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This is one of those landmark interviews for me because Chris Brogan was one of the first people I followed online.
His book, Trust Agents, shaped the way I run my business, and his video on the 10-year overnight success helped me through difficult times. So I'm thrilled to have Chris on the show today.
In the introduction, I mention the continued growth of audiobooks and my own 2 new books out in audio: The Successful Author Mindset and How to Make a Living with your Writing. Plus the Tim Ferriss podcast on financial freedom and how excited I am to meet so many indie authors down under who are just doing their thing, writing and making money, and ‘no one' in the mainstream industry and media knows who they are. We live in amazing times!
Today’s show is sponsored by all the listeners who support the show through Patreon. Thank you SO much for your ongoing support. It means so much to me that you enjoy the show enough to contribute! If you’d like to become a Patreon supporter, you can support the show for as little as $2 per month and receive the extra Q&A show monthly. Click here to find out more.
Chris Brogan provides strategy and skills for the modern business. He is CEO of Owner Media Group, a sought after public speaker, and the New York Times bestselling author of nine books and working on his tenth. He is the author of nine books, including Trust Agents and The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Why the principle of ‘know, like and trust' is even more important these days
- Finding clarity (and keeping it) about what you're all about
- What it takes to keep going and keep doing the work long term
- Why confidence and helping people are conjoined
- How Chris defines ‘voice' and how authors can bring theirs into their marketing
- Why you should connect with your inner freak
- When and why Chris chooses traditional publishing vs. indie publishing
- Chris's tips for mastering time and moving a business forward
You can find Chris at ChrisBrogan.com and on Twitter @chrisbrogan
Transcript of Interview with Chris Brogan
Joanna: Hello, creatives. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com and today, I'm here with Chris Brogan. Hi, Chris.
Chris: Hi, Joanna. Great to see you.
Joanna: Oh, it's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Chris Brogan is the New York Times bestselling author of nine books, CEO of Owner Media Group, professional speaker, and podcaster. His latest book is, “Find Your Writing Voice.”
Chris, I'm super excited to have you on the show because I discovered you in 2009, way back when I started, and “Trust Agents” came out. And “Trust Agents” had a big effect on me.
The principle of know, like, and trust. Why is that still important or perhaps even more important these days?
Chris: There are a few things at play there, Joanna. One is that the same tools that make it so easy for any of us to start and run a business also allow certain elements to decide whether or not they want to do something dubious. And with all new the technologies there's nothing unique about these new technologies like the social web.
In the 1800s, anyone could put anything in a bottle and sell it to you and say, “This is gonna cure everything. Cancer? Gone.” And the bottle could have nothing, you know, it could be Kool-Aid.
And so the idea of trying to understand what's behind the business, though, one beautiful thing that's come is that we can see in much more dimensions who we're dealing with. We can understand better who's the face behind the brand. And there's pluses and minuses.
There are brands that I think execute well but have leaders who maybe make choices that we don't agree with. One example is the hosting and domain registrar GoDaddy. CEO was kind of a good old boy and made lots of sexist comments and statements, and people would be upset about that. He was a hunter, and it's now no longer vogue to ever hunt an animal. And so he's gotten a lot of strange trouble for things that I kept feeling like, “I don't like that he's sexist, but the service works, etc.”
But people were able to see more about him and make choices about him and/or whether or not to do business and they voted with their money. I think that that's probably best good and bad scenario of what these tools allow for.
And I think it's really good that we can have some kind of contact. I love that brands make it so that they're a lot more available, so that we can possibly reach someone in an entity and understand something about a product we're considering purchasing, let's say.
Joanna: I agree with you. You have a really big audience, and you're both CEO of a bigger company, but you're also still Chris Brogan, the personal brand, which is the guy I follow. And you have some very practical ways that you actually facilitate this know, like, and trust with you personally.
Could you share with the audience some of the more practical ways an individual can foster a relationship with a bigger audience?
Chris: Sure. I'll clarify one thing. When we say bigger company, I work with very big companies. But my company is three whole people. So it's not very big.
I will say that the thing I'm trying to communicate most lately is I really want people to try their best to be a lot clearer on what they stand for or what they say. And I don't really mean a tagline. I mean humans don't really talk like that. They don't throw some sentence out as often as they can so that you remember them for that phrase. No one you worship does that.
But I would say that we have so many media available to us, the plural of mediums, where we can be more of ourselves. And I think that there's a great opportunity to share the you behind the scenes. And some people get immediately terrified about this. The last thing I want is for people to know more about me.
But I think we have such an opportunity. We have such an opportunity to voice our thoughts on something, to talk about the story that goes behind the product, you know? I'm about to drink some drink, and it's a bunch of greens and it says here that there's 4.5 pounds of produce pressed into this bottle, which I don't quite understand, but I'll accept it.
But I'm curious who made it. And not only who made it, but what do they do when they're not squeezing juice into bottles? What else is impressive, important to them?
