Nonfiction Authors Podcast host Carla King interviews Dan Blank – How to Remove the Overwhelm and Confusion of Sharing on Social Media, Newsletters, and Anywhere Online.
Nonfiction Authors Association Podcast | July 20, 2022
Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he’s helped thousands of writers develop their author platforms, connect with readers, and launch their books. He is the author of the book Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. I’ve been on Dan’s mailing list for at least a decade, where he reliably shares best practices and latest strategies to help authors build their platforms.
In this episode…
- Best practices and latest strategies to help authors build their platforms
- How social media is effective, even before the release of a book
- How to find your focus when promoting your book
- The meaning behind human centered marketing
- How to use the Creative Success Pyramid to gain clarity in your work, develop an audience, and launch your work in a meaningful way
- How to use Clarity Cards to maximize your time
- How to work through self-doubt
Hello and welcome to the interview series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. Today’s session is with Dan Blank to talk about An Easier Way to Share Your Writing: How to Remove the Overwhelm and Confusion of Sharing on Social Media, Newsletters, and Anywhere Online.
I’m Carla King, your host, and I’m happy to have you with us today. This event will last up to 30 minutes and our podcast recordings are available on our website and all of our social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
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And now I’d like to introduce our guest.
Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he’s helped thousands of writers develop their author platforms, connect with readers, and launch their books. He is the author of the book Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. I’ve been on Dan’s mailing list for at least a decade, where he reliably shares best practices and latest strategies to help authors build their platforms. Check it out on his website WeGrowMedia.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @DanBlank.
Hi Dan! Welcome to the podcast.
Hello, thank you for having me.
It’s my pleasure. And so what I’d like to start with is when you go to your website, and when you talk about marketing, you use the phrase human centered marketing. So can you just quickly tell us what that means?
Yeah, I think when we talk about what effectively gets people talking about a book, it’s not the trends. It’s not the buttons on Amazon, it’s not the latest thing that Instagram is promoting. It’s not, have you read about it on TikTok or BookTok or whatever. Underlying all of that is how we communicate– how we build trust, how we really grab somebody, and all that can happen through a substack newsletter or through TikTok.
But it’s not the idea of, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get on TikTok and I have to do this,’ and ‘What’s the editing software you use?’ It’s this idea of how you engage another human being. What is it that’s interesting? How do you do it in a way that feels authentic? How do you grab someone’s attention. That’s a human-centered aspect of it. I think it’s something that’s much more universal, much more timeless. And it’s something that once you understand it, you can bring it through any trend, any kind of evolution that you’re going through as well.
Thanks for that definition, that’s so helpful. And in the years, you’ve got a lot of superpowers, but in the years that I’ve known you, I’ve noticed that one of your big superpowers is to help authors work through their self-doubt.
We work in isolation oftentimes, and it’s hard to get ourselves put out there. And one of those doubts is around what content to share and beyond. And what I’d like to talk about today is your sharing system process. Can you just start that? And you might at some point want to share that great visual you had that I saw in a recent newsletter.
Yeah, absolutely. I like to take a realistic view of things. This idea of–we want to share, we want people to read our books. But we’re human beings, and we have anxiety, and we have social stress. And we want to fit in, but we want to stand out. And we don’t want to look like a fool. And it’s all these things that are going through our heads. And I think that they drive people up a wall and they create a lot of confusion.
So for me, it’s this idea of how do we really hone in on–what is your message? What do you want to talk about? Who are the people you care about most? What do those conversations look like? And really visualizing a real-life conversation. A book club, at a cafe, or over a beer or coffee, whatever that is. And then think about how you create a system. A step-by-step process to say, ‘Well, this is what I really care about. And this is what really people love talking about. And here are different ways I can communicate that. And here are ideas I can put down. And this is what a schedule would look like. And this is how I create that content. And this is how I schedule it.’
