Successful Media Pitching and Everyday Sustainability
I’ve had the privilege of meeting some extraordinary women through the course of recording this podcast, and Ashlee Piper is no exception. Ashlee is a political strategist turned eco-lifestyle journalist, and the author of the recently released sustainable living book, Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet (Hachette, 2018). She shares her passion for easy sustainable living, how she transitioned from politics to become a successful television personality and author – the road was bumpy along the way.
In this episode
We talk about:
- why a sustainable lifestyle is so important — Ashlee shares tips for easy steps you can take today
- how she got started pitching major publications and TV outlets (and how you can, too)
- the entire process she went through to publish her first book, from beginning to end
Connect with Ashlee
- Get the book: Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.
- Ashlee’s Website
- Ashlee on Facebook
- Ashlee on Instagram
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JM: Hi, Ashlee. How are you today?
AP: Hey, I’m great, Jen. How are you?
JM: I am excellent. I am very excited to talk with you. I found you, somehow I discovered you on Instagram, maybe through a friend of a friend or something and I just think what you’re doing is so interesting and so cool both from the perspective of the content and education that you are providing but also the way that you have done it, I think things that are probably difficult for a lot of people but things that people want to do within their careers, so why don’t we start with what you do?
AP: Sure. Thank you so much. I am so happy that Instagram brought us together, the magic of social media. I’m really happy to talk with you today too. What I do is by day I am a creative for a Fortune 50 company—and that’s kind of my keep-the-lights-on job so I really enjoy it—then on the side it’s kind of my side hustle turned second career, I am an eco-lifestyle expert. Essentially I try to show people how to live sustainably in their everyday lives and I’m also a sustainability journalist, TV personality, and I recently published a book called Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet. That’s what’s keeping me busy these days.
JM: The title of that book is awesome. We’re going to get to that. We’ll talk about that a little bit. Eco-lifestyle expert, I love that title, what does that mean and how did you wind up in this industry?
AP: Thanks. I started doing it about five, four and a half years ago, something like that. I don’t want to make it sound like I was the only one doing it, but there really wasn’t anybody that I knew who was termed that so I knew the term eco-lifestyle just to certain extent and I just thought, “Yeah, I’m like an eco-lifestyle expert,” and that’s kind of how I started branding myself. It was really kind of a career that I carved out for myself with no real blueprints on what it should look like, again, there are definitely people who were doing similar stuff maybe in different arenas or through different mediums, but I wasn’t well acquainted with them or their work at that time and so I just kind of was going on whim, I was like, “Ooh, maybe it would be cool to write for mainstream media about how to make your beauty arsenal more eco-friendly or how to find cruelty-free whatever, makeup.”
Then I would just follow another feeling and be like, “Maybe people would be interested in seeing this on TV,” and so it really was like I was building it from almost my intuition but it ended up being a cool journey that’s led me here so far. I didn’t have much of like a path that I knew I wanted to follow, I just looked more at what kind of information was needed or missing out there in the marketplace and then how could I fill in the gaps.
JM: I love that you say intuition because I think that some of the most successful endeavors come from following your gut and for some reason, in our society, it’s so difficult to do that. It’s so hard when we think so analytically. It sounds like really you’re following your intuition and your passion to provide this information to consumers, why is it so important that they have this information? Why do you feel like it’s important to spread this information?
AP: I feel like there are few reasons. One, I think people have a lot of preconceived notions about living more sustainably and those ideas stop them from actually giving it a try. We know through different polls and also just anecdotally through talking to people in our lives that folks generally think that individual action doesn’t matter that much. They think that if they do believe in climate change, they think it’s too enormous of a problem for any kind of individual changes, their shifts in habits to move the needle, so to speak, or there is kind of this school of thought where folks think, “Well, I can do some small things but really I need to wait for politicians to legislate this problem for me because that’s going to have a much bigger impact.” I think especially nowadays—and I don’t want to get super political of what’s going on although it’s kind of difficult not to when you talk especially about global warming and what’s happening with the planet—but I think people also have become so hopeless in the absence of leadership that actually acknowledges and aggressively pursues the solution for climate change. They’ve become a little apathetic and so there’s that hopelessness too that we’re contending with.
For those folks, I felt like a book was needed to be written that actually showed one, what the hell is going on with the planet and how serious it is, two, that the causality of those things really does lead back to our consumption habits. If we, individually, had certain consumption habits or still have them and collectively that has rolled up to us placing quite a significant burden on the planet, we certainly then can roll back or walk back some of those habits, change them slightly, and in mass have hopefully a more positive collective impact on the planet essentially to show people that we are powerful, our actions matter, and our actions actually do play a huge role individually in helping to save the planet for lack of [inaudible 00:05:21] really dramatic.
JM: You know what though, it gives me such a sense of relief to hear that this information is in a book because I know, for my husband and I, I mean even family members of ours don’t believe in climate change and it’s really difficult I think not as the experts in the subject matter, I mean you start to feel like you’re just sort of just fighting semantics or what you hear some place else. Would you say that your book would be good birthday gifts this year? Does it explain some of that problem?
AP: I hope so. That’s what I intended it to be, something that would be good for everyone and resonant in some way with lots of different folks. I, too, come from a family where pretty much everybody is a climate-change denier. They’re pretty conservative, love them to death, we all get along great, and they really respect and support what I do, but they all are big climate-change deniers. It’s interesting because they’ve read the book obviously and still institute some of these “eco-friendly shifts in habits” and sometimes they do it just because they think it’s like the right thing to do, sometimes they think it’s fun, sometimes they do it because they can save money.
