ArtAnSa - Notes

Highlights from Authority: Become an Expert, Build a Following, and Gain Financial Independence

I've always wanted to explore writing a book but after writing my PhD thesis I'm not really sure I'll ever do it. Anyways, below are my highlights from the book Authority: Become an Expert, Build a Following, and Gain Financial Independence written by blogger and entrepreneur Nathan Barry. Note that the emphasis is mine, that some small parts were changed to turn them into sentences and that all errors are probably mine :-).

Chapter One - On Writing

You can continue to create cutting-edge work and strive to be the best in your industry, but until you start teaching and sharing, your reach and influence will be limited.

If you know a skill that other people use to make money, you can make a living by teaching that skill.

Just about every industry has new skills and certifications that are needed to advance in your career. Teaching those can be an incredible way to make money. You can also set much higher prices, since it is easy for your customers to calculate a positive return on investment.

What do people ask you for help with? A good place to start is by writing about an area in which other people perceive you to be an expert. What do your friends and family ask you for help with?

Even if you are learning a new skill or topic, you can still teach it. Chances are someone will always know less about it than you do.

After all, they say the best way to make sure you understand a concept is to teach it. If you get in the habit of sharing everything you know, it will be much easier to position yourself as an expert later.

If you want to make a living from your teaching, you should be perceived as an expert.

Assuming you are actually good at your craft, a few quotes from past clients combined with some in-depth blog posts or tutorials is enough to give you the credibility to write your book. Just the fact that you are writing a book gets you half way there. Seriously. Name your book, set up a landing page, and then start calling yourself the author of “xxxx.” People will take you a lot more seriously even before your book is published.

1. Join trade organizations with official-sounding names.
2. Read and summarize the top three best-selling books on your topic.

So take your favorite concepts from these books and write them from your own perspective. Turn these into blog posts. It only takes a few really solid blog posts for readers to perceive you as an expert

3.Write for other sites and magazines.

Pitching a guest post or opinion is surprisingly easy—so long as you have something to say. Larger, more respected publications, like Inc or Forbes will take more work, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Wouldn’t your resume look great to say that you had written for the leading publication in your industry?

4. Give a talk at a local university and local offices of large companies.
5. Piggyback on other people for press.

I’ve been mentioned or quoted in TechCrunch, Mashable, The Next Web, and plenty of other popular blogs, but none were directly talking about me. I’ve become good friends with the people who run Gumroad (my e-commerce provider) and I promote their product any chance I get. Reporters aren’t beating down my door to write about me, but they are writing about Gumroad every time they raise funding or hit major milestones. Each of those stories need quotes from Gumroad users, and the Gumroad team always refers them to me. I can now say I’ve been featured in all those places.

Two factors define whether or not your book can be successful. First, does it teach a skill that other people use to make money? And second, do those people gather and communicate online?

A decent length for an eBook is 25,000 words. If you were to maintain writing 1,000 words a day (which is really just 2 or 3 pages) for 30 days you would have 30,000 words. Do some editing and cut down your content (which is necessary), and you have a book written in 30 days.

“When faced with writer’s block, lower your standards and keep going.”

I self-publish. That means I don’t have to wait for permission to start publishing my work and building an audience. Sure, I have to do more work. I don’t have the support of a team, but I also don’t have to wait for someone to pick me.

Chapter Two - Basic Marketing

If you start teaching, people will listen. Then you never have to pay for advertising. Your audience comes to you. Give them enough value and they will happily pay you for more.

Teach everything you know.

Before you spend months of your life creating something, you may want to test for some demand. My favorite way is to put up a landing page that enables your potential readers to tell you directly if they are interested in your book.

Your first step is to choose a domain name. This can be frustrating since so many good names are taken. You should build one site to handle selling your book and showcasing all the content and blog posts needed for marketing.

Using a single domain name means it can move with you as projects grow. This is why I like to use my name instead of something book specific. Personal branding can always be rolled over to new projects.

