Join me for a free workshop today at 12:30pm ET: Author Platform and Book Launch Essentials. I will share three critical strategies for anyone who is trying to grow their audience as a writer, or prepare for a book launch. Plus: I will be happy to answer your questions in a live Q&A. If you can’t make the live event, please register anyway, you will receive a recording of the workshop. Register here.
Onto today’s message…
I was speaking with an author recently who was reflecting on her book launch plans, and she said, “It’s tough when the few contacts I have aren’t panning out.” I’ve heard so many versions of this over the years from writers. They often feel frustration that they don’t have the network they need in order to adequately reach potential readers. Maybe a writer hoped an influential colleague could help them go viral, or a friend will introduce them to a well-known author to write a blurb, or that an old friend will invite you as a guest onto their successful podcast. These disappointments can also happen in smaller ways: a writer assuming that a friend will definitely take a specific action to promote that author’s book, and then are shocked when this person doesn’t.
I’ve heard plenty of stories where a writer says, “My friend said she would post a review of my book to Amazon, but now she says she’s too busy.” Or “All my friends said they would buy my book, but now a week after launch and I found out none of them did.”
These are not “bad” people. Likely, they are busy, they are overwhelmed, they are not fully aware of how much a simple action can mean to you. Or sometimes they simply have stage fright from having to do what we all tend to get nervous about: sharing publicly or promoting something. A few months ago I wrote about “Why your book isn’t getting reviews,” and broke down how a simple question of “Can you post a review of my book to Amazon?” is actually a 10 step process. At each of these 10 steps, someone might feel overwhelmed, and bail on the entire process.
What I want to encourage you to do is be intentional about connecting with potential readers. No, I am not saying that you have to embrace networking. Instead, consider how you can regularly create moments and experiences around the kind of books or themes that inspire you. Joy should be infused in the process.
Sometimes, this connection can be expressed as gratitude. Simply send someone a thank you note. Other times, it can fueled by a sense of curiosity, inviting people into a conversation.
Eight years ago I interviewed designer Tina Roth Eisenberg on my podcast. At the time, she was running three organizations out of Brooklyn, and had a huge following. When I sent an email asking to interview her, I was surprised when she replied back and said yes. We conducted the interview in her office, and after the 40 minute conversation, I began packing up my equipment. I couldn’t resist, I had to ask: “Tina, you are clearly so busy. Why did you say yes to meeting with me and taking the time for this interview?”
She said, “Well, you were smart. A few days ago, you said something really nice about me on Twitter. When your email came in asking to be a guest on your podcast, I had a good feeling. I figured, why not?”
That Tweet I sent was me being very honest about my appreciation for her work. But it also seeded that connection. Would Tina have noticed me if I simply followed her silently? Likely not. Or if I occasionally clicked “like” on some of her Tweets? Likely not. But a complimentary Tweet? That got her attention.
I encourage you to be intentional about connecting with readers, writers, and those who inspire you (which may include librarians, teachers, booksellers, podcasters, etc.) Being intentional is not easy. I heard this interview with Jane Fonda recently that illustrates the point:
Jane Fonda: “My favorite ex-husband… said this to me, “You don’t make new friends after 60.” But I think that he’s really wrong. What you have to do is be intentional. I never used to be intentional. I would meet Sally Field for example, but not pursue her. Oh… but I did pursue her.”
Sally Field cuts in: “Oh for goodness sake, I couldn’t make you stop.”
Jane: “See, because she tends to be reclusive.”
Jane: “You have to pursue people you want to be friends with, and you have to say, “I’m intentionally wanting to be your friend.” And it works. People hear that, and then they stick around, and you develop new friendships.”
Lily Tomlin (with Sally Field agreeing): “I don’t really like people that much. I try to avoid them. But those who are intentional (pointing to Jane), you just can’t get rid of them.” (they all laugh, looking each other in the eye with a sense of deep connection.)
Is it easy to be intentional? Honestly, it often isn’t. It takes clarity and, dare I say, work. Recently someone I follow on social media was talking about how she is trying to make friends in her neighborhood. To do so, she hosted a backyard event for her neighbors to get to know them, and shared this: “I’m following the advice of ‘Be the friend you hope to have.'”
When I consider the “business of publishing,” and how one can get their book into the marketplace and reach readers, I sometimes think about how it works for other industries. How does a plumber get new business? How does a bakery sell more cakes? How does a travel agent get new customers? I saw a post recently from a realtor that said: “Prospecting every day for 30 days starts today! 17 agents getting proactive about their business.” It included a photo of people around a conference room table, basically making cold calls:
My mom was a realtor during the 1980s and 90s, and I can say this is not easy work. But can it lead to good things? Sure! It can help strengthen existing connections, make new ones, lead to new business, and for sellers to get a good deal on houses they want to move from, and buyers to find the home of their dreams.