The book touches on all of the different ways that actually doing something that is beneficial for the planet can also be beneficial for you, for other people, for animals, for your wallet. There are a variety of incentives in the book to doing what’s right for the planet, at least as far as we know right now what could be right for the planet. I mean, that was the goal of it was to really be colloquial call-to-action that would resonate with a variety of people from someone who’s like really early in a sustainability journey to someone who’s pretty expert and seasoned at it to someone who is not quite even sure that any of this is real at all.
JM: I love that. We’ll be buying lots of copies.
AP: Yeah. I’ve actually heard from quite a few people too, and again, I try to take a pretty non-judgmental tone of course, there are certain areas where some folks might find it judgemental because I talk about animal agriculture friends, from what actually happens there, and how that industry takes a huge toll on the planet, and for folks who are still very much ingrained in like eating a lot of meat for instance, that can be a difficult thing to digest, no pun intended, and folks can feel threatened sometimes by that information.
The intention is not to make anybody feel judged or threatened, but rather to put the information out there and offer some solutions. But you’re always going to have folks like change is difficult sometimes and especially when it’s unlike the pleasure-centered realm of foods, for instance. Most of the book is really meant to give you the information and then give you a whole list of actionable easy solutions that my goal was to have people pick and choose what works for their lives.
JM: I love that.
AP: I’m not sitting here prescribing, “You know, Jen, everyday you have to do X, Y, and Z and if you don’t compost your [inaudible 00:08:26] person, you know that kind of stuff is rather, “Hey, you’re really busy and I’m really busy and you know what? We’re not going to be doing because you are super busy, we’ll probably not going to be hand washing all of our clothes,” that’s not realistic for us. We’re probably not going to be [inaudible 00:08:40] our own freaking flower, but we could bring our own reusable [inaudible 00:08:46] when we eat lunch on the fly or when we travel or we could fill up our coffee mug, our own mug at like Starbucks,” little things like that. My hope is that people take what they want from the book and start to institute small shifts and then they feel good and they feel powerful from making those small shifts and it kind of becomes contagious.
JM: And becomes a lifestyle, I love that. You kind of touched on this a little bit talking about animal agriculture and I know you are vegan. Talk to me about why that change is important to you. How long ago did you make that change and why was that important for you?
AP: I feel like I had flirted with veganism or at least vegetarianism for a good portion of like my adult life. I would have like New Year’s resolutions like, “This is the year I’m going to be vegetarian,” and I would never be able to actualize it just because I am from Texas and I love meat, dairy, and all that stuff. It wasn’t until I adopted my dog. I adopted her about ten years ago that I really started to see her actually in almost every single animal, which I know sounds kind of cheesy, but you have a dog as well.
JM: I do, rescue dog.
AP: I’ve looked at your dog on Instagram, haven’t it? I praised your dog on Instagram, an adorable sweet, sweet creature.
AP: I just started to see her sweetness and emotiveness in every single animal that I would encounter or imagine and I just thought like, “This no longer fits well with kind of my ethos of consent, respect, and protection. It was the right choice for me at the time and it’s certainly wasn’t like one of these overnight journeys where I would wake up next morning, I’m vegan. I had like loads of screw ups along the way so I don’t have a hard-and-fast date of like, “This is when I became vegan and never walked back,” because I definitely had some mess ups during the journey. That’s why I personally became vegan was for animal rights reasons.
At that the time I didn’t even think about like the ecological reasons, the resource and equity reasons. But nowadays there are so many reasons why embracing a more plant-based lifestyle is great and can actually be really beneficial beyond just for your health, I’m not a health vegan, I eat tons of garbage all the time.
JM: I love the honesty.
AP: Yeah. I am not here to preach about like health or raw veganism or like not eating like flower, that’s just not who I am. We have hard-and-fast data about the impact that the animal agriculture industry has on the planet. Depending upon where you look and depending upon different types of calculations, there are loads of reputable research and educational bodies that have conducted pretty longitudinal studies around the impact of animal agriculture on the planet.
Anywhere from fourteen percent to fifty-one percent of harmful global emissions are created by animal agriculture, so fifty-one percent obviously a least conservative estimate there, fourteen percent pretty much the most conservative, that one comes from the UN which is kind of their job to be pretty conservative about that stuff. That’s huge, that’s actually if we’ve [cued 00:12:12] towards like the fifty-one percent, that makes animal agriculture the number one polluter on the planet ahead of all of transportation combined, all of fashion, all of industry, so it’s pretty enormous.
That particular stat really calls from transportation, pollution, and deforestation around animal agriculture. I think when we get to the point where like the UN which recently issued, I believe that was a few months ago, their most recent climate report and one of the biggest recommendations they made was for everybody to eat fewer animal products. When the UN starts recommending something like that, I think we should heed it.
JM: You better listen.
AP: I think it’s pretty serious.
JM: The writings on the wall.
AP: We know the population at this rate is going to grow from where we are at which is like seven something billion to nine billion people in a very short period of time. The way we’re eating now, the way our food system is setup, we simply will not have the resources to support all of those people if we keep eating the way that we’re eating now.
JM: Does that depress you? I mean like the enormity of the problem, it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around it. I worry being a mom, you think about what’s going to happen in the future. You can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen for them and their lifetimes and in their children’s lifetimes. I love that you are doing something about it, obviously, that is a big part of dealing with that in your own mind and your own heart, but I mean those are depressing numbers, how do you deal with that?
AP: Yeah, it’s really f****** scary. My way of like dealing with this fear that’s naturally associated with something that’s like so on-level with a global catastrophe is to hopefully spread information that will get people to make changes that can help to avert it. I mean, I think it’s very scary for anybody to know those statistics but I also think it’s helpful, hopefully it is way just some of the fears to know that there are things that we can do now that can help. We have seen certain countries, albeit in small measure, seriously reduce their carbon footprint, seriously change the entire way that they do things in a way that we see like positive ecological output from.
