No one knows what will work

How many times have you heard someone pitch you on a “can’t fail method to systematize your book sales.” Or your newsletter subscribers, social media followers, or something else. The components are always the same:

  1. “I’ve done it again and again.”
  2. “It’s a system that you follow step by step.”
  3. “The steps are surprisingly easy.”
  4. “Once you do it, you can set it and forget it. Success happens and keeps happening.”
  5. “Let me tell you a story of Becky who did this and how it changed her life…”

You are sold things like this again and again, and what I have found is that it leaves writers feeling discouraged. They try it but it doesn’t work for them. They hear these pitches again and again and begin to feel that it is they — the author — that is broken. Because it’s working for all these other people, “why not me?” The comparisonitis builds up making them feel bad about themselves.

So today I want to talk about the truth, and also offer you a clear path to success on your terms. We will cover this in two parts:

  1. No one knows what will work.
  2. Embark on a discovery process to identify what will work for you.

Okay, let’s dig in…

No One Knows What Will Work

There, I said it. No one knows which book will succeed and which won’t. No one can give you a step-by-step plan on how to get results for so many things in life. Even though this sounds jaded, I am a very positive person, I believe the glass is half-full, and I spend most of my time helping writers make progress.

So let’s talk about why I say this, because understanding this actually helps you get to the path that will work for you.

I want to share an example from another creative field. This is Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas:

They make music together. How successful have they been? A few highlights:

  • Her album debuted at number #1 on the Billboard charts.
  • She has eight gold and four platinum singles in the US.
  • Their music was streamed billions and billions of times on Spotify and Apple music in 2019.
  • Billie has 48.9 million followers on Instagram.

Oh, and it should be mentioned that Billie is 18 and Finneas is 22.

Recently, I began binge-watching interviews with them. Turns out, they were homeschooled, she still lives in her parents’ tiny house, and all of their biggest hits were recorded in the two bedrooms of the house. Growing up, their parents slept in the dining room so Billie and Finneas could have their own rooms.

With all of their success, listen to how Finneas describes knowing what works:

Interviewer: “Do you think there is one clear formula to a hit record?”
Finneas: “No. Absolutely not.”
Interviewer: “Do you feel you have an idea of what it takes?”
Finneas: “No. Less and and less now that we have had more and more success, because it just teaches me each time that I don’t know.”

Or how he described the path to the first huge hit that he and Billie had:

Question: “First song you ever wrote?”
Finneas: “Ocean Eyes. (Laughs) That’s not true. I wrote like 200-300 songs that no one will ever get to hear before I wrote that song. I thought they were all really good at the time, and subsequently think they were all really bad. That’s the deal. I loved writing them.”

In this interview they dissected the process for creating their biggest hit song, “Bad Guy.” She started working on it in her bedroom. Then it moved over to his as they got some parts to it worked out. As they tell it from here:
Finneas: “We had that. Then it sat around for like a year.”
Billie: “I’m shocked and happy people like it the way it is, because the thing we were most worried about was the chorus, and it having no hook.”

What she means is that this is a very unusual song. In interview after interview, each of them talked about how worried they were that no one would even like this song. Yet it became their biggest hit.

What Billie and Finneas share is the perspective I hear again and again from successful writers and artists. You see, all I do all day is study the creative process and creative success:

  1. I am in the trenches with writers who are clients, in my mastermind, or my other programs.
  2. I interview successful writers and artists in my weekly podcast.
  3. Most of my friends and colleagues are writers or artists.
  4. I do an incredible amount of research into this via books, podcasts, documentaries, interviews, etc.

This is the wall of my studio filled with photos of creators who inspire me, I stare at this all day:
Dan Blank

The path to success for each of these people was unique. As will your path be.

Each talent is unique.
Each success is unique.
Craft matters.
But so does luck.

So let’s discuss the path to success…

Embark on the Discovery Process

Success as a writers or artist is a process of discovery. What this means is that you are diligently doing strategic and smart work to move ahead, but constantly looking for signals for what direction to move in next, what works, and what doesn’t.

I want to share the key things I believe you need in order to embark on your own discovery process to find success. When I work with a writer to help them create an author platform, develop their audience, and launch their book, we embark on a discovery process with these elements:

Have a Clarity of Intention
Too many people fail to make progress because their goals are vague. They don’t have clarity on what they create, why, or how they hope it effects the world. Without clarity, I find many writers bounce back and forth between competing intentions:

“I just want to be a published author.”
“I want to grow my newsletter list.”
“I want to be a bestseller.”
“I want 10,000 followers.”
“I want to find my tribe.”

