Who will be the JK Rowling of self-publishing? Better still: who will be the legions who make an extra $1,000-$1,000,000 per year? (Photo: The Telegraph, UK)
This is a guest post by Ryan Buckley and the team at Scripted. I have added my own tools and recommendations after “TIM” throughout the piece.
Enter Ryan Buckley and Team
Barry Eisler writes thrillers about a half-Japanese, half-American freelance assassin named John Rain. John Rain is the consummate anti-hero, a whiskey swilling, jazz-loving former CIA agent battling crippling paranoia as he adventures around the globe. Readers love John Rain, so much so that they’ve landed Barry Eisler and seven of his John Rain books on the New York Times Bestseller list. [TIM: Here’s how the different bestseller lists work.]
Having conquered all that needs to be conquered in the world of commercial publishing, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Eisler’s publisher offered him $500,000 deal for a new two-book deal.
The surprise was that Eisler turned down the deal and decided to tackle self-publishing instead. In a freewheeling discussion with self-publishing expert Joe Konrath, Eisler says:
“I know it’ll seem crazy to a lot of people, but based on what’s happening in the industry, and based on the kind of experience writers like you are having in self-publishing, I think I can do better in the long term on my own.”
We asked Eisler for a current update, and he told us that this month (March 2013), he expects to sell 8,000 copies of his 10 self-published novels and stories, which are priced $1-5 each. Despite self-publishing his first story only two years ago, it appears he’s made the right decision. With roughly $300,000 in royalties per year, he already beat his publisher’s offer…
The writing on the wall couldn’t be any clearer: the publishing world is changing fast.
Getting a publishing contract has long been the first litmus test of a writer’s success. Writers spend years in the wilderness accumulating rejections before finding a single buyer (advances usually start at $1,000 to $10,000). Even The 4-Hour Workweek was rejected 20+ times before it got an offer.
But conventional publishing isn’t the only game in town anymore.
Self-published authors are increasingly landing on the NYT bestseller list and hog a fair share of Amazon’s top-20 list. Amanda Hocking became a self-publishing multi-millionaire with her teen supernatural thrillers before bagging a $2M publishing contract with St. Martin’s Press. John Locke sold $2M worth of eBooks before landing a deal with Simon & Schuster.
All this means that perhaps you don’t need a contract to validate you… now or in the future.
Why eBooks, Why Now?
The numbers don’t lie: Amazon now sells more eBooks than printed books. Kindle sales topped 1 million per week by the end of last year. More than 20% of publishing giant Random House’s revenues last year were from digital sales.
[TIM: Here are my personal stats — the percentage of total sales from ebooks for each of my books, limited to their first year on-sale:
April 2007 pub date – original 4HWW – less than 1%
Dec 2009 pub date – revised and expanded 4HWW – approximately 21%
Dec 2010 pub date – 4HB – approximately 31%
Nov 2013 pub date – 4HC – will surpass 50% by November 2013]
Amazon is at the forefront of this publishing revolution. Through the Kindle eReader and the Kindle eBook store, it has given indie authors a platform to get published and gather an audience. As a $100-billion-plus market cap e-commerce juggernaut, Amazon already has a substantial user base (as per comScore, 282.2 million people visited Amazon.com in June 2011 – or roughly 20% of the total internet traffic). Coupled with high royalty rates (70% compared to 10-15% for traditional publishers), it is the perfect platform for a fledgling writer to make a living, and if fate agrees, even a fortune.
The path to becoming a Kindle millionaire isn’t easy, but it’s possible to tilt the odds in your favor by following best practices. [TIM: Becoming a millionaire using non-Kindle ebooks is arguably even easier — here’s one $1,000,000/month example.]
This how-to post will look at general principles and lessons from real-world successes.
Understanding Amazon and Niche Selection
The first step is market research.
Your first order of the day should be to spend a few hours around the Amazon Kindle marketplace. Browse through the top sellers, be generous with your clicks and read up as much as you can – user reviews, book descriptions, Amazon’s editorial reviews (if any). You want to get an intuitive feel for the market, what sells, what doesn’t. How many non-fiction books end up in the top 10? What genre do they belong to? What is the average price of a Kindle bestseller? What do their covers look like? How many reviews do they have? What is the average rating? What is the correlation between rating and current ranking?
[TIM: For what it’s worth, much like Hugh Howey, I write about what I love or would love to learn about. Here’s how I did preliminary market research for The 4-Hour Chef:
– I polled my 400,000+ followers on Twitter and Facebook with questions like “What are your favorite 2 or 3 cookbooks?” and “If you were starting over, which 2 or 3 books would get you most excited while learning fundamentals?”
– I then used virtual assistants via Taskrabbit.com to create a list of those titles that pop up more than 3 times. I also asked professional chefs the same questions and cross-referenced the lists.
– Once I had the repeat contenders (let’s assume 20 titles), I headed to Amazon, where I did 2 things:
1. First, I identified the titles on my list that have an average review of 4 stars or higher.
2. Second, I read the “most helpful” critical reviews from those titles, aiming to focus on 3-star ratings, whenever possible. If not, I look for 4-star. The 1- and 2-star are usually written by people who hate everything (look at their other reviews if you
doubt me), and the 5-star reviews tend not to go into detail. From the “most helpful” 3–4-star reviews, I compile a list of:
A) Things “missing” or deficient in even the best books. These are opportunities for me to do or explore something new. For instance, even the best-selling BBQ books were criticized for omitting the “heart and soul of BBQ”: short ribs and brisket. This meant I naturally had to include at least one.
B) I download all 20 books onto my Kindle and read the “Popular Highlights” in each, sorted by “Most Popular.” This often allows me
to read 20–50 pages instead of 300, 500, or even 1,000 pages. Then I can deep dive only where I love what I see. If you don’t like the movie trailer, you’re certainly not going to like the book the highlights were pulled from.
But this begs the question: how do you go about selecting your niche in the first place?
I’m tempted to say: pick a niche you actually enjoy reading. But this may not always be the best advice. I enjoy reading complicated literary novels and obscure texts in linguistics, but they’re hardly the stuff best sellers are made of. Your niche selection should be in-line with market demands. This is why spending time in the Amazon marketplace is important: it will tell you which niches are popular and which are not.
[TIM: To really determine what will sell and what will not, I highly recommend reading this step-by-step method by Noah Kagan. He built two multi-million-dollar businesses before age 28 using similar methodologies.]
Once you have your niche, spend some time researching your ideal buyer. See where they hang out, how active they are online, what is their average age and income, and what motivates them to buy an eBook in the first place? Are they looking for solutions, or are they looking for adventures and story-telling to ease their boredom?
Once you have a faint picture of your ideal buyer, find out what they do and what they consume online. Entrepreneurs will likely hang out at TechCrunch, while productivity folks will have Lifehacker bookmarked. Quantcast is a good tool to understand market demographics better. Just type in the URL of the target site, and you’ll get a fair idea of their demographic make-up. [TIM: You can also get valuable data from Kickstarter projects you find that might attract similar customers — which sites are sending them the most traffic?]
Be prepared to spend a few hours over a weekend in market research. [TIM: I’ll spend weeks doing this, if necessary. I don’t truly know my audience until I could make decisions for them.]
A few power tips for niche selection:
- Weight loss and dieting are a perennial Amazon favorite.
- Business books tend to find a lot of favor with readers as well, especially if you can package scattered information into an easy to digest package (example: Personal MBA by Josh Kauffman).
- Reddit is one of the finest sources to research niches and gather ideas. Spend a few hours in /r/Fitness and its related sub-reddits (/r/leangains, /r/paleo) and you’ll come up with dozens of ideas for a book (example: The Butter and Bacon Diet: Losing Weight With Keto, inspired by /r/keto). This is a nice list of sub-reddits arranged by popularity.
- Don’t go niche-hopping. Stick to one niche and dominate it with a flood of quality content. There are dozens and dozens of ideas scattered all over the Internet. Research these ideas, agglomerate them into comprehensible forms, and synthesize them into consumable format, and you’ll have your eBook. [TIM: This isn’t my approach, but it can be done well, even with public domain materials.]