Germany is a great example. Scandinavia is an excellent example, granted their smaller populations than the US which is why I wrote a book that was largely geared toward Americans because we are some of the biggest polluters on the planet given our population size. I mean, sure, China and India obviously, these kind of sleeping captains of industry produce a lot of pollution as well but they also have much larger populations than we do. Given how small we are comparatively, we actually are creating a huge planetary wall of, “We are the biggest polluters on the planet.”
AP: It’s unfortunate, yeah, but it’s created by our lifestyles. This wasn’t a problem kind of pre-war, this wasn’t pre-World War I, World War II problem, because industrialization wasn’t huge after World War II and historians track this all the time. It was such a time of kind of famine and just cropping together during war that when everybody came home and there was relative peace, people’s idea of what prosperity was completely changed. It changed to heavy consumers and it changed to heavy convenience. That’s where the birth of plastics came from with like these convenience-foods movement where we have to have these new materials, that’s where better living through chemistry came from, that’s bigger homes and cars and more cars and steak dinners every single night and meat at every meal, all of these things were not really concepts of the American dream until after World War II.
JM: Wow, that’s interesting.
AP: And then they just kind of carried on from there.
JM: We have created a huge problem in a very short time. It’s crazy. Let’s switch gears just a little bit maybe away from some of the scary statistics.
AP: Yeah, let’s get joyful, let’s get funky.
JM: Yes, let’s get funky. Here’s a question I have for you so it’s obvious to me that you don’t do anything halfway, you’re like all in and you had a career that was completely different than anything that you are doing now ten years ago because you were a political strategist, is that right?
AP: That’s true.
JM: I mean that’s a huge change and I think it’s very interesting too because it is a political conversation, you can’t get away from it. It’s very interesting that you really dove headlong into I’m sure an issue that was very much on your radar as a political strategist. How did that change come about?
AP: The change came about because I was living in Chicago working at a government services firm, doing political strategy and at the same time I had become really personally interested in veganism, I started getting interested in sustainability. Over about a period of a year, I think I was around like thirty-one, thirty-two—I don’t know if it was a delayed quarter-life crisis or an early onset-midlife crisis, I’m not sure—but I began to get these rumblings of like, “Okay, I have this career I’ve worked towards for ten years, almost, but I’m not feeling terribly fulfilled by it,” and also while it’s financially a great move for me, I’m so much more interested in these other things that I’m personally exploring and I feel like I could parlay my skill set into doing something for those.
I thought about it pretty much for an entire year. I ached over it because, and I’m sure a lot of your listeners have been in this position, leaving a career that by which people identify you, by which you identify yourself, that you’re super used to the income level, all of that stuff requires like a pretty dramatic shift not just in how you live and your lifestyle and how much money you spend but also your mindset, your emotional situation.
After I made basically a choice, because I was like, “I don’t have children. I’m not married. Nobody is dependent upon me at this point aside from my dog. If I’m not going to make the change now, I might not make it ever,” and that was a pretty strong north star for me. I just saved up for money and I decided to leave. At that time I was in a relationship and we moved in together, my other life situations enabled me to kind of consolidate the way I live and live more simply and adjust to not having like that same kind of income level.
For about a year and a half, I struggled. I struggled financially because I left before I had anything else lined up. I thought it would be super easy to go into working at an animal rights organization or go into working in an environmental organization, doing like lobbying or something and nothing felt like a fit or the jobs were like, “We’ll pay you twenty-two thousand dollars a year to move to D.C. and travel ninety percent of the time,” and I was like, “What? Not sustainable.”
JM: That’s realistic.
AP: Right. I didn’t really find a fit and it was a really interesting time for me because it was challenging, the most challenging thing being the emotions associated with leaving like a prestigious career that I identified myself by and changing just like my whole identity around that. It’s like the first question people ask you at a party like, “What do you do?” and without having that elegant elevator speech of like what I did, I felt I didn’t know who I was anymore. I know it sounds deeply existential but it was really crazy.
I also didn’t have a money so at that time I would sell my furniture on Craigslist to make ranch or I would like clean yoga studio to get like a free yoga class here and there. I just was doing a lot of things that I hadn’t done in the long time, not to say that any of them were bad experiences, they were all great. During that time, to save money mostly, I was embracing a lot of the things that I talk about in the book like shopping in bulk, because it was just cheaper and I didn’t have a flipping money. It was a really interesting time and I think back on that time really fondly now because it was really difficult. If I admit, I was probably a little depressed after I left my job too because you go from like not working nine to five, working like six to nine and then you go to hanging out around the house in your pajamas for like three days.
AP: Yeah, like talking only to your dog and yelling at the television and it’s like, “Oh, s***, I have to make a change here. I’m a little worried about what’s going to happen to me.” At that time though was when I really started exploring writing for other outlets and then later on pitching TV segments like I would not be doing any of this stuff that I’m doing now which really does bring me a lot of joy and purpose had I not made that pretty difficult decision to leave that career.
JM: You’ve done some really difficult things which I think is really interesting so I’m glad that you bring that up. How did you get started? Because I do think a lot of the people that are listening would really love to do things like pitch a TV segment, become a journalist, do some of those things, writing for major outlets. Because you don’t have a company behind you that has a media team and PR people, I mean you are doing this yourself? How did that become a successful activity for you?
AP: It took a while. I mean, I got started because I had a blog—and I don’t have a blog anymore and I don’t think I ever associated with the term blogger, not like there’s anything wrong with it, it just didn’t really feel like me—just to keep myself busy and to give myself some purpose. It was really about how I had all the strategies I’d learned as an ethical vegan working in a pretty corporate professional environment, like where do I find vegan shoes that are professional, where do I find suits and recipes. I mean my blog was all over the freaking board, I don’t even know what I was doing with it.
