Book Launch Autopsy

In this job, writing generates 20% of results and marketing provides the remaining 80%. Some folks says the times of big launches are gone and you need to pump your sales steadily over time.

Yes, you need to, but your launch is still very important. Mostly because it’s so much easier to engineer a good launch than to devise a solid sales-pumping tactic.

BTW, it’s easy to say that 80% of results comes from marketing. It’s much harder to put your nose to the grindstone and market your book. I’m not yet there.

I had a good launch for “Power up Your Self-Talk.” Probably the best launch I’ve ever had. I sold 1,643 copies of the book in the first two months. But I wouldn’t say I invested more than 35% into marketing versus writing. I could’ve done so much better job.

However, I did a decent job, even a solid one, considering the circumstances. The book launch was just one of many projects I juggled at that time. I could dedicate only a tiny amount of my time to it. I’m very satisfied with the results.

The Ancient Beginning

There are different schools of thought when it comes to marketing a book. Some of them tell you to start your launch preparations 90 days before the launch, others to do them a year in advance. Practically all of them agree that, indeed, the launch shouldn’t be hastily put together, but carefully orchestrated.

I started my preparations 6 years before the launch, when I started following Steve Scott.
You see, 80% of my launch’s success was due to relationships I’ve built over the years. I hadn’t even known at that time, but I started preparing my launch back in 2013 when I joined authors groups on Facebook and consumed every piece of content Scott produced.

In the last several years I made a name in the self-publishing world. People recognize me and want to cooperate with me. About a dozen authors helped me with my launch and their input was a serious contribution to its overall success.

In July 2013, I started my email list. It was quite pitifully small for the first year or two, but I had it when I needed it. My email list was the second best resource, next to the engaged pack of fellow authors, which helped me to curate the great launch in more than one way.

The Real Beginning

Part of my book-writing process is answering a series of questions about my book when I get an idea for it. I do the idea’s brain dump on paper and then I go about answering those questions.

What is the benefit to the reader and is it clearly stated? How is different from all other books out there? Is it different enough to get noticed? Why does your book deserve attention from this audience? From the media?

And so on. There are about 30 such questions. Going through them clarifies my vision for the book. It’s also a prelude to book marketing. If I define the audience right at the beginning I know to whom market the book. If I answer the question why the book deserves media attention I can think on how to get this attention.


It’s always a good idea to pre-test an idea for your book. You don’t want to spend countless hours and hundreds of bucks writing and preparing something that will be of no interest for everybody.

More than once in the past I published a book just because I wanted to write and publish such a book. I was lucky and envisioned the market need quite aptly. Only once did my book fail completely to get the interest of readers. I was able to resurrect my books written in the early stages of my career, but I wasn’t able to do that with “Slicing the Hype.”

My mentor, Steve Scott, sends surveys to his email list and ask them in which topic they are interested in, giving them 2-3 options.

I validated the idea of “Power up Your Self-Talk” in a different way. I got the first hint that this is a good idea when working on “From Shy to Hi” in 2014. I had 4 beta-readers and each and every one of them admitted they had problems with their self-talk.

Around 2017 I reviewed several personal development books of my friends and I noticed that they shared solid advice, which was inapplicable. Most of self-help books say something like:

“Ask yourself a question…”
“When X happens, then think Y…”
“Change your emotional state…”
“Notice your train of thoughts and reframe…”

Great advice, but normal people totally suck at steering their though processes. We can do it once, while reading a book or with a help of a coach, but in normal everyday life? Nope. Autopilot takes over 999 times out of 1,000.

I saw a market need for a book that would teach how a normal person can train themselves to take over their automatic thinking processes.

The 60-day Before Preparation

Part of the marketing process is getting reviews. I didn’t do a great job with this.
However, my book creation process helped me with this as well. Every book I publish, I share first with my beta readers. Even before I had the first draft of the book I created an email list for beta readers. I contacted my email list and told them I’m looking for volunteers to provide feedback for the draft and a review down the road.

I got 29 people on that list.

