I got a ton of thoughtful and interesting suggestions for improving the sales of my book, How to Fail. And I think I figured out a way to test your best ideas.

Most of your comments could be summarized this way: People would buy this book if they knew it had useful/interesting content in it. (The 5-star user reviews on Amazon confirm that it does.) But the value of the book is well-hidden by the book cover design, the title choice, and my reputation as the Dilbert guy.

I can't do standard A-B testing because it's not practical to change the actual cover and title after publication. And I can't do much to change how people view me as an author.

But here's what I can do, and let me know if this seems like a workable plan.

I have taken two of the most valuable and provocative content bits from the book and put them in a brief slideshow format. This is a free sample. The hope is that once a person sees a teaser of the content, it makes the title, cover, and my reputation less important.

The risk is that any out-of-context point from the book will seem weak compared to how it is presented in the book itself. So I could be doing the equivalent of creating a movie trailer that convinces people not to see the movie. That's actually a big risk in this case because the nature of the content defies simplification.

I picked the topics "Goals are for Losers" and "Passion is Bullshit" as my free sample teasers. But I will play with different keywords and teasers by using Google Adwords to see what gets the most clicks. The users won't see the actual book title or cover or my name until after they have made their decisions on what interests them.

I'll use a tracking URL to know who clicked on the free content and another to see who followed through to look at the book that is mentioned at the end.

I hope to have the free sample up by tomorrow. I wanted to use today to thank you for the advice and input, and to give you a chance improve on my plan if you see a hole in it.

What do you think? Would this plan answer the question of whether the book/title/author are holding back sales?

(By the way, what I am doing right now is something I call "practicing publicly." That's a system as opposed to a goal.)

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Jan 21, 2014
I'm not 100% sure, but it seems to me that 112 reviews (as of the time of this writing) isn't really that many... even though it's clearly enough for statistics. My question is, would there be any way to track whether or not your obviously not normal distribution is caused by the fact that an overwhelming amount of those 112 reviews is coming from your blog readership or otherwise people who already find things you do favorable?

I'd be interested in knowing what the number books sold to reviews ratio is for the avg amazon book and this one.

That said, it certainly is possible that more than an average amount of people like this book. I haven't read it yet (it my stack.. i'll get to it... bought it on kindle and have a trip to Japan this weekend, should have some time!).

(I did love the banter between Scott and one of the 1 star reviews: "did you read it all, coz I'm guessing you didn't" reader: "nope, but my thoughts stand".)
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Jan 21, 2014
I can buy into the slides about passion, but the ones about goals don't really sit well with me. You can have a system, but if it isn't getting you to your goals, it's not really much good.

Is it a system that I have goals and relentlessly pound away at them in order to achieve them?

How does all this tie into your old affirmations theory from the old books - or have you abandoned that? Because affirmations sound a lot like goals and passion to me.
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Jan 21, 2014

By the way, here's something I saw many years ago that stuck with me. It was in connection with problem solving in the context of artificial intelligence. Technically, it's a 'system'.

1. Identify your present state.
2. Identify your goal state.
3. Identify the tools at your disposal.
4. Search for a way to use the tools at your disposal to get from your present state to your goal state, possibly including setting intermediate goal states (notably such as acquiring additional tools).

Emphasizing the 'tools' part over the 'goal' part would appear to be in line with your thesis. Having a provisional goal state can help focus on what tools to acquire in the short run.


Jan 21, 2014

And no doubt this has been said, but the title probably should have been: "How To Win Big, Despite Failing At Almost Everything".

The titles of your slideshows aren't particularly attractive either by the way.

Jan 21, 2014

Here's something else that could be a problem.

I looked for your book at Barnes and Noble and couldn't find it! It wasn't in Biography, Self Help, or Humor. I didn't see it under best sellers or 'New'. Since B&N doesn't trust customers to access their computers anymore, I couldn't look it up to see where it should be. And there was no one in sight to help.

I don't know that's there's anything you can do about all that, but …

Jan 21, 2014
Instead of a slide show why not shoot a 30 or 60 second commercial of you sincerely explaining why you think people should read the book and then post it on the Amazon page for your book? I've seen a number of Amazon product pages with links to videos (search 'Bose QuietComfort 20i' on Amazon for example) so I don't see why you can't make a video pitching your book to prospective buyers.

