“This book launch, I’m going out there as my full self.” My interview with Kelly McGonigal

Kelly McGonigalToday, psychologist and author Kelly McGonigal is going to share with you a radically different vision of what it means for an author to connect with readers and prepare for a book launch.

Her new book, The Joy of Movement, comes out in December, and she shares specifics on what she is doing and why. She also shares what having a viral TED talk with twenty million views, did (and didn’t) do for her career. Oh, she will also explain why she turned down an invitation from Richard Branson!

Highlights of our discussion are below, and you can listen to our entire conversation in my podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

Here is some of the wisdom that Kelly shared in our conversation:

Turning Down an Invitation from Richard Branson

When I offhandedly mentioned that the result of a TED talk can be that you end up on a yacht with Sir Richard Branson, she said something astounding: “I did get an invitation from Richard Branson, but I turned it down.”

Who turns down Richard Branson?! Well, Kelly does. And her reasoning is inspiring:

“That wasn’t consistent with my goal. It wasn’t who I was or what I cared about. I wake up and my fantasy is that somebody will pick up one of my books or listen to an interview I do, and that single human being is going to have more hope as they go throughout their day, and deal with real-world challenges. That’s my dream. I feel like a lot of the trappings of creative success pulls you further away from that. Taking advantage of [an opportunity from Richard Branson] will not make me as happy as getting an email from somebody who says that my book, or something they heard in an interview help me feel more empowered to deal with something difficult.”

“I don’t want to scale”

So many authors feel pressure to increase the number of social media followers, or newsletter subscribers. In the process, they tend to ignore people right in front of them to reach for a bigger “audience.”

Kelly said every times she tried to do things that felt like “scaling up,” she found that as she got further away from being in a room with real people and directly helping, or producing something that only she can produce like her books, then the experience is not enjoyable.

“I don’t want to scale. You get further removed from the moment to moment experience that is actually meaningful.”

“Over the past few years, I have very consciously started turning down speaking opportunities that look amazing on their face. Instead of speaking to a thousand people I will never see again, I’d rather teach my dance class to people in my community, and construct a life where I do things that only I can do, and where I experience an immediate reward of connection.”

“Scaling up feels abstract, and I’m a concrete person. I want to feel what I did today had a visceral impact that I can sense on someone’s face or mood.”

Her Book Launch Strategy? Human Connection

Kelly has been a guest on the TODAY show multiple times, done those radio interview tours where you are interviewed by 100 stations in a 12 hour period, and so much more to promote her books.

But for her new book, she is taking a different path.

“Whatever it is people think you do for book promotion, I’ve probably done it. This time around, I am committed to doing events that are not solely about me and the book, and that give people opportunities to connect to people and resources in their community.”

“This book launch, I’m going out there as my full self, with everything that I love. I don’t think anyone has even seen that version of me yet. The version of me that is unabashedly enthusiastic about the content of my book.”

Kelly was very generous throughout the interview, telling me how my book, blog, and podcast helped give her permission to look at marketing differently. She put it this way: “Part of what your work gave to me was a sense of freedom of creating what I want — a dance party for the book event. I’m so excited for the book event.”

She explained how she is trying in an organic way to get her book to the people and communities who will make the most use of it: “A lot of what I’m trying to do is think, who can do something with this book? I know that is what makes my books successful in the long term, it is not the initial launch. I don’t do book launches that are about selling massive copies so that I can put ‘New York Times Bestseller’ on my tagline. I’m trying to create books that sell for years and years because they are helping people. My books will sell because people will find them useful, then give them to other people.”

Why Authors Can Be Their Own Best Publicist

A few weeks back, I shared my interview with Jessica Lahey, who described how she constantly sends out free copies of her own book to people. Kelly is approaching her upcoming book launch in the same manner. She and her publisher have already run out of pre-release copies to mail out, so she is planning to send her own once she can buy final copies of her book at publication:

“I feel like I’ve heard you say this before, and I find it to be true. Everyone thinks it’s better to have a formal publicity package sent out by your publisher, and I think the personal touch is much better. What I will probably do for this book is to write personal messages on a bookmark about what I hope the individual will enjoy or appreciate about the book, and a written card or note about what I appreciate about the work that they are doing. And just send it to them myself. That’s my plan. Get a discount from my publisher and buy a lot of books and mail them out.”

When I asked how she budgeted for this, her answer was incredible: “I don’t think of my writing as a business, even though it makes most of my income. Because it brings me so much meaning, I invest in it. I don’t have spreadsheets with budgets, I don’t want a marketing budget. What I want to do is make enough money as an author so that I can send people books. It’s totally backwards.”

