September 24, 2020, marked the one-year anniversary of the release of Start Finishing. As I’ve reflected over that milestone during the past several weeks, I can’t shake the feeling that it feels like it’s been much, much longer than a year, and so much of that has nothing to do with the book.
While a post recounting everything that’s happened would be impossibly long to write or read, I thought I’d take a bit to share the highlights of Start Finishing’s journey thus far. I’ve had a few people ask me over the last several months if I’d do it again — i.e., was it worth it? — and my emphatic response is Yes, absolutely. It’s feeling much like deploying for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2004–2005, in that the further I get away from it, the more I appreciate it.
So, per the usual, let’s start with the wins and good stuff.
Start Finishing Wins
I set some ambitious goals for Start Finishing: to create a new classic, kitchen-sink book for doing work that matters, and for the book to become a best-seller.
What “classic” meant to me was that it’s one of the three books people think of when they think of actually getting work done; awards and sales were also a component of classic, too. Classic also included that my friends, colleagues, clients, and ecosystem would be hooked by the book because it was a great read and not merely because of their relationship to me. Anchoring it as a “kitchen sink” book helped me amplify that it was a broad-scope, synthetic book — rather than a book that took one framework and wrapped the whole book around that, or an innovative/academic/research book that’s attempting to advance or defend a new idea.
The best-selling component of the goal was conceptually more straightforward. My dream was for it to be a New York Times (NYT) Bestseller, even though I knew that it would be unlikely even if we sold enough, given how the NYT lists work. We recalibrated to it being a Wall Street Journal Bestseller since that determination is based purely on book sales rather than that plus the biases of the NYT editorial board.
Here are the highlights of what actually happened:
- Start Finishing picked up a great rack of awards, the two most prominent being named as Publishers Weekly Top 10 Books in Business and Economics and winning the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize.
- I had a few run-around-the-house moments when Seth Godin added it to his reading list. Given that he’s been a mentor-from-afar and a huge inspiration for my work, it felt great to get his nod.
- The street team (who ended up picking the title “Do Crew” for themselves) was an unexpected thrill as their excitement, love, and hands-on support for the book took the fun and “this is actually a Thing!” feeling to exponentially better levels. (Big love, squad!)
- I did 76 interviews (TV, radio, podcast) and many of those hosts commented about how the book really resonated with them. The common theme was that, for them, it wasn’t just a productivity book, but also really a guidebook for thriving.
- Start Finishing also had 35 press and web features, which is a great testament to the caliber of the book.
- The book tour was intense but wonderful. I did book events in eight cities, starting with Portland, OR (of course), and it was wonderful to see the community turn out and meet new people, too.
One of the biggest run-around-the-house moments (actually a run-around-the-hotel-room moment given that I got the alert at 9:30 p.m. before I was speaking the next morning) was when I got a Google alert that the Maryland correctional system had picked Start Finishing as one of the books for people in prison to read to help learn professionals skills for when they get out. I wrote the book because I wanted to bring more people into the productivity and personal development conversation because, let’s face it, the conversation is very white and middle-class+, and bro-ish — and that doesn’t represent many of our lived experiences and realities.
At the same time, I didn’t want Start Finishing to advance some version of “the rest of us need to settle and play smaller” perspective, either. I know books go all kinds of places you’d never imagine, but when I thought about it being read by people in prisons, it was one of those perfect and unimaginable moments for me — it’s exactly where it needs to be, but I didn’t see that before I saw it happening. (Yes, we’re working to expand this program.)
You can probably guess that, since it wasn’t in the list of bullets above, we didn’t hit the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) bestseller list. During opening week, we hit #12 on the list and you need to be in the top 10. As of today, we’ve sold around 23k total copies — which is a great run, something I’m incredibly proud of, and which is considered best-seller status. Honestly, though, I wanted it to be an indisputable, unqualified best-seller. I haven’t given up on and ruled out that it can’t be — especially given how it continues to grow and find new readers — so, the best thing to say is that we haven’t gotten there yet.
While they’re not directly book-related, Start Finishing has been instrumental in the evolution of our business. There was a book-shaped hole in the center of our business, as so much of the body of work we’ve created here is anchored to taking action on and completing your best work, but there was no simple, coherent, and rigorous journey to take readers on. Start Finishing created the space for, and has become a centerpiece of, the Productive Flourishing Academy and Momentum Days. It’s elevated community engagement and, because of the book, more people are bringing their friends to the party. We’ve also seen a noticeable uptick in service inquiries. I think we would’ve seen an increase in product sales, too, but the book was our focus during our last product peak season and COVID/2020 put the hurtlock on our product sales until August.
All in all, I’m elated, proud, humbled, and excited about what we’ve done in a year and what’s still yet to come. In some recent strategy conversations with Sounds True (Start Finishing’s publisher), I told them the same thing I’m telling you: I think we’re just getting warmed up with Start Finishing and have only seen the tip of the iceberg about what it’s going to do. Luckily, the data tells me that it’s not just me being delusional.
The Heartbreaks with and around Start Finishing
The last year has been a year of heartbreaks. Some of them were related to the book, but most of them came from just what was going on in the world and in our personal lives.
A couple of months after the book launch, we discovered that the email marketing tool we were using during the launch (Drip) wasn’t working for us, open rate- and click-through rate-wise. Without going into technical details here, the heartbreak was realizing that had we switched to ConvertKit in February 2019 rather than punting it until after the book launch, I’m 98% sure that Start Finishing would’ve been a WSJ best-seller given how close we were.
