Human-Centered Book Marketing With Dan Blank

How can you connect to readers in a way that is sustainable for you and effective at selling books? How can you choose the best platform when there are so many options? Dan Blank gives his recommendations.

In the intro, TikTok ban signed into law in the USA [The Verge]; No One Buys Books [Elle Griffin]; Please stop bashing book publishing [Publishing Confidential]; The Hotsheet; Books sell, but book doesn’t [Seth Godin]. Plus, my new podcast logo; Spear of Destiny finishing energy, artist’s date at Salisbury Cathedral.


Today’s show is sponsored by my patrons! Join my community and get access to extra videos on writing craft, author business, AI and behind the scenes info, plus an extra Q&A show a month where I answer Patron questions. It’s about the same as a black coffee a month! Join the community at

Dan Blank helps authors develop a human-centered approach to marketing through his book, Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience, as well as his podcast, The Creative Shift, and his coaching and consultancy services at

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • Learning how to feel good about sharing and marketing
  • Keeping the human connection while scaling our reach
  • Deciding what platform is best for your style of marketing
  • Differences between the “daily work” and launch marketing
  • Marketing later books in a series
  • Advantages of Substack to get your newsletter discovered
  • Balancing social engagement with the work of writing books

You can find Dan at and

Transcript of Interview with Dan Blank

Joanna: Dan Blank helps authors develop a human-centered approach to marketing through his book, Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience, as well as his podcast, The Creative Shift, and his coaching and consultancy services at Welcome back to the show, Dan.

Dan: Thank you for having me back. It’s always such a pleasure.

Joanna: Now you were last on the show in 2017. It’s kind of a long, long time ago now. So some people might not have heard about you.

Tell us a bit more about you and your background in publishing, and also what your business looks like now.

Dan: Yes, thank you. So I work with writers every day. This is the full-time work I’ve done since around 2010. Everything I focus on is really around the idea of author platform, author branding, author marketing, book launches.

For me, I’ve really come to embrace this idea of what I call human-centered marketing. This is, to me, helping writers get past some of the biggest things that stop them, which is self-censorship.

This is in terms of not knowing how to share, not knowing how to feel good about marketing, not really understanding all these core aspects of what it means to embrace the idea of being a writer, of feeling good about sharing, of knowing how to use marketing and launch tactics in a way that are very effective, but also make you feel good about the idea of sharing your work.

This is opposed to how a lot of writers feel about it, which is they kind of put it off and they say, “Well, I’m going to put my marketing hat on on this specific date. Then I’m taking my marketing hat off as quickly as I can.”

So I’ve done this since 2010 full-time. I work with writers every single day. Of course, I’ve had a blog and newsletter since before that time. I’m going on 19 years of a weekly email newsletter. I’m sure we’ll talk about how I’m on Substack now, and I really appreciate that venue.

Like you, I’ve been out there for just years and years on social media and author events, just connecting with writers and readers and embracing all of the cool, weird ways that we get to share what we do.

Joanna: Yes, well, a few things there. Actually, I think you and I met on Twitter, as it was back then.

Dan: Isn’t that funny?

Joanna: It’s funny because, like many people, I kind of wound down my usage last year. I’ve actually now got back on, and I’m pretending it’s a completely different platform. So I am now on X, @thecreativepenn, which was my old handle on the old system of Twitter.

I was thinking about this, and I was actually on X, and I saw this thread by an author. It said, “I hate marketing. I never want to do it. It’s scammy, and sucky, and only for people with no morals and no ethics. It’s awful. I don’t want to push my book at anyone.”

I was reading this going, okay then, that’s really interesting. You used the words “feel good about sharing.” So how can authors reframe this, any kind of negativity they feel about this?

How can we get to the point of feeling good about marketing?

Dan: I’m 51 years old, and what I love about being the age that I am is that I very much grew up and remember the era before the internet being everything.

So I used to manage a bookstore cafe, I grew up as an artist, my wife is an incredible artist, and most of my friends over the years have been performers and creators of some sort or another.

To me it is just a beautiful thing that people are able to write. When I look back at the totality of my life, when I think back to a bookstore in the 1990s, or a literary salon, invariably it is this idea of surrounding yourself with people who care about the themes that you write about, who appreciate writing and art and creativity.

Sharing is not a negative thing. The idea of you having written and you showing up and knowing how to talk to people about this, feeling proud about it in some normal way, of feeling that you are moving within circles of people who care about creative work, who care about what you create and what other people create and vice versa.

