It’s finally here. After months of planning, writing, and interviewing folks, I’ve released SaaS Marketing Essentials. Early response has been wonderful, with people commenting how much value they are finding in the product. Others have been asking me just what my process was in creating the book. For those, I write this article.
Why I Wrote a Book
“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”
–William B. Sprague
I wrote a book on marketing because I wanted to be better at marketing. I wanted to force myself to research subjects, put things into practice, and record my results. Starting a blog and writing a book was one way I knew of how to do that. Of course, there is also the benefit of an income from book sales, which is just a way to maximize the financial return on the time spent writing. In all honesty, however, even if I didn’t sell a single copy, writing the book was valuable for me because it caused me to level-up my game as a marketer of my products.
The Planning Phase
“If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.”
I knew that in order to make this book a success, I needed to begin with the end in mind. I began by asking folks on Twitter, Quora, and other avenues what their biggest pain points were with marketing their SaaS product. The responses varied, but there were a few emergent topics that came up again and again:
- How do I validate my product idea?
- How do I get more eyes on my product?
- How do I optimize my conversion funnel?
I knew that whatever I wrote had to address these questions. I then brainstormed what an ideal package would look like that would provide value to people with those questions. The result of this brainstorming was a rough title for the book and a list of chapters that I would have to research and write about. I also started keeping my eyes open for opportunities to interview people who could provide expert advice on these subjects. At the end of this planning phase, I had a list of 12 chapters, divided into four main categories that build upon each other, and a list of about 20 people that I wanted to interview to add more value to the conversation.
The Writing Phase
“Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.”
The writing phase was harder than I thought it would be. In order to publish something worth reading, I knew that I had to put a lot of effort into researching and writing each chapter. I began each chapter with hours of research and note taking on the subject, uncovering studies and insight from people who were kind enough to publish their own findings. After organizing these notes into an outline, I could begin writing each chapter. This usually took multiple days per chapter. Eventually, however, I had completed each of the twelve chapters, and my book was ready for the next phases.
The Post Writing Phase
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
Writing the book is only the beginning of the battle. I had pages of text, but it looked nothing like a book. I had to determine what font I was going to use, how the page would be laid out (dimensions, margins, spacing). Would I indent each paragraph? Would I justify the alignment or leave jagged left edges? These are questions that might be insignificant, but when you add them up, it is what separates something that feels like a really long essay vs. something that feels like a book. To answer these questions I spent several days at Barnes & Noble just looking through books. I studied:
- Cover design
- Introduction styles
- Conclusion styles
- Image treatment
All-in-all, I spent about two weeks getting the formatting and design of the book just right. When I was finished, it felt like a book, which was a rewarding feeling.
At this point I had a PDF ready to go. However, I knew that people would want EPUB and MOBI formats so they could read the content natively in their Kindles, Nooks, and iPads. While I am convinced that the PDF version provides the best design and style experience, it is hard to beat the ability to control the font size, style, and colors of the eBook formats. My word processor has a “Export to EPUB” function, but the results were less than ideal. Images were cut off, page breaks were all over the place, and certain elements were no longer positioned precisely. The compromise that I had to find is to remove some of the extra treatment that the PDF had for design and style to make a more functional eBook for those on native readers.
In order to master the eBook formats, I used a free program called Calibre. This allowed me to open up the stylesheets and raw data of the book and optimize text and images to render properly on a wide array of devices. I then used Calibre to export to EPUB and MOBI, and the results were wonderful.
“My basic approach to interviewing is to ask the basic questions that might even sound naive, or not intellectual. Sometimes when you ask the simple questions like ‘Who are you?’ or ‘What do you do?’ you learn the most.”
Earlier I mentioned that I had about 20 people in mind to interview for the book. In the end I was able to schedule time with 11 of them. I am impressed with the helpful attitudes that these experts had when I asked them to be interviewed. They made time out of their day to answer questions, without compensation, in order to help out someone they hardly even knew (or didn’t know at all). I used ScheduleOnce to set up available times to be interviewed, and the interviewees chose a slot that worked for them. I had to be willing to take interviews anywhere from 6:00am until Midnight, as some of these experts were in different time zones. In the end, I had a great time setting up these calls and getting to know these folks. Many of us had conversations that extended beyond the interview and found other common ground that we had, leading towards a friendship. I know I will run into many of them at conferences in the future, so I’m glad that we were able to make a connection.
Now that I had raw footage, I knew I needed to spice things up with some intro music, a title sequence, and outtro music. I also had to decide how to upload and host the videos so they were accessible. For the former task I used iMovie on my Mac, and basically learned as I went along. I had to Google a lot, but eventually learned enough about the program to edit and produce a video. For hosting, I decided on Wistia, which allowed me to upload the videos, and customers can stream them, or download them as they choose. Wistia also hosts the videos privately, so only those with access information is able to see them.
“Ever tried and failed? No matter. Try again and fail better.”
I heard someone say that they recorded their audiobook in one evening. I thought, “how hard could it be?” I wrote the words, I can read them. I can read pretty fast, so I just need to get a decent mic, hit record, and go to town. Well, after the first few sentences of reading into the microphone, I was out of breath and panting audibly into the recording.
Seriously? I read out-loud all of the time, why was this so hard? There was a mental barrier to overcome. Knowing that others would be listening to what I was reading put pressure on me and I was nervous, even though I was the only one in the room at the time. I had to do about 4 takes of that first chapter before I finally started getting my flow. After much practice, I learned how to breath calmly and naturally while reading into a microphone, and things started sounding a lot better.
Now, the next part was dealing with all of the mistakes. When reading that amount of text out loud you are bound to make mistakes. Either I would read a word wrong, begin a sentence with the wrong inflection, or take too long to turn the page so my sentence sounded choppy and weird. Every time I messed up (dozens of times per chapter), I made three clicking sounds into the mic and started that sentence over. The three clicking sounds produced a distinctive pattern in my audio editing software, so I could go back and edit out the mistakes after recording.
Another skill that I had to learn was basic audio engineering. I had to learn how to level out the volume of the recording, remove any hisses and pops, and remove the sound of the vent blowing in the background. With the help of a few excellent tutorials online, I finally found a method for mastering the audio after each recording. All-in-all, recording the audiobook took me two weeks of evenings after the kids went to bed (which is why you don’t hear “DAAAAD” in the background). This was probably the task that I underestimated the most in regards to getting the book package together.
“I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.”
I finally had the book all ready. The audiobook was recorded, bonus material was written, video interviews were uploaded. I now had to figure out the optimal way to share this product with the world. Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog post, where I go into the psychology behind my marketing page, the steps I took before the launch, and how launch day went down.