Announcing: Build Your Author Platform

I am excited to announce an online course I am launching: Build Your Author Platform. This course provides writers the skills they need to engage their audience, establish their brand, and grow their writing career. Whether you are a published author or not, this course is for you.

I’ve worked with hundreds of writers, training them in online content and marketing strategy – THIS is the course I’ve developed to not just share these strategies, but work WITH you to personalize them to your needs and goals. The course begins on March 2, and enrollment is still a few weeks away. The info below is a preview – if this course sounds like it may be fore you, sign up for updates, discounts, and bonus material:

This course teaches you the strategies and tactics that you need, and it all happens in an online environment where we are working together as a class to help each other move towards our goals.

The course covers:

  • How to set clear and actionable goals that build your credibility as an author, and create a realistic plan to achieve them. This is not about throwing dozens of strategies at you, assuming you don’t have a family, career and personal life to attend to. This is about setting priorities, and creating a clear path forward.
  • How to define the value of your work, and create your personal brand. Most people have a hard time explaining the value of their work in a concise manner that will engage their target audience. I’ll take you through the process to ensure you are creating a brand that aligns to the needs of your audience, and your long term goals as a writer.
  • How to clearly target the readers and communities you are most interested in. Too often, marketing is about vague terms about ‘audience’ – we dig into practical ways to attract the real people you are hoping to engage.
  • How to identify the needs and desires of your audience – the things that get them to stand up and take notice. We review research methods that are specific, targeted and actionable.
  • How to optimize your online presence. If you don’t yet have one, we review the best practices to setting it up. If you already have an online presence, we identify how to best optimize and leverage it.
  • How to create high-quality online content that will attract the community you love. Be it text, audio, video, or a mixture of them all, we review the tactics that work, and how to create a system to make this manageable. It’s too easy to say “blog every day” – I take you through ways to identify what will work, and how to do it with your existing resources.
  • How to share your work in a way that builds real connections with your audience online. This is not just about ‘getting followers’ – it’s about building real connections with real people – setting the foundation for a fan base, or extending one if you have it already.
  • How to create sustainable workflows to ensure consistent audience growth. It’s not enough for me to just help you during the course, I want you to walk away with a system in place that will ensure you find new ways to engage your audience long after the course ends.

This course is filled with strategies and tactics, culled from my experience of executing these ideas, not just reading about them. We cover content strategy, online marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, and so many other topics. And we deal with them in a frank, down-to-earth manner. This is not a course for techies – it’s a course for real people trying to move towards their goals and build their writing careers.

I will be sharing more details on the course in the coming weeks, but here are some details to get you started:

  • This is an online course – you simply need a web browser to access it.
  • It will start in March and run through April.
  • There is a mix of structured lessons, feedback from your instructor (me!) and interaction with other students. The goal is not to just dump information on you, but to give feedback, to personalize these strategies to your needs.
  • Throughout the course, you won’t just learn about what you should do, you actually execute on the ideas. By the end of the course, you should be on your way to establishing your author platform.

Who is this course for? Published authors, pre-published authors, and writers of all sorts. I’ve tested it with fiction writers and non-fiction writers – both will find incredible value here.

I will be sharing more info in the coming weeks as I move towards launch. Please sign up for updates, discounts, and bonus material:

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out.

Thanks.
-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com

2011: The Year of Writers and Creators

As I consider the publishing world in 2011, and the ways I want to be involved, I can’t help but feel that I want to focus more on helping writers and creators produce great work and share it with the world. Filled with those who:

Dan Blank

challenge me with their work

move me with their ideas

educate me with their research

show me something I’ve never before imagined

engage me with their story

break boundaries that I took for granted

inspire me to do better

give me something worth remembering decades from now

These are not easy things. But regardless of what we feel are barriers, the only thing standing in the way is the will to make it happen. That no one will magically clear our schedules, or put more money in our bank accounts so that we have the luxury of focusing on these things.

