“…we cannot promise you your book will sell well… In fact, most books, both traditionally published and self-published, don’t sell well… millions of other books and media forms are competing against you for your prospective reader’s ever-shrinking pie of attention.”
—Smashwords book marketing guide
I can’t promise your book – or my book – will “sell well” but if you follow the steps below:
- you will greatly increase your odds, and
- be able to predict how many you will sell yourself
This is the strategy I used to write my latest book, Get your First 100 Customers: A Step-by-Step Guidebook to Launching your Business by Being Helpful. I just finished the final draft for our December 1st release. Since we have preorders I know it will sell – but I pretty much knew that anyway after following the process below.
Why most authors don’t sell
Most people who write business books use the following process:
- Come up with an idea
- Write a book
- Try – unsuccessfully – to market it
Unfortunately this approach exposes you to 3 big risks:
Risk 1: Not having audience
My friends who are selling books have an active email list they built over a year or more. A good rule of thumb is 1/15 active email subscribers will buy if you ebook is positioned, priced, and launched well. Social media is good for building relationships but mostly terribly for selling. Blogs are good for general awareness but that’s about it.
Follow the steps below and you’ll have an engaged audience from day 0.
Risk 2: Not knowing what to write
Why is writing a book so painful? Because people don’t know what to write. Sure they have ideas but they expect the chapters to just fall together. So they stare at a blank screen night after night for a year.
Follow the steps below and you’ll have most of the book written before you “write” it.
Risk 3: Not knowing how to sell it
Read anything about marketing a book and you’ll find the usual advice about selling anything: good title, know your audience… The only way to figure this out is by working with a lot of potential customers.
Follow the steps below and you will know how market your book.
Step 1: Write an email course with ConvertKit
I wrote my first email course called Helpful Marketing 101 over a year ago. A few months ago I retired it and Chiara & I wrote Get Your First 100 Customers, a much better course with more specific content.
Starting with courses had the following benefits:
- Let me evolve my ideas with customers.
- Built an email list of thousands of people.
- Taught me exactly what I needed to write.
Why use ConvertKit
I am currently using MailChimp, GetResponse, and ConvertKit. You can build auto-responder in lots of tools but ConvertKit is the easiest to use. It is designed for this purpose – author email marketing. You’ll get much better support than you will from a bigger company and they will even help you create a book cover.
Create a course landing page and get signups from Quora
Don’t start by writing a single email of your course. Start with a landing page and try to get people to sign up for it. This is also easy in ConvertKit – another reason why it is built for authors.
Go on Quora every day to answer questions and link to your course. Here is one I did last week.
Don’t start writing your course (much less your book) until you get people signing up.
Then write the course 1 lesson at a time
You don’t have to – or want to – write the whole thing at once. It’s too overwhelming. Write a lesson every few days and release them until you’re done. About 7–10 lessons is perfect.
Revise or re-write it
After a few months you’ll know a lot more. We decided to re-write the whole thing – it was a great move and made writing the book much easier.
Step 2: Review homework through HelpScout
There are a million email “courses” that fill your inbox with shit and try to sell you stuff. Don’t create another one. The real value for the students (and you) is interacting with them, answering questions, reviewing homework.
Start by asking them to reply via email
I tried sending people to Google Communities to post homework figuring it would be easier for me. Nobody did it. Now I realize it is easier and more valuable for me to respond to emails.
Start the course by asking a very simple question like “reply and tell me what you’re working on and what your biggest problem is”. Then read their answers and respond with some suggestions.
It gets them interacting with you – which is the only way to learn anything.
I started by just using Gmail – it sucked. I couldn’t see previous messages and their responses piled up in folders. HelpScout allows me to create auto-responses, see previous communications, and shows publicly-available info like the city where they live, social media accounts, etc.
It saves a ton of time. Plus the guys at HelpScout give killer support.
You may find that building a simple tool or app helps with the course. We created the Helpful Canvas so people could document their strategy. It was so useful we made the Helpful Canvas a central part of our workshops, course, and books.
Step 3: Use SoHelpful to help them 1-on–1
“You have to see their pupils dilate”
Want insight? GTFP
Helpful Marketers have a saying: “Get Them on the F____ Phone”.
