The Power of Enthusiasm: Should You Create a “Street Team”?

Remember that time when you created something, and all of these strangers magically found it and just shouted about it to everyone they knew, and you went “viral,” and your success just grew and grew, like a runaway snowball cruising down a hill?

Me neither.

Recently, I have heard some successful authors such as Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy use this term: “street team.” Sounds cool, right? Well, today, let’s talk about what a street team is, and why it can be important to FINALLY building some momentum in helping to spread the word about whatever it is you are creating.

This topic has been brewing in my mind for awhile, but then the other day Johanna Harness shared this post on Facebook:

 

What immediately moved me about this was the admission that she couldn’t imagine who would support her, and how surprised she was to be proven wrong. At the time, her Street Team had a 9 members – more than enough to thrill Johanna. And now as I write this, she has 15 folks who joined.

I think that all too often, a number such as “9” sounds small, like a failure. But imagine this: NINE people showed up who actively want to support your work. Amazing, right? And then within a few days, she had a 60% growth rate to 15 people!

Then, a little while later, Kate Tilton shared this photo on Instagram:

 

So naturally, I reached out to Johanna, Kate, and the author she was working with, S.R. Johannes (otherwise known as Shelli.) I asked each about their motivation, fears, challenges, and value of trying to build a street team. And what they had to say will SHOCK you! (okay, no it won’t, but it is interesting stuff nonetheless.)
🙂

What is a Street Team?
Wikipedia describes it this way: “A street team is a term used in marketing to describe a group of people who ‘hit the streets’ promoting an event or a product.”

Shelli shared a great series of links from various folks talking about what street teams are, well worth checking out.

Johanna told me that she was wary of the thin line between organizing a group of fans who want to support someone’s work, and merely trading giveaways for favors, such as book reviews. So this is how she is framing her street team to ensure it has meaningful value to all involved:

“Most of the people joining my Facebook group are stepping forward and saying they’d like to read early copies of my book and help in any way they can. They already like my writing. I want to give these friends inclusion in the process, even to the point of being included in the final book. I want to give them insight into the process, what works and what hasn’t worked for me. I want to provide a place where we can speak with a little more candor. I’m hoping the process makes some brave enough to cast their own words into the world. Stories are awesome gifts. The best I could get back from the group would be the opportunity to see other unpublished works make their way into print.”

And here are some of the specific ways she hopes to engage folks:

  • Opportunities to discuss the details of a book release and influence how things progress
  • Answering questions about cover art
  • Floating ideas about future blog posts and listening to responses
  • Take part in a global book release party
  • Giveaways
  • Share advance reading copies
  • Books for those who want to leave reviews

Shelli outlines specific value she is offering for her street team in this post, which includes:

  • Quarterly group chats
  • A physical welcome pack (seen in Kate’s post above), which includes a blog badge, bookmark, pen, signed bookplates, press kit, and more
  • A free ebook with a chance to win more
  • A Facebook members only group for an open discussions on the books, indie publishing, or marketing
  • Monthly missions where members can win prizes
  • Inside information on her books, writing process, and publishing journey
  • ebooks and giveaways for members’ own blog readers
  • A chance to hangout after author appearances
  • Access to exclusive content such as character dossiers, character diaries, and more.

She said she had 30 folks sign up right away, and the street team is now up to 120 people.

Why I Love The Concept of Street Teams
When I consider the value of street teams for an author, artist, musician or other creative professional, these are the aspects I really appreciate:

  • A feeling of inclusion for the folks who join the street team; and the ability for authors to put faces/names/relationships on their readership.
  • For authors: it helps you engage with readers one-to-one, instead of this mysterious divide of “AUTHOR” and “AUDIENCE.”
  • For readers, there is the joy of shared enthusiasm. I’m a big fan of the nerdfighter community that John and Hank Green have created, which is all about enthusiasm for things that matter most to them. This goes from the most silly things, to the deepest: raising money for charity.
  • Shared journey – allows an author to have buddies in this process of publishing; it allows readers to feel a part of something, even if they aren’t writing and publishing books.
  • Especially for already popular authors, street teams seem to be a great way to stay connected with passionate fans in a manageable way, on a daily basis.
  • It allows an author to easily consider how they can scale their audience engagement efforts. For instance, they can have community managers who engage daily with the street team members, and the author can pop in when they aren’t writing. It isn’t so much a hierarchy as a way to create sustainability around engaging with readers.
  • My gut is that being a part of a street team is a badge of pride for many readers, it becomes an identity for them. This can align to a narrative that they appreciate – that perhaps they haven’t written the novels the author has – but they can still be a part of that process.
  • I love how vulnerability and enthusiasm seem to be core parts of this, two terms I have been thinking a lot about recently.

