Is Turning an Ebook into a Print Book Worth It?

In May 2011, I was contacted by Penguin Books, who asked if I was interested in turning my e-book, How to Travel the World on $50 USD Per Day, into a printed publication that would be available in bookstores nationwide.

At first, I thought someone was pranking me, but after I found out it was a genuine offer, I thought about it for about 5 seconds before I decided to say yes.

Note: this post is by Matt Kepnes of Nomadic Matt. We love the way he lays clear the details of this launch. If you have any kind of launch coming up, you’ll definitely want to pay attention — Matt has some key insights here. You can find out more about him at the end of his article.

As a travel writer, there is a certain amount of street creed that comes with having a printed guidebook. It gives you an aura of legitimacy that a self-published e-book does not. Plus, I’d receive a lot of media attention I might not have gained otherwise and it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Yet having a publisher doesn’t mean I can just sit back and relax. In this day and age, you are responsible for all your own book promotion. Sure, Penguin helps put my book in front of traditional media, but if I want this book to succeed, the launch is up to me. I think most book publishers expect that from their authors these days; when they contact online personalities, they are really buying that person’s audience, as having an established online fan base means some guaranteed sales.

Having followed and talked to people like Corbett, Ramit Sethi, Tim Ferriss, and Chris Guillebeau, I knew how important planning is to a successful product launch, as well as the need to be everywhere for a sustainable amount of time. You don’t want to be a flash in the pan.

Realizing that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, this turned into a great learning experience and I thank Corbett for letting me share that experience with you.

How I Organized My Book Launch

First, knowing I lacked knowledge, I contacted those who had previously launched books and large products. I asked them for their advice and opinions about what worked and what didn’t. This gave me an idea of what I could expect and what I would need to do, and I took copious notes as they offered me a barrage of advice. Additionally, Penguin assigned me a publicist and I enlisted a friend of mine who works in PR to help, too.

Second, I created a plan. At first, I just brainstormed ideas onto a piece of paper about what I planned on doing to promote my book:

  • Guest posting
  • Radio
  • Media mentions
  • Book tours
  • Reviews
  • Interviews

This gave me a sense of where I should focus my time and what would have the most impact.

Third, I created a color-coded spreadsheet of people I thought could aid my launch. I then broke the list into bloggers and media. Here’s what my list looks like:

Blogger & Media Spreadsheet to keep track of who can help during a launch

Blogger & Media Spreadsheet to keep track of who can help during a launch

After I brainstormed all the names I could think of, no matter how big or small, I researched the top people in related niches and added them to the spreadsheet just to make sure I had all my bases covered. My final list had over 100 names on it.

Next, I began contacting everyone on my list. When it came to traditional media (radio, TV, and magazines), my publicist and PR agent were in charge. I gave them a list of editors and contacts I thought might be helpful, but for anything related to blogs or podcasts, I was going to handle that.

With my launch date being Feb 5th, 2013, knowing how long it would take to get the ball rolling and how important planning is, I went through my list, name by name, starting in early November 2012. Some people said no (see those in red), but most said yes, even if it was only to offer social media support.

That long lead time allowed me to prepare for interviews and write the 15+ guest posts I had lined up.

What I learned from this experience is that planning is really important and while I am normally not very organized, I knew if I wanted to be successful, I would need to be. That was the big piece of advice everyone really emphasized to me – be organized.

My Biggest Product Launch Lessons

This product launch was a huge learning experience for me and one that was both very fun and very stressful at the same time. While many of you might not be releasing a print book soon, I think there are lessons to be found here for any product launch.

First, everyone was right – plan. Plan far in advance. The more you plan, the more thought you can give to a product launch and the more successful it will be. The key to success is a really thorough, multi-pronged plan.

Second, use multiple mediums. Don’t just focus on other bloggers but also on podcasters, traditional media, radio, magazines (print and online), webinars, and, if needed, in-person events. This will allow you reach a wider audience. As Pat Flynn says, be everywhere. If you are launching an online product, have affiliates lined up the day of your launch to promote the product!

