Making her second appearance on the podcast, April Dunford joins us to share the many learning experiences she took from writing and releasing her book, Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning So Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It.
After rewriting her book for the fifth time (maybe more), April gives us a bit of insight on how the publishing industry works (or doesn’t work) and why you need to make sure your message is clear and compelling before writing it.
Listen to this episode:
- Why April decided to launch a book
- Why keeping track of how many books you’ve sold is difficult and why April isn’t worried about those numbers
- The dumb questions the publishing industry asked April throughout the process
- Learning experiences from writing and rewriting a book for five years
- How April made time to write her book and why she hired a one-stop-shop to put the finishing touches on the book
- Why she scaled back her original manuscript to it’s published form available now
- How to find a self-publishing consulting group
- April’s experience with her book launch and the marketing plan that made it work
- April Dunford on Everyone Hates Marketers
- April’s New Book
- Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind – Ries & Trout
- Chapters Indigo
- Barnes & Noble
- 1-800-CEO Reads
- Kindle Store
- April’s Twitter
- Editor’s note: here’s a list of 70+ books for entrepreneurs you might want to check out
Louis: All right, let’s do this. Bonjour, Bonjour, and welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com the marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier. In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to write and launch a book. My guest today-
April: Maybe you will.
Louis: Don’t say anything yet.
April: Maybe you’ll learn what not to do.
Louis: My guest today has been on the show before, and I just launched a new book, which is called Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning So Customers Get It, Buy It, and Love It. I actually bought it a few weeks ago. Finally, we get to read it this weekend. It’s really good, but surprisingly enough, we are not going to talk about product positioning today. Instead, we’re going to talk about the process that my guest took to actually write the book, launch it and I know that she made a few mistakes along the way or few things she would do differently. So super happy to have you. April Dunford on board again, welcome back.
April: Hey, it’s good to be back. Thanks for having me.
Louis: Yeah. It probably feels like home again. Like it feels like you know… the podcast you’re going to come back to every six months or so to talk about your fuckups.
April: Yeah, that’s right.
Louis: Like a therapy session.
April: A therapy. That’s what it’s like therapy.
Louis: Why did you decide to launch a book?
April: Well, there’s a handful of things. Like I had this idea for a book on positioning maybe six years ago. I would say is six or seven years ago, it was the first time I had thought about it. And my original thinking was that there isn’t a good methodology for positioning. And so I would be spending a lot of time talking to companies about positioning and I’d be mentoring people and they’d be asking me questions about positioning and I didn’t have a good book to point them to.
There’s was a great book out called Positioning The Battle for Your Mind by these guys Ries and Trout depending on how you want to pronounce it. And that was published in 1982. Before the Internet a thousand years ago. But it’s still a great book and I still think if you want to learn something about positioning, that’s the book you should start with. You should read it.
What frustrated me about that book though is that it didn’t actually give you any clues on how to do it. So you’ve read the book, and you’d be like, oh my gosh, positioning is so important and it’s so critical and look at all of these examples where they went from here to here. But it wasn’t any closer to knowing how to do it. And so I knew how I was doing it as a vice president of marketing, and I thought, this is crazy. Someone should write the book on this. And so then, five, six, however many years ago I thought, well maybe that’s me, maybe I’m going to write the book on it.
But you know, thinking you’re going to write a book on something and write a book on something, are actually two totally different things. But that’s where the idea came from. The idea came from this is a necessary book. This book should exist. And if no one else is going to write it, I’m going to write it. That was my original thought.
Louis: That was a grandiose idea in a sense, trying to help the world as well, like to learn a better way of position your product and all of that.
April: It’s kind of selfish too. You get sick of answering the same damn question over and over again. Also, people were coming in and, and they’re like, so how do I position my startup? And you’re like, oh, okay, let’s start from the beginning. And I’m doing the same thing over and over and over again. And I’m thinking, God, be great if I could just slide this sucker across the table and say, read this and come back to me with smarter questions people.
So, there was that idea, one was like, I thought it should exist in the world too. I keep seeing that I’m answering the question over and over and over again. And again, it’s three, I like the idea of I’m going to write a book, and it’s going to be this useful thing. And people will say, “Hey, I know you, you did this useful thing.” That’s kind of the idea.
Louis: You’re a consultant as well. So you make money by sending your services, and I suppose-
April: I do. But actually, when I originally conceived of doing the book, I wasn’t consulting at that time. But now as a consultant, obviously the book is a good calling card as a consultant, if you want to know how I think about stuff, you can read the book and if you disagree with it then don’t call me. But if you do then great. And here’s how I can actually help you. The book in some ways is the self-help manual for folks that can’t afford me, or too small for me. You can’t self-serve by the book and do your own stuff, and you don’t have to call me at all. But, but I’ve been that person internally to try to do the positioning, and it’s, it’s hard to drive it yourself internally.