But it’s true that I at least built up like a kind of ramshackle like resume or a portfolio that showed I can write about certain topics, not great, I didn’t know at the time that’s what I was going to use it for, but then you do a lot of free stuff, I know this stuff and people don’t like to hear it and we do definitely live in like the day and age of know your worth and charge your worth and I agree with that, but you have got to build a foundation from somewhere.
I was never a writer and I never did media stuff. I basically like felt goodwill with lots of ethical brands who I would do collaborations with occasionally on my blogs and then I was writing for free on other people’s blogs and then it just kind of built and built and built to where, at one point I was put in touch with an editor from Refinery29 kind of before they super blew up but still have like tons of page views and stuff. She was really great. She was like, “Yeah, I’ve been thinking that we need like a column on cruelty-free living and I was like, “Damn,” and then the more I talked with her, she’s on the phone, she was like, “I think you should write it,” and that was a completely amazing experience for me. It was also unpaid so freelance writing is not necessarily something that, unless you are getting stuff in like The Atlantic. You’re not getting paid a ton. But I was just tickled to have the opportunity for the exposure. That helped me quite a bit.
I also did an internship that was slightly paid with a really wonderful woman who’s still one of my friends today who did the documentary Vegucated, she wanted to start an online community where people would see the documentary, could ask questions about going vegan and all this stuff so I worked with her. I feel like I put myself in the right places to connect with people who maybe could help connect me to other opportunities who I could also help as well. That’s just like networking 101 so nothing groundbreaking there.
Then it was just really slow and steady, I mean I felt like I was just constantly writing for free but through that building up a portfolio that then I could say as I was pitching other people like, “Hey, I’ve written for Refinery29 pretty regularly,” or “Hey, I’ve written for VegNews.” That’s really what happened. It started with more niche kind of vegan publications and eco-friendly publications and then that helps me to build the foundation. I didn’t know editors and their email addresses and I didn’t know how to write a proper pitch. I was sending really long voluminous email to people that these are busy people who don’t have time to read that s***. I learned through trial and error.
Then it got to the point where I got pretty good at it and it’s really just perseverance too. It’s like a lot of these editors are very busy and so you kind of have to play that game of, “I pitch them like three days ago, I haven’t heard anything back, do I circle back with them or do I wait a few more days?” Everybody’s different, so you’re definitely going to f*** up along the way. I’ve had people tell me like, “You’re bugging me, leave me alone.” I’ve had people give me radio silence. I’ve had people say, “Thank you so much for doubling back with me because my inbox is crazy and if you hadn’t, I would not have seen this.” It’s like accepting that what matters is that I’m putting the effort in regardless of how much I mess up. I kind of got really good at failing at stuff and really comfortable with it. I went from being feeling really great in my past career to feeling like trash most days but like optimistic trash.
JM: It makes all the difference.
AP: The nice thing too is when you’re not good with something, when you don’t yet feel like mastery of something, I think it actually is you’re more open to the possibilities because you are not so rigid in your thinking because you’re so great at it or you’re such an expert. For me I was just like failing forward, I was like, “Okay, I learned something from there,” “Okay, I learned something from there. Wouldn’t it be neat if I did this?” I feel like I was full of ideas and possibility that I hadn’t felt before in my whole life. It got me really, really strong towards rejection. I would say anybody who wants to go and pitch and write for different mainstream magazines, get comfortable with rejection, you’re not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. Some people are too busy to even take a look at you. Don’t take it personally even if it feels personal, sometimes it is, and just keep going.
I felt like I kind of gotten really good at doing like securing media stuff or at least prints in digital, but I thought, “Yeah, TV would be really cool,” and that was like totally bananas to me. I hadn’t known anybody who’s been on TV, I certainly didn’t know how to go about pitching that.
JM: You look like you’ve been doing it forever. It’s really interesting to watch your TV Reel because you look like you’ve been doing it for like, I initially was just like, “Ah, does she have a career on TV? What is her background?” I was like super surprised.
AP: My, God. You are so sweet.
JM: You are so polished and you are so fun and you do such a great job.
AP: Thank you.
JM: When you were contacting people to make these pitches, how were you finding their contact information and was it just kind of a cold approach on all of these and you just kind of kept massaging it, changing it until you were getting responses?
AP: I mean straight up stalking, if we’re being real, the same way if you find out your boyfriend had an ex-girlfriend he’s not over and you’re like, “Ooh, you’ve got that friend who’s good at internet [inaudible 00:28:51], she’s like, “Let me find out. Let me do some recon.” It’s kind of similar to that, I mean, the first producer that I ever pitched who actually did give me my first break to do a segment on TV, I found her contact information through Twitter. Basically I found her on Twitter, you just have to salute, you have to be like, “Okay, it would be cool to be on Good Day Chicago. Who’s the producer there? Here we are on LinkedIn.” Okay, “Who works there? Find the day-time producer.” Okay, “Oh, she happens to have Twitter account, why don’t you send her a message or why don’t you tweet at her or something like that.” Then eventually she gave me her email address and she said, “Send the pitch through, I’ll look at it, I’ll let you know.” The time in between when I sent her a pitch and when things actually broke through and happened was probably like six or seven months. I’m not even messing with you, it was so f****** long.
JM: Wow, I think that’s so much of the challenge sometimes because we want things to happen and we live in that world where things feel very instantaneous. We want that instant gratification. I think that’s the key right there is that you persevered, you were persistent, and you kept going. It feels like a very long time.