Creating the eBook
This can be the hardest or the easiest part of becoming a Kindle publisher, depending on your comfort level with writing. Writing the eBook yourself can be incredibly fun if you enjoy the creative process, or a mind-numbing chore if you don’t.
[TIM: Writing a book shouldn’t be used to determine if you like (or can at least handle) writing. Try and publish a chapter-length (3,000-5,000 words) blog post a week for a month. If you can’t do that, don’t commit to a book, IMHO. To improve your craft, I suggest On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird, and On Writing Well.]
Alternatively, you can outsource the entire project. But before you jump into the fray, there are a few key steps to consider:
- Brainstorm the title of the book. Along with the cover, your title is the most visible aspect of your book. Dig through the bestseller list in your targeted niche to see how top books are titled, and consider following their lead. [TIM: I actually test both titles and subtitles using cheap Google Adwords campaigns.]
- Brainstorm angles and approaches to the content. What makes your book unique among the competition? What new perspective are you bringing to the niche? How can you deliver most value to your readers?
- Create a detailed outline of the entire eBook. Map everything out, from the introduction to the concluding paragraph. Look to the best selling books in your niche for inspiration and advice on structure and organization. You should have a thorough outline detailing the style, tone and content of each chapter.
[TIM: I typically break my books into 3-5 “sections” which are then broken down into chapters. I use the program Scrivener to map this out. Each chapter has a beginning, middle, and end like a magazine article. Each of them should be independently self-sufficient. This makes the book easier for me to write if I hit a block… and it makes the book easier to read. I can write chapters out of order, and readers can consume them out of order.]
- While it’s necessary to strive for quality and push conventions aside, it is also important to be practical in your approach. You might aspire to write avant-garde literary novels, but that’s hardly the stuff best-sellers are made of. The key is to write an astounding book in a niche that sells. This, of course, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on quality; Max Brooks’ “World War-Z” piggybacked on the zombie apocalypse trend, and yet found a way to comment on compelling present day social and political issues. Now it’s a major film starring Brad Pitt.
If you want to write the book yourself, as Tim would have it, there are a few things you can do to sharpen your skills:
- Become a master of the Snowflake Method. Essentially, it means building a comprehensive ‘map’ of your book – character backstories, narrative arcs, plausible scenarios – before you write a single word. It flies in the face of all conventional notions of ‘creative inspiration,’ but it can be deadly effective at writing superior novels with strong narrative arcs, especially in genre fiction. The Snowflake Method has been devised by author Randy Ingmerson, who has used it himself in all six of his best-selling novels.
- Storytelling is a craft, and like any other craft, it too can be mastered with practice. Barry Eisler, who has tackled both legacy and self-publishing (and succeeded wildly), suggests a reading of three books – Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein, Learning to Write Fiction from the Masters, by Barnaby Conrad, and Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style and Principles of Screenwriting to improve the craft of storytelling. [TIM: I personally favor Save the Cat for fiction/screenwriting.]
- Learn from fellow self-published authors. Eisler recommends the blog of novelist J.A. Konrath, who has been self-publishing since 2004 and recording his experiences on the blog. Eisler says, “I think anyone even considering self-publishing ought to be reading Joe, and if you’re not interested in self-publishing, you should read him just to be sure you understand the pros and cons of the various publishing options available today.” Eisler also has a list of indie author blogs on his website that can help you understand the self-publishing process.
- Learn from the masters: the likes of Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks, and Robert Ludlum have spent a lifetime perfecting their craft. Comb through their novels diligently. See how they create tension, withhold information to create suspense, and write dialogues. The more you read, the better you will become at grasping the essence of a good novel.
- Create a writing schedule and stick to it. Set aside at least an hour or two for writing each day. This is the hardest part about writing a successful novel, simply because it requires discipline and commitment. Most writers don’t succeed because they give-up midway. Don’t be that writer. [TIM: Most of my friends who are consistently good writers write between 10pm-8am. This means they either go to be really late — I do my best work between 11pm-5am — or they wake up really early. It’s easier to concentrate when the rest of the world is asleep.]
Otherwise, it’s time to find freelancers to finish your project:
- Insist on a Skype interview before you hire anyone. Pay careful attention to their command of language. Also pay attention to how well they ask you questions.
- Ask them difficult questions: What is their prior experience with writing eBooks? What’s their best and worst published work and why? What mistakes have they made, professionally and creatively?
- Speak with references and include: “He/she seems great. I like them. Of course, all people have strengths and weaknesses. If you had to choose theirs, what would they be?”
- If they pass the above, give them your detailed brief and outline in full. The more information your writer has, the better the finished product will be.
- Consider payment on a chapter-by-chapter basis until a strong working relationship is established.
- Last but not least, have them sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement.
Formatting the eBook for Kindle
You’ll most likely write your eBook as a Word document. Converting a. docx/.doc file to the Kindle format is relatively straight forward with Amazon’s conversion tools. Amazon itself has a comprehensive guide on formatting a book for Kindle.
The key things to keep in mind when formatting are:
- File size: files larger than 50mb cannot be converted to the Kindle format. Remember that Amazon’s delivery costs are approximately $0.15/mb. The larger the file size, the higher these costs. Compress the document as much as possible before uploading it to Amazon for the conversion process.
- Amazon has a comprehensive guide to building a book for Kindle that covers every aspect of formatting – creating front matter, table of contents, etc. This is a free eBook that can be downloaded here.
- The catalog/cover image is crucial for sales. Here’s Amazon’s online guide on how to create the cover.
Designing the Cover
Never judge a book by its cover, they say. On Amazon, however, your cover will go a long way towards setting you apart from the self-published pap that usually litters the Kindle store. If you’ve done your market research right, you already know what I’m talking about: badly formatted books with covers that look like Photoshop disasters and a child’s scribbling in MS paint dominate the low-end of the market.
A quality cover is proof that you’ve put thought and effort into the book – a good signal for a prospective buyer. [TIM: Also think in terms of thumbnail size — will it grab attention as a tiny image on a handheld device? You won’t have a nice big hardcover to show it off. Think like an app designer choosing an icon for the iPhone.]
Depending on your budget and Photoshop skills, you can either design the cover yourself ($0), or outsource it ($5 to $395).
OPTION A: DESIGNING THE COVER YOURSELF
Unless you are a Photoshop whiz, I don’t recommend this option. If you must cut corners and design the cover yourself, I recommend keeping things simple: grab a high quality image from Shutterstock that echoes the generic conventions of your niche and write your book title in an appropriate font. For inspiration, head to the Book Cover Archive.
Pro tip: Fonts, like images in a cover, echo the established values of a genre. Fonts in romance novels are usually florid, while those in thrillers and weight loss books are more contemporary. Make sure that you use fonts that adhere to genre conventions.
OPTION B: OUTSOURCING THE COVER DESIGN
Pick your poison:
Cheap: Set up a competition on 99designs to crowdsource your eBook cover. Prices can range from $50 to $500. OR, hire an established, experienced book cover designer. You can easily find a ton of these on sites like AuthorSupport or Damonza.
Cheaper: For $20-50, hire a designer from oDesk to design a cover for you.
Cheapest: For $5, get a cheap cover from Fiverr.
Marketing and Promoting Your Book
So you’ve written your book, you’ve formatted it for Kindle, and you have a gorgeous cover image to entice readers.
Now it’s game time.
Marketing is what separates the successful Kindle publishers from the also-rans who hug the bottom of the sales charts.
Self-publishing essentially inverts the traditional publishing model, where publishers publish the book, then get the media to drum up enthusiasm before the public can pass it along through word-of-mouth. Self-published authors must do this entire process in reverse: they must get people interested in their books before they actually publish the book on Amazon. It requires building relationships with your readers and establishing a sense of community by leveraging social media.
[TIM: I’ll keep this note short. Here’s how to create a high-traffic blog (1MM+ unique visitors a month) without killing yourself. It’s exactly how I built this blog and manage it.]
ESTABLISH A CONSISTENT AUTHOR PROFILE
In the mid-80s, at the height of his literary prowess, Stephen King started writing books under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. Bachman’s books were failures – Running Man sold only 28,000 copies in its initial print run, but ten times as many when Bachman was outed as a pseudonym for King. The message is obvious enough: readers won’t think twice about buying books from authors they know and recognize.
