When your book keeps reaching new readers

In working with writers every day, something I always think about is the commitment they are making to their craft, and how that leads to powerful transitions in their life.

To me, that is the heart of not just why we create, but why we share. It’s why I focus so much on what I call Human-Centered Marketing — that moment when your work connects in a meaningful way to someone else’s life.

Malcolm LemmonsThis week I published my interview with author Malcolm Lemmons. This is how he described his creative shift from being a professional basketball player to becoming an author and entrepreneur:

“People asked me if I had ever thought about writing a book. It was something that never crossed my mind before. Writing was always something that came naturally to me, but being an author wasn’t something I aspired to be. But then I thought how I would be doing an injustice to other athletes who needed to hear my story, to understand what it takes. That was the beginning of my transition. Once my first book was published, that was the door that opened up other opportunities, and the beginning of me seeing myself as being more than an athlete.”

This is a powerful moment. The idea that our work can truly help others. And how can even change how we see ourselves and what we create.

As Malcolm considered shifting his career away from basketball, he describes how he struggled to find a new purpose. What gave him a clear path? Writing and storytelling.

In my latest podcast episode, we talk about that creative shift. There is so much in this episode that directly applies to the work that writers and artists face each day. You can listen here.

But of course, the work of an author doesn’t stop there. The life of a book extends far beyond the day it launches. While a lot of attention gets paid to publication, bestseller lists, and sales ranks, the truth is, you have years to connect your writing to the hearts and minds of those who will appreciate it.

Beth Ricanati, M.D.Nearly two years ago I shared a book launch case study with author Beth Ricanati, MD. (You can listen to that episode of my podcast here.) At the time, she shared how she had gotten her first book deal, but then the marketing department at the publisher said: “She has no social media presence. We are killing the deal.”

Beth described that moment: “It was heartbreaking. I was so upset, I put it away for two years. That was that.”

But of course, she didn’t stop there. She pursued other ways to publish the book.

In the meantime, she focused on her social media presence, growing her Instagram to nearly 6,000 followers. When the book came out, she totally flipped how many authors view marketing. Instead of worrying about being seen as pushy in sharing her book, she mailed copies of it to friends, supporters and those in her network as “gifts.” She said she was at the post office every other day, just constantly mailing out gifted copies.

Much like Malcolm, she saw her book as a way to help and serve others.

She set up 20 events around the book launch, and made them fun and interactive. How did she get these speaking events? She started with her existing network, by reaching out to friends.

She described how this pushed her outside of her comfort zone: “The whole public speaking thing was terrifying. I had to really work on that. I was not comfortable public speaking, but now I’m more comfortable with it.”

In January of 2019, I asked her how she thinks about the book promotion four months after publication, and she said, “I think it is just getting going. I feel like it’s a snowball going down a hill, and it’s gaining momentum. It’s super exciting.

Turns out, she was right. A couple weeks ago, I recorded a second podcast episode with Beth about how she is continuing to promote her book and ensure it reaches new readers.

She had been doing more and more events around the book, but then the pandemic hit. At the time, she thought: “There goes all of my spring events, and my business just stopped. But then a week later I shifted to online events, and it just started this whole new business!”

She has been doing online events every week since April. She describes the experience this way: “[I am meeting] with people all over the country, with people I never would have thought to connect to. It’s a constantly growing community. To feel so connected right now, it’s feeding me. It’s been this upward trajectory of more and more. I have found the more I reach out and connect with people, the more people reach out and connect with me. It’s this wonderful virtuous cycle that just keeps growing.”

These events helped her understand who her readers actually are, and how many more potential readers exist than she originally thought. She said, ”I’m continuing to learn.” Learn about her audience, her own book, and even her next book. The conversations she is having with readers are leading her to what her next book will be about. What’s more, she talked about how this set her next book up for success. “I have my people, my team.”

You can listen to my second interview with Beth here.

