How a Mad Rant Turned Into a Real Business

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It started with my own frustration.

I’d just signed my first book deal, and being a maven and a marketer, began to devour everything I could find about book marketing.

Over the next year and a half, while writing the book and running my full-time brick and mortar company (yes, they still exist!), I spent a ton of time tracking, deconstructing and reconstructing the best launches, and talking to many of the people behind them.

I flew across the country, paid top dollar for giant book marketing events, bought books, subscribed to newsletters, read, watched and listened to everything I could find and talked to anyone who said yes. Some of the ideas and strategies were valuable. Most were not. And some were not only devoid of value, but potentially harmful to the success of a book, an author (and their reputation) and their bank accounts.

My first book, Career Renegade, launched literally on the worst week in the history of publishing in 50 years.

January 13th, 2009. The economy was crashing fast. More than 4.5 millions jobs had already evaporated. My publisher (a Random House imprint that became a casualty soon after) went dark for two weeks before my launch. Which wasn’t all the inique, the entire publishing industry was in free-fall (some might say it still is, but for different reasons now).

And I was coming out with a book that essentially said “quit your job to do what you love,” at a time when there was mass panic in the streets and those who had jobs, hated or not, clung desperately to them. By all rights, the book should have been DOA. We couldn’t buy air-time on TV if we wanted. “We love Jonathan and it’s a great book,” we were told by producers, “but this message won’t fly with our viewers right now.”

It should’ve been dead. But it wasn’t.

Career Renegade missed the New York Times bestseller list, but because of the campaign, the relationships and the platform I’d developed, it still sold well, won awards, landed huge online and radio coverage, locked in #1 in it’s category on amazon for weeks (which is actually a really silly metric that gets you nothing). And more importantly, the book helped thousands of people through a very dark time.

The entire process, along with the year and a half before it, taught me a ton about what works, what doesn’t and how rapidly things are evolving in publishing and book marketing.

Once the dust settled later that year, I decided to write a post with the intention of sharing what I’d learned, laying a lot of myths bare and, without outing anyone specifically (not my style), showing how a variety of strategies, campaigns, products and services, many of which cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, were total bunk.

After 2,000 words, I wasn’t nearly done, so I kept writing…for 29 pages.

That rant turned into a manifesto called The Truth About Book Marketing. In it, I revealed the ugly underbelly of what became known as “Amazon bombing” campaigns, showed the real (meaning “frightening”) math behind advertising and book launches, talked about publicity and more and then shared some things that worked phenomenally well for me, along with presenting other major launch case studies.

I hit publish on the manifesto, and wowzers, it seemed to hit a nerve!

The manifesto was downloaded thousands of times. It led to conversations not just with authors, but with marketing heads at two of the big 6 publishers and even led one to want to sign me for my next book.

And it made me realize how huge the need was for real, intelligent, current, tested information and strategies for authors, aspiring authors and publishers. Not stuff designed to game the system for an hour in the name of fake glory or things that worked by throwing a ton of money against a wall or scoring mainstream media in a paradigm that no longer exists.

So, I decided to launch a book marketing educational venture and website, Tribal Author, and soon after breathed life into a hands-on, intimate book marketing workshop in New York City called Tribal Author Camp.

The speed at which that first camp filled, with very little promotion, was proof of demand. It was clear that at least a part of the author population was done with ginormous pitch-fest events, non-replicable strategies and old information. The feedback was great and we repeated that workshop 6 months later in an expanded 3-day format and began to build a blog around the idea.

By we, what I really mean is…me! LOL. And that was a problem.

What started as a rant, demanded to become a business.

And though I really enjoyed sharing what I’d discovered in the live Tribal Author Camps, I had other ventures to take care of, books to write and people to play with. Building out Tribal Author wasn’t where I thought I wanted to be spending the major part of my time. So, I took on a collaborator – book marketing guru, Jayme Johnson of Worthy Marketing Group – to lend her expertise and help handle the reality of the “business growth demands” and operational execution.