That is something that I feel is very natural. It’s a natural part of the creative process.

One thing I often will say and think about is that —

What we create is complete when it reaches another person.

That if you write a book, half of it is, of course, your life experience, the craft, everything you put into that story.

But if I read that book, I’m reading it from a very specific standpoint of my own needs, my own fears, my own life experience. How I interpret these characters in these situations, how I see myself in this story, how a certain character reminds me of my grandfather, these are things that you could never imagine.

Through those two things coming together is the magic of art. That’s something that is almost co-created in a way. That’s inherently about that work being shared.

To me, when we look at it through a lens like this, sharing your work becomes a very natural part of creating it. Not that you are interrupting, not that you’re walking into a room of people and saying, “Everyone stop! I’ve got a book!” and you’ve got some glowing sign.

It’s the idea that you might walk into that same room and talk with people and say, “Well, I’m working on a new chapter for my book,” and you talk about the themes. Then people are like, “Really?!” You’ve experienced this certainly a million times throughout your life.

I think that’s something with a lot of people, they write privately. It is a private part of their life separate from their role in their family, separate from their job. So it’s harder for them to think about sharing it in a natural way because it starts isolated, and people define them as everything else first.

As you get comfortable in knowing how to talk about your work and knowing how to think about who your readers are, I think it becomes more natural.

Then the idea of thinking of marketing, not as a horrible thing that must be done to interrupt people, it becomes a much more natural part of what it means to be a writer who’s living a fulfilling life as a writer.

Joanna: Yes, you have these key principles that shaped your approach. One of these is connecting to a person, not “an audience,” in inverted commas, like a market, or whatever the big words.

I feel like we’re in this difficult tension between deep connection, and some of the things you said are great. You know, we can work, like you said, if you’re in a bookstore, with a person in a cafe, or whatever, but they also seem unscalable.

We need to sell enough books to make marketing worthwhile. With books, there’s low profit in terms of how much money most people make per book. So we do need to think marketing at scale. So where’s the sweet spot?

How do we keep the connection but also the scale?

Dan: I think there’s always this middle ground that we don’t talk enough about. This goes back to traditional marketing, and this is like my total obsession.

So I do like talking about the very classic idea of a marketing funnel. It is sort of fuddy duddy and old-fashioned a lot of ways, but I find it to be really useful. To me, if we think about the concept of marketing funnel, you imagine an inverted pyramid. At the top is the wide top where people become aware of your work, and somewhere in the middle people become interested.

Then they might actually take a step to buy one of your books or get on your newsletter list. Then they finally buy something, they actually read the book, and then they review it, they advocate, they do word of mouth marketing, they buy your next book.

Think about moving through that funnel from very wide to very specific. All of these ideas are really helpful to think that if we get exposure, and let’s say it’s on TikTok for a certain kind of author or it’s a speaking event, that is just the first step.

The other step is the people who then come up to you after that talk and ask a question. Then it’s the idea of them taking your card or getting in your newsletter list where you’re giving them a free book, and I’m getting that.

It really is this series of a relationship of sorts. It’s a professional relationship. You are slowly moving them from one sense of connection to a deeper sense of connection.

It’s not just exposure or just sitting in a room by yourself with a reader and talking to them. They go through these phases. What I like is that media kind of helps us do this in a way.

Before we started recording, you’d mentioned you heard me on another podcast. It sounded to me like that reminded you of, oh, yes, we haven’t talked to Dan in a while. Me being on that very public thing kickstarted a reminder to you, and then some number of weeks or months later you probably remembered. Then you emailed me and we set it up. These things happen back and forth in a way.

It can be about that mass exposure, but it’s also about moving through the sense of awareness, to interest, to conversion, to advocacy. The idea of focusing on one person, to me, is meant to highlight that.

So I’ve really enjoyed being on Substack for the last year with my newsletter, and in the last couple of weeks, a bunch of stuff I’ve shared has gone viral on Substack. It’s done really well there.

I can look at the numbers and say, look at these big numbers. These numbers now are bigger than they were before. Look at this chart, how it goes at a steeper angle. The reality, though, is that my days are spent commenting back and forth with people.

People mentioning me, people giving feedback, and me spending, at this point, more than an hour a day commenting back and engaging with these people, looking at what they’re reading, and seeing names come up again and again. These numbers have to come into some form of a sense of a progression with your readers.