-Dan

From Professional Basketball to Becoming an Author and Entrepreneur. My Interview with Malcolm Lemmons

Malcolm LemmonsWhen Malcolm Lemmons shifted his career away from professional basketball, he describes how he struggled to find a new purpose. What gave him a clear path? Writing and storytelling. In today’s episode, we talk about his creative shift. There is so much in this episode that directly applies to the work that writers and artists face each day. Malcolm is the author of two books: Impact Beyond the Game and Lessons from the Game.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

You can find Malcolm in the following places:
His books:

malcolmlemmons.com
Instagram
Twitter

How to use Clarity Cards

I was talking to a writer this week, when she said this:

“Our call is only 5 minutes old and I already have the best takeaway. Clarity Cards are a tremendous exercise, connecting your intentions to a physical manifestation of it, writing it down. I’m 50 and now I have that feeling like it is the first day of school. That no matter where you are in life, you can always create these opportunities for yourself.”

Back in June, I shared a step-by-step post taking you through my Clarity Card process. Today I want to revisit that and share a case study of how it works.

What are Clarity Cards? It is an exercise where you get clarity on what you create and why, and you prioritize this amidst the rest of your busy life. At the end of the 5-step process, they look like this, a pyramid of 10 cards:

 

They look simple, but they have a powerful way of reframing not just your creative goals, but your entire life. I have taken hundreds of people through this process, and have used it myself for years. I have seen this exercise lead to profound breakthroughs for people, as well as practical ways to find more time and energy to write.

I have the privilege of talking with a lot of writers and artists. I wanted to revisit Clarity Cards again today because I’m noticing some trends in what I hear frequently; maybe some of this resonates with you:

  • They are juggling too many responsibilities.
  • They are making daily progress, but lacking a deep sense of fulfillment.
  • They have an endless to-do list that fills them with a sense of overwhelm.

So today I want to share a case study of how a client of mine — Elizabeth Heise — is working through Clarity Cards. She is the writer I quoted at the top, and we have been using Clarity Cards to help center her author platform in terms of the messaging and themes, as well as being sure to develop a strategy that supports all where she wants to put her energy.

You can start by going through the Clarity Card exercise here.

When Elizabeth went through it, this was her first draft of her Clarity Cards (shared here with permission):

 

In case that is difficult to read, here is a digital version:

 

What you are seeing here is her putting her biggest priorities near the top of the pyramid, and then other important responsibilities and goals near the bottom of the list.

The first thing I noted is that she added an extra row of cards, there should only be 10 cards, but she snuck in 5 more! That is fine for a first draft, but it illustrates how difficult it is to focus our attention on just 10 things when our lives are so busy.

The card she put at the top of the pyramid is really inspiring: “Being proud of myself.” We talked about that card and what it meant, and why feeling a sense of personal fulfillment creates a strong foundation for everything else she is responsible for.

This can make her feel better about her writing, her responsibilities with family, friends, and everything else.

Elizabeth had noted how it felt odd that her “family” card was in the bottom corner, when in her day-to-day life, they occupy the top three slots. So we discussed how if you are tending to your high priorities on the pyramid, this empowers you to truly show up to the cards lower on the pyramid. The way she framed it is as a “guilt eraser.” That she can put herself first, and that this makes her an even better parent. A better friend. Etc.

Another eye-opener for her was that “Inspiring others” fell higher in the pyramid than “Publish my book.” I mean, her book actually falls into the row that we will later cut from the pyramid!

This insight is huge. I love books — they are magical and powerful. But I appreciate it when an author can look beyond just the milestone of publication day. To consider what happens in a readers’ mind when they read. How they hold a story or inspiration or idea in their mind long after a specific book may have been discarded. How it can inspire subtle actions that they take in their lives.

Elizabeth is reflecting on that here, this idea that her work includes the book, but that the book is in service of a larger goal to inspire and help others. We will explore ways she can do that in her platform before, during, and after her book launch.

In order to get this down to 10 cards, we discussed how some of these cards could be grouped. For instance, “Building My Platform” and “Getting My Work Out There” could be combined. Potentially “Being Proud of Myself” and “Self-Empowerment” could be as well. There are several other possibilities we discussed as well.

This forced us to consider making each card more specific. For instance, “Friendships” is kind of vague. What is her intention in order to best honor her friendships? Was it a specific action, such as weekly get togethers? Or something else?

