JOHN A: I’d like to welcome you today to another Purposeful Planning Podcast. This is John A Warnick and today’s podcast is titled, “Which Form Should Your Content Take?” And we have some marvelous human beings experts in the area of publishing and writing, Dave Goetz, who is a co-founder of Journey Sixty6, and the President of CZ Strategy. And Melissa Parks, the co-founder of Journey SIxty6 and who is the managing editor of social media at CZ Strategy. They have been of incredible help to several members of the Purposeful Planning Institute, including myself. And they’re responsible for some books that are out there that you already know of, and another book that I know will be coming out shortly — and I can report to them and to you — I am bound and determined now that I’m back from our travel and for my recuperation to really get serious about finishing the book project that I started with them earlier this year and made incredible progress thanks to their coaching in the first five months of this year. So Dave and Melissa, welcome. And I I think we’re really this community that is primed to benefit from the services you offer and to learn from you. We seem to be awash in blogs, white papers, books, and other forms of content. Why should a thought leader, a member of the Purposeful Planning Institute, consider investing time to publish his or her own ideas?
MELISSA: That’s such a great question. And thanks for the warm introduction. It’s so great to be here with you today, John. I think the question that immediately arises with that question is: how are you going to create trust with your target audience with the people whom you want to serve? Because as you said, it’s such a cluttered space. There are so many pieces of content out there. There’s so many marketing strategies. When was the last time you actually picked up a piece of direct mail and said, “I want to use this person to help me solve my problem.” That’s just not how it works. You typically gain a customer or a client when there’s trust, and that typically happens through referral. So in the absence of a referral, how are you going to create trust? And one of the best ways that you can create trust is through content. And we’re not talking about content for the sake of content or just publishing something randomly, but we think of content of, “How can you serve your ideal audience?” We think of it in terms of being a servant-author, “How can you serve those who you want to reach? What are their problems? And what do you have uniquely that you can use that you can share to help them solve their problems?”
DAVE: I think that’s the only way that you can cut through the noise. I love that servan-author. In fact, we stole that idea from someone we talked to, not long ago, who is a marketer and it just really helped, especially for the audience of PPI. So my guess is that the majority tend to be smaller practices, smaller coaching organizations, smaller consultants. So how do you, as Melissa said, tell your story in a way that serves an audience? And I’ll say one more thing, and then I’ll bounce it back to Melissa. Seth Godin, who’s that great marketer, came up with this idea of the Minimal Viable Audience. So this idea of creating a book or creating a blog that goes what we always think about the viral, the big stuff, but typically, people who are successful right for a minimum or minimal viable audience, a small group of people. And so every law practice, every consultant typically has a small group of people that they can write to or the families that they can write to. And so, as you think about all the noise, there is a lot of noise out there, but there’s a need for your voice, if you have that servant mentality.
JOHN A: I love that. Servant-author, servant-thought leader idea. And I think it’s very apropos that you’ve picked up on that and you’re running with that. So many leaders aspire to write a book. But how? How should they go about identifying which ideas are worthy of an entire book? Because they may have tons of ideas but are they all worthy of really going into a book?
MELISSA: Let me step back and propose a couple of other questions. And that is, before you even determine if you have an idea, I think you should be asking the question: Do I have the energy to commit to writing a book? Because it’s going to take a good year to two years of your life, including the marketing of the book. So before you even think about, “Do I have an idea?” You need to be really honest with yourself and say, “Do I have the capacity, the wonder, with all the determination and the focus to actually commit to writing this book?” And the second question is, “Am I passionate about this?” Because passion can help you overcome a lot of obstacles and a lot of ways that your life is interrupted by the writing of the book. If you’re passionate, you’re willing to put aside maybe some family functions or some of your favorite activities in order to get this book. Because you have a purpose greater than yourself. So I would start by asking those two questions. But when you have multiple ideas, that’s a very normal place to be when you’re first thinking about writing a book. But the thing is that you probably have topics and not ideas. And so Dave and I like to get really nuanced in the differentiation between a topic and an idea. And Dave, I don’t know if you want to take it from here. I can continue talking, but you’d probably say it better. So I’ll let you.
