A General Brain-dump
of Successful Recipes and Systems.
My muse made me write this.
Just for you.
Disclaimer: I’ve been publishing for over a decade and writing for years before that. Self-publishing was started in self-defense against the constant nagging of that muse mentioned above.
Meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed financial freedom for several years, meaning I fired my last boss some time back. My books started paying my bills and since then have mostly improved in sales from month to month. I live within my means while I increase those means.
I’m about to do a deep-dive into production and so might inadvertently do a “radio silence” routine because I’m too busy publishing to worry about the many “now-you’re-supposed-to’s” of “conventional” marketing. Emailing my list will probably become sporadic at best. My bad.
When I do surface again, it will be as a fiction author, where I’ll reinvent myself using what I tell you about below…
0. Publish to all possible sales points in all possible formats. Be everywhere to everyone with everything you can.
1. Books As a Container – the content of your book is able to be in multiple digital and print formats. It’s not just ebooks and its not just print.
2. Be on Both Sides of the Garden Walls – No one store has all the customers. Different audiences have different preferences. Diversification is the key to sales. Every best-selling author has multiple versions available everywhere they can.
Ebooks (epub, mobi, PDF – Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Kobo, Lulu.com, Scribd, 24Symbols, GooglePlay, and hundreds of others, if not thousands.)
audio (audiobooks, CD’s – Author’s Republic, ACX, CDbaby.com)
print (paperback, hardback, special bindings – Lulu, CreateSpace, IngramSpark)
courses (CD/DVD, online – Udemy, Skillshare, and others with marketplaces)
bundles (combinations of all these, digitally or physically delivered. – BitTorrent, various Affiliate marketplaces like JVZoo)
video (iAmplify, Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc. Even DVDs on Amazon and CDBaby.)
3. Be everywhere at once – you can’t get sales you don’t ask for. There are a range of places who want to help you sell your books (for a small piece of your action):
Outlets / Marketplaces: Amazon, Itunes, Nook, Kobo, Lulu, 24Symbols, Scribd, GooglePlay, HummingbirdDM, etc. – These sell your books for you for a percentage of your royalties.
Aggregators: Smashwords, Lulu, Draft2Digital, StreetLib, PublishDrive – these send your book to these outlets for another percentage of your royalties. But save you time.
Distributors/Wholesalers: Ingrams, OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, American West, etc. – these reach other outlets and are mainly deal with hardcopy books. OverDrive can get your ebook into libraries where they are leased on a recurring basis, selling the same book over and over.
Most of these cross over. Most wholesalers have a distributor function (for a much larger piece of your pie.) Aggregators ship to distributors as well as outlets. Lulu has an online catalog (touted as the worlds largest independent bookstore) and is also an aggregator for both digital and print versions. Many aggregators now deal with both ebook and audio.
4. Open for Headliners – play in front of multiple audiences to get them to join yours. There is nothing more disheartening than to throw a party or concert where no one shows up. Send your book(s) to places where you can be an also-ran and get discovered. As said above, no one store has all the customers. Get everywhere you can and then use universal links such as Books2Read.com in order to sell to people everywhere you are. Do joint-venture giveaways with other authors to get your books known and appreciated. Better mousetraps don’t sell just because they are invented.
6. Sell to Marketplace Crowds – the key to selling books is to get other people to sell them for you. Instead of owning a big tent in the middle of the dessert, rent a small booth in a large bazaar where lots of people visit with the idea of buying things.
Look over that list of book outlets and warehouses, and distributors, and aggregators above carefully. They want to sell your book for you. Sure, you could set up a site and then work your tail off getting people to come to you. And you’d routinely make 90% royalties and never have to limit your price. But look at how much you’d have to spend to get people there to buy.
You put your book into existing marketplaces. Outlets are marketplaces. Everyone of those places above either have their own marketplace or ship to places that do. That’s the key. They already have audiences you want to get your book(s) in front of.
