You’re looking at is the first 24 hours of sales for the book I just released, largely the result of a single email.
Maybe that number doesn’t look like much to you. But $1,071.98 is higher than the bi-weekly paycheck I received at 5 of the last 6 jobs I held.
Now, here are the rest of the less-attractive details.
First, some clarifications:
- I’m writing this post very soon after launch because a) the info is still fresh and b) I might forget to do it later
- No book launch is truly “all by yourself,” but I do not have a dedicated team. I was the author, marketer, salesman, and project manager for this book.
- This post is LONG because of it’s depth, research, and real results. I wanted a one-stop shop for you.
- If you have any questions, feel free to email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) or text (615–428–3309). I gave up trying to keep up with Medium notifications long ago and don’t want to miss your response.
So, without further ado: How to Launch a Book All By Yourself
Anxiety & Fear
The Unstoppable Creative is my third book. One of those three was a ghostwriting project, so I was relieved of its launch stress.
BUT STILL a part of my brain said these things all the way to release day,
“The book isn’t good enough”
“The sales page isn’t good enough”
“The marketing isn’t good enough”
“You aren’t good enough”
“You won’t sell any copies”
“Why are you so stupid?”
“People will burn you for this”
“After promising her this would do well, your wife will be embarrassed of you.”
“Hasn’t someone already written this book?”
And so on.
I wanted to pull the whole project down as late as 4 days before launch, AFTER the book, the email sequence, the videos, the cover, the early access list, the influencers, and the ambassadors had all been assembled.
How did I stop?
A few things, I think. Try these if you experience any of the same thoughts:
- Mastermind group — I told my guys when the book was supposed to launch. They held me to it.
- Intimate partner — I told my wife I was afraid (something I would have never dared do 1 year ago). She encouraged me.
- Public announcement — I gave my YouTube audience a firm date. They asked for more information.
- More skin in the game — With every dollar I spent out of my own pocket (which was plenty), it became more difficult to turn back.
- Perspective — An ENORMOUS family crisis happened the week before the book released. For their privacy, I will not go into details, but there are certain events which make launch jitters seem insignificant.
- NOT COURAGE — This is an enormous misconception around solopreneurship. It is easy to say “just man up and do the thing.” It is also inaccurate. I eventually found true resolve and grit for this launch, but without the environment mentioned above, I’m not sure that is possible.
All of these factors held me to November 9th, 2017, no matter what.
Extreme Self Care
Oh, I see. You think this isn’t important. You think maybe if you get sick, you’ll still be able to power through and create just as good a result.
You think wrong.
Fact: The biggest vulnerability to your solo launch is you.
You will not get a ton of sleep leading up to a launch. You will also have several bouts of stress (some self-inflicted, some because things will go wrong) which your body will mistake for a wildebeest attack.
Knowing you will be short on sleep, consider these things:
- Relentless diet choices: I ate plenty of food. But I ate plenty of vegetables, clean meat, and some fruit. I switched to dandelion coffee. I cut out peanut butter (*sob*) as it is an inflammatory. I had no gluten and no processed sugar. Yeah, it sucked. But I wasn’t going to take any chances.
- Move: to avoid stagnation of the mind and body. You will need to think clearly all the way up to the moment of launch (and probably several days after) to promote, handle problems, and give energy everything you do.
- Sunshine: This might be specific to winter launches, but I doubt it. Get outside and soak your skin each day. 15 minutes is plenty. Lack of Vitamin D is no joke, and can lead to sickness, depression, fatigue, and back or muscle pain.
- Intentional indifference: I took off work and shut out the world as much as possible. The only obligations I had were assisting in the aforementioned crisis and launching a book.
Don’t allow weakness of the flesh to derail all your hard work.
Writing the book
Here is the lazy way to write a book:
Put all your blog posts in a single word document, give them “chapters” instead of headlines, buy the cheapest cover you can find on Fiverr, and then upload that document to Amazon. A lot of people do this (unfortunately).
