"Roundheads and Ramblings"
Here's the final section of the article on 21 things a self-publisher needs to know. And once again, I want to thank the source of these suggestions:
About the Author:
James Altucher can be found at jamesaltucher.com
where he spills his guts and talks about failure, success, more failure, a
little bit of death, and hopefully some life. And his latest book, "Choose Yourself!" (foreword by Dick Costolo,
CEO of Twitter) comes out this week..
21. Marketing 201
I almost hate the word “marketing.”
It feels to me like, “what gimmicks
can I do that will get people to talk about my book and then buy it.”
I wanted to make sure any marketing
I did was integrated with the actual message of the book, which is that in
order for people to succeed, they need to “choose themselves.”
This is not only a choice they need
to make economically, but a choice they make internally, with their physical,
emotional, and spiritual health.
And the actual message of the book
has some marketing possibilities …
The middle class is dead, every
major corporation is systematically firing all of their employees, and we all
are going to have the choice of whether or not we want to be
artist/entrepreneurs or temp staffers.
So on some of the blogs and sites I
guest post on, I will be writing up that story.
I’m a big believer in the message. I
give techniques for how I think people can be happier given that the
economic landscape has turned upside down. We are all struggling with money,
with happiness, with loneliness. Choose Yourself! tells my story of how
I failed, got up again, failed, got up again, and then stayed up.
And I wanted to spread that message
I found a post by Kevin Kelly
that suggested a marketing
idea of paying people back who read your book. Kevin got a bit technical in
terms of figuring out if the person actually
read the book or not. He
wanted an ereader that could figure that out.
I decided to trust the actual
reader. So, I put together an offer that would pay people back, those who could
prove to me that they read the book. How they proved it to me was up to them,
rather than resorting to technical means on my part.
Why not just give the book away for
free? And why not just rebate if they bought the book?
- People — in
general — do not value things they get for free. I wanted people to put
the money out, read the book, and only then would I pay them back.
- Most people
buy books, but do not read them. This was an incentive to actually read
I don’t care if I make any money on
The message is very important to me.
That’s why I’m willing to pay people back … if they can prove to me they read
So this was marketing that wasn’t
just a gimmick but woven into the fabric of what the book meant to me. But I
still needed a way to get the message out if I was going to do this marketing.
I called Ryan Holiday, who’d
marketed the books of Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene (48 Laws of Power),
Tucker Max, John Romaniello, all of whom had hit #1 on the New York Times
Bestseller list. He literally had 100 ideas for marketing the book. First we
came up with several ideas like the one I just laid out above.
One idea that popped up was that I
would become the first author ever to pre-release a book for bitcoin
buyers only. We did this, and it was covered by SF Gate, Media Bistro, CNBC,
Business Insider, and other places.
Bitcoin is a “choose yourself”
currency. It’s not dependent on a government, a person, a country, etc. and its
use is getting more and more widespread. The week I released the book on
bitcoin, my pre-orders on Amazon spiked so much I became the #1 kindle book for
Entrepeneurship, a full month before release.
Prereleasing on bitcoin also means
that I now have several hundred people who have (hopefully) read the book, and
many of them have already told me they will be reviewing the book on Amazon.
Having many reviews on Amazon straight out of the gate helps Amazon know that
your book is one they should feature.
In two days I’m going to announce
another adventure that is tightly integrated with the message of the book that
I think will also generate interest.
Ryan also suggested various joint
content plays (a podcast, for instance) I should do with various bloggers who
had large email lists.
This is all still in process (the
book is coming out today) but compared with my last book, this book will
probably be seen by an extra million (or more) people over the next week.
The first step in marketing is what
I described above: build your audience. The second step is a cliché but you
have to do it: write a good book.
But for a specific book, come up
with ten firsts based on the content of your book that nobody has ever
done before. And then make sure the media becomes aware of it.
Hiring a marketing expert allowed me
to continue focusing on what was important to me — the writing and the
message — while he coordinated more than 100 media sources for the various messages
I was putting out about the book.
Why are you self-publishing a book?
Because you are an addict. Like me.
But there are some other reasons.
Take pride in yourself and in your
work. You are all talented and smart people, else you wouldn’t be reading Copyblogger
and working on your own art and creativity.
