I would like to publish a book this year.
This would just be a side project, the book isn't written yet, and I have no idea how to market it.
So, I went out and found the best advice on self-publishing a book and successfully marketing it. And I'm going to summarize what I learned in this post.
The only way to sell books is through word of mouth
The key to selling non-fiction? Word of mouth.
That's the biggest thing I learned from ‘Write Useful Books' by Fitzpatrick. Most people don't search for books anymore, they have problems, and friends recommend books based on the kinds of problems they’re dealing with.
The main idea in ‘Write Useful Books' is that to make a book easy to recommend, it needs to offer a tangible outcome for a specific group of people.
When someone in that group is dealing with a problem, somebody else sees it, and that becomes a catalyst to recommend your book. That's not to say that all books should solve a problem in this way, but that's what I'm talking about in this post.
Make sure that the book works. If someone reads the book and follows the advice, does it help them deal with the problem? This is key. Otherwise, this approach doesn't work.
Follow this advice, and you can safely ignore all other traditional book marketing advice.
Your book might not become an instant bestseller, but it'll kick off a cycle of recommendations that compound over time and lead to profitability. Just look at Rob's first book, 'Mom Test': earned $535 in its first month. Eight years later, it makes $10,000 in royalties and continues to grow. It's earned over half a million in total royalties so far. His second book: month five sales with the same as the Mom Test at year five. And his third book, write useful books I'm basically recommending as I read this
As incredible as this might sound, for any of this to work, you still need to get the book into the hands of 500 to 1000 people (who have the problem your book solves) when it launches. This is key to kickstarting the recommendation cycle.
Finding your first thousand readers
Fauzia Burke wrote a book, 'Online Marketing for Busy Authors' back in 2016, where she outlined a list of steps to take to market a book. These included figuring out your personal brand, building a website, maintaining a mailing list, starting a blog, growing a social media presence, and hiring a publicist.
What would a list for authors who aren't busy look like?
Most writers have day jobs, especially when it’s their first book, so it's important to pick your punches when thinking about marketing your book.
Rob Fitzpatrick it down to four reliable ways to find your first thousand readers:
Podcast appearances will be a difficult place for me to start without a finished book, but it might be something I can back to once the book has taken more shape. Amazon ads are a nice boost for sales, but they are not a sustainable solution because there are only so many clicks to buy. Event giveaways largely depend on who you know in the event industry, and I don’t know anyone. So that just leaves writing the book in public.
Writing in Public
Writing in Public is about writing the book as you market it, as opposed to waiting until the book is finished to begin promoting it.
This could mean sharing excerpts of the book or key ideas as they come together, sharing research as it is being done, and generally revealing progress on a day-to-day basis as the book is coming together.
The idea here is that your book is your marketing. If the book is about helping someone solve a problem, you find communities of people interested in that problem, and you can help them solve the problem by answering important questions or posting interesting and useful resources.
The benefit of this approach is that you don’t need a finished book to get started, and people learn about your project as you work on it.
I would like to take this approach, but only once I have a first draft. I believe it’s important to put a first draft together so that you have a clear scope for the book. Writing is a messy process, and a book can meander as it’s being written. I’m sure you could start writing in public at the conceptual stage, but I’m choosing to interpret ‘writing in public’ as “refining in public" so that I don’t get lost promoting a different book to the one I end up writing.
A 5-step approach to writing a book in public
Assuming you have a first draft and the advice in your book works, writing in public can be broken down into five steps:
Figuring out where your ideal readers are online,
Creating a funnel for them to become beta readers,
Building a library of useful information,
Engaging people online and being helpful,
Getting in front of other people's audience.
Figuring out where your ideal readers spend time
The first step is to figure out where your readers are online by using search engines, finding communities, forums, and social media platforms.
I plan to write a book for software engineers, so I'm going to use Twitter as it's the platform of choice for software engineers.