What people want to sell you is your own storefront in the desert. Watch out for these. Look for somewhere that you can get a booth in their bazaar instead. They’ll charge you a bit more (maybe not) in order to be there. Amazon is one of these. So are iTunes, Kobo, Nook, and the rest. In general, the bigger the marketplace (or more physical the product) the higher your booth rent.
Sure, I sell my own books direct. And make over 90% on each sale when I do. But those sales don’t even make a dark spot in the shadows compared to what I get from the established book outlets.
This especially goes for courses. Sure, there is a lot of money to be made in courses, way more than individual books they are based on. The trick is that you can sell your own version from your own site, while other marketplaces are selling your same material for you. Have your cake and eat it, too.
You also want multiple aggregators – most of the well-known aggregators only go to a handful of outlets. StreetLib and PublishDrive get you into European and small U.S. ebook outlets and can make you as much as Amazon for the same set of books. Because they each reach several dozen outlets and leverage the long tail. Always be on the look out for new startups in these areas. Again, no one aggregator can reach all the outlets.
5. Listen to Conventional Wisdom Carefully – and Go The Other Way. There is tons of manure out there being peddled as book fertilizer. More money was made off the gold miners in any gold rush than was ever taken out of the ground. More courses are being offered every day that all say the same stuff. And that stuff is only partial solutions at best. Most of these places were either vanity publishers or taken their place.
It’s true that its easier than ever to publish a book, but the chances of selling enough to make a living has gotten even harder. Amazon, while known as the world’s largest single book sales outlet, is also known as the world largest indie author’s graveyard as around 99.9% of their books ever sell more than a couple hundred books at best – and these are mostly family and friends of the author.
And its true that most authors don’t know how to edit, make a cover, or market. So they need some help. But if they’d simply do some Internet research, they’d find the common practices that have been tested and work.
…but don’t – until you actually have done your homework.
The sources I mention here I’ve tested and found to have no-nonsense approaches, and are personally successful from what they teach.
Geoff Shaw’s Kindling. Best for the price. Also his Udemy courses are very good (get them when Udemy is running one of their specials.)
Mark Dawson’s FB Ads for authors. You can learn the basics from his free videos, and then decide if you want the rest. Lifetime access and updates when you do.
Nick Stephenson’s course. A good, solid overview of building a system to support your author career. Get his free books and videos first.
Tim Grahl’s course. Most expensive of all of these. And most of his approach can be figured out from his free books.
Theauthoracademy.com – from C.J. Daniels. Chunk full of great resources.
Chris Fox – no-nonsense and simple books about how to start from nowhere and create some bestsellers. His 5 books on Kindle are a cheap investment (less than $20) and his videos about these books can be found online or in Daniels’ site above.
Amy Collins – plenty of stuff on her newshelves.com site, as well as her courses with Real Fast Marketing. Helps you get into wholesalers to reach Libraries and Indie bookstores.
Look, I’ve spent a decade doing this. And have only you to tell about it. That’s why I’m writing this. My muse told me to do it. Better than having it all forgotten.
– with no budget, here’s the breakdown:
Geoff Shaw’s course can be had for about $125. (and get his Udemy courses when they go on sale.)
Daniels academy is about $100.
Get Dawson’s free videos.
Get Stephenson’s free videos.
Get Grahl’s free books.
Get Fox’s books and watch his YouTube videos.
If you have a budget, don’t spend, invest. Use your day job to cover your costs, but make sure you treat that as an investment. Every publishing business should pay its own way. You probably aren’t funded by venture capital (and shouldn’t be.)
The heart of any success as an author is to build and run your publishing as a business. That means paying back your investment by making your money get returns.
The only failures are people treating it as a hobby and then expecting it to return income like a business. Passive, residual income doesn’t mean you do nothing, it means you don’t have to create every product. It used to be (like Robert Kiyosaki) that you had to print a few thousand books and sell them from your garage. Now you can set them up to get printed when they are sold. You don’t have to print and warehouse and sell your own books. But you do have to get other people to do it for you. And the money you invest in that effort needs to come back to you.
