As my last interview in January, a month focused on how to build a better blog so you and your blogged book could more easily get noticed by readers and publishers, I interviewed Julien Smith, a New York Times bestselling author of two books, Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust and The Flinch. He discussed how blogging and publishing allow risk-taking writers ready to genuinely and candidly reveal themselves an opportunity to create change. Julian’s blog is a must read, as is his latest book, The Flinch, which he published as an ebook with Seth Godin’s Domino Project.
While some people who come to this blog wonder about the concept of blogging a book and giving away all that precious content for free, obviously, Julien supports the idea of giving away content. You can learn more about his free ebook and about his thoughts on writing tomorrow in another part of this interview, which will appear on Write Nonfiction NOW! Today, you’re going to find out what he has to say about doing so with a blog—and making an impact while you do so.
Julien is a consultant and speaker who has been involved in online communities for over fifteen years, from early BBSs and flash mobs to social web as we know it today. He also was one of the first Twitter users and one of the first people to podcast in 2004 (which is impressive to me since I’ve just struggled to get my first podcast up). He has worked with numerous media publications, such as Sirius Satellite Radio, GQ, CBS, Cosmopolitan, and more.
All Julian’s accomplishments simply give you an inkling of the fact that he has a lot to say, and what he has to say is extremely insightful. It’s no wonder, therefore, that what he writes gets attention—like his latest book. I interviewed him just after reading The Flinch. I would describe it as a book about moving through fear, but he says it’s “about our pathological lack of courage as individuals…really it’s a book about how to break out of bad habits and break into good ones.”
Thus, it’s a book about creating change—about asking people to change, compelling them to change. In that way, Julien is a change agent. And I think any blogger or aspiring author blogging their book also has the opportunity to be a change agent. Thus, we discussed that topic during our conversation, which you’ll find below. I hope you’ll check out the rest of the conversation here tomorrow. And I’ll have a third part of our conversation, this one on moving through fear and being a change agent, published on my other blog (Yes, I have yet another.), As the Spirit Moves Me, on Friday or Saturday.
Books, such as your book, The Flinch, are published and affect a lot of people. They affect change. Can you do the same with a blog? Can you be a change agent?
Absolutely. My blog has reached many people. Some of the articles that I’ve written have been read hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of times. Some of them have been repurposed into Cosmopolitan magazine, for example, to millions of readers. When I look at that, I feel like ‘free’ is the space in which someone plays and experiments with risk in their writing. And there is almost no downside. You can publish something, and the worst is thing that happens is obscurity. The worst thing that happens is that nobody reads it. If you’re at the beginning of your career, no one’s reading you anyway. But the upside is massive if you create something cool. So that requires risk, and a blog is the place in which you play with that.
How can a blogger or writer be the kind of a change agent, that kind of a thought leader, that impacts change via a blog?
No matter how different you think you may be, there’s probably a field of people that blog in the same space as you are. There’s this amazing book about the idea of differentiation, which is called Blue Ocean Strategy—very good book, over two million copies have been sold—and it’s about how to differentiate yourself from your competitors and create what’s called a ‘blue ocean’ instead of a red ocean. The red ocean, the metaphor is that’s where the sharks are, and there’s lots of blood and lots of competition for the same food. But a blue ocean has no sharks and, therefore, you can eat as much as you like, right? The blue ocean is created through vast differentiation and sort of radically removing a certain section of what it is that your competitors might do but that you do not.
Cirque du Soleil is a great example of this that they use in the book actually. Most traditional circuses involve smelly animals and clowns and other things like that. The price of a circus is cheap and so on. [Cirque du Soleil] says, ‘Well, how can we call ourselves a circus but remove the things that we consider not significant, and then turn it into a kind of theatre? It’s still a circus, but it kind of redefines what a circus is.’ From that point on, it creates a blue ocean.
Then comes the process of other people trying to compete and trying to copy them, and enlarging that space.
Can you offer a tip you use to create the type of blog posts that get the readership you talked about earlier?
One of the most influential, powerful things is to actually be candid. You have a bunch of interior walls, and you don’t even know that you have them…Some of my friends at Harvard Business Review created a trust equation one time, which we wrote about in Trust Agents. One of the most powerful aspects of the trust equation is intimacy, how close someone feels to you. While you have these walls up, people do not feel close to you, they may not know why. Then all of a sudden if you break them down, they immediately feel like, ‘Oh, this guy is something different, something special.’
One of the best examples of this currently going on is this guy called James Altucher, and he sold a company recently called StockPickr.com, and he went on to be in blogging. He just blogs his face off, like his entire life is in view, and the amount of audience it picks up as a result of that is amazing. It’s also because he’s good and smart and insightful and all these things. But it requires differentiation through making the audience feel like they’re close to you, and that’s what he does.
So basically, get really personal.
That’s a simplification of what I’m trying to express. More than that it’s really that you need to figure out what it is that people truly want to hear from you, and then actually give it to them. Lots of people feel like they anticipate what the audience needs, or they do things like that. They’re like, ‘Oh, my stuff isn’t working.’ Genuinely when something comes from a truly deep place, it tends to hit people in a deep place as well. Then when you try to artificially create something like that, and say, ‘Well, why isn’t this working?’ it isn’t effective because it isn’t actually true.
So it’s making that emotional connection.
Writers in general, not necessarily bloggers, then have a unique position to become change agents, wouldn’t you say?
People read more than they ever have in the history of mankind right now, you know? They read on mobile devices sixteen hours a day, or on computers for their entire waking hours. To me, yeah, it’s the best time to be a writer ever because what you do affects more people than it ever could have.
What tips could you offer to aspiring authors who may be blogging to build platform or blogging their books that would help them get noticed in the blogosphere.
I think that writing and getting noticed are two separate things, but I would say largely it’s a matter of refining ideas. You can go and talk about your anxiety or whatever, but it’s another thing entirely to call it ‘the flinch,’ to give something a name, for example, or to refine the idea to the point where it’s like, metaphorically sharp and it can just insert itself like a sword right into the person’s mind.
And then there’s the idea of platform, which is to sort of work on a platform and build the reach.
Then, finally, there’s the idea of the network, which is what happens behind the scenes—being able to connect to the right people in order to be able to get your work out there.
I would say that these three ideas, the idea itself, the platform and the network, are probably the three things that anyone should be working on who has any kind of media they want to be putting out, whether it’s writing or videos or whatever. If they’re not working on those three things at any given time, then they’re wasting their time.
I’m not sure most writers or bloggers focus on the differentiation offered by Julian in this last answer. It’s an important point for success as any type of author.
Check back tomorrow here for more of my interview with Julien. Learn the value of “free,” get insight into his writing practice and more. Check in here, later in the week for a discussion about The Flinch, fear and creating change.
What do you think about what Julien had to say? Are you ready to differentiate yourself in the blogosphere or be a change agent? are you ready to move through your defenses and write on a new level? Leave your comments and thoughts below!
Don’t forget about my upcoming “Blog Your Way to a Book Deal” 4-part Teleclass starting next week! Preorder a copy of How to Blog a Book and SAVE $30 on the registration fee! Get all the details here: http://bit.ly/BlogaBookTeleclassOffer