The Best Tool Authors Have For Marketing: Gratitude

Kelly explains it this way: “Gratitude is an emotion that we think only makes us feel good but we know that gratitude is a social function to connect individuals and strengthen relationships. It is the easiest way to initiate a relationship or strengthen a relationship.”

She and I connected because she wrote me this amazing email thanking me for my book, blog, and podcast. When I asked about why she wrote me, she said that it was an assignment I had suggested in one of my blog posts! Funny how things come back around like that.

Kelly explains how she is thinking about marketing for this book: “I spent 2 days reading everything on your website. I was trying to re-engage with the idea of author branding. It seems like a good idea, but when you are actually in it, it can feel really gross. You had all of these amazing mindset shifts, like your article about the Radical Fake Homepage. I was talking about this to my husband: what would a website who actually represented who I am be like? You gave me a mindset reset that helped me engage in a way that has this sense of possibility.”

The Complexity of Collaboration With a Publisher

I always encourage authors to seek out collaboration in their work, and in our interview Kelly talked about how she has done that to make her books even better. But she also talked honestly about the complexity of collaboration.

For most of her books, she could not pick the cover or title. With her upcoming books, she described how she finally got the title and cover she wanted. What she has learned: “I’m more willing now to say ‘No, I know what this book is meant to make people feel, and I will fight for a cover and a title that communicates that.'”

In the interview, she describes the exact way that she worked with the publisher to create the cover and title of her new book.

What She Did (and Didn’t) Gain From Having a Viral TED Talk

When I asked about her experience having a viral TED talk with more than 20 million views, she said: “I am the great anti-spokesperson for the dream of giving a TED talk. My TED talk is one of the most viewed of all time, with over 20 million views. I had to be convinced to give it, for years TED emailed me asking if I wanted to do a talk.”

“I don’t know if it changed my life in any particular way. I was already publishing books, and had a book planned for the topic of my TED talk.”

The clearest direct outcome of the TED talk that she could point to? This: “When I was trying to get a mortgage, the broker had known about my TED talk.”

How She Became an Author

Kelly talks about how she became a writer by being so focused on teaching, and how that lead to book deals. “That is how my career as an author developed: I was just teaching people things I care about, and because I care so much about teaching and what I’m teaching and helping people, that it got attention.”

So much of what Kelly shared just inspired me. I encourage you to listen to the full interview via the links above.

You can find Kelly in the following places:
Instagram: @kellymariemcgonigal
Twitter: @kellymcgonigal

Her books:

Getting unstuck in your writing habits

Today I want to talk about what it really takes to get unstuck with your writing. I’ll dig into the reality of what you need to do in order to establish a writing habit that doesn’t only get words on the page, but provides a creative transformation in your life.

If that sounds big, that’s because it is.

Each day I work with writers in my Creative Shift Mastermind. Here, we do the real work of moving ahead with writing goals. The progress of the writers in the group is amazing. I want to share just three stories of what they have been doing in the past couple of months.

Kris Verdeck shared her experience this way:
“I’ve been writing this novel for about 10 years (taking long breaks when work overtook my life – 100 hour weeks that made my life about nothing but work.) Two years ago I left the corporate event planning world and those types of hours behind, yet I seemed to fill the hours with my new work and distractions. It hasn’t been until this past month, through the inspiration of the Creative Shift Mastermind, that I have have sat down for 2+ hours each day to commit to the revisions, to finishing this book, and to pitching it again to agents.

I’ve mentioned Jeannie Ewing recently about her writing progress once she joined the Mastermind. Here is an update on how she is getting words on the page:
“I’ve been a subscriber of Dan’s newsletter for years. I knew the Creative Shift Mastermind would be beneficial for me, but it never seemed to be the right timing. This past summer, I had the gut feeling that the timing was perfect. My identity as a writer has been shifting for a while, and instead of writing the books publishers wanted me to write, I yearned to write my book, the book of my heart – my memoir. I never would have started this project or taken this risk to step outside of my typical genre if it weren’t for the clarity and community in the Mastermind. I am over halfway finished with the first draft, and I started writing two months ago. It’s the first time in my life I feel a sense of freedom in what I write and in experimenting with my style, which might not have happened if I hadn’t joined the Mastermind when I did.

Tony Bonds shares his creative progress that doesn’t just extend to his writing, but to his entire career:
“The encouragement and support I’m getting from my experience in the Creative Shift Mastermind is immensely helpful, and is truly working to enact a creative shift in my life that has been a long time coming. When I joined this group in July, forming my own business was a pipe dream. Now here I am, setting hard goals, analyzing financials, my family is on board with my plans, and it’s like I’m finally unstuck and my life is finally moving forward. This is exciting!

Each of these people are incredibly busy with responsibilities: family, work, health, and so much else. How is all of this possible in just a couple of months?

