Simple Ways to Connect with Others (podcast)

In the work I do in helping writers connect with readers and grow their platforms, I find that there is often this pressure to “go viral.” To identify a tactic that reaches the most people with the minimum effort. And sure, that’s definitely useful. But that can also be elusive. Today I want to talk about simple ways to engage those who you hope to connect with: readers, writers, booksellers, podcasters, librarians, teachers, literary festival organizers, and so many others.

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

You can watch the episode here:

Simple ways to connect with others

In the work I do in helping writers connect with readers and grow their platforms, I find that there is often this pressure to “go viral.” To identify a tactic that reaches the most people with the minimum effort. And sure, that’s definitely useful. But that can also be elusive.

Today I want to talk about simple ways to engage those who you hope to connect with: readers, writers, booksellers, podcasters, librarians, teachers, literary festival organizers, and so many others.

Recently a friend of mine shared a photo on Facebook of two bags of candy — it looked something like this:

As she walked onto a plane for a flight, she gave these to the crew. She said that by the end of the flight, she was thanked by every member of the crew individually. She was following the advice she remembered someone telling her of, “be the person to make someone else’s day.”

I think people tend to complicate this advice. When we consider how we can get the attention of readers or other authors or followers or subscribers, we feel we have to emulate one of those viral videos where we present someone with a rare first edition of a book they love, or a super personalized gift of some sort. Or we brainstorm some kind of “lead magnet” as a barter for someone to join our newsletter list. Or we think we have to do this clever skit or dance on TikTok. But often, what people want is much simpler.

My friend probably spent $10-15 on this candy, and that was enough to make the day of one hard working flight crew. It also made my friend feel good, which made me feel good. She has been going through a lot in the past year, and it has been absolutely inspiring to see how she is thriving amidst the unexpected.

In the work I do with writers, we focus on how to connect with readers and those who celebrate books like those they wrote. What I find again and again is the value of keeping things simple. Of showing up as a human being. And of starting with empathy.

So often, we think it is impossible to stand out. That there are too many newsletters already, too many podcasts, too many social media updates, too many online events. Now with the concept of AI writing books, perhaps you worry there will simply be too many books. Maybe you even think to yourself: “Besides, aren’t there so many other people who are more well established than I am? How can we hope to get attention for me or my writing.”

But it’s actually rather easy. This is the “trick,” so to speak when you want to connect with others:

Be someone who truly sees the other person.

That’s it. If you do that, you are giving people what they dream of. For someone else to recognize us. To check in on us. To care about what we care about. So often in our daily lives, this rare. Another friend shared this quote not long ago:

“Who checked on you today? Exactly. Take care of you.”

The way I translated it is that while each of us may have people in our lives who love and care for us, often they are busy with their own responsibilities and worries. When that happens, you should make time for attending to your own mental and physical health, because you can’t wait for everyone else to do that for you.

So what if you are the person who checks in on, or celebrates, others? Let me give you an example, which also explains the concept more:

I remember hearing an interview with Brandon Stanton, who created Humans of New York. What is that? Basically Brandon walks around on the street, asks random people if he can take their photo, and then asks them questions. The answers he gets are often incredibly deep and meaningful stories about someone’s life. He has 17 million Facebook followers, 13 million Instagram followers, is the author of 5 books, and has shared more than 10,000 stories from forty different countries.

In the interview, podcast host/author Tim Ferriss, wanted to understand how Brandon got people to share these powerful stories from a stranger in just 30 or 60 minutes. Tim asked about the questions Brandon asked, assuming that this was the key to getting such great responses. What was so different about the questions Brandon asked? This was his reply:

“It’s not the questions. I have about three or four entry questions that I use. “What’s your biggest struggle?” “How has your life turned out differently than you expected it to?” “What do you feel most guilty about?” But really, the planned questions are just springboards into a conversation. And how you get to that deep place with a person is absolute presence. It’s being 100 percent there. You’re not thinking in the framework of an interview. You’re not looking at a list of questions. You’re not thinking about your next question. You’re not thinking about how this person fits into your idea of them and what you know about them. You’re 100 percent there, and you’re 100 percent listening to them, and your questions are 100 percent coming based on curiosity about what they are telling you and nothing else.”

