Tips

Argh! I need help!

A while back, I came up against a pretty big issue in my business.

It was something that had to be taken care of, but I kept putting off solving it.

The reason I kept putting it off, was because I didn’t know what to do.

And the reason I didn’t know what to do, was because I wouldn’t ask for help.

I was surrounded by people who had both the knowledge and the willingness to help me. Yet I was stuck in my problem, because I wasn’t willing to admit the embarrassing truth that I didn’t know what I was doing, and desperately needed help.

And here’s what’s crazy: When I finally opened my mouth and asked for help, I received it immediately.

This problem, this thing that had been plaguing my mind with worry and stress for so long, was cleared up within a few days.

And the person I asked for help from . . . Did he judge me? Look down on me? Make me feel stupid?

Quite the opposite. He was happy to help and thanked me for the opportunity.

How many times does this happen to us?

How many times do we sit alone in our worry and stress, when help is right at our fingertips?

When I think back to the greatest leaps forward I’ve made — in my personal life, in writing and in business, I find that they’ve always come after I’ve asked someone for help.

I finally wrote my first novel after I asked for help from a writing coach.

I finally started building a successful business after I asked a friend to be my business coach.

I finally finished my first nonfiction book after I asked friends to give me feedback that would help me improve it.

I finally started dealing with my personal issues after I allowed personal mentors and counselors to offer me their wisdom.

I now realize that every major milestone I’ve ever reached was kicked off by my finally getting humble enough to admit I needed help.

Why does asking for help work so well?

What is it about this simple act that makes it so powerful?

Here’s what I think it does for us:

1. We stop struggling.

There is something magical in the simple act of ceasing to strive, of sitting down and saying, “I can’t do this.” I recently found a great illustration of this.

A few years ago, the scientist Ádám Miklósi did a study comparing the behavior of wolves and dogs. He and his colleagues gave a group of domesticated wolves and a group of dogs a complicated problem to solve in order to get to access to some food.

Both the wolves and the dogs solved the problem pretty quickly.

Then the scientists gave the animals a challenge that looked exactly the same as the first problem, but was impossible to solve. The wolves kept going round and round the problem, trying different things.

No matter how many times it didn’t work, they kept trying to go it on their own, despite the fact that there was a human there who could help them.

However, the dogs, once they realized they couldn’t do it on their own, looked to the human for help, and received help.[1]

When we come up against a problem we can’t solve, we have to give up the useless struggle of trying to do it all on our own, before we can move forward.

2. We begin to solve the problem just by describing it to someone else.

In computer programming, there’s an idea known as “rubber ducking” that comes from the fantastic book The Pragmatic Programmer.

The authors found a simple but very useful technique for finding the cause of a problem: Explain it to someone else.

As the other person concentrates on what you’re saying, they look at the problem with you, nodding their head as you speak (like a rubber duck bobbing up and down in a bathtub).

They don’t need to say a word; the simple act of explaining, step by step, what should be happening but isn’t, is often enough for the root of the problem to leap up and announce itself.[2]

How many times have you figured something out simply by describing the problem to someone else?

I often find that by the time I finish describing a situation out loud to someone, I’ve already figured out what I need to do.

Sometimes there are too many loose threads of ideas in our heads. It’s impossible to keep track of it all, so we start to feel overwhelmed.

When we finally sit down and say everything out loud, we’re able to sort through those threads, throw out the useless ones, tie the useful ones together, and come up with something that can help us move forward.

3. We get an outsider’s insight.

Up until now, you might have been tempted to think you could manage nearly everything about being a writer on your own.

But the real value comes from getting outside help. We all need each other. We all have different types of expertise, in different areas.

The friend who helped me solve the big issue in my business immediately gave me a short book to read, connected me with a company that could help me, then personally walked me through the solution process.

When I was flailing with the second draft of Your First 1000 Copies, I sent it to a good friend and she personally walked me through eight pages of notes on how to make it a better book.

When I’ve struggled in my marriage, I’ve sought out counsel from men who have had long, wonderful marriages.

Finding someone who can help with your particular problem, whatever it is, can save you years of frustration and heartache.

Personal Embarrassment vs. Professional Embarrassment

Of course, the biggest battle we face in asking for help is dealing with our own pride.

Oh, how we hate to admit we don’t know what we’re doing! Especially in a space where we feel like we should know what we are doing.

But the truth is, when we don’t ask for help, we’re only holding out for worse embarrassment down the road — on a bigger scale.

Now when I send an early draft of a book to friends for feedback, I tell them, “Please be brutally honest. I’d rather hear it privately from you than publicly from strangers on Amazon.”

No matter what kind of problem you’re facing, there are people who have walked that road ahead of you and are willing to help you along the way.

Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out and ask for help.

That breakthrough you’ve been waiting for is right around the corner.


  1. Miklósi, Adám (2003). A Simple Reason for a Big Difference: Wolves Do Not Look Back at Humans, but Dogs Do. Current Biology, Volume 13, Issue 9, 29 April 2003, Pages 763–766.  ↩
  2. Hunt, Andrew and Thomas, David (1999–10–20). The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master (Kindle Locations 1859–1865). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.  ↩

 

Solving the “What do I write about?” problem

By far, the question I get most often from writers looking to build their platform is “What do I blog and email about?”

I especially hear this from fiction writers.

They’ll ask, “I’m a young-adult fantasy author. What do I write about on my blog? I can’t help people make more money or lose weight. So what can I do?”

Or, “I just have one historical novel out. What am I supposed to write about? Just keep telling people to buy my book? I can’t do that!”

In this article, I’m going to solve that dilemma for you.

First, deeply embedded in most of these questions are a few unconscious lies that authors tell themselves:

  • Lie #1: My book is the only interesting thing about me. That’s a much too narrow view of what you have to offer the people who are coming to your platform.
  • Lie #2: People are only interested in reading practical, self-help stuff. Look at the tremendous amount of online content that is not practical. There’s far more entertainment-based content online than there are business tips and weight-loss guides.
  • Lie #3: My books don’t really help people. This is the big one. So many fiction writers don’t really believe that what they do is good and helpful for people.

I’m going to camp out on that last one for a moment.

All good marketing begins with the belief, The best thing people can do for themselves is to buy what I’m selling.[1]

Yet so many authors, especially fiction authors, don’t really believe this deep down.

But you must believe it.

That belief has to be behind everything you do. You have to have it in your bones.

I’m facing that fact right now.

I’m working towards releasing my first novel next month. And if I’m going to successfully promote it, I’ll have to believe that the best thing that you can do is to read a copy of it.

So, tip #1…

Ask yourself, “Do I really believe people will benefit in some way from reading my book?”

I recommend spending some time alone, fully facing that question, before you do anything else.

You are a writer. You got into this for the love of writing. Are you going to share that love once your book is done?

Once you’ve taken this step, everything gets much easier. Then you can answer the next question:

Are we building a platform for your book, or for you?

Whenever somebody asks me about setting up a book website, I encourage them to set up an author website instead.

Your online platform should be for you, the writer, not for your book(s).

Here’s why:

1. You are the one thing that will never change throughout your writing career.

Your genre, series and titles will shift and change over time. But not your name.[2]

One of my longest-standing clients is #1 New York Times bestselling author, Daniel Pink. He has a very strong platform. But if he had tried to build that platform around any one of his books, it would have hurt him in the long run.

His first book, Free Agent Nation, was about the freelancing workforce. Next was The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, a career guide disguised as a Japanese comic book.

He then wrote A Whole New Mind about “right-brain” thinkers, Drive about motivation in the workplace, and To Sell Is Human about how we are all in sales.

That’s quite a vast spread of topics! And they don’t really fit together in an obvious way.

The only common denominator in that diverse line of books is the author.

Dan’s platform has grown and shifted with him, while he’s constantly changed his focus and expanded his scope.