I hope my days in 2011 are filled with those trying to cut a new path, to turn a risky idea into a viable future. Things like this are often done in the late hours of the day, and the wee hours of the morning. They are done in lonely places when you have no colleagues helping you, and perhaps a few working against you. As much as the media presents ‘innovation’ as something everyone embraces, for many folks, these new ideas are pursued at professional risk, as it requires you to go against the grain, and to rethink existing models that give people power and comfort.

There are so many conversations about the future of publishing, and all of them rely on the ability of creators to work through the challenges to produce great work, and do everything possible to share it with the world. That “good is the enemy of great.” (Voltaire/Jim Collins) That getting bogged down in the echo chamber of publishing issues can stand in the way of enabling creators to produce and share amazing work.

I hope I can help others do that next year. Thank you for an amazing 2010. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve in 2011.

-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com

Written Off: The Fight to Remain Relevant

As those in publishing stand on the edge of a new era, one where innovation is coming from all sides, business models are upended, and their ‘glory days’ are portrayed as behind them, I want to talk about that ‘second act’, and share the story of someone who was written off, and done so when their best work was still ahead of them.

Dan Blank This post applies as much to individuals trying to navigate their careers in publishing, as it does to entire publishing organizations looking for a strategy towards sustainable growth.

Let’s start with a story.

By the time the 1930’s came around, Frank Lloyd Wright was in his 60’s, and widely viewed as a has-been in the architecture world – an old showman who had already used the last trick in his bag. Times and styles had changed, and he was not in fashion anymore, as a new breed of architects created more modern styles that were getting all the accolades. Wright was the butt of jokes, with suggestions that he might be dead, and that he was the “greatest architect of the 19th century.”*

Then, when he was 65, something happened.

In 1932, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) was staging an exhibition on the international style of architecture, what you and I would simply call ‘modern’ architecture. Even though Wright was asked to contribute a design to the show at the museum, he was largely “dismissed as a number of older architects whose work has long since been superceded by other artists.”

Frank Lloyd Wright In the past, Wright had openly spoke out against the international style, and felt that architects who embraced it were creating soulless work. But for the MOMA exhibit he did something that surprised everyone: he began using stylistic elements that were emblematic of the international style. The thing about it is, he adopted the best of their style, and mixed it with his own sensibility.

The MOMA exhibit was merely a hint of what he was capable of. In 1934, he was asked to design a weekend hideaway for the family of a client. This was the result:

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

Dubbed Fallingwater, it is one of the most famous pieces of architecture in history, one that used elements of the international style, but with nuance and detail that was purely Frank Lloyd Wright.

What followed were other masterworks: the Johnson Wax Headquarters and the Guggenheim Museum, among others.

How did Wright do this? He had to accept that in order to remain relevant, he would have to CHANGE HIMSELF, not wait for the world to change. That he would have to fight to remain relevant. That instead of throwing up his arms in disgust of new trends and taste, he would remake himself, embracing what he hated, until he understood it and mastered it. He took up the challenge of others – their disregard for him – and he won.

So how does one have that great second act? Often it is when they see a common thread through their area of focus that ignores previously assumed boundaries. When they embrace the new as well as the old. When they focus less on what they’ve done in the past, and more on what they need to do in the future.

And this isn’t easy for most companies, and most individuals. But for many in publishing, the world has given them a challenge:

  • Sometimes incremental changes aren’t enough to get onto the path to growth.
  • Sometimes cost cutting during times of great innovation are not enough to get on the path to growth.
  • Sometimes waiting for the world to recognize your value is not enough to get on the path to growth.
  • Sometimes making token efforts to innovate will not get you on the path to growth.

Many people like to reflect on their own history, saying how “back in my day, we had to be in the trenches, earning our success.” Well, the trenches are now online. And we must get back into those trenches and fight for relevance again.

Nobody, old or young, wants to be written off. Those who have helped shape the publishing industry as we know it, don’t want to be written off. Those who have earned a position of power, don’t want to be written off. In the same regard, those who are young and full of new ideas don’t want to be disregarded either.