For amateur authors, this translates into maintaining a consistent author profile across multiple media properties. You are essentially trying to create a personal brand (like Tim’s). Select a good picture and make sure you use it on all author-related websites, including your blog, social media, and Amazon Author Central (more on this below).
START A BLOG
It is 2012; you have no excuses for not running a blog. It is free and downright easy with software like WordPress. The 4-Hour Workweek blog (built using WordPress) was started as a platform to promote a book and foster a community. Today, the blog and its readership are arguably more valuable than the book itself. [TIM: Definitely true.]
Share advice and tips related to your niche. Your blog should serve as a teaser trailer for what’s in store in your book. Be as educative, informative, and creative as you can be. This 4-Hour Workweek blog is a good model to imitate.
[TIM: You don’t have to start out sexy! Check out this hideous mess, the earliest version of this blog. It’s atrocious.]
HARNESS THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Start with the obvious:
- A Facebook page
- A Twitter account
Then the not-so-obvious:
- Do Reddit AMAs on appropriate sub-reddits (here’s a big list).
- Answer questions on Quora related to your niche.
- Do guest posts on niche specific blogs.
- Create author profiles on GoodReads and Amazon Author Central.
- Engage and communicate with fellow writers and readers on forums like Authonomy and Absolute Write.
Barry Eisler advises “not to use social media to sell, but rather to give away useful information and entertaining content for free, and to build relationships thereby. What you do on your Facebook page and Twitter page should be intended to benefit your friends and followers. If they like it, they’ll like you; if they like you, maybe they’ll become interested in your books.”
BECOME A MASTER OF MARKETING
A foundation in conventional and Internet marketing can go a long way in helping you make Kindle sales. Eisler recommends four books on marketing to the aspiring author:
- Marketing High Technology: An Insider’s View, by Bill Davidow. According to Eisler, “the sixteen factor he (Davidow) looks for in determining whether marketing is likely to be successful are incredibly useful and adaptable to the book industry.”
- The Dream: How to Promote Your Product, Company or Ideas – and Make a Difference Using Everyday Evangelism, by Guy Kawasaki. Eisler adds, “approaching marketing as evangelism is a brilliant concept, and unusually applicable to books. Recruiting and training evangelists with the power of social media is something any writer intent on commercial success should do.”
- The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk!, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. [TIM: I love this book. Also don’t miss this article, perhaps my fave of all-time: 1,000 True Fans.]
- Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Customers, by Seth Godin. Eisler especially recommends Godin’s book, saying that “the concept of what a customer gives you permission to market and where you’re counterproductively overstepping your bounds is hugely important to bookselling, and this short book should be on any self-published author’s short list.”
PRICING, DESCRIPTIONS and REVIEWS
Price is a major advantage self-published authors have over published authors. $0.99 to $2.99 seems to be the sweet spot for self-published works. Amazon offers two royalty structures for its Kindle Direct Publishing program: 35% or 70% royalty. The 70% royalty option is available only a few select countries – including the United States (see the full list here). However, books with 70% royalty must be priced at least 20% lower than their physical counterparts. If you choose the 35% royalty option, you have much more freedom in setting the list price.
70% royalty is perfect for self-published authors who do not have physical books in the Amazon store. $2.99 is the recommended price point since it nets you more than $2 per sale (excluding delivery costs, which start at $0.15/mb) while still keeping the price low enough for impulse buys.
It is also a good idea to give away your book for free initially to jump start sales. You do this by setting the list price as $0.00 and promoting the book’s initial run through social media. If the product is good enough, it will spread through word of mouth and you can alter the list price accordingly.
The book description is important for telling the readers what to expect in the book. This is where you put your blurb and review snippets from bloggers. Look at books in the Amazon Top 100 to see how they capture reader attention and write their blurbs.
[TIM: I’m astonished when authors spend 1-10 years writing a book and then let a junior copyeditor at their publisher write their backcover and inside flap copy. Don’t do this! That copy will end up being your “Description” text on Amazon, which is your most important tool for converting browsers to buyers. Good copywriters know that you spend 80% of your time on the headline of an ad. You should spend at least 10x as much time on backcover/flap/”description” copy as you would on an average internal page.]
Reviews are social proof of a book’s quality and a crucial contributing factor to its success. Gathering positive reviews will go a long way in pushing your eBook towards the bestseller charts. Some authors, including John Locke, confessed to buying reviews for money (as per this NYT expose), but it’s a practice that is unethical and looked down upon in the writer community. Your best bet is to leverage your existing relationships with your Twitter followers, blog readers, friends, and relatives to get positive reviews.
Finally, I’ve found that it is profitable in the initial run to release books within a space of a week or a month, so that your readers have something to move onto if they like your work. It also helps to create narrative arcs that span several books (something that can be done with non-fiction as well) to keep readers coming back for more. [TIM: Haha… I personally prefer to take 2-4 years between books and focus on ensuring that each one sells for decades.]
The beauty of Amazon is that once you have enough leverage in the market, you’re essentially working on auto-pilot. Once you are an established presence in the market, your name alone will attract the curious and the faithful. As far as passive income is concerned, it’s hard to beat a portfolio of Kindle books.
[TIM: Or 1 or 2 books that sell forever. Here’s how to maximize the odds — The 12 Main Lessons Learned Marketing The 4-Hour Body.]
Caveat lector: be aware that success through self-publishing is rare and hard fought. Eisler compares publishing to the lottery, where few can get in and even fewer can succeed. The main difference between legacy and self-publishing, he says, is that “the overwhelming majority of writers who couldn’t even get in the door in the legacy world can now publish just as easily as everyone else, but beyond that, so far I’d say the odds of making a living are roughly the same.”
He adds, “fantasizing about making it big in self-publishing is no more crazy than fantasizing about making it big in legacy publishing.”
Here’s to the crazy ones: take action, research, write, sell, repeat.
Did you like this post? Would you like more of this type of post? If so, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!
ODDS AND ENDS: MEDIA, MAPTIA WINNER
Media from the web:
Your Book is a Start-up (BitTorrent Partnership)
Surrender to Tim Ferriss (New York Observer)
How We Lost 68 Pounds – 4-Hour Body (Globe and Mail)
We have chosen Mexican-inspired Spicy Chocolate Soufflé with Avocado Whipped Cream by @poconversation (Natalie). Here’s the recipe, and here’s her winning tweet:
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)
375 Replies to “How to (Really) Make $1,000,000 Selling E-Books – Real-World Case Studies”
Wow, super awesome and helpful post! Thanks a million for this! 😀
To reach those numbers, you should also promote your ebook on sites like Downdrops
As someone who currently sells ebooks to fulfill my dreamline, I have a feeling I’ll be reading and re-reading this one a few times.
Thanks for continuing to create/share epic shit.
P.S. The original design on your blog might be the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen… Right next to the original design of every blog I’ve ever built. However, I wasn’t brave enough to save screenshots to prove it.
Thanks for the comments, guys! Yes, my old blog is unbelievable. How did I think those colors would work out? 🙂
I look forward to sharing this blog–and your first–with my students. Thanks again for being a great guinea pig and guide!
At http://www.archive.org you’ll see previous versions of the design.
Tim, as always thanks for an insightful analysis — with plenty of real world examples and resource links. There’s many aspects of e-books that have felt like they were behind a veil. Your presentation is straight-forward and makes it much more clear. I especially like the Marketing and Promoting section. I definitely would be interested in more posts like this. It’s almost like a mini-chapter from your coming update of “The Four Workweek”.
I absolutely love this post, Tim. Please do more like this.
Ah, this is awesome. Very timely as I’m looking to publish within the next 30 days. Thanks Tim.
So many book ideas, so little time.
I don’t think I can only write after midnight, drinking wine and watching movies and listening to music all at the same time like you.
I’m more of a Stephen King type. Wake up every morning and put in 4 hours.
Another awesome article, I will definably have to read all those marketing books you recommended.