His growing readership would have been impossible to create if he had built smaller separate platforms around each of his books instead of one big one around his name.

2. An author-based platform allows people to become fans of you first.

You want people to love your writing and to love your books. But most of all, you want them to be connected to you as the writer of those books.

Look at these covers from recent books by Stephen King, Janet Evanovich and John Grisham:

bookcovers

What’s the most prominent thing on each cover?

People don’t buy a book by their favorite authors because they like the title. They buy it because they connect with the author’s name.

This is why well-known authors are able to switch genres, go in new directions, and have a lot of flexibility in their careers — they’ve built a fan base around their name.

You want to do the same!

I’m experiencing some of this myself right now.

As I’ve talked about the fantasy novel I’m working on, many of you have told me you can’t wait to read it.

Why?

That makes no sense, logically.

All you’ve ever read is my nonfiction writing. Why would you care about my fiction writing when there are already plenty of good, established fiction writers out there?

It’s because many of you have become fans of my work — how I see the world and what I give to my readers — more than any one thing I’ve published.

I’m the same way with many of my favorite writers. I buy whatever they publish, because I already know I’m on their wavelength.

You want your fans to be the same way with you, so they’ll follow you throughout your career, though every turn in the road.

3. Having an author-based platform greatly expands what you can talk about.

This is where we finally dig into the how.

When you focus on building a platform around you instead of your books, it gives you far more room to run with when it comes to finding topics for your blogs, emails and social media posts.

Of course you don’t want to just talk constantly about your book, but that is far from the only interesting thing you have going on.

What have you read lately – both fiction and nonfiction – that you really enjoyed? Ryan Holiday has built an email list of 35,000 subscribers just by sharing his book recommendations every month.

What have you been learning lately?

Have you had to do weapons research for your latest novel? Have you started taking a pottery class?

What interesting life lessons or obscure facts have you learned along the way?

Have you gone to any conferences and met other writers? Could you interview them on your blog? Or reach out to the authors of the books you’re reading and ask to interview them?

Once you open up your mind to the world around you and the life you’re already living, you’ll start to see a vast amount of things you can write about.

I keep a running list of topic ideas as they come to me. The list is always growing much faster than I can possibly keep up with.

You are more than your books. You are an interesting, multi-faceted person, and your books are only the tip of the iceberg.

As you are looking at your platform and asking yourself, “What should I blog, post or email about?” — expand your view of what you have to offer.

Realize that you’re already tapped in to many topics that you can create helpful, interesting content from.

You’ll be surprised at how much you can come up with.


  1. My definition of marketing, given in my book Your First 1000 Copies, is: 1) The act of building long-lasting connections with people and, once you have those connections, 2) focusing on being relentlessly helpful to them.  ↩
  2. This is where the question of multiple pen names comes up. In most cases, I suggest not using different names for your different books, even in different genres. There is usually no legitimate reason to keep your writings separate from each other. If you do have to use separate pen name for some or all of your books, I recommend building a separate platforms based on that pen names, instead of on your book(s). That gives you the most options for your future work.  ↩

The Ultimate Writer’s Guide to Great Productivity

Recently, several readers have asked me how I keep my productivity so high.

How do I get my writing done, build my author platform, and continue to fulfill all the other responsibilities I have as a husband, dad, business owner (and person)?

In this article, I’m going to explain in exact terms how I get a ton of work done each week in a very small amount of time.

Because despite a high level of output, I usually only work about 30 hours a week.

I’m going to give you specific advice on how you can accomplish a huge amount, even if you have limited time each week to work on your writing.

The Framework

For a while now, I’ve had a full-time business to run that keeps me very busy.

When I first started writing, I knew that even though I didn’t have the constraints of a full-time job, I still had to figure out how to get my writing done while meeting the demands of the rest of my life.

Here’s the framework I created. You can use it to build your own productivity plan.

It’s a three-part system that’s simple and easy to use:

  • The Mindset – You must get your thinking straight first.
  • The Schedule – You have to figure out the when before the what.
  • The Plan – You must decide what you’re going to get done, before you start working.

Each part is built upon the one before it, so read all of this information straight through to the end.

The Mindset

As with everything, we have to establish the right mindset before we can start talking about strategy and tactics.

Don’t skip this part. If you think you don’t need to read this section, then you should skip this entire article.

I have some basic productivity beliefs and habits that help me make decisions quickly — and stay sane in the face of a never-ending deluge of To-Do tasks:

1. Ruthlessly cut out all distractions and unproductive actions.

I can get more done in one 30-hour work week than most people get done in a month, because of how I work:

During my writing time, I’m hyper-focused and avoid distractions like the plague.

No social media. No emails. All chat programs turned off. I put on earphones, and put my phone in my bag.

I am ruthless on this point. You need to be too.

2. It’s more about what you don’t do.

There are lots of ways to be active and busy, but very few ways to be active and effective.

It’s extremely important that you learn the difference between busy and effective, and are honest with yourself about it.

Learn what actions are actually moving you toward your goals, and then only work on those items.

3. Figure out your values and goals ahead of time.

A good productivity system organizes only those actions that are built upon your values and goals.

If you don’t know why you’re doing something — finishing your manuscript, building your email list, landing guest posting opportunities, etc. — then you’ll constantly feel frustrated about your life as an author.

I’m going to ask you to do some hard work in this article, and unless you have a solid Why motivating you, you won’t be able to follow through.

If you need help in that area, I go much deeper into that topic in this article.

4. Your productivity system should be simple.

While I can appreciate productivity systems such as Getting Things Done (GTD), most of them are too complicated to apply to real life.

All the successful people I know and work with have very simple systems for tracking their actions and getting things done.

5. I don’t try to be perfect, track everything, or keep everybody happy.

I receive anywhere from 100 to 150 emails a day.

Though I try respond to all of them, it’s inevitable that I’m going to miss an important email every now and again.

I’m also going to forget to do some things, not finish my To Do list for the day, and a commit a few other errors and losses.

I deal with my lack of perfection by accepting it ahead of time, giving myself grace and forgiveness, and moving on.

6. Don’t make excuses.

Some of the things I do, you might not be able to do, but don’t use that as an excuse.

Use your imagination, embrace the principles you can use, and apply them to your situation.

If you find yourself thinking:

“Yeah that’s great for him, but I can’t do that because __________________.”

STOP, capture that thought and turn it into:

“I can’t do that, but I could try _________________ instead.”

7. Ambiguity is the enemy of productivity.

My most unproductive times are when I sit down to work and don’t know what I should be working on.

This is when my time gets filled with checking email or reading blogs.

I do everything I can to ensure that every time I sit down to work, I know what I should be working on next, so I don’t waste time, frittering away my precious few hours of work time.

Once you have your mindset properly in place, you can move on to Part 2:

The Schedule

Your work schedule is the second most important thing to establish.

You must know exactly when you are going to work and what type of work you’ll be able to get done during those hours.

If you start each week “hoping” you’ll get some time to write, you’ll end each week having written far less than you could have.

Here’s a look at my weekly schedule:

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday

  • 4:15 am: Awake and making coffee.
  • 4:15 – 5:00 am: Reading/Prayer/Meditation
  • 5:15 am: Get to my office (3.1 miles from my house).
  • 5:15 – 8:45 am: Do creative work for the day such as writing, planning and online course content (more on that below). Other people don’t usually arrive at my office until 8:30 am, which leaves me with more than three hours of quiet, uninterrupted creative time.
  • 8:45 am: Go back home.
  • 9:00 – 11:30 am: Do homeschool with my two sons, Conner (9) and Max (6).
  • 11:30 – 11:45 am: Pack up, get my workout clothes, kiss the family goodbye, and head back to the office.
  • 12:00 – 4:15 pm: Back at my office. Focus on non-creative work: answering emails, making phone calls, and other “running a business” chores. If it’s not too busy and I can concentrate, I’ll try to get more creative work done, but it’s usually a stretch to manage that.
  • 4:15 pm: Pack up, change into workout clothes, and leave for the gym (.5 miles from my office).
  • 4:30 – 5:30 pm: Do CrossFit at my gym.
  • 5:30 – 9:30 pm: Go home, shower, have dinner, have family time, go to bed.