There is some magic that happens when you get an outside person in to help facilitate it, which is what I do as a consultant. But the book itself I’m sure will drive some consulting business, but it’s also going to be a thing I could give to folks or sell to folks for a whopping seven bucks. For companies that are too small or too bro to hire me as a consultant.
Louis: Have you raised your prices yet?
April: My consulting prices? Maybe next year. Thinking about next year. There’s a funny thing about consulting to startups, because they mainly, it’s the CEOs that hire me, and they all talk to each other and nobody wants to get ripped off. And so at an early stage I decided I’m going to pick a price that’s fair for my base workshop offering. And everybody pays the same. It doesn’t matter if I think, oh, you’re super funded, and you got all kinds of money, or oh, you’re bootstrapped, and you don’t have any money, everybody pays the same. And that was a deliberate choice on my part because I know how these guys buy stuff. They talk to everybody else, and they say, well what’d you pay? And so if, if my pricing is flexible, everyone’s going to know and everyone’s going to be pushing me to give them the lowest price I’ve ever given. Right now my pricing is what it is. I don’t negotiate it. It’s the same for everybody.
Will it go up now that I got a book out. Yeah, probably, I’m pretty busy right now. And so I think if I start getting too busy to get folks on the calendar, then yeah, maybe that would facilitate a price increase.
Louis: Good problem to have.
April: Yeah, book, your consulting now before prices go.
Louis: So since the book launched, which is a few days ago, at the time where we are recording this episode, how many copies did you sell? Just roughly.
April: Well, so one thing I’ll tell you about books is that it’s kind of hard to count. And everybody wants to know this number and I’m a little bit like, I’m not really sure I can count. I can’t give you a few numbers. One thing I’ll tell you is, that most folks that self-publish a book, which I did, will only publish on Amazon. And if you only publish on Amazon, it’s quite easy to track how many books you’ve sold. There’s a little bit of a lag because they don’t actually show the book as if it’s a paper book. They don’t actually show it is sold until it’s shipped. And for some reason my stuff has all been delayed in shipping. It’s super annoying. But I didn’t just do Amazon partly because I’m in Canada and there’s a big book store here in Canada called Chapters Indigo and they have their own e-book reader.
And so I wanted to make it available there as well, which means you actually have to set up with another distribution channel beyond Amazon to serve as those kinds of booksellers as well as Barnes and Nobles and whatever. And so I also have that set up there. And then I use that distributor also for a buying books. If I’m speaking at an event and like I was just at an event in a Cedar Rapids, Iowa and it was so fun and they bought a couple of hundred books to give away and do a book signing and whatever. And so those books come from either that other distributor, or I can flow them through this other thing called 1-800-CEO reads. And so I have multiple channels is the short answer to this question.
And adding up the books across the multiple channels is a bit of a thing. I would say I could measure the books in thousands, but I’m not sure I can give you an exact number on where it is. I will say that it exceeded my expectations. I did not write this book with the idea that it’s like fricking Harry Potter and there’s going to be, this is going to be some kind of like New York Times bestseller. That’s not the kind of book it is. It’s a nichey book on a nichey topic. It’s really written for marketing people and founders in tech. I’m more focused on B2B, so if you’re B to C, I’m not even sure that, there aren’t a lot of B to C examples in there.
And so I’m not actually that worried about the number of books I am very worried about do people think it’s a useful book? Because I spent a lot of time writing the darn thing. And my hope is that people read it and they think it’s useful if it only sells a small number of copies. I’m cool with that. But if the people that bought it read it and think it’s like this is a useful thing for my business, I’m glad this got written, then I’m feeling pretty good.
And then yeah, it would be great if that got me reading a spot where I get better quality clients or maybe I can put my prices up or maybe I’m a bit more booked up than I am now. I don’t know. I’m pretty booked up already. But that stuff is all good to you but it, but I was not trying to optimize for book sales. Let’s put it that way. There’s a very specific way you do a book launch if you want to optimize for book sales. And I did not do that.
Louis: Okay. So let’s go through the step you took to actually write the book because you say it took you a long time. And so let’s try to retrieve the steps you took and maybe the mistakes you made along the way.
April: So many mistakes.
Louis: Step one, you started to think about the positioning book six years ago. So, what do you advise folks who are listening to this right now thinking that they have also something to say they like potentially to write a book, even self-publish it. What is it? Step one, what do you need to start with?
April: Well, I had the idea for the book and the idea is I’m going to teach you how to do positioning. That’s it. That was the whole idea. And because I know how to do positioning, I’m going to write a book and it’s going to teach you how to do it. But then I very quickly discovered that just because I know how to do positioning doesn’t mean I know how to teach anybody how to do it. So I read it. The first thing I did was I, uh, I wrote the speech version of this book because I do a bit of spot public speaking and I wrote the speech version of it and it was terrible. Nobody under could understand what the heck I was talking about. And you could tell from the reactions when I got off stage, people are like, so you’re saying it’s like messaging them? Then I’m like no, that’s not what I’m saying at all.
