Connecting with readers requires clarity

Today I want to talk about the importance of having a clarity of vision in your creative work, and how that can lead to you effectively sharing it with your ideal audience. I want to view this through the lens of three creators I had the pleasure of interviewing recently: an author, filmmaker and a financial expert.

Let’s meet Evan, Angela, and Jacquette:

HAVE CLARITY IN YOUR CREATIVE VISION

 

Evan J RobertsWhen I spoke with Evan J. Roberts, he told me he has a goal of writing 100 books: “I have journals dedicated to writing children’s books, where I identify idea after idea after idea of books I want to write.”

He is the author of more than 15 books, but many of them are not available on Amazon. Instead he found his own high quality printer and did his own print run. He sells them online, through direct relationships with booksellers, and regional events.

I asked him why he does so many local events, such as setting up a table with his books at street fairs, and he said:

“Being face to face goes a long way to making a real connection. You can say anything behind a camera, but when you are right there in front of someone, you can feel their energy. You can pick up on authenticity. I’m not afraid of people, and I think those types of interactions help to see you as a person. That has helped us with our series, they see the human side of who I am as a person.”

What he said next shifts the way that many authors approach the marketplace:

“My whole strategy in the beginning was to do as many live events as I possibly could. I think as an author, you can hide behind Amazon all you want, but people want to know who you are as a person. It also challenges you to start talking about the book and the relationship of what it means to the reader. It forces you to stop saying “buy my book because I wrote it,” and it forces you to start thinking, “Here is why you should consider my book, here is what it will do for you. Here is how it can impact you, or your family, or your children. That is a totally different conversation to have. You change the whole dynamic now, because you are leading with value.”

That is the reason why he started with an initial print run of 4,000 books. He explained it as, “I’m always going to bet on myself. I’m so glad I did it. I’m constantly investing in myself. ”

He shared the story of how he became comfortable with the idea of sales. When he was a teenager, he sold kitchen knives door to door.

“I had to create a list of family and friends, and call them with a script. I set up an appointment based on that script, then went to their homes to share the product with them. At the end, I had to ask for the order, which in the case of these knives, was thousands of dollars.”

Why am I telling you about selling knives door to door? Because of what Evan learned on the other side of it:

“That experience broke down the barrier of being afraid of rejection. Broke down the barrier of not wanting to promote myself. Most creatives have a big challenge when it comes to understanding how to promote themselves and not second guessing themselves in terms of how it will appear to people. I can’t tell you how many no’s I’ve gotten, or how many times I went to a home and no one was there. Those experiences made me tougher as a person.”

“Now when I promote, I’m not promoting because this is a book and I want you to buy it. I know that the value is there, I know how it is going to impact a child. I know the value of the energy that I put into my writing, it is not about making a buck.

I love his conclusion on the intersection of creativity and the marketplace:

“Once you get comfortable with your message, and why you started writing in the first place, money is just an exchange of value. It is just that I have created something and someone else sees that it is worth something. It is transmuting that value from one to another.”

“[Selling kitchen knives] taught me, you have to ask. Very few people will just volunteer their money or services to you, you have to AFTO, “Ask For the Order.” That’s in life, you have to ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, chances are very slim that someone will just come up to you and say, “Hey, here is everything you were looking for.”

You can listen to my entire conversation with Evan here.

LOOK AT OBSTACLES AS OPPORTUNITIES

 

Angela TuckerThe one certainty you will have in your efforts to create and share is that there will be obstacles. Some you are already aware of, some will pop up unexpectedly.

Oftentimes in life, we want a clear path to the road ahead. For things to feel safe. But what if we embrace the idea that this is antithetical to the process of creating. Creativity requires the unexpected. As does the process of sharing your work and connecting it with your ideal audience.

Five years ago, I first interviewed filmmaker Angela Tucker. This summer we sat down again to catch up on her newest film and her career.

The entire process of filmmaking is obstacles. For her documentary work, she is creating a film when she has no idea where it will go. She doesn’t know who may appear as a main character, or what their narrative arc may be. She only discovers that as the film production moves forward.

I mean, the entire process feels like an enormous risk. Films are expensive to make, so filmmakers need to seek out funding, need to partner with collaborators to get it done, and then need to find a window into the marketplace to have their work seen.

Angela summed it up perfectly when we discussed 2020:

“I could not have predicted that people would not watch things in movie theaters.”

