How Millennials Do Book Marketing

Engage your community and start rapid prototyping 


My first book launches in a week on Amazon. Needless to say, I’m excited. I’ve been blasting that Capital Cities song “Safe and Sound” on repeat for like five days straight. But I’m also more than a little stressed out. Last week, I was sitting on my couch FREAKING out. My marketing plan has 54 different action items on it, but many require hours and hours of time and skills I don’t have. Because The Quarter-Life Breakthrough is about millennials who want to get paid for who they are and the impact they want to make in the world — I figured, what better way to reflect the purpose of my book than to become an entrepreneur myself and crowdsource my book’s marketing plan?

So, I did something radical: I asked my friends for help. Not in the traditional way an author/entrepreneur asks for help (“Hey, will you share the link to my Amazon page? Will you forward this email to your friends? Will you like my Facebook page? Will you come to my launch party?”) but in a more impactful way: I invited my community to help me market my book in real-time.

I decided to convene the world’s first-ever rapid prototyping book marketing event. 26 people showed up for a Saturday afternoon to help me do everything from storyboard a book trailer, test memes with quotes from the book, develop my Twitter strategy for the book launch, draft email newsletters that will go out to my subscribers, come up with a brilliant way to market my book to parents of broke-ass twentysomethings, and find leverage points for me to cross-promote the book with community partners working on accelerating the purpose economy and helping millennials find meaningful work.

Rapid prototyping is a tool I learned from attending a social innovation scrimmage organized by ReWork. It’s a method of testing ideas in real-time by incorporating instant user feedback. Rather than wait a week or a month (or six years in the case of the federal government or many large corporations and non-profits) you can test your assumptions, your products, and your strategies in a matter of minutes. To learn more, check out this video of the brilliant Tom Chi, who led his user experience team at GoogleX to come up with a working prototype of the Google Glass in one day. If you’re interested in increasing your team’s creativity, I highly recommend attending one of ReWork’s scrimmages (or having them help you plan a rapid prototyping event for your company or organization).

I am overcome with gratitude for my friends that showed up from college, leadership development programs I’ve participated in like Hive, StartingBloc, and Bold Academy, and others who simply saw the event on Facebook and thought it looked cool. Here are five lessons learned from our rapid prototyping event that can help you with marketing your creative projects, whether you are an artist, entrepreneur, or intrapreneur.

1. Be yourself

I had always been turned off from marketing because I thought it meant I had to design one of those pyramid scheme-y websites (“Buy my book, come to my exclusive retreat for $4,000, get a box delivered to your house with a Cliff Bar and a toy doll of me in it, then do my advance coaching program for $10,000, then get me to consult for your company for $20,000, then you’ll be cool…) but I learned from my community that personal branding means I don’t have to change at all: I just have to be myself! Seeing that this entailed me leading a dance yoga session to Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us,” before we started rapid prototyping to get the blood pumping, that’s perfect by me. Authentic marketing is effective marketing. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be yourself. People resonate with who you actually are, not you trying to be some fake-ass marketing dude who has a cool website and only gives a shit about getting rich.

A prototype of a photo meme with a quote from the book. Thanks to Christine, Emily, and Zeb!

2. Give, don’t sell

This one may be obvious to people who do content marketing for a living, but it was eye-opening to me. The rapid prototyping teams working on my quote memes, Twitter strategy, and email marketing strategy all found out (in about 10 minutes) that not a single one of our users would share a quote-photo if it was making a direct sale or had a website listed on it. No one wanted to RT a Tweet that linked to an Amazon page either. Email conversion was also lower with sales-pitches. My takeaway: do not make a (direct) sale with your marketing outreach. Instead, make people laugh, inspire them, provide free and engaging content (exercises, resources, guides, links to more information). That draws people in and makes your fans far more likely to buy the book down the line. Content marketing (despite what some say) is not bullshit: it’s everything.

3. Time constraints = creativity

One of the reasons rapid prototyping works is because you have 30 minutes to come up with a prototype for a task that would normally take a team of five people weeks or even months. Deadlines matter. As artists we have a tendency to give ourselves ridiculous large amounts of time to complete projects, but creativity happens when you have to get something done fast. One group was working on a video trailer for the book. When I came in and saw that they had a complete storyboard of a trailer for a six-location shoot that would have cost me about $10,000, I was like: “Hey guys, I want this trailer to be shot and edited in the next 15 minutes. My budget is $0.” What happened? They shot and edited the trailer in 15 minutes. The trailer isn’t perfect, but it’ll take me $0 and a few hours to re-shoot it next week because my team put their creative power to work on a tight deadline.

Prototyping a book trailer. Thanks to Bernat, Andrew, Kevin, Sumeet, and Alex!

4. Make the ask

I got 26 people (including some people who had never even met me before!) to give four hours of their time on a Saturday afternoon to help me come up with marketing assets for the book. In other words, I got 100 hours of work for free. Many of my friends are talented graphic designers, photographers, user experience leads, and communications strategists—they know their shit. I thought they would be enticed by free snacks and beer. While this may have helped, I think the reason people showed up is because I love them and they love me, and I asked them to show up. I was honest about the fact that I needed their support, and my community came rallying to support me. People want to help you, they will help you, but you have to be willing to give them specific tasks that allow them to unleash their superpowers. Now that the event is over, I’m continuing to make the ask for help with marketing the book—I’m trying to plug folks in to different small tasks based on their unique talents in exchange for a copy of the book, pep talks, food and love (see list below if you want to get involved!).

5. It’s not about you, it’s about your community

People want to help you. But not in a “Like on Facebook” kind of way, in a real way: they want to help you build your dreams. They want to help you achieve your purpose. But they need to be brought in. They need to be given a creative task. Give your allies an opportunity to engage with your product, to use their skills and knowledge. Give your community an opportunity to tell you what to do.

I learned the valuable lesson on Saturday that although I spent eight long months in the library writing my book and worrying about every single detail of the project, marketing a product is about releasing control. It’s about asking others for their ideas. It’s about realizing that you can’t do this alone. It’s about realizing that you may have some talents, but other people are likely a lot better than you at most things— and that’s totally cool—in fact, that’s the point. It’s not about how good you are, it’s about how strong your community is. I am incredibly grateful to have a really badass community.

Before my rapid prototyping session, I thought my 54-item to-do list was my own, but I learned it’s actually a communal to-do list. You’re never gonna get anything done until you give up control and empower others to help you.


If you’re interested in joining The Quarter-Life Breakthrough community, here are several marketing projects I would love your help with this week and next if you have some free time. Email me at smiley@thequarterlifebreakthrough.com, thank you!

  • Turn a text Manifesto into something visually powerful a la The Holstee Manifesto (graphic design)
  • Turn quotes from the book into visually beautiful memes (graphic design, storytelling)
  • Design a shareable infographic for the book (design, storytelling)
  • Plan an engaging Reddit AMA about purposeful work that gets to the front page of Reddit
  • Plan speaking events and workshops around empowering millennials to find purposeful work
  • Engage community partners in the impact/meaningful career space around empowering millennials to find purposeful work
  • Build my strategy to get parents to send the book to their broke-ass kids as a graduation present
Twentysomethings (including Ian who robot-Skyped in from Michigan) sharing what it’s like to be a twentysomething.