In this post we feature a self-published author, Joel Rubano, who has found remarkable success through book marketing. Not only is his book selling well, but he’s made an interesting career shift, too. We hope you find encouragement and inspiration from his story, no matter what your own book project looks like. Here is Joel’s account:
Writing the book
In 2016 I self-published the first edition of a finance textbook called Trader Construction Kit, a practical guide for students and early-career professionals aspiring to careers in the financial markets. I did not anticipate the degree to which writing, publishing and marketing the book would change the trajectory of my own career.
I started writing in 2011 while working full-time as an energy commodity trader at a Boston-based firm. I didn’t have a plan, other than to try to set down as much of the knowledge I had accumulated through my 20-year career as possible. At the end of the year, I printed out all 70 pages of manuscript and forced myself to sit down and read it straight through. It was terrible, but there was enough useful information to convince me that it was worth developing further. So, I continued writing.
The working title for the book was Risky Business until March 2013, when I changed it permanently to Trader Construction Kit. One early idea for the cover was to feature multi-language instructions for assembling a trader like a piece of IKEA furniture. The cover idea didn’t stick, but the title did. By the end of 2012 the manuscript was 161 pages long and had started to have a defined structure.
I continued to grind away at night and on weekends through all of 2013 and early 2014. I was up to 300 pages of single-spaced manuscript that was starting to look like a proper book. I began to research publishing and learned that there are two primary avenues available: working with a traditional publishing house and self-publishing. There are pros and cons to each. A traditional publisher offers legitimacy, support and industry expertise, but at the cost of a relatively poor revenue share with the author. Self-publishing offers the author total freedom and a substantial percentage of the book’s sales but involves much more work both pre- and post-publication.Read the success story of a self-published author for inspiration, encouragement, and advice. #bookmarketing #indieauthors https://tinyurl.com/4379kwrk Click To Tweet
I contacted a prestigious academic press affiliated with an elite local university. After informing me that they could not publish Trader Construction Kit (as I was not a faculty member), they mentioned that they quite liked the chapters I had sent them to review. This seeming setback was actually a huge motivation, as their positive critique of my manuscript convinced me that I had something worth developing. I decided to self-publish Trader Construction Kit.
2015 was a pivotal year in both my life and the evolution of the book. My time as a professional commodity trader came to an end mid-year, leaving me free to focus all my energy and attention on completing Trader Construction Kit. I set a goal of completing and publishing the book within a year and hired Rachel Siegel from Cambridge Editors to help me turn my 480 pages of copy into a finished product. I attended an adult-education workshop on self-publishing taught by Glenna Collett, where she described the self-publishing and book marketing processes in meticulous detail.
Turning raw manuscript into a finished, publication-ready product is an incredibly complicated, involved process featuring multiple rounds of edits and re-writes.
Formatting and page layout are critical to the readability of the finished book. This includes making sure that all elements of the book look cohesive and have a similar design vocabulary (particularly important for a text like mine with 260+ graphics):
Finally, on June 23rd of 2016, Trader Construction Kit was published. I was done!
Except I wasn’t done.
The most important thing I learned from Glenna Collett’s class on self-publishing is that the moment an author stops marketing a book, it stops selling. I knew I had to promote Trader Construction Kit; I just wasn’t sure how.
I began by finding a list of universities with sophisticated finance programs, many of which had an on-site trading floor for training students. I reached out to members of the faculty and offered them free review copies of the book, and quite a lot accepted. I eagerly mailed out stacks of books … and nothing happened. Weeks went by and I began to get discouraged. Then, out of the blue, a professor at a local college invited me to give a guest lecture on one of the book’s topics. More invitations followed. Then, a professor notified me that they were using Trader Construction Kit as the mandatory textbook for their class. Then another. And another.
With this little bit of momentum, I threw myself into book marketing as aggressively as possible. I developed a website for the book. I learned to buy online ads to increase sales. I started building a brand by posting regularly on social media platforms. And somewhere along the way being an author became my actual job.
In 2018 I established a consulting company called Instradev, LLC to help bridge the gap between academic and industry standards of financial market knowledge, using Trader Construction Kit as the pedagogical blueprint. Then, in 2021, I received an opportunity to develop an executive education program and a graduate class based on the book for the J.P. Morgan Center for Commodities & Energy Management at the CU Denver Business School, where I am currently a Lecturer.
And so Trader Construction Kit went from being my side project to the foundation for my professional practice and academic lecturing, an outcome I truly could not have anticipated when I started writing twlve years ago.
10 self-publishing facts I wish I had known earlier
- The writer must decide what they want their book to be when it grows up. Do they want to have something they can give away to friends and family? Is it to promote their business or enhance their reputation? Or are they trying to make money?
- The truest thing Glenna taught me was that if you stop marketing your book, it stops selling. Are you prepared to market your book every single day?
- Pay up for good editing, pay up for good book design, pay up for good cover art. An editor, in addition to being a fresh set of eyes, doesn’t care about your clever quip or hidden sci-fi reference that is sucking the life out of page 245. Away it goes!
- Make the physical book as simple to read as possible. Choose a typeface that is easy on the eyes and size it for readability. Make sure the pages flow well. My book had 262 charts and graphs, and I printed them out and laid them on the floor to make sure they all looked cohesive, with similar line weights, shading, and formats.
- Do your level best to get some reviews on your online retailer page as quickly as possible. Early reviews are critical because people feel more comfortable buying something popular with demonstrated quality.
- Build a website for the book and post reviews, excerpts, a bio, and other things that can give a reader a better sense of the book before buying it.
- Don’t be afraid to give away samples. I posted chapters for free on the website, which gives the reader an opportunity to engage with the material and helps drive sales.
- Social media could very well be your primary means of selling books. There are a lot of platforms, and you need to find out which is best for reaching your audience.
- Learn the optimal posting frequency for each platform you use. The social media scheduling app Buffer has an interesting blog that discusses how often to post to achieve maximum engagement with your brand.
- Please note the end of the last sentence: “your brand.” You will have to consider how you want to represent yourself on social media platforms. Consistency is key, and the best strategy is to have interesting things to say so that your prospective audience will seek out your other work (i.e., the book).
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We want to add a note here. Joel’s book is remarkably good. It is well written, clear in its points, and very much deserves the excellent sales it achieves. If your book is a similarly great product, and if you work hard at marketing, you could have the same success. We wish you the best possible outcome.
Read more: Use your book to build up your business » or vice versa.
And more: Book marketing materials » It’s not necessarily all about social media.
And even more: How much does it cost to self-publish? » answers your burning questions.
Book Design Made Simple. You can do it yourself.