“People just feel alone. Period… There is this appreciation of being heard that even though I don’t know this guy, this is the first person who has taken such a focused and detailed interest in my problems. And the feeling of having somebody focus so intensely not on the sports teams you like or the music you like or any of the other trivial things that we get asked on a daily basis but these real things that you’re struggling with and maybe not even on the top of your mind but in the back of your mind that you’re not even really bringing to the surface, being heard like that is such a validating thing that that’s why people always share.”

“It really works because the people on the street that I meet are so thankful to have somebody really listen to them that in that bubble, in an hour and a half where I’m sitting with a stranger on the street, this magic happens where they’re willing to let me in to a space in their mind or their soul or whatever it is that they don’t really let other people into. And it’s that place that I think connects with so many people.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Brandon describes this as a skill that you develop, this ability to listen and be present with someone. This is a power we all have. Simply to see each other. To recognize what we are each trying to create. It doesn’t require a “like” a “follow” or a “subscribe.” It is just showing up as a human being, and validating who someone is and what they are hoping to share with others.

So on a practical level, how can you find simple ways to connect without doing what Brandon did? Let’s make it really clear prompt: how can you even connect with another writer who publishes in the same genre/topic as you? Some ideas:

  • Go to the bakery section of the foodstore and have them print a cake with an image of the book cover from an author whose book you are excited about or loved. This can be a brand new book, or it can be a book that came out years ago. Post a photo of it and tag them on social media. Every author wants to see their book cover on a cake.
  • Spend a week on social media celebrating someone’s book. Again, this doesn’t have to be a brand new book. What author wouldn’t want to see a reader celebrating their book two years after release date?
  • Buy 5 copies of someone’s book and give them away. Or create a video of you walking into a big bookstore, and turning that person’s book cover facing out on the shelf.
  • Send a gratitude email or direct message, telling someone how much their book meant to you.
  • Share a photo of you with someone’s book that you liked.

If you are thinking, “But Dan, I don’t want to do this for another author, I want readers to do these things for me!” Then I want to encourage you to learn by doing. If you want readers to celebrate your books in these ways, then model that behavior first. It also allows you to learn what it feels like to do these things. A few months back I wrote a blog post about the 10+ steps it takes to post a book review online. A lot of writers told me that it really opened their eyes — they had always thought of asking someone to post a book review as this super easy task. But it’s not, it takes 10+ steps to do so. If you want others to post reviews for your books, then get really good at the process yourself, because that will help you help them.

Don’t think of this work as a transaction, where you are giving something with the specific goal to receive something back in return. Instead, think of it as a way of being, and through that, how you become known.

Want examples of this? Go look at how these writers share and engage with others. Spend a week looking at their Instagram Stories or Tweets:

I started this post with a photo of two bags of candy. When I think about my friend buying candy for the plane crew, I can imagine 100 thoughts that could have stopped her from doing so”

  • “Candy is such a common commodity, why would they appreciate a few bits of chocolate. If I really wanted to make their day, I should buy cupcakes. But those are $4 each, I can’t afford that for the entire crew.”
  • “I’ll bet they already have snacks on the plane.”
  • “What if they think I’m weird?”
  • “I know people are rushing to get on the plane, I shouldn’t hold them up by pausing to give out bags of candy.”
  • “I’m already so stressed out when traveling, why don’t I just go listen to a podcast instead of spending time waiting in line to buy candy?”
  • “This airline is already charging me so much, why am I spending another $15 on it?”
  • “I should include a thank you card. But I don’t have time to go buy one. I should just forget the whole thing.”
  • “Maybe they will think I want preferential treatment. I don’t! I’d better not give out this candy, they will just think I want something in return.”

