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Life Is A Typo

1 Jun

It was the day before the launch of my first book. It was a warm day in San Francisco—over 80 degrees—and even warmer in the East Bay. I had taken a 45-minute BART ride to Berkeley and rode my bike up the seemingly endless hill to the Haas Business School.

I was supposed to speak to an undergraduate class about millennials and meaningful work, and when I arrived, I was sweating balls. Two minutes later, I was told by the professor that there had been a mix-up with the schedule and I couldn’t speak.

I was pissed that I had wasted about an hour and a half each way on the day before my launch.

Then my sister called me and said, “Sorry, Adam, I just wanted to let you know I caught a typo in your book.”

I started freaking out since my launch was the next day and people were already buying the paperback on Amazon.

My sister said matter-of-factly, “Adam: nobody cares.”


She replied, “I mean, nobody cares about the typo. They just want to read your book. They’re not reading it to judge your grammar, they’re reading it because they want to know what you have to say. They’re reading it because they want to be inspired.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I knew she was right.

We get so caught up in our own heads about the smallest details. We become obsessed with perfection in our work. I sometimes get so obsessed I’ll stare at an email for 45 minutes, tweaking each sentence, bolding some words, italicizing others, making sure the tone is perfect.

But sometimes you just need to press send. If you spend a year on a project and it’s ready for the world to see, it’s time to get it out there, even if it’s not 100% perfect.

Press send. Ship it.

I’m not saying you should release something you haven’t worked hard on. Don’t ship something that’s crap. But if it’s a product that you’ve spent many months or years on; something that will make peoples’ lives better, then get it out there.

Nothing about writing is perfect. Nothing about self-publishing is even close to perfect. I could have spent months, shit, YEARS, getting my book to be just right, and you know what? Inevitably, someone somewhere would catch a typo. Inevitably, the printer will make the gray text box too dark. Inevitably, the formatting will look slightly different on each of the 18 Kindle-friendly devices people can read it on. Inevitably, when someone sets the font to 42-Comic Sans, the book will look weird. Inevitably, I’ll think of a word I wish I had used or the perfect anecdote, two months after the book is published.

Inevitably, your final product won’t be perfect. Inevitably, on the day before your launch, you’ll waste three hours of your day and get really sweaty and feel hopeless.

Making something is embracing its imperfection. If Apple can release a new iOS update every couple of months, then you can make a few revisions too.

Life is a typo. Press send anyway. Press it now.

A version of this post also appeared in Medium.

-Smiley Poswolsky

This is a Community, Not a Book — How I’m Marketing The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

26 Feb

After nearly a year of hard work, I finally finished writing my first book. The book launches April 7  on Amazon, and I can’t wait to share it with you. All of you have already been so incredibly supportive of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the book, and I cannot thank you enough. Together, we’ve started to build a community of young people who will support each other in pursuing work that matters.

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough shares the stories of many 20- and 30-somethings who are discovering how to work with purpose (and still pay their rent). I wrote the book I wish I had during my own quarter-life crisis. Two weeks ago, as I was freaking out and stressing about what I was going to do with my life now that the book was coming to an end, I had to force myself to sit down and read my own damn book.

Writing the book over the past year has been the hardest and most fulfilling experience of my life. On the one hand, l have spent many months not returning phone calls or going out with friends, instead passing my days and evenings locked up in the UCSF Library writing with a crew of med students studying for the Boards. On the other hand, I have dedicated my time toward something that will help young people figure out what they want and how they can make a difference in the world. Most importantly, I have tried to lay the foundation for what I hope becomes a community that inspires others to get unstuck, embrace fear, and find meaning in their lives.

Navigating the world of self-publishing sometimes feels more painful than trying to find a job right after college. Before I discuss my marketing plan, I want to emphasize how much I’ve learned from several easy-to-digest and free (or very affordable) resources about writing, publishing, and marketing a book. I’ve read each one about three times, and I currently have all these open on my computer. In fact, Charlie Hoehn’s brilliant post inspired me to write this.

3 essential books about publishing:

APE: Artist- Publisher- Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch

Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl

The Unconventional Guide to Publishing by David Fugate

3 essential blog posts about book marketing:

How I’m Marketing My Self-Published Book by Charlie Hoehn

How to Self-Publish a Bestseller by James Altucher

How to Write a Bestselling Book This Year – The Definitive Resource List and How-To Guide by Tim Ferriss

With the help of these resources, I’ve learned three essential lessons:

1)    Write a book because you have a story that needs to be told, not because you want to make money. This one should be obvious for anyone who writes for a living, but I spent the better part of the past 12 months making barely enough money to get by, working on a project that may not lead to much income. I did this because I knew others were facing the same questions I was, and that my story could help them.

Whenever someone asks me what will happen if I “fail” and don’t make the bestsellers list, I tell them two things: First, I definitely won’t make the bestsellers list since my book is not in bookstores (at least not yet), so yes, I already failed. I failed! Failure is cool! WOOT WOOT! Second, actual failure is impossible because I’ve already won. I wrote a book. I jumped through the creative vortex. The process of writing my book, running a crowdfunding campaign to build support for my book, and seeing people get excited about their breakthrough, has been worth every single moment of fear about how I’m going to make a living this year (that’s like 365 days worth of fear). Frankly, one reader telling me a few months back that seeing my book’s website inspired her to re-think what she wanted to do with her life, has already made this project worth it. Even if Amazon shuts down tomorrow and I can’t release my book, I’ll still be grateful. 