My main email list got handy once again just before the launch when I asked for reviews in exchange for the Advance Reader’s Copy. This time about a dozen people volunteered and I got a few reviews from them. I got about 5 from my beta readers.

BTW, I spoke with several authors and those ratios are normal. People promise to read your book, provide feedback and reviews and then they forget or get busy in their lives. If half of them keep their word it’s a very good results.

I have to admit that I did a fairly poor job in engaging my beta readers and potential reviewers in the process. I didn’t follow them up often enough and had no real plan for providing value to them and increasing their engagement.

Contacting Authors

I warned a few fellow authors that I was working on the next book about the time I had the first raw draft ready, so I could guesstimate the launch date. I didn’t tell them the specific date, just the approximate period it will be launched.

When I got the version I shared with my beta readers, I shared it with my author friends as well, telling them that the final version would be available in a few weeks and only the style, not the scope, may change a bit.

When I had the final version and still about three weeks to launch, I sent the book to them again. I also shared it with other authors I contacted after getting the final version.

That wasn’t the optimal course of action. I recommend sitting on your final version for a month or two. Give your advance readers, your launch team and people who will support your launch the time to read the book. Coordinate the launch date with a few folks you know will have an immense impact on the launch’s results.

I knew that Steve Scott’s support will be crucial and I made sure my launch would be in the right window for him to promote my book.

Timing Is Important

Once you have the book ready, there is no rush with publishing it.

I rushed because I just wanted it off my plate. I wasn’t very concerned about the success of this project. I juggled so many things that I just wanted to be done with it.

I got lucky. I finished the book just in time to publish it a month before Christmas. I consider Early December and early January the two best dates for publishing a book. Judging by the book sales, Amazon traffic about doubles in December. Many people get Kindles as Christmas presents and shop for the books at the beginning of January.

I launched the book on the 23rd of November because:
a) I had it ready 😀
b) it was Black Friday in 2018, so I could leverage an additional boost of Amazon traffic
c) it fit Scott’s timetable with my promotion

Because of my impatience, this launch wasn’t a well-orchestrated process. It was a hastily put together Frankenstein.
I got good results because of the available resources – relationships I leveraged, money I could spend on marketing, and expertise about advertising on Amazon.

At the beginning of my author career I had none of the above.

The Pre-Launch Period

I had a well-established process for producing a book. Good for me. Despite the fact I had published the previous book more than two years ago, I knew what to do. I knew each step intimately.

While my manuscript was going through my 5-step editing process I got busy with other important elements in parallel.
First, I brainstormed dozens of book titles, then narrowed choices down to about 10. I created a survey and asked my subscribers for help.
I also asked for feedback in my mastermind and in a couple of authors’ groups on Facebook.

I went with similar process with the subtitle.

Editing Process

I said marketing is 80% of the process, but it doesn’t mean you should cut corners with production. Writing is one thing, editing your content however is what really makes it shine.

My books go through five stages of editing. I tell myself that this is necessary because of my English. Tell yourself another story, just make sure your book is edited thoroughly.

My 5 stages:

1. Self-editing.

I vomit the first draft on paper and then go over it. I’m lazy and I do it just once. It’s not a bad idea to read the whole book aloud to yourself after self-editing and correcting some more.

2. Editing by a Friend

Once I have something similar to a book, I send the manuscript to my friend, a native English speaker, who corrects my English. Then I go over his corrections and apply or discard them.

3. Beta-readers.

The next step is to send an advance reading copy to beta readers and ask for their feedback. I’m more interested in their opinion about the content than the style. Definitely, I don’t want them to find typos. Here are the questions I send:

Which parts bored you to death? Where did you stop, for example, to check Facebook?
On which parts did you skip over? Why couldn’t they hold your attention?
Where did I ramble too much and which fragments could I discard?
When did you lean forward in your chair like “Wow, that’s awesome!” ?
When were you confused or lost?
Please also point out all the word and phrases you find out of context, are not English (yeap, I can do that to this beautiful language) or not understandable.

