Case Study: How One Writer Grew an Engaged Social Media Following

Writer Alison Taylor-Brown just reached the milestone of having 6,000 followers on Facebook.

This, in and of itself is not a big deal though. I have seen many people amass a big following, but one that is not engaged. Again and again I will see someone with 10,000 followers or 20,000 followers on Facebook, but with barely any engagement. Every post they share to these 20,000 people gets a total of 2-6 likes, rarely anything more.

But that isn’t the case with Alison. Her posts get hundreds of likes, and dozens of share and comments. Today I want to talk about:

  1. How she got to where she is.
  2. What she shares and why.
  3. The purpose behind why Alison is doing this.
  4. How you can engage people on social media.

Oh, and before we dig in, let me properly introduce Alison:

She writes historical fiction, and runs The Village Writing school. I’ve worked with her for awhile now, and you may remember some other essays I’ve shared where I have featured her work. Here is her Facebook Page, which we will be discussing. You can also find her on and

Alison’s Facebook Growth Strategy

Alison and I did a lot of work on her goals, her messaging, researching her audience, and the marketplace. I won’t go into that here, but I did want to mention that.

Once we had that down, and identified Facebook as a place she wanted to connect with people online, we created a strategy.

We began experimenting with Facebook ads, and as I’ve noticed tends to happen with Facebook, the quirky radically honest ad seemed to work really well. This is the one that seemed to work best:

Notice what she is not doing in this ad. She isn’t trying to sell you on anything. She isn’t promising that you will learn to write a book in a weekend, she isn’t promoting her writing or anything at all. Instead, she is telling you exactly what she is doing, and introducing the characters in her life, which happen to be her mother and her dog.

Nearly two years ago, Alison did move from Arkansas to Italy for the specific purpose of researching and writing her historical fiction novel. It’s actually an inspiring story, I share it here.

The ad clearly lays out the story you will become a part of if you connect with her on Facebook.

She has run that ad consistently, for a very low budget. And over time, one by one, people have liked her page.

Of course, she does other things to share her Facebook page with people, linking to it on her website, telling people about it, and she is very active in helping writers and meeting new people, so they find out about it that way too.

Through her work with the Village Writing School, she organizes dozens of workshops each year, including massive online summits which bring in hundreds of people to each event. I wrote about one of those events with 600 writers here.

Together, these things communicate to people who she is, what she creates, how she does it, and where they can engage with her online.

What Alison Shares and Why

Author Gary Vaynerchuk has this great way of describing what to share on social media: “Document, don’t create.” Meaning: document what is actually happening in your life, don’t create some fake content that keeps people at an arm’s distance. Document why you write. How you write. Who you meet. Your aspirations. Your process. Where you go. Milestones. Setbacks. That sort of thing.

Alison shares plenty about the research and writing she does for her novel, as well as the work she does at the Village Writing School.

But Alison also shares the journey she is on in Europe.

Here are the results on a typical post for her (without boosting it): 1,711 people reached, 662 Likes, 31 shares, and 28 comments.

What was the photo of? A seagull:

Here is a post that reached more than 2,000 people, had 829 Likes, 56 shares and 60 comments:

Oh, and this 18 second video of a dog watching ducks? 2,600 people reached, 825 likes, 91 shares, 83 comments and an astounding 438 minutes of viewing time. That means — somehow — that in total, people spent 7+ hours watching this 18 second video?!

If you are a normal writer, you are likely thinking “Um, Dan? What does any of this have to do with Alison developing an author platform. The kind where people are following her because they will become rabid fans of her historical fiction and other writing?

Well, as I mentioned, Alison does share plenty about her writing process, her research, and the work she does with writers.

But she is also developing something powerful: her voice.

A couple years ago, Alison would not have known how to share a post on Facebook that would get hundreds of people to engage with what feels like a mundane aspect of her life.

But now she does. Alison has developed the craft of observing the world around her and capturing an engaging photo. She has gotten comfortable being in photos herself. She has learned how to translate her humor from real-life to a Facebook post. She has also consistently met person after person who she befriends and then shares on social media.

Here is a book club she met with and featuring on her Facebook page:

Here is her driving instructor:

And those online Summits I mentioned above? She has been consistently reaching out to and interviewing bestselling authors, who may become connected to her on Facebook.