I was sent a product, a beauty product, and I thought, of course, naturally people think beauty, they think Chris Brogan. Let's send him a bunch of coconut things. And I found all these things.
First they're in Indiana, which is in the United States, it's in the middle of the country, there is zero reason to think that coconut anything is made in Indiana. And I was immediately impressed and I thought, “That's great.”
Then I went and looked at the videos that they have produced, and they were terrible. They were produced by old, 1990s-style video producers.
So they had really loud background music, really bad background music that we should be doing aerobics to perhaps, or something. I don't know. And it was a horrendous experience to see these people trying to emote what they really felt and believed clearly coached by people from some other century.
And my feeling is, exactly in that moment, what would have done these people so much better is no background sound, a mobile device in their hand, walking down the line saying, “This is what we've been doing. We just came back from Vietnam where the stuff is made. Wow, this is cool. We're thrilled to be able to give jobs here. We love that we have jobs here.”
There's so much real human connection that drive us a lot better than what we were raised on. We were all raised on overly produced material, but I think we don't want that anymore.
And I think that this is such a long answer to your question, but I think that that's the answer. I think the answer is that you really want clarity, brevity, simplicity. We want the ability for what we feel is connection and then access.
And to your point about bigger company, bigger brand, the most successful people I have ever met, Sir Richard Branson…Oh my gosh, I'm blanking on his name. He ran parts of Sun Microsystems, huge, both billionaires, both very accessible, both very interested in connecting with people, both very interested in people.
I think that the only people who seem very busy and too busy to actually respond are people who aren't too busy. And I think, Joanna, that comes from some strange perception that if we want to be successful, we have to pretend to be very busy.
I'm not busy. I'm blessed. And so I think it's vital that we connect and show people our accessibility, not so that they can pester us with strange questions, but more so they say, “This person stands with their products and their service, and this person believes these things, and I feel something when I hear them, and I want to be part of that.”
Joanna: Yeah, I get what you mean now. And it's interesting because you said, “Be clear what you stand for and have this clarity.” How do you manage that, given that I've been following you for, what, nearly eight years? And obviously you were online way before I discovered you.
How do you have clarity of what you're about over such a long time? How do you keep clarity with longevity, or how do you change in the public eye?
Chris: Both related and great questions. First off, I'm a big fan of the Madonna school of branding. Madonna has every single year been a whole new human being. And I don't know if it's calendar year, I don't know if she picks a certain day, like March 4th, I'll be a new Madonna. But she is different all the time.
And Lady Gaga. A lot of musical performers know that they can't really be the old them all the time. And they can play their old songs, but they do need to evolve. And I think that this is true of all people.
I think even authors, when they're writing their books, they have to evolve their writing. There has to be some kind of a through-line, though. And this is the difference. So you can have lots of variations on how you express yourself, but should one to take divergent paths all the time.
“I love meat. Never mind, I just love green things. Oh no, meat is good again.” You're gonna have a few challenges, right? Because when you wave one flag and then the other, you're stirring people to a choice that might align with theirs. And when you turn that corner, you may lose a lot of people.
So the old Chris Brogan, until very recently, was very fond of 90-degree turns, you know. “Well, let's…No, let's go over here.” And I would lose so many people in that turn. And I would say, “Well, it's okay. I'll find new ones here.”
It's a strategic choice. You can do that, or you can say, “Well, this makes sense to me still, but I'm going here. You wanna come with me?” And so if you can make it a little more gradual, it helps.
You have to stand for something. I believe that…So I've said the same thing probably for 10 or more years, which is that, what really drove my interest in business is, “How can we be more human?”
And then I turned that a little bit more directly to, “I want companies to treat my mom better.” And I feel like if all companies treated my mom better, and if I just always thought with that in mind, I'd probably have a better way to work with companies. That's probably been the driving through line of everything I do. I'm always just thinking, “What are we gonna do to make our company do that sort of thing?”
Right now, this really large auditing company asked me a question, corporate auditing type company. And they were talking about, “How do we make content marketing that better aligns with search engine optimization?” Now, I fell asleep right away based on the question.
But, I think he's got a really good point, because this is what he's being told, right? This gentleman is spending a lot of time reading on the web and, “You must be good at SEO, you must make good content marketing.” What does that mean?
My answer back was, “Should we write for humans or should we write for robots?” My take is you have to please the Google, but you have still to write for human beings. The language might change, some of the words may change, some of the emphasis of where, you know, look for someone's money in my business might change. But I'm still really doing the same thing.
Please, make it better for my mom. Please make business run in a way that we treat humans like humans. And if you could find that one thing for your business, then you're golden.
And sometimes, by the way, one last point on this, Joanna, is it could take a decade or more. I mean sometimes you just don't know. That doesn't mean don't get out there.