AP: Oh, it felt like an eternity. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. How it really took out was I wanted to do a segment on cruelty-free session and at the time she was like, “I don’t have any space for it, I don’t think people would be interested in that.” Then I would kind of circle back once every month or every few weeks and at the same time while I was circling back with her, I was pinging my contacts who were like vegan fashion designers and stuff and saying, “Hey, can you send me sample size clothing? Because I know I’m going to do a TV segment on this.” A lot of brands were kind enough to and that’s like without the guarantee of any kind of a segment actually happening. I don’t know if you are in the law of attraction or manifestation or whatever, and I wasn’t at that time either but I was basically saying that I was going to do this, it was going to happen, it was just a matter of time. I was getting prepared for it as if it was a freaking done deal.
It ended up working out great because one morning I’m working at whole foods or something on my laptop and this woman contacts me and she says, “Yo, we had a cancellation for tomorrow,” and I had been pastoring her like crazy. She’s like, “I have a cancellation for tomorrow morning at 7:00, can you be here with five models ready to go?” and I was like, “F****** five models, I ain’t got any models. Okay, sure, yeah. We’re on.” I basically said yes to the opportunity and then put a call out on Facebook, “Hey, does anybody have any friends who can wear these sizes and clothes and shoes who would be available to come to my house tonight for fitting and who also would be able to be on a TV segment tomorrow morning at seven?”
Miraculously, people delivered, I managed to find five great people, all of whom are like actually good girlfriends of mine and did the segment. It was basically one of the first TV segments about cruelty-free fashion ever. It was super cool. It happened so quickly but it happened because there was that right combination of I was ready or as prepared as I could be and I just kept on keeping on and then the opportunity presented itself and while it wasn’t the most convenient thing and didn’t give me a ton of time to prepare, I still recognized it just like the opportunity to say yes to, so that was it.
JM: I f****** love this story. It makes me so happy because the hell often are we so self-defeating where we assume something’s not going to happen anyway and then we don’t prepare. But you really do create your own destiny, you create those outcomes by continuing to prepare as if it’s going to happen like this is just an eventuality, this is something we’re doing and we’re doing it. That is how these things happen. Absolutely law of attraction and manifesting and even if you don’t believe in that mechanism, I mean when it comes down to it, you were ready when you got the call, you made sure that you’re ready when you got the call. You didn’t keep thinking that this was some long far-off dream and half-hearted attempt. It’s an awesome story and it’s a great lesson.
AP: Thank you. Even so when I, I would say if anybody is interested in pitching TV like that, definitely prepare for rejection. I’ve been doing it for four years, I still get rejected left and right all the time. I’ve had producers tell me, “You don’t have the right look,” I’m like “It would be for like a morning show not for like a Hawaiian profit contest.”
JM: That feels personal.
AP: There are definitely people who are like that and you just have to not give a f***.
JM: Got to keep going. You can’t let something like that stop you from what you are supposed to be doing. I think it’s probably similar with the book. I think it’s very easy for suddenly, you have this incredible Instagram following and a lot of engagement and people are very interested in what you are doing. I think it’s easy to say like, “Oh, who’s this Ashlee person all of the sudden?” But you have worked your a** off. Then you also have this book that you had published which I think is also amazing. Tell me a little bit about the challenges with that and how that came to be.
AP: Thank you. You say such nice things. I wish we lived next door, I feel like we would just have a really good time.
JM: It’s going to happen at some point, I’ll be in Chicago or you’ll be in the desert here.
AP: Someday we’ll live next door. We’re getting ready for that. It’s going to happen. The book thing, it’s been many years in the making. I think it was December of 2015, long time ago, I had been twining with the idea of writing a book. I didn’t know if I wanted to self-publish it or if I wanted to actually go through a traditional publishing route. I kind of just said, this is like right around Christmas, I remember it pretty vividly, I just said, “All right, I’m going to create like a proposal,” I don’t even know what a proposal should be like I just created like a few pages describing the concept of who I am, what I’m interested in. “I’m going to send it to five literary agencies, five agents with five different literary agencies. That will be my limit. If nobody responds, maybe I’ll go ahead and self-publish,” because agents get fifteen percent of whatever you get for books, that’s pretty industry standard. Somebody’s not going to dick around with a book they don’t think will actually sell books and make the money.
I kind of was like, “All right, then if people are interested, I’ll explore a traditional publishing route and see what that’s like.” But I didn’t have contacts in publishing. I think these are all things that I at least used to think when I would see people publishing books, doing TV, doing things that I really wanted to do. I would have a variety of thoughts, “They’re rich, they come from a rich family, I don’t. They are really well-connected. They have a huge social media following,” like I didn’t have any of those things and I still don’t have any of those things.
But I ended up sending it out and one person told me, “No,” like not interested and then one person never got back to me. Then actually three agents got back to me within the span of like a month, month and a half who were interested in talking a little bit more about the concept and so it’s kind of like dating. I had like phone calls with these people and my agent, Mary who I ended up obviously going with, she and I just jived so completely well. This is where like this whole story would be another one of like, oh, readiness met with luck, like equal s*** happening for good. I had actually sent my proposal to another agent at the agency and the woman who is now my agent ended up pulling that proposal from that agent’s “No” files. She was intrigued by it. That agent that I had directed it to was like, “No,” and never got back to me and my agent pulled it from her discarded files.
JM: Wow, that’s crazy. That’s amazing.
AP: That’s like number one miracle time. That has nothing to do with me and everything to do with some kind of mysterious luck working of the universe for which I’m very grateful because my agent is a wonderful person and she really believed in the concept. Together for the next year we basically worked on the proposal and at the time the book was much more focused on vegan living. We worked on the proposal and the proposal’s like ninety pages, a hundred pages. If this is too much detail, tell me to shut up.
JM: No, I love it. I think everybody wants to know about this stuff and it’s very hard to get that inside look of what that process is.
AP: It’s super tough and people always ask me too like, “How did you find an agent?” I did email a few contacts of mine who had agents and I asked them if they liked their agents. It’s always kind of a [inaudible 00:37:36] to be like, “Oh, will you connect me to your agent?” looks like the same as somebody being like, “Will you connect me to the producer that you work with on this show?” and it’s like, “Dude, you build those relationships.”
