How to get people to buy your book

Okay, so today we are going masterclass level into the topic of launching a book. And we have a guest instructor, New York Times bestselling author Jessica Lahey. I recently interviewed her for my podcast, and we dug deep into the topic of promoting a book. This is our second interview, the first focused on this topic as well. You can watch or listen to our new interview here:

And here is a link to the first interview from 2019.

In the first interview, one of the topics we zoomed in on is what happened after a celebrity, Kristen Bell, shared Jess’s book with her 10+ million followers, plus all the ways she is promoting her first book, The Gift of Failure, years after publication.

In our most recent interview, we focused on the launch of her new book, The Addiction Inoculation. Okay, let’s dig in…

“That’s how you get a book to continue to sell, you continue to talk about it.”

Jess shared the advice her editor Gail Winston gave her: “Books that continue to sell that are books by people who are out there talking about them and speaking.” So Jess made this the primary focus of her career as a writer, to always be out there talking about her books. This is part of why speaking is at the center of her focus. If you go to Jess’s website you will see the many speaking engagements she has booked from now through the end of the year, and into next year.

Another motivation is something she knew was a reality for many seemingly successful books: “A lot of books hit the bestseller list for a week or two, then go nowhere”

How did Jess prepare to have a book whose sales life would sustain well beyond launch? This is an example of one tactic: “I sent these letters out to thousands of school administrators, hand-written and signed personalized letters to school heads, principals, and superintendents. I was very systematic about putting that all in place before the book ever came out.”

She was working to get the books into the hands of people who it would matter most to, and who could possibly hire her for speaking. If that sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is.

Was Jess out there yelling “Buy my book!” to the same group of followers on Twitter? Nope. She did deep research figuring out who her idea audience would be. She found ways to connect with them and ensure they became aware of her book. She followed up and got inventive about ways of getting in front of her audience.

Generosity and the Personal Touch

If I had to pinpoint what Jess’s go-to book marketing tactic is it would be this: generosity and the personal touch. Let me give you an example. Years ago Jess was interviewing Adam Savage for a magazine profile on him. Adam was the co-host of MythBusters and has more than 5 million YouTube subscribers. Jess had a 2 hour interview scheduled with him, and she brought him a gift. But not just any gift, she considered a gift that would be:

  • Meaningful to him
  • Meaningful to her

Adam has a well-known maker workshop, and is fascinated with design fabrication both new and old. Jess pulled out a vintage sheet of Letraset letters that she had from her father and gifted that to Adam.

I asked Jess why this felt important to do. Why did she go out of her way to give Adam this gift when it would be so much easier — and accepted — to just show up and do the interview. Why give the man who has nearly everything… one more thing?

She explained that you do it to share something that lets them know that you understand them as a person. And it helps if the gift is also special to you. She had given Adam the last perfect piece of Letraset she had from her father. She is giving a story. She described it this way:

“The best gifts provide a story of the things we carry with us, who we are, where we come from.”

The gifts should never be lavish. You can go on eBay and buy a brand new package of vintage Letraset for a few bucks. But it is about more than the money. It is about the connection that happens when you share something meaningful.

Jess does this with so many people she comes in contact with. In our interview, she shared details of the specific gift she shared with those who provided a blurb for her book, and the process she goes through to make sure each is personal. In our previous interview, she described the importance of thank you notes for similar reasons.

She Gave Away Her Content, and It Cost Her $10,000+

As we talked, we went through Jess’s career step-by-step. We had gotten to the point where she was getting paid as a writer and getting paid as a speaker, and she then launched her podcast, #amwrting with KJ Dell’Antonia (and now Sarina Bowen.) The podcast is basically giving away free content. I asked her why make this move just at the point when she was getting paid for all she creates?

She replied that not only was she working hard to give away her content in the podcast, but that she KJ each sunk more than $10,000 each into the podcast in the first couple years. This was costing her money.

Why do that? For the reasons why so many authors share on social media, blog, create videos, podcasts, and so much else. Because it provided a fun way for her to collaborate, to meet people who inspire her, and to learn. They are now 284 episodes into it, and it’s an incredible resource.

She Got a Team

What comes across so clearly when I speak with Jessica is how hard she works, and how active she is in reaching out to new people and engaging with her sizable network. Yet Jess hired an outside publicist to promote her new book, even though she also had an in-house publicist from her publisher.

