Want help sharing your story and growing your audience? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for my best tips and advice.

The two things I advise for any book launch

I hung up this quote on the wall of my studio this week:

Fred Rogers

So many writers and artists I speak to are crushed by the weight of all the things they are told they “must do” in order to succeed. They are drowning in information. There is a constant barrage of webinars, courses, Facebook ads, and free downloads that become a source of feeling inadequate and overwhelmed.

For instance, just this week, I received email offers with subject lines that read:

  • “72 Hour Bundle Sale…”
  • “4 Hours Left…”

The first offered 9 different courses for a total of $97. Each course has multiple modules, resources, etc.

The second had, I kid you not, 75 digital downloads from 75 unique people. This too was priced at $97.

If you are like me, you can feel two sides screaming at each other in your brain:

  • SIDE 2: “Um, 9 entire courses? 75 ebooks? How is this mishmash going to help me truly make progress. I’m going to drown in information, alone.”

In other words: these offers are too compelling to pass up, yet too overwhelming to truly take advantage of. So what does work? A writer asked me the other day, “Dan, if you had a book coming out a year from now, where would you focus your efforts? It would be growing a newsletter list, right?”

My answer: “Nope.”

If you want to develop an audience for your work, I suggest you do this:

I say this because when you launch your book, when you do a reading, when you release your art, when you want to get hired, I want you to truly reach people who love your work. I have simply seen too many people pursue hacks to grow their email list, their follower count on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or come up with a clever giveaway, only to have it translate to a MEAGER bump in actual sales. In other words: these writers hoped that big numbers of followers would lead to real fans and real sales, but they didn’t.

The problem? They went “a mile wide and an inch deep.” In other words: they had broad reach, but not real depth of connection with those people.

Let me give you an example: let’s say you are a writer with a book coming out in 6 months. You have heard that growing your email list is critical. So you decide to give away a free iPad, and to enter, people have to sign up for your email list. Quickly, you jump from a list of 100 real fans to a list of 1,000 people, 900 of whom signed up because of the giveaway. You feel great. A friend of yours who works in marketing tells you that the “acquisition cost is 50 cents per lead, which is way better than industry average.” You feel smart and professional, like you finally cracked this this whole marketing thing. You begin doing math… if you give away one iPad a month for a year… how many subscribers you will have. Then you start making assumptions: if 10% of that list buys my book, and most of them leave reviews on Amazon…

But a week later, you send out a newsletter, and your open rates tank. Your unsubscribes shoot up. You get 5 people responding to you that you have to stop spamming them.

Suddenly, you don’t feel so good.

Now, I help lots of clients and people in my masterminds to run giveaways that work, to grow their email subscribers and grow their followers. I’m not “against” these things. But if we go back to the question above: what would I do if I had a book coming out in a year, I want to dig into that more. I would focus on two aspects of connection:

#1 Develop meaningful connections with your core readers

I would rather have a deep connection to 60 people, than a shallow connection to 600. I think that leads to a better outcome for a book. Having 60 people who love your work means they may actually buy it, may actually leave a review for it on Amazon, may actually tell their friends, may actually show up to a book reading.

Part of you may be saying, “60 people Dan? That is pathetic. How can I make a living as a writer with 60 fans? I’m about to go onto a webinar from someone who is promising me 1,000 new subscribers to my email list this week.”

But I would ask you to think about it this way: how would you feel if 60 people showed up to your book reading? Here is a book reading author Jon Acuff recently did with about 90 people:

Here is another event of his, again with about 90 people:

What if around 60 people left a review for your book on Amazon? I wrote about that happening to my book just a couple weeks ago. I can tell you, it feels amaaaaazzzzzzing:
Be the Gateway

What if 60 people emailed you a heart-felt note of congratulations when your book was released?

What if 60 people each told 3 other people about your book?

What if 60 people each bought 10 copies of your book?

What if 60 people were staunch untiring advocates for your work?

This is why my first recommendation to prepare for your book launch is to focus on deep meaningful connections with those who would deeply align with your work. Too many books die in silence. I don’t want that to happen to your work.

#2 Develop connections to those who reach your ideal audience

If you don’t have colleagues, do you really have a career as a professional? Whenever I talk to a creative professional and they can’t tell me about other authors who write in the same topic or genre, I worry. If they can’t tell me who their ideal audience loves, I worry.

Why? Because you can’t succeed alone. You need colleagues. You need relationships with those who reach your audience. Not transactional relationships where you are using them to sell something. But true professional relationships as two people who care about the same things.

This is what I find with nearly every creative professional I interview in my podcast. Professionals rely on these relationships. Yet when I talk to someone who is just starting out and suggest it, they may guffaw at me. “Who has time for that, Dan? My art speaks for itself.”

Get clear about who your ideal audience is. Talk to them. Find out what events they go to. Who else’s creative work (art, music, books) they love. Identify what podcasts they love, blogs they read.

