The Anxiety and Enthusiasm of Launching a Book

So I have been working with my friend Miranda Beverly-Whittemore on launching her upcoming book, Bittersweet. It doesn’t come out until May, and we have been working actively on “the book launch” for six months now.

Today I want to talk about what that process looks like, and be honest about the roller coaster of emotions that accompanies a book launch like this. There is so much advice out there on how to market a book, here I just want to share a glimpse into our little experience so far. And I want to always be super honest that this is an EMOTIONAL process for all involved, filled with moments of total anxiety, and moments of extreme enthusiasm. And that is exactly right.

Why are we spending an ENTIRE YEAR working on a book launch? Miranda has been really honest about not wanting to miss an opportunity. This is her third published book, and as she puts it: “I donโ€™t want to feel, as I did with both my previous books, that I could have done more”

For Bittersweet, her publisher has been unbelievably enthusiastic and supportive with it. She knows to not take that for granted, and she knows what she wants to feel a year from now. Or rather, what she doesn’t want to feel: that there were missed opportunities. She is going into this eyes wide open, and is making hundreds (thousands?!) of small decisions to give this book the best chance possible to connect with readers.

So what are we doing for an entire year to launch this book? Quite a bit, actually. Miranda and I recently met with the (amazing) marketing folks at Crown, her publisher, and I encapsulated a lot of our efforts so far as:

“We are doing things that evoke the feeling of the book, while never mentioning the book.”

Immediately after these words came out of my mouth, I thought to myself: “Um, Dan, that is probably not the right thing to say to the Director of Marketing, whose role is all about ensuring the book gets out there.” Of course, it was fine, because we have a LOT of things going on across the spectrum from “pure book marketing” to whatever the opposite of that is called:

  • Creative ideation. A lot of writers/artists explore what their work is really about only AFTER they have created it. I have no idea if that is true for Miranda, but I know she and I have had lots of long conversations about what the book embodies, and how those themes can connect to readers in ways outside of the books.
  • Planning & Strategy. Yes, we have a spreadsheet filled with lots of tiny tasks and a timeline and things are starting to get color coded. The issue many authors face is that there is so much that CAN be done, so our goal right now is to selectively choose what SHOULD be done, and ensure we do it right. It’s pretty astounding the number of tasks now piling into that spreadsheet, and how it is spread across such a big timeline with many different people accountable for different aspects.
  • Blogging the Process: We setup a blog just to share the process of launching the book. This is meant to give an honest account of what it feels like to go through the process. It is here – in a public space – where I often understand the complexity of what Miranda is going through. And… you can too.
  • Being Part of a Team. Miranda has had UNBELIEVABLE support from her publisher. The sheer enthusiasm for this book is pretty much what every author dreams about. But of course, they have jobs to do, so we are all trying to ensure that we best leverage our collective resources. Who should be doing what, and when. And something I am always looking for: when to just get out of the way to let the expert do their job.
  • we have created an entirely other site that relates to the type of stories embodied in Bittersweet, but not actually about Bittersweet. Here, Miranda is collecting stories from other women (and sharing her own), about close friendships they had when younger.
  • Tying Everything Together: We redesigned her website (last updated in 2007), and are honing the messaging and visual style of her social media channels.
  • Media stuff, marketing stuff, publicity, social media, oh my! There are dozens and dozens of small things being done, from giveaway ideas, to media outreach, to decisions about how to best use social media in a way that feels right. It’s almost offensive to just shove all of these topics into a single bullet here, but let’s just say, there is no shortage of things for us to take action on.

Because Miranda and I are friends, this feels like a very personal process. We squee in excitement at small moments of success filled with enthusiasm; we talk seriously about the complex emotions around planning so much while she was still editing the book and crafting other stories, as well as, you know: living her life.

Publishing is definitely a team sport (ugh, did I just say that?), and it SO SO SO much of what is happening now is all built on the enthusiasm of folks partnered in this process who love Miranda and her book. A glimpse at moments in the last six months:

This is Miranda and I at the Random House booth at BookExpo last May, knowing her book was slated for publication a full year away.

All book marketing meetings should take place at the LEGO Store, right?

Okay, this is why publishing can seem so scary… the Random House building. (am I supposed to be calling it Penguin Random House now?! Sorry, it just said Random House in the lobby)

Okay, it’s hard not to feel something when you enter this lobby. It’s lined with glass cases filled with first editions of classic books.

