Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Does This Make You Mad? (Why What Others Are Doing Isn’t Working for You)

From Jeff: This is a guest article from Kimanzi Constable. Kimanzi is an author who self-published two books that have sold over 80,000 copies. His new book, Are You Living or Existing?, just came out.

Ever seen someone succeed at something and then try it yourself — only to utterly fail? Doesn’t that make you mad? What was so different from what you did? Why did they see success, and you didn’t? Maybe you failed to ask one important, but often overlooked, question.

Photo of a wall with the question, "Why?"

Photo Credit: bitzcelt via Compfight cc

Two years ago, I got serious about leaving a job I absolutely hated in pursuit of becoming a full-time writer.

For the first year, I messed around, not taking the work seriously enough. I self-published a book that completely flopped, selling five copies in the first three months — and those were to friends.

After this disaster, I thought about not ever using the Internet or social media again. I was done.

After two weeks of crying myself to sleep, I got back online and decided to figure out what went wrong. After much research, and some strategic planning I was able to crack the code. I realized what I’d been doing wrong and quickly corrected the problem.

Then, I put a plan into practice to ensure success, and in no time, both of my self-published books were a success, selling over 80,000 copies. They did so well, in fact, that I was able to get a book deal with a major publisher without an agent or submitting a book proposal.

And it all had to do with one question I wasn’t answering.

What you do isn’t as important as why you do it

Two years ago I ran across the story of Amanda Hocking and was completely inspired by her success in self-publishing. I thought if Amanda could sell over a million ebooks, then I could probably sell at least 10,000.

That would give me more then enough income to quit my job and live out my dream of writing. So I studied the game plan Amanda used and copied it. I figured if it worked for her, why wouldn’t it work for me?

But I was wrong. I fell on my face when I tried to do what someone else had done. And here’s the reason:

I failed because I couldn’t answer the “why” of what I was doing.

After that initial failure, I looked at my plan and thought about the “why” of every part. If I couldn’t answer why I would do a certain something, I cut it.

And guess what? I started to succeed where I had failed before. All because I understood the reason behind the strategy.

Where most people miss the mark

Lots of people ask me about using the Kindle Select Free promotion, a strategy I’ve implemented with some success. And I always ask why they want to use it.

Most of the time, they want to do it because somebody told them they should. They heard it’s something you do to get the word out about your book, and that sounds pretty good.

The problem? There’s no strategy behind why they want to use it. They don’t have a plan. And here’s the truth: Exposure for exposure’s sake isn’t worth much.

Using the KDP Select program, I did a free promotion for five days and my ebook was download over 15,000 times. Which is great, but if I left it at that, I wouldn’t have benefited much from those downloads.

This is where most people miss the mark. They do a promotion for the exposure but don’t have a plan for what comes next.

The ebook I gave away was a manifesto I created to release two weeks before my second self-published book came out. In the back of the manifesto was an ad for the second book.

Those who read the manifesto and liked it got a chance to buy my next book, which they didn’t have to wait long for. That’s how I answered my “why” for the free promotion. It wasn’t about the manifesto; it was about what came next.

The million-dollar question: Who are you trying to reach?

The reason most writers fail is they don’t know who they’re talking to. They don’t know their target audience. So they do what most of us do when we aren’t sure of ourselves: they over-communicate.

Out of fear, we say too many things instead of focusing on what we should say, what will get results. We don’t know what will work, so we just run our mouths, which only further confuses our audience.

In any message you communicate, you have to know who you’re talking to, what will get through to them, and why you’re talking to them in the first place.

In addition, asking what you want people to take away from your message will help narrow your focus and define the audience. The more someone takes away from your message, the more they will help it spread. And that’s the ultimate goal in sharing anything: getting others to spread the word for you.

As Chris Brogan says:

Be yourself, not the echo of someone else.

Which brings us back to imitation. People want to read your blog and listen to your podcast and buy your book to hear your voice, not someone else’s.