We also talked more about that idea of guilt which can hold people back. For instance, a parent can spend every moment of their time caring for their kids and still worry that they haven’t done enough.

To help resolve this through Clarity Cards, you can write the overall theme on the front of the card, and then a more specific intention on the back. So maybe the front says “Family” and the back says, “Have a sit-down family dinner 5 days a week, and a game night once a week.”

Clarity Cards can represent overall goals in your life — the big vision that includes everything of where you want to go. Or, you can look at them as representing a period of time. You can say “This version of my Clarity Cards focuses on the next 6 months of my life.” So your intentions can be more specific because of the context.

Your Clarity Cards can change and evolve over time. In fact, they should! You can redo them every quarter, or every year, looking at your life with fresh eyes, and making adjustments that speak to where you are right now.

If you create your own Clarity Cards, please consider emailing me a photo of them. If you don’t want to share the words on them, just flip them over so I can only see the backs of the cards.

Thanks again to Elizabeth for allowing me to share all of this!

-Dan

“It Keeps Growing.” Promoting Your Book 2+ Years Post-Launch, with Beth Ricanati, M.D.

“I’m selling more books and the message is getting out there.” This is author Beth Ricanati, M.D. described the results of continuing to promote her book two years after release. She has been running workshops in-person and online in support of her book, Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs. In the process, she is finding new audiences she never considered before, is having more people reach out to her, and it has paved the way for her next book. 

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

You can find Beth in the following places:
bethricanatimd.com
Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs
Instagram: @bethricanatimd
Facebook

Podcasts connect with readers

Today I want to talk about a reader connection strategy that is perfect for what all writers want: deep conversations around the themes they write about.

This is what happens when you are a guest on someone’s podcast. When you are able to have a long conversation with the host about the themes you write about, your creative process, and so much else. It’s a powerful way to help you establish and grow your author platform, reach potential readers, and make a meaningful connection with a like-minded creator — the podcast host.

Let’s dig in…

Why Podcasts Matter

Podcasts have been having an amazing renaissance the past few years. They are widely listened to, there are many options, and more than that: they move books.

Again and again, I hear from authors how they would get an appearance on a major TV morning show, and saw barely a blip in book sales. But that a podcast appearance would cause a huge ripple effect in their book sales. (Just listen to the amazing Jessica Lahey discuss this on a recent episode of the #amwriting podcast.)

Podcasts are thriving in places where blogs may be languishing, Facebook Groups feel overcrowded, and traditional media feels distracted by the news of the day. What’s more, podcasts are a clear way to connect with niche audiences.

If you are unfamiliar with podcasts, many of them offer deep one-on-one conversations that draw the listener in. These conversations can be 15 minutes long, but many are 45 minutes, an hour, or even 2+ hours.

What do people talk about? Sometimes it is a specific topic, teaching, or story, but a good interview may do all three.

Podcast hosts have developed a trusting relationship with their listeners. This is an amazing opportunity for writers. It’s akin to showing up to dinner with a book club that has met every week for years. These are people who know and care about each other. Trust is just oozing from the room. I mean, isn’t that the kind of place you want to have conversations around what you write and why?

For the listener, this is a very intimate platform. You are in their ear for 20 minutes or more. That is a powerful place to be as a writer who is passionate about the topic or genre they care about.

Create a Podcast Strategy

When should you consider being a guest on someone else’s podcast? Start way before you think you need to. If you wait to pitch podcasts until your book is out, it may be too late. At that point, you are just learning how to pitch, just learning the landscape of podcasts, and just learning how to be an amazing guest interview.

Keep in mind, that many hosts don’t want to talk specifically about your book. Instead, they want to chat with you about ideas, stories, themes that may be within your book, but also extend beyond it.

The first thing I would encourage you to consider is to brainstorm anything you could talk about on any topic. Yes, this can center around your writing, your creative process, and inspiration, but it can also extend beyond that. Write down anything that you could talk about that feels central to who you are.

