My friend Janice reminded me on Facebook last week that it was the 10-year anniversary of the launch date of Think Like a Rock Star. I wanted to reflect on the book, and the process that went into it before, and after. Much of this I haven’t shared before.
Think Like a Rock Star was born out of a simple idea: The best marketing doesn’t look or feel like marketing at all. It isn’t a nuisance, it doesn’t get in the way. It actually enhances the sales experience for the buyer, and creates VALUE for the customer.
The problem is, almost all brands are terrible at marketing, because they focus on how marketing benefits them (the brand) instead of the customer. But over the years I studied rock stars and noticed that rock stars market themselves in a completely different way than brands do. The average brand has little or no desire to actually understand their customers, so they don’t know how to connect with them. Rock stars, on the other hand, immerse themselves in their fanbase. They happily embrace their fans and beg them to engage with them. That leads to the fans trusting the rock star, and opening up to them. The rock star in turns understands who its fans are, and how to market to them. I’ve always been enamored with the idea of how brands could have just as strong of a connection with their customers, if only they marketed as rock stars do. That’s why I wanted to write Think Like a Rock Star, to show brands how rock stars create passionate fans, then connect those efforts to their world.
Starting in 2008 or so, the first social media books began to come out. It was a huge deal at first, but pretty soon, there were a dozen or so books out, and at least that many authors in the space had announced they were writing a book. Around this time, a publisher reached out to me and wanted me to write a book on YouTube, which I had no interest in doing.
By 2010, a lot of my peers had written books on social media marketing, and I was starting to get the ‘so when are YOU writing a book?’ question asked of me. Around this time, a well-known author contacted me and wanted me to write a Facebook marketing book with her. This would have been one of the first books on Facebook available, and I seriously considered it. But I knew writing a book on Facebook meant I would have to do a LOT of speaking on Facebook marketing to support the book, and I didn’t want to do that.
But that episode convinced me that if I was going to write a book (something I had been thinking about), that I had to make sure I picked a topic I loved. Music marketing had long been a passion of mine. Most of you probably don’t realize this, but my first blog was The Viral Garden, which I started in 2006. Music marketing was one of my favorite topics there, I had secured interviews with managers of both Sarah McLachlan and The Donnas, and featured them on the site.
In 2009, I spoke at Social South in Birmingham, AL. I decided to debut a new presentation that was a bit of a break from the usual ‘how to blog’ or ‘how to use social media’ presentations that I had been giving. It was titled “What Rock Stars Can Teach You About Kicking Ass With Social Media’. I honestly had no idea how it would be received, but the session was wildly popular. I tweaked the title to Think Like a Rock Star, and continued to present it at events, always to standing room only crowds.
That told me I had hit on a topic that was resonating with people, so I decided that I had found my idea for a book. I started working with a publisher in 2011 and came this close to signing a deal, but at the end, I just didn’t feel like my book would be in the best hands. So I kept shopping the book around, and in early 2012 I signed with McGraw Hill Business to publish Think Like a Rock Star.
It was a really big deal, and I was super happy about it. It’s funny cause I had a lot of friends and family who never really understood what type of work I did, but when I told them ‘I’m gonna be an author!’ they immediately understood that was a big deal!
Sidenote: The graphic above is The Loyalty Graph. This is a drawing that I made to give a visual representation of the difference between how rock stars and companies approach marketing in completely different ways. I threw it into a deck for a TLAR presentation in 2011, mainly for my own benefit to give me something to help explain the concept to my audience. Well as soon as the slide came up, I said ‘This is The Loyalty Graph…’ and immediately the audience took out their phones and started snapping pictures of it! I had no idea it was going to be that popular, but every talk I gave, people started popping pics as soon as it comes up. So because it was so popular, I ended up adding it to the book. I remember the first time I mentioned it to my editor, I was explaining how I really needed to have this image in the book, because it resonated with audiences, but she was like “No, no, I love it! It’s gotta be in!’
So Let’s Market a Book About Social Media Marketing
As I wrapped up writing the book in late 2012, my attention shifted to marketing the book. I decided that as much as possible, I would use the marketing strategies I had discussed in the book, to market the book. My thinking was that I had to ‘eat my own dog food’. If embracing your customers and letting them drive your marketing REALLY works, then I had do it to market Think Like a Rock Star.
