Focus on reader experience rather than market performance
Set creative goals based on specific experiences that you want your work to bring to specific people, with faces, rather than objects, tokens, or metrics. Focusing on the former provides the feelings of validation and success. Focusing on the later results to impostor syndrome.
Similarly, use reader experience as the benchmark for the value of your work rather than market performance. This involves focusing on one-on-one engagement rather than virality.
Focusing on reader experience also means that success is easier to achieve. You don’t have to be a bestseller to make a difference.
Reader experience is how the reader experiences the world through your creative work.
remember names and faces, and moments with these people
think about specific experiences that indicate that you and your work connected with, and influenced, the lives of others
they don’t lead to the feeling of validation or success that these artists hoped for. Rather, they create a sense of impostor syndrome
Instead of framing the value of your work by how it performs in the market, you define it by how other people experience the world through your creative work—the stories and experiences you share, and the topics you talk about.
Reframe success so it isn’t about seeking validation from massive audiences, but rather how you reach one person. The people I see who succeed focus on one-on-one engagement with other people, not on going viral.
The problem lies in how they measure their success. They seek validation from big institutions, bestseller lists, sales numbers, and high-profile media. They measure how the world accepts them with followers, re-shares, reviews, likes, and favorites. They measure by numbers. (Location 12)
I want to reframe how you think about creating and sharing your work, and I want you to disregard numbers. When you lie on your deathbed and someone asks about the work you are most proud of, I don’t want you to think of a bestseller list. I want you to think about specific experiences that indicate that you and your work connected with, and influenced, the lives of others. I want you to remember names and faces, and moments with these people, not how many followers you had on a social network. I want… (Location 15)
Section 1: You Are a Gateway
Creative Work is a Journey
object token metric
While these things represent what you hope for your work, they shouldn’t be the goal. They are public milestones the world can see and appreciate, but they mask the true impact of your work. These milestones help validate who we are, and in the process, we hope that reaching them will unlock a “next level” of success—a level where it becomes easier to create our work, to share it, and to engage others. We calculate that objects, tokens, and metrics will ensure that greater success will now come with less effort, but that doesn’t happen. (Location 32)
Most people are paralyzed by questions about goals, such as, “Where do you want to be in five years?” It’s a scary question, because it represents not just what we want to accomplish, but who we want to become. So we default to defining our goals via objects, tokens, and metrics. (Location 36)
These are common markers for “success,” and are simplified versions of a reality the creator hopes to experience. But these markers are often hollow; they don’t lead to the feeling of validation or success that these artists hoped for. Rather, they create a sense of impostor syndrome—that their achievement was a fluke, and that soon the world will realize they didn’t deserve the accolades. Instead of feeling validated, someone with impostor syndrome is riddled with anxiety that they will be revealed as a fraud, and that they can never live up to the success people now expect of them. (Location 42)
A writer may have had their books published by large houses, received stellar reviews, been featured in national media, and won awards, yet their work didn’t sell well. Their lives before and after the book, remained unchanged. They may not only feel they are “back at square one,” but feel they are digging out of a hole, worse off than when they started, because of the stigma of failure. Even those authors who did find success with sales can still seem confused as to why the book worked, who their audience is, and how to follow it up. They feel naked and exposed, worried that they will “mess up” a success that they barely understand. (Location 47)
Achieving these traditional markers for success—objects, tokens, and metrics—can make someone feel more lost, because they assumed this process would unlock something new for them, and instead, nothing is different. They hoped that validation would spark a profound sense of self-esteem, yet they may feel less sure of themselves than ever. They may have assumed that selling their next idea would be easier, and it isn’t; that access to media and publicity is easier, and it isn’t; that they would earn more money with less effort, and they can’t. (Location 54)
To solve this, people often focus on marketing and social media (Location 59)
At the very least, they begin to look at every social media update as a press release that could hit the right person at the right time. However, this can create an additional pressure. Creative professionals often feel confusion over developing a “platform” around their work. They don’t know what to include on a website, what to send in an email newsletter, what to share on social media, and how to make marketing feel meaningful. (Location 61)
Even further, they feel their pure creative vision has been corrupted by this “requirement” to market their work. (Location 64)
Be the gateway. (Location 69)
Instead of framing the value of your work by how it performs in the market, you define it by how other people experience the world through your creative work—the stories and experiences you share, and the topics you talk about. This simple idea radically shifts the value of what you create. Instead of selling a product in a marketplace, you become the gateway for how your work can shape the world for others, and inspire them. (Location 70)
Regardless of your creative medium, you are a storyteller, right? Then use that gift. (Location 73)
Reframe success so it isn’t about seeking validation from massive audiences, but rather how you reach one person. The people I see who succeed focus on one-on-one engagement with other people, not on going viral. To be a gateway is to find success by focusing on the human side of that which engages people, what it means to have your work truly shape the lives of others, and what it means to feel fulfilled as a creator. (Location 75)
Regardless of the medium or craft, the effect of these people goes beyond the work itself—they somehow help others make sense out of life. (Location 83)
When you frame your focus as a gateway instead of an object, token, or metric, it helps you identify what you want to do. You get to focus on an experience to create, not just a milestone you dream of. The difference? You can take action to connect with people who love your work via your gateway right now. You can take clear actions day by day, week by week, to reach the people who care about your work. When you create as a gateway, success immediately becomes more accessible. (Location 84)
Being a gateway is a higher calling than an object, token, or metric. It’s also more fun. (Location 89)
Your work can open up possibilities for others and forge new paths that had never before been considered. Don’t just throw “products” out into the marketplace; change the way people see the world through your creative work. (Location 90)
Think of it this way: a book is really a conversation that happens in the reader’s head. It is half what the author intended, and half how the reader translates it. No two people read the same book the same way. We come with biases, with needs, with a unique lifetime of experiences. (Location 92)
When I meet creative professionals who want help in reaching their audience, I don’t ask about their goals, but instead say, “Tell me about the conversations you would love to be having with others.” If I asked about their goals, they would feel forced to talk about achievements for themselves alone. Instead, I want to focus on how their creative work can have a powerful effect on others. How it can truly change the lives of thousands of people. (Location 97)
Being a gateway is about ensuring your work truly connects with others in the most meaningful way possible, instead of being treated as nothing more than a product swiped across the bar code scanner at the food store. (Location 104)
Experience Creates a Story (Location 107)
What is your story? Share the process and your journey as it happens. (Location 122)
But before you run out and start a blog where you detail every struggle you have with your work, you need to pause and identify how your story relates to the gateway you’re crafting. This is not just about over-sharing your days on social media. It is not about revealing every moment you experience self-doubt. It is about understanding the connection between what you create, why you create it, and how it will engage others. This is the “secret” to engaging others, which is not really a secret at all. It is as old as human culture and how we are wired. (Location 124)
What you are doing is building a path to your gateway. One that is wide enough, well-lit enough, and signals to people that it is worth continuing down because right around the corner is what they seek … your gateway. The marker that will lead them to what they are searching for. (Location 128)
For instance, as I write this book, I am sharing photos of myself writing and editing on Instagram and Twitter, explaining that I am writing the book. Each day, people see what my process for writing looks like: it is about showing up each day to do the work. It is about building a habit that is practical and accessible. People who follow along not only come to understand that I am writing a book and what it is about, but they begin to feel as they are a part of the process. For my audience—creative professionals—it illustrates the process. It brings them behind the scenes, and creates a story around it. (Location 130)
In other words, instead of feeling promoted to, they may resonate with the slow process to create meaningful work. (Location 136)
When you share your journey, you are building advocates in the process; those who aren’t just aware of what you are doing, but feel connected to it in a personal way. When it comes time for you to release your creative work, you will have a crowd of people ready to help it spread. (Location 140)
Many creative professionals take the opposite approach. They hide away in complete silence for months or years and then make a big announcement. (Location 143)
They are banking on the impact of a single announcement instead of sharing an authentic look at how their creative vision aligns with what their ideal audience dreams about. One of these versions tells a better story than the the other, and it also slowly develops an audience for your work. (Location 144)
There is a difference between clearly communicating and developing advocates, and over-sharing every thought you have and meal you eat. (Location 148)
I would encourage you to focus on sharing experiences you have, because this is indeed how stories are created. Focus on conversations you have, because this is where you are already connecting to others on that authentic human level. Focus on how you can connect with others today around your work. How you are curious, how you are developing your skills, how you are relishing moments where you feel inspired. Focus on adding value to the lives of others, of sharing the experience your work is meant to create for them. (Location 149)
Instead of dreaming up some “big brand” you want to create, simply document and share what you are passionate about. This encourages you to be aware of how your daily life aligns to your creative work. It forces you to be accountable for attending to it. When you share what drives you and how you attend to your creative work, it prevents you from getting lost in the dream. What I mean by this is, those people who spend all of their time dreaming about the creative work they hope to create, but never find the time to actually do it. This could be a writer who constantly updates social media with writing tips and motivational quotes, but barely finds time to write themselves. (Location 155)
This classic writing advice applies to how you share your work: “Show, don’t tell.” Meaning, don’t sell me on your work by telling me how great it is; instead, show me the process, show me why your work matters to you, and how it can connect to what I care about. (Location 165)
“I think of ambition as the need to prove something to others, and the need to be recognized. A need for rewards outside of the work. Drive motivates you to do whatever it is you’re doing as well as you can.” (Location 169)
As a creative professional, you become the gateway for them to experience it. (Location 175)
What was clear is that she has come to represent something to her fans. She has become a lightning rod for belief systems, for a worldview. She has become the gateway for how her fans experience the world, experience each other, and experience themselves. (Location 199)
As a creative professional, consider what those things are. That what you share within your creative work—and outside of it—can embody the deeper themes that drive you, and that engage your ideal audience. (Location 206)
These are three elements that connect the work you are crafting to being a gateway for readers in the platform you develop. (Location 210)
- STORY. The first goal is to be a storyteller—to craft a compelling story. (Location 211)
- CREATOR. You become the gateway, the personal way through which the reader experiences a larger topic. You are the way in. (Location 216)
- TOPICS. Then come the topics, the issues, the narratives that your story digs into. Memoirs can be about so many things, including overcoming huge challenges that others may experience, or that come to symbolize experiences the reader is going through. (Location 223)
These three things work together to allow the “platform” to be the gateway for people. (Location 230)
In listening to a single song, I experienced the STORY, the CREATORS, and the TOPIC that surround it. They are related ways of engaging with the song, each level deeper and more personal than the next. This is what you should craft for your work. (Location 239)
If you are writing a memoir about your experience with cancer, you don’t have to write an email newsletter that steals its content from the book. Instead, you can tell other people’s stories of their experiences with cancer. Or tell stories about overcoming the odds, or dig into the many other themes that are likely buried within your book. The platform you develop around a book should not try to re-create it—what you share online and in person should not just steal all of the stories you share in the book itself. Instead, it should tap into aspects of the story, and then extend them in new ways that the book could not. (Location 242)
This relates to social media as well. Too often, we use it to comment on news stories, and merely share links. Instead, use it to tell a story—an original story—that opens up a worldview for people. (Location 247)