What Makes Me Concerned About Street Teams
Because I know street teams have becoming more and more popular, I don’t want to paint a picture that is all roses. Here are a some things that I think one must consider when deciding if a street team is right for them:

  • It’s too easy to be seen as, “I’ll give you bonuses and attention if you will promote promote promote me me me!!!” Connecting on a human level has to be the core of this, and that is a serious responsibility for the folks organizing a street team.
  • The flipside of organizing shared enthusiasm in this way: fans feeling as though the value isn’t equal. The author opens themselves up to judgement by sharing more of their process and of asking fans to do work for them. Ideally, trust is developed slowly, but too much enthusiasm for promotion too quickly could lead to crossing signals and miscommunication.
  • Social stuff is complex: readers could feel too much pressure; cliques could form within a street team, and one could feel like a wallflower in especially popular street teams.
  • It is INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT to properly manage a small community like this consistently over time. For instance, many authors will have loads of motivation to support the community around a book launch, but will they feel equal responsibility in the months/years between books?
  • As more people develop their own street team, it will become a de facto tactic, where you are constantly being asked to be on street teams as a marketing tactic.

I remember when Michael Hyatt created a Launch Team for his book. He reported that 764 people applies to be on this team, and he selected 100. It’s fascinating for me to consider the value of a team like this from the viewpoint of both a wildly popular author, and from the standpoint of an author prepping the publication of their first book. Clearly, there is value in both cases.

Shelli indicated that running her street team is indeed time consuming, and that in the beginning, there is no clear payoff. She hasn’t gone with them through a book launch yet, that will happen a bit later in the year. But my gut is, it’s better to go through a book launch with 120 people who love your work, than with just you and your cat. It’s always more fun with a buddy.

Kate Tilton was nice enough to share her experience managing street teams with me; here is some of her advice:

  • Authors find that many people who sign up are not as passionate as you hope they will be. Managing expectations on both sides is important.
  • When using giveaways to get folks to join a street team, you may find that only a small portion remain an active fan base – those who will complete a “mission.” The rest were just interested in the initial chance to win something, and were not really interested in a larger investment of their time and energy.
  • She mentioned Rachel Thompson as another example of having a street team, and mentioned that this was a great way to EXTEND connections with readers after you have already done so much else to develop that audience. I always love examples of how authors continue to find new ways to connect more deeply with readers, regardless of how many books they have already sold. (It’s also worth noting that Rachel’s street team is called “The Bad Redheads.”) Have clear guidelines governing expectations and behavior. You will hear stories of some street team members being a little too enthusiastic. Just like the metaphor the term comes from, you likely don’t want your fans “getting in people’s faces” on the street, but merely amplifying something they are excited about. Within reason.

  • Kate said, “you don’t join a street team to get free stuff, you do it because you love the author.” It’s not a bribery system. There can be a fine balance.
  • A street team should be more than just a one-off promotion, “a team collaborates together and works towards a goal.”

More from Kate on street teams here and here.

Are street teams right for you? That is for you to decide. But I do love how they focus very much on relationships and interactions with readers, and how they seem to have a mix of vulnerability and enthusiasm, that it requires a human investment to build a meaningful community.

