Remember that perfection is the enemy of the good. My book ended up taking me 2 years to write because I never felt like it was right. I thought it was going to take 6 months. As I mentioned earlier in the interview, I wrote 45,000 words and my publisher told me it needed to be 25,000 because busy people don’t have time to read a long book and I wanted to write this book for a specific audience. Initially, I pushed back on that because I thought it needed to have everything in it. I had to be willing to say, “It’s perfect in terms of what it covers.” Then I had to let everything else go.
As part of my series about “How to write a book that sparks a movement” I had the great pleasure of interviewing Alan Samuel Cohen, MBA, PCC. He is an experienced executive and team coach and corporate instructor, with over a decade of experience coaching leaders and teams at companies including MetLife, American Express, Skadden Arps, Tiffany’s NBC, and countless PR and Marketing agencies. He helps teams work more effectively together, using processes and methods from a vast tool chest — including Emotional Intelligence, and personality assessments, including Myers Briggs. He has worked with many sales, marketing and leadership teams from many different industries (professional services, entertainment, pharma, consumer products, technology). He is also a professional speaker and has written books on authentic connection in a digital age, and how to manage conflict and difficult conversations in the workplace. Prior to becoming a coach, he worked in PR, Marketing and Human Resources for over 25 years, most notably as the Director of Publicity and Marketing for Scholastic, where he led the publicity team that was responsible for launching the Harry Potter book series, and as Director of Communications for The Broadway League, where he publicized the Tony Awards.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?
I was born into a large, boisterous, middle-class, Jewish family in Staten Island. I come from a family of writers. My dad was a freelance writer, who penned over 40 books. My sister writes for TV, my brother for comic books, and my other brother is a lawyer and writer. My mom was a stay at home mom. I have 14 first cousins, my mom was one of 7 kids, and my dad was an only child. Family means everything to me.
Growing up, I was always encouraged to live my dreams. My dad told me that I didn’t have to go to college, but could be an actor instead. I chose the traditional route. I am highly extraverted, love theater, writing, and anything to do with the creative arts. Our home was always buzzing with friends and family. Even so, I always felt different. I came out when I was in my twenties. Letting my friend and family know I am gay was my first step towards feeling comfortable in my own skin and being truly authentic.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?
The Phantom Tollbooth was a big one for me! I loved the idea of being able to adventure out of the mundane world, into a world of fantasy and possibility. I always sought escape — life wasn’t bad, but I knew there was something more for me.
I believe that books like The Phantom Tollbooth or Charlie and The Chocolate Factory were all about empowerment. I wanted to feel empowered, that I did not have to live someone else’s version of what my life was supposed to be.
I am all about breaking the rules — I think those books make that possible.
What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
As an extrovert, who also has struggled with addiction and the challenges of coming out, I think I had a responsibility to share what life is like from connection to disconnection and back again. With suicide and depression rates at an all-time high, I felt like the time was right to write a book and share a message about how we can be more connected.
Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?
I think I have only scratched the surface of what is possible. There are so many people to reach, to share the message.
What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.
In every corporation I work in or with every prospect I have a discussion with, I hear the same thing — that people want more engagement, they want to feel more connected to their work and life — I heard that message before I wrote the book, I hear it even more now. The response from corporations and individuals for this message has been fantastic!
What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?
I have seen clients have their businesses change when they become more connected to their own truth. Let me tell you about my client, Jodi. I met Jodi the day after Donald Trump was elected. So there was this low-grade anxiety and depression hanging in the air, especially in New York. I sat with her and she told me she was hitting a wall, and really hurt that her business wasn’t growing. She was disappointed she wasn’t attracting the big brands she really wanted and getting those big retainer clients. She runs a creative agency for beauty brands and she was just stuck.
She’s very creative and she loves helping her clients get great visibility, but she was just in the weeds of her business. Through coaching we discovered that she was not connected to the most passionate aspects of her business. She wasn’t experiencing joy. Even more, she felt she wasn’t showing who she really was going through. She said she never wanted to let her clients see the mess behind the scenes. On the outside there was this veneer of “everything’s perfect, everything’s perfect, everything’s great.” But she felt like she was being a phony. She was hiding behind this mask of being perfect all the time. I think she was afraid of people seeing the messy parts of running a creative agency.
