GUEST POST by Brandon Cullum:
I just launched my first children's book: Alfred the Time Traveling Dinosaur and it became an Amazon Best Seller in 11 days. Want to know the secret?
It was all because of my email list. But not just the usual “hey, collect up emails and blast them out” strategy. I used something very different…I discovered a way to get my market to “buy-in” before the book had even come out so that when I sent my “Buy my ebook” message, people were ready.
The challenging part of being a children's author is that you're writing for the children, but you have to market to the parent.
So, how can we get readers to “buy-into” a book before it is even published?
Simple…you get them to help you write it and give them a behind the scene look at the making of the book.
I did all of this through using surveys.
By using simple and free online survey tools, I could get my target market to interact with the creation of my book and ultimately feel as though they were a part of its creation.
In turn, this helped to increase my email conversion rates and help drive my book to the top of the sales chart.
In this Article, You Will Learn
- How survey's can help you launch your next book
- The survey providers and which one I chose
- The types of surveys I used in my story creation process
Table of contents
I'm a Social Media D-Lister
I'm not special, nor am I famous. I don't have a giant social following nor do I have a pre-existing audience in which to leverage for sales. Heck, even the 7th-grade boys that I hang out with and mentor on a weekly basis have more Instagram followers and Facebook friends than I do.
At the time of writing this article, I have a measly 229 followers on Twitter. My email list was even smaller than that when I started on my book in March of 2015. I had a grand total of zero.
I say this because anyone can use this process, regardless of where you are starting from. We can all be like Drake and start from the bottom.
So, what exactly was the process?
Well, it was all about using the “choose your own adventure” technique.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Do you remember those books where at the end of each chapter you could pick what would happen next? You would flip to some entirely new spot in the book and read what happens in the story because of your choice. Then, at the end of that chapter you would get more choices and the cycle would keep repeating until the main character died only to start all over again.
That, in a nut-shell, is the survey process I used to help create my first children's book. Except no one died.
My book released on September 11th, 2015. Starting in March of 2015 I would send out a survey once a week asking my audience what should happen next in the book. Voting would last for a week and then the next week I would send out the results with a new survey.
It wasn't rocket science, but I was immediately surprised by how engaged everyone got in the process.
But it makes sense right? Parents were jumping at the opportunity to be a part of a children's book. They were vocalizing their opinions.
What did that process look like? Let's first look at how I delivered the surveys and what tools I used.
I promise you, it's much easier than you think.
Just like there are a lot of different self publishing companies, there are a bunch of different survey providers too and they all have strengths and weaknesses. Here is a quick rundown of the providers I have had experience with. There are some great one's out there, but these are what I had the most experience with.
What I use on a weekly basis in my day job.
- Ease of use. Survey Monkey is the big dog on the street and it has a great ability to integrate into a wide assortment of platforms. You can embed survey's on your blog, send links through social platforms and even email your list directly.
- Logic ability. At the paid levels ($19 or $25 a month), you get the ability to have prior responses determine future questions. I could ask you if you prefer hamburgers and hot dogs. If you picked hamburgers then in a later question I could ask what toppings you'd like to put on your hamburgers.
- Reporting and Analytics. This is where Survey Monkey really shines. Inside of the paid accounts you can really dive deep into the analytics of your surveys. This is great for bigger business operations but for my purposes it was overkill.
- Free option only allows you to send a survey of 10 questions and get 100 responses.
- To get a lot of the functionality, you will have to pay for it.
Price: Free, $25, $65 (per month)
What I lived in as an engineering student.
- Free. Can't argue that!
- Synchronous. Plays very well inside the Google ecosystem which means that it works with your Gmail, Google Drive, and other google products. This makes it a lot easier and requires less signup accounts because most of us already have all the accounts needed.
- Collaboration. Just like with rest of Google Drive, forms allow you to collaborate. So if you need to collaborate with your editor, cover designer and agent this could a great solution for you.
- Design options are pretty limited…and if you're like me, when you hit a link taking you to a google form it feels a little unprofessional.
- It's Google, no telling what they are doing with the data (survey targeted ads, anyone?) But I guess you can't complain with “free” right?
This was my choice for my first books survey process.
- Can a survey be….fun? Typeform makes a pretty great case that it can be. I bet if you take a survey with the 3 contenders, Typeform will give you the best experience as an end user.
- They look great! From how it handles pictures to how it only displays one question per screen, Typeform hits a home run from the design standpoint.
- Integration. Typeform will integrate into Zapier allowing you to then connect to a wide array of services. This is how I automate my email capture process within my surveys so new participants are automatically included in a list in MailChimp. (Dave has a great comparison of the email list providers)
- Multiple Workspaces. Most survey providers allow you to create multiple surveys. Typeform allows you to create multiple surveys within a workspace. So for each of my books I can house all of my survey's under one workspace, just like a folder. This makes it very easy to access the info I'm looking for.