DAVE: I don’t know if I could say it better. One of the things that we work on when we work with authors is to really focus and spend some hard, hard time on what is the thesis of your book. And that thesis is the idea that governs your book. And as Melissa said so well, it is not a topic. For example, in the space that we’re in, succession is one that generates a topic or family conflict is a topic or even the topic of “Next-Gen,” and preparing them all those are topics, but they’re not. They’re not book ideas. And so when you’re in a really cluttered space with lots and lots of ideas, and books and people, then you need an idea that is very, very specific and nuanced. So we like to say that an idea has two components to it. And the first one is called the subject. And this is just an exercise that we do. The question is: What am I writing about? And that’s the topic. So for me, let’s say I was going to write a book on fly fishing. And it’s about fishing the Yellowstone in the fall. So that’s the general topic. But that’s not an idea for a book. That’s just so if I say I’m going to write a book on fly fishing in the fall in Yellowstone. You could put 900 books, typically. So that’s not an idea. So the second part to the idea, there’s the subject which is the topic. But then the second piece is the complement, “What am I going to say about my topic? What am I going to say specifically? What am I going to say that uniquely my voice? What is my particular angle on this topic?” And you put those two together, and then you have a thesis or an idea. So it’s really important on the front end of thinking about writing a book that you spend some time on the idea because that is the headwaters of your project. And if you’re too general with your idea, initially, your book is going to go south. Meaning it will never get written because you’ll be all over the map. It is crazy to think this but the more narrow your idea, the deeper it will be and more rich it will be for your audience.
MELISSA: Dave, can you give me an example of what the complement would be for your fly fishing in Yellowstone in the fall?
DAVE: So my topic is generally I’m gonna write a book on fly fishing the the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park in the fall. So there could be a bunch of different books but what I’m going to say about it I’m going to talk specifically about when to fish in the Yellowstone in the fall and it’s always after the first big snow. Why is that? Because the Browns are triggered. They begin their move up river and they start to move up the streams. And so you start to get really good brown trout fishing, and they start to hit on streamers. So my thesis might be the whole book which is not a whole book, by the way, it’s probably a blog post. And by the way, the other point here is that most ideas are not big enough for a book. And that’s that, that’s a whole nother topic. But so for example, my thesis might be that the best time to fly fish in Yellowstone is after October 15, because there’s been a snowball and it will trigger the Browns to run up the river. That’s an awful idea. So the point simply is whatever topic you want to talk about, you have to go narrow and deep. You cannot go general because those books have all been written.
MELISSA: I want to take a step back to what you said that most ideas are fit better find a podcast episode or a blog post, or even a white paper. There are very few ideas that can sustain 40,000 to 50,000 words. I know, John, you’re working on a book and you know, just how difficult that is to sustain the interest of a reader for that long and to say something fresh within each chapter, each section within each chapter is a Herculean task. And if you don’t have a lot of content to work with, if you don’t have a lot of content to support your idea, then chances are you have something much smaller than maybe an ebook, something specifically designed as a PDF or a series of blog posts. But you don’t have to jump in with a book. And I think that’s what we’re here today to say is if you don’t have a book in you, there are other ways to publish your cards.
JOHN A: Yeah. I think that’s a great point. And coming back to this idea that really is the kind of the fuel that will carry you through that year to two year commitment to writing a book. I am just going to say when Dave talks about fly fishing in the Yellowstone River after October 15, in Yellowstone National Park, Dave has a passion for this. Just a little bit of a personal note, but Dave is an avid fly fisher. He’s an expert. He’s a podcaster. This podcast is known as 2 Guys And A River. And he’s written not just one book, but two books on fly fishing; The Fly Fisher’s book of Lists: Life Is Short. Catch More Fish. So Dave, there that passion is shown up for Dave and carried on through completing two books. Melissa, I’m going to say more about you a little bit later. But I wanted to put that plug in for Dave, because it fits with this thesis or idea that he just developed to help us understand the importance of identifying what is the idea. But Melissa, could you go a little bit further. I think now that we’ve made this point, not all ideas may justify publishing a book. What are some of the other formats or alternatives that people can use to express their ideas that may not be book worthy?
