Create Experiences For Your Readers

To succeed as a writer, you do not need a Twitter account. Or a website. Or a newsletter. Or even an email address.

What you need is to create experiences for your readers. Not things. Last week, I talked about the value of small moments, and I have been reflecting a lot on the term “author platform” recently. This has become a polarizing term – and one that I have been using less and less, even if what it represents is as important as it ever has been.

So let’s start with the basics: for many writers, these are the two primary goals:

  1. To craft meaningful work – to write.
  2. To connect that writing to the right audience.

Sometimes we take for granted that the second item in that list is an OPTION. Not everything needs to be shared. You do not have to publish, share your work, or give a moment’s thought to finding readers. That is a choice, and one that you should make proactively. If you don’t want to publish, don’t want to figure out how your writing can find readers, then you don’t have to. Just keep writing, and do so for the deeply personal goals that are your own, not that of other people. I think we often get off track focusing on OTHER people’s goals and values, not our own.

But… if you DO want to share your writing, THEN we need to talk about the two things that I feel define the term “platform”

  • Effective communication
  • Developing trust with the right people

And that inherent in this process is to create meaningful connections. The goal of the platform is not itself, but rather to help ensure those first two goals happen: you are able to craft your writing, and that it finds an engaged readership. You don’t “have” a platform – it’s not a thing. Platform is a PROCESS of communication and trust. It is not social media, something such as Twitter is merely a channel that connects you to others, giving you the OPPORTUNITY to earn trust with others. Your voice is the thing that matters on a social channel, not the channel itself.

And what you hope to create with readers are experiences.

Your books are clearly the ultimate experience, that is the core of everything. Which is why you need to protect your writing time, evolve your craft, and learn how to best produce the highest quality work. In fact, a good platform for your life as a writer should have a primary focus of PROTECTING your writing time, ensuring that the writing comes first. I was chatting with a couple of authors I worked with recently, and both of them said a primary outcome of working together is that they now have more time to write. That was incredible to hear, because the creative process for one’s writing is the heart of everything.

Beyond your books and writing, there are other experiences you can create for readers:

  • How you publish and share your writing. Is it accessible, and personal, and timely? Who have you partnered with that will resonate with your ideal readers?
  • How you the author – the creator behind the work – shares your own worldview and voice with readers. No, this is not a requirement, but it does matter for many readers, and is an opportunity for any creative professional. This is where you can choose to bring in elements such as social media, newsletters, book readings and events, etc. into your life and the lives of those you hope to connect with – all focused on voice, communication, and trust.
  • The experience that resonates in readers’ heads long after any of these things happen. After all, your legacy is written in the thoughts, attitudes, and actions of others.

What each of these experiences creates is an opportunity for you and your work to resonate with readers. And these moments tend to add up, affording you the likelihood that your NEXT book will build even deeper connections, and a broader audience.

So many writers I speak to are overwhelmed by the opportunities in front of them. There is simply too much they can be doing. Which is why it is so important to focus on a handful of specific actions, and eliminate all else. The life of a writer should not be creating the ability to juggle more stuff – but rather – honing and focusing. And yes, this does require a lot of difficult decisions along the way.

If you feel that you may want some help in this process, consider joining me and a group of writers for my 8-week online course which begins on January 27th: Get Read: Find Readers and Build Your Author Platform.

Thanks!
-Dan

The Small Moments

Reading the top 5 regrets of the dying was powerful for me – it aligned with much of what I have heard over the years from those older than me – folks who were often well past age 70.

There is this odd pressure in our culture to focus on some milestone, some end result. Some examples for creative professionals:

  • Publishing a book
  • Becoming a bestseller
  • Having a gallery show
  • Booking a concert tour

Clearly – there are some wonderful outcomes of these achievements, from quantifiable things such as revenue and exposure, to a deep sense of validation and accomplishment. You know, the stuff that feels like the underpinnings of one’s creative legacy.