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 1.28.53 PM

I used crowdfunding to give myself an advance.

2)     Whether you self-publish or publish, you are going to do a shit-ton of work. I’ve been inspired by what James Altucher calls “Publishing 3.0” and Guy Kawasaki’s theory that a writer is an author, publisher, and entrepreneur. Your book will be as good as you make it, regardless of whether it’s being published by Random House or 20s & 30s Press (my publishing imprint). Because I decided to self-publish, I ran an Indiegogo campaign to sell pre-orders for The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, and raised $12,800 from 518 supporters in 38 countries around the world. Basically, in addition to demonstrating that a market (a community that spans 38 countries) exists for my book, I gave myself an advance that is probably more than I would have gotten from a publisher as a first-time non-famous author. Now I own all rights to the book, get to keep 70% of the royalties from sales (instead of give 80%+ to a publisher), and I have the ability to sell the rights to a publisher if I gain some traction. 

I used the money I raised from the Indiegogo campaign to pay for developmental and copy editing services, cover photography and professional book design, and printing and marketing costs. In addition to writing something of value and making it look professional (which took me about 11 months), now I need to manage my personal brand, my platform, and this community. After a year of getting more gray hair each day, my real work is just beginning. In the last week I have done everything from write copy for a video trailer to get print quotes to send out review copies to press. I’m essentially running a start-up venture. As Jay-Z puts it, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a businessman!”

3)    Being an author is not really about writing; it’s about connecting with your readers. Tim Grahl stresses the importance of creating a system where you continue to connect with your readers through your email list and your platform, where you can share interesting content and build community. A successful book requires successful community engagement.

In the interest of engaging this community, I’d like to share my marketing plan with all of you. First, sharing this will hold me accountable to the 1,456 thoughts currently running through my brain and help me learn from you what I’m doing right, what I’m missing, and what I’m screwing up. Second, this allows each of you to see where you can best contribute based on your unique talents and connections. Finally, I hope it serves as a resource for other authors marketing their books, or other creatives trying to engage millennials. This marketing plan (like my book itself) is a work in progress. I want to thank my dear friend Sydney Malawer, who helped me begin brainstorming many months ago. I welcome your collaboration, feedback, and suggestions in the comments or by email! 

Marketing Plan for The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

Launching on Amazon, April 7, 2014

Author. Publisher. Entrepreneur.

Author. Publisher. Entrepreneur.

Who is this book for? 20-somethings, 30-somethings, recent college grads, parents of millennials, career changers, any passionate about pursuing meaning and reaching their potential.

What do my readers want? From my interviews with 20-somethings, I’ve learned that most millennials are hungry for the complete opposite of the way the media portrays us. Despite being shackled by debt, recession, and the jobs crisis, millennials want meaning more than money. We want more stories of empathy and empowerment, inspiration and innovation, in a time when society is telling us our dreams are impossible.

Why does it matter? When people have a breakthrough they come alive, find meaning, reach their potential, and change the world. It was other young people that inspired me to have my breakthrough. You can’t have a breakthrough alone, you need help along the way; you need a community.

Marketing goal: To build a supportive community of 20- and 30- somethings who refuse to settle. This is a community, not a book. My goal is to engage this community and provide valuable resources that will inspire everyone to support each other in having breakthroughs.


1.    Email list

Thoughts: According to Your First 1000 Copies, email is the single most effective way to connect with readers and sell your book (25 times more effective than a Facebook post or a Tweet, which is fascinating to me).

Goal: Double number of email list subscribers by June, 2014.

Action Items:

  • add my blog followers, Indiegogo supporters, and additional Gmail contacts to new MailChimp email list (roughly 2,000 people)
  • add email sign-up forms to website and blog
  • engage readers with free content (free pdf of Manifesto, free pdf of preface/intro)
  • get partner organizations I feature in the book to email their subscribers with info about the book

2.    Amazon reviews

Thoughts: Since the majority of my sales will take place on Amazon (e-book through Kindle Direct Publishing and paperback through Lightning Source or CreateSpace), this page is the key hub for all web traffic. Amazon reviews indicate whether your book is being taken seriously, and can lead to increased visibility.

Goal: 100 Amazon reviews posted on launch day, 500 Amazon reviews posted by April 1.

Action Items:

  • give free pdf to all 518 Indiegogo supporters 2-weeks prior to Amazon release so people have time to write reviews
  • give free pdf to Amazon reviewers via Facebook page
  • reach out to top Top Reviewers in my category               

3. Word of Mouth Engagement / Speaking / Workshops

Thoughts: This is by far the most near and dear to my heart since I love people, so this is what I will spend the most time on.

Goal: Spread the word about book through impactful in-person and online events between launch and end of summer. By Fall 2014, get asked to speak at major events/conferences for millennials.