Below are the ingredients of not just of establishing solid writing habits, but for a larger creative transformation as well. Yes, in my Creative Shift Mastermind I take you through each of these. But even if you never join, I encourage you to consider how you can make each of these items a part of your life:

#1 Radical Clarity
If you want more time and energy to be able to write and create, it begins with clarity. When you know exactly what you want to create and why, you are able to better leverage your very finite resources of time and energy. In the Mastermind, I not only take you through my Clarity Card process, I extend it’s power as a decision-making tool in your life. Without radical clarity, you are just managing to-do lists, which is a recipe for creative failure.

#2 A Support System
Most writers I speak to want their books and creative work to truly connect with others. When they worry about this not happening, they grow concerned over not understanding some kind of marketing or publishing trend. But those things don’t matter if you work in total isolation. Your creative work dies not because of trends, but in darkness. To shine light on it, develop a support system of collaborators. People who know you write, who you can get advice from, who hold you accountable, who believe in your abilities.

#3 Mentorship
Consider this difference between showing up to a 20,000 square foot gym by yourself… staring out at an ocean of equipment vs a personal trainer meeting you at the door with a smile, and guiding you through the best workout of your life. That is mentorship. Someone who is available to share expertise and guide you, answer every question you have, and personalize their advice for your specific goals and situation.

#4 A Clear Step-by-Step Plan
Too many writers collect information on how to move ahead with their writing, but they never create a plan that works. They collect notes and ideas gleaned from thousands of blogs, podcasts, webinars, courses, and events. While each piece is interesting, it never comes together as a clear and useful plan. I have found this myself in a wide range of creative endeavors. In my goal to learn to play the guitar, I can sample from thousands of individual tips via YouTube. But I have found nothing works better than having an instructor who takes me through a clear step-by-step process of what to do, and when.

These are the exact things I take you through in the Creative Shift Mastermind. If anything above resonated with you, please consider joining the next session that begins October 1.

This is where I work directly with you and a small group of 10-20 other writers. These are the creative collaborators you always dreamed of having.

If the Mastermind isn’t a good fit for you right now, I would strongly encourage you to take steps to infuse your life with the items I mentioned above. If you don’t know where to begin, try this:

  1. Radical Clarity: write down one small goal for your writing that you want to accomplish by January 1. Tape it to the mirror you look at in the morning.
  2. Support System: find one person who you trust and tell them your goal. Then tell them that if you don’t achieve your goal by January 1, that you will give them $100, or if they won’t accept it, you will donate $100 to their favorite charity.
  3. Mentorship: email me your goal and ask me one question where you think my advice would be most helpful: dan@wegrowmedia.com
  4. A Plan: Take out a calendar, it could be digital or paper. On each Monday between now and the end of the year, write one intention for the week that will help lead you to your goal. Check the calendar daily. You don’t need a perfect plan to begin — but you need to set an intention and stick to it. That habit alone will change how you create for the rest of your life.


Choosing Your Own Path as a Writer, My Interview with Jennifer Louden

Bestselling author Jennifer Louden is about to upend your idea of what success as a writer looks like. She’s been a bestseller, she’s been on Oprah, and she’s been a successful author for more than 25 years.

But the wisdom she picked up along the way will surprise you. We dig into topics of book marketing, navigating your writing career, the creative process and so much more.

Some highlights of our conversation:

