Writing a book is one thing, but how do you make sure it sells? In the third part of my series on self-publishing, I explain my approach to pricing, marketing, and selling the book.
Just a reminder if this is the first article you're reading, this series is divided into four parts:
In part three, I’ll be covering:
- Creating anticipation
- Setting the book price
- Book website
- Ebook launch
- Paperback book release
- Events & speaking
- What’s next?
As conventional marketing wisdom recommends, I started building anticipation for the book even before I finished the first draft. I created a “coming soon” landing page at humancenteredbrand.com where I described the basics of what the book is going to be, and added a newsletter subscription box at the bottom, which also gave subscribers access to my free branding workbook. (I’ve also bought a domain with the British English spelling humancentredbrand.com that redirects to the former.)
Temporary landing page screenshot.
I’ve been mentioning the book and the page link at the end of my signature talk, and on social media occasionally when I had a milestone to share.
Before taking a break from blogging in order to focus on my book draft, I regularly published articles about branding to get blog readers used to the idea that this is my main thing now. I dropped hints about the upcoming book and pointed to the book landing page and the free workbook.
I’ve also been mentioning the book a lot to my newsletter list. One idea that worked nicely was giving readers a poll on which topic I should send them as a free sample.
I'd say I handled this part very well, and when the time came to put the book up for preorder, many of my readers already know what to expect and bought it immediately.
Setting the book price
Pricing is tricky, especially since ebooks nowadays can go for anywhere between $0.99 to $79. The price has to suit your goals. I knew how I wanted to position my book and what I wanted to achieve with it, so that guided me in my pricing decisions.
There were several main things to take into consideration:
1. How the price compares to similar books
I created a spreadsheet and looked up the prices of books in the same general category (business guide books) that I’ve bought in the past, as well as self-published books I was aware of in my circles. The range went from $19 to $30 for paperbacks, and from $25 to $79 for ebooks. Yes, serious business ebooks tend to be more expensive than paperbacks, go figure.
I fully believe in the value I provide in the book, and didn't want to make the price lower than my peers, so that was my range.
2. How the price compares to my other offers
My services are quite pricey. I'm fine with that because I get more inquiries than I can handle anyway. I also teach workshops, and I’ll eventually have some online classes that will be on the pricier side too.
While the book is a cheaper type of product, I can't make it too cheap without it looking suspicious. I'm positioning it as an alternative to working 1-on-1 with me, so it's already a bargain regardless of the price.
3. Production costs and overhead
In this post, as well as my previous one, I’ve been sharing what it cost me to produce the book, on top of my own work hours. While less expensive than offset printing, print on demand still has costs to consider. Unlike traditionally published authors, I’m not getting an advance.
I knew I'll be running a launch sale on ebooks, so I needed room to offer a 50% discount and still make a decent profit.
After crunching some numbers, I settled on these prices:
- $25 USD net for the ebook.
- $25 USD net for the paperback.
- $60 USD net for the ebook, template, and video bundle.
(EU VAT raises the price for European buyers which totally sucks, but can't be helped.)
Because of my pricing structure, I could afford to pour money into paperbacks and sell them at a discount to the early buyers, even though paperbacks themselves were a money sink and I still didn’t break even on them. (Thankfully, taking the ebook, bundle, and paperback sales into account, it all worked out.)
Once I decided on the price, it was time to put the darn thing up for sale and see what happens.
As you’ve already seen, the original book landing page was just a simple text page here on neladunato.com with basic book information. I kept adding things to it over time, including the book cover graphic.
In July, I created a separate WordPress website with all the bells and whistles. I bought a page-builder landing page theme (affiliate link) to save on time, customized the look with my own graphics, and managed to get a pretty decent site in a matter of a few days. I then poured all my efforts in driving traffic from my blog and website pages to that website. I went through every single blog post where I was previously referencing my free branding class, and replaced it with the info about the book. It was a lot of work, but I think it was worth it.
I integrated the Gumroad “overlay” payments so that people can order the book without leaving the website. I opened pre-orders on July 5, with an additional $5 discount for the bundle (I wanted to make good on a promise I made earlier).
There wasn't going to be any content on the book website (since it's all here), but I planned on posting all the reviews and blurbs I got from the beta readers, and book-related event announcements.
In the month leading up to the launch I had some website tech issues and needed to plug stuff up at a very short notice, and just hoped it would hold until I was able to take time to move to a different hosting company. Serves me right for launching during a Mercury retrograde.
