Interview: Success for Artists & Creative Professionals with Dan Blank

unnamedI’ve known Dan Blank (pictured here) over a number of years and he has become my go to resource for clients who are aspiring authors. Dan brings and incredibly down to earth, brass tacks and honest approach to business building.

Recently, he hold me that he’d now branched into the broader field of helping people find and market their creative work (i.e. they’re worried that their career isn’t going anywhere; that they need to build a following; that they want to learn how to market their art) so I asked if I could interview him about it all and his new program Fearless Work for my blog. He graciously accepted. I think you’ll be glad of it.

What’s this new project you’ve got on the go?

It’s a program called Fearless Work, which is a course to help creative professionals find more time and energy to work on their art or craft. It focuses on helping people prioritize what matters most, work smarter, make creative habits stick, and manage their fear around big risks and a packed schedule.

Who would you say are the top three groups of people it’s for?

Anyone who is trying to find more time to do creative work amidst life’s many professional and personal demands.These could be artists, writers, designers, photographers, entrepreneurs, illustrators, musicians, and many others.

Working creative professionals. People who are entrepreneurial around their art and craft, and have turned it into a business.

They are finding success, but also finding barriers, and looking to break through to the next level.

Those who have dabbled with turning their art & work into a career, but want to now take it seriously.

Why did you create it? What need did you see? What’s the story?

After spending my entire life surrounded by those doing meaningful creative work, I always hear about their challenges — the things that prevent them from practicing the work they care the most about. In the past five years, I have run my own company helping these people, really being in the trenches with them as they strive for their goals.

Fearless Work is my way of creating a resource to re-shift aspects of one’s life to allow for more creative work.

What are the top three aspects of life that seem to get in the way?

  1. Yourself. What is most astounding is how many of the barriers that stand between someone and their creative work is often their own internal boundaries. They refuse to give themselves permission, or they are driven by narratives that kill their work before they can create it.
  2. Reacting to the demands of others and things external to you. This could be your day job, but it can also be the everyday demands of laundry and dishes.
  3. Being a parent. While most people I meet who are any age, whether they have kids or not, are very busy, I find that becoming a parent offers unique challenges. When you have kids, many of the process you have honed for yourself go off the rails because you are now fully responsible for other human beings. It’s impossible to overstate how much work this is: you literally have to wipe their asses. And, while this is a responsibility done with the deepest levels of love, that is also why it can be taxing in ways we never quite imagined before having children.

Fearless Work is also about ways to establish habits that allow for more creative work to be done each day. It is the culmination of everything I have learned in working with hundreds of creative professionals, as well as my own company.

I hear from people every single week, about how profound their struggles are. They feel they work more hours, give more of themselves, only to feel as though they are treading water, their dreams unfulfilled. The course delves into the practical actions that one can take (both internally and externally) to not only feel more fulfilled, but focus on what matters most in their creative endeavours.

Everyone feels overwhelmed, and 99% of the time, the only thing holding you back is yourself.

Everyone has challenges, and some of them are breath taking in their complexity: the person who is coping with a debilitating illness; someone who has suffered through a traumatic event; the single parent of 5 kids; the sole caregiver for ailing parents. Yet, I always speak to people who, despite these very real responsibilities, can manage to also find room for their own identity, and their own work. That all of these things are a part of who they are, and that even serious responsibilities don’t have to sidetrack who you want to be.

There are others who do a similar type of thing, what did you see was missing in it all that had you want to create this?

I love the various resources that are out there, and how inspiring each can be in their own way.

For my own experience working with creative professionals though…

I find that the business side of creative work is overwhelming for many people. While I always put the art first, I have deep experience in turning one’s creative vision into a viable business. It’s an obsession, really.

When I look back on both my professional and personal experience, it is across a wide range of arts. When I was a kid, I went to art school, and growing up, I did illustration, photography, poetry, sculpture, pop-up books, music, writing, a newspaper cartoon, trained to be a radio DJ, published a zine, did design work, and eventually I became an entrepreneur working with writers and creative professionals.

I hear these challenges everyday because of how many people/orgs I work with. I have to address them because these are the relationships that fill my life. None of this is theory, I am in the trenches with these people every single day.