JM: That you worked so hard to get to.
AP: Yeah, you have to kind of build those relationships. But I did like ask somebody’s people, “What was your journey to writing a book and how did that come about?” A lot of them actually told me, “Oh, the agent found me or the publisher found me,” and I was like, “Look, I’m not in that position at all. This is going to go great.” Then I would basically go to the bookstore and look at books that I enjoyed like I thought their covers were beautiful, the content was great, it was really well-executed, I would look at the spines and see the imprint of the publisher and author. Then I would Google those and look for the publisher’s weekly announcements of that book deal. Whenever somebody gets a book deal, publishers weekly says like, “Ashlee Piper who’s got a nice book deal for Give a Sh*t with Running Press, brokered by her agent so and so, at so and so agency.” That’s how I found the agencies and the agents, I was like, “It looks like they’ve wrapped similar books to what I would like to put out into the world, I wonder if they’d be interested in my concept,” so that’s how I found agents and publishers that seemed interesting to me.
JM: That’s amazing.
AP: But then once you have an agent, your agent is really like your guide, they help you navigate this crazy world of publishing. I had no idea about any of this stuff and I still sometimes don’t. But my agent, Mary, it’s important to have somebody you really trust to believe in you and the concept you have. Together we worked on a hundred pages proposal that has everything in it from like who am I and what is this book about and what’s the concept and sample chapters and a marketing plan, that’s why it’s so huge and that’s why it takes a while. Then once it’s done, she farms it out to thirty or so editors at publishing houses. They sit with it, read it and then if they’re interested, they arrange a call. Again it’s kind of like dating. We did that in 2016 kind of like break of 2016.
We didn’t actually even like really spent a year. I’m kind of being hyperbolic about the dates, so like Spring of 2016 we sent those out and we had some publishers who were interested. At that time, I was like at work going in a conference room, it’s like having calls with these publishers and that’s where you talk about everything, you don’t talk about money, you talk about everything from like, “I originally want a photography in the book to show how beautiful it can be,” and they were, “Well, that would be a totally different book, that would be a much more expensive book,” like you learn a lot of stuff about what their vision for the book is.
At the time I’d had a really, really great conversation, actually few conversations with an editor at Simon & Schuster and we just jived really well. Then what happens is your agent sets like a bid date and it’s basically a drop-dead date for these interested publishers to submit a bid on the book. The date was set, I think it was like August or something, and I was like feeling pretty confident that this like particular editor was going to come and at least make a bid on the book. It wasn’t about money for me, it was about like getting the book into the world. I didn’t really give a flip about the money. I have a job but I’m just excited about the opportunity.
The day comes and goes, the time comes and goes and nobody submits a bid like at all. After like weeks of having calls like courting calls with publishers, nobody submits a bid. My agent was like, “You know I just got off the phone with a gal from Simon & Schuster and she feels really badly because she would have submitted a bid for the book but she actually just took another job, not in publishing. If you don’t have an editor that actually will see your book from start to finish, the publisher’s not going to bid on it.”
I was like pretty f***** devastated, if we’re being real, I remember like going home on the train, crying on the train, feeling like a failure like so much work had gone into it, I had seen so many other people write books then I thought, “Those people didn’t even write proposal.” I was feeling like all the shitty feels of jealousy and failure and embarrassment like I had told everybody like, “I have an agent and I’m going to write a book.” I was really excited about it and then nothing happened and I was just like so embarrassed. I had questions like, “Am I doing the right thing? Is this even for me anymore?”
I took some time off like I told my agent, “I’m devastated. I don’t know where to go from here. Do people even submit again to publishers?” She’s like, “Yeah, sometimes they do.” I was like, “Is there any hope for this? Is this just dead? What’s going on?” I felt pretty tired by like the sadness around it and I took a break. I took a few months off. I didn’t do TV. I really didn’t write for any outlets. I basically just focused on like going to work, hanging with friends, living my life, and kind of putting this ambition aside.
Then the election happened and then Trump became our president and stuff. I was really mired in some of the frustration around that too. It was maybe in December, and I’ve been in touch with my agent, because again, we’re friends, but it was in December, she sent me a really lovely email that was like, “I just want you to know I’m thinking of you and I know that this is a difficult election for all of us. I really think that we should give it another shot. I think we should tweak the proposal to be more focused on like saving the planet as opposed to just veganism and I think we should give it another shot. I think the time is right.” I sat on that for about a month, I was just kind of apathetic about it. Sometimes you got to give yourself space to just feel your feels and be like, “That thing happened and it sucked. Am I going to give up? Am I going to keep going? I’m not sure yet. I need some time to figure it out.”
It took a month and then I was like, “Yeah, all right I’ll give it another go,” and so I tweaked the proposal to be more about sustainable living and we changed the title to Give a Sh*t. Then we went back out to bid with it basically in like Spring of 2017. The reception was so much better than the first time around, I think the proposal that we put out was much better, it was much more like of the moment, I think the political climate made it more attractive for people as well. All of these like forces kind of came together that just made it a much more successful second time around. But I didn’t really tell anybody because I was still pretty gun-shy about how the first time had happened.
I only told like my parents, whomever I was dating, and a few of my friends and that was it. I remember the bid date came and I went to work and I was like sh**ting myself, I think I was even like smoking cigarettes, I was really just nervous. We knew how this last time went, I hoped to God it goes differently. But I kind of had to be like optimistic but also remove myself with some really hard spots to be like hopeful but not expectant like protecting yourself from being deeply disappointed.