Total cost: $40 USD for the WordPress theme. $30 USD per year for two domains. I’m already paying for hosting for my other sites, so that wasn’t an additional cost.
So we’re finally at the actual book launch. Phew!
I decided to do a “soft” no-frills launch focused on my immediate community: blog readers, newsletter subscribers, social media followers, business acquaintances, friends, etc.
I didn’t have the capacity to do a huge launch with webinars, challenges, blog tours, bunch of interviews, affiliate campaigns and whatnot, since I didn’t have any extra cash to outsource all the additional admin that would require. (I was living off of my savings at this point, not having done any client work during the previous two months.) The plan was to launch quietly, and keep driving the interest for the book long term through interviews and speaking.
Getting the word out
Some things I did during the pre-launch and launch campaign include:
- Speaking at WordCamp Europe (video)
- Awarepreneurs podcast interview
- Online workshop for Julie Wolk’s Stress-Free Systems Summer School
- Interview for Netokracija (Croatian)
- Feature on Devon Smiley’s blog
- Responding to HARO queries, and getting a mention in Fast Company
WordCamp Europe happened before the book was out, and I used this opportunity to pitch my book at the end of my talk, and gave postcards to everyone that expressed interest in it. The postcards came out a little dark, so I kept in mind that I need to make the red brighter on the paperback cover.
Several people generously offered to promote the book to their email list, which was pretty amazing! I was over the moon when one of my biggest business influences, Jennifer Lee, included the book in her monthly newsletter right before the launch. I haven’t even thought of asking for such a thing, and it was a wonderful icing on the cake. (I asked a couple of other folks with access to a community of freelancers if they were interested in being an affiliate, but they didn’t even respond to my email, so there’s that.)
Individually, each of these exposure opportunities resulted in a few sales. Not super impressive, but it adds up.
Engaging my personal network
As I like to brag all the time, I have wonderfully supportive friends. Many of them are freelancers too, so they're in my target reader group. Others just want to help me out even if they may not need what I sell. I relied on them to spread the word about the book to their network, and boy, did they deliver.
Instead of sending a direct email or a private message to all my friends to help me promote the book, I wrote a public blog post asking for people’s help and offering 10 ideas how to do it. I think that personal messages put people on the spot, and I don’t like being on the giving or the receiving end of that.
A public post directed at people “in general” felt like less pressure on any individual person. Many folks shared that post, and some of my friends immediately preordered the book even though they didn’t need it. (I always say real friends don't ask for freebies, they support you by buying your stuff. Mine sure did.)
I was really excited to see the ball rolling. That time when you put a thing up for sale, and then wait and wonder “Is anyone even going to buy this?” is nerve wrecking, and I’m glad that in this case it didn’t last long.
The consulting session giveaway
I threw in a giveaway in the first 2 days of launch to encourage early sales: I offered a free brand strategy consulting session to one random person who had bought the book in the first 48 hours, or during the preorders.
Here’s a Facebook Live video of the prize draw:
The launch sales numbers weren’t spectacular as some of my colleagues (like Nathan Barry and Sean McCabe) had, nor did I hope them to be. I honestly had no idea what to expect since I’ve never done such a project before. I thought: “If 100 people buy the book, I'll be thrilled.”
So what were the results? During the launch I sold around 90 electronic books and bundles total. It makes sense considering my modest audience size, since I didn't get into aggressive list-building activities or any outbound marketing apart from live events. I consider this project a success in every way. Plus, this was just the beginning...
Though I’ve sold nearly twice more ebooks than bundles, the bundles brought in more money overall.
I can’t give you a numeric breakdown of how many people came from which channel, because I didn’t track the sources. But since I know many of my audience members by name (the ones who post comments and send me emails, at least) I know that they came from everywhere: newsletter, Facebook page, Facebook profile, Facebook groups, Twitter, LinkedIn, interview articles...
After the launch, I took a well-deserved 3-week vacation, and focused on the paperback when I resumed working again.
Total cost: $17 USD for Facebook ads. $25 USD for printed postcards.
Paperback book release
Way back when I was still naive about how much work goes into a book, I was convinced I’d publish all the versions at the same time—ebooks, paperback, and audiobook. As time went by and the deadline was getting closer, it started dawning on me that this can’t happen. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my health for it that much.
