Most of what we’ve covered in this guide so far has focused on a lot of the positive aspects and big wins I have experienced (and that you can, too!) with the books I've written and published. While it’s true that my books have done well and I’ve had a lot of success with them, that’s not to say that I haven’t had my share of road blocks along the way. It’s definitely not all sunshine and rainbows, especially when it’s your first time entering the world of book publishing.
In this chapter we’re going to look at some of the things that didn’t go so well with the books I’ve published, specifically Will It Fly?. The reason I’m focusing on Will It Fly? here is that since it was my first business book, it was also the first time my team and I were doing things like offering pre-order bonuses, planing a big launch, and using CreateSpace. That means the chances of stuff going wrong or not working were higher and, thankfully, we were able to learn from that experience the second time around with Superfans, so I’ve got a few takeaways from that publishing experience to share with you as well.
So let’s get into it, shall we? We’ll start with the biggest hurdle from self-publishing Will It Fly?, and that was getting the Kindle ebook published and available on launch day.
Kindle Pre-Orders Through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing
Kindle books are sold through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program. It is definitely possible to set up a pre-order for your Kindle book (as stated here), but we were unable to do so for Will It Fly? because of one primary reason:
We didn’t have time.
Part of the requirement for putting a Kindle book up for pre-order is that you must upload the final manuscript file at least ten days before the launch of your book. The reason is that Amazon doesn’t want people to collect pre-orders for an e-book that doesn’t exist. With Will It Fly? publishing on February 1, this meant that we would have had to have it completed, edited, designed, and uploaded by January 21, which was impossible since the manuscript was still being designed at that time.
I personally wanted to make sure that the book looked and read nicely on any Kindle device or reader, and that was more important to me than an extra pre-sale. I figured it made sense despite having pre-order bonuses available for the paperback version, because the bonuses were for those who purchased bundles of books, and you can only purchase a single copy of a Kindle book.
Furthermore, as I learned through many conversations with authors leading up to the launch, pre-selling your Kindle book can actually hurt you more than it can help. You get all of the benefits of pre-selling a product, except for the one about all sales being reported as happening on launch day, specifically related to getting on the bestseller lists. With paperback books, pre-sold copies all report as being sold on the day that it’s published (again, specifically to the non-Amazon bestseller rankings). With Kindle, this is apparently not true. I tried to do some more research on this, but I couldn’t find any concrete information, but this is what I heard from more than one author who’d had this experience and so I took their word for it.
Turns out, I hopped over a potential roadblock to run smack into another one: the Kindle version of the book wasn’t even available on February 1 until later in the afternoon. I submitted the final files to Amazon KDP about twenty-four hours before I wanted it to go live. My goal was to have it ready by the virtual launch day party I was hosting at 9 a.m. Pacific on Friday, February 1.
I stayed up the entire night before finishing the content in the Will It Fly? Companion Course (a free course offered with the book that includes supplemental materials for an enhanced reading experience), and throughout the entire night and early morning, I constantly checked KDP to see if it had finally gone through.
By the time 9 a.m. rolled around, it still had not been approved, and I had not slept a wink. I was delirious, which you could definitely tell if you watched live on the Google Hangout and Periscope feeds. We had a good time though!
The big lesson is that I would have given myself more time for Amazon to approve the KDP file. All of the Amazon info says that they usually approve books within twenty-four hours, but it can sometimes take up to seventy-two hours. Most of the chatter in KDP communities online at the time said people were having their books approved sometimes within twelve hours, so I don’t really know what happened.
Because of this, I had to delay a book launch-related email I had ready to go out to my list because I wanted to make sure I gave people both options (Kindle or paperback) so they could purchase the book in the format they liked best.
Then, finally, at the tail end of the live stream, after refreshing KDP several times, the book was approved and the status switched from “under review” to “publishing”! It happened while I was hosting my virtual launch party live, in front of everyone and my reaction says it all!
The reaction is cued up in the video below, which is a replay of the launch party:
But there’s more. When the Kindle book was finally available on Amazon, I noticed that it was a completely separate page from the paperback book. Yes, that’s right—the paperback and the Kindle book were on two separate Amazon listings. This is not what I was expecting. But remember, I was a rookie at this, and after a panic text message to my writing coach Azul, and a search through a bunch of discussion forums, I gathered that after a certain amount of time the two listings will magically find each other and connect the pages. Phew!
