This is a Community, Not a Book — How I’m Marketing The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

26 Feb

After nearly a year of hard work, I finally finished writing my first book. The book launches April 7  on Amazon, and I can’t wait to share it with you. All of you have already been so incredibly supportive of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the book, and I cannot thank you enough. Together, we’ve started to build a community of young people who will support each other in pursuing work that matters.

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough shares the stories of many 20- and 30-somethings who are discovering how to work with purpose (and still pay their rent). I wrote the book I wish I had during my own quarter-life crisis. Two weeks ago, as I was freaking out and stressing about what I was going to do with my life now that the book was coming to an end, I had to force myself to sit down and read my own damn book.

Writing the book over the past year has been the hardest and most fulfilling experience of my life. On the one hand, l have spent many months not returning phone calls or going out with friends, instead passing my days and evenings locked up in the UCSF Library writing with a crew of med students studying for the Boards. On the other hand, I have dedicated my time toward something that will help young people figure out what they want and how they can make a difference in the world. Most importantly, I have tried to lay the foundation for what I hope becomes a community that inspires others to get unstuck, embrace fear, and find meaning in their lives.

Navigating the world of self-publishing sometimes feels more painful than trying to find a job right after college. Before I discuss my marketing plan, I want to emphasize how much I’ve learned from several easy-to-digest and free (or very affordable) resources about writing, publishing, and marketing a book. I’ve read each one about three times, and I currently have all these open on my computer. In fact, Charlie Hoehn’s brilliant post inspired me to write this.

3 essential books about publishing:

APE: Artist- Publisher- Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch

Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl

The Unconventional Guide to Publishing by David Fugate

3 essential blog posts about book marketing:

How I’m Marketing My Self-Published Book by Charlie Hoehn

How to Self-Publish a Bestseller by James Altucher

How to Write a Bestselling Book This Year – The Definitive Resource List and How-To Guide by Tim Ferriss

With the help of these resources, I’ve learned three essential lessons:

1)    Write a book because you have a story that needs to be told, not because you want to make money. This one should be obvious for anyone who writes for a living, but I spent the better part of the past 12 months making barely enough money to get by, working on a project that may not lead to much income. I did this because I knew others were facing the same questions I was, and that my story could help them.

Whenever someone asks me what will happen if I “fail” and don’t make the bestsellers list, I tell them two things: First, I definitely won’t make the bestsellers list since my book is not in bookstores (at least not yet), so yes, I already failed. I failed! Failure is cool! WOOT WOOT! Second, actual failure is impossible because I’ve already won. I wrote a book. I jumped through the creative vortex. The process of writing my book, running a crowdfunding campaign to build support for my book, and seeing people get excited about their breakthrough, has been worth every single moment of fear about how I’m going to make a living this year (that’s like 365 days worth of fear). Frankly, one reader telling me a few months back that seeing my book’s website inspired her to re-think what she wanted to do with her life, has already made this project worth it. Even if Amazon shuts down tomorrow and I can’t release my book, I’ll still be grateful. 

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 1.28.53 PM

I used crowdfunding to give myself an advance.

2)     Whether you self-publish or publish, you are going to do a shit-ton of work. I’ve been inspired by what James Altucher calls “Publishing 3.0” and Guy Kawasaki’s theory that a writer is an author, publisher, and entrepreneur. Your book will be as good as you make it, regardless of whether it’s being published by Random House or 20s & 30s Press (my publishing imprint). Because I decided to self-publish, I ran an Indiegogo campaign to sell pre-orders for The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, and raised $12,800 from 518 supporters in 38 countries around the world. Basically, in addition to demonstrating that a market (a community that spans 38 countries) exists for my book, I gave myself an advance that is probably more than I would have gotten from a publisher as a first-time non-famous author. Now I own all rights to the book, get to keep 70% of the royalties from sales (instead of give 80%+ to a publisher), and I have the ability to sell the rights to a publisher if I gain some traction. 

I used the money I raised from the Indiegogo campaign to pay for developmental and copy editing services, cover photography and professional book design, and printing and marketing costs. In addition to writing something of value and making it look professional (which took me about 11 months), now I need to manage my personal brand, my platform, and this community. After a year of getting more gray hair each day, my real work is just beginning. In the last week I have done everything from write copy for a video trailer to get print quotes to send out review copies to press. I’m essentially running a start-up venture. As Jay-Z puts it, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a businessman!”