I go kind of all into this with my writing clients, so I can spend an hour talking about that, so ask follow-up questions. With this idea of really honing in on what matters most to you, and then not being afraid to have a system for it. I think that we look to social media, and how people share nowadays, and we feel that we have to just kind of wake up and be charismatic, and share what we did just now in this really effective way. And I think that that’s just way too much to ask of yourself, for a lot of different reasons.
It’s kind of like the journalistic process is like–’What, Where, How, Who and Why,’ you know. What do we do? Where do we share? What social media sites do we share on? How do we share it? What’s the return on your investment? You know, all of that. So, I know you’ve got all that built into your strategy.
This is the graphic for anyone watching it, which if you just go to my website and look up the Creative Success Pyramid is what I call this. But yeah, it’s this idea of– I kind of started two different halves with this. The first is–What is your message? What do you really care about? So I have a whole process on, really defining your key messages and what matters to you.
And, the flip side of that is really thinking about–Who is your ideal audience? And not in a demographic way. I don’t really, in a big way, care about how old these people are. What I care about is– what lights them up. What worries them. It’s almost a psychographic kind of way of looking at it.
I also like thinking about a very real person. I think, oftentimes, we talk about ideal readers. And we are sort of looking at this idea of these perfect people. “My ideal reader spends all their time reading, and supports the library, and goes to every book launch. They donate to this amazing charity,” and blah, blah, blah, which is great. I mean, if people were all that, that would be awesome.
But most people struggle with the day-to-day responsibilities they have. And once you take these things of what you really care about and what you create and why, and why you do that, and this ideal reader, then you can start kind of building that system. So for me, it’s– in the pyramid, it’s reflecting on this idea of–how do you communicate what you’re really about? And you start with that. And then it goes into the idea of– What channels do I use? Am I using a newsletter? Am I using Twitter? Does that make sense? Where are my ideal readers?
So I wrote the book Be The Gateway. And it’s all this idea of– figuring out what you’re about, but then venturing out there. It’s not about just attracting people to your gateway–’Come to my website, come to my newsletter.’ It’s you venturing out and saying, ‘Well, where are people? Where are those paths in the woods? Where are they gathering already? Who are they listening to? What’s creating conversations?’
So it’s you taking that risk of going out there. And as you kind of have empathy and learn about that, then you can kind of come with people back to your gateway, into your newsletter, or your world, whatever that is– a conversation with you. And to me, this is sort of the foundational level for how we think about a marketing campaign, or a book launch, or defining any kind of social media strategy or anything like that, which is more at the top of the pyramid.
And the last thing I’ll say before I pause, in case you have follow-ups, is I think that people often don’t understand the whole scope of what we’re asking people to do. The goal is not to sell a book. The book is a magical, amazing, wonderful thing, and getting someone to buy that is an incredible milestone. But what we want is word-of-mouth marketing. We want people to read the book, we want them to feel connected to the story. We want them to have their life changed by your book in some way. We want them to connect with it in a meaningful way.
And that often comes after they buy the book. So once you think about that– I feel like it takes a lot of pressure off of you becoming a salesperson. And you start thinking about the conversations you want to have, and experiences you want to have. And the lifecycle of a reader with a book or a reader with an author, it just becomes so much more multifaceted. And I think that that’s a freeing thing, and it gets us beyond this conversation of– ‘Ugh, do I have to do Reels on Instagram?’ or, ‘Someone told me I have to do a newsletter. I don’t want to do it, but tell me what to do,’ which is not a very fruitful way to really show up somewhere and have a conversation.
That’s so true. You know, a writer I know, a nonfiction writer I know, she wrote a book on a very difficult topic and she said, ‘Wow, you got to really watch out what you write about, because you’re going to be talking about it forever.’ And here at the Nonfiction Authors Association, of course, our members and our viewers are Nonfiction Authors.