Your landing page needs to have a few main elements:

Is there a pain your readers have that you are trying to solve with your book? If so, your headline should speak directly to that.

Here just get into more detail about your book. Who you are, why you are writing it, and when it will be available. If you have a sample chapter, outline, or anything else, feel free to include it, though I don’t expect you to have too much information at this stage. You know the feeling when you land on a page and think, “What the hell is this about?” Reading a headline can help you figure that out, but nothing is faster than seeing an image of a book to get you to realize that this page is about a book.

The last, and most important part, is to have an opt-in form. You can ask for name and email, or just email. It doesn’t really matter, but don’t ask for anything more. You are just trying to give your readers a way to show their interest. If you want to get fancy (and increase your conversions) you can give them something for entering their email address. This can be something concrete like a free chapter of the book, a related article, or just a promise of a discount when the book comes out. The goal is to have a little something that pushes them over the edge to expressing their interest.

Now that you have a simple landing page (and I hope you didn’t spend too much time on it, since it will change), it’s time to tell people about it.

If you already have a blog, that is a great place to start. Beyond that, list any friendships with other bloggers in your target market, existing email lists, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, forums you are a part of, bloggers you are a fan of and could contact, and so forth.

Depending on the market for your book, don’t forget about offline marketing as well. There are people who don’t spend their lives online like you and I do (or maybe that’s just me…).

Once you’ve exhausted what you can do on your own, it’s time to ask your influential friends. I like to start by giving them a sample of the content that is highly relevant to their interests. Then, at the end of that email I ask them to share it if they found it interesting. Then I add an easy out, something that lets them know I am not expecting them to share it and that I just appreciate that they took the time to read the sample.

You could spend months researching, testing, and installing different software to run your website. Don’t. Just use WordPress.

Next you need a theme for your site.

Now comes the most important part of your site: the content. Delete the filler content, write out a few pages, and start some blog posts. If you have questions, just try a simple Google search. The WordPress community is very large and always eager to help.

Three epic blog posts

Most valuable What’s the most valuable thing you have to teach? That’s what the blog posts should include. Don’t be worried about giving away too much information or too many secrets. These posts are designed to get people interested in you and your book early on, so don’t hold back. Each post should be between 1,000 and 5,000 words long. Yes, that’s a big range, but it depends so much on the content.

Become an expert. You’d be surprised how little it takes to become perceived as an expert. A few detailed articles or tutorials will get you most of the way there.

These first posts are a great opportunity to show off your teaching style. If that’s your strong point you will really shine. If your teaching style needs work this is a great opportunity to practice.

If you have an established blog already then you may find existing posts that will meet these needs. Look for the posts relating to your book topic that get the most visits, shares, and positive comments.

Starting off with some really strong, original content will attract the kind of readers who will be interested in a book on the subject. That means these should not be list posts or aggregated content from other sites. Really teach. You are writing a book, so you need to be capable of original, long-form content.

At the end of each post you need to tell people about your book and give them a way to express their interest. Just like on your landing page, you’ll do this with an email opt-in form.

For increased conversion rates (the number of people who visit the site divided by the number who opt in to your form) keep the page really simple. The more options you give the user, the less likely they will be to take the one you want them to.

On both the landing page and at the end of each blog post I advocate email opt-in forms.

Now I should qualify that last section by saying that social media is useless for selling. But it can be quite useful for building relationships with other people in your industry. I’ve met a lot of great people on Twitter and really enjoy having conversations and sharing content. Just don’t expect Twitter or Facebook to be an effective sales strategy.

  1. You can push content to your readers. Instead of waiting for readers to check back for new content, you can send them an email each time you publish a new article.
  2. It is easier to get a visitor to enter their email address than to subscribe to an RSS feed or follow you on a social platform. Since you can give out an incentive (a free ebook or a video tutorial) for subscribing, I’ve found it is far easier to get email signups than to get readers to follow you on other platforms.
  3. Engagement quality is higher. Your email will be sitting in your reader’s inbox next to important content from their friends, clients, family, and coworkers.
  4. You have ownership.