Luckily for me, only about 10 people sent some feedback back this time. Some of it was quite comprehensive, when some was very laconic.
Again, I went over the remarks of my beta readers and modified the manuscript or ignored their advice when I felt like it.

4. Editor.

This is the easy part. Once the manuscript with beta readers’ feedback incorporated was further polished (for example, I added implementation sections at the end of each chapter) I sent it to my editor, Erica Ellis.

After several days I had the manuscript back with her corrections and comments. I usually accept over 90% of her suggestions.

5. Proofreading.

When I think the manuscript is ready for publishing, it’s time to proofread it. In the past I always made sure to outsource editing to one person and proofreading to another.
This time, because of my haste, I didn’t book proofreader’s time in advance. Luckily, Erica had a spare slot, so she did proofreading as well.


I outsourced formatting the book to Hynek Palatin. In my modest opinion, he is the best book formatter in the world. He did both Kindle and paperback version for me.

My friend, a professional graphic designer, made a cover for me. I worked with him in the past, he did my covers for Directed by Purpose and Making Business Connections.

I love working with him. He has an aesthetic sense and market awareness. I just told him about the book idea, sent him links to a few books on Amazon, told him about two-three elements I thought about and put the whole responsibility on him.

I realize, I have no idea how to design a good cover. I let him do the job.

I had a cover within a week.


Here comes the first true marketing work on my part: writing a book description.

I used Kevin Kruse’s book description formula for nonfiction books. But before I even started to write, I went back to my outline and studied my answers to those questions from the very beginning of the book creation process.

Then, I opened my secret Excel sheet and brainstormed 16 benefits and features of the book. Having them written down, I ranked them in three categories:

How much do my readers want it?
How easily can they find it elsewhere?
How easily can I prove I can deliver it?

I learned this method from Peter Sandeen quite early in my career and use this process practically for anything marketing-related I do.

This exercise gave me clarity on what to focus on and what to ignore while writing my description. Having those few point, writing a description itself was a breeze.

Once I had it, I sent it to my friend who is a decent copywriter. She corrected my English in a few places.

The last points of the pre-production process are keywords and categories. I played with them using KDP Rocket.

“Played” is the right word. I ‘kind of’ knew in which categories I want to have them.
Keywords? Dave Chesson would’ve been horrified to discover how little attention I paid to them.

The Launch

I wasn’t ready for the launch. I didn’t expect Hynek to finish his job early enough for Black Friday. But he did. It was late in the Thursday night. I had my church community’s retreat scheduled for the weekend.

I had a book description prepared. That was the only thing I had. Before I went to work, I wrote and formatted the email broadcast.

On the train to work, I was busy with launching the book. I hastily put some keywords into the dashboard, chose the categories on a whim, added the description and uploaded the manuscripts and covers for both Kindle and paperback versions.

I managed to do that just before the train arrived at the final station.

In the middle of my workday, I checked on Amazon, and sure enough, the Kindle version was already live.
I shared this in a few groups on Facebook. Back at home, I polished the broadcast, added the link to the book and sent it away. I was exhausted; I caught a 15-minute nap. When I woke up, I already sold 15 copies or so.

The next day, I found some time in the middle of the day to notify a few people about the launch – mostly my beta readers – and share the news on social media. I don’t work on Sundays.

So, the launch started practically on Monday. This time, I notified everyone and shared the link to the book. I tweaked the formatting of the book description.
I changed categories. In fact, I changed them twice or three times during the launch. This is a good way to get additional visibility from people interested only in specific categories.

My fellow authors started to send the news about my book to their subscribers. I got a trickle of sales one day, a stream of sales another day. A few people reviewed the book on the spot.


Once I had the first two reviews, so a row of golden start displayed next to my ads, I started running the ads.
I started timidly, from my testing batch of 12 ads, but I got impatient quickly.

The first week wasn’t very good for sales. After a few days AMS dashboard caught up with sales and I noticed that the conversion ratio is really good. What is more, I sold a few paperbacks, so the ads were almost profitable. In no time I had about 100 ads for the book. I also added “Power up Your Self-Talk” to my ads in the UK.