- You have to pay to remove branding and ads. If you use the free version, a person that takes a survey will hit a final screen asking them if they would like to sign up and use Typeform.
- Like SurveyMonkey you will have to use a paid version to get the advance logic features.
Cost: Free or $25 per month.
The Types of Surveys
So you've decided on a survey provider, now it's time to create your surveys. What should they be about?
For Alfred the Time Traveling Dinosaur I had three main types.
1. The Story Slot Machine
When was the last time you went to a casino and played slots?
You walk in and take a seat on a little red chair.Then you put your money in the slot and pull the lever. One by one, small pictures drop in sequence in front of you and you are hoping their order will give you a great payout.
This was the same process I used in my very first survey. Let’s call it the slot machine of children’s storytelling 😉
I gave my audience a bunch of different options and hoped whatever turned up would mean a great payout (story) in the end!
And here is the survey.
My first children’s book would be about a dinosaur, who time travels, is afraid of people and is trying to overcome an enemy. Now you might be saying, sure that works fine for a children's book but what about my next thriller novel?
Granted, writing books for kids really lets me play on the creative side. But I bet there are some plot points you could leave up to your audience to help you decide. What I found was this actually helped with my creativity and storytelling because I had some limits placed on me. It was easier to be given a starting point rather a blank page with unlimited possibilities.
2. Character Names and Characteristics
Every character in my book was named by my email list. First, I would create a survey asking for people to submit names. Second, I would send a new survey asking for them to vote on their favorites. I also did this for the design of the characters. Specifically what colors they would like the characters to be.
3. Cover Design
I timed the release of my last survey to correspond with the release date of my book. These came out just a few weeks before the book was scheduled to be released. I had seen several places online where people were asking for feedback on their cover design. Often those questions/posts were very popular.
That popularity was the case for me. I created four different cover designs and sent them to my email list and posted in several different Facebook groups and sub-Reddit's online. The response and feedback were great! I got over 200 votes and ended with a much stronger cover design.
This survey was key in building buzz for my book right before the release. I was able to direct message many of the people who voted and who weren't on my list, asking if they would like to receive an advanced reader copy. Nearly 70% said yes allowing me to get the book in a lot of peoples hands before the launch.Childrens authors have to write for children but market towards parents.Click To Tweet
Then once my listing was live on Amazon is was able to follow up and ask for reviews.
I strongly believe that such a high conversion was due to the buy-in my surveys created with them. They just took time, gave their opinion and helped to put a piece of the book together.
Who wouldn't want to see the finished product?
Survey Creation Process with Typeform
When Alfred the Time Traveling Dinosaur was completed I had:
- Created 21 Surveys.
- Got 813 Responses
- Interacted with 216 People.
Now, THIS is where I crush it…
They say you can never start too soon in marketing your next book. Or as Dave Chesson always says…The day you decide to write a book, is the day you need to start marketing it.Click To Tweet
What is great about the survey process is once you send out the first survey request, you are building your pre-launch list. Two weeks after my first books released, I sent out my first survey for Book 2 in my children's book series.
At the end of the story in Book 1, the readers are left with a little cliffhanger. On the next page, they are asked if they would want to help decide what happens next in the adventure and are then directly taken to an email opt-in form on my site. This has allowed me to build off the momentum of Book 1, especially during the free and $0.99 periods when I have higher downloads.
Readers enter the story with my first book and are instantly taken into the next story even though I haven't started to write it.
The biggest change I have made to this process is allowing people who are not currently on my list to take the survey and vote. Inside of the survey, there is an email opt-in which allows me to promote my surveys just like I would with a new blog post. The survey itself is serving as a lead magnet driving people into my list.
Why did this strategy help me to crush it in a very competitive sector with no prior books, fame or even an email list? Why is this something that anyone and everyone can do?
- Surveys are free
- They help to get your target market to become a part of the process
- It gives them buy-in into your book
- It improves your conversion rates
- It can become an effective and cheap way to build your email list
AND most importantly, no matter what type of book – fiction or non-fiction- any author can use this.
Surveys were the key for the success of my first book launch. Not only did they allow me to leverage an email list for launch but I also got to engage with my future readers on a weekly basis. I know survey's can have great results for your next book and I look forward to hearing about all the creative ways you use them!
Written By Brandon Cullum: Brandon Cullum always dreamed of becoming an astronaut so he could go on an amazing adventure. Then he learned space is lonely and math is really hard. Now he creates immersive children's books that allow him to go on new adventures and bring everyone along for the ride. You can check out his latest book and decide what happens next in stories at www.brandoncullum.com