She shares the details in our talk, but what was so interesting to me was how clear she was about why she hired the publicist and how it was part of a larger cohesive strategy. Jess knew that her in-house publicist would be working on very specific things. And she knew that she herself would be doing major outreach for the book. She hired the publicist for a focus and reach that she felt all the other efforts wouldn’t get on their own. Together, in a team effort, she had carefully considered the many ways that her book could reach readers.

Focus on What You Can Control

Our conversation ended with an incredible story. Jess shared that a “massive philanthropist” learned about her book and asked what he could do to be supportive. Jess’s answer was a little surprising. I mean, let’s think about this… say you have a book coming out and someone who seems to have significant resources and an amazing network offers to help. What do you ask of them? Let’s just brainstorm some ideas:

  • “Um, can you text Oprah right now and tell her about my book?”
  • “What celebrities or influential people do you know that you can share my book with? Because many of them have podcasts with millions of listeners that I could be a guest on, or perhaps they would share the book on social media to their millions of followers.”
  • “Can you get me speaking gig at the following companies: ________?”
  • “Can you fund a major promotion for the book that would ensure it reaches thousands of new readers?”

I would bet that for many of authors in this situation, they would hope for support that leads to an exponential impact in terms of new people learning about the book. Jess instead decided to stay focused on a tactic she was already doing. This is how she described it:

“This philanthropist bought me 100 copies of my own book and had them sent to me so I could send them to school leaders, which is what I had been doing. I’m doing it in batches because it takes a lot of time to wrap up and send 100 copies to school administrators. When I hear back from school administrators, I email [that philanthropist] every time and say look at what you helped me do.”

This is so much work. She has to identify the places to send the book, get a spreadsheet together, wrap each book, write a personalized note for each one, mail them, follow up with them, then send a thank you note to the philanthropist. One hundred times.

When I asked why this was what she suggested as a way for the philanthropist to support the book, she said: “Those things create investment. The more people feel they are involved in helping, the more invested they are. It is us having a mutual goal toward something.”

You can watch or listen to my chat with Jessica here, and learn more about her work on her website.

Thanks!

-Dan

Would you take this creative risk?

Would you take this risk? Let’s say you write you very first novel and get a book deal with a major publisher — it’s your dream come true. Then, you come up with an idea to self-publish a free prequel short story to that book, six months before the novel is released. Your publisher is nervous about the idea and pushes back.

Would you proceed with publishing that prequel story?

I recently chatted with author Livia Blackburne who shared this story with me. It was for her first novel, Midnight Thief, and was set to be published by Disney-Hyperion. When she signed the deal, she made sure her contract would allow her to do something like this. Why does this moment stand out to me? Because so many writers who are in a position like this will hold back. They rationalize to themselves, “I’m now with a big publisher, who are experts at this. Let me just sit back and follow their lead.” And if the publisher actively states that they are nervous about an idea you had, that is often enough to get a writer to think to themselves, “Let me just be professional and not pursue that idea. I don’t want to upset my publisher.”

So 6 months before the release of her novel, Livia published a free prequel story on Amazon. This is how she describes it:

“I worked my butt off to get that novella into people’s hands for free. I was chasing people down on Goodreads who had been interested in Midnight Thief, I got reviews, then set it for free on Amazon, so it got a whole bunch of downloads once it was free.”

The result? Livia continues: “That really helped with the launch, you can see it in the numbers for Midnight Thief. Once the sales started coming in, [my publisher] came around.”

The novel went on to become a New York Times bestseller.

So much of what I study in terms of what helps writers and creators find success is this concept of making a creative shift. Taking a risk to double-down on your creative vision and what it means to share your work with readers in a meaningful way. It is in these stories that I am reminded that success has an infinite number of paths, not just one wide road of “best practices.” When I speak with writers and creators to hear their stories, I am reminded of this in full technicolor.

For Livia, this was not her only creative shift. Growing up, she loved math and science and went to Harvard to study biology before switching to psychology. After graduation, she worked for a year in a psych lab, then went to MIT for her post-graduate work. She describes it this way:

“It took me one or two years of my graduate program [for cognitive neuroscience] to realize this wasn’t for me. But I still stayed in the program for 8 years and got my PhD in it.”

