What It Takes

What It Takes

Portrait of a Launch

By Callie Oettinger | Published: November 1, 2013

The launch of Steve’s new book, The Authentic Swing, was unlike those preceding it. Steve, Shawn, Jeff and I (a.k.a. The Black Irish team) charted a new course after benefiting from the advice of a launch pro. Just as his personal experiences proved valuable to us, our hope is that some of ours will be of value to you—whether you’re launching a new book or business.

Two different goals existed for why Steve wrote The Authentic Swing and why it was launched.

The Authentic Swing was written for readers who’ve continued to ask Steve about the “how and why” behind the publishing of his first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance.

How did you come up with the story?

Why did it work when your previous manuscripts failed?

What’s up with the golf novel when your other novels are historical fiction, about warriors?

What was different about it?

How did it change when it was adapted for film?

Did you write the screenplay?

Did you like the final film?

Community-building—not Steve’s reasons for writing the book (or sales)—drove the launch.

An Older Model: The Middle Men

Walk into a PR and/or marketing meeting in the offices of many of today’s publishing houses and you’ll land in the middle of brain-storming sessions on how to sell books.

How can we move them?

What ad buys make sense?

What excerpt placements will move the needle?

What interviews will create buzz?

What about e-mail blasts?

Can we get X blogger with Y following to say something?

No one cares why the author wrote the book. They care about how they are going to sell it. And while they pay attention to the authors’ backgrounds, their focus is on the books, with a close-up on selling the books. I get the wanting to sell part. That’s how the businesses cutting their paychecks survive—through book sales. What I don’t get is making the sell the number one focus.

In order to sell the books, they rely on middlemen. The web site reviewer, the newspaper editor, the magazine columnist, the radio host, the TV producer, the bookstore events coordinator, and the advertising departments for all of them, are all middlemen that need to be pitched. And, if those middlemen buy the pitch and then share the books, then—and only then—will potential readers be reached.

The Internet has made it possible to ditch almost all of the middle men and establish a direct-connect with readers, yet authors and publishers continue putting their eggs in the middlemen baskets. For example, instead of creating their own site, they create a Facebook page. While Facebook is a mover, it is a middleman. Authors and publishers have to rely on Facebook to connect with readers.  And while it is a player today, so was MySpace. If you rely on middlemen, one of these days, you’ll get burned.

The Black Irish team realized that it, too, was still depending on middlemen.

Facebook and Twitter are two of the top traffic referrers to Steve’s and Black Irish’s sites. Yet, most of the “friends” and “followers” aren’t on the mailing lists. We had just over 2,000 people on the mailing list, a small portion of the people on Facebook and Twitter, and the RSS feed for Steve’s site. How could we connect with those other readers without relying on Facebook and Twitter and RSS? How could we grow the number of readers signed up to the mailing list and nurture the direct-connect?

The launch of The Authentic Swing provided the answer.

Rather than focusing on how to sell the book, we’d focus on how to grow the mailing list and our direct-connect, thus cutting out the middlemen, and allowing us an opportunity to direct connect with readers.

Planning the Launch

A friend of Steve’s connected us with Jeff Walker, who is in the business of launching.

Jeff gave us about an hour of his time and access to some of the materials he’s created to help others launch. I learned more in that hour and through those materials than through the many books and sites I’ve read on the subject. Jeff’s generosity in sharing his time and his expertise helped us chart a new course. “Over-deliver” is one thing that stuck. We’ve always tried to do our most, connecting with readers in the past, but over-delivering during a launch forced a different mind-set. How to over-deliver without over-pitching, which can be a turn off?

First, we needed a better sign-up form on both sites—something that would encourage readers to share their e-mail addresses.

What would encourage us to share our own e-mail addresses? We’d need to provide something that we’d want provided ourselves. For example, I recently signed up for Outside Magazines’ updates. I’m a long-time fan of the publication, but hadn’t signed up online. I’m glad I did. I enjoy the news updates and stories. They’re of interest and value, and are relevant. What could the Black Irish team provide that would be interesting, valuable, relevant? We decided on videos, audio files, soon-to-be published book excerpts and other documents and images.

Enter First Look Access

First Look Access was created to provide readers signed up to it videos, audio files, documents and other items that aren’t featured on the blog (though they do eventually find a home on the “free stuff” section of the site), as well as an advance look at new projects. It would also be the way the team would share special offers. For example, those signed up before The Authentic Swing went on sale to the public, were sent a special bundle offer, with two different bundles (audio/e-book/paperback or audio/e-book) for sale at a $9.95 price point. This offer wasn’t posted to Facebook or Twitter. It wasn’t shared on the blog. It went out to First Look Access members only.