Here she is interviewing authors Hank Phillippi Ryan, Barbara Ross, and Cate Holahan for an upcoming Mystery and Thriller Summit she is running:

Alison’s “Facebook Strategy” is really just her connecting with writers, readers, and regular folks throughout her life.

The purpose behind why Alison is doing this.

Alison is sharing her experiences, her journey, and the small moments of life. People reading this who feel that writers should just write and not worry about engagement… I mean, isn’t that what life is? A series of small moments? A story that unfolds?

She is preparing for how to be public, and how to engage with readers. These are skills many author don’t prepare for until their book launch is upon them, and it is too late to really hone these skills in a meaningful manner. In a panic, they take a few glamour shots of themselves with their book, and then spam social media with subtle variations of “Buy my book!”

But not Alison.

She is testing and learning what engages, and what doesn’t. She is developing her voice, and making real connections with actual people, not just some vague “audience.”

Some writers think that this isn’t what matters, that writers should only write in silence, and let others worry about connecting with readers. Of course, that is their choice. But something I consider is why did the following authors show up to an industry event, give me a free copy of their book, sign it, and chat with me? Here I am doing just that with Brené Brown, who didn’t just talk to me, but called me back over after I walked away because she thought of something else to tell me:

Amy Tan:

Malachy McCourt:

Mo Willems:

Gretchen Rubin:

These authors didn’t silently sign a book, they told jokes, asked questions, answered questions, and were truly engaged.

Why? Maybe it is good business. Maybe it sells more books. But also: maybe it just feels good. To truly connect with other human beings around your writing, around life, around the moments that fill our days.

How You Can Engage People on Social Media

Some people who read this post will want a simple step-by-step way that they can copy Alison’s success. Here it is:

  1. Create a Facebook Author Page.
  2. Get a dog.
  3. Move to Italy.
  4. If you don’t have a 90+ year old mother who is willing to join you, hire an actor to play the part.
  5. Take out Facebook ads with a quirky photo.
  6. Post updates on this schedule: Monday = garden, Tuesday = sheep, Wednesday = dog, Thursday – writing, Friday = mother.

I’m kidding. Let’s face it, copying Alison won’t work. Why? Because her voice, her goals, her life, her writing, are going to be completely unique to her.

This is also why many people find social media to be difficult. It’s why someone can amass 20,000 followers, but have barely any engagement with any actual people.

Instead, these are the steps I would encourage you to take:

  1. Close your eyes and visualize that your next book becomes a bestseller, and you are having a reading at the big Barnes & Noble in Union Square in New York City. The line is wrapped around the block, and you say to yourself, “I am so grateful, I am going to stay here until I meet ever fan, sign every book.” What do you want those encounters with fans to be like? How will you connect with them on a personal level, even if just for a moment? How do you hope they connect with you? Whatever your answer, make that your reason and strategy for using social media. Prepare for that moment at Barnes & Noble.
  2. Work to understand how to communicate what you write and why, who your ideal readers are, and where you can find them online and off. Honestly, this is exactly what I teach you to do in my book: Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience.
  3. Develop your voice. Share what you create and why, and other areas of your life that you are comfortable sharing.


How Boston’s GrubStreet Went From Teaching 8 Writers Per Year, to 6,000+, with Eve Bridburg

Each year, Boston’s GrubStreet offers more than 600 courses and programs for writers. They began in 1997 with 8 students, and today, they serve more than 6,000 writers per year. In this episode, I talk to GrubStreet Founder and Executive Director Eve Bridburg. We dig into how she and the GrubStreet team make decisions, take risks, and challenge themselves to expand how they can serve writers throughout the Boston Community. 

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

You can find Eve and GrubStreet in the following places:
Twitter: @EveBridburg and @GrubWriter

The Truth About Book Launches

I’ve been a part of hundreds of book launches with authors over the past decade. Today I want to talk about some of the things that are rarely discussed publicly about about the reality of book launches.

These are the uncomfortable truths that many writers are surprised to discover when they are going through their own book launches.

I want to frame this discussion with some quotes from an author that I interviewed recently, Audrey Monke. Even though she is a nonfiction author, her experiences are similar to things I have heard from novelists, memoir authors and others.

What she shares relates to hundreds of conversations I have had with people about their book launches.

