Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Power of a Small Tribe

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Paul Angone, who is the creator of AllGroanUp.com and author of 101 Secrets for your Twenties. Follow him on Twitter @PaulAngone.

How do you justify all the hours spent alone working on your craft, when the rapidly slamming doors all seem to shout, “Keep your day job!”

For years, I’ve been plagued with this question.

Power of a Small Tribe

Design by Paul Angone

I’m passionate about helping twentysomethings struggling with the question of, “What now?” And my debut book on that subject releases this week.

It’s the most honest and vulnerable book I could write about the ups-and-downs of a decade filled with unknowns. And it took me seven years to see it happen.

2,555 days filled with: book proposals, re-writes, dead-ends, do-overs, tears falling down my cheeks while reading seven pages of bullet points and everything target readers wouldn’t like, emails from publishers saying, “We really like your book and actually think it has the potential to be a bestseller, but we can’t risk on an unknown author.”

Cue the long walk on a pier, in the fog, to violin music.

You know you’re becoming a writer when you feel like your heart has been broken into pieces and sold on the black market. Time and time again.

As I sit on the verge of my real, live book entering the world and look back at my writing journey, I realize it wasn’t a literary agent or finely-crafted book proposal that finally opened the door for me. It was a passionate tribe of people who shared a message that resonated with them.

A small tribe can shout very loud. A small tribe can do more than any finely crafted book proposal, marketing plan or well-connected literary agent can ever do.

At least, that’s been my story.

When the way closes

Years ago, I was sure I’d made it. Planning out my speaking tour, third book, and crafting my humorous, yet authentic answers for my Conan O’Brien interview, I was read.

I’d snagged a prominent literary agent, and we worked for a year polishing my manuscript and proposal. Then I sat back, refreshing my email for that one “yes” that would change my life.

But that “yes” never came.

How do you continue believing you have a message worth telling, when no one seems to want to listen?

After pitching one publisher three separate times, and hearing the same response that they still loved the book but wouldn’t sign off for an unknown author like me, the writing was on the wall and smacking me in face.

I needed to find another way — or start selling insurance because this writing thing was obviously not working out.

The platform a small tribe built

I ended my contract with my literary agent and started a website. I finally stopped waiting for a publisher’s approval to share the message my audience needed to hear.

For a year, I wrote to a small, growing, passionate tribe. And I began connecting with my readers — young adults who felt like their twenties were caked in massive amounts of un-success.

My own professional failures were letting me speak into the meta-narrative of my generation. And here’s the lesson I started learning:

Sometimes, you have to go to the dark, dismal place of defeat if you’re going to show people the way out.

The tipping point

Entering a coffee shop on a Sunday for the 1,365th time — baristas and free refills being my best friends — I compiled a list called “21 Secrets for your 20s.” It was mainly a compilation of truths and ideas I’d been crafting over those seven years of frustration and heartbreak.

Three days after posting that article online, my website crashed due to tsunami waves of traffic. I didn’t know such a thing was possible.

Calling my web host, I pleaded with them to turn my site back on. Two days later, the site crashed again and lay shipwrecked on an island in the Philippines for five hours. Again, I didn’t know such a thing was possible.

Thousands of emails from twentysomethings have since poured into my inbox:

  • A senior in college from Indonesia
  • A 24-year-old gal from Kenya
  • A recent grad from Wyoming
  • A professional in New York.

People from all over the world, in all settings from all backgrounds, were communicating their gratitude and relief that they were not alone. All the stuff I’d been wading through for years was being redeemed and used with a purpose and a plan that I never could’ve planned myself.

Seven lessons in seven years

During this seven-year journey, I’ve learned some hard but valuable lessons about life, dreams, and writing:

  1. If writing is solely about being published, you’ll eventually stop writing.
  2. Writing isn’t about external accolades; it’s about how it changes you in the process.
  3. A writer has simply mastered the art of staying in the game, no matter how lopsided the score.
  4. A writer cares more about the message than a publisher’s approval.
  5. Your insecurities as a writer don’t disappear with a book deal. No, they’re just as real and even harder to hide.
  6. A true writer is someone who has consistently carried bucket after bucket of water to fill up a well. People celebrate you the moment it all spills over without realizing the 10,000 buckets you carried to make it happen.
  7. The most formative and vital point of your writing career is when you’re forced to quit and start over. Because at that point you have to find the true reasons of why you do what you do and for whom you’re doing it. Finding your passion is more about failing forward than succeeding on the first try.

This road to getting published has been anything but easy. But I needed to learn how to stand on in spite of failure and rejection f I was going to lead people to do the same. Now, I’m honored to offer hope and encouragement to those making the same climb.

And here’s the last thing I’ve learned: As a writer, leader, or entrepreneur, you have to go first. I wrote this in my book, and it seems appropriate here:

The possibility for greatness and embarrassment both exist in the same space. If you’re not willing to be embarrassed, you’re probably not willing to be great.