As soon as I started down that road, I knew it was the wrong choice. I wanted a real book, with a true thesis, structure from start to finish, and something I could be proud of.
I once assumed writing a book was just like writing a really long blog post, and that is true… if you were forced to write that blog post one word at a time every day for a year. How do you keep the same tone, the same voice, the right amount of jokes? How would you even put together coherent sentences and paragraphs, knowing you will feel, think and believe slightly different things every time you touch the manuscript?
A quote from Martin Scorcese helped me a lot:
“If your first cut doesn’t make you physically ill, something is wrong. You always think you are not going to get physically ill, but you do.”
This was certainly true of my first draft.
Here’s what my writing process looked like:
- I started with a title: Sometimes, I think of headlines before I think of the post content. The term “Unstoppable Creative” was intriguing to me, so I fell in love with that first. This is probably the WORST way to start a book if you are trying to sell a lot of copies, but hey.
- Then developed a premise I could be excited about: If you aren’t interested in the project, nobody will be. After I tied together 4 or 5 long blog posts which fit in the “unstoppable” theme, a pattern started to emerge, so I added a couple more potential chapters.
- The book must have structure: like an ACRONYM (Tim ferriss’s “DEAL” in 4HWW), an ALLITERATION (“Discovery, Discipline, Destiny” were the three sections of my first book), or a JOURNEY (basically, you put your information in the format of a quest with each step naturally leading to the other. Jon Acuff’s start). For The Unstoppable Creative, I developed three distinct sections.
- Fill up the book: I probably had somewhere between 12,000–15,000 words from my pulled existing content as well as the additional unpublished pages I had written. The problem? Most books are somewhere between 40,000 and 75,000 words. This is why forming a structure early is crucial. If you have a structure and a goal word count, the gaps in your manuscript will emerge, and it gets easier to fill the pages.
- Write as much as possible first: Never edit as you go — write to the goal word count. My first draft was 45,000 words. The final version ended up at 39,278 words, which is plenty.
Editing the book
Editing your work are #1 and the #8 of the top 10 ways to differentiate yourself as a writer.
My manuscript went through four versions, with multiple cuts each time. Sometimes the cuts were whole chapters, sometimes a few sentences, and sometimes, sections need to be rearranged for a logical flow. I don’t think any single paragraph remained in the same place it began.
A reminder — NOBODY will be as passionate, as interested, or as knowledgeable on the message of your book as you are. If you want to extradite the entire editing process, you can. But then your book won’t be your book. It will be a book by committee.
(And you know what they say about things made by committee.)
Think about these things:
- Outline review — Depending on how you prefer to proceed, this might be a good option for you. I typically do a lot of words first, then find structure later. If you are a thorough planner, check and recheck your outline to make sure it makes logical sense.
- Content editing — Would you paint a wall you were going to knock down? The answer is no. Before proofreading, go through the book at a 20,000 foot view and take out chunks which do not belong. My best strategy for this is to write ONE sentence describing EACH chapter. From this, decide what needs to stay and go. (Here is my content editing sheet to show you what I mean.)
3. Proofreading — ONLY when you feel the structure of the book is in place, start on this. This is the most agonizing part of the process for me, so I outsourced it my first time. The second time, I “proofread” while recording the audio book. (Funny how saying words out loud makes them sound like nonsense).
4. Get someone else involved — For any and all parts of this process. Your brain will be familiar with the words you wrote and hide errors from you.
5. Formatting the book — Only when you are finished with everything else. Kristen from Fiverr put my book into .mobi, .epub, and .AZW3 files (all needed for optimum digital launch).
The cover design has a massive impact on how many people buy the book.
If you don’t spend money on anything else in this process, please spend it on this. My first cover design was generously donated by a close friend, but for the second book, I knew I had to put more skin in the game. Plus, I wanted to know how a “real designer” would handle a project.