If you buy a course, it should result in at least that many royalties to reimburse you for the costs. Same for any program or tool you buy. Same for any how-to book. Same for the bandwidth you use. Your web hosting should be bringing you income. Get a dollars and sense mindset. “How will this enable me to earn more income?” That’s your mantra.
This evolved from Tim Grahl’s courses (free and paid) and my own experience. No one ever really defines a “platform.” Those that do mainly talk about how well you can market your book, which is only part of it. An author without books can only get pre-sales for so long.
Grahl has a lot of experience in launching single books successfully. He’s familiar with two types of authors who hire him: those with a big list (audience) and those with a big network. He missed two other types, although they are both present – those who have a big vision/core idea, and those who have a lot of content.
People like John Jentzch who wrote Ducktape Marketing, have a single/core idea and a single book they then produce variations of as well as produce their income from courses, speeches, and coaching. Stephen Covey also used that approach.
Authors who have a lifetime of content can also make a good living. Isaac Asimov was one like this, as well as Napoleon Hill. You probably don’t know that Hill made three million-dollar fortunes in his life, publishing dozens of books. Meanwhile, he was lecturing. You can take Earl Nightingales’ Our Changing World radio show with it’s nearly 7,000 broadcasts, in addition to his recorded talks. Or Jim Rohn who made his second fortune by recording and re-selling his lectures. Or Al Capp’s Lil’ Abner comic strips, or Watterson’s ever-popular Calvin and Hobbes. Tons of content.
Boil these down, and you’ll see a system:
Vision – your ideal you are reaching for, your faith in the inevitable success of your actions.
Content – the ideas you have as published in the various containers you can pour those ideas into.
Audience – people who want what you offer and will pay you for it. This is represented by the size of your mailing list.
Network – people who are in your area of expertise and you have dealt with personally. These are also your affiliate sales people in addition to your doctor, dentist, stockbroker, supermarket check-out person. This is your mastermind group, as well as people you talk to once a year.
In these four points, you see a practical and working definition of what your platform can be, as well as how to grow it.
Look them over and see what you can do to firm up each one.
Most marketing revolves around building your list.
Grahl and Stephenson talk about building and using both audience and network to have successful launches and marketing campaigns for books. Stephenson is talking about having multiple books available for sale, but also attributes his own success to networking with fellow authors, in doing joint launches with them.
But you’ll find people who simply got in front of people as a speaker and pitched their book to them (which could be bought as a special discount just for that event, in the back of the room.)
You’ll find people who create a course full of data and then sell the textbook as a reference for that course.
And then there are the extreme cases of content publishers who amass a huge list of books which people want to read and arrange to ship their particular order to them. Book of the Month Club was one of these. Dover Publications is another.
When you start working on one, you’ll find it builds up the others. That’s why it’s a system. People buy your books and join your list. You promote your other content to them. Some are authors on their own and can help you with joint venture promotions. But this will succeed to the exact point where you have a strong vision about the result you want.
You can launch using any of these four points, or any combination of them. Grahl has anecdotes of people who did nothing more than tell their network they had a book. Or who only told their list about their book. Any publisher who can navigate the rocky shores and rip currents of public domain publishing can find safe harbor and financial freedom. (Not for the faint at heart, though.)
You don’t have to start big, but you have to start. If you have a small list, a small network, then let them all know about your book. OK, so the first one only sells a couple hundred copies. Most of the big names didn’t start making decent income until their fifth book, like J. K. Rowling. She wrote the first three while government welfare payments footed the bills. Finally a publisher picked up her first book, but her career really took off after they published the fifth one. Stephen King had the same deal. His fifth book was the tipping point.
“Write, publish, repeat” is the title for one of the books that describes this scene.
If you just want a NYT bestseller, you can write a book, pay for editing and a cover, then pay an exorbitant amount to have a business buy your books in all the right places and get it onto that list. It will disappear of that list the next week, but you made your target and will ever after be known as a “NYT bestselling author.”