Enter the E-mails

None of us like e-mail campaigns. The ones that get under my skin relate to the constant-discount model. Every week there’s another discount. It’s frustrating to purchase a product one week and then receive an e-mail the week later, about that same product being discounted even more. Or… There are the e-mails that arrive right after you’ve made a purchase, telling you you’re a valued customer and here’s a code you can use for 10% off your next purchase. Really? Why not provide the best option at all times, instead of screwing with your customers’ minds and wallets?

Right off we knew we didn’t want to send these discount e-mails. Special offers would be made upon a book’s publication or when new versions were available. We wouldn’t discount them at different times during the year, thus upsetting customers who bought the books at higher prices. The special offer would go out first and then settle into a price that wouldn’t change in the future.

About a dozen e-mails were written in advance, so that we could see the flow. It was a good exercise, because it forced us to fine-tune the messaging and really think about what would work with other readers. Again: What would we want to receive ourselves?

At one point, Steve and I went through all the e-mails, via a phone call and a Google doc. We live on opposite sides of the U.S., so using Google docs is ideal. We were able to open the same document and edit it together as we spoke. Steve could see my edits as I typed them, just as I could see his. Though we were writing/editing e-mails, rather than the next great American novel, it was an enjoyable process, going through them together, being able to edit at the same time, and so on. It was also more efficient. I was first introduced to Google docs in 2010 by Chris Guillebeau, when I was doing an interview with him for Steve’s site. Chris is always on the go and kept sending me Google docs with his answers to my questions. I would open them, copy and paste them into Word, and then send him back a Word file. I remember wondering why he didn’t just use Word. The more I got to know him and started using Google docs myself, I realized it was about access. You aren’t always on your computer, with your files, or—as with Steve and I—you want to open a document with someone else. Rather than one person trying to take notes and sending it to the other, you can work on it at the same time. I was late on the pick-up, but owe Chris a thank you for the intro. to the Google doc option.

The full list of e-mails and how they were worded and formatted is in the “Launch” section of this post.

Enter the Videos

Steve used the “foolscap method” before writing The Legend of Bagger Vance. The original was destroyed in a home flooding, so Steve recreated it. The image appears on the cover for The Authentic Swing.

We’d discussed Steve talking about it a little more, maybe doing a video. Jeff Walker mentioned it as an idea during our call with him, which proved to be that needed nudge forward.

Steve wrote a script for each of the videos in advance. He didn’t have cue cards prompting him as the videos were taped, and he didn’t have the scripts memorized word for word. The scripts were a way for him to get his thoughts together, in a flow that made the most sense, while covering all the points he wanted to make. Some people are great at letting talks fly off the cuff, but when you’re paying for the production yourself, it’s a better use of time and money to have as much pinned down as possible—less time, fewer edits.

Jeff Simon, who designed both Steve’s and Black Irish’s sites, and has proven to be a man of many other different/valuable talents, filmed Steve’s talk about the foolscap method. It was a low-budget set-up—Jeff and a friend with cameras, in Steve’s office, Steve talking, Jeff later editing.

It’s a model that any author could use on his or her own, too. If you use a DSLR, though, consider using the Zoom H4n recorder with it. The built-in mics on DSLRs aren’t always reliable for great sound. A filmmaker I’ve worked with suggested the Zoom H4n of the H6 for capturing good sound. I actually bought the H4n myself, on Steve’s recommendation a few years ago. It’s just a good tool to have on hand whether you’re doing interviews, recording a video, and so on. It isn’t cheap, but it’s a piece of equipment that I wouldn’t go without. I use it for work and for home, capturing my kids with it, too.

For both men and women: invest in face powder. The natural oils on our faces can be distracting when lights reflect off of them. I bugged Steve about using powder during this shoot and he humored me. The effect is an overall matte look, free of glares.

For the background, Steve didn’t change anything up in his office. If you go back through the videos, and look at the close-ups of the foolscap on his desk, you’ll see notes he’s written on other papers; the jacket hanging on his chair, with the lucky “Largo” nametag on it, which he wrote about in The War of Art; as well as the many other items that have a permanent home in his office.

Enter the “Squeeze Page, the New Store, the New Printer/Fulfillment Center and Oprah

While the planning for the launch was in play, Jeff was creating and implementing a new store for Black Irish Books and Shawn and I were negotiating with a new printer/fulfillment center.

Jeff integrated the Shopify system into the Black Irish site, which offered more options than our previous store. One thing we found out late in the game was that Shopify wouldn’t allow us to transfer our existing customers’ information into its system, due to privacy rules. This meant the customers would have to create new log-ins/accounts. Not ideal.