Here is what I would do differently: I would start much sooner. I love the cover of my book, but it was definitely produced under the gun (only 2 weeks before launch).
I paid $600 for the cover and an extra $80 for the mockups found on the sales page. It was worth every penny.
Here is how our process went:
1. Know what the book is about
Without this, you might have a nice cover, but you probably won’t have a relevant cover. The first thing Daniel did was ask me no fewer than 10 questions about the book, including what it was about to the style of writing to the target audience to the medium I planned to release it on.
THE COVER IS ALL MARKETING. It doesn’t matter what you think is cool or fun or interesting. What matters is if the people who will want to buy the message of your book will resonate with the image they see.
2. Choose a direction
Daniel and I spent a large amount of time in the concept phase of design, meaning he wouldn’t spend a lot of time executing an idea he wasn’t sure I’d be sold on.
After our initial conversation, he sent me four images:
I was immediately drawn to the bullseye image. It was simple, clean, and I knew it would probably sell. But it was a bit… boring.
I didn’t want to be boring. This was not a business book. It was a book for creative people, those who would be attracted to a new idea or funky colors, not a plain/stock looking image. I chose fourth concept — “the idea of one different person out of many same people” — because THE COVER IS ALL MARKETING.
3. Flesh out the concepts
When Daniel first told me “we will come up with a concept first because there are multiple ways to execute on a concept,” I didn’t know what he meant. I thought all there was to a cover was picking out a couple of colors and saying “I want it to look sort of like The Power of Habit’s cover” (which is exactly what I did first.)
But coming up with a concept first allows the designer space. Moreover, it allows him or her to create something genuinely new, and not a copy of another book. It is important to look unique because THE COVER IS ALL MARKETING.
Our next few emails included some of these sketches. The more sketches he gave me, the less I cared about my opinion. He was the artist, he understood the project, and he made the decisions.
When launching a book (or anything else), I try not to meddle in work outside of your expertise.
4. Pick a final design and make the book look like a book
As incredible as it may be, a 6x9 graphic floating alone on a website or your Instagram is not a book cover. It is an image, similar to thousands we see every single day.
If you aren’t selling with Amazon, get a graphical representation for each version of the book. Mock up any bonus resources you might have as well (more on bonus resources in a moment).
Here’s what our final cover looked like, along with all the additional assets for the top package.
Should You Do A Paper Copy?
Back in the day, one could get away with calling a PDF a “book.” That was still considered valuable in the eyes of a consumer. In 2017, that doesn’t really fly.
If you are launching on Amazon (which I didn’t), use CreateSpace or Blurb to format the book for paper copy, hardback if you want it. These services offer print-on-demand options which require an investment of exactly $0.
If you are NOT launching the book on Amazon, you can do some other things to increase the perceived value of your book.
Should You Do An Audiobook?
An audio book requires an enormous amount of time or energy (or a medium-sized chunk of change). I didn’t have a medium sized chunk of change remaining after I paid for the cover, so I chose option a.
Without a studio.
Here’s what I found out:
- You can record and edit your own audio book — for free with Audacity. This software is intuitive and there are tons of tutorials.
- How much time does it take? — my audio book is 4 hours, 12 minutes, and 34 seconds long. Accounting for bumps and hiccups and burps and the dog barking, it probably took me double that to record. And the same length of time to edit. You’re looking at 2 very full days of work should you choose to go it alone.
- A good microphone matters most — spend at least $100 if you are purchasing your own mic. I spent $80 on the last one. The one I used this time was $140 retail. It was better. (No, that’s not an affiliate link)
- Record in the same place every time — for quality’s sake, this is a must. There are few things more unprofessional than variance in audio levels.
- External noise is the biggest issue if you don’t have a studio — I recorded the entirety of my audio book and the 6 bonus audio lessons in my basement with a cushion to muffle the sound. Real talk.
