Doug Noll of ‘Prison of Peace Project’: “You have to organize your thinking, gather stories, and write words that are fun and entertaining to read.”

The most valuable part of writing a book is what you learn about what you’re writing about. You have to organize your thinking, gather stories, and write words that are fun and entertaining to read. As a part of our series about “How You Can Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book”, I had […]

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The most valuable part of writing a book is what you learn about what you’re writing about. You have to organize your thinking, gather stories, and write words that are fun and entertaining to read.

As a part of our series about “How You Can Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Doug Noll.

Douglas E. Noll is an award-winning author, speaker, and trainer. After 22 years as a trial lawyer, Mr. Noll became a peacemaker and mediator. Today, he helps people solve deep and intractable conflicts and teaches others to do what he does. Mr. Noll is the co-founder of the award-winning Prison of Peace Project, in which he teaches life and long-term inmates in maximum security prisons to be peacemakers and mediators.

Mr. Noll has written four books, his latest entitled De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less (Atria/Beyond Words).

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what motivated you to become an expert in the particular area that you are writing about?

I trained to become a lawyer and practiced as a commercial civil trial lawyer for 22 years. In the mid-nineteen nineties, I decided that my calling was something different. So, I went back to school to earn my Masters Degree In Peacemaking And Conflict Studies. Ultimately, I left the practice of law in 2000 to become a peacemaker and mediator.

Can you share a pivotal story that shaped the course of your career?

In 2004, I was called to mediate a dispute between a divorced couple that was extremely contentious. If they had knives, there would’ve been blood on the floor. I had been studying the neuroscience of peace and conflict, such as it was, but still had no good tools are helping intensely angry people calm down.

This couple sparked something within me. I thought, “Listen to the emotions.” Instead of having them listen to the stories, which made them both extremely angry, I have them listen to and reflect each other’s emotions. It was the most amazing thing I had ever witnessed. After they were finished, the man, John, put his face in his hands and started sobbing. He looked up across the table to his ex-wife and said, “That is the first time you listen to me in 25 years.” They settled the case in five minutes and walked out of the conference room holding hands to have lunch. Fast forward three years, to 2007. Neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman at UCLA, published the results of his brain scanning studies on affect labeling. His study confirmed why listening to emotions works to calm any human brain in literally seconds. This was such a powerful tool that nobody had talked about and nobody knew about, that I decided it would be my life’s work to bring this idea and related ideas into the world. I call it, “ Listening others into existence.” This concept is the basis of my fourth book, De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Are you working on any new writing projects?

In 2010, my colleague Laurel Kaufer and I began the Prison of Peace Project. We were invited into the largest, most violent women’s prison in the world to train female life inmates how to become peacemakers and mediators. We used emotional listening as the foundation of our entire curriculum. The results were amazing. Today, we are in 15 California prisons, a prison in Connecticut, 14 prisons in Greece, and have startups in Nairobi and Italy. Of course, the pandemic has shut everything down. However, this has given us an opportunity to turn our entire curriculum into video lessons that will be available to every prison in the world.

My writing currently consists of high-value content blogs on my website as well as being a guest author on other websites.

Thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you please tell us a bit about your book? Can you please share a specific passage or story that illustrates the main theme of your book?

I wrote De-Escalate after many inmates requested that I write a book about the skills we were teaching because they wanted something to share with their families.

Here’s the first story I tell that illustrates the main theme:

“In the fourth week of training, I realized that we had something powerful going on.

That day, we showed up at the prison early in the morning. I still had not gotten used to the heavy steel doors clanging shut behind me. We began the quarter mile walk through D yard to the program offices and the shabby conference room that had become our classroom.

A tired fluorescent light flickered. One inmate, Sarah, had gotten there early. She was seated in a metal folding chair in a far corner. She was quietly sobbing. Laurel kneeled beside her. I stood at a discrete distance.

Laurel asked softly, “Sarah, what is going on?”

She was silent for a moment and then told us, “I’ve been in prison for years. I have a son who lives with my mother. I’ve written to him every week but haven’t heard from him in three years. I only learn how he’s doing through my mother.

“Two weeks ago, I decided to use the techniques you guys have been teaching me. I wrote him a different letter, using these new skills, describing how he must have been feeling all of these years. I basically affect labeled him in the letter, without ever talking about myself,” she said, referencing one of the core listening skills we had taught a few weeks earlier.

Then she held up a piece of paper and a photograph. “Today, for the first time in three years, I received a letter from him. He’s really angry with me but finally felt like I was listening to him. He’s got a girlfriend, and he wants to come visit me,” she said as she started to cry again. Obviously, they were tears of joy and happiness.

Laurel and I looked at each other. It dawned on us in that moment just how powerful these skills were turning out to be, how they were transforming these women’s lives and the lives of their families. The power of listening and de-escalation skills had changed Sarah. That she could “listen” through a letter and get a response from her estranged son after years of silence was remarkable.

Since that day, we have witnessed hundreds of similar stories from inmates at both Valley State Prison and others. They have mediated disputes with parents, brothers, sisters, and children over the phone and during visits. One male inmate reconciled with his ex-wife after fifteen years simply by listening to her in a new way. Families, friends, and even fellow inmates noticed profound changes as our peacemakers gained mastery over de-escalation and deep empathic listening through our program.”