And the talk didn’t work. And then I was like, man, well this book isn’t going to work if it doesn’t even work as a talk. That’s not going to work as a book. And I was also blogging quite a bit at the time and some stuff I wrote seemed to work and people liked it and they understood it and they thought it was useful. Again, my bar is useful. Like do you think this is useful? Would you use this? I’m not going for does this get the most likes? Because you can write something sensational that’s wrong. That gets a lot of likes. I read an article yesterday that was talking about segmentation is what it was and niche markets and things. And it’s wrong.
Based on everything I know across seven startups and launching 16 products, the advice in that article is wrong, but is it popular? Is it getting shared all over the place? Yes. Because it kinda sounds like it makes sense. Anyways, you can write stuff that’s popular, that’s wrong and stupid. Anyways, I’m writing about this stuff and I think I’m getting better at the ideas, but I would say I probably spent a year where I thought what I was doing was writing the book, where what I was really doing is not writing any book. I was trying to figure out how do you actually teach this stuff in a way that people get it. And that’s like way longer than I thought.
Louis: And I think that’s a really interesting concept right there. You didn’t start by writing a book. You just start from the topic you’ve chosen and perhaps this is something we can talk about briefly, the topic you’ve chosen, you’ve decided already, can I teach it? Can I teach it? Yeah. I don’t know. Focus into can I teach it.
April: That’s the kind of book I was trying to write. I was trying to write this book. I’m going to teach you how to do this thing. I think it would be different if I had this book that’s like, sometimes people have like a concept and they’re going to interview a bunch of people and then they’re going to say what those people said and they’re just going to noodle on a concept. This is not that kind of book like mine was. I’m going to teach you a process. Step one we do this, step two we do this. Step three we do this. Otherwise, I don’t think this book needs to exist because the conceptual book already exists. That’s Reis & Trout, Positioning the Battle for Your Mind. If all you want to know is what positioning is by that book, don’t buy my book.
Louis: But then it will still work. I think if you’re doing a series of interview and you create a summary out of it to have a new concept, you still want to know whether this has legs and you still want to test it out using your-
April: And does anyone get it.
Louis: Yeah, right. It’s clearly be risky to, to launch a new concept of your book if you’ve never tested before, in front of a live audience.
April: Can you imagine that would be crazy.
Louis: But I think that, I think a few people did that.
April: I think people did that… sometimes people, it’s really easy there to write a book right now. It’s never been easier. Like you can get these services out there that they’ll basically just interview you and they’ll write the book for you even, and then figure out and all you got to do is pay and just takes money. And so it’s really easy to write a book right now. I do know folks that have kind of written a book like that, but they have different goals than I have. Some of them are like CEOs of a company and they’re writing it kind of as, this is our point of view as a company. It’s almost like a piece of collateral or a chunky piece of business content. And you know, they don’t care about selling a lot of those books either. They’re going to buy their own books and use them for marketing purposes. And that’s fine.
But if you’re trying to write a book, like, like for me it was like, okay, I’m trying to teach people something and it seemed natural to me to let’s just try to teach an audience and if that works then I’ll write down what I’m saying to the audience. But you know, at the beginning I’m talking to the audience, they’re not getting it. And then I started teaching a class at a local incubator and that was also painful at the beginning. Nobody’s getting it. Like literally like the first one I did was so painful. I stood up and I thought it was genius too. I had like a hundred slides and I had two and a half hours and I stood up there and basically just, I’m just going to hit you people with everything I’ve got. And at the end literally people were like, oh, so what’s positioning again?
Louis: Most have been tough for you, you know.
April: I failed. Well you know what, I’ll tell you one thing that you have to be careful about. If you’re a good, comfortable public speaker, you will sometimes get positive feedback on your speech. Even if people understood nothing because they just liked the way you said it, but they didn’t actually understand a damn thing you said. Sometimes you’ll get people walk up and go, wow, that was great. That was great. So you’re saying positioning is like a tagline then and you’re like, oh shit, nobody understood anything. You have to make sure you check your ego a little bit because sometimes people will say, oh, that was really, really great, but their Canadians are the worst for this by the way. Like they’re super polite and super nice. And so they’ll come up and say, yeah, that was really great. And then they’ll ask you a question and it’s clear like, oh my God, you didn’t understand a thing.
So, I did the course and that was bad and, but it got better right over the course of a year. You talk to people afterwards and say, they got this bit, but they didn’t get that bit, or oh, they got this.
Sometimes they would come back and ask you a question and it would kind of spark like, Huh. At the beginning I was using a lot of very technical real company examples of companies that I had worked at. And I still like to use those, but depending on the crowd, sometimes it helps to do an example that has nothing to do with technology. I’m literally talking about cake. And that’s sometimes helpful for a tech crowd that can’t separate the concept from the actual product you’re talking about. And so if you give them some generic thing like cakes and know they don’t know anything about the cake business or how to make cakes or anything about cake, and then you can get people’s idea around the concept and then say, okay, now let’s take that and apply it to this artificial intelligence thing.
And that helped a lot. And so I just got smarter at learning what worked and what didn’t work about teaching people how to do it.