You get them from when they become aware of my book, to they want to buy it, to they bought it, to now they started reading it, to they finished it, to they reviewed it, to they’re telling people about it and they’re buying the next one. It’s a longer progression than I think sometimes people make it out to be.

Joanna: Yes, there’s a few things I want to come back on. I will come back on the Substack and the email because I can hear people asking that question.

I want to pick up on something you just said, which you said, “TikTok for a certain type of author.” I think what has changed since you and I first connected on social media is we have always had that long funnel. We never expected to put out a tweet or put out a podcast episode and have an immediate buy from an impulse purchase.

What has changed, and I’m seeing this direct to my Shopify store, though I use Meta ads, but there is TikTok shop, people are buying directly from one single social video, or social mention, or whatever. That really has changed.

So can you just be more specific about what you mean by a certain type of author for TikTok? Because I feel like TikTok right now, as we record this in the sort of first half of 2024, people still think it’s a magic bullet, like all the other magic bullets that have come and gone. So what did you mean by that?

How can authors decide what platforms are best for them?

Dan: I mean, that’s the funny thing. TikTok is, and can be, a magic bullet for some people at some time.

So I mean, a few months ago, I did a case study on author Breanne Randall who had been sharing a very similar kind of video again and again on TikTok, and she went viral. She just kept using the same kind of formula for her debut novel, and I think she had 10,000 pre orders because of that.

It was very similar to what you said, where they heard her message, and they pre-ordered the book, they heard her message, they pre-ordered the book. The work for her is to get people to now read that book, to get people to like that book, to get them interested in her next book, to keep them engaged. That, again, is when I think of the idea of marketing or what it means to be public as an author. That’s the daily work.

There was that magic bullet quality of TikTok for Breanne in that year, and this year probably, as well. But then what she does with it to do what you’re doing, which is you’re building this absolute career and business model behind it, that is a part of the work of understanding that.

So when a writer thinks about what channel is effective for me, they’re doing a couple things. For some, they’re looking objectively at the business of how this works.

Like I know plenty of writers who are like, “I’m going to get on Instagram.” Then they ignore the data that’s in front of them, which is like, well, if you want to succeed on Instagram in this general era, you really need to embrace reels, and there’s all kinds of reasons for that.

Then they’re like, “No, no, no. I don’t want to do a video.” They think of Instagram as it was in 2017. So they’re not going to get the value out of it in that way.

They view video in a very, very specific way, and they ignore a lot of the trends that we see on TikTok or something about being incredibly authentic, or just doing a video from your car or your bedroom or walking somewhere because they instead want to be in a studio. So some of it is looking at the data and getting that data.

Some of it is your comfort level and thinking about what you’re really good at and something you really enjoy. This can take time to figure out.

For me, I like writing newsletters, and I like doing video. So these are the two things that I really focus a lot on. Then it is looking out. Where are comparable authors? Where is the community? Where are these things happening?

Any kind of author can find success on any platform, but I think you and I have both probably seen—or I know I’ve seen, I don’t want to speak for you—where we can say, “Wow, this certain community of writers is really active here.”

Or it can be that we’ve seen again and again, books in a certain topic or genre really using Instagram effectively or TikTok effectively, or with this certain topic over on X that there’s a big following there, that people are really primed to be engaging in this kind of content there.

So you’re mixing these three things together, and I do think experimentation comes from that. They have to give a good first run of what feels comfortable, what feels strategic.

Then what a lot of people do is they pick a primary channel, and then they also kind of share that content elsewhere as like a backup. We see someone who posts on TikTok, but then they also put it on Instagram reels, and then through Instagram reels, it also gets put on a Facebook reel.

I saw that from an author yesterday, where I saw her recent post through a Facebook reel, that was really an Instagram reel, which is really referencing her original TikTok post. So they’re thinking about how the secondary channels move into a primary channel.

Joanna: I mean, you mentioned something earlier around sort of the daily work, you used the phrase “the daily work.”

There is a big difference between the daily work of, let’s say, putting people into the top of that funnel and nurturing existing customers and fans and readers, and then comparing that to a sort of launch period where people will have a bit of a frenetic pace, as such.

How would you differentiate the daily work to a launch period?

Dan: Great question. So, one, I always think of this work as a craft. So it’s the idea of, how do we do a few things really well? How do we attend to it every week? How do we get 1% better every week or every month at these few things that we’re doing?