I postponed the paperback for autumn, and the audiobook indefinitely. After I came back from my vacation, I started procrastinating on working on the book by working on everything but the book (classic Nela). And then I finally got to work on the book, and did everything in a matter of 2 weeks.
Because of the issues with finding the right printing company that I talked about at length in the previous article, I had two separate releases: national and international.
I announced that the paperback book was on preorder at a special price for all Croatian buyers on September 26th, up until October 15th. This enabled me to get some cash that I’d use to fund the initial print run. I posted a page on my Croatian website with order information, shared it on my social media channels, and sent a targeted newsletter.
I ordered an initial run of 84 paperbacks from Redak since they were able to get them to my doorstep within a week. (The rush job resulted in those spine symmetry errors I mentioned in the previous article.) I delivered most of the books over the weekend to local folks who were present at the sci-fi convention Rikon, where I had a talk and a panel. Many buyers picked up their book in person, while others were shipped across the country.
I funded the print with preorder earnings, plus some money earned from ebooks. I gave away some books, including the 11 copies for the University Libraries. My profit margin was low on the discounted books during the launch, so I ended up losing money on this first run, but I wasn't too worried about that. I'll break even on the paperbacks in the first quarter of 2019.
I was super pleased that some people bought not one but two copies, one being a gift. A wonderful woman (hi Mia!) who has always been very supportive of my work recommended the book to an organization, who in turn purchased 8 copies for their gift packages. That gave me some ideas for how to position and sell the book in the future...
I printed 100 bookmarks to give away with the books, and to leave them at local libraries. Deciding what to put on them was hard. The official book URL was too long to fit on this format, so I put on my personal website URL instead. Still unsure if it was the right decision, but I didn't want to overthink it.
I sold 45 copies during the preorder period, which I consider a pretty decent number. Some people who already had an electronic copy decided to get the paperback as well.
After the preorder period has ended, I started selling the book exclusively via the print-on-demand company webshop. They handle the printing and shipping, and pay me royalties at the end of each month. The preorder delivery made my life way too hectic for a while, so I’m glad to not have to personally deal with that anymore.
The international release was pretty low-key. I updated the website with links to online bookstores that stock the book, and sent an email to people on my newsletter who still haven’t bought it. (I was able to automatically track this for ebook sales, but not for paperbacks.)
I made announcements on my social media channels again, and that was basically it. People keep buying the paperbacks at a greater rate than ebooks. This leads me to believe that paperbacks are still the preferred form of reading for the majority of my audience, despite the shipping costs involved.
Total cost: I spent around $500 USD for an initial run of 84 paperback books printed locally. $35 USD for printed bookmarks. See also “Paperback production” in part 2.
Events & speaking
I regularly speak at conferences and meetups. Since the book came out, I had an increased number of invitations, and the book may have played a role. Sadly I had to turn down some speaking opportunities because of a schedule conflict. At the moment of publishing this post, I appeared at 4 events which helped me spread the word about the book to a wider audience.
The first event after the book launch was an international online conference in September called Digital Olympus. I gave a talk titled “Human Centered Branding: The Key to Marketing with Authenticity”. (Check out the slides here. The video is not yet available.)
It was a short talk followed by Q&A, and the best part is I didn’t have to leave my house to present it!
Results: one ebook sold.
The second event was a sci-fi convention Rikon. I timed my local paperback release to coincide with it, because I knew many of my friends and colleagues who were interested in buying the book would be there. I had one business related talk (marketing for creatives), one business related panel (turning a hobby into a career), and another fandom related talk.
I didn’t have a booth, but I made a whole hoopla about the book on my social media, so whoever was following me knew where to find me if they wanted a copy. (I literally sold books out of my backpack.) I sold about a dozen paperbacks, most of them to friends I know well. That was pretty neat. Moral of the story: it doesn’t have to be a business event, as long as your ideal readers are there.
Panel on turning a creative hobby into a career with LARP game designer Miroslav Wranka, costume designer Tajana Stasni, fantasy writer Maya Starling, illustrator and game designer Sven Nemet, myself, and moderator Igor Rendic.
Photo: Sabrina Baricevic
Lean In Osijek: Lean on Yourself
“Lean on Yourself” was a conference for women business owners, or women who plan to start a business. I gave a 1-hour workshop in front of 170 attendees based on “The Human Centered Brand” framework. The organizers were very kind to print and bind workbooks for all the attendees so they can follow along.
