Everyone wants their book to be a bestseller—I certainly did. But not many authors understand what it takes to really make that happen. As we’ve talked about in other chapters of this guide, two of my self-published books are Amazon bestsellers, with Will It Fly? also making it to the Wall Street Journal bestseller list.
But how did that happen?
It certainly didn’t happen on its own, and that’s what we’re going to cover in this chapter: behind the scenes of the marketing and promotion that went into turning these two books into bestsellers.
Will It Fly?, what I call my first official business book, performed well from the beginning. In the month it was released in February 2016, it sold 15,674 copies, and generated a total of $45,083.14 in revenue. It climbed to the number one position on Amazon in the Entrepreneurship, Startup, and Motivational categories, and it shot up to number twenty-two overall in the entire Kindle store.
Now, three years on, we’re a little smarter and we have a bigger audience, so we took what we learned with the launch of Will It Fly? and applied it to my newest book, Superfans, which was released in August 2019 and it was a “hot new release” on Amazon during its pre-sale leading up to launch day. On the day after it was released, it was number one on Amazon in the Web Marketing, E-Commerce Professional, and Customer Relations categories. It didn’t hit a bestseller list like Will It Fly? But I still consider becoming an Amazon bestseller to be a huge win.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to marketing and promotion for a book, so let’s start at the beginning when the idea for Will It Fly? surfaced, because that’s actually when the marketing started too—even before I knew what the book was about or what the title would be.
Book Marketing Strategy #1: Start Sooner than You Think
Marketing shouldn’t begin when your book or product is available for sale, and it doesn’t start as soon as it’s finished either. It really starts the moment you begin talking about it, and my advice would be to build buzz and start talking about it as soon as possible.
Episode 138 of the SPI Podcast, which went live in December 2014, featured the first public mention of a new book that I wanted to write. It was clear that I didn’t know what it was going to be about, but I was brainstorming and getting people to be a part of that process already. After that initial public mention, I discussed the book over and over again in different ways.
Then in February 2015, I showed the start of my brainstorming process for Will It Fly? in SPI TV Episode 1, which was about how to write a quick first draft (also covered in chapter 1). This planted the seed, once again, that I was writing a book, and that I was serious about it. As the book topic became more defined, I mentioned it here and there on podcast episodes and on social media.
At the time I was using Periscope, which was particularly helpful in sharing the process and receiving direct feedback from my audience. In one Periscope session, I shared my word count and the tools I was using to write my draft. In another, I talked about writer’s block and how I was overcoming it. I also did this same type of sharing for Superfans, using Instagram.
Remember, Will It Fly? didn’t come out until February 2016, so all of this was happening more than a year in advance and before I had even started writing the book. It wasn’t until three months prior to the release that I started to nail down some book marketing ideas that would be used specifically to help launch with a bang.
Brainstorming Marketing Ideas
It’s important to conduct a marketing related brainstorming exercise before your launch date. After getting together with my team, here’s what we came up with:
- Podcast interviews and guest post tour (ideal publication is a week before or week of launch)
- Behind the scenes: book cover options, interviews with other team members involved
- Launch team to get early access to book, leave feedback, build excitement
- Launch with goals of sharing and reviews in mind
- Give book away for free
- Pat’s “Under My Wing” promotion: have a contest and take one person publicly under my wing through the exercises and strategies in the book
- Paid advertising (Facebook)
- Goodreads promotion
- Pre-sale and book bundle promotion
- Social media campaign
- Email list
- Launch day virtual party
- Teaser video
- Trailer video
Most of this is pretty standard stuff, except maybe for the “Under My Wing” promotion. Unfortunately, after diving further into the details (which would have included an application process, application review, and a flight out to someone’s house to help walk them through the validation process), it became apparent that we just didn’t have the time or resources to execute it the way we wanted.
The next step was to look at our list of marketing ideas and determine which items required work right away. At three months out from the February 1 launch date, these were the top three priorities:
- Reaching out for podcast interviews and guest post opportunities
- Figuring out if we could pre-sell the book on Amazon as a self-published author printing through Amazon’s CreateSpace
- The Book Launch team (which you can hear about in episode 198 of the SPI Podcast with Daniel Decker, the SPI Launch Team manager for Will It Fly?)