So with a launch, you’re leveraging a lot of other things. So, one, we’ve got a very specific window. So defining that window for yourself can really matter. Knowing I’m looking at the next year, with the kind of pre, the during, and the post launch. Or I’m looking at the next six months as the launch window.

That, I think, really helps you think about marketing in a lot of ways. If you think about what are the few things I’m going to do in that year to promote this one product, this one book, so to speak.

Then we’re leveraging the fact that newness is a thing. People like new things, media likes talking about new things, a podcast is more likely to have you on when there’s a new thing. Your community around you is going to be celebratory around a new thing. So it’s the idea of leveraging that.

Then I always think about the organic stuff you’re going to do. You’re going to do the cover reveal, you might have a video, you might have all the kind of standard things you might do, and we kind of map that onto a calendar.

Then I try to think about, because we’re focusing people on this one product, this book that they haven’t read yet, that they might not even know they want to read, I try to think of all the ways into that.

So around that one focus, I’ll often think about all the different emotions as different ways in. Again, we’ve seen this a lot in social media where there can be a way in around joy, a way in around purpose, a way in around fear and anticipation. So again, you could think of a TikTok video of someone where they’re being like, “Oh, my gosh! The book is here!” and it’s crying tears of joy. Then another one where they’re thanking, that it’s gratitude, and they’re thanking their mentors.

Then another one where they’re crying, and they’re actually afraid. They’re saying, like, “I don’t know if this is going to work. I’ve put so much into this, and it might not be good enough or might not be ready.”

These I think are ways to do a product launch, the idea of focusing people and giving more people attachments to this book. Then likewise, it’s the idea of calling in every favor that you have. If you have a community, if you have first-, second-, third-degree connections.

When you think about where you hope this book might be talked about, whether it’s a book club, a podcast or reading group, a certain influencer on TikTok, of really trying to call in every favor and think about what do they need. How does this book coming out align with what they love talking about, what we think their schedule is, what we can kind of make that offer? Or likewise, if you’re pitching an essay somewhere, something you want to get published.

So, to me, it’s much more focused on that window and focusing people in a lot of different ways into a very specific action, which is to know about this book, buy this book, read this book, love this book, ideally.

Joanna: You were talking about that author early on on TikTok, that sort of debut novel, and calling in favors and things like this. I mean, I’m obviously in a more mature phase of my author career, and I write across so many genres, and I know some people listening are the same.

There are books where we can call in favors, and then there are the regular releases.

It’s like you can’t keep asking for things because you do more releases, or you do a different type of genre, or you do whatever you do.

So I’m thinking about a launch at the moment. I’ve got a book coming up, Spear of Destiny. It’s book 13, in my ARKANE thriller series. So a book 13 is kind of like an interesting sell. Normally, we would promote book one, but this is a Kickstarter for a special edition, so the launch is 21 days. I’m really trying to come up with lots of ideas around promotional things.

So if people listening are similar to me, and they’re trying to promote later books in a series, what are your thoughts on that? Because obviously, we’ve got our email list, we’re going to email our list, we’re going to share to our normal social media things, but—

For these later books in fiction series, any thoughts on that?

Dan: So something I think a lot about is like one exercise you do with writers is we create audience personas. So what’s neat is this creates a very unique persona of the longtime person who is very aware of your books, or they haven’t started this series, or they know about the series.

It creates a different set because what we’re trying to figure out is what are their goals and their needs. What are the things that really resonate? With some of these people, it might be a different narrative.

You might be marketing it in a way which is people supporting you and what you represent, and that’s helping to sell the book, the thirteenth book. Like before, I said I’ve got 19 years of sending a weekly newsletter. Some of that is the idea that there’s other narratives going on there. To someone who’s never heard of me before, knowing that they missed a thousand issues is kind of meaningless.

So what does that mean? It means like, oh, well, maybe we’re supporting this author in some way.

Or maybe you’re having to do more work of saying this book is a perfect way in if you’ve fallen off with a series, here’s how I’m going to catch you up with that. Or here’s—like you’ve probably seen many times before—here’s the bonus that we’re doing that catches you up with this.

You can think about the unique challenge and things you can leverage if that type of reader or that kind of book launch has challenges, in a way. Like, well, they’ve missed the first twelve, or they’ve heard about this time and time again, how do we make it interesting? So we’re thinking of it that way.