Next, I also suggest a couple of specific sales actions:

  1. Offer two presale events – I ran two presales: one was two months out and the second, larger one was one month out. This was meant not only to get people to pre-order the book, but also to keep the book and launch day in my readers’ minds as long as possible. The second pre-sale resulted in higher sales but starting earlier allowed me to begin to generate buzz for the book ahead of time.
  2. Organize a special launch day offer – Give people an incentive to buy. For my readers, I offered $300 in travel vouchers if they bought my book on launch day and emailed me a copy of the receipt.
  3. Tell people over and over again – On the day of the book launch, I emailed my entire email list. Then I sent all the people who didn’t click on the link another email. I did this again on a third and final day. Since I use Aweber for my newsletters, the service allows for such segmentation.
  4. Line up the bulk of your guest posts and interviews for the first week – In order to build momentum for your product and create buzz have them most of them happen during launch week. I scored additional interviews and reviews this way, most notably from the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune.

In the end, I didn’t have the perfect launch. I didn’t sell as many books as I would have liked. Derek Halpern of Social Triggers told me that with my then mailing list of 25,000 subscribers, I could probably expect to sell around 1,000 books. Here I was, envisioning 5,000 copies sold. After all, these are my readers, right? They’ll support me, right? It’s only 10 bucks but, as always, Derek was right — and I only ended up selling about 1,500 that first week. As of today, almost two months later, I’ve sold a little over 5,000 copies. (Note: this number is an estimate. BookScan, the company that tracks book sales only monitors a small portion and doesn’t count any pre-orders.)

Do I view the launch as a success? Yes. Though I didn’t reach my goal of 10,000 books sold in one month, the book’s main purpose was to increase my visibility and readership so that I can parlay that into speaking gigs. I wasn’t looking for a $213,000 launch and, while I was looking for book sales (after 10,000 copies, I get a bonus from my publisher), I mostly wanted visibility. To that end, the book did what it set out to do (more or less).

And so my final advice to you is to have a goal in mind for your product. What do you want it to do for you? That can then allow you to focus your efforts around that specific goal. Maybe I could have sold more books, but I got a lot of visibility and have been getting more and more media requests. That was the goal — and that’s what I achieved.

Your Turn: What has been your experience with book launches (either digital or traditional)? What advice would you give someone doing it for the first time?

Let us know in the comments below this post.

If you’re traveling soon, check out my book. It will teach you how to turn any dream vacation into an affordable reality. And in the spirit of this post, if you purchase the book within the next 3 days, and send me the receipt, I’ll give you $300 in free travel coupons. You will get 10% off tours from G Adventures, a $75 coupon for round the world airline tickets from Airtreks, 10% off city tours from Context Travel. Not bad for a $10 dollar book!

Matt quit his job in 2004 to travel the world and has been traveling ever since. He created Nomadic Matt to be the best resource for up-to-date information to inspire you to travel more and see the world. His goal is to help you travel better, cheaper, longer.

25 thoughts on “Is Turning an Ebook into a Print Book Worth It?”

  1. I would love to know what % you get from the sale of each book? (in fact without that information it’s quite hard to evaluate the question you started with…)

  2. HI Matt,

    Great share!

    Even though I don’t have an experience of this sort but your experience has enlightened me to use the media in the best possible to get the awesome results. Since you met your objective of visibility, echoes that proper planning really matters a lot and your book is an awesome example for that.

    Thanks for this share. Have a great week ahead.


  3. Matt –

    Clicked over as soon as I saw this in my inbox this morning. From one published author to another, SPOT ON! I’m so passionate about the topic of writing books and the traditional publishing process that one of my latest columns for American Express OPEN Forum addressed not just the launch and author responsibilities, but an author’s motivations for publishing in the first place.

    Thanks for being yet another voice of reason dishing out truth instead of unicorns for aspiring authors.


  4. An inspirational and utterly useful post!
    I learned a lot throughout this great post.
    Thank you Matt & Corbett!

  5. Matt,
    Thanks for sharing your process! I have a product that I am close to finishing. Right now I just plan to offer it Free to drive traffic to my site, but I envision selling it some day. Hearing how you ran your launch was good information to review and keep in mind for the future. Congratulations on your success so far! I wish you continued success!

  6. I’ve only launched digitally, but my biggest tool was mentions by folks with larger audiences/lists/followers than myself. And I did as you did by contacting them months prior to line it up. I’ve sold over 3300 copies of my first digital book (released a year ago) and 400 of my latest (released two months ago).

    Launch can also be a slow build too, so if the first month isn’t great, even though it’s launch month, others can. My best sales months aren’t the month either book launched.

  7. I have no experience with the intricacies of the publishing business, so pardon my questions if they seem ignorant. I’m wondering what the benefit of going with a publisher is if they require you to do the heavy lifting for promotion? What is the benefit over teaming up with a PR firm and self publishing the book? The one thing I can think of is maybe the publisher gets you access to major brick n mortar book stores (e.g. B&N), but is that advantageous enough to justify the decision?