Audrey is the author of Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults. It came out in May of this year, I believe it is in its second printing already, with 4,000+ copies published.

You can listen to my full interview with her here.

If anything I share below sounds negative, I honestly don’t mean for it to. In talking about the reality of book launches, I feel that this empowers authors to better prepare for their own. Every day, I work in the trenches with writers on practical strategies and tactics of book launches, and the results can be amazing. Check out the case studies section of my consulting page for examples. Likewise, I speak to publishers, editors, agents, publicists, booksellers and others constantly, and have a profound respect for how much they care about their work and how difficult it can be.

Okay, let’s dig in…

You Can’t Offload Marketing to Someone Else and Expect Great Results

A lot of writers just want to write. I can’t blame them. They say, “I never got into this to market my work, I don’t know how to market my work, someone else should do it.”

While that makes sense, the reality is that no one will be better at marketing your work than you will. You care about this book. You understand it inside and out. And for much the same reason that you would prefer to talk to Bruce Springsteen himself, and not his publicist or manager. Readers love connecting with writers.

Audrey frames the work she put into her book launch this way:

“I had to market the heck out of my business for so long. I love selling something I believe in, and I think will help people. I approached my book in the same way.”

She has owned a camp for years, which made her an expert at how marketing really works. It’s a combination of hard work, and connecting with people for the right reasons.

When Audrey talked about publicity for her book, her conclusion was:

“The publicity for my book has all been through things I did, not my publisher.”

She said that for the 10 podcasts she was a guest on, all of those came through her own outreach. This is in no way meant to disregard the amazing skill of publicists. Their work is vital and difficult.

When Audrey and I talked about this, she made the point that as a podcaster herself, she understands that blind pitches from publicists can fall flat.

But when an author reaches out to a podcast they love with a book they just wrote, it is oozing with authentic joy and appreciation. Those are critical ingredients in getting booked.

Her assessment:

“I incorrectly thought that being with a traditional publisher would be a huge boost to the book promotion. They did get it distributed well, which is a big value. What I have learned is that the book will be most successful based on what you (the author) put into it.”

Publishing a Book is Business

Audrey put a ton of work into her book launch. This is why:

“I learned a lot about marketing over 3 decades of running my business. I thought of my book like a business.”

Because publishing is actually a business. Now, you can navigate that business any way that you like. Audrey chose to do it this way:

“I spent January through March working on the book launch almost full-time”

Sometimes I speak to writers who feel jaded at publishing. They are mad at publishers or agents or Amazon or Facebook or even readers… for one way or another that the author feels let down.

While I always have empathy for that, it is also a reminder that publishing is a business, and like any industry, business is difficult.

For every story of an author who became an overnight success are thousands of others trying to get traction. This is why any promotions you see of “Easily launch a bestseller with these simple tips” often sets a false expectation. If it was that easy, what kind of a business would this really be?

When Audrey and I spoke, she talked about the time she invested in reaching out to people one-on-one. To get book blurbs she talked about her specific outreach process of not just the initial email, but the follow-up, the tracking of it all.

The great blurbs for her books came from her own network of colleagues and friends — relationships she spent months and years forming. This is why I always talk about the value of preparing for your book launch more than a year before publication (more on that below.)

Audrey and I talked about the social risk that an author feels like they are taking when they send an email like this, an email asking for someone to read and review your book.

In my book about engaging your audience of readers, Be the Gateway, I talk about social fear being one of the the biggest barriers between you and success as an author. These simple emails can feel scary to send because it can be difficult to ask others for things. But for Audrey, who spent years running a camp and doing her own marketing, she knows that this is the reality of what it means to connect with others about work you believe in. You have to reach out.

I shared an example of this recently in another blog post about my experience speaking at the Biographers International Conference in New York City. Fellow panelist, author Melinda Ponder, shared a story of outreach that blew me away. She found out that a friend of hers occasionally bartends for a well-known author who had a strong connection to the topic of Melinda’s book. Melinda dreamed of having this author write a blurb for her book. So Melinda asked her friend to approach this author and give her a copy of Melinda’s manuscript.

I’ll bet that reading this may make you uncomfortable, because it requires social risk. I can see any reasonable person discouraging this because:

  • “Well, you don’t want to use your friend to get access to someone.”
  • “That’s not professional to hand that well-known author your manuscript in a social setting like that. Just send it to her agent.”
  • “That isn’t how publishing works.”

