It’s been three years since I released the Story Engine. This book was a pivotal moment in my entrepreneurship journey. It brought together the best of my knowledge at the time and created the platform to build a brand around. It had a consistent presence in many competitive categories in Amazon for almost all of the time it’s been out and it made it as high as the top 500 books on the Amazon (not an easy feat). Not long ago it was also was #1 on the 100 Best B2B Marketing Books of All Time by Book Authority.
It brought in revenue from royalties, but the bigger value was it created a lead generation tool that springboarded me from a list of 0 to thousands over the course of a few months, and many thousands more over the course of four years.
It was the first audiobook I created as well. Those many hours I spent in front of a mic creating the audiobook gave me the confidence to start a podcast. Which has since evolved into a thriving creation of its own and one of my favorite ways to spend time.
These results were far beyond what I expected or hopes for from the book, and they are more possible than you may believe at the moment.
To help you succeed, I’m going to share my process and strategy for how I launched The Story Engine, and how I was able to make bestseller in several different categories in both the Kindle store as well as the paperback store in less than a week. Some things have changed in the Amazon ecosystem since The Story Engine was launched but all of the core concepts remain the same.
When self-publishing, much of the success of your book depends on a good book launch. A strong launch can position you as a thought leader and create powerful opportunities for your business. You want your message to be heard, your story to be told and to reap the rewards of your investment. This can be tough to do, especially if you don’t have a big list or audience to draw on. In this article I want to share my process for launching The Story Engine.
Why I Wanted To Write The Story Engine
I published my first book, The College Entrepreneur, less than a year before this one. Though I was able to hit bestseller with that one as well, it was more of a passion project. It was a message I was compelled to share, but I did not have any business or offers behind it. So after the initial launch, I did not have much to work with, or much upside to promote it. While this book opened some doors and was even required reading for a university entrepreneurship class without a business model behind the book, it did not have a big reach.
The Story Engine was different. It was essentially a detailed outline of how I help my customers define their story and strategy with their content, and how to build a team to help them tell it (without having to spend all day writing). Since the book was so closely tied to the work I do, I could use it as a tool to develop my business more.
- It’s a business card – Business cards are easy to forget and throw away. But a book is not. Giving a book to someone holds much more social weight and is more memorable.
- Authority – A bestselling book on Amazon would set me apart as an authority and allow me to differentiate myself and my process from the many other content marketing experts out there.
- Consolidation – The book tied together many disparate ideas from posts I had written on many different sites. It put them all together in one coherent package. This allowed me to present the full picture of what I do to someone without having to send them a dozen links.
- Clarity – The process of writing and launching a book helped me get more clear on my own story. By creating the book I became more of a thought leader (not the other way around)
- Lead generation – I wanted to create a lead generation tool. So I included templates and downloads throughout the book that people who were ready to take action could download and work with. This would allow me to turn Amazon into a traffic source and a lead source.
Planning The Launch
When I coach and work with clients on books these days, usually they’re overly focused on writing the book and the challenges entailed in that and not the actual launch of the book. A book launch is something you want to plan out and build momentum for many months in advance.
Create A Trailer / Promotional Video
I knew that a good video that captured the promise of the book would be essential for the launch. It would make a great asset for my landing pages and something that people could share on social media during the launch. I worked with a close friend with the right equipment and skills to combine a voiceover with a mix of drone and stock footage to create a narrative that would resonate with the target audience.
Know Which Categories You Want Your Book To Be In
Choosing the right categories to target is essential for your success in making bestseller. You need to know what books are at the top of the categories, how well they are selling, and determine if you can beat them. You can do this by comparing the Amazon Sales rank number with the relative rank of the book in the categories it’s listed in. If you can get a better sales score than the top book in the category, you’ll be able to hit bestseller.
I chose my categories by looking up books that are similar to mine and looked at what categories they were listed in. Once I found categories that looked relevant, I checked to see how competitive they were by looking at the sales rank for the #1 book. I looked for categories with top books with lower (thus, a high number) sales ranks that I thought I could beat out for the top spot with my launch.