Then we can always think about all the people who have not yet heard of your books. That’s something I think about a lot, which is someone could have a million followers, and yet most of the world population has no idea who they are. They’ve never heard of these books.

So we think about where are the places you’ve not been before? Or what is the unique way in? If you’re coming back on a podcast or coming back to someone with something, it’s like, what is the unique angle?

If they can’t do another promotion for my book the way that I’d like them to do, what could I pitch them that is collaborative, proposing different authors? So we see this a lot with author events, where it’s a very common thing now, but it’s not just, “Come to my author talk.” It’s, “We’re doing an event. The topic is this topic, and it’s me in conversation with so-and-so.”

Now, yes, we’re coming together because I’m launching my book, that’s like the Kickstarter, but you’re going to see an incredible discussion on a topic—that does relate to my book—with me and another prominent author.

So they’re learning to take this idea of, oh, not everyone knows you, or doesn’t know about the book, doesn’t want to go to an author reading, but they want to go to an event around this topic.

Or it could be they want to see you and, oh, they’re going see this other person. Or they know the other person, and they’re going to see you.

This is where I think marketing gets interesting because it takes that problem, and then we get to say, okay, cool, how do we use this to our advantage? How do we think of completely different ways of getting past people’s objections, using a more traditional marketing term?

Joanna: It’s fascinating. I do think one of the things we can do with something like Kickstarter, which is really good, it is sort of appealing to the binge buyers. So a lot of what I’m finding now—which is kind of crazy—doing ads directly to my Shopify store, is that new readers will buy twelve print books cold. They’ll just buy the whole series.

I just find that incredible because that’s not what we’ve been taught around book marketing. For a long time, we’ve been taught that funnel approach. People every day are buying the bundle of twelve. So for the Kickstarter, I’m thinking the same thing. It’s like there are people who discover a new author and they want to buy the entire backlist.

ARKANE thrillers

That means I can offer the bundle of thirteen books, and in eBook, audio, paperback, etc. That is a kind of different offering. Again, I guess that’s something with marketing is—

We need to think that the readers are different.

So a reader who does eBooks on KU, for example, is different to an audiobook listener, is different to someone who buys special edition hardbacks and all that.

Dan: Yes, and I think that what I love about you’re talking about is, in some ways, the traditional book marketing tried to operate outside of traditional business and marketing strategy.

Everything you’re talking about aligns much more to leveraging that, this idea of if people are buying bundles, it could be because they want a deal. You’ve made them a really good offer, and again, I didn’t analyze this for you, but they’re like, “Well, I’m spending $20 on one book, but you know, if I spend $80 and I get 12 books, it’s a better deal.”

Or it’s about identity. It could be about their identity. “Oh, I want to get into this, and when I buy the whole library, I get an instant identity,” where they want their bookshelf to look a certain way.

Or they want to be a supporter of you. A lot of people on Patreon or Kickstarter, they want to be seen as a bigger supporter. So you could support me for $12, but my mega-ultra supporters will give me $50 for the t-shirt, and there’s like an identity thing going on.

So I think you’re able to use a lot more levers of what motivates people. Also, as you’re really obviously very smartly doing, thinking about different ways of bundling and connecting with people in a variety of ways.

Joanna: Yes, I find the new ways of book marketing kind of a lot more freeing. I feel like we were, for fiction particularly—I know you do a lot more nonfiction—but for fiction, we were sort of hamstrung, I think, by the dominance of genre fiction in eBook.

I think we’re all realizing we can actually make really good money with print books.

Now fiction authors are starting to advertise print again, especially with how the audio royalties have been affected by streaming and all of that. So it feels like we’ve just discovered ways that traditional publishers have been using forever. Now indie authors are moving into that as well.

Dan: Well, yes, and I think we see this in the music world as well, where everything gets to streaming, but then the individual creator is disempowered because it’s all controlled by Spotify and it’s all on this mass scale.

Now we have this unbelievable resurgence of people buying cassette tapes, CDs, multiple copies of vinyl because there’s different pressings. I’m thinking of like Taylor Swift’s recent launch, where it’s like, cassettes are a thing now. It’s empowering her, it’s empowering their identity, and it’s that physicality. It all comes in in a different way, so I absolutely love that example.