If you are that memoir writer whose book is about cancer, and a key theme is medical reform, don’t just link to articles in newspapers. Instead, find and tell stories that resonate with us. Become the voice for others … the gateway for them to share their stories with the world. I mean, how powerful is that? To not be the 1,000th person to share the link to a newspaper article, but to be the first person to tell someone’s story that needs to be heard? (Location 249)
Let’s face it, this is why someone crafts creative work—they become a gateway for others. When people walk through the gateway, they enjoy powerful benefits: (Location 264)
• They experience a compelling story or experience • They see the world in a new way • They shape their own identity (Location 266)
You are a gateway to the identity that someone wants for themselves, or that highlights an aspect of themselves they want to be more clear, more in the forefront, more real. Even if your work takes years to craft, you can still be a gateway right now. Even to one person. Or to dozens. Or hundreds. Or thousands. Opening up their world. Their identity. Their experience. Their connection to others. (Location 269)
“Dan, I want my work to speak for itself. I don’t want to have to consider my audience, and engage with them, nor do I myself want to represent what they love in my work.” I tend to think that this is a romantic view of how creative work is crafted, published, discovered, and consumed. (Location 272)
Even when we find someone’s narrative that seems more “pure” about the strength of the art itself finding an audience, a gateway is still present. (Location 278)
When someone experiences any creative work—a book, art, music, photography, etc.—it is an act of co-creation. The creator has crafted it with a vision in mind, but the person who experiences it does so through the filter of their own life. They interpret it in ways unique to themselves. If you and I each listen to the same song, we each may interpret it in different ways. We may experience different emotions at different points in the song, and we may feel differently about it based on our individual experience with music or the artist themselves. (Location 283)
Through your creative work, you get to craft the stories of how others find and engage with it. Your art, your craft is not objective—it will be experienced by different people in different ways. You get to shape that, and it becomes the gateway for others. Now, let’s consider how these stories align to the identities that your audience seeks. (Location 301)
Stories Create the Identity Your Audience Seeks (Location 303)
What does your audience want, more than anything? An identity. They want to feel cool. They want to feel creative. They want to feel free. They want to feel as though they live by a deep moral code. They want to feel they are the real deal. They want to be old school. They want to be cutting edge. They want to be compassionate. They want to be unwavering. (Location 306)
To have an identity is to feel special—to feel alive—to feel whole—to feel worthwhile—to feel potential. (Location 314)
People don’t buy things; they buy the feeling that things give them. They are investing in the building blocks of their own identity, and how this helps creates narratives they can show others. (Location 315)
Your audience lives by narratives. This is how they express their identity. They want a narrative that makes sense of the world. It is not just a reflection on the world, but their place within it. It justifies their decisions. It allays their fears. It motivates their hopes. (Location 320)
Narratives define our reality. (Location 340)
We live our lives by a narrative. Everything is filtered through it. (Location 366)
When you consider how you are a gateway for others, understanding your narrative, understanding theirs, and connecting the two is inherently what you are offering. (Location 374)
Most creative professionals I speak with are nervous about the idea of developing an audience, because they assume it means they will have to become a salesperson who is always “pitching” an offer to people. But that isn’t the goal for them, and it won’t be for you. Instead, you will be offering people a chance to align with the narratives that engage them. (Location 375)
How does all of this relate to your creative work—the book, art, craft, song, idea, or business you are creating? It is perhaps the foundation of what it means to be a gateway. You are not creating a “fan,” or a customer. You are providing someone something much deeper, which is a sense of themselves and the world around them. (Location 389)
When you understand the narratives your ideal audience seeks, you know how to engage those people. You know how to grab their attention, you know how to get them to lean in, and to become so enamored that they can’t help but tell their friends. And isn’t that the heart of what creative professionals want? To not just get attention, but change people’s lives and get people talking? It’s more than just “word-of-mouth marketing,” it is the idea that you are truly creating conversations around what you create. (Location 392)
This doesn’t happen when you sell based on value or price. It happens when you provide a narrative, and therefore, an identity, that your audience seeks. (Location 396)
Find and Align Your Narratives (Location 398)
Your gateway is a signal to others. This is a guiding focus to provide clarity, not just to others, but to yourself. (Location 399)
Identifying your narratives can feel like an impossibly difficult task. It requires a sense of self-awareness that people sometimes avoid. It can feel uncomfortable to analyze yourself. It forces you to confront the fact that the way you see the world is through a filter that makes sense to you personally, but is not the way the world actually is for everyone. (Location 401)
Each wakes up with a different narrative in their mind, without realizing that their personal is what shapes it. (Location 406)
Understanding and communicating your narratives is the next step in crafting your gateway. To find and align your narratives, I encourage you to identify what matters most to you across your entire life, not just in your creative work. You have only so many resources of time, energy and money. Too many people fail in their creative work because they don’t accept and embrace that. (Location 407)
When you consider the narratives which drive you, it can’t be just for your creative work, it has to be for everything. Why? Because if you want to succeed in being a gateway for others, you have to hone in on what matters to you more than anything. (Location 411)
This is where many people fail. They come up with a clever idea for a craft, a book, or a business, and they shove it into an otherwise crowded narrative. It’s “in addition to,” not a core part of what matters most to them. They fail because they care about this idea only insofar as it is clever and represents a lottery ticket in their life. They dream that if their idea takes off quickly, they will invest more of their life in it. What they are hoping for is that if they develop it just barely enough, others will come in and validate the idea, help it spread, and turn it into a movement. In other words, they want quick validation where others make the path to success easier for them. (Location 413)
This rarely happens. (Location 418)
Why did this one person succeed? Because they believed in it more. It was more core to their personal narrative of what mattered, and where they could devote their time, energy, and money. The person who succeeded waded through risk long after you would have said, “This is crazy … I’m not wading any further into this.” (Location 420)
I want you to think about what you would fight to not lose. Those are your narratives. This is where you will put your energy every day, every week, and every month. It is where you will keep that flame alive long after others would have given up. (Location 423)
If you want people to make time to experience your creative vision, then you have to make time to create it. (Location 428)
Is there a disconnect between what you do every week versus what you you want to be known for? (Location 429)
Your narratives are two things: (Location 433)
1. The things in life that you care so much about that you would fight to protect them, and to ensure that they can reach their full potential. If they were threatened, you would risk so much to protect them—from not just physical harm, but even stature. You would gladly give up so much else to ensure these things continue to exist. (Location 433)
2. A practice. What you do every single day, every single week, every single month. Slowly, in small steps. You have to ask yourself: do you simply dream of moving ahead with your creative goals, or do you take action on it? Are you full of hot air, even to yourself? (Location 436)
Here, we broaden your reasons for why you create. Your narrative is not just “I wrote this book about an underdog; I really hope this book finds an audience.” Your narrative is, “I believe in the underdog, and in my life I champion and look out for those who have the odds stacked against them. I even wrote a novel about an underdog, and I think this story will inspire people to find the strength to not give up.”
The first example is a product that you likely wouldn’t fight to protect. Sure, you hope it works, you cared enough about it to create it, but if it failed to sell more than thirty books, you would likely drop it and move on to other things.
In contrast, the second example is a belief that is embodied in the book, but also extends beyond it. This is something you would fight for. Where, if the book failed to sell more than thirty copies, you move onto the next book about an underdog, or brainstorm other creative ways to help inspire others to find strength when they feel hopeless . (Location 439)
Be Clear About Your Priorities (Location 447)
1.Take out a stack of index cards. (Location 449)
2.Spend fifteen minutes writing one thing on each card. Have it be a word or phrase of something that matters deeply to you, or that you feel responsible for. This should encapsulate your entire life, not just your writing goals. (Location 450)
3.Now, sit down on the floor or at a large empty table, and put the items that matter most to you at the top of a pyramid shaped design, and the items that matter less near the bottom. Place the top item in the pyramid flat on the table furthest away from you, and the lower priority items flat on the table closest to you. You will have three to six rows making up your pyramid, with one index card at the top level, two in the next, three in the next, four in the next, and so on. (Location 453)
When you create yours, keep in mind that no one else needs to see it, so play with putting different cards in different places. (Location 462)
In fact, I think it can be important to play with different orderings to envision the different ways you can structure your life, and force you to begin thinking about how to do what matters in your life when you have very limited time, energy, and resources. (Location 463)
The purpose of this exercise is to find clarity. It is also a way to find connections between the various aspects of your life. (Location 467)
This exercise is about making choices about what you care most about, but also thinking about how you can use them to craft the narrative of who you are and what you believe. The gateway you craft begins with who you are. (Location 477)
Craft a Mission Statement (Location 479)
The goal is to identify a simple sentence that focuses on the experience you want your writing to create for others. Please don’t focus on the point of purchase—the marketing pitch as to why someone should buy your book. Instead, I want you to think about someone who purchased and read your book nine months ago. How do you hope it shifted the way they think? When do you hope they remember key scenes or characters? (Location 481)
oftentimes someone will tell me that the goal of their creative work is simply to “entertain people.” Whenever I hear this, I don’t think they are being honest with what they really hope. In truth, they are hiding behind a pithy statement. If you are merely “entertaining,” then there is no need to have to consider what you or your work represents, and you are off the hook from figuring out how to best communicate that. But when you move past the idea of merely entertaining people, you are left to consider the gateway you are crafting. That can feel like a responsibility. (Location 485)
In nearly any book, TV show or movie that is popular, there are deeper reasons that people watch beyond being entertained. (Location 489)
If you are a nonfiction writer or memoir writer, it is much easier for you to find that connection between the work itself and how you hope it affects the lives of readers. (Location 501)
Nine months after someone reads your book, what do you want them to think quietly in their heads about the world you have opened for them? How does it relate to their life, their identity, their interactions? (Location 503)
Write down a series of belief statements—things that you feel resonate in your creative work. Sit with them for a week, reviewing them each day. (Location 505)
None may seem perfect, but at the end of the week, choose one that you are drawn to the most. Don’t worry, just like paint, you can change it over time. (Location 506)
As you hone your own mission statement, go find the biggest magic marker you can, and write it in big letters on a piece of paper. Tape it to the wall next to where you write in your home. Now, take a picture of it with your phone. Go into your phone’s settings and make it the wallpaper background to your “home” screen and “lock” screen. I want you to be reminded of your intention all day, every day. (Location 515)
We are building your gateway out of steel, not cardboard, and ensuring that you believe in your gateway with such clarity—such verve—that nothing can shake it. (Location 518)
Craft Your Bio (Location 520)
the way you describe who you are and how your experience makes you the perfect person to write the books you are working on. Your bio may appear on the back of a book, but also on your website, in a query letter to an agent, or even in how you describe your work to someone you just met at a barbecue. Your bio should embody not just a chronological view of your life, but the narratives that fuel you. (Location 521)
- A belief statement that your ideal reader would read and say “YES! This!” (Location 527)
- A description of the one thing you desperately want that reader to care about. (Hint: this should be your creative work.) (Location 528)
- Your credentials as they relate to your creative work. (Location 529)
- Your background and experience. Filter this through your creative work. (Location 530)
- Who you are as a person. This is where your hobbies, where you live, and your background come in. Only after you have hooked us with the narratives that we care about. (Location 531)
Bio Step #1: Start With a Belief Statement (Location 534)
