How do you launch something? Whether it is a book, a reading club, a blog, a bookstore, a business, or a magazine?
Launching something is a theme that has come up again and again for me this week, and I want to share some examples of what it takes to bring your project to life. But let me get something out of the way up front:
If you are looking to mine this article for tips on how to provide more certainty, less risk, and less fear in the process of launching something, you can stop reading right now. Because I won’t diminish the risk, assuage your fear, or paint soft fluffy clouds around the picture of launching something. (sorry)
In fact, it often looks like this, an image my friend Sarah Bray shared recently:
She captioned this: “celebrating failure,” and in an email, she described her process of writing a book: the success of writing a first chapter she loved, and then a second chapter she hated. The “hooray” was simply meant to recognize that she at least wrote something.
Today I want to share a couple stories from folks I know launching things.
The first is from our friend Jane Friedman, who this week launched a new project called Scratch Magazine. I remember more than a year ago her mentioning an interest in developing a project around business and writing, and then months later something more specific about money and writing. But I didn’t expect Scratch Magazine to pop out so fully formed. Go ahead, check out the free preview issue, filled with articles discussing a topic we often avoid: money and our creative pursuit as writers.
When I asked Jane about how I can help, and expectations around subscriptions, she shared some baseline expectations, but beyond that, it is a largely a gray area. Because that’s how it is launching something. You plan, plan, plan. You deal with hundreds of unexpected challenges. And then… you move forward through a lot of gray areas.
This was a sentiment shared by someone I met earlier this week: she had launched an online business, and was just passed the initial fanfare of launch. In the initial days of her business going live, friends visited, bought stuff, mentioned it on social media, etc. But now, a month later, she is hearing a lot of silence. And she said something to me that I hear often from writers, in different ways:
“I was so busy building it, that now I have to market it.”
In other words: launching is not an event, it is a process you repeat over an over.
Something I have been launching this year is a meetup group for creative professionals in New Jersey called “Momentum.” This is us last night, our third meeting:
I run this with my friend Scott McDowell, and each time we chat just before a meetup, we profusely apologize to each other for not having done more to spread the word. And yet, the most amazing people show up! Artists, photographers, creative professionals of all types, and we always have deep honest conversations about what it takes to build momentum in our work.
Scott and I are learning that the meetup’s success is about building slowly – showing up – each and every month. We are making rookie mistakes as you would expect: last month I couldn’t make it because I was moving, so we canceled the meeting. That was a mistake – the meetup has to always be there for attendees, regardless of our schedules. After all, the event itself is called “Momentum!”
This week’s theme was (drumroll please) “launch something,” and there were some compelling statements made from folks sharing what they are working on: “I’m not good enough to do this, but I love it.”That expression of love permeated everyone’s description of what they hope to do, and oddly, the boundaries to launching seemed almost insignificant compared to this.
So often, launching a new project is an exercise in getting out of our own way – that the biggest challenges are not external, but internal.
My friend (and client) Miranda Beverly-Whittemore shared a post this week talking about shame and her book launch. Even though this is not her first book, she kept putting off filling out her publisher’s author questionnaire, until she finally realized why:
“I realized that most of why I’d been feeling so much shame about the last time I did all this is that I love it so much that I was terrified I would never get to do it again. Until I sold [my most recent book], I had believed that my career was, in fact, over.”
This is something that is an unspoken part of many launches: an immediate terror that the beginning is also the end. That this is your one shot, and if you mess it up, your potential is entirely used up. It is over. You are yesterday’s news. Go back to your non-creative life.
It’s not up to me to convince you that isn’t true, it’s largely something you need to learn on your own, in the context of your own life. But I did want to end this post with some general tips I have learned over the years of what it takes to launch something:
- Just start. Find some way to make a public start, even if it is launching a website for your project that you feel is horrible, and not showing it to anybody. Or writing a first chapter that is not what you hope it is. Get over the barrier of telling yourself “I will start this later.” Once you start, you have moved past the biggest barrier.
- Involve others as soon as possible. It is incredibly hard to launch something – you can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. First: that’s a poor use of resources. Second: it is desperately lonely. ANYTHING can take you off track. But if you involve someone else – or multiple folks – in both formal and informal ways, they you stand a better chance of building momentum.
- Create deadlines, make them public. Nothing motivates like deadlines.
- Take something away. If you are starting a new project, that time and energy has to come from somewhere. Determine what else in your life is going to be put on hold or be managed differently so that you have the physical and mental space to get started. This can be as simple as having a cleaning service come in once every two weeks so that you can transfer the time you spend cleaning your home, to focusing on your new project. Or renegotiating laundry duties with your spouse.
- Plan and create a timeline for launching the project, but give yourself TWICE the time you need up front. If you think this will take 4 months, create a timeline for 8 months. But make them firm deadlines.
- Be okay with failure. Because small failures will happen all the time during launch. Challenges will pop up that you are completely unprepared for. Get comfortable with that.
- Limit the scope of the project. I know, you are a “perfectionist” and will only be happy if every element of the project represents your high standards. That is a lie. Determine what core parts of this project matter more than anything, and dispose of everything else. You can come back to them later.
What stands in the way of you launching something?