“I was taking a class at Harvard Medical School, and it had been several years since I had written anything, or even reading for fun. In my third year of graduate school, I was waiting at the bus stop, it was super cold in Boston, so I went into the Harvard Book Store to stay warm while the bus came in. They had a display on the table back then from a popular series about a girl and her vampire boyfriend, so I picked it up and started reading. That weekend, I got the entire series, binge read the whole thing, and came out with a book hangover, saying, ‘I think I really like reading and writing.’ I had my quarter life crisis. I always wanted to write a novel. I said to myself, ‘you know what, I’m going to do it right now.’ So I started writing a novel. That was my escape from grad work. That book [which became Midnight Thief] became far more successful than my doctoral dissertation, so I graduated and never looked back.”

She walked away from her career in science. She says of that decision:

“It seemed like so much of a risk, and I’m not a risk taker. It is a big leap.”

From there, she almost self-published Midnight Thief, but was convinced by a writing group that she belonged to that she should query agents first. She also shared something that may surprise a lot of writers. After her first book, she pitched her next idea for a book to her publisher. They rejected it. Then she pitched another idea. They rejected that too. Her third idea is the one they accepted.

It is easy to think, “Once I reach X milestone, then I will have total freedom to create whatever I want.” But the reality is that when you work in collaboration with others, it doesn’t always work that way. Since then she went on to publish several more novels with another set to release later this Fall.

Recently Livia made another big creative shift, writing her first picture book which was released earlier this year called I Dream of Popo. That book received a lot of praise, and she is now working on another picture book to be released in 2024. She is also working on another book for release in 2023 which diverges from the fantasy genre in which she usually writes, this new one a YA romantic comedy.

When I asked her about these creative shifts, she said this:

“My career keeps opening up. I just sold another picture book, and just closed a deal on a book in a completely different genre that wasn’t even on my radar until 2 months ago, plus I’m working on a middle grade [book]. I don’t know when I’m going back to fantasy at this point, or if I will. I feel like I’m growing a lot as an artist. It feels like the same as when I was just beginning to write, which is a nice feeling to have. I’m closing in on a decade in my writing career, and it’s nice to feel myself growing at this point.”

You can listen to my entire conversation with Livia in the following places:

Or you can watch a video of the interview here:

Thanks!

-Dan

Every reader counts

In the mid-1980s, the TV show Miami Vice debuted, and changed the look and sound of what a TV show could be. A young Nicole Blades was home watching, capturing her imagination. She says, “Writing was a way for me to put myself into the story.” What did she do next? She began writing Miami Vice fan fiction, of course! Decades later, she now has three published novels (none of them having anything to do with Miami Vice.) We will get back to Nicole in a moment…

This is how writing begins. With being a viewer, an observer, a consumer, a reader. Every person who reads what you write is someone who is living in the world you create. But, whether you know it or not, they are also co-creating. Perhaps none of them go on to write fan fiction stories based on your books, but they create the voice, the scenes, other aspects of the world you create within their minds. This happens regardless of whether you write fiction, memoir, or nonfiction.

Writers and creators tend to feel pressure to get followers, subscribers, reviews, make bestseller lists, and win awards. In the process, this can reduce the concept of engaging with readers to a simple number. It’s not uncommon for me to hear someone say: “I only have 30 subscribers,” or “I only have 600 subscribers.” Or “I only have 100 followers.” Or “I only have 24 reviews.” But I want to emphasize this:

Every reader counts.

If you want your career as a writer to grow, spend more time focused on the people who are engaging with you and what you create.

I was watching a documentary about the band ZZ Top recently, and they described playing a show early in their career in Alvin, Texas. They were hoping to sell out the venue, but would be happy if it was even half full. When they came out from behind the curtain to go on stage, they saw a single person in the audience. They started play, and the guy started to leave. The band stopped playing and talked to him, encouraging him to stay, explaining they would be playing him their full set, which they proceeded to do. After an hour, they took a break, bought their lone audience member a soda, and then… to this one guy, played an encore.

I mean, imagine this. Putting on a full show — plus an encore!!! — for one person. Giving it your all. The band members described how typically an encore is something you do when people are begging for more, but the situation was reverse… they were doing everything they could to turn a casual listener into a dedicated fan.

