In book publishing and promotion, few things matter more than ratings and reviews. They are used by customers to evaluate the book, by industry pros considering distribution, and more. A high number of positive reviews help to validate the book and author.
Recently BIG ENOUGH reached the 50 review mark on Amazon, which was a goal that I’m excited to cross off my list.
Part of earning reviews is understanding Amazon’s review system and what it rewards. or punishes. The problem they face is making sure that the reviews are genuine and not someone (or an organization) gaming the system. It’s an arms race and, to their credit, the system (or more directly, it’s algorithm) is constantly evolving to stay a step ahead.
In promoting my book, I learned a few big lessons regarding the review system. You can learn more in this Wired article.
Verified Purchases – Amazon knows if a reviewer purchased the book. This is an indication of authenticity and reviews from verified purchasers are rewarded as such.
Ratings Instead of Reviews – Reviews, where someone writes a message about the book are helpful. However, they can be misleading and gamed. For this reason, Amazon is making their 5-star rating system more prominent. Today, a customer doesn’t need to write anything. They can simply select 1-5 stars and their rating counts like a review.
Time – Reviews and Ratings don’t happen quickly. It may take a few days for a review to appear. This is apparently due to Amazon’s validation process.
Asking for Reviews
I put a lot of effort into getting BIG ENOUGH into the hands of people I thought would enjoy it. That involved a pre-order campaign, launch promotion, and a request for authentic reviews. The review request took the form of an email I sent to people who ordered or pre-ordered the book.
The message was short, casual, and focused on ratings versus reviews, because they’re so much more efficient. I think Bootsy helped too.
It’s easy to think that wealth is measured in dollars and cents. And that’s true. When we think of being “rich”, we think of money and what that money could buy, or how it could change our lives. Again, a valid perspective. But when we think about the wealth that comes from owning a business, I think there’s an opportunity to think about being “rich” more broadly.
I made the short video below to ask a simple question: what if being “rich” could mean more than a growing bank account? One of the central messages of BIG ENOUGH is that money matters but is only one part of a bigger picture that includes health and happiness.
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.
Writing a book is only one part of being an author. To make your book successful, you must also promote it and work to get it noticed. One of the most powerful methods is a pre-order campaign, which means encouraging people in your personal network to pre-order the book.
The question becomes: Why do pre-orders matter? The answer deserves a clear explanation, so I made the 90-second video below as a resource for any author or publisher. Please feel free to share it or use it in your campaign.
This podcast episode with Daniel Hoang will go down as my first interview about Big Enough and it couldn’t have been with a nicer, more welcoming guy. This episode wraps up his first season of Nineteen80 podcast and I was honored to be the closing act.
Something I learned from Daniel:
He has recently invested in a professional level podcasting setup, in part, because he believes in the power of broadcasting and building his own media presence. He encouraged me to do the same, and put myself out there. It really inspired me!
Jeffrey Shaw of the Creative Warriors podcast is an amazing host. Before the episode, he sent over a document that provided his tips for preparing for the interview. It was helpful to know some of the questions to expect and to prepare my messaging. This isn’t a surprise, this kind of coaching is his thing.
These are the highlights from our talk, as listed by Jeffrey:
Choice is power.
The “good life” can come with being rich in ways other than money.
If you’re going to have a business that’s ‘big enough’ you have to come to terms with the money that is just enough as well.
Having your financial house in order gives you the power to choose what size business is enough.
Gamifying your spending and saving can help put it in perspective.
Studies show that making around $80K/year is where most feel satisfied with their lives whereas making over $200K/year often provides less satisfaction.
Deciding on constraints up front can drive you to end with the business you truly want.
Having a Lifestyle business doesn’t mean it’s not scalable.
Self-employment brings more personal development than you might expect.
Maybe I’m alone in this perception, but reading business books sometimes feels like homework. I read them to learn and don’t usually expect to be entertained. When I began writing Big Enough, I took a different approach. My goal was to write a book about a business that felt more like a captivating story. I wanted it to be engaging and personal. I also designed it to be a quick read, something that could be read on a flight or a lazy afternoon.