He also built the “squeeze page.” This is one of many things we learned about from Jeff Walker. The squeeze page would be that place where readers could watch the videos, download the transcriptions and other files, and sign up for First Look Access.

As Jeff worked on the site, I researched different printer/fulfillment center options. We weren’t happy with our current set-up. We wanted an organization that would treat us as a partner and not a bothersome customer. Someone who “over delivered” as Jeff Walker says. We settled on Worzalla, which is an ESOP, an employee-owned company, meaning each person we connect with at the company has skin in the game. I’d worked with them in the past and my past experiences always involved over-delivery and high levels of communication.

Worzalla went to work printing The Authentic Swing and working with Jeff to connect their system with the Black Irish store. We wanted everything to be automated. As a small shop, we don’t have the bandwidth to send every order manually.

While this was going on, Steve did a taped interview with Oprah, on June 27th, for her program Super Soul Sunday. We’d been going back and forth with a producer for about three years, who had been a great champion of The War of Art. While we wanted to have everything ready to launch before the episode aired, we made the decision not to rush the launch, which included going live with the new store. It was more important for it to work than for it to be open when the episode aired. If we had to, we’d go through the old store. Following is from a June 7th e-mail from Steve, discussing whether we should move up the launch to coincide with the episode. It was taping end of the month and we didn’t know how soon after it would air.

1. WOA is not a new book that is just out, that I’m making the rounds of the shows with, trying to promote.  (Viewers will definitely assume this because that’s what always happens.)

2. I’m not promoting myself as a speaker or selling seminars or courses or anything.

Bottom line: let’s not worry about TAS and Oprah.

Steve did the interview with Oprah not because he was selling something, but because he was interested in meeting her. He had his own questions he was interested in asking (read “Three Things I Learned from Oprah“). I, on the other hand, did think about sales. Steve was 12+ years into The War of Art and wasn’t launching The Authentic Swing in order to sell copies of it. And even though I knew that was the case, I wondered what would happen and I hoped to have everything ready before the episode aired. (Read about the “Oprah Effect” here.)

In the end, we found out the episode would air the week after the store would go live and the launch would be over, on Sept 29th.

Our old fulfillment center took about a week to ship our existing inventory, which meant the inventory was shipped, then received and put into the new center’s system, our store was launched, we pushed the “go button” on the launch for The Authentic Swing, and the Super Soul Sunday episode with Oprah and Steve, all happened within about a week. In hindsight, it would have been better to spread these things out. Issues came up (covered later in this article) and it was a rush to switch things up as needed, but we made it through, with new experiences, lessons learned—all valuable.

The Week Before the Launch

The week before the launch Jeff continued testing the store and the e-mails while I started sending out books.

I have a list of people we’ve met through the years. Whenever I see a blog post or a comment to Steve’s site, I try to reach out to the individual who commented or posted an article. I don’t always have time to get all of those commenting, nor do I see all the blog posts out there, but those I do see… I add to a Highrise database. Highrise allows me to write notes about the different individuals and record information about their posts and comments, to help jog my memory in the future. I’m not the best with names, but once I read my notes, I’m good. I know exactly who the individual is, their site, and often their comments.

Books went out to those on that list as well as to friends/colleagues of Steve’s and Shawn’s. That’s it. With the exception of a few media folks on the list, we didn’t come up with a list of radio, TV, and print outlets. Kept it to readers we’ve already gotten to know.

I asked Jeff about designing a postcard with the foolscap image on the cover of The Authentic Swing, with the words “Got Foolscap?”—a throwback to the “Got Milk?” campaign. We used Moo printing to produce them, and came out with a great piece to include with the books, on which I could write personal notes to every person on the list. I’m a fan of personal notes. Often, form letters get sent out in these cases. My two cents: Take the time to write a personal note—and mean it—when you share something. It matters—and is just a good/right thing to do.

The Launch

Tuesday, Sept. 3

The first e-mail was sent. This went to readers who were already signed up to Steve’s mailing list. We wanted to thank them for their interest in Steve’s work and in Black Irish Books in advance, before announcing anything to those visiting the sites, who aren’t signed up to the list.

We had two different lists—one for Steve and one for Black Irish, so two e-mails went out, letting them know they had all been included in First Look Access. We’ve always been about permission, not sharing readers’ information with others. We assumed those signed up to Steve’s mailing list wouldn’t mind, because First Look Access was, in reality, the new mailing list, by a different name and format. For the Black Irish subscribers, it was a step we hoped they wouldn’t mind. We didn’t receive any complaints about adding them to the First Look Access list—but it wasn’t something we did without a lot of consideration first.