Part of the marketing team at Crown: Jay Sones, Jessica Prudhomme, and Elvis:

With Miranda’s editor Christine Kopprasch:

And here we are walking around Central Park discussing Bittersweet. Miranda’s look of slight horror is because I just dropped my iPhone, and the screen shattered into a hundred pieces. But the camera on it still worked!

I want to be clear that everything about this is ALL about the book, and all about Miranda. The story she has crafted drives everything, and without it, none of this would exist. The book is the thing that everything else orbits around.

There is a saying that you can’t plan for success, but you can prepare. That is what we are trying to do. In truth, we have NO IDEA how well the book will do in traditional publishing terms. Actually, I don’t recall having a single conversation with Miranda about that topic – it’s simply a black box.

A year from now, the “success” of the book in traditional publishing terms will be defined broadly by others as a single word or short phrase. But what is clear now, and will be clear in the many many years that Miranda’s story will exist, is that the book’s success will always be a personal thing between the reader and the story. Success measured in ways we can never quantify, in ways that has nothing to do with lists or sales figures or any of the strange metrics that social media provides that try to express human meaning in a simple number or score.

And as much as a book is a thing – an object – this whole process feels like a conversation, an experience, a story in itself.


I Held An Online Conference For Writers, And It Filled My Heart With Enthusiasm

I spent the past two days engaging with amazing writers and publishing professionals, coming together in the Get Read conference, which was months and months in the making. Today, I want to give you a peek behind the scenes to show you what the experience was like.

What I love about the idea of an online conference is that everyone can attend from wherever they are. For me, this meant I still had plenty of time to have breakfast with my son a morning where I had to ensure nearly 10 sessions went off without a hitch:

Here is Get Read Central. It’s hard to describe how obsessive I got in planning the system, and creating backups of backups. In this photo is three computers, and some external hard drives. Not seen are the battery backups and even the generator out in the garage! I also had two people assisting from off site locations. (more on them later)

This is the interface. All attendees see and hear the presenters, and use text chat for interaction:

Most of the sessions were interviews or panel discussions. Here, Porter Anderson chats with Barbara Freethy:

My experience watching the panel with M.J. Rose, Barbara O’Neal and Therese Walsh:

Porter Anderson talking to Roz Morris. Porter in Florida, Roz in UK, me in New Jersey, attendees all over the world:

Here is Ron Hogan talking with Miriam Parker and Jeffrey Yamaguchi:

As Get Read came to a close, I had a brilliant sunset for the final author chat with Claire Cook and Allison Winn Scotch:

For me, the event ended with the same person it started with… I had Owen say hello to the attendees in my closing session.

It was lovely to engage with conversations elsewhere too… here is the #GetRead hashtag on Twitter:

The Get Read Facebook group:

And here attendee Pamela Toler shares a photo of 2 out of the 27 pages of notes she took at the conference:

All of this is built on enthusiasm, because none of it makes sense to do without that driving force.

It’s been an intense two days, and I still need more time to let my brain settle down to reflect on it all. There will be lessons learned for me, and I have already been carefully paying attention to things I got wrong – ways I can improve.

There are so many people to thank for creating such an amazing experience. First and foremost is Porter Anderson, who went above and beyond to invite speakers, pull together panels, run live sessions and provide advice and support. Thank you Porter.

I recruited a group of advisors early on in the planning stages who were so wonderful in helping me figure out what this thing should be, and what it shouldn’t be. In the early days of fleshing out the idea, there is a real sense of vulnerability, with lots of moments of confusion among the hundreds of decisions I’ve had to make in the past few months. These advisors helped ensure I didn’t venture too far down the wrong path. Thank you Jason, Elizabeth, Jane Friedman, Guy, Ami, Rebecca, Therese, Chuck, and of course, Porter.

Two friends lent a hand in helping to run the event itself: Scott McDowell and Gabriela Pereira. To say that these two are grossly overqualified for the work they did to support me is an understatement. Having them present meant a lot to me, and ensured that we transitioned smoothly from one session to the next. Likewise, Shaina Mangino and Caya Schlosser helped me frame things in the early days of planning. Thank you all.

