Rating: 9/10

First published: 2021

Author: Rob Fitzpatrick

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The author takes his own advice and writes a really useful book on how to write useful books. Short and packed with value, no wasted words. Highly recommended.


The goal of book marketing is to stop needing to do it.

Designing nonfiction for long-lasting recommendability

  • Here’s the secret to a five-star Amazon rating: be clear enough about what your book is promising that people can decide they don’t need it.
  • Your book’s promise should appear in (or at least be strongly implied by) its title and/or subtitle.
  • A book’s promise is meaningless until paired with a certain type of reader.
  • The point is that, in order to make something valuable for somebody, you must be willing to define and defend what your book isn’t.
  • The reason this matters is that nobody recommends the second-best solution. So you need to become the best. Not for everyone, but for someone.
  • The scope of a useful book is like the executive summary of a new business. It’s an as-brief-as-possible description of what it is, who it’s for, and why they’ll pay for it:
    • Scope = Promise + Reader profile + Who it’s not for + What it won’t cover
  • Three helpful lines of questioning to strengthen your scope:
    • When someone decides to buy and read your book, what are they trying to achieve or accomplish with it? Why are they bothering? After finishing it, what’s different in their life, work, or worldview? That’s your book’s promise.
    • What does your ideal reader already know and believe? If they already believe in the importance of your topic, then you can skip (or hugely reduce) the sections attempting to convince them of its worth. Or if they already know the basics, then you can skip those.
    • Who is your book not for and what is it not doing? If you aren’t clear on who you’re leaving out, then you’ll end up writing yourself into rabbit holes, wasting time on narrow topics that only a small subset of your readers actually care about. Deciding who it isn’t for will allow you to clip those tangential branches.
  • For a problem-solver to be recommended frequently enough to endure and grow, it requires four qualities, represented with the acronym DEEP:
    • Desirable — readers want what it is promising
    • Effective — it delivers real results for the average reader
    • Engaging — it’s front-loaded with value, has high value-per-page, and feels re- warding to read
    • Polished — it is professionally written and presented
  • Beyond creating something DEEP and useful, you must obey two additional requirements for your book to enter the back catalog:
    • Pick a promise that will remain relevant and important for 5+ years
    • Avoid over-reliance on temporary tools, trends, and tactics that are likely to be- come quickly dated

Improve your book before you’ve written it

  • Depending on what you’re trying to learn, you’ll use two main styles of reader conversations:
    • Listening/understanding conversations — to verify and improve your scope and rekindle reader empathy
    • Teaching/helping conversations — to refine your table of contents and iterate on the book’s underlying education design and structure
  • The most impactful reader conversations happen early in the process, while you’re still figuring out the scope and ToC and are free to make big, sweeping changes without rewriting anything.
  • Your ToC is the blueprint of your book’s education design. To serve its purpose as a tool for design and feedback, it must be built from:
    • Clear, descriptive language
    • Detailed subsections
  • Here’s the crucial insight about finding reader conversations: you don’t need that many. Plus, you don’t need them all at once — a few at the start and one or two per week throughout a book’s creation is more than enough.

Create an engaging reader experience by giving it all away

  • From a reader’s perspective, your book is a multi-hour journey experienced as value received over time spent.
  • Designing a strong reader experience means deciding exactly how to pace and where to place your book’s major insights, takeaways, tools, actions, and “a-ha” moments.
  • Readers aren’t buying your useful book for its storytelling or suspense. They are buying it as the solution to a problem or a path toward a goal. They’ll stay engaged for as long as you are regularly and consistently delivering on that promise.
  • Confusingly, just because some piece of knowledge is necessary doesn’t mean that it is valuable—at least, not from the reader’s perspective.
  • The most common way to ruin your reader experience is to spend too long on foundational theory before getting to the bits that people actually want.
  • By arranging the content around the learner’s goals instead of the teacher’s convenience, the experience stops feeling like a drag and begins to feel easy and engaging.
  • You do this by adding word counts to the titles of your sections and chapters, allowing you to see how many words (and thus how many minutes — 250 words per minute is typical) are sitting between any two pieces of value. These word counts will be removed prior to publication, but they’re invaluable while the book is in development.
  • You want to know the word count per learning outcome (i.e., a specific takeaway or insight), not the word count per “topic.”
  • Your early drafts already contain plenty of value. The challenge isn’t to add more good stuff. It’s to delete all the fluff that’s delaying readers from getting to it.
  • The likelihood of your readers recommending your book is based on the amount of value they’ve received before either finishing or abandoning it. And they’re most likely to abandon at the start.

Finding and working with beta readers

  • In terms of where it fits within the traditional process, beta reading begins after the third-ish draft, but before any sort of professional editing.
  • Beta reading runs in iterations of 2-8 weeks: the first one or two weeks to gather the bulk of the feedback, and the remainder to work that feedback into a new revision.
  • I aim to find a new set of 3-5 deeply engaged beta readers per iteration, which typically requires inviting 12-20 people who claim that they’d love to read it. Roughly half of them won’t even open the document, and another half will submit approximately one comment before giving up. So expect to invite about four times the number of potential readers as you hope to end up with.
  • Early on, each batch of readers will run into a major obstacle that essentially prevents them from continuing (usually either massive confusion or boredom). But that’s what you want! So long as they’ve succeeded in identifying the next set of book-killing problems, they’ve done their job. As such, you don’t want to try to “force” people through the whole book via guilt trips or nudges. Their disinterest is the data — it shows you what’s next to be fixed.
  • You’ll rarely be able to reuse beta readers across multiple iterations. This is partly because they’ve already given you a lot of their time, and partly because the helpfulness of their feedback degrades on subsequent reads.
  • Most people will only review your manuscript once. Which means that if a potential beta reader is especially influential — as either a testimonial or an evangelist — then you may want to delay inviting them until your manuscript is fairly strong.

Gather better data, build a better book

  • The best way to detect boredom is to identify where readers are quietly giving up and abandoning the book. If readers are jumping ship in Chapter 3, for example, then it suggests that either Chapter 2 was a low-value grind (thereby exhausting them before they got to the good stuff), or that Chapter 3 is.
  • There’s no perfect way to detect this, but you can make a fairly accurate estimation by noticing where a reader’s comments stop. Using comments as a proxy for engagement isn’t perfect data, but it’s close enough to point us in the right direction.
  • Once you know where readers are disengaging, you’ll need to take a guess about what caused it and how to fix it. Nine times out of ten, the problem is low value-per-page in the surrounding areas.
  • I’d suggest beginning pre-sales during the second half of beta reading, once you’re fairly confident that the structure is correct and that the knowledge works.
  • Depending on your book’s content, you may also want to organize some sensitivity readers (for inadvertent marginalization or bias), expert reviewers (for fact-checking), and a legal review (usually only needed if you’re worried about potential libel or fair use issues, or to insure the book as a business asset).

Seed marketing to find your first 1,000 readers

  • My top four suggestions for seed marketing (in no particular order) are:
    • Digital book tour via podcasts and online events (most scalable)
    • Amazon PPC (pay-per-click) advertising (easiest but unscalable)
    • Event giveaways and bulk sales (fastest if you have the contacts)
    • Build a small author platform via content marketing and “writing in public” (most reliable and valuable, but time-intensive)

Optimize for sales and growth

  • The most common and impactful options include:
    • Optimizing your Amazon purchase funnel (50%+ sales increase)
    • Adding percentage boosts with extra platforms and products (5-20% uplift apiece)
    • Turning piracy to your advantage by ensuring that the book acts as its own marketing
    • Engaging with and supporting superfans and evangelists (and optionally teach- ers and trainers)