She is a producer on her latest film, and of course, their plans for release have radically shifted. Instead of going to festivals and having screenings, many of their plans are virtual and digital.

She framed it all this way:

“I look at obstacles as opportunities. This is a time where people have to ask themselves why they make movies.”

This forced her to have to ask herself of what a screening in a theater actually provides to her and the film. And she connected it all back to the creative vision that started it all — why we create and share:

“If you want the film to be out there, then you have to have a real vision as to what change you want to make. I’m just trying to make as many things that I feel good about as possible, that hopefully can make some kind of change in the world.”

You can listen to my full interview with Angela here.

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

 

Jacquette TimmonsMy days are filled with conversations with writers and creators. Of course, most are seeking a path to create the work they dream of, and ensure it connects with someone who will love it.

Many writers feel frustrated or confused by the publishing process. They sometimes feel there is a huge gap between their hopes and their reality.

But something that Jacquette Timmons said to me helps us reframe this. She is a financial behaviorist who helps people rethink their relationship to money. But her advice applies more broadly as well:

“We are talking about money all the time, but we aren’t having the right conversations.”

It’s this idea that we may think we are immersed in a topic, but that our orientation can be completely off. She talked about how often people avoid knowing the truth — understanding their own habits and reality around money.

Again, I felt this directly applied to how writers approach the idea of publishing and sharing their work. We can see this when we struggle to find the time, energy or focus to write. We don’t understand our motivations or habits well enough to get it done. We can see it in our struggle to find a path to publication — frustrated at not finding an agent or publisher — yet unable to describe our writing in a simple conversation. And we can see this in our ability to share our work with readers, hoping that a social media algorithm will magically bring us readers because of a Tweet.

Jacquette is a financial behaviorist, meaning her entire approach to how she helps people with finance is framed around our emotions and how they drive decisions. This is the human side of money. If you have read my work for any length of time, you may know that a huge focus for me is what I refer to as human-centered marketing. I love how Jacquette approaches finance with the human lens.

She described how often she talks to people who have guilt or shame around their financial mistakes, or what they have or don’t have. Her advice on how to approach the path forward is life-changing:

“You always have a choice, so operate from within that power.”

You can listen to my full interview with Jacquette here.

Thanks!

-Dan

“You always have a choice, so operate from within that power.” On Money and Creativity, with Jacquette Timmons

Jacquette TimmonsToday I want to explore a topic that many writers and artists avoid: money and finance. I’m excited to welcome financial expert Jacquette Timmons onto the podcast. She talks about the psychology and emotion around money, and how it can limit your potential as a creator. I love the way she frames this: “We are talking about money all the time, but we aren’t having the right conversations.”

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

You can find Jacquette in the following places:
jacquettetimmons.com
Instagram.com: @jacquettemtimmons
Twitter: @jacqmtimmons
Facebook

How her book launch plans worked out

Nearly a year before her novel came out, Leigh Stein hired me to help her plan the marketing and book launch strategy for it. In the past few months I have shared two case studies of that work. But both of those were done before the book was released. Today I’m excited to share with you the first update of how Leigh’s novel has done after it has been published.

In the first part of the case study from February, Leigh and I talked about the work we did before Covid-19 upended the world. You can listen to our entire hourlong conversation about the book launch and marketing process here, all the work she did 4-12 months before publication.

In that chat, we discuss the value of developing your marketing plan much earlier than you think, the value of identifying your ideal readers, and why you shouldn’t confuse an author platform with an actual marketing campaign. We also talk about the value of seeking out collaborators.

In May I released part 2 of the case study where Leigh and I talked about how she was adjusting her marketing and launch plans within the new realities of living in quarantine. One of her original marketing strategies was a multi-city series of events, so we discussed how everything is adjusting. You can listen to that 45 minute conversation here.

Which brings us to part 3 of the case study, what Leigh has been experiencing since the book’s release on June 30th. You can listen to our entire 50 minute conversation here.

Leigh’s book is Self Care: A Novel, her fourth book, and after just a few weeks, I’m excited to say it’s also her most successful! (to the right is a photo of the book with one of my matching typewriters.)

The book has been featured in nearly two dozen lists of recommended summer reads in the media, including from Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Vulture and Book Riot. The book received good reviews in New York Magazine, The New Republic, Wired, the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Huffington Post.

