Journals … they’re so hot right now, right?
It seems like everybody and their brother has journal that promises to make you happier and more productive. For example, there’s:
But confession time–I’d never bought a journal, and I’d never kept a journal (outside this blog, if you could count that).
In this post, I’ll walk through:
Ready? Let’s do it!
So what inspired me to create and launch The Progress Journal last month?
Like many of my projects, a few planets came into alignment around the same time.
First, I was re-energized by several beneficial practices following a month-long vacation this summer.
Those included tracking daily micro habits, gratitude journaling, and working on specific “sprint goals.” (Like creating and filming my free credit card rewards course, for example.)
Second, I saw my friend Rob Cubbon posting about selling paperback notebooks using Amazon’s KDP Print print-on-demand service. That meant no costly bulk orders or exhaustive crowdfunding campaigns.
Such a product would be simple and inexpensive to test.
Third, productivity is a common theme on Side Hustle Nation, so a product related to helping people become more effective would be a natural fit. It would become a helpful evergreen tool to refer people to.
And fourth, I was itching to publish a new book on Amazon since it had been a couple years since Buy Buttons came out.
For creating a “blank” book, it sure took longer than I expected to get this thing out the door!
The basic structure of The Progress Journal centers on 5 key habits I personally use to feel more effective, excited, and satisfied with work (and life).
And even though I said I’d never consistently kept a journal, these were all things I did off and on — but in different times and different places. Some of the tracking was digital and some was analog.
The Progress Journal would bring them all into one place and give me a physical reminder to keep on my desk.
Here’s what some of the common interior pages look like.
Then I wrote an introduction and a “how to use this journal” guide and explanation.
Formatting the journal pages was the biggest challenge. After wrestling with Microsoft Word with only moderate levels of success, I turned to Fiverr for help. It was a fantastic investment in my sanity — and fun fact — it turned out that the seller was a listener of the podcast!
My initial version had a whole year’s worth of tracking. It was over 500 pages — a beast of a book. I looked at my own bookshelf for books that were that long, especially paperback ones, and realized that would not make for an awesome journal experience.
So I cut it in half for the beta run, and actually ended up cutting another third of that later in response to feedback from early testers. (When it was thicker, the pages were harder to write in.)
The Progress Journal cover is a DIY job I made in PowerPoint. I used the same font as the Buy Buttons cover from a couple years ago for consistent branding and found a free vector image of the mountain range.
Here’s that beautiful cover again:
Note: The Buy Buttons cover was from DesignCrowd.
I used Fancy Hands for proofreading.
After uploading the book to my KDP bookshelf, I was excited to get the first version in the hands of some actual users to see what they thought.
(And to get a copy myself to see what it felt like to actually use the book!)
To recruit my beta testers, I just included a P.S. at the bottom of one of my weekly newsletters. It said:
P.S. I’m looking for beta testers for a new product (a productivity journal). Want to help out? Hit reply and I’ll send you the details.
By the end of the day, I’d sent out 10 copies to volunteers all around the country. This cost around $100 but was well worth it!
It turned out that way more people responded to that beta tester request than I could handle, so I replied back explaining I’d already filled the spots, but that I could add them to my informal “street team” if they were interested. Doing so would guarantee them early access to the next version of the journal and special pre-launch pricing.
I had 39 people reply back saying they were in. I was pretty pumped about that, and created a special label in Gmail to mark those conversations.
In the end, it didn’t turn out to make a huge difference. When I was ready to launch, I emailed each of these volunteers individually to let them know about the book. Of the 39, I think only 3 ordered.
In contrast to the much-better-established and thought-out launch team I worked with for Buy Buttons, this wasn’t very effective.
The feedback from the early beta testers was invaluable.
Based on their input, I:
All in all, the journal I eventually launched with is much better product than what it started as.
One important note: Not every tester loved the journal. Some said they wouldn’t buy it, or that it didn’t meet their needs or expectations. And some said nothing at all — that’s why it was important to send to enough people to get a variety of opinions!
But most importantly, the people who were using it consistently said they were feeling more effective, which was the whole idea.
Applying the new changes, I re-uploaded to Amazon. Getting close to launch time!
With any book launch, having reviews on Day 1 is critical. But this was a little more challenging than with previous book projects.