Louis: When was this?
April: We’re going back like five years or something. Then I get to the point where I think I’m pretty good at teaching it and then I’m like, okay, I got this book. I talked to a bunch of people that had published books and they all said the same thing. They said, look, got to go with a publisher cause self-publishing is bullshit. And if you want to really do this properly, you want to publish and not just any publisher either you want a good publisher and in order to do that you need to write up a book proposal and you need to get an agent. And so I had a handful of people tell me that’s what I needed to do. I spent a year trying to do that. I got a full time job and I, this is like my side hustle thing. And so I spent a year writing a book proposal, talking to a bunch of book agents and talking directly to a bunch of publishers.
Louis: Let me just clarify one thing on talking about book proposal. In the business sense when you write a business book, usually what a publisher would do is, you would be asked to write a book proposal, like you would like a traditional marketing plan. Who’s is it for? What’s the unique angle of this book? How are you planning to launch it and promoting it? And then a rough outline. So basically I get a 50 pager or even more?
April: I think mine was like about 50 pages. Yeah. And it was like, this is my audience. This is what the book’s about. These are other books that compare to this book. This is the outline. This is the same. I got a sample chapter, all this stuff and the idea is you got to go sell your book. First, you sell it to an agent and you together go and sell it to a publisher. And so I got literally nowhere with that. And looking back on it now, he’s not surprising because I’m not writing fricking JK Rowling here. I’m writing a super nichey book for a super nichey audience. And what the publisher and the agent want to know is you’re going to be the next seven habits of highly effective people.
They want you to sell a million books. And if you can’t convincingly tell them I’m going to sell a million books, they don’t want to know. They’re not interested because the whole game for them is volume. It took me like a year to figure that out. At first, I thought maybe my book proposal is not very good, I’ll rewrite that or maybe I’m talking to the wrong agent. So then I meet some new agents and maybe I’m talking to the wrong publishers, I meet new publishers. Now I do know people that have published books that didn’t sell very many books. And I think that’s fine for some publishers, but they might sign you up a few written another book that was really popular and they’ll take a flyer on you. But if you’re a first time author and you can’t make a convincing case that you’re going to at least get a good run at selling a ton of books. They don’t want to talk to you.
Louis: What happened to the… just briefly on this, are you contacted agency you contacted publishers. What was the feedback? Did they tell you explicitly, listen, this is too niche for us? Or they just never replied. What was the feedback?
April: Oh, well, lots of them just don’t reply. I’ll tell you the book business deserves to die because I got a lot of really dumb questions. I literally had people ask me, how many followers do you have on Twitter? Like that’s some kind of an indicator of how many books I’m going to sell. And I was like, Hey Paul, you’re got to be kidding me. And then they asked me how many people are on your mailing list? And if the answer to that question wasn’t 10 million, it was the wrong answer. They think they know something about how to sell books, but they don’t actually know. What they’re trying to figure out is can you sell the books with your audience? How much of a following you already have.
And so they’re hoping that you say, Oh, I’m super famous, I got bazillion followers on everything and Blah, blah, blah. And so I and I could have made up all those numbers. They didn’t check anything. So I could have walked in and said, yeah, I got 20 million people on my mailing list, 20 million. And I probably could have got a book deal out of that because they, that nobody ever asked to verify it. Nobody.
Honestly, I got some really stupid questions. So, so there was that. I spent about a year doing that and then I started thinking maybe I, it maybe, maybe this traditional publishing is not what I want to do. And so then I went and started talking to some folks that had self-published their books and in particular folks that were consultants. So it did by this point I’ve started to transition to consulting and I was thinking about the book more as a calling card for this is what I do, this is what I think, this is my intellectual property. Maybe you should hire me as a consultant.
I talked to some people that had self-published or both. And that was super inspiring. I started to investigate that. But right when I started investigate that, I had a weird little detour where I hooked up with a guy that, that teamed with a guy. We didn’t hook up. I try to be clear. Yeah, not like that. It’s not that kind of a show. I have a friend of mine that had published a very successful book, I’m also for startups and he was thinking about a new book and I was thinking about a new doing this book. And so we yacked and said, hey, maybe we do this book together and he’s already got a relationship with the publisher.
He’s already got a big email list. It’s not 10 million, but it’s big enough. And he’s already a known entity. And so if we wrote the book together, then maybe we would do it through his publisher and do it like that. And I wasted maybe a year trying to take a run at that. And that didn’t work mainly because we’re just really different people. And we thought about that. We were thinking about the topics differently. His process for writing a book is really different than mine. I had a very specific idea and you can see it in the book now that the idea for the book has not changed. So I had this very specific idea of what this book was going to be. And then, and then this poor guy comes in and he’s like, Hey, what about these other things? And I’m like, no.
So I think I was a shitty writing partner. Anyway, we tried to make this thing work for about a year and then, and then and then finally made the call like yeah, this probably isn’t turning into a book with the two of us. And so that describes the first four or five years of me trying to write a book, all of that.