Decades later, the band says: “That guy still comes around to this day. He says, remember me? I’m the guy! And we say, of course we remember you.”

Your audience is developed one person at a time. And that relationship can’t be measured just as a point of sale for a book, them becoming a subscriber, or them choosing to follow you. At so many points in your career as a writer, you will hope that readers show up for you. Perhaps it is to join you in a conversation, to attend an event, to spread the word about a book, to leave a review, to recommend you to a book club, or so much else. These things happen through the professional relationship you forge with readers.

When I interviewed author Nicole Blades recently, she shared her path to writing. It felt just as incremental as our path to readers. Sure, we all dream of waking up one day and learning that suddenly thousands of people discovered your books and are raving about them. But… while we wait, we write and we share.

For Nicole, before she became a writer, thought she may want to become a lawyer. Then she began writing for magazines and doing freelance work. In our discussion, she shares the decisions she made along the way to publish her books and determine how she engages with readers. You can watch our full interview here:

Or listen on your favorite podcast app:

Each of our journeys as a creator takes time. So does developing how we can best share and engage readers. I simply want to encourage you to show up for your own journey.

This is why I interview writers, artists, and creators on my podcast each week, to constantly meet new people who inspire me, and to understand the decisions that led them to where they are now. It’s also why I’ve sent out this newsletter every week for 15 years. It is an honor to have you read what I share. Thank you.

-Dan

The power of clicking “publish”

I just bought a hat that has the word “Publish” printed in big letters across the front. Here it is:

 

This was produced by two YouTubers I mentioned recently, Colin & Samir, whose mission it is to help more people become creators. The encouragement to click “publish” is the process of creating something and sharing it. Sometimes that is publishing a newsletter, essay, or blog. It can also mean clicking “send” on a pitch or submission, or posting something on social media.

For some people, they work on their craft for years and years, and finally click publish. But for many, they develop their identity as a writer or artist by clicking publish early and often. This isn’t easy, because in clicking publish, it means we navigate the human side of what it means to create:

  • Sharing an essay even when we are unsure of it.
  • Showing up to a poetry reading even when we are nervous.
  • Pitching a book even when we fear it could use another revision (or two, or three.)
  • Reaching out to a colleague that you respect, but are afraid you are interrupting their day.

In studying how to effectively share what we create to develop an audience for our work, something I think a lot about is frequency. The act of creating and sharing often. This can be especially effective for a writer or artist who hopes to develop their platform, grow their audience, and ensure their work truly connects with people.

It is difficult to click publish. It can trigger every fear we have about how good our work is, and if there is a place for it in the world. To manage this fear, sometimes writers and artists ask, “What is the absolute minimum that I have to share?”

But I love the stories that are the opposite. Those who double-down on creating and sharing. I want to talk about some of those people today.

This week I released my most recent interview with author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. She and I had worked together when she release her 3rd novel, Bittersweet, and it hit the The New York Times bestseller list.

 

Before that book was released, Miranda feared that her writing career was over. Her first two books didn’t perform as expected and she had become convinced that she would never be able to publish another novel. She described it this way:

“I had to decide if I wanted this to be my career or not, because I couldn’t sell another book after my 2nd novel came out.”

So many writers and artists hope that every opportunity leads to yet another, but it doesn’t always feel that way. When Miranda spoke to someone at the time about whether she still had a writing career, their advice was: “You have to write a bestseller, that’s all you have to do…”

It’s easy to look at a list of Miranda’s books and see this amazing body of work, and envision this constant upward trajectory:

 

But the reality behind the scenes may not feel that way to the writer because there are thousands of decisions to be made.

When Miranda and I started working together on the Bittersweet launch, we gave ourselves a full year to do the work. We began our conversations by walking around the BookExpo tradeshow floor, immersing ourselves in the business of publishing. Then we spent that year considering what it would take to truly reach readers.

We focused on generosity. There were many facets to what she did overall in marketing, but one highlight was how we strategized a giveaway of her book. Instead of just giving away a few copies of her book, we developed a program of 30 days of giving away books from 20+ authors including Celeste Ng, Roxane Gay, Megan Abbott, and many others. It was so much work, but the payoff was amazing.

