The day has finally arrived and I am pumped! In fact, this morning I woke up wanting to celebrate with an animated GIF. That’s how I roll. GIFS forever!
Learn more about BIG ENOUGH.
On the day before BIG ENOUGH launched, I recorded this video to explain what the book is about, who it’s for and what I think readers will take from it.
Big Enough, my forthcoming book, arrives on September 15th. It’s being published via a partnership between me and publishing industry pros. Below, I’ll explain why I made this choice, how it differs from traditional publishing, and why this option might become more popular in the future.
In 2012, I worked with Wiley, a major book publisher, to publish The Art of Explanation. I enjoyed working with Wiley and I’m proud of what we produced. Our relationship represented how publishers have worked with authors for generations.
My goal with Big Enough, though, is to self-publish a book that’s indistinguishable from one produced by a major publisher. It will appear on the same bookshelves and be of similar quality. Before getting into that, I think it’s important to understand the variety of expertise that goes into publishing nearly any book destined for bookstores.
- Books, of course, must be written. Authors are responsible for putting ideas on a page, which takes time and produces no direct income. Writing a book comes with opportunity costs and possibly debt.
- Authors need editors. Books meant for the mass market must be edited. Working with a professional editor can transform a book and increase its potential to be successful. In addition to content editing, copy editors and proofreaders ensure the book’s grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct. This work ensures quality, takes time and talented editors don’t work for free.
- Books need design. Professional book designers create cover art and select layouts, fonts, headings, and more. A nicely designed book relates to the content and stands out on the shelf. Designers also deserve to be paid for their work.
- A physical book must be printed and distributed. Like any other product, books travel through a supply chain. Getting a book into this supply chain requires business relationships with both printers and distributors. Project managers are essential in this process.
- Purchases require awareness. Marketing, advertising and sometimes, public relations campaigns can help a book be discovered. These activities require time, expertise, and can come with significant advertising costs.
The bottom line is this: high-quality books require significant investment and acceptance of risk. I think about it in terms of a break-even point. Will the book sell enough to pay for the cost of publishing it?
Now, let’s talk traditional publishing. In working with Wiley, I wrote the book and they handled most of the work I described above. I was not required to invest in editing, design, printing, distribution, etc. In fact, they gave me an advance payment while writing the book, which I paid back through book sales. This relationship insulated me, the author, from financial risk.
In this scenario, the publisher is betting that they can produce a book that, at least, breaks even. Because of their size and volume, they dominate the supply chains and can negotiate the best deals. They have in-house talent and decades of experience that reduce the risk. This is why “getting a book deal” is sometimes a struggle. Publishers must bet on the future work of authors.
Being an author in a traditional publishing relationship can be stressful because there is a sense of obligation. When the publisher’s money is on the line, they call the shots. Many have a structured process designed for maximum output. Because the publisher’s money goes into production, they also keep much of the income from book sales. In this scenario, authors sometimes feel a loss of control.
Now, let’s switch to Big Enough.
I love the idea of self-publishing and have spent over a decade self-publishing Common Craft videos. One of the messages of Big Enough is that technology has made it possible for anyone to be a publisher and earn a living from their intellectual property. My approach to book publishing is an expression of this focus on independence.
Self-publishing, though, has some baggage. Once it became technologically possible, authors could publish e-books with a minimum investment and without the help of experts who ensure quality, like editors and designers. Without these gatekeepers, quality sometimes suffered and self-publishing became known as inferior.
This is where things have changed. Self-publishing isn’t defined by technology, gatekeepers, or quality. There is no reason a self-published book can’t compete with a major publisher’s book. The key difference can be boiled down to a simple question: who is taking the risk?
In the case of Big Enough, it’s me. I am investing in the expertise and relationships that I believe will make the book a success. I am putting my money on the line and betting that I can make Big Enough successful enough to break even. As such, I remain in control and earn a greater percentage of the income.
My partner in this adventure is a company called Page Two, which is owned and operated by industry veterans Trena White and Jesse Finkelstein. Page Two specializes in working with non-fiction authors to self-publish high-quality books. Their team of professionals does the work of a major publisher but on a mostly fee-for-service basis. Further, they have key relationships with printers and distributors that would be difficult for me to form. Page Two is my secret weapon in making Big Enough a major publisher-style book.
One of the things I love about this relationship is that Page Two, in publishing industry terms, is a start-up. It’s refreshing to work on a book with a young company successfully being disruptive. They encourage ideas, like direct sales from my website, that major publishers might not condone. Importantly, they reflect the values I believe are important, like independence and a sense of creative control.
I consider this model of self-publishing the best option for me and the message of Big Enough. It represents a personal risk, but it’s one I’m willing to take.
Learn more about BIG ENOUGH.