She also felt like her clients wanted her to always have it all together. And so I, I coached her about taking risks and about sharing more of what was really going on for her with her clients. What she found was that when she started doing that, people started opening up more to her about their challenges and she was able to be a better consultant to them. What I pushed her to do, and she was initially really resistant, was to start interviewing. I said, “Why don’t we create a podcast series where you start interviewing beauty leaders about their lives behind the scenes, you know, behind the makeup, behind the veneer.”
Two years later she has one of the top beauty podcasts in the industry. She now does live events with brands like Saks Fifth Avenue. She has people asking to be on the show. Her business has grown by leaps and bounds. She’s getting consulting engagements with big brands, brands that she could never get into before.
Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?
Sometimes I think the mission is too big, or that people won’t prioritize this essential human need.
Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?
Books have the power to create movements, revolution and change, because they offer a starting point for conversation. Conversations create momentum. Vis a vis connection, I believe that it is the gateway to possibility. When people connect to ideas, movements can happen. I like to call this “Connection Alchemy.”
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Overcoming impostor syndrome is definitely the thing I had to overcome. I needed to stop questioning, “Who am I to share a message?” When you come from a family of great writers, you have to work on your mindset to not compare yourself to others.
What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?
I wrote a 45,000-word book, that the publisher wanted as 25,000. I had to get over my ego and remember the audience and what they wanted.
Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book? (please include a story or example for each)
1. Write about what you know and what you care about
We’re all experts in our own lives. We’ve all had amazing stories and an amazing experiences and they deserve to be shared. Being an expert doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect. It just means that you have to be a little further along in the journey than somebody else. I almost didn’t write my book because I thought, “Everybody is talking about it connection all the time.” Then there was that other part of me that felt like I should own it. I had to laugh at myself because how can you own the thing that you want everybody to have? It’s ridiculous, right? So my point is, it doesn’t matter that there 20 other books or 200 other books out there about connection. Nobody does it like me, nobody explains it like me, nobody has walked in my shoes. No one’s client experiences are exactly the same as mine. So that’s how you can break the comparison trap.
2. Get support, make sure you have a group of positive advocates to bounce ideas off of.
I have a family of writers, so I got support with writing and editing help. I hired a book strategist and I also hired a writing coach because at the end, when I realized how much work needed to be done, I needed accountability big time. I was given three months to get it done so I wanted to stay on schedule, but I also was feeling resistance around sharing some personal stories. I ended up working with a life coach on that resistance. Through sharing my ideas with those people who are experts I was able to include even more of my story, including pieces I thought should be cut out. For instance, the whole Harry Potter story in the book really came from a coaching conversation when I was talking about editing it out and my coach said, “No, that’s your intro. Why would you cut that part out? That’s your credibility piece.”
3. Remember that perfection is the enemy of the good.
My book ended up taking me 2 years to write because I never felt like it was right. I thought it was going to take 6 months. As I mentioned earlier in the interview, I wrote 45,000 words and my publisher told me it needed to be 25,000 because busy people don’t have time to read a long book and I wanted to write this book for a specific audience. Initially, I pushed back on that because I thought it needed to have everything in it. I had to be willing to say, “It’s perfect in terms of what it covers.” Then I had to let everything else go.
4. Talk about your idea with everyone and anyone
When I was in the process of writing the book I was floating the concepts out on blogs and in social media posts. I got a lot of responses and it felt like everybody had something to say about it. And even though I mentioned it was 2 years late, it was actually great timing considering everything that was going on politically at the time and how people were feeling. It started some really great conversations.
5. Don’t give up — ever.
At the end when I had finished the manuscript and I got the first red lines back from my editor, I really wanted to give up because it started to feel like work. I felt like the editor was challenging every single thing that I said. I would get so overwhelmed that I thought to myself, “I just can’t do this. It’s just not worth it.” Thankfully my coach helped me and I focused on one page at a time. If I couldn’t answer a question right then because I wanted to put more thought into it, I would save it for a different day and focus on something that was easier. Getting those edits back felt like I was starting over after I had felt like I had finished the book. Truth be told, I did end up starting over because the book I had written was a personal growth book, but the book I wanted to write was for corporate and more of a professional development book.
The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?
Gender equality and LGBT rights need to be worked on daily! There are a lot of people who would take these rights away if we don’t stay vigilant.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.