But today I want to talk about something else: not the big milestones and accomplishments, but the small moments:

To value not the diploma, but the process of learning;
Not publication day, but the process of creating and sharing one’s work;
Not receiving an award, but in connecting with readers and fans.

For instance, let’s consider some counter examples to those above – a series of small moments instead of huge milestones:

  • Sharing short stories one at a time by self-publishing to Kindle or even just on a blog.
  • Selling 500 copies each of 10 different stories you write. (5,000 copies sold total.)
  • Having 100 followers view 100 images you share on Instagram over the course of three months. (10,000 views from a strictly quantifiable metric.)
  • Posting one video to YouTube each week for a month, seen by 1,000 people.

Each of these things are small accessible actions you can take, and the cumulative exposure to others are small private moments. In none of these situations, do you get the visceral gratification of standing on stage and seeing hundreds of people with looks of adoration on their faces.

Yet, the effect is the same, in terms of both validation for your work, and in your ability to truly connect to the hearts and minds of others.

Small moments as opposed to big milestones.

I have written before about the idea of being a success without being a bestseller, and want to explore that further here.

DEVELOPING A PROCESS

When you focus on the small moments I provided examples for above, you are developing a skill set, one that is replicateable. It is about establishing a PROCESS for connecting with others, not just shooting for some vague destination such as “becoming a bestseller.” The problem with that goal? It is too big, too far away, and affected by so much that is out of your control.

We make too many assumptions about what “becoming a bestseller” means. We assume the milestone of hitting that list comes attached with so many other things that make life easy: money, fame, access, validation, and momentum. And you know what? Becoming a bestseller promises none of those things. In fact, most of the bestselling authors I have spoken to work incredible hard each and every day to make success continue to happen – they never got a “free pass” after becoming a bestseller.

Which brings me to a lovely quote from actor Jim Carrey:

“I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know that its not the answer.”

When you become a bestseller, you often don’t know why, which specific actions triggered success, nor can they easily replicate it. The achievement is often a wonderful mix of effort, a team, luck, timing, and so on. This is part of why Miranda Beverly-Whittemore are sharing our year-long process of launching her next novel. Because after the launch, we would be tempted to create a simple narrative for success or failure. And the reality is much more complex than that. (note: I have never heard Miranda mention “becoming a bestseller” as a goal.)

Becoming a bestseller is indeed a very cool goal, and one worth having. The problem I see in it is that it doesn’t always provide a useful sense of process and achievement day-to-day. And, though most people may not admit this, having that goal sets you up for a sense of inadequacy.

MAKING THE TRANSITION

I teach a lot of online courses, and had hundreds writers in my courses this past year. Whenever I ask “Why are you taking this course?” the answer I hear most frequently is “I am in a transition.” Sometimes these are career transitions, other times personal, and the specifics are always different.

What I find is that the same advice applies to those in transition: focus on small moments, not big goals. For instance:

  • On making a new friendship with someone in the industry you want to break into, not getting a job that will take you 5 years to develop qualifications for, find, and then go through the hiring process with.
  • Getting 10 people to read a blog post – the right people – not a three year goal to have the blog be big enough to get a book deal from.

My friend Cali Williams Yost wrote a book that talks a bit about this process called: Tweak It, Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day.
Well worth checking out.

STOP TRYING TO GROW YOUR “FOLLOWERS”

I hear phrases like this all too often: “I ONLY HAVE 100 FOLLOWERS” on Twitter. In other words: they are bemoaning the fact that only 100 people follow them, not 1,000 or 100,000. I hate this, mostly because it takes for granted the wonderful reality (and opportunity) that 100 individuals care enough about you to stay connected on a daily basis.

There is a perception that you need to have tens of thousands of followers to have a “REAL AUDIENCE,” (you don’t.)

Instead of reaching for more and more followers, treat the folks who do connect with you as the most important people on the planet. On an individual basis – not in aggregate. If you have 100 followers, don’t worry about getting follower number 101; instead, worry about making those 100 people love you 1% more.

These 100 people are something to cherish, to encourage, to give back to. Not to judge as being insignificant because there aren’t more of them. Not to play into the your fears of inadequacy or need for constant validation.