This article explains how you can use Twitter Ad analytics, you can see if your ideal readers use the platform. Interest Targeting on a campaign gives 25 broad interest categories that expand into 350 subtopics, each with its own audience sizes listed out. If you can’t find a single subcategory that defines your target audience, then your audience probably doesn’t exist on Twitter, and you probably market on a different social media platform
In addition to a social platform, I’ve decided to pick one subreddit and one relevant forum.
This post by Stacking Bricks is an excellent walkthrough of exactly how to find useful watering holes for your target audience online. Maybe you decide to just focus, or maybe you want to spread yourself over multiple social media platforms. I’ve decided to stick to three communities so that I don’t spread myself too thin.
Create a funnel for beta-readers
Before you begin writing any content, it’s important to set up an email list where people who are interested in reading the book can sign up. This means creating a simple landing page with an email list provider so that readers can sign up to be notified about the book.
My intention is to get people to sign up to become beta readers and read early drafts of the book and share feedback with me as it is coming together. Rather than sharing every draft with everyone, I need people on a list because I need to be able to contact a small number of people each time a new draft is ready.
You might want to forego beta-reading entirely and just get people to sign up for a list to get announce the book’s release. You could take it even further and send out weekly updates, or you could invest in putting something interesting and useful together in exchange for their email. I want to keep it simple and focus on building engagement on social media platforms rather than investing in maintaining a newsletter.
Regardless of how you decide to use your list, you will need to set up a system where people who are interested in your project give you their contact information so that you have given me permission to contact them directly.
Start building a content library of useful information
Building a library of useful content to get the attention of your ideal reader comes from a blend of original content, thoughtful curation, and real updates about your project on a regular basis. Rather than wasting time each day posting all of this, I’m planning to batch content for a week or two and then have it all scheduled out.
The point of signing up for 2-3 relevant communities is to spend time understanding the kinds of problems people struggle with in the space and how they articulate those issues.
Rather than writing generic blog posts about your topic that sound like you’ve summarised a Wikipedia page, you can write useful and engaging content in response to specific questions that come from real people in a community that’s relevant to the book you’re writing. Responding to a question like this keeps your answer focused, and because you’re responding to a real person, it prevents you from sounding promotional and spammy.
These types of useful answers to real problems are the perfect type of content to repurpose into tweets and Twitter threads. They speak directly to the kinds of people you want attention from because the topics are relevant to the larger problem that you are writing a book about. The likelihood of someone seeing one or two of these posts and then checking your bio and signing up to become a beta reader is much more likely than if you were to just carpet bomb Twitter with fun facts and quotes about your topic.
This idea of scouring online communities for relevant questions is called 'painstorming' and it comes from the 30x500 course by Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman. My goal is to pay attention to questions and conversations happening in online forums and commit to providing useful answers to those discussions at least twice a week.
Curating useful content
Original content is important, but the curation and stewardship of existing information can also be valuable.
Answering questions and pointing people to existing resources that are perfect for answering questions and solving tiny problems is a much faster way to fill up a library of valuable content, without compromising on how useful it is.
Josh Spector has a beautiful approach to finding useful content through Google News that he outlines in his post on 3 Ways To Find Great Content To Share. Finding great content and becoming a steward of relevant information around a topic online is largely down to becoming an expert by dedicating a set amount of time each week to reading, watching, and listening to the best idea, and following the most interesting people and journalists in your space.
A large portion of this work will already be done if you have a first draft of your book. Rather than going out and finding new ideas to share thai is more about pulling out the key idea in your book and sharing where they came from in tweet format.
Scheduling everything out in advance
Once you have about 100 tweets that highlight key ideas and actionable information from or related to your book, then you can build an evergreen content library of these ideas and schedule them to go out once or twice a day.
At Chirr App, we've built a content calendar module that makes it really easy to queue all your content up in one go. You can have a whole month of content laid out on a single page.
The way to set this up is to start by composing your tweet or thread in the editor. We also have a chrome extension that makes it really easy to grab snippets from articles online. Then use one of our four scheduling options to add content to a queue, and build up your content calendar.
You can use the schedule setting tab to set up the same times every day, or you could have different posting times each day (for example, we don't like to post on weekends because we're not around to respond to any comments right away). We've also added a link with some thoughts on how to find the best times to tweet at the end of the article.