These are the same kinds of things I know writers consider every day to convince themselves not to make the effort to share or connect. But I want to encourage you to create. To share what you create. To connect with others in simple ways. And to do so with a sense of empathy. Instead of considering ROI (return on investment) and vying for virality, simply ask yourself (as my friend did), what would make someone’s day?


You have the power to share

Yesterday I taught a class titled “Marketing Books That Aren’t New,” which was hosted by Jane Friedman. Throughout the presentation, I shared many ideas and suggestions, and I have been considering what ties them all together. I think it is this: that today, authors have agency in a way they rarely did in the past.

Meaning: you have options to share your voice, share your writing, and connect with others.

Years ago, writers and creators had so many fewer options to share their work. They relied on the promotional value of a “book launch” because this was critical to get media and gatekeepers interested in talking about your writing. That could be a book signing, a book review, an article, etc. There was this brief window of the book launch (a few weeks to a few months) that you could vie for attention for your book, always relying on others to spread the word.

But now, you have more choices. More access. More channels. A greater ability to share your voice, connect with others, and over a longer timeline.

For the past couple of months, I have been listening to the 1974 book, “The Power Broker,” which outlines the life and impact that urban planner Robert Moses had on New York. The scope of his projects (parks, highways, bridges, buildings) is astounding. But the book paints a detailed picture of how he amassed and leveraged power to get what he wanted. It’s 1,300 pages, and takes 66 hours to listen to on audiobook, which is how I’m doing it.

I’m at a moment in the book where author Robert A. Caro is telling the story of how, after 30 years or protests to some of Robert Moses’ projects, one protest finally received attention. The author describes how so many protests in the past were never noticed by the broader population, so the protests to those projects always failed. Why? This line from the book:

“There was not a single reporter or photographer present.”

That line jumped out at me. These people who were protesting a project had a message. Often it was residents who were being displaced, and had nowhere else to go. They had organized. In some cases, they commissioned studies. They sometimes got prominent people involved. They raised funds. To no avail. Because they couldn’t get the attention of the media, who would have amplified their message to reach thousands, or even millions of others.

Their voices weren’t heard. They had no access, and no ability to share beyond small local events.

But today, we each have the ability to take photos, record video, write, publish, and share more broadly. Let me provide an example. This week I saw many people sharing the story of a daughter who posted a 17 second video to TikTok about her father’s novel, which read:

“My dad spent 14 years writing a book. He worked full time and his kids came first. But made time for his book. He’s so happy even though sales aren’t great. I’d love for him to get some sales. He doesn’t even know what TikTok is.”

The John Lennon song “Beautiful Boy” plays in the background. Was his daughter an influencer? I don’t think so, the video she shared was the first video on a brand new account for her dad on TikTok. Was the video super well produced? Well, here are some screenshots, it starts with a dusty typewriter case and empty cardboard box in the foreground, her father on the other side of the room facing away from the camera. :

The 17 second video went viral. At the time of writing this, his book is ranked #15 overall on Amazon. Not in his category, but for ALL BOOKS. I believe it was higher on the list earlier in the week. The book now has 851 ratings (most of them came in recently, all very positive.)

And if you look at the 40,000 comments on the video, they are gushing and supportive.

Your ability to share your voice and your writing, and to connect with others in a meaningful way is so much greater today than ever possible before. Are there problems with social media? Yep. Do you have to use it? Nope. But the channels at your disposal go beyond social media: to newsletters, online events, blogs, and so much else.

Of course, this too can be overwhelming, having so many options to share your message. But this is where I think back to the people from years ago, who couldn’t get a photographer or reporter to show up, frustrated that they had no means for their message to be heard. You get to choose if, when, and how you want to share. And you always have the option to choose not to share. But if you do, I encourage you to:

  • Focus your efforts so that you can do one thing really well, instead of being overwhelmed with 1,000 to-do’s.
  • Create a system to help plan and sustain this work of sharing.
  • Be consistent in sharing and connecting.
  • Whenever possible, don’t do this work alone. Develop colleagues who you can collaborate with, learn from, or just inspire you to keep going.