So oftentimes, these are memoirs. So we’re talking about our life a lot, and what happened in our life, and we’re already having conversations about that. Or we’re school administrators, or psychologists, or financial pros. So we’re already having these conversations with clients or colleagues. So I think it’s a lot easier for nonfiction writers to hone in on what they want to talk about and what their topic is.
And in some cases, even– the book is, you know, kind of a sales tool for the business. So that does make it easier. But it doesn’t make sharing easier. Because if somebody has a business, or if somebody is a memoirist, it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, do I’ – like you said– ‘Do I have to be on every single social media platform? And do I have to do TikTok and all of that?’ So where do you think people should start? Do you have to have a mailing list? Do you have to have a Facebook account? Do you have to share on LinkedIn?
It’s such a great question. It’s good to know– you don’t have to do anything. What I’d often recommend is– start with one place, and really try to show up there all the way. So if you’re going to do newsletters, I think they tend to be very effective. But you could start with Instagram instead, or with in-person events. But whatever it is, really try to show up all the way.
I was having this conversation with someone this morning, and I have it a lot, which is like, ‘Oh, I’m doing a monthly newsletter.’ And that’s great. And I’m not making fun of that. This woman had a really strong mission about what she was sharing, and why.
I was like–well, if this is your mission, and the people out there you feel really need this–these are conversations you want to have– once a month? That’s it? What if they miss a month? Then it’s once every 60 days. Is there not enough in this topic, or this conversation, that you can show up once a week? Twice a week? And I’m not saying you have to do a bi-weekly, twice a week newsletter or anything. But it starts changing this idea of–What does it look like if this was your full-time job? What would it look like if you really wanted to be known as this? Or if you really, really wanted to help people.
And that’s what I spent so much time, like a ridiculous amount of time, just observing. Observing people on YouTube, and Tiktok, and Instagram, and Twitter, and all these channels, because I’m looking at what is engaging– how does someone show up all the way? And sometimes it is less often, but deeper. I’m totally for that. There are great examples of someone who puts out one video a month, but it really immerses you. Or someone who writes one blog post every six or eight weeks, but oh my gosh–this blog post is like the definitive blog post on a topic.
So you can do that if that’s your thing. What I often find, though, is that we generally share good content. We don’t share the creme de la creme, we’ve vetted it with 400 people. We have made this something so shareable. And I feel like you want to do one thing really well. So if it’s going to be Twitter or a newsletter, do that really well. And then, from there, you can expand. Because if you can figure out how to do a newsletter really well, it’s not that hard to then say, ‘I’m going to really dive in on LinkedIn next.’ Because now you can start pulling pieces from your newsletter into LinkedIn, or whatever channel that that is.
Thank you for saying you don’t have to do anything. Okay, you have to do something. You don’t have to do everything. But you just did mention something that you do, is you spend an awful lot of time looking at other people’s content. And I know from what I’ve read from your newsletter– which is awesome, by the way, that you look outside of your expertise or industry. I mean, you’re looking at, I don’t know, I forget. Skateboarders and all kinds of just, cooking shows and things like that.
One thing that we do stress a lot here is– to do the research on what the other books are in your genre, figure out what your genres are, and figure out your Amazon categories and your BISAC codes. And people do complain a lot and are like, ‘I don’t have time to, like, look around and follow all of these other people.’ I mean, what do you say to that? I mean, honestly, I just say, ‘Oh my gosh,’ you know, ‘You’re missing out.’ But do you agree with that? I mean, how do you even start to address that mindset?
I have a process and it’s free. It’s on my site called Clarity Cards. And if you go to the Blog and Podcast tab, it’s one of the first things there, and I can give you a link if you want to share it with people. It’s basically this really quick tool to determine–What are your priorities in life right now?
