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E7: Writing a Book - The Learning Curve (31-35)

Best-Sellers and Promotion

· writing a book

I may get in trouble for this one. I don’t want to sound like Jose Canseco outing baseball's steroid users, but in today's edition, I'm gonna sound like Jose Canseco...but just 'out' the bestsellers.

Today, we talk about promoting yourself, using a publicist, and setting your price.

Learnings 31-35:

31. Most "best-sellers" are bullshit: Unless you’re Michelle Obama, your first book isn’t going to be a best seller unless you game the system. There are best seller lists everywhere. Authors tag themselves as a best seller if they show up on some list at some point for even an hour. So, here’s how:

Most best seller lists (i.e., Amazon) are based on volume of books sold, not dollars. When you see that an author is offering their Kindle version for $.99 for a short time (or $1.99 or even $2.99), they’re trying to get a big spike so they show up on a list, screenshot it, then call themselves a best seller. Right now, when I looked at Amazon's list, there are four such books that just popped into the top 20 on Amazon as "Kindle" and under $3.

Just the other day, I saw a book show up on Amazon’s best seller list in the top 20. Literally two days later, it was 12,000th. It was the .99 Kindle spike.

Here is a paragraph from an email I received last week, which was followed two days later with it being labeled as a "best seller":

Here was a conversation with my publisher:
Publisher: “Do you want to do a best-seller campaign?”
Me: “Of course! I’d love to be a best seller. What does that mean?
Publisher: “Well, you’ll likely have to sell > 5,000 in a week. The best way to do that is to drop your Kindle price to .99, then promote that version like crazy. You don’t really lose anything by doing because Kindle is digital. Once you have proof that you hit a best-seller list, as Amazon updates their lists hourly, you’ll earn more for speaking engagements.”
Me: “Given that my book is about transparency, I’m going to pass. I’d rather brand myself a ‘not-quite-best-seller’.”
Publisher: “Good decision.”
Did I mention that my publisher is awesome?

32. Get ready to self promote! If you have a publisher, said publisher probably isn’t going to spend much time pushing your book. Marketing, to them, is distribution. Marketing, to them, includes listing the book on their list of published books. My hybrid publisher did more than most, and (with the submittal fee paid by me) submitted my books to every non-fiction award program. Other than that, you’ll need to do the marketing and publicity. For me, I (a) established a blog and promoted it on LinkedIn and Twitter, (b) sent the book to a number of influencers, (c) started posting short tips everywhere I could, (d) volunteered to speak everywhere I could, and (e) served as a guest on every Podcast that was willing to have me on.

33. But, other people posting on your behalf matters considerably more - getting them to do it is hard: The last thing on Earth others are thinking about is promoting your book. But, when they do, the impact is tremendous. Having individuals who are not clearly tied to you promoting your book is where the spikes begin. For me, I self-promoted like a maniac before the book came out through the first two months (December 2018 - February 2019, essentially). Sales were really strong. Then, March fell off a cliff. Book sales were miniscule. I was considering whether I should go rejoin the real world again as a COO, CEO / President, or go back to a CRO role. Then, all of a sudden, people I didn’t know began to fall in love. Those individuals started posting about the book, sharing tips from the book, and the momentum truly started. Every author has a different way of making that happen - but it starts with a book that sells itself.

34. Publicists are a great investment - if you want publicity: Tying publicity to sales is lagging and indirect, too. The line won’t be clear...probably ever. When those I didn’t know started supporting the book, I realized it had legs. However, I had exhausted my ability to self-promote on my own. I decided to hire a publicist for a three-month retainer. She immediately asked me for a box of books, created a press release, found influencers everywhere from sales / marketing magazines to HR publications and even The NY Post - all of which she mentioned to get me into for interviews, having articles published, or simply quoted in other articles. She also found podcasts to pitch me to which I had never even heard of, but which all had large followings. That may have sold books...it’s unclear to me...but each “appearance” gave me an opportunity to essentially self-promote and keep my name / the book in front of people. Even now when I run into people, they say, “Jeez, Todd, you seem to be everywhere.” The publicist did her job - but does being “everywhere” pay the bills? Not sure...

35. You don’t set your own price on Amazon - only for the Kindle version: My publisher let me know the day the book appeared on Amazon, available for pre-sale. Oddly enough, the first appearance of the book on Amazon had a pair of camouflage pants pictured instead of a book, which was interesting. The book was listed for $25. I thought that was high, so I called my publisher to ask. Apparently the hard-cover price is set by Amazon. They use some sort of secret algorithm to decide what to price it for. It stayed at that high number for a long time. Just after release, the price dropped, then dropped again to where it has been for the past eight months - $16.49. All the other online book-sellers seem to try to follow Amazon’s price, but after that drop, they didn’t. Head to Barnes & Noble, Target, or any other online book seller and you’ll pay quite a bit more for than Amazon’s price.

Whew. That was a good one, right? Well now that you know the truth about best-sellers, let's talk all things book stores: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, versions and libraries in 36-40.

To keep getting these articles, along with Todd's other stuff, subscribe below. Definitely some solid 4.2-4.5 rated content.

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