I suppose, I see the “productivity” and “inspiration” side of this focused on a lot by others, but things such as mental health are often not being address. For example, I am the last person who will ever tell you to do more creative work by giving up some sleep. The idea of robbing someone of sleep in order to gain “productivity” is offensive. It cuts away at the foundations of their physical and mental health — that is NOT progress to me!

My company is five years old and I have established processes that I think others can find value in.

Why is this such a struggle for artists to take on the business side of things?

The answers vary, but one phrase that comes up often is “permission.”

Meaning, that after the artist goes through the struggle of creating work that matters deeply to them, they are confronted with the fear of permission, “Who am I to now ask people to pay for this?” Which is why many creatives wait to be “discovered.” For others to validate their work by sheer magic — without the artist having to proactively put their work out there. I suppose core to this is a fear of judgement, but also anxiety that many artists feel around their identity. Impostor syndrome is pervasive across professions, but I see it crop up often in creative fields. All of this is part of the stew that makes the business side of the arts extraordinarily complex for creative people.

I’d be curious to hear what other terrible advice you see out there for artists and creative types.

Most of the advice I see that turns my stomach are versions of get rich quick schemes. For the arts, it may not focus on money alone as the goal, but on the validation that many creative people seek. So yes it could be, “Make a million dollars with your art!” but it can also be “The world is just waiting for your message!” As many creative professionals will tell you, when they released their work publicly, it was received to dead silence. The distinction between the amateur and the professional in this context is that they took efforts to ensure it found an audience, and that this was truly work that takes time and pushed them passed boundaries.

What are the three top blunders that you see people make in addressing these issues?

Goodness, only three? How about six:

  1. Looking for a tool that will magically fix everything. The real value comes in establishing good habits and new processes. Are tools a part of this? Sure, but they serve the habits and processes, not the other way around.
  2. Thinking it is all in or not at all. Consider how many people start and fail at diets. They are either “on” the diet or “off” the diet, and change of this caliber needs has more layers to the gradient than this. This is about tiny changes a little at a time.
  3. Seeking productivity tips that adds more stuff to their already packed life. You can’t get clarity by adding and adding to your life — you have to SUBTRACT what doesn’t matter in order to find more resources to do the work that truly matters.
  4. Focusing on only time, not energy. Energy is a renewable resource that affects all areas of your life.
  5. Seeking “balance.” To be honest, I don’t believe in balance when it comes to how people traditionally talk about “work/life balance.” Balance is a lovely concept, but if you listed out all of your personal and professional obligations, I think the idea of “balance” gets in the way. Instead, I believe in clarity and priorities. The term I tend to use is this: OBSESSIONS. Making hard choices about what matters most.
  6. Managing their work life separate from their personal needs and goals. You have a single life, and a 24 hours in a day, you have to manage it as a whole.

What are the main good habits you feel like creative folks need most? Could you share a story or example of of a habit you’ve developed that’s paid off?

The habits that most creative people need to establish is taking small actions in a consistent basis. I mean, that is what a habit is, right? Break down a larger creative vision into tiny component parts that you can control. An example would be how I wrote the first draft of the book I am working on. I reserved the first hour of the day to write, with the goal of at least 1,000 words per day.

Now, a distinction I made is that this was about quantity, not quality. I wasn’t judging if my writing was good or not, I just focused on getting words on the page. Within less than 40 days, I had hit my goal of a 65,000 word first draft. Before I put the restraints on the habit (1 hour, 1,000+ words each day), the idea of writing a book was nearly incomprehensible. All I saw where challenges.

Also, I find boundaries to be extraordinarily useful in the creative process, and that they are useful in how we work as well. For instance: I don’t fly. I won’t be shy here: it scares me. So when I created my business, I put a simple rule in place, “No flying for work.” Now, this meant I put a severe limitation on potential revenue streams. I have done a lot of speaking, and this limitation meant that I could never truly seek out a highly paid speaking career, seeking out keynotes and the like. Revenue stream #1 in the toilet. I also do come consulting for organizations, and this limitation meant that I couldn’t seek out large clients outside of those in area around New York City. Any large organization client would likely want a series of in-person meetings, and since I don’t fly, that meant I couldn’t say yes to that. Revenue stream #2 in the toilet.