You won’t learn enough from interacting through email. You need 1-on–1 dialog, ideally over a video call on Skype or Google Hangout. On the final email of your course offer to help them 1-on–1 for 30 minutes:
“Thanks for taking my course, I’d love the opportunity to help you 1-on–1. You can schedule a 30-minute Skype call or Hangout with me at sohelpful.me/yourname.”
Learn their objections
They are not doing what you suggest in the course? Why? What are their concerns? When we started having calls with students we learned a few objections:
- They didn’t feel like they were “expert” enough to help people.
- They thought it would take too much time.
- They figured it wouldn’t scale.
This was amazing insight. I now have a chapter in the book dedicated to answering these objections head-on.
Learn how to sell your book
You’ll get your best marketing copy by listening to what they say during these calls. When I got them on Skype I would ask, “So why did you sign up for this course?”
They told me things like:
- “I’m sick of sending cold emails all day and being ignored.”
- “I’m doing content marketing but nobody is finding or reading my blog”
- “To get my first customers”
We picked the book title (Get your First 100 Customers) and all of our landing page copy from these conversations.
You will get killer testimonials after helping someone 1-on–1. You’ll need them to get more people in your course and book.
After helping someone you will have made a new business relationship. Keep track of these and ask them to help you spread the word when you launch.
Johnathan Leow used SoHelpful to write The Crowdfunded Kit. (I bought a copy too).
SoHelpful is designed for this purpose – in fact, I started making it because I couldn’t find the right combination of scheduling tools, workflow and promotion to do what I want.
It is hard to get serious people to schedule a call with you for help – you have to convince them you’re worth their time. SoHelpful gives you a professional landing page + social proof with testimonials. Plus it takes care of the whole scheduling process and asks for testimonials on your behalf.
Try SoHelpful risk-free.
Step 4: Write the book
Start with the complete outline
After creating the course and interacting with hundreds of students you’ll be ready to write the outline. If this comes easily you’re ready to move on. Here is what mine looks like in Scrivener
Write the “free sample”
People don’t want to make the wrong decision. Make it easy on them by giving them a free sample, just like Amazon and supermarket brands do.
When someone tries a sample, what she’s really doing is asking… “Should I read this?”
Don’t leave the answer to chance! Respond to it head on.
In other words, you’re still selling. Use the classic 4Ps (Promise, Picture, Proof, Push) salesletter formula as an outline for your sample:
- Make a promise (your big solution/benefit)
- Paint a picture of them using it (contrast to current situation/problem)
- Prove you’re credible (assert your credibility)
- Push them to action (why they need to buy now)
To see how I modified this formula for my own book, check out my sample here.
Create the landing page and collect email addresses with the free sample
Start letting people know that you’re working on a book. Drop hints in your newsletter and on social media to warm up people. Create a “get notified with a free sample” list. ConvertKit has tools to do this as well.
Now write 1,000 words/day
I held myself to a schedule of 1,000 words a day. Of course I missed days but that was my goal. A 25,000 word business book will take you a month to write.
Don’t get hung up on tools. I use Scrivener but it isn’t easy to use. I have friends who use Google Docs without any problem.
Work with me on your book
All of this is based on the idea that you’re writing a book to serve your customers.
To make it work, you have to be willing to work with them. To discover their biggest problems. To experiment with solutions with them. And to find out and refine what works and what doesn’t.
How to do that, systematically and step-by-step, is what my latest book, Get your First 100 Customers: A Step-by-Step Guidebook to Launching your Business by Being Helpful, is about.
Since I’m following my own advice, I’m going to personally work with readers of the first edition to make the book better. That’s why I’m only making 99 copies available.
And if you’re one of them, I’m going to personally work with you on marketing and selling your book. So check it out and try a sample chapter.
What I’ll cover in Part 2 of this post
I’m targeting December 1st to begin selling. In part 2 a few weeks after our launch I’ll give you the results and cover the following:
- Building your “friends” list to help with promotion
- Plan big, start small – limit your releases
- Take preorders with incentives
- Build an AIDA landing page that converts
- Close the deal with a launch series
- Launching on Product Hunt
Photo Credit: Daniel Foster