Write Useful Books

Write Useful Books

Author
Rob Fitzpatrick
Year
2021
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Review

I’ll read every book Rob Fitzpatrick writes. I loved the Mom test, not just because of the content but because the writing style was so concise and refreshing. I was hoping this book would unpack his writing secrets, and I wasn’t disappointed. The secret seems to be having a clear value proposition, then delivering on your promise with an insight dense carefully sequenced book.

I highlighted nearly every paragraph, I aspire to write like Rob one day.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • Books are inexpensive. It’s hard to get a return on marketing spend. Therefore → you need to design something so useful readers constantly recommend it
  • Invest 99% of your effort into create the most useful book possible
  • You need to create and market to a seed audience of several hundred readers. To get your recommendation contagion started, to kickstart organic growth.
  • Being bad at writing = being unwilling to spend time on feedback and editing
  • Don’t hope for recommendations → design for them
  • Use a reader-centric approach of testing and refinement when writing problem solving non-fiction
  • You can design, test and prove value to your readers before you publish
  • Make a clear promise and put it on the cover. Good books get bad reviews if they make broad promises. Plainly state who your book is for → and what the reader will get out of reading it.
  • A book’s promise is meaningless until paired with a certain type of reader
  • Nobody recommends the second-best book → you need to become the best
  • You don’t have to start from the beginning, serve everybody, or cover everything
  • Scope = Promise + Reader profile + Who it’s not for + What it won’t cover
  • Example of clear scope:
    • If you are… a tech entrepreneur struggling to run useful customer interviews
    • Then this book will help you… understand why the conversations are going wrong and how to run them properly
  • What does my ideal reader already know and believe?
  • Start with a bang and deliver value from the first page of the first chapter
  • For problem-solver to be recommended frequently it requires four qualities
    1. Desirable → readers want what it is promising
    2. Effective → it delivers real results for the average reader
    3. Engaging → it’s front-loaded with value, has high value-per-page, and feels rewarding to read
    4. Polished → it is professionally written and presented
  • Most non-fiction isn’t effective. It’s so rare for a book to deliver on its promise that readers will love yours if you do.
  • Solve a problem, make a promise, target a specific type of reader, ensure the knowledge works
  • The book’s organic growth will live or die based on its recommendation loop
  • Recommend-ability creates a mini-monopoly and pricing power
  • The formula for longevity and growth: do the best job of solving an important problem for a reader who cares, without anchoring yourself to temporary tools, tactics, or trends.
  • Treat your table of contents as a detailed blueprint of your book’s education design, learning outcomes, and takeaways
    • For it to work as a tool for design and feedback you must…
      • Use clear descriptive language
      • Have detailed subsections (if it contains multiple learning outcomes)
    • Describe the top learning takeaway from each section. What’s the take-away? What does the reader gain from reading it?
  • Instead of attempting to believe that your advice is worth sharing, go out and prove that it is by helping real people and seeing if it works
    • Writing is teaching, but harder. If a live session gets off track, you can notice the confusion and improvise your way through it; not so with a finished book
  • Find people to talk to by positioning yourself to benefit from serendipity
    • People you know + plant a flag online + mention your book + seed marketing
    • Spend time finding the people that really care
  • If you cant get people to talk to you, it’s a bad sign
    • Your readers don’t care
    • You can’t find a potential reader
    • You don’t care enough to find one
  • Expand the tested ToC into a first draft
    • The first draft is supposed to be a mess → close your eyes and get it done
    • Suppress the urge to edit, focus on the core content and get everything down
    • Define your schedule and do the work
  • If too much time passes before arriving at the next piece of meaningful value, a reader’s engagement drops
    • The book is a solution to a problem for the reader.
    • They will stay engaged if you consistently deliver on that promise
    • Every few pages → you want your reader to be thinking “Oh wow, I can use that.”
    • Readers will feel engaged and rewarded so long as it regularly delivers the next piece of whatever they were promised on the cover.
    • The value isn’t always where you think
    • Visualise the reader experience by adding word counts to your table of contents
      • Add word counts to the titles of your sections and chapters
      • What to look out for and avoid:
        • how many words before the very first piece of value (avoid a slow start)
        • the word counts between each piece of value (avoid long slogs)
        • the word count per learning outcome (avoid fluffy sections)
      • Solve by rearranging, editing and deleting
    • Increase value-per-page by deleting the fluff
    • Front-load the value → Recommend-ability is a function of how much value readers get before abandoning your book, they’re most likely to abandon it at the start
    • You book needs to be as long as is necessary to deliver on its promise, but not longer
      • Lengthier books are slower and more costly to create
      • Don’t pad out the words → increasing the spacing via thoughtful layout
  • Revise into a third draft and prepare for beta readers
    • From the second draft → follow Hemingway’s approach of rereading while writing
      • Read from the start each day
      • Correct as you go
      • Go from where you stopped the day before
      • When it is so long you can’t do it each day, read back 2-3 chapters
        • Each week read it all from the start
      • This helps keep it cohesive
  • Revisions are major surgery and they suck. Read it like it’s your worst enemy → and you need to expose every flaw
  • If you get bored reading it, so will your audience
  • Start beta reading after the third draft, but before professional editing
  • They can offer real insights through:
    • What they say in their comments (qualitative insights)
    • Where they begin to become bored, start skimming, stop reading, and stop commenting (quantitative insights)
    • How they apply the books ideas in their lives (observation insights)
How beta reading works, how many and how often
  • Run iteration cylces of 2-8 weeks
    • 1-2 weeks of gathering feedback
    • iterate for the rest
    • Start by fixing chapters, end by fixing paragraphs
  • You need 3-5 engaged readers per cycle
    • Invite 12-50 (4-5x what you think you’ll need)
    • 50% won’t open the document
    • 25% will submit only one comment
  • If a batch of readers get stuck and drop out at the same point (confusion or boredom) that’s a success as you’ve identified a problem
    • Edit, rewire and refine until the progress further through the book
  • Early iterations are fast, you only need to improve the chapters people got through
  • Don’t reuse beta readers across multiple iterations.
  • Expect to do 2-6 iteration cycles. Two rounds could take 1-4 month
  • Signals you’re finished and ready to polish:
    • It’s easy to recruit beta readers
    • Most of them are receiving the value and reaching the end (Effective and Engaging)
    • Beta readers bring some referrals (recommendation loop is working)
  • Use a tool that allows for live feedback and commenting
  • Save the most influential readers for last
  • It’s hard to predict which parts of a book will be most valued or enjoyed
  • Look for: evidence of value, confusion, boredom, factual inaccuracies
  • Delete sentence's that cause drama
  • You and your readers are working together against the problems in the manuscript
  • Noticing where a reader’s comments stop is a good proxy for when they get bored
  • 90% of the time the problem is low value-per-page in the surrounding areas
    • you won’t cure boredom by adding more words, deletion is your savior.
  • To kickstart organic growth you need to establish a base of happy readers (your seed audience). After that you can expect some level of viral growth
  • Aim for 500-1,000, expect that to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months
  • Four marketing options for useful books
    1. Digital book tour via podcasts and online events (most scalable)
    2. Amazon PPC (pay-per-click) advertising (easiest but unscalable)
      • PPC ads work better for self-published authors as you receive higher royalties per copy sold - so you can pay higher prices
    3. Event giveaways and bulk sales (fastest if you have the contacts)
    4. Build a small author platform via writing in public (most reliable and valuable, but time-intensive)
  • Optimising your amazon purchase funnel:
    • The two problems:
      • Get them to click on your book instead of somebody else's
      • Get them to press buy instead of back
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Chapter 1: What the guide is and isn’t