And the question that each of us have to ask ourselves is: do we have the fight left in us to rethink what we know, embrace what we are scared of, look past boundaries from another time, and make ourselves as relevant in 2011 as we were in previous years.

And like Wright’s Fallingwater, those shaping the future of publishing must create something not just functional, but something beautiful, something that will inspire generations who are affected by it. This is your legacy to build, not based on what has been done, but on what is yet to be done.

-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com


(The quotes and some of the material about Frank Lloyd Wright come from the Ken Burns PBS documentary. Highly recommended!)

Lessons From an Unconference – Book Camp NYC

Last weekend I attended an event that I feel represents what it means to be a part of a professional community, and why it is so important to mix social media with in-person events to create meaningful connections with like-minded people.

The event was Book Camp NYC, a gathering of about 150 publishing folks in an unconference format. At an unconference, there is no scheduled agenda, the attendees suggest topic sessions, and then rotate through them in a manner where the audience can contribute as much to a session as the person who steps up to lead a discussion.

Here are some photos to give you context:

Book Camp NYC
The event took place in a regular office space on a Saturday. This not only takes away a huge expense for organizers, but takes away a lot of the pretense as well.

Book Camp NYC
Everyone gathered in a room as conference organizer Ami Greko welcomed us and explained how the day would be structured.

Book Camp NYC
Attendees were invited to suggest sessions. Here a few people write down their ideas.

Book Camp NYC
Here I am suggesting a session topic: “How to serve and engage an online community.” I had to pitch it to the other attendees, and then add it to the schedule. (photo by Marny Smith)

Book Camp NYC
Here is the final schedule, with all the slots filled up. There were four time slots, with 5 options for each.

Book Camp NYC
This was the first session I attended. As you can tell, it was very low-key, with people grabbing seats wherever they could. It was nice to be organized as a circle, so everyone could contribute equally.

Book Camp NYC
This is the discussion I lead. Even though it looks like a traditional speaker/audience setup, my role was really to keep the conversation going among the other attendees. (photo by Calvin Reid)

Book Camp NYC
Here is Richard Nash speaking in another session.

Book Camp NYC
When all was said and done, we enjoyed drinks and conversation. Ami thanked everyone for their efforts and great attitude.

Here are the lessons from that experience I have been considering this week:

Online Connections Can Turn Into Real Life Relationships
Looking around the room at Book Camp, it’s as if my Twitter feed came alive. There were about 150 people in the room, and it was a who’s who from Twitter. The phrase I overheard most during the day: “I know you from Twitter!” And I will admit, I used that phrase a few times. It’s a fascinating thing, looking at someone standing in front of you, and trying to match them with that 100 pixel x 100 pixel Twitter profile image you have of them.

The Audience Is In Their Rightful Place: The Center
Unlike traditional conferences and classrooms, where there are a handful of people who are allowed to speak at length, and a mass of people who must sit quietly and listen, an unconference such as Book Camp flips this on it’s head. The audience has the real power, the real knowledge, and they are empowered to easily contribute to shape, to share, to help, instead of sitting passively in a crowd, waiting for an all-too-short Q&A after listening to someone else talk for 45 minutes.

Your Title Doesn’t Matter
There were lots of smart people at this event, some with amazing titles and accomplishments, and some whose notoriety is still ahead of them. This wasn’t organized as a hierarchy, where if you had CEO in your title, you were elevated and allowed to speak, and if you had intern in your title, you couldn’t. This brought together all levels on the org chart (and people outside of org charts all together), and from a wide range of places/companies. Some very much at the center of the traditional publishing world, some way on the outskirts.

When All the Pretense is Stripped Away, You Expose the Real Value
Sometimes, conferences can be so complex, they get in the way of the value they are trying to share. The best parts of live conferences/events are the connections between people, and what happens between the official structure. An unconference such as Book Camp was nothing but that – real conversations between folks, with nothing to get in the way.