So much of what I talk about here is about focusing on the basic thing that tie us to each other: COMMUNICATION and TRUST.

Thank you.
-Dan

Overwhelmed? Here are Two Steps for Staying Connected With Readers

Over on WriterUnboxed.com, I shared a post that covers two simple steps for how a writer can stay connected with readers, especially a writer who is overwhelmed with all that life throws at them. Here are the two steps:

  1. Be clear about your messaging.
  2. Make it easy to stay connected with you.

Read the full post here.

Thanks!
-Dan

Vulnerability, Narratives, and Enthusiasm – How Do These Terms Drive Your Creative Life?

Every year, I choose a single word that I will focus on exploring. This word is works as a theme throughout both my personal and business lives, something I feel is foundational to our experience creating.

In 2013, the term I chose was “NARRATIVES.” This is a word that seemed to come up again and again, and I became intrigued with it. Specifically:

HOW DO NARRATIVES WE CRAFT SHAPE OUR EXPERIENCE OF THE WORLD.

I wrote about the term recently in this post: Hoping to Grow Your Audience? Focus on Narratives. And whenever I look around at something that works, be it a book that finds a reader or a consumer product that really takes off, I consider how narratives factored in. (I also consider narratives whenever I see someone yelling at an employee at Starbucks…)

Right now, I am selecting a term explore more in 2014. These two have risen to the top of that list:

  • Vulnerability
  • Enthusiasm

Let’s explore each…

VULNERABILITY
In the past couple of years, Brené Brown has done an amazing job of explaining the term vulnerability to us. I haven’t done too much to explore her work yet, beyond seeing her speak once in person, and seeing another video or two online. But beyond what I have heard from her, it is a term that seems to come up again and again in my life, and the lives of writers and creative professionals that I know.

When you create something, whether it is art or a business, that means you are constantly putting yourself out there – trying out new ideas, and setting expectations with others that you HOPE you can meet. It is inherently of making yourself vulnerable simply because the process of creating something sets expectations in others, and makes small (sometimes unspoken) promises that you must now meet.

This year was a wonderful year for me, but also an intense one. I kept trying to do more, to serve more, and at each step, whenever I felt close to “an edge,” I realized it was because I felt vulnerable. EG: in the act of creating, I now had something to lose if it didn’t work; that I could make a poor decision, and in doing so, let someone down. And not all of these things are big decisions either. Many are small everyday things that one does to try to ensure they are ADDING to people’s lives, not taking away.

Something we each know, but rarely talk about, is that it only takes a SINGLE person or a SINGLE interaction to overshadow your entire life with a profound sense of vulnerability. For a writer, maybe it is the one overly harsh book review that you obsess about, and taps into your deepest fears as a writer. You begin ignoring the hundred other lovely reviews, losing sleep over the one negative review that tapped into areas that you feel vulnerable.

So in 2014, I am considering the term “vulnerability” in two ways: to better understand my own work, and to better understand how I can serve writers and creative professionals. That being vulnerable is inherent in this process, and becoming comfortable with it is a skill we can likely all be better at. Key to this is to be more empathetic as to how others feel vulnerable, and using that to better serve their needs.

If you are a writer or a creative professional, my gut is that a sense of vulnerability drives a lot of your experience or decisions in creating and sharing your work.

ENTHUSIASM
This is a term that I have been thinking a lot about after becoming obsessed with the work of John and Hank Green. I remember growing up, the term “nerd” was something you wanted to avoid being defined as. It meant that you were interested in things that weren’t popular, and therefore: worthy of mockery.

A lot has changed in the past 20 years or so, and now the term “nerd” is pretty much a badge of honor, meaning that you are very enthusiastic about something particular. Traditional nerdy past-times are now cool (computer programming, role playing games, alternative types of music), and there are so many more niches and subniches that have become popular, where saying “I’m a sneaker nerd” or “I’m an audio nerd” or “I’m a vintage toy nerd” is an identity people seek out.