  • The best reason to write a book is to preserve and share the most important things you’ve learned → and help your readers
    • A successful book will give your career a boost too
  • Your book needs to stand out to be successful.
  • You need to write a book that’s so useful → readers can’t stop talking about it
  • The book outlines a process for planning, writing, testing and refining non-fiction
  • Stop writing in secret → start exposing and learning from real readers as quickly as possible
  • The goal of book marketing is to stop needing to do it
    • Books are inexpensive.
    • It’s hard to get a return on marketing spend.
    • Therefore → you need to design something so useful readers constantly recommend it
  • Invest 99% of your effort into create the most useful book possible
    • Test with real readers at every step
  • You need to create and market to a seed audience of several hundred readers. To get your recommendation contagion started, to kickstart organic growth.
    • Beyond that, you can choose the level of effort/hustle you put into further growth
  • Emotional motivations for an author:
    • Beginnings: to explore, and build a reputation in an interesting space
    • Closure: to capture what you’ve learnt, so you can move on
    • Impact: to spread your knowledge / idea widely
    • Curiosity: because you’ll enjoy the research process
    • Craft: for the love of writing or feating
  • Financial motivations for an author
    • Royalty income → reliable, passive income
    • Reputation boost → increase career earnings
    • Audience building → to cross-sell into other things
  • If you want to make royalty income, then self-publish
  • Publish or self-publish?
    • Self publishing is more work, but your royalties will be 5x higher (50-70% not 8-15%)
    • Publishers don’t back unproven books from unknown authors with big marketing budgets.
      • if you don’t have a large audience already, they’ll wait until you’ve sold 10,000 books to push it further.
      • they adopt a wait and see approach, which limits their appeal somewhat
      • they’ll expect you to be promoting your book anyhow
    • Unproven authors should think of publishers as investors and production assistants not marketers
    • A £50k advance is serious, implies some marketing spend. £10k is speculative, they’ll only market if successful
    • You can self-publish the first 10,000 books, then negotiate a publishing deal from a position of strength (like Alex Osterwalder did for ‘Business Model Generation’)
  • Reassurance for when you’re starting out…
    • Early drafts are supposed to be terrible.
      • Writing begins by being awful, it improves through rewrites, beta reading, and editing.
      • Don’t judge a draft like its a finished book
    • Creating useful nonfiction is about manual labor, not genius
      • Being bad at writing = being unwilling to spend time on feedback and editing
      • It is slow. But slow is different from impossible
    • Being a new to a field, gives you empathy, you’ll be able to write in a way that connects with a broader audience
    • Although the writing process is slow, you can get early feedback for motivation