Redemption doesn’t show up when planned. But it’s there, waiting for the right moment to turn your greatest failures into something the world is ready to hear. Will you be ready when it comes?

Note: Check out Paul’s debut book, 101 Secrets for Your Twenties, which releases this week.

What’s your story of struggling with rejection? How has a small tribe helped you succeed? Share in the comments.

About Paul Angone

Paul Angone is the creator of AllGroanUp.com and author of 101 Secrets for your Twenties. Follow him on Twitter @PaulAngone.

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  • Sandy

    Just what I needed. Thank you. Wish you the best !

  • Very encouraging post. Thank you.

  • Erin McNaughton

    It reassuring to know that it can take time to go through the full process of writing and publishing. I wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo 2011 and posted the chapters to my blog as I wrote them–there’s something about having a small tribe hold you accountable and cheer you on that really makes the process feel more exciting and worthwhile, even if the content isn’t superb. I’ll have to keep them in mind when I do finally get around to publishing. 😉

    • Thanks Erin! “There’s something about having a small tribe hold you accountable and
      cheer you on that really makes the process feel more exciting and
      worthwhile.” Well said! And after getting to see you in action these last few months, I know your tribe is very well taken care of.

  • “All the stuff I’d been wading through for years was being redeemed and used with a purpose and a plan that I never could’ve planned myself.”

    If I had to have a theme for the way God has shaped my life and my writing, it would go something like this quote. My blog is called, Little Did She Know, which is what I said one day in response to a speed-dating question about what I would call my autobiography.
    Even though my road doesn’t always look successful, or straight, God hasn’t wasted anything, and I don’t think He will.
    I’m excited about that.
    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m looking forward to reading your book!

    • Cara, amazing to hear. Our plan going nothing as planned is the best plan of all.

      Now only if it was easier to see that fact when going through it… 🙂

      • Honestly, I think that is part of the beauty. If I knew it was all going to work out, it wouldn’t be faith.

        But yes, best plan of all. Amazingly, I still make plans. Oh well.

  • Melanie D

    Great post, Jeff! But, even those of us not in our twenties can benefit from it! It helps to reinforce determination and direction! Thanks!

    • Thanks Melanie. Yes my book should’ve been called 101 Secrets for your Twenties (and beyond) because most of it is applicable to any age. Thanks for the kind words!

  • I needed this today. So very badly. You have no idea. Thank you.

    • Awesome Akirah. Can’t wait for the day you get to share your story in the same way, and encourage someone else!

  • yay, paul! write on, buddy!

    • Thanks Tim! Definitely helps when I have a resilient tribe supporting me, thanks to amazing writers like yourself.

  • Paul,

    Perseverance must have been part of your 21 secrets for success. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. Perseverance and right motivations are good traits at any age. Congratulations on the book.

    • Thanks Ken! Yep I learned perseverance the old fashioned way…failing, while not letting it fail. Just putting one word after another believing that some day these sentences were going to lead somewhere.

  • DonyaDunlap

    Congratulations Paul! And what great advice. Thank you for keeping on during the hard times.

  • That’s great news! It gives us hope as we prod through the process of writing.

  • When building your tribe, was it a slow build, or did it just take off with your “21 secrets” post? And what did you do to capture that viral audience and bring them into your tribe for the long-term?

    • I wrote on All Groan Up for a year to a slow growing, but passionate tribe. It was a small solid foundation that then propelled 21 Secrets for your 20s to another level.

      As the viral traffic continued to come I created a 21 Secrets for your 20s ebook, which was mainly a visual design of the article. I then began giving the ebook away to people who subscribed and then emailed me there subscription. It was a great way to connect with each individual person and give them something core to my brand, and something they already were resonating with.

  • Wow Paul. That’s a powerful story for a 20-something who is seeking greatness like you.
    I recently stepped out on faith, afraid of embarrassment but longing for acceptance in the world of leadership. I have 4 subscribers to my site (only a week old). I’m sending each a personal letter thanking them and asking how I can help. That’s what a tribe is all about, seeking to help others. Thanks for a great post.
    Would you be interested in a interview for my future podcast the Leadership Dojo? Your story would an excellent inspiration to listeners.

  • Bria Pittman

    What a great post! I can definitely relate to the uncertainty. I can’t wait to read the book. I am a 23 year old who just graduated from college. I definitely feel like I’m floundering around in the dark trying to find my way. Gret post.

  • CrystalCamelot

    As you’ve already said, Paul, this applies not only to 20s, but all ages, and I am taking the risk of a writing career thanks to a supportive husband. I’m now staying at home with the kids and focusing on building a platform. Thank you for the painful truth, it couldn’t be more timely as I got my first agent rejection yesterday for my first novel. I have vacillated between self-publication and finding an agent just because I am that “unknown author” although published in compilations and guest blogged for some small things. Again, great read and encouragement! Thanks, Paul (and Jeff)! Blessings!

