Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

What I Learned from Launching My First Best Seller

My new book, The Art of Work, launched a few weeks ago and immediately became a Publishers’ Weekly, USA Today, and Washington Post bestseller. It also hit #1 in all its categories on Amazon and was #7 of all books overall.

Book store

Photo Credit: Snipergirl via Compfight cc

Soon, I want to peel back the curtains to show you what we did, how we did it, and what I learned. But before we talk about that, we need to talk about the book itself.

This is the fourth book I’ve launched, so you’d think I’d know how to do this by now. But the truth is this was the first book I feel like I launched the right way. And there are a few reasons why that is. Here’s what I learned (you can scroll down to the summary to get the gist).

Writing a good book is not enough

As an author, I try my very best to not write bad books. Hopefully, that goes without saying. However, I always thought the way publishing worked was you wrote the best book you could, tried to promote it, then left the rest to fate. But that’s not the way it works. Not really.

I’ve written good books before and then struggled to promote them, because I overlooked an important step in the process. Determined to do things differently this time, I asked a book marketing expert how he helped best-selling authors launch their books into the stratosphere. And he told me his secret:

90% of the marketing is done once the book is finished.

What I’ve learned from watching other successful authors is it’s not enough to write a good book. You have to write one that’s interesting. I wanted my book to be one that people would talk about for years to come. And the way to do that is to bake the shareable concepts of your book into the actual book.

What ensued was an additional month of edits in which I took every idea and story in the book and tried to turn them into what my friend Lysa calls “sticky statements” — that is, phrases that stick in people’s minds and get them to share your work.

What I learned in the process is that there is a difference between writing a good book and an interesting one. No amount of marketing can save you from a boring book.

Launching takes more time than you think

I hate planning. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy. Sadly, though, I had seen the fruit of such planning strategies with previous book launches, and I wanted this one to be different.

When I met Chris Guillebeau in person six months before my book launch, he asked me how it was going. Sheepishly, I told him I hadn’t done anything yet. “Oh,” he said. Well, we need to get to work.

I remembered hearing Jon Acuff saying once at a conference that after he hit The New York Times Best Sellers list that he had all these people calling him asking how they could do what he did.

“When do you launch?” he would ask.

“In a month,” they would say.

“I’m sorry,” he’d reply, “but I can’t help you.”

Why? Because, according to Jon, it takes a year to launch a best-selling book. So I had some catching up to do.

What I ended up doing was meeting with my publisher in December, quickly hammering out a simple but powerful plan that gave us the best shot of hitting a best sellers list.

You don’t need a team, you need an army

With previous book launches, I’ve tried to do nearly everything on my own. I’ve had launch teams and early reviewers, but that was about it. I completely underestimated how many people you need to get to talk about your book to make it a success.

Inevitably, following this strategy, I would run out of time, energy, and resources, and have to throw in the towel, frustrated that I couldn’t do more. The launch always ended with me having a long, unfinished to-do list.

With The Art of Work, I was committed to doing this differently. So I pulled out all the stops and gathered an amazing group of people to help me launch the book well. And lest you think you need some big budget to do this, I should point out that most of these people were volunteers.

If you write an interesting book that’s good, people will want to share it. But you’ll still have to ask them. (Case in point: My book already has over 190 reviews on Amazon. How did this happen? Well, I very intentionally asked people who read the book to leave an honest review.)

Great marketing will only get you so far

You can only tweet, email, and Instagram about your book so much before you begin to exhaust your audience.

“At a certain point,” a best-selling author friend told me, “magic has to take over.” People have to start talking about the book without you. That’s why making sure your book is interesting (I followed this set of criteria) is so important.

A book is a conduit for an idea. In the case of The Art of Work, the idea that each of us was put on this Earth to do something meaningful was a compelling one. When people bought the book and started reading it, many were excited to share it. Why? Because the book helped the reader help someone else.

This is what Jonah Berger calls “social currency,” which he says is one of the secrets to viral content. If you can give somebody something that makes them look smart when they share it (like the interesting facts beneath a Snapple bottle cap), more people will want to pass it on.