  • How she created word-of-mouth marketing for her first book, which sold 50,000 copies in the first year: “I planned my own book tour, I planned my own workshop tour, and I went on the road for 3-months in my parents’ Ford Taurus station wagon.”
  • One of her books landed her on Oprah’s show. But she says: “It wasn’t the experience I always hoped it would be. I hoped she would say “You are the best thing since sliced bread, you are amazing!” And when she didn’t say that to me, I really went through a long dark period. What was hard for me about the Oprah experience is that I thought that would finally make me feel legitimate. That I was going to be anointed in some way.”
  • How did she get on Oprah’s show? She says, “I had had friends who became household names from going on Oprah. I had people email Oprah, we pitched it.” But that’s not how she got on. She asked a staff member of the show said, who said, “Oh, I picked your book out of the slush pile.”
  • Her first book remains her biggest seller. She said “That has been really painful at times. To feel like you can never outdo that success.”
  • How she got a book deal? Publishers loved the title, but not the draft of the book. In Jen’s own summation, she called the draft “boring and pretentious. But two of the people wrote back and suggested how to write it differently. She went back and found her very first notes when the idea for the book came to her, and she developed it in that original voice. Something that can from within her, not trying to make the book sound like someone else. She described it this way: “There is an original spark that is ours, it’s easy to lose sight of that when you begin reading what experts tell you to do. What is the spark that lights you up.”
  • Before she found success as an author, she explains how she was a “failed screenwriter” first.
  • After 25+ years as a successful author, she said her most recent book took years to write, and went through several iterations that completely failed. Her conclusion: “This is the process of being creative.”
  • She was really open about discussing finding the inner strength to choose her own path, and turn away from everything she was told she “should be.”
  • I asked her what it was like when she first realized that her writing was actually helping people, she said, “In all the years of doing this, all the books, all the courses, all the retreats, I didn’t let myself feel that. That’s only happened in the last 7 or 8 years, where I really claimed the role of teacher and helper. I think I’ve had a fear that I’m a better teacher than writer, so embracing my teaching self was really scary to me. We have these complicated senses of our identity. Sometimes we have to let go of our identity, even a successful one.”
  • When I asked about when she started her business, she said it did’t come until much later: “For so long, I lived in the story of “Someone has to choose me.” Now she says she never ever wants to wait for someone to choose her again. “I’m going to be the most profitable that I’ve ever been this year.”
  • I love the story of what her dad said when she got her first job out of college. Her dad as a driven entrepreneur. Jen to her dad:”Dad, I got a job!” Her dad’s reply: “Why did you do that, I thought you wanted to be a writer.”
  • Even with all of her success, she feel she could have chosen a path for her books that was more authentic to who she was, “I made my living for 15 years, mainly from my writing, and some speaking. So that’s amazing. But I wish I would have looked at it differently with follow-up books.”
  • I love her advice for how to find success with your creative work: “We don’t know what works, but I do know what doesn’t work: staying alone in your office.”

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

You can find Jennifer in the following places:
Twitter: @jenlouden
Instagram @jenlouden

Let’s Talk About Creative Clarity

All I do all day is talk to writers and creators about what to create, how to get it done, and how to connect it with people who care. Today I want to discuss the essential first ingredient: creative clarity. I’ll share some resources for how to instill your process with radical clarity. 

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

Creative renewal

For many people, this is the last week of summer before school begins. I always find that this is a quiet week, one where I consider the idea of creative renewal.

When you are a kid, September is the “start again” period. As an adult it is just another month of routines.

Today I want to talk about how you grow as a writer. How you reconnect with what drives you to create. How you feel a sense of renewal in your creative drive.

Too often, our writing or art is lost amidst the responsibilities of life. We struggle to find the time to create, and when we do, we face a mix of confusing signals. This has always been best summed up in my favorite episode of the TV show The Office.

Pam is a receptionist by day, but has been taking art classes. Here she is at her first art show, her paintings thumbtacked to the wall. She stands there, lonely, her work on display for others to accept, reject, or in this case, ignore:

While a lot of friends and colleagues say they will stop by, only one or two actually do. Oscar struggles to find anything positive to say about the art:

They try to be supportive, but it’s been a long day at work, and they have other things on their mind. In this case, Gil criticizes Pam’s art, and she overhears it:

As she comes to the end of the night, she begins taking down her artwork. She was hoping for validation, but received just the opposite:

Then suddenly Michael shows up, apologizing for being late. Look at this image, the artist waiting for the viewer to give feedback:

But then, one of the paintings connects with Michael, he sees something of himself in it:

His expression changes from one who is observing the “other,” an object, to one who is connecting with the art. In this image, Michael and the art are one:

The artist sees this. I mean, just look at her expression:

Michael looks at Pam and says, “I’m really proud of you.”

Out of nowhere, Pam hugs him. Someone sees her as an artist, and connects with her work:

This series of images illustrates so much of the journey that writers and artists go through. The apprehension of sharing you work, of wanting to be seen for what you create, and to have it connect with another human being in a meaningful way.

This process begins with creative clarity. Knowing what you want to express. Deciding what you will create. Persevering with the craft amidst an otherwise busy life.

It means continuing even when there is no validation. Even when you feel your craft isn’t hitting the mark. Even when there are setbacks.

Just a few weeks back, I mentioned how author Jeannie Ewing is in my Creative Shift Mastermind, and that she begin writing her memoir. At the time, she had written 15,000 words in just a few weeks. Right now, she is up to 45,000 words.

That is what creative clarity brings. It leads to action, and to work that allows us to grow as writer and individuals.

When I consider the idea of creative renewal, I think it is important to consider what drives you to create. I’ve always liked the phrase “Going back to the well” — returning to the source of your own inspiration that gives you the inner resources to create.

As the summer turns to autumn, I’m thinking a lot about this for myself and my own writing.

I want to offer a resource to help you dig into your own creative clarity. During the week of September 9th, I am offering a free weeklong workshop where I take you through my Clarity Card process.

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:

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.

To be a part of this, simply join my Reader Connection Project Facebook Group. Each day during the week of September 9th, I will walk you through the Clarity Card Process and answer your questions.