Hey y’all! So over the last few months as I began promoting the fact that Think Like a Rock Star was coming out, more and more of you started contacting me saying you were either starting to write your own book, or thinking about doing so. So I wanted to share my experience with the book’s launch so that maybe it will help you.
First, you need to understand this: You are on your own when it comes to marketing your new book. Seriously, 99% of the book’s marketing and promotion is on you. No, your publisher isn’t going to help you, at least not very much. Not because they are evil people, but they are in the publishing business, not the marketing business. They have limited marketing resources, and what they do have goes to proven authors with big names. That’s not me, and it’s not you. So as Michael Hyatt says, you have to essentially assume the role of CMO of your own book. Because you are.
Now, when you are marketing a new book, one of the big considerations is your launch strategy. We’ve all heard stories about this author or that author that moved several thousands of copies of their new book at launch, and made the New York Times Bestseller List. What that author won’t typically tell you is they sold 5,000 copies during launch week because they promoted the book at launch endlessly to their email list, which had 200,000 members that they have been building since 2000. The point is, unless you have a huge platform to promote your book from, IMO it’s not worth the effort to focus most of your efforts on a big launch. You SHOULD try to sell as many copies as possible at launch, but you should be trying to sell as many copies AFTER launch as well. But there’s no denying that making a bestseller list is a huge deal, but for me, I felt my efforts could be better placed elsewhere.
Amazon sells your book when they get it
This is a lesson I learned the hard way. First, let me back up and tell you what my plan was:
1 – The paperback version of TLAR was scheduled to go on sale on April 19th.
2 – From watching other books that had launched from my publisher, typically Amazon would start selling the Kindle version of the book about 3 weeks prior to selling the paperback version.
3 – That gave me a 3-week window to get as many reviews up as possible for the Kindle version of the book. This is big, because a review for the Kindle edition also shows up on the paperback/hardback version of the book, even if it’s not out yet. So if the Kindle version of the book comes out 3 weeks before the paperback version, that means any reviews of the Kindle edition will show up in the listing for the paperback edition. What I wanted to happen was to have several great reviews up for the book at launch, to drive more sales.
4 – In February, McGraw-Hill put TLAR on NetGalley. NetGalley is a site where publishers provide a free ebook version of their books, and potential reviewers ask for a copy of the book to review, and the publisher then sends the book to the people they approve. The idea is that if you request a copy of the book via NetGalley, you are doing so because you intend to review it online. Think Like a Rock Star was the most requested title on NetGalley that McGraw-Hill has ever published. So I was pretty stoked about that, and thought it would drive a LOT of reviews leading up to the launch.
5 – In March and leading up through the end of April, I had planned on doing multiple guest posts on multiple sites. Now this is something I honestly wasn’t looking forward to doing. I hate the idea of asking (which to me seems like begging) other bloggers to let me write a guest post for them. I had already done a few by the end of March and everyone I talked to was extremely gracious about it.
6 – I created a small Street Team to help me promote the book. This was honestly the smartest thing I did, as it was effectively tying into the core concept of TLAR: Connect with your fans and give them control of your message. The Street Team would help get the word out about the book, review it on Amazon and elsewhere, etc.
7 – I created #Rockstarchat in March to help support readers AFTER they bought the book. This was also smart, because it provides value for people AFTER they buy the book, but it also drives NEW sales as people participate in the chat.
8 – I sent out a small number of paperback review copies to people that I *knew* would likely buy the book. I didn’t see this as losing sales, I saw it as a way to THANK people that were supporting me and the book. This was a very small number, maybe 10 copies total.
So now I had my launch strategy
And when I say ‘launch strategy’, I don’t mean ‘my strategy to move enough copies at launch to make the New York Times Bestseller List’. I just assumed THAT would never happen. But I did want to make a splash at launch to give the book a nice jumpstart and help it hit the ground running. But again, I wanted the launch to be the START of the book’s sales, not the high point!
So the plan was this:
1 – From mid-March through the end of April, do multiple guest posts for other bloggers to build exposure and awareness for the book
2 – The Kindle version of the book should drop around late March, the paperback version on April 19th. That gave me a 3-week window to get as many reviews up as possible on Amazon. Inbetween the Street Team, the people on NetGalley that had requested a review copy, and sales from new customers, the goal was to have a few dozen reviews up by April 19th. My feeling was that that many would be enough to help drive NEW sales of the paperback at launch.
So I was ready to go, and then Amazon pulled the rug out from under me
On March 26th, I noticed that the Kindle edition of TLAR went on sale. Excellent, this was the 25 days before the paperback version was set to go on sale, which was exactly where I was thinking it would start selling. Perfect. I immediately emailed the Street Team, and a few friends that I knew had read the book and asked (read: begged) them to please post their reviews on Amazon ASAP. By the next day Amazon already had 3 reviews up, and I was feeling like the plan was starting to click into place.
Then it happened. On Friday, March 29th, I got an email from Amazon saying the on-sale date for TLAR had been moved up from April 19th to April 1st! So that 3-week window I was expecting between the on-sale date for the Kindle version and the paperback version had been reduced to 5 days.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst part. The paperback version of TLAR went on sale on April 1st on Amazon, and immediately sold out. And was out of stock for three freaking days. Which was awesome and terrible all at the same time. It’s awesome that the book was so popular that it had sold out, but terrible that I missed three days worth of sales during launch week because Amazon can’t properly manage its inventory for a book that had pre-sold well for 6 months prior. As you can tell, I am no longer bitter 🙂
So it’s now the 1st week of this month, and my launch strategy is officially in the toilet. Best laid plans, and all that jazz. But I started noticing something happening: People started telling me that their copy of the book had shipped, or a few had already received their copy of the book, and were posting pictures of them on Twitter. Of course this thrilled me and I went out of my way to thank them and engage with them. Then strangers started doing the same thing.