- Get a damn popper stopper — I forgot one for this mic, and had to go back and diminish the volume of my more intense p’s and t’s and c’s in editing.
- This one trick will literally save you hours — During recording, you will flub a line or pause or lose your train of thought. When this happens, SNAP TWICE, then continue recording or re-record. These snaps will show up in the waveform, allowing you to instantly spot and fix all the issues.
The best option is a studio. If you’re bootstrapping though, this can absolutely be done solo.
I chose to launch my book as pay what you want. That means for the next 5 days only, you can get my book what you think it’s worth.
First of all, there is nothing wrong with launching to Amazon if your primary goal is something other than income. If you are making a “business card book,” get it done and put it up with a book giant. Congratulations, you are now a published author.
As an indie creative looking to generate a little revenue as well as credibility, books have two major problems:
- If you aren’t selling volume (e.g. have an active email list of 1 million +), putting your book at the same price as most books simply won’t provide much income.
- There is almost NO urgency to get your book at a particular time.
Without a critical mass to drive a launch, most books will simply be “announced” with a tweet one time, and then disappear into the ethos of individually produced things.
My goal was to generate a little money from this project in order to finance some other things I have in mind for creative people. In order to do that, I needed to fight hard against Disappearing Book Syndrome.
The book brought in more revenue than normal for 2 big reasons:
- Pay what you want pricing
- Levels of the book to buy.
I will not be covering pay-what-you-want pricing in this post, but it is perfect for my brand. I bought a guide to navigate me and made back my money in literally 10 minutes.
Now, for the packaging.
Making your book more than “just a book” is probably the best way for solo writers to overcome Disappearing Book Syndrome.
Here’s the final the strategy at work here.
- Package #1: The Complete Bonus Package. Priced at $49+
- Package #2: The Book + Audio Lessons and Case Studies. Priced at $19+
- Package #3: Just the Book. Priced at $4+
Ironically, a big way to justify a higher cost for your book is to give people a way to not read the whole book. What do I mean by that? If you pull out the building blocks of your book into “reference guides,” “checklists,” “scripts,” or “workbooks,” these materials can be included and sold at a higher package.
For me, all of these items had unique value as well. They aren’t simply copy+paste material of what is already in the book.
The artist thinks — “Aren’t I ripping people off if I do that?”
No. You are communicating your ideas quicker. You are providing MORE value by saving someone the time of reading through your manuscript and pulling the lessons out themselves.
Okay, now here is I stepped into completely uncharted waters for myself. The rest of this post includes all my lessons from a first experiment.
Even though I read Jeff Walker’s book Launch earlier this year, I didn’t carve out the time to do a Product Launch Formula-style release.
It left me a bit behind the 8-ball. With no time to create planned pre-launch video, I was going to have to rely instead on:
a) My list of allies (Early notification list/Ambassadors/Influencers)
b) Posts I had already planned or could make quickly
c) Good launch emails.
Let me confess — I did NOT do a good job list building in sync with my launch. The ideal launch will help you build a list WHILE you release your book, mine actually went backwards in total number.
I did have a few posts go out early, as well as a less-than aggressive page asking for people to give their email addresses.
We’ll get into those now.
Early Notification + Ambassador List
All of these elements are again suggestions from Tom’s posts. This is simply my implementation of them.
You think — I won’t get many people to help.
I say — even one ambassador will provide exponential impact.
Here’s what is certain: if you spend NO effort trying to build a launch team, you will be hard pressed to get the book any further than your inner circle.
Leading up to the launch, I started putting links to my “early notification list” at the end of each of my normal posts and YouTube videos.
The landing page was simple. Since I got the cover finalized so late, I had to start with this:
Then moved on to this:
At the end of the day, I was able to scrape together just over 400 people to join the early access list. I then reached out to just those people and sent this email. Feel free to rip off the copy exactly (which is what I did)
All of the communication with these folks took place in a Closed Facebook Group.