Thanks.
-Dan

No, Things Were Not Easier “Back in the Day,” and Other Narratives We Cling To In Order To Avoid the Hard Work Of Success

Too often, we create simple narratives to drive our actions, or our inaction. For writers and other creative professionals, these narratives could be:

  1. It’s all about the story, I don’t need to know anything about publishing a book, marketing a book, or connecting with readers.
  2. Writers back in the day didn’t worry about Tweeting, why should I?
  3. My author-hero never did a book tour or media interviews, why should I?
  4. There’s only one thing that sells books, and it’s _______ (insert simplistic view of how things happen)

In other words: we look for simple narratives that tell us things we already believe. This allows us to take actions we are already comfortable with, or avoid actions that make us feel uncomfortable.

I have sat in plenty of meetings where survey data and analytics are reviewed, and listen to the key things that are pulled out that:

  1. Support the success of an existing strategy
  2. Avoid confronting hard truths that folks have been avoiding
  3. Avoid more work and behavior change due to what has been discovered
  4. Avoid seeking out MORE data to prove if the “results” are indeed correct or directional

That, if you aren’t careful, you (intentional or not), filter out cues you don’t like, and seek out cues that align to the narrative you want to see in the world.

But when we break out of these pre-existing narratives, we uncover the potential for growth. Growth in worldview – accepting that things are often more complex than they seem; or in growing as a person, developing new skills and experiences, even those that are uncomfortable.

For example: let’s say you self-define as an introvert. Now, if this is you, I 100% accept that you are indeed introverted, and that this is something we need to honor and take into consideration. It’s important. So how can you the introvert still develop your career as a writer? By taking the next step beyond a definition. By not using it as a blanket excuse to avoid any action or situation that is even remotely social. Introversion is not just “yes” or “no,” it is multifaceted and there are lots of ways to respect the ways you are introverted, while still taking social actions. That, if you want, that simple definition and identify can be an excuse, or a starting point.

An author I am working with recently asked (and I’m paraphrasing) the following with regards to engaging with readers beyond his books:

“But Dan, I write fiction. Don’t readers simply want another story from me? That’s all I care about from the writers whose series I read. Why do I need to consider learning about and connecting with my readers beyond what sells a story to them?”

First of all, I agree with him: the STORY is the center. Period. Write. Write well. Write what feels right to you. Publish with a frequency that works for your work style. Engross readers in the worlds you create. Repeat.

Done. Right?

Well, that is where you as a writer have choices. That should be enough, right? Well, it depends on what narrative you are clinging to:

  • The one that frees you from having to do any more “stuff” in the publishing process. The one where it seems right and just to only have to craft stories. That anything else about finding and connecting with readers is a magical process that others should have to worry about.
  • The one that sees authors such as Bella Andre, Rebecca Skloot, Hugh Howey, and Eric Ries, and sees people who are taking so many actions IN ADDITION TO CRAFTING WONDERFUL STORIES to help ensure their work connects with readers.

Yes, this is all optional, as is your decision to even publish at all. I have said this before, but writing for the sake of writing alone is a worthwhile endeavor – not everything needs to be shared or published.

Many authors DO have expectations they would like to meet around book sales and the number of people who find and enjoy their work. Should you be happy that 10 people bought and loved your book? YES! Does that make you feel completely satisfied as a writer? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you were hoping for 20 devoted fans. Or 2,000. Or 200,000.

THE OLDEN DAYS ALWAYS FEEL SAFE; THE PRESENT ALWAYS SEEMS SCARY
Too many writers dream of the “perfect” world whereby they write something in solitude, and then the world magically discovers it and amplifies it. Success in this instance is “pure,” because the body of work was so powerful that it intoxicated anyone who came in contact with it.

We glamorize “the olden days” when everything was easier, and “marketing” didn’t corrupt the purity of creative work. But this is not reality, it is merely ignorance of the complexity of a different time. Everything seems simpler and more pure in retrospect. Sure, successful authors in the 1950s or 1970s didn’t have Twitter, but they definitely networked and failed or succeeded based not just on the quality of their work, but on who they knew, and how well they managed their careers as writers.

REALITY IS MORE COMPLEX THAT PERCEPTION
There is a compelling documentary that focuses on an interview with former US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. I have a deep and profound respect for the sacrifices that others have made in the wars of the 20th century. It’s almost beyond my comprehension, to be honest, the level of sacrifice and the scope of what happened.