Chapter 2: Designing nonfiction for long lasting recommend-ability

  • Don’t hope for recommendations → design for them
  • A book can have peers of similar quality and content but get recommended much more
  • Useful books solve a problem for the reader
    • There are two types of non-fiction…
      • Pleasure-givers → interesting, fascinating, beautiful
      • Problem-solvers → useful, actionable, clarify
    • Use an artist’s approach for pleasure givers
    • Use a reader-centric approach of testing and refinement for problem solvers
    • The definition of a problem here is wide → help with any tangible outcome.
      • to achieve a goal
      • undergo a process
      • answer a question
      • understand a concept
      • improve a skill
      • develop a toolkit
      • resolve a fear
      • inspire a change
      • adjust their perspective
      • improve their life
    • Shape your book around a clear promise and outcome and it’s position in the market changes
      • The problem solving book market is meritocratic
      • You can follow a process that increases your chance of success
        • You can design, test and prove value to your readers before you publish
        • Reducing the risk
    • Most writing advice is about pleasure-giving books
  • Make a clear promise and put it on the cover
    • You can get a five-star Amazon rating if you’re clear about what your book is promising
      • good books get bad reviews if they make broad promises
      • luring the wrong people will into buying your book will end in bad reviews
    • Plainly state who your book is for → and what the reader will get out of reading it
    • Specificity is good. Problem-solvers should be focused.
    • It’s possible to reframe nearly any topic around a clear promise to the reader
    • Offer the reader a clear outcome
    • Your promise should appear (or be implied by) the title or subtitle
      • Example: How to Stay Alive in the Woods: Bradford Angier
    • Describe your book in 2 sentences to others → listen to see if and how they misunderstand what you’re trying to do
      • Refine it over time, once everyone gets it immediately, put those words on you cover
  • Decide who it isn’t for
    • A book’s promise is meaningless until paired with a certain type of reader
    • Most authors include too much stuff for too many different types of readers
    • To make something valuable for somebody → you have to define and defend what your book isn’t.
    • Reflect on who you book is for → else you won’t be able to sort through feedback, criticism, advice and suggestions → reflect on who you book is for
      • Write for experts and it’s OK to confuse beginners
      • Write for beginners and it’s OK for experts to think it’s elementary
    • Nobody recommends the second-best book → you need to become the best
      • Not for everyone, but for someone
      • Speak directly to their situation, and exclude everybody else
      • Better to be loved by someone than ignored by everyone
  • Weak scope / strong scope
    • You don’t have to start from the beginning, serve everybody, or cover everything
    • How to define the scope of your book
      • What are you best at?
      • Who do you most care about serving?
      • At what point in their journey can you best help them?
      • …. then forget about everything else
    • Scope = Promise + Reader profile + Who it’s not for + What it won’t cover
    • The author got the original scope for the Mom Test wrong:
      • Everyone interested in business should read this book. (Overly broad and doomed to mediocrity.)
      • If you don’t know anything about startups, I’ll explain how they work
      • And if you don’t know about Customer Development, I’ll explain that, too.
      • And I’ll then convince you why talking to customers is worth the effort.
      • {that’s already lots of theory for readers who already understand it}
      • And once you believe all that, I’ll teach you how to do it properly
      • {A-ha! we’ve finally reached the real value. Assuming readers are still with us}
    • That scope describes a book with low value-per-page that’s guaranteed to flounder and fail. He fixed it by figuring out what to delete
      • Refined scope:
        • If you are… a tech entrepreneur struggling to run useful customer interviews
        • Then this book will help you… understand why the conversations are going wrong and how to run them properly
    • What does my ideal reader already know and believe?
    • Defining scope helps you realise who the book was for, which tone to take, what to include, and what to leave out.
    • Start with a bang and deliver value from the first page of the first chapter
  • Three helpful lines of questioning to strengthen your scope:
    • What are your readers trying to accomplish?
    • What does your ideal reader already know and believe?
      • If they think your topic is important → don’t waste time convincing them
      • If they know the basics → skip them
    • Who is your book not for and what is it not doing?
      • Be clear on who you’re leaving out → to avoid getting dragged into tangential topics
  • Document your scope and refine it over time as you get data
  • DEEP books vs. ineffective problem-solvers
    • For problem-solver to be recommended frequently it requires four qualities
      1. Desirable → readers want what it is promising
      2. Effective → it delivers real results for the average reader
      3. Engaging → it’s front-loaded with value, has high value-per-page, and feels rewarding to read
      4. Polished → it is professionally written and presented
    • Earlier requirements dominate the later ones. If it’s not desirable or effective it doesn’t matter if its engaging and polished
    • Most non-fiction isn’t effective. It’s so rare for a book to deliver on its promise that readers will love yours if you do.
      • People recommend a messy books with important content. But the opposite isn’t true.
Solve a problem, make a promise, target a specific type of reader, ensure the knowledge works
  • Word of mouth can be anticipated and designed for
    • How ‘the Mom test’ is recommended:
      • Entrepreneurs are told to talk to customers
      • But find it hard (awkward, unreliable, unsuccessful)
      • They confide with an advisor who recommends the Mom Test
      • OR they google the problem and come across an article recommending the book
    • The recommendation loop is triggered by somebody seeking a solution to an important problem → that can happen enough to drive organic growth
      • What’s your recommendation loop? Write it down and make it stronger
        • Your problem problem needs to be painful
        • Your problem needs to be urgent
        • Is your target reader going to actively search for advice?
    • The book’s organic growth will live or die based on its recommendation loop
    • Adjust scope until your book lends itself to strong recommend-ability
    • The Workshop Survival Guide recommendation loop is triggered by the stressful preparation before an important workshop or presentation. Cost of failure is high, urgency is high. If it helps them, they’ll be able to recommend the book to others
    • The war of art is recommendable because it convincingly solves a painful problem for a certain type of reader who often mentions it to me.
    • A recommendation loop can work even if people don’t know they’re looking for a book
  • Recommend-ability creates a mini-monopoly and pricing power
    • Books are a commodity product with low differentiation
    • They all have a similar cover price
    • If you get a personal recommendation of a specific book that solves a problem you have → you’re unlikely to care about price
    • Recommend-ability removes competition
  • Write for the back catalog with timeless content
    • write something that will remain relevant for many years
    • enduring is more powerful than selling a flurry of copies at launch
    • aim for a tail of 100 copies a week
    • Books that defy the odds, remaining relevant and recommended for years make it to the ‘back catalog’
    • Pick a promise or problem that will remain relevant and important for 5+ years
      • Stay clear of trends (temporary tools, trends, and tactics that could become quickly dated)
    • Avoiding referneces can make a book feel frustratingly abstract → so don’t fall into that trap
    • The formula for longevity and growth: do the best job of solving an important problem for a reader who cares, without anchoring yourself to temporary tools, tactics, or trends.

