When Jesse Tevelow decided to write his first book, The Connection Algorithm, he didn’t know much about writing and marketing books. Still, he decided to go the self-publishing route.
He launched the book in May 2015. Eventually, The Connection Algorithm went on to become a #1 bestseller, and brought in $25,000 in royalties within the first year of publication.
How did Jesse, a first-time author, manage to make The Connection Algorithm a success? Find out in our interview with him below.
The Connection Algorithm was your first book. How and why did you decide to write it?
I had always wanted to write a book. I thought, “why not give it a shot?” I had taken a lot of risks in life, and figured I had some valuable lessons to share.
I decided to write a book about taking risks. I believe the more risks you take, the more you’ll grow, and the better off you’ll be (provided the risks are calculated, of course). That’s the premise of The Connection Algorithm.
Why did you take a year off to write your book instead of writing it on the side?
I had enough money in the bank to survive for a year without having a job, which I believed was enough time to write, launch, and market a book.
I’m a big believer in minimalism, so I decided to push all other distractions out of my life, and make the book my singular focus. That way, I didn’t have any excuses. I couldn’t procrastinate by turning to other things I was doing, because I purposely wasn’t doing anything else. That really helped me a lot.
How did you handle the financial risk of not having a stable source of income for an entire year?
I have conditioned myself to be able to handle risk, so I was comfortable seeing my bank account getting lower and lower, knowing that I was using that money to create a product I believed in.
Of course, I definitely paid attention to my financial situation, and I had to be realistic about it. For example, at one point I realized I was burning too fast, and that I needed to do something about it, so I rented out my apartment on AirBnB. That gave me some supplemental income while still allowing me to preserve my time.
Also, I knew if things didn’t work out and my bank account got too low, I’d be able to get a job and fix it. That underlying confidence played an important role, too.
Writing a book is a big project that a lot of people undertake but only few people complete. How did you go about it?
I’m really big into daily routines. There’s an important distinction between routines and schedules. A schedule is a specific plan, like what you’re going to be doing at 9 a.m on a given day, while routines are habits that make you more effective — things like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, etc. I think daily routines are crucial when you’re working on a big project, while having a set schedule is less important, and can even take you out of your flow.
So, unlike a lot of writers, I didn’t have a specific time of the day blocked out for writing. I’d just get up, go through my routines (simple stuff like brushing my teeth, washing my face, drinking water, eating breakfast, meditating, etc.), and then I’d see how I felt. On some days, I’d write for twelve hours straight (with breaks, of course!) Other days, I’d only write for 1-2 hours, but I made a point of pushing ahead every single day.
And because I made this book my top priority, I was acutely aware of my progress (or lack thereof on the slow days), which I think helped me to procrastinate less and be more productive than I’d have been otherwise.
Can you explain the concept of the Zone?
I believe in this phenomenon I call the Zone (a lot of people call it flow). It’s when you get into a state of mind where you’re completely locked in and operating at peak performance. When you’re in the zone, your output is much higher (and also much higher quality) than usual.
When I realized how much more productive I was when I was in the zone, I asked myself, “How can I make it happen more often?” I started looking into it, and learned that everyone has different triggers that put them into that state of mind, though I suspect there’s a lot of overlap. I noticed that, for me, it was exercise-related. I’d often get into the zone either during or after a workout. So I started keeping my computer right next to me as I was working out, and then if an idea would strike, I’d start writing.
Paying attention to when the zone would hit me, analyzing what might have triggered it, and then consciously incorporating those triggers into my routine helped me to produce more content in less time, and made writing the book more enjoyable (though it still was hard!).
What was your marketing strategy for The Connection Algorithm?
To be honest with you, my marketing plan for The Connection Algorithm was horrible. At the time, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Here are the main things I did to promote the book:
- I ran a Kickstarter campaign. I treated Kickstarter as a marketing tool as opposed to a crowdfunding tool. I basically said, “Hey, I’m writing this book, it’s already well under way, and I’m looking for some support,” and then I offered various rewards for backing the project. Monetarily, my Kickstarter didn’t make much of a difference, but getting people to back the project was incredibly valuable. I had over 100 backers, and those people served as the backbone of my marketing campaign and helped me get the book off the ground once it launched.
- I asked people in my personal network for support. I had a bunch of contacts tucked away in my Gmail account, so I created a spreadsheet with several different segments (close friends, influencers, etc.), and started reaching out to them about my book.
- I actively promoted my book on Facebook during the launch week. I created a Facebook page for the book, prepared a bunch of posts in advance, and once the book was out, I promoted it like crazy.
- I kept promoting on Facebook and Twitter after the launch. Of course, I didn’t do it as much as I did during the launch week (that would have been obnoxious), but I would mention my book on social media quite often.
- I went on several podcasts to talk about the book. I reached out to various podcasters, and a few of them agreed to have me as a guest. I found that appearing on podcasts was an extremely effective way to both promote my book and grow my email list.
I also did a few others things, such as paid advertising on Amazon and Facebook, but those didn’t have much of an impact.
I’m happy with the results, especially considering this was my first book launch, but I could have done much better if I had known then what I know now.
