Selling $2,000+ Worth Of My Unfinished Book

by Brennan Dunn on — Get free updates of new posts here

Early next month, I’m launching my first book. And for the last few days, I’ve been scrambling around rewriting chunks of copy, converting interviews to case studies, and getting ready to ship. And you know what’s awesome? 57 people have already paid me.

There will be no crickets heard this launch.

A few people have asked me how the hell did you collect $2,213 on an unfinished book?

…To be perfectly frank, I was scratching my head at first too. Do all these people really want to know (and will spend money on) what I’ve had cooped up in my head?

This post is my therapy, an exercise in self-reflection and cause and effect. But most importantly to you, the reader, if you’ve been thinking that maybe you have something to say that others might want to hear, I hope this will help you make that decision.

Building an audience

No one you know who is an authority on anything got there by accident. Practice, practice, and more practice is the only way to become an expert – and unfortunately we usually get to know these experts, well, once they’re already experts.

Thus we usually miss the backstory, so here’s mine. For the last 5+ years, I’ve been consulting. At times it was just me, but for a stretch I had an office, 10 full time employees – you know, a real consultancy.

I learned the hard way,

  • How communication and setting expectations is everything
  • That most clients have no idea what it is I actually do
  • That no one ever pays on time, unless you make them
  • I wasn’t charging enough
  • …And gobs and gobs more

And I kept it all to myself, until Planscope.

When I discovered that it’s really hard to get exposure for SaaS products, I started practicing writing about things relevant to freelancers (for SEO and content marketing reasons). To date, I think I’ve written about 50-something blog posts, and to a small community of people I’m now an expert at freelancing.

Great ways to build your audience include maintaining a blog (actually maintaining – your last post shouldn’t have been in 2010), writing guest blog posts, participating in forums and other watering holes, and being active on Twitter.

Knowing what to write

A side effect of building an audience is that this audience will start asking you things, and many of the questions are the same or similar. If you drop into any Internet forum for freelancers, you’ll find a bajillion threads on finding clients (making money) and rates (making more money).

So once I started being open about my rate ($200 an hour), the people in my audience who charged significantly less than me pounced: How? How? How?!?!?

So I started thinking…

I have things that I’ve learned – things that, when adopted, can help my peers make more money. And people would pay me for a well-planned, structured version of these thoughts and ideas that I’ve shared in countless conversations, blog posts, guest blog posts, and tweets.

It was decided: I’d write a book on everything I’ve studied about pricing theory, perceptions of value, and the trials and error that have helped me d and quadruple my rate over the years.

Selling immediately

There’s nothing worse than being unsure about what you’re doing.

Have you ever worked on a product and doubted what you were doing and if it would succeed? I know for a fact that you have. God, I was terrified when I was building Planscope.

The usual way around this fear is to build an announcement list. The problem with announcement lists are they’re non-binding. “This sounds interesting. Sure, I’ll take another look once you’re ready.”

Money – cold, hard cash – on the other hand. That’s the ultimate form of validation.

In an afternoon, I put together a sales page for the book and had a clear call to action: Buy now for a discount, and if this book doesn’t help you I’ll refund you in full.

Where I found the first 57 buyers

I had a great sales page. My audience was prepped and knew who I was. I also had a mailing list from Planscope where I wasn’t a stranger (you should probably be sending more email than you do.)

In order of effectiveness, here are the different channels that have brought me sales:

The Mailing List

Clocking in at a whopping 12% conversion rate, my list from Planscope has been the biggest driver of sales.

I love this list for two reasons: First, and most important, at some point in the past they have likely paid me for something already. Second, I’ve been mailing them tips and announcements in the past, and they’re still subscribed.


Ever since I’ve started blogging about freelancing, my Twitter follower count has d. Conversion rates from Twitter are at about 6%.


I’m usually scared to death about PPC. Especially with SaaS products – according to KissMetrics, the average new account has idled around for a little under a week before signing up for a trial. And then I’m waiting another 2 weeks to figure out if they’re going to buy or not.

That’s a lot of potential money spent without having a clear picture of the kind of return you’re getting.

Books, on the other hand, are transaction and impulse buys. Click the ad, read the sales page, buy now. This I can easily track.

I’ve setup a few low CPC campaigns (15 cents) that are bringing in a small amount of volume. I’ve made about 5 sales from AdWords, but I’m only spending about $2.50 a sale (I’m making $37ish after PayPal fees.)

I would do anything to ramp up the AdWords volume and preserve that profit margin.

Banner Ads

I’m spending $3 per thousand impressions of a sizable banner on No sales so far. Once my budget has expired, I won’t be renewing.

Should you write a book?

If you know a lot about something – something niche, preferably – and you can build an audience around your knowledge, then yes. Absolutely.

Jarrod Drysdale, a fellow 30×500 classmate of mine, knew that a lot of developer-types struggled with design. As someone who straddles both sides of the fence, he wrote a book called Bootstrapping Design and made $30,000 in two months.

Avdi Grimm wrote a book on exception handling in Ruby. This is too focused to probably ever end up on a shelf at Barnes and Noble, but I’ve seen his sphere of influence grow first hand – and presumably, his bank account is doing pretty well too.

If you’re thinking about writing a book, are writing a book, or have written a book I’d love to hear from you! I’m @brennandunn on Twitter.

Before you go... Want to hang out with me and 100+ other freelancers in person?

On September 16th, the inaugural Double Your Freelancing Conference kicks off in Norfolk, Virginia. I've arranged to fly in 14 experts, and they'll be covering how to sell, market, price, and grow your business. You won't want to miss this. Get your ticket here.

Brennan Dunn writes about the business of freelancing. Over the years, his weekly articles and courses have helped 32,000+ freelancers grow their businesses. If you enjoyed this article, join his weekly newsletter.
  • brookr

    Smart moves. Thanks for sharing the details.

    Are you saying you do know how to ramp up AdWords volume, or you are still figuring out how? How many keywords are you targeting?

    • Brennan Dunn

      Yeah, I don’t know how. My keywords are exact matches on phrases – not exactly the highest search volume – but it’s cheap per click.

      I’m only targeting about 30 right now. I haven’t used AdWords in years, so there’s some friction getting back into it.

      • Jon Lim

        How much research have you done in this arena? I’m pretty sure you can spend 10-15 minutes with the Keyword Research Tool and find some low competition keywords that have a decent number of monthly queries.

  • Dave

    bought the book last night – what got me was you posted on HN with a link to your book – you weren’t downvoted – so i thought this guy must be credible – read the sample chapter – low risk for $39 bucks – sold.

    • Brennan Dunn

      Hey – thanks Dave! Looking forward to your review. What did you think of the sample chapter?

  • Robert

    Great post, Brennan. Very close to my experience writing a book for entrepreneur using the phone for customer development. I just launched yesterday and the mailing list was the key to a successful launch. Pre-sales is even better!

  • Visnja Zeljeznjak

    Hi Brennan, is it possible to get the unfinished book in whatever stage of completion it is now? I just bought your book, but September is far away.

    • Dave

      isn’t it saturday?  😉

    • Brennan Dunn

      Visnja – the book ships on Monday :-)

  • Waqar

    Going to buy it now vry good piece of info looks gud to me thanks to google saw this on totally differrent website lol

  • Mark

    How did you actually sell it, though?  AFIK, pre-sales violate both the Paypal and Google Checkout Terms of Service.

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