Redefining creative failure

I want to talk about the role of failure in our process to write and share our work. I will frame this in the stories of two people who create with joy, and took the initiative to reframe what failure meant in order to live a life filled with creativity and a wide network of people who appreciate what they create.

It makes sense that we work hard to avoid failure. Often, we seek “best practices” to ensure our efforts don’t fall short of expectations. But our fear of failure is more than that, isn’t it? It’s that often we feel a sense of embarrassment or shame when something doesn’t work out as we hoped. Why address this? Because I worry that fear of failure stops people from writing and creating. It stops them from sharing. It prevents new writing and art from coming out in the world, and how that art can truly change someone else’s life for the better.

Creating and failing is a core part of the work we do as writers. It is how we discover our creative vision, learn to share, and find ways to connect our art to those who will love it.

I recently talked to two successful creators, Melissa Bernstein and Skeme Richards, whose stories are incredibly inspiring to me.

Let’s dig in…

All around my living room are toys that my 3 year old plays with that have two names on them: Melissa & Doug. That is the name brand of many of the wooden toys he loves. Well, recently I had a chance to chat with Melissa, who to my surprise, is a real person.


Melissa BernsteinIt’s easy to look at the life of Melissa Bernstein and just see the incredible accomplishments. As the co-founder of Melissa & Doug, she has designed nearly 10,000 products, and built a $500 million dollar company.

But that isn’t what Melissa wanted to talk to me about. She just released a new book where she shares her own lifelong journey through anxiety, depression, and despair. As we discussed her life and career, I asked about failure. Her reply:

“Failure is my favorite thing to talk about. Perfectionism nearly killed me, because I thought that anything short of 100% meant that I was worthless. I came close to believing that I wasn’t worth being here.”

Then she reframed how she thinks about her career:

“[I am] someone who has to fail for a living. A consultant we hired once calculated my ‘failure/success rate’ because they believed that if they lowered my failure rate, Melissa & Doug would be even more successful. They calculated that in three years, I was successful 40% of the time. Which means I failed 60% of the time. Which I absolutely loved. That became such a source of pride for me, because I realized that I failed more than I succeeded, and yet we are a $500 million dollar toy company now.”

To hear Melissa talk about failing 60% of the time, and that leading to success is astounding. She continues…

“Behind my desk at work, I have a wall of failure. I call it my ‘greener pasture wall.’ It’s about 500 to 1,000 of my favorite failures. The ones I truly thought were going to be the biggest thing ever. What you realize that the line between success and failure is so fine. It’s like a spider web. Failure is actually a fluid process from failure to success that every failure — if you can have the courage to look at it for what it is — you can see that is a tiny little thing that you could have tweaked. And I did. So many of my failures, I brought back, sometimes a decade later, and became a huge success. Or sometimes I tweaked a tiny little thing, like the packaging, and they became huge successes. Sometimes I tweaked the wording, how we communicate what it is and what it does, and became huge successes. Other times, I changed the price point. I began to see it not as buckets of success and failure, but as a rich process that went from spark all the way, following it, to failure, to plowing through the failure, to get it to be a success.”

Within what she shares here is so much of the creative process. As a writer, you may recognize aspects of the editing process that resonate with you, how you have reworked a chapter again and again, before finally hitting upon the missing ingredient.

But this also applies to one’s author platform and how we share what we create. All day I work with writers on this, and “success” is not just following a script or a “best practice.” It is the act of creativity, of honing, of trying again and again to find what works, and connects with your ideal audience.

The book Melissa just released, LifeLines, digs deep into this topic. She talks honestly about that space that I think so many writers and creators get lost: that line between what we create and our identity. She described her own journey this way:

“I do have every material bit of success you can imagine. In conventional definition, I’ve achieved it all. We have a $500 million dollar company, I have six children, I have every material need you could ever want, it is all perfect. But what I realized so clearly is that if you haven’t accepted yourself in totality and truly been able to revel in who you are authentically, you will never find a sense of fulfillment and peace.”