Based on the titles, the author, and the description (which should be written the same for both versions of the book), Amazon eventually connects the two pages. I was also told that you can contact KDP customer service to ask them to make it happen sooner.
For me, the two Will It Fly? book pages for paperback and Kindle connected into one universal page about three hours later, and after 5 p.m. the book was finally the way I had imagined on Amazon. I was ready to shoot out the email to my list. But I decided to wait until February 2 to send it, and I included a little promo that helped the book skyrocket to the top. (I share the full email that I sent to my list in chapter 8 on book marketing strategies.)
I was super happy with the results of the Will It Fly? launch overall, and the process helped my team and me implement new things and improve on the process with my next book, Superfans. Although the launch for both books were completely successful, there are a few things I wish I had done differently with Will It Fly? and a few things I learned with Superfans that I’ll definitely do again in the future:
1. I would give myself (and my team) more time!
After setting a hard launch date of February 1, we were off to the races. It became our stake in the ground as we continued to make decisions and add new items into the mix. As a result, some things were rushed or never happened at all.
For example, all of the stuff with the Kindle launch wouldn’t have happened if we had given ourselves adequate time to get it done and uploaded. We were down to the last two days to receive final PDF files for the paperback, which was cutting it close. If there were any errors that had to be corrected, we wouldn’t have made our February 1 deadline.
Additionally, with all of the moving parts, including CreateSpace and Amazon Advantage, something could have broken or simply not worked, and it would have delayed the launch as well. Thankfully, everything seemed to work out.
With my most recent book, Superfans, I was able to learn from my mistakes with Will It Fly?. My team also had adequate time to prepare. Because we gave ourselves more time (about seven months) after the manuscript was finished until the launch date on August 13, we could focus on designing a better book, recording the audiobook ahead of time, and even booking more podcasts that I could appear on as a guest.
2. I would hire a coach sooner.
I hired a coach to help hold me accountable and really guide me through the process of getting my manuscript complete. But I ran into a few roadblocks. Looking back, there was a good three or four month period during the year I was working on the book that I feel were wasted because I wasn’t in the right mindset at the start to get the writing done—a lot of it was not believing in myself. I hear from so many readers that this kind of doubt is a big struggle for them, and I want you to know that sometimes I struggle with it too. After Azul helped me over those hurdles and I started to gain momentum, the writing flowed.
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3. I would get the manuscript into the hands of select people earlier.
I didn’t have a full manuscript available until January 1 to give to the launch team and those who were potentially going to promote the book. Again, this is all related to the timeframe we gave ourselves, but if I could do it again I would have the manuscript ready at least two months before launch to allow adequate time for people to read through it, provide better feedback, and build more buzz.
4. I would create a share page.
One thing that was lacking in this campaign was a share page—a page full of assets like images, pull quotes, tweets, and email copy, etc.—that anyone could use to help promote on their own platforms. We did have a share page for the launch team, but it was very basic, and if I had the chance (and, again, more time), I would have had a much more robust page available for those who wanted to help promote the book.
5. I would collect blurbs.
Along the same lines, I wish I had the manuscript earlier so that I could’ve collected honest blurbs from folks who read the book before launch, which we could then include in the final product. I was able to get some people to read the book and collect blurbs, which you can see on the Amazon page and the first couple pages of the book, but there were a lot more people I reached out to who said they didn’t have enough time to read it.
Again, learning from Will It Fly?, for Superfans I was able to collect a load of blurbs ahead of time, over thirty of them, even before the final version of the book was designed. I sent PDF versions to several friends and colleagues specifically with the ask, early enough to give them time to read it, and most importantly, they were individual, personalized asks—not one mass email. That’s key.
6. I would keep my expectations in check.
Since Will It Fly? went on to become a Wall Street Journal bestseller, I had an expectation in my mind that it was guaranteed that Superfans would at least hit that list, if not other lists like USA Today, or perhaps even the New York Times bestseller list.
Shooting for a list is not a bad goal to have—it’s important to aim high—but my expectation was that we could at least hit one list guaranteed, and after the launch, when I saw that we didn’t make any of the lists, I felt a wave of disappointment.
