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Jeremiah Ajayi: 6 Lessons I Learned From the Failure of my First Book 

Have you also experienced any failed venture? What lessons did it teach you?



April 2020 was like smoked Nigerian party jollof rice – a month I’ll never forget. I had facilitated a class on building thought leadership as a tech lawyer, and it was a blast. Consumed by excitement, I shared feedback from the class on LinkedIn.

A few days later, I received a LinkedIn message from a startup founder. In his words, “Hi Jeremiah, I’d love you to teach my staff how to become more visible with digital marketing”. Besides the fact that gurus have made the term ‘visibility’ an irritating buzzword, his topic idea didn’t sit right with me. So I said to him, “I want to talk about building brand awareness with content marketing instead”, he accepted. That fateful day birthed the idea of my first book. 

I facilitated the class and converted the training material to an ebook. But only a few attendees bought it. Fast forward to June 2020, I rebranded the book by changing the cover and the title, and put it up for sale on Amazon and Flutterwave for $8.99. 

I announced the book publication on all platforms, thinking sales notifications will flood my inbox. I was in for a rude shock. Not only did I not see any sales notification (apart from two sales made days apart from each other), the book flopped like a secondary school student with an F9 parallel in her WASSCE. To date, I’ve made only five sales. 

As someone who hates anything less than excellent, the book flop hit me. For two months, I kept wondering, “why did the ebook flop?” “Where did I go wrong?” Like many people, I attempted to blame it on external forces and not take responsibility for my failure. But recent reflections taught me something: it was all me.

In every disappointment lies a blessing and my book disaster isn’t any different – it’s a blessing to other entrepreneurs out there because, from my experience, they’ll learn one or more ways of how not to approach product sales. 

Sell because you want to, not because of what others think

I never wanted to sell 10x Branding Formula, the plan was to share a detailed material (in the form of a PDF) after the class. But while writing the material, I got a phone call from someone who convinced me to sell it at the end of the class instead. 

In her words, “scratch the surface of the topic, then sell an in-depth material”. The idea seemed good and after a reasonably successful sale at the end of the class, I thought to myself, “since XYZ person advised this and it worked, why not sell to other people as well?” 

In the long run, I couldn’t sustain the energy. I was not enthusiastic about convincing people to buy the book because it never really meant something to me in the first place. Don’t sell your book because someone else thinks it would be a great idea. If the product in question doesn’t appeal to you enough to make you evangelise it everywhere you go, don’t sell it. 

Sell what your target market wants, not what you think they want 

My existing audience comprises mostly young people who want to develop themselves, shift their mindsets, and seize new opportunities. Although I have a segment of brand owners, I didn’t research their business needs, I falsely assumed that they’d love my book based on what I think, not what data says. But when I attempted to sell the book, I realized that building brand awareness wasn’t something my target market wanted. It was too late at that point.

Before you sell a product, determine if there is a market for it. You might think your new product or service is going to sweep the market away, but without knowing your customer’s wants and needs, you can’t know if your product will do well.

Hone your skills or hire salespeople

While I’m a badass in marketing other people’s products and services, I hate selling. I’d rather eat jeans than persuade people to buy my products. My negative perception of sales affected my ebook sales because I couldn’t keep up trying to persuade or chase people for too long. But that’s what sales is about: persuading people to believe your product is the problem solver they need. 

Before you sell any product, ensure you develop your sales skills. If you’re unwilling to step into the sales arena, hire salespeople or use strategies like affiliate (commission) marketing. A great product without great marketing will fail.

The combo for profitable sales is a great product plus great marketing. If either of the two is missing, your product will flop. My ebook is valuable. I even added incentives such as a resource hub, free consultation strategy, and gift book. I thought that was enough to convince people to purchase the book, but its failure proved otherwise. I didn’t use strategic marketing strategies like Facebook ads, influencer outreach, affiliate marketing, landing interviews, etc.

Without strategic and data-driven marketing, your product won’t make the desired sales. There are no two ways about that.

Learn the mechanism of pricing

Even though the ebook wasn’t a product my target market needed, if I sold the book at a lesser price, like $4, I might have closed more sales as they’ll be more willing to take a low risk.

People love to get new products for free or at a discount. If you’re bringing a new product to the market, try to sell at a low price or a special offer at the initial sale stage.

Product launch remains undefeated

While I did a few hype days to the official publication of my ebook, the launch day was below par. In my opinion, I didn’t even launch the book. I simply threw my work against the wall. What I did was a mere social media announcement.

Whether it’s a business or product, you need to have a product launch eventA historic product launch will get people to talk and keep talking about your new product.

Your product launch could be a webinar, summit, branded hashtags, or a trivia game. Your launch event should not just be an event, but an experience. My book didn’t have that, and since I’m not Gary Vaynerchuk, it came to nothing.

Believe in yourself

Above all, have a rock-solid self-belief. Before I put my first e-book for sales, I had doubts it wasn’t going to sell. It was a flop even before it flopped. If I had believed that I could command high sales and sustain the momentum, things might have been better. Although it’s been rendered to some cheap motivational gimmick, the saying “what you think, you become” is valid.

Selling a failed ebook is not all a tale of woe. Here are two great things writing a book did for me:

  • The prestige of authorship. Having the title ‘author’ sure does wonders for your reputation even if only less than 20 people bought your book. Notwithstanding my book sales failure, no one can take the respect of being an author from me.
  • Increased earnings and confidence. Since writing a book, I have gained the confidence to apply to high-paying opportunities. In June, I got hired (for a high-paying job) without submitting work samples due to my authorship status.

Have you also experienced any failed venture? What lessons did it teach you?


Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels


Jeremiah Ajayi is a writer, SEO professional, and career coach. His goal as a writer is simple: he wants to help young people to define their own version of excellence and give them the strategies and insights to achieve it. Sign up for his newsletter to get life-changing advice and global opportunities delivered to your inbox every week:

1 Comment

  1. Wunmi

    September 23, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks Jeremiah, this is a great read.

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