Marketing makes my skin crawl. For years my editor, Steve Peirsanti of Berrett-Koehler, has pushed me to attend his company’s workshop for authors. This year it was being held where I live, excuses were hard to come by, and guilt drove me to attend. I walked out of the conference with a surprising discovery. The discovery helps me understand what we are doing on this planet.
The content of the presentations tended to be about best practices and social media. People spoke of those acts that, when taken, will sell books. I listened and I wrote down about 25 useful practices. These were valuable. As people presented, however, I listened for a deeper message, identified occasional bits, and integrated them into a larger picture.
For me the presentations fell into two camps. Some speakers had a message that went like this: “I broke the code by changing my perspective and made lots of money by selling myself in the following way.” Others also spoke of breaking the code, but they had a different message. It was not such an obvious message; I had to piece it together. Here are the sound bites I wrote in my notebook:
How to Succeed in Social Media
- In social media selling does not work, service does
- Put yourself in the background
- Remove yourself from your marketing
- Do not promote yourself, share value
- Know where you want to show up
- Serve the people in your lane
- Be curious
- Practice empathy for your audience
- Find out what keeps them up at night
- Help them with their deepest needs
- Link your core message to their needs
- Make sure the core message is authentic
- Continually refresh your core message
- Give them inspiration
- Share your stories
- Seek out influencers and help them to help others
- Help the influencers get their message out
- At the end of your message, give them a place to go for help other than you
- When you become a true servant, resources will flow to you
A Basic Need
The list reminds me of a basic human need. I once asked Warren Bennis, the well-known author on leadership, what most drove him when he was young. He thought for a very long time and then he answered, “I wanted to be heard.”
We all want to be heard because we all want to belong. We all desire to be valued contributors. We all want to have a voice, to share a message that makes a difference. Some of us are shot down in childhood and become convinced we will never have a voice. After that, we claim we do not desire to be heard. Some of us recover and pursue the yearning, which leads us to write an article, start a blog, or even write a book. In the process, the need to be heard transforms into the need for fame and wealth. Ego reigns. Ego blinds. Ego makes our message conventional.
In terms of fame and wealth, the book is basically dead; it is a low probability option. Today, even some of the most recognized authors publish potent messages but sell very few volumes. The internet means anyone can publish. While the likelihood of being heard is still low, you can put your words out there. All over social media, we see weak messages and vain efforts to be heard.
An Unnatural Jump
What I took away from the conference was a new recognition of a very old concept. If we want to be heard, we have to have a unique and universal message. We are most unique when we know and reveal who we really are. Surprisingly, we are also most universal when we know and reveal who we really are.
It is when we know who we really are that we find the courage to reveal who we really are. The courage comes from love. When we discover who we really are, we encounter an evolving, contributing self we can love. When we do that, ego goals give way to contribution goals. We love our audience. We want them to have what we found.
We can do this without a book. We can have a deeply thoughtful strategy and simply use the internet to serve others. If we do, we will be heard. If we are heard, resources will naturally flow back to us. The key is the unnatural jump from ego to contribution.
So what is the value of writing a book? First and foremost, it is a discipline for knowing self and clarifying our most authentic voice. Getting a proposal through the front door of a publisher is a challenge, and pursuing the proposal until they accept means we believe enough to be resilient. Resilience automatically brings learning form unusual experience. We are putting our message out there and getting feedback. If we are living in purpose over ego, we take the feedback and we grow. If we quit, it means ego has killed our faith in learning. We enter the fixed mindset.
Getting the proposal accepted means some professional sees our message as having potential. That is a temporary affirmation. The next step is producing the manuscript. Writing for a truly demanding editor means we are getting an even more intense form of feedback. Our every sentence is challenged. As we respond and we rewrite, our words increase in power, in clarity, in authenticity, and in value. This requires constant clarification of our highest purpose and the constant reigning in of our ego. Finally publishing the book is a joyful, personal landmark, soon followed by disappointment when sales are less than than imagined.
So what is the payoff? The payoff is the new relationships we forge with our reading audience. In finding an audience, we find our people. Once we reach them, we can nurture the relationship and make the effort to better understand and to better serve them. We can do this through the internet, through speaking events, and through writing still another book, perhaps to only a slightly larger audience. If we stay constant, as the cycle repeats, we discover more about who we really are and how we can best serve our people.
The Capstone Moment
At the end of the conference, I shared some of this with the woman sitting next to me. Her name was La’Wana. She has a corporate position and she is also an author. She turned on her laptop and told me she wanted me to see her life mission. She opened to a beautiful page with the following words, “I am called to live my life as a distribution center, not a storage facility.”
It was as if she opened a curtain and let the sun envelop me. I had a series of thoughts. First, maybe everyone should write a book. Then came the realization: everyone is writing a book. With every act and with every word, we are producing our message which may or may not be heard. As I walked out of the conference, I asked myself, “How can I best help everyone write a great book?” And it occurred to me: maybe I can get into marketing after all.
- How is authorship the same as leadership?
- Who are the people in our organization who successfully author positive change?
- How can we spread their excellence?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?