We’ll get to each of these in this chapter, because they were very important for both the Will It Fly? and Superfans marketing strategy.
Book Marketing Strategy #2: Make a Big Pre-Order Push
We had pre-orders available for the paperback edition of Will It Fly?, which we printed on demand through CreateSpace (now a part of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing). But we put it all together kind of last-minute, which wasn’t ideal.
The goal with Superfans, on the other hand, was to have it available for pre-order as soon as possible. And it was actually available for pre-order in May (the book didn’t come out until August). We didn’t let anybody know until June once the pre-order bonus was figured out (which I’ll get to in just a second). But the idea was to have it available on Amazon for pre-order early on so that we could get as many sales as early as possible. We did that because those pre-orders purchases are considered “day one” purchases. And that really helps the book’s sales numbers. So we wanted to leave plenty of time for people to hear about the book and pre-purchase it.
So for Superfans, we used my podcast, email list, blog, and YouTube to tell people not only that the book was available, but also that we were offering a pre-order bonus for early buyers who purchased before the official release date of August 13.
And that brings us to book marketing strategy number 2.5 . . .
Book Marketing Strategy #2.5: Provide a Pre-Order Bonus!
In addition to opening up pre-orders of the physical book, we also offered a bonus incentive for acting early.
And the bonus this time was the audiobook of Superfans.
A lot of people have used an audiobook as a bonus for collecting email addresses after people purchase a book. But we wanted to use the audiobook as a pre-release incentive, for a few reasons. The first is that an audiobook can be a high-value item. For instance, an audiobook on Audible can be anywhere between $15 and $30 depending on the length. There’s more value compared to something like a worksheet download, and this can create more incentive to pre-order the physical book—because it’s the physical book that counts for the bestseller lists.
We opted for single pre-order bonus this time around after using a more complicated tiered bonus structure for Will It Fly?—I’m talking different bonus packages depending on how many books were pre-ordered. It was a good strategy and worked well for my first book, but it was also a lot of work for the team and we decided to streamline things the second time around.
The idea with the audiobook is that not only is it an incentive to pre-order the physical book, but it’s actually one of the preferred ways people like to consume my content. I already have a podcast that gets tens of thousands of downloads every single episode, and audio is how a lot of people are used to hearing from me. So an audiobook was a natural option.
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Book Marketing Strategy #3: Give the Physical Book a Top-Notch Design
With the paperback edition of Will It Fly?, we used print on demand, which limited the customization we could do with the book’s design. But we wanted the print version of Superfans to really stand out. We wanted to create something people would be excited to share with others. Will It Fly? was a decent physical book, but it felt like the minimum we could have done design-wise.
The first and biggest difference is that Superfans is a hardcover book, and the cover itself is where our design focus first stands out. You’ll see right away that this book is not about readers or followers or subscribers or customers—it’s about superfans.
The interior of the book is gorgeous, too. Although we used black and white instead of color, the interior still features a lot of cool design elements that make it look great—and even a little easier to read.
Book Marketing Strategy #4: Host a Virtual Book Tour
The same year I released Superfans, I watched my friend Ramit Sethi pull off his own successful book tour with the launch of the second edition of his book I Will Teach You to Be Rich. He actually went on a physical book tour where he traveled to different bookstores, but I didn’t have the capacity to do a full physical book tour for either of my books.
That said, I did host a book launch party for Superfans at Podcast Movement on the day the book released, but the rest of my “book tour” for was virtual. That means I appeared on a lot of podcasts as a guest to talk about the book. It’s a strategy that worked really well for me when I released Will It Fly? and so we decided to do it again.
Here’s how we did it for Will It Fly?
The first step was to make a list of anyone who could potentially help promote the book. My team and I created a spreadsheet and filled it in with as many people as possible. We ended up with a list of about 100 people. It was a great list, but since I could only schedule podcast recordings for a couple of hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays leading up to the launch, we narrowed the list to about fifty.
