“I can do it…because, after all, I just did.” I believe the reason so many people don’t make changes they know would be good for them is fear. Fear of failure. Fear they’re not strong enough. Fear of change. Fear of what would happen if they gave it their all and failed…and the aftermath. But when readers move with their fear and do it anyway, they teach themselves that they have the power to change. They’ll take that success and build upon it. More abundance. More health. More happiness. More self-confidence. As human beings, we learn the most from our own experience. So as much as readers will learn from reading my book, the ultimate lesson is the one they teach themselves with the choices they’ll make every single day.
Aspart of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Mike Dow. Psychotherapist Dr. Mike Dow is a New York Times bestselling author, TV host, and has been called America’s go-to therapist. Dr. Mike Dow has released his 7th book: The Sugar Brain Fix, The 28-Day Plan to Quit Craving the Foods That Are Shrinking Your Brain and Expanding Your Waistline which explores people’s codependent relationship with sugar. In this book, he takes a closer look at how sugar affects your brain chemistry and why it’s so addictive. Inspired by his brother who suffered a massive stroke when he was just 10 years old, Dr. Mike made it his personal mission to help people heal their brains and their lives — just like his brother and family did. Dr. Mike has a Doctorate (Psy.D.) in Psychology, and a second Doctorate (Ph.D.) in Clinical Sexology and a M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy. He also has post-doctoral education in neurofeedback, psychopharmacology, bilateral-based therapy for the treatment of trauma and clinical hypnosis. In researching his books, food and brain health became a direct parallel, inspiring Dr. Mike to enroll in a functional nutrition program. Functional Nutrition is nutrition-based care focused on building health by restoring the proper physiological functioning of the body. Upon completing his board exams, he will be a certified nutritionist and functional nutritionist in addition to being a psychotherapist, placing him in a unique position to assist those with eating and related physical and mental health issues.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Abeaming woman approached me after one of my all-day workshops. She placed my book Your Subconscious Brain Can Change Your Life in front of me — with the word “can” replaced with the word “does.” Like many workshop attendees, she had just flown in from another state. But for this woman, this was a really big deal. It had been more than a decade since she was able to fly on a plane. With a heartfelt thank you, she told me my book’s hypnosis protocol healed her debilitating irritable bowel syndrome. To me, this was one of the most interesting and meaningful moments. As a writer, it reminds me just how powerful and profound words can be.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
I had always dreamed of becoming a writer. Preparation finally met opportunity when I got a job hosting a show on TLC called Freaky Eaters; my new TV presence meant the literary world would have a reason to give me a chance. A year later, Diet Rehab was published. We scheduled the book release to coincide with the season 3 season premiere. Well, the network canceled the show after season 2…along with our cross-marketed media blitz. Needless to say, my first book was a colossal failure.
My confidence was shaken. I was depressed. Yet, something inside of me knew that writing was something I was meant to do. So, I reached inside and applied all of the advice I’d write about upon myself. I got back up on the horse. I found my way back on TV and was ready for my second chance in the literary world.
I remember the conversation with my literary agent like it was yesterday. She’s certainly not one to mince words. “With the dismal numbers of your first book, it would be extremely unlikely that any publisher would want to take a chance on you again…but, let’s try.” A year later, Hay House published The Brain Fog Fix. It became an instant New York Times bestseller and has since been translated in several languages. There are a few lessons for aspiring authors here.
First, it’s about persistence — not perfection. Keep on keepin’ on — even when you’ve received your tenth rejection letter…or your ninety-ninth. Whether you’re publishing a book or have a blog, don’t be concerned with your batting average — because all you need is one yes. I have a friend who got a major book deal because one of her articles went viral.
Second, relationships are everything. Hay House published my second book — but not my first. They weren’t the highest bidder for my first book. But out of the 25 editors I met with the first time around, Patty Gift at Hay House was the one I remembered. We ended up taking the proposal for The Brain Fog Fix directly to them. They’ve now published five of my books. Keep on networking and meeting people. If a meeting doesn’t immediately lead to an offer, it doesn’t mean your efforts are fruitless. As a writer, it’s your job to seed your future.