What these people clearly have in place is a system. They have lists of prospects, they have scripts to work from, and then they set this progression of prospecting every day for 30 days. I read a lot of headlines about how challenging the housing market is right now. This is one way that professionals are trying to be intentional to find success in a changing market.
Of course, you are likely looking at this photo and thinking, “Dan, that is not how I want to exist as an author, sitting around a conference room table and cold calling people!” So let’s not do that. Instead, consider what a deeply meaningful version of this could possibly look like.
- Reach out to a writer you met years ago, but haven’t spoken to for awhile?
- Support a local bookstore by buying a book, then posting about it in your town’s local Facebook group?
- Email a podcaster telling them that you love their show, and the best piece of advice you heard on it?
All of this is intentional outreach, and can support your goal of reaching readers, but in a way that feels fulfilling.
Let me give you a clear example of how this can work in real life. I’m friends with Jennie Nash, who is an amazing book coach, and basically a genius. She and I speak every week to discuss our creative and business goals, and help each other navigate decisions and ideas. I once shared the story of how we met and became friends, and it is infused with examples of intention.
I went back through my calendar and email to see how my connection with her really started. To my surprise, the first thing I ever said to her was “No” to an idea she pitched me. The second thing I said to her was “No” to another idea she pitched me.
August 4, 2012: Jennie signed up for my email newsletter. At the time, when someone signed up I asked about their biggest creative challenge. She replied back and I then sent her a note in return. That was our first communication. Thank goodness for my newsletter!
July 5, 2013: It was nearly an entire year later before our next communication. She wrote to me pitching herself as a speaker for an online conference I was running. This is how the email started:
“Hi Dan, I’m a stealth fan of yours, and just read your newsletter about all the projects you have going on. It made me laugh, because it sounds so much like me — a thousand irons in the fire and loving it all. I was particularly intrigued by the online conference you are planning, and wanted to throw my hat in the ring as a speaker.”
This was huge. Like a lot of us, we “follow” people online quietly. But she took this action to tell me how much she appreciated my work, and then connect it to her own. She then shared two specific pitches for sessions she could run at my online conference. In doing so she said something that would be a staple of how Jennie operates:
“If these ideas are intriguing, I’d love to talk more about how I could hep make your first online conference a hit.”
In other words, she was helping immediately. She considered my goals, and what I hoped for when hearing from someone about the event. I mean, don’t we all dreams of hearing this from someone: “I can help make your creative idea a hit.”
What happened next? I turned her down. The reason was that the event was all about connecting with readers, and I think her ideas focused more on her specialty of actually writing books. I ended with: “But clearly – we should know each other regardless!” And she replied back: “Now we DO know each other. Keep up all the inspiring work. It’s fun to watch it unfold.”
A few months later, she signed up for the paid portion of the conference. Then I received this email from a writer: “Hi Dan- I am glad that I discovered you (through Jennie Nash)…”
I see so many people “pitch” someone in their field, and then if they are turned down, they shy away from that person. They stop supporting their work. Which, of course, is a mistake. Jennie did the opposite. She was supporting me and the conference anyway.
November 2013: A few speakers dropped out of my conference at the last minute, and I received another email from Jennie, with her offering to jump in and fill one of their slots. She shared two brand new ideas for presentations.
What did I say to Jennie? “No” a second time.
Sometimes we can’t see opportunity staring us in the face. I was too focused on the tasks at hand, and had decided that adding more speakers at the last minute added unneeded complexity to an already overwhelming event I was running. Her reply? Total support, and yet another supportive offer:
“Probably a smart decision. The event will be fantastic without any additional speakers. I’d like to ask you about contributing a piece (or Q&A) to Compose literary journal. I’m the features editor and I think our readers would love to hear from you.”
Luckily, this time I said “yes.” We hopped on the phone that day and it was the first time we spoke.
Jennie was being so intentional. I did end up writing that essay for her and in the process we spoke a few more times. We got along really well, and I noticed that our creative and business goals were very similar. I then proposed something via email: “Jennie, would you be open to talking every week, kind of like a mini creative mastermind?” She called, and in a skeptical voice said, “What are your intentions here?” It was a big commitment to have a weekly call with someone, and she wanted to understand why I was asking and what the commitment would be.
I was just honest, telling her how impressed I was with her work, how I appreciated how she thinks and approached problem solving, etc. Long story short, she and I have spoken nearly every week for nine years. All because of being intentional about reaching out and connecting with those who inspire us.
This is why I encourage writers to begin developing their platform and working on their book launch early. Years before you think you need to. If you want to explore this more, please join me today at 12:30pm ET for my workshop: Author Platform and Book Launch Essentials. Register here.