First, there was a shipping delay from the time of ordering until the book was in customers’ hands. Then they’d need to use the product for at least a week to form an opinion about it.
Compared with a Kindle book, which could be delivered and skimmed through immediately, that made it a little tougher to get reviews.
Thankfully my beta testers and some members of my mastermind group were able to provide early feedback and seed the Amazon listing with some reviews.
With KDP Print, authors earn a 60% royalty after printing costs. Printing costs depend on the length of the book and the paper/color used.
(You also earn 40% after printing costs on Amazon’s “Expanded Distribution” network.)
I priced The Progress Journal at $9.99. There wasn’t a lot of science behind that; $10 seemed like a reasonable price point and is considerably less expensive than some other journals on the market.
The 171-page book costs $2.90 to print and leaves me earning a little over $3 on every sale.
Can we just pause and reflect on how crazy that is for a moment? Amazon can profitably print these in batches of 1 book, ship them free to Prime customers, and still send me $3. We live in amazing times.
Note: It was briefly $8.99 for the pre-launch “street team.”
I’d first planned to launch on Monday, November 12th, but as I was prepping the week before, I realized that was Veterans Day. Because of the holiday, I pushed it back until Tuesday.
That move also gave me another day to try and collect a couple more reviews.
As I’d learned with Buy Buttons, email is the most effective way to sell books.
Admittedly, I didn’t do the best job in the world of “teasing” this product launch or prepping my subscribers for it, but sometimes you just gotta ship.
Before sending anything, I tried to figure out which countries didn’t have the book available, and how to exclude subscribers in those countries from the emails.
Because it sucks to get a message about a product you can’t order!
To everyone else, I sent 3 emails.
I split this first message into 2 broadcasts (one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday) to hopefully spread out sales. The theory is consistent sales help your Amazon rankings more than a single spike.
I messaged everyone with subject line: “The 1-word secret to happiness”.
Hint: it’s progress!
In the email, I explained the “1-word secret”, how frustrating the lack of progress can be, and the ways I’ve found most effective to combat that. And I introduced the book and shared the full digital version so people could check it out.
I really think the Journal is best in paperback form so I wasn’t too worried about cannibalizing sales by giving away the digital version. I’d rather have people know what they’re getting into if they were on the fence.
And doing so was a hedge against potential negative reviews but also just being upfront about what’s inside.
In total, these messages generated a 22.4% open rate and a 2% click rate.
On Thursday, I sent out my regular weekly newsletter with the subject line: “ Less busy, more effective”.
(You like that calendar emoji? Most email service providers, including ActiveCampaign, now allow emojis in your subject line. Just don’t go too crazy with it.)
This email promoted the podcast episode / blog post I’d created to explain the 5 key habits, but also took the opportunity to pitch the journal directly as well:
Today I want to share 5 ways — 5 key habits — I’ve found that will help you be more effective, excited, and satisfied every day:
5 Ways to Be More Effective Every Day – In Just 5 Minutes
And yes, this is a thinly-veiled sales pitch for my new Progress Journal 🙂
It’s a real paperback book I created mostly for myself, to keep consistent with those 5 habits and have a physical reminder of them on my desk.
In total, these messages generated a 20.4% open rate and a 2.4% click rate. (Though not all of those clicks were to Amazon.)
To everyone who’d opened either of the first 2 messages, I sent an FAQ email on Friday.
Subject line: “Progress Journal FAQs”
It included answers to the most common questions I’d received during the launch.
Note: In a perfect world, I’d exclude subscribers who already purchased. But since the conversion took place on Amazon, I didn’t know who’d already bought.
This message saw a 37.8% open rate and a 2.8% click rate.
The other message I sent on Friday went out to everyone who hadn’t opened either of the other sales emails.
Subject line: “Did you see this? [new productivity tool]”
This message was primarily a repeat of the Tuesday/Wednesday broadcast, and was basically a last-ditch effort to reach subscribers who hadn’t shown any interest in the project.
Because it targeted the least engaged segment of the audience, it saw just a 5.3% open rate and a .4% click rate.
I wanted to test something new with this launch, and that was incentivizing bulk orders. Would people buy multiple copies if there was a compelling enough reason to do so?
In my emails during the launch week, I mentioned the following bulk order bonuses starting at 3 copies and up:
In the end, this experiment was kind of a dud. Only 1 person forwarded their receipt of a 5-unit order.
