The anatomy of a successful non-fiction book launch

This week I published a side project – a book I hadn’t planned to write but developed in under 1 month – as a way to test out some things. I was motivated to write it because a group of my Facebook friends were putting a joint promotion of productivity and time-management titles. I didn’t have one of those, but I wanted to learn more about the “business of publishing” that a bunch of these guys are into:

Basically, finding popular niches and write very short ebooks for them – and publishing a lot of them.

I thought this would be a good test, to see if you can really make money this way, to see if I could produce something reasonably decent in a month about a topic I’m not particularly interested in, and to have it earn some extra income.

Also, the launch would be especially challenging, not only because time-management/productivity is already a saturated niche with lots of new titles coming out, but also because at least 10 other authors with big platforms would be launching/promoting their titles at the same time. That meant I needed to work a little harder to get that #1 bestselling spot away from them.


Step One

Finishing the book. I started with the cover. I’m a firm believer that a great cover matters almost more than the content of the book.

But the book couldn’t be too terrible. It’s not my best, but it’s something, and it might be a little better than a bunch of the other time management books online which aren’t particularly useful. It’s possible my reviews won’t be amazing, but that’s fine – this isn’t a test of whether I can write the greatest productivity book in the word, it’s a test of whether I can publish something that’s good enough to steal a share of this popular market.

I’ve been noticing books like these are promising bigger and bigger benefits that defy common sense.

So I called mine:

How to Stop Time: Superhuman Time Mastery Miracles that will Skyrocket Productivity and Motivation.

The description is:

“Leave the safe shores of your comfortable but boring lifestyle and become a time-stopping force of nature producing things that actually matter, taking control of your financial destiny and find the success that you deserve.”

Step Two

I needed reviews, lots of them. So I set it for a last minute KDP campaign. When it was free I emailed my list and asked them for reviews; and then there were four days of free promotion. I used this site to notify a bunch of the “free kindle” sites.

It’s not fully automatic, but pretty close. It took about 15 minutes.

However, it didn’t have most of the bigger sites I recognized.



So I also logged into my account at Author Marketing Club which has these options:



However for AMC I needed to add in the details for each site – NOT a good use of my time at all, and definitely something I’ll outsource from now on. A lot of the sites wanted to know how many reviews I had – so I needed to get about 5, 5star reviews up immediately. I did that by posting my free days and asking for reviews on a few Facebook groups.

It was much harder than I’d counted on. Reviews are hard. And they take time. Really you should be asking for reviews weeks in advance. I should have had at least 10 reviews up before I even started my free campaign. But I didn’t want to spend that much time on this book.

Instead I posted on these Reddit pages:


And a handful of Facebook pages (I didn’t really use these, but you can).

  1. Great Deals on Amazon Kindle:
  2. Book Giveaways:
  3. Books:
  4. All About Books:
  5. KindleMojo:
  6. We Love Books:
  7. Books: (post only book links – no contests, etc.)
  8. Books #2:
  9. Books #3:
  10. Passion for Books:
  11. Crazy About Books:
  12. Books Gone Viral:
  13. Books, Books and More Books:
  14. Nook & Kindle Readers:
  15. Ready to Read: (place to promote new releases)
  17. I Luv Books:
  18. Book Junkies:
  19. Book Lovers:
  20. Book Promotion:

The free promotion went reasonably well, I got about 2500 downloads from 11.26 to 11.30.

I was also #1 in free books for my categories over Thanksgiving weekend, probably not an easy feat.


Also, the reviews were trickling in.

At about this point I got my first 2-star review; it basically named all of my fears – that I’d rushed the project, that I hadn’t edited enough, that the content was mostly filler and fluff. And it was very accurate – I agreed with it totally.

Interestingly, the reviewer starts analyzing his own behavior:

I’m trying to figure out why I felt compelled to review this because it’s rare that I review a book I didn’t like. I just usually can’t be bothered and I don’t like saying bad things about books publicly. Maybe it was the promise of the title and just how far off the mark the book seems to be from that. Maybe it was the fact that I spent time reading this book that I could have spent doing something productive. I don’t know. The cover is fabulous though.

The reason, of course, is misguided reader expectation. With such a beautiful cover, and title, and subtitle and description – basically doing everything just right – the reader had high hopes, and I failed to deliver.

I learned that I probably can’t crank out a book every month. Or at least that I’ll need to get better at it, and polish much more, and writing to a deadline might not be a good idea. I’ll have to go over this book again in the future to see how I can improve it.

I’m all for writing fast books that provide value, but I also know I don’t want to make just an extra $25 a month by conning readers… I want to make a lot of money and grow a loyal fanbase, and for that I need better quality books.

Step Three

Anyway, after the free campaign I wanted to get to the top of the paid listings. I switched my book to 99cents before December 1st and took part in a BuckBooks promotion. The idea of BuckBooks is that a bunch of authors gets together and leverage each other’s platforms to cross-promote similar titles. At this point I also sent an email to my list, telling them about the promotion and that all these great time-management books would be on sale for 99cents.

I also wanted to try out a few paid advertisements, so I tested these sites:

(Actually I think I only bought an ad on the first, but I use the others sometimes as well).

I could have tested them for the free book, but I figured if I was paying for advertising I should at least try and make my money back, so I used them to boost the .99 cent campaign. However, this time I used to make custom links to my Amazon page:

bitly links

That way I can keep track and see the results of these three sites.

Just for fun I also submitted to Book Tweeters.

