Today is a beautiful Saturday in August and it’s 70 degrees and sunny outside. Our friends are sending us photos of themselves on the beach and having an afternoon cocktail. But for me (and Sachi) it’s a workday. On Monday, the pre-order campaign will begin and I’m doing everything I can to motivate people to buy Big Enough before it comes out. The video below: “How to Help an Author” explains why this campaign is important.
One of the aspects of this project that I love the most is that it’s mostly DIY. We have help with publishing the book, but I built the website and created the videos from scratch. And let me tell you, hiking and setting up cameras and drone footage with two big dogs tied to your waist, who would rather be exploring, is a real challenge (video below).
Creating videos to go along with Big Enough has been a joy. Making media is a passion of mine and the book gave me an opportunity to make three videos to go along with the launch:
This video explains why pre-orders and review matter to authors.
A live-action video on Orcas Island that asks: what does “living the good life” mean to you?
A brief animation that explains one of the big ideas of the book: designing a business to grow what matters to you.
The book’s web page on leelefever.com is be the home of the pre-order campaign and we’re shining up the last bits. For example, we’re offering incentives for pre-ordering. If you pre-order the book and send me a screenshot of the receipt, I’ll send you three stickers. If you buy five, I’ll send you Big Enough socks. Making all this clear is a challenge and I’m happy with how it’s turning out.
Authors in my position can make their book more successful by directly contacting people in their network. I have a list of a few hundred people that I will email individually next week with a request: please pre-order the book or share it online. It will take time, but I really enjoy connecting with everyone.
Social Media + Blogging
I have been increasingly active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. I don’t want to overwhelm anyone with book messages, so I post a mix of things in addition to book updates. When I write posts like this one, I usually share the link on Twitter and LinkedIn. I started blogging on leelefever.com in 2003, but I admit, I let it languish for a few years. Now, I’m motivated to make it one of my most useful resources and that means consistent blogging.
I expect the book to raise the visibility of Common Craft and in the past week, we completed some much-needed development work. This weekend I’m reviewing the changes and making final tweaks so that it will be ready for prime time.
I’m recording a few podcasts this week and preparing by reviewing previous episodes of those shows. I’m also working on outreach to podcasts hosts who might be open to having me as a guest.The first podcast episode about Big Enough was just published yesterday.
In the past, I’ve struggled with self-promotion. With the release of Big Enough, I’m working to overcome my anxiety about it and doing everything I can to help the book be successful. If I’m going to be an author for the long term, I have to be ready to promote myself. Every day, I remind myself that I’m doing the right things and learning. Sachi’s ongoing support is essential.
Needless to say, we have a lot in motion and I’m honestly surprised by how good I feel about it. I’m excited to contact friends and can’t wait to be on podcasts. Once the launch arrives, the bulk of my work will be done and the book will be out in the world.
In 2006, Sachi and I picked up a little handheld video camera while traveling and I learned to edit short travel videos on the road. The videos were not sophisticated or particularly well made, but they left an impression. Using this video camera and computer, I could make amateur videos.
As I was learning to work the controls and edit the footage, the technology world was changing quickly. YouTube was new and growing fast. Social media was starting to become popular and I was fascinated. I started blogging in 2003 and became an early adopter of Twitter and social networking. I had a very strong sense that these tools were going to be big.
Aside from us, these are the main characters in this story: do-it-yourself videos and social media.
In 2007, Sachi joined Common Craft, which was my one-person consulting practice at the time. My consulting was going well, but we both sensed that we could do more and talked endlessly about how Common Craft could be a part of the social media revolution. Above all, we wanted to identify a problem and solve it. We wanted our work to be useful.
Years earlier, I had developed a series of blog posts that were designed to explain online tools like wikis and social networking. Those posts were popular and I felt at home explaining technology. Looking back over these old posts, an idea emerged. What if we turned the blog posts into videos and shared them on YouTube? It seemed worth a try.
I started creating a DIY studio in our basement. I filmed myself explaining social media with markers while standing in front of a whiteboard. As I quickly learned, this type of video is much more difficult than it seems. I had zero experience on camera, we didn’t know how to light the space properly, and I couldn’t organize my thoughts on the fly. The memory of it still makes me cringe.
