How To Nail Your Digital Book Launch: An interview with Mike Belsito
When we chat with authors about their book launch, the same things often come up: a signing in a book store, a few giveaways to reviewers/journalists and an email to the mailing list. Authors rarely think about leveraging “existing platforms” to put their book in front of thousands of online readers; they’re often too shy to reach out to influencers, or are unsure about how to do it.
So we decided to interview an author who decided to go for another approach. Mike Belsito carefully planned his book launch and had his book, “Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of Us”, rise to the top of Product Hunt and Amazon.
He got some of the most influential people in his genre to spread the word about his launch — he didn’t know them personally before — and built a solid street team while writing the book that helped him take advantage of Amazon’s algorithms!
Watch the video for a good dose of positive energy and startup creativity, or read some of the best parts below. But more importantly, tell us about your own experience in the comments!
What is the “product launch” mentality? How can it apply to books?
“Well this is the first time that I’ve written a book. It has been a really interesting process, because I’ve launched several products before, but I’ve never written and launched a book. So I went about the process thinking really as if it was a product.
Even in the beginning as I was writing it, I was constantly thinking: “how am I going to get the word out; how am I going to actually launch this?”. Fast-forwarding all the way to the end, the book launch was pretty successful, even though I was completely on my own (I’m an “indie author”). The book made it all the way to the top of Product Hunt, was featured on Inc Magazine and on Huffington Post. At one point, it was the #1 best selling startup book on Amazon.com, which was pretty amazing!”
How did you go about creating an “insider group”?
“There are a few things I did that I think ultimately really helped me. One of them was opening up the process to anybody who wanted to be part of it. I did this early on because writing this was awesome but it was also a lonely experience in that I was writing the book by myself.
So I decided to create an “insider group”, for anybody who’d want to have an inside view of the process. They could literally have access to the Word file, and I’d bounce questions off the members of this group. That was incredibly helpful because it allowed me to get feedback throughout the whole writing process. It’s just like having a beta group for a product that you’re building.
The good thing about this group is that when the time came to actually get the book out there, I already had a group of committed people who were all happy to spread the word!
How did you communicate with this “insider group” vs other fans?
I was keeping two separate lists: my insider group list, and a list of people who were interested in the book when it came out and who I signed on through my blog. Because I realized that not everybody wants to be involved in the creation process, some people just wanted to see the finished product. And I knew that there would be because in the product world, it’s the exact same thing: there’s a difference between early evangelists, early adopters and late adopters.
Now the book is out there, these two lists are kind of one and the same, but should I write another book now, I’ll definitely be going back to that insider group to see if they want to sign up for the same experience.
But how can this work in fiction?
There’s this fiction author who I’ve met, Rebecca Howard, and she writes paranormal novels - basically ghost stories. She has the same sort of process, and it works for her because people who are generally interested in the paranormal genre are often attracted to that part of the process too.
She also uses a very similar process as I do to launch her books: she networks a lot with what I would call “influencers” in her genre. So maybe it works particularly well in non-fiction, but I think it can work in fiction as well.
How do you actually get these “influencers” to promote your work?
Well I once had a startup called eFuneral and we raised some startup capital. So I had some loose connections with some startup investors (VCs, angels, etc.), but very few would be considered “household names”. However, as I was starting to write this book - just like I had this group of beta readers - I sort of force-created another beta group of influencers.
These people, whether they wanted to be or not, were in my influencer list. But I didn’t treat it like a list, I didn’t send mass emails or stuff like that. I only sent personal emails every now and then to these folks asking for feedback: ‘Hey, I’m writing this book, it’s on a topic I’m really passionate about because of my background and I’d really love your feedback’.
Throughout, some of these people did respond, and were supportive — even if just through some general encouragement. Of course, a lot of others wouldn’t even respond, but my hope was that by the time the book actually came out, some of them might be able to spread the word. This is no different to when I was raising capital and talking to angel investors and venture capitalists. Investors don’t like to invest in companies that they’ve just heard of for the first time ever. Usually, they like to meet you early on and then follow your progress. So that’s how I was trying to treat the book.
About 3-4 weeks before the book launch, I sent all of them a draft of the book so they could have early access to it. And once the book was live on Amazon, I sent another email to each of them saying “hey, I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to read the book, but if so, I would love an honest review from you and it’d be amazing if you could help me spread the word about the launch.” I made it easy for them to do that, using Click To Tweet to just create a link that they could click to get a pre-made tweet.
Sure enough, on the morning of the book launch, there were 3 or 4 major influencers who either tweeted about the book or retweeted one of my posts! These were people like Brad Feld, Mark Suster and Steve Case. They absolutely helped me move the needle.
How did you keep this great momentum after your book launch?
That’s really what I’m focusing on right now, and trying to see if there are things I could be doing differently. I’ve been grateful to be asked to go on all sorts of podcasts. I don’t know if that will move the needle or not, but I’ll continue to do it because I love doing it.
I think a book tour could be interesting. In my case, I think I wouldn’t do a traditional book tour, but rather a series of Meetups. I could definitely see myself doing a series of Meetups in different cities on ‘raising startup seed capital’. I’d want to keep it very organic. Startup events and speaking opportunities are another thing I’ll look for.
In terms of other ways, I have been asked to write for other publications (like startups.co), so that’s exciting. But I also try to think about this in different ways too: ‘what can I do that’s completely different and hasn’t been done before’?
It’s really the point that I’m at, so what I’m going to do is I’m going to try out a bunch of things and I’ll let you know in a couple of months what has worked and what has not!
Have you developed a core reading group like Mike’s “insider group”? Does it help you launch your books? Have you tried reaching out to influencers in your genre? Share your thoughts, or any question for Mike, in the comments below!