For one, it created goodwill with a group of authors that Miranda didn’t previously know, but who were publishing books during the same time she was. Each day, we posted another interview and giveaway, and did a big giveaway at the end. The giveaway itself had buzz to it, and spread to the kind of reader that Miranda was hoping to reach. It also grew Miranda’s network in a powerful way, thanks to the involvement of the amazing Julia Fierro who brought in many of the writers.

Did the giveaway itself make Miranda a bestseller? Nope! But it made the experience of launching the book that summer one filled with joy, connection, and generosity.

After Bittersweet, Miranda wrote her next novel, but things didn’t go entirely as expected. Her beloved editor Christine Kopprasch moved to a new publisher, which left her without one of her best partners and creative collaborators. Her fourth novel didn’t have the impact in the marketplace that Bittersweet did.

When Miranda approached writing her fifth book, she changed things up, switching publishers in order to work with Christine again. She had to write the bulk of the novel while on lockdown, managing her family, and living with extended family. She had very specific hours she could write, and had to get it done in the same way someone shows up to an office to work. Living with extended family who are also creators meant that she was very aware that any moment she had to herself to write meant that someone else couldn’t be creating.

Her latest book, Fierce Little Thing was released this summer, soon after she and I spoke for my podcast. She got a rave review in The New York Times, plus many other places. Just this week Sarah Jessica Parker featured her book in an Instagram post:

 

What struck me about how Miranda described the writing process was how it was work, just like someone has a day job. Here is Miranda showing up again and again to not just write, but to connect with readers in a wide range of ways. You can listen or watch my full interview with her here.

I was recently rewatching the 2002 documentary Comedian, which focused on Jerry Seinfeld’s effort to build an entirely new standup set after end of his TV show.

So much of the movie focuses on frequency — of showing up on stage again and again, multiple times a night, night after night — in order to craft jokes, and better understand what lands with an audience. Jerry described an important moment when he doubled-down on his work as a comedian:

“I used to sit down and write a couple times a week. Then one day I was watching these construction workers go back to work. Just trudging down the street. It was a revelation to me. These guys don’t want to go back to work after lunch. But they’re going. Because that’s their job. If they can exhibit that level of dedication for that job, I should be able to do the same.”

In a New York Times interview last year, he talked about how he still writes every day:

“I still have a writing session every day. It’s another thing that organizes your mind. The coffee goes here. The pad goes here. The notes go here. My writing technique is just: You can’t do anything else. You don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else. The writing is such an ordeal. That sustains me.”

I think about this all the time when it comes to how a writer or artist not only creates, but shares their work. Throughout the 2002 documentary and other interviews with Seinfeld, he is honest about how uncomfortable he is walking on stage. That more often than not, he’s sick to his stomach, even after all his success. That he’s not comfortable being up there. Yet, this is the work, and he shows up to his craft of writing and sharing.

To me, that is the power of clicking publish. Of showing up to your writing. And showing up in the lives of readers.

Driving to my studio this morning at 5:10am, I passed the local gym. The lights were on and a guy was walking from his car to the front door. There were other cars in the lot. A minute later when I entered the parking lot to my studio, a woman was jogging through it.

Here it is in total darkness and quiet at 5:10am, and these individuals are fitting in their workout. No doubt they each have a busy job they have to get to in an hour or two. They may have dishes piled up in the sink. They have kids who will soon wake up. And they are getting the work done.

Something I think about a lot is to challenge our assumptions about how often we show up to our creative vision, and to connect with those who will appreciate what we create.

This is not to make anyone feel pressure to do “more, more , more, more” until we collapse from exhaustion. It is simply to explore the idea of what it means to dedicate ourselves to a craft. I want to challenge my own assumptions. When I see that woman jog through the parking lot at 5:10am, I am challenging my own internal narratives that may justify, “I’m so busy, I don’t have time to go for a jog.” That woman made the time because her health is important to her. Miranda wrote that next book even if felt it may not find a publisher.

Someone who I have been marveling at recently is Zibby Owens, who I had originally known from her book podcast called “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books”. I’m going to briefly describe all I see her doing now, and I don’t have an explanation for how it’s possible besides her being amazing, and perhaps her having an incredible team supporting her work:

  • She posts daily interviews with authors on her podcast. Daily.
  • She has a second podcast that she publishes weekly.
  • She had a third podcast which she only recently paused.
  • She just announced her own publishing company.
  • She’s hosting a retreat in October.
  • She’s publishing an anthology in November.
  • Her September calendar shows 11 events she is hosting online or in person.
  • She published a book earlier this year.
  • She’s all over the media, most recently speaking with Katie Couric last week.
  • There is so much more she does that I’m not even capturing here!