We then expanded on these names in our spreadsheet, knowing it would become the tool we would use internally to keep track of our progress as we reached out to the hosts and blog authors. You can see that spreadsheet here:
Note: I blurred out the names because this isn’t about who I reached out to, or who said yes or no. This spreadsheet was massively important. It helped us stay on the same page in regard to who had been contacted, who had yet to reply, and when those shows were scheduled to record and go live. You’ll see on the spreadsheet that there are green, yellow, and red highlights. The green means that they said yes, the yellow was a maybe, and the red was a no. Some I never heard back from. Don’t let the fear of hearing “no” keep you from reaching out.
I’m super thankful that a majority of the people I reached out to replied with an excited yes! Ninety percent of those I reached out to I had helped in some way over the years, and because of that I felt more comfortable asking for help in return. In fact, many of the names were drawn from a list that I’ve been keeping track of over time, which comprised of people who had once said to me, “If there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know.” I always keep a running list of people who have said that, because you never know when you might need the help. And I’m definitely thankful for being able to redeem some of those offers!
As more and more people heard about the book, I started to receive additional requests for interviews or guest blog posts, which is why you’ll see more than fifty entries on the spreadsheet. As it turns out, I decided to focus on podcast interviews as opposed to guest posts, because I didn’t have the time to write that many unique posts, and recording an interview was a more efficient way for me to connect with an audience.
To help with the scheduling, the best tool we used beyond this spreadsheet was Calendly. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]
Calendly syncs with your calendar and makes it easy to schedule appointments by sharing a link. When someone wanted to set up an interview, we’d send them the Calendly link specifically for the Will It Fly? interviews on Tuesdays and Thursdays. As spots get filled in, those times become unavailable on the Calendly link, so it makes sure everything is organized and people, including myself, receive appointment reminders by email. It also asks for the Skype ID when people schedule a time. Seriously, Calendly is one of my top ten apps of all time.
Reaching Out With Video
One other thing I wanted to test was whether there was any difference in response time and promotion quality from those I reached out to via email, versus those I reached out to with a video. Video took a little longer than email so I wasn’t able to do a complete fifty-fifty split experiment, but I did notice that those I reached out to with video had a lot more energy for the promotion. I’m not sure if this is a direct correlation to the video, or to the fact that I sent videos to people I already had a strong connection with, so the experiment isn’t necessarily conclusive.
With that said, all but one person I reached out to with a video said yes, and I definitely feel like I got a stronger push from those people. The videos were not highly produced, just shot with my iPhone in my home office and uploaded as an unlisted video on YouTube. Here’s one sample that I sent to Jess Lively, someone I connected with earlier in 2015 and whose audience was perfect for Will It Fly?:
Book Marketing Strategy #5: Recruit a Book Launch Team
Something else that worked really well with Will It Fly? and that we did again for Superfans is having a launch team. In June 2019, we started working with Daniel Decker again, who managed our launch team for Will It Fly? and was kind enough to offer to help manage the Superfans launch team.
What exactly is a launch team? It’s essentially a group of people who help you promote the book at launch, and it doesn’t have to be very big. The Superfans launch team was about 500 people. They’re all superfans who got early access to the manuscript and can rally together to help support the book by writing reviews and getting people excited for the launch. In exchange, they’ll each get a complimentary copy of the book.
The big thing to be clear on here if you want to try this strategy yourself is that you cannot offer your book in exchange for a five-star review. You can offer the book and ask for an honest review, but you can’t force a person to review something in a way they don’t want to. With Will It Fly?, we didn’t ask everybody to leave a review, and some people did leave two- or three-star reviews—which is fine. But Will It Fly? did end up with mostly five-star reviews.
And with Superfans, I’m hopeful that because of the quality of the book and how helpful it’s going to be for a lot of people, most of the reviews will be five stars. I’m hugely passionate about the content in this book. It’s very tactical and very teachable—it’s a step-by-step guide on how to build your own superfans. And it’s something that’s never really been done before. I’m really excited because I tell a lot of great new stories in the book, too.
I’m very thankful for my launch team and all their help in making this book the success that I hope it will be. If you want to learn more, I interviewed Daniel in episode 198 of the SPI Podcast about the process of putting together the Will It Fly? launch team. There’s a lot of great stuff in there that will walk you through the process of building your own launch team.