Great post, Ryan and Tim. Just wanted to chime in with a few other tips based on my experience as a self-publisher:
1. Some niches sell more in paper. I publish in LSAT prep. The LSAT is a pencil and paper test, and sales are MUCH higher for paper books (based on comparative sales ranks, and the duds that appear in the top LSAT kindle books). No one mentions e-books on forums, either.
So know your niche.
2. Paper royalties can actually be quite high, too. If you use Createspace, you can earn at least 40%. I’m earning between 60-70% of sales price on paper book sales due to amazon having discounted my book (without reducing royalties). I used LSI as a second publisher to list my book on B & N’s website and force price competition.
3. Look for niches that have moats. I only entered the LSAT explanation business for two reasons:
i. I already had some explanations that I sold through an affiliate blog. I just had to format them to make a book.
ii. I had gotten fast at writing explanations, so I can write new books fairly quickly. This took months of effort.
If I hadn’t had those two advantages, I would not have entered my niche. It also means competitors are not likely to enter my niche, as it is not very lucrative. This leads to point 4.
4. You don’t need to be a millionaire. There are many small niches that traditional publishers would never touch – they’re just not worth it.
But if you can add $100-$1000 per month to your income, then that can make a significant difference in your life. There are countless niches capable of supporting this level of book sales.
p.s. Tim, is there any way to allow us to follow replies to only our own comments via email? I’d love to follow this comment in case anyone replies with questions, but I don’t want to subscribe to all new replies to this post. You flood my inbox if I do that 🙂
Thanks for the great comment, Graeme! I’ll check with the WordPress guys on your question…
Can’t upvote this feature request enough. I would love to continue specific conversations, but god damn you are so popular Tim that clicking the “Notify me of follow up comments via e-mail” is inbox suicide. I clicked it once… also known as how I learned how to create gmail inbox filters.
Thanks Tim! That would be great. I’d be much more likely to comment on other people comments as well, knowing they might reply to answer a question.
Great comment Graeme – I agree with a lot of what you wrote and was about to write a similar comment, especially about the smaller niches.
I recently published a book (kindle and paperback) called “How to Propose Without Screwing it Up: 50 Common Mistakes You Won’t Know You’re Making and How to Avoid them” and I am absolutely shocked as how well a very targeted book like that is selling. In the first month I did five figures, although that may have a lot to do with the next few months being the most popular time men propose.
Actually, what’s even more fascinating is that the print version outsells the kindle version!
If I may add some tips, it would be the following:
Many people say to hop on to the trend of the minute when choosing their topic, but I think going for an ‘evergreen’ if you will topics is far better. For example, men will always propose and want to make sure they get a ‘yes’.
Writing an ebook is really the easiest part. Promoting and marketing your ebook is what will make the difference between a success or not. Just throwing it up on kindle probably won’t be enough to quit your day job.
I try to do at least one thing a day to get the word out, whether that be pitching a story to a journalist/blog, writing a blog post, commenting on articles, checking and replying to haro (and other sites like it) inquiries for leads, writing a press release, etc.
I should mention that I happen to think the best thing you can do is to use other people’s platforms. You get instant credibility this way and reach far more people than trying to build up a fan base through your blog. However, in order to do this you have to learn how to think like a journalist, pitch stories that are newsworthy and tied into current events.
Anyways, I’ve rambled on too long! Again, great post and resources and best of luck to all of you!
I don’t consider that rambling. Thanks for the advice!
You can only 3 reviews for the book and claim to make 5 figures in the first month. Sorry, doesn’t add up.
Graeme. Thanks for your insightful reply. I realize that I’m about a year and a half late to this, but I was wondering if you could expand a bit on finding small niches. An extra $1,000 per month would make a significant difference for me. Any ideas for where to start looking for niches too small for traditional publishers? Thanks!
Thank you for this in-depth analysis. I have been thinking about releasing non-fiction e-books for kindle, but there has always been consideration in the back of my mind if I should go through traditional route first. I have not made up my mind yet either way, but information like this certainly helps.
There are so many different opinions, so much to know and learn about the industry – but each case is different, and I guess we will all have our individual failures and successes. But that’s no reason not to be prepared.
I also appreciate the handy book lists.
Yup I’m currently making $150 a week on Amazon ebooks, and I just started this month. I definitely don’t use any of the methods you mentioned though. I’m also yet to dabble with novels…
What is your book? 🙂
This article is PERF. I’d definitely read more if you had more to post. It dovetails nicely with the recent Hugh Howey article on Salon.com. One for inspiration, the other for execution. Boom. Champion. Millionaire. 😉 The opportunities right now in epub are super exciting! Please do post more like this!
Helpful in too many ways, guess i wont sleep tonight.
Tim, this is perfect. Seriously, you always seem to be on point w/ exactly what I’m working on / thinking about. I’m in the process of going through all of the above right now. Goal is to have first book, Tales of Iceland, on Amazon in 2 weeks.
Although Amazon is the behemoth, I do think it’s important to pay attention to players like Apple and Kobo (not so sure about B&N Nook). If there are any other published ebook authors out there — curious your thoughts and experience w/ the other platforms.
Also, most of the world is still way behind the US in ebook adoption. Even in Iceland (where they read more books per capita than any other citizenry in the world), ebooks are still rare…but growing. So the good news is that as other countries catch up, the potential market will continue to grow.
Thanks again. More like this, please! Hopefully I’ll have some valuable insight to add as I go down this path with the Iceland book.
I think the most impressive stats is that digital sales just surpassed printed — This is extremely valuable info.
If you where to do a book today (based on this), would you test a digital only version?
Absolutely would consider doing digital-only. If I were self-publishing, that’s probably all I would do.
Thanks so much for this ! You have been my mentor and friend in my head ! I just finished my kindle ebook and I am working on creating an app talk about synchronicity ! ! This is very helpful ! Thankyou ! I love U !
Awesome post! Full of helpful information for something I just started this week. Great timing!
I’ve just started implementing 4HWW in my life several weeks ago and have already been more productive and started “projects” and dreamlined my summer. This is where I plan to go financially.
Thanks for an amazing post. I was getting doubtful for a little bit, if I had taken a mistake for taking the summer term off. But as a student, I have very little to lose
realize that I’m about a year and a half late to this, but I was wondering if you could expand a bit on finding small niches. An extra $1,000 per month would make a significant difference for me. Any ideas for where to start looking for niches too small for traditional publishers?
LOL … the insane amount of good stuff coming out of this blog lately is just crackin’ me up. You’re giving me too much/so much awesome information lately – killer. Thank you. But, alas, how in the heck am I supposed to take notes on such a great post, when the whole damn thing is worth noting?! Love it!
I wrote a book some years ago about my time in the music business, and how to get a gig in that world – I hired a design student to lay it out for me using Adobe PageMaker, and he also did the cover. I had it printed using Lulu and send those copies into Amazon using FBA. I also sell it on Kindle, which is insanely simple. It needs to be updated, so this couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ll find a way to get you a copy when the second edition is out. 😉 Thanks, Tim.
Aw, shucks… Thanks, Doc!
Having JK Rowling’s pic at the top is such a misleading subject headline, though i understand its a hack to get clickthrus.
Great article but I am certain that the Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Stephenie Meyer did not make it big because they were mercenary about following pop culture trends and finding market niches. They CREATED pop culture trends by writing the stories already inside them.
Maybe it’s idealistic, but I believe you should WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE (and then market the crap out of it.) That passion and authenticity for your subject/story will be felt by the reader. You will find it easier to write. It will sustain you through the writing process…and the blogging…and promotions.
(Now if I could just find that $500,000 royalty cheque…)
I agree. I do not try and hijack trends. Personally, I write about what I want to study, and I research the best that’s come before.
An interesting concept, “a book as a startup”. Lots of similarities to Maneesh’s latest post on disrupting the music industry.
If I was a new author (and was actually worth a damn / had a legit chance at long term success) I would release my first books for free to really focus on building a core 1000 fan base. Short stories would be fine, doesn’t have to be full length.. enough to give before you take. What do you sacrifice — a $2.09 Kindle commission? Lifetime fan value done properly could be 10-100x that.