Tuesday

This year my family joined a homeschool group, which threw a monkey wrench into my Tuesdays.

However, I re-worked my schedule to ensure it accommodated the homeschooling first (#3 in my Mindset principles: My kids are more important than my work) and still covered all the work bases.

  • 4:15 am: Awake and making coffee.
  • 4:15 – 5:00 am: Reading/Prayer/Meditation
  • 5:00 – 7:00 am: Creative work at home.
  • 7:00 – 8:30 am: Get the kids up and ready for homeschool group. Get myself ready.
  • 8:30 am: Go to the office.
  • 8:45 am – 12:30 pm: Focus on non-creative work: emails, phone calls, run-my-business tasks, creative work if possible.
  • 12:30 pm: Pack up and drive to homeschool group for afternoon session with Conner.
  • 1:00 – 3:00 pm: Homeschool group.
  • 3:15pm: Leave for the gym. (Conner’s swim practice starts at 4:00 pm and, conveniently, is at the same gym as my CrossFit workout.)
  • 3:30 – 4:15 pm: Get a bit of work done (usually email) while waiting for my 4:30 CrossFit class to start.
  • 4:30 – 5:30 pm: Do CrossFit at my gym.
  • 5:30 – 9:30 pm: Home, shower, dinner, family time, bed.

Friday – Sunday

No official work schedule.

I usually sleep in on Fridays to recover from lack of sleep Monday through Thursday. I hang out with the family and get house projects done.

I usually also get some work done (I’m writing the draft of this post on a Saturday afternoon while the boys play Wii), but Friday through Sunday is very fluid.

I never officially plan on getting anything done, so I won’t be disappointed if that happens.

The point of sharing all this? To demonstrate that as a writer, I live a very regimented life.

For the most part, every week looks exactly the same as the last.

This does a couple things for me:

  1. It makes it easier to plan. I know exactly how much creative time I have each week, which helps me know how much work I can get done in a week. If you don’t have your writing/creative time set in stone, it’s impossible to be consistent with it.
  2. It deletes on-the-spot decision-making. Decision fatigue is real. Having a set schedule, and a basic idea of what you’re working on for each hour of that schedule, keeps you from having to make a lot of decisions every day.

“What if I can’t follow a set schedule?”

I realize that not everyone can have such a regimented schedule. You might be a new parent, or at the whim of a very busy day job.

Not too long ago, that was me too.

So what can you do?

1. Get up early.

It’s amazing how few distractions there are at 4:30 am. No co-workers. No phone calls. No new emails.

Just you, a cup of coffee and the blank page.

For those of you moaning about getting up early in the morning: See #3 under Mindset.

If you have a vision for what you are trying to accomplish, you can get up to accomplish it.

I do not naturally wake up at 4:00 am. Every single morning, it’s a struggle.

But when that alarm goes off, I focus on my Why and force my feet to the floor.

2. Put a Writing Meeting on the calendar.

When I was trying to write Your First 1000 Copies, I struggled to find time to write.

I had a very busy client business and was averaging five hours a day on the phone. There seemed to be no time to write—until I started scheduling it into my calendar.

I would create a meeting on my calendar called “Writing.” This would block off that time so that nothing else could get in the way.

If someone asked to meet with me during that time, I would say I was busy, and would offer an alternate time.

That kept me from putting the writing off indefinitely.

3. Cut down your consumption. Think about how much time you spend consuming other people’s creativity (television, reading, music, movies), versus how much time you spend doing your own creating.

Scott Berkun talked about this at a conference I attended last year.

This topic is strongly related to productivity, and the talk is well worth watching:

Stop watching so much TV and go to bed (see Point #1).

Install the News Feed Eradicator so you’ll stop checking Facebook. Even better, delete the social media apps from your phone.

Stop consuming other people’s creativity (or social media drivel) and order your life around your creativity.

4. Create a “Do Not Do” list.

People are often surprised by the number of things I don’t do.

Here’s a short list of what I don’t spend time on:

  • Facebook (except for a couple of groups I’m a member of)
  • Twitter (except for responding to people who reach out to me)
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram (except for posting pictures of my kids)
  • Printing business cards. I don’t have any.
  • Printing any other materials other than my book. No stationery, no bookmarks, etc. I’ve just never seen the ROI on these for what I do.
  • Blogging more than once or twice a month
  • Commenting on other people’s blogs
  • Reading that many blogs in the first place
  • Reading/watching any news outside of the particular industry news that’s relevant to my business goals

Your writing and creativity time is priceless. Don’t waste it on non-impactful work.

______

This part of the system is vital, whether or not you’re a full-time writer:

Plan out your work schedule ahead of time.

If you already have a full-time job that requires you to get up at 6:00 am, start turning off the television at 9:00 pm, so you can get up at 4:45 am and write the next morning.

And take your laptop to work so you can put your ear buds in and get another 750 words written at lunchtime.

If I called you on a Sunday night, you should be able to list out the days and hours each week when, barring a catastrophe, you butt will be on your writing chair.

The Plan

The Plan is the third component in this system.

Now that you know when you are going to get work done, you have to figure out what work you will be filling that time with.

As I’ve stated above, it’s best to never sit down to work without first knowing what you are going to work on.

However, you have to start with the long view first.

 

Planning the next 3 to 6 months

Calendar

This is my calendar: three calendar months, laid out right in front of me where I can see it every day.

I pre-plan every single blog post, email list send, and webinar, three months ahead of time.

What do you want to have written three to six months from now? How many words?

How many people do you want to add to your email list by then?

What are you going to do to make that happen?

Setting out my expectations for the next few months keeps me consistently moving on to the next step.

 

Planning the next week

Before I plan a week’s activities, I ask: What needs to get done this week so that I  stay on my three-to-six-month schedule?

This is where I plan when to do my “big rocks” — so I can fulfill my greatest priorities.

Watch this video:

For example, this week I need to:

  • Write two blog posts
  • Outline a new course I’m building
  • Put together a slide presentation I’m giving at a conference on Friday

 

Planning the next day

Now that I know the big things that have to be done this week — and I know when I’ll have creative time available to work on them — I can schedule each day.

Tomorrow, I’ll write the blog post and get started on my slideshow for my conference presentation on Friday.

I chose those two things because they have to be done so that I can keep to my three-to-six-month schedule.

I’ll save the product planning until later in the week, because if something happens and I can’t get to it, it won’t mean failure for my long-term plan.

I do this every single day.

Before I go to bed at night, I know what I’m going to work on first thing the next day (see #7 of Mindset).

By following this three-part system, you’ll make sure you’re using your precious creative time to get the most important work done.

When it all goes down in flames

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
– Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

Even though I’ve laid out a solid, rigid plan above, of course it doesn’t always survive real life.

Your plan will not stay 100 percent intact.

Your kid is going to get sick. You’ll oversleep.

Your boss will make you stay late. Your editor will run two weeks late.

Or you will just plain feel unmotivated or discouraged and procrastinate your day away.

Here’s what I do when my plan starts unraveling:

  1. Give myself grace. It really is OK. It doesn’t make me a disgrace or failure. It doesn’t mean I’ll never succeed. It just means that, for today, my plan didn’t work out.
  2. Realize I’m still getting more done. While today may be a wreck, on a week-by-week, month-by-month basis, I’m still getting way more done with this system then I did in the past.
  3. Stop, readjust and start again. If I just lose an hour by oversleeping, I can usually catch up. But if I get the flu and am out for two days, I need to take a few minutes to pause, rework my plan, and then get back on my schedule.