The result? The author loved Melinda’s manuscript. She ended up writing a heartfelt blurb encouraging people to read the book. Getting this blurb from such a prominent author was a real catalyst to getting Melinda’s book in front of a lot of readers.

The stories that Audrey and Melinda share about their book launches underscore that marketing is a process. None of what they did was copying simple “best practices.” Instead, their work requires inventiveness, gumption, and truly connecting with others.

The Book Launch Prep Starts Months/Years Before the Day Itself

When did Audrey begin preparing for her book launch? Her timeline:

“When I first started marketing the book, I didn’t even have an agent yet.”

She started a blog in 2012, a podcast in 2016, a weekly email newsletter in 2016. Again and again she reached out to those who would align with or benefit from her work.

Week by week, year by year, she honed her voice, she developed relationships, she tested the messaging that would engage her ideal readers.

And if you are reading this thinking, “Well that’s just dandy, I don’t have any of those things.” Remember the proverb:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

I am constantly working with writers to create these things, and I see wonderful results. Don’t tell yourself that it is too late for you to do these things, it isn’t. The work of connecting with readers is an opportunity that exists as much today as it did years ago.

Your Audience Includes Friends, Family, Second and Third Degree Connections

A lot of writers want pretend that their audience are these perfect distant people. Their readers are “out there somewhere.” When I ask about those they know — friends, family, colleagues, etc — they may say “Oh, no one I know reads the kinds of books I write.”

So that author hides. They hide their work from those around them.


They don’t want to be perceived as “marketing” themselves, and they may have a very real fear of being judged by those who know them well.

Yet for most writers, your existing network is where big opportunities come from. Beyond the examples above, when I interviewed author Beth Ricanati, she talked about how many of the speaking events for her book came through her existing network of friends and friends of friends.

Do you want your book launch to reach new people? Of course. But don’t overlook the one asset that you have spent a lifetime building: the trust of others who want to support you and your writing.

Some People You Are 100% Certain Will Support You and Your Book, Won’t

Which brings us to another difficult truth. Audrey shares her experience this way:

“Some of the people I was 100% sure would be on board (with supporting and promoting my book), weren’t. But I also gained new friends in the industry who I never knew before.”

When she and I talked about this, she mentioned that there were people who she was generous to for years. She provided as many resources to them as possible to help them out, and 100% assumed they would be on board to support her book. They weren’t.

Why? I think those reasons are always complex and personal.

The point I want to make is that you can’t assume that everything you plan will happen as you hope it will. At times during your book launch you will be shocked that something you expected to happen, just doesn’t work out. Don’t let that throw you off balance.

Because other wonderful opportunities and connections come up that you never could have expected. In the end, it all balances out.

Audrey also mentioned the difficulties she was having in getting people to post Amazon reviews. With more than 4,000 copies of her book in print (she doesn’t yet have an exact figure for sales), she has 8 reviews on Amazon.

She says, “People tell me all the time, ‘I love your book’ and I ask them… can you write a review on Amazon, because I have 8 reviews on Amazon right now. I know many more than that have read it and like it.”

She continues to work to grow that number, but she came away from the experience with an important insight:

“I have become such a believer now that I am dedicating my time to write Amazon reviews of books I enjoy because I see how valued that is by the authors.”

I love how she is turning this into a positive action to support others.

Even if You are Smart and Capable, Sometimes Hiring People to Help Makes Sense

Maybe you can tell that Audrey is really experienced in marketing, she has tons of gumption, she is generous to those around her, she believes in what she does, and is super smart.

Yet, sometimes that isn’t enough to get it all done.

Again and again in my conversation with her, she talked about hiring people to help her out. A book coach to help her write the book, an assistant to help her manage the marketing, a friend to help her do outreach for speaking.

In working with so many writers, I find that successful people know when to bring in help. They believe in the value of collaboration.

The Lifespan of the Book Extends Well Beyond the Launch Itself

As Audrey moves away from the book launch window, she is reinvesting in outreach for her book.

“You have to keep going and keep it out there — I have to keep reaching out to new places because most people have not heard about my book.”