Chapter 3: Improve your book before you’ve written it

  • Don’t write in secret. You’ll get too deep, write too much, and editing will be painful and slow
  • Talk to people. Have conversations with readers
    • The more iterations you can do with readers, the better the book will become
  • Start iterating on the book scope and structure → Before you write a word.
    • That way you only need to rewrite a table of contents
  • This allows you to construct early drafts on solid foundations
  • Two types of reader conversations:
    • Listen & understand: improve scope and rekindle reader empathy
    • Teach & help: refine your table of contents, iterate on education design and structure
  • Asking for opinions is fishing for compliments
  • Start early in the process → when you’re free to make big changes without rewriting anything
  • The curse of knowledge is when the expert becomes unintelligible to the novice.
  • Get inside your readers heads and see the topic from their perspective
    • Collect common questions, objections, concerns, and confusions
    • Strike the right tone, tempo, and level of detail, and will make your early drafts ineffably better
Listening reader conversation questions
  • You’ve been dealing with X recently, right? Would you mind talking me through what you did and how it went?
  • How did you decide to do it that way?
  • What else did you try?
  • What did you give up on or find unhelpful?
  • Where did you search for help or guidance?
  • What were the most frustrating moments?
  • How did you eventually get over them?
  • Did you read any books or blogs about it? Why (or why not)? Which ones were helpful and which were a waste? Why?
  • What’s still worrying or blocking you? Are you doing anything about it, or is it not that big of a deal?
  • Don’t pitch your idea → just learn about their struggles
  • Once you’re confident the scope resonates → shift toward testing effectiveness of the content. Start with the table of contents
  • Treat your table of contents as a detailed blueprint of your book’s education design, learning outcomes, and takeaways
    • Use as a tool for design and feedback (on the books structure and contents)
    • You can visualise what (and when) a reader is learning
    • For it to work as a tool for design and feedback you must…
      • Use clear descriptive language
      • Have detailed subsections (if it contains multiple learning outcomes)
    • Describe the top learning takeaway from each section. What’s the take-away? What does the reader gain from reading it?
    • Authors resist this level of detail due to a fear of inconsistency, some sections will defy clean summarisation
    • Use them when possible. Adjust the aesthetics and style of your titles later, once the book’s structure has been tested and proven
  • Teach the book to test its contents
    • become the book and tech its contents to your future reader
    • Help them through the process → you’ll learn what they need, and in what order
    • Figure out which examples resonate and which exercises work
    • It will improve your table of contents and future book
    • You can’t teach a whole book in any single conversation
      • So do it with a couple of chapters → that are suited to the person you talk to
      • Try and teach a slice to them, help them to actually receive its value and achieve its promise.
      • Have coaching conversations, they share any questions and challenges, and you do your best to guide them through whatever comes up
      • Take note of what works and what doesn’t. Where you have to repeat, or rephrase
      • You’re volunteering to give them free, expert guidance about an outcome that they care about:
        • Some will be willing to spend a lot of time with you → allowing you to test the book / process
      • Instead of attempting to believe that your advice is worth sharing, go out and prove that it is by helping real people and seeing if it works
      • Writing is teaching, but harder. If a live session gets off track, you can notice the confusion and improvise your way through it; not so with a finished book. Which means that you need to test and solidify your educational design in advance.
    • You don’t need to get it completely perfect just yet, because you’ll still receive massive insight from beta reading
  • How to find people to talk to
    • You don’t need that many, you don’t need them all at once
    • A few at the start and one or two per week throughout the process
    • Position yourself to benefit from serendipity
      1. Begin with friendly first contacts (people you know)
      2. Plant a flag online → add a link or blurb to your email signature explaining what you’re doing with your book and how people can help
      3. Start mentioning the book when people ask what you’re up to
      4. Begin pre-launch seed marketing (especially content marketing) invite fans to opt in for reader conversations and beta reading
    • Spend time finding the people who already care (not convincing strangers to care)
  • What if nobody wants to talk to you?
    • All three issues are book killers:
      • Your readers don’t care about the book’s promise (return to scoping until they do, adjusting either the reader or the promise)
      • You don’t know, or can’t find a single potential reader (start dealing with that today)
      • You don’t care enough to find a reader and iterate on scope
    • Hiding from your readers is a slippery slope that causes a series of harmful decisions and consequences: skipping reader conversations, skipping beta reading, and launching without testimonials, reviews, or a seed audience
    • The more you’re scared by the idea of talking to your readers, the more important it is to deal with now