And yet, 5 years in, my business is doing fine. These limitations allowed me to OBSESS over other areas I am passionate about, such as developing online courses that could reach people anywhere in the world, and be created from my home. For the Fearless

Work course, my team and I have worked on it for months, through an incredible amount of OBSESSIVE research. For much of that time, we had to ignore other potential opportunities to grow my audience or my business. We are all in on this course, and it feels extraordinary to so fully devote yourself to something.

What are the top three things people could do on their own to address these issues effectively?

When approaching the idea of Fearless Work — to do more of the creative work that matters most to you, I find these three things can help you find greater success in working through the process:

  1. Make it social. Surround yourself with like minds. Don’t struggle by yourself.
  2. Focus on clarity, especially around your goals. It is astounding to me how vague people’s goals often are when you scratch the surface. Oftentimes, you find that there is nothing there, just a vague idea. Why? Because they were too afraid of the obligation that comes with truly tackling their dreams.
  3. I would rather see you focus all of your energy on establish a single TINY positive new habit than create some complex system that fools you into thinking you have solved it all. Start small.

For more info on Dan’s program Fearless Work click on the image below.

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micro case study: author gives sample of his writing.

IMG_7839I was just picking up an order of books from Audrey’s Books (an independent local bookstore in Edmonton) and I saw this little ‘book preview’.

And I thought it was a great example of a pink spoon in their marketing. Giving people a free sample of what you do. A taster. I’d heard of previews online or in magazines but never a mini book excerpt I could take with me. And it was right there on the counter where I was paying, so easy for me to see it.

For more thoughts on book publishing read these.

Guest Post: 3 Misconceptions + 3 Blunders + 3 To-Dos on Book Writing, Publishing and Marketing

oldbooks21

 

by Alicia Dunams

 

Today’s publishing industry ain’t your grandmother’s publishing industry, that’s for sure. Within the last five, ten years—things have changed. Information zips around the globe and back in seconds. If you’ve got a story, a message, a product you’re just dying to get out, you don’t have to wait. You shouldn’t have to wait. It’s in your hands to make it happen right now!

But first, let’s check your thinking.

Are you guilty of these three publishing misconceptions?

1. “Real” books must come from traditional publishers and should be found in bookstores.

Now that we’ve got desktop publishing, print-on-demand (POD), and e-publishers like Create Space, self-publishing is taking the world by storm. Did you know traditional publishing takes two years on average? That’s after you’ve written the book, queried publishers, and landed a contract. If you’ve got a message that people need to hear, if you’re ready to unleash it on the world, you don’t have time for that! You want it out now.

And actually, a bookstore is probably the worst place to sell your book in the age of tablets and e-readers. Due to a paradigm shift in the publishing world (over 400,000 books get published each year), maybe one or two copies of your book will end up shelved in the back, spine out. (Can you imagine a traditional bookstore squeezing one copy of every new release—just from that year—into its stock? No? Neither can I.) There’s very little real estate on a bookstore shelf. And what if your book is just what Karen in Ottawa is looking for, but she’s never even heard of it because her neighbourhood store doesn’t happen to stock it? How’s she going to get it?

2. You can submit a proposal and get a big advance from a major publisher before writing the book.

Sorry to burst your bubble. Approximately 98% of proposals sent to acquisition editors are rejected. In fact, more major publishers like Simon and Schuster are adopting a self-publishing formula to mitigate financial risk.

3. A traditional publisher will pay for and do my marketing for me.

Wrong again! When it comes to publicity, you are it. These days every author, self-published or not, has to take the marketing end of the business into his or her own hands, create a marketing strategy, and network like crazy, primarily online. You can sell more books in front of your computer, creating online demand through your own or your friends’ blogs, article dashboards, viral video, and social networking. New media is where it’s at. Don’t know your Facebook from your Twitter? Don’t worry—you can learn it.