How did The Connection Algorithm launch go?
I launched The Connection Algorithm by making it free on Amazon for five days (I highly recommend doing this, especially for writers who don’t yet have established brands. Making your book available for free allows you to reach the most people).
I knew reviews were extremely important, so I asked my family, friends, and Kickstarter supporters to help me with that. I had sent out advanced copies prior to the launch, so once the book went live, I managed to get around seven reviews within twenty-four hours (after the free promotion was over, I had around twenty reviews). It provided valuable social proof for the book. (It might also have helped me to rank better, though there’s no way to know for sure).
I promoted the book by reaching out to the Kickstarter backers and by posting about it on Facebook.
I think I got a few thousand downloads within those first five free promotion days, but once I switched to paid at $2.99, my sales were close to zero, and then remained slow for quite a while.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from that launch?
I think the biggest lesson I learned was the importance of having an email list.
I thought I could just promote my book on social media and sell a lot of copies that way, but it doesn’t work like that, even if you have a lot of friends and followers. Your social media following is not much of a target audience. I mean, someone might like to go out for drinks with you on Friday nights, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll want to read your book.
That’s why you need to put targeted content online and build an email list. Then, once you decide to write a book, you’ll be able to reach out to people who’ve already shown interest in what you’re doing, and ask for support. That makes things much, much easier on launch day.
How did you go from barely selling any copies after the launch to being #1 in several Amazon categories?
So, the honest answer is: I don’t know.
I remember I was at a friend’s wedding. At the time, the book was getting around 25 sales per day, and that day I got 90 sales, and from then on the sales improved significantly. I’m not sure why that happened. Maybe Amazon mentioned The Connection Algorithm in one of their promotional emails. Maybe they featured it on their website. There’s no way to know, really.
I’d like to think that I just kept trying, and, eventually, the sales graph started going up. I mean, I didn’t just sit back and relax after the launch. I kept promoting the book on social media, on my blog, on podcasts, etc. So my guess is that all those little things added up. It’s work. The more you work at it, the mores sales you get.
You have also released an audio version. Can you tell us more about that?
I used ACX, which is Amazon’s platform for producing audio-books. It’s very straightforward: You sign up. You post your project (including an excerpt from your book). Professional voice artists apply for the job by giving you an audio sample of them reading the excerpt you provided. Then you pick an artist you like, produce the book, and publish it on Amazon.
It took me a while to find the right person. I probably reviewed 30-40 applications until I found someone I liked?Michael Pauley, who did a tremendous job.
Producing the audio version cost around $500 – $600, and it turned out to be a great investment, because now audio book sales make up almost half of The Connection Algorithm revenue.
Do you mind sharing how much money you made from The Connection Algorithm?
It’s been a year since I released the book, and I’d say I’ve made around $25,000 in total, including foreign rights deals. Monthly revenue varies drastically, though. As I already mentioned, when I launched the book I was selling only a few copies a day, and then the sales graph suddenly shot up. Now it has gone down again. I currently make less than $1,000 per month from The Connection Algorithm, with a more or less 50/50 split between audio book and Kindle version sales (only 1 percent – 2 percent of the revenue comes from hard copy sales).
Were there any new opportunities that have come your way as a result of publishing your first book?
The Connection Algorithm definitely opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve built amazing relationships with people in the publishing world, did some consulting in that space, and appeared on several popular podcasts. I think there’s a certain amount of respect that comes with publishing a successful book, and it opens up a world of opportunities.
What are your top 3 tips for Writers in Charge audience?
- Build your brand. I recommend putting content online and building your email list. You don’t even need your own website. You can publish your writing on Medium, and if people like it, it will start spreading through the platform. Just don’t forget to add a link to your email list in the byline!
- Make your book a priority. I was fortunate enough to be able to make The Connection Algorithm my sole focus, which makes things much easier. But if you can’t afford to make your book your #1 priority, you need to make sure it’s at least in your top 3 to 5. Put it above watching TV shows, playing computer games, partying, etc. Realize that this is a temporary commitment. You can write and publish a book in 6-12 months if you stay focused. Just get it done and then you can go back to all those other things.
- See the big picture. It’s important to understand that your book is much more than a product for making money. It’s an extremely powerful tool that can help you advance in life. It’s not just about the one book you’re writing. It’s about the potential of writing several books, getting paid to speak, doing consulting, or building a business around the book. (Even if you have no interest in anything beyond writing right now, it’s wise to create opportunities for yourself, should you ever need them). You can only get the full value out of the experience if you take your book seriously and give it the respect it deserves.
What’s next for you?
There are two major projects I’m working on right now that I’m extremely excited about:
- A new book called Authorpreneur, which is about the intersection of writing and entrepreneurship. I cover the process of self-publishing — from writing, to launching, to marketing, and then describe how that fits into the entrepreneurial landscape.
- A new business called LaunchTeam. After self-publishing two bestselling books, I’ve learned that marketing is one of the hardest and most overlooked parts of the process. LaunchTeam is a platform for helping authors get traction.
We’ll see how it goes!
Thank you, Jesse!