Don’t start your biography at the beginning of your life and work forward. Instead, start with the present and work backward. In other words, don’t focus too much on place, without translating why this matters. Most people have pride in where they come from, and where they have lived. But what they don’t understand is that their internal feeling of pride often doesn’t translate into anything others can relate to. It is a hollow stand-in for what we are trying to say, but aren’t making enough effort. (Location 535)
Can you include where you live (or have lived) in your bio? Sure. But don’t start with it, end with it. That is information that is only interesting after you have engaged me with other things. (Location 545)
In fact, don’t start with you at all. Instead, start with me. I know, this seems counterintuitive for a biography, but please hear me out. If you want me to pause from what I am doing to give you and your work a chance, you have to create a bridge. That bridge is from the things I desperately care about and engage with to what you and your work are about. This is why the first line of a book is so critical, or the beginning of any work of art. It serves to engage and communicate that the reader isn’t wasting their time. If your goal is to have someone engage with you, you have to begin with empathy and start with them, not you. (Location 547)
This can take the form of a belief statement—the things that embody your work and your drive to create that would resonate with your ideal audience. This will be a version of the mission statement you crafted above. It can be what you are fighting for, or what you are fighting against. It can be a feeling that you want people to have when they experience your work. It can be a story that is shorthand for what your audience wants to align with. (Location 553)
Bio Step #2: Focus on Your Creative Work (Location 557)
Now that you have built a bridge from where your ideal audience is to what your work embodies, tell us about that work. There are two common mistakes I see people make at this stage. The first is (again), people start at the beginning and work their way forward. They tell the reader about their very first forays into their art or craft, and then walk us through it slowly working their way to the present. (Location 558)
Instead of focusing my attention on the creative work that matters most to them right now, they require me to experience every step of the journey. That is a lot to ask up front. (Location 562)
The second mistake people make in this section is to list too many things all at once, as if each has equal importance. They do so because they are trying to represent all of the nuances of what they love and are capable of. (Location 565)
I want you to slow down and focus first on the thing that matters to you in your creative work right now. If it is a memoir, take us through that. Spend two paragraphs on it, don’t shove it into a list with five other things. (Location 569)
Bio Step #3: Your Credentials (Location 571)
This is where you build the case for why you are the perfect person to be creating the creative work you just described. Sometimes these credentials are achievements, such as degrees you have earned, or years you have spent in a specific field. But other times, they align to the narratives and stories we talked about earlier. This can take the form of a story as to how you got into your craft, or why it matters to you. (Location 572)
These may not seem like traditional credentials that appear on a resume, but they serve the same function; they tell the reader you are the real deal. (Location 580)
Bio Step #4: Your Background and Experience (Location 581)
This is where you can go broader into other areas of your life beyond your creative work: your career, schools you attended, achievements you have earned, and other skills you have. When sharing this, filter it through your creative work. This is where you tell us about your day job, but explain how it relates to the creative work you craft. (Location 582)
Bio Step #5: Personal Details (Location 586)
While some personal details are infused in everything you would have shared in the previous steps, this is where you can place anything that didn’t fit. (Location 587)
Ending with the personal stuff allows me to connect with you as an individual after I understand the creative work that you want me to focus on more than anything. (Location 590)
Your bio is the centerpiece of the narrative that connects the work you create and who you are. Other ways to find your narrative? Consider what you love talking about. What topics could you sit at a cafe or bar and talk about for hours and hours? What types of people do you seek out and enjoy chatting with? I mean real people, not a mysterious and perfect “audience” that you imagine for your book. What are common traits of these people, what resonates with you about them, and they with you? What I want to encourage you to do now is find engaging ways to describe the practical things you already do, not write boring phrases that sound “professional” but are just safe ways to hide behind the same staid practices everyone else is using. (Location 592)
When you sound like everyone else, can you really be surprised that no one notices you? (Location 599)
Identifying your narratives and framing them into the context of your life through a biography is the first step, but now we have to dig deeper. This is the foundation for your gateway: to know what you stand for, and to share it in a way that truly speaks to others. (Location 600)
Craft Your Gateway (Location 602)
A gateway is not a business card, a clever pitch, or a website. It is how you craft and share your work with others, not how you schedule promotional status updates on social media that you broadcast out to “an audience.” Your gateway is a process not unlike your creative work. You will hone it via habits, keen observation, and experimentation. Day by day, it will feel more true, as if it is the thing that people have been waiting to welcome into their lives. (Location 603)
Test Your Gateway (Location 607)
Analyze whether every aspect that surrounds your creative work embodies your mission statement. This begins with the creative work itself. Your mission can’t just be a pie-in-the-sky hope for your work. It needs to reflect weekly actions you take to craft your work. (Location 607)
Craft your gateway by doing your creative work each week. (Location 610)
You are what you do. Develop a simple personal habit of focusing on your creative work and how you share it with others. This is a critical distinction: you are not creating a product (a book, album, craft) that you are selling in a marketplace. That is simply a milestone. You are connecting other human beings to your stories and knowledge and, as a gateway, are opening them up to something new. (Location 615)
Consider how you do that every single day. You don’t have to prove it to me, and you don’t have to prove it to the world. Prove it to yourself. To track your progress of developing a daily habit, establish a system to recognize it. Create a journal where you update a simple daily log. Or post a calendar to your wall that you mark with a “check” if you attended to your creative work today. Or, simply take a photo of yourself each day when you are focusing on your creative work. (Location 618)
Be accountable to yourself before you ask others to validate and support you. (Location 622)
Schedule reminders in your calendar that help you to attend to your creative work, even if just for a moment each day. (Location 624)
Identify the “single push-up” for your creative work each day. Why are we doing this? Well, it is a “poseur test.” I want you to confront whether you truly engage in your creative work as a practice and whether that strives to live up to your mission statement, or if you are just pretending to because it feels good to say so. (Location 631)
I simply want you to ask yourself if you have a practice of creating your work that focuses on your mission. (Location 636)
Test and Hone Your Mission Statement (Location 639)
too many people craft a half-way decent mission statement, then they cling to it. But just as your creative work does, it needs to grow and evolve. Say your mission statement out loud. Does it sound weird? If so, then craft a spoken version that aligns to the written version. Use it in casual conversations. For instance, when people you meet ask you what you do, instead of defaulting to your day job, previous career, or your role within your family, start by telling them your mission statement. (Location 642)
You can even seek out these conversations to test it. (Location 648)
See how this feels to say it out loud to another person. Note where you lose them—where they don’t understand, where it falls flat, and what their follow-up questions are. Use this to hone the language of your mission statement so that it is not only clear to you, but clear to others. (Location 650)
Believe in Yourself (Location 652)
It is all too easy for negativity to cloud any positive feelings you have about your craft. (Location 655)
Even the smallest failure, a tiny amount of self-doubt, or the slightest critical comment by someone can kill your confidence and diminishes any momentum you have attained with your creative work. (Location 656)
I told Stephanie that her art becomes a mirror for those around her. That when her friend looks at the Etsy shop, she is not seeing art. Rather, she is seeing someone who is working to create something from nothing, to share their voice, and redefine how the world sees them. And that can be personally challenging to her friend. Simply by creating art and selling it, Stephanie can unknowingly challenge those around her to redefine how they see her and, because of the “mirror effect,” how they see themselves. (Location 668)
When you follow your dreams, it can disrupt the world of those around you. You force them to confront their own barriers. They may have a creative dream that they haven’t pursued. They may feel that they have good excuses as to why they haven’t, and when you go ahead and pursue your dreams, it breaks their excuses. The easiest way for Stephanie’s friend to cope with this is to try to put Stephanie back into the box—the role—that she knows her for, which is the always aspiring, never doing, artist. (Location 672)
Can you use this as motivation—turning negative energy into positive momentum? Yes. A sense of competition can be healthy, because it is a reminder to live up to your own goals. To be competitive with yourself. I also think it forces you to own your progress and double down on it. (Location 677)
So much of success is about sheer persistence, and believing in yourself and your work. (Location 690)
As a creative professional, even though it shouldn’t be, it is your job to reframe the conversations like the one Stephanie had with her friend. (Location 691)
To turn negativity into positivity, even when the blue dye clouds your waters. (Location 692)
Create Mechanisms to Stay Motivated (Location 693)
When developing your creative vision, plan for disaster. Have mechanisms that are your version of “in case of emergency, break glass.” This is for moments when you feel you are a fraud, that your writing is horrible, that you just can’t find the time. (Location 696)
When you lose faith and clarity in your own vision and work, prepare a “reset” that reminds you of why you create. This could be a quote from your hero, a photo that sparks your imagination on what is possible, a biography or documentary about someone who inspires you, or a song that centers you. (Location 699)
Create check-ins in your calendar—daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly—where you write down the progress you have made. (Location 705)
Instead, I want you to recognize and honor the things you do accomplish. This could be a simple statement each day that you write down, “Today I _______, which made someone’s day brighter.” This prompt can be as specific to your creative work as you like, or you can keep it broad so that you always remember that even on days that you are drowning, you did something good. (Location 706)
Have an “emergency call” list of three people who motivate you. These should be individuals you trust, who believe in the possibility of what you want to create, and would take your call without judgment. (Location 710)
Very often, our own internal fear of judgment will prevent us from reaching out to others for a moment of help. If you want to be successful in your creative work, you need to let go of that fear. You are creating work that matters. Don’t let a fear of judgment keep your work from reaching the world. You can start this conversation with, “I just wanted to check in for a few minutes, I’m working on something that has me stumped.” Make it quick and be clear—because this shows respect for the other person’s time. (Location 712)
Section 2: Open the Gate (Location 720)
Bring People to the Gate (Location 722)
What follows when the creator shares their work with the world is often a sense of disappointment. Few people ever notice their work, it garners very few sales, and little attention. (Location 743)
Sometimes the disappointment is mild; the creator appreciated the journey and feels satisfied that they finished their idea, even if few people ever discovered it. But other times, the disappointment is profound. During the process of preparing to share their work, the creator began banking on the hope that their idea would spread. (Location 746)
Their hope was that the same passion which created the work would somehow infect others. Its release into the world would not only bring joy to others, but validate the creator themselves and even shift their identity. Such validation would help them “escape” from a role that they may feel trapped in. (Location 749)
The idea was that success with their creative work could make all of their past roles slip away and force the world to see them as the confident creative geniuses they aspired to be. (Location 752)
When this doesn’t happen, the sense of failure can hit like a brick. They realize that their big idea fell flat, that they are trapped in the same old identity, and that their best effort wasn’t good enough to reach a wide audience quickly. Too often, the effect of their work failing to reach an audience is that the creator stops. (Location 753)
Do I want you to be wildly successful with your creative work? Sure. But what I want more for you is that you keep sharing your voice and your vision with new work; that this work, over time, changes the lives of others for the better; that you concurrently develop slow organic growth, but also increase the chances of serendipitous luck that connects your work to even more people. (Location 758)
Where I feel people get off track is when they focus on numbers alone, forgetting about the importance of the effect of their work. They instead rely on stand-ins such as social media followers, downloads, awards, charts and data. They make an assumption that if 4,000 people downloaded their work, it must be having an impact, even if they are unsure of what it is. (Location 761)
The goal should not be data; the goal should be a demonstrable impact that your work has had on someone’s life. To experience this, you need to open the gateway you have built. (Location 764)
I will warn you, opening your gateway focuses on the aspect of life that most people are apprehensive about—being social. I’ll walk you step by step through how to do this, and how to ensure it feels fulfilling. The goal is to ensure that your creative work truly reaches and engages others.(Location 766)