Running the ads since the very beginning was the right decision. Overall, 14% of my sales during the launch period came straight from my Amazon ads. So, even if I wouldn’t have an email list nor the support of my peers I could’ve engineered about 140 sales in two weeks.

That was performance I could only dream about back in 2013. I remember when I published my first book I was stoked to sell 30 copies in the first month.

Amazon did some cool stuff for my ads; in the first month they got a ‘fresh release’ badge and whenever I hit some top place on bestseller list, this fact was featured in an ad. That certainly helped my conversion rate, which at the beginning was an insane 10 clicks to one sale. I guess the discounted price didn’t hurt as well.

I also tried my luck with BookBub ads. I quickly spent about $40. The price per click was terribly high. I concluded I would have needed to spend $1,500 to sell 40 copies. The return on Amazon ads was so much better that I ditched the whole Book Bub project.

The next Saturday wasn’t a good time for work. I went with my wife for a Saint Andrew’s Day party and we danced the whole night. We were back at home at 4 am. Needless to say, not much work was done.

Promo Sites

I was able to dedicate some time to submitting “Power up Your Self-Talk” to some promo sites only in the second week of the launch . Besides, I waited till I had enough reviews for their requirements. I had a short list of services that provided decent results for a couple of my peers and I had my own preferences from two years ago.

Well, it appeared that it’s not so easy to get on those good sites. Most of them had their calendars booked a month in advance. I had only one week of the launch remaining. Other services had unreasonable expectations, like an exorbitant number of reviews or exorbitant fees.

In the end, I used only three services:
Book Bucks
eReader IQ

I paid about $150 for them altogether.

Email List

As I wrote above, I started the launch by notifying my email list. I was quite impressed by the way it turned out.

I sold about 54 copies on the first day thanks to sending an email broadcast and announcing my book launch in a couple of authors group on Facebook.

For the next two days, I did very little to promote the book, but it still sold about 10 copies a day, probably because people were reading my emails over time.

Other Authors’ Lists

I guess about a dozen of my peers notified their email lists about my book. You know how hard is to track back the sales on Amazon to the source.
I can only tell that when Som Bathla and Scott Allan sent their broadcasts I saw spikes in sales, about 10-20 copies.

Martin Meadows actually used a tracking link, (Amazon affiliate?) and he generated 50 sales or so. I’m sure that the broadcasts of my friends who had smaller lists – a few hundred people to 1-2 thousand – also generated some sales.

Sales at the day of Martin’s email broadcast

And that’s the whole point of this method. This is what Amazon algorithm cares about – the sales! If I were them, I would value external sources of sales even more than sales from people who clicked on ads or were browsing through the store. A reader landing directly on the book’s page and making a quick purchase is a clear sign for Amazon that the book is valuable.

I guesstimate that the three promo services I used generated about 70 sales, and the best results were produced by Buck Books.
BTW, if you promote a few books at once with them you get crazy good discount. I did just that and sold a few dozen copies of my three other books.

The difference between promo sites and authors’ email broadcasts for me was simple – I didn’t have to pay for the latter. Considering the fees, I would have paid about $700 to get the same results from promo sites.
But I didn’t. They are my friends. We have relationships. We cooperated together in the past. I reviewed their books. Some of them were my customers.

I saved the best for the end, literally and metaphorically. The day before I changed the price to the full price Steve Scott sent an email to his list.
Oh boy, it made all the difference. I sold over 150 copies of “Power up Your Self-Talk” in one day. My book almost reached the top #1,000 bestseller rank in the whole store.

No author is “too small” to contact him about your launch. Every sale counts when your book is born in Amazon algorithms. And leveraging other authors’ lists is the best way to reach engaged readers.

