How to Be a Successful Writer: Be a CONNECTOR

You can manifest an entire world. That is the power of a writer, of a creator.

Now, the difference between a “successful” writer, and everyone else who puts pen to paper, is something very simple:


That’s it.

Sure, the quality of the work will determine the scale of the success. Will you have a few fans or a few million fans? Too many writers never share their work. It is born out of inspiration, and dies at the bottom of a desk drawer, or as some file hidden away on a hard drive. It is never shared with spouse, friends, family, or anyone else.

How can a work even have a chance to affect others if it is never shared? How can a writer improve their work if they never see how people react to it?

It used to be, that sharing was REALLY hard, really rare, and really expensive. But not anymore. It’s easy. It’s free. It’s your opportunity to gain or lose.

Sharing is not about marketing. Sharing your work is about allowing it to breathe. To change it from a “thing” (words on paper or screen) – to something that will live, spread, and grow.

Many writers have been confused at this new opportunity, thinking that their role was to create, not to connect. But inherently, being a creator is about connection: to an idea, a place, to knowledge.

Your body of work is not a thing that you put on the shelf. Your body of work is an invisible inspiration that flows through the lives of all you connect with.

Your work – be it a book, article, or some other creation – is NOT what happens when people pick it up. Your work is the EFFECT that happens once they put it down. Your book will eventually be put on a dusty shelf. It will eventually disintegrate in time. It’s just an object. But the ideas you share – how your creation manifests itself in the lives of your readers – THAT is the power of a writer.

This is why music works, why live performance works:

“You and the audience manifest the entire world, an entire set of values, an entire set of possibilities out of thin air.”
– Bruce Springsteen

It is hard to create your body of work. Countless hours of thought, of staring at the blank page or screen. And that is exactly why it deserves the chance to grow – to spread.

Are writers now marketers? I think that is the wrong question.

What I care about is if a writer is a CONNECTOR. Connecting us to ideas, to knowledge, to inspiration. To connect their work to those who can benefit from it. To create something unique, that binds us together.

Do you want your work to spread – to have an EFFECT on the world? It is up to you to make it happen.


How To Get Off the Sidelines of Your Writing Career

I spent the past week meeting dozens (hundreds?!) of writers and publishing insiders at two events:

  • Writers Digest Conference
  • Digital Book World

These were days filled with learnings and inspiration, and have left me considering how it is that a writer takes the reins of their own career – to shape their own destiny of creating and sharing their work. I had such a great time at these events, and spoke at four sessions:

Today, I want to talk about ways that you as a writer can shape your career. How to stop wondering about the future of publishing, how to stop waiting for someone to answer your query letter – how to begin to not just work TOWARDS a writing career, but to actually experience it.

One thing was clear at both of these events – people are getting very serious about embracing the business side of publishing – to ensure that there is a vibrant future for writers and publishers in the print and digital domains. Authors were actively discussing marketing tactics and the business of publishing – publishers and other insiders were reviewing reams of data to understand the marketplace and find opportunities.

The centerpiece of the Writer’s Digest Conference was a “Pitch Slam” where writers would be able to pitch their books to high profile agents. This was a very cool event, and an engrossing site in so many ways.

Hundreds of writers waited to be let into the Pitch Slam room. I watched them practice their pitches the previous day and that morning – this was a huge opportunity for each of them to get feedback from professionals, and perhaps even find an agent who wanted to work with them. As you approach the room, this is the middle of the line:

And here we are at the front of the line:

Finally everyone is let in. I found it really symbolic how thin the doorway was, compared to the size of the crowd waiting to squeeze through it, and even the size of the room inside. As if there is not enough room for everyone to become a successful writer.

Here we have it: authors in organized lines waiting for their 90 seconds to pitch the agents who are seated. This is incredibly difficult for both the writers and the agents, yet at the same time, a rare opportunity for both:

This really floored me: that invisible line separating the writers (on the right) and the agents (on the left.) A barrier to reaching their dreams, to reaching readers.

This was such a great event, and I spoke to many writers who had been preparing for months for this moment.

So my question is: what ELSE should a writer be doing to build their careers? Once you have gone home from the Pitch Slam, once you are back in your day-to-day routine, how do you turn that dream into a reality while you wait for the phone to ring? And taking this one step further… what should writers be doing that will help them if an agent actually does take them on. How can the author help their book do well?