Both e-mails contained a screenshot, with a faux play button. Videos are too large to be sent via e-mail and get caught by firewalls or sent to SPAM boxes, so Jeff designed a screenshot to look like the actual video. It encouraged readers to click on it as they would a video, but in the end, it directed them to the Squeeze page, where they could view the video.

Wednesday, Sept 4

Steve posted the “Writing Wednesday” article “Getting Ready for the Bigs.” Within it, he mentioned that he would be sharing a video about the Foolscap Method with anyone who signed up for First Look Access.

Those already signed up were sent the e-mail below that morning. Upon signing up, it was sent to everyone else.

Upon clicking on the faux play button, readers were sent to the squeeze page, where they could view the video and download a transcript of the video and an excerpt from The Authentic Swing.

We received a few e-mails from readers, asking us to make it friendly for social media and to add social sharing buttons. When we planned the campaign, we considered the videos for First Look Access members only. We didn’t password protect them because we didn’t care if they were shared, but we didn’t include social media share buttons either. Our intent wasn’t to make it hard to share. It just wasn’t something we thought to add, because . . . Well . . . We just didn’t think about it. We assumed they’d be shared, but we didn’t think about making it easier. We added share buttons for the videos in the future.

We also received a request from a reader to include the link by itself, not hyperlinked to the videos. We made a note to include one in the future, but in going through the e-mails . . . It got lost in the madness of launch week and didn’t appear in the rest of the e-mails.

Then there were the e-mails that came in as thanks for including the transcriptions. A few years ago I attended an event at SXSW, about improving accessibility online, and learned a number of different ways online content can be made available to those with different abilities. One involves providing transcripts for those who have difficulties hearing audio. The following is one e-mail we received:

Thank you so much for including the transcripts of these, Steve!

As a partly deaf person, this video world creates real challenges for people like me.

By the end of the day, the mailing list had doubled—and we were alerted to the Sept. 29 airdate for Steve’s Super Soul Sunday interview with Oprah.

Wednesday, Sept. 11

Steve posted “The Evolution of This Blog” for his “Writing Wednesdays” article of the week. Within it, he included a small thank you at the top, to readers who had signed up for First Look Access, and then went on with the rest of that post.

That morning, First Look Access members received the e-mail below, offering access to the video “Foolscap #2” and downloads for the transcription of the video and the foolscap image appearing on the front of The Authentic Swing . Those signing up later received it, too, with access to the earlier e-mails.

By this point, we had received a few e-mails about readers who had received the first Foolscap videos the week before and wondered when the next one would come up. In the future, we’ll be clear about this, letting people know in advance when they can expect the next one. We received e-mails from a few people who said they never received the first one, but upon visiting their spam box . . . there it was. For others, it was a matter of changing up their e-mail settings. For the future, these are all items to give readers a head’s up on as we launch new campaigns.

Tuesday, Sept. 17

Jeff did one last test of the audio files for The Authentic Swing and realized they were corrupted. How? A mystery. They didn’t work and we were a day away from offering them for a special promotion.

A flurry of e-mails and phone calls followed and we were able to obtain new files, format them for the site and upload them to the store.

Jeff also disconnected the store’s link to our old fulfillment center and linked it up with Worzalla’s system. Again, in hindsight, linking up with a new printer/fulfillment center the day before a launch was not a great idea. It would have been better to do extensive testing first. Though we weren’t providing something as large as a Healthcare Exchange, we were providing a service—the sale and shipping of books/videos, which customers expect to receive without a hitch.

Wednesday, Sept. 18

Steve posted his article “Furyk Swings Authentic Swing, Shoots 59” as his “Writing Wednesdays” article for the week. Within it he made a small mention of First Look Access and the special bundle offers, with links to both.

That morning, the following e-mail went out to those signed up to First Look Access already. It went out again as individuals signed up for First Look.

The e-mail went out just before 6 AM ET. Within an hour, we were adding another bundle option.

The international audience viewed the offer first. While some bought the audio/video/e-book bundle, many complained about the cost of shipping. Shipping internationally is expensive, so we added another bundle option—audio/e-book—at the same price and sent out the following e-mail.

We received a reply from one person, asking if we’d refund the shipping cost for those who had already bought the the first bundle. We replied “no.” While we hated offering a second option that would eliminate shipping costs for the second bundle, after some international readers had already bought the first option, we decided that in the end, they made the decision to purchase the print/e-book/audio bundle and pay the shipping, while those opposed to the shipping cost didn’t. We could have refunded their entire order and then they could have purchased the e-book/audio bundle, but we weren’t going to return the shipping cost. One or the other, not both.