MELISSA: So I actually love the word Publish. And if you go to etymology, ‘publish’ means to make public or to make your ideas public. And it’s such a simple idea that I think really empowers thought leaders to see publishing as so much larger than just books when you post a social media post, say on Facebook or LinkedIn that is publishing, that is making your ideas known to the world. And so really, there are, as we mentioned, at the beginning, myriad ways of making your ideas public and known to the world. And it’s as simple as a social media post or maybe a short form video. Lots of people are really successful doing video series where they’re thinking as a servant-author and coming up with topics that can serve their audience. So they think, “What is the question that my audience has? And how can I answer that in 30 seconds to a minute?” So people are immensely successful doing that in this world, where video reigns as supreme. Of course there is blogging. I know there’s a lot of competition, but when you instrument your blogs for SEO, when you get really specific in that title thinking like your audience and the questions that they want to ask, suddenly you’re going to have this reach because people are going to be searching and you’re going to have an answer for them. So those are some of the traditional ways that you can publish your work. Of course, there’s YouTube. You can do videos on YouTube. You can do the curriculum. You can do a weekly newsletter through some stack. We have people whom we worked with that use substack as a way to communicate with their audience. There are ebooks — and I’m not talking about an ebook that you do have your actual published book — I’m talking about an ebook, that’s usually pretty short, but it has many chapters that are usually created as a PDF. And you can sell that or you can make it downloadable where you’re collecting people’s data. There’s really no shortage of ways to get your ideas out in the world. And really, there’s probably going to be some overlap in the different ways that you’d make your words public. So, for instance, we work with people who create videos — maybe like a two-minute video — and we post on the website or in the blog or resources area, but you want to let people who don’t maybe follow your website regularly or not even search for you, let them know about that. So you go and talk about it on LinkedIn. And suddenly you have this kind of dynamic relationship between the content that you’re producing on your blog, and also the content that you’re creating on LinkedIn. And there’s some real energy,synergy between the two. Dave, what am I missing?
DAVE: I think the only other thing that a lot of people are doing are online courses. And so sometimes people will create a book, and then they will use QR codes to jump them to certain places in the online course. So online courses have really accelerated over the last 10 years probably. So I think the way to think about it is you have these ideas, and what is the best format for me, given who I am. So there’s some people who are writers or they want to become writers. And they’re just really determined to learn how to write. That’s, then I would say that blogging is really important. And then ultimately, you may want to write a book. Other people may say, “You know what? I’m better on the fly, like in the video. Yes, I need a script but I’m just really, really good at it.” Some people are that and so video might be the better format. So I think everyone is going to be a little bit different. And I think whatever the format, if you’re passionate about it, and your ideas are crisp, I think it will serve as back to our theme. It will serve your audience, and they will consume it.
MELISSA: And they will hopefully refer to it and of course, we’re looking at engagement on all these content activities. You want people to engage with your content. If you’re thinking as a servant-author, you’re going to do that more likely. And so engagement is somebody who talks about an article that you read with a friend or or passes it along, or even somebody who leaves a real nice comment on something that you wrote on even a LinkedIn post and says, “That really got me thinking or this reminds me of that.” That’s engagement. And that is showing that you are influencing your audience.
JOHN A: I love the thought of that. And I’m going to pull those cervid thought leaders because I think that as we talk about broadening the platforms, or the formats, that the idea could emerge in that, because not all of them are published in the traditional sense. Maybe, for instance, a podcaster isn’t considered an author, even though really, they probably have an idea in that kind of realm of podcasts. But we could call them servant thought leaders. And this is where I’m going to give a plug to Melissa, I think you just heard it. She really is a marketing guru. CZ Strategies is a strategic marketing agency. And Melissa is an Instagram Expert. I think she knows an awful lot about the ins and outs of social media and you’re being extremely helpful not just in publishing books, but in helping individuals identify the format that’s appropriate for them. So we’ve talked just a little bit about it. But Melissa, do you have any specific recommendations, or Dave, on how a servant thought leader might determine which of these formats is best for their idea?
