Upcoming Speaking Events

In the next week, I am excited to be a part of three major events for writers and publishers:

  • Writer’s Digest Conference – I am presenting this session: “Becoming an Author Entrepreneur: The Business of Being a Writer and Building Your Platform” and on the “Hardcore Author Marketing – What to Do to Rise Above in the Digital Age” panel.
  • Digital Book World – I am running a 3-hour workshop titled “Measuring Content Strategy ROI: What, Why and How to Present It”
  • Columbia School of Journalism Social Media Weekend – I am participating as a “social media doctor,” and moderating a panel with employees from Mashable titled: “Mashable’s Secrets: What we can learn from one of the largest online news communities.”

Other upcoming speaking events include:

So excited for these events, and will likely speak at other events for publishers and writers.

Thanks!
-Dan

 

 

Gumption Needs To Be Taught In School

Are you stuck somewhere? A job. A relationship. A funk in your life that feels like you are askew – living for obligation, not for who you really are, or dreamed of being. Most people feel that way sometimes.

There is a skill for getting out of those ruts. It goes by lots of names, but I like to call it gumption. Here is the definition:

gumption

 

I think a lot about what we learn – as a culture, as individuals – from the recession. I know, we are supposed to wait for companies to create jobs, and Wall Street to solve the mess they created. But somehow, that feels unsatisfactory to me.

That seems, to me, like we are a culture waiting for others to set things straight. To make it right. That our own role in this mess is entirely dependent on others getting us out. I suppose what I am getting at is this: we need more gumption. We need for each of us to turn that gumption knob on the faucet on ALL THE WAY, until it is pouring out. And we need turn off our TVs long enough to encourage our neighbors to turn their gumption knobs on all the way too.

But that’s not enough.

Gumption needs to be taught in school. It needs to start early. Okay, we can use a more formal name: entrepreneurship needs to be taught in school.

So what would this look like? What are the skills inherent in gumption -er- entrepreneurship?

We need to teach how to take action, even when there are risks. Why? Because too many people are trapped in lives they are unhappy with, but frozen with inaction due to their fear of the “risk.”

We need to teach personal responsibility, not as a negative, but a positive. To push the red shiny button that says “IGNITION,” and take full responsibility for what happens next.

We need to teach how to find new paths, not just how the existing system already works.

We need to teach how to turn an idea into a reality.

We need to teach debate and public speaking.

We need to teach how to communicate with others, even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree.

We need to teach negotiation.

We need to teach how to listen, how to care, what empathy is and how it can lead to action.

We need to teach how to have strong beliefs, and respect others who have strong – but opposite – beliefs as yours.

We need to teach skills that will form the backbone of a fruitful personal and professional life. One where we contribute to a community, not just have a job.

We need to teach beyond theory. Beyond spending 21 years planning for a life, emerging with a wonderful body of knowledge, but few real accomplishments beyond grades.

We assume many of the things listed above are taught in school as a byproduct of other activities. That gumption is taught by having kids cram for a test. I think something is lost there. Too much is assumed. Key issues are not addressed.

Then we measure by grades – oftentimes arbitrary measures of short-term memory. We teach to the test and kids spend all night cramming for it. We teach: win/lose – pass/fail – right/wrong – in a world where everything is a mixture of both.

Where is the only place that gumption is ever really focused on directly in school? Sports. That is where they teach you teamwork, how to deal with interpersonal issues, assessing competitors, moving past goals, the value of practice but the need for execution, ability vs passion, and so much else.

But you know what? I was never all that into sports. I appreciate them for the reasons I mentioned above, and I like how they can be used as a metaphor. But I know a lot of people who could care less about sports. And for those who I know who DO care about sports, some of the positive attributes listed above are lost on them. It’s all about the adrenaline rush of the win. Sports are a wonderful petri dish of the “thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” But I wish the wonderful lessons of sports were taught more directly elsewhere.

I will leave you today with one of my all-time favorite TED talks, this one by Nigel Marsh on the topic of work/life balance. The story at the very end is simple, yet profound. His message:

“With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships, the quality of your life, and the quality of society.”

Here’s the video:

Thanks!
-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com

The Most Valuable Resource to Build Your Career: Motivation

In the past year, I have been building my business – working with publishers and writers to help them grow online engagement with their communities. It has been an incredible experience so far, and today I wanted to share a little bit of what I have learned in this process, and how I think it can help writers – or anyone really – who are trying to build their careers in an otherwise busy life.

Dan Blank In the months leading up to the launch of my business, I spoke with many other business owners to ask them for advice and hear their story. I also watched hundreds of interviews with entrepreneurs at Mixergy.com. One thing became clear to me, and it was surprising to learn.

I was looking for “the secret” to launching something successfully, and not falling flat on my face. I had lots of questions, but they were mostly tactical in nature, dealing with common issues such as marketing, product development, customer service, that sort of thing – all looking to minimize the risk of such a venture.

But I kept hearing something again and again, sometimes said plainly and openly, sometimes hidden between the lines:

The hardest part of building something is balancing your emotions and staying motivated.