I'm a big fan of the little drummer boy school of thinking, which is the song stripped of the religious part of that song. There's a new king in town. There's this poor kid there. He's like, “Everyone else is bringing gold. What the heck am I gonna bring?” And they're like, “Well, dummy, play your drum.”
And if you think about it, there's a little baby in a manger, and someone drops off some gold. And he's like, “Okay, well shiny. That's cool.” Frankincense and myrrh just smell weird. But this guy drums, right? So the little kid's like, “Dude, I like drums. I'm totally into drumming. I know what that is.” And the kid loves it, right? That's the song of the little drummer boy.
We need to bring our drum, which might not seem like a lot, to everything, until that we find that spot where someone goes, “Hey, I like your drum.” And that's how we're going to win.
Joanna: That's fantastic. And it's great you mentioned the decade there, because you did a video in October 2009 on what it takes to be an overnight success. And I've actually watched that a number of times over the years. I'm going to link to in the show notes.
You're basically getting in a lift, and it's like five in the morning or half-past four or something, and you're talking on the way to speaking. And it's affected me quite a lot because I'm like, every time, I'm like, “Goodness, just nothing's happening. Why is nothing happening in my business?”
And then I watch that video, and I go, look at the hustle. And I wanted to ask you, how did you keep it going? For people who are feeling right now that they're not a success and might be afraid of 10 years.
What are the things that kept you getting up and doing the work? Was it just playing your drum? What drives you?
Chris: We have the strange problem, all humans, where when things aren't working, we look inside. We look at our belly buttons, and we think the world hates us. We're not good enough. We are bad. We're not clever. Everything is terrible.
The people who have money, whose money we need, aren't going around going, “I wonder who out there feels depressed, and I wonder who out there is looking for someone who doesn't feel quite good about themselves. I need to give them some money.” Right? That's not what they're thinking.
I thought that's what they were thinking, and it turns out, I've done a survey, and all people say, “No, that's not how I spend my money.” They have a challenge they need fixed. They have a solved problem waiting for you to be the answer to it. They're looking for…”My boss just said I got to get better at this. I don't know how to get better at that.”
Last year, financially was not a good year. We did not hit our numbers, and by not hitting our numbers sometimes, I could not pay myself. Rob could not pay himself. And so you never hear successful people talk about this. They're always very successful. “My five Lamborghinis, I'm sad because I can't paint them all a new color. I've only got the old color from last month. I've got to cut back.”
I have a denty old Camaro. It was beautiful in 2010 when I bought it. It was shiny, but I've hit a lot of things, so now it's denty. But when I go, “Oh, I'm not making enough money,” I am prone to depression, so I like to just go and lay in my bed and not ever get out of it when that happens.
But I also haven't found any money in my bed yet. I'm not evidently a prostitute. I tried. So instead, I have to go and help people. So when, with the overnight success and when you're failing, and when you think, “Oh god, no one's ever gonna love me.”
The least attractive person at the bar is the person who thinks they're not attractive. The most attractive person is the one who already has all the attention.
We wrote about this in “Trust Agents.” We wrote this theory called “the pretty girl at the bar.” And I could tell you there's real life experience behind it where we walked up to a really attractive woman and said, “You know, I'm not gonna sleep with you.” And then we just walked away.
Now, this has zero impact, their conversation before this, and so we just go walk back to whatever we're doing. And the woman comes to one of us and goes, “What are you talking about? Why not?” It's in her head. “Well, why wouldn't you sleep with me?” So suddenly now she's evaluating me as a sexual partner when it wasn't in her head.
The concept of the story isn't to be a creepy guy hitting on random people. The concept behind it is that you have to seem confident even when you're not. The best way to seem confident is to help people. It's the little drummer boy again. You have to go out and find ways to help.
If you are not making enough money, either you are offering something that people need, but people don't know it's out there, or you're not actually just knocking on doors saying, “Hey, does anyone want some of this?”
I would say that a lot of our creative friends, Joanna, are horrendous at being a salesperson. And they keep thinking that maybe, I don't know, that magically, people will come and buy. But to get better at anything, you have to do more of it, right?
My advice to anyone is to try to learn how to sell better. And the first thing about learning to sell is to understand that you're exchanging a value that's going to benefit somebody else. And that there's, of course, going to be an exchange for that. And so don't go to try to sell to people who don't need what you sell. Do go to people and try to see if you could be helpful in some way. Do your best to keep refining your offering until people understand, “This is what I need.”
I find a lot of people have very strange versions of what they think they're selling and wonder why no one's buying, but I didn't know I needed a velocity coach, right? All right. Well, go faster, right? That's not in my head as a challenge.
But maybe I do need a velocity coach, but maybe it's something different. Or maybe they haven't said to me, “If you could make your decisions faster you'd make more money.”
Humans respond to two real basic things over and over again: money and sex. You know, “I don't have enough money. I don't have enough sex.” And a good majority of everything we sell has one to do with one or the other. You'd be sexier if you could do this.