As we were stressing about the shipping, we received the following e-mail, which made us smile and relax a bit:

You guys inspire me to do business better, I just love buying products from you….even with the shipping to Canada 😉

From that point, there were a few complaints about the domestic shipping costs, with the $6.00 priority mail shipping rate being the lowest option.

A short note on shipping: Shipping costs are tied to fuel costs. If you’ve filled your car up lately, you know that they fuel isn’t cheap. We wanted to provide the books as fast as possible, hence the Priority option.

After the launch, we added the Media Mail option, but only for orders of three or less books. While we’re happy to send books if a first package goes missing, it becomes expensive, especially when there have been a few readers that have required that books be sent a few times. For larger orders, they have to go FedEx, which includes tracking.

Black Irish doesn’t do the volume that Amazon and other companies do, so we don’t get the FedEx rates they do. As the launch went on, we asked FedEx to reconsider the rates and they were open to this. We’re currently working with them on new options, to bring the rates even lower.

At least one customer suggested that we make the books more expensive and charge less on shipping. The reality is that we’re a small shop and can’t cover the shipping on our own. Shipping prices also fluctuate, hence USPS’s ever-increasing costs of stamps and the fuel charges assessed by FedEx and other shippers. We’ll do our best to keep prices lower, but know that Black Irish isn’t making money off of shipping costs as a few readers have suggested. That’s not our model.

Friday, Sept. 20

Readers who purchased the specially-priced bundle were invited to ask Steve and/or Shawn one question. The two would go through the questions at the end of the week, pick a few they liked, answer them, and then send a recording and transcript of their answers to First Look Access members. This was something special that was offered unannounced. When we realized that people were either having problems with the ask-me-anything form—or missing it all together—we sent out another e-mail.

The same day we received an e-mail about the 5-download limit for each purchase. We’d been discussing download limits for a while but hadn’t made a final decision. It was time to go one way or the other. We eliminated the download limits for both past and future orders. Once a reader buys a product, it belongs to him or her, to access as many times as he or she wishes. In the end, some people will abuse unlimited downloads and make a gift to Torrent and so on, but that threat isn’t enough to place limits on every other reader.

Saturday, Sept 21

When we first wrote the e-mails, we knew there would be readers who didn’t act right away—or forgot. Another hat tip to Jeff Walker for encouraging us to focus on this.

Writing this e-mail was tricky. We don’t like receiving e-mails that are trying to sell us something ourselves, so how to word it as a reminder?

First, this e-mail wouldn’t go to those who had already bought a bundle. It would go to everyone else.

Second, it needed to offer something that would remind some of the other readers and encourage those on the fence about making a purchase to decide which way they were going to go. For this reason, we decided to add information about the ask-me-anything question invite and the audio file with Steve’s and Shawn’s answers, which weren’t being promoted anywhere else. There was a mention upon check-out and then the e-mail above, which went out to readers who had bought bundles, but that was it.

Monday, Sept. 23

A “penultimate thank you” e-mail went out Monday morning. At this point, it was a reminder, plain and simple. We’d tried not to send a ton of e-mails, but this was the last day, so . . . we sent two. After the “penultimate thank you” came a “last call” email. Both are shown below.

Post-Launch

We wanted to keep the same shipping options available for all readers purchasing the bundles throughout the life of the launch. It kept everyone on the same footing. After the launch, we implemented different shipping options, including lower rates negotiated with FedEx.

Throughout the launch, we received e-mails asking if we’d bundle the other books, too. We decided to go for it and added two different bundle options for each book: print/audio/e-book and audio/e-book.

Sept. 25, the Wednesday after the launch, Steve posted the Writing Wednesdays article “Three Things I Learned From Oprah.” He started it out with a thank you to readers who had signed up for First Look Access and announced the release of The Authentic Swing for everyone else. At this point, The Authentic Swing was available on Black Irish Books, Amazon and B&N.com.

Throughout the launch, the specially-bundled sales page was a private page within the Black Irish Store. Certainly, others could have accessed it, but we created it for First Access Members.

We received one criticism from a reader who felt we didn’t have “our ducks in a row” because we were sharing a product, but it wasn’t available anywhere for sale. Similar comments came from bloggers searching for a permanent link to The Authentic Swing, which they could share on their sites.

During the build-up, we didn’t offer the book on other sites because we wanted to offer the book on Black Irish first, and we wanted to offer it as a special bundle before it went for sale at full price to the public on all of the other sites. As we’ve moved away from the launch, I’ve thought about a version that started with the announcement of the bundles, with the videos and excerpts and images following, as ways to encourage interest, rather than starting with them and ending with the special offer. It’s something we’ll be revisiting/reconsidering in the future.