So for some people, it could just be that their book, or their platform, is not as important as other stuff. And maybe writing a book is not what you should be doing now. It falls really low on priorities, and I’m totally okay with that. But if someone’s gonna say, ‘No, Dan, this IS a priority. It’s meaningful to me, it’s meaningful to my business. I know it can help people.’ Then to me, it’s like–How do you really show up all the way? What hill will you die on, in that kind of really polarizing way? So I do all this research, and I’m always dissecting that, because I’m just so curious about how people communicate, and what engages people, and how do we tell stories?
Right before this call, I was spending 10 minutes watching a YouTube video by Emma Chamberlain, who I’ve written about once or twice. She’s just this 21-year-old influencer who has a coffee company, she has a podcast, and she has 10 million followers. There’s no real reason I’m following her. I don’t really know how to define what she does. And I think she is undefinable in some ways, but she does these really long YouTube videos.
And I’m looking at–the storytelling, the music she chooses, the shots. She does these really long shots. She does these interesting cuts. Now she has a camera person with her–she used to walk down the street vlogging. Now there’s someone else with the camera, so she is walking and they’re there. And I’m like, that is a storytelling decision by her–to walk around the streets of Khan, with a person next to her with a camera, and talking into it.
So now I’m thinking–she’s got to feel like a dope, because I’m talking into a camera in the south of France. And I’m just thinking of all this, these creative decisions. And I’m thinking about, you know, what is she doing here? Her fans love her. So she’s nowhere near any topic, any genre that matters to the work that I do necessarily. But whenever you have someone who has 10 or 15 million followers and is doing these things, it’s like, ‘Wow, what are they doing? What’s going on here?’
And to me, it’s learning how to communicate. It’s learning what it is to be human and learning–how do we connect? And I can take something from her video and think about–Oh, if I’m going to do an event at the local bookstore, what would make people feel immersed? You know, what would the pacing of that be? I don’t know, I just feel like, if I’m gonna bother doing this, I want to do it at a higher level, and I view that as craft. That idea of marketing is craft, or observing other people is a craft, where you understand the marketplace, you understand the audience, in the same way that obviously writing is a craft.
And that’s a great argument for starting early, you know, before your book, when you have the book idea, correct? So you can see if you can engage people–whether it’s on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, or doing these videos. I mean, YouTube is super popular, and doing these videos and using the right keywords, and seeing if you can get interest in that book. And I know so many people start this after they’ve written the book. But yeah, when should you start–anytime you’re ready?
It’s always as early as possible. So I’ll work with people, like paying clients, a year or more ahead of a book launch, and sooner if needed. But– the minute that you’re thinking of doing this, I would say start doing the work. Because inherently, what platform is about, is communication and trust. The longer you have to learn how to communicate, the longer you have to make little connections and build that sense of trust. It’s so much easier than waiting until you feel like, ‘Well, now I’m ready for marketing.’ And you’ve got like three months or six months, you have so few options at that point, except to go out there and do what we don’t want to do, which is shout about our book and feel like we’re now quote unquote, marketing. It’s not pleasant.
No, it isn’t. Yeah. And I’d love to go back to your Pyramid if you can, and just maybe walk us through the steps that this entails for success, and maybe why each builds on the next step. If that’s true.
Yeah, let me just pull it up. So we kind of work from the bottom to the top. And the idea here is–there’s a foundational level. And, at the bottom layer, essentially this idea of defining your identity, who you are. So, I put Clarity Cards in there, the key messages I mentioned, even your bio. Not just saying, ‘Dan Blank is a writer who focuses on marketing, with keyword, keyword keyword.’ Talk about the journey to get there. Start with the reader, you know, why are they here? If they’re on my site for marketing advice, don’t start with, ‘I grew up in New Jersey,’ and whatever. Start with the reader and really take people through that step.
That whole bottom layer–content strategy, your editorial calendar, models for success, voice, and visual style. This is inherently about– ‘What is my message and how can I communicate?’ That is a craft you will never stop learning. I’ve been doing this full time, 12 years as a business, and I’ve been online for like 15, 16, 17 years. My newsletter is 16 or 17 years old. Every week, I am figuring this out, still. So, once you know that, I think it’s permission, because then you can grow.