That word, “authenticity” comes up a lot when people talk about social media and marketing. What is amazing about seeing her book is that it is, well, kind of unusual. At 637 pages, it weighs more than 3 pounds, much more than longer books. Why? Because the page stock is ridiculously thick. It has an embossed cover, sewn binding, and throughout the book is not just the prose, but loads of verse and more than 100 high quality photos of nature. She laughed when I asked about this, understanding why I was asking:

“I could have created a commercially successful book. We sell 65 million toys a year. I know with my eyes closed how to create a product that will sell a lot of units. I could have easily made this that quintessential self-help book, tell the cute stories about my kids and forming Melissa & Doug, and make it that rags to riches story, that maybe would have been a best seller. But I know so deeply in my soul that was the antithesis of what I wanted to do. That is what I had done for 32 years at Melissa & Doug, to appeal to a lot of people through those toys. And this wasn’t about that at all.”

But then she said something so inspiring, and so emblematic of why I work with writers and love books:

“This book was about, for the first time, sharing who I was. And with the courage to do that with vulnerability, that it would encourage others to do the same thing. I wasn’t speaking to the masses, I believe myself to be speaking to the creative misfits in the world. Those who feel so stigmatized for being that way, and that the world will not want what we create. “To finally be able to give brith to verses and journal writing that came directly from the pain I felt my whole life, was accepting that part of myself for the very first time.”

I mean, there it is. That is why we create. That is the power of writing of art, and the value of a book. She said of the book: “I’ve created close to 10,000 products for Melissa and Doug, but creating this book was the most incredible experience of my life.”

You may think that with her success, with being the head of a company, that meant she had a lifetime of feeling free to be herself. But she described it quite the opposite, and it underscores why this book is so powerful to her:

“I was never trying to be authentic and honest. I knew that doing so would be so stigmatizing, because my true self is really overly sensitive. I had never accepted that in myself. It made me odd, it made me weird, it made people give me this look that is a combination of terror and disgust. A look that made me say, ‘Oh my, I’m showing them too much.’ It made me, from a very early age, hide all that stuff from the world, and adopt a facade of ‘I’m fine today, I’m perfect today.’ I felt I could never share [my authentic] qualities. Something in me wanted to fit in.”

Along with the book, she has created a LifeLines community. Her goal is to show people that you are not alone, that you can create a sense of purpose and hope in your life, and that accepting who we are is a critical part of our journeys.

You can listen to my entire interview with Melissa Bernstein here. At the end of the interview, she shares her email address, promising to give a direct reply to anyone who emails her.


Skeme RichardsI want to share the story of one more person who I met recently, DJ Skeme Richards.

When Skeme was 10 years old, he got his first set of turntables. He says, “I would buy records with my lunch money,” skipping lunch to instead save up buy the music he loved. His first DJ gig was when he was in 6th grade, providing the music for the big party at the end of the year, carrying his equipment three blocks to the school. I asked how he got this opportunity, and he said simply, “I just asked.” That is so powerful to me, he didn’t wait to be chosen by others, He saw a chance to play music in front of a large audience, and he created the opportunity that would define his life.

As he went through school, he told me how he found mentors and honed his skills as a DJ turned into a finely honed skill as be became a teenager. But then he said something that really surprised me. I asked about what career he thought he wanted to pursue when he was in high school, and his answer was immediate: “Not DJing.”

Instead he got a job at a teleconference company, saying, “Suit and tie every day, making amazing money, 18 years old.” For more than two decades, these were his days, moving from that company to Bell Atlantic as a directory assistance supervisor, to the SmithKline Beecham clinical laboratory, and finally to BMW.

Why am I telling you — the writer and artist — about these jobs? Because I was inspired by Skeme’s wisdom in this choice. Too often, I think our creative dreams die because we equate “success” with it as being a full-time career filled with monetary reward that derives directly from our art. But sometimes that can kill one’s creative muse.

So much of managing our own narratives of failure can come into play when we get clarity on our creative goals and expectations. Skeme knew this instinctively. Instead of trying to build a full-time professional career as DJ, he said, “I never wanted this to be my 9-5. Music is the hobby I do every day of the week. Music kept me going.”

Yes, on nights and weekends, he was shopping demos and finding ways into the industry. But each day, he went to work at his job and developed a solid base from which to pursue his creative passion.