The goal of email marketing, when done right, is to provide immense value to your reader with each email. In fact, you should make each email provide more value to your reader than for yourself

What email lets you do. My good friend Brennan Dunn is a master at effective email marketing. He started with a project management application for freelancers called Planscope. Through the process of growing and marketing Planscope, Brennan learned that freelancers also cared about increasing their rates and improving their businesses. Since he knew a lot about that topic, he wrote a book titled Double Your Freelancing Rate. (It’s a great book.) Brennan didn’t have a popular blog or an established audience, but he did have email addresses for a few hundred freelancers who had tried Planscope. That means he didn’t have to start from scratch. He wrote an educational email (meaning it provided value by itself and wasn’t just a sales message) that also promoted his book. That’s a great way to kickstart sales. Then Brennan set up an email list with weekly tips and articles for freelancers. He invited the customers from both Planscope and Double Your Freelancing Rate to join the list. Over time, since he was giving out quality information, more and more people subscribed. Each week the content he wrote would promote one of his products, all while being useful by itself (I’m repeating this because it is so crucial). A few readers on the Freelancers Weekly list started asking how to transition their freelance businesses into successful agencies, something that is very hard to do without losing money. Since Brennan used to run a million-dollar-per-year consulting business, he decided to help teach his readers how to do it successfully. Instead of writing another book (that’s a lot of work for just the few people that might need it), Brennan taught a two-day online masterclass on the subject. Tickets started at $1000 with 25 seats available. Just like with his first book launch, Brennan didn’t start promoting the workshop from scratch. In fact, he now had a list of over a thousand freelancers learning from his newsletter each week. Many were eager for this project. When he sent out an email announcing the new workshop, 15 seats sold right away. Yes, you read that right. One email—with the proper lead up—generated $15,000 in sales. Not yet convinced you should be using email? All right, Brennan’s story got better. He went on to sell out that workshop, and the one he did the next month. Brennan continues to do the workshop each month (just targeted at people on his Freelancer Weekly list) and while it doesn’t sell out every time, he has made over $90,000 in the last six months of running the workshop. The takeaway from Brennan’s story is that if you focus on email you never have to start from scratch with a new product. It works great for building an audience for the first product, and even better for connecting with your audience over the long term. Brennan’s latest book, called The Blueprint, helps freelancers and consultants find clients. He has since made over $20,000 on The Blueprint, almost exclusively from his email list. If his story doesn’t convince you to focus your online efforts on email marketing, I don’t know what will.

The most common way for email marketing to fail is when an email list becomes stagnant and eventually dies. This happens when the author builds a following or launches a product, but fails to keep things going afterwards. If you do this, your readers will forget who you are, then be surprised to hear from you months later. This behavior is most often followed by unsubscribing.

Chapter Three - Writing, Lots of Writing

I don’t want to start off by overwhelming you, so that’s why I’ve waited until now to tell you just how much writing you have to do. It’s a lot. But it is totally manageable if you write consistently each day.

Here’s an example of what you may have to write. • The book itself: 25,000 − 30,000 words (plenty will be cut from the final version) • 7-10 Guest Posts at an average of 1,000 words each: 7,000 − 10,000 words • 3 launch and update emails at 500 words each: 1,500 words • At least 3 posts for your own site: 3,000+ words

In general, the more you teach, the more people will hear about your work, which will mean additional sales. Think of more writing as a good thing, not something to be feared.

I create a rough outline, just bold headings for chapter ideas followed by bulleted lists for each of the sections. Spend an hour thinking this through and adding every topic you may want to cover. Then create sections in your writing program (I do this in Scrivener) for each point on your outline, using folders to keep them organized by chapter. Don’t worry about getting it right; you will change all of this later. Now each time I start a writing session I just skim down my list until I find an interesting topic. Then I open that file and start writing.

