StoryOrigin Blog
Your guide to book marketing

What Authors Can Learn from Tech Startups

Applying a tech startup framework self-publishing books
Evan Gow
April 28, 2018

In the world of Startups, Dave McClure is a boss. He's invested in 5 unicorns (a moniker for startups worth over a billion dollars), something very few people have done. Besides being famous for investing, Dave McClure is also known for presentation he did called “SaaS Metrics for Pirates.” SaaS is an acronym for Software-as-a-Service. (Trust me, I'm going somewhere with this!)

These are companies that charge a monthly subscription for using their website (e.g. MailChimp), and self-published authors can learn a lot from the frameworks and marketing tactics that these companies use. A lot of successful self-published authors already mimic SaaS companies' tactics.

Offering a freebie as an entrance to the series is like offering a free trial
Writing a series and doing “quick releases” is similar to having a subscription product
You want your readers to feel invested in your story, just like SaaS companies want customers invested in their products (albeit this is accomplished in a different way)

There are other ways they are similar but I think you get the point. So what's missing from this? A framework (!) for thinking about book marketing strategies.

All you have to remember is what pirates say… “AARRR” — or — Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue.


Acquisition is all about how you get readers to your product (whether that be a freebie or a paid book). The various ways you can direct people to your freebie are called “acquisition channels.” The important acquisition channels for self-published authors are:

Paid promo sites (e.g. Bookbub, genreCRAVE, etc.)
Newsletter swaps with other authors
Group giveaways (using tools like StoryOrigin)
Amazon Marketing Services (AMS)
Facebook ads
This isn't a comprehensive list, but these are generally considered the most effective acquisition channels. Don't constrain your thinking to these though. Feel free to get creative!

Activation is so, so important, and I think this is probably the thing most authors skip. Activation is all about turning those free trial signups or freebie downloads into actual users/readers. Lots of people sign up for free trials and never use the product. Likewise, many people download a freebie and never read it.

I see complaints ALL. THE. TIME. from self-published who have gotten tons of freebie downloads, but see few of those downloads convert into actual readers. There are lots of reasons that might be the case, but one of the most common is that they are failing to “activate” their audience.

The easiest way to try to activate your audience is to set up an automated email sequence for your newsletter, so when someone downloads your freebie and gets added to your email list, they automatically get a welcome email that tries to entice them into actually reading the book.


Retention is where it pays to be a combo of great writer meets business/marketing person.

Someone has been “activated” once they start reading your book, but from there, it's all ‘bout that RET-ENNNTIOOOON!!! Insert hip hop air horn noise.

… Apologies, for my outburst.

Being a great writer comes into play here, because one of the key ingredients of marketing a book is that people actually enjoy reading it (great insights Evan!). Here, you really want to focus on having a great “hook” in your freebie, so that people want to buy your paid book or want to read the next book in the series. A lot of authors focus on grammar, character development, and fixing plot holes in the editing process (and those things are important!), BUT…

You really want to make sure that your hook works well. This is why it's important to find a small group of people who enjoy reading books in your genre, getting them to read a draft, measuring their engagement, then revising your work until they are all begging to read the draft of part 2.

When they are craving part 2, that's where being smart about marketing is key. You want to make sure you try to get as many of these readers on your mailing list, so that when you launch part 2, they know it exists and where to buy it.


When someone finds something amazing, they want to share it with a friends. Sometimes the thought doesn't cross their mind though. Things that increase the likelihood they'll share it?

Ask them to (the simplest one. Just add a note at the end of the story.)
It's free
They get something in exchange for sharing it

Reviews also fall into the “referral” bucket. Make sure that you've got a team of early reviewers of your book, so that when it launches, people can already see what others think of it.


This can be a little more complicated for SaaS businesses as there are various business models, but it's fairly straightforward for most authors. Sell more books! Or, if you're in Kindle Unlimited, get more page views!

Just Remember

Be a pirate, and remember to “AARRR”!!!

I hope you liked this! If you have any feedback, I'd love to hear it. Or, if there's anything you think I should expand on, just let me know!

If you're looking to start building your email list, check out StoryOrigin.

About the author: Evan is the founder of StoryOrigin, a marketing tool for authors