Thousands of people got the book in their hands, read it, took action and have left some of the most tremendous feedback for any piece of work I ever offered. Reviews came flying in that were raving about results people have already gotten, even just after a day or two with the book.
Yet, in the back of my mind, I was disappointed. Lame.
The true motive of writing a book should be to get those results for your readers, to get that positive feedback, and to deliver value to your audience. That can happen regardless of any list that the book may end up on. My expectation clouded the real success of book, and that was a shame.
In the time since the book has launched, I’ve been able to zoom back out and truly appreciate the body of work my team and I created in Superfans, and realize that it is the best book I’ve ever written, and one that people are sharing on their own with their colleagues and friends with the highest of praise, and I’d rather have that than a book on a list which, in most cases, could be gamified or manipulated anyway.
That’s not to say I don’t think there’s never a chance this book could end up on one of those lists. Several of my favorite books, like The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, started off slowly and then ramped up to incredible viral success later. Listen to his interview on the SPI Podcast to learn more about how that all happened for him, including now how he sold half a million copies in Brazil alone, just to give you some perspective on just how massive his reach is now, even after selling less than 4,000 copies in the first week.
7. I will keep experimenting with publishing options.
With Superfans, we wanted to experiment with something that would allow us to have a much better quality book and wider distribution, something that was limited by promoting solely through Amazon’s CreateSpace program (now part of KDP).
We were introduced to a company called NEWTYPE Publishing, which would allow us to have complete control on the design and feel of the book and the overall quality, plus give us connections to bookstores like Barnes and Noble and even airport bookstores. NEWTYPE also handles the listing on Amazon for us.
By providing a lot of what a traditional publisher could provide, but still keeping a majority of the royalties for the book (NEWTYPE take 30%, I keep 70%, versus a traditional publisher where you could end up with just pennies per book sold after the book has earned back its advance with sales), it seemed like an amazing opportunity, and guess what—it was.
The experience with NEWTYPE was absolutely positive, but it was also a learning experience, for sure. Since they control distribution, we have to go through them to get reports on how the book has been selling. Additionally, payments that come through are not as instant as they are when you control the process entirely yourself. Instead of getting a payment from Amazon within the same month as a sale, I don’t see any payments for six months. That’s not terrible, and in the traditional publishing space this is not uncommon at all, but it’s definitely a massive difference compared to Will It Fly?, where payments came in monthly soon after the book was launched.
Distribution has been amazing, though. Superfans ended up in Barnes and Noble and some other book stores. And we paid a little extra for distribution into airports, which was probably one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had—being in an airport and seeing my own book. I’ve been getting a lot of tweets and Instagram messages from people who have been coming across the book, too:
8. I will continue to include short exercises to help readers with big results.
At the end of each chapter in Superfans, I include a small exercise that gives the reader a call to action specifically related to the chapter that can help them get results based on what they learned. Almost every person I’ve talked with who has read Superfans has made a positive comment about those exercises, and honestly they were a last minute addition that felt, to me, like an add-on that wasn’t completely necessary.
Boy, was I wrong. They are absolutely vital.
If possible, and if it makes sense, definitely consider adding exercises or action-items within your book, like at the end of each chapter or throughout. It reminds me of Tim Ferriss’ Four-Hour Work Week, and how he had similar exercises and challenges at the end of his chapters, which was very impactful for me personally.
You need to be very clear and direct with what your readers need to do, and including exercises can be an easy way to give people quick wins in your book, even before they finish the last page. Small quick wins build a habit for your reader, one that lets a small success build on the next, which could ultimately help them end up with a complete transformation by the end of the book. And you may earn a lot of praise for you and your work. If you check out many of the reviews on Amazon for Superfans, you’ll see a lot of the reviews mention the exercises.
The biggest overall lesson that I have learned with my experience publishing books is how much I often limit myself. Back when I was working as an architect, I never would have guessed in a million years that I could publish a book, let alone one that gets into the hands of thousands of people and earns a spot on a bestseller list.
These book launches have pushed me to believe that I am someone who can make a huge difference in this world. I look forward to serving you more in the future with even bigger and better projects, and until then, I will keep promoting both Will It Fly? and Superfans because I’ve already seen the results they have had on the multitudes of people who have read them.
Speaking of results, the next chapter covers just that: a deep-dive look at how well Will It Fly? has done in three-plus years since it’s been published.