Bringing on a new person meant giving up a solid chunk of the revenue, but it also allowed me to continue to grow and evolve the business in a way that allowed me to be present with my family and focus on my mindset and health. That’s a trade-off I’m happy to make. It would also allow me to grow the business much faster and serve more people, so I’d be taking a smaller piece of a pie that was much bigger than I’d have ever made it. I’m good with that, too.

Around the same time, I realized that, with attendees flying in from around the world, it cost some as much as $2,000-$3,000 for the workshops, when you included the cost of travel and accommodations in New York. Some authors and aspiring authors, especially business-minded ones, could afford that. They considered it an investment in their businesses. But, many others couldn’t. The barriers, both financial and geographic, kept away the vast majority of people who wanted to come.

So, we pulled the live programs down and restructured them into a hybrid online, live-call format that ran on a quarterly basis. We relaunched in the new format last summer…the same week I launched the trailer for my second book, Uncertainty (which was the official opening shot in a 2 month, very complex launch campaign).

Listen to these words…Do. Not. Ever. Do. Something. Like. That!

Launching two substantial ventures at the same time, just plain insanity. I didn’t have any bandwidth to give to launching the new Tribal Author Camp. So all we did was put up a post announcing it, offer an early-bird discount, and share it around social. Once again, the still rabid demand for a very different experience, bundled with the new format that eliminated travel and reduced the out-of-pocket costs drove fast, strong enrollment.

To keep with our quarterly calendar, we then started enrolling the final season for 2011 the week after my book released. Again…do NOT do this, lol! And, again, demand only kept growing with nearly non-existent promotion, based largely on the uniqueness of the training experience and content, the expanded accessibility of the program and word of mouth.

Time for major evolution number 3…

As 2011 wrapped, we realized there was something much bigger going on, almost despite our marketing negligence, we’d created a constantly evolving educational experience that had turned into a very real solution…and a very real business. Now, it was time to take one more giant step forward.

We’d had enough people in the program to be able to generate a lot of feedback. Most of it was great, but as someone who’s always looking to do better, we also made a point of soliciting feedback that would help us refine and evolve the program. The content had been built into many hours of video training and live Q&A calls. And it spanned topics from platform and enterprise building to the highly tactical launch steps that need to happen before, during and after a book launch.

Our students loved the content, but we learned that they also divided into three distinct phases:

  • Those with plenty of time who wanted to focus on platform and enterprise building
  • Those who were comfy platform-building, but needed to learn how to tap if for maximum launch impact
  • Those with a 12-18 month horizon to do both

We also learned that our training videos were chock full of information, but they were too long, so some people were suffering from information overload and not taking action. We discovered that the compressed 9-week timeframe was too intense for some people and we found out that people wanted to start the day they were searching for a solution, rather than have to wait for the next quarterly semester to begin.

So, for the second time, we pulled the program down and completely revamped both the content and the delivery format.

The new expanded online programs solves all these problems.

We split the original program into 3 different trainings to allow people to pick the precise training experience for where their author journeys were. We re-edited all the training videos down to 5-15 minutes each. And, along the way, we also discovered that it was now way easier for us to keep expanding the training library with new shorter videos every time we developed new channels, ideas and strategies.

We also created a new automatic online delivery format that allows you to sign up and begin your training experience within minutes. Even though we provide a fairly intense recommended training schedule, we give access to the library for substantially longer window to accomodate those who want to proceed at a gentler pace. And we made monthly live Q&A calls available for a full year, realizing many people won’t have questions until after they really dig into the execution side of the equation, and that often takes some time.

We battle-tested the new format, content and back-end systems, then refreshed the information and registration page (truth is, it still feels a bit tired to me, so we’re going to do a major redesign over the next few months, both of the camp page and the entire site).

And, today, we re-launched the new, expanded online Tribal Author Camps.