From The Guardian:
A Japanese courier arrived at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo to deliver Einstein a message. The courier either refused to accept a tip, in line with local practice, or Einstein had no small change available.
Either way, Einstein didn’t want the messenger to leave empty-handed, so he wrote him two notes by hand in German, according to the seller, a relative of the messenger.
The handwritten note from 1922 recently sold at auction for $1.5m. The note described Einstein’s theory for living a happy life. It reads:
“a quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest”.
Well said. This is Einstein and his second wife Elsa in 1921, a year before he wrote the note and won the Nobel Prize for Physics:
The trailer for Big Enough asks the question: “What does the good life mean to you?” It sums up big themes of the book is about 80 seconds. Watch:
The video was shot 100% by me in an afternoon using an iphone, drone, and tripod + two big dogs tied to my waist. It was a challenge, but I loved making it.
How I created a beautiful video with a phone, drone, tripod, and two large dogs tied to my waist.
Since 2007, I’ve been a very specific kind of video producer. Namely, an indoor one. Common Craft videos are animated and mostly created on a computer. Despite making my living with videos, I have relatively little experience with live-action video.
Leading up to the launch of BIG ENOUGH, I decided I would try making a live-action book trailer and do it 100% by myself. That’s part of the Common Craft way. I love learning by doing. The idea was to go on a hike at a nearby preserve with a tripod and drone and capture footage of me walking our two dogs, Maybe and Piper.
That probably sounds fairly simple, but it was far from it. Despite being a sweet cuddler who always seems to appear on your lap indoors, Piper is a hunter outdoors. If she gets off the leash, she will disappear into the woods. So, in order to keep both dogs safe, I tied their leashes to my leather belt. This meant that everything I did that day happened with over one hundred pounds of canine at my feet.
This would be a challenge without photography, in part because of the place where I hiked. Turtleback Mountain, is, well… a mountain. The loop I hiked is three miles and about 850 feet in elevation. This is where being alone became a challenge.
I wanted a few shots that featured me and the dogs walking through the frame from left to right. To get this footage, I had to hike up a hill, set up the tripod, then hike down the hill, and walk up it again as the camera rolled, then come back down to stop the recording and then up to the next stop. All with two large dogs tied to my waist. The three-mile hike surely went to five miles.
Then, of course, I was carrying a drone with batteries and a remote. Operating the drone is always stressful because I’m worried that it will crash or fly away. I’ve had it abruptly lose control and fly into a tree in the past. What if that happened on a mountain?
I have two drone batteries that each last for about 10 minutes of flight time and it goes quickly. I had a number of locations where I wanted to get footage and this created anxiety about using up the batteries before I could get to the next location. So, I was very cautious about wasting the precious energy and tried to keep the drone in a recoverable range, should something go off the rails.
Turtleback is a popular hiking trail and I was self conscious about other hikers noticing me behaving in a strange way. I imagined them wondering why I kept walking back and forth at the same spot on the trail with my dogs. Why does he have all that equipment? And maybe, why does he look so stressed out?
At the summit of Turtleback, there is a large rock outcropping called Ship Peak and I had been saving batteries for that location. Just before reaching the summit, I dropped my backpack on the side of the trail, something I never do. I think I was overheated and just wanted it gone. I grabbed the drone and made my way to the peak.
Soon after, an older couple appeared with a worried look on their faces. That’s when it hit me. A couple of years ago, someone found a pack on the trail with homemade explosives in it. Nothing ever came of it, but all the locals heard about it and everyone was warned – do not approach random backpacks on Turtleback. I, of course, had just dropped a suspicious-looking backpack, which the couple had found.
The first thing they said was, “Is that your backpack down there?”
I replied, “Yes, I’m sorry…” and before I could get more words out, the woman said, “You know there was a problem with a backpack here?”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”
They moved on, but got comfortable on another part of the summit, which left me with a dilemma. They already seemed annoyed, but I was there to fly the drone around and take videos. How long would they stay? Eventually, I just told them, “Hey, I’m just going to fly this around for a couple of minutes.” They nodded and that’s what I did.
On the way out, I looked over at them with a quick wave of acknowledgement. With a smile, the woman said, “Don’t forget your backpack!” I could only laugh and feel a bit embarrassed. I was that guy.
Thankfully, it all worked out beautifully. The weather was perfect, the drone stayed in my control and the dogs… they had no choice. Despite the effort, stress, and awkwardness, I loved every minute of making that video and I’m really proud of how it turned out.
Learn more about BIG ENOUGH.
Big Enough is officially published on September 15th. It’s hard to believe it’s coming so fast, but I feel good about where we are in the process.