Expand the tested ToC into a first draft

  • Having used your ToC to verify people want it and it works (e.g. its Desirable and Effective) → write a first draft.
    • Start with just enough to deliver the first piece of value → so you can begin beta reading on that piece
  • The first draft is supposed to be a mess → close your eyes and get it done.
Write drunk, edit sober Hemmingway
  • Suppress the urge to edit, focus on the core content and get everything down
    • suppress rereading
    • suppress judgement
    • don’t fix typos
    • don’t rework paragraphs
    • don’t worry about the introduction, foreword, appendix and resources
      • write the introduction last once you understand exactly what the book is about
  • Use your comfort tools to find your natural tone
  • Picture a specific individual you know when you write → who needs your help.
  • Stop trying to sound smart → speak as if you’re talking to a colleague
  • Define your schedule and do the work
    • The only thing that counts is putting in your time (2 hour sessions)
    • You don’t have to write but you’re not allowed to do anything else
    • Avoid checking in with the world before you write

Chapter 4: Create an engaging reader experience - by giving it all away

  • If too much time passes before arriving at the next piece of meaningful value, a reader’s engagement drops
  • Pace your book. Place the major insights, takeaways and “a-ha” moments carefully
  • It’s how you make your book engaging (#3 of DEEP)
  • What keeps a reader reading
    • The book is a solution to a problem for the reader.
    • They will stay engaged if you consistently deliver on that promise
    • Don’t act the clown → deliver the value they’ve paid for
    • Every few pages → you want your reader to be thinking “Oh wow, I can use that.”
    • Readers will feel engaged and rewarded so long as it regularly delivers the next piece of whatever they were promised on the cover.
  • Value enablers vs actual value
    • The value isn’t always where you think
    • Some knowledge is necessary but not valuable. Spend too long on foundational theory will kill the experience
      • On teaching lessons:
        • Restructure lessons around delivering small pieces of the real value as quickly as possible
        • Learning Chess? Start with jus the king and the castle. Learner’s are getting to play, so they’re engaged, earning you goodwill and attention → to explain a little more theory
        • Arrange content around the learner’s goals not teacher’s convenience
    • Create rapid and consistent delivery of value in your book. Visualise it with a modified table of contents
  • Visualise the reader experience by adding word counts to your table of contents
    • Add word counts to the titles of your sections and chapters
    • What to look out for and avoid:
      • how many words before the very first piece of value (avoid a slow start)
      • the word counts between each piece of value (avoid long slogs)
      • the word count per learning outcome (avoid fluffy sections)
    • Solve by rearranging, editing and deleting
    • Invest your editing effort into the most impactful places
  • Increase value-per-page by deleting the fluff
    • Cutting 10,000 words will save 40 minutes of time for the reader
    • Find a way to reduce the word count of each section by 50% and you’ll double its value-per-page / insights per minute
    • Deleting twice as many words as you keep in
    • Deleting whole chapters is mainly about scoping (they didn’t need this)
    • Maintain a cutting room floor → you might be able to use them for audience building or content marketing
    • Delete the fluff that delays your readers from getting to value
  • Front-load the value
    • Recommend-ability is a function of how much value readers get before abandoning your book
      • they’re most likely to abandon it at the start
    • Three ways to front-load value
      • Delete or reduce front-matter (forewords, intro, bio, etc)
      • Rearrange the book to insert value ahead of foundational theory
      • Don’t be scared to start with the big reveal
  • Too long vs. too short
    • Lengthier books are slower and more costly to create
    • A book twice the length requires 5x more editing (but they’ll sell for the same price)
    • Got a lot to say? Break it into two book
    • Paperbacks feel too thin below 100 pages (20,000-words)
      • Don’t pad out the words → increasing the spacing via thoughtful layout
      • Business Model Generation has shockingly few words, but diagrams, illustrations, and creative typography, make it feel substantial
    • You book needs to be as long as is necessary to deliver on its promise, but not longer
  • Revise into a third draft and prepare for beta readers
    • From the second draft → follow Hemingway’s approach of rereading while writing
      • Read from the start each day
      • Correct as you go
      • Go from where you stopped the day before
      • When it is so long you can’t do it each day, read back 2-3 chapters
        • Each week read it all from the start
      • This helps keep it cohesive
  • When revising:
    • focus on the big-picture issues of structure, clarity, and reader experience
    • don’t worry about grammar, typos, and word-craft
    • spend more effort on earlier sections vs later ones (build trust - avoid abandonment)
  • After 3 drafts it still won’t be anywhere close to perfect
    • Making perfect at this point is wasted effort → it will get torn up and reinvented throughout beta reading
    • If you have standalone parts, ship in parts to beta reading, while you work on the rest
  • Revisions are major surgery and they suck
    • Read it like it’s your worst enemy → and you need to expose every flaw
    • If you get bored reading it, so will your audience
  • Reread it. Revise it. Restructure it. Refine the reader experience. Front-load the value.
  • Remove the chapters and sections that don’t apply to YOUR ideal readers.
  • The goal is to create something that is just barely coherent enough for your beta readers to begin working through