You are a successful author and thought leader. Which three character traits do you feel were most instrumental to your success when launching your book? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • First, have faith in yourself. The idea of listening to emotions as a means of calming people down is counterintuitive and counter normative. I received a lot of pushback and skepticism from people who should have known better. I didn’t let their negativity affect my work because I knew how powerful it was.
  • Second, to write, publish, and market a book takes discipline and persistence. I have self-published and been published by major publishing houses. The publishing game is rigged against authors with no or small platforms. You have to develop a game plan that’s going to take years to unfold and follow the plan. I might add that writing books is not the road to wealth and fame unless you have a huge platform.
  • Third, be willing to kiss a lot of frogs. By that I mean you have to be willing to be interviewed by people who don’t know how to interview both for reviews and for podcasts. You have to be willing to appear anywhere at any time and make your interviewer look good no matter how bad he or she is.

In my work, I have found that writing a book can be a great way to grow a brand. Can you share some stories or examples from your own experience about how you helped your own business or brand grow by writing a book?

When I wrote De-Escalate, I wasn’t really thinking about how it would brand me. I was already a successful mediator and well known in my field. However, as I have taught thousands of people how to listen others into existence, I’ve come to realize that learning these skills is transformative. Consequently, I shifted considerable energy to creating online courses and online coaching so that people cannot only learn these skills, but also teach them. The book was the impetus for this shift in my business strategy.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming an author and promoting a book? Can you explain to other leaders why they should invest resources and energy into this? Can you share a few examples of how writing a book in particular and thought leadership in general can create lucrative opportunities and help a business or brand grow?

The most valuable part of writing a book is what you learn about what you’re writing about. You have to organize your thinking, gather stories, and write words that are fun and entertaining to read. There are over 80,000 books published every year so writing a book and expecting it to magically boost your brand is unrealistic. However, a good book can present you as an expert and introduce people to your work. If you have a large platform or a very large marketing budget, you can probably drive book sales and increase your notoriety. If you don’t have a large platform or a large marketing budget, you’re going to have to work hard to sell the book and build your brand. I tell aspiring authors that writing the book is 1% of the work. The other 99% is marketing.

I should also point out that you should never write a book unless you know you have an audience. All you have to do is go to Amazon and search for books related to the topic you are interested in. Where do they rank in sales? What kind of reviews are they receiving? Also, run Google searches for keyword phrases around your topic. How many people are searching those keyword phrases per month? Are there any paid ads on the rank pages for a given keyword. Ads tell you that people are willing to pay money to get in front of an audience. If you do a search term and see no ads, your idea probably cannot be monetized. So, lots and lots of market research should be done before you ever begin to outline your book. Now, if you already have a platform and people will consume anything you produce, fantastic. But if you are thought leader without a huge following, you have to really do your homework.

What are the things that you wish you knew about promoting a book before you started? What did you learn the hard way? Can you share a story about that which other aspiring writers can learn from?

De-Escalate is my fourth book and is the only book that has been commercially successful. By commercially successful, I mean that I am receiving royalty checks from the publisher. The reason that De-Escalate is a commercial successis because I utterly failed to successfully market my first three books. I learned a lot and did not make the same mistakes the fourth time around.

Here are the big mistakes:

  1. Not researching whether an audience exists for the book topic.
  2. Not conducting extensive market research.
  3. Underestimating the amount of money needed to properly market a new book.
  4. Making poor decisions about publicity agents. Most PR people promise a lot and deliver very little unless you already have a large platform, in which case you don’t need them.

Although I have been fortunate to have had two of my books published by mainstream publishing houses, if I write a fifth book, I will self-publish. If you take the time to learn and enjoy marketing, there are some really cool things you can do as a self published author. So I would recommend the self-publishing route, especially if you are entrepreneurial.

Based on your experience, which promotional elements would you recommend to an author to cover on their own and when would you recommend engaging a book publicist or marketing expert?

It depends on the author’s marketing experience. At a minimum, you need a sales funnel, a website, and an email list. You need to have a procedure for getting on podcasts. You need to produce and publish YouTube videos regularly. You need to write a blog regularly. If you have lots of money, you can hire people to do these things for you. If you’re like me, you have to learn how to do it yourself. In my experience, engaging a book publicist or marketing expert is only useful if you already have a large platform, and the publicist has a contact list of high level producers and broadcasters who might be interested in your work. Based on my experience, an author will spend between 60,000 dollars to 100,000 dollars with a publicist to build an effective pre-publication, pre-sale campaign, and a follow-up campaign post-publication. It’s about a 12 to 18 month process.

Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your own experience and success, what are the “five things an author needs to know to successfully promote and market a book?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. Write to an established audience.
  2. Conduct extensive market research before doing anything else.
  3. Have a written marketing plan with a budget in place before you start writing.
  4. Start marketing the book as soon as you start writing. One effective trick is to put excerpts on your website as blogs and get readers to comment.
  5. Recognize that writing the book is simply creating the product. Marketing and selling the book is where the real work is. 1% writing; 99% marketing.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I’d like to have lunch with Brendan Burchard and pick his brains about how he built his platform. Platform building is the key to successful book promotion, and he has been very successful.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website is I also have a YouTube channel which you can find by simply searching for Douglas Noll on YouTube.

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success with your book promotion and growing your brand.

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