That day in and day out, when there is no structure, no promises, quiet times, busy times, good news, bad news, people who don’t take you seriously, people who go well out of their way to support you… that through all of this, you have to constantly stay motivated, ensuring everything is moving forward.

I would hear story after story from other creators – the sleepless nights, the constant fear of financial concerns, the trends that stacked up against them, the unexpected issues that came up on a near daily basis. That there was always a time when everything looked like it would absolutely fall apart – there was no way to make it work.

And yet, for each of these people I heard from, things DID work out.

To build a successful business or a successful writing career the one resource you need most is not money, but emotional capital and motivation.

I feel like this gets glossed over – we explain our successes and failures by vague things such as “the economy” or some specific product feature or marketing tactic. And yes, these things do affect what we build. But everyone who has ever inspired me had been presented with a challenge that was commonly thought to be insurmountable. And yet, they found a way, largely due to their motivation to continue searching for an answer long after others had stopped.

This past year has been the most incredible one of my life – running a business that is 9 months old, and being the father of a 7 month old son. I can’t even tell you how happy I am, even though I seem to be doing everything backwards: giving up a nice stable job just as I am starting a family.

I talk to a lot of writers – passionate people with ideas, trying to find balance, or at least an imbalance that leads them to their goals. And they often achieve those goals, unless they lose one thing: their motivation.

It’s easy to do – the world seems fraught with demotivating cues, often coming from those looking to help. That the process of creation is often a long lonely slog without any of the drama or elaborate costumes that come with other journeys, such as Lord of the Rings. Most people’s journeys are filled with unanswered email, a pile of dishes in the sink, kids calling to be picked up, an overgrown lawn, and an overdue oil change appointment.

Through all of this: one must have the motivation to keep slogging on. That the secret to creating your work and making it a success – requires the motivation to do so above all else. That this is INTERNAL – something that must come from deep inside you everyday – not some external tactic. (those certainly help, but are of little use without the motivation to follow through.)

For me, Mixergy.com has been an incredible resource for building my career. It’s a site where one guy interviews an entrepreneur for an hour each day, and shares their discussion via video. So every day, I hear an hour-long oral history of one person’s journey from having an idea to making it a reality. The interviewer, Andrew Warner, asks very specific questions about how decisions were made in the early days, how someone got through months of sleepless nights when their idea seemed fragile, their funds limited, and their responsibility to others such as family always tempted them to give up the idea of building something new, instead to take a “safe” job that left them unfulfilled.

How did these people succeed? The people Andrew interviews are simply those who kept at it. At times, they may have been hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. They may have had lonely failure after lonely failure. But they pressed on. And eventually, they found success.

One of those people is Rand Fishkin, who recently shared this quote in another setting: “This is one of the lessons of entrepreneurship: If you stick with these things, and you keep finding a way to live, you will make it.”

All this to say: I keep this in mind every day. That the only thing that will keep me from my dreams is me.

And the second thing here… the only thing that will help me achieve my dreams besides motivation, is the incredible good will of those around me. I’m 9 months into my business, and things have been going unbelievably well. Yes, all those late nights and early mornings working are part of the reason. But mostly, I attribute success to the incredibly generous people who have supported me at every turn. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank someone for going out of their way to lend a helping hand.

Many of these people are trying to build something of their own, and I’ve found that the more we help each other, the more we fuel each other’s motivation.

So thank you to everyone who has been a part of my life in the past year or so. I can’t even tell you how much it has meant to me. If there is anything I can do to help you build something, just let me know.

-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com

Publishing: A New Punk Ethos

The Ramones

I remember an interview with Joey Ramone, where he bemoaned how the record industry had robbed him of the experience of creating and sharing music in a timely fashion. That, in the early days of The Ramones, they would record a song one week, and release it on 7″ record the next week. That he could directly communicate with his fans that quickly.

By the time The Ramones found success, it would be months between recording and releasing a song, and by that time, the energy and enthusiasm he felt for it had dwindled a bit. That it didn’t feel as though he was directly sharing with his audience as creator and listener. This is partly why bands love playing new material at their live shows – because they are representative of how they feel in that moment – when they are ideas still being born, with a passionate need to communicate them to fans now.

Dan Blank When you think back to the world before books, this was a core part of storytelling – the immediacy of the connection between the storyteller and the audience. Stories were as much about the interaction as the content. Stories would be shaped and evolve and change over time, depending on region, culture, personality, or a variety of other reasons.

Like the music industry, publishing has evolved, for the most part, to a system where it can take years to create a work, and then years to get an agent, a book deal, and to turn that idea into a printed work. Even with digital books, this can be the case when working with traditional players. You get slotted into a system. And as any published author will tell you…. you EARN it, slowly, month by month through the process leading up to publication.

And then, finally, you are a published author. Your book, an expression of years of work, is ready to be discovered. That communication between creator and reader can finally happen.

But this has changed. The publishing world is going back to the days that Joey Ramone pined for. Creators now have many choices as to how and when their work is shared. And these are not “either or choices” – where one has to choose EITHER traditional publishing, or independent publishing. They simply have more options as to how they can share, how they can create, and how they can manage their writing career and relationship with their audience.