None of these milestones are bad. But they are just that, milestones in a much larger process as a writer. Some people I speak to have clear intentions. For those who don’t that is often the first step… to whittle down your intention to something specific and meaningful. Sometimes writers simply don’t know. For them, we can ask a simple question, “What are you curious about?” Start there.

Have a Methodology
While I said earlier that “no one knows what will work,” that doesn’t mean that one can’t follow a methodology to find out. For the work I do, one of those methodologies is what I call The Creative Success Pyramid. This is it (click the image to download a full-sized PDF):

It’s comprised of five basic parts, you start at the bottom and work your way to the top:

  1. Get radical clarity on what you create and why.
  2. Build your platform.
  3. Hone your voice.
  4. Conduct audience research.
  5. Launch and market your book.

All of these are in service of the ultimate goals: to continually create, to improve at your craft, to ensure your writing reaches more people, and to connect with others in fulfilling and meaningful ways. Within it are 30 smaller boxes. Here is a 15+ minute video of me taking you through it:

Where a methodology differs from a step-by-step template is that your path is always custom. Working through it is a process of discovery.

Have a Guide or Collaborators.
Too many people fail to success with their creative vision because they go it alone. They struggle for years by themselves. Yet all the stories I hear of success are filled with collaborators.

Sometimes these are formal guides, mentors, or coaches. Other times, they are collaborators such as other writers who help keep you accountable.

I suggest that the collaborators you work with be active, not passive. Joining a collective or being part of a “writing community” can feel active, but sometimes be passive. You can lurk in the shadows. You can follow along with their program.

This is different than having a guide or collaborator who listens, suggests, pushes, holds you accountable. Where they feel if you don’t make progress, that they are letting you down.

This is the work I do each day, and I think that is why every service I offer includes direct feedback from me. From my free programs to the highest levels of consulting, it’s not just that it gives me joy, it’s that if you aren’t getting personalized feedback, then you are always at risk of being adrift. Collaborating is critical to creative success.

Turn Discoveries Into Action, Not Endless Research
I call this a discovery process because the goal is to learn new things along the way. For instance:

  • Learn the types of books you really want to write.
  • Identify exactly who your ideal reader is.
  • Where they show up.
  • The best way to reach them.
  • How you can share your work in a manner that feels authentic to who you are.
  • Develop a process for it all that fits into your already busy life.

For many of these things, you won’t know the answer until you begin with a clear intention, follow a methodology, have a collaborator to help you along the way, and keep pausing to take into account what you are learning.

Persistence is a key factor here, but so are check-ins and analysis. To not just assume “Oh, I have a plan, I know what works.” But to regularly analyze and adjust your path.

Forgive Yourself
This is a human process. It can be emotional. So much of what it means to create is to discover who you are, what you are capable of creating, how others can know you, and how you can effect the lives of others.

Too many writers worry that they missed the boat, it’s too late for them. Or they feel a deep sense of impostor’s syndrome. Or they feel filled with comparisonitis as they observe the success of others.

All of this is normal. The key is to feel it, but not let it stop you. To not berate yourself for it. To forgive yourself and move on.

No one knows what will work. But the discovery what will work for you is a process I highly encourage you to embark on.

I will end with a reminder of two free training programs next week:

  1. My own 5-day program to help you understand how writers can best use social media. It takes place January 20-24 in a Facebook group I run called “The Reader Connection Project.” Just join it to participate!
  2. My friend Jennie Nash is running The Business of Book Coaching Summit. I’m one of the speakers! You can register here.

Thanks!
-Dan

Social Media for Writers

Writers have felt an intense pressure over the past decade to jump into social media. I’ve worked with thousands of writers on this, so I understand why many are for it, many are against it, and most are stuck somewhere between the two. They are interested, but apprehensive. They ask, “Will it actually lead to book sales?” The answer? Nope. But social media does so much more for writers. In today’s podcast I want to discuss the benefits of social media for writers. I also invite you to join me in a weeklong training I am doing in my Facebook Group called “The Reader Connection Project.” Each day January 20-24 I’ll be sharing a video with my advice, and I’ll be doing a Q&A at the end of the week to answer all of your questions.

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

Social media doesn’t sell books, but…

Writers have felt an intense pressure over the past decade to jump into social media. I’ve worked with thousands of writers on this, so I understand why many are for it, many are against it, and most are stuck somewhere between the two. They are interested, but apprehensive of the time it will take, how to do it well, and they ask the question, “Um, what is the return on investment? Will it actually lead to book sales?”

The answer? Nope.

But social media does so much more for writers. Today I want to discuss the benefits of social media for writers. I am absolutely viewing this from the perspective of social media in 2020 — what works today. Also, I’m not blind to the potential downsides of social media.

