I met author Kate Hanley at a gathering at the home of our mutual friend Deb Walsh. Kate and I immediately hit it off and I offered to interview her for my Huffington Post column about a book she’d just released with National Geographic, A Year of Daily Calm: A Guided Journal To Creating Tranquility Every Day. The book that followed, How to Be a Better Person, offers the simplicity of the previous book, with a new goal of being the person you most want to be in the world. It covers everything from good self-care and positivity to showing love and giving back.
It’s an inspiring book and at the same time feels do-able and not overwhelming. I can picture reading this book a little every night or first thing in the morning and picking one tip to implement each morning. Or working through the tips in a book club or other group context to support each other and share the changes and the differences they are making in your lives.
It’s our shared hope that this interview will provide insights into being a successful writer as well as some bonus material in helping you show up the way you truly want to be in the world. Here goes!
Lisa: Who’s How to Be a Better Person written for?
Kate: I wrote How to Be a Better Person for the record number of people who are resolving to be a better person in the new year. These are busy people with big hearts who are tired of climbing into bed at night feeling like they somehow didn’t get to the things that matter despite how many things they checked off their to-do list that day. They know they’re capable of making a difference in the themselves and in the world and they’re ready to devote some focused attention to doing just that. They take Gandhi’s advice to “be the change” to heart and they’re ready to do it, but they need a little inspiration and motivation to make it real.
Lisa: What inspired you to write How to Be a Better Person?
Kate: In December, 2016, I saw a Marist poll that found that for the first time ever, “be a better person” was the number one New Year’s resolution. It even beat out “lose weight” or “get out of debt” and I was so heartened by that for a few reasons: First, what we focus on grows, and so the thought that more people than ever were focused on progress and growth instead on fixing what they perceived to be wrong with them really spoke to my heart and made me feel hopeful (at a time when I didn’t see a lot of reasons to feel that way in the world at large).
And second, with our country feeling so divided and so many things happening in the world that feel scary—whether that’s the threat of nuclear war, the refugee crises, the #metoo movement, or climate disasters—I took it as a sign that we are collectively realizing that we can’t just be in our own little bubbles and feeling like we’re too busy to do the things we’re called to do to be better. I felt there was a collective realization that we each need to step up in whatever way is available to us, and I wanted to do my part to support that desire and help make it real.
Lisa: Wow, how inspiring! What do you hope readers will get out of it?
Kate: I hope readers will see that simple little changes add up to big, important results. There are 400+ ways to be a better person listed in the book because I want people to see that there are probably a lot of things they’re already doing right, that there’s always another area of growth available (which is a beautiful thing!), and that there’s no one “right” prescription for being better. There are tons of different paths and the only one that’s right is the one you actually take.
Lisa: I love that sentiment! How might How to Be a Better Person be especially apt for writers and aspiring authors?
Kate: This book is basically a blog post on steroids. If you can write a post on 7 Ways to (Do Whatever Subject Area You Cover), you can write a book on it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy necessarily. When I pitched the format, I don’t think I had a true understanding of just how big a number 400 is. Ha ha.
Also, there are traditional publishers out there who can be nimble enough to get a book out on an accelerated timeline. I joke that this has to be the fastest traditionally published book ever. It was just an idea in January, 2017 and it was on bookstore shelves by January 2, 2018. That is the speed of light in the publishing industry.
And the content is a good fit for writers because many of the tips are about how to work more efficiently, how to think more clearly, and how to connect with your feelings—all skills a good writer needs.
Lisa: I agree. It’s so exciting that it’s on a table display at Barnes and Noble. How did this come about?
Kate: This came about as a result of the typical sales process—the sales team at my publisher, Adams Media (a division of Simon & Schuster), meets regularly with Barnes and Noble and Adams pitched my book to them. I believe the book was chosen because of the adorable cover. It’s a gorgeous aqua blue, with an eye-catching gold sparkler on the cover. The inside is just as beautiful, with some pages aqua, some gold, some white with aqua type. I am so thankful that Adams designed such a gorgeous, eye-catching package for the words. I also think the simple organization of the content—it’s divided into 8 categories such as “See the Positive,” “Be Healthy,” and “Work Better” and each tip has a check box so you can keep track of tips you’ve already implemented—that the book passed the “let’s flip through and see if we can see what this book is all about” test.
Lisa: I agree that the book is gorgeous—a delight to behold and a delight to hold—it feels good—the size, the paper, the exquisite colors. It’s the kind of book that is an experience, which is rarer and rarer in these days of cost cutting. And that makes it even more special and enjoyable. What has the display meant in terms of book sales, if you have any feedback on that?
