Last weekend, Joe McKendrick posted a review about my book Entreprenerd on forbes.com: Three Lessons Learned From A Technology Entrepreneur’s Journey: It Takes People, Patience, And Persistence. How did that happen?
While I was writing the book, I compiled a list of journalists based on articles about technology, business, open source... I read in different media. I searched the web for their email addresses, and when my book was finally released, I sent each of these journalists an email. In some cases, I personalized the mail by referring to an article they had written. In other cases, I used a standard mail that I copy/pasted.
I didn't "shoot with hail", targeting every journalist on the globe. I picked about fifty journalists that I thought would be interested in my story. About 20% of those emails bounced. Either the email address didn't exist anymore, or I received an auto-reply message informing me the journalist had changed jobs. About 2% of the journalists I invited to get a free digital copy of my book, replied that he was interested. To put it in simple words: That was only one out of fifty journalists. One journalist informed me that he wouldn't have time to read a full book. The rest didn't even bother to reply.
I was especially disappointed by the lack of response from the local press. For instance: I offered a coupon code to journalists at the Belgian newspaper De Standaard and the Belgian business newspaper De Tijd. I could as well have sent my message into a black hole. There was no response whatsoever.
Fortunately, the one journalist who did reply was a contributor to Forbes, an American business magazine with a website featuring articles on finance, industry, technology, and so on. This is a fragment from the article he wrote:
It takes much, much more than a great idea to build a business — no matter how wondrous the technology. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to speak with many technology professionals who got tired of working for someone else and parlayed their talents into starting new businesses. What they consistently have shared is that technical chops and interesting ideas are only half the story — or maybe even only 25% of it. Success is more dependent on developing the people skills and coping mechanisms to deal with fickle customers, difficult employees, nervous investors, constantly probing competitors, and incursions by larger tech giants. Oh, and one more thing — tending to the needs of one’s family and personal well-being.
Bruno Lowagie has a word for the individual with technical skills who channels their technical chops into a business idea — “entreprenerd.” He is an entreprenerd himself, having spent his career in the tech industry, developing iText, a FOSS PDF library that is free and open source software. He eventually sold the company he and his wife, Ingeborg, ran, iText Group, with subsidiaries in Belgium, the US, and Singapore, to three private equity companies backed by another storied entreprenerd, Peter Thiel.
Lowagie released a book about his journey in business, titled Entreprenerd: Building a Multi-Million-Dollar Business with Open Source Software, which documents his journey from initial idea to eventual exit. It is an account of dealing with personal crises, to finding the right management team, to legal challenges he and Ingeborg faced leading up to the company’s sale in March, 2020. The company was entirely self-funded, Lowagie points out.
Obviously, if I had to choose between a newspaper in Dutch and an international publication in English, I wouldn't have to think twice. An international article has a much wider reach than an article in a local newspaper.
The article was released less than two days ago, and it's hard to tell if it has any effect on the sales of the book. I didn't see a spike in eBook sales; reporting about the printed book can have a delay of a couple of days to two months. That makes it hard to link a marketing effort with a specific result. Nevertheless, the Forbes article was a unique opportunity to spread the message about the book. I noticed that many different other sites just copy/paste Forbes articles. See for instance technique.buzz and techexec.com.au. It's also amazing to see that the original author of the article is replaced with another name. No, Business Service News, the article wasn't written by Edwin Alfred. I don't even know who that is! Some of the sites that copied the article, just use it as bait. When you visit those sites, you are offered things you do not want, such as shady "Get Rich Fast with Bitcoin" schemes. Surprisingly, some sites even translate the article. I found an a French version and a Dutch version. It's clear that these translations weren't made by human beings—the Dutch version is riddled with grammatical erros. I suspect that these copies are produced only to lure people in, and to make money using ads—I hope Google doesn't penalize me for linking to them.
I am now hesitating whether I should send the link to the Forbes article to those journalists who didn't answer my initial mail. That would prove that I'm indeed persistent—as described in the article, wouldn't it? On the other hand, I don't want to come across as overly annoying.
I don't have any scruples kicking Belgian journalists in the shins. They put nice slogans on their social media accounts, such as "Journalism is printing what someone else doesn't want printed: everything else is PR." In reality, they won't bother writing about your book if they weren't informed about it through an official press release issued by a publisher they know. They talk the talk, but clearly they don't walk the walk, otherwise they would be interested in an author who didn't find a publisher, but succeeded in writing an interesting book anyway (especially if that author also created a successful business).
Ah well, Belgian journalists may ignore me as much as they want. My experience with iText taught me that my success doesn't depend on Belgium. But maybe I should be a tad more gentle with international journalists...