At the end of each week or month, you can recycle your best-performing content by adding it to your evergreen content pool. Any content in your evergreen content pool with get randomly recycled every 90 days and posted on the schedule you’ve set.
Beware of over-automating
Batching all your content weeks in advance might feel like you’re being professional and saving loads of time, but you are also making the experience of following you less social. Some automation is useful, but nobody wants to follow a fully automated account.
Austin Kleon wrote a wonderful book called ‘Show you Work’ where he recommends taking a few minutes at the end of each work day and sharing a human update of what you did and how things are coming along.
If you are already answering community questions and you have useful content queued up, then a real update, even if it's only once or twice a week, goes a long way towards humanizing your account and reminding people that there is a person behind all of this worth following.
In addition to real updates about how things are coming along every now and then, actively dedicating time to commenting on other people’s progress each day is something that's hard to automate and can be incredibly powerful at drawing attention to your project and the ideas you stand for.
Start engaging people online by being super helpful
If you want to build an audience for a book and you don't have an existing platform to leverage, then the shortest distance between two points is to spend time each day engaging with a community and joining conversations related to the book's topic.
When asked how to build a following from scratch with no money, Gary Vaynerchuk came up with the $1.80 strategy in 2017. The idea is to follow the ten different hashtags and comment on nine posts on each hashtag each day. Your comment doesn’t need to be anything groundbreaking, you can just show your support and appreciation or add your 2 cents to a discussion. That’s 90 posts a day, 2 cents each, which comes to $1.80.
Even if you only spend 2 minutes per post, commenting on 90 posts a day will mean spending 3 hours doing a day. That might be a bit excessive for what we are trying to achieve. But the principles of joining active conversations in your space and engaging with your community holds. I aim for ten posts a day, and the whole process takes less than half.
The $1.80 strategy was written for Instagram but works just as well when applied to Twitter. Twitter has a free tool called Tweetdeck that lets you list out multiple feeds on a single screen. You can create a column for each hashtag or keyword that you want to keep an eye on. You can also create columns for Twitter lists. This involves adding people of note, like authors, thought leaders, or journalists, to a Twitter list. Then you create a column to keep an eye on any posts from that list in Tweetdeck.
This post goes into further detail on how to set Tweetdeck up for this.
Start getting in front of other people’s audiences.
As you refine the scope of your book, and you’ve gone through several rounds of beta-reader feedback, you’ll start to hone in on the most interesting and engaging aspects of the book that people resonate with.
One of the keys to building an audience is to develop relationships with people who already have audiences that are interested in what you are writing about. Getting in front of other people’s audiences usually means writing guest posts, appearing on podcasts, or doing workshops for a relevant audience.
Writing in public, engaging in relevant communities, and building out a library of useful content will help you get the attention of your peers and other thought leaders in your space. If you can develop these relationships and share your ideas with their audiences, it will lead to larger jumps in signups to your list.
Building these relationships isn't necessarily something that needs to be done entirely before your book is published. The foundation work leading up to this step has to be done before a book comes out if you are planning to write your book in public, but sharing the fruits of that labor with other people’s audiences can also be done after the book is published. Thai links back to Rb Fitzpatrick's podcasting tour as one of the four main ways to sell your first 1000 copies.
To build an audience for your book and sell your first 1000 copies, the day-to-day work involved covers
Spending 30 minutes to an hour a day looking at hashtags and participating in relevant conversations on forums and communities.
Building up a library of 100 pieces of evergreen, actionable, and useful information that you can share.
Committing to answering at least one in-depth question on the forums or communities that you're a part of.
Sharing real progress on how the book is coming along with your audience at least two to three times a week.
By doing this work, you aim to build a list of beta-readers that help refine the scope and experience of your book. Once you have a clear grasp of which aspects of the book people resonate with the most, you can begin pitching other writers and thought leaders by offering to help their audience deal with the problem you are writing about.
Chirr App is an all-in-one Twitter author app that helps you write threads and tweets, engage with your audience, and access actionable analytics so you could write amazing content consistently.