The books sold through Amazon.com and B&N.com are provided via CreateSpace’s print on demand program. We wondered if they would be able to keep up with the demand and spoke with CreateSpace’s PR team in advance of the launch and the episode airing of Steve’s interview with Oprah. One customer e-mailed a week or so ago that Amazon delivery has been slower than usual, but as far as we know, they’ve kept up with the orders. The books sold through Black Irish’s store are books we’ve printed on our own. This model allows us to offer the books for sale in three locations, without having to deal with the costs of shipping and warehousing via Amazon’s and B&N’s fulfillment centers, too.

Another issue that has been a problem from day one is the lack of knowledge some readers have when it comes to their cell phones, tablets and other devices. We assumed that readers would know how to unzip and upload files, that they would know that Apple and other products haven’t been able to open zip files in the past.

A while back, I bought one of the Harry Potter audios for my kids. It arrived as a zip file, which I had to unzip and save on my computer and then upload to iTunes, followed by syncing my device with iTunes. It was the first time I’ve had to do this and realized that I’d been spoiled, buying from the iTunes store, which immediately uploaded to my phone and/or other Apple devices. Because this was a while ago, I assumed that by the time Black Irish started offering digital files, most people would know zip files were an issue and that they would have to use an app or unzip the file on their computer first.

It was frustrating in the beginning, because a number of readers e-mailed to complain about the process of unzipping and uploading, blaming us for the difficulties. My first reaction was to wonder why they didn’t know how to use the devices they had purchased and why they didn’t know the limitations of those devices. But, the first action was to start helping them. Some continued to complain, not understanding that this isn’t unique to Black Irish’s store and others, who did know about the zip file issue, complained that they wish they’d known the files would be zipped—though there’s a notice on the checkout page of the site, which states how files are delivered:

E-Books are supplied in three formats: EPUB for iPad, Nook, and most others; MOBI for Amazon Kindle; and PDF for reading on the Mac or PC.

Audio Books are separated into chapter MP3 or M4A files and are compressed into a single ZIP file.

The lesson learned was that we had to simplify the process as much as possible and spell everything out. Make no assumptions. AND: Don’t blame the readers. INSTEAD: Help them. I’ve been in the process of developing a FAQs page with screen shots and simplified instructions on how to download/upload to a variety of different devices. Will let you know when it is up.

On the fulfillment front, in the days following the launch, there was a disconnect with the fulfillment center and our system, with some packages going out via a method other than what readers had chosen. In those cases, we contacted the readers and refunded the shipping in full, and worked with the fulfillment house to correct the problem. There were a few other issues, which I’m chalking up to pushing “go” on a launch, on the same day we switched on a new store with a new fulfillment center. Worzalla has been working with us since then, to sort things out and “smooth” is the way I’d describe things these days.

On the e-mail, front: We monitor the support@blackirishbooks.com e-mail, but not the sales@blackirishbooks.com e-mail. That sales e-mail is the one that alerts us to sales, with hundreds of e-mails coming in every day. However, it is also the one that alerts customers that their orders have been fulfilled. A few customers replied to the sales e-mail with questions and we didn’t see them right away. In the future, they’ll receive an e-mail stating that we don’t monitor that e-mail and provide them with the support address to use for questions.

E-mails came in from a few customers who didn’t receive a reply within an hour or two of their e-mails, too. Our goal is to reply within 24 hours, but we’re a small operation that doesn’t want to outsource support to another organization (or country).  Anyone e-mailing us in the future will receive an e-mail confirming receipt of the e-mail and the following message (much of which I ripped off from an e-mail I liked, which Jeff Walker sends out):

Thanks for your e-mail.

We apologize for the auto-response (we’re not fans of them either). We just wanted to let you know that your e-mail has been received and will be addressed within 24 hours—unless it arrived on the weekend. We’re a small shop and like to spend time outside and with family and friends on the weekends. We’ll be back to you on the next business day.

Tuesday, Oct. 1 we sent out the audio of Steve and Shawn (and Jeff joined in too) answering a few of those Ask-Me-Anything questions.

Tuesday, October 8th, “Free Stuff” was added to Steve’s site. Future podcasts, videos, and so on, will be placed there, after our First Look Access members have the first go.

And that’s it.

I wrote at the beginning of this post that its purpose is to share what we experienced, with the hope that it will be of use to others. *What worked for us isn’t necessarily going to work, step-by-step, for others, but there are elements that we think will work. If you have questions about any of the above, please leave a comment and I’ll answer as I’m able.

Thanks again for sticking with us as we experimented with a new approach!

Posted in What It Takes

26 Responses to “Portrait of a Launch”

  1. November 1, 2013 at 3:04 am

    “How to over-deliver without over-pitching…”

    You all did that well. I felt like I was being given a series of gifts. When it was time to purchase the book, it was the natural next step.