Louis: Is it four or five years?
April: Probably long amount of time, like literally years and, and all the way through that people just say, Hey, what are you doing? I was it. Yeah, I’m writing a book. Literally not writing a book. All of this work leads to the book, but was I actually sitting down and writing the book? No, I really don’t.
Louis: Let me summarize briefly what you said. First of all. You had this idea like do you want you to specialize in positioning? I mean this is something that you really want to write about you saw a gap you so clearly that there was an opportunity there. You started to teach me to try to teach the practicality of it to crowds that in public speaking because that’s one of your strengths. You explain that, try to explain that over slides and public speaking, you got a lot of feedback back and forth and the feedback just kept rolling and rolling. You got more, more feedback. You start to improve the way you were explaining. Then you started to get in touch with agent and publishing didn’t work out with, they wanted to you to be the next stage, JK Rowling. And then the last step is you try to partner up with someone who had these connections.
But again, you had such a precise idea of the book you wanted to write and I think people have noticed by now if they’ve never heard from you, you have a strong personality as well. I can understand why partnering up with some of those might be hard.
April: I think I was a crappy collaborator on that project so it didn’t work. Finally, I said forget it. And then after we split, then I literally sat down in earnest, I rewrote the book from scratch, which took me maybe eight months and then I hired a company to help me self-publish the book. From the moment I began the rewrite to hiring the company was about eight, nine months. And then working with the company, it took me about a year to get it actually out.
Louis: Okay. So let’s go through those steps, because I think this is when we’re getting into the thick of it, the meat of it. When you say writing a book, right. To me it sounds like a fucking mountain to climb?
April: No it’s not. It’s actually the easiest part.
Louis: So, let’s go through that.
April: Writing a book is so easy. It’s all the other things. That suck.
Louis: Practically speaking, if it took you eight to nine most practically speaking, how did you go about it? Did you sit in front of a computer every day for an hour? How did you go about it?
April: I did. I sat in front of the computer every day for an hour, a couple of hours. Sometimes I would have half a day blocked off because I knew there was a section on the book I just needed to sit down and work through. I had some times on the weekend I would just be, when kids aren’t around or whatever, I’m going to bang out a chapter on this book. Writing was pretty easy. And part of that is because I had done all this work before. I knew what my methodology was at that point. I knew what the steps were. I knew that I was going to have to tee up X, Y, Z before I could get to the steps. That’s where all like it would, it would have taken me longer if I hadn’t had done all that work of workshopping the thing, and doing talks on the thing. And we’re working through consultant clients on the thing.
By the time I sat down to do the last from to and write this book, I knew exactly the way this thing was going to lay out. I wrote an outline and then I just wrote on the outline and had the manuscript done. Then I did that. I had already decided I’m going to sell publish because I looked at doing a publisher and it didn’t work. At one point I actually did have one of these publishers come back to me and say, Yup, we do want to do your book now. And we had a discussion about it and I still said no. Because at that point I was like, no, I think I’m a control freak. I actually want way more control over all this stuff and I don’t want any partners including you publishing people.
And then I hired a company that is like a one stop shop that does cover art, interior design, editing, like macro editing, micro editing. They get you all set up on Amazon plus all these other distribution channels, like the whole soup to nuts thing and you just pay them.
Louis: Before that-
April: That’s the route I decided to go because I knew I was too damn busy to do all those things separately and my choices were hire a bunch of separate people to do these things, like hire an editor, hire an artist or whatever. And then I found these folks that do everything. So I was like, okay, perfect. I’ll just throw money at you and you guys solve this problem. That’s how we’re going to do it.
Louis: All right. Before we talk about this step, because I think it’s an interesting thing of, I’m not sure I’ve heard of that way of doing things before. The writing bit. You say it’s easy, you consider it to be easy. I think as you said, the difficulty wears off because you were consulting on this methodology. You spoke about this methodology for years.
April: Yeah, exactly. If I hadn’t had that, I think it would’ve been a lot harder to sit down and band. This was also the fourth time I wrote the book. I wrote the book, it wasn’t totally finished, whatever. Then I realized I didn’t know how to teach it. So then I threw it out and I wrote it again. And then I brought in this partner and rewrote it again and there was manuscripts of this book kicking around. But you know on the last round I threw away all that stuff and said forget it. When did it start from scratch and, and rewrote the whole thing over.
Louis: So talk to me about the environment you were in. You were in an office, closed off, quiet silence. You had a plain text editor in front of you or you had world, what did you have in front of you?
April: I wrote the whole thing in Google docs.
Louis: So you had Google doc or you had a rough outline perhaps?
April: I had an outline. I started with an outline, chapter one, chapter two, chapter three. Here’s how it’s going to look. And then just filled in the outline.
Louis: Okay. So you had the outline. So, which is kind of step one. I mean that’s kind of the obvious step point. You don’t write a book by just writing the first line. You need kind of to figure the skeleton out of it. You had a start line. You had this Google doc and then you took one hour or two hours a day. And did the words flow pretty well every day or did you have days where you’re like fuck I can’t write anything, it makes no sense.