  • La McCoy

    Nothing small about his Awesome tribe!

  • Absolutely wonderful! I’m on water bucket 8235 working towards 10,000.

  • venkyiyer58

    Loved this post. It resonates with me – a hopeful author, though I am way past my twenties. Paul, just how did you finally get your book published?

    • Thanks! It was the momentum from my site, my growing tribe, and through relationships with fellow authors/bloggers that became the catalyst. Not through an literary agent.

      • venkyiyer58

        My first comment was not clear enough, and I am sorry, Paul. What From your post, I did gather that it was your growing tribe that did the trick for you; what I actually meant to ask you was, did you finally get published the traditional way or did you go the digital way (Amazon, iBooks, whatever)?

  • I LOVE this post and can’t wait to read more from you, Paul. I have a sneaking suspicion that your wisdom directed at the twenty-something crowd is uber relevant for those of us in our fifty’s, too! Here’s one of my favorite lines from this post…but there are so many!

    “I began connecting with my readers — young adults who felt like their twenties were caked in massive amounts of un-success.”

    • Thank you Ree! Really encouraging for me to read. Yeah I think my book probably could’ve been titled 101 Secrets for your Twenties (and beyond).

  • Kristi Bothur

    Although it is not completely about writing, several years ago I was dealing with rejection as I sought to publicize a local ministry I had begun for parents dealing with the tragedy of pregnancy loss. The gatekeepers of the doors I was knocking on were reluctant to showcase a ministry that was not part of “their” organization or was not “safe” to talk about when children might be in the audience. I was frustrated, but my small tribe encouraged me not to give up, and I pressed on with creating as quality a website as I knew how (www.naomiscircle.org), using social media to my advantage, and blogging anywhere and everywhere about it. Now, three years later, our support group is healthy and thriving, our Facebook page has over 100 likes (and not all my personal friends!), we’ve begun to be featured by local news media, and I’ve written guest posts for genuine online publications that have a much larger audience than my own blog. Not a “tsunami”, but a step in the right direction, under God’s direction. His prophets of old would tell you, it’s not about fame and the attention of the masses, but about faithfulness to the message. Thank you for the reminder!

  • I have skipped traditional methods for now. I only blog and self publish and have grown a small group of followers. I write to write, for the love of words, songs, stories, and messages that can help others.

    • Thanks Dan. I was definitely traveling that same path and I think it’s a powerful one. Life steered me back this way, but I love the possibilities we have to create without needing to wait for someone else’s approval first.

  • kentsanders

    Paul, great article, thanks. I work with college kids so your words definitely resonate with that age group . . . and everyone else as well!

    I’m intrigued by your story of frustration with not getting published early on. How did it turn out that you eventually got picked up by a publisher? Did you get another agent and they worked it out? Or did they seek you out once your blog grew?

    This may be a dumb question, but one thing that concerns me about traditional publishing is that your book can go out of print quickly. Should this be a concern? If you self-publish you can do what you want with it, but when a publisher lets it go out of print, can you get the rights back?

    Questions from a newbie!

    • Thanks Kent! Definitely sounds like the college students you work with would love some secrets for their twenties.

      It was through relationships with fellow bloggers/authors that helped bridge a conversation with a publisher. No agent this time. The momentum on my site definitely helped garner that social proof I needed to confirm to them that there was an audience there and I had a platform to launch from.

      • kentsanders

        Thanks Paul! Sounds like it’s more important than ever to build a platform.

  • Paul I just went to your site, is that tsunami back? It wont let me get on 🙂

  • Good words and encouraging but hard truths. Thanks Paul, for sharing the fruit of your experience!

  • Lauren

    That’s a great quote!

  • Debbie Maulsby

    Such a great message on settling within ourselves the reason that we write. Once we come to grips that rejections of material are not rejections of us as a person – it can free us up to continue what we were called to do,focus on polishing the craft, and be open to the fact that there just might be another way. Thank you!

  • Michelle

    I discuss some of the same things on my blog post from 6/27. (bredkrums.wordpress.com) Who wants to do all that writing just for an editor or publisher to say no?
    With all the publishing choices today, a writer can be in the driver’s seat. If they write quality stuff, it will sell.
    Thanks for sharing your story, Paul.

    • Awesome Michelle. Yes we have the power to speak directly to an audience at a level unheard of in years past. Very exciting stuff.

  • Chris Malkemes

    Love. love. loved this. Keep it up and don’t give up.

  • Daniel Bunker

    This post is great Paul! I’m about a week away from launching my first blog and this was just what I needed to hear. I’m also glad I found your site for the first time. I’m a college pastor so your content is extremely relevant. Keep up the good work!

