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.
Before this interview, I had never had a discussion with Mitch, but we’ve been connected online for over thirteen years. It was so awesome to finally be able to talk with him.
This interview is interesting because it goes into the early stages of Common Craft videos, why they became popular, and what we did as a result. I respect Mitch’s perspective, as he’s a successful entrepreneur who has seen all sides, from big to small.
You can find the podcast at Mitch’s website or listen using the player below:
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.
I’m so thankful for the people who pre-ordered BIG ENOUGH. The book made a splash on launch day and was the #1 New Release in the category of home based-businesses.
I ran a pre-order campaign for the book to generate early interest and sales. And it worked. We sold over 450 copies before the book’s official launch. I count it as a success and learned a lot.
To encourage pre-orders, I offered a few tiers of incentives that included stickers and socks. Last week, I wrote a personal note to each person who pre-ordered and included their gift. It was a big project and one I enjoyed because writing a personal note of gratitude, by hand, feels right. It made me want to write more personal notes and hopefully improve my handwriting along the way.
I recently got to see the Big Enough socks in action and it was glorious:
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.
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 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!
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.
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.