What I Learned From The Solarversia Soft launch

I sent an Advance Reading Copy of Solarversia to everyone on my newsletter two weeks ago today (Monday 22nd June). I did this in order to get reviews for it on Goodreads (the largest social network for book lovers) ahead of the official launch on Amazon at the end of August. Here’s what happened during the soft launch – what went right, what I screwed up, and, most crucially, what I learned.

The Day of The Soft launch
I screwed up from the get-go by leaving the writing of the email to the day of the soft launch. “It’s only an email, I’ve written plenty of them in my time!” might well have been the thought going through my mind. I mean, seriously, how difficult is it to write an email? BIG mistake. Ebooks aren’t particularly complicated, but this would be the first time that many of the 1,700 people on my list would be transferring a book to their device in this manner (from a file contained in email, rather than downloaded directly from a store like Amazon), so I needed the instructions to be fool proof.

I wrote a draft of the email and sent it to my wife, asking her to follow the steps to get the book onto her kindle. I received a message soon after saying that she was having problems – whenever she opened the file she received an error message. Why was she trying to open the file? You don’t need to do that! You download it and send it to your Kindle email address … surely that was obvious? Queue the start of a panic by yours truly.

The Obstacle is the Way
During my rushed journey home from the office I had time to calm down and gain some perspective. I thought back to Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage, which I read at the start of the year. Specifically, I remembered:

  • To see events straightforwardly, as neither good or bad.
  • That you should focus only on what you can control.
  • That getting emotional or upset never provides you with more options to solve your problem.
  • To focus on the process, not the end result.

The transition that occurred was quite remarkable. This wasn’t a case of my wife being thick; this was a case of the email not being clear enough. I’m well aware of how obvious that sounds now, but it certainly wasn’t for about half an hour on the day. And that, I think, is a big part of what makes obstacles appear insurmountable, and why Ryan’s list was so useful: emotional responses to problems impair your judgement. By focusing on the process, I realised that I needed to rewrite the email in far more detail, breaking down each of the steps to ensure that the instructions were fool proof. If anything, my wife had just saved me a lot of work and trouble.

A Successful Launch
I arrived home, rewrote the email, and asked my wife to try once more. This time she managed it just fine. The email went out at 4pm, and what happened next helped to make it my best birthday yet. Emails, tweets and Facebook messages started flooding in, with lots of people confirming that they had managed to transfer the book just fine. Phew! In all, three people replied to me with questions. In all three cases the people managed to resolve whatever problem they’d had before I’d even replied to them.

The Thing I Still Managed To Miss
So the launch was an unequivocal success, right? Unfortunately not. In the panic of sorting out the instructions (and possibly because of the excitement of the day) I managed to exclude a really important piece of information – that the book hadn’t had its final proof read (and therefore still contained typos). I’m still gutted now, two weeks later, simply typing that sentence out. I wasn’t sure what to do – I chose not to send out another email explaining the fact (I’ve aimed to send out as few emails as possible, not wanting to clog inboxes). Another mistake there? Possibly. Instead I got on Twitter and spoke to people directly. Most were sympathetic; it was a free advance copy after all. Others didn’t see the tweet and took to the airwaves to decry the sloppy editing. I replied to those tweets and explained the situation, which helped. But how many people aren’t on Twitter? How many gave up, writing it off as yet another self-published failure? And, most importantly, how will the mistake affect the book’s ratings and reviews? I’ll probably never know.

A Quick Summary of Learnings

  • Plan and write a soft launch email well in advance (at least two weeks)
  • Be sure to include all pertinent information…
  • Ask a few people to walk through the steps, getting the book onto their device (ideally you’d cover the main ones)
  • Be on Social Media in the hours after the email goes out. You can’t beat Twitter for interaction with people.

If you received the book I hope you’re enjoying it. A collection of tweets are being saved to this page. So far the book has 10 ratings and 6 reviews on Goodreads, giving it an average of 4.6/5. I’ll follow up with its progress in a few weeks. In the meantine, here’s a fantastic quote from Marcus Aurelius:

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Solarversia is brought to you by Toby Downton