3)    Being an author is not really about writing; it’s about connecting with your readers. Tim Grahl stresses the importance of creating a system where you continue to connect with your readers through your email list and your platform, where you can share interesting content and build community. A successful book requires successful community engagement.

In the interest of engaging this community, I’d like to share my marketing plan with all of you. First, sharing this will hold me accountable to the 1,456 thoughts currently running through my brain and help me learn from you what I’m doing right, what I’m missing, and what I’m screwing up. Second, this allows each of you to see where you can best contribute based on your unique talents and connections. Finally, I hope it serves as a resource for other authors marketing their books, or other creatives trying to engage millennials. This marketing plan (like my book itself) is a work in progress. I want to thank my dear friend Sydney Malawer, who helped me begin brainstorming many months ago. I welcome your collaboration, feedback, and suggestions in the comments or by email! 

Marketing Plan for The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

Launching on Amazon, April 7, 2014

Author. Publisher. Entrepreneur.

Author. Publisher. Entrepreneur.

Who is this book for? 20-somethings, 30-somethings, recent college grads, parents of millennials, career changers, any passionate about pursuing meaning and reaching their potential.

What do my readers want? From my interviews with 20-somethings, I’ve learned that most millennials are hungry for the complete opposite of the way the media portrays us. Despite being shackled by debt, recession, and the jobs crisis, millennials want meaning more than money. We want more stories of empathy and empowerment, inspiration and innovation, in a time when society is telling us our dreams are impossible.

Why does it matter? When people have a breakthrough they come alive, find meaning, reach their potential, and change the world. It was other young people that inspired me to have my breakthrough. You can’t have a breakthrough alone, you need help along the way; you need a community.

Marketing goal: To build a supportive community of 20- and 30- somethings who refuse to settle. This is a community, not a book. My goal is to engage this community and provide valuable resources that will inspire everyone to support each other in having breakthroughs.

Marketing principles: BE AUTHENTIC, CONSIDER EVERYTHING (BUT PRIORITIZE), FOCUS ON LONG-TERM IMPACT, ASK FOR HELP, HAVE FUN 

1.    Email list

Thoughts: According to Your First 1000 Copies, email is the single most effective way to connect with readers and sell your book (25 times more effective than a Facebook post or a Tweet, which is fascinating to me).

Goal: Double number of email list subscribers by June, 2014.

Action Items:

  • add my blog followers, Indiegogo supporters, and additional Gmail contacts to new MailChimp email list (roughly 2,000 people)
  • add email sign-up forms to website and blog
  • engage readers with free content (free pdf of Manifesto, free pdf of preface/intro)
  • get partner organizations I feature in the book to email their subscribers with info about the book

2.    Amazon reviews

Thoughts: Since the majority of my sales will take place on Amazon (e-book through Kindle Direct Publishing and paperback through Lightning Source or CreateSpace), this page is the key hub for all web traffic. Amazon reviews indicate whether your book is being taken seriously, and can lead to increased visibility.

Goal: 100 Amazon reviews posted on launch day, 500 Amazon reviews posted by April 1.

Action Items:

  • give free pdf to all 518 Indiegogo supporters 2-weeks prior to Amazon release so people have time to write reviews
  • give free pdf to Amazon reviewers via Facebook page
  • reach out to top Top Reviewers in my category               

3. Word of Mouth Engagement / Speaking / Workshops

Thoughts: This is by far the most near and dear to my heart since I love people, so this is what I will spend the most time on.

Goal: Spread the word about book through impactful in-person and online events between launch and end of summer. By Fall 2014, get asked to speak at major events/conferences for millennials.

