Read and Respond: 279 Days to Overnight Success

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I suppose the irony is what drew me to Chris Guillebeau’s manifesto, 279 Days to Overnight Success. That, and the fact that Jane Friedman recommended it in her workshop, How to Powerfully Build Your Author Platform, which I have been taking over the past month.

Normally, neither building an author platform nor a free online manifesto by a guy claiming to have found overnight success would appeal to me. In fact, though I have wanted to find more ways to integrate writing into the paid work I do, I have cringed at the clawing, scraping, sales mentality that I have associated with what it would take to make that happen.

But something about Jane’s workshop description sounded so disarming, and something about Chris’s website was, well, just cool. So, I signed up for his enewsletter – subscribing options are his most prominent call to action – and downloaded the free PDF. Though, I believe I could have gotten the document without the subscription, because that’s how Chris rolls.

One of the things I love about the manifesto is how many times Chris tries to get you to stop reading it, to not believe it, to do it your own way – not his. “This particular report, however, is not for a general readership,” he writes early in the document. Later, he says he it offering a “contrarian perspective.” At one point he even providers a sign to the nearest exit: Iif this doesn’t sound interesting to you, no problem. Go and change the world in another important way.”

I also appreciate how clearly he defines success. He breaks down his entire income of $48,500 by category. He’s not getting rich. But he’s above the federal poverty line, which can be difficult for writers and other artists making a go of their art.

But there are really three things that stand out to me as the heart of Chris’s success. For one, he works hard. His “overnight” success in 279 days clearly indicates that it’s not something that landed in his lap. But it gets worse. He writes as least 1,000 words every day, six days a week. Also, he writes more than 100 emails a day, plus interacting on social media. He also answers every email from readers. Every email. I sometimes forget to respond to a text from my mom.

The second thing Chris does is a trick I first learned from writer Neil Gaiman. Chris calls it, “Be Bigger than I Really Am.” In his speech Make Good Art, Neil calls it “pretending.”

“Someone asked me recently how to do something she thought was going to be difficult. In this case, recording an audiobook, and I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it. Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could. She put up a notice to this effect on the studio wall, and she said it helped,” Neil said.

In his manifesto, Chris talks about how he saw himself and what he was doing in the early days, when there were very few readers of his blog:

“From the beginning, I set my goals and standards high. Even in the early days when less than 100 people were reading the site, I wrote as if there were an audience of thousands. When more people started reading, I assumed an audience of tens of thousands, and so on. When I interviewed other bloggers, I wrote to the biggest and most respected names. I looked up to them, treated them with respect, but also made it clear that i planned to be my own “authority blogger” as well. In other words, I didn’t think of myself as an up-and-coming writer; I thought of myself as one of the establishment. I decided, well, I haven’t been doing this blogging thing very long, but I’ve been successful at a lot of other things in life . . .  so surely i have something to bring to the conversation.”

I find this idea of pretending to be someone who is successful a highly charged strategy when I am stuck. It’s self-aggrandizement. It’s self encouragement. It’s living authentically. I want to hold myself to the same standard regardless of who is reading. I want to do that for myself and my readers.

The idea from the manifesto that struck me the very most though – and it’s the same idea I latched onto from Jane Friedman’s workshop. It’s a really unique, secret concept that will transfer beyond building an author platform into almost any pursuit you are on. Ready?

Here’s the million dollar secret to success: treat people well.

Old fashioned decency like being honest, giving people more than you ask of them, and saying thank you run steadily throughout the manifesto. And when I got done reading it, I no longer felt the soul-suck that usually happens when I think about one day becoming a full-time writer.

There’s nothing in it for me to recommend this manifesto to you. It’s just that it’s cold outside here in the Midwest, and we haven’t seen the sun very much lately, and reading the words of self-proclaimed “non-conformist” who believes that most people can achieve relative success with some hard work and good manners lifted my spirits a little today. And I think they might lift yours, too.

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AUTHOR: Chris Guillebeau
TITLE: 279 Overnight Days to Success
WHERE TO GET IT: Follow the link and download it for free from his website. No strings attached.

Also mentioned:
AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
TITLE: Make Good Art*
WHERE TO GET IT: Follow the link above to buy the book from Amazon

*This website uses “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.


  • Deidra ,

    Really good! Thanks so much for this summary, Charity! I feel inspired to keep on keeping on. And, that idea of pretending to be someone who can… I like that!

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      Charity Singleton Craig ,

      Deidra – Thank you. I’m glad that this inspired you. I’ve seen some wonderful articles and videos about marketing and social media lately that really highlight this humanizing element. I am a big fan of that.

    • Dan Schmidt ,

      Good nudges here, Charity–thanks for posting it! Seems like there’s a lot to this whole matter of confidence and competence…

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        Charity Singleton Craig ,

        Dan – I agree. Confidence and competence are first cousins, I would say. I think most people strive to have these two in equal measure, but they can certainly grow at different rates. Which do you think comes first or grows first? Competence or confidence? And which do you think is easiest to pretend?

      • Laura Brown ,

        This is just what I needed to read this morning. Thanks for the links, the encouragement, and your own example.

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          Charity Singleton Craig ,

          Thanks, Laura. I would be interested in any big take-aways you have from the platform workshop. I also still hope to give you a little summary of some of the questions that were asked during the discussion time. I benefitted enormously from the whole experience.

        • Ann Kroeker ,

          Great stuff, Charity. I’m going to read through his manifesto and see if he can cheer me up in this grey, weary winter, as well. I know that your words have. Just as your tagline promises, “bringing words to life.” Thank you for bringing your words to my life.

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            Charity Singleton Craig ,

            Ann – Thank you. We could all use a bit of cheering up, couldn’t we? Your words bring life to me, too. The written kind and the spoken kind.