So, please take advantage of this wonderful Information Age and use all that great content you read everyday. See the strategy behind it, but understand that the implementation has to be uniquely yours. And you can make it yours by asking one simple question.

How has asking “why?” prevented you from failure? How could it have? Share in the comments.

About Kimanzi Constable

Kimanzi is an author who self-published two books that have sold over 80,000 copies. His new book is Are You Living or Existing?,. You can follow him online at his blog or via Twitter @KimanziC.

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  • Great advice, Kimanzi. I think the one thing that has kept me from pushing forward to begin writing my book is I haven’t answered the “why.” Fortunately, this missing piece has created enough resistance to not move forward before discovering what makes it uniquely mine.

    • If you have been thinking about a specific idea I think that’s enough to get started. Once you start you’d be surprised by how your why might pop up or even change. As Jon Acuff said, you just have to start! Thanks

    • beth coulton

      I took a few month break from blogging for this very reason Chad – I really had to sit back and ask why. I haven’t answered that yet, so I’m still in the planning stages only of going back to blogging. I was all over the place- hopefully the “why” will help me to get more focused when I return!

  • Kimanzi, I also think when you understood your why, you also understood the process better. You learned and you adjusted, made good decisions where to focus. So that’s probably all a process of ongoing development.

    • Very true Myrko, now if only I could have known that going into it 🙂

  • We have a genius consultant at my work who people laugh at because he always says, “What are you trying to accomplish?” Questions like that are what make you a genius

  • Five books in three months? That makes me feel a little better about 200 books in 15 months, but it’s still slow. So far, I’ve opted to not use KDP select. I have not priced my books low. I have not followed the blog formula that many use. I have a unique voice and it’s slowly getting more notice, but reaching a larger audience is my biggest challenge. I have less than 1000 social media connections. I’m a single dad with no time to travel and speak regularly. Yet the few who read my books, (and not just friends), are usually captivated and excited for more. I’m certain if more knew about my work, more would buy. I’m still asking myself questions and making changes. Soon I’ll find that spark that starts the fire. https://www.danerickson.net

    • You’re doing some great things Dan. Think you just need to maximize the connections you make going forward. Guest post or send guest post to the larger sites and connect with other bloggers who will help you spread your message.

      • Thanks, Kimanzi. I’m working on guest posts now. I posted with Matt McWilliams, Dan Black, Tom Dixon and others recently. I’m hoping to get the guest posts up to the next level soon. To sites, well, like, Jeff Goins and Donald Miller.

  • Kathleen Krueger

    Excellent. Always ask the why after the what. That should apply to everything in life. The why is critical.

  • A great reminder Kimanzi, to always ask the why in everything. It gives more focus and intentionality, which always gets more done. I needed this man!

  • Brilliantly reassuring post, thanks Jeff and Kimanzi. Absolutely spot on too. I know I have frequently become so distracted by copying WHAT and HOW others do things and completely lost the WHY. That is a surefire way to burn out, and sell out. We all have a unique voice and therefore a unique success story that is there for us to live out. We just have to say yes and start searching for it.

  • Awesome post. The old adage: “You were born an original don’t die a copy” rings true in life. So many times we want to take someone elses success and try to duplicate it and it never works out. Finding our own voice is paramount! Thanks Kimanzi for inspiring me with this post. To hear your journey encourages me to keep moving forward by asking the WHY! Great stuff.

  • Good stuff, Kimanzi! You are an encouraging example to follow, but not copy. 🙂

  • Great points, Kimanzi! After diving in to many launch teams, and seeing what so many awesome people were doing, I also found myself trying to replicate their efforts. I quickly realized that their successes and whys were different than mine. It is so easy to get sucked into the comparison game and to let it bring you down.
    I have learned that my goals and dreams are mine only. Yes, I can learn amazing things from people who are willing to share the challenges they have overcome and what has worked for them, but I have to stay true to what I know God wants me to do. I loved this quote from the book Fred 2.0, “You can make a difference in the world or you can commit to making YOUR difference.” Thanks for the reminder!