Joanna: That is so funny about cassettes. I was walking past a street market here in Bath, and there are these old stalls covered in vinyl and tapes, and all the people shopping at this store were young, like teenagers, early twenties. It was so weird. I was like, where are they even playing this stuff? Or are they just not playing it? I mean, where do you even play a tape deck now?

Dan: Isn’t it incredible? I’ve got a tape right here. Like you can hear the old tape stuff.

It’s neat, and I think people are rediscovering it. Some of it is nostalgia. Some of it, I think, is for people who are younger. Like I’ve got younger kids, and it’s this brand-new thing. They can hold music in their hands for the first time in their whole lives, which is incredible.

Joanna: I mean, we’re a similar age, right? I mean, we used to buy tapes, and then the machine would chew up the tape. I don’t think they realize that.

Dan: There goes your twenty bucks.

Joanna: Yes, exactly. I don’t think these people realize that these things get chewed up, and then you can’t play it anymore. So you have to keep it as an artifact because playing it may damage it. I think maybe that’s part of the attraction, I suppose.

Dan: Maybe.

Joanna: It’s so interesting. Okay, well, let’s come back to Substack. Can you just start on the platform approach? Obviously, when you started your email list, you were not on Substack because it didn’t exist.

What have you found particularly good about Substack?

What did you switch from? Any sort of recommendations on platform?

Dan: So, to me, what Substack has solved is what every other email newsletter platform never really approached and never tried to solve, which is fine.

All of these platforms are incredible at giving you the technology to create and deploy newsletters. They will send them out, they’ll get them delivered, there are good creation tools, they will manage your list for you.

Getting subscribers is where everyone suffers. The idea of then they’ve got to go and build their platform from scratch. That’s obviously part of the work I help people do.

So something that Substack has done is they have good email creation tools like everyone else, but they’ve really created a network, a community where your newsletter can be discovered.

That’s something I was seeing a couple years ago, and I worked with tons of clients on. Then I moved mine over almost exactly a year ago when we’re recording this. I’m going to do a big post about that.

The interesting thing for me was seeing how, one, newsletters were growing at a much quicker rate on Substack than I ever saw or ever heard from clients on any other platform. Then, two, there was a lot more engagement in Substack than I’ve seen since the early days of blogging. So it is incredible for me.

I’m actually going to my most recent post, as I had really big posts last Friday where the comments section—remember when comments were a big deal on blogs?

Joanna: Yes.

Dan: I have 162 comments on my recent post in Substack. I used to have something like that years ago, where you’d post, there’d be all these comments, it would feel like a community, people would comment on each other, and people would discover each other’s stuff through the comments. That all got dispersed to social media in the last 10-15 years. That was fine because social media is unique and cool in its own way.

Seeing people connect with more writers, to appreciate long-form content, to come together in something that feels smaller and more community-driven, it’s not unique, in general. We have that on Discord, or Patreon or these other smaller areas.

What’s really nice is that it felt like this is a platform really celebrating the idea of writing and reading as opposed to very short videos. I love very short videos, but it’s a different skill set for a writer to say, “I’m going to get really good at TikTok videos,” than it is to say, “I’m going to read a 1500-word piece and send it out.”

So I’ve seen that discoverability and that really celebrating the idea of writing and reading and connecting with each other. That just totally blew me away.

Joanna: Yes. So basically, you’re committing to writing long-form content every week. I mean, like you say, it is like blogging.

What’s so interesting is I’ve really switched to being an audio-first consumer. So I don’t read articles at all anymore. I read books, and I listen to podcasts, and I listen to audiobooks.

I do get a lot of emails on Substack, but as a reader, I much prefer audio, like I want to have it as audio. But that’s me, that’s my preference. So I think this is the thing, isn’t it? Certain people want to read your Substack, and certain people want to consume in other ways.

Are you trying to reach everyone on every platform, or are you just focusing there?

Dan: So it’s interesting because what I’ve seen Substack do is it kind started out like newsletter, then it’s got essentially a blog because it’s got that online publication.

Now they have audio for all their posts. So you can do voiceover for all your posts, and plenty of people do that. They now have video posts and automated transcripts. They also have their own social network that’s very much like Twitter. So they are, I think, trying to leverage that.

What is nice is it gives you, as the user of it, the opportunity to say, oh, I want to make sure that everything I share has audio because that’s part of how I like it or how my consumer likes it. For me, I think that —

Last year when everything changed with Twitter/X, what I saw was a really big shift in social media in general.