MELISSA: Absolutely. I think it really goes back to that — I think Dave mentioned this already — is: What do you enjoy? And really where is your audience? I think those two things go in tandem. And so for me, I’ll give my personal story. I joined Instagram probably about seven years ago simply because in my side hustle I sell vintage and do some design work and styling for magazines and that’s where a lot of my peers were. And at that time, I was really wanting to grow my vintage business and also get some experience writing in the online world. And so I’m like, “How do I get to those people? How do I make those connections?” And so it was through Instagram, because that’s where they were. And then I just really enjoyed it. I enjoyed creating imagery, because, of course, Instagram, it’s very visual. It’s a picture first-word. Second, I’m a visual person. So I really enjoyed that. Now, Dave, he probably isn’t quite the same. So he did podcasting, because as you know, he’s a great speaker. And he asks great questions. And he’s wonderful in that arena. And so I think that you go first with what you’re passionate about and also, where’s your audience, where can you reach that target audience. And so for me, Instagram was a good place. That’s not to say that that’s the only place my audience was, but it’s a really rich field from which to harvest some of my audience. So, what would you add to that, Dave?
DAVE: No, you’re so modest. So Melissa has built a large Instagram following. I think you’re over 30,000 to 35,000 from zero. And because of that, she was invited to have her home photographed by Country Living Magazine. So she didn’t know anybody. And then a few years later, they invited her to have her home photographed and be part of… was that a cover story?
MELISSA: Yeah, it was a cover story.
DAVE: So the point simply here is that you start small. You start where you’re at. And you serve that audience and you learn that audience. So if you’re going to just talk about yourself, by the way, that’s not social media, and it’s back to our servant-author feat servant-social media person, serving your audience. I think that’s what Melissa has done really well with this. She gives a piece of herself, and she’ll post something like a flower arrangement or something she purchased from a vintage shop. But then she asks questions, she gets people to engage. I’ve seen posts where she’s had 150 people respond to a post, which is just enormous. And you’re touching the hem of the garment, in a sense, when people engage you, and they respond to you. So the point here simply is, with social media, we’re kind of dipping into social media, and how do you build your platform here, but it’s critical that you pick one, really. It’s hard to do all of them. Well, you can do Tiktok. You can do LinkedIn. You’ve got Twitter, You’ve got Snapchat. You’ve got Facebook. And so you can’t do it all. So you pick one, and you pick the one where most of your audience is at, and then you go deep with them.
JOHN A: So Dave, that leads me to this question — and I want you to know that I’m dedicated to finishing my book, in case you were wondering — so this question doesn’t apply to me in my current circumstance, maybe in the future will. But how does a thought leader make the decision, approach the decision, they’ve been committed to publishing in the traditional book format, but how do they kind of bring themselves around and recognize the signs that might suggest: you should shift strategies and consider one of these alternative formats?
MELISSA: I will start out by saying, I think one thing that we often say to our writers, aspiring authors is: Are you looking for this book to make you rich and famous? And if that’s your motivation, then we would say, “Don’t write that book. Why don’t you do something else with your free time?” Because most books saw about 1000 copies over a three year period. And that’s considered successful in this world where books are self-published, and there are 1000s and 1000s and 1000s of books published every year. So I think you really have to get in touch with your motivation. Why are you writing this book, and if your motivation is one to serve an audience and I think people want to use it to build their reach. They want to extend their reach with the book. And I think that that’s an absolutely valid reason to write a book. But I think you also have to realize that that takes time. And that takes building the platform that comes along with writing the book. So you’ve got to be doing some of these other publishing activities that we’ve been mentioning, while you’re writing a book, because your book has to go out into the world and be consumed by somebody. If you don’t have an audience. It’s not going to be consumed because authors are their own marketers. So I want to just say with that caveat in advance, just check your motivations. Make sure that you’re not intending to become a best seller or rich and then just realize that it’s going to take a lot of work and time on your part. But there’s some other things that I think you can challenge yourself with as well. And I’ll let you speak to that, Dave.