The speakers for this event were amazing in so many ways. Their sheer enthusiasm, their generous ability to share their wisdom and engage with the writers who attended. There were more than 30 people who agreed to speak: Porter Anderson, Stephanie Anderson, Bella Andre, Jason Ashlock, James Scott Bell, Betsy Bird, Claire Cook, Elizabeth S Craig, Rachel Fershleiser, Barbara Freethy, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachelle Gardner, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Ami Greko, Ron Hogan, Kristen McLean, Roz Morris, Richard Nash, Jenn Northington, Barbara O’Neal, Miriam Parker, Bethanne Patrick, Joanna Penn, Kate Rados, M.J. Rose, Rebecca Schinsky, Erin Shea, Therese Walsh, Chuck Wendig, Allison Winn Scotch, and Jeffrey Yamaguchi. And to Barbara Vey, Catherine Carr and Gabriela Pereira for speaking during a bonus session. Thank you all so much!

I can barely begin to thank all of the attendees who filled these sessions with conversation, camaraderie, and a real sense of community. Thank you all.

For the system I used to run Get Read, I have to thank Paola Trentadue for letting me know about the platform, and to Joe Yeoman from Big Marker for all of the support. And of course: thanks to the entire Big Marker team!

I also have to thank my friends and family who gave advice in many small moments in the past few months, and for my wife and son for being patient with me as I figured this whole thing out!

I started this piece by talking about how much enthusiasm has come from this event, and how that is what fuels things. And looking back on it, I feel so happy that so many people found value in the experience. Personally, it’s hard to ignore the almost overwhelming sense of risk that seemed to come with every part of planning this. With so many people involved, with trying to run nearly 20 live sessions online, I kept feeling as though I would let some people down in some way. In the next few weeks, I’ll be figuring out what I could have improved – some folks have already provided INCREDIBLY useful advice for things I should have done differently, and how I can improve for next time. Thank you for that.

As with any event, there is so much that goes on behind the scenes that is never seen. For me, I spent weeks and weeks developing a system to run this event on. I researched software, spent hours in forums, and ended up designing and developing a completed system for Get Read that… exploded on the launchpad. You see, I figured out the software I needed, learned a lot about bandwidth and streaming video, I developed an entire website on a brand new web server, and had it ready to go. In the very first test it was clear, the audio would pose a huge issue, and that was without dozens of attendees logged in at the same time. Could I have worked out the bugs in this system? Perhaps. But instead Paola’s email suggesting Big Marker came in at exactly the right moment, and less than two weeks before the live event, I flushed the entire system I spent weeks/months developing in order to go with Big Marker. At the time, it felt like strange decision, yet another risk, but I’m glad that is how it worked out.

Thank you to everyone for your continued support and enthusiasm. Okay, time to go play with Owen…

Hoping to Grow Your Audience? Focus on Narratives.

If you are a writer or creative professional, narratives matter when you consider developing an audience. For many people: narratives are our we define ourselves, it is how we filter the world, it is how we search for meaning. Narratives are the stories we tell ourselves. Two key aspects to consider:

  1. Narratives define the world in ways we are comfortable with, or that we desire. Note: these are not always the same thing. Some people experience the world with the narrative that “people are trying to rip me off.” Therefore, every experience is filtered through this narrative, and they are immediately skeptical when shopping or negotiating. And this can lead to some less than ideal circumstances: a mechanic telling that person that their tires are completely bald and that we are heading into icy-road season. The person with the narrative of “everyone is trying to rip me off,” may make the decision that this mechanic just wants money and he won’t have his tires changed, potentially risking the safety of himself, anyone driving in his car, and anyone driving on the road near him. And the interesting thing about the power of his narrative is that he will feel GREAT about the decision to not get his tires. To him, his keen awareness allowed him to not get ripped off like some other sucker.
  2. Narratives are signals that someone is “like you,” someone you may want to talk to. Consider if you are in a foreign city and meet a random stranger at a cafe who happens to be a huge fan of your favorite sports team. Boom, instant conversation.

How can you use narratives to engage others in meaningful ways? Some ideas:

Focus not on being descriptive, but on what you want people to feel. One example of this is blog headlines. On Chuck Wendig’s Facebook feed last week, he pointed out the lengths that some websites (Upworthy and Buzzfeed) go to pull on your heart strings. Some examples of these headlines:

  • Clear Your Next 10 Minutes Because This Video Could Change How Happy You Are With Your Entire Week (Upworthy)
  • This Stunning “Breaking Bad” Artwork Will Make You Miss It All Over Again (Buzzfeed)
  • A Group Of First-Time Filmmakers Just Created Something Incredible (Upworthy)
  • 19 Bejeweled Skeletons Thatโ€™ll Blow Your Mind (Buzzfeed)

Notice how I didn’t actually link to these stories – could you have resisted clicking?