Then the time came and four publishers bid on the book. I was like, “Holy freaking crap,” and then all day long they were just in like, because what happens is like they either underbid themselves out or if they stand pace with other ones and they don’t know what that looks like, they stay in. It was almost like a cool bidding where I felt like a high-class [inaudible 00:45:37] to order something, I was like, “Wow, this is awesome.” It was amazing and I was so grateful that people liked the concept. I kind of knew, even from the beginning from just the calls with the publishers before the bid date came up, that I wanted to go with the publisher I ended up going with because my editor, [Jess, 00:45:55] they’re like on our first call, it just felt like when you go on a great date and you’re like, “Yes, this clicks, this doesn’t feel forced. It feels great like I feel like I’ve known this person forever.”
On our first call she just got on and she said, “Ashlee Piper, I’m ready to give a sh*t,” and I was like, “There we go, this is my publisher right here for sure.” Then of course writing the book, we wanted it to come out in Spring of 2018 and then [without 00:46:22] coming out kind of early summer but that meant from the time that I inked the book deal to the time I had to submit the first manuscript was one month so I just was like go to work, after I work with them, I would stay at the office and just write the book and go through all the process the next few months of editing and raspy testing and all that stuff.
I have my respect for anybody who writes a book no matter how they published it, if they go traditional or self-publishing and I really, really have respect for people who write a book who also have like a full-time job or who are stay-at-home parents or whatever, it’s really tough to juggle those things. That’s the journey and it definitely was not an easy one but I’m glad I did it.
JM: It’s long, again, that seems to be this really prevalent theme with your story and the development of your career is that you just hung in there like you just stayed and you kept going even when it’s really difficult. You seem like such an outgoing and vivacious person and to hear you talk about going home and you’re crying and you’re embarrassed that you told all these people, I mean, my God, I can imagine how devastating that is but then you did it again, you’re like, “Okay, I just need to adjust and tweak some things and make it timely now that some things have happened in our society and with our politics,” so I admire that so much. It really is such a great lesson. It’s such an interesting story. I cannot wait to read your book. I can’t believe I haven’t read your book.
AP: Oh, my God. I’ll send you a bunch of them after this, of course, I didn’t know you didn’t have it at all.
JM: I’m going to give it to all the people especially the climate-change deniers.
AP: Oh, yeah. You’re so sweet to say that.
JM: Oh, It’s very true. I love your story. It’s a great story. Give us a few tips before we have to go. I feel like I could just talk to you for hours and hours.
AP: I know, why don’t we live next to each other? Why aren’t we drinking wine right now?
JM: I’m going to come out there. I’m going to like fly out to see you and take it a happy hour.
AP: Oh, my God, see you soon.
JM: Okay, we’ll do it. In terms of our audience, I think you have shared with us so much and given us so much great advice and been such a great example in continuing to go through what you are going through until you get the outcome that you want, but give us some other tips for women entrepreneurs in terms of those of us who are working really hard and maybe we haven’t gotten to where we want to be yet. I would also love a couple of tips on some things I know you shared a little bit but give us a few other tips that would be easy that somebody could adapt today that would have a positive impact on our environment.
AP: I don’t love the term self-care but it is really important. I mean there would be days, as stupid as it sounds, where I would just open up a journal and write things that I liked about myself because I felt to be kind of battered by the process in a way or I would focus on what I was thankful for, things that were working, those were things that helped me to kind of recharge and keep my self-worth high enough to do these things that do require courage, humility, and having fear of failing but doing it anyway. Whatever you need to do that kind of fills you up, make time to do that. It’s important. Nobody’s getting an award for running themselves into ground and feeling like s***, you need to take time to be around the people bringing you joy, spoon your dog, whatever it is that makes you feel good, do it because you’re going to need it, because this journey can be tough.
I think it’s also really important to focus on the stuff that you have done. Every time any of us do something and we’ve become kind of successful at it, we set our sights on something else, something bigger and we forget that maybe a month ago or a year ago, I would have been gagging for the things that I’ve already gotten at that time, like I would be sitting there going, “Ooh, you know, the Rachael Ray Show told me no,” and my then boyfriend would remind me like, “Ashlee, holy s***, like two months ago, you were dying just to do a TV show and you’ve done ten.” You have to remind yourself of that and really take [inaudible 00:51:14] and celebrate all of the wins, I don’t care how big, how small, if you’re transitioning careers and you don’t know what you are going to do and you are building a whole new identity, by golly, be proud of yourself for getting up, be proud of yourself for taking a shower, be proud of yourself for remembering your mom’s birthday, those kinds of things because it builds.
Then you’re going to feel thankful for the stuff that’s actually come through and you’re going to feel energized to keep doing the difficult stuff that can make you feel not confident and you do need to feel confident or at least fake it to this kind of stuff. Then just not giving up, I mean I had struggled a lot with the thought of time and thought of age and I still do, I am thirty-seven and I think it’s the time I was thinking, “Oh, God, here I am, thirty-three, changing careers and who’s going to respect me and what are people going to think that I’m not married?” all this b******* that like we throw at ourselves because this anxiety expects a certain thing and the truth of the matter is here, there are no timelines. People who really are able to like, and I don’t want to say master life, but suck the [inaudible 00:52:22] out of life, don’t give a f*** about timeline. They do what feels exciting to them at that moment, what they feel compelled to do, they don’t care that they’re fifty years old and want to make a career change, they believe they can do it, and they do it.
That was something that I kind of consistently pepped talk to myself about. I’m not on anybody else’s schedule of accomplishment. Now interestingly enough, the people that I used to look at and feel inferior to or I wish I had certainty in my career above them or certainty in a relationship or whatever, a lot of times they’re people who are probably looking at what I’m doing and wishing they had the freedom or wishing that they did made a change. I think we trick ourselves a lot of times to thinking we can’t do something or where we are isn’t where we are supposed to be and I just became really comfortable with like, “This is a failing point in my life, this is a point in my life where I have to accept that I’m not great at any of this stuff because it’s really new. I also don’t exactly know what I want to do or be right now but I just need to accept that this was like a time where I’m in the right place at the right time and I should be doing this and it’s okay. Don’t worry about the timelines.