In the end, the book has to solve a problem or address a felt need. This goes for both fiction and nonfiction — whether the need is the need to feel not so alone in this world or to believe that another future is possible. We read books to not escape this life, but make sense of it.

At least, that’s what I think.

Summary

So to boil it all down, if you’re a writer wanting to launch a book the right way, don’t do what I did for three previous books and try to cram too much into too short a window of time or foolishly think you can do it all on your own. Instead do this:

  1. Write an interesting book, following these criteria. Bake your marketing into the product itself. This will make it way easier (and more fun) to promote.
  2. Give yourself enough time. Plan your launch at least 3-6 months in advance, preferably a year. Here’s a framework worth following.
  3. Get your team together, including a launch team as well as a team of influencers who can help you spread the message. Michael Hyatt explains how he did this here.
  4. Focus on the long game. Having an instantly best-selling book is great, but most books launch and then disappear. The best books gain momentum over time. And that is usually the result of the author not giving up on the book.

What’s next?

This is the number one question people have asked me: What’s next? And the answer I give surprises them: Nothing.

Of course, I already have an idea for the next book (I can’t help coming up with new ideas — it’s a disease), but honestly I don’t want to rush it. This is a mistake I’ve made in the past. I’ve spent a year writing a book, then invested a whole week into launching it before moving on to the next thing.

“If you want to sell more books,” Tim Grahl once told me, “keep talking about your current book.”

That’s the plan. I intend to focus on this book for the foreseeable future. Why? Because I believe in it. Because I want to continue the conversation that it began. And because I still believe there are more people out there who need this book.

So that’s what’s next. I intend to keep going with this book and this message, helping people find the work they were born to do.

One more thing…

Lastly, I just wanted to say thanks. I am so grateful for all you’ve done to help spread the word about this book. None of this would have happened without you.

I’d be honored if you’d leave a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads telling me what you thought of the book once you’re done with it.

And if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read The Art of Work, have no fear. It’s available for the cost of a few Starbucks Venti Orange Mocha Frappuccinos. When you pick up a copy at your favorite retailer (my preference is the local book store), submit your receipt at the book site, and get $250 in free resources.

So that’s what I learned (and in a future post, I’ll share with you some more details on exactly what we did, tactically).

When it comes to finding your calling, what’s your biggest struggle? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Jo Michael

    I have so much respect for this. It has been amazing to be a part of this launch! I believe in what you do; and can’t wait to see this one spread, and spread far. I have learned so much from you. Thanks for doing what you do!!

    • thanks, Jo! I’m glad you were a part of it.

  • Outstanding advice and gracious of you to share it with your readers, Jeff. Congrats on a terrific book that will actually help people along the path to their calling!

  • It’s interesting how you stated to bake the marketing into the book itself, as I’ve found myself sharing bits and pieces of the book online and with others. I can’t recommend this book enough and I still have 60 pages to go! lol

    • Hah! Love that, Gabe. Thanks so much.

  • Ruth L. Snyder

    Thanks for sharing what you’re learning. The two things I learned from being part of your launch team are: 1. You need a team (or army) to be successful and 2. Generosity is a great way to grow your audience/team. I’m looking forward to introducing you to my Canadian writing friends in September 🙂

    • I’m looking forward to that too, Ruth. Can’t wait to join you soon!

  • Sally

    Amen. Your book is filled with “shareable” content. And, yes. I feel “smart” sharing it 😉 Thanks for inspiring and encouraging all of us!

    • Hah! Well, I think you ARE smart. 😉

  • Sandra

    Thank you for writing this book. It has clarified many aspects of my life, making me view it as a whole instead of unrelated pieces and parts. I am learning to listen to my life. It is challenging, but I have already reaped rewards from doing so. I have rediscovered that I have a bright future!

  • This is one of my favourite of your posts, Jeff. Not only is it helpful to me as writer looking at launching a forthcoming book, but it is also inspiring to me to see you getting clearer and stronger in your voice as a writer. You model something so very important: continued growth in your profession and blossoming while others watch.