Thought leaders, people who want to be thought leaders…horrible job title or term. People who think they want that, what they're saying is “I don't feel attractive.” And we obfuscate that in business terms, but that's what they're saying. And so, “I will make you more sexy,” said in more business-y terms, is most definitely a better way to sell. And I think that that's what's behind the overnight success video.
And I'm grateful that you watch it a lot. I just watch it and say, “What a horrible shirt.” But I'm grateful that you watch it.
Joanna: Oh, I didn't even notice the shirt, to be fair. So don't worry about that. But it's interesting.
You talk about self-doubt there and the feeling like we're crap but trying to be more confident. And you had a little book out recently, “Find Your Writing Voice,” which is actually, the term writing voice is often something more associated with fiction authors than nonfiction. And I know you've dabbled with in fiction.
How do you define voice, and how can authors bring it in their work and in their marketing?
Chris: The evolution of that book came from my fiancé, Jacqueline, who was working on some project. And she, like a lot of people, has that big disconnect between how they communicate about something they're interested in and how it ever lands on a page.
I would say that the number one problem with that is very similar to our previous conversation in that we look too much at our belly button. We worry when we write that everyone's judging us. What are they going to say about me?
And it isn't untrue. We do judge, writers, but most people are thinking very intensely with their, “What's in it for me?” The best way to do any kind of writing is to write in a way that really connects with the person you're hoping to serve.
So in working on “Finding Your Writing Voice,” it's a lot of the same things I've talked about in many different methods, which is, you know, brevity, clarity, simplicity, choosing phrasing and words that are not common. Because we all speak in cliché.
And there's just so much and so many times where you'll hear someone just slip in some other person's concept. And what happens, even when we just talk about the weather or something, “Joanna, how are you?” “Oh, I'm fine. It's sunny out.” I didn't really ask, but okay, right? So, yeah, unless you're, you know, a sailboat captain, I mean, I guess that'd be a little more important.
But when we use other people's language, we're shutting a whole chunk of our brain down, because we're basically sending a robot message that someone else's mental robot knows how to respond to. And then there's just two robots talking. There's no alive conversation going on there. So I pay a lot of attention to that.
In writing, we have to write like we're actually talking to someone we love instead of to a professor. We have to write as if we really want someone to take some action. This is a long-standing theme of mine is that we could write for thought or we could write for action.
And it's great to have thinking books. You and I read so often. I just read a book. It is by my ninth grade history professor, it's called “One Second After,” and it's about if an electromagnetic pulse wiped out everything electronic in the U.S., then what? And it's a terrifying book in a lot of ways because it's a quite viable thing that could happen.
He just points out how absolutely unprepared this country, and all the countries are, for that possibility. And the book also prompts action. It makes you think, “Hmm, all right. Well, that being what it is, what would I do differently in my life today to even be marginally prepared for it? What plan would I have? You know, if this kind of a problem happened, you know, at least I've thought it through.” But there's action behind it. So that's it. Action is important to me in a writing voice.
The other detail is I think we are…it's so strange that we all say”Try to be yourself.” No one knows how to be themselves. Copy the hell out of someone. Copy someone to death. Erica Napoletano has a line, “Copy and steal everything.” Case, it's the case method, right? We all learn from robbing from some other author, you know?
And then from that, though, learn what makes it your writing. Break it apart. I was in LinkedIn a moment ago, and I just saw that someone's tagline on their LinkedIn, you know, how there's that one sentence? It was exactly my line at chrisbrogan.com, like in the same order, all the words. And I was like, “Oh, great tagline,” I wrote him. Because that's a little, that's not quite what I'm getting at here.
But I'm glad I motivated him to choose my exact sentence for his tagline on his LinkedIn. I think it's a great, noble choice, that's why I picked it. That's why I thought it was a good thing to serve. But once we get past that, find what makes it ours. You know, and what makes it ours might be our lifestyle choice, our views.
I want to write a book about if Britain had won the American Revolution, then what? And then I might have to think through, why would I want to write that book? Maybe because the military aspect or, you know, what would be different over here? I don't know.
So to me, the guts of it are clarity, brevity, choice for action, looking for non-robot writing. And most especially, trying to take what you've learned forward into a viewpoint that you can make your own and that people can connect with.
Joanna: Yeah, that's great. And yes, we're talking about modeling, not plagiarism. And I should also say, you know, as I said back in 2009, when I discovered you, I modeled my website back then on chrisbrogan.com. I actually went and got StudioPress and all of that.
But of course, my face is not your face. My color scheme was not your color scheme. I always say to people now, “Please model based on my site if you want to.” And what you're saying is we're inviting that, aren't we? We're inviting modeling, just not plagiarism.
Chris: True. True that.
Joanna: Okay, so in “The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth,” another one of your many works, you say, “Make it your business to find the people who are the same kind of freak as you, and then serve them.”