Book Marketing Strategy #6: Experiment with Facebook Ads
The only paid advertising I experimented with for Will It Fly? was Facebook Ads. There are other opportunities, especially for authors, to pay for additional promotion such as on websites like Goodreads and BookBub, but I wasn’t quite ready to explore those options. With Facebook, I had the help of Mark Dawson. Mark has written several successful fiction books, which you can check out on Amazon.
He’s absolutely crushing it.
I was lucky to have started a conversation with him before my book came out to pick his brain on a number of self-publishing related tips and tricks, and he agreed to help me with my Facebook campaign.
Here’s an ad we ran related to the promotion:
I agreed to run a test for $1,000 over the course of three to four days to see what that could do. In the end, we spent a total of $1,150. Here’s how it broke down:
- Ads: $1,266
- E-books sold through the ads: 465
- Print books: 27
- Royalties: $1,162
- Commissions: $223
- Total: $1,385
Return on Investment: 9%
That’s minimum, and doesn’t take into account purchases outside of twenty-four-hour cookie life, organic sales through boosted rank, and general increase in awareness through the ads.
Overall, Facebook advertising was worth it, but it definitely wasn’t a game-changer, at least as far as the numbers are concerned. One thing to consider, however, is that even though some people see these ads in their Facebook feed and they do not purchase directly from that ad itself, it’s another touchpoint that puts the book in their mind for a potential sell or share later on, which isn’t something that can be measured, but still incredibly important.
How did we keep track of conversions?
Well, we used an Amazon Associates affiliate link! We created a special tracking ID just for those who picked up the book through the ads on Facebook, so we could see exactly how they were converting. From there, we calculated the ROI based on units sold and royalties.
The trouble was that we didn’t know for sure what the numbers were until twenty-four hours after each day, because the Amazon Associates reporting system updates after the day is over, and that cookie is enabled for twenty-four hours. But the numbers that Mark reported above were the final Facebook campaign numbers.
Book Marketing Strategy #7: Ask Your Email Subscribers for Help
The number one thing that gave Will It Fly? the biggest boost in sales and rankings on Amazon was sending an email to my list. Here’s that email, word for word, which was sent on February 2, the day after the book was released:
Subject: Book Launch Results! (+Special Kindle Deal!)
Hi [FIRST NAME GOES HERE]!
Yesterday was launch day for my new book, Will It Fly?, and I was completely out of it! I had not slept a wink the night before since I was getting things ready for the launch. It was my first all-nighter since college!
There’s so much involved with the launch of a book—especially one that you self-publish – and I made sure to keep track of everything I did so I can report back to you on everything that happened in an upcoming blog post. That includes numbers, marketing strategies, how it was all put together, everything that went well, and everything that didn’t go according to plan.
Despite some hiccups (like the Kindle version going live much later than expected), the book launch did very well! We quickly flew to #1 Hot New Release for Entrepreneurship, #80 Overall Best Seller, and apparently overnight it hit #1 in Entrepreneurship, but I was sleeping so I didn’t catch a screenshot in time.
I just wanted to thank you for all of the incredible support. Yesterday was truly a dream come true, and to see everyone rush to get their hands on Will It Fly? made me super proud of the SPI community and how amazing you all are, and I know this book is going to help you in your entrepreneurial journey.
If you have the book and have read it already, please post a review on Amazon when you get a chance!
Special Kindle Deal! ($2.99 until Feb. 3rd)
For the next two days only (until the end of February 3rd), the Kindle version of Will It Fly? will be available for only $2.99 USD.
The price will at least double around midnight the morning of the 4th.
Additionally, I’ve enabled a setting called Kindle MatchBook, which means that if you purchase the physical book, you will be able to also get the Kindle version for a discounted price (and at the current sales price, that means for free).
Click the link below to grab your copy now before the price goes up:
Thanks so much once again, and I look forward to your thoughts and reviews!
Now, you may be thinking, “Pat, you sold the Kindle book for $2.99? Are you mad?!”
At $2.99, that’s a huge discount, especially considering the value that’s packed into this book, but the purpose of this book wasn’t to make a ton of money. It’s about getting the book into the hands of as many people as possible, who have not yet been exposed to me or the SPI brand, and that’s exactly what this promotion did.
