In 2012 Taylor quit his job, landed an apprenticeship in an e-commerce company, and moved to S.E Asia, where he immersed himself in the world of entrepreneurship.
With each passing year he became more and more skeptical of the common career wisdom that we have all heard from our parents. Was having a job still the safe choice and starting a business still the risky one?
He didn’t think so. In fact, after having met hundreds of people who were running their own businesses, he came to a conclusion that jobs were becoming more and more risky, due to globalization and technology. On the other hand, entrepreneurship was safer than ever. So, after several years of mulling over these issues and writing about them on his blog, he decided that it was time to write a book.
Taylor had never written a book before and didn’t have any previous experience with self-publishing. Still, when he launched “The End of Jobs” it hit #1 in the Business and Money category a week later, and went on to sell more than 5,000 copies that month. How did he manage to pull that off as an unknown, first-time author?
The Artist’s Dilemma
Okay, so before we go into the details of Taylor’s story, there’s something we need to address first.
Artists, including writers, often have conflicting desires. On one hand, they want to create art, and have little interest in (or, sometimes, even contempt for) the business side of things. On the other hand, they want to make a living from their art, so that they can focus on it full-time. But is it even possible to have both at the same time?
Here’s what Taylor, who is also familiar with this dilemma, has to say on this:
“I think it’s a choice you have to make. There are a lot of people who have written good books, and they enjoy writing, and that’s their art. It’s not what they do to make a living. And they’re totally fine with that. But…
I recommend watching John Mayer speak at Berklee college of music. In that speech, he basically says to musicians that they need to be honest with themselves. If they want to be independent and do their own thing, and only sell 500 copies of their album – ever, that’s fine. But if they want their music to be listened to, there are certain rules they need to follow. There are certain things about popular songs that make them popular.
I think it’s the same with books. You need to ask yourself whether you are writing only for yourself, or if you want other people to read your work. In my case, I felt like I had an important message to share, so I wanted to reach a wide audience. That meant that I was willing to approach writing and marketing my book in a way that made that possible.
And maybe that’s completely different for you, maybe you see writing as something sacred, something you do for yourself. That’s totally fine. Just realize that there is a choice to be made, and that you can’t have it both ways.
There are pros and cons to each option. Writing for yourself means that you get to have absolute creative freedom, but you probably won’t be able to support yourself with it. Writing for others means that you have less creative freedom because you have to write in a way that is understandable and entertaining (plus there’s the extra hassle of marketing the book), but you are much more likely to make a living that way. You need to decide what is important to you.
And you need to make that decision before you start writing your book!
Why you should run your book like a business
Interestingly, despite his desire to share his message with a wide audience and his considerable marketing skills, Taylor didn’t give much thought to the promotion of the book until he read Tim Grahl’s “Your First 1000 Copies”.
“I had a pretty strong background in marketing, but I didn’t really connect the dots. I didn’t say, Okay, I can take my marketing expertise and apply it to this book. ‘Your first 1000 Copies’ showed me how silly that was. Writing a good book is one half of it, and marketing that book effectively is the other half. Writing a good book but not marketing it, and writing a crummy book and marketing it has the same effect, which is none. It’s when you combine the two that you can actually make an impact.”
He realized that writing and marketing a book was just like running a business. “You start with an idea and a lot of unproven assumptions, and your goal is to prove those assumptions as quickly as possible while investing as little capital and time as possible. “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries is the framework for doing that in tech startups.” So Taylor decided to take ideas from the startup world and apply them to his book.
Eventually, it all boiled down to these two key ideas:
- Allocate resources equally between product development and marketing. “As Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares point out in ‘Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth‘, almost every failed startup has a product. What failed startups don’t have is traction. Likewise, every author has a book. What most don’t have is marketing traction.”
- Iterate quickly and publicly. “Startups release products quickly to ever larger groups of customers because it both improves the quality of the product faster (due to tons of feedback) and weaves that feedback into the narrative of the product in a way that makes customers feel a sense of ownership. I tried to do the same with the book.”
All that really means was that Taylor decided to get feedback from potential readers early on and make adjustments according to that feedback. He also made sure to put significant effort into marketing the book. Sounds a bit obvious, doesn’t it?
Yet, most writers who go the self-publishing route do the exact opposite. They write their books in isolation and don’t pay much (or any!) attention to marketing. Taylor’s decision to run his book like a business put him ahead of his competition from the very start.
Feedback, feedback, feedback
Being open about writing the book, sharing large sections of it online, and getting feedback from the early reviewers (in other words, iterating quickly and publicly) helped Taylor to write something that really resonated with the readers.
