How an Unknown Author Sold 100+ Books on First Launch
No one knew him as an author.
A small handful of close family and friends served as beta readers even as he wrote his first book, but few others.
Only when his book was written did he start talking publicly about how he had written a novel — one he intended to publish. He didn’t see himself as a writer, so didn’t think of talking to others about it. He just wasn’t ready to announce his new self to the world.
Writing in the closet can be a safe and happy experience, and I’m definitely not knocking it. There is wisdom in nurturing a new dream in the support of safe people who will not tread harshly on it. (That happens, as I’ve written about here.) Keeping it too quiet does present a problem, though.
When one finally emerges from the closet, manuscript in hand, and says, “Hey world! I wrote a book! Want to buy it?”, the world looks on us not with awe and eagerness to buy, but with confusion and surprise and hesitation. “You’re a writer? Huh. I didn’t know that.”
Try doing ANYthing brand new and see how people respond.
Then try asking them to pay you for it.
Hey! I’ve just quit an addiction and now offer coaching!
Hey! I’ve just built my own house and I now sell blueprints!
Most of us think two things when that happens:
“Really? Wow! Good for you!” but also “I dunno…. Can you really do that? We’ll see.”
Generally, people need more onboarding than that. More time to get used to the idea and to build trust in your ability to deliver what you’re charging for. So when someone suddenly bursts onto the scene claiming to be a writer and wants everyone to buy their new, untested book, the world generally responds with, “no thanks.”
But not always.
Travis Williams’ Launch-From-Obscurity Success
When Travis Williams first prepared to launch his debut novel, Uly Quits His Job, he had an audience of 26 email subscribers who had been slowly collected in the previous 18 months. Most everyone else in his life didn’t even know he was a writer, much less that he had finished writing a book!
But Travis knew a couple of things that helped people say yes to buying his book.
Ten days before the official launch he had a total of over 60 books downloaded as ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) or purchased as pre-orders. While these are not the million-dollar results some of us dream of one day achieving, they are real, they are achievable, and they are numbers that many authors would envy! Two weeks after the official launch, that number grew to over 100 copies — and that’s just of hardcover orders. That doesn’t even include e-copies sent out! (That report is, at the time of this writing, still pending)
I know a lot of authors who would LOVE to sell 100 copies of ANY of their books in ANY month, nevermind experience those kinds of sales on their first book.
So what did he do?
As with many of the writers I have worked with, Travis is reluctant to accept praise or plant a flag on this result as some pinnacle of something, or even point to “what he did” as evidence of his skill or knowledge.
But. As with many of the writers I have worked with, he has also worked hard for these results, has accomplished something that is fantastic, and as a result is a real life example of how the things he learned and applied really do work, even for a new author with a very small audience.
Three Things That Helped Garner Pre-Sales for an Unknown Author
- He Teamed Up
Travis was wise in that early on, he connected to a community of writers - while he was working on his book. In that community, he found writer friends who were generous in spirit and happy to tell their own email lists and social media followers about his book when the time came.
This connection may seem like the kind of luck one can only wish for, but their connection was less about luck and more about the natural benefit of community. Nicola MacCameron , author of the Leoshine series, worked with Travis, each helping the other on their projects. This mutual relationship naturally extended into the promotion phase of Travis’ book. Nicola was happy to help. (Likewise, authors Connie Inglis, Robert Stermscheg, Marcia Laycock, and community host Colleen McCubbin also pitched in to promote their friend’s book to their own audiences.)
2. He Talked About His Book
This is the one most writers wish was not true. Most of us would prefer to just write the thing and have it sell automatically while we go off and write the next thing and not worry about “marketing” or “sales” or other parts of promotion that make us feel dirty or awkward.
Travis was like most of us. He would rather not “market a book”. But he took my course Book Launch Bootcamp anyway, and discovered that marketing is really more about making authentic connections than it is about “selling”. That’s when something clicked. He got it. He realized that by talking about his book, he was simply talking about his writing journey, or the meaningful themes in the story, or telling people interesting little-known facts about the real life local shops where his novel takes place. You can hardly help but lean forward and let your mouth gape a little as Travis dances so easily on the blurry boundary between fiction and reality.
3. He Wrote Emails and Sent Them
It sounds overly simple — and maybe it is, a little — but as his email list started to exist and grow, he did the work of talking to the people on that list. And he did it in a way that felt good for the reader on the receiving end. His humanity and authenticity while talking about the behind the scene aspects of his book made it easy to feel connected. They say it takes 8 to 11 points of contact before a decision is made to buy a product. Every point of contact is important, and most of them cannot be a hard sell. This is about building lasting connections with people. And Travis dutifully reached out to and connected with his readers, not disdaining the small size of his subscriber list as many authors do at first. He wrote emails and sent them, trusting that connection was being made.
4. Bonus: The Little-Known Method Travis Employed
Okay, I’ll give you a bonus method, because it has perhaps been the most effective so far. One of the most powerful outreach methods Travis has used has been to contact people individually. Through text, email, phone, and in-person conversations, he talked about his foray into writing, how the book came to be, and the story itself. As he talked about it, people grew interested in buying.
One-on-one individual contact is often underestimated, which is surprising given how effective it can be. Think about it — if someone posts publicly that they’re hosting a Norwex party or looking for donations, it’s easy to ignore, right? You’re just a stranger in a crowd who is uninterested just like everyone else. That’s an easy no. But if that person is a friend and they reach out to you with a personal message — and I do mean a personal one, not a copy-and-paste direct message — it’s much more desirable to engage. We want to talk to people who want to talk to us.
Take-Aways For Your Own Book Launch
Obviously there is so much more involved in a successful book launch than these four things. Some things Travis did were not listed here but were the essential precursors to selling — setting up that email opt-in system, knowing what to say to an email list and when, setting up the pre-order system, and so many other things. Those nuts and bolts are imperative to any book launch, but too in-depth to go into here.
The bottom line is that these methods are helping Travis to SELL BOOKS, even with a small audience, small mailing list, and little reputation as an author. It’s pretty breathtaking to witness him burst out of obscurity like this and start selling in a way many experienced authors would be jealous of. Brilliant.
Curious about Travis Williams’ book Uly Quits His Job? Here’s the gist:
“Uly’s job maintaining utility poles takes him to Savannah. His attempts to maintain a long-distance relationship aren’t working, and suddenly, neither is Uly. Jobless, on foot, phone dying, and a few dollars from penniless, he buys a bus ticket. That’s when things go from bad to strange in this contemporary, Southern odyssey with Christian themes.” And here’s where it’s selling. (Plus, you can join his email list and follow his marketing efforts to see all this stuff in action. Basically, you can spy.)
PS. To craft your own simple and effective roadmap to book-selling, consider the Book Launch Bootcamp — a course I created, and the very one Travis attended and learned from. Check it out here. It might just be your time to shine too.