April: Totally. Yeah. I have these like that about work in general. That didn’t stress me out. You’d have some weeks where you didn’t do anything on the book for a week because you’re super freaking busy with work and others and then you have other weeks where you know you’ve got a few days off and you’re banging out all kinds of stuff. It’s not this nice consistent thing. You got good days, bad days,
Louis: And in total, how many words are we talking about? Like a book?
April: Well, so this is an interesting part. The original thing that I sat down and wrote was gigantic. The thing I came out with was huge way too big in fact. And I can’t remember how many words it was, but I remember doing a calculation to see how many pages would this book be? And it was way too many. It was like 300 pages or something. But I figured that’s fine because what I know about writing is that it’s way easier to take stuff out than it is to put stuff in. Right. So I just put everything in it and it was all there. And my goal on this thing was to make it very short. One thing that I’ve learned about my audience is they are super distracted. They don’t sit down and read a great big book.
If it’s a whole bunch of texts, they’re just not going to read it. And again, my goal in this thing is I’m trying to write a thing that’s useful and so it’s not going to be useful, no one is going to finish the damn book. I originally had this manuscript and it was giant, but my goal with the manuscript was to chop it in half right from the beginning. But I figured we’ll do that in the editing process, we’ll find out where all the chaff is and we’ll get rid of it. So the original thing was super, super long. And then if you buy the book now you’ll laugh. Because the books a shorty, it’s not a long book at all. And there’s a ton of white space and it’s all broken up and there’s all kinds of like diagrams and things and that’s on purpose because I don’t believe my folks can sit down and read 300 pages or whatever, but the original manuscript was, yeah, way longer than what I ended up with.
Louis: Yeah, and usually what happens in business books that you’re reading that are like 300 pages, 400 pages long sometimes is that it goes through the same fucking thing over and over again.
April: My people don’t have time for that.
Louis: Yeah. It’s not a methodology. It’s like this is my core idea and this is how it’s applicable and this is how it’s applicable and it just repeats and repeats and repeats. Now there are some benefits of that in term of memory and retention, like the more it repeat in different angles, the more likely to remember it. But exactly as you said, people are busy, right?
April: Yeah, I know. That was all my approach to this was not that I was like, you know what? This book is going to be exactly as long as it needs to be and not a word longer. I’m not going to repeat anything. If you want to go back and read it twice, go back and read it twice.
Again, I saw a lot of people launch their books and even I’d get the book and the thing was so dang big that I just couldn’t get through it and I didn’t want that. I what I wanted is a book that you’re actually gonna sit down, you’re gonna read it, you’re gonna finish it. That’s the goal. Anyways, it was longer at the beginning, but then it got short.
Louis: And do you consider yourself a good writer?
April: No, I’m just terrible. I’m an engineer. I’m an awful writer. My God, I’m really bad.
Louis: How did you deal with the fact like this concept of shitty feels dry. Like you sit down every or whenever you’re the most productive and just dumping words that didn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, but you knew you had to go through this first step. How did you deal with that?
April: I just wrote the thing out just straight not worrying about is it written well or am I saying this exactly perfect. I did one, I wrote the thing out and then when it was done, I went through and did a massive edit for, for understandability with the idea being, I got to give this to an editor, but I’ve worked with editors my whole life, so I know an editor is going to make this look good even though I can’t write at all. I did one pass for understandability and then hilariously I start working with the editor, and the editor says, well, I’m going to do a macro edit, then I’m going to do micro editing. The macro editing I’m just going to go through, and we’re going to maybe change the structure a little bit and some stuff. And then you’ll get a chance to review it and then we’ll go back and do line at, it’s where we just cleaned up the grammar and all that stuff. I said great.
And I’m thinking macro edit. She’s not going to do anything on that. Because I got the structure, I know how to teach this thing. I got it. So I send it to her. She takes the thing, she keeps it for a long time, like two months or something. I’m like, what’s going on? And then she sends me this book back, and I’m telling you, I opened this thing up, and I read the whole thing, and I was like, that’s an amazing book. I have no idea what that book is about. Oh, I don’t know that, that’s somebody else’s book that’s on my book. I don’t remember. I don’t actually know what that book is about.
Louis: Oh Shit.
April: Exactly. And I was like, fuck, this is bad. In response to that, I went back and wrote the book again.
Louis: Oh Jesus Christ. How many times have you wrote this fucking book?
April: I went back and wrote the book again because it wasn’t like the editor literally couldn’t understand it and I was like, Oh my God, I’ve written a book that no one can understand. So I went back and wrote it again. And that was bad. That was really bad. That was probably one of the worst parts of that was the worst part of the whole experience. I canceled all my clients. I took a month off at this point, I think we’re six months away from publishing, which it turned out we completely miss the dates for lots of reasons, but I think I’m six months away from publishing. I’m like, Oh my God, this is a disaster. I cancel all my stuff. I sat in a room and I did nothing for a month, but rewrite that book so that I could give it to her so that she could understand it and do an edit on it.