Something I noticed in what Skeme shares on social media is this: Skeme lives with total joy and celebration of his creative work and what inspires him. He also seems to regularly connect with others who appreciate the work he creates.

Something happened midway through his career. For the 80s and 90s, his DJing was mostly focused on his local market: Philadelphia and New York. But then the world seemed to open up. Around 2003, he began traveling around the world for DJing events. It started in London, where he paid his own way to fly out.

Since then, he has traveled all over the world playing shows and connecting with like-minded fans of the music and culture he loves. He says, “me going to work every day, funded my tours to Japan, funded my tours to Europe.”

In 2012 he took a corporate buyout and left his job. What did he do next? He went on a monthlong tour of Japan, and then booked gigs from April through October of that year. He says of the life he created for himself: “I’ve built up a network of people where I can go anywhere I want to go, with a phone call. I can just say, ‘Hey I want to tour there,; and make it happen.”

I asked about how he has adjusted in the past year, when travel and gatherings around music wasn’t really possible. He explained how he used the time to catch up on creative projects, and talked about this was an opportunity for reinvention in his work. He also said that, “Social media opened up a whole world,” of connecting his music and passions to like-minded people.

You can listen to my entire interview with Skeme here.



Case Study: Behind the Scenes of a New York Times Bestselling Book Launch, with KJ Dell’Antonia

I want to share a case study of the book launch from KJ Dell’Antonia with the release of her novel, The Chicken Sisters. This book represented a huge shift for KJ, from being known as a nonfiction writer to a novelist. The book ended up being chosen as an Indie Next List pick, selected as a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, and becoming an instant New York Times bestseller.

She and I worked together for four months on the book launch strategy. Here is what KJ said of our work together: “Dan made connecting with readers—aka marketing—a joy instead of a chore. He changed the way I look at the business side of writing for good.” This describes how the outcome of marketing is not always just the tactics and the numeric results. It is the experience of how one feels about it, how it taps into creativity and possibility, and how it helps you infuse your life with the conversations around the writing that inspires you.

Okay, let’s dig in to the case study.

To Follow Your Creative Vision, You Have to Take Risks
With this book launch, KJ was making a huge creative and professional shift. After years of being known for writing nonfiction and essays, she was releasing her first novel. For years, she had written for The New York Times, and she had worked hard to develop her platform. But that didn’t mean that risk wasn’t a huge part of her shift to fiction.

She had taken leave from the Times to finish her last nonfiction book, and decided to not go back to instead write her novel next. This is how she described the pressure she felt to get fiction right:

“I felt I had one bite at this particular apple. I was in a position where agents and editors would 100% look at anything I sent. I was not going to sit in the bottom of a slush pile. It was going to get read, so it better be good. Because they weren’t going to give me a second look, if it wasn’t.”

Writing novels was a dream of hers, and she knew she had one shot to get it right.

Success Doesn’t Guarantee Success
KJ’s bio and accomplishments are incredibly impressive. As a writer, it is easy to think, “Gee, if I could just get an essay placed in The New York Times, then I just know my career would take off.” Or a thousand variations of that sentence.

Yet, success isn’t always obvious and linear. KJ told me about how her last book, How to be a Happier Parent, had “underperformed compared to hopeful expectations.” Don’t get me wrong, the book found an audience. But that is the issue with having a sizable platform — expectations can easily get raised. Suddenly, “success” is not selling X thousand copies of a book. The expectation is raised to selling X + 10,000. Meaning, we start setting minimum expectations, and then dreaming of how many more it could sell.

It’s easy to feel we “underperform” in these situations. And it also means that it doesn’t guarantee success for your next project. Just because someone liked KJ’s essays, did not mean they would resonate with her novel.

Invest in Collaborators
How did she move from writing nonfiction to fiction? She says,”It was long long long long, it was not an easy thing for me.” One day, when she interviewed book coach Jennie Nash for her podcast, and became enamored. She hired Jennie soon after to help make the draft of her novel even better.

I believe Jennie and KJ worked together for months to get the book in shape. Now, I’ve known Jennie for a long time, and she is basically a genius when it comes to how to write a book. Yet KJ said of the process, “Even with Jennie, it was still hard. This is where I’m back again now [with my 2nd novel]. It takes a long time.” Why? Because writing a book is difficult! This is why collaborators matter.