Before writing any new book I read as much as I can from other authors on the topic. The goal isn’t to copy their work, but instead to make sure I’m not missing anything important. I find examples in their books to inspire my own stories and examples from my own work history to illustrate a point. As you write your book, keep learning. In fact, never stop learning. There will always be someone who knows more on the topic than you do. Learn from them. Cite them in your book, read the source materials they learned from, and use their work to inspire you to make yours even better.

For each of my books I have a target length of about 25,000 words. This is specific to the style of books I want to write. Don’t add fluff just to meet a word-count goal, but know the approximate page length where you think you will have said everything necessary on the topic.

The last thing you want to do is waste your reader’s time. Cut unnecessary sections, remove duplicate ideas, and get straight to the point. Keep in mind that the content you cut does not need to be wasted. You will need tutorials, stories, and lessons for use in guest posts and teaser articles. When you are forced to cut content you really like because it doesn’t fit perfectly with the rest of the book, try to find a place outside the book to publish it.

Eventually you will reach a point in your book where you can’t think of anything more to say. But did you cover the topic thoroughly? Start by reading through your content to see if gaps come to mind. Then go back and look through all your blog posts and other writing on the subject. Is there anything you forgot to include? Next, turn to your readers. I hosted an hour-long online question and answer time with my Twitter followers in order to get their questions. I then had a list of things I knew people considering self-publishing wanted to know. Then I made sure each relevant question was answered in the book. Finally, I turn to my research, skimming back through the books and articles that inspired me in the first place and writing about any forgotten topics.

I really don’t want you to waste time on a name, so here are a bunch of formulas you can use to quickly name your own book:

That’s why we need editors. Note the plural. You need multiple editors. When reading your own work you will only catch some of the mistakes. The same goes for another person.

What marketing methods were most successful for selling books? For marketing, I started writing blog posts for HN and tweets to send people to a landing page with an email newsletter signup. Once I offered the book for sale, I continued doing that, but the newsletter became much, much more important. It drives a lot of sales. Also, I write tons of personal email. Long emails to customers and people who are considering buying the book. I give design and business advice. I answer questions and share coupons. It's doesn't have the highest return for time spent, but I think it does a lot to build loyalty and appreciation.

Chapter Four - Pricing & Packaging

If you use your writing to teach skills—especially skills that your readers use to make money—then you can make a living through your writing.

So instead of pricing based on what other people are doing (i.e. market pricing), I price based on value delivered. My books are used by software professionals around the world to improve their products. Often these products are used by tens of thousands of customers. By teaching design skills to these professionals, their abilities and ultimately what they produce improves substantially. This means their companies make more money and they get paid more. Thirty-nine dollars is inexpensive to my target market. So, to justify that price, I need to make sure I can deliver many times that in value.

Chances are you don’t have a huge audience just waiting to purchase your writing. That means you need to make the most of the few fans you can find between now and launching your book.

When you have a small audience you need to charge a higher price in order to make a living.

That’s where the value comes in. If your book delivers a huge amount of value, as a book focused on acquiring a valuable skill should, then it is worth paying for.

More expensive packages with more options:

When selling your book you need to make sure the price matches the buyer’s perceived value. Including content in multiple media is a great way to do that.

Here are a few examples of different media you could try with your product:

Packaging matters: PDF eBooks are worth more than blog posts. Something about taking the same content and packaging it as a downloadable PDF makes it feel like it is worth more, even if both are free. You can then take the same content and record it as a series of video lessons, and watch the perceived value increase.

Free, paid, or both?

Let’s talk about a few benefits for the author in releasing book-quality content for free:

The fastest way to elevate your status and visibility while teaching is to conduct interviews.

Interviews work so well because they let you leverage the audience of the person you are interviewing and borrow some of their status, meaning that once you publish an interview with Expert A, most likely they will share the interview with their followers, which will drive traffic and attention to you. Since Expert A trusted you enough to do an interview, then you can use that when pitching to Expert B. Once you have a list of quality interviews, people will actually be eager to be on your show.