  2. November 1, 2013 at 6:21 am

    AMAZING post Callie. A lot to digest and we can definitively use this as a blue print for our projects. Thank you.

  3. Neil Sutton
    November 1, 2013 at 6:48 am

    I agree with Joe, it wasn’t a question of should I buy it, but “when can I get it.”

    Speaking of over-delivering, this post embodies that well. I’m printing it out, so I have it on-hand as a guide for when I launch my first book, as well as my artwork.

    (Sidenote: I haven’t been able to buy Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula, but am on his e-mail list; Jeff’s post a while back about meeting Steven was what first led me to Steve’s many great, inspiring books, which then led me to dedicate more time to writing and art, which will in turn lead me back to needing Jeff’s Product Launch Formula — A vicious, glorious cycle)

    • Callie Oettinger
      November 4, 2013 at 6:15 am

      Thanks for your comment, Neil. Jeff Walker changed my thinking about e-mail campaigns, which I’ve avoided in the past. He shared a way to implement them, in a manner that works. His own program includes so much more than what we used, but our first time out, the pieces he suggested, which we did implement, proved valuable. Callie

  4. Mary
    November 1, 2013 at 6:59 am

    This is a fascinating process to read about – thanks for sharing it with such transparency. As a “First Access” subscriber I always felt like the recipient of your generosity and never felt like I was being pitched at – the four you consistently “over deliver.”

  5. November 1, 2013 at 8:41 am

    I’ll +1 that: not once did I feel “sold to” or pitched. This was a fun process which made me feel like an insider (which, if you’re keeping score for future reference, I didn’t feel before; before, I was a reader, not an insider.)

    Mavelously done. This documentation is most helpful.

  6. November 1, 2013 at 8:56 am

    This is an outstanding look into the process of launching a book. It is also an excellent overview of how to start a long-tail book selling business! Thank you so much for this in-depth view of the process.

    A personal Thank-you to Callie for your concern, quick response, assistance and generosity when problems were encountered with my shipment to Canada. Over-delivery indeed!

  7. November 1, 2013 at 9:32 am

    This is the best overview of the launch process that I’ve ever seen, anywhere. I’ve joined the team for a book launch recently, and MAN do I wish I’d been able to show this to the author I’m working with 3 months ago!

    • Callie Oettinger
      November 4, 2013 at 6:21 am

      Thanks, Erica. We learned a lot going through the process. If you have any questions about it, let us know. As I wrote in the post, our hope is that what we learned might be of help to others thinking about going through the same process. Callie

  8. Cindy
    November 1, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Callie,
    What can I say except “wow.” As a former marketer, I appreciate you taking the time to record in such great detail the launch of TAS and to offer this ‘case-study’ to your readers. I am a long time fan of The War of Art and Steve’s work. I had intended to purchase the package but I did not. Since it seems that you are so responsive to your fans I will explain why in the hopes that it may be of some help to you. The week of the launch was a particularly hectic one for me with personal, business and severe health issues creating a perfect storm of chaos. Still, I stuck a neon post-it on my desk (my fail-safe albeit primitive method for not forgetting important shit) so I would remember to order before the deadline (like most struggling writers, I do love a discount!). I was at my desk on the last day and noticed the emails but was so pressed for time I did not open them until close to 5:00pm EST, credit card finally in hand. Imagine my disappointment when I realized the deadline had passed. I’d had a spectacularly lousy day and I recall thinking in aggravation “Really? Who the heck makes a 3pm deadline?” So I was kind of annoyed. When I reviewed the emails the exact time was clearly included (of course) but in my haste I didn’t notice. So, of course, missing the special deal was absolutely my own fault. Perhaps in the future, you might want to call out in extra large bold letters (maybe neon?) the time and date of the deadline on any special offer. Or make it midnight? This would be especially helpful to the busy, disorganized &/or distracted, but loyal fans, such as myself. Just a thought.

    Anyway, back to today’s post–really terrific & incredibly helpful. Thank you.

    • Callie Oettinger
      November 4, 2013 at 6:28 am

      Thanks for your comment, Cindy!

      Do you know the song IT’S FIVE O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE? It came to mind when we were thinking about the timing for the end of the launch. With customers all around the world, there’s never going to be a great time to end an offer. No matter when we end them, it will be at the wrong time for someone, somewhere. So… We picked a time that worked for us, when we were awake and could monitor the end of the special bundle offer and the announcement of the book at full price on Black Irish Books, Amazon and B&N. We had a lot going on and needed eyes on the site as the changes were implemented/announced.

      Your suggestion about better highlighting the ending time is a good one. We’ll look at doing something to make the deadline stand out more in the future.