KJ described what she has learned of novelists in this process: “Now that I have a bigger community of fellow fiction writers, I am far more aware that almost everyone has, at a minimum, a serious critique partner.”

It took 1.5 years to write The Chicken Sisters. She said she is on track for her 2nd novel to take just as long, and even with her experience, she says, ”I’m still doubting. Am I really going to be able to pull this off?”

Planning the Book Launch
KJ and I have known each other for awhile. I’ve been a guest on a podcast she co-hosts, the #amwriting podcast, she’s been a guest on mine, and she had previously joined one of my programs.

KJ reached out to me about working together on her book launch six months prior to its release. Honestly, this is typically later than I work with a lot of writers, it is not unusual for me to work with a writer 12+ months before a launch. But KJ knew what kind of help she needed, she sent me an email explaining her goals and challenges. We began working together a couple of weeks later.

Some of what we focused on included:

  • Organizing all of the ideas and to-do’s she already had
  • Creating a system to turn this into a process, instead of scattershot approach
  • Knowing how to best engage with her network around the book launch
  • Revising her website and how she positions herself as a novelist
  • Creating a clear timeline and priorities
  • Brainstorming new marketing ideas to engage her existing audience and growing her readership
  • Working on her newsletter, podcast outreach research, Instagram and other aspects of content strategy

We began working together just as the pandemic was taking hold, and spent four months developing the marketing strategy week by week. Along the way, her book launch got moved from early summer to the end of the year. Because we were developing a system, we simply adjusted the timeline and tasks so that she could continue the work in the months leading up to launch.

During this entire time, KJ did so much to speak directly to readers, engage with those who support books, and to show up day by day to not only share about her book, but to share as a writer who loves the literary world. What does that look like? Go to KJ’s Instagram page to get a taste of it, then keep scrolling back in her timeline.

Does this show the entirety of her book launch strategy? Nope! But you do see how she shows up, again and again, in new ways to share. Some elements are obviously focused on her own book: printable bookmarks, giveaways, a downloadable epilogue to her book, bookplates, illustrations, chicken-related props, and so much else. But what you see most is someone deeply engaged with books, readers, and writers.

So how did the book launch go? Well…

IndieBound added it to their Indie Next List:


Reese Witherspoon chose it as her book club pick:


The Chicken Sisters became and instant New York Times bestseller:


How to Get Chosen as a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
In case you didn’t know Reese Witherspoon has an extraordinarily popular book club. She shares this with her 25 million Instagram followers.

This is how KJ framed how getting chosen by Reese changes everything around the release of a book: “The power of having Reese Witherspoon pick your book, dwarfs anything that my bookseller efforts, or anything else we could have possibly done. It’s [like winning] the lottery.”

She found out about it when she received an 8pm phone call from her editor. KJ was nervous to pick up the phone, considering that perhaps this call was to push back the release of her book until after the pandemic ended. But instead, she picked up the phone and heard her editor say, “This is the best phone call I have ever made in my whole career.”

I asked how Reese got a copy of The Chicken Sisters, and what KJ knew of the selection process. Her answer? Well, KJ doesn’t know how Reese got a copy of her book, and firmly believes that Reese’s selections are 100% her own.

If you are an author hoping to be a future Reese pick, what this means is that there is no system to try to game, no inside track that to figure out, and no way to get your book into a line to be selected. From what we can tell, it really is just Reese somehow finding books, reading a lot, and making choices that feel right to her.

In a way this answer is both expected and wonderful, because that is the entire reason people like her book club: authentic choices from Reese on what she loves to read. But I’m also sure that many writers would be disappointed to hear this, because it means there is no obvious way to pursue selection by Reese. I mean, I assume that Reese must receive hundreds of books each week, but that isn’t insider information. Sorry.

What was the result of Reese picking KJ’s book? One aspect we discussed was how it effected KJ’s Instagram followers. She had a goal of making Instagram a bigger part of what she does, and was hoping for more readers to follow her there. KJ made a concerted effort to ensure her Instagram spoke to readers, you will find post after post filled with book recommendations and celebrating books, exactly the kind of thing that would appeal to a book club reader.

