Shop Talk: The Challenges of Launching a Book 100% DIY

shoptalk copyToday, I’m celebrating the launch of my third book in the Game Journo Guides Series — Freelance Writing Hacks: 55 Tips For Word Mercenary Success — out now for $2.99 on Kindle and PDF or $4.99 for a cool Audiobook+PDF bundle! Whee! But rather than ramble on about what the book is about and why you should check it out (you can read that at the link above), I wanted to spend a few moments talking about what it’s like launching a niche book like this as a self-published author.

Momentum is a fickle thing

Building successful launch-day momentum for ANY book is a big challenge, but handling your own self-published book launch can be crazy. Even if you have a strong platform, a healthy reader base, and a killer book to peddle, it can be super tough going at times, depending on any number of factors ranging from the scope of the book itself to the timing of its launch. There’s no guarantee you’ll gain traction, and it can be a huge letdown when your hard efforts deliver piddly results. My book launches have run the gamut so far, but each one is an interesting learning experience.

Because it had the vocal support of many early Kickstarter backers and a few key bits of press coverage at larger gaming sites like Kotaku and Destructoid, the launch for my first book Up Up Down Down Left WRITE: The Freelance Guide To Video Game Journalismwas a pretty solid success! I sold a lot of copies in the first week, and that really helped propel the book along in the months following launch. It’s still my most popular selling book to date, even though sales have slowed down now that it’s been out for almost a year.

My second book, Interview Fu: The Game Journo Guide To Conducting Killer Interviews? Not so much. I was only able to score a few bits of press around launch, which helped but didn’t give me anywhere near the boost I had the first time around. Despite that fact I’m very proud of the book and feel in some ways it’s even stronger than UUDDLW, I’ve accepted the fact that it’s even more niche than my other books. No sweat. I’m happy to have it out there as a resource, and self-publishing is all about the long tail vs the instant payoff. But damn, it feels good when you kick ass right out of the starting gates.

I really have no clue how Freelance Writing Hacks will do this week, but I’m cautiously optimistic. I intentionally wrote the book in a way that’s a bit more accessible to general freelancers — not just their game journo-centric brethren. You’ll find a few game industry-specific tips in there, but the vast majority of the tips in this guide are useful to writers of all stripes. Anyone who’s read my previous work will find it has a familiar, similarly accessible tone, though I hope to attract some non-game focused writers to my work too. I have several other writing-related how-to books outside of the Game Journo Guides Series that are in the works. I’m looking to expand in lots of different directions in the future while also continuing on with new and useful entries in this series.

Getting press coverage for the Game Journo Guides Series in general has been doubly challenging. Why? Most of the gaming sites and outlets that’d I’d target for coverage don’t seem very interested in covering a how-to guide series on writing about games for a living. Game journalists covering game journalism? Too meta. I get it. So I have to rely on more guerrilla tactics with blogging, social media, and trying to get my peeps to help me out where they can.

Were I to pen an in-depth tome relating to some popular gaming topic (which I do indeed plan to do in the not-so-distant future), I’d probably have a much easier time scoring press, which would potentially skyrocket sales. A great example: I’ve been cheering on my colleague Andrew Groen on his kickstarter for a very cool EVE Online history book he’s been working on. It’s been CRAZY successful. He has a great topic with a big audience, but Andrew also put together a really slick Kickstarter campaign too. Super encouraging to see that, and I can’t wait to get my backer copy!

But it just goes to show how big of a difference the specifics of your book, your niche, and the audience for your work can make in how much momentum you build. Kickstarting a book, assuming you can swing it successfully, is great because it’s like DOUBLE launching the thing. I plan to do another Kickstarter down the road to revive an old project I’ve spent tons of time on but never launched. But you can’t rely on Kickstarters for boosting every book you write. You need to be able to market and launch that thing successfully on your own.

The cool thing about putting on your giant robot marketing cheerleader suit as a self-publisher is you can try out a bazillion different strategies and change your tactics on the fly depending on how people respond. Getting people to listen and *hopefully* buy your book? That’s another thing altogether.

That Big Amazon “Creature” Thing

Launch-week sales on Amazon (and positive reader reviews/ratings) can help on a HUGE level. If you rack up a lot of Kindle sales in a short time-frame and can manage to sustain that for a few days, Amazon’s sales ranking and other algorithms will kick in and promote your book in all kinds of helpful spots. The “Customers also Bought,” “Top Rated,” “Bestsellers” and “Hot New Releases” tabs all offer great ways to boost your visibility…if you can sell enough copies to trigger the code gremlins to work their magic.