This is the thing: writers are waiting to connect to gatekeepers, when the gates to their audience no longer exist as it once did.

Of course, the role of agents and publishers is AS IMPORTANT as ever, if not more so. But, along WITH them, there are so many other things a writer can be doing to build their career. There are ways that writers can access readers, build a fan base, and nurture that process, all on their own. Imagine how much more successful your books can be if you are doing this IN ADDITION to working with agents and publishers.

Anyhow, the following tips are what I have come away from the conference thinking about.

Choose Your Identity
In the past several days, I heard publishers, agents, authors, and everyone in between discuss issues surrounding publishing. The digital revolution has provided many opportunities and many challenges, but inherently, they have each left us with questions about identity. What is the role of an agent? Is an author also a marketer? Do you need a traditional publisher?

If you are going to be a writer, my advice is this: be a writer. Don’t wait for the validation of a publisher or agent in order to change your identity from hobbyist to author. Decide who you want to be, then embrace it. They say acceptance is the first step to the road to recovery. I also think it’s the first step to the path of success. If you are going to wait for the world to validate you before you truly embrace your identity as a writer, then you will find too many reasons to never give it your full effort. And with that, you run the risk of never truly being a writer, because you have yet to commit 100%.

This is not one bit about diminishing the role or value of agents and traditional publishers. It is about the primary reason most people do not pursue their dreams of being a writer. That they are there own worst enemy – the only person stopping you is you.

I’ve heard story after story from creators – that they never finished their great novel, because they didn’t get a big advance from a publisher; that they gave up music entirely because their music label dropped them; that they don’t have time for their art, because they have to mow the lawn.

As I write this at 4am, I can’t help but feel that we are not faced with a lack of time, but a need to prioritize. That the drive to create a body of work lies not in others allowing us time, but in the motivation to realize our purpose as writers and creators.

Embrace All Aspects of a Writing Career: Art, Craft, and Business
If you are a writer, is it an art, a craft, or a business? If it is a mixture of all three, where do you draw the lines in your own writing career?

Perhaps the lines shouldn’t be drawn too firmly. Again and again, I am hearing people in publishing talk about the need for writers to build their fan base, to begin marketing their expertise and passion before they have even finished their book. That their work as a writer is a combination of art, craft, and business, and each needs to evolve in tandem. That if you spend years collecting ideas, but not honing your craft, then you will hit a wall. That if you spend years honing your craft, but not establishing a fan base, then you will hit a wall.

These things work together to build a career: the art, craft and business aspects of your writing. You can’t put off one of them for years, hoping that magically you can tack on a solution at the last minute. Balance your focus – because this is not just about creating a work, it is about building a sustainable career – one in which you interact with readers and build a fan base over the course of years and decades.

I remember walking through one house my wife and I were considering purchasing awhile ago. There were photos on the wall of magazines that the owner – a writer – had been published in, and covers from the book he had published. And it clearly represented a creative time period of their life that took place in the early 1970’s.

While I was impressed at their accomplishments, I had wondered why there were no works posted from the past 3 decades. Why was there not sustained career growth over the course of a lifetime, instead of a mere blip in their career as a writer?

I don’t know the answers to that one person’s story, but I imagine that at some point, they stopped evolving their art, their craft, or their business experience in publishing. And all three are essential to be engaged with in order to grow.

Take Action
Here we are in the publishing world, with writers and publishers and everyone in between considering the path forward.

But there is no established path anymore.
However, there is a choice. To cut your own path.
To take personal responsibility to shape your identity.
To make choices based on your personal goals.
To create a foothold for your own career, rather than simply wait until you are magically ‘discovered.’

Take the reigns. Don’t wonder what will happen when OTHER people act on your behalf.
Arm your self with the tools and connections to make it happen. Not as a negative – a reaction. But a positive – an action.

It’s too easy to feel that we could move forward if we only had that ONE missing puzzle piece. Find that missing piece you need.

Structure Your Learning
Why does the Weight Watchers program work? Points, meetings, and accountability. They create a structured system that makes you accountable to YOURSELF, and does so by connecting you with other people each week. There is no hiding in the Weight Watchers system, the points don’t lie, and if you miss the meetings, then you aren’t really in the program. Standing on that scale in front of other people is a critical part of why it works.