At 144 pages, I’m excited about the size of the book. My hope is that readers will see it and think “I can knock that out in a few hours.” I hope you’ll give it a try.
I never planned to do a book tour. Unless you’re a very well-known author, they seem like a cumbersome activity with low ROI; a vestige from a time before the internet. Now, in the COVID era, they are an impossibility. I hope to do 100% of promotions for Big Enough from the comfort and safety of home. For me, podcasts are the perfect medium.
When The Art of Explanation came out in 2012, podcasts were popular, but a shadow of what they are today. I was invited to be on dozens and came to truly enjoy the process. I’m a social person at heart and love having a good conversation. When I thought about how to promote Big Enough, podcasts were always front and center. The question became: how does an author promote themselves as a podcast guest?
The first option was personal and network connections and I am now reaching out to people I know. The introductions are relatively easy. What I needed was a simple way to let them know I’m an interesting, knowledgeable, and fun podcast guest. I wanted podcasters to visit a page on my leelefever.com site and think “I MUST have this guy on my podcast!”
So I created that page. It’s called “Lee LeFever Podcast Guest” and it’s my best shot at giving podcasters a clear picture of my experience, expertise, and more. Now, when I ask someone in my network if they can introduce me to a podcaster, I can send them this link for more information. My hope is that you, dear reader, will use it too.
If you know a podcast or podcast host who might be interested in having me on to discuss Big Enough, please let me know.
As Sachi will tell you, I am often preoccupied with data about our business. I spend a lot of time checking websites and dashboards to see how our projects are going. I love it, but it can also become an obsession. There have been times when my daily perception of myself and Common Craft were driven by data points. A few days of disappointing data would make me want to reassess our entire direction. It wasn’t healthy and over time Sachi convinced me to take a step back.
In Big Enough I wrote about the impact of the “Merchant Receipt” emails I received when someone signed up for Common Craft:
At Sachi’s insistence, I committed to making a big change: I turned those email notifications off. Sachi insisted that what was happening on a day-to-day basis was her business. She does micro, I do macro. She’s the CFO, I’m the creative director. I needed to focus on the future and what we could do to sell more memberships.
She was right. I had become so accustomed to the endorphin rushes that each day without them felt bland and uneventful. It seemed like there was nothing to celebrate. Eventually, I regained a better outlook and took a longer view of our work and direction. It was the right decision.
Big Enough, Chapter 7, A Platform of One’s Own
I still struggle. The emails may not arrive in my inbox, but I know where to find the data. My first book, The Art of Explanation, set off a similar habit. Multiple times a day I checked the Amazon Bestseller Rank to see how the book was doing. I still check it a few times a week. Now, Big Enough is occupying that part of my brain and I’m always cataloging where it lands on the list.
A bit of promotion regarding the ebook and pre-orders pushed Big Enough into the top 45k books and it has me feeling good. For a book that doesn’t come out for a couple of months, I’m encouraged.
I’ve always planned for Big Enough to be available in all formats but didn’t realize how important ebooks and audiobooks would be in the COVID-19 era. The pandemic is changing the book market as people are staying home and looking for digital alternatives.
Last week, the Big Enough ebook appeared on all the major book websites. The ebook can be pre-ordered and will be available on September 15th. Find purchase options.
Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said that ebook sales were up 13% in the quarter, and sales are now running as much as 50% over the same time last year. Meanwhile print sales began to soften at the end of March and took a major hit in April, Reidy said, as most bookstores across the country had closed by that point.
The National Endowment for the Arts issued a new report and found that adults who read ebooks and listen to audiobooks consumed the most books per year: a median of 10 compared to four for print-only readers. Print reading, though, is ceding to e-book reading and audiobook listening. In the survey, 44.5% of adults said they read or listened to books in digital formats and just 25.1% of adults stating that read print books alone.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.