Welcome to our So You Wanna Start A... series, designed to give you a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the journeys that went into creating some of your favorite local brands.
Our favorite piece of advice: "Ask for help." Simple but sometimes the hardest thing to do. You can't be an expert at everything. As local business owners, we often get used to knowing a little about a lot and most of the time, that lets us get by. But there are times when you need to call in for reinforcements (QuickBooks help anyone?) to make sure the need is filled correctly. Don't be afraid to lean on others!
If you're curious about becoming an author, learn a little more from Jeff and connect using the links below!
The “business” I own is my first book, Waking the Shadows, which I published in August of 2021. I’ve always wanted to write a novel, and when I started the book, my only goal was to finish it. I figured I would print two copies, one for me and one for my mom, and be happy with my goal achieved. However, upon finishing the first draft, I decided that once created it should be shared, so I started exploring what it would take to get the book edited and published.
I soon realized that a key aspect of my venture was promoting the book. However, I’m not particularly skilled at or interested in building an audience through social media and email lists. Thankfully, my self-appointed Vice President of Marketing (and spouse, Holly), suggested I offer tours and presentations as an alternative to more traditional marketing tactics, which is much more in my wheelhouse. I tried to convince her to set up a national book tour, but apparently my demands were “absurd” and “meritless.”
One early win was the initial reaction of my editor to the first draft of the text. He was the first person outside of friends and family to read the manuscript, and thus the first unbiased feedback I received. When he told me that sections of the book made him cry, and that it was in the top 10-15% of the books he’s reviewed, that was affirming. He also told me to make it about 12,000 words shorter, so it wasn’t all praise.
We also realized that Holly’s unique marketing strategy was effective when my very first tour filled to capacity in less than 24 hours. When we first posted the registration link, we truly had no idea if anyone was even slightly interested in a Civil War-themed cemetery tour, but thankfully the interest and enthusiasm was there.
I absolutely love the creative side of my work. I get excited when I figure out how to craft a story around a particular theme or message. I am energized by the writing process and enjoy making characters come to life on the page. I love constructing a story and bringing something into the world that didn’t exist before I created it. I even like the editing process because I can see how each revision is making the work better and more likely to be engaging for participants. And, I love standing in front of an audience and feeling their reaction to the tours and presentations I deliver.
All that to say I really dislike marketing. I might dislike marketing more than I enjoy all the facets of my work mentioned above, which is not a formula for success. Obviously, no one will buy a book or go on a tour if they don’t know either exist, so marketing is critical. I have no problem talking to people about the book or tours, but the work it takes to get people interested – phone calls, e-mails, creating a website, asking people for speaking opportunities, etc., turns me into a whiny 7-year-old. Motivating myself to do the consistent, pragmatic, mundane, but necessary marketing tasks is by far my biggest challenge.
Thankfully, I not only have a motivator, but a true partner in my corner. My wife not only challenges me to engage in those marketing tasks, she often does those tasks for me, or at the very least clears the path a little so it’s not so onerous for me to undertake. Come to think of it, I probably should have written a few more words of thanks to her in the Acknowledgement section of the book. Note to self....
1) Ask for help. I know marketing isn’t my strong suit, or of any interest, but my self-appointed Vice President of Marketing is both willing, and far more able than I, to do some of those tasks. I’m terrible at creating titles, so I got assistance with that. I’m not a good illustrator, so I found someone who is (thanks Nathan Wright). When I got stuck on scenes in the book, I talked them through with others. When I wanted to do a test run of my first cemetery tour, I found people who I knew would give me good feedback. No one is an expert at everything. Figure out where you can make your best contribution at any given moment and find others whose best contributions can fill your gaps.
2) Find joy in the process because results aren’t guaranteed. Whether I sold one book, or one million books had no bearing on how much I enjoyed the process of creating my story. To be fair, unlike a typical small business, I still have a day job that pays the bills, so I don’t have to be as concerned with profit. Still, if your mindset is, “I’ll be happy when I’m done,” or “when I’ve achieved X,” you’re far less likely to finish because you’re not finding fulfillment in the work. Even if you do finish, your results, whatever they are, will likely not be as good as if you had found joy in the process throughout.
3) Don’t wait for an invitation. No one asked me to write a book. No one wanted to know the story of Samantha Cooper. She didn’t exist until I decided to create her. Decide what you want to do and then do it. People will let you know if they like what you’re doing or not, but no one is holding their breath waiting for you to get started.
I’m excited to write a second book. I need to complete some additional research before I really get going, but I know what theme I want to write about, and I know the historical subject and event. I just have some structural details to work out. I also think that the speaking I do to promote my current book could evolve in exciting ways. Currently, I’m focusing on local presentations, tours, and history, but I would love to expand into custom tours throughout the country. In a previous job, I used to do all-day custom tours of Civil War battlefields and I would love to do that type of work again.
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With episodes on everything from pitching the media to effective Instagram strategies for local business owners to winning a Food Network show, Local to Legend is all about everyday people building extraordinary legacies for themselves and their brands. Find it on your favorite podcast app.