The reactions and community within this group was EASILY the most exciting part of the launch to me. From day one the 34 people who joined this list were deeply involved. Even though I gave them all early access to the final book manuscript via Google docs, many of them still bought the book on launch day.
I literally cannot say enough about them.
So what happened with the rest of the Early Notification list?
I completely forgot about them. No kidding.
Ideally, you would probably only launch to the folks who signed up to know more about the book. This way, you wouldn’t lose subscribers from your big list if they jumped off the launch list midway.
Instead, I rolled out the link when the book went live to all 7,500 of my subscribers. Panic told me that would be more effective. Might have been the wrong move. I may do it differently next time.
Pre Launch Content
FIRST, GET A LIST.
Conversions from social media alone, regardless of the size or popularity of your platform, are not reliable enough in my opinion. A small list with a well-executed launch sequence can fuel social purchases, but it’s difficult to build any kind of momentum without one.
Here is how everything went down*:
*Note: I have no doubt this is WAY more than is necessary for a launch. With more planning, I would suggest putting more effort into fewer, more focused attempts at promotion.
November 1 (8 Days Before Launch)
This video is nothing more than a piece of the audio book set to a waveform with some particles floating around on screen, while a element at the bottom tracks the playtime of the video and updates accordingly. Easy peasy.
Okay, admittedly, this kind of thing is NOT easy or intuitive. Thanks to a lot of hours in a past life doing animation and video editing, I was able to whip this up fairly quickly. This was a nice way to get a little dynamic content to my audience.
I sent this video to ONLY people in my list who showed interest in video previously — those who had watched my YouTube show.
I also sent it to the folks on my early notification list (guess I remembered them after all) who DIDN’T get the same email earlier that day.
Convert Kit is the software I use to reach this level of segmenting and tagging.
November 3 (6 Days Before Launch):
Nothing crazy here. Further priming of my audience while making it look like everything is business as usual (I have been releasing a show every week for all of 2017).
November 6 (3 Days Before Launch)
Creative People Won’t Survive the Future Without Doing These 3 Things
The writing is on the wall.
This post conveniently went viral for a few reasons:
- The title —is succinct and specific (the words “3 things” make this concrete). I also leveraged a little bit of fear here, which is not something I make a habit of, but certainly helped in this case.
- The content — is specific to the audience on Medium. We want to be smart, talk about the future, know about statistics, and feel knowledgeable about trends. My post hit all those buttons.
- Ambassador list — the very first request I made to my 35-person ambassador list was that they applaud and share this post. They showed off. This thing had 500 claps within a couple hours. (which is a lot)
- Medium itself shared the post — which is always a boost.
Many of the subscribers for the launch came from this post alone, which is typically what good pre-launch content does.
November 7, 2017 (2 days before launch)
(Nice chance to show off a piece of the cover art to build familiarity)
November 8, 2017 (1 day before launch)
The Epic 4,000-Word Guide to Differentiating Yourself as a Writer
It started when one of my friends made a surprising change.
Remember, at this point, I am still trying to get people on an early access list.
Writers were a big target for this book in the marketing canvas (discussed in a second), so I wanted to get an enormous post for them. After the launch, I’ll likely use this post on my site and build a specific opt-in for this page.
November 9, 2017 (Launch day)
This post didn’t do well by the numbers. Probably I could have planned in advance a much more targeted and objectively valuable post, but I got swept up in the emotion of the day (which is what that post is about).
Launch Email Sequence
It’s worth pointing out although I had scheduled a launch email in the sequence, it was delayed for several hours.
Instead of waiting, I panicked and sent a regular broadcast. Eventually the scheduled email went out, so my subscribers got 2 identical emails. Did I lose some subscribers because of that? Possibly, but they were likely not the ones who were going to buy the book anyway.