Then just keep going, I mean you know from all these prattling story of mine not like the biggest [inaudible 00:53:37] statement takeaway is that I just didn’t quit. I just kept doing it and at the risk of being annoying. I definitely annoyed some people, I just kept doing it. Even when it didn’t feel like it was working, I would change a few things but I would keep doing it. I think that is a real, not to say, “Ooh, I’m so successful. I’m exactly where I should be and I’m done now,” but like that is the defining characteristic of people who “make it” is that they literally just stick around long enough, they keep at it long enough until something breaks through.
I used to read those inspirational quotes that were like, “It’s right when you feel like giving up, that is all going to happen,” and I feel like, “Oh, f*** that b*******. I was ready to give up three years ago, I hate this s***.” Then something would come through even if it was small, I would use those as things to encourage me that I was on the right path, just to keep going. As far as like eco-friendly tip, there are so many things that we can all be doing, obviously, eating more plant-based meals would be really helpful, a super simple one is to give up paper towels, like we spent six-hundred dollars on average a year on paper towels.
JM: How in the world we do that?
AP: Some people hit that habit hard, girl.
JM: It’s hard.
AP: When people are such paper towel people, it’s bananas.
JM: Oh, no, I’m saying how do you stop, I’m one of those people. How in the world do you give up paper towels?
AP: Oh, oh, it’s just reusable cloth that you throw in your wash when you’re done, it’s one of those habits that takes a little getting used to but then once you have it done, you’re like, “Oh, this is actually pretty easy,” or at least have them on hands so that you can use them for things that you don’t absolutely need paper towels on.
JM: I clean up some nasty s*** in my house with paper towels between a dog and two boys so I’m like, “How do you do that?”
AP: Of course, and even if you have paper towels like composting like getting a composting service or whatever is a pretty great way to dispose a paper towel as opposed to just throwing them away and then buying second hands, I think that’s like one of the easiest and kind of no-brainer things for folks, whether it’s furniture, clothing, we live now in a pretty easily accessible sharing economy, if you don’t have access to a great second hand or consignment store, everybody has access with an internet connection, the Poshmark, Ebay, Craigslist, there’s no reason why stuff should be sent to the landfill that’s perfectly useful and stylish and cool.
I did a whole year where I’ve got nothing new, I mean I bought like food and toothbrushes and things like that, but yeah, I didn’t buy anything new. It was actually one of the best years in my life because I saved a lot of money but I also just felt, I got my priorities like really straight. I wasn’t shopping just because I was feeling that kind of way, I wasn’t really shopping at all. I’m not expecting or saying anybody should do that, that’s pretty hard core. But shopping second hand is amazing and it does do a huge service to the environment. Just for clothes, we send like seventy-one pounds of clothing every year per person to the landfill.
JM: Wow, that’s crazy.
AP: Yeah, it’s bananas. We send something crazy like four-hundred thousand pairs of shoes to the landfill every year, this is just in the United States, those things don’t biodegrade.
JM: Well and how many people all over the world would love a pair of shoes? I mean that’s insane.
AP: Exactly, exactly. I actually think like this whole minimalism craze, and I talk a lot about minimalism in the book, I think it’s an important foundation actually for living more sustainably because the less you have and the less you need, the less you need to clean, the less you need to buy, the less you need to offload when you’re done with it too. Even when we donate stuff, now we’re finding other countries don’t want our clothes, they don’t want our shoes, they’re inundated with our cast off essentially.
JM: That’s crazy.
AP: Whereas if you just kind of, you don’t have a ton of stuff, you have just what you need, just what brings you joy, just what helps you feel fashionable and ready for your day, you’re more likely to take good care of those things, keep them around for a while, mend them if they need it. You’re also probably more likely to pretty scrutinize things that you bring into your life, more so like you’re not going on buying rampages after you just cleaned your closet, because that clean closet feels really good. I’m sure you know this like after cleaning up your kids toys or whatever you’re like, “Oh, my God, the serenity,” and then all of a sudden it gets nasty again and you’re like, “What the crap’s happening? Why?”
JM: Right, and then it’s insane again.
AP: Yeah, I think minimalism will help us all.
JM: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for your time. I would love if we could catch up again. I would definitely do another interview with you. I think you’ve got so much great information, not just from being a subject-matter expert in this area but also just, I mean, God, I think you’ve got yet another career as a motivational speaker there somewhere like I spent so much of the conversation smiling and like, “Oh, my God, yeah.” There are so many in the conversations I have with women entrepreneurs and you’re just such great shining example of what it means to just keep going and serving your purpose, you just keep going so thank you.
AP: Oh, my gosh, you are too kind, Jen. Thank you so much.
JM: Of course.
AP: That was a blast and you are amazing.
JM: I would love to definitely do this again and stay in touch with you, but speaking of staying in touch, for our listeners, how can they find you?
AP: Yeah, people can find me at my website which is ashleepiper.com and then my Instagram which is my name @AshleePiper.
JM: Perfect, we’ll make sure those are in the show notes so just as a reminder, if you are driving or doing other things while you’re listening, it’s in the show notes, don’t sweat it, you don’t have to write anything down right now. You can go to my website to find all the recordings. You can get the podcast anywhere you get your podcast, but you can get all the recordings, plus show notes, and links to Ashlee’s site and Instagram at brandwithcatalyst.com. Of course, if you’d like to reach out, I always love to hear from you so please do that. Ashlee, thank you so much for your time. I’m truly grateful for our time together.