Category Archives: Blog

Thoughts and news from my life

Is the market for self-published books saturated?

Chris Guillebeau just published a blog post about online publishing. It starts out with a confession of sorts:

For the past eight years I’ve made a good living through online publishing. But I don’t think the instructions are as timeless as I thought they were at the time. If, today, you do exactly what I said back then, I’m not entirely sure that success will follow.

One of his key points is that the market has become saturated:

What happens when large numbers of people all pursue the same goal? They all set out to “build a following” and “create platform” for themselves. They all write ebooks. They all create online courses, some more helpful than others.

He continues this line of thinking with a direct warning to new, aspiring self-published authors:

These days, it’s much harder for most people to reap a substantial profit on a new digital product.


In light of that post, I thought it’d be interesting to revisit this section from the conversation Sacha, Nathan, Paul and I had in 2013:

What do you think? Is online publishing saturated? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

My biggest creative fear

As product people, we don’t want to create something that’s just good. We want it to resonate with people.

When I launch something new, my biggest fear is that people won’t like it, won’t care, or won’t show up.

Additionally, a lot of people I know also struggle to promote the things they’ve made.

My biggest creative fear

These two pain points are related. If you’re not confident that people will like what you’ve made, it’s hard to promote it.

No one wants to send out party invitations, and have zero people show up on a Friday night.

How can you get over this fear?

You don’t.

You never truly get over the fear of launching something no one wants.

But you can reduce it. There’s a feedback loop you can go through that will give you the confidence you need. It’s a system for discovering products people want.

It looks like this:

  1. Research your audience. Embed yourself in their community. Hang out every day. Listen.
  2. Observe the topics, pain points, and desires that come up over and over again. Make a list.
  3. Prioritize the list. Which topics do you think are most important to this group?
  4. Create something small that solves your audience’s #1 issue.
  5. Launch it. Observe the reaction. Gather feedback.
  6. Iterate by making something a bit bigger. Try charging a bit of money for it. How do people respond? How hard is it to find customers?
  7. Keep repeating this cycle until you’re sure you’ve found a problem that people really care about and a solution that they’ll pay for.

I realize that this might seem simplistic. But when you show up every day, you’ll find opportunities to help people in meaningful ways.

For example, my friend Jarrod is a designer and hangs out with other designers. His friends were having a hard time communicating their value to clients. So Jarrod decided to write The Tiny Designer.

Learning to promote your projects

“Self-promotion just feels so icky. I hate doing it. It’s my biggest challenge.”

Once you’ve created a solution that people need, you won’t feel like a huckster. You’re helping folks solve their problems (and that’s worth doing).

Now you can focus on your communication technique.

And technique matters. Making something people want is no good if they never hear about it.

Tweet: Good products don't always win...

A lot of marketing is experimentation. It’s knowing about the different approaches, tactics and channels to try. And it’s about having a system for implementing and evaluating your experiments.

The starting point

To find out what works for you, you need a list of things to test. From the beginning, you’ll want a framework for collecting and evaluating marketing data.This strategy should fit the stage you’re at right now (pre-launch, launching, post-launch).

These are the topics I cover in Marketing for Product People. It’s the equivalent of my other book Marketing for Developers, but for folks who aren’t engineers. It’s for product people, like you.

It’s launching on February 10th. If you’d like a sample chapter, click here and I’ll send you one!

You can't split-test human experience

You can’t split test human experience

The problem with advice is that it’s not testable.

When you ask someone for their secret to success they’ll say things like: “This class changed my life,” or “I get up and meditate every morning at 3am.”

Attributing an individual’s success to one or two factors is a fool’s bet (especially if you try to replicate it). No one can say emphatically “this is why I’m successful” because there’s no way to test that claim.

Jen might think her success in business was a result of going to Harvard. That could be true. But because there’s only one Jen, and she can only live one life, we’ll never know.

In the software world we can run A/B tests to check our assumptions. You can say: “I think orange buttons convert better than green ones” and then you can run a test and see if it’s true.

To test Jen’s statement we’d need to duplicate Jen and have one version go to Harvard, and another go to a different school. In fact, we’d probably want multiple versions of Jen all going to different colleges at the same time.

So what should we do with advice?

Listen, try it out, and iterate to make it your own.

There’s nothing wrong with saying: “I’m going to test this out.” You might find that what worked for someone else, also works for you. You might find it only gives you 50% of the results you need, but when you combine it with something else, it succeeds. Or, you might find that in your context, it doesn’t work.

How should we give advice?

My friend Paul Jarvis gives this disclaimer when doling out words of wisdom:

This might not work for you.

Let’s keep that in mind; whether we’re giving or receiving advice.