      Callie

  9. November 1, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Valuable content, Callie. Thank you.

  10. November 1, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Incredibly generous share, with two books coming out in the new year this is such a valuable blueprint to use for inspiration. Thank you!

  11. November 1, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Callie, I was quite honored to be one of the recipients of a copy of The Authentic
    Swing, and now I see how much work went into this launch. This post has plenty of great, usable information.

  12. November 1, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Love this peek behind the scenes. This is a great summary of the entire process. I will admit I’m surprised Steve didn’t do more interviews to let writers know this book is out. Many of my friends missed this launch because it was so focused on email.

    • Callie Oettinger
      November 4, 2013 at 8:46 am

      Thanks for your comment, Jim.

      R.e. interviews: It’s a matter of time.

      In addition to the books he writes himself, there are those he’s developing with Shawn for Black Irish, there’s his weekly Writing Wednesdays column, and a number of other projects. Interviews take time away from all of these things.

      Our experience is that he connects with more people through sharing his writing work than he does through interviews, which means the better use of time is for writing and developing other pieces for readers, such as the videos and audios that were given away during the launch.

      Obviously there are a few exceptions, the recent interview with Oprah being one example. I’d say the same of his recent interviews with Joe Rogan and Glenn Reynolds, too. They all have proactive audiences, which will check out new books and authors, based on the recommendations of Oprah, Joe and/or Glenn.

      Aside from those few exceptions, there’s more sharing done after he writes a piece that resonates with readers.

  13. November 1, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Callie, if I ever had any doubts whatsoever (but trust me, I didn’t) that Steve and the Black Irish team are in this for all the right reasons, the free seminar that you just published would have obliterated that thought. As I read your post I lost count of the number of times I said to myself, “I would pay a good chunk of change to get this info in a workshop.” And here you are simply sharing it, because…well, just because that’s what you guys do. It’s beyond impressive.

    • Callie Oettinger
      November 4, 2013 at 6:32 am

      Thanks, Tim. If you have any questions, will you post them here? And, we’ll do our best to answer. As I’ve read through these comments, more things have come to mind and, of course, there are good suggestions from different readers that have come up, too. All get my head spinning, thinking about other issues that came up, other ways we could do things in the future, and so on. Callie

  14. November 2, 2013 at 6:00 am

    Hey Callie

    Thanks for an incredibly detailed post – I’ve linked it in my weekly round up of posts for fiction writers/indie publishers.

    In my ‘day job’ I do a lot of online marketing and the thing that you’ve got absolutely spot on – and that you should continue to build IMHO – is the mailing list. Selling direct can be wayyyyyy more lucrative than many imagine.

    Great job.

    JJ

    • Callie Oettinger
      November 4, 2013 at 6:37 am

      Thanks, J.J. Selling direct makes sense. The marketplace will continue to evolve and require middlemen for sales. The more authors/entrepreneurs/etc can move around the middlemen, cutting out as many as possible, the better off they’ll be. That direct-connect makes the most sense. Allows you to control your success (and if things don’t work, you have to own the failures, which are often blamed on middlemen, too). Callie

  15. ByHIsGrace
    November 2, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Gold gold gold. Will read it after getting the SAt ‘stuff’ out of the way. Thank you!

  16. November 3, 2013 at 6:33 am

    Callie,

    Thanks so much for this post. It was packed with great information that can help all of us move the ball forward. I’ve also really enjoyed my copy of, “The Authentic Swing,” and find it to be an extremely valuable resource. I am so grateful to Steven and the team for what you do for us. Oh, and the website is looking good.

    Tailwinds,
    Martin Pigg

  17. November 6, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Callie,
    This post removes a lot of the guess work out of how to actually get the job done. What a wonderful guide. Thank you so much for all of this deep, rich content. Very useful!

  18. November 6, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Wasn’t there a free e-book or discounted e-book deal? Seems like I acted on it and never got it to work out. Have the problems been ironed out?

    • Callie Oettinger
      November 7, 2013 at 10:16 am

      Matt,

      Though it is noted within the store, a number of customers didn’t take note of how the audio files would be provided – via a zip file.

      Because a portion of these customers also weren’t familiar with zip files or the limitations of their devices, in terms of being able to open zip files, a few customers had problems accessing the files.

      I wrote about this in the article above. My hope is that the manufacturers of the devices will continue to update their devices and simplify the uploading process, and that users will attain fluency with their devices as they continue to use them.

      Until then, Black Irish will continue to simplify its process, learning from input from customers, too.

      Best,

      Callie

  19. November 12, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Excellent play-by-play. Will come in handy for a fledgling author such as myself. I commend your generosity and candor!