Interviews are also a great way to meet people. It’s a casual introduction, you get to talk to them for 30 minutes, and it can be a great lead in to developing a friendship. You need to do the work to follow up afterwards, but it is well worth it. One of my favorite things about writing and teaching is the people I have met and become friends with along the way.

But it turns out guides or courses are perceived to be more valuable than books.

Courses, guides, kits, lessons, and classes are worth far more than books. Think about how the terms you use to describe your content alter the perceived value.

For his first book he offered a 20% discount for anyone who preordered.

Don’t trust someone’s opinion as validation. Only trust their money.

People who want to pay for your book (the majority) will. Those who don’t want to will go without or pirate it. You can’t control that. Stop trying.

Chapter Five - Design & Formatting

This seems to be a great option for books with minimal formatting or technical books that include a lot of code. Another huge advantage is that the ePub and Mobi ebooks formats are HTML based, meaning getting those formats as well is much easier.

If you haven’t picked up on it already, iBooks Author is my favorite tool of the list and what I used for both of my design books. It gives just the right amount of design flexibility in an easy way. I never found myself wishing for a simpler interface or more features.

If you do choose to make a version available for free, make sure it has an obvious upsell to additional content. This can either be through an email opt-in form that adds the visitor to an email course—that up-sells after spending time teaching—or a direct link to your sales page to purchase the higher packages. Just don’t give away your hard work for free without having a way to either make money or gain subscribers.

Don’t underestimate the perceived value of having a print book. They can be sold or given away at conferences, given to your mom, and placed on your coffee table to impress dinner guests. Besides, it’s really hard to sign an ebook for one of your fans.

You can create a great cover yourself by just sticking to a few basic elements.

Why not "sell your by-product"
Instead of trying to finish and sell an app on my own, just teach others how to design and build simple apps? That's what I'm doing, and the best part for me is that I have no problems designing and building a simple 1-2 screen app as my passion and excitement carry me through, and then in tutorial form that's really all I want to teach, end-to-end design and development of simple 1-2 screen apps.

Awesome thing about selling something like an e-book online is that it just keeps on selling.

My most successful marketing method has been email marketing, and before the first tutorial launched I had a splash page up to accept email addresses.

Chapter Six - Prepping For Launch

All the successful authors I know have taken full responsibility for the promotion of their books as well. And that’s when they have publishers.

Pitches from random people don’t convert well. Instead you need to stay in contact with your subscribers. Not every day, but often enough that they remember who you are and stay excited about your book. Once every week or two is great.

Gradually drip out a sample chapter, the book outline, quotes of what other people are saying about the book, and anything else you can share about the process. Try to be helpful and interesting. Most of all, just keep them engaged.

Oh, and give them a time-limited discount (I use 24 hours) for being a fan since the beginning. Rewards are always good.

My book is targeted at designers and developers, so writing guest posts for those types of sites is obvious. But that audience doesn’t exclusively read those blogs. They also read productivity, business, and lifestyle blogs. So I worked on content for the entire range.

On digital books a typical affiliate commission is around 50%. That may seem high, but remember: as the author you don’t have any ongoing costs. The affiliate brings you the sale (most of the work) and you gain a new fan. Overall it’s a pretty good deal.

Make your affiliates an exclusive group, fire anyone who uses questionable sales techniques.

A great way to get attention for your book is to give away preview copies to friends and influencers.

Because I didn’t overcome my fear of sharing a draft product, I didn’t have any testimonials when it came time to launch.

Don’t just email them a copy of the book. First send a very short email explaining who you are and the project you are working on. Ask if they would be interested in a review copy. Make sure they understand you don’t expect anything from them. If they are busy they can look it over and ignore it. Then if they respond positively, send over the content. Your results will improve significantly. The less you ask of them the easier it is to get a buy in. Once you have that soft commitment from them they will be much more likely to actually help you.

One chapter or section is a lot less intimidating to read than the entire book. Since he targeted his content and his pitch to each person individually, his results improved significantly.