KJ estimates that she gained 1,200 followers because of Reese. On December 1 when Reese made the announcement, KJ had 5,270 followers. Today, a several months later, she has 6,651.

Show Up For Readers
The other numbers matter here too: KJ shared 136 images and videos on the main Instagram feed in that time, and many more in the Stories feed.

If you scroll through KJ’s Instagram, what you see is someone who loves books, authors, booksellers, and the literary community that surrounds them all. If you are a writer who worries that you have no “book news” to share at the moment, so why bother to share anything on social media at all, look to KJ for inspiration. Share about your love of books, of story, of people who support literature and create it themselves. Share what inspires you, and if you have access to adorable animals, share them too!

It’s worth noting that none of this is “easy.” When KJ and I talked to review the launch, she shared her own battle with impostor’s syndrome as she writes her next novel. You can listen to my entire conversation with KJ on my podcast, The Creative Shift:

Oh, and of course, you can find out more about KJ and The Chicken Sisters at


Finding your readers

I want to start with two announcements first:

Okay, on to today’s message…

A question writers often ask me is how do they find their readers. It’s not about finding the right hashtag, but understanding who you are trying to reach on a deeper psychological and human level.

To me, all of this connects to how we view our author platform. Why does that matter? Well, I want to focus on a grounded and practical discussion about the reality of this in our everyday lives as writers.

Consider this:

  • If someone hears about your writing or your name, and they Google you, what comes up? Anything? Is it what you hope they will see?
  • When you meet someone new, and they say “I hear you are a writer, tell me about that,” do you know what to say?
  • Do you have a sense of the way to describe your work that will draw your ideal reader in? To make them curious and lean in, instead of changing the topic?
  • Do you have a way to regularly share what you create in a manner that would resonate with those you hope to reach?
  • Are you showing up in the places that your ideal readers do? Not to promote selfishly, but as someone who loves the themes you write about?
  • Do you know other writers who may have readers that would love your writing as well?
  • Are you someone who gets attention with colleagues and readers through your generosity?
  • Do you share regularly, developing rapport and trust with readers, or do you pop up only when you have something to promote?
  • Do you have a sense of the marketplace and where you fit? If your book was in a bookstore, do you know exactly where it would be shelved? Would you know how to describe it to the bookstore employee that would lead them to it, without saying the title or author name?
  • Do you have a system to manage all of this in a way that feels cohesive and focused? Or are you all over the place, chasing trends that you are also skeptical of?

Sorry, I know that is a lot of questions. But too often, I hear “author platform” talked about in terms of followers and likes. Of promotions that are meant to go “viral,” but rarely do.

To me, the concept of understanding who your ideal readers are, and being able to share about your writing is focused more on the kinds of practical questions above. Of feeling that this isn’t about becoming a “marketer,” but instead being a writer who knows how to share and who they are sharing with.

I’ve always said that an author platform is two things:

  1. Communication
  2. Trust

Not followers. Not tweets. Not a newsletter. Not hashtags. Not ads. It is about expressing what you create and why. And engaging with other like-minded people in a meaningful way. It’s a human process, which is why I refer to my work as “Human-Centered Marketing.”

Can Twitter and a newsletter and Instagram and ads be a part of this? Sure. But they aren’t the goal, and they aren’t the point. We aren’t measuring effectiveness by the number of followers you have. Why? Well, because that is just a number. I’ve talked to writers who have thousands of followers, but can’t seem to get those people to buy a book. Yet, I’ve talked to writers who have far fewer followers, but these are people they have a high degree of communication and trust with. And wouldn’t you know it, those people buy books and engage in word of mouth marketing for it.

This has always been part of the work of a writer. Sometimes we like to pretend it isn’t. I’ve heard plenty of writers pine for the days before the internet. They will say how in the 1990s, 80s, 70s, 60s… you didn’t have to worry about author platform. As a writer, you just had to submit your work, and not worry about marketing. The publisher did that.

But… I don’t think that’s true. I think it is looking back on the past with rose-colored glasses.