Find a way to learn the skills you need – regardless of the fact that you likely have no spare time. There will NEVER be time. We are all balancing family, work, home, hobbies, a social life, and other obligations. And yet, some make the time to build their writing career, and others will only dream of having one. Structuring the process by which you build your career is a key way to ensure it actually happens.

This is not just about learning, it is about executing. That you need to not just PLAN, but you need to DO.

Likely, you need to build a platform for your career – to establish the skills you need that always give back. The skills of surfacing creative ideas, skills of honing your craft, and skills of connecting with the communities and marketplace that your work speaks to.

There are a variety of ways to do this. I am offering one way to do this – an online course for writers to Build Your Author Platform. Maybe this course is for you, but maybe it isn’t. The fact is, there are plenty of other course, writing groups, coaches, workshops, and ways to structure your writing career. Find one that works for you.

Make a choice – make a commitment. Involve other people in this process. Don’t work for a decade on your novel before you show it to anyone – before you get your first glimmer of feedback, before you engage your first fan. Do it now. The only thing stopping you is you.

Why do I say you should get off the sidelines of your writing career? Because we all have to realize that there is no coach who is going to let you in the game. It’s just your initiative that does it. Others will undoubtedly help you along the way – but don’t wait for it – earn it.

Let me know how I can help. Thanks.


How to Grow Your Writing Career

Today I want to talk about how we will each grow this year, and how to actually make that happen. How will you move your career forward, how will you change direction professionally, how will you pursue a dream that has been sitting on the shelf for far too long?

A lot of my focus is with writers and creators, and I will frame my comments to them, although I think this topic is useful for anyone. So if you are a writer – how will you pursue your goals in 2011. How will you move your writing career forward?

This is the nitty-gritty stuff. For those who choose to find room for growth, it is the bleary-eyed decision to wake up a half hour earlier to do some writing, to put off doing the laundry, in order to grab coffee with a colleague to get advice on something.

This is not the sexy stuff of feeling empowered, of innovating, this is the hours and hours and hours of work pursuing something that those around you could care less about. In all likelihood, your friends, family and colleagues like things how they are, they like you how you are. They define you as you are now, as you were yesterday – and that is enough for them. They don’t mean any ill-will, but they probably don’t feel that drive to redefine you or your life. In fact, likely, no one will push you to do that, but you.

Now, companies talk about ‘growth’ all the time. Typically, they mean make 20% more profit than last year. I’m not talking about that kind of growth. I mean, sure, money may be a byproduct of your growth, but that’s not the goal. Are you making room for growth? Are you putting resources towards it? It’s not enough to just hope that you make incremental movement towards a successful writing career. That’s what I want to talk about today.

You need two things in order to find the growth you are looking for this year:

  • A talent or skill of some sort
  • Hours and hours of focused hard work

Too many people have one or the other: either tons of unfocused hard work, or a talent that is never properly developed, never honed. Acknowledging the need for both is essential for growth. To not be complacent in your past accomplishments, in your present skillset. And likewise, to think critically enough about how to target specific areas for growth – knowing where to focus, and what to let slide.

Talent is not enough. Experience is not enough. You need to challenge yourself, to take those innate talents and push them hard. That it is about DESIRE and MOTIVATION. To make space in your life. And to be really particular about how you will find the resources to grow.

I do a lot of reading, researching and listening to music. I find the same story again and again behind great works by writers, creators and musicians. For instance: I bought the box set for Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ last weekend and made a small update about it to Facebook. Dean Horowitz left this comment:

“Writing 70 songs for a single album demonstrates that genius is as much about focused hard work as it is about realizing ones gifts.”

In the documentary that accompanied the set, you saw how Bruce and the band pushed their talent, spend hundreds of hours shaping and crafting. They rejected enough finished material for well more than a single album. They judged their work at a very high bar: greatness.

How will each of us get on the path to greatness? Let’s explore some ways to frame our growth this year:

  • Set Goals
    I’m not talking about vague resolutions, but specific goals with a real plan behind them. This means setting benchmarks and milestones, it means defining the difference between failure and success. Don’t be too safe about it, take a risk. Scare yourself into action.

