Attack of the Social Media Zombies

Over the years, I have become jaded about the term “best practices.” For example: perhaps you want to know the best practices about how to use Goodreads to sell more books. That’s logical, right?

The problem I have with “best practices” is that by the time they are known practices, everyone is using them. Every day, every hour, every minute. The effectiveness experienced when the “best practice” was first discovered has likely worn off.

For the Goodreads example… a year or two (or three) back, authors were finding it an untapped goldmine of ways to connect with readers and encourage participation. Goodreads still absolutely rocks, make no mistake. But now lots and lots of authors are trying to jump into Goodreads with expectations to instantly get more readers/reviews.

The result, in aggregate, is a lot of people receiving a lot of friend requests from authors, and then instantly getting a message promoting their books. You see similar things on Twitter and other social networks.

I want to be clear: Goodreads is an AMAZING resource and community. What bugs me is the idea that there are “best practices” akin to becoming a drive-by tourist in this community. That some expect to jump in, eek out a boatload of value immediately, and then move on to the next untapped source of sales and promotion.

This is engagement without heart. Authors wandering around from social network to social network as zombies.

Every day, we are tempted by headlines such as “3 Powerful Secrets To Becoming an Amazon Bestseller” and things like that. I mean, how can you NOT click on that link? I’m clicking those words, even though I just wrote them and they don’t link anywhere!

How do we engage deeply with readers and colleagues and friends in ways that develop a lifetime of meaningful experience? 
The other day, Ira Silverberg shared a really lovely update on his Facebook page:

Recently I have found the best way to connect with friends is to call and say , “I’m downstairs.”

There is a visceral immediacy to this tactic, to simply show up to someone’s home if you are in the neighborhood. It is unexpected, and demands attention. But there is a huge differentiator here – the surprise is filled with trust and promises a moment that will be remembered.

It is the opposite of the “social media zombie syndrome,” whereby people try to automate their social activities, focused on increasing return on investment. YES, you can leverage all these wonderful new online tools, they are not supposed to replace real human connection.

Last night, I held my second local meetup with my friend Scott McDowell. The theme was to have an honest discussion about being a creative professional, and earning MONEY. I capitalize that word because it holds such sway in peoples lives.

At our first event, it was clear that so many people in this area are very talented, driven to create, but are trying to figure out how they can give up the day job they don’t love, to support themselves via their creative endeavor.

This is the type of discussion that feels safer in person, perhaps away from the prying eyes of Google. Too often in life, we hide discussions of money because it so closely ties to our identity and self-worth. Last night, we dug into the topic in a number of ways:

  • Business models
  • Money and emotion
  • Increasing revenue from creative work
  • Product & service pricing models

In truth: it’s hard to work this stuff out. YES, there are models one can leverage, good advice that can save years of anguish. But the “secrets” people share are often common sense advice in a pretty package.

What I loved about people showing up for this discussion is that it was another action in opposition of being a social media zombie. Instead of just reading more and more articles on these topics found through Twitter, people showed up and engaged in a conversation with a sense of honesty and vulnerability.

Why am I writing about all of this? Because I want find more people willing to engage in meaningful conversations rather than short pithy “Tweetables” whose value is measured in number of followers, not the depth of an interpersonal experience.

Here are some photos from last night’s event:

Thanks again to Andrea at The Artist Baker for hosting us, and to everyone who participated in the lively conversation!


The Experience You Create For Readers Goes Beyond The Book

This video really moved me, it is of two of my favorite singers performing together in Ireland. On the left is Bruce Springsteen, and on the right is Glen Hansard:

Look at Glen’s face at minute 7, he is clearly is total heaven in this moment, performing with his idol.

What Bruce and Glen have in common is the road-warrior mentality – they are always in front of fans, always on the road. They are doing more than selling tickets, they are delivering an experience.

There is no “producer” and “consumer” here – the fans are an inherent part of the music. When I wait 12 hours on pavement to see one of Bruce’s shows, I feel a part of it in a way that isn’t just consumption, I am a part of something. Clearly, I DO NOT create the music in doing such a thing. But I am apart of a new experience created around the music.

As I have said, you do not have to write TO an audience, but knowing them is good. Glen and Bruce are notorious for serving their fans. At 63, Bruce still performs night after night with an energy that few can match at any age. Glen has embarked on his own endless tour of his own, and makes a point to meet fans outside the venue before and after most shows. I’ve met him many times.

This is why I never liked the idea of consider a reader of a book (or a fan of a singer) as a passive aspect of the creative process. Their role is so much more than to simply pay $15 for a book, or $80 for a concert ticket.

The work itself (the book or song) is alive. Evolving. In the minds of those who read the book, in their experience of talking about it with friends, in how the work itself shapes their actions in life.

This is really what an author’s platform is, and the true effect of a book. Not a “bestseller list,” and not “Twitter followers.”