I’m of the opinion that mass Twitter campaign don’t work at all, but I’m willing to be proven wrong.

I paid $51 for 3 tweets to go out to 420,000 followers.

I needed them to be clever and different, so I used these:

Superhuman Time Mastery Miracles for increased Productivity and Motivation #stoptime #productivity

Procrastination is your soul guiding you to focus on things that really matter. #inspiration

“Creativity occurs in the moment, and in the moment we are timeless.” #motivation

How to stop time, murder procrastination and other superhuman productivity secrets. #motivation

They aren’t great, because they are vague and have no call to action, but since these will be “blasted out” to hundreds of thousands of people it’s probably better to do something simple and more interesting than “Great new book!!! Buy Now!! On sale!!!”

Again, these things are not what I would normally recommend for book marketing or a book launch, because I don’t think they’re very successful, but I’m willing to try them out. (It looks like I got 77 clicks from that Twitter campaign… so not that bad for $51).

I hit #1 in the paid category – not total, but just in my small sub-category “Business and Money.”

productivity book 2014-12-02_21-46-01 2014-12-02_16-13-04 2014-12-02_14-22-33

I got up to around the top #2,135 in the paid Kindle store – not bad if I could stay there full-time.

I sold 155 books at 99cents, for about $50 in earnings.

My sales were probably killed by that 2star review, but that’s fine – if it wasn’t there I would have gotten more of them just like it (the 2 star review helps properly set reader expectations, so people who buy it anyway won’t post another low review, because they won’t feel as disappointed).


Step Four

That’s how you launch a book, but now the real marketing starts. Otherwise, if you set it up to 2.99 or 3.99 – to actually make some money – your sales rank will drop and you’ll lose the visibility and not sell anything.

We need to keep bringing new traffic to that book.

We do that through guest posts and articles.

I put a section of the book up on Medium.

I could have done a post for Lifehacker or a handful of big sites with lots of traffic.

I’ve also been wanting to making moving gifs from YouTube videos for Buzzfeed, so I could write “10 time -stopping productivity hacks, as told by cats.”

I should have done 5 big guest post articles during my launch, and then 1 or 2 a month on top of about 10 articles a month for my blog (if I were blogging just to sell books).

But really, your launch should be enough.

Post Launch Depression

I got my book into the hands of 2500 people, and 150 more who even paid for it.

If my book totally blew them away, if it was the answer to all their problems and changed their lives forever, then they would have left comments or shared it with everybody they know.

Instead, my book was, at best, clever and slightly interesting – at worst, disappointing and a waste of time.

If your book is just “bleh” it’s not going to be a bestseller.

You could keep marketing it, keep advertising it, spending more money and hopefully just barely covering your own losses, but unless you’re getting that wave of enthusiastic praise, it isn’t going to happen (unless for whatever reason you’ve been attracting the wrong readers).

If you’re undiscovered, there’s still hope.

But if you’ve had a good launch, and it’s not getting the reaction you wanted, the book probably needs to be better.

On the other hand, if you tried a launch but nobody downloaded or bought your book, then you probably have a problem with  your cover design, sales copy, or didn’t have enough reviews.



Is publishing even worth it?

I spent weeks working on my book, spent a couple hundred dollars (if you were paying for cover design, editing and formatting, it would be well over $1000!) and I only made $50 even with a pretty good book launch.

So now what happens?

Even if I raise the price to $2.99, the book will probably continue to sell one or two a day, earning around $50 a month ($600 a year). It may also bring me more email signups, because I have a pretty powerful signup offer in the front pages.

However, having a book out that promises much but delivers little is bad for my reputation. There’s some good stuff there, so I’m sure I can fix it up and make it good enough to keep people happy, but having a bad book out is a risk I shouldn’t have taken.

Publishing books like these aren’t worth it. Unless I could have made it totally awesome, with more work and more editing.

However, some of the books I’m working on will be really awesome.

And length isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality. This one was under 15,000 words, but I”m working on one now that’s a fraction of that length. If you’ve read “Steal Like an Artist” – which only has a sentence or two per page – you know that there are ways to make a small word count visually appealing and engaging (which increases value).

Publishing non-fiction this way only starts to make sense when you have a dozen books out. That’s when the income starts adding up, and if you’re writing quality books, you start growing a fan base.

But I’m more excited about publishing fiction – because it has nearly 10X the readers. If I’d have done a similar book launch with a paranormal romance (as I plan to do soon) I think I would have seen much better results.


PS) You can do this stuff yourself, but I’ve also been building up a team to help me build author websites, write articles and manage social media. We aren’t open for business yet, but we will be in 2015 – you can check out our offerings here:



About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • Luke Morris

    Great article, Derek! Thanks for being so forthcoming about the lessons you learned.

    (I’m halfway through the book right now, btw. And I love it! But then, I’m a sucker for anything that motivates me to get my ass in gear.)

  • I will re-read this article a few more times. I like when everything is explained so thoroughly. I wonder, can the most things outlined here be applicable for a fiction book too?

  • Wow, I love your candid post about this book! I think I got it on a free day and it’s in my queue to read. But I love hearing what you did to launch it. Thanks for sharing!

  • Eeva Lancaster

    Great article Derek. I’ll try this on my next book launch.

  • Pingback: AME Blog Carnival: Tips and Tricks for Writers and Authors – January 12, 2015 | Author Marketing Experts, Inc.()

  • Maria Schutz Slaby

    Great stuff here, Derek. I appreciate all the work you put into this. Lotsa gems in here.

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