  • Write It Down and Tell Someone
    Make yourself accountable. Write down your goals and post it somewhere. Even better: tell people. Post it to Facebook, talk it over with a friend. Accountability is a big factor here. That is why weight-loss programs that require group activities tend to work more often than those that are just a solitary experience. You are more likely to stay on track, to feel good as you progress and have a support system when you stall. It’s also an important step, taking the dream out of your head, and sharing it with the world. In some ways, you are planting that seed, and giving it a chance of growing.

  • Do Your Research
    Ask people questions. I’m so shocked at how infrequently people do this. Too many people ASSUME they know how to do something, what its value is, the hard parts and the upsides of whatever they are pursuing. But instead of guessing, ASK people who have done it. They will tell you how hard it was, what’s its really like. They will also likely help you get started. Don’t start down a path only to turn back once you realize it wasn’t for you. Do your research. It’s easy, buy someone coffee, and ask questions.

  • Listen With An Open Mind
    Don’t just listen to others, waiting for them to support ideas you already agree with. Challenge yourself. If you are pursuing a goal that you have not yet reached previously in your life, there is a reason for that. Something needs to change, something in you, in order for that goal to be achieved. Listening with an open mind is a key way to get there. Step out of the echo chamber that you may live in every day, step out of your comfort zone. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally have access to, that are outside of your circle of friends. You might be surprised at what they say, and how easily their insight can remove barriers that exist only within you.

  • Structure Your Learning
    Inherently, there are practices and skills that you may need to build here. A process that could be all the difference between putting your goals on the backburner vs actually achieving them. Don’t be afraid to structure that process – to make a commitment, be it financial or with other resources such as time. When you join a class, hire a writing coach, or something similar, you are putting a framework together for reaching your goals. This is often where you separate the dreamers from the doers – those who will put resources towards realizing their goals vs those who merely hope their goals magically happen.

  • Judge Yourself by Outputs, Not Inputs
    Don’t judge the quality of your effort by how much you put into it, but by the work that comes out of it. I mean this in two ways. First: you are likely very busy, and any work you do this year to pursue goals you have will come at a great effort. So it will be easy to feel that any amount of effort you make justifies successful movement towards a goal. EG: writing 100 words a week, not 1,000. And yes, these little efforts add up, and SOME progress is better than no progress. But don’t judge the quality of your work just by what you put into it, but by what you share with the world – your outputs – and how well the quality of your work fits into that context. The second point here is the need to actually share your work, that you are driving towards a goal of releasing material, not just creating it. That in the end, if you don’t publish work in some form, if you don’t share it in some form, then the world will question whether it really happened. If tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really make a sound?

  • Commit
    This is what will separate those who look back on 2011 with an amazing sense of pride, and those who simply added another digital to the number of years they have worked the same job that they aren’t happy with. Do you think your life is more than a resume? Prove it. Commit to it.

So much of the year ahead for me is about pushing myself in exactly the ways I mention above. But mostly, I am focusing on helping others pursue their goals, to move their careers forward as writers and creators. If you think I can help you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.


Create and Connect: The Justine Musk Interview

This week, I chatted with Justine Musk, author of dark urban fantasy novels, and blogger at who “explores what it means and how to be a soulful & savvy creative in the digital age.” You can find Justine on Twitter at @JustineMusk.

My goal is to share conversations with those doing interesting things in the world of publishing, media, and the web.

Click ‘play’ below to hear Justine’s thoughts on:

  • Why it is essential for writers to develop their online presence.
  • Why smart authors connect directly with their readers.
  • How to balance the emotional side of writing.
  • How blogging has helped her career.


How to Engage an Online Community: The Kat Meyer Interview

This week, I chatted with Kat Meyer, Community Manager/Co-Chair for Tools of Change at O’Reilly Media. You can find Kat on Twitter at @KatMeyer, on the O’Reilly Radar blog, and her LinkedIn profile.

My goal is to share conversations with those doing interesting things in the world of publishing, media, and the web.

Click ‘play’ below to hear Kat’s thoughts on what it means to serve your audience online, including great quotes like:

  • “Readers can inform a product, not just buy it.”
  • “The world is a community.”
  • “Social media is people.”