  • Thanks, Kimanzi. Asking why we are doing what we are doing is a much better method that spinning our wheels doing what we think we should be doing. Thanks for the reminder and perspective!

    • You’re welcome Nick and thank you. Practical it also saves us time on our journey!

  • Zech Newman

    Thank you Kimanzi! I have recently started blogging and was already getting distracted on my why. Thank you for the reminder before I strayed off course from restoring significance to the journey.

  • Daniel Decker

    When we know our WHY (purpose, reason, etc), it helps us determine our WHAT (plan, actions to take, strategy for WHAT to accomplish our WHY). Great post Kimanzi!

  • Marco Saraiva

    I’m starting a blog right now and this article helped me change my view about some things I was writing (for example, I didn’t know who I was writing to).

    What I also understand is that once you get to build something for the right reasons and with a touch of you, instead of copying someone else, success just comes naturally.

    • Great takeaway Marco, if you could understand right from the start the concept of your target audience, you’ll be way ahead of the game!

  • This was a great post. Thank you for the reminder to find the “why” at every step of the process.

  • beth coulton

    Extremely helpful. I am definitely over-talking to my audience of I-don’t-know-who. I’m about to start my blog back up and am thankful I have not yet, now that I’ve read this post. I always knew I needed more direction and more of an “audience” to speak to, but have trouble honing in on that and narrowing it down. I will make it a matter of prayer.

    And, I have to ask myself “why” a lot more- like, why am I even blogging in the first place? And then go from there….

    • That’s an excellent start Beth, you’re going to crush it this time!

  • This was a fantastic post, Kimanzi. I’ve been working for 6 months trying to build something based on a “game plan” I read. This article inspired me to think of a plan that is all my own. Love it.

  • Sally Ferguson

    Answering the “why?” and bringing clarity to the plan help to create a sought out voice. It makes sense that others will follow someone who can lead because they know where they’re going.

  • Susie Klein

    Very helpful reminder! Thank you!

  • Skye

    This is by far one of the most helpful post/article I’ve read about how to publish and make some money. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Continued success to you.

    • Thank you Skye, that’s an honor! Let me know if you need help with anything!

  • Very helpful and timely for me. One frustrating thing for me with blogging/writing is all the people I thought would be interested in what I had to say…are not, and then there are those that I thought would never be interested…are avid readers.

    • Sounds like you’re honing in. You should, survey the avid readers and ask them why they’re avid. Once you got that info, you’ll know who to target. Then it’s about finding where they are online.

  • Moon Shine

    I would say that as an audience I was pretty confused by this article.

  • Angela Bosi

    This was very helpful, Kimanzi. I am just starting to get serious about writing and starting a blog. I think asking why will keep me focused and hopefully successful. Thanks so much!!

    • Great and congrats! I hope this helps you save some time and start reaching people right away!

  • Aimee Sanchez

    Jeff I like the consistent
    message you put out about being yourself and allowing your voice to be heard.

    Kimanazi I liked your post found it beneficial.

  • fstaana

    Love this post, Kimanzi. And I agree that not having a “why” behind your actions will result in scattered results and wasted efforts. I should know. I fell flat on my face several times because I tried to copy what others are doing simply because those methods worked for THEM. I learned that it pays to spend a lot of time at the drawing board, and figure out first what I need to do and my reason behind it.

    • That’s spot on Fstaana! At least you learned and have adjusted, I know you’ll be super successful!

  • DaveArnold16

    Nicely done, Kimanzi! Great tips and a much-needed reminder to have your own voice and know your audience. Thanks for helping so many… including me 🙂

  • Amy

    This is a timely post for me, as I just wrote an essay on this same
    topic. I sometimes wish for/strive to get published in certain places
    because I feel like that exposure will be beneficial to my budding
    career, but the truth is I’m not speaking to those audiences. I respect
    them, but I don’t write for them. I write for the working class/middle
    class who are just scraping by. That’s the audience I want to entertain, empathize
    with, whose stories I want to share. This post was a great reminder to stay focused on who I am and what I do best.