Third, don’t be laser-focused on the goal; you’ll miss the journey. Remember when I said my first book was a financial failure? Well, it seemed that the (very small number of) people who read it seemed to love it based on online reviews. My takeaway: I had written a good book that resonated with my readers. Through the writing and editing process, I had become a stronger writer. That first book had a co-writer on it to help me with editing, chapter titles, and overall structure. I now write my books without cowriters. So, this book wasn’t a failure — because it had helped me to grow. Look for your successes — no matter how small they are. I wonder how every single word you put to paper will help you to do the same.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It wasn’t so funny at the time, but my naivete starting out led to a very costly mistake. When I was starting out in media, I trusted everyone. I signed an agreement with someone that I later found out wasn’t at all industry standard — and this cost me well into the six figures. I was, of course, very angry about that for a long time. Today, I’ve let that go. If I don’t know the answer or the customary solution, I ask questions. My successes and mistakes have taught me so much about this business. I now have the world’s best literary and TV agents and their world-class legal teams protecting my best interests. Recently, I had a personal publicist who told me their monthly retainer was 10,000 dollars per month. Old me would have asked where to sign. New me knew exactly what personal publicists for book launches cost, and their fee was at least double the industry standard. I thanked them for their time and made a mental note to never work with that company. I now have a publicist who is both fabulous and honest.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m hosting a new show on Disney+ that will premiere spring 2020. I’m not allowed to share much right now, but I can tell you it’s life-changing. There were tears in every episode (spoiler alert: some of them are mine). I also have development deals with two major companies for shows I created. One is a talk show; the other is a documentary.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
You’ll read four testimonials from people who followed my 28-day Sugar Brain Fix. They all changed their bodies, and the numbers speak for themselves. Melodie was one of those people. You’ll hear how she had never previously dieted or exercised and how she was nervous to start. Melodie has lost 40 pounds. But here’s the best part of her story: Melodie came to the taping of The Tamron Hall Show in New York with me to show off her 40-pound weight loss. After we were done filming, I took her and her granddaughter to lunch. Melodie got emotional and told me something I didn’t know: before The Sugar Brain Fix, she sometimes needed a cane to get around. Today, she doesn’t need that cane. We both shed a happy tear. Knowing that Melodie and her granddaughter were going to get to see New York City and walk the Highline together that day…well, that’s why I write books.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
“I can do it…because, after all, I just did.” I believe the reason so many people don’t make changes they know would be good for them is fear. Fear of failure. Fear they’re not strong enough. Fear of change. Fear of what would happen if they gave it their all and failed…and the aftermath. But when readers move with their fear and do it anyway, they teach themselves what they have the power to change. They’ll take that success and build upon it. More abundance. More health. More happiness. More self-confidence. As human beings, we learn the most from our own experience. So as much as readers will learn from reading my book, the ultimate lesson is the one they teach themselves with the choices they’ll make every single day.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
#1: Great authors write primarily for their readers — not themselves. When people find out I write books, the most common response is: “Oh, I have this book I want to write!” Half the time, they launch directly into a pitch for their book idea. Most of the time, the ideas are terrible. Once in awhile, they’re brilliant. The problem is that most of the time, people want to write books out of ego. If they publish something, they’re creating value for themselves. Some people want to become writers because they just want someone to say: I hear you. If you’re heard, then you matter. But getting published isn’t the only way to be heard and to matter. Ask yourself: Is this something that is true to me and something people need to hear? Also, ask the question: Do I need to write books, articles, recipes, or blogs? There are plenty of great writers that don’t need to write books. In today’s market, very few authors secure traditional book deals. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference with a part-time blog or via social media. My mom and brother created a non-profit for stroke survivors called Aphasia Recovery Connection, and they write on Facebook daily. They’re serving their audience. Or, perhaps writing is just something you need to write for you — and that’s okay, too. Writing can be hugely therapeutic for people. But if that’s the case, perhaps writing is something you do just for you — that’s okay, too.