For my work and how I connect with writers and creative professionals, it is about how we connect ourselves to the joy of why we do things. There has been so much talk of “community marketing,” and “influencers” in the past few years in the idea of connecting your work to an audience, I want to explore the idea of simply connecting based on shared enthusiasm.

Another way I have been viewing the term “enthusiasm” is as the antithesis of what I have become bored of: snarky, jaded comments that are meant to be ironic and pithy. Too often, someone tries to sound smart by putting down others or putting down an idea. I remember learning this years ago in the corporate environment: it is easy to sound “smart” in a conference room by being critical of an idea. I saw that play out again and again: someone who listened at length to another person’s idea, then dashed it with a simple and cutting statement.

The problem with many of those scenarios is that the snarky comments meant to point out negative things in an idea or project rarely did the thing the world needed most: a helping hand to help BUILD something, not merely a flash of glory in tearing it down in a particularly clever or funny way.

Enthusiasm is about that desire to connect, to be a part of something, and to build.

I’m curious: how do the terms “vulnerability” or “enthusiasm” touch your life?
Thanks.
-Dan

The Attention Myth

Everyone seems to be looking for attention. Today as I write this, it’s “Black Friday,” where retailers are offering all kinds of strange offers hoping that it garners attention of shoppers. For writers and creative professionals, many have focused on getting attention for their writing via social media, accumulating “likes” and “friends” and “pins.” This emotions that many writers feel about this is pretty adequately expressed in this post by Sean Beaudoin: “The Horrors of Self Promotion.” (thanks to David Farkas for the link) While I don’t agree with a couple of Sean’s key premises, I definitely feel that the depth and complexity of emotion around this topic is pervasive and very real for so many creative professionals.

A friend recently mentioned that “attention is the only finite resource.”

I’m not sure if that is true or not, but it certainly makes for a good quote. And it explains how we seem to have a greater capacity nowadays for more stuff in shorter timeframes. EG: We don’t wait for a monthly magazine to learn about movie stars, we need a new scandal every 20 minutes on TMZ, from people created as “celebrities,” specifically for this purpose.

But this is only part of the equation. Someone I was working with in a course I teach for Mediabistro recently said this to me after a lesson: “This was an interesting exercise in that it opened my eyes to the discrepancy between my expectations and those of my client. I have been helping the client get attention, but I have no plan in place on how to convert attention into action.”

I am writing this at Starbucks, and in the 1/2 mile drive it took to get here, I was behind a truck for my local lumberyard, who I couldn’t help but notice had a big Facebook “F” logo painted on the back of their truck. This was a signal that they felt it was so important for local customers to check them out on Facebook, that it was a key connection point. Yet, when I go to their site now, I see pretty much what you would expect: haphazard updates without any real frequency. There is nothing “wrong” with their page, most of their updates are actually expressions saying “it’s hot out there, be careful,” which is nice.

But it’s indicative of what many writers feel: this pressure to be present on a social media channel and develop an audience for some mysterious point in the future when they know what to do with all that attention?

The result is often this:

  1. They never really accumulate that big of an audience.
  2. They never really do anything special with the channel they are focused on. (e.g.: Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  3. They never learn how to turn a vague sense of awareness that someone has for you or your work, into any meaningful connection, whether it is a relationship or the sale of a book.

The word I hear most from people I chat with is this: “overwhelmed.” And there has been some backlash to this idea of attention seeking, with some folks taking sabbaticals or social media breaks.

If I look back at what I am thankful for this year, it is never the base metrics of things like “Followers.” It is always a reflection on a meaningful conversation I had – be it via social media, email, Skype, phone, text message, letter, or in-person. And perhaps the biggest takeaway here for me is that meaningful communication truly happened via EACH of those channels for me this year. And the skill that I need to develop is not to grab MORE attention from MORE people, but rather, to create more meaningful moments regardless of the channel I am using; that these moments are never about “going viral,” and always shared between just two people.

That seeking attention is a hollow action unless you have a clear understanding of how it can lead to a meaningful experience.

Thanks.
-Dan