Looking back on some of these historic events, it can be easy to fall into a simple narrative that makes us feel comfortable. That one side was acting on the side of justice, and they prevailed because they were “right” and the other side was “wrong.”

As Mr. McNamara reflected on his role in aspects in and around the Vietnam War, one thing he said just floored me:

“We – including myself – were acting like war criminals.”

Themes he kept touching upon showed the complexity of actions taken on both “sides” of a war, and he indicated how big the roles of LUCK and EMOTION were in the process. That rational people got us into these situations that literarily put the world on the brink of utter destruction.

Sometimes we look back on history and try to find simple ways to characterize complex scenarios. Our brains are desperate for simple narratives that embody what we want to believe – what we already believe. And to hear Mr. Mcnamara say that he and his colleagues acted like war criminals is a level of honesty that requires us to reframe simple narratives in light of complex realities that are neither black nor white.

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN
Too often, I think writers don’t adequately flesh out what their goals are. I wrote about this in a post titled “Being a Success, Without Being a Bestseller,” which used an example from Bruce Springsteen’s seemingly odd decisions around making his album “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” For someone whose previous work drew success from the hopefulness of the open road of possibilities, the message of Darkness was very different:

He released an album of understated songs that adhered to a theme: coping with the limits of adulthood. Of what happens when adolescent dreams of greatness and freedom turn to the challenges of adult relationships, work, and living within boundaries. The “darkness on the edge of town” is the feeling of something keeping you in. Of the horizon not being an open road that promises new dreams to come true. That we are not all immortal and destined for greatness as we all may have believed in high school.

The album is ultimately hopeful, finding empowerment in facing these limitations. About redefining what it means to be a person living by principles in a world that is full of limits and challenges. It is an adult view of the world that does not rely on vague promises of success.

This is where we move beyond vague goals such as “I want to be a bestseller!” and move into the less sexy but more realistic conversation of: “Let’s talk about other milestones that define success,” and the concept of finding satisfaction in them.

CREATING MOMENTUM
Someone said this to me recently in regards to an online project he had developed:

“I just wanted to create something, and then kind of step back.”

The implication was that he would create it, others would give it momentum, and he could then step away from it and let it continue to succeed on it’s own.

But that rarely happens. There are many things that help success happen (including LOADS of luck!), but another is intention around working through the times when there is zero momentum. I was recently reflecting on my experience attending the 99u Conference last year, and all the in-depth stories of success I heard. The prevailing theme was the serious work behind each.

We often romanticize success, but the real stories behind them show a different picture: often a long road filled with failures leading up to that success. This image from Joe Gebbia from Airbnb is a good example of what “overnight success” really looks like:

99u Conference

It is well worth listening to his presentation from that conference, as well as the video from Jane ni Dhulchaointigh, inventor and CEO of sugru, both now available for free via YouTube.

So no, things were not easier “back in the day.” If you feel they were, consider your motivation for that narrative: where does it let you off the hook from taking the difficult actions of what it means to create work you are proud of, and how you connect that work in meaningful ways to other people?

Lastly: consider the EFFECT your work has in their lives – that most likely, your legacy will not be measured in book sales, but in the hearts and minds of others: those you know, those who surround you each and every day, and those touched by the work you create.

-Dan

Finding Maximum Capacity

“I now have more time to write.”

This is feedback I kept receiving from authors I have worked recently. For someone who crafting new stories, “time to write” is a somewhat sacred thing. And yet, this often feels just out of reach for many writers.

Why did this happen – where did this time come from? Lots of small reasons, but mostly because we had worked out a process whereby they would be PROACTIVE in making choices, not REACTIVE. For instance: knowing how to focus their efforts on social media (and why they are doing so), instead of trying to be everywhere, in the vague hope of “going viral.” Or in setting specific expectations around goals and milestones that allowed us to craft a realistic strategy for achieving both.

This is why I am slow to jump on a bandwagon, and am a late adopter to new social media trends. Because I know how easy it is to have our days filled with a thousand little reactionary actions, all at the expense of what matters most: the body of work we hope to craft in our writing and other creative endeavors, and how that work connects to, and affects the lives of other people.