    Thanks for sharing, and I look forward to your insights.


  8. Marketing is the author’s job whether you have a traditional publishing deal or not. We also use a spreadsheet of potential partners for launch (and for continuing marketing efforts after) and it definitely works if you work it.

    This is a great example of all the work and planning that goes into a launch – and I’m stealing the idea about emailing followups to those who don’t click on the original email. Duh! Brilliant idea to try to connect without inundating all subscribers. Thanks!

  9. I run a self publishing type of site and we’ve done lots of tests which show that having a print book is never a bad idea.

    In fact, even for those authors who purely focused on the Kindle…when they also turned their book into a print book, in *every* case it increased their EBOOK sales as well.

    I think that the “print” book helps brand you and make you a little more “legit” in some people’s eyes and because of that, they are more likely to purchase your Kindle book and/or print as well.

  10. What a great post! I like you idea of setting up a spreadsheet that lists everyone you know who could help with the launch. Great idea! I’m curious: do you have opinions on how far in advance the planning should start?

  11. Great share! Can’t wait to get the book. I’ll be traveling soon so timing is awesome. Love the clarity and details in the post.

  12. @James: About 8% of each sale but even though I don’t get that much per copy sold, the visibility I got has been worth it.

    @Kev: While Penguin did set up a interviews, most of the onus was on me to make it a hit. However, a print book gives you a lot of credibility with media and people that self-publishing an ebook ever would. People still like having a book they can hold in their hands. It’s lead to a number of opportunities. I’ve been on USA Today, Time, morning shows, Newsday, Boston Glove, Chicago Tribune, WSJ, NYT, and more all because I have this book. That never happened with a self-published ebook.

  13. Absolutely loved this post, Matt. It’s nice to hear success stories like this and to get an idea of the type of hard work that can be expected to launch a product successfully. I was a little surprised with how much of the burden of a book launch gets put into the author’s lap. You mention the book tour here and on your site; I’m just wondering: did the expenses for your book tour come out of your own pocket or does the publisher reimburse you for that? I could imagine the cost of a cross-country tour could rack up quickly!

  14. Great insights into the world of publishing, thanks for sharing, Matt. Seems crazy that the author only gets 8% of sales, since they’re the one’s who actually wrote the book – but I guess that’s just how it works.

  15. Congratulations on your book launch and the sales. Don’t get too discouraged about not hitting your sales goal.
    I took away a great point from a self-published author about sales goals. He said setting sales goals is silly. You have no control over whether or not someone actually makes a purchase. What you can do is determine (to a degree) how many people see your product. He said you should set presentation goals rather than sales goals. If you put it in your mind to get your book in front of x number of people, conversion numbers will take care of themselves, provided you’ve created the best product you can.
    Your numbers will get there. And thanks for sharing your article/journey. Good stuff.

  16. Wow!! I think your book is amazing…… Everyone wants to travel and to be able to do it on a small budget would be fantastic! the hard copy .would certainly be easier for quick referance

  17. Wonderful post! I am an author and I have self-published all my books. Let me say that I have worked with start-up companies for more than 15 years. I view being an author as merely a microbusiness. It’s a start-up like any other. The cost and time to perform marketing and sales for an established company is 2 to 3 times the time/cost to develop a product, and for start-ups, it can be 10 times. A book is just a product, and writing the book is the product development effort. My story … when I considered writing a book I contacted some friends who were published authors through traditional publishing companies. Everyone told me that I had to do my own promotion and marketing. I couldn’t figure out what value a traditional publisher was adding … if I wrote the book and I had to market and sell the book, what do they do? What is their value-add to the process?

    My first 2 books had both print and e-book versions? My next book was just an e-book version, and my upcoming book will only be an e-book too. Initially with my first book, print sales exceeded ebook sales, but now, ebook sales are exceeding print sales on that first book.

    I also think the choice is knowing your audience. My readers tend to be 20 to 40 somethings, people with ebook readers. My 7-year old has a Kindle, yet she refuses to read books on it. She insists on a print version. My 11-year old would like to read ebooks, but her teachers insist she must have a print version (The teacher don’t like the ebook readers because they have Internet access and games. They are concerned the kids will be playing games instead of really reading). I’ve read a lot and I’ve used 2 different ebook readers, and I have always found charts and diagrams to be difficult to read.

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