    • @lanciasmith:disqus I appreciate you acknowledgement of this particular article from @jeffgoins:disqus, I can admit I am learning new things every time I get to this blog.

    • Thanks, friend.

  • Great, great post. Thank you.

  • Thank you very much @jeffgoins:disqus for publishing the lessons you have had to learn on the go. I feel like you have assured my doubt on whether or not i was ready to launch my book, the truth is I really am not ready. I need to swap my team for an army and tuck in all sort of time committing activities you mention were necessary in your Best Seller Success.

    Lastly, thanks for the book, its actually a wonderful read and everyday I am encouraged to do something amazing for my business.

    • Wow! My pleasure. Thank you for this wonderful comment.

  • David Mike

    This post will be so valuable to anyone who is ready to get serious about launching a book. Thank you for your willingness to share your journey with us!

  • Tom

    Looking forward to the rest of this series 😀

  • lifeofjoy

    Thank you! Since I’m just launching my book, it sure would have helped to have your advice a year ago.

    • Tell me about it! I wish I could have known this stuff three years ago!

  • Quick question, Jeff: What role (if any) did giving away your book free play in climbing up the bestseller ranks? I’m assuming Amazon doesn’t “count” those as sales, but do the other lists?

    I’ve noticed several other authors and online marketers using the same tactic (e.g., Jeff Walker with “Launch,” Russell Brunson with “Click Funnels,” etc. ) I know it exposes the book to many more people (the obvious goal) but what effect does it have on its ranking?

    Thanks!

    • Brandon, I have the same question. I have quite a few of these “free” books, but I am curious about how it helps the ranking of the book.

      Cheers
      Ayesha

      • See my explanation above. Hope that helps. FWIW, I think this tactic will become less and less effective as more and more people do it. But still, if you can find a way to give a version of your book away, that’s never a bad idea. Word of mouth is what ultimately gets books to spread. And it’s hard to get people talking about a book they’ve never read or never heard of. Free lowers the barrier to entry and removes almost all resistance. The only trick is to have something else to sell them (a backlist or the next book or some other product) to make it financially sustainable in the long run. Many best-selling authors kick-started their book’s success through some act of generosity. Giving works.

    • Those “free” books do count as sales for the bestseller lists. A company called RealSource, for example, will buy up 10,000 copies or so and distribute them to a list that the author provides. It sends them to different addresses and uses multiple credit cards to ensure they don’t raise flags when the bestseller lists are tabulated. It actually doesn’t take THAT many copies to get onto a bestseller list — the whole industry (reviews, blurbs, sales stats) is pretty rigged.

      https://publishingperspectives.com/2014/03/how-to-buy-a-top-spot-on-the-new-york-times-bestseller-list/

      • I’ve never heard of RealSource. I know of ResultSource, but didn’t use any of those companies. I’ve seen a lot of the negative responses to these campaigns, so I didn’t decide to go that route, using one of those companies. It was important to me that every book ordered went to an actual person.

        I can’t comment on the industry being rigged. That seems to be a blanket statement. I was just trying to get the books into a lot of people’s hands so they started talking about it. I’m happy with those results. Everything that’s happened on top of that is really just gravy.

    • It helped quite a bit. For me, the goal was to get a ton of people talking about the book all at the same time to see if we could reach even more people. In my experience, it worked. It gave the book a boost in initial sales that started the word-of-mouth generation that followed.

      And depending on how you do it, you can sell the books directly to the consumer through the publisher (if they have a decent system for fulfilling the orders) or pay to route them through retail channels yourself (or using a system that does this for you). The first is more cost effective but won’t count towards BookScan which reports to the NYT and other best sellers lists. The second will report, provided you do it right.

      • Thanks, Jeff! This is really helpful and clarifying. One follow-up question: doesn’t the publisher take a massive loss on this system? Even if readers cover the shipping cost, and assuming the book only costs $1-2 to print, they’re still losing tens of thousands in opportunity cost, right? All those people who would have bought the book didn’t. (Granted, many of them hopefully encouraged other buyers to purchase who otherwise wouldn’t have.)