Like with SEO in search engines, keywords are essential for success on Amazon. You can find specific keywords to target that you can dominate in Amazon Search. Some keywords are also important for determining which categories your book appears in. The words you choose in your subtitle, description, editorial reviews and more will impact how your book appears in searches on Amazon. I followed Tom Morkes’ “Complete Guide to Amazon Kindle SEO for Self-Publishers“ to help strategize my keywords.
For my initial keyword research I used Keyword Finder to assess the traffic and competitiveness of potential keywords. Once I found some keywords that seemed promising I would search that term in amazon and see what books were appearing for it. I was looking for sales ranks that were high enough to show they were getting sales, yet low enough that I could compete for them.
Once I found a few promising keywords I added them into by subtitle and book description. Keywords are also indexed in your editorial and customer reviews sections. The most important place for keywords is your subtitle. It was challenging to find the balance of creating a subtitle that makes an accurate promise for the book and uses specific keywords without making them look forced. It took writing dozens of subtitles and feedback to land on one that fit the bill.
Building A Launch Team
Though I did not start with a list, building out a small launch list is crucial to get the early momentum you need to succeed in your launch. I knew some would people immediately be willing to support me, but others have a lot on their plates and it would be tough to catch their attention. I had a plan for how I was going to get them on board.
Too often, people send out these giant email blasts asking everyone they know for help all at once. But I have found that keeping things personal can get better results. I wanted to send personalized invitations to join my launch team and make sure that each person knew that I was reaching out to them.
I used a tool called BombBomb to send video emails to everyone I collaborated or worked with over the past few years. In the video I would address the person by name, ask about their lives and recall something personal I knew about them. Then told them about the book and asked if they would be interested in supporting the launch.
You can record these videos in BombBomb itself or it has apps and integrations to send video from your phone or from within your favorite email service. You make the videos in one take and there’s no need for fancy video equipment to make a big impression.
The video gets embedded in the email as a GIF image with a short clip of the video and a prompt to click to watch the video. Though this is intriguing enough for many to click the video without more encouragement I also opened the email with “Be sure to watch the video before reading the rest of this message. It’s just for you and there’s a lot I cover that I don’t in the text below”
This element of “human touch” is what makes BombBomb emails so powerful. It increased open rates, clickthroughs and responses. BombBomb VP of Marketing Ethan Beute takes full advantage of the personalization and the GIF image by using a small whiteboard to write a message on to open each video.
Each video was personalized but the text in the email was templated to answer common questions (When is the book launching? How do I sign up? What should I expect next?)
It took a lot of time to shoot dozens of videos like this over the weeks leading up the launch, but it was worth the effort. It had a surprisingly high response rate and many people replied with “cool video email!” or “I’ve never seen anything like that before, awesome!”
Though it’s not necessary to get any expensive video equipment to make these videos, a small investment can go a long way to improving the quality and engagement on your videos. I purchased a few tools that took things to the next level.
If you want a more in-depth guide for how to use video email as a powerful tool for your business check out The Ultimate Guide to Video Email.
At the time I was launching this the office I had did not have good lighting, which lowered the quality of my videos. A little bit of lighting can go a long way in improving video. I grabbed two Aputure LED Lights and two Dinkum Systems Action Pods to light my face in my videos. But if you have a good window that gets natural but not direct light, set up your computer so you’re facing out the window. The ambient light is a great tool during the daytime.
As you can see, the quality difference with the lights is huge. It allows even the simple built-in webcam on my laptop to produce a better image and it lights up the details and expressions on my face much better. I placed one light higher than the other to evenly light all areas of my face and avoid looking like that guy telling scary stories with a flashlight under his chin. This can happen if all your lights are lower than eye-level.
I also used The Roost Laptop Stand to bring my computer up to eye-level. Which is more personable than looking down on your laptop. Though I purchased the stand to make my work more comfortable, it is very helpful when recording video.
The built in webcam and mics on most laptops are not very good quality, so I recommend the ATR 2100 for a mic and the Logitech C920 for video if you want to take things to the next level. All of these things together will set you up with the tools to create incredible video content for emails, webinars, youtube or courses for around $200.