It was terrible. And the whole time I was writing it, I had this panicky feeling like, I’m going to do this. I’m going to give it back to her. It’s still not going to make sense, and I’m going to abandon this project at this point.
Louis: So in retrospect, tell me more about why did it happen do you think?
April: Well I don’t know. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know. Part of it some people were saying, oh well maybe it’s just the editor didn’t understand your stuff. And there was definitely a little bit of that. Because I’m writing a nichey book, right? It’s a specialist book for specialist people. My editor is not going to understand and my editor doesn’t know what positioning is. And so some of it was just her not getting it, but some of it was just, and I would say more of it was me just again, not doing a great job explaining it. That is literally the hardest part with the book. You got to not just the idea, you got to do it in a way that’s compelling and interesting and people can get it. And yeah, the first one, she just didn’t get it. She fixed what she could. She sent it back to me and I was like, oh my God, that’s some other book. And I wrote it again.
Louis: Jesus. Okay.
April: It was literally terrible. It was so, it was so demoralizing. I was like, oh my God, this is awful. Blah, blah, blah or whatever. And then I sent it back to her the second time and it went better. Then we were going at that point, it was like, okay, now we’re going.
Louis: That wasn’t, that was less than a year ago then. What was it?
April: Yeah, that was last summer.
Louis: Okay. That’s almost around the same time than we first spoke on the podcast I think, I remember you talking about the book and not being super, super energetic about it at this stage.
April: Oh yeah. If you talked to me during that summer, I was probably like, yeah man, I don’t know. Maybe this book comes out or maybe it doesn’t like maybe I don’t have a thing here.
Louis: Yes. At this stage you rewrote the book like 15 times probably something like that.
April: Six to seven times.
Louis: You got in touch with an editor and which is kind of the next step. I like what you’re saying because you knew from the start when you wrote, when you started to write this book that it wouldn’t be perfect. You knew that the rule of the Shitty First Drafts, you just keep writing and writing and you-
April: And that’s be with writing. I’ve been a marketer my whole life. And I know that writing’s a key marketing skill and I know I suck at that. So like I’ve always had on my teams, I’ve always had a person who’s a great writer. Writing is not my strong point. I do good enough writing and a lot of that’s just because I’ve had a lot of experience writing. But I’m not a great writer. I knew what an editor could do with my stuff.
Louis: And have you tried to record it? To transcribe you speaking over it and then using that as the source of the book?
April: No, I didn’t because I had training stuff and I had talks and I think all those things are different. I think the book had to be book and so I don’t do it that way. I know other people that have done that, but I didn’t.
Louis: So you hired an editor, you did two rounds and, and I like what you said about the macro versus micro. So an editor is not only someone who’s going to just fix one way or to make it more understandable and then a good editor is someone also look at your outline, your structure or the way it flows from a macro level and then they would go into the micro after that?
April: Yeah, exactly.
Louis: Once you’re on this stage then is it when you hire this company to help you publish and launch the book?
April: Yeah, the editors work for this company. I hired them and the editor comes with them. I hired them and then, you know, and at this point I hired them like about this time last year. And the idea was I was going to have a book out by the fall, but then there was just like… first I ended up having to do a rewrite and that caused a delay of about a month. But then, I don’t know, like they missed every date they gave me. Every day they gave me, we did not make.
Louis: We don’t mention any who they are obviously that’s not the point of this conversation. But if someone listening right now wants to get in touch with such a company, in terms of positioning, actually it’s quite interesting. How do you call those companies? Like what do they do exactly?
April: Yeah. There’s a bunch of them out there. And the most famous one is this company. They used to be called Book in a Box and now they’re called Scribe. And I did not use them. I regret that a little bit. I think if I was to do another, I might try them and there’s a button to them out in the… and if you Google, do self-publishing consultants or self-publishing, whatever, you’ll find them. There’s that lot of people are doing books this way now. There are a lot of companies popping up that can help you with that. And yeah, so that’s not too hard to find one of those. But I think that the mismatch in my expectations is they sold me on how great they were at project management.
We got the editors, we’ve got the art, we got the interior design, all this stuff, and and we got a project manager, and we’re going to project manage the whole thing. And it turned out they were terrible product project managers, just terrible. And I had to do a lot of the project management myself, which at the beginning I was really busy doing other things, and I thought, well, you know, you guys are going to do what you told me you were going to do. And it turned out like most consulting companies you work with, like if you’re not hassling them, they’re reprioritizing your stuff to the bottom and some other clients at the top.
And there was just unending delays in my stuff. And my fall launch turned into a Christmas launch and then it turned into a January launch and then it was going to be February, March, April, May. Like it was mainly by the time I got it out. So that was super frustrating, and it took me a long time to figure out like, oh jeez, I need to be managing these guys better. And once I did, then everything moved pretty fast. But I wish I have known, I took a call recently from somebody that’s using them and said, hey man, what did you do? And I’m just like, this will all go really well if you manage them hard.