Switching Categories

As I mentioned, I changed the original categories 2-3 times. Whenever I could, I did that on my own using the KDP dashboard. However, many subcategories on Amazon are ‘secret’ and they are not visible in the dashboard. When that’s the case, I use this template to ask KDP Support for categories change:

I want to change the category of my book:
Power Up Your Self-Talk
Kindle eBooks -> Nonfiction -> Self-Help -> Inner Child

Like always with KDP Support they may or may not fulfill your request. It depends totally on the representative who got your ticket.
They may ask for details or even flatly refuse to do what you need (yes, I’ve seen it all).
If that’s the case, don’t worry, just open another ticket and hope for a better representative. I had over 95% success ratio with the above template.

You should look for categories where your book may be at the top #3 spots, preferably at #1 spot. This is useful from the visibility standpoint. The top rows of books in the bestseller ranks get about 80% of eyeballs.
Also, when your book is a bestseller, it gets a shiny badge which serves as asocial proof. This is very handy when you run ads.


One of my customers is Australian, so when the book got 9 or 10 sales in one day I thought it was her doing. She denied. She notified her network, but her list was tiny.

I have no idea what happened. Maybe one of the promo services I used has a significant Australian audience? Maybe Amazon promoted the book on its own? The book hit #763 in Australia anyway. I earned over 130 Aussies dollars in royalties for December.

The same thing happened to me with my third book’s launch when “Learn to Read with Great Speed” became a bestseller in Japan back in 2013. Sometimes you do your best and the luck just strikes.

My Results

I finished all the marketing activities on the 8th of December 2018.
I sold 741 copies during the launch.
I sold 1,200 copies in the first month and about made money invested into production and marketing back.

After the first two months I was well in green with this book.

In May 2019, 5 month after the launch, I still sold 100+ copies and earned a few hundred bucks.

Power up Your Self-Talk has sold over 2,300 copies till now (June 2019), and earned over $4,600.
Apart from the ongoing AMS ads, the book launch was my sole marketing effort dedicated to this book

Things I didn’t do well.

Learning from others’ mistakes is cheaper than learning from your own mistakes.
Of course, you remember your painful mistakes better, so there is value in failing on your own. Still, I deem the cost too high.

a) I didn’t pay enough attention to reviews.

I didn’t properly convey the importance of reviews to my beta readers, advance readers, fellow authors, readers, and the whole world. In the last 90 days I sold almost 700 copies of “Power up Your Self-Talk” in the USA and I got one review.

Despite all of my preparations, I got just a dozen reviews or so thanks to my efforts.

There is a way to harvest reviews the right way. When Vincent Pugliese was writing his book, Freelance to Freedom, he contacted hundreds of people, was friendly to them, built relationships, shared his book’s draft, asked for reviews in advance, and tactfully followed up till you gave him the review in the email.

During his launch, he simply sends those reviews back in email and asks his readers to copy-paste them on Amazon. He had 100+ reviews in the first week.

Sounds like a lot of work? You bet!

Is there an alternative? Yes, the only one is having a dozen reviews, not 100.

“But a good book will defend itself.”

Absolutely true. The tiny detail is that it will take an eternity. I published “A Personal Mission Statement: Your Road Map to Happiness” on the 26th of May 2013.
It sold over 5,000 copies in the USA and I also gave away several thousands of free copies. This book has 48 reviews on and not all of them are positive. The rating is 4.4.

This is a catch-22. You need to sell a lot of copies to get reviews. You need reviews to sell a lot of copies.
Great and many reviews won’t automatically make your book a success. My only real flop, “Slicing the Hype” got 20 reviews in the first 40 days. Yet, it remained a flop.

Reviews are the prerequisite, not a guarantee of your book’s success.

b) I didn’t do my homework with promo sites.

One of my customers does a discount promo every month. I’ve seen his sales graph, it works. Amazon algorithm cares very much about the number of copies sold especially if the traffic comes directly to the book’s page.

I simply ignored this matter. I’ve asked my friends for recommendations only when the book was out. I couldn’t get to the most effective services because they had their slots booked for a couple of months in advance.