Chapter 5 Finding and working with beta readers

  • Beta readers are so keen they’ll endure an early, awkward broken book to get it
  • Start beta reading after the third draft, but before professional editing
  • They can offer real insights through:
    • What they say in their comments (qualitative insights)
    • Where they begin to become bored, start skimming, stop reading, and stop commenting (quantitative insights)
    • How they apply the books ideas in their lives (observation insights)
  • Create a direct connection to those you want to serve
  • Starts to become a standalone value giving product
  • Beta reading makes your book desirable, effective, and engaging
  • Begin when you still have problems
    • The biggest mistake is to wait too long to start beta reading
      • spending too much time spent on editing and refining beforehand is wasteful
      • you’ll get more helpful feedback from showing a less polished product
      • your ego will be less intertwined with the book
    • It’s hard to update your book after you publish, so you must expose the pre-launch manuscript for feedback
  • How beta reading works, how many and how often
    • Run iteration cylces of 2-8 weeks
      • 1-2 weeks of gathering feedback
      • iterate for the rest
      • Start by fixing chapters, end by fixing paragraphs
    • You need 3-5 engaged readers per cycle
      • Invite 12-50 (4-5x what you think you’ll need)
      • 50% won’t open the document
      • 25% will submit only one comment
    • If a batch of readers get stuck and drop out at the same point (confusion or boredom) that’s a success as you’ve identified a problem
      • Edit, rewire and refine until the progress further through the book
    • Early iterations are fast, you only need to improve the chapters people got through
    • Don’t reuse beta readers across multiple iterations.
    • Expect to do 2-6 iteration cycles. Two rounds could take 1-4 month
  • Your beta readers will show you when you’re finished
    • Signals you’re finished and ready to polish:
      • It’s easy to recruit beta readers
      • Most of them are receiving the value and reaching the end (Effective and Engaging)
      • Beta readers bring some referrals (recommendation loop is working)
  • Finding and managing beta readers
    • Three ways:
      • Ping friendly first contacts
      • Mention the book as “your thing”
      • Plant a flag online
    • After 1 or 2 iterations, do some pre-launch marketing
      • Can’t find readers? do some soul-searching about whether you’re writing the right book for yourself and your readers?
  • Pick the right tools for live commenting and negative feedback
    • Use a tool that allows for live feedback and commenting
      • Google Docs is OK (enable commenting, not edit, disable download / duplication)
      • Or use ‘Help this book’
    • Clarify what type of feedback is most helpful
      • This review is not about spotting typos. Instead feedback on…
        • where you get confused, or have a question
        • where you disagree, or have different experiences
        • where you get bored, and feel like skipping ahead or giving up
        • anything you feel is interesting or helpful
      • Leave comments in the Google Doc
  • Save the most influential readers for last
    • Most people will only review your manuscript once
    • If a beta reader can provide a testimonial or an evangelist → delay inviting them unitl the end
    • If an influential beta reader loves what you’ve written request a testimonial
    • Try and get signed copies into the hands of 50 influential review readers
    • Find their emails, say you want to send them a new book, ask for their postal address.
    • Don’t ask for anything in return