Some of the things I describe above
cost money, some don’t, and some can be done super cheap.
Take your work very seriously.
This is your child you’re letting go
out into the world. You want to do it right. Enlist the help of a team. Make it
team-publishing instead of self-publishing.
Your book will, of course, stand on
its own merit. The only way to have a truly successful book is to have a
well-written, unique message that stands out among the cacophony of
But everything I describe above will
lend credibility, authenticity, and ultimately audience to the effort:
- Building the
platform and trust with your audience way in advance.
- Writing a
strong story while at the same time delivering value.
all the dots on editing, design, title, print version, audio
- Having many
strong marketing messages and a way of delivering those messages.
Making sure the messages aren’t gimmicks, but real ways that show you are
living the message you write about.
professionalism into every aspect of the process. The goal here is not to
publish as easily as possible. The goal is to publish professionally in a
way that leaves the traditional publishers in the dust.
You are your own publisher.
You are the one who believes in the
message and your art and now want to share it with others and ultimately it is
you who is choosing yourself to deliver that message. A message that, when
properly packaged, will be a delight to the reader to receive.
My initial title for the book was The
Choose Yourself Era. But here’s the problem I was having …
When I tried to physically tell
people the title of my book, it was actually hard to say out loud. It sounded
like Choose Yourself Error. I was having lunch with an editor from
Harper Collins who wondered if I was writing a book about archaeology. It just
So I came up with 10 titles. Matched
them with the book cover. I then made ten Facebook ads (Pick Yourself, Choose
Yourself Era, Choose Yourself, Be the Happiest Person Alive,
etc.) and watched what people would click on.
Choose Yourself won by a factor of 3:1. Next in
line was Pick Yourself and then The Choose Yourself Era. My
choice was a distant third.
I did the same trick here as I did
above, but, I used it to pick out a subtitle among ten possibilities.
Incidentally, I decided to play
around with this live testing technique for other things. So, because of
Facebook ads, …
- I leased a
Honda Accord instead of buying a Honda Fit
- I decided not
to kill myself
- I now believe
I was at a dinner that Amazon had
for self-published authors last October.
One guy who was making a solid
living self-publishing science fiction novels told me that he always made an
audiobook. I thought this was a horrible idea, and told him so.
But two things about audiobooks:
- He said,
“When people see you have an audiobook, they see your book as even more
credible. It stands out from the average self-published book when you have
an ebook, a print version, and an audiobook. Plus, the audio book
is more expensive, so even though there are fewer sales, it’s decent
money.” By the way, if you self-publish, always do a print book at the
very least. Even if 99% of your sales are going to be ebook.
- I asked the
head of an ad agency what marketing tips he had for me for my upcoming
book. He said, first thing, “Make an audiobook. For your kind of book,
people will love listening to it while they drive into work.”
So Claudia, my wife who has been
supportive of every aspect of this effort, set up her office in our house to be
a mini-recording studio. I wrote to Tucker Max that I was going to make an
audiobook. He wrote back:
James, where are you doing
the audio, and who’s editing it? Please tell me you aren’t just doing it
yourself with your Mac and a mic you bought online.
We looked at our Mac and a mic that
we bought online and decided to go to a professional studio. Tucker suggested
John Marshall Studio. They had done audiobooks ranging from President Clinton’s
autobiography to the Harry Potter books to Freakonomics.
I felt uncomfortable just sitting
there for eight hours reading words I had written. For one thing, it hurt.
Reading for eight straight hours was killing my throat.
Ramit Sethi, who wrote, I Will
Teach You To be Rich, told me that he had to put warm towels around his
throat while he was reading and still couldn’t speak for a week afterwards. If
you do the audiobook, which I highly recommend, make sure you drink a lot of water
and have cough drops.
Second, I didn’t want to just read
stories I had already written. So I did it totally unabridged and improvised
quite a bit, making it somewhat original compared to the book.
But the best reason for doing the
audiobook is it forces you to really look at your writing and hear what works
and what doesn’t. I rewrote about 20% of the book after reading things that I
felt didn’t quite sound right in the book.
So, it was another round of edits to
improve the book, a process I never would’ve gone through if I hadn’t done the
20. Video trailer
I used a company called Simplifilm
to make a video trailer of the book
. They had previously
done video trailers for Robert Greene and Seth Godin, who I felt would be
hitting a similar demographic to my book. They also created the MyCopyblogger
video for this site.