The failure of this first experiment was discouraging and caused me to lose faith that we could work with video. Maybe we needed training? Seeing my frustration, Sachi went into problem-solving mode and made a suggestion: what if we put the whiteboard on the floor, pointed the camera down onto it and used only hands, markers and paper cut-outs to explain an idea? By showing nothing but the whiteboard and our hands, the focus would be on the explanation, instead of me. It made sense.
Within a day or two, I had reconfigured our basement studio with the whiteboard on the floor. It was lit by a constellation of bedroom lamps that represented our best estimate of what an actual video producer would do in our shoes. We were making it up as we went along.
The first subject we chose to explain was something called RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which makes it easy to subscribe to a website and be notified when new posts appear. RSS, at the time, was useful, free, and poorly understood. It was a problem we could solve.
We made the video in an afternoon, edited it the next day and in April of 2007, published RSS in Plain English on YouTube and the Common Craft blog. We thought the video was interesting and might get a few views. We hoped it could lead to more consulting or visibility for Common Craft. It was, after all, an experiment.
I had no idea at the time, but the moment I clicked “Publish” was the moment our lives changed in fundamental ways. From that point on, we started operating in uncharted territory.
Within minutes of RSS in Plain English hitting the web, it started to receive views and comments that flowed faster than we could read them. Bloggers around the world embedded the video on their blogs. Emails poured in. The video went viral and it felt like striking gold. We both lived in a state of shock for a few days. Despite it being poorly produced, the video was popular because it explained RSS in a way that everyone could understand. Watch below:
Before we knew it, we were known as video producers and continued making videos that explained social media tools like wikis and social networking in the same style. Today, those videos are known as the first “explainer” videos of the YouTube era and we became known as the pioneers of that little genre. It seemed everyone had seen a Common Craft video.
The attention was overwhelming. Common Craft quickly transformed into a homemade video production studio and over a number of years, we were hired to create similar videos for Google, Intel, Ford, Microsoft, LEGO, Dropbox and many more.
We also continued to make our own videos that were purely educational. These videos, what we call our “original” videos, are Common Craft’s focus today.
And it all started with an experiment in making media by two people with no qualifications, very little experience, and a homemade studio. Since 2007, we’ve been on a mission to turn that initial spark into a career and a business that works for us. Today, thirteen years later, we’re still on that mission and as you’ve seen, it recently led us to Orcas Island, where we’ll continue to produce videos.
If you’re curious, we just published a new original video that explains the difference between online and local documents. Watch it here.
In much of our daily work, things happen on an ad hoc basis and that’s how we like it. An example is the release of a new Common Craft video. Since 2007, we’ve published a new video every month or two. Once a video is published, the clock starts ticking and over the following weeks, the pressure builds to publish the next one. Over twelve years, I’ve grown used to the constant production.
It works, in part, because we are in complete control. If we see an opportunity to improve a video, we can just delay the publishing date, or publish something else instead. No one is the wiser. Our goal isn’t sticking to a strict calendar, it’s building a quality video library over time. The same is true with blog posts and anything else I share. Our editorial independence and control of our calendar are big reasons the process has been sustainable.
Now that I have a book called Big Enougharriving in May, this free-wheeling approach to publishing must become more rigorous. Between now and the publish date, I am making it a priority to publish book-related articles every week, with occasional posts in between. For this, I am using an editorial calendar to keep myself on track.
The words “create editorial calendar” have appeared on my to-do lists many times before and have disappeared just as quickly as they arrived. This time, however, it’s different. The next few months are a time for me to write regularly and do everything I can to build awareness for the book. Because this is so important, I’m not willing to let it happen ad hoc. I need rigor.
For now, I’m promising myself to publish a book-related article once a week, on Thursdays. I hope to write more regularly and share more on this blog, but these book posts will be different. They will be more composed. They will be shared on platforms like LinkedIn and Medium.
Today, it feels like I’m standing at the bottom of a big hill. At the top is the release date of my book, Big Enough, on May 5th, 2020. Between now and then, I will climb that hill. Rather than just showing up and climbing, I’m planning and preparing so that it’s a smooth and manageable ascent.
While it feels a little daunting, I’m now looking forward to it and watching where it may lead. It is an experiment, after all.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.