Case Study: How to Launch a Top 10 New York Times Best Seller

Successful book launches take a lot of planning and organization. Pexels

Way back in the year 2012, I was running my first big book launch.

Over the previous few years, I’d gotten to play a part in several book launches, but this was the first big one where I was running the whole show.

And I was nervous.

My client, Daniel Pink, was relying on me to launch his book To Sell is Human, and he wanted to hit all the major lists.

As I planned out the launch, I came up with a new framework — a way to think about and plan book launches — and put it into practice with Dan’s book.

The result?

To Sell is Human debuted at #1 on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post bestseller lists.

So it worked, right? Or was it just a fluke?

Fast forward five years and I just finished up running another book launch for the author Robb Wolf and his book Wired to Eat.

The result?

The first week it hit the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller lists.

Here’s what’s crazy…

I used the exact same framework that I developed five years ago.

And I’ve used this over and over in the last five years to keep launching bestselling books.

In this article, I’m going to teach you:

  • The Bestseller Framework I’ve used to launch dozens of bestselling books.
  • How we used this framework to launch Wired to Eat to the top of the bestseller lists.
  • How it applies to all authors and books even if you have no audience or platform.

Let’s get started.

The Bestseller Framework

Every launch I plan is made up of three parts:

  1. Get Influencers to Promote. How do I get other people with audiences to help promote this book?
  2. Sell to Fans. How do I get people I’m already connected with to buy as many books as possible?
  3. Get Fans to Share. How do I get people to share the book with their network of friends, family, and colleagues?

We’ll take these one at a time.

Get Influencers to Promote

The magic of a book launch is it’s the perfect time to get yourself and your work introduced to new audiences. You want to connect with other influencers and work out ways for them to promote your book.

Definition: An influencer is anyone that gets other people to buy your book.

This can be a blogger, podcaster, television producer, or Oprah. It doesn’t matter. If a person influences the buying decisions of a group of people, they are an influencer.

When it came to Wired to Eat, this was pretty straight forward for Robb.

He runs a popular podcast and blog and has spent years helping other people.

This is where the #1 key to successful outreach comes into play.

“You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” —Zig Ziglar

The best method for effective outreach is to give first.

This is why I recommend authors start early in building their platform. And by early, I mean yesterday. If you can’t start yesterday, then start today.

Even if your manuscript isn’t done.

Even if your website isn’t up yet.

Your goal should be to connect with influencers and help them get what they want out of life.

Robb was covered on almost every major website and podcast in his industry. He had people like Joe Rogan (top 20 podcast on iTunes) bring him on their podcast.

Why?

Because Robb had spent years helping all of these people. When someone had a new book coming out, Robb brought them on his podcast. When someone needed help with some research, he would contribute.

He helped so many people get what they wanted out of life, that when it came time that Robb needed something, they gladly lined up to help.

But of course, all of this didn’t happen automatically. It took a lot of planning and organization to get all of these influencers to promote the book all at the same time.

Here are the steps we took to make that happen:

  1. Start Early. For the launch of Wired to Eat, we started six months ahead of time. Influencer outreach is like herding cats. It’s really hard to keep everything moving, so it’s best to start as far ahead of time as possible.
  2. Organize and Research Influencers. This is the first thing I do when I start preparing for a launch. Robb and his wife Nicki added all of his influencers to a spreadsheet. ( You can download the spreadsheet I use right here. ) Then we researched all of the influencers and added notes to the spreadsheet. What is their social reach? How many readers does their blog get? How many viewers/listeners do their shows get? How big is their email list? As much of this that I can find, we added to the spreadsheet.
  3. Do Initial Outreach. Once we had our list of influencers and an idea of their platform, we start reaching out to touch base. Since this was four months before the launch, it was a pretty soft connection. We were just touching base to get something on the books. Note: People are much more likely to agree to do something far in the future. We are super busy right now, but we assume we’ll be better off in a few months.
  4. Solidify Plans. Once we were two to three months out from the launch, we started getting commitments from all of the influencers. This was easy because they had previously agreed to help promote the book, so now it was simple to follow up and get something planned and on the books.
  5. Do Everything Early. If you are going to be on a podcast, record it a couple months before the book comes out. If you are writing an article or a guest post, write it a couple months before the launch. You want to get as much of this done ahead of time as possible. Robb was great at this. He had all of this done and delivered more than a month before his book came out. This allowed him to relax and focus on the other pieces of the launch.
  6. Follow Up and Confirm. Remember the herding cats thing from #1? While your book launch is about the only thing you can think about right now, it’s just a blip on the radar of everyone else. It’s important that you follow up with every influencer one to two weeks before launch to make sure they are ready to go and will publish/post/send on the day you agreed.