Why do a video trailer? I personally
don’t buy books from watching video trailers. But some people do. I wanted
every possible angle to communicate my message to potential buyers. Also, if
someone asks me via email, for instance, what my book is about, I can send them
a link to the trailer.
Again, a self-published book doesn’t
need a video trailer. But I didn’t want my book to have any of the
stigma at all of being self-published. I wanted to do a better job than the
traditional publishers would would have done, in every way.
Tomorrow we'll look at the final point you need to understand if you're going to self-publish. It's all on marketing and it's a long section in itself. But it is probably the most important section as well, so be sure to come back for the final installment.
12. Self-publishing 101
You can craft a Microsoft Word file
of your book, upload it to Createspace
, and they will format it for you,
publish it to Kindle (for $69), and you are now a published author on Amazon.
You will get 30-70% royalties depending on how you price (above $2.99 you get a
70% royalty) and you can do paperback and Kindle version.
This is not a bad choice. I did this
with four of my self-published books. I’ve sold more copies of those books than
my five books published with traditional publishers combined. Createspace even
helps you design a cover, and you can pay for copyediting.
This entire point #12 is what most
people refer to when they say “self-publishing.”
It’s how EL James initially
published “50 Shades of Grey.” It’s how my favorite science fiction writer,
Hugh Howey, initially published the soon-to-be-classic “Wool.” Both of those
authors eventually worked out deals with major publishers for bookstore
distribution and both have gone on to sell millions of copies and are in the
hall of fame (if there is one) of people who started out self-publishing.
Step 12 is merely executing on the
basics of self-publishing. It’s the very last step before a book is published.
Everything I’ve said before this point is about building an audience.
I have a few more points I think you
should do before step 12. And I have a few ideas about what you should
do after step 12.
13. Team publishing
Ultimately, to do self-publishing
right, you need to do it professionally.
The stigma of self-publishing is
going away precisely because people are no longer just uploading files to
Amazon and hoping for the best. If you’re a good writer, you might not be good
at editing. Or, you might not be good at marketing. Or, you might need help
with cover design.
It’s important to be honest with
yourself about what you’re good at and what you aren’t.
You don’t want to spend a lot of
money. Nor do you want to cheapen yourself with a shoddy project because you
couldn’t give it your best. People can spot a self-published book a mile away.
And I am guilty of “just” doing a basic self-published book with several of my
My first self-published book was
Too many grammatical errors. Who
cares, I thought, but people do care. It really distracts the reader and it
instantly shouts out “amateur hour.”
I now give that book away for free,
and two others, when people sign up for my email list
. The email list is
another good way to build distribution and readership, and giving away free
material to people who sign up is a good idea.
For my book that’s being released
today, I used four editors. Two for copy editing to fix any basic grammatical
errors, and two editors who have both edited many bestsellers. They worked with
me on the structure of the book, the layout, and probably spent almost as much
time editing the book as I spent writing it.
Traditional publishers also have
editors that will work on your book, but the whole idea of professional
self-publishing is to do a better job than the traditional publishers.
I wanted to work with the best
editor I could find, not just whatever editor was available at a publisher, who
might also be busy with 50 other books. This costs money, but it’s not that
expensive and a well-done book will more than make back the expense.
Go to the bookstore. Pick out the
books that have designs that you love. There’s no reason your book cannot have
the same quality design, or better.
I used Herb Thornby
who designed books by some of my favorite authors. He gave me several cover
choices to choose from.
I’m not a designer so I could not
So here’s what I did. I made a
Facebook ad aimed at my target audience and used a different cover image for
each ad. Then I watched in real time what people were clicking on and I chose
the most popular cover. The result is the cover image you see at the top of
16. Interior design
I’m not good with fonts, stylizing
breakout sections, designing the spine and back cover and inside flaps, etc. I
hired for this.
Yes, it costs some money. Yes, a
publisher would’ve taken care of all this for me. But I wanted to have a book
that would look great, feel great, even smell great.
Uhh, I don’t know if I achieved that
7. How to build your blog audience,
Respond as much as possible to
comments. Create a real community on your blog.