People obviously might get a bit freaked out by the word freak. What do you mean by that?
Chris: I can tell you that that was one of my least successful books ever published. I can tell you that nearly no one bought it.
Joanna: I read it and bought it.
Chris: Thank you. China, strangely, many Chinese people bought the book. And the title is a little different over there. I don't remember how exactly it is, but I think they used the word “strange” or something.
My point of using the word freak, and I revel in the concept is, that we've been taught that business should be the same. We should all be the same. It's an industrialized world. Let's all be cogs in a factory since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and it really started breaking down perhaps in the 1990s, but it took the world another 20 years to realize that it didn't work.
Many systems today are still built around that concept. School, public school, is built around the notion that all of our children should be taught to work in factories or cubicles. And neither really have a space for them anymore, right? In the U.S., there's hardly any manufacturing jobs, and there are big huge office buildings in New York City that only have maybe two or three floors worth of people, everyone else is in a different environment now.
But businesses, especially when they try to market, they try really hard to reach everybody. I'm drinking this daily greens. That's why it's my example, because it's near me. The kind of people who drink green drinks are not the kind of people, necessarily, who drink Diet Coke, or they're the kind of people who maybe don't go to McDonald's, whatever it is.
But if you're McDonald's, you don't go after the green drink person. I mean, McDonald's in the states is going after, “You're a busy parent, we've got these great coffee drinks, now. You should come here because it's just like Starbucks except it costs less, and you're probably coming here to get your kids their nuggets, or whatever. You might as well get yourself a fancy coffee.” That's how they market it.
And it works because their freaks are the kind of parents who maybe don't value Starbucks, let's say. And I think that in marketing, we've been taught how do we reach everybody, and I don't think it's the right answer. I think the person who wants to drive a MINI Cooper is not the person who wants to drive a Land Rover. I think they're just two different entities and we have to sell to them in different ways.
And I think that in all life, we should really start to gather around us the people who we most want to have beverages with, who we most want to talk with when we're not talking business.
I go to a bunch of marketing-type conferences throughout the year, and in a lot of cases, I'm surrounded by wonderful people who I wouldn't really want to talk with much. I'll just say it, right? And the reason isn't, there's nothing wrong with them. But they're like, “Gee whiz, Google Analytics is great.” And yes, it is. “How's your dog?”
When I go to these conferences, I've done so much pre-work to make it clear that I love Batman, I love video games, I love nerdy superhero things. Because I would so much rather have a conversation about, “Why was ‘Batman Vs Superman' such a terrible movie, what could they have done?” than I would, “Do you think SnapChat is great?” Answer, no. “Well, do you think it's bad because you're an old man?” Answer, probably. I don't know. I think SnapChat is bad because I can't click anything, right? And I can't make a marketer go do something.
So we have to start using the tools better, and we have to use the tools to reach the specific person we want to reach. With “The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth, I really wanted people to say, “I'm weird and this quirky in this way, and I want to find you who are like me.” Because it's so much easier to work with people who like us, and we tend to want to buy from people who we consider like us.
I read an interview about this in the 1990s in High Tech because people with Linux operating systems were having such a hard time selling. Because Linux, you think nerds, you think suspenders and big beards and dandruff and things. You don't think sexy sleek.
Apple runs above Linux and it makes it look sexy, sleek, and arty. So now if you're an Apple person, you must be amazing. I think that's such an ideal time to unseat that, like it's such a great time for someone like Lenovo to come along and say, “We're not at all fancy like that. We just work really well and you should probably buy us.”
And that's the message, Joanna. It's not, “You gotta be some kind of weirdo.” I say really early in that book. You don't have to have any certain number of piercings to be in that Club. You just have to find the people who you think are like you.
Joanna: It's funny you say it because, again, I've been sharing that I really like graveyards. I love walking around graveyards. Do you like graveyards?
Chris: I do, I do. And I spent a good deal of my high school years, 15 through 18, in a graveyard.
Joanna: There you go. And so when we say that, I say, “Who else like them?” And probably a third of the people will always put their hands up. And I'm like, you know, “You're my peeps. And if you like that, you might like my fiction,” because that's about the only way I can do it. So that's it. I really love the book.
On a book marketing topic, do you think that that didn't sell because of the title? Should you not have used the word freak in the title?
Chris: I think there are two major problems with the book marketing, and all mine. The word “freaks” was bad. And turn it turns out, businesses don't understand that the term “entrepreneurship” for a bigger company means “innovation.”
So all bigger companies want innovation, they say. They actually don't. But let's get back to that. But they don't understand that that word is a synonym. So entrepreneurship and innovation mean the same thing.
Entrepreneurship is essentially accepting risk to go after reward, usually in creation of a marketplace that didn't immediately exist. That's entrepreneurship. Innovation is looking at new perspectives and new avenues and new product lines and challenges in a platform that maybe does or doesn't exist, and then retooling part of the industry and business to accommodate that. It's the same thing, right?