I don’t know how she does it. It’s astounding. The entire time she is not only producing an amazing body of work, but she is developing perhaps the best network in the publishing world.

Should we all be Zibby? Of course not, only she can do that. But when I see that guy walk into the gym at 5:10am; When I see Miranda pull her writing career back from the brink to become a bestseller; when I see Zibby doing a daily podcast… these people remind me that how I approach my craft is a choice. How frequently I create and share that work is a choice.

There are no right or wrong answers for how you do that, but I do encourage you to consider your creative vision, and how you can give it the chance it deserves. And yes, I’m encouraging you to click publish more frequently.

Thanks!

-Dan

Becoming who you are

So much of the work I do with writers and creators is to help understand how they can effectively share their creative work and their mission with the world. To those who will be moved by it. Helped by it. Feel less alone because of it. Some of this is the internal work of understanding what we want to say and having a system to know how to share it in a manner that feels authentic to who we are. Another aspect of this work is to understand who you hope to reach as a real person, not a faceless audience that will be measured in a numeric value like a “follower” or “subscriber.”

This is where how we create and how we share come together. To me, they are not uniquely separate tasks where one takes off the “writing” hat to put on a “marketing” hat. How we share is representative of who we are and how we connect.

I care less about following trends, and more about the lifelong journey of better understanding who we are, how we can best create, and the way that magic can happen when someone discovers your art.

Today, I simply want to reflect on the journey between those things. How what we create and how we share helps us become who we are. I’ll share this through the stories of people whose work I have been thinking about this week. We can kick it off with a quote from Questlove’s book, Creative Quest:

“If you’re feeling like things aren’t going anywhere, hang out with people from different disciplines.”

Growing up, I was the art kid, and always found myself gravitating towards anyone who creates. It’s a powerful way to find inspiration and connection. So below, I’ll share insights from writers, comics, dancers, and more. Let’s dig in…

“I kept writing because publishing wasn’t my goal. Writing was my goal.

 

Yang HuangI recently spoke with author Yang Huang about her journey as an author. She has published two novels, a short story collection, as well as essays. Every writer’s path is difficult in some way. For Yang, she grew up in China, in a culture that didn’t allow for her to consider writing as a pursuit. I asked her if she had a sense of permission to create when she was a child, and she replied:

“Actually never. I grew up in China, and back then we were always taught what to think and how to feel at home. I wasn’t even allowed to cry or my parents will mock me. It wasn’t a lack of love, but sheer force of conformity, there was always a right and wrong way to do things, a right or wrong way to feel. The censorship took away the power of imagination. I always knew what people want me to think and say. It got to a point that I knew language was almost pointless because I just give them what they wanted.”

“As I got older… I turned to writing because that’s a private language. I don’t have to conform exactly. Writing was a way for me to have a little bit of space that they [her family and culture around her] can’t quite invade.”

As a child, she was not encouraged to create, yet there were stories inside her.

Yang moved to America to pursue a degree in computer science, and her studies took her from Florida, to Boston, to Seattle, to Arizona. Along the way, she began to write. As her career in computer science became established, she pursued getting her MFA.

Every single writer and artist has their own unique challenges. What inspired me about Yang’s story is her diligence in forging her own path to become who she was all along, even if those around her didn’t see it or encourage it.

You can listen to my full interview with her here, or watch our conversation here:

 

You can find more about Yang and her books here.

Celebrating Those Who Inspire You

I’ve been watching and rewatching the 1990 video from Janet Jackson for her song “Alright.” It’s a highly choreographed visual story that features entertainers from the golden age of Hollywood. We get a dance routine from Cyd Charisse, who at age 69 moved just as she did decades earlier:

 

Fayard and Harold Nicholas appeared as well, and much like Cyd, moved just as they did back in the 1940s, even though they were 76 and 69 at the time of filming:

 

At age 82, the legendary Cab Calloway not only appeared in the video, but is the focal point of the entire storyline:

 

And of course, there is Janet Jackson herself, doing it all — singing, dancing, acting — with a sense of ease that is just incredible.