Those are just a few of the misconceptions that still float around today. And what about the biggest mistakes an author can make when prepping, writing, and marketing a book? Here are three of the biggest I’ve seen:

1. Delaying the writing of the book.

Whether it’s your inner editor picking over imperfections, or your inner Doubting Dan making excuses (Does “I just don’t have time!” sound familiar?), we all find reasons to put off a job that seems difficult and overwhelming. Guess what? While you’re busy flinging more Angry Birds at Fruit Ninjas (joking!), each day your book stays “all up in the ol’ noggin” is another day it’s not spreading your ideas or converting customers. It’s another day your book isn’t working for you.

2. Expecting the book to finds its own audience.

That doesn’t happen. Books themselves are passive; they don’t seek out the correct audience for you. They don’t put themselves in front of readers. So before you even begin writing, you need to identify your audience and shape your content for them. If you’re writing about best alternative medicine for pain, don’t throw in every other method you’ve tried. Target it toward the people who need it.

3. Expecting the book to stand on its own and rake in the money.

Great, you’ve written the book. So now you just kick back and wait for the royalties to roll in, right? Nope. Your book becomes your calling card, something that gets you where you want to be. You leverage it. Give away a chapter or two for free. Have easy bonuses like worksheets, printable charts, and downloadable activities on your website—accessible with e-mail opt-in, of course, so you can build your client database. Whatever your book is, it’s not the end-all, be-all culmination of your life’s work. It’s merely the springboard that launches you, and what you have to offer, into new territory. And that’s exciting!

So those were the myths, the mistakes. What should you be doing to write a kick-ass book about your work or your brand? Every author has his or her own approach. But there a few nuggets of truth I recommend to everyone. You can’t go wrong with these three to-dos.

1. (Most of) your budget should go toward marketing.

You’re wondering about the numbers, am I right? Book layouts, colour printing, fancy paper. All that adds up. Now, a book with valuable information will sell. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Spend your money on marketing instead. That includes a bold, professional cover.

2. Delegate, delegate, delegate.

You’re the expert. But maybe you’re not the fastest writer. Or maybe you’re not the best editor. Tell you what–it’s OK to get some help! Dump all that information out somewhere. Just get it out. Let a ghostwriter or an editor do what they do best. That way, you can focus on doing what you do best, be it helping your patients or talking up new clients.

3. Give your reader value.

Good writing doesn’t create bestsellers—demand does. It’s only when your book gives people something they want that your book might even begin to approach bestseller-dom.

Have you been thinking about writing a book? I hope sharing my 3 misconceptions, 3 blunders, and 3 to-dos got you thinking about the next step in becoming an author!

alicia-best-seller-in-a-weekend-300-x-2501Alicia Dunams (@AliciaDunams) is the founder of Bestseller in a Weekend®, a live online workshop that helps business professionals write, publish, and market books in record time. Dunams also coaches her clients on how to promote their book and achieve bestseller status. To contact Alicia Dunams, please visit http://www.aliciadunams.com/. She also offers an evergreen webinar on book publishing you can check out here.

sacred economics

Charles Eisenstein has written one of the most beautiful and honest books on economics that I’ve ever come across. I’ve rarely heard a take on money and economics that I resonate with more strongly. It’s so deeply in line with my pay what you can philosophy.

I first came across him on a video he did for the Occupy Wallstreet movement.

It’s called Sacred Economics (order a copy at your local book store) and here’s a ten minute video all about it.

I share it because . . .

1) if you’re thinking of writing a book, consider how powerful a pink spoon a well produced online video might be in promoting it.

2) i think you’re going to love what it’s about and it might just help you get clearer in your own relationship to this odd thing called ‘money’.

3) this is a brilliant example of a lucid and clear point of view.

 

seven reasons why to write a book

This is an odd post to write given that I have no immediate plans to write a book.

But there are a lot of good reasons to write one.

Here are two reasons not to write a book.

1) To make money.

2) To become famous.

The publishing industry has changed so much in the past decades. The idea of being discovered and given a huge upfront payment of money to write the book and then make millions off the sales of the book are . . . unlikely. Even for authors who sell a lot of books, it’s far from the fame producing, lucrative strategy it might seem.

Realistically, for most people, it’s going to take time to become known as an author – and to make a living at it. My colleague Dan Blank has a lot of good things to say about the basics of this platform building process for authors here.