Chapter 6 Gather better data, build a better book

  • Learn how to detect signals of boredom and disengagement form your beta readers
  • It’s hard to predict which parts of a book will be most valued or enjoyed
  • What you’re looking for:
    • Evidence of value, insights and takeaways
      • Sometimes readers find huge value in a minor side point → prompting you to emphasise or expand it (into a new section)
      • Even if not actionable, its encouraging and motivating to hear when people get value
      • Sometimes feedback is about tone and style → adopt what works
    • Confusion, skepticism, and missing information
      • look for evidence your argument is flimsy
      • Pay attention to confusion:
        • Don’t dismiss it → admit there’s a weakness and fix it
    • Factual inaccuracies, oversimplifications, and overgeneralisations
      • SME’s experiences can help identify where you’re overgeneralising, oversimplifying, or wrong
    • Delete the sentences drawing unnecessary drama
      • Delete the small number of sentences that attract a disproportionately large amount of criticism, confusion, drama, and debate.
      • You might not be skilled enough to make your point without offending anyone → but you can delete a point
      • If the point is essential, accept the outrage of the few to serve the rest
    • Fall in love with negative feedback
      • better to hear it now → than in Amazon reviews later
      • see each draft as a hypothesis or experiment → figure out what’s wrong, change it, go again
      • The problem isn’t you. The problem is the problem
        • You and your readers are working together against the problems in the manuscript
  • Detecting boredom, abandonment, and the hidden analytics of reader engagement
    • Knowing where readers become bored is the most useful feedback
    • Identify where readers are quietly giving up and abandoning the book
    • If they exit in Chapter 3, it could be 2 or 3 that was the problem
    • Noticing where a reader’s comments stop is a good proxy
    • If your manuscript was sufficiently valuable, they would have made the time
    • With subsequent iteration → people should get further through the manuscript
      • They visualise it in… Help This Book (tool)
    • Once you know where readers disengage → guess what caused it and how to fix it
      • 90% of the time the problem is low value-per-page in the surrounding areas
      • wade into the surrounding sections with a chainsaw, slash word counts by half or more
      • you won’t cure boredom by adding more words, deletion is your savior.
    • Friends and professionals feel obligated to finish - so discount them
  • Follow up to see whether the book actually worked
    • Make yourself available to help beta readers with any questions or problems
    • People will only recommend the book if it solved their problem
  • Begin pre-sales when the book is working for beta readers
    • Build the seed audience (and earnings) in advance, without the risk that your timelines will slip too much
    • Don’t pre-sell too early
    • Two approaches:
      • Pre-order: they pay today and get it eventually
      • Early access: they pay now and get the current manuscript immediately, plus updates along the way and a finished copy once it’s done
  • Finishing and polishing the book
    • The biggest task is to hammer your prose into shape through detailed, repeated editing passes.
    • Tighten and clarify the language. Remove extra words. Print it out and read it from front to back. Follow your sense of craft.
    • Hire professional help if you’re self publishing. Pay the few hundred dollars for a good copy editor (for sentence-level improvements) and proofreader (for typos and grammar)
    • A developmental editor is a larger, more expensive luxury if you’re still stuck on the bigger-picture stuff.
    • Self-publishing authors will need to work through a laundry list of production tasks: interior layout, cover design, print on demand, and more.

Chapter 7: Seed marketing to find your first 1,000 readers

  • To kickstart organic growth you need to establish a base of happy readers (your seed audience). After that you can expect some level of viral growth
  • Aim for 500-1,000, expect that to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months
  • April Dunford committed to a stretch of time instead of a number of readers.
    • Launch is a year, not a day.
  • Evergreen content relieves the pressure of the do-or-die launch.
  • Recommend-ability (word of mouth) adds leverage to your marketing through a multiplier
  • Successful marketing isn’t about marketing → it’s about product design, testing, refinement, and ensuring that you’re delivering real value to your readers
  • Four marketing options for useful books
    1. Digital book tour via podcasts and online events (most scalable)
    2. Amazon PPC (pay-per-click) advertising (easiest but unscalable)
    3. Event giveaways and bulk sales (fastest if you have the contacts)
    4. Build a small author platform via writing in public (most reliable and valuable, but time-intensive)
  • These seed marketing strategies are about starting organic growth, not replacing it
  • Play to your strengths, preferences, and constraints.
  • Starting from zero resources, reputation, or connections?
    • Rely on writing in public and Amazon PPC ads.
  • Don’t go around the world in person to promote your books → its a bad use of your time
  • Podcast hosts and digital event organisers will gladly have you on their show. They’re looking for stuff.
  • The first podcast/event gig is the hardest → then you’ll get invitations. Then the more you do, the more you’ll get, and you can move up to influential podcasts
    • Who are the influencers? Hunt them down. Start small work upwards
    • Get questions before you go on. Spend hours writing down answers, choose the best ones. Make them sound spontaneous
    • Play to your strengths
  • Amazon PPC ads are easy but unscalable for most books. Amazon’s native book ads will hugely outperform the ads on any other platform.
    • The intent-to-purchase is unparalleled on Amazon
    • there are only so many clicks available so they become increasingly expensive
    • use PPC to complement to one of the other marketing approaches
    • author sold 25-100 copies per month at a moderate profit, returning $2-3 for every $1 spent while slowly building a seed audience (for workshop survival guide)
    • Then word of mouth kicked in and organic sales were 10x higher
    • PPC ads work better for self-published authors as you receive higher royalties per copy sold - so you can pay higher prices
      • Also a reason not to price too cheaply
    • You can’t customise your Amazon ads: your book cover, title and subtitle are the advertisement
      • An illegible cover and mysterious title will ruin your ads
      • Avoid Kindle Lock Screen ads
      • Amazon royalties are delayed by 2 months, but analytics arrive immediately, allowing you to pause or adjust unprofitable campaigns
      • Start at less than $20 per day and only increase spend when its proven profitable
  • Event giveaways and bulk sales (fastest)
    • jump at any chance for your books to be given away to an event’s worth of ideal readers
    • I would much rather do a giveaway than be their keynote speaker
    • Events will do different levels of support:
      • Some will pay printing costs
      • Some will pay discounted bulk prices of £10 per copy
    • For giveaways to be worthwhile, recipients need to be as close as possible to your ideal reader profile
    • You can do online event giveaways by sending a link to all attendees. The event might pay you for the licences. The event will be more motivated to distribute something they’ve paid for
      • You get close to 100% penetration with a direct giveaway, and 10-20% penetration with a good email purchase link
    • To find willing events the organiser must believe first and foremost, that the book is useful to their attendees. Coax event organisers into becoming beta readers
    • To do a physical giveaway, you’ll need physical book. Add a logo of an organisation and do a custom print run (they love it)
  • Build a small author platform by writing in public
    • All of your marketing can be just sharing the work you’re already doing for the manuscript
    • You can write your book in public, chapter by chapter. And release it to a growing audience of people.
    • Nobody will compile it into a book and sell it without you
    • Doing that every week, will build an audience whether you like it or not
    • Start this approach early
    • Stop working out how to market your manuscript and realise that your manuscript is the marketing
    • Make 3 decisions:
      • Where to post
      • What to post
        • Drafts, excerpts and deletions
        • Research, reference and learnings
        • Your process, progress and behind-scenes
      • When to schedule your posts
      • How to capture interest → from online to book readers
    • Consistency is key, figure it out before getting started.
    • Building an online presence is a simple strategy, start writing
      • Advice from Jeff Gothelf (sense and respond):
        • share your experiences, expertise, knowledge, wins and losses
        • originality will emerge from continued publishing - find your voice, find your audience
      • Create a larger piece of work which can be clipped, and highlighted → repurpose it into micro content (articles, quotes, images etc) and distribute it across relevant channels
      • Share things you’ve deleted
      • Share your research → if you come across interesting facts or annecdotes
  • Share your process and progress
    • Show the creative process
    • Once the book is successful → it’s a fresh excuse to talk about it and tell your story
  • Create a content schedule for seed marketing
    • Each week: 1 article, 3 tweets, 1 video, 1 LinkedIn post, 1 forum post
    • Start a weekly newsletter, post a chapter each time, and make it into a podcast
    • Consistency is key → use post it later apps so you can take a break
    • Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, find a piece of your process you can share.
  • Capture emails to convert interest into audience
    • Email has a high value per follower
    • Offer a newsletter
    • Offer a lead magnet → something of value in exchange for an email
    • Ryan Holiday got to 40k subs before his book launched by sending an email per day
    • Or just ask people to send you an email if they’re interested
  • Pick whichever path feels easiest
    • Building an author platform is the most intensive → but the most valuable in the longterm
    • If the book is a stepping stone for something else → invest in the platform as it can be a multiplier for everything else