        It makes sense for an author to use the free book as a springboard to higher-paid programs (e.g., Jeff Walker giving away Launch to draw interest in his Product Launch Formula program.) But how did that work with Thomas Nelson? I’m assuming they don’t get a cut when readers sign up for your own premium programs (including the upsells during the “free book” funnel). So from what it seems, they take the hit by giving away all the free books but don’t see the later benefits. What’s in it for them?

        Thanks again!

  • Hi Jeff! Thanks for a great post. I was just part of a book launch as a co-author in a compilation book. You’re spot on – it takes a lot of time and effort to get the bestseller status. And it did take an army of supporters. The Amazon best seller process is a bit of a mystery to me and I am still learning about it. I think one of the keys is to chose niche categories so that less well know authors can get number one ranking in those categories.

    • Yep. That’s it, Ayesha. Go small before you go big. Good luck!

  • Vicky Lightner Cox

    THIS article is interesting! I mean, I know a lot of thought and planning went into your launch, but it’s helpful and fascinating to know how you did it. It gives me the confidence that with work I can produce better content.

  • I’ve been hearing so much about your book lately that I had to come check it out. I guess that proves the gist of your post huh? 😉

    Quick question, do you feel these guidelines and prep time would apply to just an ebook as well or is it more for print?

  • Jacob

    Nice work Jeff. Thank you for the post. Very informative.

  • Congratulations and thanks for the awesome tips. Suddenly my book seems even more of an idea than an actual book!

    • Thanks! And I’m glad to hear that, Williesha.

  • Hi Jeff,

    It blows my mind that some of the most talented authors finish writing a book before they ever think of promoting it.

    Many thanks for sharing this, AMAZING read, and looking forward to your webinar 🙂 see you soon.

    • It doesn’t blow my mind. I totally get it. Did it three times. It’s a discipline for me to focus on the marketability of it. But it’s so important. Thanks for sharing!

  • Hey Jeff, Thanks for this post. I am looking forward to reading your book. I’m primarily a musician and producer. Do you think launching a CD is similar to launching books? Does that relate in the way you’ve thought about it? Are there people making music that you know of that are doing things like this? Just curious. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Yes. I think there are some similarities.

    • ZJ

      Hey Josh, I read Jeff Walker’s “Launch” a couple months ago and have been following along with Pat Flynn’s stuff and a few others. I wondered the same thing myself about launches and music. In fact, I found your comment here because did a Google search for “jeff walker launch musician” to see if someone’s already made “launching” music a sustainable thing. I’m a singer/songwriter and would love to crack the music-launch code, haha! Have you launched any music lately?

      • Hey ZJ. Sorry it’s taken me so long to circle back around. I have my ideas and different things I’ve learned online that I’m trying to apply over at my company OneFiftyMediaHouse.com Hit me up there and let’s bounce ideas off each other.

  • Helena Grey

    Hi Jeff, I think a third group would serve us all well as there are those of us that know what we want to do with the rest of our lives; we’ve found our calling, only it’s not writing. The current two groups offer only those that want to write and those that are still searching. Even as a writer, you have tremendous capacity to speak into our callings outside of writing. The trajectory had parallels, we just substitute ‘writing’ (for now) with fashion design, or makeup artist, or Business Professor (Portfolio living). Many of us on the Facebook group know our calling outside of writing; please consider adding a third group for us.

    Ps: I’m glad you’re taking your time with this book and keeping the conversation going; it’s an important one that needs to be shared and heard.

    • That third group would fit with the still searching category. I’ll cover that process beginning to end. I think you’ll find it useful.

      • Helena Grey

        OK, will join the ‘still searching’ category. Thanks!