Louis: I’m on actually one of the company you mentioned just to check the service they offer so they would do your proofreading, they would do the book cover design, interior layout, the distribution.
April: And these you guys to their credit, the work output was excellent. It just was poorly project manage. Right. I’m really happy with the cover design. I’m really happy I had a real specific vision for how I wanted the interior layout to look like because I think my people are highly distracted and they need white space and they need it broken up. And I wanted it to look like a magazine. And I thought they did an amazing job with that. And that piece I was really happy with. But yeah, they do everything and then they set you up on the Kindle store or they set you up on Print On Demand and you know all that stuff. You do the marketing. But that’s true for everything.
Louis: So let’s talk about that briefly. We don’t have a long time in two minutes or so. Did you handle the book launch yourself then? How did you do that?
April: Absolutely. All of it. 100% of that was me. In my mind, I launched the book. My marketing plan for the book was just like a product. I just took my product launch playbook and I’m running that right now, which is, you got stuff you do before the launch. You got stuff you do when the thing actually comes out. But that itself is not all that important. And then you got all this stuff that comes after. So then before the launch was I gotta let everybody know this thing is coming. I got to get people a little excited about it. And you saw me on Twitter and writing a few blog posts and doing a lot of podcasts and doing some out on the speaking circuit saying, look, I’m writing a book on this thing. You should get on my mailing list, this thing is coming.
And so that was a good six months’ worth of effort, just laying the groundwork for that. And then, the actual launch itself, again, because I was not optimizing for book sales. If you were optimizing for a number of book sales, there’s all these things you do. You do a big bang, one day launch and you try to get all your book sales in one day. In my mind, that didn’t make sense for this book. So I did a presale, so I had a month worth of pre-orders and sold like almost a thousand books in pre-orders. You could sign up ahead of time and pre-order it. None of those books count on the books sold on the day you sold. So if you’re trying to get on a bestseller or something, you don’t do that.
But me, I didn’t care. I was like, this is a long slow burn man. This launch goes for a year. I don’t really care that much about what happens on the day that I launch it. The day that I launched, it ended up being a good day, but it wasn’t on purpose. But I think maybe it was all my prelaunch stuff. I don’t know. I launched it, the thing, I announced it on all my social channels. I had a popular tweet thread on Twitter and that got a lot of play and I sold a lot of books on day one, I sold more books on day two, I sold more books on day three, which is weird. And so I hit all these weird Amazon bestseller list for a week, which was super weird. Most of the time you hit for a day and then you disappear.
And I anticipate mines going to be sort of a long slow burn. And then what I’m doing from this point forward is kind of the same stuff I was doing in the prelaunch except it’s post-launch. So I’m doing a lot of podcasts where I’m talking about the book. I’m on stages and now when I’m on stage talking about this stuff, I can say, hey, by the way, if you think this is interesting for seven measly bucks, you can go buy the eBook of this thing and it costs what it costs you to get a beer for gosh sakes. And if I did a good job in the talk, I’ll sell a bunch of books. I also have some places where I’m going to speak, they’re doing a bulk book buy and I’m selling a lot of books that way. Again, my point is not like I don’t expect this to be some kind of crazy bestseller. I want to make sure the right people were reading the book and they like it.
And so that’s, that’s kind of where I’m at right now. And this continues on until the end of the year. I’m basically on the speaking circuit until November.
Louis: Yeah. You were sharing just before the start of the show that you were going for a six week nonstop book tour for example. If you had to select the one thing that worked the best to sell this book, what would it be?
April: It’s all the work you do before. It’s setting everything up. People got to know you a little bit and they got to know that you’re smart at the thing that your book is about, right. You’ll sell more books if you spend a year on the speaking circuit, talking about positioning, people are going to say, Whoa, if she’s got a book on positioning, it’s probably pretty good. I saw her speak at this conference. And I’m on Twitter writing a big tweet stream on that and I’m blogging and I’m teaching a class and I’m doing a thousand podcasts. People try to go for these big bad things and say, Oh hey, I’m here and here’s my book and woohoo and I think these things, they can sell a bunch of books for a week and then they kind of go away.
I think you got to treat it like building a business. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long slow burn and everything you do ahead of time is going to set you up for what happens on the day that you launch. But then there’s all the rest of the days that come after that. It’s just like a product launch. It’s the same thing. You don’t sell all the product on day one, man, there’s, there’s lots of days left in the year. And the thing should, if it’s good, get some word of mouth and go around and have people say, and you know what, I read that thing. And it was really good. This is what I hope happens.
Louis: I think it’s a great way to say and it’s a great summary of what marketing truly is. You just had a book launch April, once again, thanks so much for your time for all doing this kind of retrospective about your book. And yeah, I’d want to have time to ask you more questions, but I think people would have gotten a lot of value out of disputes and once again, so April, thanks so much for your generosity once again.
April: Okay, well thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
Louis: Take care.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.