#2: Great authors are always writing. Write with abandon. Write everywhere. I write at home. I write on planes. I write at coffee shops. Don’t be concerned with quality as the fingers are dancing on the keys. Just put your butt in a seat, open the laptop, and go. I’ve spent days writing material that I later got rid of — because it wasn’t central to the theme or, sometimes, because it was just plain bad. The more you learn to just write, the less hard on yourself you’ll become. The more words you put to paper, the better you become.
#3: Great authors are vulnerable writers. Readers can smell authenticity from a mile away. When you talk about something close to your heart, the words are true. True words are the ones people want to read. My brother and I shared our story of his childhood stroke and neurological disease in my Chicken Soup for the Soul book: Think, Act & Be Happy. When I was editing the story, I cried. I can’t read it out loud without tearing up. If you get emotional while writing, you’re on the right track.
#4: Great authors listen to their readers but don’t pander to them. In today’s world, you’re going to hear people critique your work. It can be hard to hear honest reviews on Amazon or Twitter. Listen without becoming defensive, because you’re probably going to learn something. I know I have. My voice has changed slightly. I now edit as if I’m reading through the lens of a typical person and not a doctor or scientist. That being said, don’t compromise who you are. Take criticism with a grain of salt. My publisher’s CEO says some of the best books he’s ever published aren’t the ones that get all 5-star reviews. They’re actually the ones that get half 1-star and half 5-star ones, because those books obviously take a strong stand. Sometimes, those books are the most thought-provoking.
#5: Great authors fail. This isn’t an easy profession. You’re competing with the best of the best. If you want stability, find a job where there’s less competition — there’s nothing wrong with that. Some personality types need stability. But if you love to write, then grow a thick skin. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is required for success.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Perseverance for sure. If you love writing, it sometimes feels like you just have to write…and so, you just keep going and going. Despite the crazy-making ups and downs of my media career, I just keep dusting myself off. And trust me — I’ve been knocked to the ground more times than I’d like to admit. To me, writing doesn’t feel like something I can choose to do. There’s a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, loneliness, and isolation that comes with being a writer. But, writing brings me so much purpose and joy. That keeps me going. To me, it’s a calling. It’s not like I chose to be a writer. In many ways, it feels like writing chose me. If you can relate to that, then you’re a writer. And, it will give you the perseverance you’ll need to be successful.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Romance. The classical kind. When you read Jane Austen, there’s old-school rationality mixed with relatable emotion. I guess you could say it really is “sense” mixed with “sensibility.” In a way, my self-help books have the same sort of mix. Of course, the “sense” is sort of a given. But, the sensibility is just as important — even in a science-based book. You have to tell people a relatable story that pulls on some emotional string. If you don’t, the why isn’t strong enough. The real-life anecdotes and the success stories in my books compel my readers to make changes in their lives. What happens if you don’t? More importantly, would could happen if I do? The answers to those questions are highly emotional for people.
Once I’ve established the why then it’s time for the what. This is the rational part of my storytelling. I pull the latest and greatest research and organize the material in a way that makes sense. I have to bring everything together and tie it up with a neat and tidy bow — telling sensical, science-based stories that people want to read.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The rise of evidence-based solutions for our health problems. Today, I think there’s this partisan divide in our health that mirrors our political landscape. There’s Big Pharma and old school thinking in one corner and the California new-age thinking in the other. I think this paints people into corners. Are we overmedicated in this country? Absolutely. Does some new age think when it comes to health prey on conspiracy theory and fear? Sure. I think there’s a path forward where people can find the middle road. My books are filled with natural solutions that are evidence-based. e.g., high dose EPA fish oil has been shown to be as effective as SSRI antidepressants. I don’t think enough people are aware of the middle path forward. The more we can illuminate this for people, the healthier and happier we will become.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook and Instagram: @DrMikeDow
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!