She talked about the outreach she will be doing in the Fall specifically focused on schools. Audrey will be actively promoting her book for years to come. This is an opportunity that many authors miss. They put all of their effort into this tiny launch window, then they move on. Yet every day, readers are looking for books they never heard of. As an author, it is your choice to connect with them, or ignore them.

You Can’t Prepare for Everything, even with Great Partners

Audrey’s biggest regret in the publishing process? A glitch with pre-orders. She had worked hard to setup pre-orders between camps ordering books for their parents and a local indie bookstore.

The problem? There weren’t enough books in the first print run, and much of them were prioritized to big retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

What this meant is that some of the people she most wanted to get the book had to wait weeks after launch day.

For as much as you prepare for a book launch, you can’t plan for everything. I told her that something similar happened to bestselling authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. David talked about it in a blog post titled: “Our book launch was botched and it’s been crazy at work trying to fix it.”

Now, Jason and David are the authors of 4+ books, and super smart about marketing and business processes. Yet, even with this experience — and the fact that there are two of them! — they couldn’t foresee every possible problem in the publication of their book.

Even if you work hard, invest in great collaborators and partners, the unexpected may happen. Don’t let that sour the fun, which brings us to the final point Audrey made…

It’s Important to Have Fun in the Book Launch Process!

Audrey wanted to clearly state that it was important to have fun in the book launch process. She talked again and again about how passionate she was about how her book can help people, and how she was forging meaningful connections in the process.

She also talked about the ways that her family and her friends celebrated her launch and supported her.

Her parting advice: “Just have fun with it! Just holding your book in your hand is a pretty darned good feeling.”

I said this as the beginning of this post, but that was 2,500 words ago, so I’ll say it again: nothing I share here is meant to be negative.

Every week I work with authors on book launches. They are indeed fun, meaningful experiences. If you want some help in your book launch, check out these other resources I have shared:


A Book Launch Case Study, with Author Audrey Monke

Earlier this year, author Audrey Monke and I talked about her plans for her upcoming book launch. I knew that she had been preparing for it for months — even years — ahead of time. But I waited to have her on the podcast, because I didn’t just want to discuss what she was planning, but also the results! Today I’m excited to share with you that conversation. We dig into serious details on her book launch strategy and results! Audrey is the author of Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults.

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

You can find Audrey in the following places:
Her book, Happy Campers
Her podcast

Taking creative risks

Nine years ago, I took a huge creative risk. The corporate job I had for a decade ended, and I didn’t look for another one. Instead, I started my own company.

The only problem? I wasn’t quite sure what it would be. What I would do. How I would really earn a living with it.

This was a month before my wife and I had our first son. When we were still living in (a rather dumpy) apartment, saving for a house. A house that no one would give us a mortgage for, because I was starting my own business. Turns out, banks require you to have a steady paycheck in order to give you a mortgage.

Nine years ago this week is when I officially opened the doors to WeGrowMedia and took my first client.

It was the bottom of the recession, and soon after, my wife decided to leave her tenured teaching job to be home with our son.

When I shared this news at the time on my blog, I received this comment:

“Think about your family, you dolt.”

While I didn’t like that comment, I couldn’t help but see their point of view. When many other peoples were seeking financial security in the recession, here we were taking big financial risks. No stable jobs, starting a family, launching an unproven business.

But I can honestly say, these past nine years have been amazing. Full of financial risk? Yep. But also full of deep fulfillment in both my work and personal life.

You see, I work with writers and creators. People for whom risk is a daily action. Where they are exploring who they can be and what they can create. Where they are are sharing their creative work with the world, which is akin to wearing your heart on your sleeve. Doing so almost begs for judgement. “Buy my book,” “Review my book,” “Read my essay,” “Sign up for my newsletter,” “Like my social media post.”

Every day is a new opportunity to create. And a new possibility of rejection.

But would you want it any other way?

Hellen Keller said it this way:

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

The risk that writers and creators take is the act of living. Of finding out who we are. What we are capable of. Of attempting to forge new connections between people. To bring us to new places, new ideas, and new experiences.

Nine years ago, I set off on this journey with my family. In that time, I have worked with thousands of writers. For each, I have had the privilege of being a tiny part of helping them share their voice, create their work, and connect it to people who care.

Thank you for joining me in this. Your support means so much to me.