That, to me, was generally always the center of how we viewed social media, even if someone wasn’t super active on it.

When that broke, what I saw was it breaking people’s own expectations of where they show up, and where they find people, and their own preferences. So I saw a lot of people split off for a while, and saying, well, I might not be there as much, so I’m going to go to Bluesky, or Instagram or Threads. It was tough because people got there, and they saw some of their friends there, but not all their friends there. That really had them reassess things.

So one thing that I look at for myself and for other people too, is saying, well, where do I really want to show up? Where am I comfortable? Where are my people? So for me, again, because I’ve always had the newsletter, from a business standpoint, I like it.

I’ve had enough writers that I’ve known say, “Oh, I was doing great on Instagram for a while. I built up 40,000 followers, but then I don’t know what happened. My account got flagged, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get back.” Or they say, “The algorithm has changed, and now I’ve got to do these videos. Even when I do the videos, they don’t work like it used to,” and they feel kind of bad about that.

I do like the fact that for a newsletter, I regularly download and backup my list. So if Substack goes away tomorrow, I can take that list and move it to any other platform. I have a way of reaching people. That feels like a good center for me.

Obviously, I still love social media and all these different platforms, but I like the idea of finding a center where you feel you’re comfortable, where your readers are comfortable, where it works for your business strategy, and then also diversifying.

We see this even for a YouTuber, someone where their whole income is YouTube. They’ll now have multiple channels, they will actively say, “Join my Discord for conversation.” They know that their account can get flagged for the wrong reason, and they need a way to communicate with people. So they’ve gotten much smarter from a business standpoint of making sure their business doesn’t fall off if one thing happens on one network.

Joanna: Which is what we talk about a lot with Amazon as well.

I call it the splintering, we’ve got this splintering of these communities that were in one place, and now are kind of everywhere. You can’t reach everyone, so you have to focus.

I do want to come back to, again, you talked about the daily work earlier, and you said you spend about an hour a day answering these comments and that engagement side of posting content.

Now, we are authors, and I’m on like number 47 or something now, I want to write books. I want to use my words for writing books, and that’s what I like to do.

So although I welcome comments on this episode from people listening, and also, obviously I get emails every day from people, but I don’t want to spend an hour a day engaging on what is essentially social media.

How do people balance this kind of engagement and connection versus doing the work of writing books?

Dan: Some of that I think is just really getting clear about one’s, I don’t know if this is the right word, but their values, in a way. Not that there’s one value better than another, but knowing how you want to spend your time.

So a lot of authors I talk to, full-time authors, they spend a big chunk of their day creating. It’s often the first half of the day, not always. There has to be a limit, a creative limit of how many hours they can spend writing.

Of course, we know a lot of famous examples where they write from 8am to 6:30pm every day. For most people, I found they’ve got three to five hours max of like pure creative work.

Then because they want to change gears or because they want to actually have a business around their creative work, they know that they’ve got to spend another three hours in the afternoon managing the virtual assistant, managing email, setting up a promotion, thinking about a book launch.

That’s a part of it, and people get to define that. Someone can offload that to other people, obviously, and have a team of people. So whenever I look at someone who’s really successful, I love looking them up and realizing, oh, they’ve got a team of four people, they’ve got a team of two people, they’ve got a team of thirty people.

Then it’s the idea of what do you enjoy? Or what is this for you? Some people really like engagement, or they really like going to events, or they really like speaking. That’s for everyone individually to decide in a lot of ways. For me, I grew up as a creator. I was always involved in creative communities.

The whole idea for me is that what I like about the internet is that it’s this beautiful thing where someone can be anywhere in the world, for the most part, and feel they want to create something that their family doesn’t understand, their friends don’t understand, their community doesn’t understand. They can create it, and they can distribute it now. They couldn’t have done that 20 or 30 or longer years ago. That, to me, is magical.

The idea that, to me, a work is complete when it’s received by someone—that’s not a rule, it’s just how I tend to view it for myself—I truly get goosebumps hearing people comment back on stuff and doing that.

It just feels so special that something I wrote inspired them or they offered something additional to that. I’m not long-form doing these long comments back to people, but for me to just see other people, to just recognize that if someone took the time to comment, I’m going to take a moment to comment back.