My friend Guy LeCharles Gonzalez released his first ebook this week: Handmade Memories. When I spoke with him about it, I was shocked to learn a key fact about the production of the book: while the content was created over the course of years, when he finally sat down to package the material into ebook format, it took – LITERALLY – a single evening to publish his ebook. He started on Friday evening, just thinking he would get the process started, and finished it by Saturday morning.

The book went on sale that day.

Guy is eager to point out that the content is not second-rate work. This is his best work, created over the course of years. But once he was ready to share, he was surprised at how quickly it could be packaged, and shared via ebook format.

My friend Jane Friedman recently released her own ebook: The Future of Publishing: Enigma Variations. It’s a brilliant and fun work, and it felt even more personal to me in that I know she published it on her own. That she chose when to release it (April Fools Day), and that she could ensure every aspect of it reflected her vision of the work. That this work reflects who she is now, what she wanted to say now. That she didn’t have to spend months shopping it around, and more months waiting for publication.

This is not, in any way, shape or form a slight to the traditional publishing process. I love publishing in all its forms. Yes, even the “Snooki has her own book” form.

I am simply glad that new forms of publishing are opening up, that creators are finding new freedoms to choose how to publish and when to publish. There are no lines here – this is not a future of one type of publishing vs another. All forms of publishing have a future – and for creators, their careers will likely move across these forms and processes again and again.

When I was in college, I produced a music zine every month. Here’s a photo of me in 1994 producing one issue:

It was a labor of love, created in the late hours of the evening at Kinkos. It was a very personal work, and I went deeply into debt to fund that project.

I’m thrilled that creators can now share their work at will – and without going into debt. That they have choices – choices to do right by their work and to turn the process of from sharing content, to truly interacting with others, just as traditional storytellers did.

-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com

Why Use Social Media? To Discover Who You Really Are.

Sharing anything online is a risk. Whether it is a blog post, Tweet, YouTube video, Flickr photo or Facebook status update, each is involves putting something out there that can be taken the wrong way, or expose something about yourself that will affect how others feel about you.

Some people see this as placing a bet that can only yield positive results – that the world will likely become more enamored with you. Other people see this as placing a bet with largely negative consequences – that everything is fine as it is, and sharing of yourself online can only disrupt the careful balance of things.

Dan Blank So why share and interact online, either professionally or personally? I posit that doing so is not just about engaging with others and learning more about them, but that doing so allows you to find out more about who YOU are.

This is scary for most people. We assume we know who we are, what we stand for, and our place in the world. But we box ourselves in to job titles, to a town in which we are living, a circle of friends, and a daily routine. We tend to interact with those who are like ourselves, share a common context and shared set of identity and social structure.

When you start sharing more opening for all the world to see, outside of the social construct that surrounds you in your daily life, you share something that is uniquely you. So who are you? I’m reminded of Anthony Michael Hall’s classic pondering in The Breakfast Club:

The more I use social media, the more I share, the more I learn about myself. What I will say, and what I won’t say. How I react to people from a wide variety of places and perspectives. That I am constantly surprising myself, and constantly trying to find ways of being even more honest – of being less vanilla and expected. Of exploring who I am and who I can become.

This is also reflected back – how others react to me, and choose to (or not to) engage with me. How do I fit into the social situations of people from around the world, who have different goals, values and perspectives?

This extends to companies engaging in social media. I think a lot of brands don’t know who they are. They are run by people who joined the company long after it was founded, and only work in one small role. Corporate executives are often rewarded for delivering the expected, and for not rocking the boat for investors, shareholders and board members. They want to offend no one. Why do you think their mission statements all look the same, including everything but the kitchen sink. They are vague, inoffensive, and require no hard decisions. Every company seems to value about innovation, the customer, products, caring, blah blah blah all equally. The reality is, plenty of companies work in that middle ground: “good enough” products, at a reasonable price, with as much customer service as they can afford within a set budget. But they won’t say that. They say they are all about cutting edge innovation, doing whatever is necessary to please the customer, etc.

So when these companies and employees begin blogging, creating videos and Tweeting, it is a wild change from the corporate press releases that are vetted by legal and are written in the same language that the public relations team has used for years. Suddenly, when you create more content that isn’t vetted, you share more of who you really are. And this can be surprising even to the author.

My wife is an artist. I’ll watch her meticulously work on a painting for months, and then when finished, I’ll ask her what it means. She never knows. The process of creating and sharing is inherently one of self-discovery for her. I think that for many people, sharing on the web is the same thing.

Sure, we all feel we know who we are, but the truth is, we are all evolving. And the more we step out of our comfort zones, the more we share, the more we interact with others far outside the context of our daily lives, the more we learn about ourselves.

And that doing so puts us into a greater variety of situations to see what we are capable of. That this process can make us better people. More unique, more focused, more centered.

You are not the title on your business card. Your resume often adds no context as to how you worked, not just what you’ve worked on. That letter grade on a test says very little about you.

But sharing every day says a lot about you. And it builds an identity that is there for the world to see. Oftentimes, we know our skills, we know our responsibilities, but do we really know who we are? That answer will be different for everyone. And one that can be the journey of a lifetime to figure out.

-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com