But still, there are plenty of good reasons to write a book.

Here’s my take on seven good reasons to consider.

REASON #1: You love writing. This is the most important reason. You love to write. You love the written word. You love to express yourself. You find yourself writing a lot anyway. You already do it even though no one is paying you.

REASON #2: To clarify your point of view. I think this is profoundly important and so often missed in marketing. Yes, you need to understand who you’re trying to reach, the problems they face and they results they crave most. That’s the heart of marketing. But you also need to be clear with people about your take on the process or system or series of steps that can get people from where they are to where they want to be. You need to be a map maker.

Most of us have an intuitive sense of our approach to the problems our clients face. But few of us have really taken the time to sit back and reflect on it and spell it out. People aren’t buying your product or service half as much as they’re buying into your point of view. Don’t wait to write your book until your clear – writing your book can be the process that helps you get clear.

And getting clearer about your point of you will make you far more effective in what you do. Clarity is attractive.

REASON #3: Stories are so compelling. My colleague Michael Margolis has spent years trying to advocate for the idea (point of view) that story telling is the currency of marketing. And I think he’s right. Not only will a book express your perspective, but, if done well, it will do it through stories and case studies.

REASON #4: Your book is a sales letter. An extension of the above reasons – your book is like a long, long sales letter to your clients. Do you think Eckhart Tolle would get a fraction of the people he currently does to his seminars if he’d not written those books? Your books give people a way to get to know you, safely, at a distance and decide whether or not it’s a fit to work with you.

REASON #5: Being an author makes you an authority. Culturally, we respond very differently to someone if their name is followed by ” . . . author of _____.” Simply the fact that you have written a book gives you an enormous degree of credibility that you can use to command higher speaking fees and workshop rates. People might even ask for your autograph and stuff.

REASON #6: Word of mouth. Books can help with word of mouth. Think of all the books you’ve passed onto friends that you thought they’d love or that might help them. Plus, if you decide you write your book via your blog and publish it in bits like that – you can start building your following long before the book ever comes out. And simply writing a book is a buzzworthy event. You might get local media coverage. It’s a wonderful chance to reach out to your list.

REASON #7: Deepen your connection with your tribe. Forget getting new people. Many of your existing community will read your book and that will help them ‘get you’ at a deeper level. They’ll appreciate you more.

dan blank opines on how authors should build their platform

Dan Blank (pictured here) has become one of my favourite bloggers. His posts always seem to just nail it on the themes of authenticity and effectiveness.

And, recently, I’ve been seeing so many marketing workshops for authors and so I thought I’d do a little interview with Dan to get his take on it all.

Dan, what do you do?

I work with writers to help them build their brands and platforms, and with publishers to help them engage their communities. I do this via online courses, consulting, and I try to share as much as I can for free on my blog at WeGrowMedia.com

What are the top three blunders you see writers making with their marketing?

The top three mistakes I see most often are: not having a clear vision of what someone wants to accomplish with their CAREER. Writers need to look beyond just marketing one book, and beyond quantitative sales numbers that are not indicative of the effect they have on the world.

Now some people might say, ‘but having an impact won’t pay the bills. that sounds very warm and fuzzy but how do I make money!” how do you respond to that?

This speaks to another mistake I see people making very often: pursuing marketing tactic after marketing tactic, without a clear understanding of how it relates to their goals, the value to their business or financial needs, and the benefit to their audience or customers. So they run around like a hamster on a wheel, following the latest trends, or buying into the latest article they read on how to convert customers, but it doesn’t align to a core strategy – it doesn’t speak to their customer needs – and isn’t measured and implemented in a way that brings revenue. It’s easy to feel busy, but it’s better to feel successful. When you understand your specific goals, how that aligns to the specific needs of your audience, and take a long term approach. If there is one thing the recession should have taught all of us, it’s that quarter-by-quarter profit is tempting, but in the end, it doesn’t build a solid foundation for true success.

Second is having a clear sense of who their audience is. Oftentimes you find people are extremely general as to who their work might appeal to, in hopes that it appeals to everyone. But how can you build an audience and serve a community if you don’t know who you align to?

I talk about this a lot. how do you suggest people go about this? how does a writer go about defining their audience? can you give me three examples of writers and their audiences?