Headlines like these focus not just on describing something, but on what you will FEEL when you do so. Chuck’s original Facebook post had some hilarious examples of how overboard these types of headlines can go. But what I like about them is that they are one way to consider how something as short and simple as a blog headline can align to a narrative that you share with your audience.

Let’s say you just did a reading of your book at a library to a group of kids. You may write a blog post about it with one of these descriptive headlines:

  • Reading of My Book at Darien Public Library
  • Book Tour Update: Northeast
  • Thanks to the Good Folks in Darien
  • Photos From My Darien Library Reading.

What is the narrative here? You did something that the blog readers weren’t at to experience, and now you are sharing it like a slideshow of vacation photos? That’s not very engaging. But clearly, there are elements of a narrative here that your audience would likely respond to:

  1. They are likely happy you are sharing your work, and perhaps finding success with it.
  2. They likely love libraries.
  3. They likely love kids and the idea of promoting reading and stories to them.

So how can we craft a headline that digs into these narratives more quickly? Some ideas:

  • The look on these kids faces is why I love doing library readings.
  • For 30 minutes on a random Tuesday in Darien, CT, magic happened at this library.
  • One little girl said the most amazing thing to me at last night’s book reading.

Do these go too far in clawing for an emotional response? I don’t know, only Chuck Wendig knows that. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I would bet that they get to the heart of your experience at the library event a bit better, and cut to the biggest reasons someone would want to read about it. You can do this in so many ways – perhaps by not describing the event of the book reading, but zooming in on one tiny aspect of it – one story or experience that is representative of a compelling narrative.

These sample headlines obviously require you to not just write a headline differently, but write the blog post differently. They change the story of the experience in very basic ways. How do you do this? Well, Ze Frank recently shared a video describing tactics he uses to find compelling ideas for the videos he creates and the stories he shares:

Another way to consider using narratives:

Consider how you want to engage with people that does NOT require them to buy, read or promote your book. In other words: what ELSE would you and your ideal readers talk about if you were at a barbecue, cafe, or sitting at the same table at a wedding? Now, the next step: consider how these things relate to what you love to write about. For instance, does your book focus on the story of an underdog who was abused by co-workers, and came out a hero? If so, what is the crux of the emotion that readers feel when they finish reading your book, or at key points throughout it? How does your story align with the narratives they tell themselves about the world?

And then… how can you share that same expression in various ways in your social media feeds.

So maybe instead of promoting your book all the time, you are promoting the ways your book makes people feel. EG: You find underdog stories and share them. Because that is one of the reasons your readers love your work. It is why they are interested in you as an author – you cut to that feeling so well in your book. It is a narrative they walk around every day looking for. It is a feeling they want to experience more often.

Maybe your readers want to feel romantic joy through your stories. What else can you share every day that gets them close to that feeling?

Here are two more examples of how a creative work can align to the narratives an audience looks for:

When the movie The Social Network came out, I heard a lot of reactions from adults that it was a movie that showcased a selfish person making selfish decisions for his own gain. This was used as a way to describe what they felt was wrong with the movie.

But then I started hearing reviews and feedback from people who were younger, and some of their reaction was different. They looked at the movie as a hero’s journey – as celebrating someone who didn’t take crap, who wasn’t crushed by the system, who did what he had to do in order to succeed.

Each audience brought their own narrative to the movie, and that affected their experience.

I am a fan of author John Green’s work. Not just his books, but how he has engaged with fans to create other projects including:

  • Supporting social causes
  • Promoting education, with a big focus on history, literature, and (through his brother Hank) science.
  • Raising money for charity
  • Exploring new ways for creative people to earn money from their work that is fair for everyone

And there’s more. But John’s projects tend to get traction because they align to narrative. It is about a shared way of viewing the world, and a shared way of wanting to experience the world. He and the community he is a part of have a catch phrase that defines this narrative: “Don’t forget to be awesome.”

I can write so much more on this topic, but I’m well over 1,000 words now already, and my own personal narrative is telling me to get back to work. What narratives do you look for in the world?


