
  • How to identify who your ideal readers are.
  • How does paid advertising fit into a book launch? Is it mandatory?
  • Lots more!

One listener graciously responded this way:

Lori Richmond

What was in those first five minutes? Joanna asked me what has changed for authors in the past few years. My response:

“What’s changed for authors is opportunity. We’ve all come to understanding that newsletters, webinars, ads, courses, free bonuses, and digital products are all now accessible for someone to create. That is mind-blowingly awesome.”

“The flip side that is that everyone feels an incredible sense of pressure. An author could be doing 40 things to launch their book and succeeding with 80% of it, and they will still go to bed feeling bad about themselves because they checked Facebook they saw an ad that says: “If you’re not using this trick on Amazon, you’re missing the boat!” So there’s this pervasive sense of overwhelm and that they’re never doing enough.”

“No matter how masterful they get, they’re being dangled that carrot. They hear people promoting to them: “I launched a book with no email list, no following, no expertise, and now four weeks later I’m this big bestselling author!”

“So that’s I think a big thing that has changed is the overwhelm that comes with opportunity.”

You know what I mean, right? Just this week, I took some screenshots of emails that came in where there was a sense of “pressure” that a deadline was approaching for an opportunity. Many of these are courses aimed at writers. These two emails came in about 16 hours apart:

Mark Dawson

Mark Dawson

This is after approximately eight other emails I received from him specifically about this course in the past three weeks. Some others I received this week:


Kristen Joy

Darren Rowse

Michael Hyatt

A couple from Joseph Michael:
Joseph Michael

Joseph Michael

And a whole bunch from David Siteman Garland:
Joseph Michael

Joseph Michael

Joseph Michael

Joseph Michael

Notice how many of these people are not just telling you about an opportunity, they are using FOMO, or “the fear of missing out,” to drive an emotion (and perhaps action) within you.

Now, none of these people are doing anything wrong. They are wonderful individuals, offering something that is truly helpful, and each have hundreds or thousands of happy customers who would gladly advocate for these resources.

But for some writers who receive these emails, this may be overwhelming. For many of the opportunities that that are presented to you, you don’t simply get a single email telling you about it. For an online course, you may get a chain of emails promoting it such as:

  1. Pre-launch emails.
  2. A big email with reveal of the offer of the course.
  3. A webinar offer that promises free training, but is also a strong pitch for the course.
  4. Limited time bonus or discount if you act right now.
  5. More webinars.
  6. A free video series, that leads into the course registration.
  7. Then the series of “deadline” emails, a day before, 12 hours before deadline, 6 hours, 3 hours.
  8. Then an email that they have extended the deadline.
  9. Then a last chance (really) email.

Years ago I spoke to someone within a company that was notorious for sending loads of emails for their products. They said, “Do you know why we send so many emails? Because every time we do, we get a huge spike in sales.” Meaning: email marketing is effective. Psychological triggers such as FOMO works.

Why I Stopped Offering Online Courses

I have taught hundreds of online courses. It began when I first launched my company seven years ago, when there were few others out there, especially for writers and creative professionals. Over the years, I launched course after course, experimented with new systems to most effectively give people what they needed: true action and real results.

Over time, I found that something felt off. Part of me felt a sense of “launch fatigue” in feeling the pressure to do all the steps I just listed above. But more than that, I found that courses were becoming so pervasive, that more and more people would sign up for one, but never fully commit.

Five years ago, if someone signed up for a webinar, it was much rarer. They would most likely attend the live webinar. Today, because they are pitched with so many webinars, they may sign up 100% knowing that they will skip the live webinar, and that there is a 10% chance that they will watch some of the replay.

This extends to courses. I spoke with a writer who had purchased a $2,000 course a few months prior, and still hadn’t found the time to log in to it. I remember Seth Godin explaining how a large percentage of people who signed up for a free course he offered never finished it. It was a huge number, like 80%. (I believe this was in his interview with Tim Ferriss, I have to go find the actual number.)

Online courses are amazing. But as writers and creative professionals (you!) are being presented with more opportunities, overwhelm overtakes you. You are inundated with information. With education opportunities. It is not uncommon for writers I speak with to tell me about the long list of blogs they read, podcasts they listen to, courses they took, webinars they signed up for.

Yet, they still feel stuck.

What I find is that this can begin to effect your mental health, as I indicated earlier in the post. Even if you are doing 1,000 time more things today than you did years ago, you may still go to sleep feeling stuck behind the eight ball.

The Solution to Overwhelm

What is an overwhelmed writer to do when they are surrounded by so much opportunity, yet still feel stuck? Lots!

Let’s consider how each of us tend to approach getting in shape. Now, it is no mystery how to get in shape. We all know what foods are good to eat, and which are bad. We all know about the value of not over-eating. We know that having some kind of workout our fitness routine is necessary.

Yet, each year, people start a diet on January 1st and are done with it before the month is out. They join a gym that same month, and stop going by February. Meaning: information is only part of the solution.

What is the missing piece? The answer is collaboration.

Having a set of true COLLABORATORS for your creative work can have more value than unlimited blog posts, podcasts, forums full of “advice,” courses, and webinars. Collborators don’t just give you ideas, they help you work through them.