Action items:

  • Request the 19 inspiring millennials I feature in book to email their friends/family/co-workers telling them about the book / also invite them to participate in online forums so it’s not just me telling the story, it’s a community of people who refuse to settle.
  • online forums about The Quarter-Life Breakthrough + finding meaningful work (1 prior to launch via Google Hangout), 2 Reddit AMAs during launch week.
  • In-person “Breakthrough Nights”/ Meet-ups to discuss book and provide support network for people going through career transition (1x/week during March, hosted at a friend’s house)
  • Host Skillshare class about having a quarter-life breakthrough (not sure I can handle putting this together right now, but I will consider for 2 months after book launch—great marketing opportunity that also provides revenue)
  • Speaking/workshops at events through leveraging my network of social change organizations (Hive, StartingBloc, Bold Academy, Camp Grounded, Passion Co.). Use existing network help me build community and share the book via email and social media.
  • East Coast speaking tour, April 20-May 2. Already booked at Wesleyan University and the Association for Journalists and Authors Conference in New York. Trying to book venues/colleges during those dates in Boston, Middletown, New York, Philly, Washington DC.
  • Reach out to prominent partners in meaning/impact space about speaking (General Assembly, GOOD, Indiegogo, Ignite, TEDx, World Domination Summit, SOCAP ’14, SXSW ’15, Freespace, XOXO, HUB, Awesome Foundation, Feast on Good, etc.)
  • Reach out to partner career services organizations (ReWork, JVS, Echoing Green, Net Impact, Idealist, LinkedIn, Monster…) and request cross-promotion initiative 

 4.    College campus engagement

Thoughts: This book will succeed if I can figure out how to break into the college speaking circuit, or market to recent college grads. Please let me know if you can help with this (do you know authors who have run successful college book campaigns? Can you help me organize an event at your school?!)

Goal: Spring 2014 (college graduation season!) speaking tour as a pilot run, speak at Wesleyan University (my alma mater) and 3-4 northeast schools, plan full college tour for Fall 2014.

Action items:

  • Send free copy of the book to college career counselors. Provide discount bulk rate to career services departments at schools.
  • Market to recent college graduates entering the less-than-ideal job market
  • Develop book content into workshop for college seniors (potentially develop pdf workbook and distribute online
  • Secure “campus ambassadors” at schools across country
  • Workshops/events at innovative non-traditional education orgs (Uncollege, Watson University, Experience Institute, Thiel Fellowship, etc.)

 5.   Parent engagement

Thoughts: It has occurred to me that a lot of my friends are broke; I need to get their parents to buy this book as a gift.

Goal: Get parents who are freaked out that their kid went to a liberal arts college, majored in film studies, and won’t get a job, to buy my book.

Action items:

  • Figure out a way to market to parents to buy this book as a gift for their kid.
  • Potentially launch Online Forum or “Breakthrough Book Club for Parents of Millennials.” I envision this being a “support group” of some sort for parents freaking out about how their kids are gonna make it. Would be cool to engage in constructive dialogue with both parents and millennials in an online or in-person forum. Do our parents use Reddit AMAs?

 6.    Press

Thoughts: If I learned anything from my crowdfunding campaign, it was that passionate press is the best press. Seeking out the largest publications is not as effective as finding issue-aligned blogs with small readership but passionate readers. Let me know if you have contacts at any of the publications listed below!

Goal: Focus on small blogs with hardcore followings of millennials + career changers.

Action items:

  • Instead of pitching content, give content. Write content (“5 Things Every 20-Something Needs to Know,” etc…) for value-aligned blogs and sites like GOOD, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, PolicyMic, Elephant Journal, 99U, Brazen Careerist, Daily Muse, Soul Pancake, etc.
  • Pitch mission-aligned publications (Brain Pickings, Flavorpill, FastCompany, Forbes, etc.)
  • Do interviews with prominent bloggers/thought leaders in the 20-something/coaching space (Penelope Trunk, Danielle Laporte, Amber Rae, Christine Hassler, David Burnstein, Emily Esfahani-Smith, Nona Willis, Scott Dinsmore, Courtney Martin, etc.)
  • Give FREE copy of the book to any blogger interested in reviewing the book or interviewing me
  • 1-2 months after launch, pitch major publications (NPR, The Atlantic, Wired, NY Times, Wall St. Journal, SF Magazine, SF GuardianSF Chronicle, Upworthy, etc). 
  • Get reviews in trade publications (PW, Kirkus, etc.) if possible
  • Pitch TV interview with Pivot (TV channel for millennials); please let me know if you have a contact at Pivot!
  • Press Kit available for download on book website

 7.    Blog-

Goal: Use my blog to engage readers with content and build community.

Action items:

  • Use blog to give free resources, get email sign-ups, ask for Amazon reviews
  • Write 2 short blog posts per week leading up to launch. Cross-post on Medium and Huffington Post.
  • Interview top 20-something coaches on my blog (time permitting)
  • Promote other marketing assets on blog
  • Invite community members to tell their story on my blog 

 8.   Video

Thoughts: Video is an effective way to share my story to a wide audience.

Action items:

  • Finalize 2-minute trailer video. Post on YouTube and Vimeo
  • Film funny 60-second trailer video for YouTube
  • Film interviews about the book and post on YouTube

 9.    Radio & Podcasts

Thoughts: It would be awesome to be on the radio. If you can help me with this, let me know.

Action items:

  • Pitch relevant radio programs (KQED/SF, WBUR/Boston, NPR, Tom Ashbrook) – (I need radio contacts!)
  • Do podcasts with millennial thought leaders (Danielle Laporte, Nate Bagley/Loveumentary)

10. Social Media

Thoughts: Anytime I mention I’m launching a book, people ask me about my social media strategy. From everything I’ve read, social media doesn’t matter that much for book sales. This doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore it (you’ll still see me posting on Facebook and Twitter), but there’s a reason it’s #10 on this list. According to the resources above, people are on social media to take in content, not to buy stuff.  