Join me for a special online event…

I’m going way out on a limb on something new, something special, and I want to invite you to join me.
I’m organizing a huge online event on November 13th and 14th, where I have invited nearly 30 of the smartest people I know in the writing and publishing world to focus on the topic of finding a readership for your work. It’s called: Get Read: Marketing Strategies for Writers
I have never done anything like this before – more than 15 sessions, all streamed live via video & audio.  My goal is to craft an event that does two things:

  • Provides clear actions that writers can take to connect with readers. Not vague advice, not false promises, but stuff that really works.
  • Bring together people who are doing wonderful work for all the right reasons.

The lineup of speakers is AMAZING – see them all below. From New York Times bestselling authors to the most experienced people I know working inside of publishing, this list represents a who’s who of people that know how to truly develop an audience for one’s writing.

But the truth is: I have no idea if this will all work. On a technological level, I have had to start from scratch to understand the hardware and software needed to livestream video from 30 people. And I’ve become paranoid about what can go wrong, which has lead me to buy a backup generator for my home office in case my electricity goes out, and upgrade things like internet connection, web hosting plans, etc.

It might work. It might not. Even with that big questioning mark, I couldn’t possibly be more excited to be doing this. I feel as though I am standing on a ledge waiting to jump, hoping the bungee cord doesn’t fail.

Clearly, you want to join me for this, right?!

Okay, so here is the group of amazing speakers that I am bringing together:

Whew! Sorry about that – it is a long list. The goal here is to livestream everything via video – so you will see all the speakers presenting in your web browser. You will have a chance to ask them questions and chat with other attendees via text chat.
To top all of this off, I have set the registration price very low: $150. This is much lower than you would pay for a normal in-person event, and even lower than any of my other courses or services.
And… if you can’t attend on the live dates, or if you miss any part of the conference, don’t worry: you will be given complete access to session recordings as part of the registration fee.
As I work up to the start of the event, the emotion I feel most is: gratefulness. That these speakers have agreed to lend their time and expertise; that folks are talking about it and spreading the word; that people are signing up and getting excited. It’s a difficult feeling to adequately express, so I will just end with:
Thank you.


I Went Inside A Book Publisher, And This Is What I Learned.

What happens when a publisher invites their authors in and does a day-long session on how to best use digital & social tools to engage readers? Well, let me tell you.

This week, the good folks at Abrams invited me to speak at their Digital Day for authors. It was a lovely event that included a wide range of authors – from icons in their industry to first time authors awaiting the release of their book.

Okay, let’s take a tour:

Many of the hallways are lined with shelves of books, some with dire warnings:

Publishing is indeed a labyrinth filled with danger. Not sure you can see it here, but there is an extreme hump in the floor here that is totally unmarked. I tried to look cool as I tripped over it.

Navigating this place took all of my skills. Notice the strange angled hallway that cuts down the middle. Why? And I wonder who got stuck with that small triangular office:

Okay, let’s get to the main event – AUTHORS!!!! Yay!

This is the moment when my heart skipped a beat – Stefan Sagmeister! In person. Here! In front of me. And in front of bagels! Doesn’t it look like he just stepped out of a Tardis?

Abrams CEO Michael Jacobs welcomes everyone:

Abrams’ Director of Digital Marketing Jeffrey Yamaguchi is the mastermind behind the event:

And here is me presenting! Photo by Thyra Heder.

A discussion among the authors.

Coffee, coffee, coffee!

I have to say, the signage at the event was AMAZING. This is (seriously) often overlooked by organizers. The only disappointing part is that there were no hashtags in the bathroom itself.

Here is Tumblr’s Rachel Fershleiser sharing examples of literary culture on the social web.

And can we just zoom in on this amazing jacket for a moment?

Nothing – NOTHING – makes authors happier than free food:

And yes, I am the type of person that stands behind photographer Bob Gruen and takes a photo without his knowledge. I’m sorry. But it’s BOB GRUEN!

So what did I learn from this event? A few things:

  • Jeff made a great point about “IRL” or “In Real Life” – and how important it was to forge relationships. Love that. Life is more than a series of Tweets.
  • Even though everyone in attendance likely has some introverted tendencies – they all showed up, took time away from their otherwise busy lives, and engaged with total strangers about their hopes and their challenges.
  • Jeff, Rachel, and the other speaker (not pictured) Ami Greko shared WONDERFUL examples of real authors engaging with real readers in ways that were deeply meaningful to both.

So excited to have all three of these folks speaking at my online conference on Nov 13th and 14th: Get Read: Marketing Strategies for Writers. Register here.