I have worked with hundreds of authors. What I find is that the most successful of them:

  • Have good collaborators. This may include beta readers, colleagues (other writers) who they speak with regularly, an agent, an editor, and so many others. Regardless of whether you self publishing or not, collaborators which are required for success.
  • They test things. There is this myth out there that successful bestselling authors have this great system that works on autopilot. NOPE. In working with many bestselling authors, I find that they are always needing to evolve and experiment with new ideas. They work incredibly hard, and each book poses new challenges as to how they can reach readers. If you want some proof of this, reread my post from earlier this month that shows authors promoting their books at BookExpo.
  • They constantly engage with and learn from their readers.

These authors focus on developing a mindset for improving their craft and reaching more people. They set up collaborations that keep them accountable. They study best practices, but don’t rely on them. They embrace the risk and fear associated with experimenting with new ideas.

Here are my recommendations for actions that you can take to find more success with your creative work by embracing collaboration:

  • Consider developing collaborators for your craft and for better understanding how to read your ideal audience.
  • This can start with one person, and can begin as a simple practice of maintaining accountability. Perhaps it is for your writing or craft, but it can also be with a fellow writer to consistently address how to better understand the marketplace and reach readers.
  • Meet weekly. This can be via text, phone, Skype, or in-person. A collaboration requires interaction.
  • If you don’t know where to begin, make a weekly practice of sending an email to other writers who write in the same topic or genre that you do. Don’t ask anything big of them, just tell them what you like about their books, and maybe ask a simple question. What this does is seed the potential for you to connect with someone in a meaningful way. For instance: when I reach out to people to interview for my podcast (relaunching soon!), what I find is that some of these people turn into true friends because we really hit it off in the interview.
  • Be focused on clear goals and milestones. Consider this on a yearly, quarterly, and monthly basis. When you show up to a meeting with your collaborator, you should come with a specific goal or challenge to work through. If you find you are spending three hours chatting with your collaborator about all the things that bug you about the industry you are working within, then you are doing it wrong. This is all about taking small actions and developing forward momentum.

My belief in the benefit of true collaboration is why I have doubled down on working with writers and creative professionals via my private mastermind group (which starts July 1st! Am I doing the “fear of missing out” thing correctly?) Because it not only provides the expertise that was present in my courses on how to find and engage their ideal audience, but because it also has me working directly with writers in the trenches. Everything is personalized and 100% focused on a collaborative environment with a small group of 10 or fewer colleagues.

Further reading on the value and process of collaboration:


  • Louise Foerster

    Hey, this piece spoke directly to me — and provides a way to deal with the overwhelm! Thank you.

  • I just want to know one thing – how do you consistently get in my head every Friday and address one of the exact same challenges I’ve been toying with [minus the public group recognition of same. . .] and then give me some solutions? Thanks once again, Dan, for hitting the nail on the head with this discussion!

  • Thanks, Dan. I always feel a sense of relief, clarity, and renewal of purpose when I read your posts. Also, I’d love the chance to be on your podcast some day. I’ve been on dozens of radio shows, webinars, and podcasts and would like to share my work with you and your audience.

  • hudson41

    Collabortion: we started this few weeks ago.JEAN IN sambia, DORIAN in the USA. and o.matt in CENTRAL AMERICA. we keep in touch right around the clock since we started this task.

  • hudson41

    WHERE IS CHARLOTTE BLANCH by o.matt?She was last seen at the international airpart with six big suitcase.

  • I believe the solution to dealing with an abundance of information or events is similar, regardless of the issue: determine what’s most important and / or what can be done first. If it’s all of the above, then you just have to remain patient and follow through with each item. Several years ago, when I worked as an executive administrative assistant at a large bank in Dallas, one of my colleagues took a medical leave of absence. Along with supporting the manager of our unit, plus two executives, I took on the duties of that other admin. I had to answer a total of 6 phone lines, including my own, and work with 4 portfolios worth of A-list clients; e.g. affluent individuals. I didn’t complain and I never lost control. That would have been pointless and left everyone bitter. I merely handled the phone calls and sorted through the work load as best I could. I completed urgent tasks first, such as wire transfers and account-to-account transfers, and other less-pressing matters, such as retrieving copies of old bank statements, afterwards.

    As a writer leaning towards the self-publishing avenue, the number of things I realized I had to accomplish is extraordinary. I needed to obtain a
    copyright; hire an independent editor; consider the artwork for my novel; obtain
    an ISBN; format pages for the digital version; develop some semblance of a
    marketing plan; prepare for a formal book launch; and (remembering how badly I want to live the “Writer’s Life”) have a boat-load of fun with it all.

    There’s really no way around any of that. It has to be done. I think Ernest Hemingway was rejected nearly a hundred times before he first got published, and Stephen King couldn’t get any of his work into print until Larry Flynt came along. All of the resources available to writers now may seem overwhelming (and, in some ways, it really is), but I see it from an opportunistic standpoint. They’re valuable tools that writers can and must utilize to become successful.

    • Thanks for sharing your story and your goals!