Blogs and guest blogs are still “in.” The marketing world is so full of new, shiny ways to be heard in this noisy digital world, but I’ve discovered that blogs are still incredibly helpful for book sales. Good ‘ole classic “content marketing” has done far more for me than any new tricks. Guest blogs have done even better. I can look at my website analytics and see where the traffic is coming from and understand why there was an uptick in sales that day. I think I will focus my efforts more on this rather than the traditional PR when I publish my next book. It has just as much effect on sales, if not more, than any traditional PR opportunities in my experience.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meg Nordmann, author of “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas.” Meg is the mother of two messy, but lovely little girls who were the catalyst for her embracing the minimalist lifestyle. She and her husband are on the journey to financial independence and minimalism has contributed to them reaching their big financial goals. She speaks and blogs about minimalism, frugality, motherhood and financial independence. Much of this focus began after the pandemic began and has ramped up quickly into a new brand and business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Sure! I grew up deep in the woods of southern Alabama. We were very low-income and my parents were able to purchase an abandoned old farmhouse from 1911 when I was 5 years old. There were bats hanging on the ceiling and it had no electricity or plumbing for a little while until my Dad could get that sorted out (we could not afford contractors, so my parents did everything themselves). It was a very happy childhood — full of climbing trees, getting lost in books and playing in the creek and the woods. But I bring up this aspect of my childhood because I do think it played a part in developing my over-consumption and my inability to let go of items as I grew older.
Poverty can do that to people. When you don’t have much to begin with, every item you accumulate seems precious or scarce — even the most mundane of items. There’s a “lack mindset” or “scarcity mindset” that can develop into a sort of hoarding, and I think this definitely played into that. Also, not having much growing up, I began a habit of spending my paycheck as soon as I got it once I was older. I was more interested in quantity than quality, so I’d head to a thrift shop to see just how many outfits I could afford.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Less stuff equals more time.” I don’t know if that’s a quote attributable to anyone, but I know that has been my personal mantra and it hit me like a lightning bolt one day and began my journey to strive towards minimalism.
The moment this revelation hit me, I was in a depressed and overwhelmed funk — about one year into parenthood. I felt like all I did was clean up. Pick up toys, wash dishes, do laundry, pick up more toys, pile more laundry up, wipe up spills, pick up more toys, dig through a pile of paper to locate that one thing, and on and on. My child wanted to play with me, but I was constantly telling her “Not right now. Mommy’s got to clean.” I hated that! I wanted to be a more present mother and actually play with my child during this very fleeting stage and instead, I was just drowning in stuff. I felt like I was a bad housewife and mother because I seemed to never make a dent in any of it. I also am a creative person and wanted more than anything else to sit down and paint, play my oboe and write. I had no time for my kid and even less for myself. They say to “fill your cup first” but my cup was completely empty, and it’s because all this stuff — too many dishes, too many clothes, too much furniture, too many knick-knacks, too many toys — were all stealing my time. And your time is your life! It’s your most valuable asset. It’s a non-renewable resource. So while it may sound dramatic, my stuff was literally stealing my life away from me.
When I had that lightbulb moment, that “less stuff equals more time,” I finally started throwing things away and paring everything down to the necessities and being very discerning about what actually brought me joy. It’s an ongoing process, but I very quickly saw a return on my decluttering efforts. I could quite literally feel the extra time with each load of items that was carted away. Finally, I had time to join an orchestra, practice oboe, start painting again and even write and publish a book! And I had time to go to the beach every day with my daughter — and now two daughters — and to not feel guilty if I stop what I’m doing to sit down and play with them when they ask. The constant busyness is mostly gone. I gained my time back.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There are so many! Can I cheat and give two books? “Goodbye Things” by Fumio Sasaki and “Decluttering at the Speed of Life” by Dana K. White. I recommend these two books to someone weekly at least. While they are both about minimalism, they are very different and I think both points are equally important for a well-rounded view of this lifestyle and philosophy.
Sasaki’s book is probably seen as minimalist “extremism.” He goes from being in the same semi-hoarder and ultra-consumer state that I used to be in to hardly owning a single thing, except the very, very bare necessities. He can pack up all his belongings and move to a new home in 30 minutes. Now, I am nowhere even remotely near this level of minimalism, but the mindset shifts he guides you through in order to let go of things are crucial. I have probably listened to this book on audiobook at least ten times.