While I obviously want people to buy Kindle copies and leave reviews (that’s SUPER important) to help boost visibility on that important marketplace, I’m also trying something new this time around: offering an option for people to easily buy and download my books/products instantly through my own site (more on that in a moment).

I’m a big fan of self-publishing on Kindle for a lot of reasons, but I’m also wary of putting all of my eggs in Amazon’s basket. Amazon has proven it can and will change how it does things (from algorithms to author royalty shares) whenever it chooses, so I’m sewing a few seeds in other directions to help stay on steady ground if the system changes in the future. The publishing world is in major flux. Most of the changes are very exciting and cool, but you never know what’ll happen from one year to the next with so many moving parts shifting around.

Experiment. Experiment. Experiment.

My favorite part about each book launch is it affords me another unique opportunity to try something new. The freedom to experiment and the flexibility to turn on a dime is a major perk of being a self-published author. I’ve tinkered with price pulsing, mailing lists, audio and video, sales, contests, social media experiments, and more. Some have been more successful than others, but each has given me interesting data and results to consider and build off from.

The launch of Freelance Writing Hacks marks a turning point in my authorial adventure, as I’m exploring new ways of offering products (not just ebooks) to readers directly through my site and expanding what I’m doing here. With this book launch, I’m using Gumroad — a very easy, fast, secure, and effective way to sell directly to readers. Gumroad is cool because they take a much smaller cut of each sale than Amazon does, and they handle distribution. Buy a product (whether it’s a PDF or a bundle with different formats rolled into one price), and it’s delivered instantly once you go through the simple one-step payment system. That’s huge!

As far as I can see, the only downside of selling directly is that it doesn’t impact Amazon’s algorithms at all. So we’ll see how successful it is over the long run, but it’s something I’m going to keep experimenting with — both with upcoming guides and other related products like bundles of audio, video, and support materials.

Audiobooks! Hey, that’s different!

A month or so ago, I launched a freelance writing podcast called The Freelance Game with co-host Andrew Hayward. So far, people seem to be REALLY digging it and it’s growing swiftly. We’re also having a blast creating it, and I’ve learned a lot in the process. It turns out…I LOVE podcasts. They’re such a cool way to gain new information and pick up skills while you’re doing other things. It’s awesome to pop in a program and pick up insights while cooking dinner, traveling, or just hanging out — without having to stare at the page. Multi-tasking for the WIN!

Working on the podcast inspired me to branch out and try creating an audiobook. It was a lot of work, but I think the end result with the audiobook version came out really great! I’m super stoked to see what people think of it, and I plan to do more of this sort of thing. If you like the podcast, I think you’ll love the audiobook version too! I also decided to include a free PDF version of the book in the bundle if you buy the audibook version, so you have the option to go back and reference the text if you need to without having to hunt in the audio file.

Onward and upwards!

So here we are! The new book is out today. If it sounds like something that interests you, I’d love it if you’d consider picking up a copy and helping to spread the word on Twitter or elsewhere! If not, that’s cool too, but I appreciate all the friendly help and support I can get (and I’m always happy to return the favor with author colleagues who have books in the works). I have lots of other projects coming down the pipeline in the near future too, so stay tuned.

I’m also looking to get reader feedback on what they’d like to see covered next in the Game Journo Guides Series installment. I do have some specific projects planned, including an in-depth standalone pitching guide, among other things, but I’m also curious about what topics you’re struggling with and would like me to dig into next — even if it’s in shorter books. Don’t hesitate to ping me via email or Twitter with thoughts and suggestions.

Keep your eyes peeled for more Shop Talk in the near future. I’ll be posting more thoughts and some advice pieces on the self-publishing front too!


Freelance Writing Hacks: 55 Tips For Word Mercenary Success


Amazon (US and UK links):
[Kindle] $2.99 (US)    [Kindle£1.83 (UK)

Direct via Gumroad
[Audiobook + PDF Bundle] $4.99    [PDF-only] $2.99

Do you want to tackle freelance writing jobs more efficiently? Improve your writing routine? Skyrocket your work productivity? Perfect your article pitching tactics? Learn to communicate with editors and network more effectively? And much more?

Freelance Writing Hacks contains 55 critical tips designed to help you power-up the most important facets of your freelance writing life. From scoring gigs and pleasing editors to fine-tuning your writing and mastering the business side of writing, the quick-hit advice in this must-read book will give you what you need to succeed!


2 thoughts on “Shop Talk: The Challenges of Launching a Book 100% DIY

  1. You go, Nathan! It’s been really cool to see you finesse your promotion strategy with every new release.

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