The next layer is–find your audience, where we’re building audience personas, the idea of understanding the marketplace–which you mentioned–the comparable books. It’s doing that kind of research, it’s testing ideas–what will engage your audience? And it’s thinking about, how do we curate other people who my audience knows? How do we lead with generosity?
Then, in the middle of the pyramid is where most people start. So they start at the wrong place. They start with the channels. They say, ‘I want to build a platform, I better get on Twitter.’ And they haven’t figured out their audience, they haven’t figured out their message. So at this middle level, you start figuring out–What should be on my website? Even if your website is one page. Do you need a newsletter? Are you going to blog? Will you use video? Will you think about podcasting? How will social media fit into that?
These are options. You don’t have to do any of them, you can take them one step at a time. And this is also why I encourage you to have colleagues, because you can talk to 5, 10, or 20 other writers who are at your level, or come before you, and ask them what works for them. What are they nervous about? What’s their system for that?
Then the next two levels–the audience outreach and launching your work–it’s so much about the more traditional marketing work. It’s the offline stuff, of emailing people and building connections, one person at a time. It’s thinking about having colleagues, it’s having a network. And it’s developing marketing campaigns, and a book launch, and all the stuff that goes with that, which I’m happy to talk about if you’d like. And then all that at the top, it leads to this idea of–it’s not just leading to a book launch, it’s leading to a life that you want to live as a writer. Someone who is known for a certain thing, who’s having conversations and meeting people.
And you know, I’m 49. So I grew up in the era before the internet, and I used to manage a cafe. So we’d have that poetry meeting, we’d have the person sitting there writing their novel, and, you know, it was a community you can see in front of you, which is no better or worse than now, how it is, when you go on Twitter and do #writingcommunity, or #I’mwriting. And you see the virtual cafe on Twitter. To me, this is even better nowadays. Because it’s a much bigger diversity of everything–where people are in the process and where they live. And the kinds of books they’re doing. It’s just so much more interesting. And that’s the Pyramid in a nutshell.
Yeah, that’s a lot. And I’m glad you have the Pyramid. It’s all color coded, you worked this out. And those Clarity Cards are pretty amazing too, as is your book. Before we wrap up–how much time do you find that the authors that you work with spend every day on this kind of task?
Not as much as you might think. Honestly, I feel like if you’re spending two hours a week on this, you are way ahead of most people who don’t do anything, or they do it like how we all do LinkedIn. We took LinkedIn really seriously when we needed a job nine years ago, then we haven’t looked at it since. So if you’re spending one hour a week thinking about this, or sharing something, or scheduling out three tweets, or looking up some other authors and what they share on Twitter, that is way more than most other people.
So even at that level–you can break that out to 15 minutes a day, for four days in a row or even at one hour a week. After a month, you’re gonna learn a lot. And of course, anything else you do–maybe for you, it’s, ‘Oh, I’ll do two hours every Sunday for a while.’ And I find that this work just builds, so it doesn’t matter how much time–I think it’s the consistency.
And I have the Pyramid and I have the systems I do now because I love making systems. I think that then, you’re feeling like you’re learning. So it’s like me talking about the Emma Chamberlin video, which is just some random 10-minute video talking about cuts and lighting and camera people. It’s me really pulling lessons from that.
And I think if you’re doing an hour a week, and you just pull out lessons like, ‘Oh, I noticed such and such author shared this. That was interesting. I noticed that this author shared such and such on Instagram, it got a lot of comments,’ just writing that down, even if that’s all you do for a month or two. That is you immersing yourself and it’s you learning. And then, later on, you can take that to say, ‘Hm, maybe I’ll try that on Twitter,’ or, ‘What would my own version of that be?’ So even at an hour a week, you’re doing awesome.