I have a hard time doing this. Often
I tell myself, “I will respond to comments once I finish a new post” and then I
spend all day on the post. But when I do respond to comments I get such
pleasure out of the community that I can see coming out of it.
Don’t forget that the core of why
most people do this is because they want to have fun, they want to enjoy the
interactions, they want to love and be loved.
8. How to build your blog audience,
Don’t have an opinion for the sake
of having an opinion, but if you feel strongly about something and want to
express that opinion because you think it will help people and you have the
facts, and the story, to back it up, then do it.
I’ve bought and lost two
houses. So finally, I went through all the math and posted about it. The home
ownership math never adds up. I wasn’t trying to get people angry or be
polarizing. I was just stating facts. But I got my first (of many) death
threats from that one post.
My second most popular post? Google
the phrase ”I Want to Die” and you will get there pretty fast.
9. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest —
Interact on all of the other major
I often post my blog posts on
Facebook first. This helps me see which ones will get the most engagement (if
my friends don’t engage on them then probably other people won’t). But my blog
also has a fan page with 268,000 fans. I also have other fan pages that are not
directly related to me but altogether have another 200,000 fans. Those pages I
use for distribution.
How do you get a lot of fans?
Organically is the best way. But I
also advertise some of my best posts. If people like them and that draws them
to one of my fan pages, then all the better.
Never buy Likes. But when you can
get Likes organically by using your content, then that is value you grow
With Twitter, it’s hard to non-stop
engage in conversations. You would never have time for writing. What I do is
what I call “appointment tweeting.” (Give!) I set aside an hour or two a week,
usually Thursday from 3:30 – 4:30 PM EST to do a Q&A.
People can ask me questions about
anything. From dating to finance to kids to startups to death to whatever. I
usually answer questions non-stop for an hour or two. Then I might expand the
answers into a later blog post. And I might expand further into a book. The
first book I did on this (self-published), was called “FAQ ME.” This
strategy of one hour a week has helped me build my Twitter audience from 2,000
followers to 83,000 followers since I started doing the Q&As. In many of my
blog posts I also ask people to follow me on Twitter.
I don’t use Pinterest much. But
here’s what Gary Vaynerchuk, author of “The Thank You Economy” suggested to me
about Pinterest. Take quotes from your best posts and make images out of them
and pin them. Then start commenting on other boards and pins that you like.
Build community. Eventually people will link back to your pins, which will
ultimately link to the blog posts where the quotes come from.
This entire strategy: Facebook,
Twitter, Pinterest, guest blogging, is about building your name to an audience
that might be unfamiliar to you, as well as driving distribution to your posts
while at the same time delivering real value to your readers. You have to do
all of that: distribution, name-building, value, at the same time, to make
these platforms work for you.
10. Marketing 101
I call this “101″ because I will get into a “201″ later.
Note: publishers do zero marketing
for you. This is not a knock on publishers. The great thing about publishers:
they will write you a check and get you into bookstores. These are two really
good things. But they will not do marketing.
If you don’t do your own marketing
and promote yourself, then nobody else will. This should be your mantra. The
one area where I will fault publishers is that they will claim to do marketing
They won’t, but I give them credit for
One time one of my publishers
described to a friend of mine the marketing they did for me. The head of
marketing told my friend, “We got him a review in the Financial Times, we got
him a segment on CNBC, and we got an excerpt published in thestreet.com”.
He forgot to mention I reviewed my
own book in my column on The Financial Times. I had my own weekly segment on
CNBC so I covered my book. And I had sold a company to thestreet.com, so I put
my excerpt on their site. That was “the publisher’s” marketing.
11. Reality check on publishing
A lot of people now (including me)
tend to knock traditional publishing. This is understandable because publishers
are a bit behind the times.
But let’s again give them credit for
- They give you
an advance. Average advances are going down, but it’s still real money.
Advances have been going down since 2008, probably for the reasons
described in point #1 above. But who knows if this remains a
permanent situation. Maybe so many people will self-publish that
traditional publishers will try to win back the authors by giving higher
advances. Who knows? I’m totally BS-ing here. Other than the fact that
average advances are going down.
- They get you
in bookstores. But I’m not sure how important this is anymore. More books
are now sold online (when you combine ebooks with printed books that are
sold online) than are sold in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Take from this
what you will.
