Andy Trattner

February 14, 2022

What I Learned From Marketing My Work

A few days ago, I blogged about making my chess books free. What started as an innocent post quickly became an epic journey to the top 10 of Hacker News. This whole process was very surprising to me, both in the moment and even still now.

I began by drafting an email saying "hello folks, the books are free pdfs now." Then I thought, why not post to HN and see what happens?

A new page lurker immediately upvoted.

Oh.

Accidentally aboard the dopamine train, I rewrote my email as a call to action. I sent it off to blog subscribers. If I'm already asking some people to do this, why not go ahead and ask everyone I know?

I posted in the Schoolhouse.world, Interact, and ex-Scalien Slacks to reach a few hundred eyeballs. Then I refreshed the page for a couple hours before bed, watching the magic happen as the link climbed to #6.

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This is what I learned.

1. Short and direct messages work.
I used Seth Godin's "here, I made this" combined with the Copy Machine Study's "because" phrasing. (I like how succinctly Tyler asks for ratings on his podcast: "Please consider leaving a review. This helps other people find the show.")

2. Digital communities are powerful.
Judging by the replies, I got a decent rate of conversion from you beautiful subscribers, but more volume came from the larger slack groups (Interact in particular gave me a warm emoji reception). Since it takes time to build relationships and trust directly, being part of a healthy closed ecosystem is a neat scaling shortcut. Compared with setting my status on Facebook 10 years ago, essentially spamming random folks, posting in these groups felt much better. I see how the major platforms of web2 are somehow fading in prominence and functionality as decentralized intentional communities adopt better-aligned tools and rise with web3. 

3. The dopamine train sucks.
I don't think I've refreshed a page so much since college admission results in 2014. Although part of me was acting with generosity in posting and pushing, a much more powerful compulsion toward ego and status took over as soon as I saw the upvotes. I am surprised at how easily someone else's ranking system hijacked my brain and evening to participate in (and obsess over) the game. I guess it's a powerful reminder of why I deleted social media a few years ago.

4. Better late than never.
I should have put out my books as free PDFs last year upon publication. I didn't write them to make money, I wrote them to share the joy of chess. Giving away the PDF more aggressively probably would have also led to more sales. Bundling it with the book release avoids the dilemma of whether or not I should be double-asking subscribers to help upvote after already having asked you all to share and buy the book. All that said, even though things would have felt more generous and genuine earlier...

5. Make stuff people want.
The post ultimately achieved its purpose to reach folks who benefited from hearing about it. I went to sleep uncomfortable with the ranking given relatively few organic upvotes and comments, but woke to find much more engagement (currently 156 points and 63 comments). I'm proud of my work, glad for the opportunity to learn from the process of marketing it, and happy overall that the content is proving useful to others. It's a nice way to be closing this chapter on Your Move Publishing and moving on to the next project!

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