For the podcast, I created a bonus episode of The Side Hustle Show walking through the 5 key habits in the Journal.
It ended up being like a 15-minute webinar:
I was pretty happy with how it turned out. Give it a listen if you like 🙂
I published a written version of the episode on the blog as well, with the title 5 Ways to Be More Effective Every Day – In Just 5 Minutes.
Note: It was important to register a “vanity domain” and redirect it to Amazon so I had an easy-to-say URL on the podcast. ProgressJournal.net was available and way easier to say than “amazon.com/dp/1723879533”.
I used BookLinker to generate a global Amazon URL–so people would automatically get pointed to the right Amazon store for their location–and plugged that URL into the redirect in my Bluehost account.
The podcast episode and blog post went live on launch day, and I also created a Pinterest image to share the content on that platform.
On Facebook, I’d recently changed my profile picture to one of me looking at our new-ish baby. (Is 7 months still new?)
For the book launch, I was hoping to post a picture of the actual paperback in my hand but my author copies hadn’t arrived yet.
So I practiced my Photoshop skills and made this image instead:
It got a few laughs and was probably more effective than just posting a straight product image.
I also think this unassuming sales style (caption: “I made a thing.”) works better than sharing a link to your product. Those link-drop types of posts don’t get much engagement and tend to die off in the algorithm pretty quickly.
(I put the link in the first comment.)
As people started to receive their Progress Journals in the mail, they began posting pictures of them on Facebook and in the SH Nation FB group, which was pretty cool!
Here’s a breakdown of what The Progress Journal cost to produce:
This of course does not include my time!
And how about the sales?
A couple weeks post-launch, the project has sold over 200 copies and has earned $766 in royalties.
That leaves me “up” about $540 so far.
Was it worth it?
Even if that doesn’t pencil out to be an amazing hourly rate for my work, I think it was worthwhile, because:
In terms of Sales Rank, it peaked around 3500 on all of Amazon and the 29th bestselling book in the subcategory of Time Management.
To drive consistent sales, you need two things:
I’m working this from both angles.
One of the most common questions I got during the launch was from people wanting to know what the interior pages were like.
I tried to pre-empt that by including a free digital version in each of my launch emails, but if you only heard about the journal through to blog or podcast, you wouldn’t have seen it.
During the launch, unfortunately Amazon’s Look Inside tool didn’t get deep enough into the book to show what the journal was actually like.
I sent a note to author support to see if I could add some images of the internal pages to the listing. They said that wasn’t possible (it is on FBA products, but not print-on-demand books), but as a workaround, they could adjust the “Look Inside” to include more of the book.
In checking today, it looks like the entire book is now previewable with the Look Inside feature, which is awesome.
I just wish I’d known that was an option earlier!
I’ve already set up a few test campaigns in AMS to promote the book. If you’re not familiar with AMS, it’s a powerful way to drive consistent qualified traffic to your book pages.
Basically it looks like this:
For almost every book page, Amazon now has a carousel called “Sponsored products related to this item”. That means authors can have their book show up on the sales page for relevant and competing products.
Check out Dave Chesson’s free AMS Course for more on how these work.
I haven’t done this yet, but I think it would be an interesting addition to the product page on Amazon.
As a customer, you can create a “video short” and upload it to your book’s sales page on Amazon. For a product like a journal, this would be a great opportunity to explain the core ideas and how to use it on a daily basis.
My friend Alex created this video explaining how this process can work for authors:
I will test this out and see it makes any impact on sales. (Though now that people can look inside, it’s less of a pressing issue for me.)
I have a lot of content related to productivity. My plan is to update some of those pages and posts to include links to the Journal.
It won’t account for a ton of traffic, but it exposes people to a helpful resource that is probably relevant.
Another way to drive traffic to the book is through my email welcome sequences. When someone new signs up for my email list–especially if they signed up for a lead magnet related to productivity–it makes sense to introduce them to the Journal via email as part of an onboarding sequence.
I haven’t built this out just yet but I can see this being another traffic source.
All in all, this was a fun project that hopefully helps people feel more effective every day.
I know using The Progress Journal has helped me and I look forward to having it as a consistent tool on my desk.
What do you think of this print on demand Journal idea? What did I screw up during the creation and launch process?
Let me know in the comments below!