Author platform simply happened differently back then: though lunches, letters, meetings, events, and professional relationships. It was slower, and also much more limited. You hoped a letter arrived. You paid for a long distance phone call. You hoped you said the right thing at the one meeting you could get. And if it didn’t work, you had few if any other options.

Today you can have a voice in the lives of readers. And you have access to like-minded people in ways that authors from decades ago never could have dreamed of. Is that a responsibility? Yes. Is it also an opportunity? Absolutely.

The basics are still there: focusing on sharing your work, on connecting with real people around the love of books and the stories and ideas within them.

Last week I shared my Creative Success Pyramid. When it comes to discussing finding your ideal readers and establishing your author platform, I tend to find that two levels are connected, the two highlighted here in blue:

At the “Build Your Author Platform” level, it may include your website, newsletter, blogging, podcast, social media, and marketplace research. At the “Create and Share” level, we have your content strategy, editorial calendar, generosity and curation, social engagement, and core audience outreach.

I’m going to review these levels in-depth next week in the March 19th webinar. To get started, consider these questions:

  • What do you know about your ideal readers? What do they care about? Who are they?
  • What other authors do they read?
  • Where else do they show up? Are there podcasts they may listen to, or events they may love to attend?
  • If you were to meet one of these people at a barbecue, what would you say to them that would resonate? That would draw them in to talking about topics/themes from the books they love to read?

Keep in mind, it is never too early to consider these questions. To begin establishing your author platform and considering your ideal readers. It is also never too late.

Join me today the Getting Creative Clarity webinar, and next week for the Finding Your Readers webinar.


The Creative Success Pyramid

Two years ago, I introduced the model I use to help writers get clarity in their work, develop an audience, and launch their work in a meaningful way. It’s called The Creative Success Pyramid. Today I want to share an update to it, which I’ve spent three months working on.

This is it, you can click on the image to download a full-sized PDF:

The Creative Success Pyramid

It’s composed of five basic parts, you start at the bottom and work your way to the top:

  1. Get radical creative clarity on what you create and why.
  2. Build your platform to open pathways to your work.
  3. Create and share with your authentic voice.
  4. Connect with your ideal audience.
  5. Launch and market your writing.

This methodology is meant to tie together the many disparate aspects of what it means to share your work and engage an audience. But what’s more: it is focused on finding a sense of personal fulfillment and creative growth in the process.

I’ve used this model for years, but a few months ago, I wanted to revisit it with fresh eyes as a part of my own creative reset. I took the pyramid apart piece by piece, and then built it back up again, keeping the following in mind:

  • I stress tested every piece against the work I do every day with writers. This is the practical, in the trenches stuff that works, not high-minded theories that sound good on paper, but fall apart in real life.
  • This may sound silly, but part way through the process, I realized the old pyramid wasn’t as elegant of a pyramid as it could have been. Compare the old (left) with the revised (right) :

Here is a 15 minute video walking you through the pyramid:

I want to invite you to a free training next Friday March 12th at 3pm ET. I’m calling this event Human-Centered Marketing: Getting Creative Clarity. I will discuss the first level of the pyramid, focusing on Creative Clarity. I will also be happy to answer any questions you have in a live Q&A.

Register for the webinar here.

If you can’t make the live event, sign up anyway, I’ll send a recording.

As you look at the first level of the pyramid, what questions do you have? Click reply and let me know.


The marketing spiral of doom

Today I would like to talk about two different ethos in marketing your writing. These are the underlying structures that drive how to approach getting people to know more about what you create, and consider engaging with you and your work. Let’s dig in…

The Excitement & Fear Marketing Spiral of Doom

Yep, that’s what I’ve started calling one type of marketing that I see all the time. Or just: The Marketing Spiral of Doom, for short. The kind that is constantly hyping up something to get you excited, or warning you of something dangerous.

The Marketing Spiral of Doom is basically trying to get people to become emotionally engaged by either:

  • Encouraging excitement or even celebration
  • Encouraging fear. Often, this is based on logic and wanting to be super smart by avoiding something.

I mean, that sounds fine, right? Celebration? Fearing things that are logical to fear? And it is. I see people use marketing like this all the time, and they are good people, with good intentions, trying to help.

