The first “book” I ever sold was a workbook for teachers to help them figure out how to leverage the tools available to them when the Internet was taking off and schools were starting to explore its presence in the lives of students and teachers. So, without intending it, almost from the day I started teaching, I’ve been thinking about and reporting on the best levers available to move learning forward in schools. I’ve been a curious teacher.
But I was not a good marketer for that first book. Or, rather, I was not a marketer — at all. The book came out, and I did nothing. I didn’t sell it. I didn’t talk about it beyond a small circle. I didn’t give speeches about it. Nothing.
For the next book, Everything But Teaching, I did a little bit more than nothing. I launched a blog (this blog) and published a few articles pointing back to the book and the blog. In the book itself, I mentioned the blog and the articles. If that feels a bit like a web, or a knot, then that’s exactly what I was aiming for. I had a vague sense that the book could become the beginning of a relationship with readers and organizations and schools. So I did my best to ensure that, as much as possible, there were threads for people to grab onto and tie themselves to if they wanted to stay connected to my work — work that, by this point, I knew I wanted to keep doing for a very long time. My “branding concept” was simple. I’m going to keep turning over rocks, I’m going to keep thinking and writing, I’m going to keep talking to interesting people and asking questions and writing down what I notice — to try to help people, schools, and organizations amplify learning.
By and large, the plan worked. Slowly. Slowly, I started to hear from readers. Slowly, I built some new relationships that were mutually beneficial. Slowly, I gained a sense of myself as a writer and thinker and even as someone who had built a small business around these activities. I recommend slowly as a pace.
With Blending Leadership, my third book, I got lucky. I started working with Reshan Richards and we became writing partners. He was building a business at the time, so he was several steps ahead of me when it came to marketing and entrepreneurialism and selling. We built a nice website, continued to blog, published more articles in more places, built up our Twitter presence, taught a course based on the book, spoke at a handful of conferences and events, and consulted at a few schools and organizations. Looking back, we earned the same rewards that I did with Everything But Teaching, but the web/knot is more organized, the scale is greater, and the effects have been exciting, surprising, and humbling.
With book four, Make Yourself Clear, I’m much more comfortable with marketing than I was when I started out as a writer. In fact, I like it and I’m even passionate about it. With one very strong caveat…
Marketing only works for me if I define it and practice it in the right way. So for me (and for Reshan) marketing has to be a story, and in particular, the story of how we’ve tried to connect our work to the work of others.
Here are our basic principles, which we refine constantly:
- Marketing is the story of the people and organizations that we meet as a result of our work.
- It’s creative and connective.
- It’s a work in translation, because connecting ideas requires translation, adaptation.
- It serves our work, but it is not self serving.
- It tries to be additive and generous, which means it is not empty or spammy or greedy or mindlessly repetitive. If you pay attention to our marketing, we hope you will be enriched in some way / have something new to share or do.
- It is not strategic so much as it is accretive; successful marketing tells us where to turn, what to do, how to proceed — next.
- It is built on permission and partnerships: Can we share ___ with you? Do you want to work on ___ together? Could we be better at ___ if we work together?
- It aims to be helpful and is only as assertive as it needs to be.
- It assumes that our work has given us a few planks of a stage; marketing, as we try to practice it, is the act of inviting others onto that stage.
We hope you will join us.