Getting Influencers to Promote is simple but not easy. Robb and Nicki started six months ahead of time, already had connections to a lot of influencers, and it was still a ton of work.

Sell to Fans

If Get Influencers to Promote is focused outward on getting strangers to buy your book, the second part of the framework, Sell to Fans, is focused inward on getting the people you’re already connected with to buy your book.

If Influencers are people that will get other people to buy your book…

Definition: Fans are people that will buy your book.

At the time of Robb’s book launch he had ~120,000 Twitter followers, ~72,000 people following his Facebook page, ~26,000 Instagram followers, and ~140,000 email subscribers.

These are people that Robb is already connected to. These are his fans.

We want as many of them as possible to buy at least one copy of Wired to Eat.

How do we do that?

There are two important roadblocks to successful book launches:

  1. No Scarcity. There is no scarcity of books. And when it comes to selling stuff, scarcity is very important. Scarcity is what drives the marketplace. But with books, there is no scarcity. Once a book is published, it’s available basically forever. And readers know if they wait a couple weeks they can probably pick up a used copy for half the price. There is no compelling reason for people to buy the book before it comes out versus waiting until later.
  2. Pre-orders. Pre-orders are very important to hitting the major bestseller lists. The problem? People don’t generally pre-order books. (When’s the last time you did?) They wait until the book is out to buy a copy. So when we are trying to get people to buy the book a month or even two weeks before it comes out, it’s an uphill battle.

How did we overcome these roadblocks for Wired to Eat?

We ran a Pre-order Bonus Campaign.

Here’s how:

  1. Robb developed four compelling and helpful resources for Wired to Eat. They included a workbook, a chapter that was cut from the book, an interview with an expert around an important topic in the book, and a discount at a retailer for products recommended in the book.
  2. We used the resources to create scarcity. While the book will always be available, only people that pre-order the book before the book’s release date get access to the resources. Now, people have a good reason to pre-order the book.
  3. We automated the bonus system. All people had to do was forward their receipt for pre-ordering the book to an email address. From there, we set up a system that automatically checked those emails, extracted the sender’s email address, and then replied with access to all of the bonuses. Since we were selling thousands of books, it would have been impractical to manually check each one.
  4. We waited until a month before the book released to promote it. People do not pre-order books. This is a ~$15 purchase. It’s an impulse buy. The longer ahead of time that you start promoting your book, the less sales you get. With Wired to Eat, we started a month ahead of time. If I was to do it again, I’d probably shorten that to two weeks before it came out.
  5. We went all in. If you were following Robb on any social media outlet or you were subscribed to his email list, it was impossible for you to miss the promotion for his book. Too many authors worry about annoying people, so they do very little promotion for their book (and then are disappointed when it doesn’t sell). The whole reason you’re building this author platform is to sell books, so when it’s time to sell… SELL! Side note: Also keep in mind that this was a killer deal for the reader. Not only were they getting a copy of Robb’s new book, which is worth way more than the cover price, but they were also getting four really helpful bonuses. The people that pre-ordered the book weren’t doing Robb a favor. They were doing themselves a favor.

By running a Pre-order Bonus Campaign, you are overcoming the two biggest roadblocks to your fans buying the book (no scarcity, driving pre-orders) and much more likely to get them to buy a copy of your book now instead of later (or never).

Get Fans to Share

Here’s the thing…

Influencers are great. The people that have TV shows or blogs or podcasts or email lists that can reach thousands or tens of thousands of people obviously help your cause.

But your fans have networks too.

If you’ve read what I’ve written on social media for authors, you know it’s mostly a waste of time when it comes to book sales. The idea that you’re going to build some huge following on Twitter or Facebook that magically turns into book sales just doesn’t happen.

But a book launch is a perfect time to leverage the networks of your fans. If each of them are connected to an average of 250 people and you can get just 100 of them to share your book… that’s 25,000 people you have a chance of reaching for the first time!

And keep in mind, your fans are excited to be a part of your launch! Just like you get excited to tell your friends about your favorite author or book, other people feel that way about you.