Over on Goodreads it has 150 reviews and 761 ratings. On Amazon she has 18 ratings.

She moved her events online, and they’ve gone really well. She made a point to have each event be “in conversation” with someone else who was well-known in their industry. A key aspect of this strategy was choosing not to have them all be with other authors, but rather with someone from any field who she felt was incredibly interesting, and aligned to themes from Self Care. She has also worked to ensure the events are engaging and involving to viewers right from the start, involving them in the conversations.

In the interview, Leigh takes us through the exact process she went through to get one of her guests, an influential yoga instructor with thousands of followers. Was it a cleverly written email right before the book was released? Nope. A year before launch, Leigh spent $700 to attend a weekend yoga retreat with the instructor. For months, she stayed in touch with her and attended her other online classes. Leigh invested in this woman’s community, and forged a real human-centered connection.

This is part of why I talk so much about the power of relationships and considering your book launch well before you think you need to. Trust takes time. It is an investment, but the very best kind.

When Leigh and I created the launch plan, we created two personas that represented her ideal readers for Self Care. We named them Rachel and Lauren. They were pretend people who embodied who we hoped the readers would be. This helped us make loads of marketing decisions. We would ask ourselves “Would Rachel listen to this podcast?” when deciding where to put our efforts.

Since the release of the book, Leigh has met many real-life people who aligned to the Rachel and Lauren personas! This has been such a fulfilling experience for her. She put the readers at the center of how she considered releasing Self Care, and to have actual engagements with these people has been amazing.

Just before launch, Leigh wrote an article for Medium that went viral. It received 150,000 views and an incredible amount of engagement. It was a nonfiction piece, but aligned to the themes of her novel.

I do want to point out the reality behind viral success though. For every article that runs are dozens of other pitches that fall flat Leigh described it this way:

“Between April and June, I pitched 20 stories. Ideas about Coronavirus that seemed timely and relevant in April were completely irrelevant by May. Two of my pitches were accepted—then one of those two was killed.”

In my experience, impostor’s syndrome seems to always be somewhere in the creative process. This is how she described the process of writing the essay that went viral:

“I was anxious that I no longer knew how to write. I wrote this 2600-word piece in four days. When my editor didn’t get back to me for a few days, it seemed to my anxious mind like further proof my fears were true: it really was badly written, it wasn’t what she wanted, she was just trying to find a nice way to tell me. I checked my contract to see what the kill fee was. Then my editor got back to me and said it was exactly what she was looking for and gave me my edits and I stopped crying and worked for the second weekend in a row and we published on Monday.”

Viral success happens in the same way that everything else happens: with great uncertainty, hard work, and a bit of luck.

So much of what Leigh shared in our conversation talks about specific marketing tactics, but also the big picture reality of being a writer. She recently shared:

“I’m 35 years old, my fourth book just came out, and I still don’t make a full-time living as a writer.”

This is something we discuss a lot in the interview: the difference between the perception of the writing life, and the reality. I encourage you listen in to our conversation here. Or, subscribe to “The Creative Shift with Dan Blank” on your podcast player of choice.

Thanks!
-Dan

Book Launch Case Study, Part 3 with Leigh Stein

Welcome to the third part of my book launch case study with Leigh Stein. A year ago she and I began working on the marketing strategy for her novel, Self Care, which was released a few weeks ago. In this episode, we discuss the many ways the book has been successful, and how a year’s worth of marketing work has paid off.

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

You can find Part 1 of the case study here, and part 2 here.

You can find Leigh in the following places:
leighstein.com
Her book: Self Care: A Novel
Instagram: @leighstein
Twitter: @rhymeswithbee

Creating that magical moment of connection

Today I want to talk about one simple action you can take to better connect you and your writing to readers, as well as those they respect and listen to. What’s more, this one is all about being generous, connecting to someone in a meaningful way, and feeling a deep sense of fulfillment in the process.

Let’s boil this all down to what writing and publishing is all about, which is connection. This idea that you have an idea, a story, an insight that you want to share. This is something that a big part of what you feel called to do. You can’t not do it.

The culmination of that process? It’s not really finishing a manuscript, although that is an amazing milestone. It’s not publication, although that is as well. Art is complete when it connects with someone. When there is that magical blend of your intention as the writer, and what the reader brings when they read it. Their own worldview, life experience, and context in which they read your words.