Opening the gate is about finding your people. Knowing what resonates with them, where they hang out, and who reaches them. Then, one by one, bringing them through the gate. (Location 769)
In reality, how businesses tend to get started is by going out and finding those who may love their work, and engaging them one by one, directly. You must learn where these people hang out, what they need, what they love, how they like to engage, and then seek them out. It is active, not passive. (Location 773)
As adults, we have spent years developing a keen sense of how to create social safety in new situations. We often surround ourselves with safe validation. We stop going to new places and stop putting ourselves in new social contexts. We go to the same places to work and come home to the same family, because these things feel safe. (Location 781)
When it comes time to share our creative work, the high school fears rise up within us. It can feel like that first day all over again, where all of the security of friendships, sense of place, social standing, and validation are wiped away. We feel vulnerable because we are sharing something we care about with the world, and others can reject us. (Location 785)
Our social fears can cause us to resist reaching out to others as we prepare to share our creative work. We begin justifying that simply releasing the work should be enough to attract people to it. (Location 790)
This is a lie. It is an excuse to try to avoid the same challenges that creative professionals have always had to face. (Location 794)
When you read about the publishing world in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, you realize that letters and lunches were a significant part of making connections to get one’s work published or noticed. Marketing was about who you knew and the relationships you had. For instance, the art world was a community of relationships, and artists either engaged directly, or had agents/friends/spouses who engaged on their behalf. (Location 795)
What you find is that if you dig into the story of someone’s success “back in the day,” you find a web of relationships, of persistent effort on the business/marketing side, and, of course, a lot of luck. (Location 799)
Everything about opening the gate is aligned to this. (Location 801)
The good news? It is much easier now to identify your ideal audience, connect with them, and share your creative work with them in a meaningful way. (Location 802)
It’s a great time to be a creator, because you can use all of this to your advantage. This work is about you taking nice small actions that are totally within your control. Instead of launching a “brand,” you are simply seeking out small conversations, tiny ways of helping, and having meaningful conversations with people who will care about your vision. This, as opposed to what so many people in our culture try to encourage you to do: go viral. Please take my advice and don’t go viral. (Location 808)
Most people I know are introverts to some degree, and I find that social media and genuine one-to-one connections with others are actually helpful for introverts. But don’t fear, you don’t have to stand on a stage to pitch your ideas to thousands. This is about individual conversations, small moments, and a combination of sharing and helping, all filled with empathy. The payoff is that these things truly work to drive awareness of your creative work, and ensure it has an effect on the world. (Location 812)
That is what bringing people to the gate is about. (Location 816)
Instead, you need to develop the skills that are universal and timeless to find your people, know what resonates, craft a connection, and help them to find alignment with your creative work. (Location 818)
Success Comes From Mastering the Basics, Not a “Secret Formula” (Location 820)
The top—the widest part of the inverted pyramid—represents the broadest possible message to the largest group of people. Each step down the funnel slowly leads those who are most interested in what you have to offer to deeper levels of engagement with you and your work. (Location 833)
the marketing funnel graphic has more than one step. (Location 835)
there are smaller steps leading to that type of engagement. (Location 837)
that the marketing funnel doesn’t end with a sale. (Location 838)
the sale happens mid-way down the funnel in the “conversion” layer. That term translates the moment when someone goes from being a potential buyer (or fan), to someone who takes an action to purchase your work (or follow you). For your creative work to grow, you have to envision the sale as one milestone in a much bigger process, one where people who buy from you tell others about your work. That is why there are two layers after “conversion,” where people don’t just buy your creative work, but love it, and seek out other work you create. Where they begin to tell others how wonderful you are and how they need to check out what you create. (Location 839)
For a creative professional selling their work, their biggest source of revenue is often repeat customers. Those who buy work from them again and again, and who encourage others to do so as well. (Location 851)
With nearly every single successful creative professional I have ever spoken to, I find their success comes from mastering the basics—the stuff about creative work and human nature (Location 857)
we will put your gateway into context; (Location 859)
focusing on the vision and passion you have in your heart and mind—the things that drive your creative vision. (Location 860)
The first step is to find and explore the path that your ideal audience already knows and walks along every day. The goal is to have empathy for who they are, what they already know, their habits, their interests, and who they trust. If you want people to find your gateway and walk through, you first have to walk a mile in their shoes. Doing so is about understanding them and their marketplace, and using that to hone how to communicate about the work you create. It helps you identify where you need to be, what engages others, and who you need to know. It also helps ensure that this is fun and meaningful for both you and them. (Location 862)
Instead of constructing your gateway out in the wilderness where there are no pre-existing paths, we are going to construct it closer to where your ideal audience already walks. Find the paths they know and love, so you can place your gateway in exactly the right spot. You are going to ensure the words you use to attract people to your gateway are understood by your ideal audience, engaging them and drawing them closer. Your work will speak to them when and where they need it; and when the moment is right, you can open the gate for them to pass through. (Location 867)
Avoid “Best Practices” (Location 871)
In order to identify what will engage your ideal audience, I encourage you to spend time doing primary research. Spend time “in the field” to learn about where these people are, who they are, and what engages them. All the while, take into account who you want to reach, your vision, and your goals. Primary research means figuring things out on your own. (Location 872)
If you’re serious about building an audience for your creative work, skip the “best practices.” (Location 877)
Researching “best practices” is something we justify because we want to feel that we are preparing to do things smartly. The reality is that we are waiting until we feel less afraid, or the world makes it safer with established, accepted practices. We tell ourselves this research is to make “informed choices,” so we delay action. But if you wait for it to be “safe,” that means you are crossing the same street with thousands of others. The rush to “be the first to the other side” has long been won by someone else, and what we find on the other side is that it is crowded. You are merely one of the pack of people simply copying, and therefore receiving, almost none of the original value. (Location 883)
Instead, you are copying things that thousands of others are copying at the same time, which are often tactics that worked for someone else—once—two years ago, and now delivers a tiny fraction of the value it delivered that one time. (Location 888)
That person does so well in his business because he spends his days doing primary research on what works, instead of copying single tactics that others try to sell him. (Location 896)
They are so busy chasing all of these “best practices” that they can never feel like they are developing meaningful practices that work for them, and grow over time. (Location 931)
I want to encourage you to do primary research in consistent and action-oriented ways. While there are many benefits, these two reasons are critical: (Location 933)
To truly understand who the ideal audience for your work is. Not in vague demographics, but because you have met them, and have a deep experience of understanding what engages them and why. You can put names and faces to them. (Location 935)
To develop colleagues—others who work in your field, support the type of creative work that you do, connect that work to an audience, and are advocates for it. (Location 937)
Whenever I meet a creative professional who truly feels lost in the marketplace, these two things are always missing. The result is that, without truly understanding their ideal audience, they are left chasing anyone who will listen. They begin copying copies of what others are copying because they feel so far removed from someone who may appreciate their work. (Location 938)
This is how your intended audience feels. They are overwhelmed managing their everyday lives, and are unlikely to make a purchase or become a raving fan because they saw a single Tweet, newsletter, video, or status update rush across their web browser. Doing primary research lays the foundation for capturing the attention of your ideal audience in a way that is sustainable and meaningful. It has many benefits, including: (Location 946)
Telling you what your ideal audience cares about.
Indicating where they hang out online and off.
Hinting at what other creative work they love and why.
Identifying who they admire and listen to.
Being a process original to you.
Allowing you to tap into and experience your creative vision in a fuller way.
Helping you manage the complex emotions and psychological triggers around creating, sharing, and the business aspect of your work. (Location 949)
When you are done, you will have a sense of how to craft your messaging, where you need to be, and who can help connect you to these people you hope to engage. What’s more, the process will align to and support your creative work, not get in the way and eclipse it. Doing this allows audience outreach to feel meaningful to you, where every time you learn something new about your audience, it fuels a deep sense of momentum. (Location 957)
Start With What You Know (Location 960)
“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” That is exactly what you are going to do to begin your primary research, focusing on learning about your ideal audience in the context of your personal creative vision. The process starts by exploring the ways that comparing your work to others actually helps you gain clarity. (Location 961)
It’s far better to know from the beginning why it resonates. (Location 968)
“finding landmarks.” They are meant to help guide you from where you are to where your audience is. What I love about this system is that it works in both directions:
First you will use landmarks for you to move outward from where you are to understand the marketplace where your creative work will exist, and then, to find your ideal audience. (Location 969)
Then, we will reverse this, turning the same landmarks into guideposts to leave a trail for people to follow to lead them back to your gateway. (Location 972)
Landmarks are the examples of what you hope your creative work aspires to be like, which your ideal audience knows universally as the best example of the kind of work you do. What you want to do is not find landmarks exactly like your creative work, but instead focus on the positive emotions people feel about similar work already, and redirect those emotions and attention to your own creations. (Location 974)
What we are doing is identifying “comps,” which some people describe as “comparable work” and others as “competitive work.” They are the other things in the marketplace that your ideal audience likely already knows, and has some similarities to what you create and why they may love it. (Location 978)
That is the power of the landmark. It borrows the power of something your audience already knows and loves. (Location 985)
Don’t think of this as a way to elevate your work. (Location 987)
This is where people go wrong. They are so obsessed with convincing other people that their idea is so amazing, if only they would give it a chance, that they are blinded by it. They feel they have no comps, that their work is so unique in the universe that it is incomparable. I call this the “special snowflake syndrome.” I am always telling people that while they themselves are unique people, their creative work exists in a marketplace where their ideal audience is overwhelmed and is seeking out what they know they like. (Location 990)
They are mistaking what they hope their work becomes with practical ways in which others would consider landmarks as a way to find their work. Instead, flip it—consider how your audience reacts to the landmarks you identify, and how they can use those to become aware of yours. Use landmarks to help others navigate their way to your gateway. (Location 994)
But you can be aware of the themes in your work that align with what readers love. (Location 999)
Be the Gateway is about ensuring you don’t die like Fitzgerald, never knowing your work mattered deeply to people. It is about you taking control to ensure it reaches the hearts and minds of people, not hoping that history reviews your work after you are gone. Even knowing you reached one person on a deep level can radically change the momentum for what you create. When you change someone’s life with your creative work, you create an energy that tends to spread. (Location 1004)
We will use comps to help you understand how your work fits into the lives of your ideal audience, how others would describe it, to use as a model for success, and to begin uncovering the path that leads to your gateway. (Location 1007)
Find Five Comparable Works (Location 1009)
You want to find five comparable works to your own. To be useful, they should have had some success, but if possible, not be the breakout hits that defined a generation. (Location 1010)
the goal is to learn from those who have found success you seek, but didn’t have a “once in a generation” lightning strike. Comps should: (Location 1012)
Be released within the past one to five years. (Location 1014)
Have some level of public validation, such as reviews, media attention, an audience, distribution, etc. (Location 1016)
Be within the same field as the one where you create. (Location 1017)
To find your comps, follow these steps: (Location 1019)
1. Begin with Landmarks (Location 1020)