Here are the steps he took to gather feedback on “The End of Jobs”:
- Sent the first draft to 5 alpha readers.
- Published sections of the second draft on his blog.
- Sent the second draft to 70 early readers.
- Sent the final draft to 300 early ambassadors.
Sending the first draft to five close friends was an easy way to get some early feedback from people who knew what they were talking about.
Then, publishing sections of his book on his blog allowed him to see what worked and what didn’t with his audience. “Blogging your book lets you test concepts and ways of explaining them to see if they resonate. For example, ‘The Commoditization of Credentialism’ was one of the most popular posts I wrote while working on the book, so I made it a part of a chapter in the book. Meanwhile, another post that I thought about putting in the book, ‘Asset Thinking: How Do You Invest in Entrepreneurship?’ yielded crickets, so I threw it out.”
Finally, sending the entire second draft to 70 early readers helped him to see how the book worked as a whole, and what the possible issues were that needed to be fixed.
After all that work, the final draft of “The End of Jobs” was clear, valuable, and entertaining, and was received well by its target audience.
- Get feedback and make adjustments. You might think that you know what you’re doing, but you can’t rely on assumptions. You have to test them. The easiest way to find out whether or not people are interested in your idea is to show them what you have and ask them what they think. It might be a bit scary, especially when it’s only an early draft, but it’s much better to get criticism from early reviewers (when you can still fix things) than to spend months working on your book, only to see it fall flat on the launch day.
- Consider publishing your book on your blog chapter by chapter. Want a cheap and easy way to gauge the interest of the market? As you are writing the book, package each chapter as a blog post, put them on your blog, and promote them. What are people saying? And if you can’t get anyone to read your blog posts, then you probably won’t be able to get them to buy your book either.
Getting other people invested
Taylor says that support from other people was what mattered the most.
“The biggest element of the book’s success was not my clever marketing, but other people’s support. Iterating quickly and publicly not only helped to make the actual product better, it also helped me identify a core group of readers who were willing to help spread the message of the book.”
His approach to getting the support he needed was based on something called the Pareto principle which says that, for many events, 80% of results come from 20% of the causes, which meant that 80% of support for the book will come from 20% of the readers. He did take it a little bit further, though…
“If you factor the 80/20 rule twice, you get 51.2/0.8. (80%x80%x80%=51.2% and 20%x20%x20%=0.8%) Which is to say that 51.2% of the total excitement about your books is in .8% of the total market. If you can identify these people it makes sense to invest 50% of your marketing resources (probably your time) into them because they generate enormous leverage.”
Around 6 months before the launch, Taylor set up a landing page for the book and offered everyone that signed up a free copy when it launched. He also invited them to the Facebook group.
He also sent an email to his main email list of around 400 people inviting them to join a Facebook group for insider information about the book launch. “This gave me a way to segment out the 80/20 (or 0.8%/51.2%) of people so I could communicate more often and directly with the people who were interested and invested.”
That group ended up being a major source of early Amazon reviews and support for the Thunderclap.it campaign. Given that these people saw the book go from an idea to the final draft, and many of them contributed with their feedback, is it any surprise that they wanted it to do well on the launch day?
- Build a community around your book. You can’t get your book off the ground all by yourself. Get other people involved. You will need their support on the launch day.
- Identify that 20% of your readers, then invest heavily in them. Creating that Facebook group was a great idea because it allowed Taylor to identify people who are the most interested in his book and provided him the means to easily communicate with them. Consider doing something similar.
- Identify that 0.8% of your readers and give them special attention. These people are your biggest fans, who will be invaluable on the launch day. Try to build personal relationships with them and show them that you appreciate them.
“The End of Jobs” launch
Finally, after 9 months of hard work, Taylor launched “The End of Jobs” at the end of June, 2015. Price point? Free!
“I chose ‘free’ because giving it away let me to reach out to people and ask for their support (it’s a much smaller ask of people’s personal brand equity). Imagine all the people who would share your book if it were $20. Now imagine if it was $1. Doesn’t change much, does it? Now imagine free. There’s a much larger new circle of people you can talk with. It also let me ask people who were already excited about the book (Facebook group) to do something more valuable than just buy the book for $3.99 (say, write Reddit posts or leave a review). It also generated a lot of momentum and let me get the book to the top of Amazon. Counterintuitively, I believe the book would not have sold half as many copies if I hadn’t given it away for free.”