So throughout 2012 as I was writing the book, I used this blog and my social media channels to keep everyone updated on the progress. It was their ‘backstage pass’ to see behind the curtain and see what was going on.
And I was adamant that I had to let fans of the book do the marketing for the book as much as possible. That was probably the core teaching of Think Like a Rock Star; The power of embracing your fans and letting them acquire new customers for you. So I put together a ‘street team’ of around 20 people who volunteered to help promote the book on social media and review it on Amazon and other sites. They did an amazing job, and a lot of success the book had at launch was due to their efforts.
Working with my publisher, we got Think Like a Rock Star listed on NetGalley, starting I believe in Jan 2013. NetGalley is a site where readers can request a digital copy of a new release, and in exchange for getting a free copy of the book, they agree to review it and publish a review on their blog or other social media channels. Think Like a Rock Star was the most requested title ever from McGraw Hill, it may still be for all I know. This also drove a lot of conversation online and helped build buzz for the book. Inbetween the efforts of the TLAR street team, the reviewers on NetGalley, and my friends online, the book was generating a lot of buzz in early 2013 as it’s publication date in March neared.
Now here is where I made my first strategic error in marketing Think Like a Rock Star. One of the big drivers of buzz for a new release is obviously making the bestseller list at launch. I was researching and trying to figure out what the best strategy was for doing this. I found an article that said that what you want to do is have as many pre-sales as possible. Because those pre-sales would all be counted ON LAUNCH DAY for your book, and that would mean your book would launch on Amazon with a huge number of sales, and its sales rank would shoot high and your book would have a great chance of making all the bestseller lists.
So during all of 2012, I waived all my speaking fees, and told event organizers that they could pre-order X number of copies of Think Like a Rock Star, instead of paying me a speaking fee. All told, I pre-sold over 1,000 copies of Think Like a Rock Star in 2012 just from speaking.
However…right before Think Like a Rock Star came out, I learned from a fellow author that this was NOT how pre-sales were counted by Amazon, and that every pre-sold copy was counted AS IT WAS PRE SOLD. So my 1,000 copies that I pre-sold weren’t going to ‘hit’ all at the same time on launch day, they were being counted as they were placed. Bummer.
In February or so I had one of my final meetings with McGraw-Hill’s marketing team about Think Like a Rock Star. In between its performance on NetGalley and my own efforts, they were very happy with how the book was shaping up, and honestly so was I. One of the marketing managers on the call said they had just finished their internal projections for how Think Like a Rock Star would sell. I asked her “So, how do you think it will do?” And she told me in this sort of ‘I shouldn’t be telling you this in case I jinx it, but….’ tone, “We think it’s going to sell very well!’ That gave me a lot of confidence, because I did too!
Launch Day, and WTF Was Amazon Thinking???
So in late March, the book launched and was LIVE on Amazon and most other online book sellers. From the drop, it sold very well. It was in first place in multiple categories on launch, this was my favorite, the paperback and Kindle versions were first and second place in sales!
Think Like a Rock Star was selling VERY well. In fact, it sold TOO well. After a couple of days, Amazon SOLD OUT all copies of the book! And it didn’t restock the book for like a week! Now the first day this happened, it was almost cool to say ‘Whoa, my book is so popular it’s sold out on Amazon!’, but a week later, I was seriously worried. I will never know how not having the book available to be purchased for much of launch week on Amazon hurt sales, but it couldn’t have helped. I will also never understand how Amazon could have failed to order enough copies to meet demand at launch. The book had sold consistently well from the time it was available for pre-order in the Fall of 2012. So Amazon should have had enough of a sales history to accurately forecast how many copies would sell on launch. But who knows.
Throughout 2013, the book continued to sell well. In fact, it hit its sale rank peak on Amazon about 6 months after it was published. I am really proud of the fact that it had sustained sales, because the sales that were coming 6 months after launch were coming from word of mouth from early buyers who had recommended the book to others.
And Think Like a Rock Star was VERY well reviewed, across the board. Within a month or so of launch on Amazon, it had around 60 reviews, with the average being 4.8 stars. On GoodReads, I believe it had around 4.5, which I think was more impressive than its Amazon score. My street team as well as my network on social media did an amazing job of getting reviews up on sites even before launch date, and I know that had a big impact on sales. Again, all about turning over marketing to your fans/customers, and letting them run with it.