If you are unsure of where to begin, start with the big prominent names in your field—the people who everyone knows. Go to the marketplaces where this work is shared or sold. I tend to find online marketplaces that offer customer/consumer feedback to be best, but I will include in-person options as well. (Location 1020)
For books online, go to Amazon or Goodreads. For physical books, go to libraries or bookstores. (Location 1023)
Then, begin with the landmark in your field whose work you feel has some relation to yours. This is not you comparing quality; it is a matter of choosing the same type (Location 1029)
Based on your experience, you already know how you or others would identify similar work to what you have created. (Location 1031)
Ask someone who has more experience than you do, (Location 1032)
In the online communities I mentioned above, study their category listings and look at the work that is displayed for each. (Location 1034)
The goal here is to choose something because this gives you a place to begin. This is the place where you will have to battle the “special snowflake syndrome” the most. Remember that this landmark exercise is not about defining who you are, but simply understanding how the marketplace categorizes work such as yours. (Location 1039)
Don’t confuse the effect you want for your work with how you understand the marketplace, or how it will define your work. (Location 1043)
When they scratch the surface, they are confronted with the idea that there are thousands of people producing work similar to theirs. Or that their work may simply find a place in the middle of the market—(Location 1048)
2. Find Guideposts (Location 1054)
From here, we can find the people who have created similar work to you, finding success in the process, but perhaps haven’t had massive breakout hits. Why do we lower our aim like this? Because we want more practical examples, instead of someone who won the lottery. (Location 1055)
Guideposts help you navigate the marketplace by understanding it better than most others. One by one, they guide you not just to where your work fits within the marketplace, but to the people who would love to hear about what you create. (Location 1061)
This step is about the value of primary research. (Location 1063)
Go into Amazon and type in the names of the authors you have identified whose works are landmarks for you, or the names of specific books that you feel are guides. Now, scroll down to the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section and click on each book. Keep scrolling to see all of the books Amazon displays here. Amazon provides similar features that may be useful, such as “What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?”, “Frequently Bought Together”, and even “Sponsored Products Related To This Item.” (Location 1064)
As you review these other books, look for those that were published within the past five years, which have some reviews (at least twenty), and most importantly, that you feel resonate with the work you create in some way. None will be perfect. What you are seeking here are general categories and general alignments. Keep clicking on books and reading their descriptions. Keep seeing what categories these books are placed in within Amazon. Write down the names of the books and authors whose work resembles yours in some way; note why that is the case. (Location 1069)
You may find after an hour of research that you keep running into the same books again and again on Amazon, and new books they display are in wildly different categories. Exhaust this avenue, then move onto the next step. The end goal is five comps. (Location 1073)
3. Obsess About the Voice of the Reader (Location 1075)
we are going to use these intermediaries, such as Amazon, to connect us to actual people and what they love about these books. (Location 1079)
put you in touch with five local readers who loved it. Then, you are going to talk to those five people. (Location 1082)
Luckily, because of the Internet, you don’t quite have to go that far just yet—reaching out to people you don’t know; we can instead focus on reading the reviews people have left on Amazon. What we are most interested in here is understanding the voice of the reader. For the comps you have identified in the previous step, go to Amazon and begin reading through reviews. I would encourage you to read all of the reviews for each book. We want to know what readers liked about the book, what they didn’t like, and why. Pay very close attention to the language they use. Look for trends in terms of phrases or focus. (Location 1083)
For each of the comps you find, identify how others categorize them. You can look at the Amazon category rankings for each book to see how the book is defined within Amazon. This gives you a sense of where it would be placed in a library or on the shelf of a bookstore. This addresses a soft spot for most creators—how to categorize one’s work. (Location 1104)
It is a shorthand that doesn’t explain the full depth of the work, but acts as a signal to those who may be interested in it. Bridge that gap for your own work—don’t fight against how people want to talk about your work. (Location 1115)
the search box within reader reviews. I love this tool! Let’s say you are trying to determine if you should describe your book as a “psychological thriller” or “suspense.” Or perhaps you are wading through thousands of reviews of comparable books, and trying to figure out what themes pop up again and again in reviews. This search box will help provide the data you need to decide. After reading through the reviews of a comp, make note of phrases you see again and again, or phrases you are curious to see pop up. Then, type those into the search box and see which occur more frequently. (Location 1117)
This is not about writing to an audience, but understanding how the expectations and desires of a reader do and don’t align to your work. It helps you better present your work to those people and understand why they read it, not just why you wrote it. (Location 1126)
Review “best of” lists each year, but also user-generated lists that are created on sites, such as Amazon for authors (Location 1130)
Review how the artist describes their work. Look for phrases that resonate. My gut feeling is that you will see common themes emerge. (Location 1133)
Do Google searches on the work that you do find, even on the most basic definitions of what that work is. Switch to a Google image search to see what comes up. Then do a Google video search. Don’t stop at the first sign that validates what you already know. Challenge your assumptions, and move well beyond the first page of Google search results. If you want to truly understand how others will find and define your work and how it wil fit into the marketplace, dig deeper than anyone else would. (Location 1134)
Look for mentions of these comps anywhere you can find it—blogs, podcasts, within major media, and well outside of it.(Location 1138)
Too many creators never understand the marketplace before they release their work into it. Why begin with such a handicap when there is so much research you can do from your home for free? Ignorance isn’t an excuse for failure. (Location 1140)
Befriend Guides (Location 1142)
find some guides—the people who can help direct other people toward your path. These are the individuals who have already engaged an audience similar to the one you want for your work. Their own work embodies similar things that yours does. (Location 1143)
This work is different from finding comps because it is focused on the creators themselves, not just the creative work. This is the step that too many creative professionals miss. (Location 1146)
For your creative work, you don’t just want to have a map of your marketplace, you want to befriend those who have deep experience within it. Why? Because these people act like gravity to those you hope to engage with. They pull people closer to them with their work, their messaging, their events, and their network of colleagues. (Location 1150)
You can think of this as market research, but it is squarely focused on people, the creative work itself. (Location 1153)
1. Identify Mid-Level Doers (Location 1154)
turn our attention to what I call mid-level doers—those creative professionals who are mid-career, have found a sustainable way to focus on their creative work, and are a healthy mixture of aspirational and accessible. (Location 1156)
Aspirational. You aspire to be able to do what they do not just in terms of the work itself, but the lifestyle they get to live, or the validation they have received from others. (Location 1158)
Accessible. They are big enough to matter, but not so big that you can’t connect with them. These are people whom you could reasonably receive a reply from if you email them. If you tried to meet them at an event they were holding, you would be able to do so. (Location 1160)
Mid-level doers are those in your field who are showing up every day to create more work and connect with more people. If you want to see practical examples of how others define their creative work, craft messaging around it, and identify their audience, then connecting with mid-level doers is your best bet to find out. What I find is that mid-level doers are an under-appreciated resource in any creative field. You can begin with the comps you identified in the previous chapters—the people doing work similar to yours, but who have achieved a point of sustainability in their career. Don’t treat other creators as “competition.” View them instead as like-minded people who share the same passion that you do for this work and how it affects the world. Their experiences can shave years off your own journey in setting up your gateway and carving a path to it. (Location 1162)
Look for those who are advocates for the type of work you do. This could be as formal as media (newspapers, bloggers, podcasters), but as informal as someone who runs a Tumblr or Instagram feed dedicated to the type of creative work you do. Who shows up to conferences or events, workshops, and online chats? Whom does your ideal audience already know and respect in their field? Make a list of potential mid-level doers to reach out to. (Location 1169)
A particularly good place to find mid-level doers is podcasts in your field. The podcaster themselves is someone you should focus on because they have made it their job to understand people whose work resonates. The list of people interviewed is a great place to begin in identifying additional mid-level doers. If someone has been interviewed, that means they have achieved a level of success you can learn from. (Location 1172)
2. Listen, Don’t Broadcast (Location 1176)
At this stage, too many people begin using social media to broadcast their creative work in the hopes that it magically finds an audience. Instead, I want you to do the opposite. I want you to think of social media as the greatest research tool ever created. This is a place for you to observe and listen intently, and in doing so, better understand the people who will walk through your gateway. Use social media as an input, not an output.
**Find your mid-level doers on every social media channel you can.**Usually, you can go to their website, and they will provide links to the social media they are active on. The first thing you are doing is noticing which channels seem to be more popular for your creative field. (Location 1176)
Observe which channels the mid-level doers are most active on, and have the most followers on, and then follow them there. Focusing is a big part of this. Someone may list five social networks on their website, but you should be able to identify the one or two that really matter to them. Focus on those. Don’t just pick the network that you are most comfortable with—hone in on the one that they are most comfortable with. (Location 1183)
I ask that you begin recognizing the practices that work for those in your field who are dedicated to reaching the audience you hope to engage. (Location 1188)
You are following mid-level doers to see who they follow. (Location 1189)
See who these mid-level doers mention often in their social media feeds. (Location 1192)
But you can also observe any @names that the person mentions again and again in their feeds. Look for names and faces. (Location 1193)
Then look at who follows these mid-level doers, but also see who mentions them, by searching their @name in the search field for each social network. This gives you a sense of who supports them, with names and faces, as well as their interests. (Location 1194)
Give yourself a week or two, and simply listen. Look at every social media update they share. Don’t look for a simple one-step marketing funnel, where a single Tweet leads to a sale or to going viral. Instead, focus on the people and what they engage with. Let go of your assumptions and your own narratives here. The guides you need to follow rely on these channels, and your ideal audience may love it.(Location 1196)
3. Show Up, Observe, and Ask Questions (Location 1200)
Show up to events, and instead of doing what everyone else does—glom onto the big stars and known people—focus your attention on the attendees. Talk to them.(Location 1200)
Ask people why they came. Ask about what kind of work they love and why. Ask how they got into this field. Don’t try to impress people, and don’t try to sound too smart or savvy. Whatever you do, don’t promote your own work. Simple questions to the right people almost give you a map to understanding the gateways that got these people into this type of creative work—and understanding their narratives. (Location 1203)
It turns out that everywhere you go—the hospital, the subway—are opportunities for you to understand why people engage with creative work similar to your own. Do so by tapping into their passion, their reason for caring about it. (Location 1216)
The key is asking. (Location 1218)
Likewise, consider reaching out to those mid-level doers you identified. Ask simple questions that you need help with. Perhaps it is how that person got started; perhaps you are struggling with something. Be honest with them—don’t try to convince them of how important you are, and don’t tell them your life story. Ask a simple question in a grateful manner. (Location 1221)
4. Focus on the People Behind the Brands (Location 1224)
If there are brands or media that you feel your audience knows and respects, I would encourage you to not think of them as publicity channels for your work, but instead as people with a shared passion. A magazine is made up of individuals; it is not some monolithic entity. It is the same with any company or organization that you want to better understand or feel connected to. (Location 1225)
Learn how the organization is structured, how many people are within it, and where they are located. For your specific field, see if there is a subgroup that specializes in it. (Location 1228)
Why do this? Because more often than people would like to admit, who you know will help drive your career forward. When you see an author or artist in a magazine, the story behind how they got there is often about relationships. Someone pitched someone; someone knew someone; someone fit a need or preference that a specific editor had. Stop pitching blindly to “entities” and start understanding these organizations as real groups of multifaceted people, who are just like you.