What does that look like for authors? Articles, podcasts, courses, products, services with headlines like:

  • “The hottest new trend to finally get an agent to read your work!”
  • “Did you know that Amazon made this small change behind the scenes, and only savvy authors are taking advantage of it?”
  • “I talked to 100 bestselling authors and uncovered a remarkable 3-part system that made their books fly off the shelves.”
  • “These are the 5 biggest mistakes authors make with marketing. Number 3 will cost you years of your time, and could even be embarrassing.”
  • “Email newsletters are the best way to sell more books! Also: email newsletters are dead!”

The connection point with all of these randomly made up examples are to always make the reader feel that they are on the cusp of missing out on something. This has writers ping-ponging between:

“OMG! Look at this great thing! I don’t want to miss out! I’m so smart and savvy by being a part of this. Yay!”


“Ack! Something is potentially dangerous, and could cost me time or money down the road. I must take preventative action now! And spend hours and hours and hours researching it to make sure I get it right. Whew, I’m smart and logical for worrying about this.”

Now, there is no doubt that this kind of marketing can be very effective. It can even be fun — people enjoy getting excited, or being alerted to trends, or worrying about avoiding mistakes.

But… I don’t love this style of marketing. I know so many writers feel pressure to market this way; to fill their feeds with hype of celebration or fear, even when neither resonates with who they truly are. They don’t like the idea of everything having to be dramatic, or what they write to be optimized for the most social media ‘likes.’ Instead of looking forward to releasing their books, they resist it. They assume it means they have to become a carnival barker.

Much of the Marketing Spiral of Doom relies in this concept of “fear of missing out,” or FOMO. It’s this idea that you don’t want to be a fool by missing out on a hot new trend or opportunity, nor do you want to make an obvious mistake that you could avoid. That’s why I said I see this type of marketing all the time, and why the people who use it are often genuinely trying to help others. There is nothing wrong with that. Use elements of the Marketing Spiral of Doom if you like. But, as I said, I don’t really love this kind of marketing. Let’s explore an alternative…

The Daily Work of Human-Centered Marketing

So I spend every day working with writers on marketing, and have done so full-time for 10 years. I’ve come to call my process Human-Centered Marketing, and it consists of:

  • The practical side of marketing focused on authentically sharing who you are and what you create, and forging meaningful connections to like-minded people
  • Sustainable practices that can be done either in a big time sensitive launch, or in tiny actions each week that slowly builds up.

What’s more, I have found that this work feels personally fulfilling. To spend one’s time in how they connect their writing to readers to be filled with moments that matter, a sense of creativity and expression, and as though your work is truly resonating with others.

To me, this kind of marketing doesn’t rely on little “tricks” to encourage extreme emotions in those you want to reach. Instead, it is about the fulfillment of what many writers and readers look for: how writing brings us closer to what we dream of for ourselves and the world.

What does Human-Centered Marketing look like? I’ve shared some case studies for the work I’ve done with different authors:

Now, of course this can include excitement and fear if you like. Human-Centered Marketing need not be boring. But, it also can be boring if you like. Working from home with my family around me this past year, I’ve often looked at the marketing work I’ve been doing as a “lovely boring daily task.” It includes:

  • Outreach: sending an email to one person. I think of it more like traditional letter writing.
  • Reading: focusing on the work that truly inspires me to learn more about the market, to become inspired, and to then identify how I can support these creators.
  • Helping: making it a habit to consider what supports the creators I’m inspired by, and trying to help people learn about their work.
  • Honing: my own craft. This means doing less and less variety of tasks so that I can focus my energy on the deep work that matters most.

Then, I take a tiny action each day to do this. I literally have a recurring calendar item each day for this. Some days, I spend a half hour on developing a bigger marketing idea. But many days, I send a simple email, then move on to the rest of my day.

Small steps, each day.

Too often writers hesitate to do any marketing for their work. But what if you took a tiny action each day or week? Something that felt iterative and meaningful? What if, over time, it really added up? That is the most basic way to do Human-Centered Marketing. It, of course, can be scaled up to big promotions, which what I do what many writers I work with.

I’ll be sharing more practical parts of the human-centered marketing process in the coming weeks here in the newsletter. In the meantime, please consider checking out some of the advice I share over on Instagram.