White’s book is more like a step-by-step guide on decluttering every area of your home. It’s like she’s holding your hand the entire way and talking over your shoulder as you open up each drawer. She has a very blunt and even humorous writing style, so it feels like you have a good friend in the room looking at you with one eyebrow raised going “Seriously?? Why do you even have that? Why do you have eight of these?? Do not make an excuse for it! No, you are not going to turn that into a lamp. Get rid of it. NOW.” She addresses the particular problem that creative people have that see potential for turning junk into art or know they have the ability to fix something…eventually. I really needed her practical advice in order to dig my way out of my excuses for holding on to so many things.
I also like to recommend listening to these books on audiobook while you’re decluttering or cleaning. I think it’s helpful to have that voice in your ear to override your personal one that is programmed to clutch to things. I recommend everyone check with their library to learn what their free audiobook app is. It’s likely Hoopla, OverDrive, Libby or some other similar app. It’s such a fantastic resource!
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Pre-pandemic, I was a simply a stay-at-home-mother. Before that, I was a journalist and editor for several magazines and newspapers. After publishing, I went into digital marketing and content marketing for tech startups. In both legs of my career I was considered very successful. Shifting from high-paced, exciting and even glamorous careers that came with lots of accolades and into a role as a housewife and stay-at-home-mother was incredibly difficult for me. Like so many others do, I based much of my identity on my career and it was hard to adjust when the shiny job titles were removed. Early motherhood is demanding and exhausting and so there was a loss of self, too. As I mentioned before, once I made room in my home, I could make room for myself and slowly but surely I felt like I learned (and loved!) who I was without a traditional job title.
I continued writing for several different blogs during this period and loved the creative “flow” of writing more than ever. I started toying around with writing children’s books and researching the best way to self-publish them. The idea was growing more and more intriguing and achievable to me.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
Just before the pandemic began in the U.S. — around February 2020 — I took note that my Christmas lights were still hanging on the outside of my house and I was groaning at the thought of getting out a ladder to take them down. I was wincing at the realization that I had only turned my lights on maybe three times during the holidays and realized that this “tradition” was not suited for me or my family. I knew I needed to declutter and get rid of our outdoor lights and edit this tradition out the next year. Then I started musing on how I had become more and more minimal around the holidays each year as I exercised stronger “minimalist muscles” as I grew in this journey.
I thought about how I almost muted my Facebook Groups on the minimalist topic that past fall because I noticed how the same dozen or so questions got asked repeatedly and had been asked repeatedly every fall before that. My annoyance at seeing these recurring questions became a lightbulb moment for me. I realized that I had read probably 30 books on minimalism in my efforts to pare down my own household and had listened to countless podcast episodes on the topic — but no one spent very much effort explaining the answers to these questions that obviously were being shared by everyone on this journey, whether they were new to minimalism or well-practiced minimalists. I knew I had heard a few single podcasts on the topic or read a short blog about minimalism during the holidays, but there was not one in-depth resource that tackled all of these pain points. My lightbulb moment became brighter and brighter and I decided that I would be the person to write this book. I knew I had the knowledge and the experience to feel confident that I could create a resource for everyone struggling with consuming less and doing less during this busy consumerist-driven holiday.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
The Pandemic was a blessing in disguise for me, time-wise. I had this great idea outlined and little bits and pieces started but threatening to become yet another unfinished creative project of mine. Things shut down quickly and my husband opted to stay home from work because we were unsure of what to expect and fearing how contagious this virus was — especially in a very public-facing job. I told him my intentions to sit down and write this book and I knew the editing, publishing and promoting aspects would be just as time-intensive. He was fully on board and really stepped up to help with the housework and parenting duties while I got laser focused at the dining table day after day.
I am so grateful I had this project burning inside of me when the pandemic began because I really was able to create a new business, a new brand and new product out of this “down time.” Rather than sitting idly and watching the news and being full of anxiety, as I know was the case for many people, I was super excited to wake up every morning and to dive into this project. After a full day of working, I relished the extra time with my husband, as we took a two-hour long bike ride every afternoon or evening with the kids to get some fresh air and exercise after another day of isolation in our home. The pandemic lock down was the first time I felt like “my cup was full” in a long time. No, I’d say my cup was overflowing! Time is so valuable and now, with the added help from my husband being home and our already minimalist lifestyle, I had this abundance of time to both chase my creative passions and be present with my family. It was an incredible period of time for me!
So I shifted from stay-at-home-mother aching to write a book, to a writer who actually sat down and wrote every single day. I got into “the flow” and was pleased with how quickly the words came together. After the first draft was completed, I found a great editor in the UK via Reedsy.com and that was a fun collaborative experience. In our emails about the book we’d also exchange what was happening in our country regarding the pandemic. She felt like an old-school pen pal. While the book was being edited, I was able to pull out my inks and paints and illustrated my own cover. I even made an excuse to create art! Again, I got into “the flow” and relished the ability to sit down and paint. I began working with a graphic designer on the cover design and interior book design after that and then began the process of recording, editing and mastering the audiobook version of the book.