One example of how to identify the people behind the brands in publishing is an email newsletter I subscribe to called Publishers Lunch. While it focuses on news and deals within the publishing industry, the most interesting part to me is the “People” section. They tell you about people moving in and out of companies. If you want to have a better sense of how marketing works within a big publisher, look these people up on LinkedIn. No, don’t stalk them, and no, don’t bug them. Simply do research to see what these departments and individuals truly look like. You may be surprised to learn that a specific organization has a single publicist and a marketing team of two. That could help you set your expectations for how much individualized attention you would get from them.
Too often, a single individual at an organization will become the “face” of it; I would encourage you to focus on the many others who show up there every day. These people are wonderful resources because they care deeply about work similar to yours.
Bestselling author Thomas Greanias told me how, before he found success, he would drive to every bookstore he could find up and down the entire coast of California. He slowly built relationships along the way, and came to better understand the needs and preferences of bookstores. What’s more, he knew their faces, names, and personalities, not a vague notion of what booksellers did and why. Perhaps just as important, they knew his. This allowed him to gain a keen understanding of how to position and market his books
5. Use the Least Crowded Channel
Don’t be a wallflower. Find the least crowded channel.
Send an email to mid-level doers instead of being the 80th person to come up to them after they speak at a conference. Look for the people who surround the mid-level doer, such as a manager, an assistant, the support staff. If you are attending an event that one of your heroes is putting on, befriend all the people who are working on it.
If you feel like an outsider to the community you hope to engage, don’t let that stop you.
there are stories all around us, waiting to be told. Too often, we miss them because we are afraid to ask—afraid of that moment of awkwardness and the risk of rejection. I encourage you to take that risk.
6. Interview People
Just as stories are all around us, so are the answers you seek about how you can craft and lead people to your gateway. Not by vying to be the billionth person to try to get the attention of an “influencer,” but by interviewing the mid-level doers, the members of the communities you hope to engage, and the people who are fans of work similar to yours. Don’t just follow others on social media—reach out to them. Ask questions and consider doing interviews. I have set up a blog post or podcast episode many times to offer the interviewee some kind of “promotion” for their efforts.
You can do this via email (send questions, receive back answers), Skype for an online video interview, phone, or meet in person. You can ask other creative professionals about their experiences at book readings; ask about their ten biggest fans; ask about experiences with those who buy their work, what drives them to create, and what is their process to create.
Interviews also help you to develop relationships and grow your own stature within a community.
I have had clients who are breaking into new fields by interviewing people within them, and in a very short period of time, they have a wide range of relationships with insiders, as well as the knowledge those people have shared.
This isn’t always only about gaining access to prominent people; it also helps you understand the needs of your community.
Don’t assume that by asking people questions, you are bugging them. People enjoy being asked their opinion, especially if they feel it could help others or create a change they would like to see.
Through this process you are creating maps. You are learning the existing paths, the people you need to know, the language your audience understands, and how to use that to connect your work to your ideal audience.
If you want to find success, you will find that empathy is a huge theme. The people I see who find success are masters at putting in the time to understand the communities they hope to be a part of. The core focus here is to consider the people who make up these communities, and create relationships with them.
Consider not how you can gain the attention of others, but how you can bring joy to them, and develop meaningful connections over time, because what lasts is what you create, not what you react to. It is the experiences you share and what you attend to each day, with the care of an artisan. The good stuff is created slowly, even as you struggle through the boring parts.
Creating your work—your writing, your art, your craft—and connecting it to the world is not just about the act of putting a product out there and publicizing it. It is about providing a gateway for others, being someone who is there when they need to experience joy, when they need to learn, when they need a helping hand, and when they simply need to know that there is hope. What lasts isn’t instant success, but that inclination to be present for others. That is what it means to open a gateway for them.
Open the Gate
I remember the difference between the romantic fantasy of hoping the work will speak for itself, and the professionals who exhaust all avenues to develop a meaningful connection to their audience. It’s like the difference between someone who builds a gateway versus someone who builds a house deep in the woods, hoping other people invest the time and money to bulldoze brand new trails to try and find it.
The Channels You Should Use to Reach Your Audience
When choosing the channels you invest in to reach your audience, it should be a mixture of online and offline channels, which may include a website, blog, podcast, articles, email newsletters, print media (newspapers, magazines), radio, TV, and of course, social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and others.
you want to use your research to determine the channels where your ideal audience is most engaged. You do not have to choose one strategy or the other—popular channels where your audience engages versus “the least crowded channel.” You should instead use both strategies in different ways, at different times.
If you are creating a website for yourself, do a survey of ten colleagues to see what their sites look like. Then, for your own, I would encourage you to keep it as simple as possible in terms of both content and design. I have seen far too many people waste months of time trying to get their website to visually represent their identity. Don’t. Your website is not you, and when you first begin, consider the most basic things it must do.
If you spend months designing a website as a destination, you will likely be disappointed when you launch and few people come. Instead, identify the core things it has to do and include only those. Include as few items on the navigation bar as possible; write in the first person and not in the third person to directly address those who do come; and please, don’t pretend that your website is a newspaper that has to have dozens of items to try to engage your audience. Focus their attention, and focus your own goals.
If you have multiple “brands” to manage, you have to consider if you need more than one website or if they complement each other.
Simply be aware whether you are focusing your audience’s attention, or splitting it. It is difficult to be a gateway if you are showing people 100 smaller gates right up front, each leading to 100 different options. Be clear about what the main gateway represents, and why they would want to enter.
Consider whether you will create long-form content.
This content can be unique from your creative work itself.
Email newsletters are a way to directly reach out to those who want to hear from you. Consider the difference between a blog and an email newsletter as “pull” versus “push.” With “pull,” you are hoping to pull your audience back to your blog again and again. You are relying on them remembering to come back via a bookmark, RSS feed, or some other manner.
This is why email newsletters are a nice way to “push” your content out to those who choose to receive it. They receive an email the exact moment you want them to, and they can choose whether to look at it or not. Has email become an incredibly crowded channel where many others are vying for attention? Yes. But email still works, and for businesses, email converts—meaning that many brands rely on email to drive a huge portion of their business.
Social media channels can be used for many things. You can share your content, aggregate content from others, post status updates on what you are doing (professionally or personally) and, of course, directly engage with others.
This is not to say that you should simply think of social media as publicity. Too many people fail at social media because they immediately want to spread their message and ensure it is heard.
When it comes to social media, don’t be Frank. Don’t just constantly share updates about your services and intrude on others’ lives. Instead, use social media meaningfully. Engage in real conversations, showcase your purpose and your process, and celebrate others who care about the same type of work you do. Do you need to use any of these channels? No. You can be a successful creative professional without “needing” to do any of these.
The goal of research is to challenge your assumptions. Can you be contrarian and say, “Dan, social media doesn’t work for my field, therefore I am ignoring it”? Sure. But if you are going to be contrarian, all I ask is that you do it with vigor. Don’t be a contrarian as a way to get out of doing work, but as a way to focus your work. For example, let’s say you reject the idea of using Instagram to connect with your ideal audience, even if everyone else in your field seems to use it. That is fine. But identify what you replace it with. How do you meaningfully share and connect with those people you hope to reach? Perhaps you instead want to send out handcrafted, printed fanzines (little magazines that are printed at home or a copy store). That’s great! Do it all the way—do it better than anyone.
The Messaging That Represents Your Voice
This is a filter. You are measuring what you share and what you don’t, and how you do so. Doing so with your gateway is similar—honing the channels, messaging, and manner by which you share and engage with others.
Yes, you can focus on topics that you uncovered in the research earlier in this chapter, but also focus on the feelings that you give people. This is something that people who are amazing on social media do well, especially those who seem to “break the rules.” They understand the feelings people want to have by following them, and they are able to be inventive about doing so. Communicating the power of your creative work is something your gateway provides.
To have people understand your work, you will need to become a student of those you hope to reach. This is not about writing to an audience, but simply understanding what works when communicating and what doesn’t.
When sharing the message of your gateway, be curious about other people. Generosity—with your time and attention, your talent and your enthusiasm—is a core way to engage others. If you do something such as an email newsletter, use it to tell other people’s stories as it relates to your vision, not just your own experience. Being the gateway means that you are not sharing the same TED talk that thousands of others have, but instead, you are telling stories that are hidden gems.
Invite People to Engage
consider the variety of actions you want people to take, and how that relates to your gateway.
“Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.”
Consider the variety of actions people can engage in that leads them to, and through, your gateway. All of this creates an experience that captures your ideal audience, and inspires them to create word-of-mouth marketing. What is the easy “way in” to your gateway?
Consider how people engage with you beyond buying your stuff. What actions can they take after they buy your stuff?
Section 3: Walk People Through the Gate
Share the Journey
Don’t wait for people to find and walk through your gateway on their own. Instead, one by one, bring people to your gateway and assist them in walking through it. To me, this idea is what separates those who dream from those who take action. Would it be nice to “go viral” and have people discover and walk through your gateway on their own? Yes it would, but that is not how we begin. Whenever I see someone who has tried and failed to engage others, it is often because they waited for these people to come, without seeking them out and helping them walk through their gateway.
Your goal is not to be a street hustler, distracting someone with a magic trick so that before they know it, you’ve swindled them into buying something from you. When you build your gateway and walk someone through it, you are creating a fulfilling experience that provides long-term value.
The process of walking people through the gate is similar to how someone will experience your work. They measure the value not in the transaction of purchasing it, but in the experience of making it a part of their life. You crafted it with a vision, and they integrate it into their life in a way that extends that creative process.
In other words, walking someone through your gate should not feel as though you have now become a “marketer” instead of a creator. It is about extending the experience of your creative work to at least one person in a meaningful way.
Communicating Your Journey
The act of creation is sometimes a lonely process. But the act of sharing your work should not be. Sharing should be a process that involves others: one that is social, and one that feels as natural as a conversation with a close friend. When you talk to a friend, do you tell them again and again about something you created, and how amazing it is? Likely not. Instead, you tell them about your process, what motivated you, the roadblocks, and so much else about what drives you. In communicating your journey, you open your friend up to the world of your creative work, and it encourages them to feel a part of your journey. The result is that they become advocates for what you do, and they forge new paths to help others reach your gateway. On these same paths, they will walk one of their other friends through the gate. And that friend will do the same with someone else.
I have heard many others say that the most powerful form of marketing is word-of-mouth marketing, meaning that the most powerful way to drive sales or awareness of something is by a friend telling a friend. I believe this to be true as well. Why? Because there is a high trust factor between friends, and the communication likely happens at exactly the right time that the person needs it.
Sharing the journey is about developing advocates around your creative work that lead to word-of-mouth marketing. It also feels amazing, because you develop connections with people who appreciate what you do and why you do it. Walking people through the gate is the practice of engaging others with your creative work.
Sharing is Engaging
If the most important part of your gateway is your creative work, I want you to consider the second most important part to be the people who share your enthusiasm for the same kind of work that you craft.