Photos: Alen Večanin
The event was great and I had a wonderful time. I’d definitely do something like that again.
From the book sales standpoint—not so much. I ordered bookmarks that were placed in the conference goodie bags, that had a promo code and the QR code URL to the free chapter download. Results: one ebook sold, and 7 free chapter downloads. I also gave one paperback for the raffle prize.
This was the first time I did something like that, so I had no frame of reference for how effective goodie bags are for promotion. The audience was perfectly targeted, I had a value-packed actionable talk and a very gentle mention of the book, and yet—very little in sales. Since it’s just one event, I can’t say if it’s typical.
Book presentation event at the Rijeka Public Library
The central department of Rijeka Public Library has a “Business Corner” section where people can learn about starting a business, lend business books, and attend lectures on related topics. I gave a talk there last year, so as soon as I arranged the book printing, I contacted the head of the department and told her about my new book, and expressed my desire to present it there. We arranged the event on the nearest available date (which was 6 weeks ahead).
I invited my friends and family, and my friends invited their friends, so there was a nice crowd with a mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces, as well as some press that interviewed me for the local TV and web portal.
The host Kristian Benic and I talked about the whys and hows of creating this book (basically a short version of what I wrote in my two earlier articles), and then we discussed some of the topics of the book, and opened the floor to questions. After the official part, several people came by to chat, and some of them bought the paperback. The remaining two available books in the library also got checked out that day, so I’d say this event was very successful in attracting new readers. The library immediately placed an order for two additional book copies.
If you can understand Croatian, here’s a short video of the event:
I also taught a full-day workshop last week with lots of potential ideal readers present, but I didn’t have a single paperback copy with me to sell because I’ve just run out! I got paid for the workshop though, so I’m not nitpicking...
Total cost: $40 for printed bookmarks, and one paperback copy for the Lean In event.
I need some time to rest and think about things other than my book, so I could get back to it with renewed enthusiasm and energy. I’ll keep writing blog content that relates to the book, but I also want to write about other stuff to keep my sanity.
I intend to reach out to at least one new podcast per week, so that I could get some interviews lined up in the upcoming months. I’ll also keep booking live events where I can speak about branding to freelancers, artists, entrepreneurs, or design students. If you know of a podcast or an event that would benefit from having me as a guest, please contact them and let them know. They’re more likely to listen to their audience members than a speaker pitch. I appreciate invitations and introductions.
Another next step I’d like to see is a future full-color edition of the book with lots of illustrations and photos, on par with other design books I love. In order to do that, I’d need to partner up with a publishing house that will invest in this project and take over a part of the workload. If you know someone who might be interested, please make us an introduction!
I’m also interested in having the book translated into other languages. I’m not going to invest any more of my own money in translations, not even into Croatian. If there’s a publisher interested in localizing this book for their audience, I’ll be happy to negotiate a fair deal and do my part in terms of promotion.
I’ll keep promoting this book continuously for a while until I get bored of doing it, I suppose. There’s another project that’s been calling to me for several years, and I would like to eventually switch to making that happen. (This new project has nothing to do with my current business, so that’s a whole ‘nother challenge...)
Overall, I can see there's way more long term potential in this book, but I'm open to different opportunities and will eventually need to take a break in order to fill my creative well.
Big thanks to everyone who was with me along this journey!
Some of these folks are mentioned by name in the book Acknowledgements section, but there are so many more unsung heroes who helped so much with the book promotion...
Mia, Ivan, and the rest of the Netokracija team who always follow my shenanigans, and even made bulk book orders for their mentoring program. Emanuel, whose Facebook post about my ebook resulted in his friends posting screenshots of purchase receipts in the comments (seriously!). Marinella, who featured me twice on her feminist radio show, and facilitated a connection that snowballed into a national TV feature (I told you connections are golden). Marijeta, who kept enthusiastically posting about the book, and introduced me to some super interesting people. Janet, who also kept spreading the word about the book and interviewed me for her blog. Marija, who is the biggest cheerleader that I haven't yet met in person (and I hope that changes soon). I must be forgetting a lot more...
One of the biggest gifts this book gave me was seeing how much support surrounds me at all times. Truly amazing.
Now that we’ve covered my entire self-publishing journey from the beginning of drafting to launch. In the next and final part, I share my 16 tips for authors that will help you prepare for your first self-publishing endeavour. Check it out!