Its like mixtapes in the music game. It doesn’t matter how good an unknown artist is if no one is ponying up the dough to even hear them in the first place. Give it away for free and make 10x on your live shows instead.
With a fan base in place, throw the $2.99 kiddy-pool model out the window, charge a real rate, over-deliver, and take the lions share. Can even be done with physical books, just book a distribution deal. Tucker realized the power of mass market self-publishing and evidently this is actually news to the publishing world, but rappers have been doing this (both mixtapes and sub-labels to be distributed) for decades. Brian Baby Williams is worth $100 mill off of this model and I doubt he could pass 6th grade algebra. Time to catch up guys.
Good points. I’ve always thought of it like a new restaurant trying to build a base… give away a burrito. If it’s good and people like it, 1. You earn a repeat paying customer 2. They tell others that it was good so the exponential impact is amplified.
That’s a great example and I agree 100%.
I love this post! It’s on my wish list to upload an digital book to kindle. We’ve been approached by an indie publishing company, under a big name publishing company, and I am definitely torn by the pros and cons of self-publishing vs traditional publishing. This article have me lots to think about. Got me thinking for sure.
What I appreciate the most about your posts is the ability to immediately apply the steps and information to what I’m doing…
I started preaching the messsge of Tim Ferriss after stealing a copy of Outside magazine from my dentist office and begining a journey of becoming stronger, faster and smarter. Thank you for delivering great stuff again and again.
Imformative blog, dropped by to check you out. I sell ebooks online but I am writing a book titled “Lost William” which is a biography of the tragic life of a young boy who was abused in every way as a foster child under government supervision. It will enlighten everyone as to what goes on behind closed doors. All real names will be used in this novel to expose the truth. A book that is so compelling and graphic that has already caused an attempt on my life. The original copy of that book was destroyed during that attempt. After many years, I have decided to re-write the book. I will be publishing “An Author’s Introduction” to “Lost William” online soon…….and your blog gives merit to my idea of self publishing my book in chapters or at least a five part series. Thanks for giving confirmation to my thoughts with your very informative blog.
This was a MONSTER blog post…great content! The only thing I’d add to it is more information on formatting of the Kindle.
It’s not that easy – we spent months testing and figuring things out and finally created a Template that makes it all work perfectly. For those of you who are trying to format your book for the Kindle yourself, I recommend that you use Microsoft Word to do so.
I’m on OSX and can’t agree re: Word. There’s too much to go wrong. I did download a template (paid, in RTF) that seems to work on PC, but the TOC breaks on a Mac, so getting to Kindle is a pain.
Scrivener-once you get your head around it-removes all these problems.
I really wish Amazon would release Word, Pages and Scrivener templates.
Great piece Ryan (and Tim). I’ve been in the book marketing / author platform business for over 10 years and have had the pleasure of working with amazing authors plus launching multiple bestsellers. There’s no doubt that the industry is changing more rapidly than it ever has. The barrier to entry is lower than it’s ever been (which is good and bad but full of opportunity). It’s especially amazing to see the digital stats of Tim’s book over the last few years. That’s a tell right there.
Thanks for keeping it real & for the ridiculous amount of info. You literally could have written a short ebook on how to write ebooks just using this article. Love it!
Been a fan of this blog for several years but this just might be the best post. Thanks Ryan and Tim – really inspiring.
Sweet! Just wait until you see what’s coming 🙂
amazon wont let me put 0 as the list price, is there a trick to it?
its all marketing, isn’t it?
And the million dollar question(s): What about piracy?
Ever checked the torrent sites? Software with DRM-cracking facilities?
A substantial part of the music-industry went broke by the peer-to-peer networks.
You can use torrents to your advantage. Here’s a current example:
Thanks a lot, very helpful info. I just watched the interview with BitTorrent, quite interesting too.
Imho, the most valid argument you gave to go for ebooks is that they are here to stay. So you’d better find ways to use them in a smart way than to resist (or deny) technical progress.
Even so, as you worked with BitTorrent, do you have any idea how many copies of the 4HC were illegally downloaded? Is this (roughly) measurable?
I ‘m about to launch my own personal development program after the summer, both as books and as educational program (by blended learning). I wrote years on it and am now gradually focusing on ways to put it into the market and promote it.
I’m in the Netherlands so that probably is a bit of an initial disadvantage, but your way of working certainly is inspiring me, thanks Tim!
Great post! What are your thoughts on publishing outside the Kindle store as well? I run Digital Delivery App, which is basically a modern e-junkie, and we have a load of e-book publishers who sell via their own websites. The downside is you don’t get the Kindle store exposure, but the upside is you can have much better marketing material, run affiliate programs and you only pay a fixed monthly fee rather than a percentage. Seen quite a few merchants pull in $100k+ using this method.
Of course doing both is probably the way forward but having a successful affiliate program won’t bump you up the rankings in Kindle store sadly.
Love this. I plan to start writing soon. Also, I would be very interested in learning how you built your supplement business back in the day. I have a few ideas about supplements but not sure how to start- legalities, manufacturing, etc
Hey Tim, another great post, THANKS!
I’d like to comment on the options for creating a cover. Amazon just recently started a more sophisticated cover creator.
I haven’t yet tried it but it might be an Option C?!
You’ll find more info on Amazon’s KDP page https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A1DHGMW609HBI8
Great suggestion! Thanks!
Their new cover creator is still in beta but it`s pretty awesome. You can easily create a really nice cover in minutes. It`s very streamlined and super easy to use.
(the other) Tim
That sounds about right to me. I’d say that 10 % of the effort is in writing the actual book, 90% is in the marketing. But getting those checks from Amazon every month makes it all worth it.
Great article! I work with many authors and they would love this post. Jamie McGuire, Jessica Park and Lauren Clark are all excellent examples of authors that have been incredibly successful going the self-publishing route.
Thanks for the shout-out!
Long pots but loved reading it till the end. I would like more of this type of post with steps we can straight use as a practical guidance. Since mid 2012 I haven’t bought a book which isn’t a digital version. The Kindle platform is amazing for out PC’c and smartphone. Reading on the Go!!
Yes, this is brilliant.
Keep writing more articles like this one.
Can you focus also on the people making a living online with films as well?
I LOVE this format Tim! Although a how to guide like this doesn’t guarantee success (as outlined at the end) it certainly does instill a thrilling sense of enthusiasm and confidence. I would like to see more posts with this format commenting on different industries.
Unrelated: Tim, you need a word by which your followers can self-reference. You have reached (and I am in awe of this) a cult-like fervor. I am left to wander the wilderness, with no quick-way to identify myself as an evangelist for the tribe. I suggest something that plays off “Iron”.
Great post. Tons of really useful information with links to much more. As I’m currently writing my book this of particular interest. I’m also exploring niche strategies for further books- most likely Adventure and Leadership models so will use the content that I’ve learnt here. Thanks for all the info.
Fabulous article! I’ve had a diet book ready for 2 years and have read many articles and books about e-publishing. All of them made it so complicated that my book is still unpublished. I found this article extremely clear, comprehensive and useful, and I’m feeling excited about trying once again! Thank you!!! 🙂
Until now one of the all-time favourite articles on your site was the one by Noah (mentioned in this article). The detail is incredible and amazingly helpful in so many ways.
My personal interest is in the development of online training courses, but is is so easy to see how everything here translates across. I fully plan to exploit the cr@p out of every suggestion and resource in here.
I really liked these ‘how to…. online’ guides Tim and would love to see more.
Fantastic coverage of self-publishing process!
I just wanted to add that Scrivener is awesome for outputting a Kindle mobi or an ePub formatted book which you can load straight to Amazon KDP. You can test it on a device which makes it much easier to know what your customers are getting before you publish. It’s certainly easy to do for plain text novels/non-fiction.
Also, Kobo Writing Life is another great place to publish your books and sales there are going up all the time as they expand overseas into many countries Amazon isn’t in yet.
The fastest way to get more Kindle Sales, for me, was to educate existing customers about the fact, that they don´t need a physical kindle device to read Kindle books. This seems to remain unknown in germany.
Wow, great post. I’m in marketing and also in ebook marketing since some time and got so much good hints. Thanks for this.