All of these — these connections — should be a journey of discovery. I recently interviewed musician Will Ackerman (podcast coming soon!) When Will plays, his eyes are closed, and he is lost in the music:

An interviewer had asked him why he does this, and this was his reply:

“I think that at my best in performance, I am recreating the time of writing. I’m feeling that same sense of discovery. I feel I’m exploring things in terms of dynamics to a degree and subtlety that I had never even known existed before. That always helps me get back to the wondrous time of discovery.”

Why do I encourage you to focus on forging meaningful connections, not amping up hollow email list and social media numbers? Because your creative work is a process of discovery, and the path to connecting it to others should feel as deeply meaningful as well. It is a process of discovery to connect your work to the hearts and minds of others.

These are the things I explore every single day with the small group of people I work with in my mastermind. It is the work I explore for my own writing at 5:30am each day.

This is a collaborative process of improving one’s craft, and improving how it truly connects to people in the world. This is about people, not “content.”

If you are curious about more details on how to do the things I mention above, please check out my book Be the Gateway. That is where I walk you through the process step by step.


  • Dan, I always appreciate your encouragement in these weekly tidbits. It’s like, even if I somehow get psychologically off track, your emails remind me to refocus. And that is aligning exactly with what I’ve known for decades – that real people matter, not numbers. I always hated the marketing side of what seasoned authors told me I had to do. Now I am learning that, though it might take me another few decades, it’s much more valuable and meaningful to connect deeply with a few at a time. That’s why I write, to encourage and inspire others, not to just make a quick sell.

    By the way, I LOVE Eli’s two teeth! Super cute!

  • I’ve always known this will be my single greatest challenge as a writer: marketing. I’m very much of an introvert, which I used to loathe, but I now celebrate. I’m just not a people person. In fact, the fewer interactions I have with people in any given day, the better for me. All throughout my youth and young adulthood I tried to be part of the “In” crowd – whatever that’s supposed to mean! It started in high school, when I joined the speech & drama squad, only to leave before my senior year. It continued in college, when I tried to join a fraternity; still one of the single biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in my entire life! It continued into the previous decade, as I entered my 40s, when I joined various other groups.

    All of them were attempts to prove to the outer world that I’m worthy something and that I can be sociable and therefore, of some value to the community. You could say I was seeking approval for myself through others, and yes, that’s true. That’s what happens when people grow up shy. They’re constantly seeking approval from others. But it wasn’t until I entered my 40s that I finally realized such approvals weren’t necessary and other people’s rules don’t apply to me.

    I believe writers and most other artists are introverts. It’s within our own spheres of isolation that we create our works – which we then put out there for others to experience. For me, the difference now is that I’m fully aware not everyone will enjoy my writings. To some extent I don’t care. But, more importantly, I understand it’s just how things function in this world. I seek other people’s approval – in a way – when I ask them to read and like my material. But then, I no longer dread the possibility that they won’t. It’s somewhat like politics: if they like me, great; if not, oh well…stuff happens. People have the right to their
    own opinions and views of the world. Of course, I have a greater moral compass than most politicians.

    Above all, I am extremely confident with my writing. Of all the things I’ve done,
    I feel my writing can compete with the best scribes out there. Obviously now, I actually have to get it out there!

  • Jennie Coleen Newbrand

    I enjoyed this article. One way to find these core readers is to become involved in a fan fiction fandom that intersects in some meaningful way with the type of story you want to publish.

    My co-author is a prolific fan fiction author in several fandoms, which led to her first publishing contract. I have written several pieces (a full length novel, a novella, and a “one-shot”) in a fandom where I met my co-author.

    The benefits include a lot of direct interaction with readers, and not all of it is pleasant or fawning. Regardless of the type of review that I received, I always responded to the reader in an upbeat, positive manner. Even if a reviewer was clearly trying to provoke me into an argument, I was diplomatic and friendly (on some sites, replies to reviews are publically posted). As a result, my longer story has over 1200 comments on one site.

    More importantly, I established relationships with a number of readers who really seemed to enjoy my story and writing style.

    And I learned a lot about my readers. I learned that over half of the readers in my fandom are European – they are comfortable reading English, but they are not well-practiced writing in English (which was evident by their reviews and questions). Therefore, I need to ensure that my books are available internationally.

    My co-author is also European, and she is bringing fans from several fandoms who are passionate about her writing.

    The result? Every week I am fielding emails and online comments from people wanting to know when we are publishing our book (we are very close to ready – there are some self-publishing challenges for co-authors who are citizens of different countries). Some of them are becoming quite impatient and demanding – which is okay with me!

    So, I encourage writers to explore fan fiction as a way to meet readers interested in their genre. Consider sites like ArchiveOfOurOwn.org and Wattpad, in addition to the usual fanfiction.net (which is so big that it is easy to get lost in the crowd).