When You Turn the Cameras Off, People Can Be More Honest
Without a podium, microphone, or the idea that sessions would be recorded to be repackaged as webinars or put on YouTube, people could risk opening up a bit more. At a small unstructured event like this, people tend to be more honest. At a big event, most people in the room would stick to the script when speaking in public, but here, it was amazing how honest people were about their efforts that didn’t work, and about what they didn’t know and were trying to figure out. And that is SO HELPFUL when you are working on similar efforts, and trying to judge if you are the oddball who is having a hard time of it. This is especially true as digital publishing and apps take a stronger hold on the industry, reshaping roles, business structures, product types, and relationships. We are all trying, all nervous, all failing, and all succeeding in small ways. And this is how the future is born.

There is an Opportunity to Get Involved
It is so easy to help at an unconference. I could easily volunteer to lead a topic discussion, which is exactly what I did. I didn’t need to attend weeks of meetings with the event organizers, I didn’t have to prepare some long powerpoint, I merely had to have an idea, present it to the group, add it to the board, and then moderate a conversation. I didn’t need to present at all, merely introduce the topic, some ideas, and keep the conversation going. The goal was to INVITE others to get involved, not just share my own point of view.

This is About Community, Not competition
We are all in this together. When you look at the state of publishing with the long view, people will not look back on this time and remember petty differences between companies and the people who comprise them. They will remember how we navigated these waters and worked together to create a viable and vibrant future, one that rewards authors and readers, and everyone in between.

A huge thanks to Ami Greko, OpenSky, and the many other Book Camp NYC sponsors: Cursor, Kobo, Moveable Type, and O’Reilly Media. Here are some links to other Book Camp recaps:

-Dan

Digital Publishing: Curation vs Collection vs Experience

Content curation can be a powerful way to serve those in your market, and establish a unique brand position that differentiates you from your competitors. Today, I want to explore that challenges of curation, and compare how it differs from merely ‘collecting.’ (Note: by curation, I mean to care for, and carefully select which content is shared, with the idea that removing something can sometimes make a collection even stronger.)

Curation has been a big buzz word in online publishing for a long time now. While the word implies many great things: selecting only the greatest content for your audience – it can be a challenge for media companies to do this. With unlimited server space and free distribution, the temptation can be too great to share AS MUCH content as possible, with the theory that they are better serving the many sub-niches of their market. In other words, you may often see less curation, and more collection.

Dan Blank This can be easy to justify. Many brands serve multiple markets, and within each, there are many niches and subniches. So it’s easy to “unlock value from a content asset,” and these “assets” are easier to collect and store and repurpose than ever before.

This holds true for B2B media companies serving chicken farmers, for a consumer magazine brand serving parents, and for a range of other media brands from music to books.

This reminds me of a behavior pattern I have seen before: collections that people have as hobbies. I grew up in a family of collectors, and I have my own personal collections too. Here’s a quick history of my life growing up:

  • In the 1970’s my family had a stamp business, with and an extensive collection.
  • In the 1980’s we had a baseball card business, with different family members collecting in different things on a personal level: my brother had an incredible autograph collection from the old players; my dad had a Willie Mays collection that took up much of his study; and over the years, we went through thousands of rare items. Weekends were spent immersed in the hobby, and it has always been interesting to consider how the behavior of many individual collectors have shaped how the hobby evolved.
  • We had various collections around the house: hat pins (yes, seriously), toby mugs (yes, seriously), things with ladybugs on them, hot wheels (my dad’s collection, not mine), stamp holders, depression glass, and others.
  • Clearly, I’ve had my own collections over the years, most recently vinyl records and I am a huge fan of LEGO toys.