The only bad point is, now I have 10 more tabs open I have to read. 😉
Wow…I can’t believe it. Thanks for sharing this.
Really great info.
Interesting to note also: 50 Shades of Grey was initially self-published. By the time it sold 250k copies she got her publishing deal so she was already doing very well.
I think the key in everything you wrote above is…quantity. All the people (Konrath, Hocking, EL James, Hugh Howey) who dominated the best seller lists in their categories did so by publshing multiple books one after the other. At one point, Howey was 1-5 on the sci-fi list. Now those 5 books are all collected as one book , “Wool”.
I was at one Amazon event for self-published authors and there was one woman who was making a living from writing there who had published over 100 novels. 100!
It’s interesting to take a look at the Amazon Kindles bestseller lists. Take all the covers and then just line them up next to each other. It’s essentially non-stop pictures of a man with his shirt off coming in close to a sexy woman.
Ok, that’s it. I’m going to make a poster of that. And hang it on my wall so I can see so much love every morning when I wake up.
Fabulous starter guide! I would add that kindle books can be powerful marketing for your other products on Amazon. We have 8 video guides and 9 kindle books, all offering practical sex advice and proven pleasure techniques – and the kindle books are one of our best forms of publicity for the videos. Also would recommend adding a catalog of your products to the end of every book, with easily clickable links directing folks right back to the kindle store. That way, when they finish a book they have loved, you can make it easy for them to get more right away. Cheers!
seems a lot of work, now I see what publishers do for writers while they focus on writing eh lol
Probably one of my favorite posts, Tim. Extremely valuable information, and very motivating.
I was curious if anyone has any experience with E-Junkie to publish their ebooks? http://www.e-junkie.com/
Tim this is legit. It’s always nice to see someone who pumps in a lot of effort to a blog post rather than a few lines of crap.
WordPress is pretty damn easy to use but it can become more complicated, I guess I just need to spend more time on it.
P.S. I emailed Matt Mullenweg last year and he actually got back to me. Following you has help me learn about some pretty awesome people. (AJ Jacobs is pretty legit also )
Any advice is much appreciated – I sell a zip file which is 9 videos + 80 pg book. Any ideas on how to split the two and sell thru amazon?
Great post – thanks for sharing. Those scripted guys have a cool product.
Tim- Awesome post. I got into self-publishing after reading the “$100 Startup” by Chris Guillebeau. I wrote a really nerdy/niche programming book over the course of a few months (http://scalingphpbook.com), self published it with nothing more than a DEAD SIMPLE landing page, and have sold over $100,000 over the past 6 months.
One strategy I borrowed from you was launching the landing page before the book was complete. As an experiment, I offered an “alpha” version at $39, and readers were able to get the material immediately as I wrote it. I thought it would be a great way to determine interest and figured I’d sell a few copies— wrong! I sold $10000 the first week!
Doing it 100% in-house (read: not using Amazon KDP) has generated way more revenue for me. Because my book is incredibly niche, I price it HIGH at $59 and $179— I tested KDP I see far less sales and only retain 35% of that $59 price tag.
I could easily live off of the earnings but choose to keep my full-time job because I enjoy it.
Steve, congratulations. $100,000 in 6 months? Man, that’s impressive. One question for you: how did you market it? Have you already build your audience before launching it?
Amazon is great because it really help you market your books. Doing it in-house can remarkably increase profits but the toughest part is generating targeted traffic (cheaply!).
Oh heck yes. This post is freaking fantastic start to finish. I always hear people saying that self-publishing will guarantee you make lots of mula. While it has potential, it’s good to see the advice and ideas of people who really have been successful at it. I think that many people view self-publishing as a “get rich quick” idea without really understanding the hard work that goes into it.
Mr. Ferris, I do believe you have finally inspired me to write a book.
The only thing I didn’t see mentioned was finding a editor. I need one but it totally scares me letting someone have my book. I don’t want my story stolen. It’s very unique. How do I find one?
You might want to try posting a Craigslist ad looking for someone to proofread/edit your book. I found a few really good people to take a look at my novel adult comedy novel “Blackout Drunk”. Trying to keep the costs as low as possible, I offered a free copy of the book when published (both paperback & kindle), as well as bought them a few books on their own wishlist. I found that most of the people that responded were avid readers, so it really wasn’t that big of a “job” for them to lend a hand, and they also welcomed the experience.
Between the 3 I hired for the gig, I was able to use all their proofreading suggestions to come up with a pretty professional & entertaining book (in my humble obviously biased opinion).
PS: Tim, fantastic post by the way man – thanks for the knowledge.
can you list those people that correct and proof read your book.being A,D,H,D with dislexyia I will truely need help I am not Stupid.In fact I read about 3-4 books at the same time a week.I read one for an hour,Put it to the side and grab the next been doing It since 3rd grade.and no adhd dosn’t go away it just changes a litle but I would need someone to put it all together.So others make sense of it cause I can go off on a tangent.Maybe thats what I should do first how to orgainize a mind that don’t want to be organized
Great article and timely advice as I am just putting the final touches to my third ebook!
Great article and timely advice as I’m just about to finish and release my third ebook!
The post couldn’t have been better timed. I spent the day yesterday researching and evaluating a book idea I’ve had for some time, and decided to shelve it on the basis that an ebook-only version would be a half-hearted attempt.
I’m going to start with the chapter length post a week for a month.
Great, I have 13 tabs open to read through, this stuff is addictive!
It’s also reassuring to have a place to come back to for bedrock stuff I can trust as I start my own journey.
Tim, a great blog post with lots of helpful advice for my own e-book challenge. Maybe see you in Amsterdam in a few weeks.
Hey Tim, this might interest you, it’s like ‘hacking’ the Bahamas Flute
Can you share thoughts on personal branding in publishing industry.
I am more interested in how you develop personal branding create an unique identity.
You have a best-selling cookbook and no one is going to call you chef. You have best selling fitness book and no one is going to call you a personal trainer. You have a best selling book in lifestyle and no one is going to call you life coach.
How do you manage a personal branding development process?
Total synchronicity. I wrote an e-book and have not had the ovaries necessary to market it effectively. I’m an Indie publisher through Kindle and have sold just over 500 copies in a year 🙁 I am almost finished a second book that I have a lot more passion and faith in, but was waffling and letting fear fill me.
I was looking for direction and so checked to see if you had a new post. Of course. you publish a post about self publishing. Thank you for inspiring me once again. Somehow you have an intuitive mind that knows what your readers truly need to hear.
From my heart to yours,
I checked your book and it’s about the multiorgasmic guy If im not mistaken. Just an observation from the guy’s perspective. Most men aren’t interested in multiple orgasms for themselves but they’d love to learn how to give women multiple orgasms. That totally strokes their ego (pardon the pun)
I wouldn’t bother with starting up a blog just for the sake of selling the book. Yes, if you have a blog that already has a solid following, this is a great place to cross sell a kindle book related to your blog topic. But putting in the time to start a blog and gain followers just to hopefully get people interested in you enough to buy the book is a huge opportunity cost I think.
Lets take a look at some hypothetical numbers:
Lets say after 2 years of a lot of hard work, you have a blog that attracts a solid 25,000 visitors a month in whatever niche you are in. Within that month you have 5,000 people (25%) click through to the amazon sales page for your book. 50 per month actually buy your book (1% conversion rate).
So even after all the hard work of creating a blog with a solid following, you would only be cross selling 50 books a month.
Unless you are already well established in a certain niche, your time is better spent focusing on perfect your amazon sales page, cover design, etc. Researching what topics people are searching for on amazon that don’t have a lot of books for.
Same thing goes for other social media like twitter and facebook. It might make you feel good or productive that you are creating a facebook page, setting up a twitter, blogging, but the reality is it is not doing anything to convert any real sales volume.
I would say only once you are well established, then start utilizing blogs, facebook and twitter to sell more books.
Perhaps true in many cases. I did, however, start this blog before my first book came out.
Tim (the other Tim, lol) I completely disagree. To be truly successful as an author, on the Kindle for example, you absolutely NEED to build an “author brand”.