Action items:

  • Facebook page: post relevant articles to millennials, engage fans, build community
  • Twitter: engage bloggers and followers, reach out to press, foster conversation between Breakthrough-ers around the world
  • Google +: Google Hangouts-on-Air
  • YouTube: post video trailers and interviews
  • LinkedIn: help readers advance careers and connect with others, potential content partnership with LinkedIn (need contact at LinkedIn!)
  • Instagram: post photos of the book/ quotes, potentially Insta videos
  • Pintrest: it just ain’t me (unless any of YOU want to own this?)
  • Goodreads: engage aligned readers with recommendations for similar books.

 11.  Slide Share Deck

Thoughts: Not sure I’ll have time for this, but I’ve noticed some good SlideShare presentations have 100,000+ views, which is crazy!

  • Turn key points from book into deck and post on SlideShare (need someone to design this!)

 12.  Breakthrough Manifesto

Thoughts: This will take some time and design work, but I think it’s a good idea since I already have the content.

  • Turn best 1-liners from book into a 2-3 page Manifesto (a la Holstee). Give Manifesto away for free on website/blog/email list.

13.  Breakthrough Book Club

Thoughts: Book clubs are excellent ways to engage readers (and create communities of support and accountability for people who refuse to settle, which is my main goal).

Action items:

  • Start San Francisco-based Breakthrough Book Club in April to discuss the book in greater detail.
  • Invite readers to join virtual book club. Provide pdf on website with “discussion group questions” for readers to lead book clubs about The Quarter-Life Breakthrough in their community. Time permitting: provide recommended reading list (with suggested questions) of additional books for Breakthrough Book Clubs to discuss.

14. 1-on-1 Breakthrough Coaching Program

Thoughts: This is an excellent opportunity to engage more with readers (as well as an additional revenue stream). 

Action items:

  • Provide 1-on-1 coaching (in-person for Bay Area and via Google Hangout elsewhere) for readers who want additional engagement. Add coaching section with testimonials to blog and website. Limit to 2-3 clients per month for now to focus on client impact.

15. Other fun stuff

Thoughts: Oh you better believe I’m having a book launch party.

Action items:

  • Letterpress poster (I love letterpress!), stickers, postcards for Indiegogo supporters, business cards
  • Book Release Party! Invite all Indiegogo supporters and friends to party in San Francisco. Anticipated party date: March 28, 2014 (if you want to help plan this event or know of a venue that will gift space to me, let me know!)

How you can help

Clearly, the next few weeks are going to be busy. I might not have the bandwidth to do everything on this list. However, I’m going to consider each opportunity, and prioritize as needed. As I’ve mentioned throughout this post, this book is not about me. It’s about building a community of millennials who refuse to settle. To that end, now that my editor and designer have completed their work, my office (that would be me, my Moleskine, and the best chocolate chip cookies San Francisco can offer) is rather quiet. I could really use your help (in-person or virtually). If you are interested in helping me with anything on the above list (or something not mentioned), please do one of three things: 

1)    Let me know which of these 15 initiatives (and 54 action items!) you are uniquely capable of helping with. 

2)    If you live in the Bay Area, and want join Team Breakthrough (my advisory crew of badass entrepreneurs, creative artists, and marketing gurus) for an epic brainstorming session about this marketing plan in San Francisco, sometime next week, please sign-up here. I will provide drinks and snacks!

3)    If you already pre-ordered the book on Indiegogo and want to receive a FREE pdf of the book 2-weeks prior to the book becoming available on Amazon, sign-up here.

Thank you for helping sustain this exponential community,

-Smiley Poswolsky

To learn more, check out To get free resources for your breakthrough, sign-up for my email list. I welcome your collaboration, suggestions, and feedback in the comments or via email:

The Decision to Keep Going

18 Feb

Over the past year, I jumped head first into the creative vortex and somehow made it to the other side. The creative vortex is what separates the “I want to create” from the “I did create,” the “idea” from the “doing of the idea.” For me, this meant going from what was once a far-fetched dream to write a book, to actually writing the book, finalizing the book’s design, and (this past weekend!) pressing ‘send’ to my distributor.

The book tells the story of how I decided to start paying more attention to the voice inside my heart asking, urging, imploring me to live a life where I got paid for who I was and what I believed in. During this time, I quit my comfortable, government job in D.C. and moved to San Francisco with nothing but two suitcases, my newfound optimism, and a lot of energy.

Manuscript. Check.

One year later, the real work begins…

Not a day has gone by where I haven’t had to balance the voice inside my heart telling me to “keep going,” with the far more practical (parental) voice inside my head telling me to “be realistic, and get a real job.” Sometimes the practical voice gets so loud that I can’t even hear myself think and I start emailing every single person I know who works for a tech company to see if they are hiring.

On Friday night, when I told a friend I was considering moving halfway across the country to take a “real job” offer, she told me straight up, “Smiley: you can’t do that.” I replied, “Why not? I need to make some real money. The book is finished. It’s time to move on.”

She shot back, “Move on? You’re going to give birth to something and let it go by the wayside? Writing the book is just the beginning. You can’t stop now.”

I took a deep breath and let out a little scream, knowing she was right. You spend a year crawling through the creative vortex; writing your book, finishing your art installation, making your album, developing your product, launching your start-up. You stop seeing your friends, you don’t go out on the weekends, you give up drinking, you even give up sex (or maybe you just don’t get any); you are totally consumed working on something you believe in.