It can differ based on the type of writing or book – nonfiction, fiction, memoir, etc. For nonfiction, you can target industry organizations, societies, academic programs and leaders, conferences and events, online forums/blogs/etc – all laser focused on a very specific audience with very specific needs.

This is where books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s work (which I enjoy) do a disservice to other writers. Everyone now things that their book on sociology, or sports analogies, or observations on any specific niche, should have a broad mass market appeal. They may shy away from “just” building connections with a smaller niche because they have a grander vision for their work. But in the end, as the saying goes, if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

Fiction and memoir can sometimes be different. You have to consider deeper themes that relate to segments of your audience, and consider how those people organize, where they are affiliated, and how they express those passions and desires. For instance, something about Eat, Pray, Love tapped into deeper things that a wide range of people already had within them. Harry Potter is not just a book about wizards, it deals with identity, hope, adventure, family, etc. These are all avenues to find and expand your audience.
Likewise – you have to dig through your book to find any way that it connects with an already-organized community. Is your main character a knitter? Reach out to knitting clubs and media. Does it take place in Oklahoma – reach out to bookstores and reading groups in that state.

Third is that they don’t know what to share. So they mean to connect with their audience in authentic ways, but often share too little, and go too quickly to overt publicity and marketing tactics, hoping to see quick results in terms of sales and audience size.

That’s interesting. i don’t think i’ve ever heard anyone talk about the dangers of marketing too soon. why do you see this as a mistake? what’s the worst case scenario here?

I think their is a difference between building connections to a community – building trust – learning about their passions and needs, and overt publicity and marketing. So it is definitely ideal to begin building connections to a community as early as possible. But if you jump right in with something to sell, you forfeit the opportunity to build real relationships that can last a lifetime. You are just someone selling something to them – a one sided relationship.

What are the top three hopes they need to let go of?

Romanticism seems to pervade many writers’ view of the publishing process. Publishing is a business. It is extremely hard work, whether you go the traditional route with an agent and publishing house, or out on your own self-publishing.

Yes, writers do get lucky – their work spreads like wildfire and magic happens. But for most, it is work – hard work – where every thing you gain is something you earned one small step at a time.

There are sooooo many ‘get your book on the best seller list’ seminars these days. what’s your take on them?

I like to consider what someone is building with their writing CAREER, not the performance of a single book.

You mentioned this before. can you give an example of how these two things might be different? it sounds like you work on the strategic level where as most of the marketing i see works on a very tactical level. can you share your thoughts on how their tactics might shift when they really consider their long term vision and strategy?

This comes back to goals and audience need. All tactics sound good in a vacuum, just as all stock tips sound good in a vacuum. But when you are balancing your own short and long term goals, when your audience has specific passions and needs, their own community practices, tactics alone may not give you the results you hope to find. This is where people can come across as “other” or insensitive.

How do you want your work to affect the world, how do you want to connect with readers. These things are not described in quantitative measures of sales. We get caught up in them though because they are easy benchmarks, and because we ASSUME that with that type of “success” other opportunities follow. But if you start off on your journey on the wrong path, seeking the wrong goals, then you can’t expect to find what you are looking for.

What are most authors really looking for? or what do you think they’d be best served to look for?
That is a complicated answer, and often different for each writer. I think that, in general, when we create and share, we are looking for validation, identity, connection, and a legacy. Sometimes this can be reflected in sales figures, number of books sold, Twitter followers, etc. But not always, and I think an writer or creative person should careful consider their real goals, and how they can be best achieved, regardless of the standard measures of success in the overall publishing industry.

What are the top three foundational marketing approaches you would offer to a writer?

Do your research – know who you are writing for.
Share what you write, get it out of the drawer.
Connect with people – build relationships, not marketing channels.

To learn more about Dan and his fine work just go to:

http://wegrowmedia.com

 

If you’d like get cool posts like this in your inbox every few days CLICK HERE to subscribe to my blog and you’ll also get a free copy of my fancy new ebook “Marketing for Hippies” when it’s done.

 

Book Publishing – Michael Drew

Michael Drew shares his insights on the book publishing industry . . .