How I got $12k in book preorders in 1 month
February 17, 2014
I'm not a writer.
But all of that changed over the last month.
Day to day my life is spent building software and marketing it. I also mentor startups at Singapore Management University and give the occasional talk about startup marketing / growth hacking. But mostly, every day I just have my head stuck in code. That's what I was doing when Guy Vincent, founder of Publishizer sent me an email saying "why not write a growth hacking book and use my site to run a preorder campaign?".
I was in a sassy mood, so I replied "ok".
But in addition to the sass, the timing was right. I've been mentoring more startups, yet often giving the same advice. Early stage startups all face very similar obstacles. How do we market ourselves? How do we get traction?
Through mentoring, I've realised that there's a base level of marketing advice that applies to almost all startups. And there's past and current startup marketing tactics that everyone can learn from... or even steal and use themselves. This stuff should be in a book. That's the book I set out to create.
30 days later, I had $12,775 USD in preorders for the Growth Hacking Handbook.
I set up the campaign on Publishizer with a $10k in 30 days goal.
The campaign launched on January 17th, a Friday. There wasn't any strategy behind this, it was simply the day where I felt ready with everything set up. As you'll see later on this is something I would change if I could do it all over again.
Here's what the next 30 days looked like in terms of dollars per day.
Preorder activity was concentrated over 3 points:
- The launch day
- Reaching 90% of the goal
- Surpassing the goal
This is typical for a crowdfunding campaign. At each point you're selling to different types of consumer with different appetites for risk. Even though crowdfunding sites refund all the money if a campaign doesn't reach its goal, some folks just don't want to go through that hassle. There's also a psychological barrier in buying something that isn't proven popular yet.
In the beginning you'll be selling to your core community or to people who grok your concept in a visceral way. Later on, you'll be selling to more risk averse consumers. It's all quite interesting from a consumer psychology point of view.
Over the 30 days of the campaign, here's the things I did for promotion.
I posted on my personal Facebook and Twitter. I kicked off the campaign with a Facebook promoted post and a tweet. The Facebook post got 70 likes from friends in the startup scene. The tweet received just 1 retweet and 9 favourites.
I got retweets from influential people. Some folks I asked (read: groveled) - others tweeted about it before I could ask. It does help if you are part of whatever scene is your market, you're more likely to have friends or acquaintances who can help spread the word if they like what you're doing.
I posted 3 updates on my blog. Over the course of the 30 days I wrote 3 posts on my blog. A detailed launch post, a short post more like a mission statement (don't fail because your marketing sucks) and a campaign update post at the 65% mark with 7 days left. Out of all of these the short post worked best in driving social shares. 9 times out of 10, brevity is your friend when it comes to writing content that people share (a fact that I seem to have forgotten with this long, rambling post...).
I reached out to journalists and asked for coverage. This resulted in getting covered on e27. Other tech media outlets said they don't cover book launches but would I be interested in guest posting, which led to...
I did a guest post on a major tech blog. I wrote a guest post entitled The 5 Most Famous Growth Hacks of All Time for The Next Web. With guest posting you're usually there promoting something (your product or service), but that has to play a secondary role. Your primary role is to write something interesting or valuable to that website's audience. It's a delicate balance. The post got a fantastic response and resulted in an uptick in preorders. However since this audience is not familiar with me there was probably some apprehension about backing the campaign. Had I timed this for when there was more social proof for these folks, say at the 90% complete mark, there might have been a better conversion rate.
I did an Ask Me Anything post on a regional tech blog. Tech in Asia proposed the idea and I thought it was a great way to share advice from the book in an interactive way. It resulted in a thread of over 60 comments and drove awareness and preorders.
Figuring out your pricing and value-added tiers is critical to the success of a crowdfunding campaign.
Factor your market size into pricing. It was $25 to preorder the ebook. The Growth Hacking Handbook is aimed at tech entrepreneurs who have heard of growth hacking. It's pretty niche. I don't think I could have reached the $10,000 goal in a month by selling it at, say $10. One can argue that $10 may have fueled more impulse purchases but in the end I had to make a judgment call as to whether I believed those impulse purchases would offset not selling it at a higher price. I decided to go with the higher price.
How I decided on $10,000 as a target. Picking a crowdfunding goal is more art than science. There's no single way to do it. For me the number one question I had was when would I consider this product validated. When would there be enough demand to justify taking the considerable time to promote, write and launch the book - especially when I'm already pretty busy. The number I arrived at was $10,000.
Make sure you have higher priced tiers with more value. Even at $25 per book, it's hard to sell $10,000 in a month. That's 400 books, which for a niche product from an unknown author is a crazy amount of volume. To reach your goal you'll need to sell higher priced packages, with extra value for the buyer. I sold packages priced at $50 to $1000 each with an increasing requirement of my personal time given to the buyer. This doesn't scale, so I put a purchase limit on each.
I created a teaser site for the book. My hypothesis was that creating a sexy and simple page would work as a way of getting the point across quickly, rather than pointing people to my campaign page, which was quite verbose. This is a hypothesis I should have tested, but didn't. So I can't say with any certainty whether it helped or hindered. Certainly the extra click necessary to preorder may have a negative affect, but getting the point across in a more visual may have a positive one.
I kept the cover simple. In almost everything I do whether that's writing code, creating a UX for a piece of software, writing a blog post or designing a book cover I take this approach: I design it first, then I see what I can take away. Simplifying your first version always nets improved results in comprehension and polish. I haven't created the best book cover in the world, but it's simpler and more elegant than the versions that came before it.
I tested multiple titles with potential customers. I asked people what they thought of different titles. Also in the end, the SEO term I wanted to rank for ("growth hacking") played a non-trivial part in my decision.
Things I wish I'd done
Any time you sell anything, it's a learning experience. That's why it's so important to just get out there and sell. It's how you grow as an entrepreneur.
I wish I had created a video for my campaign page. Publishizer founder Guy Vincent advised me to do this from the start, but as well as being busy with my business and with campaigning for the book, I couldn't fathom what a video for a book would be like. I wish I spent more time thinking about it and shooting a video, as I think it would have had a positive effect on conversions.
I wish I had started my campaign on a Monday. I started my campaign on a Friday because I was impatient to get going. Looking at the campaign data now, there is an immediate drop after the first day. That is to be expected but I think the overall drop would have been less if campaign activity had been sustained over a full working week at the start. People just share less of this type of thing over the weekends.
I wish I had saved my guest post for the last 10%. It's obvious in retrospect. My guest post with TNW was very successful as a piece of content (I lost count of the retweets), but it didn't massively move the needle for the campaign. My hypothesis is that even the people who clicked through would have seen a campaign with only 50% of the goal reached. If that had been 90%, I think the social validation would have been enough to fuel more conversions to preorder the book.
What happens now
If you want to buy the book... too late! Preorders are now closed :) However you'll be able to buy it when it launches in April. To be notified of the exact day when it launches you can join the mailing list. I'll be sharing more growth hacking tips in the lead up to the book launch.
To everyone who preordered the book... a huge THANK YOU. You will be receiving an email from me today about timelines and what happens next. For some, you'll just want to know when the book is coming out. For others I'll need to coordinate with you to get some information. Speak with you soon!