Beyond that, to me, it’s just productivity. It’s just how I schedule that time. When I do it, I’m very careful about that. Like at four o’clock, I’ll go in and I’ll spend 30 minutes going through all the comments here, and I’ll process email at a certain time. Beyond that, it’s just working into the rest of my life, because like you, everyone is really busy. You’ve got to find that balance.

Then I think the rest of it is also forgiving yourself and letting go of things that you can’t always do. You get to start with the values, but a certain point you might say, I’m calling email bankruptcy, or I’m just not doing that.

You’ve got to also feel good about that as well because we have to have good physical and mental health, in addition to all these quote unquote, “obligations,” we feel that we have.

Joanna: It’s so interesting. Of course, you were talking there at the beginning about people who are full-time creators, but when I had a day job, I would write in the morning before work, so like 5am. Then in the evening, I would do the connection, the social media, the marketing. So it’s like —

Whatever time you have, you need to split it into two, the creation side and then the business and marketing side. However much time you have, it needs to be split like that.

Dan: Yes, or you have to get an assistant or a partner, whatever, who might handle aspects to it that you don’t want to handle. That’s the other end of it.

Joanna: Well, on that then, because again, I’ve had a lot of people lately—because the self-publishing industry has definitely changed from when you and I met—and people are saying, “Oh, it’s a lot of work. Can I get someone to do the work for me? Can I get someone else to do the work of publishing, and someone else to do the work of marketing?”

I find myself replying more often than not now, “Maybe look for a traditional publisher.” If you want someone to do the publishing and the marketing, then maybe that’s what you want. I mean, it’s funny, right?

I did want to ask around marketing because people do seem to think that if they get a publishing deal, they don’t have to do any marketing. What have you seen because you work with a lot of traditionally published authors? How much can people give that to a publisher?

Are traditionally published authors expected to do just as much marketing as indie authors?

Dan: Yes, I mean, I work with people in every publishing path and every kind of writing. So I will have some clients who are multi-published traditional publishers, and they still hire me because they know they have to do the work.

Publishers are amazing, and hybrid publishers are amazing, too. There are some things that they will do. In general, it’s often different than what you might think. It’s different for every publisher, and every publishing team, and every book.

The author’s expectation might be that they’re going to handle it, and their expectation might be, well, we’re going to come in kind of closer to launch than you think, and we’re going to do these couple of things really well, and then we’re going to stop at a certain point because we have another list of books to publish. Whereas the author, I don’t want to say is expected, like it’s this role of being thrust upon you. To me, it’s an opportunity. You’re the only one who cares more about this.

I’ll talk to writers who are like, “Well, can’t I just hire someone to do all my social?” I’m like, oh, yes, you can. We can talk about an assistant and the process and examples of that, but just know, if you really care about Substack, or Instagram, or whatever, and you offload that whole process, they’re never going to do it as well as you can.

You’re not going to get the benefit that you see these other authors getting. It’s showing up, and not just doing the work, but learning about the work, of caring about that work.

So I think people have to have very realistic expectations of what can a publisher do and what can you do? Likewise, this is the beauty, and sometimes the overwhelming beauty, of we have so many authors talking about their experiences now on podcasts or case studies.

I’ve heard this many times where they might have had a good experience with a publicist, but they’d say yes, but also like some of the really good podcasts I was a guest on, I’m the one who pitched. My publicist was good, they got me some stuff, but this whole other range of stuff I got because I found that podcast, I pitched them, and I got on the show.

That is a beauty of the world that we live in, and it’s also an opportunity in some ways. People can pass that up, which is totally fine, but it is there. You’re going to do a lot more consistently and a lot better than other people can do for you.

Again, that’s something you can get really good at or not. I always think there’s a real joy in finding a connection to the reader or a connection to the market. Otherwise, you might feel very jaded by it because you’ve always kept it at arm’s length.

Joanna: Yes, and keeping that joy and finding that joy in every book launch, I think it’s the only way to keep a long-term career going. It’s funny, I guess I count myself now in having a long-term career. I’ve gone past 15 years now, which is kind of crazy.

Dan: Amazing.

Joanna: I know.

Where can people find you and everything you do online?

Dan: Sure. So my main website is All my stuff is there. How to work with me, all the case studies, everything. My Substack is

The podcast is The Creative Shift, just Google that. The Substack is the same name. Then on social media, I’m just @DanBlank everywhere.

Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Dan. That was great.

Dan: Thank you so much.

The post Human-Centered Book Marketing With Dan Blank first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • April 28, 2024