Prior to this discovery, I was confused about why what we were doing wasn’t working as well as it should and petty-resentful about how our own community wasn’t supporting us to the degree we thought they would and they said they would. Turns out, we were doing everything right AND our community was behind us — it was Drip that was dropping the ball. (We dropped them within a week of this discovery.)
Yes, the difference between Start Finishing being a WSJ bestseller and it being an almost WSJ bestseller came down to not switching from Drip earlier. This was definitely a “walk it off for a month” realization that was a mix of relief (because our strategy was sound and our community actually was behind us), regret (of not making the decision to move earlier), and exasperation. Honestly, it took me until the Costa Rica event in February 2020 to really let go of all the associated Drip heartbreaks. And because I was holding on to them, I really couldn’t appreciate the wins we were already accruing.
I wish that the Drip situation was the only heartbreak we experienced during this period, but, alas, no. We’ve already told the story of Angela’s two head injuries in 2019 and how she had an unexpected miscarriage (and surgeries) weeks before the launch.
The Sunday of the book launch, we ended up having to let our old lady kitty (and my soul cat) Socks go — she held on long enough to get me through the book launch. I flew back to Portland from San Francisco Friday night and, though Angela hadn’t told me, I was already sensing that Socks was getting close. In the span of about a month, we had lost a baby we didn’t know we could have, and the baby we had had for almost 20 years.
And I was back on the road Tuesday for the book tour, speeches, and workshops. What we were going through behind the scenes gave me a different urgency and energy about the book at the same time that I had to temper my response to the common, “But you don’t get it, Charlie… I’m going through some things!” vibe/comments I get from folks who have checked out on their best work. I’m all too aware that saying, “Well, right now, as I’m talking to you, I’m grieving a miscarriage and loss of a furbaby” would only shame folks, so I instead channeled those feelings into compassion and empathy. Per the usual, compassion and empathy created a better bridge than comparison and shame; I was there to help people stand tall and start finishing, not to make it the Charlie show.
So it wasn’t just the aforementioned heartbreaks that I was leaving in Costa Rica in February — it was the miscarriage, letting Socks go, Angela’s suffering from the head injuries, and my own suffering from having all of these difficult life events happen in conjunction with the pivotal life-career event that was the launch of Start Finishing. It was a lot, y’all.
Angela left a lot in Costa Rica, too, so we came back realigned and lighter just in time for COVID-19 to kick off. Hello, global heartbreak. Also, hello to a catastrophic drop in business and productivity book sales across the board. Nearly half of the first year of Start Finishing‘s release has been during a period of unprecedented changes in our economy and reader trends.
And, despite all of the heartbreaks above, we still locked in a lot of great wins in the first year. At this point, I’m past wondering what would’ve happened if we hadn’t had all of the heartbreaks, as I currently feel that the heartbreaks aren’t a distraction or detraction, but an essential part of the story of Start Finishing. I’m not saying that I want any more heartbreaks (now or in the future), but that they make the book and the story of the book even more relevant: the book (and its journey) shows that, regardless of what’s happening to you, you can still do your best work — if you continually commit to it, adjust as you have to or need to, and use the stones built in yesterday’s work to build the bridge you’re walking today. (Tweet this.)
Speaking of bridges, best work projects like Start Finishing inevitably create a bridge to more opportunities and projects — they’re beginnings more than endings. That said, I’m so glad it was the end of the “hole in the business” era.
Last year, I thought I was a “book every three to five years” kind of author. Two months after the release of Start Finishing, the next book unceremoniously informed me that it was time to get to work on it. To be fair, I knew going into writing Start Finishing that it was part of a series of three or four books, which meant that the next book was incubating the entire time I was working on Start Finishing (and long before). So it’s not like it came from left field; it just showed up before I was ready. We’re currently in the process of shopping it for acquisition; be on the lookout for an announcement about the next book deal, likely within the next 8–10 weeks.
The tension point here is that we also have a lot more we’re going to be doing with Start Finishing. We’ll likely produce and release a workbook for it within the next year, and I have another related product idea that I haven’t even told my team about yet (sorry to let y’all know by a post, team!). We’re also going to be contextualizing Start Finishing for students since we see how valuable it could be to get the insights, tools, and practices in the hands of teenagers and young adults earlier rather than have them struggle unnecessarily for a decade — parents and educators have also been nudging us about this for a while, too. And then there’s the follow-on work we need to do to get the work to people in prisons and at-risk facilities since there are so many smart, driven people who are currently incarcerated but have a lot to offer our communities.
The last paragraph shows part of why I thought I’d write a book every three to five years. There’s so much great follow-on work to attend to and you’re probably unsurprised to learn that building on previous work fires me up more than just jumping to the next thing, especially since there’s only so much a static book can do. Fortunately, we’ve grown TeamPF and are in a much better position to be able to start finishing the projects Start Finishing has catalyzed.
I’ll wrap this up with a note of thanks. Were it not for your support, engagement, questions, sharing, nudging, and honest feedback, I wouldn’t be able to do this work, which also means we (TeamPF) wouldn’t be able to do this work. We’ve been at this for a decade+ because you’ve been with us for a decade+. We’re in the lab because you nudge us to do so and come out because you support what we’re making in there. We’re still just getting warmed up — thanks for helping us keep the fire going.
Don’t have your copy of Start Finishing yet? Get your copy today to get control of your busy work and #startfinishing your best work.