What that means is that these people who share your enthusiasm are more important than all the following things:
You—your ego and identity. I have seen many creative professionals who have such a desire for validation, a need for a sense of pride in what they have created, that they feel sharing online is their “one chance” to finally shine. So they act with less generosity. They focus too much on promoting their own work (again and again), not just because of ego, but out of a feeling that they have invested years of effort to have reached this point. They are convinced that this is their one moment to not blow it. Are “ego,” “pride,” or “external validation” bad things? No! They are fine. All I’m asking is that you balance them with sharing a sense of enthusiasm that engages your ideal audience.
Clever marketing ideas.
Things you paid for that represent your work. There are two sides of this coin. First, way too much time is wasted in creating these things. Why do people insist on making them? Because it makes them feel professional. Let’s say an artist hires a web designer to create a “home for their artwork on the web.” Quickly, this comes to represent everything about how they feel about their work, and how this website represents who they truly are. They spend months getting this designed, and because they paid a lot of money for it, they have high expectations for how it should work on their behalf to drive engagement with an audience. It usually doesn’t work, because it’s not one of the two most important things in the creative process. It’s not the creative work itself and it’s not the experience that work creates for an ideal audience.
The image you have painstakingly crafted. In an effort to feel a sense of validation, many creative professionals craft a “brand” surrounding their creative work. It can include some of the things above, but can include so much else, including how they describe their work—the descriptions, biographies, descriptions, taglines, etc.—that elevate the importance they feel it deserves. Then, they hide behind this. The problem I find is that it creates a distance between the creator and those they hope to engage. The artist can no longer share with their ideal audience because they are too busy trying to seem distant and professional. They write their biography in the third person because it sounds bigger; they only share positive news, not proper status updates that share the reality of how complex their lives are; they don’t show enthusiasm for other people’s work because they feel it diminishes their own importance; they can’t show their actual process, because they fear doing so will show the “little man behind the curtain.”
Your social media numbers, or numbers at all. They begin focusing on gaining more followers instead of really engaging those they already have. With your creative work, what matters is the work itself, how you have grown as a person as you develop your craft, and how your work affects the lives of others. To walk people through your gate, consider how you can give people a way in to it.
The Four S Process
The way to venture out in the world is a system I call the Four S Process. If your work is meant to give people hope, for example, you can:
Seek out others. Identify places where people tend to look for signs of hope, and where they hang out online and off.
Signal to others that you are like them, and are welcoming a chance to engage. This indication can be your demeanor, a sense of shared interests, facial expressions, or how you speak.
Share things that represent hope. Perhaps you talk about who inspires you and why.
Shape conversations by asking questions. Take a small action to help or engage.
Be the one who gives instead of takes, who asks about them first instead of rushing to tell them about yourself.
Seale’s Four S Process
When seeking examples to help guide you, the question you want to ask yourself is, “Who is doing work that matters and is succeeding at it?”
Seek Out Others
Embrace others who craft similar work as you, or share enthusiasm for it. Don’t think of others in your field as competitors. Instead, think of them as collaborators.
embrace the idea that the more your colleagues succeed, the greater the chances you have to succeed. Instead of feeling envy or jealousy of others, I would encourage you to overwhelm them with kindness. Interview them, promote their work, and befriend them, because they are not what will hold you back. Too often, what holds a creative professional back is their own inability to forge the relationships they need within the field in which they work. These people know your ideal audience, and that audience knows them. Invest in those relationships.
seek out those who share an enthusiasm for this type of work.
If you are an author, seek out other authors who write in the same topic or genre as you do. Show up to their events, email them, support their work. Be curious about their readers. Ask them questions about what they love and why.
In other words, the people you hope to engage with are all around you. Don’t wait for them to find you—be perceptive and seek them out.
Signal to Others That You Are Like Them
Consider the emotions your ideal audience wants to experience. Appealing to people’s emotions is a very effective way to grab their attention and hold it. This process begins with empathy. Focus on a range of emotions someone can feel around your creative work,
The emotions that drive you, the experience others have with your work, and the change you hope your work makes in the world are the signals that you put out in the world.
share the emotion you want others to feel when they experience your work. This practice focuses on experiences, not “things.”
Note that these do not need to be positive emotions.
the emotions your work evokes do not always need to be “joy,” or “inspiration,” or “thoughtfulness.” Emotions of any kind act as a signal and give people a way in.
Share Your Enthusiasm and Creative Process
Deconstruct why the type of work you create is special and take people behind the scenes to show how it is done. Doing so helps them appreciate the craft and provides you another way to engage people.
This also allows people to feel that they are a part of the process of creating something.
In your creative work, share the process, the materials, the milestones, and educate them on the elements of what makes incredible work.
Likewise, you can share what drives you on a deeper level.
These are motivations and processes that people can relate to and find a connection to.
Shape Conversations by Asking Questions
I find that those who are successful tend to be curious. They ask questions that others overlook, and by doing so, they discover meaning where others do not. Be curious about those you meet as you work through the Four S Process. The most effective way for you to engage with others is to have a keen sense of empathy, to learn about what drives them, and to craft conversations that connect this to your own drive and creative work.
Find Models Outside of Your Own Field
look for people whose work you admire who also share behind-the-scenes examples of how they have grown their career. It’s not that you want to copy them, but rather that they can help inspire and illustrate the practical ways that success happens. The trick, though, is to look outside of your own field. When you only look within your field, you find that people tend to emulate the same strategies and tactics. When you look outside of your field, you find new ideas that would feel refreshing to your ideal audience.
Focus on Individuals, Not an “Audience”
We dream of having “an audience.” But in doing so, we can diminish the experience of the individual who appreciates our work. We overlook them because we are so focused on building a crowd around our work. Crowds are made of people, and they often begin with one or two advocates drawing others over to see what is so special about what you have created.
Instead of “audience building,” focus on one person at a time.
generosity is a core part of word-of-mouth marketing.
Why would you say that? Because it inherently feels validating when you have millions of fans, and once you are validated, you think that then you will have the wherewithal to give back and be generous? I challenge that kind of thinking. I contend that you need to develop those practices now. You need to look at those sixty people and not wish it was 160 or 1,600, but appreciate them and their connection to your work.
My point is, if you have sixty followers, treat them like the most special people in the world. They are the foundation for how your work will reach more people, and impact the world.
Create Experiences, not Data
“Frustration stems from focusing on what we don’t have. The antidote is appreciating what’s already here.”—Leo Babauta
Build your audience one person at a time. Do so by connecting with others long before you feel you are ready to “launch” your work.
Instead of waiting, bring people along for the journey. Not only will it help you establish and grow an audience now, it will become the engine for word-of-mouth marketing down the road.
Here are some practical ideas to get started valuing the audience you have, no matter how small:
Connect with one new person per week. Take them out to lunch, email them, or set up a phone call.
If you have an audience of any sort, focus on engaging more with the top ten percent, those who seem to be more supportive. Put more effort here than you do into worrying about attracting new people.
Send an email to a colleague—a mid-level doer who practices the same craft you do—and thank them for how their work inspired you.
Interview those who do what you would love to do. You can ask them everything you ever worried about in your own work, but also share the interview to promote them and become aligned with them publicly.
When you focus on the depth of connection first, you craft experiences, relationships, and memories that lead to a sense of fulfillment around your creative work. This is priceless when compared to trying to “game the system,” seeking out artificial ways to boost social media metrics.
Develop a Support System
I encourage you to seek out others who can assist you and create processes for them to do so. In other words, create a support system to join you on your journey. First identify collaborators, those who will help you in your process of bringing your work to the world.
your work will spread because of those with whom you share your journey. Relationships are a major part of success,
relationships are about trust and understanding. When you surround yourself with people who understand your work and trust you as a person, you are creating powerful forces to ensure your creative vision spreads.
Surrounding yourself with those who can support your work and support you as a person when you are unsure of the path forward can be a critical stepping stone from uncertainty to success. These people act as your support. Sometimes that is in directly supporting your work, but other times, it is supporting your own uncertainty and doubt.
What is the biggest thing that will keep your work from being created, discovered, and appreciated? You. You are the most dangerous force that will stop your work from reaching others. You will stop too soon. You will get distracted. You will try, and fail, and then give up. You will be convinced that a different idea is better; then another; then another; constantly hopping from one idea to the next. You will tell yourself that success wasn’t meant for you; you will become bitter that others had a leg up.
Build the support system you need to ensure your creative work reaches others by embracing collaborators. Consider how each person you connect with becomes a collaborator—someone who is part of your creative process. Types of collaborators to consider:
Those who connect with your ideal audience every day.
Those who share similar goals to yours.
Those who share different, but complementary goals.
Those who can help you be social.
Those who help you do the work you don’t want to do (create graphics, schedule updates, edit blog posts).
Those who help you establish a more effective creative process.
Those who help you communicate more effectively.
Those who can help you brainstorm marketing ideas.
Those who can help you balance your time and energy.
Those who can help you manage the financial aspects of your creative work.
Finding collaborators is key to making creative work sustainable.
For collaborators, start small but intentional. You don’t even need to hire these collaborators as you begin. Many of the most powerful collaborators you have are not those you will pay. You simply need someone who can be a sounding board when you have questions, and keep you on track and accountable. The key to this is not having the expectation that the collaborator can magically fix everything. If you want someone to help answer questions, you have to be clear and concise in what you ask, and you have to actually be willing to act on that person’s advice. If you want someone to keep you accountable, you have to illustrate to them that you will do the work, even in the moments they aren’t prodding you. In other words, don’t punish the person for being a collaborator by having unrealistic expectations of their role.
1. Find Mentors
These can be formal or informal relationships. You could approach people who you respect or are successful in your field and ask to shadow them, apprentice with them, or meet once per month for them to share advice. Or you could consider informal mentorships. Identifying people in your life who you can check in with on a regular basis, but without them having to agree to officially be a mentor for you.
You may have people you interviewed (if you conducted some of the steps from previous chapters) who might be willing to let you ask some follow-up questions about your own work. Send them an update email once per month, where you tell them how you are acting on their advice and thank them for their help. For every second email, ask a simple question that you could use their input on.
Wouldn’t it feel nice to receive an email from someone who indicates that you are wise; that you have helped shape their life in a profound way; and that your advice is, every day, improving them further? These are the kinds of notes people dream about receiving: not someone just sucking more of their resources, but indicating that their work has had an impact on the world. The key difference is the tone of your communication. If you reach out to someone who is prominent in your field and ask them to spend an hour having lunch with you so you can “pick their brain,” then I would agree that this is a lopsided value proposition for that person. They are likely surrounded with people who want their time and attention. But what if you are the person who asks nothing, but gives quite a bit? What if the small things you do ask for are framed in a way that illustrates the impact that they will make?
Podcasts have seen a renaissance in the past few years, and one popular form is the interview podcast. Here, the podcaster brings guests on the show and spends the entire episode asking them questions. This has been a key way for someone who has no standing with a community to gain recognition and connections, by aligning with those more prominent than they are, and because of the relationships that are formed in the process, they develop a powerful network of people in the field.
He developed his public voice and following, one episode at a time.
He learned and learned and learned by asking questions.
He developed a powerful network of colleagues.
2. Establish a Mastermind Group
it is a group of people who help encourage and support each other’s goals and daily creative practices. I have been a member of quite a few mastermind groups, and I will take you through three ways they can be structured.