Much like leaving the house in the morning, engaging in social media brings with it everyday “risks.” Like Pee Wee Herman had to decide, do you listen to the card:

Or do you go on a big adventure?
Pee Wee Herman

Let’s dig in…

Social Media is Not a Transaction

Social media is not a magic wand to ‘go viral.’ It is not a transaction where you game whether or not you can convince an “influencer” to Tweet about your book.

Just as your daily life is not a transaction where you only engage with friends, family and colleagues trying to convince them to do you favor after favor. Social media is a communication channel just as in-person meetings, email, phone, and any other way you connect with other human beings.

Too often I see writers say they will join social media, but they won’t show up there as who they are. They just want to use it to promote their books and get the attention of influencers. But isn’t that like walking into a party, walking directly up to the spread of food, shoveling it all into your bag, and then leaving.

Social media is not a transaction. It is an opportunity to connect with real people, who like books similar to yours, and appreciate reading about the same themes you do. Either show up to that as a full person, or don’t bother at all. Just as a party doesn’t need yet one more who came only for the free food, social media doesn’t need yet another hollow attempt to game it.

Relationships Create Writing Careers

Without question, your writing is the primary thing that matters. The craft. Your ability to engage readers with a story, or to help them with your advice.

But… time and time again I hear how relationships sparked and fueled someone’s writing career. That it was who they knew that lead to an agent, a publisher, an opportunity, an audience.

Just this week I published an interview on my podcast with illustrator & author Aura Lewis who described how she found her agent through her network. You hear stories like this again and again in my podcast interviews with writers and artists.

Having a professional network is a critical part of finding success as a writer. Who you know, and how well you stay connected with them.

Can you do it without social media? Yes! I wrote about that just a couple weeks back: “Growing a Readership Without an “Online Author Platform.” But it’s so much more difficult to stay in touch when it only relies on phone and in-person channels. This is why I do encourage writers to develop an author platform and engage online. To avoid scenarios like this: someone Google’s your name and nothing comes up. Or, when they seek you out on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and find 100 other people with your name, but not you.

With several clients this month, I have been helping them map out the existing network of people they already know, and identify others in their field who have the same interests they do. The goal is to strengthen connections to people they already admire, and to slowly allow them to connect with more like-minded people.

Just as most of us did when we were younger. We would meet new friends year to year in school. We would engage in hobbies outside of school that brought like-minded people into our lives. These people inspired us, fueled us, and made up whatever our ideal version of what a literary salon may be.

Sure, the more you engage with these people, the more likely that luck happens in your writing career. But that isn’t really the point. The purpose is to feel fulfilled by having a life filled with a thriving network of people who inspire you and love the same kind of writing that you do.

No one can control whether your book is a bestseller or not. But you can control if your life is filled with readers who love the same kinds of writing that you do.

Having Friends Before, Between, and After Your Book Launches

So often writers talk about social media in terms of book launches — that brief period a few months around the day your book is released. But honestly, to me the main benefit of social media is having friends and colleagues before that happens, after it happens, and in the time between book launches.

Ideally, social media allows you to avoid the promotion you hate. The kind where you are silent for years. Then you promote promote promote your book for a few months. Then you disappear for a few more years until the next book comes out.

From a practical standpoint, it’s better strategically to develop your ability talk about your writing and forge connections with like-minded people well ahead of a book launch. And to keep those connections in the months and years before launch, so that your next launch doesn’t have you starting from scratch, with no audience.

From a human standpoint, doesn’t that just feel better? Is your favorite friend the one who doesn’t talk to you for years, then sends you 20 texts in a single month inviting you to a “party” at their house where they try to sell you candles and aromatherapy products?

Social media is about real relationships with real people. It is not a magical 1-step marketing funnel where a single Tweet will someone lead to a book sale.

This is how we connect to people we admire. It’s how we stay connected. How we share and infuse our days with topics, stories, and themes that inspire us.

Social media is also where we share, celebrate, and discuss writing and books. Why not show up for that?

If you want to do this in your life, I invite you to a free weeklong training I’m doing on how writers can best use social media. Each day I will share advice via video and answer your questions. Just join my private Facebook group called “The Reader Connection Project” to be a part of it. This takes place January 20-24. Plus, there are 900 awesome writers already in the group that you can connect with!

Thanks!
-Dan

How a Major Career Shift Led to 8 Book Deals. My Interview with Illustrator & Author Aura Lewis

Aura LewisToday I’m excited to share my podcast interview with illustrator and author Aura Lewis. She shares her story of making a huge career shift to focus on the arts, how she developed her first book, got a book deal, and then in the last year signed deals for 6 additional books!

