Book publishing and physics don’t seem to have much in common at first glance. I’ve written several books, but the first time I achieved commercial success was because I had applied lessons learned in my work as an optical engineer at GE Global Research to the publishing process.
Set Goals, Take Risks, Try Something Hard
When I embarked on this project, I hoped it would be a teaching opportunity for my son about setting goals, trying something hard, and taking a risk. I set a goal of not getting pessimistic about finding an agent until I had received 100 rejections. My son and I joke about how I crushed that goal – I received over 150 rejections before I stopped trying to get an agent.
Rather than quitting when I found that no agent would talk to me, I chose to self-publish my book. Initially I saw very poor sales, in fact depressingly poor sales, and realized that the challenge of publishing a book is more than having a good idea and being able to write well.
I discovered I was missing the “secret formula” in the book publishing business, that is, how do you get noticed when there are 4 million books on Amazon. My book was like Waldo from the popular picture books, hidden among millions of look-alikes while striving to be noticed. I knew that if it could be found, my book would be successful: I chose to write a story about Minecraft and the audience was desperate for any fiction in this space. In fact, when I self-published my first book in 2013, there were only three other fiction books about Minecraft available on Amazon. Two of them were by young kids and only 20 pages long. While the third book did sell some copies, it was not marketed well to the target audience.
Before I wrote my book, I did market analysis and studied the demographics. I looked at other books in my market demographic (kids ages 7 – 13) and tried to identify what made the successful books really successful and what made the mediocre book really average, and then I extended these learnings to the book that I wanted to write. I treated this like a typical GE project and did my homework. As a result, when kids started to read my book, it seemed to resonate with them because it was similar to books that were already out in the marketplace. Once word of mouth started to get going, coupled with the marketing I was doing online, things exploded and the book reached No. 30 on Amazon’s top 100. As of the first week of February 2015, it had climbed to No. 9 on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for children’s series.
Marketing my book to its intended audience is not unlike the way researchers at GE Global Research have to differentiate themselves so that their skills will be in demand and they will always be able to get research funding. That means having a product that everyone will want that allows you to stand out among all the rest. Once that marketing is done within GRC, then it needs to be done within the GE businesses so that people who control funds will listen to you and take your calls.