I could easily have just posted today about the new camps and said, “hey, run over and sign up.” Many of you have been asking me when they’ll go live again for months. And, I did a fairly straight-forward post like that over at the Tribal Author blog.

But this is the place where I like to take you guys behind the scenes, share the back-story, reveal my learnings and processes with the intention that it’ll in some way help inform or inspire you to take that idea or emotion out of your head, into real life and build something real around it.

Now, go rock on with your bad selves and build something that lights you up and helps a lot of people!

[P.S. – If you’re an author or aspiring author and the Tribal Author programs sound cool, we’re giving a 25% discount off the first installment for the first 100 new students this week. So head on over and reserve your spot.]


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7 responses

7 responses to “How a Mad Rant Turned Into a Real Business”

  1. Jonathan,

    I just bought your book and am extremely thankful you wrote it. This whole idea of working full-time doing something you truly love is something I have heard since I was a kid. My passion has been health and running since I was 15 years old blossoming into earning an olympic trials marathon standard time. It is people like you that inspire me to reach people that otherwise don’t believe in this renegade lifestyle. Running has taught me that really anything is possible depending on your willingness to take some risks. You obviously did with the launch of Career Renegade. Thanks for what you do and your site I will regularly visit to learn from. Anyone who has your level of success and willingness to learn has my attention.

  2. Josh says:

    It takes a certain person to persevere with their book when the world isn’t ready for it (or isn’t in a position to listen). Thanks for showing me it can be done.

    The tribal author series looks like it is worth the investment… when I have something to market, I’ll be sure to check it out 🙂

  3. Julien says:

    Just a little message.

    I think Jonathan your story is really a great example for lot’s of people. Thank you for sharing all of this.

    The acutal period is difficult and you give to people force, understanding, knowledge, keys to overpass this difficult times that they can live.

    Thanks again.

  4. jared says:

    I enjoyed Career Renegade greatly. Still refer to the question if I “did not need the job to pay for anything, what would you do?”

    My top 3: 1) Help others, 2) Pick up trash on the beaches in Hawaii, 3) Write more.

    Interesting timing on coming across this post as I’m in physical proof stage of a self-published book. There’s just so much to do with book trailers, design, etc. and all from my own pocket (which is easier when you believe in what you’re doing), but the most frustrating decision is how to market and price points.

    Do I offer to “my list” as the typical $29 eBook, (IM approach) or price super low on Amazon where they take a huge chunk of sales? Is “reach” more important than profit? Should it be if I’m truly doing the altruistic thing and wanting to help people? Would giving it away give me more exposure so I could eventually write more (quit my day J-O-B) and be free to pick up trash on the beach?

    Having enough sunk costs in this venture already, guess all that’s left is to test all the above.

    I’d love to try your Tribal Author group, but if I sink more $ into this venture my wife will kill me. LOL

  5. Hi Jonathan

    I recently have been introduced to your work, it immediately caught my attention!!! It took me 1 1/2 years to discover myself, stand up to my fears before quitting my job, selling all my belongings and moving to South America to pursue doing what I really want. I can relate to everything you talk about:) Reading your work helps to get through the bumpy roads. It is great!! It is hard work, difference is that now it is fulfilling and contributing to ours.

    Thanks Jonathan:)

  6. Steve White says:

    As an author, I can completely understand where you’re coming from. They say write what you know – and a lot of times it can be hard to even learn when to stop a book (and save the rest for the next.) I think one of the most fulfilling moments of being an author is when your words create a conversation – which can always inspire change. Thanks for sharing, Johnathan. Very inspiring stuff!

  7. Andreas says:

    Very inspiring post, i´m definately gonna pick up a copy of career renegade. It´s so easy to get stuck in the rat race, letting the years pass by and forgetting about what really matters in life. For me what i would most like to do is spread happiness among people, just need to find a good way to make some money while doing it so i can get some food on the table 🙂