A few weeks ago I released my third self published book The Small Army Strategy. Needless to say this effort was far more successful than every other book I’ve attempted. By the end of the week it had over 30 5-star reviews and had been downloaded close to 2000 times. So, I wanted to analyze everything I did to generate this result.
Choosing Your Topic
When Mark Schafer wrote his 2012 wrap up he mentioned a post of mine and said that i’d been riffing on a theme all year long. That’s when I knew there might be more there than just a bunch of blog posts. The theme was bringing a human touch to your online interactions. That’s what my new book is really all about. So, I emailed Mark and asked if I could use the content for a self published book. If you’re going to use existing content, especially when it’s a guest post, email the owner of the blog and ask them if it’s ok. Mark was kind of enough to let me do that because he saw it could be a good opportunity for me.
When I interviewed Guy Kawasaki, he said the reason to write a book is because you have something to say. For a long time now I’ve been the story extractor bringing thought leaders together here on BlogcastFM. But I also had a message of my own that I wanted to get out into the world. That message was largely about building small and loyal communities, or in my new terminology small armies. It was this interview with Chris Guillebeau that resulted in the term Small Army Strategy.
Writing the Book
Once I had the initial posts from Mark’s blog, I knew that I couldn’t just slap them together and call it a book. As you’ve heard me discuss with dozens of our authors here on the show, the book needed an arc and narrative.
The other thing I decided was that the definition of a book was changing. When I discovered that Kamal Ravikant had self published a 60 page book that became insanely popular, I realized I didn’t need to create the social media equivalent of War and Peace. What matters most about your book is not how long it is, but how useful it is. This new book is only 40 pages, but people have found it incredibly useful.
I started writing every single idea that I had around loyalty, communities, and attention. One thing I’ll say that has been incredibly liberating for me is letting go of the idea that your writing process needs to be linear. These days I just write with no idea what the last 1000 words will be used for (blog post, book, manifesto, etc, etc). I kept the theme I was going for in mind. But for the most part, I just let words flow with the idea that I could go back to assemble things, and eliminate what didn’t belong in the book.
From inception to launch took about a month, but that’s because much of the content was already written. So in all reality I spent the last year writing the book, and this last month putting it together.
Using Social Media for Feedback
This was somewhat of an accidental discovery. A few weeks ago I created a Facebook list called the BlogcastFM tribe so I could keep up with all the projects our listeners were working on. I also wanted them to be able to keep up with each other. Then I did something that really was just dumb luck. I started publishing lengthy status updates which were excerpts from the book. Some of them were up to 3 paragraphs. I broke nearly every rule in the art of writing status updates. After all what person is going to read such a lengthy update?
It turns out the people I wanted to were reading them. The people who give a damn. The people I like to think of as my small army. They helped me to prove the concepts in the book that I was talking about, and I was getting feedback in real time which helped me come up with more ideas for the book. I noticed that every update was really striking a chord with people and that became the driving force of the book. Putting such huge chunks of your work out their publicly might make somebody else cringe. For me it was exactly the motivation I needed to keep going and get this book done faster than I ever thought possible.
Sending out Preview Copies
One thing I’ll say is that I have a nice edge here. I have a big network that I’ve spent years cultivating. As anybody will tell you, build your network before you need it. If you spend years writing a book without any ongoing connection to your readers, you’re going to be facing an uphill battle. I put out a call for feedback on the book and asked if people would be willing to give it a first past. Between 20-30 people responded.
When we published Blog to Book Deal, we made a mistake. We assumed that people who listen to BlogcastFM were the customers for that book. Really they were the promoters of the book. This time I decided to take a different approach.
I sent every single person who requested one a free copy and asked for their feedback. I think this was the most useful thing I did for this book. I got people invested in the success of it. Because it was fairly short, people turned around their feedback rather quickly. The nice thing about getting their feedback was that when it came time to ask for Amazon reviews, they were able to take their initial feedback and use that for their reviews.
This is where most self published books fail miserably. If there’s one thing I know about myself is that I’m not perfect. Even if you’re the greatest writer in the world, a second set of eyes will prevent you from making some serious mistakes. People on Amazon are less forgiving than bloggers. Fortunately for me Carolyn turned out be an incredible editor. As luck would have it she was one of the early reviewers and had been a book editor in a former life.
Don’t skimp on designing your cover. I was going to do this one myself, but thanks to my business partner David, we had some solid templates already in place. I asked him if he could put something together and he sent me two samples. Right after I decided which one I would use, I shared the cover on Facebook and Instagram. This was just another marketing tactic to create buzz, and get people eagerly anticipating the book.
Determining What Your Goal Is
I didn’t write this book to make money. It costs 99 cents. I’d have to sell millions of copies for it to be a real revenue generator. My goal with this book was to create something that would have an impact on the people who read it. I wanted them to walk away feeling like they had some very actionable insights. Seth Godin also turned me onto something that struck a chord with me. He said we’re obsessed with interrupting strangers. I wrote this book for the people who have supported me every day for the last 3 years. Maybe some new people joined our tribe. That’s just icing on the cake. This book in many ways is the start of a conversation. As a result even some people who got it for free ended up buying it.
Given that I was more interested in the spread of the book than the latte I could buy from the proceeds, I gave it away for free. I sent it to our email list and share it across all my social channels. I decided to use all 5 KDP promotion days in a row rather than spacing them out. As a result the book ended being #1in the advertising category for free kindle books multiple times. The one mistake I made in this process was that I didn’t make my other 99 cent book Relationship Marketing for Bloggers Free until midway through. The only book that we almost never give away free is Blog to Book Deal: How they Did It because it’s the cash cow of our Kindle portfolio at a whopping $6.99
Google + Communities/Facebook Groups/Social Sharing
The nice thing about giving away the book for free was that I was able to promote it in many online communities.
- Pat Flynn’s Kindle Group: This is one of the best groups for self publishing on the web. Pat does an amazing job moderating this community. I love the fact the he also has made it a point to limit simply posting links to books, but asks all the authors to share their lessons learned from publishing their book.
- APE Community: Given the APE community is all about self publishing, I knew that this book would also get some push there.
- Linkedin Groups: This might be the most underrated place to promote your free Kindle book. Given that people are on Linkedin to conduct business I made it a point to not only link it in my personal status update, but also find any groups whereI felt it was relevant.
One final thing I did was make myself accessible. At the back of the book I included al of my contact info and online touch points. The book is now selling between 2-3 copies a day and ranking in multiple categories.
If you have more questions I’m happy to answer them. Just ask in the comments below or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org