Now is the time

You can do this.

If you’ve struggled in the past to get your writing done and move toward your goals, give this system a try.

As an added bonus, I’ve put together a free workbook along with a list of my favorite tools, apps and products I use to stay organized. You can download that here:

Click Here to Download the Free Workbook

 

 

Are you working on the right thing?

There seem to be so many ways to connect with fans and build our author platform.

In my book Your First 1000 Copies, I outline a proven three-part framework that any author can use to build their platform, connect with readers, and sell more books:

  1. Permission – Communicate with your fans in a way that gets their attention and drives them to action.
  2. Content – Offer free content and spread it widely and freely.
  3. Outreach – Move people from not knowing you exist to knowing you exist.

If you can accomplish these three interconnected levels, you will build a thriving author platform full of fans excited to buy your next book.

But so many things can distract us and get in our way while we’re on the road to building our platform. While some of those things are important, most aren’t.

So often, we tell ourselves a task is important, just so we can dodge the real, hard work of what we really need to be doing.

Doing the Right Thing

A while back, an author wrote me and asked if he should overhaul his website with a new WordPress theme he had found.

I took a look at the website. While it wasn’t the most gorgeous site I’ve ever seen, it was getting the job done. It had an email signup, his books were displayed prominently, he had an author bio and was offering free content.

My question to him: “How much traffic are you getting to your website?”

Another author wrote to ask if she should start buying Facebook ads to get more people to “Like” her Facebook author page.

First, I had her read my post on the myths of social media.

Then I asked, “How many authors have you reached out to in order to create mutually supportive relationships?”

Then there was the author who was agonizing over what he should give away to new website visitors, so they’d sign up for his email list. He kept changing his free ebook—rewriting the hook, uploading new versions, etc.

When he asked me what to do, I asked, “How many podcasts have you pitched, to have you on as a guest?”

There are always tons of things you can spend your time on, but almost all of them – 99.9 percent – are a complete waste of your time.

Creating Long-Term Connections

Another question I received recently:

“It seems like nothing will work without Outreach. So why do you talk so much about Permission and Content first, when none of it matters if new people aren’t finding you?”

Here’s why . . .

Think of your website as a bucket.

For most authors, the bottom of that bucket is full of holes.

People come to your website, check out your books or read a blog post, then immediately leave.

They flow into your bucket all right — but then they drop right out of the bottom.

That’s because you’ve create no connection with them, no way to stay in contact long-term.

Once you figure out how to plug those holes in your bucket, things will start changing for you.

If you make the #1 goal of your website getting people on your email list (Permission) by prominently displaying email signups that include a great offer, you’ll start getting those visitors to sign up.

That gives you long-term access to communicate with them.

Then once your website is set up to get people on your email list, you start putting up compelling Content that gives people something to interact with.

A reason to come to the site in the first place.

You’ll start seeing even more of your site visitors signing up for your email list.

Only then is Outreach useful.

If you do Outreach before plugging the holes of Permission and Content, you’re just pouring more people into a bucket with holes. They’ll drop out of the bottom, and you’ll never see them again!

However, once you have plugged the holes in your website . . . leave it alone!

And focus on Outreach.

Focus on finding groups of people that don’t know you exist, and introduce yourself to them.

Solving Obscurity With Outreach

At this point in your platform-building, your #1 problem is Obscurity.

If nobody knows you exist, it’s going to be really hard to sell books.

You could have the most gorgeous, engaging website that gets 100 percent of the people who visit to gladly give you both permission to stay in contact with them AND buy a copy of every book you’ve ever written.

But if nobody knows you exist, it will all be for naught.

Here’s why . . .

Once you have your Permission and Content set up and working – even if it’s not the absolute best it could be – it’s time to move on to Outreach.

Outreach is the scary part. It’s the most ambiguous part.

It’s the part that requires us to reach out and face rejection.

So when it comes time to do it, we often shrink back and distract ourselves with things that aren’t important — like fiddling with our website, fixing the header on our Facebook page, or reading about successful social media marketing.

Here’s the deal — the plan that works, and that will save you months of wasted effort:

  1. Get an email list set up with an email service provider, and display your email signup prominently on your website.
  2. Regularly put out compelling free content on your website. Then, once that’s done:
  3. Spend the rest of your time on Outreach and solving your obscurity problem.

Then be honest with yourself, and only do the kinds of Outreach that may actually move the needle.

Doing What Matters

I’ve been working with a friend of mine as he’s been getting his platform off the ground. We’re talking starting from zero.

The first part was pretty straightforward.

He wrote out a series of helpful emails that people get when they sign up for his email list.

Then he used a WordPress theme to get his website up, put an easy-to-spot email signup on it, and started blogging regularly.

While this work wasn’t always easy, it was crystal clear in terms of what needed to be done.

Digging a 50-foot ditch isn’t easy, but how you go about it is pretty straightforward.

And then he hit Outreach. The hard, ambiguous part.

He struggled, pressed into the fear, tried several different things.

He despaired a few times. He wanted to quit.

His first 45 subscribers came in slowly.

Then last week, one of the dozen or so things he’d been trying finally started to work.

Within a couple days, he’d popped more than 100 new subscribers. Now he’s following up on that by offering more free content, to drive that number even higher.

I’ve seen this pattern before. He’ll be at 500 subscribers within a couple of months.

It takes work. It takes trying and failing. But the reward is worth it.

The end result? Direct connection to a few hundred and then thousands of fans, who aren’t just visiting your website once or twice.

They’re excited to buy your next book.

What I learned by winning my NaNoWriMo trophy badge

You may have heard of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writers Month.

NaNoWriMo is also the name of the nonprofit that hosts a writer’s contest every November, in which they encourage writers to write a 50,000-word novel in a single month.

As I announced in October, I’ve committed to writing and publishing a novel by March 2015.

That means I have to write fast. So I decided to join the NaNoWriMo craze and see if I could finish the novel in a month.

And on November 30th at 8:03pm, I typed the 50,003rd word of my new novel, tentatively titled The Dreken.

During a grueling month of cranking out an average of 1,667 words a day, I learned several things about myself and the writing process:

 

1. I make far too many excuses for not writing.

A while back, I wrote an article about the myth we all believe, of “I’m too busy.” And yet, I had been using that exact excuse to not get my writing done.

It’s been months since I wrote consistently, citing all kinds of reasons (read: excuses) why I wasn’t hitting my writing goals.

But then November rolled around – a month where I have just as many commitments as any other month, plus a major American holiday – and it turns out that I’m able to write almost every day.

In fact, as I wrote this article, I hit day #29 in a row of writing at least 500 words a day.

I use the Commit app to track my goal

I use the Commit app to track my goal

That’s my longest streak ever!

At this point, I have wisely concluded something important.

Writers write.

They don’t just think about writing. Or plan to write. Or hope to write. Or come up with new writing ideas. They actually write.

So if I want to be a writer, I must write.

 

2. Short-term, concrete goals are much easier to achieve.

“Write a novel” feels too overwhelming.

“Write every day” can also feel like too much when you’re starting out.

However, I can commit to something that is short-term (30 days) and concrete (1,677 words a day).

I’m not worried about whether I’ll keep writing past November. I’m not worried about whether my novel will be any good or not.

I’m just focusing on the short-term, concrete goal directly in front of me.

Today, I just have to write my 1,677 words. That’s all.

 

3. Do not edit during the first draft.

A friend and fellow author encouraged me to write the first draft straight through, without editing anything.

This reminded me of Anne Lamott’s advice about “shitty first drafts” from her fantastic book, Bird by Bird:

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.