I used a variety of free or affordable subscription tools online to create the book. Reedsy, Publisher Rocket, Draft2Digital, Findaway Voices and Canva were what I used the most. While I had a graphic designer put my cover together, I used Canva for absolutely everything else graphic-wise. My media kit, my bonus e-book, all blog graphics and social media images were all made with this tool and it was well worth it to subscribe for the Pro version in order to have some “scroll-stopping” animated graphics and access to high quality stock photos and videos. This was an invaluable resource for me throughout this process.
There are about a hundred more steps I could detail about self-publishing and promotion, but to spare time, I was just going with the flow and following what felt like the natural next step and Googling every single day to learn the process of self-publishing. It is one of those things that a blog post can make sound easy, but it’s actually incredibly difficult if you are going to really do it right, like a traditional publisher would, and to set everything up for PR in order to actually sell the book. It’s one thing to load something on Amazon and say you’re self-published, but it’s another thing to really create a product and brand that will become a best-seller. I’m grateful that the pandemic allowed life to “slow down” in many regards so that I now had the time to pivot my role from a stay-at-home-mom with part-time writing ambitions to a more serious author who could dedicate the better part of a day to my bigger goals.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Things have been going great! The average self-published author sells around 250 books and my sales have far, far surpassed that! I smashed my original goal for sales and so I’ve created some new ones. At the time of this interview, the vast majority of the media/PR opportunities I have in the works have not even published or aired yet! I expect a big boost will come as we get closer to the holidays.
I was elated to have a four-page spread in Real Simple Magazine’s November issue, which was essentially a full chapter excerpt from my book and even had a photo of my book’s cover. This was a massive opportunity that I’m incredibly grateful for. I flew to Hollywood last month to record a two-hour episode with The Minimalists — famous for their Netflix documentary — that will air in December. They have a huge following so I consider them as celebrities in the simplification space. Joshua Becker, a minimalist pioneer with an even bigger audience, has endorsed my book and shared my blogs and been incredibly supportive. Every time he reposts something of mine, I get a huge boost in traffic and sales. Jenny McCarthy interviewed me on her SiriusXM radio show and I’ve done probably 20 other podcast interviews in the minimalism, motherhood, mompreneur and financial genres. For a first-time self-published author, I consider this incredibly successful PR. I’m proud of these accomplishments.
My husband and I have been aggressively chasing a big goal of achieving financial independence and are currently on track to “retire early” in less than a year. Book sales will certainly help speed that up and — more importantly — this has given me a new direction of “passion work” to pursue during “early retirement.” It’s not retirement in the traditional sense — we both still want to work — but it’s having that freedom to be able to pursue the creative work that is just burning in our soul to do without having to rely on it for income. That takes an incredible amount of pressure off of the art we are making and I think will allow it to be more creative and fulfilling. If it happens to do well, then I consider that a bonus! Pivoting into this role as an author before hitting financial independence has been eye opening and has shown me the lifestyle I really want for my future.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m going to cheat again and give three names instead of one.
First, I’m incredibly grateful to Denaye Barahona, Ph.D., of the Simple Families podcast for agreeing to write the Foreword to my book. She didn’t know me at all and I was floored that she responded with a “yes.” Her podcast and brand has a really great, engaged following and I know she’s very busy. But her name recognition in this space gave me instant validation when I went to others for book endorsements and other inquiries.
I think this is partly why Joshua Becker, of the BecomingMinimalist brand, respected me and trusted me when I reached out to him. I was a “nobody” but because I had one vote in my favor, then I was able to gain another vote, in a sense. Joshua is the other person I’m incredibly grateful for. Again, his endorsement and name recognition is what propelled me even further in my PR efforts. It’s like everything began snowballing in the best possible direction after I had Denaye and Joshua on board. So I will remain eternally grateful to them for trusting in my writing, my message, and my new brand and believing that I was a good name to put their name alongside. They were so outside of my league but they helped lift “the little guy” up and get me started on this journey.