Then it hit me: The fans of the book needed to be the people that were driving the promotion of the book, not me! So I went out of my way to start engaging with fans of the book, which is what I was going to do anyway, but I did so aggressively. I thanked them profusely, and I noticed that they started promoting the book MORE as a result! They started encouraging other friends to buy the book. They started reviewing it on their blogs and other sites. Of course I would ask them to also review it on Amazon if they could (a couple of people THANKED ME for asking them to please review MY book on Amazon!)
This is just a sampling of what I was seeing on Twitter during launch week:
What I also noticed was that sales went up after launch week. More reviews started coming in on Amazon (Four 5-star reviews last Thurs and Friday alone), and more people started talking about the book on Twitter and Facebook.
Then last Tuesday just before I started presenting TLAR at Jacksonville State, I saw this on Amazon:
BOOM! That was the high-point for sales of the book at that point, and what’s most important was it was being driven by fans of the book. Now I’m not posting this just to brag (ok I am a little because I’m super proud of this book), but mainly to make the point to you that this was painfully easy to do! All I did was embrace the fans of the book and THANK them for helping me promote the book. How many times have I said that the two most important words in social media are ‘thank you’? This is not rocket science, folks. Find the people that are supporting you (your fans), and embrace them and THANK them.
Say ‘Thank You!’ early and often, and mean it. That’s really all there is to it when it comes to driving new sales. If I can figure this stuff out, anyone can do it 🙂
Lori Peters says
I was told not to comment to people’s reviews left on Amazon for my book. That it was unprofessional to do so. This may have been referring to negative reviews, but I have not heard about authors responding to reviewers on positive reviews either. Is that where you are talking about finding your fans? The ones who liked your book and gave it good reviews on Amazon?
Mack Collier says
Hi Lori! The one thing I wondered was why no authors ever responded to the POSITIVE reviews they got? My thought process always has been to THANK people for a good review.
I asked Kathy Sierra about this, and she said it wasn’t a good idea to respond to positive reviews on Amazon because then you are putting the focus on YOU and not on the book and reviewer. I could see that, as someone might leave a positive review in part to get a response from the author.
As for finding fans, I am talking about people that reached out to me and let me know they bought the book, or enjoyed the book, or left a tweet or Facebook update saying they were looking forward to reading the book. I thanked them and asked them to review the book.
And someone left a 3-star review of the book on GoodReads. I thanked them as well 🙂
Love that you’re sharing what you learn along the way. Much appreciated!
Mack Collier says
Steve (JoeBugBuster) Case says
Great backstory on the launch, Mack. In fact, it’s a great demonstration of the Rock Star philosophy of motivating your biggest fans to motivate their biggest fans to action!
Kathy Sierra says
Ahhh, having been through a half-dozen book “launches”, I gave up on trying to work with Amazon timing long ago ;). It’s volatile and unpredictable. And you’re doing all the right things for the long haul. WHICH THIS IS. I will just say this again for the sake of all those still focusing on the whole bestseller *thing* popularized by some of the social media “A listers”— my books have sold more than two million print copies and have not ONCE appeared on a NY Times bestseller list. Or any list other than Amazon’s Computers and Tech. Doesn’t mean that initial splash wouldn’t be helpful… It might bring your book to the attention of those who would not have otherwise seen it.
But I have yet to see a convincing case study — even ONE — where it was the marketing launch bestseller thing that directly caused the book to be a sustained bestseller. We have all seen those graphs — the author games the system to get around the you-can’t-just-buy-the-copies-yourself and manages to get enough one-time sales to land the book on a top list. And then the graph immediately crashes. Unless you are someone like Tim Ferris whose book would have been a mega seller regardless of launch… because it is a book that people find so useful (at least the first two — I haven’t see the third one).
Some books take a while to slowly make a dent as the word gets around. This is a wonderful time to create a book (or book-like thing) that really helps people, because almost nobody — and no publisher — has the kind of marketing power today to make or break a book. Even just a few years ago, even the Borders or Barnes and Noble rep had the power to destroy your book — simply by NOT stocking it. None of that matters much today.
So, be patient. Listen to feedback. Figure out what you need to do for your *next* book, etc.
The best (and for me ONLY) way to think about non-fiction books is to always remember you are creating a tool. It is a user experience for your reader. What your “users” will be able to do as a result of your tool… this all that matters. And the bar is not that high right now. There are a zillion high-quality, well-written books on every topic that still fail in the one and only thing that matters: how does it actually help the reader kick ass?
There’s a logical reason for this, of course, and that is because SO many authors are writing the book in part to help become part of their bio… To reflect the author’s thinking and work on the topic. Which is awesome. For the author. But the only person whose thinking and work should be taken into account is the reader’s. Or rather, what the book will enable the reader to do/improve in their thinking and work.
You’ve done this, Mack. Of course there is still no guarantee that a huge group of people will realize it, but it certainly gives you an excellent chance. But it’s a slooooow burn 🙂