About a year and a half ago I had the pleasure of meeting Gretchen Rubin in person, though I’d been following her on Twitter for some time before that. I was supposed to give a talk to authors about the power of the tools on the internet, and when the list of authors was sent out and I saw Gretchen’s name on it, I immediately called her and told her SHE should be leading the workshop, not me! At that point, a year and a half ago, she had a great blog (since has become even greater) and about 5000 followers on Twitter. Even more importantly, she was engaged with the community — and this was a few years before the publication of her book. We spoke for a few minutes on the phone and decided that she would come to the meeting despite the fact that she was more experienced with the tools than the other authors who would be attending.
Gretchen turned out to be such a gift to have at the meeting because as I would speak to these authors and tell them what I thought they should be doing, she would chime in as a member of their tribe instead of the outsider (me) and give her own perspective about what was easy or challenging.
Over the course of that next year and half I followed carefully what she was doing and was always impressed. We got together in person a few times, and I would tell her what a great job she was doing, we’d compare notes about this and that, and she’d always say “but will it sell books when the time comes?”
Well, it turns out that it does work (I feel like a broken record ). Gretchen’s book, The Happiness Project, went on sale on December 29, 2009. On Wednesday we found out that it will land at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list for the January 17 list. I realize that Gretchen’s subject lends itself to blogging and twittering more easily than other books would, and it’s got a great jacket, title, and traditional publicity — but there is no denying, IMHO, that Gretchen Rubin worked hard, for a long time, establishing a relationship with the community, and it paid off.
Here are 5 things that Gretchen did right:
1) As I’ve said, it’s not a “campaign.” This is a long-term relationship with your readers. Gretchen understood that and started the relationship long before (as in years) it was time to “promote her book.”
2) She talked about her book…but she also talked about other people’s books, and in general, we got to see the world through Gretchen’s eyes and to know her. She posted frequently, linked them up in Facebook (often I found them on Facebook), and had GREAT content. I don’t think there was a post I didn’t love and I felt like I found a little present every time she put one up.
3) Once the book jacket was done she put it up on the site in a place where people could always see it so she didn’t have to always “promote herself.” I hear this a lot from authors: “I’m not comfortable promoting myself.” Gretchen didn’t promote herself; she was fabulously interesting, and when I would click through to read her posts I was always reminded by the book jacket that it was coming out.
4) She didn’t sit around waiting for a publicist to make her famous. Yes, there is traditional media as part of the mix; lots of it in her case. But it’s a healthy mix of traditional and social media and they riff off each other. It’s like having a well balanced stock portfolio…not to mention that she has a tribe with whom she can communicate about all of this media.
5) Here’s my favorite one: The Video. The video the video the video. Every author needs one (kidding); most are not good. The thing I LOVE about Gretchen’s is that it is simple beyond belief, and what it lacks in fancy production and editing it makes up for in spades with heart and soul.
I watched this video a few months ago and was so moved I’ve seen it about another 10 times. I think about it all of the time. Watch here.
UPDATE: The Happiness Project was published by HarperCollins.