I took this advice very seriously.

I wrote straight through. I didn’t correct grammatical errors. I didn’t worry about using the same word over and over. And over.

I even turned off the spell check to get rid of those little red squiggly lines under typos that are crying out to be fixed.

The only times I looked back through my manuscript was to:

  • Remind myself of a name or event I had forgotten
  • See where I’d left off the day before

Otherwise, I wrote straight through.

Whenever I realized I had just created a conflict with an earlier part of the story, or came up with a good idea to incorporate into previous chapters, I simply made a note of it in the text in ALL CAPS and kept typing.

I’ve done enough writing by now to know what self-editing while writing the first draft really is: procrastination.

The truth is, when you’re really in the zone and just trying to get the story out of your head as fast as it’s coming, you don’t think to stop and tweak your grammar to make it perfect.

But when the words are coming more slowly, and you’re not sure what to do next, it suddenly becomes all-important to go back and read through for misuses of “to” vs “too.”

Don’t do it. Stay the course. Focus.

When you’re writing the first draft, write forward only.

 

4. My advice on how to get your writing done works.

A couple years ago, I wrote this short article outlining my three steps to get your writing done.

I wrote it in response to the many questions I’d received from readers on this subject.

The article emphasizes writing pre-planned or previously researched content in the morning, at a pre-scheduled time.

I’d found that if I pushed my writing off until later in the day, or sat down to write with no clear plan for what happens next, everything came out stilted, without the right flow of energy and ideas.

The 3-step formula solves that age-old problem.

The interesting thing about NaNoWriMo?

It’s not about writers competing against other writers. It’s about writers competing against their own procrastination.

If you’re putting off writing your book until you have time or feel inspired, it’ll never happen.

Now’s the time to set that short-term, concrete goal and start making the time to write.

I know you can do it.

Six months to a published novel

About a year ago, I started the 10k Experiment.

You can read the original blog post here.

The idea was to make a public goal of selling 10,000 copies of my book Your First 1000 Copies in the first year of publication.

The experiment was amazing in so many ways, but the best part about it was bringing you along for the ride.

It was amazing to learn along with you, and to share the ups and downs throughout the entire process.

Now, I’m going to do it again. But it’s not going to be about book sales.

This time, it’s about something much more terrifying to me.

Last May, author and good friend Michael Bunker invited me to write a short story for an anthology he was creating. Each story would be set in the world of his new sci-fi novel Pennsylvania.

I agreed, then quickly regretted it.

While I’ve written some fiction in the past, I’ve never published any of it. In fact, the thought of doing so makes me want to vomit.

And now I had agreed to publish a fiction piece!

The agony immediately set in.

Having blogged for more than a decade, I’ve published millions of words of nonfiction, but not a single word of fiction.

So I put it off. And put it off. And put it off.

Until finally the anthology’s editor, Chris Pourteau, told me I had to write it.

So I did.

I sat down and banged out 5,000 words in a single sitting and fired it off to them.

So far, based on the feedback of a few people who have read it, it’s not horrible.

Which got me thinking.

I had many guidelines for the 10k Experiment.

One of them was that whenever I came up against something that scared me, I made that fear a reason why I should do it, instead of a reason why I shouldn’t.

That’s what prompted me to post articles about dealing with negative criticism, failure and other painful topics.

And as often happens, the momentum created by that one forward-moving action then ran over into other areas of my life.

I began to take risks I normally wouldn’t have taken.

Which leads me here, today, to this article.

< Deep breath > Here it is:

I’m going to publish a full-length novel by March 31, 2015.

I currently have the idea for the novel, but nothing else.

So far there’s no outline. No characters. No chapters written. Nothing.

The final novel will be at least 50,000 words in length, and will be on sale by the end of March, less than six months from now.

What does this mean for you? And why should you care?

I’m going to share the entire process with you.

I’ll share the technical side of the project, including:

  • How I’m getting the writing done
  • The reading and editing process
  • Designing the interior and cover of the book
  • Getting blurbs
  • Launching the book
  • And so on . . .

I’m also going to share the emotional side.

Having worked with hundreds of writers and published my own nonfiction book, I’ve learned that the devil isn’t in the details.

The devil is in our hearts, and he fights us through the entire writing process.

I invite you to travel through this process with me.

Each week, I’ll send out an email with an update on where I am in the process, along with what I’m learning.

I have several goals for this project:

  1. Force myself to cross this off my bucket list
  2. Write a novel people actually want to read
  3. Help you face your own fears and reach your own goals

Most of what I’ve accomplished in my life has been due to watching other people accomplish something I admired, then gaining the courage to do it myself.

I want this process to work that way for you — to inspire you.

If someone like me can write and publish a novel in less than six months, that means you can too.

If you’re not already on our email list, I encourage you to sign up below.

If nothing else, it should be entertaining.

The Myth of “Too Busy”

I would love to strike the word “busy” from every writer’s vocabulary.

Somehow, talking about how busy someone is has become a twisted sort of compliment, and a point of pride.

When I get on the phone with people, they usually thank me for my time, saying they know how busy I must be.

When I ask people how they’re doing, they tell me how busy they are.

When I tell authors they should make time to send emails to their fans, they tell me they’re too busy.

From the CEO to the high school student, everyone is talking about their packed schedule. There’s just no room for anything else.

But what if we got rid of the word “busy” altogether, and replaced that whole concept with something much more honest?

Instead of the word “busy,” let’s use “prioritizing my time.”

I didn’t somehow squeeze people into my frantic schedule. I made a choice to consciously set time aside to speak with them.

On a larger scale, let’s all stop complaining we’re too busy. Let’s tell the truth instead, which is: “I haven’t prioritized my time well.”

“Busy” is something that happens to us. Prioritizing our time is something we make a choice about.

This is a simple choice to make. Stop looking at your schedule and thinking “I’m too busy.” Instead, look at your schedule and ask yourself, “How am I prioritizing my time?”

Just this one change will cause you to think differently about your schedule. You’ll quickly begin to look for ways you can control it, instead of letting it control you.

Here’s one example of how this can work for you:

You don’t feel as if you have time to write in the morning, because you have to be up at 6:30 am to get the kids ready for school before you go to work.

Ask yourself, “What would it take for me to get up at 5:00 am?”

Of course you need your eight hours or so each night. But what are you usually doing between the hours of 9:00 pm and 12:00 am? Is it time spent in a useful way? Or is it time spent on Facebook or watching The Tonight Show?

What if you started going to bed at 9:00 or 9:30 pm, instead of 11:00 pm or midnight?

What if you prioritized your time around your writing, instead of your current schedule—which leaves you with “I’m too busy to write”—?

Of course, this means you’ll have to say “no” to a lot of time-wasting stuff.

People are often surprised by the number of things I don’t do. I don’t:

  • Spend time on Facebook (other than the Instant Bestseller group), Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram (except to post pictures of my kids)
  • Print up business cards
  • Have any printed materials other than my book–no stationery, bookmarks, etc. I’ve never seen a return on investment on these for what I do.
  • Blog more than three or four times a month
  • Comment on other people’s blogs
  • Read that many blogs in the first place
  • Read or watch any news outside of a few particular niche media channels that I feel are important for my business or personal goals

I recently had a few authors call me out on my article about the myths of social media.

They claimed that social media does work, saying they’ve seen sales occur because of it.

I’ve never claimed that social media is a complete waste of time. I’ve simply pointed out the social media is the 90% of effort that gets you the 10% of results.

The results are not great, considering the amount of work you have to put in for them.

Once you decide to start prioritizing your time, you’ll start looking for activities you can remove in your daily life that get less-than-optimal results.

That one action then leaves room for the three or four things that bring you huge, not meager, results.

You must ruthlessly cut unnecessary stuff out of your life.

When it comes to planning my time, I have learned to be ruthless.