I spend a lot of time on Wikipedia and YouTube researching performers from different eras of the 20th century. It has me considering the zeitgeist — how there are times in one’s career when the culture recognizes their work, and times they do not. These performers had been out of the limelight for many years, but Janet wanted to showcase them to a new generation.

Remembering and celebrating the work of those who inspire us is an opportunity we all have. To recognize creators whose work may be somewhat forgotten, or to be inspired by it and help their work grow through your own. So much of what we create is inspired by the experiences in our lives and those who have touched us.

On your social media, or as a part of a marketing campaign for your next book, could you use it as an opportunity to celebrate the authors or creators who inspired you? Or, could you look around at other modern day creators whose work you love, and celebrate them? To use your platform and your voice to not only share their creative work, but to truly make that creator’s day?

Imagine what Cab Calloway must have felt in 1990, when at age 82 he learned that Janet wanted to feature him in her new video. His last major media appearance was 8 years earlier, and it had been a full decade since he was prominently featured in the movie The Blues Brothers. Could you help provide that feeling to someone now?

You have the power to make someone feel seen. To have their work feel relevant and validated. Regardless of whether it is someone who has been creating for decades, or is just trying to get their first book published. Why not use that power?

A Lesson from Comedians: Creative Work is Surrounded by Failure.

I’ve watched a series of interviews recently from successful comedians who talked about how much failure is a part of their daily work, and their career overall. In hearing this again and again, I felt like the idea of accepting this opens up huge possibilities. Instead of being concerned about the validation from others, knowing that failure is part of the process may help you feel motivated to create and share even more. Some of what I heard:

  • Seth Green talks about all the failed projects he’s been a part of, and how very often, you have no idea which projects will fail or not, regardless of how you feel about them.
  • Jerry Seinfeld talks about the famous note from an NBC executive turning down the concept for the Seinfeld TV show. He reflects that at that time, he had been on the Tonight Show 3 times per year for 7 years, and each time he was wildly successful. Yet he was surprised that NBC reacted as: “Who’s this guy?! This guy wants a show?” No matter how hard he worked, how successful he was, he still found people who wouldn’t take him seriously.
  • Tina Fey and Conan O’Brien talked about how they still have anxiety about their time at SNL, and that the experience working there pushes people over the edge. She shared the routines she formed in those years, saying to herself as she commuted to work: “When you get off the train you have to get off on the same side, and walk around this pillar, otherwise your sketch on the show will tank.”
  • Chris Rock shared how he felt his career was over in the years between SNL and then succeeding as a standalone comic: “In 1995, I was washed up, I had no career. I was out of the business. Nobody would talk to me.”

It’s easy to look at the Wikipedia page for each of these people and only see success, yet they talk about how much of their life has been filled with failure. An idea not working, a project going nowhere, people not picking up their calls, them not getting chosen. But they kept working and through that, things worked out.

Fitting In

I sometimes find that when someone is trying to establish their platform, they are vying to fit in to the marketplace. They want to learn the “best practices” so that they can use social media and be online just as other writers and artists are. And of course, there is value in that. But I would encourage you to take a different approach: to become who you are and learn to share that with authenticity online.

I have shared the following video many times over the years, and I always come back to it when I consider what it means to be public with your creative work. It’s an old video by Ze Frank called “Fitting In.” You can watch it here:

 

He states in the video:

“When I was younger I had this feeling that there was this handbook that I’d never gotten,
that explained how to be, how to laugh, what to wear,
how to stand by yourself in a hallway.
Everyone else looks so natural, like they’d all practiced together and knew exactly what to do. My experience was pretty much the opposite.”

“So I tried to pick up the patterns.
I wore what they wore, and said what they said. I even wrote “smile more” on a sticky note. And over time it sort of worked in a way. I made a version of me that fit in.”

“As I grew older the patterns kept changing, and it took so much effort to keep learning them. I was still stuck with the problem that it started with, being terrified of the moment when my tricks stop working.”

“I think it took me too long to learn something: that even though there is a thing called “fitting in,” that it’s something that you can learn and practice,
those pages or so thin compared to who you are. That the way to become natural like I wanted to be so badly, is by forgetting what you’re trying to be to other people. And if there is a handbook, you probably get to write it yourself.”

Thanks!

-Dan