My complete book launch strategy for Company of One
This article covers everything I did to launch the Company of One book.
The entire timeline is basically this:
- January 2017, look for and find a literary agent
- January to March 2017, write a book proposal
- March 2017, look for and find a publisher
- June to September 2017, write and finish manuscript
- September to December 2017, edit and polish manuscript
- January 2017 to March 2018, write and record Co1 podcast
- April to June 2018, write and record Co1 Academy
- June to September 2018, plan launch of book and hire a publicist
- October 2018, release first season of Co1 podcast and open pre-order bonuses
- October 2018 to January 2019, do 100s of interviews and publicity
- November 2018, send dozens of copies of the book to friends, podcasters, influencers for blurbs and interviews
- December 2018, record audiobook in studio
- January 15, 2019, release book
- January 16, release Co1 Academy to people who pre-ordered
For this article, let’s focus on everything after the finished manuscript, because I cover a lot on finding an agent and publisher in my other article on how I got a book deal.
Funnily, at first I figured that having nearly 16 months between submitting the manuscript and the book release date was far too much time. Quickly I learned that it was barely enough of a gap to do all the things required to make the book launch go well.
I should also note, it’s far too early to know how well the book will fare in the market and with popular opinion. So everything below could have been to its great benefit or for naught. Whatever the case, I’m pleased with what’s been done and all the help I’ve received along the way. And at least so far, the reception of the book has been both overwhelming and positive.
Let’s break down the list above (and more) to illustrate what I did to get the book ready for release, the avenues I took to promote it, as well as a bit on why I did each of the things I did.
After the manuscript
After I finished writing the book, my publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and I sold the rights to Penguin UK for a few additional english speaking territories. So then I essentially had two publishers—and I ended up working quite a bit with both awesome teams. We also sold the audio rights to Audible Studios and negotiated to have me do the narration of the book for the North American market at a recording studio local to me. Both of these details didn’t result in direct income, as the deals were set against me earning out my advance (i.e. payment didn’t go to me directly, it went to publisher to decrease how much I need to earn to zero my advance and start receiving royalties).
I’ve also been working with my agent and her team to sell the rights to several foreign markets, for the book to be translated in additional languages. This process takes time (for the legal and for the actual translation), so we are months to years away from news here.
After the manuscript was finished, we can break down my book launch strategy into four main areas: the pre-order campaign, the podcast, the course, and publicity.
I spoke to several authors who are smarter than I am and most said the same thing: do a huge push for pre-orders and give away as much as you can to get people to buy your book before it comes out. Why? Because every single pre-order that happens prior to the release date of the book counts as a sale on release day. So if 5,000 people pre-ordered the book between October 2018 and January 15, 2019, then all those sales would count on January 15, 2019, helping with the books rankings on Amazon and other places.
So, that’s what I did.
I offered 3 tiers for bonuses: buy one book, buy 5 or more books, and buy 25 or more books. Each tier came with more, from being able to read the first two sections instantly, to getting a 1 on 1 call with me at the top.
All in there were about 2,000 registered copies from about 1,400 people.
- 69% of books registered were one book, 11% were 5+, 20% registered 25+.
- To break it down by people who ordered: 96% registered 1 copy, 3% registered 5 copies, 1% registered 25 copies.
Which I felt was pretty awesome! At the time, I had no earned or bought media, so that really speaks to the strength of my mailing list, since that’s where I promoted the pre-order campaign.
I also gave people the ability to easily “register” their book(s) on my site:
- I use WordPress for the ofone.co website
- I use Mailchimp for the Company of One mailing list, which stores all the customers who registered their books. Within that list I created groups that capture: the store name, the number of books pre-ordered and then I created merge tags that store: name, purchase id/#, and email address.
- I connected WordPress to Mailchimp using mc4wp.
- I then created an automation sequence that sent different emails to each “group” of people: 1s, 5+s, and 25+s. Mostly because the 5+s and 25+s required verification that they made the purchase (I trust people, but I also live on the internet, so I trust but also verify). I did notice that a dozen or so people filled in the form for 25+ copies but never provided a receipt or even an order number for their purchase. I suppose they were just trying to get the bonuses for free. Trust but verify!
During the pre-order campaign (Oct 2018 to January 14, 2019), the homepage of the book website was set up to drive pre-orders. Then, after January 14, 2019, it was tailored to drive sales and reviews.
Having all the names and information in Mailchimp for each pre-order customer allowed me to two things:
- Run a simple automation that triggered the second they registered their books, segmented by tier. That way they’d know it was a success and that they would have to send me a bit of additional information (the receipt), if they were in the top two tiers.