If an activity is not significantly helping me towards my goals—whether that goal is selling books or having a good relationship with my wife—then it gets cut out of my life. End of story.

As one of my mentors regularly says, “You can say whatever you want about your goals in life, but the truth is in your calendar and checkbook.”

What exactly are you spending your time on? What activities are you doing that are significantly helping you reach your goals?

Activity—busyness—does not equal progress.

Activity also does not equal achievement.

How do you start prioritizing your life?

  1. Decide now that you are in control of your schedule.

Yes, we all have things we have to do, such as work every day and take care of family. But every minute outside of those things is a choice.

Decide that moving forward, you are in charge of how you spend your time, and will act accordingly.

  1. Set your priorities.

What do you want to accomplish in your life? Where do you want to be in a year? What do you need to do each day to get there?

When you’re planning your week, here’s how to fill your schedule:

  • Start with what you have to do. If you work a 9 to 5, block out that time on your calendar. If you go to scouts every week with your son or daughter, put that on the calendar too. Start with the non-negotiables.
  • Then add what you need to do. This is where your writing goes. This is where your platform-building activities go. This is where date nights with your significant other goes. This is where exercise goes, so you don’t drop dead at 44 with your next novel half written. This is where your steps to achieving your life goals go.
  • Fill in any time left. Hobbies, Facebook, TV, etc.
  1. Plan ahead.

This is the one that can easily catch me off guard.

When I don’t plan, I’ll show up at my desk at 5:30 am, grab a cup of coffee, sit down, and… nothing.

I’m not sure what to work on, what to write or how to spend my time. The way to solve this is to plan ahead.

When I do it right, I have my entire week scheduled before it starts, and I know what I’m going to work on the next day before I go to bed the night before. This allows me to sit down and immediately get to work.

  1. Change the way you describe your time.

Instead of saying to yourself or other people that you’re just too busy, say “I’ve chosen not to prioritize that.”

Because that’s the truth.

Whenever you don’t do something in your life, it’s because you have chosen not to prioritize that activity.

Please don’t read that as a judgment. An author friend of mine recently had a major disaster occur in his family. He’s spending a lot of time at the hospital right now, hoping his loved ones don’t die.

He’s choosing to prioritize his family over his writing, and that is obviously a great choice.

But choosing to prioritize useless activity over taking active steps towards your life goals—that is a choice you’re going to regret.

So how’s your day looking?

Have you gotten so busy that you can’t see straight? Are the days ticking by without you reaching your goals?

Or are you consciously prioritizing your life so you can get the important things done—like be the writer you always dreamt of being?

 

5 parts of your author business

Over a decade ago, I started my first business.

I’d gone to school to become a computer programmer, graduated, and landed a job in my field immediately. I had interesting projects to work on, and a lot of fun responsibilities. Not a bad first gig.

I also started freelancing on the side.

And that’s when the dollar signs really started going off in my head.

“If I could just replace 30 hours a week on the job with freelance work,” I thought, “I could make a lot more than I’m making at my job!”

But as I got further into freelancing, I realized there is way more to it than stacking up billable hours.

There’s invoicing, lead generating, buying equipment, consulting, outsourcing, project management, tons of communication. I quickly found that if I was even able to put in 20 good, billable hours in a week, I was doing pretty well!

This same situation can happen to authors as well.

They dream of getting up in the morning, making a good, strong cup of coffee, moseying down to their writing room where the morning sun peaks through the window at just the right angle, then sitting down and quietly, calmly pecking out their 2,000 words for the day.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

There is so much more to being a writer now.

I was speaking with a writer the other day about all of the editing, emailing, designing, marketing, publicity, etc. that goes into being an author in today’s world, and it reminded me of my early days of freelancing.

And that’s when it hit me . . .

When you become a writer, you’re starting a business

Just to be sure I was right about this, I dug out my friend Josh Kaufman’s book The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business.

In chapter 2, he defines a business as a repeatable process that [1]:

  1. Creates and delivers something of value …
  2. That other people want or need …
  3. At a price they’re willing to pay …
  4. In a way that satisfies the customer’s needs and expectations …
  5. So that the business brings in enough profit to make it worthwhile for the owners to continue their operation.

Whoa. An author has to do every single one of those things!

As an author, you must have a repeatable process that:

  1. Creates and delivers books …
  2. That readers want to read …
  3. At a price readers are willing to pay …
  4. That’s entertaining or helpful, well-formatted, available at their favorite retailer, free of typos and grammatical errors …
  5. That brings in enough royalties that you can keep writing your next book.

He goes on to say that “every business is fundamentally a collection of five interdependent processes” [2]:

  1. Value Creation. Discovering what people need or want, then creating it.
  2. Marketing. Attracting attention and building demand for what you’ve created.
  3. Sales. Turning prospective customers into paying customers.
  4. Value Delivery. Giving your customers what you’ve promised and ensuring that they’re satisfied.
  5. Finance. Bring in enough money to keep going and make your efforts worthwhile.

Again, all of these points are also true for authors.

You also need to have a plan for each of these steps, in order to have a successful writing career.

Why am I writing about this?

When I was getting my freelancing business off the ground, it took me much longer to pull my head out of the sand and realize billing hours for writing programming code was only one out of the five things I needed to do to have a successful business.

I wish someone had come along and pointed that out to me while I was floundering those first few years, wondering why my freelancing idea wasn’t working.

Face it: If you are an author today, you are running a business

Writing is just one part of running that business.

Yes, it’s a very important and necessary part, but it’s just one part.

You have to have a plan for how you’re going to do all of the other pieces of your business, to ensure the success of that one central part.

Why am I making such a big deal out of this?

I have two young boys and we recently started watching the GI Joe cartoon series from the early ’80s. It’s been a lot of fun watching this show with my sons that I enjoyed as a kid.

On several of the episodes, they added these extra safety PSAs at the end — little clips to teach children different lessons about safety. And each one ended with this:

Kid: “Now I know!”

GI Joe: “And knowing is half the battle.”

That’s how this works.

If you go into this writing thing thinking all you have to do is write your novel or nonfiction work and put it out into the world, you’re going to be constantly frustrated by the fact that there’s no adequate structure to hold up the results of that ambition.

But if you think of it more like starting a business, and think through all the parts of a business, you’re going to set yourself up for more success.

As a bonus, I’ve turned the five business processes into an online worksheet for you to use. Click below to access it.

Access Your Author Business Worksheet

So now you know!

 

Sources

  1. The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman. p. 36.
  2. The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman. p. 36.

How to get more done

I used to wonder how friends of mine seemed to be able to get so much done in a week.

We’d work the same number of hours, yet lo and behold, at the end of the week they had a lot to show for it and I . . . didn’t.

Recently, I re-launched my online course Instant Bestseller. It reminded me of how any kind of launch, whether for a book or some other project, is a huge undertaking. There are so many moving parts, and always some unexpected moments.

On top of the launch, here’s a rundown of other responsibilities I had that week: 

  • First full week of school (I homeschool my kids)
  • An all-day homeschool co-op meeting on Tuesday
  • My normal full-time work with clients
  • First Cub Scouts meeting of the year
  • Three separate meetings with lawyers to get a new business venture up and running

I don’t mention this to brag that I’m so busy (I actually hate that word—that’s an upcoming article).

I say it to point out a fundamental truth I’ve learned—one that enables me to get more done in less time than 99% of the people I know.

The Incredible Value of Using Systems

In the first chapter of my book Your First 1000 Copies, I talk about the importance of using Systems—it’s such an important term that I capitalize it.

I make the assertion that Systems, when used correctly, free you up to do the creative work that: 1) only you can do, and 2) you most enjoy doing.

I define a System as: a set of actions done repeatedly to get a predictable result.

My favorite example is finding your keys. We all have keys—car keys, office keys, house keys, mailbox keys.

