Six Questions with Writing Coach Sara Connell

By Carrie Olivia Adams on Monday, October 8, 2018
Learn how to get the most out of your online presence, find your target audience, and build an engaged following.

On Tuesday, October 16 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. CWIP will welcome author and writing coach Sara Connell at TechNexus, as she leads an interactive workshop on “How to Promote Yourself like a Best-Selling Author.” Through the event, she will help you find your target audience, build a natural and engaged following, and make the most of your online presence. For her work, Connell has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey ShowGood Morning America, the View, Fox Chicago, and National Public Radio, and we wanted to better to get to know what inspired her work and what we might hope to learn during her upcoming workshop.


CWIP: How did you get started in coaching? What led you down that career path?


SC: I think I came into the world wanting to write books. I filled journals, wrote bad poetry and read with abandon. There was a sort of famous English teacher at my high school, and he was the first published author I’d met. From watching movies and reading coming of age books, I believed that if a person was destined to be a writer, a teacher would take them aside and tell them YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE A WRITER! I wanted so badly for this teacher to do this for me. He never did. I didn’t realize I’d given this other person the power to determine if I was worthy of my goal. I wasn’t conscious that’s what I’d done, but I had.


When he didn’t affirm my writing destiny, I put my writing dream underground. I majored in English and read other people’s writing (which is great but will not in itself get one to a goal of being a writer). In my early twenties I started writing in secret. I became a therapist and a life coach (to make an income) and wrote at night. I wrote an entire novel, but I wouldn’t show it to anyone. Finally, a friend had a kind of “intervention” with me and told me I had to take a class. Little by little I took actions toward becoming a “real” author (which for me meant publishing a book). Everyone I spoke to said you have to know people in publishing to become and published author, but I didn’t know anyone. I asked everyone I knew if they had any connections in the industry and finally, after about five months of asking, someone connected me to an agent in New York. The agent, Joy Tutela, kindly read my manuscript and gave me a long list of revisions. She told me if I was willing to make the changes, she’d consider representing me.


You would think I would have run to my laptop and written feverishly until I’d finished he edits. But I couldn’t write. A day, a week, three weeks went by, and I couldn’t write. I was terrified that I would try and fail, and my dream would be dead. Thankfully I’d heard of a writing coach in California. I called her, and she walked me through the revision process step-by-step. I flew to New York that June to meet with Joy, and she signed me. She’s been my agent ever since.


That meeting led to my first book deal and to being on Oprah and being published in the New York Times. When the first hardcover box of books arrived at my house, I made a decision. I realized that what happens inside a person’s head (their thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs) has the power either to empower a dream or destroy it. I felt my worlds merge. I would bring all I had studied and learned as a coach, personal growth expert, and therapist to the journey of writing. I would devote myself and my practice to helping other writers/thought leaders/visionaries achieve their goals of writing and publishing and bring their messages and stories to the world.


CWIP: Much of your coaching focus is specifically geared toward writers and helping them get over their fear of starting a project and seeing it through. What similarities do you see between the struggles of writers to write and the struggles of professionals to take up the task to promote themselves?


SC: The struggle is so similar! The same way it can be hard to make the time to write or push through self-doubt, it can be hard to make ourselves visible through speaking, social media, and online. I hear writers say that same things I felt for years: “I'm afraid people will judge or criticize me.” As humans—and from what I've seen—women, in particular, fear rejection (I know I do!).  As women, we often tell ourselves that we’re not ___something enough to put ourselves out there as experts or writers. We have this illusion that we can hide out in the cave and still have the big, lucrative careers we want as writers and freelancers. It was painful for me to experience the shattering of the illusion—that a writer writes and the rest takes care of itself. To me, this felt like the death of a romantic ideal. But, when I re-framed what “promotion” really meant to me (service, adding value, supporting others, helping writers achieve their dreams), I began to love it.


I like to play a game with myself and now with my clients: if I wasn't afraid to promote (if it didn’t make my skin crawl) what would I do? If I was more than “enough,” what would I put out in the world?


CWIP: Why is self-promotion so important?


SC: If we don't become visible, no one will find us. The benefits of avoiding promotion are that we never have to deal with potential criticism or rejection, but the costs of avoidance are that we may lead a small and restricted life. Avoiding promotion limits income, joy, and the ability to serve or inspire more people. A mentor of mine asked me if I would be willing to be judged by 25% of people if it meant I could help transform the lives and fulfill the dreams of 75% of people. This question really helped me. I found my courage by remembering that the work is not about me—it’s about serving others.


CWIP: What do you say to someone who is shy to promote herself, who isn't yet successful, and doesn't yet think she has anything worth sharing with the world?


SC: I believe EVERYONE has something of value to share with the world! I like to ask writers who they envision as their ideal reader. Once we’ve identified the reader, I ask what is that reader’s greatest pain or challenge and what is their biggest dream or goal. Then we create “promotion” about helping their reader solve or overcome their challenge and fulfill their dream. This works in fiction as well as nonfiction. People deeply need support and to feel uplifted right now. Our opportunity as writers is to find the message in our writing and how that message connects with the world’s need. I’ve coached writers with no readers and no platform, to make the bestseller list just by using this paradigm. I think the reason it works is because it’s authentic—the author/freelancer is being themselves and sharing their gifts.


CWIP: What do you think are some of the biggest or most common mistakes you see when looking at someone's promotional platform?


SC: Inauthenticity. If someone is doing what they think they “should do,” saying what they think clients or readers want to hear versus what they feel passionate about, it never works.


Inconsistency. Consistency is the key to promotion, particularly with marketing to email lists and on social media. I hate when I see people put out great content then “go dark” for weeks or even months. Followings grow when we show up consistently and with a consistent message.


Lack of clarity. If a writer or freelancer posts on social media about what they're eating or where they went out the night before and then posts tips for writing, it can dilute their message. It’s great to share some personal details, but I always look for ways to pull the messaging into one umbrella theme or idea.



CWIP: We know that we’re planning for your talk to be more of a workshop. What would you encourage attendees to bring to the event?


SC: We'll be doing some interactive work, so it would be great to bring a journal or laptop/phone to take notes. Otherwise, just bring yourselves and a sense of possibility! I'm excited to be with everyone on the 16th!



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