Action items:

  • Request the 19 inspiring millennials I feature in book to email their friends/family/co-workers telling them about the book / also invite them to participate in online forums so it’s not just me telling the story, it’s a community of people who refuse to settle.
  • online forums about The Quarter-Life Breakthrough + finding meaningful work (1 prior to launch via Google Hangout), 2 Reddit AMAs during launch week.
  • In-person “Breakthrough Nights”/ Meet-ups to discuss book and provide support network for people going through career transition (1x/week during March, hosted at a friend’s house)
  • Host Skillshare class about having a quarter-life breakthrough (not sure I can handle putting this together right now, but I will consider for 2 months after book launch—great marketing opportunity that also provides revenue)
  • Speaking/workshops at events through leveraging my network of social change organizations (Hive, StartingBloc, Bold Academy, Camp Grounded, Passion Co.). Use existing network help me build community and share the book via email and social media.
  • East Coast speaking tour, April 20-May 2. Already booked at Wesleyan University and the Association for Journalists and Authors Conference in New York. Trying to book venues/colleges during those dates in Boston, Middletown, New York, Philly, Washington DC.
  • Reach out to prominent partners in meaning/impact space about speaking (General Assembly, GOOD, Indiegogo, Ignite, TEDx, World Domination Summit, SOCAP ’14, SXSW ’15, Freespace, XOXO, HUB, Awesome Foundation, Feast on Good, etc.)
  • Reach out to partner career services organizations (ReWork, JVS, Echoing Green, Net Impact, Idealist, LinkedIn, Monster…) and request cross-promotion initiative 

 4.    College campus engagement

Thoughts: This book will succeed if I can figure out how to break into the college speaking circuit, or market to recent college grads. Please let me know if you can help with this (do you know authors who have run successful college book campaigns? Can you help me organize an event at your school?!)

Goal: Spring 2014 (college graduation season!) speaking tour as a pilot run, speak at Wesleyan University (my alma mater) and 3-4 northeast schools, plan full college tour for Fall 2014.

Action items:

  • Send free copy of the book to college career counselors. Provide discount bulk rate to career services departments at schools.
  • Market to recent college graduates entering the less-than-ideal job market
  • Develop book content into workshop for college seniors (potentially develop pdf workbook and distribute online
  • Secure “campus ambassadors” at schools across country
  • Workshops/events at innovative non-traditional education orgs (Uncollege, Watson University, Experience Institute, Thiel Fellowship, etc.)

 5.   Parent engagement

Thoughts: It has occurred to me that a lot of my friends are broke; I need to get their parents to buy this book as a gift.

Goal: Get parents who are freaked out that their kid went to a liberal arts college, majored in film studies, and won’t get a job, to buy my book.

Action items:

  • Figure out a way to market to parents to buy this book as a gift for their kid.
  • Potentially launch Online Forum or “Breakthrough Book Club for Parents of Millennials.” I envision this being a “support group” of some sort for parents freaking out about how their kids are gonna make it. Would be cool to engage in constructive dialogue with both parents and millennials in an online or in-person forum. Do our parents use Reddit AMAs?

 6.    Press

Thoughts: If I learned anything from my crowdfunding campaign, it was that passionate press is the best press. Seeking out the largest publications is not as effective as finding issue-aligned blogs with small readership but passionate readers. Let me know if you have contacts at any of the publications listed below!

Goal: Focus on small blogs with hardcore followings of millennials + career changers.

Action items:

  • Instead of pitching content, give content. Write content (“5 Things Every 20-Something Needs to Know,” etc…) for value-aligned blogs and sites like GOOD, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, PolicyMic, Elephant Journal, 99U, Brazen Careerist, Daily Muse, Soul Pancake, etc.
  • Pitch mission-aligned publications (Brain Pickings, Flavorpill, FastCompany, Forbes, etc.)
  • Do interviews with prominent bloggers/thought leaders in the 20-something/coaching space (Penelope Trunk, Danielle Laporte, Amber Rae, Christine Hassler, David Burnstein, Emily Esfahani-Smith, Nona Willis, Scott Dinsmore, Courtney Martin, etc.)
  • Give FREE copy of the book to any blogger interested in reviewing the book or interviewing me
  • 1-2 months after launch, pitch major publications (NPR, The Atlantic, Wired, NY Times, Wall St. Journal, SF Magazine, SF GuardianSF Chronicle, Upworthy, etc). 
  • Get reviews in trade publications (PW, Kirkus, etc.) if possible
  • Pitch TV interview with Pivot (TV channel for millennials); please let me know if you have a contact at Pivot!
  • Press Kit available for download on book website

 7.    Blog- whatsupsmiley.com

Goal: Use my blog to engage readers with content and build community.