Look at Amanda Hocking…before anyone knew who she was and before she sold any books, she communicated with her potential readers via social media and her blog. In fact, she published a post on her blog every 2 1/2 days for over 2 YEARS!
Once she hit it big on Amazon and started making millions, people called it an “overnight” success, which of course it wasn’t.
Your time isn’t better spent on your Amazon sales page or cover design…you can perfect that in a couple of hours…to be successful in self publishing, you need to spend time and effort building your author brand and you need to be prolific.
Point taken but I don’t think your comment “To be truly successful as an author, on the Kindle for example, you absolutely NEED to build an “author brand”” is true in all cases. It all depends on what kind of author/publisher you are looking to be. If you are looking to be a fiction writer, or becoming a respected voice in a niche like fitness books, then yes, developing an author/personal brand is highly valuable.
But, there are many ways to approach the kindle store. I guess my original comment was geared more towards being a kindle “publisher” as opposed to an author. Meaning taking an internet marketing approach to the kindle store. Hiring ghostwriters to write high quality content for certain niches and marketing well. Creating books that are more towards people searching the kindle store to solve problems (how to get rid of hiccups or something like that) which they won’t care that much about the author, they more are looking for an immediate solution to a problem.
There are many ways to approach the kindle store. For those who are not looking to become the next famous author like Amanda Hocking, but want to make a good amount of money solving problems by tackling certain niches, the blog/social media route is not the best way to go. There are many test cases of people having 50 mini books in the kindle store in different niches with ghostwritten author names racking in 5,000 dollars a month. Or having 15 high quality full books taking in the same amount.
So yes, if your specific niche/topic/fiction genre depends on an author brand, then for sure social media and blogging are important. But if you take the internet marketer “publisher” route, they are not and are a waste of time.
A blog isn’t necessary in many cases, but it’s misleading to compare blog traffic with Amazon traffic as equal. The Amazon domain gets high traffic, but a new title in a competitive niche can get buried. A blog provides more opportunites for search optimizations and direct response marketing. A book an Amazon supplemented by a blog and an email list has three traffic vectors, not just one.
You don’t need to build an Alexa-1000 blog. You just need a platform for an opt-in box to start building a list to drive prospects to Amazon whenever you have a new title. A blog also gives you the chance to test other sales channels look Nook, Smashwords, or direct fulfillment through something like E-Junkie (if you’re pricing above impulse buys).
“A blog isn’t necessary in many cases”
Andre, I totally disagree. Not only is a blog/website necessary to your success as an author, it’s critical to have one.
Having a blog isn’t about selling on other platforms, although it’s good for that, it’s all about branding yourself, building what I like to call your “author brand” and communicating with and creating a base of fans.
Any author would be crazy to not be doing this.
Paul, I disagree with you. Having a blog doesn’t guarantee you will have traffic to it. Especially if you are relatively unknown. There are lots of blogs out there. Andre is stating that a blog is one of 3 avenues to pursue. And I believe he is saying that all 3 are critical.
The other advantage of a blog is that you get to see how your audience reacts to your writing – both the topic, and the style. As you and your audience evolve, you can incorporate that into your writing. Rather then spending a year or two and then waiting to see, you are taking many ‘mini’ experiments to see what reactions will be. You can start to experiment with marketing and PR with a lower stakes effort (so that bombed on that post, no big deal, compared to the fear of taking a step on a 2 year investment of time). Blogging is playing low stakes poker before you go to the world championships.
Thank you so much for the helpful tips. I recently wrote and published a (German) book in 24 hours: Alles. Einfach. Jetzt. – Dein 24 Stunden Erfolgsbuch. (Everything, Simple. Now. -. Your 24 Hours Success Book).
I wanted to show people that they can make money (and be successful) if they only have a vision, an ideal, and the guts to pull it through to finality.
The eBook was ready in 24 hours, a Kindle version a couple of days later, then an on-demand version through Amazon’s CreateSpace, then a real print run.
The only thing I regret is not having waited a little longer with the print run, as I still found a few typos. Now it’s out there, still needing to be supported by some marketing action, so reading this article was worth its weight in gold, for I shall try a different Kindle pricing (currently €7.99 vs. €14.99 for the printed book), and also pick up on a number of other suggestions. I’ll report back in due course. 🙂
Peace and blessings, and whoever reads this, be strong, be bold, keep shining!
Great post – I always highly value the posts you put up with details on how to actually implement a strategy/plan whether that’s e-books or business in a weekend like Noah’s post from before. Really appreciate the insights!
Your recommendations have never let me down. Just spent an enjoyable evening reading Barry’s A Clean Kill in Tokyo/Rain Fall. Highly entertaining.
Thanks Tim this was soooo helpful!
Tim, it’s people like you that are doing more to help our economy than many politicians. Teaching people how to fish as opposed to just feeding them one. It would be great if every year there was a forum of business leaders (entrepreneurs, innovators, thought leaders) and political leaders coming together to think of new fresh ideas as to how to really positively impact areas of concern like poverty, education, etc. The best and brightest minds are not being heard in the ways our great country needs them to be heard.
Tim – You seem to always be admirably pushing the edge. I have a suggestion for you, maybe for next year – American Ninja Warrior. I think it would be amazing to hear how you prepare your mind and body for a competition like that. anwtryouts.com.
Fabulous post! Thank you for the great content- I’ve read it twice and will be reading it again tomorrow.
This information is spot-on. One question. Some people still prefer by far to read print. What about actually printing books, using the print-on-demand services?
Do you self-edit your book or sent it to the editor to do the editing?
Your paper is brilliant! The sections on writing, formatting, etc, are no problem to me. I have just published a book on Kindle, via Amazon, about Shakespeare (yawn); showing that he actually wrote most of the stuff accredited to him (shock! horror!); and suggesting what he might have been doing during the so-called “lost years” (you mean he wasn’t a sailor, or a schoolteacher?)
My troubles start with marketing. How do I promote it when it doesn’t have a niche and the readership out there generally couldn’t care less.
Incidentally I have just finished reading a “bestseller”, with a prime-time author interview, tv adaptation – the works. The story is rubbish; the writing variable; the editing apparently non-existent. How do the publishers earn their money?
I have two friends who write – ive shared this post with both of them. Thank you for the detailed insights. Extremely useful not only for book publishers but eters and entrepreneurs.
This could not have come at a better time!! I just decided this last week (after a friend fervently recommended 4HWW to me) to write my own book. In fact, I just wrote chapter 1 last night. This gave me some much needed insight into how to get started, and I greatly appreciate that. Thanks!
Glad to see a post about ebook publishing to Kindle Store here. 😀
IMO Kindle publishing comes with 4 components – promoting + producing content + formatting + cover designing.
The most important component here is PROMOTING.
When I say “promoting” I don’t mean just about getting profit from what you sell.
It’s about getting more people to know about your message and build your “small army” (quote Chris Guillebeau from AONC).
Even that you’re writing content for free on your blog, you should know how to promote it as well. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Promoting comes first, writing content comes second.
If you write fast or enjoy writing, by all mean, do the writing yourself.
If not, you may break the writing into at least two parts – research and producing.
Have the message that you want to share to the world, get someone to research, test the niche, listen to the market etc.
Then use creative methods to produce your content. Record your own voice and transcript it, interview experts, Q&A etc and outsource to someone to really “write” it out.
Finally, get the cover designing and formatting done by someone/ a team instead of doing that yourself.
My point is, outsource the “non-profitable components” (formatting, designing, or even content writing) the 4HWW way, and focusing on spreading your message to the world, engage with your community, test your book pricing etc. 😀
Wow. This is actually a mind-blowing post! I’d been considering writing a book about photography for some time, and have had a few fiction ideas kicking around the back of my brain as well, and this really got the ball rolling for me. I’ve been an avid reader of 4HWW for quite some time, but I think this may be one of the most valuable posts I’ve read here.
Keep up the good work, Tim & Ryan!
Question for Tim: Have you ever considered publishing fiction? If so, what sort of fiction? I could see you writing Ludlum-esque spy/action novels, but given the vagaries of people’s tastes and talents, you might wind up writing romance novels interspersed with all the little-known techniques you’ve learned over the years.