The other good thing about
traditional publishing is it removes the stigma of “Oh, you were self
published?” But that stigma is going away. Nobody has ever asked me who my
publisher was. Nobody cares anymore.
Oh, one more thing: if you are not
in bookstores (if you self-publish, for instance), then you won’t get on
the New York Times Bestseller list.
If this is important to you, you can
still self-publish, but as Tucker Max describes in his post on how he published
Hilarity Ensues, he basically just did a deal with the distribution arm
of a major publisher. However, if you are not a brand-name author this might be
difficult for you to do.
Here are tips #2 through #6 on What Self-Publishers Need to Know."
About the Author: James Altucher can be found at jamesaltucher.com
where he spills his guts and talks about failure, success, more failure, a
little bit of death, and hopefully some life. And his latest book, "Choose Yourself!" (foreword by Dick Costolo,
CEO of Twitter) comes out this week..
2. Audience first
If you have no readers, nobody will
buy your book. Fortunately, that’s not a Catch-22. You build your audience by giving
giving, giving, before you finally ask them to pay $4.99 for your book.
You write blog posts. You write
tweets. You build a Facebook fan page. And on and on. The next several points
are about building your platform. If you are not willing to do this, then your
spouse will read your book and maybe your parents. Maybe. Your kids will not
read your book.
First, two points about writing.
This is not a writing guide. Copyblogger has many great posts about how to
effectively write something people will want to read.
I will just give two suggestions
that I know helped my blog build to 10 million visitors since I started
it in late 2010.
3. If it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t
Most people are bad writers. If a
bookstore has 10,000 books in it, probably 9,990 are poorly written and boring.
How can you stand out?
What does that mean? I have no idea
what it means for you. Your blood has different diseases in it than mine. But
infect your readers with whatever disease you have. If it doesn’t give you pain
to hit Publish, don’t write it.
It used to be writers would leave
books with cliffhangers. Then they would put cliffhangers into chapters. Now
every paragraph should be a cliffhanger. This doesn’t apply just to books but
blog posts or even tweets (don’t forget Twitter used to be called a
A friend of mine once told me he was
afraid to put out his book because of what his colleagues would think. That is exactly
the book or post you have to publish. He ended up publishing it and it was a bestseller
Never write something if it doesn’t
add value to another person’s life.
But you have to do it through story
as described above (“Bleed”). Bleed and educate in every post. Else, why are
you doing this?
5. Make it evergreen
Don’t write “10 things that happened
to me on June 3, 2013″.
Write posts that will be read one,
two, five years from now. The grass is always green. People can’t tell what
date you wrote it. This is the key to having high-quality traffic driven by
search engines for years even after you stop writing your blog.
One of the most popular writers out
there told me that 99% of his blog traffic is going to posts he wrote over two
years ago. He only posts if the posts are evergreen and deliver high value.
6. How to build your blog audience,
Assuming you are writing
gut-wrenching, painfully honest, self-deprecating, but educational posts that
add a lot of value to people, then there’s only one way to drive traffic to
Write everywhere but your
If you write about cars, write for
the top-trafficked car sites. if you write about finance, there are plenty of
high-traffic finance sites that would love to have you. If you write about all
the ways you’ve caught your boyfriend cheating on you, write for a high-traffic
site like Thought Catalog. If you write about steampunk and science fiction,
try to write for Boing Boing. If you’re funny, write for Cracked.
Finally, guest post on every blog
you can. By doing this — even more valuable than
the reciprocal traffic I’ve gotten — I’ve also met many good friends.
I love blogging and writing and it’s fun to meet other people with the same
- You get your
name out there. Before I started my blog I built up an audience writing
for thestreet.com, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and others in the finance
space. Then, I branched out into the tech world with TechCrunch, the yoga
world with Elephant Journal, and other sites like Thought Catalog, Medium,
- Link back to
your blog on your posts to other sites. Your blog is going to slowly but
surely have a mountain of evergreen content (see point 5). You will have
tons of valuable posts that you will be able to link to to add value to
the posts you are writing on other sites.
Always be giving. Make your blog a
three dimensional art piece. Every post can link forward and backwards in time
to other posts. Always go back and add more value to posts from the past. This
creates the 3D effect.
People will love the maze you create
The maze is the inside of your
brain. Make it as interesting and fun as possible.