But I wrote the word entrepreneurship, so if you ran Cisco systems or something, you went “pshaw” and threw it away and looked at a book called, you know, “Sales Factors for Large Companies,” you know, grown-up words.
And I think a lot of people didn't want to be called a freak. And I think that, not unlike gay people really like the word queer, they wanted to take it back, the African-American culture likes the n-word. I think that there's a power in taking back a word like freak. But maybe I'm early. Maybe I'm early to this is rally cry, and I think my freak friends and weirdos like yourself who like graveyards, you know, “Oh, me, that's me.” I like events like that. There's the Misfit Conference. There's the World Domination Summit. There's all these conferences where people with purple hair go. And that's partly to whom I wrote the book.
I wrote it for my kids, by the way. My kids are both weirdos, and they'll never have a normal job. And so I said, “Look, here's a book for people who will never have a normal job.” I felt like there's so many entrepreneurship books with a white man in a suit shaking hands with another white man, or maybe a woman, let's get diverse, in a suit, that it doesn't speak to them.
And a kid that I went to school with, he launched something called the Big Gay Ice Cream Company. And he did it. He was a bassoonist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He took some time off, well, I guess they have the summers off. I guess you don't bassoon in the summer. I don't know. And he wanted to drive an ice cream truck around New York City. He thought it would be fun.
But he thought their product was gross, and so he said, “I bet I can make ice cream.” And so he did. And he built an ice cream truck. And he went out and he sold weird things like the Bea Arthur and all these names that didn't make sense. And he would put olive oil and salt on top of the ice cream. And people would say, “Oh my gosh. This is amazing.” It's turned into three or four different restaurants now. He's got quite a following. Very big celebrities like his ice cream. There's a Marvel comic that had a Big Gay Ice Cream shirt on one of the characters, just happens in the background.
That guy did not think, “I'm going to be an entrepreneur.” You know, he just said, “I want to do it different than everyone else did.” And that's to whom I wrote the book. And, of course, it worked really well for weirdos who saw themselves in it. But I think in a larger book marketing sense, it was not ever bound to be the mainstream because it didn't say, “Boy, you're gonna be rich or sexy or both.”
Joanna: Yeah, and it's funny because Seth Godin had, “All Marketers Are Liars,” and I think he ended up retitling that book. And he also has one called, “We are All Weird,” which has an awful cover as well. Your cover was awesome and his cover was terrible, and I was like, “Seth, man.”
I wondered because you have traditionally published books and you have self-published books. And the one on writing voice was self-published, I believe. And your next one, “Make Your Own Game,” I believe is traditionally published, right?
As an entrepreneur, what is your feeling about the current market in publishing? And when do you self-publish? And when do you traditionally publish?
Chris: The number one reason I prefer or appreciate self-publishing is that I really don't need anyone's permission. I can do my work. I can put it out there as a book, have a nice day.
The reason I like traditional publishing, and most especially my friends at Wiley, I'm friends with the people that I publish through there, socially. I mean, we'll go and get a beverage sometimes. And I'm not their favorite author because I don't make them a ton of money. But they like to have drinks with me, I guess.
So I like doing it because it lets me work with friends. The other thing I like, though, is that in a traditional published book, they have distribution channels that I don't have. It's easier to get a book on a shelf somewhere.
And by the way, for the longest time, at least me, but I think it's to some an industry truth, digital has far outstripped, digital sales channels have far outstripped the physical traditional channels to the point of like 96% to 4% or something. So my wanting to see my book on a shelf at my local bookstore, that's only 4% of the market, so I should care less.
And yet, I think that there's a beauty in having a nice, well-bound, well-made…and as beautiful as CreateSpace is at delivering, it's certainly not a quality-feeling type book. And I think sometimes the tactile sense of having a well-published book, you know, a good-looking book is worth something, the art of it.
The other thing I like is that I do like having the external pressure of having a deadline and having people bothering me. People misunderstand and think that the editing process at a book publisher is guaranteed to be very intense. It's not. And I've had really intense editors who really pushed me to make a better book and I've had editors who have let me put as many typos as I could possibly fit on a page into a book.
My fiancé is my first reader all the time, and she clears up a lot of mistakes and messes for me. I'm a very bad editor. A very, very, very bad editor. And I guess that the….how do I decide? I mean, this one, a couple years ago my friend Matt said, you know, “We should do a book. It'll be fun.” And I said “Okay.” And that's really all I did.
In between that, I've self-published “Find Your Writing Voice,” and I actually have another whole one about email just sitting there waiting. And then I've got another other one. And then I'm planning to do some fiction, I think. And so in those experiences, I'll choose to self-publish because I just don't want the process of someone else deciding yes or no.