Question for Ryan: When starting a blog as a vehicle to promote one’s fiction writing, do you recommend using the author’s name as the blog title (and/or URL) or the book title for the blog title?
Another question for Tim: Given the disparity between what I want to write and the photography I do, what are some effective methods for keeping a pseudonym an effective second person online?
The best blog name depends where the momentum is. Your brand ROI is probably maximized by naming the blog after yourself unless you have a monster hit (like 4HWW) and can ride that wave to get your name out.
It may take a few books before you reach critical popularity, and you don’t want your book-branded blog to take a hit if sales don’t meet expectations.
I have a series of 5, short ebooks up on Amazon, & have been amazed at how the Amazon “machine” works – the more sales made, the more it rises in the popularity rankings, the more it appears on other pages, meaning chances at more sales etc. The trick seems to be maintaining those positions.
One facet I’m poor at is maintaining a blog to foster a readership. I have the framework up, but I need to invest some royalty monies in hiring someone to make it presentable, and figure out how to make it cross promote the other books.
I guess ebooks aren’t purely passive income after all – it appears I have to work at it a bit!
Excellent info and homework to follow up with. Looking forward to reading all those books and applying them to my current work, thanks Tim.
Awesome! Keep ’em coming!
Very interesting, especially the caveat lector. As a very small independent book publisher sometimes it seems the odds of success for indie authors are only slightly better than winning the lottery, despite great content. How many indie authors sell more than 2000 copies in five years?
Terrific comprehensive article. Lots of great procedural steps and options. I’ll re-reading this again and again. Thanks and keep it coming!
One area not covered in this article: the opportunity to combine public domain content (books whose copyright has expired) with eBook publishing. I compiled a single Kindle collection containing 12 books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, including 8 books from the Anne of Green Gables series.
I published that collection on Amazon on February 4 at a price of 99 cents. In the two months since, I’ve earned $18,000 off the sales of this single item. Without the massive marketing and sales machine that is Amazon, this would have been impossible.
I used many of the tools and concepts in this post, but I didn’t have to write the books 🙂 This has proven to be an enjoyable and lucrative “hobby.”
Good to hear you have great success with Amazon and public domain. As far as I know, you need to make your content different when using public domain. How did you do that?
Amazon does have a couple of rules related to publishing public domain content in their store. The one I think you’re referring to is this: if a free version of a work already exists in the Amazon store, you can’t publish a paid version without some differentiation. The examples of differentiation Amazon cites include translations, annotations, original biographic content about the author, or illustrations.
In my case, I selected 12 books by Lucy Maud Montgomery for my collection. Of the 12, 8 had free versions at Amazon (although the quality varied considerably on these.) The remaining 4 either weren’t free for Kindle or weren’t available at all.
This met Amazon’s guidelines. It also allowed me to create a great offer for potential buyers. For just 99 cents, they get 12 complete books in a collection that’s clean, well-edited, and easy to use. I built a custom table of contents that allows you to easily jump to any book and chapter in the collection.
I’m currently working on a Kindle book that will teach other the guidelines, process, drawbacks and benefits of this type of publishing as a source of enjoyment and income. Hopefully it will help others find success in this area.
Interesting! Are you on Facebook? Like to connect with you. 🙂 I’m planning to publish children books using public domain. Do you know Debra from Public Domain Treasure Hunter? She has great content about using public domain for publishing, business, blog etc.
Aaron, I was encouraged to hear of your success in publishing public domain works. Did you need any specialized software to create the table of contents that allows the reader to search across multiple titles?
Wishing you continued success and all happiness!
Awesome that your public domain books are doing so well, Brian! I have a few PD books up there, though I am constantly being dinged by Amazon for posting books that I thought weren`t already in the store. It is important to do a very thorough search on Amazon and Google before posting. What program do you use to edit your books? I use an epub editor called Sigil.
(the other) Tim
thanks, this is what I was searching for ?
Can you please solve my issue ? it will be great help for me.
I am preparing for some kind of competative exam of english literature and I want to work for passive income also like self publishing. I want to create an ebook using materials taken from wikipedia or other websites. Is it safe and legal ? How should I get my book published whether with public domain or copyright ? actually, I don’t understand that when I should use public domain and when I should go for copyright.
if I want to use some information about William Shakespeare in my ebook from Wikipedia or other website then can I use that as is or there should be complete change ?
I am totally puzelled it will be great help if you solve the issue.
Awesome, great post. Ryan and Tim definitely know their stuff!
Great stuff Tim and Ryan!
As someone who was able to quit my day job from kindle publishing royalties, I can say this a legitimate business and the way of the future.
After one of my books hit #1 in weight loss, I now tell people that “I outranked Tim Ferriss” for a period of time on kindle. That just goes to show you that anyone who has a great book and knows how to market it can become successful through self-publishing.
Are you Derek Doepker? 🙂
This post is epic, Tim! It’s chock full of helpful info…and links to even more helpful info. It’s also very inspiring, especially for self-publishing newbies like myself:)
@Kristina I totally agree with you, I’m a struggling newbie, really into publishing and now I guess I can take inspiration from these links as well. It will be helpful to me in the future 🙂
I enjoyed reading this and it gave me a clear path to publishing a self-help book on an important mental health niche topic.
Loved this, inspiring, but real. Excellent post.
I am so glad I found this article! Everything here in one place and very well said. I have to admit that I love writing my stories but get a bit lazy about marketing because there is so much detail and busy work it makes my head spin. Reading a blog like this is a nice pep talk, though I ope that once I have books in mass quantities on Amazon and elsewhere, it will mean I won;t have to market as much.
What is more important? Social media or maintaining the blog?
Thankyou. I have been thinking of writing my own e-book for some time now. You have laid it out step by step for me. Doesn’t seem quite as daunting now!
Tim, “How to (Really) Make $1,000,000 Selling E-Books – Real-World Case Studies” is definitely a great hook. Then to see you (over) deliver when you pay off the promise makes for an insanely valuable read. Thanks for sharing all the incredibly helpful insights and advice from your own experience. With so many actionable winning tactics and strategies at work, success should be inevitable for anyone who takes action.
Tim…this is just what I needed. I’m beginning my book and now I have a step by step method to follow…thanks.
Really dove into this today and noticed one bit of information you could add. My book was finished ages ago, but I keep getting stuck on the e-book formatting part of the process. I’m not a computer whiz and, frankly, I’m busy running my own start-up right now and I just don’t have the time for it! I saw that Amazon recommended (in alphabetical order) several companies that will do this for you – https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A3RRQXI478DDG7
Would you happen to know which ones are the best?
For my last 3 Kindle books I used the conversion services of jawadams at fiverr and I am very happy about his work.
I tried doing it myself, when I published my first book, but it did not look nice and took me to long
Tim! Tim! Tim!
I just got back from a seven day Media FAST. No lie. Went to a mountain in Puerto Rico, with no cell or wireless service. Not only did my business stay okay, my business partner even closed a deal I hadn’t been able to, but came up with an idea for a novel. Your blog is the first thing I visit upon my reintroduction to the world and here is the useful information I needed.
There,s more content in this blog than the last 2 books I bought on writing and selling e books.
This is great- I REALLY want you to reach out to Eben Pagan though and do something with that connection.
This is a fantastic post. You have selflessly provided us with the tools to succeed once again. Thanks for that.
I really want to find a way to use my skills as an engineer and an attorney to help entrepreneurs suceed.
I am about to graduate from school and beginning my career as an intellectual property attorney at a large midwest law firm.
Do you know of a way I can become involved in helping entrepreneurs succeed in bringing their ideas to fruition? I would love for this to be a part of my career but I am not sure how I can start. Create an ebook for startups? help to advise new entrepreneurs?
Any thoughts you have are great. Your ideas are always so helpful.
Thanks again and keep up the great work!
I too have a love of entrepreneurs (especially home based businesses) and have an idea of how I’d like to help them with their businesses. I wonder if we could get in touch ? I’ve recently decided to start looking for a partner in my endeavor. I’d like to at least talk to see if we could help each other move forward ?? firstname.lastname@example.org
i really like the point that attractive cover design is must necessary to sell your ebook with high rate. thanks for the detailed article.