- Send a simple campaign with conditional content based on their tier, giving them access to all the bonuses on launch day.
I really saw doing a pre-order campaign as a way to give as much as I could to the people who are already paying attention to my work, since they were the only people who’d know about it (i.e. the folks on my mailing list). This not only lines up with the teachings from the book, but also with how I’ve always run my business. The pre-order folks are the first wave of book readers, so I wanted to make them happy.
Note: there is also an “easter egg” hidden on the homepage of the book website, that very few people (outside of developers) found. If you go to ofone.co and press the letters “s” and “p” at the same time, you can see it. It’s ridiculously silly, but that’s me.
Company of One, the podcast
Initially I figured I’d release the Company of One podcast alongside the book in January 2019. I’m sure that could have been smart to do, but since I had already finished writing and recording all the episodes and my engineer had finished mixing and mastering them in the spring of 2018, I just felt that releasing them alongside the pre-order campaign would be just as beneficial.
While writing the book I recorded almost 50 hours of interviews with people who I featured in the book (and a few stories that didn’t make it in). When I was listening back to those conversations while writing the manuscript I was struck by some of the amazing things that people were saying. And, in the book, there are no quotes from people in chapters, just my own summaries of the relevant parts of their stories. So I figured, since I already had the audio from every conversation, I might as well ask if I could repurpose some of the choice moments into a show.
I wanted to make the podcast along the lines of the book, but feel more personal (as podcasts tend to feel). So the episodes are either just me speaking (mostly narrating articles on the subject) or they’re clips of audio from people I interviewed, interspersed with my take on what they were saying. This definitely created a different “vibe” for the show, because it’s very much not like most interview-style shows, but I’m very pleased with the end result.
There were no sponsors for season one as I wanted the book to be the sole focus. Season two (coming Spring 2019) has a sponsor lined up and all the guests are already booked.
For the stats, the Company of One podcast has almost 30,000 downloads and Laura Roeder’s episode is the most popular by more than double any other episode. My guess is that since Laura’s episode was the final episode of the season, it appears first on the list, so it’s the first one new people “try out”—plus her name is well-known with the folks who listen. iTunes also accounted for more than 50% of the listening methods, really showing its dominance in the podcast consumption market (Overcast, which is what I use, was a far second place at 15%).
Since it’s a podcast and details or stats are minimal at best, I have no idea how the show impacted the book or pre-sales, but based on the number of downloads, it certainly did something. And, if nothing else, it gave people who bought the book and enjoyed it many more stories in another format to consume.
Co1 Academy + Community
To go hand-in-hand with the book, I also wanted to create and release a course on the subject. Since books can take days or even weeks to consume, I wanted to have something available that taught the thesis in a different way, and in a way that was much quicker to consume and then act on. Since I have experience teaching online courses (and they make up the bulk of my income), I wanted to create something for the book as well.
I also created the course because authors don’t make a huge amount of money on books, unless they do phenomenally well, and even then, only a tiny percentage of sales go to the author (and only after they earn out their advance). This isn’t a “woe is me thing” because my advance was huge, but it’s years of full-time work and a decent chunk of it was spent on required expenses (we’ll get into this in the final section). The course is mine and mine alone, so I see that income completely and instantly.
The Co1 Academy is very similar in structure to my other courses, Creative Class and Chimp Essentials. There are video lessons, 5-10 minutes in length, which are instantly available and never expire.
The software stack I used to create the course is the same as always:
- WordPress, call me old-fashioned, but I still love WordPress
- Restrict Content Pro, to manage payment and memberships
- WPComplete, to let students mark courses as complete (note: I co-own this plugin)
- Mailchimp, to send an automation sequence to students about the lessons and talk to pre-order bonus folks
- Stripe and Paypal, for payment processing
- Discourse, for the community
I priced the course at $100 USD, which is far less than my other two courses for a couple reasons. First, the course simply has less information and lessons than my other courses—I wanted it short and sweet. Second, I wanted it to be more accessible to people who may not be able to pay three times as much.
The other aspect of the course is the community, and it’s the piece I’m most excited about. Since the thesis of the book is that growth isn’t required, and this is very counter to the existing capitalist and startup model, I wanted to have a place where like-minded folks could congregate, communicate, and support each other.
