How we planned, launched and pre-sold the first few copies of an ebook (in a nutshell)

I wake up this morning and, as usual, I’m preparing my coffee and I’m lazily wandering around the house.

Suddenly, the phone starts ringing. The other half of our team of two is calling me.

I know what he’s going to say…

We just pre-sold the first copies of my ebook!

Sorry, forgot to introduce you to the main characters of the story: me, Gerry (marketing copywriter) and Rumen(web designer, project manager and whatnot).

Back to the story, within 10 hours of sending the sales email, 30 people opened it, 5 of them clicked on the “Pre-order” link and 3 of those 5 actually pre-ordered.

So, basically the conversion rate is 10% so far (3/30) and the click-through rate is 16% (5/30).

Yeah, not a big deal, right? I mean,come on… 3 sales…

Every day we hear people talking about lists of thousands and sales around 10k in 2 days.

But we don’t hear people talking about getting and converting those first 100 subscribers very often.

And that’s the hardest part of it all.

I can very well convert a list of 10k people. Almost anyone can. No matter how much of a copywriting newb you are, you will be able to pull out some email. You will be able to make at least 1 sale.

But making 1 sale out of 30 people, now THAT’s hard. And that’s what you need to be able to do to when you’re just starting out.

So, that’s why I’m sharing this story.

How we go 3 out of 30 people to pre-order Rumen’s ebook

10k-feet look at how we went from “We want to sell ebooks” to “We’ve got 3 pre-orders”:

1. Audience choice

First, we decided on the “Who?” — our target audience. Since Rumen is a web designer, it made sense that he would write a book for web designers.

2. Research

I can’t stress how important research is for the success of any product.

We researched the hell out of /r/web_design. We made lists of the web designers’ pains, dreams and worldviews.

We noted what pains Rumen could tackle and, most importantly, we noted what pains kept popping up over and over again.

And that’s how we found it — the “I know HTML&CSS, how do I create websites on my own” pain!

But no, Rumen did not start writing the book at that point.

Because we’re huge believers of working in iterations.

So, we focused on doing the next smallest thing that could confirm interest:

3. Product v 0.0.0.1

It all started from a reddit comment.

Rumen wrote a comment just to help someone who didn’t know how to go about designing a website after attending Codecademy, reading books about HTML&CSS, etc.

So he expanded his comment into an epic guide-of-a-post called “Feel stuck after learning HTML&CSS? Here’s how to create websites on your own”. In it, he described his web design workflow in a nutshell.

And he posted it on reddit.

It exploded.

Actually, he submitted it twice and the first time he got ignored. I’m going to describe that in detail in another post because I know why that happened and it was a key moment for us.

4. Product v0.0.1.0

Rumen did a free email course on his blog called “Web Design Beyond HTML&CSS”(what else? :D).

In the mean time, Sean Fioritto invited Rumen to do a guest post on his blog.

So, that’s how we got 77 more people on the list.

5. Content marketing

In the mean time, while he was writing the email course and sending it out to his subscribers, Rumen wrote a few blog posts.

The topics of these blog posts weren’t random. They were based on the pains that we found through our initial research.

I shared these posts on social media where appropriate and tried to be more active in the web design community.

That’s how we got another 22 subscribers.

6. List purging

In total, we got 125 subscribers as a result of everything we had done.

However, some of these people hadn’t confirmed their email. We removed them.

Then, there were the others who never opened any of the emails we sent them. We removed these, too.

“Why remove subscribers when your list is like 100 people?!”, you would ask.

Because (1) spam filters notice when your letters aren’t opened and (2) you’re never going to sell anything to the people who never opened your emails. You have to accept that.

7. Product v 0.1.0.0

Product v 0.1.0.0 was actually… just the concept of the product. Rumen and I decided that he would describe his web design process in the book.

But, knowing how frustrated we have been ourselves with theoretical books, and having researched our audience, we knew that there had to be a practical example.

So, we decided that Rumen would design the landing page for my book (which looks hideous right now), he would document what he was doing and why and he would include that as a practical example in the book.

Also, the benefit was double — he gets an example project and I get a landing page.

Bootstrappin’, baby! You gotta do the most impact with the least resources.

8. Launch sequence

We decided we would do, what I call a classic launch sequence, on the people who completed the free email course:

content -> content -> content + product mention -> content + product mention -> content + soft sell -> hard sell + deadline + incentive -> deadline reminder + sale closing

Well, that looked good on paper, but it didn’t work out as good.

Rumen started writing the content and I would write the corresponding emails that would make people click on the links and read the blog posts.

The first email got like 18% and 10% open rate. Ouch!

Next one did a bit better — 31% open rate and 23% click rate.

But we knew these numbers were not going to get us any sales in the end (considering the teeny tiny list).

So, we stepped back and tried to figure out why things were not working out.

Yet-another-Duh-moment

The problem was that our content was disconnected from the product and from the preceding email course. These people were just not interested.

What could we do that Rumen’s subscribers would like to read and that would prime them for his ebook?

Rumen was already working on an example project for his book… People LOVE reading insights from real-world projects… The example was going to be documented in the book anyway…

So, why not publish his progress on the project as a blog post first, use this post to promote the book and then reuse the same post for the basis of the ebook?

Duh!

So, Rumen started a web design diary on his blog.

We sent out the email announcing the diary and the future book.

Boom! 60% open rate and 30% click rate.

So far so good, but the deadline was approaching and there was no product…

The trouble was that we had started a launch sequence (because we couldn’t let the list grow cold), but there was no product in sight.

We had decided we’d launch something on June 3rd.

There was no going back.

But the pressure on Rumen was way too much. He couldn’t possibly finish an entire ebook by June 3rd.

The only thing we could do was to pull off a pre-order.

10. Launch email

This email is dissected here, but, in a nutshell, we used every trick that could to convince people to pre-order now:

* We offered a 50% discount at pre-order
* We offered a 30-day money back guarantee starting from the day the book is actually published
* We added a deadline for the discount. It’s valid for 5 days only.
* We wrote one hell of a sales pitch for the product using the data from our initial research.

And so, that’s how we got 3 sales out of 30 people in 10 hours.

Takeaways

  1. You have to learn how to convert your list, not just grow it. Read up on copywriting, if you haven’t.
  2. Purge your list often unless you want to be marked as spam.
  3. Work in iterations. Don’t rush writing a 250-page ebook on day one. Think about the next smallest thing you could do — a tweet, then a blog post, then a series of blog posts, then a free email course, then a small book/guide, etc. Rumen’s book is going to be based on that epic blog post (and on the diary). This approach also makes sure that your funnel is going to work. Sorry, I got a bit carried away. Funnels are yet another post.
  4. Repurpose your content as much as you can. Not even the most hard core fans are going to read everything you’ve ever written.
  5. Track your stats and adapt your plan accordingly. If something isn’t working, rethink it.
  6. People love learning through practical examples. Try sharing your experience working on a real-world project. That must be the easiest way to start an info-product business.
  7. Don’t try to sell to cold lists. I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work.
  8. There is always a way around. We thought we must have a product by June 3rd. We actually only needed content for a launch sequence and to get people to pre-order.
  9. Use urgency, scarcity and exclusivity to make people act right away. It works. Every. Single. Time.

Update: We pre-sold 3 times more books to the same people with just one additional email. You can read all about it here.