In that moment something entirely new is created.

As many writers will tell you, smaller versions of that moment happens when they meet someone who shares their love of a certain kind of story, or writing, or themes. This is why we have readings, literary events, conferences, retreats, meetups, and even social media.

Is it the exact same thing as what happens when someone reads your book? Nope.

But is it a wonderful connection around the same underlying things? Yes. And what’s more, it is one that you, the author, gets to experience. Most people read in isolation. It happens privately, in small moments, and the magical connection of art described above happens in their mind.

Okay, let’s get back to the single feel-good action I mentioned. One that creates a tiny version of that magical moment of connection. One where you reach out to someone who “gets” you and your writing. But also one where you allow that person to feel seen. Where you grow your own literary circle in the best way possible: not by counting numbers of followers or subscribers, but connecting with one human being.

Okay, here is the strategy:

  1. Email someone. Or, if you can’t find their email, Direct Message them on their social media of choice.
  2. Thank them for something.
  3. Wish them a good day.

That’s it. These are all tools you have. You don’t have to risk anything by asking them to do you a favor. Instead, it is you creating a special moment for that person. One where they are supported and seen, and where you connect with them in relation to the types of things you love writing about.

Who could you email and what could you thank them for? Here is a list to get you started:

  • An author whose work inspired you in some way. Tell them that. Be specific if you can. Don’t be precious here, it doesn’t have to be the one book you would take to a desert island. Thank people for characters, or specific ideas, or scenes that you loved.
  • Someone who supports books like those you write (or want to write.) This could be a conference organizer, the leader of a community such as a Facebook group, a bookseller, a librarian, a teacher, a podcaster. Thank them for their work. Again, if you can be specific about one way they helped you, be sure to mention that.
  • A reader! So many readers leave reviews online and recommend books on social media. Why not thank them? If they recommended a book months ago and you ended up reading it, then let them know. Thank them for the recommendation and tell them a specific way the book helped you. Why? Because you are telling them how they helped you. That they had a positive impact on your life.

Whenever I encourage people to do this, there is often a sense of resistance. People tell me that they don’t want to bother that person. That this person is likely busy. That they themselves don’t have enough of a platform to justifying emailing this person.

None of that is true.

I’m writing this sentence on Friday at 6:25am. Who on earth wouldn’t want to check their email at 6:35am and not like to see someone thanking them for having a powerful impact on their life through their work?

Everyone wants that.

Why withhold that? Why feel great about a writer or supporter of the arts or reader, and not let them know it?

Maybe you are thinking, “But Dan, I’m an introvert. I have a really difficult time reaching out to people.” Me too. Which is why I think that emailing someone is so perfect for introverts. It doesn’t ask you to take the stage, to beg for attention, to sell yourself.

Instead, it asks you do to what introverts do best. To listen. Have empathy. Care. To connect with someone one-on-one, in a generous and simple manner.

Beyond just feeling good, why is this a powerful powerful marketing tactic?

With these emails, you are building a literacy of your own author platform and marketing strategy. You are learning who else cares about work similar to yours. You are making the effort to establish meaningful connections with people who support this work. You are learning to make talking about this work something you find possible, and dare I say, even enjoyable.

This week, two authors I’m working with told me about how they did exactly this, and the results.

One reached out to the author of a book she loved, and was certain this author wouldn’t reply back. This concern was confirmed when she immediately received an out-of-office reply from the author saying that she was on hiatus writing her next book. She would be back in the Fall.

Yet, the very next day she received an email from this author who thanked her for the kind note, and expressed a kinship with my client since they both write about similar topics. I can tell you, that was a powerful thing to hear from someone you deeply respect.

Another writer I’ve been working with told me of a similar experience she just had:

“I wrote to an author who had had an article published in an online magazine on a theme similar to mine. I emailed just to thank her for the article and its insight and mentioned that the article had caught my eye because I had written a book on the same topic. To my surprise, she wrote a really kind email back and said [my book was] something like she’d check it out. Her checking out my book was less important to me than how grateful she was for my email. It really was a meaningful moment in the middle of an otherwise very busy week.”

I want to encourage you to create this moment for someone, and for yourself. A moment of gratitude and connection, all centered around the themes of what you write and why.

If you do this, please send me an email and let me know how it goes!

Thanks.

-Dan