Many think that success involves a great divide. The creator on one side – elevated – and the fans on the other. But as long-time success stories show, there is no divide. There is deep engagement and involvement, and those who experience the work of art are a core part of what it creates in the world. How they amplify it, what they create around it, and yes, how they engage with the author of that work.

Rolling Stone shared a great article this week on the 50 greatest live acts right now. I love seeing how each artist and set of fans is in many ways so different from each other, and in other ways, exhibiting the same process.

What experience are you creating for your readers that goes beyond the book itself?


I Held A Meetup For Creative Professionals (and there was pie)

Working from home, so many of my connections to people are virtual. It’s entirely possible for me to teach 80 writers in my online courses (as I am right now), work with writing clients who live anywhere in the world, and connect with amazing people on a minute by minute basis on social media.

Now, I am not a hermit, I work part of every day from a coffee shop, and I go into NYC once per week for a day full of meetings, meals, and meetups with folks.

But one of my goals this year has been to do more in-person events, and I did just that last week with my first meetup. This was the brainchild of my friend Scott McDowell and myself, a way for us to bring together creative professionals in our area.

The idea was to slow down and learn about others who are building things that matter. We
called it “MOMENTUM,” with this description:

A meetup for creative + tech-savvy + independent + local + curious professionals.
Come to meet like-minded people who are in the trenches and executing ideas.

As part of the event, I did a talk on “building a platform for creative work,” and Scott presented on “getting off the cusp and on to the work that matters.”

Who came? Artists, community minded folks, and entrepreneurs. People who were passionate about their work, and trying to find ways to build momentum in their creative endeavors. For some, they worked a “regular” job and were hoping to make their art primary in their lives. For others, it was about expanding their reach to ensure that they found like-minds who were creating new things.

When Scott and I first decided to do this, one of his friends (amazingly) offered up her cafe for us to use. Andrea from The Artist Baker lent us her space, and did so much to create a wonderful evening. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer atmosphere. Here is Scott speaking to the group:

Momentum meetup

My friend Cali Williams Yost showed up too, and talked a bit about the counterintuitive ways that amazingly productive people view their work and life.

There was a lot of conversation, and it was intriguing to hear about people’s goals and experiences. One attendee talked about how his most successful clients are often the most stressed. It’s intriguing to consider how we measure success and if we even know when we have arrived there.

Overall, it was a wonderful event, and we are planning another for August 8th. If you live in northern New Jersey check out our Facebook Group for updates.

Okay, here are more photos:

The location, The Artist Baker:
Momentum meetup

Our host Andrea:
Momentum meetup

Cali tells a story:
Momentum meetup

Momentum meetup

Scott talking…
Momentum meetup

Scott and I…
Momentum meetup

Thanks so much to Scott, Andrea, and everyone who attended!

Hidden In Front Of Everyone’s Eyes – Our Own Potential

It was right there, but it wasn’t supposed to be, so no one saw it.

Today I want to talk about our own potential as a writer or creative professional – someone who is trying SO HARD to complete and publish their work, to forge a new identity in the middle of their life.

So many of us feel trapped by expectations of others. It is easier for a 40 year old accountant who plays in a local softball league to just continue doing that instead of sharing his poetry with friends and family. There are a 100 things in that person’s life telling him: “Dude, just chill on the poetry, okay?”

There is a shame in this because not only is no one expecting it, but sometimes no one WANTS to find it. I know, you are saying “Bullshit, Dan. Those around you WANT you to express all the magical deep things within you.”

But I have seen lots of examples of how one person expressing a new talent or creative vision, and being met by strange looks from colleagues, or friends or family, and even stranger comments that belittle the idea.

I want to share the story of an example of something similar to this – something amazing, hidden in plain site.

In high school, I was a (very bad) surfer. (Like, I was the worst surfer ever.) But I have always had a sentimental place in my heart for surfing and surf culture. Now, surfing developed as a niche lifestyle in the early part of the twentieth century, and then blew up in the early 60s. It was night and day, from a bizarre thing a tiny group of people did, to something that every teenager wanted to do. Beaches became packed with surfers.

In the 1980s, surfing exploded even further, with the proper advent of professional surfing (which painfully developed in the 1970s.) This is when I got into surfing, now an enormous industry where all the pro surfers had corporate sponsors and great prize money at contests. This was no longer just a lifestyle, this was a profession.

Then came the year 1990. I was a junior in High School, at the height of my surfing hobby, and after decades of millions and millions of people took up the sport/lifestyle. By this time, the media and corporations exploited surfing to death, it was something endlessly tread upon.

Then, something amazing happened. The ultimate thing happened. It was right there, but it wasn’t supposed to be, so no one saw it: the perfect wave.