Here’s what I’m doing right now:
In the midst of all the book-specific activities, our normal work must go on. My personal newsletter goes out every Tuesday and this morning I finalized it and scheduled it to send. My subscribers have followed the entire book process, so it’s fun to give them a behind these scenes look at where we are. Tomorrow we will publish a new Common Craft video, our 113th. This means sending a different newsletter to over 12,000 subscribers and posting to social media, etc. This issue will have a big promotion for pre-ordering the book. The show must go on!
Setting The Stage
Books often bring new traffic to the author’s website(s) and it’s always a good idea to prepare. I feel like I’ve been setting the stage for months and it’s close to being ready. For me, this means looking at the websites I run and doing everything I can to ensure they’re converting, working properly, and look great. The goal is to turn book traffic into longer term relationships, whether that means subscribers, members, connections, or friends. I expect the book to bring attention to my personal website, Common Craft, my newsletter, and social media accounts.
Recently I decided on a new profile photo that will become my new standard. Sachi took this off the coast of Orcas Island, where we live. I should note that Sachi has become my barber, because, you know… pandemic. She’s pretty good!
In the process of writing Big Enough, I decided to publish it on leelefever.com and make my personal website the home of my writing. Starting in January, I designed and developed the site from scratch and it’s now my central platform as an author and home for all future books.
Today, I’m seeing that I have two brands or personas online. Common Craft is the oldest and most powerful. The brand is focused on our videos, with lots of traffic and followers. Our YouTube account, for example, has nearly 50k subscribers and over 16m views. The Common Craft Facebook page has over 4000 followers.
I share those numbers for context. Right now, I’m at the very beginning of promoting the brand of Lee LeFever, Author. Like Common Craft, I have a YouTube channel, but it has 14 subscribers and nearly 1000 views, total. My new Facebook “Author” page has 152 followers. And honestly, I’m excited about it all. I will mention the book on Common Craft, but I feel it’s important to build a new platform for what I expect to be the long term direction of my career.
Emailing 300+ People, Individually
My biggest project lately has been the pre-order campaign. As the author, it’s up to me to reach out to my network and encourage them to pre-order the book. If they do, it can help the book get more attention when it arrives.
In the past I might have written a general email, added everyone I know to the BCC line, hit send, and hoped for the best. And it might have worked. I’d expect moderate success from moderate effort.
Because of COVID and the turbulent environment, an email blast didn’t feel right. After a lot of consideration, I decided to take on the task of emailing virtually everyone I know with a personal message. In the past two weeks, I’ve sent over 300 emails, all with a message exclusively for that person. Here’s how I did it:
- Created a spreadsheet to organize everything with headings for name, email, Contacted Responded, Pre-ordered.
- I searched for all the email addresses using my Gmail contacts, LinkedIn, web searches, and a few guesses.
- I drafted a few versions of the email, all with placeholders for their name, etc. I had three basic audiences with slightly different messages: friends, influencers, family. All messages had calls to action to pre-order the book, help spread the word, or make connections.
- I saved those emails as templates in Gmail. This made creating a new, auto-filled draft a cinch.
- For each person on the list, I tried to think of a memory we shared, or a story, like the first time we met. I wanted to show them the message was exclusive to them. This process, while time consuming, was delightful. I learned about everyone on the list and it made me feel like relationships were being rekindled.
- People responded and I was heartened by the reaction. Some didn’t respond and that’s expected and okay. But many more did and pre-ordered the book. They were so supportive which made me feel more confident. The book reached the top 35k on Amazon’s best seller list during this campaign.
- I kept track of everyone who pre-ordered and will be following up later to humbly ask for a review.
Podcasts are the number one way I’m promoting the book. So far I’ve recorded six and have a few more scheduled. I’m excited to be interviewed by Andrew Warner at Mixergy this week. I recently started working with Interview Valet, who helps with podcast placement and promotion.
If you know a podcast host who might be interested in having me as a guest, please send them to this page.
The three videos I produced to accompany the book are now on YouTube and available to watch. I’m particularly proud of the trailer, which has beautiful live-action footage. We’re experimenting with using it in ads.
The conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t spend a lot of ad dollars on something that people can’t buy. For example, we’ll be advertising on Amazon, but that won’t start until after launch. Today, we’re testing a few ads and trying to get a feel for what people might respond to. We’ll probably be doing it for months.
I’m working a lot, pretty much all my waking hours. I’m not used to this kind of work schedule, but I know it’s temporary. It helps that I’m motivated and excited to get to the next task. I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for days. 15 days and the book will be out in the world, hopefully selling itself to some degree. Between now and then, I’m doing what I can to make sure it starts on the right foot.
So, it’s a lot. And I love it. It will be tiring, but I’m excited to push through the next two weeks and finally see the book arrive!
Shauna Swerland is the CEO of Fuel Talent, podcast host, and a very well connected entrepreneur, especially in Seattle. I loved being interviewed by her because it felt so personal. She asked questions I didn’t expect that led places never guessed we’d discuss.