It took me two years to put “Make Your Own Game” out because when I went the first time…you submit a proposal every time. Stephen King submits proposals, you know, and they, my editor, my acquisitions editor fought me and didn't like my proposal. And had the numbers for freeze to say, “You're probably bad.”
And I had enough low self-esteem to say, “You're right. I'm probably bad.” I let her alter the course and the direction of the way this book was going to be. And when I looked at it again a few months into the process, I said, “I'm not going to write this. I would never read this book.” And it really turned me off for a year plus.
So such a long story, but I think it's important because when I came back to them, I said, “Look, I'm not going to write that book.” You know, it's clear. A year has gone by. I missed every deadline and re-deadline that you ever came up with. Here's the book I'm willing to write. What do you think?” And I said, “This is not a threat, but it's kind of all or nothing. You can say yes or you can say no, but this is the deal.” And they said, “Okay.”
And it's going to be a great book. I never say that about my writing. The last time I did, it was Freaks, and no one bought it. But I'll tell you that this sums a lot of the things like the overnight success kind of principle into one space.
And it was an echo of “Trust Agents” because the first tenant of a trust agent was to make your own game. So I thought, “Huh, I'll just steal from that book and write a whole new one.” And that's the thing.
Joanna: Yeah, and I guess you're using your freak love of games, right?
You're a gamer, so you're bringing that to the book. And that's such an important point.
Chris: I wanted to justify the fact I play so many video game hours in the day. I think that's the only reason I'm doing that. But, you and I both know that there are so many people who would never do anything or take no effort because they might fail.
The one thing video games, and video games more than other games like poker might be true too. You fail a lot in video games, you know. Tetris, there's no winning Tetris, you just get to a level where you can't sustain it anymore. And you go, “I'm done.”
We never win Candy Crush. We get so far and then we stop. And I think that teaching, for instance, the repetitive nature of failure, you know, fail fail fail fail. Oh I have some new ideas. Oh, try that. Oh better. Failed again.
I think that there's beauty in that that people don't really incorporate enough. I think iterative processes and strategic thinking, velocity of response are…these are all things that are built into any video game. And it doesn't matter which type you play. I play shooters and some violent games. But if you asked me, “Are you in it for the blood?” I don't even notice the blood. I am in it to see if I can aim better than the other guy sometimes, or does my strategy get me closer to victory than the other guy.
I think that a lot of that translates to business, and a lot of that translates to modern business. And I think that in a world where we're using all these older methods of trying to move stuff forward, we need some new tools. And my opinion is that, if you can treat business and life as a game, you can understand better scoring, ways to win a little bit better. I think that there's a lot to understand about how we use media in this new world. And I can pull from that.
And so this one I think, I don't know. Everything from designing the cover forward, I'm really trying to make it like a business person is gonna go, “All right, I'll give you a try, you weirdo.” And hopefully, I've hidden the broccoli well enough inside the cake that they're gonna think it's a delicious cake. We'll see.
Joanna: I'm looking forward to that. So last question, back in Freaks, which I obviously really liked. You say, “You will not inherit the earth nor will you be successful at anything if you can't figure out and master time.” And given what you were just saying about how much time you play video games, and writers always say, “I just can't find the time to write.”
How do you master and hack your time to get so much done?
Chris: I have a system that I created and stole a little from my coworker Rob Hatch. We made up something called the 20-minute Plan Jumpstart. Our biggest premise is that one must manage priorities more than they manage time. Time is a finite and set number. There's only 24 hours in the day. Gandhi said that, you know, we can all use them however we choose.
What I've done in the 20-minute plan is there's this concept called the nine box. And the 9 boxes is, essentially, if you do the front side of a Rubik's Cube, do 3 columns, 3 rows, 9 of something, it's 3 hours broken into 20-minute slots. And that's why it's a 20-minute plan.
In those three hours, I have, and it's not with me because I'm at a hotel, but I have a real life old-timey ladybug timer. She looks like a ladybug, and it tick, tick, tick, ding. It goes off. I schedule my time in 20-minute slots to work on those things that grow my business or grow my success.
I must accomplish three hours of this a day, or else I failed. That's my game. My game is if I don't do my three hours, then I've failed. And some of that is prospecting. How do I grow my business is the real question.
I have missions and goals that I've set up, and I say, “Oh, will this advance my mission or goal?” Yes, it goes in this box. Not client work. Not to-do list. I don't believe in to-do lists. I think to-do lists are what I call noble masturbation. We get it all done and we go, “I finished.” But it's not sex.
You did something, but you when you die, and if you visit St. Peter or, you know, Buddha says, “Okay, here's your next round, let's go,” they don't look at your to-do list as a document of value. They don't say, “Well, thank God, you took out that trash you said you were gonna take out.” They don't say, “Whoa, you sent that post that you were supposed to send four days back,” right? No one cares.
I prioritize priority. It's a weird thought, but maybe if we worked on the things that mattered most…some of those things that are kind of urgent that might fall down, that maybe you get a late fee on your bill because you didn't pay the bill, it's gonna happen. You'll be okay. You're gonna live. You're not gonna die.