DAVE: John A that’is such a good point. Some people say that there are traditional publishers. Let’s say in our space here, Wiley would be one of the traditional publishers. While they probably take maybe 10 books a quarter, I don’t know that they do that many, but maybe 40 books a year, that might be a lot for them. So in that instance, if you wanted to get published there, you would have to find an editor who works there. About 80% of books today are sold through an agent. About 20%, people go directly to the publisher. They have a referral. And that’s really the best way to get your book in front of a book editor. And so, when they review your book, they’re really looking for two things. Number one is: if we buy this book. In other words, if we make the decision to publish it, will we be able to sell enough copies to make money on this book? It’s so existential. And in this sense, traditional publishers are bankers. That’s what they are. They don’t take risks. They are bankers, so they’re looking when they look at you. They’re saying, “Can we guarantee 5000 books?” Or we’ve had publishers in the wireless space that we’ve helped land a contract who sold 5000 books. And when they went back to Wiley, they had a clause in the contract about first “Right of Refusal for the Next Book.” And they went to them for the next book, they said, “No, you didn’t sell enough of those copies for that next book.” I sold with my book get by suburban was 30,000 copies but it was with a big publisher. And when I went back for the first right of refusal, I said, “Hey, you want my second book?” They said, “You know, you didn’t really sell enough copies for that next book.” But most books are not going to sell; they’re going to sell 300 in the first year, and 1000 in that three year period. Again, those are blunt metrics. So the point is, the old world was that there are these traditional publishers that are gatekeepers. That’s what they are. They’re gatekeepers, and only a few can pass through the gate. And everybody else also leaves. But what has happened over the last 20 years is the advent of independent publishers. And so Journey Sixty6, we are an independent publisher. One of the things we have is our mission is to lift up the voices that people like Wiley in institutions. Why they would never publish. And so that’s a different model for independent publishers. So it’s the actual author who pays to have the book published. It’s not self-publishing, where you do it yourself, but you turn it over to a professional firm. And so if you make a pitch to say… John A, do you remember Jossey-Bass?
JOHN A: Yes, they were big academic publisher.
DAVE: They were and they don’t exist anymore. They got rolled up into another institution. But there’s fewer and fewer traditional publishers, because the margins are so thin on book publishing. So there’s been a corresponding rise in independent publishers, which produce just a high quality, just as good a quality. But here’s the point: if you publish — and we’ve seen this with our authors who republished wildly, someone who’d gone with independent publishers — you have the same problem. It doesn’t matter who publishes your book. The problem is who’s going to buy your book. And if a traditional publisher is not going to help you with that. So we had a client several years ago that was published with a major publisher and hired a PR firm out of New York, spent 30 or 40 grand, and did not move the needle at all. The first few months it was stunning, actually, how few books they sell is because it’s hard work. And often traditional PR agencies really don’t understand how books are sold. So the point is, if you are an author and you want to publish a book, and you have a really great idea, and you, let’s say make a pitch to one of these traditional publishers, or that you can’t even get a hearing — with a lot of today’s world — with them. Because unless you can say, “Well, I can sell 10,000 copies, you know.” You can’t guarantee it. But they want you to do math on all this. There’s a little algorithm that they put together and they say, “Nope, this person, it’s not enough for us.” But there’s just this whole other world of independent publishers and a lot of books and independent publishers actually do as well or better than even those traditionally published. So don’t give up on that. So that would be my (opinion), if you’re committed to writing a book, and you feel you’ve got a really good idea, and yet you feel like you’ve gotten rejected along the way, don’t give up on that.
