Bard Press Essay #11
April 21, 2021
10,000 copies sold in the first year is your new goal.
So, how do you do it?
Let’s build a model for how to think about that.
The Long Term Book Launch Model
There are three phases to the long-term book launch:
In the fueling phase, the objective is to gather as much potential energy as possible. We want to create a complete list of all the people who can help with the launch—buyers who can purchase one copy or hundred copies, broadcasters with audiences in traditional and social media to share the news and the book’s message, and bigwigs who can lend their credibility through endorsements of your book. This is work you have been doing for your whole career and will give more focus to in the year leading up to your book launch. Activities in this phase can’t be delayed because they can’t be replicated or taken full advantage of after the launch.
In the launch phase, the objective is altitude. All the effort and attention is focused into a small window of time. We need to get the awareness of our book to rise above everything else going on in the world. We don’t need everyone to know, nor is that even possible, but we do need the people who will care about it to know it exists in the world. There is a kind of social gravity we are fighting against and with more altitude, we prolong the time before the book is pulled back toward obscurity.
In the final phase of acceleration, we want to build momentum. For the book to be successful, it needs to move out beyond our direct sphere of contact. The felt need of the reader shifts from the author to the book. The actions we take in this phase are focused on scaling to many more people and give those people tools to scale even further.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to focus on one idea each week that I hope will frame the work you have to do as you go through your long-term book launch.
Idea #1: Take The Order
As the author, much of the energy and interest around the book is going to be centered on you. This is a natural part of the book publishing process. Your name is on the cover. As Adrian Zackhiem, my publisher for The 100 Best Business Books of All Time told me, “I can’t get your mom to buy the book. Or your ex-boss. Or your next door neighbor.” People want to connect with the author.
That interest in connecting can come in many different forms and you will want to have a plan for each kind. In this essay, I want to focus on one of the most important ones—book sales.
Book sales are a key fuel in a book launch. Books sold before the launch signal early interest to retailers as they make decisions about stocking levels and promotion plans. With enough sales, a book can make various bestsellers lists like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today and declare success in a more public way. And all of those early book sales end up in the hands of early fans who can further energize the launch.
Again, as a primary focal point, you have the opportunity to signal to the customer where the best place is to purchase the book. I’d like you to consider an idea that maybe you haven’t:
Take the order.
Whether you signed a publishing deal or decided to self-publish yourself, most authors leave the selling to someone else. I get it. Those partners are built for order transaction and the fulfillment of the order. It is part of the reason you decided your publishing path and picked the partners you did.
Think about the work you do in the world and answer this question—which is more valuable:
selling the book or knowing who bought it?
I don’t need to say someone showing interest through the purchase of your new book makes them a highly qualified lead.
If knowing who bought the book is more valuable, think about how much more valuable. How many of those readers might be interested in coaching or consulting or speaking to make it worth thinking about? By leaving all sales to traditional retail, the opportunity to know those people is lost.
If you see the value, I would suggest figuring out the fulfillment side first. There are a set of book retailers who specialize in order fulfilment, like Porchlight and BookPal. There are warehouse fulfillment companies all over the country who can handle this kind of work. Your publisher might even be able to handle the initial set of pre-orders through their distribution. You might have an office and staff that could take on the shipping. Once you identify options, get a good handle on where you are going to source your copies (likely your publisher), the cost of the book, the handling costs, and costs for shipping. Know that total unit cost so you can price the book properly.
Next, you want to figure out the order transaction portion. Any of the fulfillment options you talked with might also be able to take the order for you. The key is whether they will share the order information with you, so you know who ordered the book. You could also add a shopping cart to your website (or maybe just a new item if you already have a cart). Shopify, Square, and WordPress’ WooCommerce are all good shopping cart options and some integrate with fulfillment houses. Just a Buy button from PayPal or Amazon Pay can work. The key is the ability to capture shipping information and take a credit card payment. Remember to check the fees and consider sales taxes. My guess is if you have a website, you could figure out how to take orders for your new book.
Get a Copy For Free
You have almost assuredly seen the Facebook ad or YouTube preroll with a book pitch followed by the offer “Would you like a free copy of my book? I will send you the book today. You only need to pay the cost to ship it to you. Click the link…” Brendon Burchard and Ryan Levesque are two authors that come to mind for using this technique. The author either self-publishes the book or negotiates a very low price for a chunk of their publisher’s print run. The book cost and the cost of media mail shipping are close to being covered by the six or seven dollar shipping charge. The whole campaign is a list building campaign to connect those new customers to other products like courses and events.
DevOps Handbook Launch
When Gene Kim launched The DevOps Handbook in 2016, we made the deliberate decision to run the launch campaign ourselves at IT Revolution. Our decision was driven by knowing there would be demand and choosing to take the higher profit margin on those orders. We took the orders through PayPal (a good-ish solution) and worked with Porchlight Books in Milwaukee to fulfill the orders (great solution). We priced the book at close to retail price (I think it was $30 with shipping) and offered a bag full of digital goodies if they bought the pre-order. To seed the campaign, we sent out a seven email drip campaign (which I can talk about in another post) in the two weeks leading up to the sales . We sold over 3,000 copies in 96 hours and kicked off a strong 20,000 copy launch for the book. Those customers were added to our email list and we were able to share more information with them about our yearly Summit events and follow-on books.
Kissa by Kissa
Last August, I wrote about Craig Mod’s Kissa by Kissa book launch. Craig also self-published his book. He collected his own orders using Shopify and a custom crowdfunding overlay that he programmed called Craigstarter. He worked with a printer in Tokyo to produce and ship the books to customers. His plans were complicated by COVID-19 and the limited outbound shipping options from Japan. Mod funded the publication through his Special Projects membership program. In the crowded funding campaign, he offered the book, a fine art print, and memberships in various combinations and discounts. The book-only level cost $95 with shipping included. Mod has said that he plans to publish more books and try to make the publishing and fulfillment system available to a wider range of creators in Japan.
At Bard Press
We partner with our authors to take orders for their book before it launches. We handle the order transaction and the collection of payment. We continually share that list of orders with the author so we can both assess progress toward our pre-launch goals. From a sales perspective, authors can see where their sales efforts have been successful and who they can do additional follow-up with.
On the fulfillment side, we work a variety of retail partners. We work with independent bookstores to ship to their local customers or support events in their locale. We work with national accounts and their significant logistics capabilities. Specialty retailers are enlisted to deliver larger quantity orders to organizations. That requires managing orders, keeping visibility to inventory in the supply chain, and coordinating all of that work to support getting books out to customers as the book launches.
Many authors will offer pre-order specials for their books. With the submission of a receipt and an email address, the author will email the goodies to them. I am sure you have seen even more examples of this during author book launches. This accomplishes largely the same thing as taking the order with the customer sharing their email address with the author without all of the logistics of order taking and product fulfillment. This might be a better option in your case. This might also be an appealing option for existing fans with the possibility of more value.
My only caution with option B is that you increase the friction of the transaction with this method. Rather than making it about the book, you are making it about the goodies and the book becomes a toll gate. That shift changes the exchange. I think there is real value in an author selling their book and it being the primary exchange of value.
It’s worth the trouble
The bottom line is that if you take the order, you create options for yourself. First, you know more of the customers of your book. It’s hard to know where those additional connections lead in the following years, whether more connections or more collaborators or just more people helped. Capturing those sales gives you the opportunity to work with partners that best fit the business you are building or build a whole new extension to the business you have.
What fuel have you gathered when you build a list of book buying customers and start work on the next book?