Every day when I walk into my house after work, I put my keys in a silver dish that sits on a small blue table just inside our front door. If you come to my house when I’m home, that silver dish is where you’ll always find my keys (if my kids haven’t stolen them).

Putting my keys in the silver dish every time I enter the house is a System—something I do repeatedly that gets a predictable result.

I find my keys every morning with no effort. And what does that do for me?

It saves me the time I’d lose searching my house for my keys when I could be at my desk writing, which is the thing that: 1) only I can do, and 2) I enjoy doing.

If you learn how Systems work and how to use them in your life, you’ll be amazed at the amount of things you can get done in a day. Your friends will look at your life and wonder how you get it all done.

This Systems 101 article is designed to show you how systems work and how you can start applying them in your life, so that you can get more writing done.

The Two Types of Systems

I use two broad categories of Systems:

1. Checklists
2. Computers

Checklists are a list of every possible step you need to complete to get a task done. If you’re new to Systems, start by creating lots of checklists.

Delegation is the second category. Anything you can have a person or computer do for you instead of doing it yourself. “Automation” is another word for this, but that word is scary to me, so I stick with “delegation.”

This is the best kind of System, because once you set it in place, you don’t have to touch it again.

Before you can figure out how to build a System, you need to identify where you need one.

Here’s your cue for when you should consider building a System:

Whenever you find yourself doing the same task more than once, consider turning it into a System.

The second time you lay your keys in a random place and then spend 20 minutes the next morning looking for them—that’s your cue to create a System.

If you’re going to publish a new blog post more than once, you need to create a System.

If you’re getting ready to publish a book, you need to create a system—because hopefully more books will follow that one.

Any time you do something that you know you’re going to do again, consider creating a System for it.

The 3 Steps to Creating a New System

Once you’ve identified an area that needs a System, start taking these steps:

1. Write out your checklist

Even if we’ve done something 50 times, it’s easy to forget some vital component on the 51st time.

At one time in my company, every time we launched a new website, we would forget to do something important.

We’d forget to change all the links, or that we needed to add the Google Analytics tracking code, or we’d forget to move all of the DNS records.

So now we follow a New Website Launch checklist. Every time we launch a new site, we go down that checklist and make sure everything is done.

The result? We now quickly and easily get new sites up and running—without the mistakes that used to plague us.

Now the question is, How do you know what items to put on your new checklist?

The checklist needs to contain every necessary step involved in completing a project or phase of a project correctly and thoroughly.

In-house, we try to create checklists that are so complete that we can hire an intern, walk them through the process once, then have them do it on their own from then on, following that checklist exactly.

The idea is to create a system with easy-to-follow steps that you can then hand over to someone else, who then does the job for you.

2. Go through the checklist yourself several times

Practice using your checklist several times, to ensure you haven’t missed anything important. Look for anywhere you’ve neglected to list an action because you always do it easily, without thinking.

If you were hospitalized tomorrow and needed to have someone else do this task, would they be able to easily follow your checklist, performing all necessary steps with little or no prior knowledge of the process?

Creating checklists for even just a few processes will make your life demonstrably better.

Think about the ways your life is improved by using checklists:

  • You’ll stop forgetting things. My kids have multiple checklists: one for packing their book bags, another for chores, another for packing their bags before a family a trip. These lists ensure they won’t forget to do something important. (And it works just as well for adults.)
  • You’ll stop worrying that you forgot things. This is the real upside. You’ll no longer worry that you forgot to do something, bring something or turn something off before launching any process. When I was growing up, my mom constantly worried that she’d left the dryer running, her hair curler on, or any number of other things that would surely burn our house down. If she had simply taped a small piece of paper to the inside of our front door with a list of everything she could possibly have left on in the house, and taken five seconds to check the list before leaving the house, all of those worries would have disappeared.

Even if the only System you ever use is checklists, your quality of life will be greatly improved.

But if you want to move to the point where you don’t even have to do the checklist system yourself, you must learn to Delegate.

There are two ways to Delegate:

1. Have another person do the job for you.

Here’s a familiar scenario: One of my super-busy author clients decides they need to hire an assistant.

So they hired an assistant, then about a month later they’re complaining that the assistant isn’t doing anything and isn’t helping.

That’s because the client didn’t have any Systems in place!

Once you have your checklists of exactly how things get done, passing it off to an assistant or someone else becomes much easier.

All you have to do is give that person your detailed checklist, walk them through it once, and lo! You don’t have to do that process anymore!

Once I started delegating tasks in my business that I had been doing myself for years . . . it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

2. Have a computer do it.

Computers are great at doing the same tasks over and over. That’s part of what they are designed for. So let them do it!

As you create your checklists, look for any opportunity you can find to have your computer take over at least part of the process.

Examples of using computers for Systems

  • I’ve created a MailChimp email template that lays out exactly how I want all my emails to look. The font, spacing, sizing, etc. are already done for me. Every time I want to send a new email, I just grab that template, insert new content, and it’s ready to go.
  • I often have to write the same emails over and over. So I use software called TextExpander that lets me create shortcuts that automatically recreates long blocks of text. This allows me to quickly answer emails without typing the same information over and over again.
  • I never remember when it’s time to change my water filter. So I signed up to have one automatically sent to me every six weeks.
  • My developer is always having to setup new WordPress installations. There are several tedious, annoying steps involved in getting it set up correctly. So one day he wrote a little programming script that does it all for him automatically, from start to finish. He just types one line into his computer, and presto! A new WordPress website, set up perfectly.
  • With all of the author websites we work on, we’re constantly needing to create book cover images. However, if I want my designer to create a 3-D image out of a book cover, it’ll take hours of work using Photoshop. So a few years ago, I purchased Cover Action Pro. It turns that multiple-hours process into less than 30 seconds’ worth of work.
  • I wanted to save all of the Instagram photos of our kids that my wife posts. Each time she’d post a new one, I’d have to remember to go online, find the picture, download it onto my computer, then put it in my backups. Now I use a free service called IFTTT that automatically downloads each new Instagram photo my wife posts, and uploads them to my backup files—without me having to do a thing.
  • I was getting really frustrated with the constant back-and-forth emails it took to setup meetings with people. So I signed up for YouCanBook.Me, a service that allows people to see when I’m available for meetings, and to select a time that works for them. Now all I do is a send a link to someone, and they can schedule themselves in. I’m done with all the scheduling back-and-forth, and the time it wastes.

I can easily say that nothing has impacted my professional life more than learning how to use Systems effectively.

Learn to identify where you can use Systems, then start implementing them.

It’s the best way to move your work life forward in positive ways—so you can free up more time to focus on writing.

 

 

When should you start marketing your book?

In this article, I’m going to change your entire approach to the job of writing, launching and marketing your next book.

I’m going to turn everything you believe about that process on its head, and show you a whole new way to look at it.

This approach will revolutionize how you handle every step of the process, and can help you make every book you publish a much bigger success.

Big promises! Let me attempt to fulfill them.

Let’s start with the fundamental problem:

Most authors take a book-centric approach to their writing career.

When you’re a book-centric author, everything you do is focused almost exclusively on your next book.

Of course, there are reasons for this. The entire industry is built this way:

  • Your agent wants the next book proposal to pitch.
  • Your publisher wants the next book to launch big.
  • Your editor is tasked with editing your next book.
  • YOU are focused on writing your next book.

Book, book, book.