Action items:

  • Use blog to give free resources, get email sign-ups, ask for Amazon reviews
  • Write 2 short blog posts per week leading up to launch. Cross-post on Medium and Huffington Post.
  • Interview top 20-something coaches on my blog (time permitting)
  • Promote other marketing assets on blog
  • Invite community members to tell their story on my blog 

 8.   Video

Thoughts: Video is an effective way to share my story to a wide audience.

Action items:

  • Finalize 2-minute trailer video. Post on YouTube and Vimeo
  • Film funny 60-second trailer video for YouTube
  • Film interviews about the book and post on YouTube

 9.    Radio & Podcasts

Thoughts: It would be awesome to be on the radio. If you can help me with this, let me know.

Action items:

  • Pitch relevant radio programs (KQED/SF, WBUR/Boston, NPR, Tom Ashbrook) – (I need radio contacts!)
  • Do podcasts with millennial thought leaders (Danielle Laporte, Nate Bagley/Loveumentary)

10. Social Media

Thoughts: Anytime I mention I’m launching a book, people ask me about my social media strategy. From everything I’ve read, social media doesn’t matter that much for book sales. This doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore it (you’ll still see me posting on Facebook and Twitter), but there’s a reason it’s #10 on this list. According to the resources above, people are on social media to take in content, not to buy stuff.  

Action items:

  • Facebook page: post relevant articles to millennials, engage fans, build community
  • Twitter: engage bloggers and followers, reach out to press, foster conversation between Breakthrough-ers around the world
  • Google +: Google Hangouts-on-Air
  • YouTube: post video trailers and interviews
  • LinkedIn: help readers advance careers and connect with others, potential content partnership with LinkedIn (need contact at LinkedIn!)
  • Instagram: post photos of the book/ quotes, potentially Insta videos
  • Pintrest: it just ain’t me (unless any of YOU want to own this?)
  • Goodreads: engage aligned readers with recommendations for similar books.

 11.  Slide Share Deck

Thoughts: Not sure I’ll have time for this, but I’ve noticed some good SlideShare presentations have 100,000+ views, which is crazy!

  • Turn key points from book into deck and post on SlideShare (need someone to design this!)

 12.  Breakthrough Manifesto

Thoughts: This will take some time and design work, but I think it’s a good idea since I already have the content.

  • Turn best 1-liners from book into a 2-3 page Manifesto (a la Holstee). Give Manifesto away for free on website/blog/email list.

13.  Breakthrough Book Club

Thoughts: Book clubs are excellent ways to engage readers (and create communities of support and accountability for people who refuse to settle, which is my main goal).

Action items:

  • Start San Francisco-based Breakthrough Book Club in April to discuss the book in greater detail.
  • Invite readers to join virtual book club. Provide pdf on website with “discussion group questions” for readers to lead book clubs about The Quarter-Life Breakthrough in their community. Time permitting: provide recommended reading list (with suggested questions) of additional books for Breakthrough Book Clubs to discuss.

14. 1-on-1 Breakthrough Coaching Program

Thoughts: This is an excellent opportunity to engage more with readers (as well as an additional revenue stream). 

Action items:

  • Provide 1-on-1 coaching (in-person for Bay Area and via Google Hangout elsewhere) for readers who want additional engagement. Add coaching section with testimonials to blog and website. Limit to 2-3 clients per month for now to focus on client impact.

15. Other fun stuff

Thoughts: Oh you better believe I’m having a book launch party.

Action items:

  • Letterpress poster (I love letterpress!), stickers, postcards for Indiegogo supporters, business cards
  • Book Release Party! Invite all Indiegogo supporters and friends to party in San Francisco. Anticipated party date: March 28, 2014 (if you want to help plan this event or know of a venue that will gift space to me, let me know!)

How you can help

Clearly, the next few weeks are going to be busy. I might not have the bandwidth to do everything on this list. However, I’m going to consider each opportunity, and prioritize as needed. As I’ve mentioned throughout this post, this book is not about me. It’s about building a community of millennials who refuse to settle. To that end, now that my editor and designer have completed their work, my office (that would be me, my Moleskine, and the best chocolate chip cookies San Francisco can offer) is rather quiet. I could really use your help (in-person or virtually). If you are interested in helping me with anything on the above list (or something not mentioned), please do one of three things: 

1)    Let me know which of these 15 initiatives (and 54 action items!) you are uniquely capable of helping with. 