Chapter 8: Optimise for sales and growth

  • 10-50 hours on optimisation can double sales and growth
  • They will help ongoing sales (not seed sales)
  • Four techniques (% uplift)
    • Optimise your amazon purchase funnel (50%)
    • Adding percentage boosts with extra platforms (5-20%)
    • Turn piracy into your advantage - let the book become marketing
    • Engage and support super fans or evangelists
  • Optimising your amazon purchase funnel:
    • The two problems:
      • Get them to click on your book instead of somebody elses
      • Get them to press buy instead of back
    • What you can do:
      • Make your promise legible as a thumbnail
        • You can update your cover after launch
      • Make your title and or subtitle descriptive enough to define who the book is for and what it will do for them
      • The number of reviews and star rating
        • You need 20-40 authentic reviews → they encourage people to visit the book page and to buy it
    • Use your store page to sell your book.
      • Speak directly to the reader’s situation and goals
      • List the books promise
      • Use the readers’ own words
      • Include more detail than you think (5 paragraphs)
      • Use visual callouts (headers, lists, bold)
      • Use the 5 most compelling learning outcomes
    • Fill out the other sections
      • Author profile (linked via Author Central)
      • Featured blog posts (linked via Author Central)
      • Editorial reviews (written by experts, but submitted by you)
        • You can put almost anything in here
      • Look inside page samples
      • Additional product images (not just the book cover)
    • You can’t game reviews → but you can encourage real ones
      • They are social proof
      • They improve clickthrough and conversion rates
      • Organic reviews create an Amazon recommendation flywheel
      • A steady stream is more powerful than a spike (5 days in a row → to become a suggested product)
      • Launch your kindle version at a low price → to spike in some good reviews
  • Adding extra platforms:
    • Time cost + financial cost + stress cost vs increased reach + increased profits
    • Audiobook
      • Sell for less, but actually little cannibalisation (plenty of people only buy audibooks)
      • Creating one takes 30 hours, $500 for an audio editor.
      • Got 10% more profit and 30% more readership
    • Submit to more platforms (iBooks, Google Play - can use IngramSpark to do them all) 5-15% boost
    • PDF or Epub on your site via Gumroad 28% boost
    • Online course
  • Pricing, profit per copy and situational upsells
    • Charge $20-30 for your paperback, and $9.99 for your ebook.
      • Ebook price is due to amazon royalty changes
      • You don’t earn more by selling an ebook for $20 vs $10 because they reduce royalties down from 70% under $10 to %35 after
    • Useful non-fiction can be priced higher than a typical book
    • Business upsell → $20 book, $50 digital bonuses, $150 for full set of tools, templates and time-savers
  • Leverage piracy
    • recommendable books tend to benefit from piracy → stealers will recommend it to payers
    • if you’re consulting or training as a business, your book has more value as a source of lead generation than as a direct source of royalties
  • Engage with your fans
    • Let them get in touch
    • Give them motivation to get in touch
    • Amplify evangelism by responding to questions
    • Merge reader engagement with an author platform