Geoff Shaw tells about authors who use multiple pen names and pull down consistent six and seven-figure income without anyone knowing who that really is. And their books sell well, but don’t necessarily hit bestseller lists (well, perhaps on Amazon.) And Author Earnings’ Data Guy confirms that there are still holes in their data gathering where some authors can be represented several times in their data as high-selling, but their pen names aren’t able to be consolidated to find out how much they are actually making, much less how they are doing it. That’s just tons of content talking at you.
That brings up the point of working with your strengths.
Joe Pulizzi in his Content Inc. mentions the idea of a sweet spot. (His book actually lays out a good business plan for any author-publisher.)
Pulizzi says that there is what you know and what you’re trained at doing. You create your content from the intersection of these two. (And see his book for a deeper explanation. But the idea is simple and should have already turned on a few light bulbs for you.)
This was extended by others to include the audience more. The sweet spot is also what the audience wants and what they will pay you for.
Draw that up in a Venn diagram with overlapping circles of interest and influence and you’ll then see that the center of all of these is where you can write and publish to.
Compare that with Chris Fox’s Write to Market, as well as Shaw’s material, and you’ll see that it’s all the same content.
You have to write what you like to read, and you have to sensibly write in genres which are selling.
And if you want to wonk out on those genres, you can study the free PDF’s and video’s that k-lytics.com produces monthly.
You can write books which will sell in any genre. But how much you want to earn from your writing will depend on your own vision. And that might determine which genre you want to write in. Keep in mind that your writing should be a joy. If you want to make a huge income, then it’s still that you write the books you like to read, just narrow down to the type which people are buying lots of them. Instead of cat mysteries, you might need to move over to cozy mysteries, or women detectives. All of these sub-sub-genres sell, it’s just that some sell better than others. More readers are looking for those books.
In general, avoid. Syndicate your posts to them but don’t spend your time there. Use Facebook to run ads to people who do. Because the social networks are set up to limit access to the amount of organic followers you have, in favor of your paying to reach them. Tim Grahl and others found that authors in general don’t sell many books there, especially compared to the time you invest/waste.
IFTTT.com (If This Then That) will do your syndication to almost anywhere.
Spend your time writing and marketing instead, which includes building your list and directly communicating with them. Those are real conversations with people who have bought your books.
The few social network exceptions would be LibraryThing and Goodreads, maybe Wattpad. Because these are social networks for book lovers. And the uber-readers (more than one book per week) are constantly looking for people with lists of books to read. LibraryThing also has librarians there, who might stock your book for you. And libraries are where these uber-readers go for print versions as well as ebooks.
The point is that you can’t get a return of time from investment, only money. Don’t fritter your time on “liking” or “tweeting” cat pictures when you should be writing or marketing. Instead, write and market a book on cat pictures if you find there’s a viable market for it.
Sorry, but this was an inspired brain-dump. It’s missing all sorts of links. The sites I’ve mentioned above can all be found simply by Google search. You can access all of the outlets, aggregators, and wholesalers to set up accounts for publishing your books through them. Most of the wholesalers and distributors would prefer you act like a “grown-up” (bona-fide) publisher rather than an author with a book to pitch. So get a dozen books before you start submitting to them. You might go ahead and publish some friend’s books for them while you’re at it. CDBaby.com and (later) Bookbaby.com actually started this way.
1. Publish everywhere you can in all formats you can. Diversify.
2. Invest in publishing as a business, not a hobby. Make your business support itself. Get your money (and time) to pay back that investment.
3. Find and work from your sweet spot.
4. Build your platform and work from your strengths. You can make a living by having a single book, or you can write hundreds. Whatever turns your crank.
Wishing you every success you can earn.
If you think this was helpful, try getting this free book to learn more. Really Simple Writing & Publishing
Just click here for access. No opt-in, just some great downloads. (Yes, you can help me in return by buying this or my other books and leave reviews on Amazon if you want…)
Also published on Medium.