This was my first time launching a book through email, so I relied heavily on three very informative articles:
- Nathan Barry’s Launch Sequence that Generated $16,000 in 72 hours
- Steal My Email Launch Sequence
- Jeff Walker — Product Launch Formula — Email Sequence
From what I learned, there are typically a few things involved in a successful launch sequence, no matter if you are copying a template or starting from scratch:
- Education: People need to know what your book IS and why it can help
- Clarity: Tell them when, where, and for how much they can get it.
- Anticipation: Would Christmas be more fun if you never had to wait? No. The anticipation is part of the fun.
- Urgency: They need to feel there is a mad rush happening around the launch of your book. I used the words “get it first” in my URLs, and copy.
- Scarcity: Consider raising the price, removing any bonuses, or taking away the book entirely on a certain date (more on this later). Humans are nothing if not procrastinators, and may delay a purchase until they can’t.
How to market your book
Depending on who you are talking to, a marketing canvas should be created for your book before a single word is written.
If you are business driven, cool. Do it that way.
I am art-driven, which means I had an entire manuscript written before I spent two seconds thinking about how to sell it.
Scrambling, I found this awesome post from Tom Morkes on a 7 day book launch. After walking through his suggestions, here is what I came out with.
(I’ve done my best to keep this fairly raw , showing where I was confused or a little unclear about my initial planning… and it is okay to be unclear in your initial planning)
This experiment into actually marketing as opposed to just posting and hoping gave me an opportunity to participate in an activity I’d never done before: study my followers. I dedicated an entire afternoon (3 hours worth) to reading the bio of as many of my 52,000 followers as possible.
What came out of it was invaluable.
Terms my audience uses to describe themselves:
- “A creative innovator”
- “Marketer” (honestly more of them than I thought)
- “Designer” (also more of them than I thought)
- “Freelance ____”
- “Aspiring Entrepreneur”
- “Writer” (several of these)
- “Bookworm” or “Reader”
This helped because I could use these words specifically in the sales page and launch emails. When a potential reader is thinking “is this book for me,” and you call them EXACTLY what they call themselves, that’s a good thing.
Why guess when you can know?
Upsell (even though you aren’t McDonald’s)
Typically, this is done at first by offering another, similar product. In the case of a book, you could upsell the audio book after they buy the PDF. You could offer another book for a discounted price.
What I chose to do instead was offer another one of my books FOR FREE in exchange for another thing of value:
After the email, customers had the chance to share one of three posts, which would immediately trigger a PDF delivery of my first book.
Sounds like a nice idea, right? And it may have been… if I’d executed it worth a darn.
I initially planned to make three new pieces to share. These posts would directly build my list, either for this book or for future projects. Since I didn’t give myself enough time to build what was needed, I settled for the most popular post on my site and two of the pieces I’d released around launch (NOT optimized for list building).
So I did what any fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants solopreneur author would do in the mid-launch slump: I created a new upsell offer on the fly.
Since the book was packaged with 3 tiers, the lower levels missed out on A LOT of resources. I felt the audiobook was the highest value, so I combined that with one of the bonuses from the top tier package and offered it to those who’d bought a small package only a few days before.
In a fit of urgency mixed with inspiration, I threw together this email, which I am actually pretty proud of.
If you are launching on your own, consider an upsell. Even one extra action or purchase will get your people that much more involved in who you are and what you do.
IF I COULD DO ONE THING DIFFERENTLY:
It would be a more meticulous pre-launch plan.
What I realized too late was that even though people like me, there is still considerable amount of preparation and anticipation needed for someone to make a purchase.
This applies to lightbulbs and cat food. It certainly applies to your book.
In the vein of true transparency, I’ve already made a few thousand dollars off this book. My business friends tell me there will be another rush of purchases before
Which is neat.
What’s better is the idea I get to keep doing this for a little while longer — inspiring creatives, doing work I love, learning more about launching creative projects, and getting to me more people every day who refuse to let their dreams die.
Thanks for being a part of that.
— Todd B