And so prioritizing gives me time to play things like video games. I spend an hour of my day so far prospecting in LinkedIn, looking for business clients. And a very gentle approach, nothing too intense. Just some messages, just getting some feel for where people are going. And out pops this guy saying, “Hey, maybe you've got this thing.” That will turn into $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 worth of business, and it was, for me, spending some of my time on my 9 box just doing one activity that I thought might give me some potential business. And there it was.
In one of your 20-minute slots, if you did something that earned you $50,000, you might do it again. You might go, “Wow, that was good.” That's sex. That's not noble masturbation, right?
I think that, in playing the games, I keep pretending that I'm justifying this because I'm writing a book. It's not true. I just like games. But I earn that time, because I also don't spend my time getting cups of coffee where people pick my brain. I drink zero coffee with brain picker. That time is my video game time.
I do not go to every conference. I go to the conferences I think where I might add value or I might pick up value. That's my video game time. I do not go out and speak at events for free because I'm a paid professional speaker, and so sometimes though that might be nice for some nice people, that's my video game time.
I have lots of time and so does every other person. Authors who say they don't have time are authors who are saying yes to things they shouldn't. Because if writing mattered, then that's your priority and you make the time. “Oh, but I have children.” Me too. “Oh, but I have work.” Me too. “I fly.” Me too but maybe you're playing Sudoku in the airport and maybe I'm writing notes that are going to be into the next chapter.
I think that we all can choose where we want to spend our time. And the other thing is if we choose to work on processes and execution that makes us the money we need, if you don't value your time to put the right amount of money against it, and if you don't build appropriately, and if you don't follow up on people who don't pay the bill, and all those things that new entrepreneurs are horrible at, then, of course, you don't have time because you're bleeding money from the way you're using your existing time. And I think we can all find better ways to pick that up, and one is just being a lot more true to your priorities.
Joanna: Fantastic, and I appreciate your time today. Tell people where they can find you and all your books and products and wonderful things online.
Chris: Oh, you know, if you can spell Chris Brogan, then that's fine. If you just Google Chris, I'm usually in the first few answers. And because I'm a blatherer, not because of any great trick. I'm not friends with Google. Or just owner.media, if you don't know. But, thank you, Joanna. It's been so overdue, this conversation. So thank you for allowing me to chat with you today.
Joanna: Oh, thanks so much, Chris. That was great.
Maria Staal says
I really enjoyed listening to this podcast. There was a lot of useful information, specially as I’m in the process of finding my niche and am starting to content market in a more earnest way.
While I listened, I alternately peeled the potatoes for my dinner and jotted down notes and ideas that came to my while listening!
I’m looking forward to next weeks podcast and I hope you’re not boiling away in a hot Brisbane.
Yvonne Carder says
Thank you for sharing someone you ‘fan-girl’ for. I can totally understand, he has a great perspective.
I appreciate that Chris talked about the visibility of members of an organization. I think people are paying more and more attention to the ‘politics’ of companies in this turbulent time, so making sure that you represent yourself truly and honestly is crucial.
I guess that is the true essence of being a writer and being creative: being true to yourself and knowing and loving your own voice. When you’re authentic and passionate about something it comes across and is infectious. (Just like you Joanna!)
I’m looking forward to next week’s episode and in the mean time I’m working on catching up and absorbing your back list!
Hi Joanna, thanks for another great podcast. About to draw up nine boxes of priorities.
Bradley Charbonneau says
How cool you had Chris Brogan on your show! I think I became a fan boy when you became a fan girl.
I just wanted to add that your mention of his “Freaks” book really hit home–that it’s not only OK to be a freak but then to take it to another level and search out the freaks in the world who relate to you. Super helpful.
You mentioned “Author’s Republic” on the show, could you elaborate on your experience with this service? Maybe in another podcast episode? Thank you, Joanna!
P.S. Completely dorky podcast comment: I was just re-listening to find the name of “Author’s Republic” and the speed on this page is just “regular 1x speed” and I thought, “Wow, she speaks SO slowly!” I’m used to you at 1.5x speed.
Joanna Penn says
Glad you enjoyed it, Bradley!
In terms of Authors Republic, I put one book up there last week – it was easy to do – and the contract is weird and says exclusive but then it has exceptions which are ACX and so Audible/iTunes/Amazon and also selling direct on your own site – so not exactly exclusive. I think it’s a great option for people who can’t use ACX although there’s still a 7 year lockin – but they distribute to a lot more companies. I haven’t sold any yet though 🙂
And yes, on the speed, I listen to shows at 1.5x as well, once you switch, you can’t go back!
Peter Blyth says
One of my characters is absolutely going to use that “I’m not going to sleep with you” line, its brilliant (I’m married so I won’t be feild testing it in the wild)