He did a bunch of things to promote the book: he made an announcement on his blog, Facebook group, and email list, submitted it to Reddit Giveaways, posted a link to it on Reddit Entrepreneur and Bootstrapper.io, and shared his progress on related online forums. And it paid off.
On the launch day, “The End of Jobs” was downloaded thousands of times, and went on to hit #1 in Small Business Top 100 Free category.
- Consider giving your book away for free on the launch day. Like everything, this approach has pros and cons (free means minimal barrier for getting the book, but people also tend to value free things less, so they might not read it), but if you are publishing your book on Amazon then making it free might help you gain the momentum you need to eventually climb the paid rank.
- Promote your book as much as you can. Launch day is the day when you must generate as much buzz as possible. Talk about your book on your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, submit it to giveaways, etc. Launch is not a time to be modest. It’s a time promote your work, so don’t hold back.
So what happened after the launch?
Launch day was over… But Taylor’s work wasn’t.
Here’s what the launch week looked like
- Launch day +1– He emailed readers and posted on social media that the book hit #1 in the Small Business Top 100 Free category list.
- Launch day + 2 – He emailed readers and posted on social media that the book hit #1 in Small Business & Entrepreneurship Top 100 Free category list.
- Launch day + 3 – He emailed readers and posted on social media that the book hit #1 in Small Business and that ‘today’ is the last day to download the book for free (Amazon limits free promotions to five days).
- Launch day + 4 – He emailed readers and posted on social media that the book hit #1 in International Economics. Put a note at the top of the description saying that book is at $0.99 – but only for the next week, in order to create urgency.
- Launch day +5 – He emailed readers and posted on social media that the book hit #1 in Small Business Top 100 Paid category list.
- Launch day +6 – He emailed his list to say the book hit #1 in Small Business and Entrepreneurship parent category.
- Launch day + 7 – He posted an article and emailed his list announcing that “The End of Jobs” hit #1 in the whole Business and Money category for Amazon.
Then, he did his best to promote “The End of Jobs” some more, leveraging all the attention it received, but he admits that he didn’t really expect his book to sell as many copies as it did, so he wasn’t really prepared to take full advantage of its success.
“A lot of things that I’d do differently are predicated on the fact that the book did well. I had the marketing for the launch lined up, but I wasn’t really planning doing anything after that, and then because it did well, I ended up scrambling to take advantage of that momentum. I could have planned that better if I had known that the book was going to do well.”
Eventually, everything quieted down, but “The End of Jobs” still sells 10-20 copies each day on Amazon.
Taylor’s Top 3 Tips for Writers in Charge readers
I asked Taylor what he would advise to freelance writers who want to reduce their reliance on client work by self-publishing books.
Here are his top three tips:
#1 Build an audience
“Start creating content and putting it online for free. You can do this by blogging, podcasting, etc. Share it on Facebook and Twitter with people you know. Keep doing that, and sooner or later you’ll have an audience, a group of people that care what you have to say.
There’s an article by Kevin Kelly called “1000 True Fans” which I highly recommend for anyone who’s interested in building an audience.”
#2. Build an email list
“Start building an email list. This will give you reliable access to your readers and allow you to build relationships with them. Then, once your book comes out, you can use that email list to spread the message.”
#3. Leverage assets you already have
“One mistake I’ve made in the past, and I’ve seen other people make, is saying, ‘I don’t like client work, so I’m going to do something totally separate and unrelated’. I think if you are already writing for paying clients, that means the market has validated that the subject matter you’re writing about is valuable. You can leverage the skill set, network, and domain knowledge that you already have, by simply using a different medium (say, publishing a book instead of writing for clients) as a way to monetize it.”
And what about the people who already have an idea for a book? Should they start working on it immediately or should they focus on building an audience first?
“Do both. What I did with my book is, I wrote it publicly. Don’t just write a book alone, do a rough draft, publish it chapter by chapter on your blog, and see what people think about it. This will only make your book better.”
What’s next for Taylor?
“I’m writing another book right now. It’s actually inspired by the article, “1000 True Fans” which I’ve mentioned earlier. I think there’s never been a time in history when it was so easy for artists, creatives, and people to make a full-time living by selling their work directly to a small group of people who really care about it. That’s what I’m going to explore in my next book.
Other than writing, I’m going to continue doing consulting, and I’m also starting to do more speaking.”
P.S. This case study is largely based on Taylor’s post “Jesus Marketing: How to Sell 5000 Books in Four Weeks” which includes a lot more details – and Taylor’s book marketing resources. Make sure you check it out!