  • Congrats on that bestselling status! I’m at least as interested in what you learned before launching your bestseller, but I guess you’ve probably covered that, well, before. I’ve only done ebooks, myself, and never thought they were worth charging for, but I do plan–as I think a lot of bloggers and our sort do–to make my living off books one sweet day. It’s good to get a little feedback from people who are actually pulling it off!

  • CJ

    I struggle with two things in finding my calling:
    1. I have too many passions and can’t narrow it down to one or two
    2. I’m strongly passionate for a while with something I’m good at and then the passion seems to just go away suddenly for long periods of time.
    CJ

    • 1. Maybe it isn’t just one thing.
      2. Maybe you don’t always have to be passionate about it.

      I struggle with those things too.

  • Strip Club Bartender

    Super helpful for new authors!!! Thank you!

    http://www.oddjobsurvivalist.blogspot.com

  • Elanee Smythe

    Hi Jeff,

    Let me just say, that I’m pretty much adicted to your writing. I’ve read The In-Between, and it was SO encouraging for my life right now. I’ve been feeling lost in a world of uncertanity, and your book helped me see the journey as a blessing. I’m currently reading Wrecked, and really enjoying it as well. I dream of being a writer like you someday:)

    Currently the biggest struggle I face in determining my calling is knowing what God wants me to do. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what I could do, or what I want to do, but I keep questioning if it’s what God wants me to do. I feel like He’s calling me to live a life of more sacrifice, when I’m looking for a life of comfort. What is one thing that you did to identify whether your calling was from God or yourself?

    Anyhow, I’m really looking forward to your webinar tomorrow:) Thanks SO much for being so encouraging and open with your life. You mean a lot to me!

    Elanee

    • Elanee, thank you. And great question. I think sometimes we disassociate our will from what God wants too much. Sometimes, your dreams and God’s dreams for your life are the same. Not always, of course. But sometimes, they are. In my case, I was looking for three things: 1) internal resonance (does this connect with my own sense of what I ought to be doing), 2) external confirmation (do other people see this in me?), and 3) fruit (when I do this work, do good things happen?).

      Personally, for me, that meant this feeling of dreaming of being a writer for YEARS and then finally doing something about it. But at that point, I didn’t assume it was a calling. When I started seeing results (in the form of an online blog audience, a book contract, and money coming in through book and product sales), I thought it MIGHT be a calling. And then when my friend Mark told me how rare what had happened to me was and straight up told me “you should consider that this might be your calling,” I was pretty sure I needed to take the next step.

      But even then, and I write about this in The Art of Work, it’s still an act of faith. You never just know exactly what you need to do. You only know enough to get you to the next step in the process.

      That’s my experience, anyway.

      • Elanee Smythe

        Thank you SO much for your reply! It was very helpful. I’m looking forward to reading The Art of Work soon:)

  • Douglas R Kiba

    Hi, Jeff.

    I love this post and the honesty. Congratulations on your book being a best seller! You deserve it. The biggest struggle with finding my calling is living a life that’s not the norm to family members and peers, a path that is quite risky and unacceptable. So there’s really little moral support and tons of misunderstandings which affect my relationships. Sometimes I think I’m not normal. I wish I was and just stuck to mediocrity and didn’t question life and it’s possibilities so much , that way I wouldn’t disgrace my family for trying and trying and not giving up. Because they will look at other young people my age and wonder why I’m not like them. That’s my struggle. I long for my relatives to embrace me, but that’s not going to happen as long as I’m different. I just hope in the next few weeks I’ll have some results to show for all my hard work. Not that I’m not getting any yet, but it’s a learning curve and the world doesn’t have time for you to tie your laces sometimes, the race is already on.

    • Nick

      Hi Douglas,
      It’s never easy living your life by your own rules especially when family doesn’t understand what you up to. And its hard trying to make your family understand, actually don’t.
      All i can tell you right now is to keep doing what you are doing, along the way, they will come around. Especially when results for your hard work begin to show up.

      • Douglas R Kiba

        Thanks Nick! Needed this today more than ever. 🙂

  • Thank you for this post, believe it or not, you just helped me figure out one of my books purpose.