Finally, you get to a point where you’re work is ready to share with the world. Your initial instinct is one of fear. “Hmmm, some people are definitely going to hate this piece of shit I just made—why the hell did I just waste a year of my life working on this?—I need a back-up plan—I should get a job that pays well and provides me unlimited access to KIND bars and Kombucha.”

At some point you realize that the very instincts telling you to hold back are the same fears that inspired you to jump into the vortex in the first place. You accept that failure is impossible if you see your work through to the end.

The reality is that jumping into the creative vortex, while seemingly impossible, is actually the easy part. The process of sharing your work, of struggling to sustain your work, is far harder and scarier than creating it in the first place. I have to put as much energy into distributing and marketing the book as I did into the days I spent locked in the library writing it. I know that Day 366 requires far more dedication than Day 1.

Learning to balance this tension between the fire that burns within your heart and the practical voice inside your head is what makes you an artist or an entrepreneur. It’s what allows you to make the hardest decision you ever have to make (which you have to make every single day—sometimes two or three times a day): the decision to keep going.

To not get distracted by projects that may fulfill other people’s agendas, but not your own. To realize that if you are going to work in alignment with your purpose, if you are going to believe in yourself, then there is no end date or finish line. To accept that the road to your dreams is more likely to be marked by days spent actually living those dreams, than days spent in pursuit of a paycheck.

A version of this post also appeared in Medium.

Notes From a Facebook Sabbatical

18 Sep

And, we’re back. My apologies for not posting in so long. Between mid-August and mid-September, the entire What’s Up Smiley office (myself, 3 Moleskines, pair of dancing shoes) took a sabbatical from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—to get my introvert on, and write the second draft of my book. So, while I missed one wedding, one engagement, 13 inspiring TED talks, 92 YouTube cat videos, 213 Buzzfeed gif-montages, and thousands of pictures of what my friends were eating for brunch; I was able to write 35,000 words (about 95 pages) and give my second draft to my editor, on deadline, with five minutes to spare.

A few things I learned from my Facebook sabbatical—that I will continue to remind myself from time to time, now that I’ve returned to the Blue-and-white Menace.

1.  Facebook is addictive  

Facebook is a drug. It’s not easy to go without Facebook—it’s almost as hard as going without coffee. The first few days I was off, I caught myself clicking on my Facebook bookmark tab, without even realizing it. It had become second nature for me to “check my Facebook,” whenever I opened my computer. I deleted Facebook from my bookmarks tab, so I wasn’t tempted to check my News Feed.

I got the sense that Facebook knew I was trying to get off—it started sending me daily email notifications of “what I was missing”—which I had to turn off. On Day 4, after staring at blank tab for 30 seconds, I realized that the only reason I had even opened my computer was to look at Facebook, and I closed my laptop, and picked up a book to read.

2.  Avoiding Facebook added 2-4 hours to my day

During the month of July, I ran a crowdfunding campaign for my book, relying heavily on Facebook to spread the word about my project. I probably had the Facebook tab open on my computer for about 10 hours a day for nearly four weeks straight; the site was the single largest driver of traffic to my Indiegogo, and a main reason my campaign was successful. However, in August, after my campaign was over, I still found myself on Facebook for over 4 hours a day—except now I wasn’t running a campaign, I was just avoiding the one thing I knew I needed to be doing: actually writing my book.

I used the time I wasn’t spending on Facebook (or consuming the infinite number of blog posts, photos, articles, and videos, I click on via my News Feed), to write.

3.  I felt happier off Facebook

I’d like to pretend that I don’t check my Facebook after I post something to see how many likes it got, but I do. I’d also like to pretend that it doesn’t faze me when I see other people doing cool things on Facebook or Instagram, but it does. My first reaction is, “I’m happy for my friends—that’s so awesome they’re at the beach.” But there is an indirect effect, as well, and maybe it’s just me (but from conversations with numerous friends, I know it isn’t): I get jealous or start doubting my own decisions—“I wish I was at the beach today…” Regardless of the science behind Facebook-induced FOMO; not having to think at all about whether to post something on Facebook, what to post, how people react to my post, and how I react to their posts, is a liberating sensation—you feel empowered to enjoy whatever it is you are doing, wherever you are.

4.  I was more focused, confident, and productive, sans-Facebook

This feeling of being present during my Facebook sabbatical was most noticeable during my writing process this past month. In August, I would alternate between writing a few paragraphs and checking my News Feed—realize that someone had just written an article about exactly what my book was about—in words far more eloquent than I had—and I would feel worthless and self-critical, and think to myself: why am I even bothering writing this stupid book

Instead, during my Facebook sabbatical, I would focus on the task at hand: writing a chapter or a section of a chapter, and without distractions or comparisons, I would judge my day based on the quality of what I wrote, not the quality of what other people were writing for their projects. My own creativity, not my News Feed, became my priority.

5.  Facebook is all about balance

Lord knows, I have posted more than my fair share of captivating New York Times articles, as well as inane YouTube videos, and Seinfeld quotes, but there is nothing happening on Facebook that is more interesting than what’s happening in real life. Over the past four weeks, I spent time with my family, danced with old friends, and had lengthy phone calls with people I hadn’t talked to in months.

Social media is an incredible tool to get the word out about a project, cause, or event (and self-publishing my book would likely be impossible without it), but every now and then—especially during the creative process—it is worth taking a short vacation from listening to what the world is saying, to listen to yourself.  

Smiley's Moleskines   

From Kickstarter Rejection to the Indiegogo Homepage

1 Aug

10 Lessons Learned from Running a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

We made the Indiegogo homepage!