You see, California is often seen as the heart of surf culture, but Hawaii always had the big waves – the majestic distinction between an everyday surfer who looks for anything rideable (here in New Jersey, we had a lot of 3-4 foot swells), and a big wave rider who ventures to Hawaii for 20 foot sets and above.

But one man, Jeff Clark, made a shocking discovery in 1975: perfect 20 foot waves just off the coast of California, near San Francisco. Now, this is not supposed to exist. California didn’t really have consistently big waves like this, and people long since assumed it couldn’t. So for 15 years, regardless of who Jeff told, no one believed him. As surfing exploded in popular culture, one of the most amazing surf spots in the world went completely ignored except by Jeff.

From 1975 – 1990, Jeff surfed this wave alone. It was called Mavericks. It was a big wave, and a very dangerous wave. You had to paddle out half a mile to get to it, and it broke right onto jagged rocks. In 1994, the surfing world lost one of it’s most beloved figures, Mark Foo, to that wave.

It was in 1990 that Jeff brought yet another group of surfers to the spot, and where word finally began to spread. It went from a secret spot to a surfing epicenter very quickly.

For years, it was one man. One spot. One wave. One experience.

The experience of Mavericks lived and died with him.

But then, the world discovered it. And it became thousands of men and women, at one spot, with millions of experiences.

This is the potential within the writer, within anyone doing creative work. And this is the challenge. Even when the world was desperate for a 20+ foot wave in California, no one could “see” it right in front of their eyes. And just as an individual works to express themselves in new ways and create a new vision, that doesn’t mean that those around them will “see” it either.

And yet, that is where the magic lies. And the decision to either surf that spot – alone for 15 years – or start believing what others tell you: what you see and feel isn’t really there.

The story of Mavericks in this post comes from a documentary called Riding Giants:


Things Authors Can Do With 3D Printers

Recently I spoke to some forward-thinking people at a conference and kept hearing about the same things again and again, the things they were most excited about:

  • How at-home 3D printers will change how we create and consume stuff.
  • How embedded sensors will change how we interact with the world around us.

Here is an explanation of a 3D printer is:

And nowadays, they are becoming smaller and more affordable (around $1,500), making them available for home use.

As for sensors, the idea is that when everything around you has a sensor in it, and you wear a sensor, then how you relate to your environment changes. I won’t get too into that now though.

SO! Let’s say you are an author, and you know that a good portion of your audience has a 3D printer at home. What could you offer them that connects readers to your work via their 3D printer? I am just throwing ideas at the wall here, and I am sure there are SO MANY cool ideas I am missing, so please add your comments in the thread below. Okay, how about…

  1. Printable bonuses. So the idea is that some of these things you receive instantly when you preorder a book, when you buy it normally, or through a promotional time period.
  2. Printable character action figures.
  3. Printable dioramas of scenes from the book.
  4. Printable key objects from the book – a pocketwatch, a hammer, a lunchbox, a pen, a magic wand, or the One Ring?
  5. Printable art books, pop up books, or interactive books. Can you literally print out a book that is not only physical pages, but a complex moving work of art?
  6. Printable embossed covers.
  7. Printable Kindle covers, with your book cover on it.
  8. Printable bust of the author themselves! (or key characters)
  9. Printable puzzles to solve, à la something you may find in The Da Vinci Code
  10. Contests – who can paint these 3d prints of our characters. So your audience would have to come up with custom paint designs from what you give them to print, and then they share their designs online.
  11. Printable t-shirts, jewelry, flip flops and other wearable items that have your characters/book emblazoned on them.
  12. For nonfiction books: instructional elements. Can biology books come with printable models for you to explore? Can a book about how to fix an engine come with a fully printable 3D engine?

As I consider this, I am wondering, what would Neil Gaiman do? Or John Green? How would authors who are intently engaged with their audience connect with them in a new way via 3D printers. How would you give your readers something that will occupy a physical space in their lives, beyond the book itself?

How would the types of things to print differ by genre or topic of book? For instance, what sorts of things would science fiction books all want to print (space ships, ray guns, futuristic technology) vs romance novels vs spy novels vs books for early readers?

Regardless of the answer… there is a whole new world opening up to creative professionals such as authors to interact with readers in new ways. Some of these elements could be a core part of the storytelling and reading experience, others could simply be souvenirs.

There are also the business models to consider… which of these things would be free, and which of the 3D files would cost $1 or $10 or $80? Will self-published authors jump into this space first, with 99 cent ebooks and $9.99 packages that include limited edition 3D files? Or will large publishers go nuts with their popular or franchised brands, turning an individual book into an entire product line?

Maybe 3D printing is still on the horizon, but I imagine that the early authors who leverage it will get A LOT of marketing value from it. Who will be the first to experiment, the first to earn $10,000 from 3D files related to their books?

Will that be you?

Please share your ideas below!