With the price doubling in less than forty-eight hours, people were quick to get their hands on it. Here’s a graph of the Kindle book sales as a result of this promotion:
How crazy is that?
And remember, Will It Fly? became a Wall Street Journal bestseller because of the number of e-books sold within the first week, not because of how much it earned. All things considered, a WSJ standing is definitely worth giving up a few dollars upfront on each book sale.
At $2.99, the royalty isn’t all that much ($1.56 per unit), but to see thousands of people read it and glean value from it means the world to me. The WSJ standing was simply a cherry on top, and actually quite an unexpected one.
Now for some quick tips I learned while selling on Amazon.
First, Amazon encourages you to promote your book using your own affiliate link. On your website, you should absolutely give yourself extra commission by using your Amazon Associates affiliate link to promote your book. I did this on my website and podcast and earned an additional $2,500 during the month. And remember, it’s not just the one product you direct buyers to that will earn you a commission, it’s everything else included in their cart when they purchase. Check out some of these random items that I got paid a commission for:
Second, although the above is true, you’re not supposed to share your affiliate link in any email promotions. Not all people obey this rule, and yes, many get away with it, but you put yourself and your Amazon Associates account at risk by doing this. In the email I sent out, I just made sure that the link I included was not an affiliate link.
Book Marketing Strategy #8: Share the Process
A strategy I’ve used to help grow my business and pull off successful launches of many kinds is simply talking about the process. Often, some of the best marketing is simply showing how you do what you do, like with the podcast episodes and YouTube videos that I’ve mentioned. Even this guide alone is hopefully helpful in giving you an inside view of how we have launched my books and how you might pull off something similar. I have a good feeling many of you will find value in it. And if you do, the best thank you would be pre-ordering Superfans so you can get your free copy of audiobook as well!
Book Marketing Strategy #9: Work with a Publisher/Distribution
One more thing we did for Superfans that’s different from anything we’ve done before is although the book is self-published, we partnered with a company called NEWTYPE Publishing. NEWTYPE was recommended to us by a good friend, and this company helped with printing and distributing the book.
Why did we choose to work with NEWTYPE? Well, as NEWTYPE’s website says, “The problem is publishers don’t sell books, platforms do. NEWTYPE is writing a new chapter in publishing, one where authors win but aren’t alone.”
Essentially, NEWTYPE helped us with a significant part of the whole printing and distribution process, while we get to keep the rights to the book. And that’s awesome.
Instead of print on demand, we did a full print run, using estimates based on previous book sales and other data to determine how many books to order. Then NEWTYPE handles distribution to bookstores and Amazon.
They have a Manhattan-based sales team that helps push the book to all major national book retailers, chain accounts, and more than 5,000 independent accounts. So they’re fighting for the book’s placement, which is awesome. They also move very quickly: whereas traditional publishers might take twelve to twenty-four months, with NEWTYPE you can get your book printed and distributed in about six months. NEWTYPE also offers a lot of things that can help you even if you don’t have a production team like I do—things like developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, and cover design.
At the same time, it’s still our book, so the royalties are great, and we still have control over the entire process. NEWTYPE is also very open and transparent about their costs.
It’s been a really great relationship so far, and Ryan at NEWTYPE has been fantastic at helping us understand how it all works. We’re even had the opportunity to do a promotion for getting Superfans into airports, which is something I didn’t even know was possible before with a self-published book. I’m really excited to see what happens as a result, and if you’re thinking of self-publishing your own book, definitely give NEWTYPE a look.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this chapter and I know it can be overwhelming. Here’s the good news: everything I went over in this chapter is a combination of what my team and I did for two different book launches. That means you don’t have to do it all. In fact, you probably shouldn’t try to do all the strategies in this chapter, especially if it’s your first time launching a book.
Take another read through if you need to, and really think about what sounds like it might work best for you and your audience. Pick two or three things and start there. Remember: everything is an experiment and you don’t have to do it all. On that note, let’s continue on to the next chapter where we get into tools that will be most helpful for you on your book writing and publishing journey.