Doing stuff works (podcast)

Every week, my friend Jennie Nash and I have a mini-mastermind call. On it, we discuss business challenges, creative goals, new ideas, and so much else. Today, I want to share two of the biggest and most consistent insights we have had, and how they relate to how you can approach sharing your work and developing your platform as a writer. The main phrase Jennie and I come back to again and again is this: “We don’t know what works, but doing stuff works.” Today, I talk about why that is, and how you can use it.

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

You can watch the episode here:

Doing stuff works

I’ve mentioned before that every week, Jennie Nash and I have a mini-mastermind call. On it, we discuss business challenges, creative goals, new ideas, and so much else. Today, I want to share two of the biggest and most consistent insights we have had, and how they relate to how you can approach sharing your work and developing your platform as a writer. Let’s dig in…

So the main phrase Jennie and I come back to again and again is this:

We don’t know what works, but doing stuff works.

I mean, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that. Why? Well, Jennie Nash and I have each been running our businesses for 13+ years. We both work with writers and focus on books. And you would think that with all of these years of running successful businesses, you would be able to say, “Oh let me tell you the secret to success!” Or “Here is the foolproof system to success.” But the reality is, we don’t always know what will provide clear results. But we know that doing stuff works. Jennie and I have spent countless hours on the phone, but we have only met in person once, years ago, for a few minutes on the streets of New York City as I was rushing off to catch a train:


What is “Stuff?”

Stuff is… actions. So often people delay creating and they delay sharing, because they are trying to find the perfect strategy, or the exact right thing to create. What Jennie and I keep coming back to is, sometimes you just don’t know what the right strategy is. You don’t know what will deliver the highest ROI. You don’t know what will be a waste of time. And what won’t.

So you have to try things. You have to do stuff.

And through the repetition of doing “stuff” (a wide variety of tasks), good things tend to happen.

I keep this in mind when working with writers. Let’s say a writer I’m working with has concluded that their audience is on TikTok. So we do research and identify 40 TikTokers that could possibly have access to that audience. Then we create a strategy for reaching out to them, and making a compelling offer. Which of those 40 people will be the exact right fit? Not sure. And a lot of people delay action because they want to know. They logically ask “Which 3 of these people will have the highest ROI for my efforts, and are most likely to say yes. Because I would hate to waste my time reaching out to 40 people.” I mean, we all want to know that, right? But sometimes you don’t. You have to do the work.

There is a danger not only in “not doing stuff,” but by also trying to do the bare minimum. To try to make the absolute smallest amount of effort, but hoping for the biggest possible payoff. In my book Be the Gateway, I talk about ignoring best practices. Because oftentimes a best practice is a copy of a copy of a copy of an action that worked for someone 5 years ago, but now everyone is copying, and it is producing minimal results. We do this to ensure we feel we are taking measured safe actions. Which is reasonable. But sometimes the “reasonable” strategy is not the one that will work. I shared this on Twitter this week, and it was by far my most popular recent post:

Don’t bother fitting in. As an author, define your own creative identity rather than worrying about how to fit in to the trends of the marketplace.

When I look at the things I’ve done in the past 13 years that have led to my biggest successes, sometimes they were not my “best” ideas. I’ve watched great ideas that I worked really hard on… flop. And I’ve watched seemingly random ideas just take off quickly.

Another phrase Jennie and I use a lot is this:

“You have to throw spaghetti at the wall.”

Meaning, you have to try new ideas and see what sticks. Awhile back, Jennie was sharing all this data that she and her team collected about a problem they were trying to solve in her business. There was ALL THIS DATA. At the end of our discussion, we were talking about whether this data really helped provide a clear path forward. It didn’t. So we concluded: “It feels like we are still just throwing spaghetti at the wall. But now it’s spaghetti with data!” And that made it feel — somehow — more strategic.

