August, 2012: I'm pounding out pages for an ebook about Sublime Text.
The book is growing steadily, and with it, a sense of panic: What happens when I'm done? My entire promotional strategy consists of pushing the publish button! I'm a programmer, not a sales wizard. Marketing seems like black magic.
The thought of my hard work going to waste makes me sick.
September 27, 2012. I feel queasy, but I've already announced the big day — no turning back now.
Over my lunch break, I log in to the dashboard for the publishing software I'm using, take a deep breath, and do the deed. I close my browser and get back to work, trying hard to pretend nothing is happening.
An hour later, a HipChat message from a colleague forces me out of my cocoon: “Hey, congrats on your book launch! Looks like you already have 20 readers!”
And the sales kept coming. I earned more than $1,000 in the first 24 hours, and ended my first week at the $2,000 mark. The book is still selling steadily four months later, and my total earnings are closing in on $5,000.
As I learned, promoting a book isn't a black art. With a little advance planning and effort, you can ensure sales from day one.
Here are five key actions I took that contributed to my successful launch.
1. Start Collecting Email Addresses Early
But I took for granted a Leanpub feature that made a much more significant contribution to my launch-day results: the humble “coming soon” page, which features a description of your book and a form where would-be buyers can enter an email address.
It didn't seem that important, so I threw up a few lines about the book and linked to the page from my blog.
At the time I was too shy to say much about my project, but this page did the talking for me. By launch day, I had a mailing list of 157 potential buyers.
This list was rocket fuel for my launch-day sales: At least 20% of my email list subscribers purchased the book.
I learned late in the game that email is far and away the best way to promote a product. So push past your shyness and start building an email list as early as possible.
Every email address you collect now is one more potential sale on launch day.
2. Ask for Help
A third of my launch sales were a direct result of a step I almost overlooked.
Shortly before the launch, I realized that I should see if I could enlist the aid of community leaders with established followings. I contacted 10 or so well-known programmers via Twitter and offered them a customized discount code they could share with their audiences.
About half of them responded positively, including the biggest ally I was hoping to recruit: Peter Cooper, lord of the open source email newsletter realm. Peter kindly included my discount code in a weekly newsletter that focuses on programming tools. As a result, I increased my first-week sales by 33%.
Before you launch, reach out to community leaders and ask them to help you promote your book to their audiences. Give them something they can offer their followers, so they can do their audiences a favor while helping you out. Wins all around.
3. Don't Underprice
Deciding what price to charge was gut wrenching. I agonized. I emailed other successful ebook authors. I read blog posts.
One piece of advice stuck with me, although I don't remember the source: Settle on a price that you feel comfortable with. Then double it.
Gulp. I felt $9 or $10 was a nice, comfortable price, so I chose a minimum price of $19 and a “suggested” price of $22. (Leanpub uses a variable pricing feature that allows the author to set a minimum and suggested price. Buyers determine what they finally pay.)
I just knew people were going to hate me for it. But that didn't happen. Sure, a few people complained, but amazingly, many people paid me more than the cover price. One person even paid $50 for the book.
It was a great lesson in value-based pricing. Most of my readers are software developers who make $30, $50 or $150 an hour. I've personally saved myself hours of time with some of the tips I was including in the book, and my suggested price is equivalent to 5 to 45 minutes of billable time.
The takeaway: Set a price that's based on the value you're providing readers, not what everyone else is charging.
4. Launch Before You're Ready
Writing a book is a lot of work, and I soon realized that it would be a lot easier to keep my momentum if I launched the book before it was “done.” I waited until I had enough a critical mass of content to provide value to my readers, and then I published it as a beta version.
I was worried that I'd lose out on launch revenue. You usually make the most sales during an ebook's launch, and since I offered the beta at a lower price than what I'm eventually planning to charge, I felt like I might be leaving money on the table.
But on the flip side, a smaller launch payday is better than no payday at all, which could happen if I lost steam before publishing it.
Launching early was a good decision. I've gotten great feedback from readers that I'm using to shape the book, and the income motivates me to keep working on the book instead of taking on a consulting gig.
5. Create Urgency
Another decision I agonized over was whether to offer any kind of launch-day discount. The idea made me nervous: Would offering a discount cut into my earnings?
I bit the bullet and sent my email list and Twitter followers a 30% discount code, good for 24 hours.
Of those who bought a copy of my book in the first week, 69% used one of the discount codes I sent out.
Give people who are on the fence about your product a reason to buy today with an attractive, limited-time discount.
If you'd like to learn more about launching products, the following are a couple of killer resources you should check out. I don't make any money from promoting either: I'm just a happy customer.
For a focused look at making the most of your ebook, I recommend How to Launch the **** Out of Your Ebook by Dave Navarro and Naomi Dunford. When I first found their site, I thought, “$97? For an ebook about selling ebooks? Sure, it'll look great on my coffee table that's a coffee table book about coffee tables.” But most of what I did right during my launch came from reading this book, and I'm convinced it paid for itself 10 times over.
If you really want to crush it with ebooks and other information products, check out Amy Hoy's 30×500 product development course. The cost for this course makes $97 look like couch cushion money, but it's well worth it to learn a top-to-bottom system for creating products that sell.
I'm planning more posts about my experience creating my first ebook, so be sure to follow me on Twitter for updates.