The interview was more about me on a personal level than my books and I think you’ll learn about me from a different perspective on this episode.
Listen to the Episode:
Listen to other episodes of the Fuel Talent podcast.
Going into this phase of the book launch, a created a spreadsheet that includes names and email addresses of nearly everyone I know. Over the last two weeks, I emailed them all, one at a time. This ended up being quite a project. I sent hundreds of individual emails, all personalized, and focused on one thing: pre-orders for Big Enough.
As I’ve written before, pre-orders are a powerful way to generate buzz when the book launches and it’s up to me, the author, to make it happen. Once the book launches, there are options like advertising to achieve a similar effect.
Thankfully, I’m starting to some fruits of the effort. I don’t have direct access to pre-order sales numbers, but I watch the Amazon bestseller rank as an indication of how the book is doing relative to all books on Amazon.
You see in the graph above when the pre-order campaign started. That’s what I call the campaign bounce. By contacting people in my network, the book can rank in the top 35k before it’s ever released.
This project was a great opportunity to check-in with people I hadn’t seen in a long time. I now feel like many relationships have been rekindled. I’m so thankful to have the help of friends and family!
Here’s why pre-orders matter:
I encourage you to pre-order Big Enough! 🙂
The race is on. A couple of weeks ago, Drew, our contractor, set a date for our house to be insulated. We’re using spray foam insulation, which creates a hardened shell in the spaces in the walls. It also locks into place years of decisions and the work of electricians and plumbers. Untold miles of wires and pipes will be encased forevermore, hopefully. Soon after, drywall will finish the job.
The race is on because once the insulation process starts, changes become more difficult and expensive. Everyone’s goal is for the entire house to be ready and that includes us. It’s worrisome to think that so much is becoming more permanent. Did we get it right?
I suppose most projects reach the stage where all the decisions are made and the trigger must be pulled. This post is an example. Just before you received this message, Sachi and I both pored through it, looking for errors and ways to improve it. Once I hit “send” and it landed in your inbox, there was no going back. What’s done is done.
Publishing Big Enough was similar. Once the book had been written, edited, designed, and reviewed multiple times, we had to make the final decision to get it printed. When the ink dried on those pages, it was truly final. Did we get it right?
It’s that moment, when the final decision is made, that progress happens and it’s essential to getting things done. In business terms, you have to ship the product and it sometimes takes gumption to do it. Self-doubt can make you rethink the idea or delay the decision for another week or month. I’ve seen untold hours of my time wasted because I wasn’t confident enough to ship it. It’s a constant battle.
Thankfully, with the house and the book, we had the help of professionals who specialize in getting it right. They have systems and processes that help ensure the final product is high quality. While mistakes are inevitable, we trust the pros, who have been through it before and are used to getting products out the door.
Today, with the work of carpenters, electricians and plumbers about to get shipped, we’re doing what we can to document what’s inside the walls. As some of you suggested for this stage, we took photos and videos of every wall in the house. I think of this as a kind of X-ray vision that only applies once the drywall is up. The photos and videos allow us to know what lurks behind each wall so we can avoid driving a nail into a water pipe or diagnose a problem more efficiently in the future.
The process of taking the photos was a great reminder of all the work that has gone into the house that no one will ever see. An example is “blocking”. There is a high likelihood that you’ve needed to place a screw into a wall to hang art or install a shelf. To make it more secure, you hoped to find a stud in the wall. Or, you’ve used anchors in drywall. With a bit of forethought, this process can be easier and more secure.
For example, we plan to have two towel bars in our bathroom. Casey, the foreman on the project and all-around great guy, asked about the height of the bars and installed these blocks in the walls. Now we don’t have to find studs. This was true across the entire house; we blocked for everything we could imagine. No stud finders needed.
Speaking of drywall, I noticed that the plumbers put these metal “nail plates” on the studs whenever a water line passes through it. I initially thought they were for strengthening the wood, but their role is to prevent a drywall nail (or a nail from us in the future) from piercing the line and causing a huge problem inside the wall.
When the drywall is installed, a canvas will also be lost forever. Drew is a very visual person and when he needs to explain something, he draws it on whatever he can find. Often, it’s a nearby stud. The walls of the house are adorned with little drawings and notes that record a decision made or mind changed. Maybe someday they’ll be seen again, but hopefully not by us.
Today we’re about 14 months into the project, starting with the demolition of the Yurt, and the house is very close to taking a great leap toward becoming livable. Over the next month or so, the roof, all doors and windows, drywall, soffits and siding will all become a reality. While these elements are more visible than what’s inside the walls, we’ll still be asking: did we get it right?
A version of this post also appeared in my Ready for Rain newsletter.