    • Awesome Daniel. Sounds like perfect timing indeed! Congrats on the soon to be launch.

      Great question. I think the only thing that kept me plugging away was the level of connection I was receiving from the people who read my work. It wasn’t large in numbers, but the feedback was positive. It gave me the encouragement to keep going – that there was something there worth pursuing. Publishers could say no, but if my audience was still saying yes, that’s the motivation I needed. I felt if I just kept staying in the game long enough, some day I’d actually win a game.

      • Daniel Bunker

        Thanks for the response Paul, it makes a lot of sense to me. I’m excited to launch a blog that will be helpful to my audience no matter what that looks like at first. I’m glad I found this post. I purchased your book today and I’m excited to read it!

  • Wow, Paul! Great post. Thanks for being a great example. Keep leading.

  • WOW! I so needed this today! As I am anxiously trying to finish my manifesto (inspired by Jeff), and first marriage book, it seems like they are never going to get finished. Not because of being told no, but my own insecurities and fears of it being rejected.

    Your quote about greatness and embarrassment is so true and so encouraging. It brought to memory a post I wrote saying something similar. I completely forgot I wrote it!

    In the post I share the commonality that exists in successful people. They are willing to look FOOLISH! Therefore, “look foolish, be successful.” (link here: https://jackiebledsoe.com/look-foolish-be-successful/)

    Thank you for the reminder, the encouragement, and inspiration! You have a new fan, Paul!

    • Thanks Jackie! Awesome you found me here and on Chris Fabry’s radio show today. The double-fecta. Love how that worked.

      “Look foolish, be successful” – Great line and reminder. Glad we could connect!

      • Guest

        For sure. Email me a guest post for the book. We’ll post it and promote it.

  • I spoke in New York City this week – I wish I had connected with Paul earlier. I would’ve loved to help with the launch.

    I love the thought – “If you’re not willing to be embarrassed, you’re probably not willing to be great.” Honestly, If you’re not willing to be embarrassed, you will never be great.

    My talk this week in included:
    One of the greatest highs in the world is doing what no one thinks you can do. When you start doing things that require complete faith, people around you will feel awkward. They’ll think you’ve lost your mind – but that’s your opportunity to swallow your pride. A little awkwardness is often the only thing that stands between you and your miracle. And once you experience the miracle, you will crave the awkwardness. Because those awkward moments become life’s most defining moments.

    My journey has been more than a little awkward at times.

    Keep it crazy.

    • Thanks Michael for the kind words ! Yes would’ve been great to connect in NYC. Sounds like we were giving similar talks. If your second leg of the trip finds you in Portland, I’m sitting in the airport right now. And I’ll be launching this book for a while, so still time to help spread the word 🙂

      • For sure. Email me a guest post for the book at your earliest convenience. We’ll post it and promote it.

  • Anita Dawes

    is there a secret or magic formula for creating a tribe?
    We have been trying to do just that for months now and we have ‘amassed’ a mere handful.
    Needless to say we have implemented all the advice but nothing seems to work…
    There must be something we have not done, or are we just rubbish????

    • I’m sure you’re not rubbish 🙂 Definitely not a formula and no set time frame of when it happens. Keep doing good work and following advice from people like Jeff and Michael Hyatt, and good things will happen.

  • Been there Paul and great post! I think it all comes down to stop waiting to be picked (as Seth Godin) would say. We are always waiting for validation instead of just taking action, glad you took action.

    • Thanks Kimanzi! Couldn’t agree with you (and Seth Godin) more. Funny because Seth actually endorsed my book so you never know where each forward step will take you.

  • Great post, Paul. Love what you said: Redemption doesn’t show up when planned. So true. My wife always tells me, “it’s never quiet what you expect.” I’ve found that to be so true for writing. When I stopped trying to make something happened is when I found something did happen. I guess it’s a matter of letting go of control. Thanks Paul! Excited for you.

  • Melanie Fischer

    Very powerful, thank you for sharing!

  • What you share is very interesting. Reading your article I of the interior corners of life, of strength.

  • Anita Dawes

    Hi Paul, same story for us, we could paper a small room with rejection letters and like you, they say some very encouraging things. Our website has been up and running for months now, but not attracting many visits. We think its as good as we can make it, but something obviously is not working. We are not twenty somethings any more (60+) but want to succeed before its too late!

  • true! articles……. great

  • The power of a small Tribe, true true, really is means

  • Rocco DeLeo

    Great message. As a thirty something we feel a similar what now. I have a 17 year I worry about having the twenty something what now. You make great points and have a huge audience ready to engage.

  • girlbehindscissors

    I am now following this dude on Twitter. I’m 26 and trying to become “more than just a hairdresser” and have rediscovered writing, if only in blog form. I enjoy reading your posts, and am beginning to think of myself as a writer, rather than just someone writing a blog. 🙂 Thanks!