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April Dunford: Positioning Your Book

April Dunford, author of Obviously Awesome

April Dunford is a “naturally caffeinated one-trick pony”. She drinks terrible decaf because she doesn’t need caffeine to be energised. She calls herself a one-trick pony because she’s all about positioning. 

After 25 years as a VP of marketing and 5 years of consulting tech companies on positioning, she decided to bundle her knowledge in “Obviously Awesome”.

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How to position a book about positioning

April has been a positioning expert for many years. So it won’t surprise you that she spends a lot of time explaining what positioning is.

That happens in a range of circumstances. Some people are looking to work with her but don’t know what to expect. Others want her expertise but can’t afford it. 

April would accept many coffee meetings to help these people out, but it was very time-consuming. So she thought: ”Why don’t I write a book about it?”

In the book, she’d be able to explain how she works. Future clients would know exactly what to expect if they hire her. Companies with a smaller budget would discover how they can do it themselves the April Dunford way. 

So how did she position her book? 

Her book isn’t the first on the topic because there is already a widely-read book on positioning. It’s called Positioning. Who would have guessed?

She had to position her book against that. For her, it meant that she’s not trying to compete with it. She still recommends people to read Positioning. It’s the theory book about the topic. But if people want to know the practical side too, they need to read Obviously Awesome. 

(Visual by @slwindhausen)

To position your book well, here are some tips and questions:

  • If the book didn’t exist, what would people do?
  • What other books are there in the genre/on the topic?
  • How is your book different from the competition?
  • What goal will it accomplish that the competition doesn’t?
  • Who is your target audience? Is it broad or specific?

“Positioning is the act of deliberately defining how you are the best at something that a defined market cares a lot about.”

April Dunford — Obviously Awesome

Here are the questions answered for her book:

  • People would try to figure it out themselves, hire someone or buy other books.
  • Positioning
  • My book is practical; the other one is theoretical.
  • It will tell you how to do positioning yourself.
  • It’s mainly written for tech companies, while Positioning is for a wider audience. 

What publishers thought about this

Publishers didn’t like this idea very much. They were a bit more narrow-minded. And from April’s perspective, they didn’t even understand the first principles of positioning.

They wondered why she would want to write another book on positioning if there’s already a book about it. “Why not write one about how to position your life for anybody on the planet?” they asked. 

But that goes against everything we know about positioning. They pushed for a book for everyone, and we know that something made for everyone isn’t helpful for anyone. 

“You cannot be everything to everyone. If you decide to go north, you cannot go south at the same time.”

Jeroen De Flander (via Obviously Awesome)

And there were a few more things she disliked about working with a publisher. They would own the book and make all the decisions. But they didn’t know anything about her audience. And they didn’t even understand marketing well. So she believed they wouldn’t deliver a good product and she’d be better off on her own.

Instead of going with a publisher, she discovered she could pay someone to do the work of a publisher but still be the decision-maker. So she hired a company called Page Two for distribution, editing, layout, cover and everything a publisher would do. She paid them upfront so she was still in full control of everything and wouldn’t have to share any royalties. 

Treat a book like a product

You may have noticed that I’ve been talking about a product instead of a book at some stage. 

That’s because April comes from a tech/marketing background, and she looked at writing a book like creating a product.

It started with customer research. After the coffee meetings with CEOs about positioning, she asked them a few questions like Why do you read books? Where do you read them?

She talked to about fifty CEOs, and their answers were very consistent. Every single CEO reads. And they almost unanimously complained about the length of the books. They said they’re full of fluff. (If you believe so too, Ramli’s book reading tip will interest you.)

It’s common for CEOs from April’s Toronto to fly to Silicon Valley regularly. They do most of their reading on these types of flights. It’s about a five-hour flight, and of course, no one reads from take-off to landing, so they never finish a book. And rarely do they come back to it in the future.

April discovered her target audience reads about half a book every time. So books are misdesigned. They need to be shorter and easier to skim. That’s why she wrote a more concise book with little repetition that makes it easy to skip chapters. 

Launch is a year

With decades of experience in marketing, April knew how to create a plan to sell her book. She didn’t focus on the launch day but on several events over the course of a year.

“The launch day is just a day. You need the product to sell every day after the launch.”

April Dunford

Before the launch, she spread the word in places where she knew she’d be heard. Generally, only one or two channels produce most of the revenue. So it makes sense to go all-in on those two. 

For April, these two places were conferences and podcasts. She was already doing a bunch of those without making much effort to be invited. So she could probably double that if she were more intentional. 

In those conferences, she tried to get people signed up for her email list. She also used Twitter because she already had a following there. 

Then during the launch week, she didn’t do any special activities per se, but she spoke at two conferences and used those as launch events telling the audience to grab their copies. The first week was quite successful with about 3,000 sales. 

Post-launch, she kept being asked to speak at podcasts and events (this is pre-covid). She did about one podcast and conference talk per week. This also helped with sales since a few conferences bought books to give to attendants instead of paying her.

Another post-launch event was her audiobook release. She did this almost a year after the launch and got quite a bit of slack about it. People were impatient. She was so busy with the consultancy work resulting from the book that she had no time for it. 

Next time, she’d try to have the audiobook ready before the book launch but still wait a few months to release it to create another event. The first time, this didn’t make much sense, however, because she had no idea how many people would be interested in the book. 

A few other post-launch events included giveaways on Twitter and making some Christmas goodies such as bookmarks. 

Notice that she didn’t put the book on sale at any stage. Many authors start with a $0.99 sale because they want to rank high on Amazon and become a best-selling author. This didn’t make sense to her because they almost give the book away for free to the most interested people. 

So she waited until the first anniversary to organise a sale, and she still sold close to 6,000 copies. 

Now, it’s been more than a year since the launch, and she has reshifted her focus almost entirely to consulting. She’s still doing a few more conferences and podcasts, though, like this one. 

Moreover, the book doesn’t need much attention anymore because book sales are still going up month after month. 

Why Obviously Awesome? 

April would have loved to call her book Positioning, but that title was already taken. So she opted for Obviously Awesome and put the word positioning in the subtitle.

She didn’t care much about the title. She figured that people would buy the book because they heard her talk about it or because someone recommended it. She didn’t believe people would find it in the bookstore and just pick it up. 

Moreover, she believed people would look for “April Dunford book” and not the book’s name.

April Dunford’s Writing Tips

April can’t stress enough how important it is to get an editor. They make the writing process so much easier. 

Secondly, she recommends teaching your subject to a live audience before putting the concepts in a book. It will help you find better examples and analogies. Moreover, your students will ask questions about things that seem easy to you. Like this, you get a better idea of what you need to elaborate on. 

Buy Obviously Awesome via the support page

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