There are two keys to doing this right:

1. Ask your fans to share. 
Don’t sit around hoping people will share your book with their friends. You need to directly ask people to share your book with their network.

2. Make it really easy for them to share.

A while back a buddy of mine was coming out with a new book, so I wanted to post about it on Twitter. Here are the steps I had to go through to make it happen:

  1. Think of what to say (this alone is hard).
  2. Edit what I wanted to say to fit 140 characters.
  3. Go to Amazon.
  4. Search for his book.
  5. Copy the URL.
  6. Paste the URL into Twitter.
  7. Re-edit what I wanted to say to be 140 characters with the URL.
  8. Google the title of his book to find an image of the cover.
  9. Save the image from Google.
  10. Upload the image to Twitter.
  11. Re-edit what I wanted to say to be 140 characters with the URL and the picture.
  12. Finally, post the update.

Pain. In. The. Ass.

If I didn’t really love this guy, I would have given up by step six.

You have to make it really easy and straightforward for people to share your book and then ask them to do it.

Here’s what we did for Wired to Eat:

  1. Set up a social share page. You can see what it looked like here. We created pre-written Tweets, links straight to Facebook, and images to share on social media. We did everything we could to shorten the distance between A) People wanting to share the book and B) People actually sharing the book. A great tool for creating share links is the Share Link Generator.
  2. Automatically asked book buyers to share the book. I told you above in the Sell to Fans section that we automated the bonus delivery. Once someone forwarded us their receipt, we automatically emailed them their bonuses. Well, guess what? We set up a second email to automatically go out two days after they bought the book and asked them to share it. And in that email, we put direct links to share the book on Twitter, Facebook, etc, and we linked to our social share page.
  3. Segmented the email list. Let’s say you bought a copy of Wired to Eat and forwarded us your receipt as soon as we started the campaign. We set up our system, so we wouldn’t promote the book to you anymore. Instead, when we sent out a new email sharing content from the book, the call-to-action was not to buy the book (since you already had) it was a link to the social share page with an ask to share the book.
  4. Asked for Amazon reviews. If people told Robb how much they loved the book, he asked them to leave a review on Amazon. This helps drive early reviews of the book.

Psst: Bonus hint…You can send people a link directly to the page to review.

Your fans want to share your book with their friends and community. All you have to do is ask them and make it really simple.

What if you don’t have an audience?

It’s fantastic that Robb and Nicki already had a huge audience and a ton of connections to launch their book and immediately hit all the bestseller lists. Great for them!

But what if you’re starting out with nothing? No email list. No social media. No big-time influencer connections. And your current fans consist of your mom and the guy you’re dating. And you’re pretty sure one of those two are lying to you.

I get it.

This is where most authors start.

The thing is though, you go through the exact same three steps. You just do them in different ways.

  1. Focus on the long game. Instead of trying to get your book to sell 10,000 copies in the first week and hit the big bestseller lists, focus on selling 10,000 copies in the first year.
  2. Take time to learn. Book marketing is just like anything else you’re doing for the first time. At first, you’ll suck, and then you’ll get better. Start putting these principles into practice and you’ll start learning how they work and how to do them better.
  3. Focus on the small. If somebody follows you on Twitter, reach out to them and personally invite them onto your email list. If somebody tells you they bought a copy of your book, personally thank them and ask them to leave a review on Amazon. Try to connect with just one other author that already has a fan base and offer to write something for their blog. When you’re starting out, it’s important to focus on one person, one fan, one influencer at a time.
  4. Build an email list. An email list is the #1 asset you can have as a writer. It’s more important than your blog, Twitter, Facebook or podcast combined. Start building your email list today. You’ll be glad you did.

What now?

If you want to keep learning about how to successfully launch a bestselling book, I’ve got two great resources for you.

  1. Get a free copy of my book Book Launch Blueprint. Right now the book costs $9.99 on Amazon, but I’d love to send you a free copy.
  2. Take the Book Launch Assessment. There are four different types of book launches, and to have a successful launch you have to know what type you are running. I’ve built a free assessment to help you figure out the right one for you and your book.

Tim Grahl is the founder of Book Launch, where he helps authors connect with readers and sell more books. Tim is also the author of Your First 1000 Copies and Book Launch Blueprint.

Case Study: How to Launch a Top 10 New York Times Best Seller