If you follow my work, you know that I have developed a system for how I help writers hone their messages, establish their platform, identify their readers, craft marketing campaigns, and launch their books. It’s called The Creative Success Pyramid, and I made this fancy graphic for it:


You can download it here. Along with this pyramid, I have a 20+ tab spreadsheet that I use with my clients, where we create a detailed plan. So I absolutely believe in strategic planning. That structure provides the foundation for approaching how you do this work. From that starting point, I believe that action is where the magic happens. Ideating new ideas. Testing these plans. Executing on them. Learning from them. Iterating them. Starting again.

I’ve written in the past about my goal of learning to play guitar. After dabbling with it for a quarter century, I got serious a few years back, practicing every day. Yet, I find myself feeling like I’m not making progress. This is not for lack of information: I have found amazing instructional videos on YouTube and elsewhere. So this week I hired a new guitar teacher. I was radically honest with him about where I feel stuck, and my own habits that seem to hold me back. To my delight, he had a clear plan, specific exercises, and was accessible for accountability. We set up a weekly schedule to move forward.

Will it work? Who knows. But I know that doing stuff works. Simply by taking the action of hiring a new teacher, it will increase the chances of me reaching my goals with guitar. I can tell you that already I have felt more enthused about my daily practice sessions.

I’m reminded of this all the time when I look at other creators. How odd things lead to huge opportunities. Years ago, my son began watching this guy on YouTube who talks about cars named Doug Demuro. He now has 4.5 million subscribers. How did it all begin? Well, when he was younger, he began taking photos of exotic cars he saw in his town. He called it “carspotting.” His hobby became an article in Automobile magazine, featuring this average college kid (Doug) who just took photos of cars on the street. He then tells the story of what happened next:

“That particular issue of that particular magazine was sitting in a newsstand at the Atlanta airport, and happened to get picked up by a guy named Scott. Scott was a car enthusiast who worked at Autotrader. He was building out a content division at Autotrader, instead of just selling cars with car listings, they wanted to start writing articles. So Scott got this magazine, saw the article about me, and thought, ‘this guy might make some good content.” He reached out and asked, “Do you want to have lunch.” Within a few months Scott had the content division up and running, and I was his first freelance writer.”


Which is the path that lead Doug to his current career. Doug’s company recently received $37 million from investors. From the share that Doug received personally, he bought a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT, which is the very first car he took a photo of in his carspotting all those years back. The price? They tend to go for around $1.5 – $2 million dollars. This is the culmination of a dream for Doug. All because he took photos of cars on the street when he was a college senior. Was it a quick path to success? No. But he took a lot of actions, threw a lot of spaghetti at the wall, and kept creating and sharing.

I want to end with a video I watched this week from an author and creator on YouTube named Caroline Winkler. A slightly edited version of the title of a recent video of hers is: “How I became confident.” At the start of the video she is clear: she does not feel confident. She lists out her flaws, and describes how much she worries and seeks people’s approval. She then provides advice on how take meaningful actions on your goals, even if you don’t feel confident at all. So much of what she shares is about the power of taking action. Her advice is accessible and oftentimes counterintuitive.


This very newsletter is an example of me throwing spaghetti at the wall, and not knowing if this “stuff” will work. Everything I am writing about is something that has been on my mind all week. But when I see it here, I wonder, “Will a writer who is looking to me for advice on marketing their books really appreciate a story about some car guy on YouTube, and this woman’s advice on YouTube?” I can think of 5 specific things I’m worried about in this email. Yet, in a few minutes, I will click ‘publish,’ another strand of spaghetti thrown against the wall. And “results” may not be apparent very quickly. Metrics like open rate won’t tell me much.

Maybe I will get zero responses from this newsletter, but in 14 months I may be talking to a writer, and they will say, “I really fell in love with your ethos around marketing awhile back when you sent a newsletter that had this woman talking about how to be confident.”

Doing stuff works.