Now about those testimonials. If you want them, you need to ask. It’s really rare that busy people will volunteer good testimonials about your work.

Instead of waiting for him to offer a testimonial without prompting, I wrote one for him.

Chapter Seven - The Sales Page

A good sales page spends the first few seconds getting the visitor interested, then the rest of the time overcoming objections that keep the visitor from making a purchase. A complicated or expensive product can have a lot of objections, so keep in mind that you may have to write a lot of content to make the visitor feel comfortable with the purchase.

A good product solves a painful problem. You need to talk to your customers to find exactly what those pains are so that you can write to them. When writing the sales page for this book I asked my Twitter followers (you could ask your email list), “What is your biggest obstacle keeping you from writing a book?”

The goal is for each visitor to the sales page to think that I am speaking to them, since chances are they have some of these same issues to overcome as well. As they read through your sales page they should be thinking, “Wow, he really understands me.” That’s how it feels when you speak to the same pains that your visitors are feeling.

Write a narrative that overcomes every objection your buyer might have, all while gradually leading them towards buying your product.

These basic elements are required for just about every sales page, so make sure to include them:

Just make sure it is really high quality. Your book will be judged on this sample chapter more than anything else.

It is also important to mix the testimonials throughout the page where they have the best context.

Chapter Nine - The Launch and Beyond

Just to be sure, send an email the day before that makes the launch date and time very clear. Your entire list should be crystal clear as to when your book is available.

The subscriber who has been hearing about your book for the last few weeks should not receive the launch email and try to decide then whether or not to buy.

Look over all the details for your launch. Your landing page should be up on a test site with all the e-commerce links and functionality in place. Go through and test in all major browsers.

Once everything looks good, write your launch email. Don’t try to be clever with the subject line. You need it to be very clear that the book your list has been waiting for is now ready, and that they should go purchase it right now.

The first thing to do is move your sales page to its final URL. I like to replace the email opt-in page with the sales page. That way any old links will now point directly to the sales page. Test everything again to make sure the move didn’t break any functionality. Now check your analytics and make sure that the tracking code is working on your sales page. It would be annoying to have incomplete statistics.

Publish a post on your blog. The content should be a summary of what the book is about, along with a strong call to action to purchase. This should be a good article for someone who may not have been following along with every step of the process, as your email subscribers have. It doesn’t need to be too long since your sales page will cover everything they need to know.

The next step is to re-read your launch email. Hopefully you can find a few easy ways to improve from last night. Once it looks good, hit send—and wait.

Hitting publish was the easier part. Now it’s time to hustle and ask all your friends and connections for help. Write out a draft email that can be customized for each person you need to contact.

I like to start by sending an email like what we just talked about to everyone I interviewed for the book. Since they are considered experts, chances are they have large followings who would be interested in an interview with them.

Just by their nature book sales start high and decrease over time. The trick is to get your base sales to stay at an acceptable number. That number will depend on your goals and audience size.

When sales drop, keep teaching and giving content away for free in order to reach new people and remind your existing audience about your products.

Take a collection of your favorite content and set it up to go to new subscribers at certain intervals. When a user first subscribes they will receive a series of your best content spread out over several days. This gives a great introduction to your new readers and makes sure that your favorite articles don’t get buried.

The first thing to try is an up-sell. If you have multiple packages, which you really should, you can offer the higher package to those who purchased the basic package at a discount. Since you have their email addresses this is an easy pitch to make.

Once you write another book or build a new product you can offer that to all your customers.

A few friends have doubled their book revenue by hosting online workshops targeted at a smaller subset of their audience.

Chapter Ten - Closing Thoughts

Start before you feel ready. You may not feel like an expert qualified to write your book. But if you don’t start, you won’t ever become that expert. You may not feel like your audience is large enough for you to actually make a living from your book, but without starting, your audience won’t grow. And finally you may not feel like your work is good enough to charge for it. That’s fine. Charge anyway. To be successful you need to get in the habit of starting before you feel ready.