2)    If you live in the Bay Area, and want join Team Breakthrough (my advisory crew of badass entrepreneurs, creative artists, and marketing gurus) for an epic brainstorming session about this marketing plan in San Francisco, sometime next week, please sign-up here. I will provide drinks and snacks!

3)    If you already pre-ordered the book on Indiegogo and want to receive a FREE pdf of the book 2-weeks prior to the book becoming available on Amazon, sign-up here.

Thank you for helping sustain this exponential community,

-Smiley Poswolsky

To learn more, check out www.thequarterlifebreakthrough.com. To get free resources for your breakthrough, sign-up for my email list. I welcome your collaboration, suggestions, and feedback in the comments or via email: smiley@thequarterlifebreakthrough.com

12 Responses to “This is a Community, Not a Book — How I’m Marketing The Quarter-Life Breakthrough”

  1. Morgan Siem February 26, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

    You are amazing. I will work to get you speaking gigs in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. There are a lot of entrepreneurship groups that would host this as well as many major universities I could try to set you up with (UNC, Duke, NC State, Meredith, Elon, Wake Forest, etc. I have contacts at some of those schools, not all, but I can still try). Touch base with me to do this after the promo vid is completed & the press kit is ready – having those will make my work easier. LOVE YOU!

    • whatsupsmiley February 27, 2014 at 10:45 am #

      Thanks Morgan! I hope to be able to get the NC this year– if not in the spring, then definitely in the fall! I’ll send you my press kit when I have it.

  2. michellemeagher February 26, 2014 at 11:22 pm #

    This post literally got me out of bed this morning. I was reading it almost feverishly in the dark, under the covers, and the positivity (you can do it!), necessity (you must do it!), and urgency (you gotta do this thing now!) that was just radiating off my screen was so infectious that I had to get up and get this day going because – look at what you’re doing! You’re making stuff! You’re doing stuff! And you have Such Big Plans. It’s really damn cool. [As an aside, content that makes people feel like that - awesome.]

    1. I suspect only very cool parents will know what a Reddit AMA is, unless it’s bigger in the US than it is in the UK.

    2. It strikes me that this is the perfect book to build a community around not just because that’s you’re whole aim but also because it’s the perfect way to grow customers. When I read your book and love it (when, not if!), I will do one of three things i) write about it on twitter / facebook; ii) buy my friends a copy of the book; iii) forward select friends a copy of an email from your mailing list recommending that they buy this too because it will interest/delight them. The third is the easiest for me and the most effective and results in the most sales for you.

    3. I would be happy to read/review your book although I have only about 20 followers on my blog (workerbeefree.wordpress.com) so not sure that’s much help!

    4. Let me know if you need a place to crash when you’re doing your European book tour…!

    • whatsupsmiley February 27, 2014 at 11:48 pm #

      Thanks Michelle! Great feedback. I’ll send you a digital review copy this week– even 20 blog followers is 20 people I would never reach otherwise, so thank you! And yes, one day I’ll make it to Europe, one day…

  3. tedgonder February 27, 2014 at 6:58 am #

    Dude – this is amazing. Way to go, Smiley. Honored to call you a homie.

    On Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 5:33 PM, whatsupsmiley

    • whatsupsmiley February 27, 2014 at 10:44 am #

      Thanks for your support Ted! Can’t wait to get you the book!

  4. rposwols February 27, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    Shmuckums!!!

    Small thing, LOVE the Jay-Z quote. See attached screen shot, date should be Tuesday, March 4

    Want me to come to one of these?

    LOVE YOU

    On Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 3:33 PM, whatsupsmiley

  5. Matt Fitzgerald (@fitz350) February 27, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Brilliant, Smiley! It’s been a privilege to watch you give form to your dreams. I may not see all the sweat and hard work but I definitely see you shining.

  6. Jason February 27, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    Great post! Definitely stealing some of this for my upcoming book. Can’t wait to read Quarter-Life Breakthrough!

  7. brooklynsonoma March 3, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    Smiley!! Super excited to see you on my WordPress timeline…..RA RA!!!

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