Thirdly, I would have to say my husband. If it weren’t for him staying at home during the lockdown and almost completely taking over all the usual household and parenting duties that usually interrupt my “flow” and focus, then I don’t know how I would have gotten so much done. He really believed in me, cheered me on, and then gave me the space I needed to accomplish a lot of big goals. He even edited and mastered my audiobook, which was a lot of tedious work! He really is my “partner” in life and he stepped up to the plate in a big way for me during the pandemic.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I think the most interesting thing to happen was landing the interview with The Minimalists. I had watched their documentary on Netflix a few times and I knew they had an incredible following and audience on their podcast. I reached out so many times via their website’s generic email address and heard nothing back. I even signed up for their text-message program and tried texting my pitch! Still nothing. Finally, I heard back on one of my original emails that asked for a book endorsement and it was a kind “no.” But now that I had a proper email address and contact, I decided to reach out again and basically said, “I understand, but would you consider me for a podcast interview instead…” and sent a whole new pitch to their producer.
He wrote back and asked me to send a hard copy of the book, so the very instant I had my first book proof (which had “Not for Resale” stamped all over it when it was mailed to me), I sent that out to their address in Hollywood. I continued following up via emails and finally received a “maybe.” Again, I continued following up and received a request to see videos of me giving interviews, particularly live in-person interviews. I sent everything I had — including videos of me from over ten years ago that were absolutely horrible! I sounded like a little kid with all of my “ums” and other bad habits. But that was all I had recorded! I went to bed that night and told my husband, “I don’t know what else I can do. I’ve done everything I possibly can.”
The next morning, I woke up and thought, “No, I haven’t done everything I possibly can.” I was horrified that I had sent those awful old videos of me as a fresh-from-college kid doing my very first live interviews. They were not representative of my current self at all and showed nothing of my knowledge on the topic I really wanted to talk about. So I decided I’d pull together a sort of audition tape.
I called an acquaintance that I knew was very good on video (she’s possibly getting her own TV show in the near future) and a good conversationalist. I knew she had the right “energy” that I wanted to convey on video. I sent her a text that went something like, “I know this is a really weird request from a practical stranger and I know you’re extremely busy, but would you interview me about my book for a few minutes?” Of course, everything is made even more awkward since we are in a pandemic and people are more wary of having personal contact. But to my delight, she said “yes” and carved room out of her crazy schedule to sit down and start asking me unscripted questions about my book. She even had a really nice video camera and tripod and set up a pretty background for the interview! I got that file, did a quick edit on iMovie to make it look more professional and immediately sent it to the producer. I think this was maybe three days after sending the awful young videos to him.
Going this extra mile to really show the producer what I was like on camera and to show my knowledge in this particular topic was the right thing to do, because after seeing my “audition tape” that he never asked for, he let me know that I was on the show! So I immediately booked my flight and hotel and flew out to their studio about two weeks after that final “yes.”
After being in isolation since early March, it was incredibly weird to be in an airport and around other people. The world seemed extra crazy. LA is treating the pandemic very differently from my small town in Florida. It was almost like being in culture-shock. It also just seemed so weird to go from stay-at-home-mom in yoga pants to a polished “published author arriving in Hollywood for her close-up.” Ha!
The whole experience was just wild and I loved every single minute of it. The Minimalists (Ryan and Josh) were both incredibly nice and the interview was done safely. Landing that interview is one of my greatest accomplishments because I was so, so persistent. It was a lesson to myself that it really does pay off.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Self-publishing is much more expensive than it seems. When you do an initial Google search on self publishing, it looks as if you can just write something on Word, upload the file on Amazon, make a little cover with free software, and press a big red “Publish” button and “wha-laa!” You’re a published author! ….Oh man. This is far, far from the truth of it! Especially if you want to do the job well and potentially make any money from your book. I could not find a good blog that would give an honest breakdown of the costs involved. There are so many tiny steps that require a little fee all along the way. They start to add up quickly! So I can now say that if you are going to own your own ISBN and do things frugally but still professionally, it can easily cost you $3,000 to $5,000. This is much more than my initial budget of around $200, which is what some blogs led me to believe. It could easily cost more than that number, but I was trying to do things frugally and even had a lot of work done voluntarily by friends.
- Record your audiobook the moment you have your final draft finished. Then upload it the minute your audiobook is edited. For some unknown reason, audiobook companies take months to load your files. Months! And then, after they finally load your files and run it through their AI system to detect any variances in the sound quality, they will eventually send you an email telling you your files were denied and the process has to start all over from scratch. In this digital age, this makes no sense to me. But this is the hard reality I’ve learned. If you want an audio-book to publish at the same time as your print book, then you have to start that process super early.
- Be persistent and creative in your media pitches. It’s okay to follow twenty times. That sounds insane, but it’s really not. The people whose attention you are trying grab are extremely busy and their inboxes are overloaded. They have so many stories flying at them every minute of the day. You need to have a great pitch — which is like serving up a good story, already finished and on a silver platter — and you need to send it several times and follow up even more times. They need to read that pitch at just the right moment for all the pieces to click into place. Also, you need to be working far in advance to fit into editorial calendars. I was pitching my Christmas stories that will publish in December back in April and May!