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

Some of what we discuss in the interview:

  • How she made two shifts in her career: “I was almost going to become a therapist, but made sharp turn to become a graphic designer. I worked in that field for 7 years. But it wasn’t really aligned with what I wanted to do. It took me awhile and a lot of different experimentations to realize I wanted to do illustration. That was a huge shift. It came out of the process of trusting my intuition and the voice saying ‘do this'”
  • The idea for her first book began as a project in graduate school.She said: “I didn’t know if it was good enough to be a book, but I knew it was good enough to show people.”
  • She found her agent through her own network, reconnecting with a colleague she hadn’t seen in years.
  • Even though she was getting her degree, she dug into research into the children’s book market through online research and podcasts, saying “I wanted to give myself the education I didn’t feel I was getting.”
  • Aura embraced collaborators as she developed her book, and she said it made a huge difference.
  • She describes how luck and timing are a part of this process, but of course, the entire interview showcase show much work she has done to be ready for the right moment when it happened.
  • How she handles social media, even though she is an introvert.
  • Describing the career path of illustration and authorship: “”It’s scary, no one ever promises you another book.”
  • She discussed how she schedules her time in terms of writing and illustration and managing projects with the rest of her life. She spends 9am – 2pm doing the bulk of her work, then schedules appointments and social engagements after 2pm when she has less creative energy.
  • … and so much more!

You can find Aura at:
auralewis.com
Instagram: @auralewis
Her books:

I’m making big changes this year

This year I am celebrating 10 years of running WeGrowMedia. Starting this company was a huge risk for me and my family. It was founded just as our first son was born, and I had left a corporate job that had a good salary and benefits. In many ways, it felt like a leap into the unknown.

In that decade, I have worked with thousands of writers and creators, filling my days with the people who inspire me most. It has just been amazing.

As I look to the next 10 years, I have been re-committing myself to the mission behind WeGrowMedia.On January 1, I made some major updates to my website, including a new About page which shares my vision and background with writing and the arts. It also includes this childhood photo of the time I met Muhammad Ali (I’m on the left, and that’s my brother in the back):

For 2020, I have been working with my team on a lot of plans. Here is what you can expect

  1. I want to be radically helpful to writers. This is the core of what I do, and I want to double-down on this. More training, workshops, advice, resources, and simply showing up where writers are.
  2. I’m planning on publishing my second book in June. For years, I’ve been developing two books, and in the past few months I mashed them together (“mashed” is an editorial term you may be unfamiliar with) so that the next book is as good as it can be. I’m not holding anything back. The revised outline is now super-solid, and the 75,000 words I’ve written are going to spend months (and months) going through revisions and edits.
  3. For the latter part of the year, I’m developing a big crazy project that scares me. Something brand new for WeGrowMedia that 100% aligns to my mission, but that I have never tried before. I’ll talk more about this later in the year.

I also made a big change to how I offer the programs where I work directly with writers on marketing, platform, and creative habits. Last year I developed a series of monthlong programs where I would provide personalized feedback to each writer every single week. They went well.

But… (and I’ve been thinking about this for quite awhile)

Maybe you have noticed that when people release online programs and courses, they tend to have these big launches with deadlines. You are inundated with emails telling you about the day the doors close. The emails offer bonus after bonus, reason after reason, that you don’t want to miss out.

Many of these launches rely on “the fear of missing out.” Basically, it is pressuring you to sign up before the opportunity goes away. In reality, this is a highly effective marketing tactic.

But in reviewing my mission for WeGrowMedia, I challenged myself to consider “If my mission is to help writers, wouldn’t I offer that help every single day?”

So I completely revised the way I offer my programs. You can sign up for nearly all of them anytime you want. Here is my brand new programs page, and what I offer:

In every one of these programs, I provide direct feedback to you at every step of the process. I answer all of your questions directly, offer direction and support. If you need help in any of these areas, please considering checking out the programs.

One final thing for today…

Earlier this week I shared my refections on what I have learned from 10 years of running a full-time creative business. You can watch a video of me talking through all of this here:

Or listen to on my podcast.

The truth is that creative work and entrepreneurship can be filled with confusion and doubt. The one thing I have learned is that you simply have to keep showing up. To keep creating. Keep honing your work. Keep bringing new ideas to the table. Keep connecting with like-minded people who are inspired by the same things you are.

Thank you for showing up for me in the last 10 years. I cannot possibly express how much it means to me and my family.

Have you set your intentions for 2020? I’d love to hear them, email me back and let me know. Thanks!
-Dan