Another reason to get many reviews ASAP is that most of the decent promo sites have requirements as to the number of reviews and high enough rating. I couldn’t use some of the promo services because I didn’t have enough reviews. I booked Buck Books in hope that I could match their requirements before the promo date. I had a very good relationship with them, so they allowed me to do this.

My biggest mistake was I didn’t do my due diligence and didn’t prepare myself. I didn’t invest enough time for preparations.

Next time, I will create the list of good services, study their requirements, study their booking calendars and create a promo plan before the launch. Probably, I would do another 1-day blast promo about a 45 days after the launch with the services which have long booking times.

c) I was terrible with follow-ups.

I did a poor job with following up my beta readers, advance reviewers and fellow authors. I followed up only the few people who were crucial to the book’s production- my proofreader, editor, cover designer and formatter. Well, I was pretty good at keeping in touch with Martin and Scott. I felt their support would be the proverbial 80%.

If there were more touch-base points I’m sure the engagement was higher and it would have translated into the number of reviews and number of authors who helped me.

Again, my excuse was the lack of time. And I’m terrible with follow ups. Again, this was crucial to the level of success I got.

d) Lack of time.

If this was the factor which prevented me for making my launch great, I should’ve allocated more time. It’s as simple as that.

But I didn’t and that was a huge mistake.

Well, I had a fairly good excuse- my main goal wasn’t to make the launch great, but to have this project off of my plate. I reached that objective.

On the other hand, what’s the sense in writing a book (and producing the first draft itself took me about 50 hours), if you don’t do all in your might to put it in the hands of readers?
Certainly, I wanted to help as many people as possible to improve their self-talk. Yet, my needs and my overwhelm-ness took priority over this aim.

A not for myself (and you too): don’t write a book, if you are not going to market it properly.

Things I did well:

a) I went through the whole pre-production process.

I did it well because I had had the experience. I knew what I was doing. Five stages of editing made the book readable and interesting. I got the best formatting in the world. My cover is at least decent. Definitely, it’s decent for the amount of effort both me and the designer invested into creating it.

I prepared the beta-reading process and a bare bone of a launch team in advance. I made sure I’d have a few reviews published as soon as the book is out.

I prepared the book description in advance, even if I ignored the case of keywords.

Even if I did some steps in a light-aired fashion, I did them. I didn’t skip any point.

b) I focused on the 20%.

It applies to everything I did. I didn’t do my best to get more reviews, but I did the basics that generated 80% of the results.

I wasn’t very good with follow-ups, but I made sure to follow up with Scott and Martin, and I didn’t drop the ball when coordinating all the moving pieces with my freelance team.

I was too late to leverage the promo sites, but I quickly narrowed down my options to a few viable ones and generated some traction with them.

c) I had a plan.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

At least, I had a launch strategy. I wasn’t blindly jumping from one promotional activity to another on a whim. I was aware of my time restrictions and I planned accordingly.

I planned at all! So many times I see book launches that look to me like “Let’s launch it and hope it will be a bestseller.”
This is definitely a plan to fail. There are cases, rare as unicorns, when a great book was discovered because of word of mouth or because some influencer discovered it, liked it and promoted it.
But you shouldn’t aim to be a unicorn in the same way you shouldn’t base wellbeing of your family on winning the lottery.

Yes, I cut some corners here and there, but I created the plan and followed it.

d) I leveraged Amazon ads.

Sales generated via AMS in the 1st week

Sales generated via AMS in the 1st week14% of my sales during the launch phase came from the Amazon ads. Starting them as soon as I had a few reviews was the right idea. I sold over 100 copies of “Power up Your Self-Talk” thanks to ads during the couple of weeks of the launch.

Again, my experience worked to my advantage. I had a ready system to use. I knew I had nothing to fear of. I was familiar with the process. I worked with 37 authors in running ads for their 100+ books. It was a no-brainer.

If you have some unique skill, resource or experience, try to leverage it in your launch.

That’s all folks. A decent plan. A decent execution. Tough time restrictions. 741 copies sold in two weeks.

Book Launch Autopsy

Have you better ideas for the book launch? Please, share them in the comments!

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