Just like James Franco, we made the Indiegogo homepage!

This past month has been incredibly inspiring (and exhausting).  Over the past four weeks, I ran an Indiegogo campaign for my first book, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, a handbook for twenty- (and thirty-) somethings looking for meaningful work. The campaign raised $12,790 (140% of our goal) from 518 funders, received 1,200 likes on Facebook, and was featured in Fast Company, GOOD Magazine, Everest Journal, and on the Indiegogo homepage.

The campaign was an overwhelming success, and I could not be more grateful for my friends, family, and backers for supporting this project—which, as you’ll soon find out, twice came close to not happening. So, while the dust is still settling, here are 10 lessons learned to help you launch your crowdfunding campaign in the coming weeks or months.

1. Disconnect to reconnect

A week before I planned to launch, I woke up in my sleeping bag, in a tent, under the redwoods of Anderson Valley, California. I was wearing shiny purple tights, a pink shirt, a whistle around my neck, and a yellow bandanna on my forehead with a huge frog on it. It was the last day of Camp Grounded—I had just been a counselor at a Digital Detox adult summer camp, and had not checked my email or Facebook for four days.

As I woke up that morning, my body exhausted but my eyes surprisingly rested from not staring at a screen for over 100 hours, I thought: there is no way in hell I can launch this thing next week, I spent the last four days hanging out with people named Topless, Kitten Little, and Honey Bear—I haven’t even heard a person’s actual real name in four days—let alone written my form emails, or invited friends to like my Facebook page, or planned my launch party! I started to freak out, and nearly flinched. “I’ll launch in August or September when the book is closer to being finished,” I said out loud in the tent.

Yet, on the drive home from camp through the redwoods and rolling vineyards of Mendocino, a surprising calm came over me. I said to my friend Ducky, who was driving, “Fuck it, I can do this. It’s gonna be nuts, but I got this.” “Yep,” Ducky answered, “You got this, Smiley.” 

Running a crowdfunding campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. Take time a week or two before you launch to disconnect, to step away from your email contact lists and Facebook. The break will remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place, and you’ll come back to your work fresh and inspired, ready to go. The last thing you want to do is cram for two weeks straight before the launch, and feel like you are already wiped on launch day.   

2. Don’t flinch, be flexible

My plan was to launch on June 27, two days before my 30th birthday, so that I’d already have some traction before the big day. On Thursday, June 27, I woke up giddy with excitement, and checked my email, anticipating that Kickstarter would (obviously) have approved my project. 

Instead, I received a message from Kickstarter that said: “Your project, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, has been declined.”  I figured I probably just needed to change one of the perks, or change some language on my page. But, when I read the email again, my heart slumped. I learned that, as of two days earlier, Kickstarter no longer accepted self-help projects (for good reason, assuming this was in response to Kickstarter’s  failure to pull an abhorrent “seduction” guide from their site).

I had wanted to use Kickstarter because I felt like it had the best brand recognition of any crowdfunding site (even my parents knew what it was), and numerous authors I respected had used Kickstarter to self-publish their books (it had a proven cachet). 

After pacing back and forth in my apartment for twenty minutes, freaking out, and again contemplating postponing my launch for a month or two, I took a deep breath, chugged a cup of coffee, and went to  Within four hours, I had the majority of my project uploaded on Indiegogo. I asked my videographer to edit out the parts of my video where I said, “Please support my Kickstarter!”

Because I was flexible and willing to adapt, I went from receiving the Kickstarter rejection email to pacing back and forth in my apartment to launching my project on Indiegogo, all within about six hours. Four days later, I was halfway to my goal, and had already raised over $5000. By the second week, I had been in the Indiegogo blog, the Indiegogo newsletter, and on the Indiegogo homepage.

3. Focus on the project, not the platform

There are numerous crowdfunding platforms available, but which one works best for your project? Kickstarter seems to be favored by well-known artists (Spike Lee, Zack Braff, Seth Godin, Amanda Palmer…), as well as technology and product designers, while Indiegogo caters more to non-profits, cause campaigns, and projects with international scope (and, apparently, self-help books).

You can set-up your Indiegogo project almost instantly (a nice asset)—with Kickstarter, it takes 3-5 days for your bank account to be confirmed, and then another 2-3 days for Kickstarter to approve the project. Also, Indiegogo allows for flexible funding campaigns, so you can keep all of the money you raise, even if you don’t hit your funding goal.

Ultimately though, it’s all about whether your story and your project resonates with others; are you giving people something they actually want? If so, you’ll be successful regardless of which platform you choose.

4. Video = $

When I asked friends why they liked my campaign, they often answered, “I loved your video, the outtakes were really funny!” Spend time producing an engaging high-quality video for your project. Make it unique, funny, dramatic, and inspiring. My talented videographer, Kara Brodgesell, and I, spent several days refining the script and shot listing, figuring out the most powerful way to tell my story on camera. It’s worth spending some money to pay a professional videographer who has made crowdfunding or short web videos before. Use the video to show your story, show people why you’re passionate about your project.

5. Make your project about the funder, not about you

I made it explicitly clear in my campaign that this book wasn’t about me writing a book, it was for others to achieve their own breakthroughs. I think this went a long way towards engaging supporters. The less you’re project says: “Help me do this project, I really want to do this,” and the more it shows: “This is why this project will help you,” the more successful you’ll be.