Small group mastermind. The rules were simple. Each person was allocated one-fourth of the call (20-30 minutes) to tell the group about a specific challenge they had or a goal they were working toward. The rest of their time was spent brainstorming ideas and ways of helping them navigate.
One-on-one mastermind. The small group can be remixed as needed. I am part of another mastermind that involved only one other person; we speak weekly via the phone, and devote one call to her challenges and one to mine.
Managed mastermind group. This is where one person acts as the leader of the group and actively manages the group by giving prompts, sharing ideas, and encouraging collaboration. I have run many of these, usually with ten people per mastermind. There are similarities to the small group mastermind in that the members come from different creative fields, have different goals, and are asked to hone in on specific challenges and goals they need assistance with. I typically run these groups entirely online using a group chat program and videos. The members have the ability to chat and post updates 24/7; because of this, I was amazed at how many friendships formed within the group, and how as a whole, it became a tight support group.
There are many other ways to engage in mastermind groups. They can have more structure and a greater commitment to take specific types of actions each week. They can be more actively managed or more fluid.
There are many other ways to identify collaborators, including hiring help, such as consultants, coaches, part-time staff, or interns.
How can collaborators, mentors, and masterminds help you walk people through your gate? Three ways:
By helping you better understand those you want to reach and how to effectively communicate and engage with those people.
By telling you practical stories of what did and didn’t work for them.
By allowing you to gain perspective from another person of how they interpret the messages and work you are crafting.
Find people that do, and identify ways to collaborate with them. Learn from them, and vet your ideas through them. Become a student of this process, and ensure that you are doing field research.
you need to establish a sense of empathy for what that experience is like, which will result in you making many small adjustments to ensure it truly engages others. Creative work fails to find an audience when the creator assumes a specific intrinsic value within it that their ideal audience is never able to see or experience because the creator didn’t make it clear to them. Walking someone through the gate is a process of helping others experience your work, by having empathy with how they see the world.
Fear is Your Biggest Barrier
But the real barrier is fear. We resist stepping out of our comfort zones to connect with others who can help us share our creative work and develop our audience.
“You cannot let a fear of failure, or a fear of comparison, or a fear of judgment stop you from doing what’s going to make you great. You cannot succeed without the risk of failure. You cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism.
People will tell you to do what makes you happy, but a lot of this has been hard work, and I’m not always happy. I think you should do what makes you great. Do what is uncomfortable, and scary, and hard, but pays off in the long run. You don’t have to be fearless, just don’t let it stop you.”
The idea of forging relationships with collaborators can be off-putting for many creative professionals for three reasons:
Hiding your creative ideas, because you feel this is the foundation of your identity.
Fear of losing control of your creative work.
Barrier #1: Hiding Your Creative Ideas
Oftentimes, their creative work can be the only thing that provides them an identity they are truly proud of, that feels like their own true expression of who they are and what they are capable of. The idea of involving others who are collaborators threatens that identity, because suddenly they fear that by sharing it, others will corrupt it. They love the validation that comes from their work and the image that it is a true expression of who they are. The moment that they involve others, they fear the work may no longer be their own. They want this to elevate their sense of personal identity, not lessen it.
When will these people welcome collaborators? When the stature of those collaborators raises their own identity.
But when we seek this type of validation—from a publisher, gallery, record label, or others—there is a cost. You are welcoming dozens of collaborators into your process, few of whom you will ever meet. They will shape your work, and in many cases, they will outright own your work.
This is why I am encouraging you to embrace collaborators early in your process so you can learn what truly engages an audience. The day you sign with an agent, a publisher, or a label is not the culmination of your work, but a core part of how you communicate your work to others.
Barrier #2: Fear of Losing Control of Your Creative Work
don’t confuse your idea with the execution of the idea.
Barrier #3: Social Fear
I found, however, that when I hosted a party, there were ways I could navigate around all of my anxieties which allowed me to be very social in ways that made me comfortable. For instance, everyone at the party would be someone I knew, or someone who was a guest in my home. I had a relation to everyone because of this. Because I was the host, I had a job to do, which kept me busy; I couldn’t experience social anxiety when I was busy. I could easily talk to anyone at the party because I could ask if they needed anything and introduce people to each other. I never had that moment of loneliness of being a wallflower, because I stayed busy ensuring the party was running smoothly. It turned out my challenge wasn’t that I couldn’t engage with people; it was that I needed a safe context to do so, and one that had a structure to it. What’s more, I actually enjoyed being social in this other context.
To help people walk through your gateway, experiment with ways to make the social aspects of this fun and reduce the amount of anxiety you may feel. The stories you tell, the experiences you craft, the moments you share—this is your gateway. Not the number of Twitter followers you have. To see your gateway in action, walk people through it, one by one. In practical terms, this is all about developing simple practices of reaching out and having simple conversations using what you have.
Walk Someone Through the Gate
Walking someone through your gate is a process of finding out who that person is, what drives them, and how your gateway aligns with their own path. Don’t assume that once you have crafted your beautiful gateway and the realm that lies beyond it, people can actually reach it. This is where creative professionals go wrong. They assume too much:
That the signs leading to their gateway are clear and engaging.
That the travelers are looking for what they offer beyond their gateway.
That the paths to it are not blocked.
That there is nothing along these paths that would make people apprehensive.
That these people have everything they need to take this journey on their own.
To find out is a process of challenging your assumptions, but this is not some academic exercise. Instead, you are going to have to walk people again and again down the path that leads to your gateway. By doing this, you will learn new things about what motivates those you hope to engage, and you will learn where your “strategy” for engaging others with your work was, in fact, you being willfully ignorant of the gap between your intention and the needs or desires of those you hope to engage.
Finding Out #1: Experiment Strategically
As a creative professional who hopes to engage a wider audience, you are likely always hunting for aspects of your work that capture the interest of others. Sometimes it is in the way you describe your work; other times you may adjust the work itself based on feedback from your audience.
you are observing what resonates, and changing your behavior to encourage others to engage with your work as well.
I didn’t just come up with an idea that I thought was clever and decide that it should be a book. I kept engaging and sharing with my ideal audience, and listened to what resonated. When I found something, I kept exploring it and growing it. It was a process of finding out, not assuming. I did so across multiple channels: my private mastermind, video, blog, email newsletter, webinar, interviews, private emails, and private phone calls. Why? Because all of these channels connected me with other people, which is what matters more than the channel itself. Too often, a creative professional will ask what social media channel they should focus on. My answer is simply the one that allows you to connect meaningfully with real people. And in truth, that means you should use a wide range of communication channels and methods, not just one social network.
Creating and distributing flyers ahead of time to parents, so they can order the books.
Donating a portion of the profit from each book sold to the local library.
Giving away copies to the teachers for their classrooms.
Taking out ads in the local newspaper.
Creating, printing, and hanging posters in local stores.
Buying something fun to give to the kids, which she works into her presentation.
Because she is doubling down on the opportunities she does have instead of doing nothing and “waiting to see” if anything magically happens at her events without her making much effort. Do you need to do all of this? Absolutely not. But I would encourage you to view opportunities to engage others with your work as experiences you craft, and as a way for you to learn more about who you are hoping to capture and what drives them. Identify ways to experiment to find out what works. Put yourself in the position to have to ask your ideal audience what drives them, or find ways to observe them in action.
If you are an author wondering if book readings are an opportunity for you, consider doing the following:
Watch five videos per day of author events on YouTube. There are untold thousands of these. Notice what the author does and what the audience does. What works and what doesn’t.
Email five authors who recently went on book tours and ask them three short questions via email.
Call ten bookstores. Ask them about how their author events work and what makes a great one. If they don’t do author events, ask them why and what drove this decision.
Identify three authors who are currently on tour, and observe their social media during that time. Look for their own updates on Twitter and anyone who mentions their name. Look for videos uploaded to YouTube or photos shared to Instagram.
Then, experiment for your own work. You don’t have to convince a bookstore to give you a reading in order to do this; perhaps your first book isn’t even published yet. Instead, hold a literary salon in your living room, at the local library, or as part of a local organization. Don’t worry about promoting your own work. Instead, experiment with what creates an event that attracts and engages people interested in books similar to yours. You can go back through the many examples in this book to help it get off the ground, such as identify collaborators and co-hosts.
If you dream of speaking to audiences, don’t wait until you are “big enough” to hold your first event. Do it now. Do it consistently. Learn more about what works and what engages your ideal audience by conducting many experiments.
Finding Out #2: Start Small, and Grow as You Learn
Start with one thing. Focus on one question you are asking, and take a single action each week.
Put yourself in the position to show up and observe. Begin asking questions.
The goal is not to launch a campaign, but to identify one person you can help.
Learn from this experience, then iterate.
When you walk a single person through your gateway, you learn so much about their needs, desires, and preferences, and how they relate to your creative work. Perhaps you learn fifty percent of what you need to know to forge new paths to your gateway. Then, walk a second person through, again doing so with empathy and care. Really pay attention to them. Double down on these people—don’t look past the individual because you are so focused on engaging “an audience.” Invest in the people who are right in front of you and who are interested in your work.
As you walk people one at a time through your gateway, you are more firmly establishing the path to it.
Finding Out #3: Create Experiences, Not Content
Your goal in this process is not to build some big “launch,” but rather, to change one person’s life with your creative work right now by crafting meaningful experiences. Too many creative professionals are blinded by this idea of a big launch, where one day they wake up and go from having no audience to going viral. This often revolves around them focusing on content alone. While writing an article, creating a podcast, or creating a social media strategy may feel like “audience engagement,” it isn’t. Sure, they can be a part of the process, but too many people use them as stand-ins for actual engagement. Instead, focus on creating experiences. Creating a blog post that you hope leads to someone reading it and maybe even clicking the “like” button for it isn’t true audience engagement. Seek out conversations and connections with individuals—something that is specific and truly social. It takes effort to create experiences. Too often, we hide behind the safety of content.
focus more on the experience you create for others and less on simply providing content. What experiences can you create around your gateway?
Every day you have this opportunity. Instead of re-sharing the same links as everyone else on social media, instead of sending the same boring “professional” emails, why not be ludicrously kind and generous to those who support your creative work or creative work like yours?
If you are worried that this sounds crazy, put a safe boundary on it. Tell yourself that you will send one generous email per week for a month, a season, or a year.
Consider how you can give back to specific people in a huge way. Not Tweet about their book, but do something bigger. Create an experience and do it really well. Crazy well. The return on investment should be lopsidedly bad. Invest way more than you think you should.
success happens, not by tricking people into discovering and buying your work, but by creating experiences that people remember and doing so on a human level.
Living on Both Sides of the Gateway
You are a gateway. The creative work you share, the way people discover it, and the interactions with you become the threshold someone moves through in order to be opened up to new experiences, new ways of seeing, and new possibilities. Consider the paths and conversations that lead people to your gateway, and the experiences you share once they move through it.
I encourage you to understand this as a human process, to have empathy for those you hope to engage, and in doing so, not just sell them more work, but truly create advocates in the process. When you connect the drive you have for what you create and the drive that motivates your ideal audience, you can help them walk through your gate and open up the possibilities you have created in your work.