Working with video email can be a slippery slope, the practice you get sending all those videos via email may get you excited to create more video content. If you’re looking for more tips on how to use video to grow your business, check out The Ultimate Guide To Branding With Facebook Video.
Balancing personalization and automation
Once someone joined the launch team, they were added to an automation of a few emails that would send reminders about the launch, give information on how to leave a review, and invited people to share any ideas on how to make the launch even better.
I shot videos for each of the emails to maintain the personal feel while delivering a consistent message to everyone who signed up, and saved me a heap of time (It would be a full time job to continue sending personalized emails for each step of the process).
For example I sent an email right after someone signed up for the launch team that thanks them for joining and let them know what to expect over the coming weeks for the launch. It also gave them some options to help out right away. I asked if they knew any podcasts that might be interested in talking about the book or if there was anyone else they could invite to the launch team.
Investing in buzz
I was not going to rely on email alone to carry the launch.
In the months leading up to the book I was able to be a guest on many different podcasts like James Schramko’s Superfastbusiness podcast. When possible I requested that the interview be published during the launch week to maximize interest in the book during that critical week.
I set the launch date to happen right before an event I planned to attend called Reach Academy Live. Many of the people who would be at the event would be ideal customers for the content strategy work I do.
The book was at the peak of it’s launch buzz during the event. I switched from my free promotion to paid the day the event started.
At the event I met old friends and made new ones, and got to set many ways to tell my story when people asked what I did. Upon hearing about it, many purchased the book and shared it on their social media. A few of these people (like Malorie Tadimi a brilliant speaker, coach and entrepreneur) had large audiences which boosted the momentum from the first few days of the launch and made the book quickly shoot up to #1 in several different categories.
Sharing wins and storytelling
During the launch week it’s important to share your wins and successes to show gratitude to the people who helped you, and remind people who have not taken action that it’s time to grab the book. People like to help with something that they think will be successful, sharing your wins encourages people on the fence to take action and show them that their contribution does make a difference.
There were a few people that went far beyond the simple call to download the book and leave a review. Articles like “How content marketing changed my life” began to appear where people would share their own stories with content and mention the book. Whenever something like this happened I would make sure to share it across my own channels and promote it. As well as share my gratitude directly.
When the book hit bestseller I shared it with my email list and on Facebook and made sure to direct my gratitude toward everyone who helped play a part in its success.
Developing business from the book
The Story Engine has free downloads of templates and resources to help the reader take action on the ideas and strategies mentioned in each chapter. Aside from making the book more valuable and easy to use, they are also a way to capture emails from readers. This gives me a way to present some next steps for readers who want help implementing the systems in the book in their own business.
For example I discuss how to create an editorial calendar and how to use it in one of the book chapters. I discuss several tools but mention my favorite is Trello. I then break down how to use Trello for an editorial calendar. At the end of the chapter, I mention I have a template so a reader can a head start on their own calendar. Inside the calendar template, there’s plenty of instructions on how to use it as well as links to other useful articles on the topic.
This sets the book up to be a powerful asset and offer to use with Facebook ads, as a gift for webinars and events.
The success of this initial launch set the stage for The Story Engine to be successful for many years after. It was hard work upfront to launch it, but that investment has paid off in many unexpected and delightful ways.
To summarize, here are some of the core elements of a good book launch:
- Understand your keywords and categories – Make sure you do your homework on what keywords you want to target and what categories you want to be listed in and compete in.
- Treat your launch team well – Support them with anything they need, listen to their feedback, and be personal with them.
- Tell a story with your launch – Share your wins, your struggles, your next steps so your team and audience can feel like they’re a part of an exciting drama that’s unfolding.
- Go offline – Plan your launch around an industry event or conference where you’ll be able to build buzz for your book in person.
- Develop business from your book – You won’t be able to collect emails from book sales on Amazon, so offer some resources or downloads in your book so you have a way to connect with your readers through email.
Though a launch is vitally important to the success of your book, it does not have to be difficult or uncertain. If you follow the strategies I outlined above, you’ll be able to launch a book that goes straight to bestseller too, even if you don’t have a huge list or social media following to draw on (yet).