Per the advice of my friend Sydney Malawer, a crowdfunding expert who worked on campaigns for GoldieBlox ($285,000) and Kuli Kuli ($52,000), I also tried to involve the funder in the campaign perks through virtual hangouts and in-person coaching services. The more a potential funder feels agency and participation with your project, the more likely they will contribute.

6. Be very clear about where the money is going

On the campaign page, I specified exactly why my goal was $9,000, and listed my estimated costs for editing, cover art, book design, photography, and illustrations, book marketing and publicity, campaign video and promotion, campaign shipping and fulfillment, and printing costs for the first run of the book. When I reached my goal, I set a stretch goal of $12,000, and detailed where the additional funds would go.

The clearer you can be about why you need the money, the more likely others will want to support you.

7. Artists should prototype too

As artists we are particularly harsh on ourselves; we tend to wait until the last moment, until our work is 100% “perfect,” to share it with the world. Unlike product or software developers who revel in frequent beta testing and user experience research, we often treat our manuscripts, canvasses, and studios as caves, and rarely emerge to ask the public if they even like what we’re working on.

With my project, I decided to be less a writer and more a product entrepreneur; using the Indiegogo campaign as a soft launch for the book, a practice run to prepare for a future formal book launch. By treating the campaign as a beta launch and testing my product before it was finished, I learned two invaluable lessons:

 1) YES! People want the book. The idea resonated, there was demand for my product. People I didn’t know were sharing it on Facebook. At least 50% of my 518 funders were people I had never met before—they were from Lincoln, Nebraska, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Calgary, Alberta, and Portugal, India, and Iceland. People wrote comments on the Indiegogo page like, “This project lifted my spirits today,” and “I need this book right now, can’t wait to read it.”

2) NO! People don’t want the current version of the book. People were asking for more of a self-help book, and less a personal memoir. In all my conversations, my funders wanted something different than my first pass at the book. Knowing this now, while my book is still in development, allows me to make essential changes in my second draft that will end up increasing the book’s impact (and sales) six months from now. 

I would encourage other artists to use crowdfunding as a proof of concept and to prototype their ideas in development. Testing a work-in-progress is an excellent way to find out whether your audience wants what you’re working on, or something different. If you’re curious about when to launch your crowdfunding project, check out this insightful post by Nelson de Witt, author of A Kickstarter’s Guide to Kickstarter.

8. If you build it, they (might) come

Running a successful crowdfunding campaign is incredibly challenging. You can have a good idea and a good video and great perks, but you still have to get people to come to your page, and get them to contribute.

Anyone preparing to launch a crowdfunding campaign should read this post by Mike Del Ponte of Soma on 4-Hour Workweek Blog, which provides successful strategies and email templates for how best to increase traffic, contact press, and reach backers.

For The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, after direct email, Facebook was by far the largest referral of traffic (and sales generator), and Twitter was a distant third. This makes sense: whenever I support a crowdfunding campaign, it’s usually because I’ve seen it on a friend’s Facebook wall.

Even though I was fairly relentless about posting on Facebook during the campaign (I don’t think I could have physically done much more self-promotion), if I were to run the campaign again, I would hire a social media manager to help increase visibility on Facebook and come up with more creative ways of engaging the Facebook community.

Now that the campaign is over, I’m still exploring ways to best engage this community of people who refuse to settle for mediocrity—if you have creative ideas for how I can do this through online platforms or in-person discussion groups/events, please contact me!

9. Passionate press is the best press

Press was another area where I learned a valuable lesson: don’t necessarily go for the large publications, instead find blogs that have a passionate following about the particular area you’re working in. Getting featured in the Indiegogo newsletter led to hundreds of dollars in contributions, because the Indiegogo community is so passionate about supporting creative crowdfunding projects.

Likewise, I wrote a piece in GOOD Magazine about my project that generated loads of traffic and contributions, because the GOOD community is so passionate about taking action on social issues. The post sparked an online hangout about finding meaningful work, which 100 people signed up for.

If I were to run the campaign again, I would focus more energy on getting featured in twentysomething blogs, career and lifestyle blogs, with a smaller reach, but a more avid readership than large, mainstream business sites.

10. 518 reasons to be grateful

A little over a month ago, I was in the woods, cursing Facebook-induced FOMO, and celebrating taking a break from digital technology. Today, I actually want to thank Indiegogo and social media—not simply for being effective fundraising tools—but for making me believe in myself. Crowdfunding is an exercise in community-building; your project no longer is about you, it’s about the people who support you, and believe in what you’re creating.   

Since the campaign ended, I’ve been avoiding the one place I know I need to go: the library—to work on my second draft, and finish writing the book. But yesterday morning, I finally looked at the list of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough’s 518 supporters, printed the list, stuck it in my backpack, and brought it with me to the library. Now, every day I try to avoid writing (which is to say, every day), I have a list which stares back at me with fierce, hungry, eager eyes: “I need this book right now, can’t wait to read it.”

And I will sit down, with 518 reasons to write.  

-Smiley Poswolsky 

Follow The Quarter-Life Breakthrough on Facebook and Twitter, and sign-up for updates at

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough Reaches 500 Funders

26 Jul

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 1.28.53 PM             Good-magazine-logo1

As our Indiegogo campaign comes to an end tomorrow, I want to thank you for making the past 30 days the most inspiring of my life. This week, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough surpassed our stretch goal, and was featured in GOOD Magazine

Together, we’ve raised over $12,500 from 500 contributors! That’s 139% of our funding goal!

