Marketing & Post-Publication

In my fourth and final post about my adventure writing Backbone.js Testing, I take a look back on what has happened since the book was published in July, 2013, discuss the marketing initiatives we used to drive book sales, and finally reflect on the awkward, tough, and wonderful experience of writing my first book.

As it’s now been over two years since my book’s publication and the first post in this series, I’ll just chalk up this tardy final post to something quite familiar in the book publishing world – deadlines slip. And as a refresher, here are some quick links to the previous posts in this series:

  1. Finding and starting a book project
  2. Authoring a technical book
  3. Publishing a technical book

Marketing & Selling a Book

In my latest post on publishing the book, I discussed all of the legwork needed to translate the various chapter drafts into a book that you could purchase. On July 12th, 2013, the book was published, after which Packt (my publisher) turned our focus to marketing the book.

Technical Article & Silence

After notifying me of the formal publication announcement, my commissioning editor requested a technical article of about 5 pages for Packt to publish so that we could garner some search engine goodness and drive people to the book’s sale page. I was a little wary of yet more writing after the book, but the editor said that we could just grab a section of the book itself as the article content. I put together a recommended list of book sections to serve as the basis for the proposed article.

This ended up being a huge fiasco. The editor dropped the issue for over a week, then changed directions and said a technical committee would select the book portion for the article for me. After a last email on July 25th, all communication with the marketing / technical folks just went dead silent.

I wasn’t much too concerned, as it was nice to have a break from the back-and- forth of requested book work. I started doing some of my own book publicity via LinkedIn and Twitter and just generally took it easy.

A Marketing Executive & Actual Marketing

On Sept. 3rd, over a month after any communication, my commissioning editor sent over an email introducing me to a marketing executive. The marketing executive seemed to be a little more put together and wanted to launch various different initiatives for the book with:

  • The ill-fated article project
  • A book giveaway
  • Book reviews

Oh, the Article. It Hurts.

For the article, the marketing executive asked “why hasn’t this been published yet?” and I forwarded on the circuitous email chain of inaction. The commissioning editor finally chimed in again and blamed the editorial department. The email chains went in further circles and then the article project just got dropped due to no one really following through.

Free Books!

The book giveaway was really easy. I announced a contest based on a template from the publisher – offering five copies of the book to the best five blog comments about frontend testing. The contest got some good responses and we gave out some books.

Book Reviews

For book reviews, I solicited a lot of local area Seattle JavaScript developers that I new and respected, and reached out the local JavaScript meetup group. Packt provided free copies of the book in exchange for Amazon reviews. Fortunately, I received a good amount of interest and got about 15 potential reviewers that I hooked up with the marketing executive to receive free books.

About five reviews went live on Amazon within the first two weeks of our reviewing campaign, and my intuition is that these reviews probably had the most positive impact on sales of the book of anything we tried. Since the original push, I ended up with eight solicited reviews (with the standard disclaimer of “I received this book in exchange for reviewing”) and two organic reviews from people I don’t know. While I was originally nervous about the book’s reception, I was pleased to end up with nine 5-star and one 4-star reviews on Amazon.

After all the planned marketing campaigns finished, the marketing executive announced “we’re done!” and moved on to one of presumably many other book campaigns for Packt. He was fairly competent and focused on the task at hand, which was a welcome relief from some of the other mishaps along the way.

… and Everything After

After marketing push ended, my obligations to the book project mostly wrapped up as well. Every three months I get a royalty statement – the book continues to sell in the low hundreds, with the vast majority of purchases being ebooks. The marketing executive periodically drops a note to encourage me to tweet about Packt’s latest company-wide marketing campaign. And, I occasionally check my Amazon page for new reviews or sales rank.

So, was it worth it?

Definitely. The book writing, publishing, and marketing process was a positive experience on several levels:

I honed my technical writing skills and discovered that I could write an entire friggin’ book.

I became recognized (at least at some level) as an expert on JavaScript testing and Backbone.js. I’ve talked with other technical authors and we agree on the broad proposition that you are usually not an expert when selected to write a book, but by the time you are done with the book you will be.

I met and interacted with a good chunk of the Seattle area JavaScript community. My book writing period coincided with a move from DC to Seattle and in seeking feedback about the book, I made some really good connections to the development community in my new home. And, best of all, when giving a lightning talk about the book at a local meetup, I ended up meeting my future business partner and co-founder of Formidable Labs.

Would I do it again?

I’m not sure the future holds another book project for me. The enormous time commitments, editorial bumps and mishaps, and lack of any real money at the end of the road all factor against it.

Having one book under your belt is great. But I’m wary about the marginal value in community outreach, personal brand, etc. that I would receive from another one.

So, in the meantime, I’ve been focusing more on things like organizing conferences and local meetups, and writing open source software. And, you know what? Those things, coupled with not having book work on the horizon, is pretty nice.