By reactionary, for instance, I mean devoting the first two hours of a day to writing, instead of checking email and social media. Of ACTING on achieving your goals before REACTING to distractions.

In some ways, it feels odd that software exists to shut us out of our own email, social media, and internet connection, as a way to FORCE us to focus on writing, or any single-focus task. It seems to imply that we can no longer rely on discipline and self-control, because the temptation to check email or check Facebook is just too great.

Opportunity and Discipline
I have a friend who is a parent, works a job as a creative professional, and does her own writing and art on the side, including having published a book not too long ago. And yes, she blogs and is very active on social media, often sharing her process for all of this.

One time, we were chatting about sacrifices that a creative professional makes to choose art over mowing the lawn. She told me that it’s not too uncommon to receive an email from a blog reader with a question such as:

“How do you do it all?”

… and she can tell that the real question is: WHAT IS THE SECRET TIP for how to make family/career/art happen successfully all at once? That somehow, my friend would give them a magic button for finding a sense of balance.

Now, my friend always sends a thoughtful response indicating the realities of what it looks like to try to “balance” family, career, and art, filled with empathy and the messy details. But in her head, this is what she told me her real reaction to that question is:

“Because I’m fucking disciplined!”

She clearly does not mean this to be reductive or to indicate the question is a bad one. There is an exclamation her voice here, because inherent in this discipline is hard choices, sacrifice, of FORCING habits to form even when you have every excuse to put them off. Even a hint that there may be some kind of easy trick to do it all somehow belittles the depth of sustained effort involved.

That having a vision for creating a meaningful body of work, and for living a meaningful life comes with responsibility, not a magic insight into shortcuts that elude others.

Likewise, I had recently overheard this conversation at Starbucks: a woman asked a friend who ran their own business this question: “So tell me, how do you get your clients?” Like the example above, you could hear it in her voice that she was hoping to find a secret shortcut. For her friend to answer “Via LinkedIn Groups” or “Via Rotary Club meetings.” But instead, he flatly said this:

“Through a lot of hard work.”

He wasn’t being funny or ironic, and wasn’t just trying to obscure his real secret. The tone of his voice indicated that while he wished he had found shortcuts, there aren’t any.

What I think is inherent in many of the hard working creative professionals that I know is that: discipline breeds opportunity.

The 5:15am Crowd
Last Fall, I joined the local YMCA, which is really the first time I have ever been a member of a gym. While I am a lifelong runner, the gym-crowd always seemed “other” to me, like something I could never be a part of – a separate culture whose handshakes I wouldn’t quite get right.

But I’ve made a nice little habit of showing up there five days a week to jog for a few miles on the treadmill and slowly try out their other scary contraptions.

I’m an early riser in general, so I’ve tended to wake up and head right to the gym. Our local YMCA opens at 5:15am, and I will typically get there sometime around 5:30 or 6am. What is always amazing to me is that when I wake up, and get in my running clothes, and go outside and ice scrape the car, and drive the half mile, it feels silly. It’s pitch black outside, there isn’t another car on the road, and nearly every house is dark. You think to youself: “Um, why aren’t you sleeping!?”

And then I arrive at the YMCA, and it is bright, crowded, and a hotbed of activity. I showed up at 5:17 last week, minutes after they opened, and most of the treadmills were already taken, with folks all over the gym well into their workout routine.

Who are all these people?! When you look at them, they are incredibly normal looking folks. The youngest is in their mid-20s, but for the most part, at that hour of the day, people are in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

The 5:15am crowd is fitting in their workout before their kids wake up, before they shower, before they have to catch the 7:28am train to work.

Their is no glory in showing up to a suburban YMCA at 5:15am. No one is here to show off, and to be honest, most of these folks aren’t “built” with loads of muscles. They are ordinary folks who value what working out means to them personally, and perhaps what lifelong health means to their family and loved ones.

So they make that drive at 5:15am through dark streets everyday, to zero applause.

My own gym habit is still only forming, but surrounding myself with these people does give me a deeper sense of focus to help that habit become permanent.