Yesterday, I hosted a live video hangout with members of the GOOD community–“The Purpose Generation,” who were really excited about having quarter-life breakthroughs instead of quarter-life crises.

You have provided the support and the inspiration needed to finish this book, and build a movement of people who want to align their work with their values. 

I could not be more grateful for your support. It’s because of you that this book will be shared with the world.

Thank you for your support,

-Smiley Poswolsky

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough Surpasses Goal on Indiegogo

18 Jul
We made the Indiegogo homepage!

James Franco isn’t the only one who made the Indiegogo homepage.

Thanks to you, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough met its funding goal two weeks early. We’ve raised over $11,000 from more than 425 contributors with 10 days to go! This week, we were featured in the Indiegogo newsletter and on the Indiegogo homepage; which means thousands of people all over the world learned about this project. The book was also profiled in the Everest Journal

More and more people are learning about the book and the growing movement we’re building of people who refuse to settle. Needless to say, I am full of gratitude for your overwhelming support.

After we reached our goal, we set a new stretch goal of $12,000, and we’re almost there! These additional funds will support the cost of printing more books, and a robust grassroots marketing campaign.

Here’s how you can spread the word about The Quarter-Life Breakthrough:

Share the link to the campaign:

  1. Email: Share the Indiegogo campaign with one person who really needs to read this book today. Who is feeling stuck right now? Who is thinking about a job transition or career change?
  2. Facebook: Share the Indiegogo campaign on Facebook
  3. Twitter: Share the Indiegogo campaign on Twitter

Thank you for your ongoing love and support.

-Smiley Poswolsky

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough Featured in Fast Company

11 Jul

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough in Fast Company Thanks to you, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough is 80% funded, and we’ve raised $7400 from 250 contributors in 13 days! This week we were featured in Fast Company, as well as Indiegogo’s Team Roundup, and on the Indiegogo blog.   I am inspired by your support, your comments, and your overwhelming excitement for this book. Together, we are going to build a world where everyone reaches their full potential.

We’re getting so close to reaching our goal! Please continue to spread the word about The Quarter-Life Breakthrough:

Here is the link to the campaign:

  1. Email: Share the Indiegogo campaign with friends, co-workers, family. Think of one person who really needs to read this book today. Who is feeling stuck right now? Who is thinking about a job transition or career change?
  2. Facebook: Share the Indiegogo campaign on Facebook
  3. Twitter: Share the Indiegogo campaign on Twitter

Thank you for making all of this possible.

-Smiley Poswolsky

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough Raises $5500 in 5 Days on Indiegogo

3 Jul
"I get by with a little help from my friends."

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”

One word continues to be on mind over the last five days: gratitude.  

Because of you, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough is more than halfway towards its goal on Indiegogo. We’ve raised $5500 from 160 contributors in only 5 days! Yesterday, we were featured on Indiegogo’s homepage for Writing campaigns. This is a truly remarkable feat, and it’s all because of you

We still have 25 days to go, but this campaign has already demonstrated that there is a growing movement of people, especially young people, that wants to find work that aligns with who they are and what they believe in.  

50% of Americans are unsatisfied at work, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Your support means The Quarter-Life Breakthrough is one step closer towards becoming a published book, so more and more people can take the leap towards doing what they love.

Please continue to spread the word about The Quarter-Life Breakthrough:

Here is the link to the campaign:

  1. Email: Share the Indiegogo campaign with friends, co-workers, family. Who really needs to read this book? Who is feeling stuck right now? Who is thinking about a job transition or career change?
  2. Facebook: Share the Indiegogo campaign on Facebook
  3. Twitter: Share the Indiegogo campaign on Twitter

Thank you for your incredible love and support this past week, I am beyond grateful. Thank you for refusing to settle for mediocrity.

-Smiley Poswolsky

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough Is On Indiegogo!

28 Jun
The Quarter-Life Breakthrough Cover Final


Dear Whatsupsmiley readers:

A little over a year ago, I finally overcame my fear of sharing my words with the world, went to, bought a domain name for $18, and started this blog to share the emotions I was feeling while leaving my job in D.C., and planning a move to San Francisco without another job lined up.  

The reaction from readers to several posts I wrote about my journey to find meaningful work inspired me to write my first book, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough. It’s a handbook for twentysomethings (and thirtysomethings).

I recently finished the first draft of the book, and the book went live today on Indiegogo for pre-order!

Check out my Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign here:

What’s the book about?
I’m writing a book about what has worked in my own search for meaningful work. It’s a book about finding a way to make a living, working hard, doing something you love. I believe it’s unacceptable that half of Americans are unsatisfied with their jobs, and this handbook is for everyone who feels the same way and for everyone who believes the quarter-life crisis shouldn’t be a crisis, but a breakthrough, a moment of empowerment and opportunity.

Awesome, Smiley.  How can I help?
It would mean the world to me if you could spread the word about this project, far and wide.  Here are three simple ways you can help, that will only take a few clicks:

  1. Email: Please email the Indiegogo campaign to 10 friends (the more the better!), family, co-workers… anyone you think needs to read this book. 
  2. Facebook: Share the Indiegogo campaign on Facebook
  3. Twitter: Share the Indiegogo campaign on Twitter

Here is the link again:

I cannot express how grateful I am to you for reading these words, and for making this project possible through your love and support over the past 30 years—thank for refusing to settle for mediocrity, thank you for being awesome.

-Smiley Poswolsky

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