My family and I at our first baseball card show as dealers, 1982. Left to right: my brother, father, mother, and little me.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with different collectors recently: people who collect very specific items. What I am finding again and again is that their collecting behavior is to collect AS MUCH of something as possible, and not curate or edit their collection at all. Some examples:

  • A guy who was bummed that he missed out on an old Fisher tube amplifier at an estate sale. When I chatted with him about it, he eventually let on that he has a basement full of old tube amps, including the model that was available at this estate sale, and he would likely never have time to restore them all. So they are just collecting dust in piles in his basement.
  • I visited the home of another stereo collector a while back, and noticed his basement was filled with piles of vintage gear too. But what was more interesting was that in every nook and cranny – such as the thin space above the air conditioning ducts, were thousands of boxes of new radio tubes. I asked about them, and he told me he had more than 5,000 tubes squirreled away, including a shed full in his backyard. He just kept buying them and buying them.
  • I picked up an old school BMX Bike at a yard sale recently – it was a sentimental purchase of a bike I wanted as a kid. Once the nostalgia wore off, I listed it and sold it on Craigslist, and had a nice chat with the guy that bought it. I asked what he was going to do with the bike, and he said “Just store it.” He has a garage full of them, plus a storage unit he rents. He just buys them and buys them.
  • Finally (I meet a lot of people), I had a nice early morning chat with a guy who collects all kinds of things. We began talking about records, and told me of his enormous collection. Thousands and thousands, which he too stores in a rented storage unit. He told me that he has multiples of many of them, so he is paying to store multiple copies of the same record in a location that he clearly can’t listen to them.

This is not how I remember collecting growing up. I remember focusing on quality; on being very critical about what to add to a collection and what to keep out; about creating a collection that wasn’t just a bunch of stuff, but a reflection on the tastes of the curator, and the needs/desires of the audience.

In my personal collections, I am constantly whittling things down. Choosing which records should leave my collection, not just which should be added, and resisting the temptation to begin collecting something new, merely because I have an affinity for it.

How many people do you know like this: a car collector who loves 1960’s muscle cars who has 6 of them in disrepair in their backyard, awaitng restoration, but none that are drivable. None that have been cared for and brought back to life. Instead of objects of beauty, they are objects of rust. This, compared to a person who has a single Dodge Challenger that they drive every weekend with the kids. Perhaps this is what separates the desire to COLLECT INSTEAD OF EXPERIENCE.

And this is the challenge that publishers and media companies face. With unlimited bandwidth and free distribution channels with digital media, it can be sooooo tempting to post more and more content, aimed at more and more target markets. Plus, the temptation to seem as large as possible, and to give Google as much content as possible to crawl for all of those searches.

You see this desire for ‘more’ is in many ways:

  • Too much content on their website.
  • Too many products to sell you.
  • Too many email newsletters.
  • Too many sessions at conferences and events.

For that last one – I am always surprised at how many sessions are offered at some events. I mean – for every time slot (EG: 10am-11am), offering 10, 15, 20+ options. Multiply this out to all the time slots available in a 2 day conference, and you have an overwhelming experience for attendees. And what’s more – none of the attendees share a common experience, they are too busy rushing past each other. Sometimes I wonder, what is the role of an organizer to curate vs their role to offer choice.

The drive for offering ‘more’ is not always the best path. It does not always create something unique. It does not always better serve a target audience. It does not always differentiate you from the competition. It does not always offer something that can’t be found elsewhere. It does not always solve a problem, or fulfill a desire.

Sometimes, when media companies do feel they are curating, it is often trying to weed out anything but the biggest hits – the content that will lead to massive revenue. Something like whittling your author list down to Stephenie Meyer, JK Rowling and Dan Brown. But is that curation, a content strategy, or simply a business strategy – a revenue strategy?

Curation and editing is about considering the primary goals of your audience and customers. It is about stripping away all the “nice to haves” to end up with only the “need to haves.” It is about identifying your own goals about identity and long-term growth. It is understanding the complicated behaviors of your target audience, and learning the difference between what they say they do, and what they actually do. It is about confidence – knowing that choosing to do one thing, means you will not do another – and that will make some unhappy, both within your organization and outside of it.

It is those hard choices that define what a brand is, and what it isn’t. And it is the first step in building credibility and engagement with those you serve.

-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com