An Author’s Journey to 100,000 Copies

I had no master plan for becoming an author. My first book, Running Lean, started as a series of blog posts to sharpen my thinking. Those posts hit a nerve with a small early adopter (Lean Startup) audience who helped pull that book out of me.

Fast forward to today, that book side-project did more than turn me from coder to author. It prompted me to sell my last company and start a new one: LEANSTACK — with a larger mission of helping entrepreneurs everywhere succeed.

My next book, Scaling Lean, is a part of this much bigger story. And as a result, the launch plan and rollout strategy for this book will be quite different from the first.

These posts are going to share that journey with you. You’ll get to see all the thinking processes, strategies, and experiments along the way — the good and the bad.

Turning pro is a mindset.
- Steven Pressfield

Launching a book is no different than launching any product

My goal with these posts is really to dogfood all the new concepts and principles in the Scaling Lean book and illustrate the process by way of applying them to the launch and rollout of the book. I did the same with the Running Lean book and still reference that case study to this day.

You can find the Running Lean case study in Chapter 2 of the Running Lean book (yes, very meta-recursive). If you don’t have a copy, you can buy it here. If you’d rather watch the case study instead, click here.

By the end, you should be able to see that the principles can be universally applied to any product and do the same with your idea or product.

So, why 100,000 copies?

There is a bigger emphasis in Scaling Lean (compared to Running Lean) on starting with THE Goal.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.
- Adapted from Alice in Wonderland

Setting a 100,000 copies goal draws a line in the sand and, as you’ll see, prioritizes strategy. While Running Lean provided a high-level roadmap for navigating the highly uncertain terrain of starting up (using a Lean Canvas). Scaling Lean makes this roadmap more concrete (with additional modeling tools) — which we’ll get into in the next post.

There’s nothing novel about setting goals. What’s different here is that I advocate setting a single universal goal — irrespective of the business model type. A single goal that you can use to define, measure, and communicate progress with your internal and external stakeholders — one built around the metric of traction.

Traction is an overloaded and often misused term.
Here’s my definition from the book:

Traction is the rate at which a business model captures monetizable value from its users.

So what is traction for a book?

Current revenue is not traction but a side-effect

The first thing to highlight is that “monetizable value” is not the same as current revenue. Growth doesn’t come from current revenue but from uncovering the key customer behaviors that lead to future revenue.

While it may seem easier to track net sales, that’s only a small part of the story. Consider this: Every single high-dollar workshop I’ve ever run resulted from an inbound call from someone who had, you guessed it, read the book.

So, tracking net book sales only track immediate revenue, which is playing the short game. Tracking the lifetime value of your customers is the right long game to get your head around.

The first battle is getting a product noticed. The next is getting users to engage meaningfully with your product AND derive value from it. Creating value for your customers is a causal step. Creating value for users causes them to engage more, buy, and refer you to others.

Delivering value to users is a pre-requisite to being able to capture value from them.

Where did 100,000 come from?

Another emphasis in Scaling Lean is modeling around a more immediate ballpark estimate of your minimum success criteria versus aiming for a big, fuzzy, long-term exit number like “$100M in 5 years”.

Your minimum success criteria is the smallest outcome that would deem the project a success for you X years from now where X <= 3 years.

It’s usually hard to predict the maximum upside potential of an idea or product. For instance, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t think he was building a valuable business when he started Facebook. Similarly, the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin tried to get themselves acquired by Yahoo but got turned down. Both companies are valued today in the billions.

We don’t fault these entrepreneurs for undervaluing their companies. And that’s a key point. No one ever penalizes you for revising your goal upwards. But if you don’t have a reasonable minimum goal, it’s hard to define what success will look like. There is no right or wrong number here, but you should have a number. It’s important to point out that your minimum success criteria are something only you can determine — and this number is mutually exclusive from your idea or product.

While ideas are cheap, acting on them can consume years of your life. So make sure the journey is for something worthwhile.

Having other products to model against gives you a starting benchmark. In my case, I could easily turn to my first book and also study other books in the same category. Since Running Lean started as a side-project with an initial audience of ~1,000 readers (on my blog). I set my initial minimum success criteria to selling 10,000 books within the next two years, which seemed like a reasonable stretch goal. Running Lean crossed that mark after year 1. I then revised the goal upwards to 100,000 books, which it crossed in year 4.

Today, my audience platform is 10x what it was with the first book. So I accordingly decided to 10x my minimum success criteria for the next book. Hence, the goal of 100,000 copies in 2 years.

What’s Next?

While the 100,000 copies goal is tangible, two years is still too far out into the future to make it actionable for what needs to get done today.

In the next post, I’ll show you how to turn this destination goal into a month-by-month traction model that charts the trajectory from zero copies to the goal. After that, we’ll get down to concrete strategies and tactics to test our way toward achieving this goal — and ideally beyond.

As I mentioned before, you’ll get to see the good and the bad. And yes, there’ll be many missteps and unexpected outcomes along the way — such is the reality when creating anything worthwhile.

Stay tuned for regular updates. A purchase of the Scaling Lean book is not necessary to see these updates, but I think the takeaways will be greater if you do since I’ll be heavily referencing concepts from the book.


You can buy the Scaling Lean book here.
Also, if you pre-order, you’ll additionally get behind-the-scenes access to our raw dashboard, validation plans, experiments, and a full ebook on the case study to follow.

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