But this myopia causes a number of problems for you as a writer:

  • It is not a holistic approach to your career. It’s the writing equivalent of living paycheck to paycheck. It’s not sustainable, and has no long-term view.
  • It limits the marketing. There seems to be a loud clanging sound that occurs somewhere between first draft and final edit, when authors suddenly wake up and realize they need to think about the marketing of their book. Of course, at that point it’s too late to do something useful to make the book a success.
  • It’s a horrible way to interact with your fans. I’m on a lot of author mailing lists, and it’s painful to see how most authors only contact their list when their next book is about to come out. There’s no relationship building, no long-term care of fans. Just a big marketing push whenever they have something new to sell you.
  • It causes you to miss opportunities. By focusing only on the next book, you often miss other opportunities to grow your career in interesting and profitable ways.

Let me encourage you to adopt a new way of thinking about your writing career. It starts with realizing that:

Your #1 job as a writer is not to simply write your next book, but to build a platform that will support your entire career.

Instead of writing a book and then scrambling to build a platform around it, focus on first building a platform for you as an author. Then write books, from that steady foundation.

Of course, your platform won’t be completely independent of your books; it will be fueled by them in big ways.

But your author platform needs to represent the bigger vision behind your work, and that is much bigger than any one book.

By focusing on building your platform first, you’ll be able to:

  • Build connections with readers and fans before you need to sell them something. There’s nothing worse than trying to connect with people when you desperately need something from them. Taking the long-term platform approach enables you to connect with people in between book launches.
  • Confidently write your next book because you know you have a foundation strong enough to support its release.
  • Integrate marketing into everything you do. It’s no longer all about trying to make something happen in a short period of time. That’s where all of the pushy, impersonal marketing tactics we hate come from. Your platform will give you time and space to create long-term connections with people, which is the true definition of marketing.
  • Build something that will support you long-term. By building your author platform from the beginning, you’ll be creating a growing network of fans and an overall impression of what your work can offer people.

This foundation will continue to grow over time, setting you up for long-term success.

Let’s look at two example scenarios:

Scenario 1

John Writer is working on his new book. For six months he locks himself away and writes his first draft.

During this time, he doesn’t bother to build his website or to start connecting readers to his email list.

“That’s the marketing part,” he thinks. “I’ll worry about that when the book is done.”

After the draft is done and he’s received the first feedback from his editor, he figures now’s the time to start building his platform. In fact, he starts to panic a little, because his book is going to come out in less than six months, and he has no idea how he’s going to get people to read it.

So he pays a bit of money to a friend of a friend to set up a website with a blog for him. Because he’s so worried about the book getting enough exposure, the entire website is named after and focused only on the book.

He also heard something about authors getting on Twitter and Facebook so they can build a large following for their books, so he starts social media accounts as well.

Eight weeks go by, and the website finally goes live. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

John starts blogging and posting about his book on social media, but after a couple months he realizes he’s not getting much traction. Other than his immediate family and friends, nobody is really paying attention.

A bit of desperation sets in, because he’s now within 60 days of his book’s release. And when he’s honest with himself, he knows he can probably only sell about 100 copies, even with all the marketing methods he’s using.

He starts emailing top authors, trying to get them to promote his book, and gets frustrated when all of them either turn him down or don’t respond.

He starts posting constantly about his new book, which causes the handful of people connected to him to start ignoring him.

Within a month of launch, he decides it’s worth spending some money to broaden his marketing efforts. Facebook ads go live, and he does a giveaway on Goodreads.

He quickly realizes Facebook ads are going to lose him a lot of money, so he turns that off. And while the Goodreads campaign got his book into some people’s hands, it didn’t turn into the dozens of Goodreads and Amazon reviews he thought it would.

Finally, his book comes out. His Amazon ranking spikes a little as his family and friends pick up a copy, but within a week it plunges down below 50,000.

His book is selling 2 to 3 copies a day.

Discouraged and wondering why all of this marketing stuff doesn’t work for him, he decides to keep his day job, and starts working on his next book.

Maybe this one will hit big.

He disappears from social media, and his blogging comes to a halt. After all, all that marketing stuff is for when he’s done with the writing.

Scenario 2

Jane Writer decides she’s finally going to chase down that dream of being a successful author. She notes the methods of authors who are finding success, and decides to set up an author website, so people can find her online.

It’s not a perfect website, but it works. She also gets her email list set up, so she can stay connected to her readers.

Every day, after putting in her 1,000-words-a-day on her first novel, she works on creating new blog posts. She sticks to the schedule of releasing something twice a week.

She writes about all kinds of things, but always focuses on sharing what she’s learning — ideas or resources she thinks will help her readers in some way.

She also starts reaching out to a few other authors who are also just getting started. She figures the top bestsellers are probably pretty busy, so she reaches out to connect with writers who are finding some success, but who are not big names yet, knowing they’ll be much more apt to return her emails.

By doing this, she begins to connect with like-minded people. She hopes this will help her somehow in future, but since she’s just working on her first novel and there’s still a good six to nine months till release, there’s no rush.

So instead of making requests for their time, she looks for ways to be helpful to these authors. She recommends her editor to one, writes a guest post for another, and offers to read and give feedback on an early draft of another’s next novel.

All the while, she’s inviting people to be a part of her email list. Since she’s regularly emailing people with links to her latest blog posts and other cool stuff she finds online, she knows readers will be happy to get her stuff.

It all grows slowly, but it’s starting to work. People are leaving comments on her blog posts. People are enjoying her guest posts.

She’s corresponding several times a week with other authors. And now her email list has just clicked more than 500 subscribers.

Fast forward seven months, and Jane is nervous. Her book is in the final round of edits and she just approved the cover design. All that’s left is conversion to the ebook formats, and she’s ready to publish.

A few weeks before she publishes, she sends out an email to her email list, letting them know that the book she’s been working on is finally done, and will be on sale in a few weeks.

She’s overwhelmed by the response.

Dozens of people email her, excited to read her novel. Several of her author friends email her, asking how they can help spread the word.

Then her book launches. She sells more than 500 copies the first week. It’s not a huge bestseller, but it does much better than she thought it would.

As the weeks go by, her book’s ranking stays pretty high. She clicks more than 1,000 sales in the first month.

During this time, she continues to connect with readers and invite people to join her email list. She’s already written two-thirds of her next novel. It’ll be out in another four months.

By then, she’ll have more than 1,000 people on her email list, and have made connections with even more authors.

And what will happen then? Even better book sales.

What’s the difference between the scenarios?

Though these particular authors are fictional, these two scenarios are very real. They’re based on the 100-plus authors I’ve worked with personally and the hundreds of others I’ve watched and studied over the years.

Scenario #1 is the book-centric approach. Scenario #2 is the platform-centric approach.

The first approach is always focused on the book, while the second is always focused on the platform.

What does this mean for you?

For too many authors, connecting with readers and fans is an afterthought, instead of the number one priority.

When you shift your thinking from book-centric to platform-centric, it changes what you do on a daily basis. It also changes how you measure progress.

What does this look like? What should you be doing?

Here’s the process:

  1. Start now. Marketing isn’t something you do when it’s time to launch a book. Marketing is something you do day-in and day-out to build something that will support everything you do.
  2. Build an email list. As I laid out in Your First 1000 Copies, building your email list should be your number one goal. This is the best way to create direct connections with your readers.
  3. Focus on creating long-lasting connections with people. This is what turns marketing from drudgery to joy. Instead of hunting for authors to help promote your next book, you’re looking to connect with other writers, looking for ways to be friendly and helpful. Instead of begging readers to buy your book, you’re looking for ways to add value to their lives.
  4. Create an author platform, not a book platform. Books come and go. You want to be a writer, not just someone who wrote a book once. This means you’ll be writing multiple books in your career. You need people to be connected to you, the writer, not your books.

When you shift your focus from book-centric to platform-centric, you take a long-term, holistic approach to your writing career.

That approach dissolves much of the stress behind a book launch.

It also gives you the freedom to try new things as a writer, and a method by which to build a long-term following for your books.

Last thing… as a help for you, I created a PDF to help you get started in this new way of thinking. Click the button below to download.