That’s great. And what I hear you saying is that you are spending that time creating meaningful connections with people, with customers, with potential readers, with peer groups who can be your critique partners and just your sort of little mastermind and all of that. And you have a lot of tools on your website. I want you to tell us what you have. I know there’s a freebie, Five Ways to Immediately Connect With Readers. Can you tell us how to get that and your Clarity Cards and your Pyramid? Those are all free, right?
Yeah, of course. So if you go to wegrowmedia.com, so I have the weekly newsletter that I send out every week for 15 years, that should be right on the homepage. You’ll get the download if you sign up for that. I send it every Friday. I really shove that newsletter, unsubscribe anytime. Plenty of people unsubscribe, and that’s fine.
I have a weekly podcast called The Creative Shift with Dan Blank. So if you go to the site, you’ll see that there’s a Blog and Podcast tab. I share the blog every week, and I share the podcast–it’s a different way of sharing it. On that same tab, you’ll see the Creative Success Pyramid, you’ll see the Clarity Cards exercise. And I have, of course, more than a decade’s worth of blog posts that I’ve shared. So you can go in chronologically and just see what I’ve shared recently.
And then I’m really active on Twitter and Instagram. So every single day, I’m sharing something there that I think is helpful or inspiring to this idea of how we learn how to share better. And of course, my email address is right in the Contact tab, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions, or you’re freaking out, just send me an email. I’m happy to try and help where I can.
I love that. Thank you. And I love that you’re active on Twitter. I used to love Twitter, and I dropped it. And I’m kind of sorry I have. One of my missions for the near future is to get back on Twitter and start being more active there. Can you tell us just very quickly why Twitter?
Well, I had a period like that where I was not relatively early to Twitter. And then it became a big marketing platform. And it felt a little disenfranchised. But I kept it on life support. So I made sure I kept sharing a little bit. It was nice–what I start finding interesting again, it wasn’t like, ‘Hey, everyone, I’m back.’ It was just I kind of kept going with it. Twitter is just so unique in terms of the real-time conversations that happen. There’s nothing else like it.
Instagram is fascinating, and Tik Tok, and Facebook, and LinkedIn. They’re all fascinating in their own way. But they’re all unique. And I think that Twitter is so interesting in terms of that real-time conversation and what we can do. Pros and cons to it without question. But I think it’s unique. And that’s why I’ve never let it go.
That’s why I loved it. It seemed to be so immediate and so timely. And I love the instant messaging and connecting with people there because, especially with the media, you know with journalists, you can tell who’s writing on your topic and newspapers and magazines. And it’s just a really great resource for that. Well, gosh, we could talk for hours more, I know. And I really want to thank you for being our guest today.
Thank you. It’s always fun to chat and these topics, yeah, we could talk for hours about it, but I appreciate everything.
Right. And go to the website, wegrowmedia.com. It’s worth it. I’ve been on it for over 10 years, I think. Thank you.
And thank you to our listeners for joining us today on this audio-video podcast. We want to respect your time so our episodes are only 30 minutes each week. Join us for the live stream to participate in the conversation or watch the replay and let us know how you liked it. We love it when you comment and share! Find out who’s on next on the Events tab at NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com.
See you next time!
“It all leads to this idea of–it’s not just leading to a book launch, it’s leading to a life that you want to live as a writer. Someone who is known for a certain thing, who’s having conversations and meeting people.”
“The minute that you’re thinking of working on your platform, I would say start doing the work. Because inherently, what platform is about, is communication and trust. The longer you have to learn how to communicate, the longer you have to make little connections and build that sense of trust.”
“And to me, it’s learning how to communicate. It’s learning what it is to be human and learning–how do we connect?”
“I just feel like, if I’m gonna bother doing this, I want to do it at a higher level, and I view that as craft. That idea of marketing is craft, or observing other people is a craft, where you understand the marketplace, you understand the audience, in the same way that obviously writing is a craft.”