Momentum Continues in 2014
The book continued to sell well in 2014. I continued to get a constant stream of speaking requests for the topic Think Like a Rock Star. In addition, colleges and universities across the country began to incorporate it into their curriculums, which I am SO proud of!
At some point, either in 2014 or 2015, I was notified by McGraw-Hill that a publisher had secured the rights to publish TLAR in India! What a huge deal, as it would open the book to another potential billion customers!
As I was writing Think Like a Rock Star, I was discussing marketing for the book with a VERY successful author. She had sold millions of copies of her books throughout her career. She told me that since this was my first book, that I should just be happy if the book ‘earns out’ at some point. Earning out in a publishing context means the book has sold enough that I could cover the advance, and actually start earning royalties on the book. She told me that if the book ever broke even (earned out), that I should consider it a success.
I will never forget the day in December of 2014, that I received a letter from my literary agent. I was expecting my first sales report on the book. And she did send me my sales figures, but also included a HUGE royalty check! My book had ‘earned out’, and in the shortest amount of time it could have! I honestly could not believe it!
And Then, the Bottom Falls Out
Think Like a Rock Star continued to sell at a decent rate into early 2015. But around the middle of 2015, for reasons that I have NEVER fully understood, sales for the book suddenly decreased dramatically. And sales have never recovered. It’s honestly baffling to me, as the book still has great reviews, I still get compliments on it all the time, but sales just suddenly dried up. After a while, the paperback version of TLAR was dropped by Amazon, and that really hurt sales.
To this day, I have no idea why sales suddenly dropped as they did.
A few years ago, I finally came up with a great idea for a sequel to TLAR, a book focused on sports and e-sports, instead of music. It would build on the concepts of TLAR, and I had a ton of new case studies from the world of sports and e-sports that I couldn’t wait to share. This would have been around 5-6 years ago when e-sports were getting super hot, so it was perfect timing.
But every publisher, including McGraw-Hill told me the same thing: We love the concept, but TLAR just doesn’t have the sales to justify us taking the risk.
If you know me, you know I very much need to know that if I do this, then that will happen. Or if I don’t do this, that this won’t happen. That’s what has made the sudden and continued decline in sales of TLAR so frustrating for me, I have no idea what triggered the drop. On paper, I did pretty much everything you need to have a successful launch, and the book did. And a successful launch typically leads to sustained sales, which happened with TLAR. So much so that the book earned out in its first available sales window.
Yet a year later, the bottom had fallen out. And I’ve never figured out why. Oh well, it is what it is.
Despite All That, I Am Very Proud of TLAR
Some people write a book to make a career off speaking about the book. I approached Think Like a Rock Star as if I was writing the book that would show people how to build a customer-centric brand. I mentioned before that I began working on Think Like a Rock Star with another publisher. This was in 2011. As part of that, I attended South By Southwest in March of that year, and I set up numerous meetings on site with big brands and agencies to learn about how they were creating customer-centric progams like brand-ambassador programs, customer advisory panels, etc. Through my interviews, I was hoping to find multiple case studies I could use in my book.
Instead, I learned that NONE of theses companies were doing ANYTHING to connect with their customers. No ambassador programs, no loyalty programs, no advisory panels.
As a result, I shifted the focus of the book to include a heavy emphasis on how to create and implement customer-centric programs in a brand. If no company was doing this, then I wanted to give them the framework to get started.
A few years ago I received my favorite compliment ever for Think Like a Rock Star. A friend told me she had met with a fellow marketer. My friend was very focused on customer-centric programs, it’s a passion for her as it is for me. She said the marketer she was talking to marveled about its company’s customer-centric approach to marketing. She said the CEO had become enamored with the idea of letting customers drive sales, and the marketer said it had been a boon for the business.
My friend was smiling as she heard this story, and when the marketer finished she said since the marketer loved customer-centric marketing, she had a book for him! And she pulled out her phone and brought up Think Like a Rock Star on Amazon and told the marketer that he should buy this book.
The marketer immediately exclaimed “That’s it! That’s the book! My CEO loves that book, that’s the reason why we have completely rebuilt our entire marketing strategy, around that book!’
Honestly, that’s all I ever wanted to do, create a book that could help just one company understand the power of turning its marketing over to its most loyal customers. I will very likely never write another book, but I wrote Think Like a Rock Star. And I’m damn proud of it.