You can listen to other podcasts to study what people talk about. I think you will find that many interviews cover a wide range of topics and types of stories. You don’t have to be an expert on a topic in order to pitch yourself to a podcast. You simply have to have a story to tell that engages the host. Don’t worry about credentials or accolades. The host wants to make a great show, not fill in a resume.

As with all aspects of your author platform, the foundation is trust and communication. Work on that now. Way before you think you absolutely need to. Trust and communication take time. Give it the time it deserves. This doesn’t just better serve your book, but your career overall, and also your sense of fulfillment as a writer in the marketplace.

A Step-by-Step Process:

Okay, here is a step-by-step process to begin learning about podcasts and how you can consider being a guest:

  1. Buy wireless headphones and familiarize yourself with podcasts by listening to them. Don’t have time? Neither does anyone else—which is exactly what makes podcasts so popular. Listen while folding laundry, doing the dishes, driving, jogging, or doing yard work.
  2. To find podcasts you may like go to your podcast player of choice. Some ideas of where to start: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Listen Notes, Stitcher, Podchaser, Overcast, Player.fm — there are so many! All are good, just pick one and search the names of authors you know or like. Search for topics that interest you. Don’t worry about finding podcasts that are 100 percent aligned to exactly what you write. Start with your passion in order to find joy in listening.
  3. Search for the names of comparable authors — these are the authors whose books will be shelved next to yours in a bookstore. See were writers are showing up and what they talk about.
  4. When you find a podcast you like, see what else is recommended on that page. Most podcast apps will have sections with suggestions such as: “Listeners who listened to this also like…” as well as links to other podcasts in the same category.
  5. Don’t just focus on the most successful podcasts, pay attention to those with a smaller audience as well. A small podcast with a single host focused on meaningful conversations could turn out to be your favorite. Chances are, your research will start off with very popular podcasts that would be difficult for you to successfully pitch. Use the suggestions of similar podcasts, or other podcasts within that category, to find small and mid-sized podcasts that you could more effectively reach.
  6. As you listen, make a note of what types of podcasts you prefer, what types of guests, what the hosts tend to focus on. This is all critical marketplace research to help you understand how you can not only be a guest on podcasts, but consider them as part of a larger strategy to later promote your writing and books. Look at the way the podcast episode titles and descriptions are written to get a sense of how you may pitch that podcast.
  7. Brainstorm what you can talk about. As I mentioned earlier, yes you can focus on your writing, but it can also extend beyond it. Consider what your ideal audience loves talking about. This is one of the big lessons that social media has taught us: people want to engage with real people. Those who have interests, hobbies, and a voice. Use yours. Don’t treat a podcast pitch as just a promotional vehicle. Consider it as you would show up to a dinner party, book club, or writing retreat.
  8. Do sample interviews to build your confidence. Repetition will build comfort with the process, and open up new ideas for what you can share.
  9. Pitch yourself! Keep the email ridiculously simple. Ask if you can be on their show. Tell them what you love about their show. Share a line or two of what stories you can tell, and what you could talk about that would interest them and their listeners.
  10. Of course, if you do have a book to promote, absolutely work to identify podcasts that focus on related genres or topics. Turn your book into a powerful conversation, and consider how podcast interviews can become a robust part of a book tour.
  11. Create a spreadsheet or keep a notebook to keep track of podcasts you’ve approached, wish lists for the future, and insights you pick up along the way.

Even if you are reticent to consider pitching yourself on a podcast, what I like about this process is that it forces you to ask deeper strategic questions about who your ideal readers are, where they show up, and what they like to talk about. And you are able to consider how you fit into this ecoystem.

If you want a place to start, well, you can check out my podcast! This will give you a sense of how the work I do translates to interviews with writers and artists. It’s called “The Creative Shift with Dan Blank.”

I often gush about the #amwriting podcast, so you should definitely check them out. (I’ve been a guest, here is my episode.)

Also go listen to some episodes from Brooke Warner and Grant Faulkner’s wonderful Write-Minded Podcast. (I was a guest earlier this year, here is my episode.)

Thanks!

-Dan

P.S.: A version of this essay was published over at Career Authors recently. That community is great resource!