Kate: I have gotten pictures of the book prominently displayed at Barnes and Noble from readers all over the country, which has given me some great social media fodder and helped me use that physical placement to raise awareness with a virtual audience, too. I can only see sales numbers for the first two weeks at this point (via my Author Central account on Amazon), but it is selling at a clip of a few hundred copies a week.
Lisa: That’s fantastic news. Congratulations. What are you doing to reach readers? Tweet This
Kate: I developed a couple of bonuses for folks who pre-ordered—a ‘”Be a Better Person” pledge, so you can choose the three things you want to commit to improving and sign your name on the dotted line, and the “Where Do I Start?” Self-Assessment so folks can dive right in to the section of the book where they need the most attention. I also did a BOGO and gave away a free e-book copy of my first book, The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide to folks who pre-ordered.
Now that the book is out, I’m doing a weekly Facebook Live where I dive into one of the 8 categories of tips in the book, I’m sending 8 weeks of email newsletters sharing tips from each of the 8 categories, I’m posting daily on Twitter and as close to daily as I can on Facebook and Instagram. I’m also offering to give a book group talk via Skype to folks who buy 10 or more copies.
I have also been answering queries on HARO (help a reporter out) and reaching out to all my writer friends (I was a freelance journalist for 10 years) to see if they’d like to review the book or are working on a story where I might be able to contribute expertise. (That is how this interview came about!) I have also reached out to friends and colleagues who have said they want to help and given them copy they can use to post on social. And I created a book trailer video that I am doing a modest Facebook ad campaign for. We also did a GoodReads giveaway.
Lisa: That all sounds terrific and I encourage our readers who buy the book to review it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads, but especially Amazon. That really helps the author with sales! What advice do you have for a new author?
Kate: Start building a platform for you and your book right away, don’t say you’ll think about it when the book is written! Pitch articles on the subject (which builds a resume for the book and demonstrates interest), develop a freebie on the book subject and start giving it away on social media and capture email addresses so that you can keep those folks apprised on the book’s progress and help you evangelize for it.
Writing the book is actually the easy part. It’s the selling of it–first, the proposal, and then the actual copies–that requires your consistent care and attention. Writing the book is like being pregnant. Having a book come out is like having a baby. Tweet This
Also, give good thought to what you want the book to do for you and reverse engineer it to help you accomplish that goal. For example, do you want to coach people in the subject matter? Present the information as a system and plant seeds in the book that if they want to take it deeper they can get more support by visiting your website. Then have a system to capture those folks and invite them into a paid program if it makes sense for them.
Lisa: Excellent advice. How did you break into writing books?
Kate: I launched a freelance writing career in 2005 with two goals: to write for magazines, and to publish a book. To help me with both of those goals, I launched my own website, MsMindbody.com (I’ve since rebranded to katehanley.com) where I wrote a weekly email newsletter and published those articles on my site. I wanted to start building an audience of people who had invited me into their inbox as a way to build my platform; I also wanted to build my credibility and show my unedited writing to magazine editors so that they would have confidence in assigning me a story.
My plan worked well. Because I specialized in all things wellness, I quickly developed relationships at several national magazines and was a contributing editor at Whole Living magazine for 8 years. In 2008, my email list and my magazine relationships helped me sell my first book to a traditional publisher—I met the acquisitions editor on a speed date at the conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Lisa: What a great way to meet! Any advice on writing a book proposal? Tweet This
Kate: You only get one shot at a first impression so really give that proposal all you’ve got. I recommend doing an extended table of contents (with a minimum of two solid paragraphs that preview each chapter, and don’t just say “in this chapter I will… ” and list the subjects you’ll cover; write it as if it already exists) and two sample chapters—it shows you’re serious and not just throwing an idea out to see who bites.
Also, put as much thought into your marketing plan as you do your outline. Don’t lie or even exaggerate, but take care to think of every avenue and connection you have to help spread the word about your book—go wide and think about speaking opportunities, conferences, associations you’re a member of, podcast hosts who will interview you, media contacts you have, if you’ll hire a PR agency name them and tell a recent title they’ve helped launch successfully. And then go deep in the category that’s your strongest—if you speak to a lot of people virtually each year, for example, spend most of your proposal talking about how you’ll leverage that particular strength.
Kate Hanley helps smart people who are tired of busting their butts and feeling like they got nothing done who want to up their impact with less stress and more fun. She’s the author of How to Be a Better Person, Stress Less, A Year of Daily Calm, and The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide. Kate lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband, two kids, and a rescue dog named Cookie. Visit her—and download a free Matrix For Making Decisions from the Heart at katehanley.com.