For what it's worth, (now that I'm halfway through your book), I think what's most compelling about your book is your honesty in presenting your journey, mistakes and all. I was struck by your story about not knowing how to dress up for a flight because you didn't know many people who had actually been on a plane at that point in your life. It made me think that, in the same way you didn't know something that a lot of people would take for granted, many people will not know the information being passed on by you in the book. I guess my point is, if you were to do a commercial, I'd focus on sincerity instead of humor.
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Jan 21, 2014

Worth trying.

I'd expect the teaser to consider two things about the target audience:

1. Does the reader want to win? (Don't assume a yes or no. The teaser must be doped with that extra bit of energy to appreciate the desire to win.)

2. If, after 1, the reader decides to feel like a winner, does this book offer something that has not been done before?

This campagin should be primarily for those who are outside the prevailing influence of Dilbert.

Those who know you are already done; they have either read it by now or decided not to.

Jan 21, 2014
You were earlier referring to your book as "How to Fail...". Now, the multiple dots have been replaced by a single dot. Is that another thing you are trying out?
Jan 20, 2014
OK. Seems you're having difficulty putting this bad patch behind you. This in spite of my suggestion that your book just isnt that important and other folks suggestion that you should be pleased with the success your book HAS had. Nevertheless will try to help. Unfortunately it seems its too late for my best ideas in this regard.

This is something else that perhaps I should have mentioned before, but it sounds to me from some of your prior posts like some of your publicity appearances for the book could have hurt sales. Didnt occur to me back when you were asking for reasons your book wasnt doing so well.

But the subject now is how to turn this around without changing the title, cover or content and whether or not your slideshow would help. No, I dont think this is a good idea for precisely the reason you specify; taken out of context theres a good chance it will turn folks off.

Do I have an idea how to turn this around? I probably will sometime in the next 24 hours, but not now.
Jan 20, 2014
@fatcatfan said: "Your first bit about the genie seemed like manipulative marketing from someone who wants to sell books."

Exactly. Except I feel this way about the majority of your posts now. I feel like I can't take anything you write at face value anymore.
Jan 20, 2014
I bought your book, pre-order. I bought it (and read it) b/c of the exact argument you laid out in your Genie post. I have a "if I even think I might want a book, I buy it" policy.
I spend a lot of money on books.

In suggesting the book to other's I've seen these reactions:

1) Veiled "I don't do self-help" argument (this comes in many shades, but the idea is I don't invest in myself because of a number of internal assumptions)
2) It's too late / I'm too old / I'm stuck in my ways / I have no interest in changing
3) Failure? I don't want to fail
5) Also amongst the younger set, thinking is all about "the" idea.

Within this context, I don't see the core issue as the title, rather its that the positioning doesn't overcome the inherent biases of the more general audience -- the reluctance towards self help, the belief that it won't work for them (too old, even in early 30's!) or, for the younger set, thinking its all about the idea & having a paralyzing fear of failure.

I get that it's a comical spin to look at it as "Everything you want out of life is in that bubbling vat of failure." -- but those that you are talking about targeting are coddled Gen Y-ers! (I'm Gen-Y myself). We grew up PETRIFIED of failure.

You can't sell 25 year olds failure straight out, they are still too idealistic and still way to afraid..

Free-styling some different positioning:

1 1=7
A real life story of how diverse talents, proven systems and a gambler's edge can make you rich & famous.

Other idea --
4 Hour Work Week went viral in the group you're aiming for.
What's a HUGE promise you could extend? (note -- does not actually need to be attainable)

Jan 20, 2014
Use a reversible dust jacket to make two "covers". You've done that before ...
Jan 20, 2014
I'll just say that your generally transparent and open discussion about the possible benefits of the book (at least as you believe them) have done more to nudge me towards considering your book than any traditional advertisement might have.

Your first bit about the genie seemed like manipulative marketing from someone who wants to sell books, particularly when the author mentions hypnotism in a large percentage of his blog posts.

The more you've talked about the book from a personal perspective, the more interested I've been.
Jan 20, 2014
See, I'm just waiting to buy the book until I have time to read... Which may be awhile. Perhaps the paperback edition will be out by then. Or maybe I'm just cheap as I'm still waiting for the Dilbert 2014 daily calendars to go on clearance...
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Jan 20, 2014
I like your plan, but it seems to be that you'll also want a control group that is exposed to the book title, design and name (e.g., as a title slide, with the rest of the slideshow being the same). This will let you compare whether the clickthrough for the blinded slideshow is actually better or worse than for people exposed to the same material, but knowing the source (and potentially baggage).
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