    • Amy, I would love to have you write for my audience: https://kimanziconstable.com/. I wrote for the very audience you just mentioned. I delivered bread for 12 years barely making it, so I know exactly what you’re talking about.

  • DS

    Kimanzi I liken this to public speaking as well. You have a unique personality. You have unique experiences. Those help shape you, and are why people like you as a person. Bring yourself to the activity – writing, speaking, etc. Be you, and don’t worry how people judge you. If you’re an excited guy like The Robert D, then be the excited KimanziC. If you’re more reserved and passionate, bring that intensity. People follow you for being you. Enjoyed the post!

  • Great post man, really excited to see you here! I recognize that quote from Chris! 😀 You should check out Srini Rao too. He communicates that same message in what he does.


    • Thanks Jared. I just heard your interview with him, very interesting stuff!

  • Gwen

    Jeff/Kimanzi: I have been following you [J] for some time. I am not a tech junkie, but am a writer and have attended a couple of webinars, etc. Today [K] you say “Which brings us back to imitation. People want to read your blog and listen to your podcast and buy your book to hear your voice, not someone else’s.” At first blush, it sounds a bit too egotistical for my comfort. On more than one occasion, the advice given is to profile who you are writing for, which is more to my liking. So I did. A moment of revelation came today as I read back over the profile I had just created and realized…it’s me! Perhaps then authenticity and transparency are essential for a reason I didn’t previously understand. Commonality creates connection in a way that other forces may not. And what a paradox, that best serving your way into relationship [quoting an earlier J] really begins by doing for others what is most organic for you, what springs from the core of your being! Hmmm, “Do unto others…” Indeed, sounds a bit like Jesus’ golden rule. Go figure. Great inspiration and practical help. Thank you both.

    • Wow, I’m speechless. I think you answered your own question but I love the thought process behind it. You just illustrated exactly what I’m talking about, you have to figure out what works best for you and your audience. Sounds like you’ve done that.

  • This is excellent Kimanzi! Just wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing it here. I will be re-reading it and re-thinking some of my own strategies. Especially as I get ready to write my next book!

    • Sweet Christin, looking forward to see how this changes your efforts and looking forward to your book!

  • Kelley_WithEagerHands

    This found me at the perfect time as I just started writing my first e-book…I had an idea where it what going, but there are so many things in this post that I never would have thought about, and I think will make my book, my blog, and my writing much better for it! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • That’s great to hear Kelley, you always want something you’ve written be helpful! Very excited for your first book, congrats!

  • WOW. you are amazing man..!!

  • Good thoughts here. This is actually something I’ve been mulling over lately. I refuse to be a “cookie-cutter” to what someone else is doing. I’m trying to find my stride in writing.

    • That’s great Eric and your audience will respect you more because of it!

  • Kimberley Wiggins

    Great article Kimanzi. I am working on my second ebook and another training project that will have an ebook accompany it, so this was perfect timing for me. I have watched your progress and am amazed by what you are doing. I loved the strategy you implemented with the free ebook before your book publishing. Hmmmm, makes me think that I want to do the ebook before the training. Just my random thoughts……

    • I think you should go for it and I think it’s the best way to use the free promo. Thanks Kimberley!

  • nx8

    Why, can put two words before thousands of other words. And following this question requires you to have significant knowledge, what posts made ​​pretty convincing.

  • Thank so much Kimanzi !This writing is very useful and supportive. Thank for your posting.

  • This is a powerful message for me. I did a Kindle giveaway too and the giveaway was a huge success but there was no strategy behind it. I didn’t know what I was doing.

    When I ask why I’m doing something now it usually pertains to the question, “Am I doing this just for the money?”. I’ve been taught to chase the money. I am unteaching myself that now. Anytime I took a promotion or did something strictly for the money I ended up a miserable guy with more money to spend on trying to get happy. I’ve finally learned happiness is an inside job and is does not have to be affected by outside conditions.

    • Very well said Sutton and it’s a lesson we all need to learn and be reminded of 🙂

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