Finding Maximum Capacity
What I have found is that “managing time” is not the answer to doing more. Everyone is given the same 24 hours in a day – the person who achieves more has not created a 25th hour, or eliminated their human need for sleep.

Managing your energy is more important than managing your time in terms of creating more capacity in your life.

I work closely with writers everyday. This month alone, I am working with dozens of writers via private consulting and courses I am teaching. And we talk realistically about the constraints in their everyday lives – so I don’t pretend that each of you reading this has the energy of a 20 year old, or isn’t trying to manage a family of 5, or isn’t just trying to pay the bills after recently getting laid off. These are the realities that most writers are trying to “balance.”

What I find again and again – why a writer will walk away from working with me saying they now have “more time to write,” is because finding greater capacity is NOT about doing more. Instead, it is about better leveraging the resources we each have, and on taking focused actions, not by being driven (and buried by) a thousand reactionary tasks each day.

That each of these choices makes an investment in our own potential.

Thank you.
-Dan

Lessons From Redesigning My Website

I recently redesigned my website, and wanted to share the process behind it and key things I have learned through running and designing multiple websites over the years.

When I redesigned the site, I did most of the work in a single day, and threw out a professional website design that I spent thousands of dollars on. Here’s why:

  1. It takes time for a website to “feel” right, and it is really a process of evolution anyway. The thousands I spent on the previous design was a great investment because it forced me to consider key questions. That said, I didn’t want to cling to an old design that didn’t feel right, simply because I spent money on it. I suppose that would be akin to wearing a jacket that no longer fit right, and was no longer your personal style, simply because you spent a lot of money on it years ago.
  2. I wanted a website that I knew how to modify every aspect of, not relying on hiring a designer for every change I wanted to make. There were specific elements I wanted to change and couldn’t do on my own. I hacked at the old design as much as I could for the past 6 months, making small changes. But it was time for a bigger shift.
  3. I wanted it to feel personal. Have it feel more immediately that you are connecting with me, not with “a website with content on it.” This is clearly a subjective thing, but overall, I wanted to feature different content and make it more easily accessible.
  4. I revisited and reworked all key pages, rewriting lots of stuff, and dug into my blog archives to give them a greater presence.

How was I able to do most of the work in a single day? A few reasons:

  • I spent a year monitoring and analyzing what I liked and didn’t like about my site, and what I loved from other websites. I spend the last month of every year reviewing these notes and creating a plan of action to better communicate with those I connect with.
  • I am leveraging resources that I am familiar with, and provide me power and flexibility in the process, namely: WordPress and Thesis.
  • The meager design skills I picked up in 1998 and evolved over the years continue to come in handy. Having a basic working knowledge of Photoshop continues to empower me.
  • I leverage the work I did nearly a year earlier with Christina Rosalie. She help me better communicate what my work is about, from messaging and design, including colors and logo. That is the type of work that should make decisions far down the road much easier, and it did. And a side note: when you are trying to craft your OWN messaging, that is a particular time when having a partner in this process is incredibly valuable.

Here is the old website:
WeGrowMedia website before

And here is the redesigned website:
WeGrowMedia website after

I won’t go through design decisions that aren’t useful to you, such as why I go rid of so much black from the old site to focus on orange more. But I do want to share a somewhat random list of advice I think could be useful for you. No, I DO NOT think that your website should look like mine or that mine somehow represents a model. But after working with hundreds of authors, and thousands of websites across my career, these are some thoughts that be of assistance:

  • Make key elements of your design unique if you are using an off-the-shelf template or theme. If there is a stock photo of nature that comes with your stock WordPress theme – CHANGE IT. If you are more technically savvy, consider changing fonts or colors or other unspoken ways that the design feels similar to, but separate from other sites out there.
  • For the main navigation: make it as sparse as possible. For many authors this could me: ABOUT, BOOKS, and CONTACT. As my business has grown, I have cut BACK on navigation. It used to be more than 5 choices, now it is 3. This seems to be counterintuitive – but I find that the paradox of choice is at play here. Too many options results in zero action.
  • As for page depth – how many clicks someone has to take to find something, try to keep it to no more than 2 clicks. For instance, don’t expect that someone will click: BOOKS –> FICTION —> SCIENCE FICTION —> RECENT WORK. After taking one click, engagement drops off dramatically.
  • Remove speedbumps… make social media icons easy to find, as well as your newsletter sign up. For me, I put social media icons on the top, and finally streamlined my newsletter sign up process – removing the need to provide your name in the registration box.
  • Make hard choices about social media – while I have accounts on all the primary social media channels, I chose only two to feature on my website. Why? Because it tells people where I am truly active. This decision is not set in stone either, already in the past month I am realizing I am way more active on Instagram and Facebook nowadays than Google+, so this will evolve.
  • Ensure key messaging is updated. In this case, I had a photographer take a new headshot (a process within itself!) and redid my bio, and many elements of how I describe my work. I find that (much like a LinkedIn profile), people tend to “set it and forget it” – and end up with messaging that is years old, and somewhat out of date. Not incorrect, per se, just not the exact words they would use describe themselves today.
  • Feature things that FEEL right – the whole “show don’t tell” thing. Instead of me making a huge deal about TELLING what it is that I do, I created sidebar images to feature some of the older blog posts I particularly liked. In the screenshot above, you can see that on the bottom right of the sidebar, where I call out the “Book Launch Behind the Scenes” blog post.
  • Please make backups to your blog and website automatic. There are plugins for this in WordPress. Your blog will get hacked, or a meltdown will happen when you least expect it.

WHY DESIGN MATTERS, AND WHAT IT REALLY IS
Design is not about adding, but honing. And for an author or creative professional, this is about focusing on a singular identity that best communicates to your ideal audience.

Design is not about wearing fancy new clothes, but rather: giving yourself – AND THE WORLD – a better lens by which to see you. It should feel more honest, more clear, and without all the muck that gets in the way.

Often there is a philosophy underlying thoughtful design. For myself, I create a yearly “brand book” for WeGrowMedia, and last year I took the step to hire someone to help me better understand and more clearly communicate what my company is about. To this day, I still take actions based on the work we did together. Overall, I wanted things to be more personal and more experiential.

There were other results of this process, such as how I am changing how I use social media.

The real purpose of design is function – to remove any element or feature that could get in the way of a specific function. Often, it is less, not more. Cutting away. Questioning every tiny element. Apple is famous for popularizing this – they have pride that there are very few visible screws on any of their products, for instance.

Too often, people ADD more with a vague hope that something will work, that something will engage a reader. So they make the navigation crowded, add more to long sidebars of content, and use more and more adjectives to describe who they are and what they do.

Another small action I took was to try to use FEWER characters for my Twitter bio. I often see folks try to shove as much as they can into those 160 characters. For myself, my goal is to communicate better with fewer words. This is what I have now: “I help writers share their stories, and connect with readers.” which is much shorter than what I had before and leaves 61 characters unused.

This is akin to breathing room, to white space.

Designing a website is difficult because too often, we are trying to either:

  • Make ourselves sound bigger than we are
  • Represent the complexity of a multifaceted individual completely

For me, a new round of online classes have just started, I am working with more than three dozen writers at the moment, and for most of them, they are trying to find an authentic way to express their work, while not being overwhelmed in the process. As one write put it: this is about “helping writers be human in public.”

Does my new website design feel PERFECT for me? Nope. But it feels like a step in the right direction. One that focuses more on who I am, who I work with, and the body of work I have slowly created over the years via the blog. It seems like it honors the right things a tiny bit more than the last design.

And for the next year, I will continue to analyze this – what feels right, and what needs to evolve, and I will try to take one more step in the right direction.

What has your experience been with designing your website, in how you try to communicate your voice through design?
Thanks.
-Dan

Does Building Your Audience Feel Like Herding Cats?

I recently shared a post on Writer Unboxed about how to develop one’s audience:

“You want to find a group of ideal readers for your books, but do you ever feel like you are herding cats?The truth is: your audience is unorganized. They do not stack neatly, they don’t always form logical groupings, and they do everything possible to obscure their tastes and behaviors from your view. Your audience is unorganized. It is your job to bring them together.

Read the full post here.

Thanks.
-Dan