- Blogs and guest blogs are still “in.” The marketing world is so full of new, shiny ways to be heard in this noisy digital world, but I’ve discovered that blogs are still incredibly helpful for book sales. Good ‘ole classic “content marketing” has done far more for me than any new tricks. Guest blogs have done even better. I can look at my website analytics and see where the traffic is coming from and understand why there was an uptick in sales that day. I think I will focus my efforts more on this rather than the traditional PR when I publish my next book. It has just as much effect on sales, if not more, than any traditional PR opportunities in my experience.
- Stop worrying about the sales. I spent my first month after publishing absolutely paralyzed. I kept refreshing the sales page and seeing small numbers and being overwhelmed by a sense of failure and wasted money and really wasted that month’s productivity wallowing in my pity. I wish I had never looked at it and had continued blazing my productive path during that month. Once I made a conscious effort to stop caring about it and decided to just treat this as a “fun project” and switch my attitude, I stopped logging in to look at my sales. A whole month went by before I remembered to log in and my curiosity got the best of me. Of course my sales began climbing once I stopped caring! My productivity went up during that time and the energy I was putting out into the world via blogs, social media and pitches was one of pure joy. I got back into a state of “flow” with the project and that was when things started really looking up. Next time I publish a book, I won’t allow myself to check sales for at least a month or two.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Honestly, I’ve had to try to mostly “tune out.” I try to not scroll social media as much (which is incredibly difficult for me, I’ll admit!) and I only glance at headlines most of the time. In regards to the pandemic, the news hasn’t really changed all year: “There’s a deadly and highly contagious virus in our area and all over the globe. Reduce physical contact with other humans and public spaces for the time-being to the best of your ability. Wear a mask and sanitize your hands. The End.” We all should have understood that from the very beginning and everything else is sensationalist or polarizing, for the most part. They need great headlines and stories to get clicks/reads and that helps with their advertising income, which helps them pay their employees and create profit. I used to work for newspapers, so I know this is true. While we all need watchdog journalism to protect democracy, much of the rest of the news is fluff in order to get their numbers up. So by keeping this in mind, I know I can get the majority of my news via headlines. I also subscribe to some newsletters that summarize the news for me, such as The Daily Skimm and The New York Times’ “The Morning.” You can skim over global news at a glance and there’s not a huge need to click through and read the articles unless there’s something really of interest to you. This keeps me from wasting my day going down internet rabbit holes on my social media newsfeeds.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Oh gosh, there’s a few topics I’m incredibly passionate about so this is actually a little difficult to answer. I think ultimately, I want to inspire people to get their time back. When you get your time back, you gain freedom, focus and attention. With these things, you can gain creative freedom and financial freedom. And with all of this freedom and presence, you can do good things for the world and lead a more fulfilling life.
If you are able to get rid of the golden handcuffs that enslave you to a paycheck and keep you working in order to pay for the things society told you to purchase, then you have true freedom. You can be present with your kids and yourself and you begin to wake up and see all of the other distractions pulling for your attention in this world. If everyone could be this aware, we’d all be much happier people and we’d also be united in taking care of ourselves and this planet. It’s all intertwined! So I supposed I’d like to start a movement where everyone began shedding their consumerist urges and releasing themselves of all the wasteful stuff in their homes. We could spark big changes if we all just started working on ourselves in our own homes.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
You’re not going to let me cheat on this one, are you? I’d love to meet Arianna Huffington. I recently listened to an interview of her with Tim Ferriss back in 2017 and I found her fascinating! I adored her stories about her own mother and how she parented Arianna. As a mother myself, I felt like I was just taking notes because she obviously did a stellar job at raising a well-rounded, smart, successful woman. In the interview, Arianna talks about her own struggles with juggling motherhood and growing a brand and business and I feel like she’d be an incredible person to sit down to chat with mother-to-mother, journalist-to journalist, writer-to-writer. I really look up to her and everything she has built while also raising tiny humans. She’s overcome incredible odds and her life story just blows my mind! I had no idea until I heard that interview and now I want to learn as much as I can from her.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m on Twitter and Instagram at @megnordmann. I talk more about personal finance and minimalism on Twitter and then I talk more about interior design, my kids and our life on the beach on Instagram. You can follow my book at @minimalist_christmas on Instagram and I have a very robust Pinterest page as well.https://www.pinterest.com/megnordmann/
Of course links to my book, blogs about minimalism and financial independence and more are all at www.megnordmann.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!