For the community I chose not to use Slack (too interruptive and overwhelming to stay on top of) or Facebook (I’ve never even had a FB account, and they’re an immoral/unethical business). Instead, I chose Discourse, which is open-source message board software that I can run from my own servers. It also felt more intentional and based on the teachings from the book: go slow, stay focused, and make meaningful connections.
I also offered the course at a huge discount or for free to those that pre-ordered. 5+ and 25+ book order folks got one licence of the course for free, and 1+ book order folks got the course for 50% off (so $50 USD). In the first two weeks it generated low-five-figure sales, which is great, since I was still completely in full-on book promotion mode and haven’t been able to promote the course wildly yet.
It’s too early to know how much impact the course will have on book sales, although my guess is that it won’t be much, but I do think some book readers will become course takers and community members. I still have yet to finalize whether the course will be evergreen or open/closed and if the price will increase.
Publicity and promotion
I don’t know nor have I ever talked to Cal Newport. Let’s start there. His blurb is featured prominently on the book and sales page, and he did in fact read it and enjoy it—but I had no direct contact with him (we just share a great book editor).
Blurbs are an essential part of any book’s release, and the ones that my book got were a combination of my own personal contacts and the book author contacts at both my publishers. This is definitely a check mark in the “pro” category for going the traditional route (since I would have personally had to get a blurb from Cal otherwise).
Promotion, in general, is easier for books. Think about it: if you release a new online course or a new webinar or an indie SaaS product, it’s hard to get publications, traditional media, or even other podcasters to want to interview you or cover it. But with a book? People want to talk about them, write about them, and feature them.
I hired a publicist to help with book promotion, at the ask of my agent and publisher. I interviewed 4 or 5 of them before I settled on the one I hired. I was picky because launching and promoting products is a job I do and have done for years. So I only wanted to hire someone who’d compliment my existing network and outreach work.
The Company of One publicity plan involved:
- My own network of contacts, which after 20 years of working for myself and really putting connections first, is pretty strong.
- Hiring a publicist to help get press from places I have no contact or in’s with.
- My publishers in the US and UK and their network of other authors and media contacts.
All these players started promoting the book in October 2018, so 3.5 months before it came out. This was to drive strong pre-order sales and because a lot of podcasts and publications have long lead times, where you might record in November, but the show doesn’t publish the episode until January or February. So all press that we got was in the hopes it’d come out just before or during launch week.
Here’s the breakdown in terms of what I focused on, in order:
- Getting blurbs for the book, which started as soon as the final manuscript was finished being edited. This involved sending dozens of copies of the book to author friends, influencers, and higher profile business folks.
- Doing podcast interviews with shows who had an audience that could benefit from the message of the book.
- Writing a number of key articles and content for publications like British Airways, Forbes, Entrepreneur and a few others.
- Sending out more copies of the book (around 100 total) to influencers, friends and relevant folks in the hope that they enjoy the book and share it with their audiences.
- Working with reporters/journalists to write about either the book or me.
- Doing joint promotions with large companies who reach an audience of people who could benefit from the book.
- Getting influencers and big name folks to talk about the book by sending them copies (an additional 100 books or so were sent out), write about the book, or give away copies.
A lot of folks have asked how I went about contacting the media and podcasters to get featured or interviewed by them and it was one of four things: I either knew them personally and asked them directly, a friend offered to make an intro for me, my publicist contacted them, or they reached out directly to me. I have a ton of experience doing interviews in the past, and have a great network of folks I know or that I know who know other relevant people, so I wasn’t starting from scratch.
Even though I had a stellar publicist and wonderful publishers that did a lot of work on my behalf, I still spent 3 months working 30-40 hours per week contacting, booking and recording interviews. I’ve done around 120 interviews total, which was both tiring and amazing. I even made a few new friends with hosts who were really interesting and awesome to talk to. I always tried to offer to send a few copies of the book to shows with bigger audiences for them to give away when the episode with me was released too.
I will also note that I fully burnt myself out during this process as I’ve been doing 2-4 interviews a day since October. It’s so much work, and while enjoyable, it’s completely draining to be “on” as an introvert. I thought I paced things well, but I should have done a better job with it. As my friend Courtney Carver told me (who has much more experience than I do with book publishing), it’s a marathon, not a sprint, to get word out. Books can last forever, so promotion doesn’t have to happen all at once. I didn’t do the greatest job with my time and energy and ended up getting a lung infection in December that lasted 3 weeks, which I really think happened because I was so drained and not taking the best care of my health.