JOHN A: I would just put exclamation points after that Dave. And I want to say to our listeners, the candor, the frankness, the metrics that Dave just kind of recited, and it could sound discouraging to someone that has a great idea. Let me just make a suggestion, and that is Dave and Melissa, are open to coaching thought leaders and authors, and helping us make decisions about what is the appropriate format. And I’d like to close this with a final question. And Melissa, it is directed to you. I’ve heard you talk about the importance of building a platform as you approach publishing. What does that really mean? And what are the benefits of that platform?
MELISSA: Absolutely. And it’s, let me just say it again, it’s difficult to do both and right, it’s difficult to write a book and also tend to build a platform. I mean, I work on my platform daily, but I’m not writing a book right now. So it’s easy to commit to one or the other. So to do them in tandem, takes an extra amount of effort. And you just have to tell yourself, “I’m going to commit to this.” Because as we’ve been saying over and over again, book publishers aren’t going to market your book. Independent publishers aren’t going to market and sell your book. You’re going to sell your book. So how are you going to sell your book? You put it up on it. It’s gonna be put up on Amazon. How are people going to find your book, if they’re not referred to it? And I have lots of friends who have written books over the past few years. And they’re incredibly successful getting people to purchase their books, because they’ve built an online following. And they have this social network of people who post about the book. And suddenly, there’s all this energy around the book, because it’s not just that yourself going to your audience, it’s yourself going to this audience plus their audience. And you can just imagine how that spreads out. It has this semi-viral effect. And that’s how you get people to read a book. It’s through recommendations of other people who have trust with their audience. So you have trust with your audience, people from that audience, have trust with their audience. And if you can create this kind of ripple effect, suddenly, your book is going to have so much reach. So the key is really when you’re building a platform, to really nurture the relationships with the people who you have within this little pond of yours. People have come to your website and signed up for your email list and say, I want to hear from you regularly. When you write something new on your blog, let me know because I love what you’re doing. Are those people who on LinkedIn comment regularly on what you’re posting? That’s all part of building a network. And of course, we could do a whole podcast just on LinkedIn and how you create community on LinkedIn and being generous with other people and sharing what other people are doing and being other people’s champions that goes so far. And then creating a reciprocating effect when it’s your turn to put something out into the world. But there’s nothing worse than having no bet on that date of publication to start trumpeting the work that you’ve done. So it’s so critical to begin building those trusting relationships as early as possible because they are going to be the people who help you spread the word about your book.
DAVE: And how you do that is very simple. So you set some goals for, let’s say, you start today. Let’s say you’re going to publish a book in six months, I have ten people on my email list. It’s my mom. It’s my uncle, my three sisters and five other people. You have ten people. So you might say, “Well, I would like to have 150 by the end of that six months.” The email list is still the single biggest driver indicator. If you go to a traditional publishing house and they’re weighing your book, they’re looking at you and some other author. And they say, “Hey, John A. Gosh, you’ve got 5,000 people on your email list. And Dave, he has maybe 1,000 people on his email list.” Who are they going to select? They’re going to select you every time. It doesn’t matter how great my ideas are because they know that an email is all that’s engaged. You’ve been sending out fresh content regularly, they are going to choose you every time. So that’s a good example of one metric on how you do that, how you build that people that will actually opt in and subscribe. I think you do have to start publishing regularly and start doing that at least a year in advance of when your book comes up.
MELISSA: And again, just to close this out, it really goes back again to being the servant-thought leader. And I get a lot of energy around that idea. Because when I start to think about serving my audience, and I know who my audience is, and I think that that’s something that you, most of your thought leaders are very clear on. They know what the problems are of their audience, when you start to think about their problems and your unique approach to helping solve them. That there’s a lot of energy around that you can create a ton of content. You can create an editorial grid when we actually have a downloadable to help your audience begin to do that.
JOHN A: I do. You’ve inspired me. You’ve informed me and I know we’ve done the same for our listeners today. Thank you for a wonderful podcast. It’s just been awesome.
MELISSA: Thank you for having us. We love talking with you, John. We’re a big fan of yours and we can’t wait to see your book come out.
DAVE: Looking forward to. Thanks again. Thank you. Thank you.
JOHN A: Thank you.