Don’t Do What Experts Tell You. Do This Instead.
Two years ago, I launched a book, The Art of Work, and it became an instant bestseller. Obviously, as an author, having a best-selling book is a huge accomplishment. But looking back, I realize I did it all wrong.
I pulled my hair out trying to do everything the gurus told me to do. I tried to get on all the podcasts. I used every social media channel to promote it. I practically begged my friends to buy it.
Most of these efforts, however, didn’t make a significant difference. Actually, most of the stuff I did was a waste of time. Despite advice from the best sources, only a few things really mattered. And this proves true not just in book launches, but in all of life.
As the classic 80/20 principle states, the majority of results come from a few activities. For me, it turns out almost all of my book’s success came from two sources:
1. My email newsletter list
2. My friend’s email newsletter lists
That’s it. Had I just focused on these two fundamentals, I would’ve saved tons of time, money, and stress. I probably would have sold more books, too. When I sat down and looked at the numbers of my pre-orders for the book launch campaign I ran, the numbers surprised me:
- Roughly 500 books were sold through Facebook ads and other social media networks.
- The other 15,000 preorders came in from my email list (about 7500) and other people’s email lists (another 7500).
This is how you launch a bestseller. You create strategic relationships with the right people. You harness the power of a simple, effective tool, and follow a proven plan, continuing to do what works and quitting what doesn’t.
For the rest of this article, I’ll detail the lessons I learned (plus the strategies I’m going to use for my next book), so you can better apply the 80/20 principle to whatever you undertake in life.
#1. Study What Successful People Do, Not What They Say They Do
I’m sure you’ve seen these tell-all type articles in the past where experts tell you how they achieved a certain level of success. But often, I find that when people share their success, they either omit crucial elements or highlight their favorite parts — not necessarily what was most effective.
They tell you everything they did instead of the few things that actually worked. And the reason for this is often that they have no idea what actually worked. This, obviously, can lead to less than optimal results when we try to duplicate that person’s success.
When I launched my book, that’s what I did: all the things best-selling authors tell you to do. I had never launched a best-selling book before, so I just did all the things. The book became an instant bestseller, and people asked how I did it, but I honestly didn’t know.
So, I would tell them all the things I did: the preorder bonuses, the podcast interviews, the articles and guest posts on other blogs. “The one thing I did,” I would say, “was a lot of things.” That sounded like wisdom, didn’t it? I’d talk about about social media and speaking gigs and constant promotion — all the things we think make a book a bestseller. But when I went back and looked at what really worked, I saw something that surprised me.
If I got rid of 80% of what I did to promote my book and only focused on three things, I still would’ve sold close to 50,000 books.
It took me years to learn this. I didn’t even realize it when I was launching the book. I thought I was just hustling and getting a little lucky. The truth was far more simple, and it doesn’t just apply to books. It’s the 80/20 rule at work, which says that most of the results come from a handful of key actions. The trick, of course, is to figure out what those actions are.
Here, I’m going to tell you the three things I did that made my book a bestseller, why I’m focusing on those and only those three things for my next book launch, and how you can use this in your own life.
#2. Use the Simplest Tools Possible to Get the Job Done
When I first started writing, I reached out to Tim Grahl, who was a growing authority in the book marketing world, and I asked his advice.
“Tim,” I said. “I want to sell more books. How do I do that?”
“Well,” he said, “how much are you emailing your list about it?”
“No,” I said. “Tim, you’re not listening to me. I want to sell more books. We’re not talking about marketing an online course or something. I need publicity. I need end caps at Barnes and Noble. I need to be on Oprah. Can you get me on Oprah?”
“No,” he said. “You just need email.”
I mentioned this a couple weeks ago when I told you why every author needs an email list. That’s still true.
Having an email list is the most important asset a modern writer can have. Why? Because it gives you instant and immediate access to your audience with the push of a button.
An email list is like money in the bank for an author. You keep making investments (i.e. subscribers) until one day you want to make a withdrawal (book launch). And if you invest more than you withdrawal, you’ll always have money. You’ll always be in control of your success.
Most writers overlook this, and they pay dearly for it. If you want to launch a best-selling book, you’re going to need an email list. But wait, email? What about Snapchat or Instagram or any number of other cool new marketing tools? Nope. Just email.
This is not sexy. But that’s the point. Often, the simplest tools are the most effective. Every time we embrace complexity, we make our lives more difficult.
I’m not saying we should all be using hammers and chisels to carve our names into the sides of cave walls. But don’t use a more complex tool when a simple will do just fine. It’ll save you time, which will allow you to do better work with even more incredible results.
#3. Find the Right People Who Can Help You Succeed
The next thing you need is a network of people who can talk about your book for you.
If I had to launch a book tomorrow with zero budget, and all I had was my laptop, I would just start emailing all my friends, and ask them to share the book. Word of mouth is still the most powerful way to get a book to sell and spread, but the truth is you can help people talk about your work.
How do you do this? You ask them. Novel concept, I know, but it works.
You ask your friends to read the book and share.
You ask them to write a review.
You ask them to email everyone they know.
And when you do this, most people respond. And when you don’t, they don’t.
#4: Have a One-page Action Plan
The last thing you need is a plan of action. For The Art of Work, our plan was fairly simple. There were a lot of bells and whistles to it, but at its essence, we were trying to do just two things:
1. Tell everyone on my email list about the book.
2. Ask everyone I knew to do the same.
This meant that I strategically picked about ten influencers whom I knew had larger email lists, and I asked them 90 days before the book came out to share with their audience my book. Some said no, but many said yes.
And 90 days later, I had sold 15,500 copies before the book had even hit the shelves. It became an instant besteller, meaning the first week it released it was on the USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, and Washington Post bestsellers lists.
How did this happen?
We had a plan. It was simple, but the things I had to do every week were not simple. There were a lot of things to remember. Even though I had people talking about the book for me, I had to remind them when to say what.
And the only way this was possible was with a master document of everything my team and I were doing, along with a schedule telling me the next thing to do and when.
#5. Only Repeat What Works
But what about social media and all that? As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I learned all this stuff after the fact. I didn’t realize a book launch could be simple but also strategic. I didn’t know that 20% of what we did brought about 80% of the results.
And that’s the point. We often don’t know what works until we try.
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