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
- Media mentions
- Book tours
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:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!