It’s worth mentioning that any/all promotion or publicity is optional. And as the author, you can say no to anything specific you either don’t want to do or don’t feel is right to do. I said no to a book tour because it felt like a waste of time (I’m not big enough in any specific markets to make it worthwhile, plus I hate travelling for work). I said no to TV appearances because I’m a chicken shit (and I’m ok with that), and I hate travelling for work. I said no to speaking gigs, because even though that’s what authors are supposed to do, I have a general “no speaking gigs” rule which I’m not about to break now. I said no to joining a few social networks where promotion could have happened because I’m not interested in being part of Facebook, Instagram, or Linkedin. I said no to some podcasts and interviews because I didn’t feel like they were a great fit.
I didn’t say no to those things because of ego, I said no to those things because they aren’t how I like to run my business or spend my time. I said no because I see the importance in having boundaries. Just like in the book, if it’s your business, you get to make the rules, and those are all things I enjoy not doing.
Promotion (and even business in general), runs entirely on who you know. This is why I spend a good deal of time fostering and maintaining business relationships. It’s always a good thing to know the right people and build real relationships and friendships with them (even if you’re introverted like me).
The only paid promotion I did was an ad in BookBub and a contest on Amazon. Both of which did absolutely nothing. My publisher has run some ads on social networks, but I have no idea how effective those were as I don’t have the stats for them, nor am I on the networks they ran them on—so I can’t gauge their effectiveness. Everyone involved focused mainly on sending out copies of the book to the right people as the biggest expense for promotion, which is what I pushed for.
You can see the full list of received press on the press page for the book: ofone.co/press.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, authors are on the hook for most expenses around promoting their book, and are expected to earmark a not-exactly-tiny portion of their advance for them. This isn’t even a negative thing or a complaint, just something for new or upcoming authors to be aware of.
All in, I spent a bit over one quarter of the advance on book expenses. Which is a pretty huge amount, but it covered: my agent, my publicist, indexing the book (I think it’s hilarious that authors pay for this), software (for the course), sending books all over the world, stickers and temporary tattoos, and a couple paid ads (BookBub and Amazon contests).
So while a decent advance for an author may seem like great money, if you spread it out as a wage over the time (often years) it takes to get a book from idea to release, and factor in expenses, it works out to be a lot less than I make from my existing business products. That said, it still has the potential to generate more revenue, once I earn out my advance, as well as be a catalyst for the existing products I have to sell to a new audience. Plus, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process from writing to release.
Throughout the whole process, I really did attempt to do things in a way that lined up with the thesis of the book. I wanted to run the whole thing using the Company of One mindset.
This meant I focused on my existing audience and making sure they were happy (pre-order bonuses to whomever wanted the book), as well as trying to reach the right audience instead of the biggest audience. I routinely turned down media or press that might have been huge but didn’t feel like a good fit for me or the book. I even told my publicist that I’d rather have a few great interviews than a whole whack of semi-decent ones. I also made sure I spent as little as possible so I could be as profitable as possible with this project. I had a small but very focused team throughout, even though I was working with two massive publishers. Even huge companies can operate like companies of one (which the 5 or 6 person team at Penguin Business in the UK does supremely well).
I missed the mark with figuring out what “enough” was and optimizing for it with the number of interviews I did, but I’ve since re-aligned and am going much slower and more intentionally at this point.
Honestly, it was hard to give up control in certain areas. I disliked the North American cover, for example, when I first saw it. Now that I’ve held it in real life, I really like it, and think it’s a good fit. I do still like the UK cover best, but really, whichever cover helps get the book into the hands of the people that need to hear its message is great for me. The cover isn’t for me and my tastes, it’s for readers or for people who could benefit from reading it and are drawn to the initial design.
A lot of you might be wondering: am I glad I traditionally published this book, since all my other books were self published? And the answer is yes, I am glad I did things the way that I did. I got to work with some amazing and ridiculously smart people, and the main product, the content of the book, greatly benefited from having top tier talent work on it with me. The message is entirely my own, just massaged a little to be as clear and engaging as possible.
I definitely learned a whole lot by going the traditionally published route, and I’m still learning more as I go. At the time of writing, this the book has only been out for a week, so it’s far too early to tell what paid off and what didn’t and why.
I’ll end with this: the absolute best and most exciting part about the whole process has been seeing people share photos of themselves holding my book in their hands on social media. I have a folder on my computer that now holds more than 300 pictures, since I’ve saved every single one I found online to my computer for future reference if I ever need a little pick-me-up.
It makes me so happy to know that something I created is not mine anymore. It’s everyone’s to have, interpret and hopefully even learn a little bit from.