Looking Back at a Bumpy Road

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I am winding down Connect A Book. While the site will live on in its current form for anyone who still wants to connect books, I will no longer be devoting time or money to its development. My programming firm is wrapping up, my virtual assistant is going on other interviews, and I am moving forward.

Over the last few months, Connect A Book (and the blog featuring authors, Authors Connect), didn’t grow. While I was fielding more inquiries from authors – thanks to the outreach of a great assistant – the traffic didn’t turn into an engaged audience like I expected. My theory was that readers would see authors making connections and feel inclined to make their own. After 20 posts from authors, and no corresponding reader connections, I had a good sample size to show me that my theory – at least, how I was executing it – was wrong.

From the beginning, I understood convincing people to connect books was going to be a challenge, but one with exciting payoffs that included new ways of thinking about reading and interacting with books. What I didn’t understand was how to reach a critical mass of users and connections to make the site valuable enough to reach those payoffs.

On one hand, I look at the experience of developing and launching Connect A Book as constant learning. Were I filling out a resume, I’d feel confident including basic understandings of product management, UX, UI, and managing a team of developers, as well as comfort with marketing plans, customer outreach and understanding analytics (Facebook Likes don’t mean much!). I’m certainly more conversational now with all of these skill sets, if mastery of any one of them eludes me.

On the other hand (the more critical one), my inexperience with all of the aforementioned skills was crippling. Learning it all at once is like conducting an experiment with a dozen different variables, and changing them all simultaneously. While you might luck into some result, it’s not good science. While I expect I may have figured this out given enough time, it was not something I could get a grip on while working 50-60 hour weeks in television production. The spare time I had was dedicated to maintenance, and that wasn’t going to take the site where it needed to be.

So, maybe it was more than I could manage. When I think of project/schedule fit, this was certainly a mismatch. Along with wedding planning, reading and some semblance of a social life, Connect A Book was never going to get the 30-40 hours a week it needed. Additionally, I don’t have much reach (I gotta work on my brand, man!), and without the time to properly develop an audience, it became difficult to keep up any momentum.

Or maybe it was more than I wanted to manage. With Connect A Book – more than any other time in my life – I felt handicapped. I outsourced the coding, and then couldn’t make minor tweaks of my own. I outsourced the outreach, and then felt trapped by the deluge of responses. I became a manager of a team. I became an editor of a book blog. It was all work I assigned myself, and maybe that fostered resentment.

Truthfully, I had doubts from the beginning. For every excitable pitch of the idea (I recall running with my father on a trail in Austin, TX, saying “How great would it be if you could see how books influenced an author? Not just the books that are on their night stand, or that they liked, but really, the ones that were key to their work, and why?”), there were concerned pauses, questions about who would use the site, and why.

But when do we listen to our nagging doubts? Aren’t there are always reasons not to do anything? I’m learning how to listen. How to analyze those doubts. How to design tests and experiments to eliminate those doubts (or to heed those doubts!). Because, for much of this process, I know I was leaning toward making this project happen. I would find ways to read data and interpret responses to justify moving forward. What I need to do moving forward is disprove myself.

I say that because I will move forward. Connect A Book was exhausting and expensive and educational and elating. I abandoned my personal (and financial…) comfort zone by miles. What’s been so difficult is freeing myself from what I’ve put into the project already (just knowing about the sunk cost fallacy does not make escaping its grip any easier). At first, rather than face its early ending, I thought of adding other projects into the mix, piling them on, as if diverting my already dwindling attention could excuse the site’s languid performance. Then, after a hike and a good conversation with Glory, it just became clear. It was time to end it, and move onto something new.

After all, ending something isn’t the worst. Diana Kimball writes about freeing herself from forever projects:

Treat beginnings like endings: celebrate them, document them, let someone else pick up where you leave off. If the project’s worth repeating, there’s nothing to say you can’t still be the standard-bearer. But at least it’s a choice. By ending well, you give yourself the freedom to begin again.

It was that idea that freed me from Connect the Thoughts taking over my every waking moment. There was a project I loved doing while unemployed, but I didn’t realize the sheer amount of time that actually went into producing a single issue (2-3 books, 7-10 articles don’t just read themselves!). So, I ended it. But I didn’t make the ending so explicit. I heard from people for the weeks and months after its conclusion wondering where issues were. I even thought about picking it back up again, to no avail.

Which is why Christina Xu’s point about why projects deserve good deaths is so well taken:

Letting go of a project or an organization returns all of the resources it’s tying up — funding, attention, time, the emotional labor contributed by you and others — to the ecosystem. Whether by you or others, those resources will be recombined into new, surprising forms. Calcify not like a kidney stone but like coral: announce that your work is done so that others can build on your accomplishments.

That excites me. While I cherish the memories of the many projects I’ve worked on, their presence can also be a burden, on free time and on decisions about the future. Holding onto projects inhibits future ideas. When given a window of opportunity, questions abound. Should I restart that project? Can I keep that up while launching this new one? Then self-doubt creeps in. Does quitting make me I look like a quitter? Isn’t it fine to be a quitter?

Quitting is fine and appropriate and natural. Projects are born, and projects die. By letting a project go, I free myself of the obligation to it while keeping all of the best parts – the experiences, the learning, the connections. So here’s the announcement: I’m finishing up Connect A Book, preparing new projects, and readying myself for the next road – no matter how bumpy.

 

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