How to (Really) Make $1,000,000 Selling E-Books – Real-World Case Studies

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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:

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:

  1. 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.”

  2. 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.”

  3. 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.]

  4. 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.]

Closing Words

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)

Maptia:

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:

https://twitter.com/poconversation/status/315638763541889024

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 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.

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372 Replies to “How to (Really) Make $1,000,000 Selling E-Books – Real-World Case Studies”

  1. Many people see the idea of writing and publishing there own book as mountain before them which they cannot overcome. The fact is that if you have good knowledge of a specific subject it is easier than you think.

  2. This couldn’t have come at a better time, being that I’ll soon be self-publishing a book. This offers great insight into how to get it done, marketing, and what avenues I can use. Absolutely awesome. Thanks so much, Tim.

    – Crystal

  3. Great Article! I’ve got a lot to think about now. I’ve been looking at ways to start making money off of writing. I’ve been writing recipe articles here and there for a little while now but made next to nothing off of them (more of a hobby then a income source) but with all the tips on marketing and social media in here I think I might be able to turn that around. I’m definitely going to be looking into writing something for Kindle too. it’s hard to argue with 70% commission.

  4. Thank you for a very interesting article. However, I’ve written three non-fiction books and I am still finding that the hard prints are far outselling the ebook/kindle versions on amazon. Maybe it is the type of market/niche I am appealing to – obviously Luddites! 🙂

  5. A comment on Kindle covers, right now Amazon is beta testing a tool that will let authors create their own cover. Still probably better to have a designer create a custom one for you but you could always use this tool and just start with the Amazon created cover.

    One of the things I learned from recently self-publishing my first book is that there’s a huge checklist of things you need to do in order to setup your book to be successful on Amazon.

    The cool thing about a digital book is that you can always go back and tweak things – so don’t let the big checklist keep you from getting your book out there. There are some things, like a cover, that you can easily come back and update.

  6. Wow! Extremely detailed and informative content. Thanks a million!

    I was pleased to recently find your 4HC at a local B&N. I’m a recent subscriber, so I may have missed the info – but how and when did B&N do an about face?

  7. Loved this post! Lots of detail and examples. I have self published books and it is amazing how many people will purchase and read your book from other countries. Tim’s notes throughout the text is nice and blends well with the content. I guess what I like most is the advice offered came across as friendly, positive and easy to digest. Great post, I would value more posts like this in the future.

  8. Full disclosure: I work for Inkling. That being said, self-published authors should all know about Inkling Habitat (https://www.inkling.com/habitat/)

    We offer hands down the best tools for digital publishing. We also support EPUB export if you’d like to distribute through other channels (like Amazon).

  9. This was interesting and applicable not just to e-books but lots of different content delivery options. I’m going to think about all this launching an upcoming blog

  10. I have been a “lurker” of this blog but this post finally gave me the urge to post a comment. This was, by far, the best blog post I have ever read on any blog. This was incredibly helpful. Tim, thank you so much for not only inspiring writers like myself, but also giving practical knowledge. This was worth more than the 4 years of my college education! I’m forwarding this to all of my writing and design friends. Thanks again for an insightful post!!

  11. Awesome post for someone who is kicking around the idea of publishing a book on amazon, like myself. I would like to become better at story telling first, but it doesn’t hurt to get the ball moving.

    Thanks for the info.

  12. Tim,

    Thanks for this post! This post resulted in 5 pages of action points for me. Thanks for keeping me busy!

    Could you address Kindle Vs Self publishing?

    Obviously you have seen personal success through Amazon, but people like Mike Geary have seen success by running his own show.

    Have you considered testing these two options? Or would you just opt for Amazon straight out?

  13. Great article!

    On the pricing front… do you know of any successful eBooks targeted at higher-end business professional niches that sell in the $50 – 200 price point? Examples?

    At that price, it would seem you are looking more at value to the reader for a group that could throw it on their corporate AMEX as a learning expense.

  14. This is a most helpful and insightful post. I worked in the publishing industry for many years, and traditional publishers are very slow to change. Hopefully, this new era of self publishing will shake them more that just a bit!

  15. Fantastic article Tim. Thanks so much for sharing this for all the self-published authors out there.

    As a professional book designer I know how important investing in your book is. I think this is slowly picking up, which means the quality of work that gets produced will increase, and self-publishing will be viewed as professional publishing.

    Investing in a professional book designer has a great impact on confidence and self esteem and, in turn, the author feels compelled to keep working at their skill. It’s a beautiful cycle!

  16. Love the time, effort and thought you spent on this Tim, writing a book as we speak page 237 was just done! Very passionate post!

    This will help me hopefully knock you off the no.1 spot one day lol, its my goal!

    Moving to San Fran in May from England!, to start building lean start ups…what are your thoughts on these and Eric Reis Book the Lean Start up?

    Hope all is well,

    If you play golf, Im a college golfer, lets get a game in!

  17. Hey there,

    thank you so much for this post! It came really handy as I am just finishing my book. Anyway I feel like you missed one important step – and that is professional editing and proofreading. I am currently looking for someone with references who could edit my work, so I would appreciate any advice 🙂

    thank you!

  18. Wow! For an author who is planning to launch with a small publisher in September, this post is a goldmine. I sent it to the marketing director who’s helping me. Small press and indie author marketing strategies have a lot in common, don’t you think?

  19. Tim,

    1) I see you are a fellow fan of the excellent Scrivener software. They have a testimonials page with a list of published authors. I suggested to them how great it would be to have you on the list.

    Here’s what David at Literature & Latte had to say “…Thank you for your heads-up Mark! We’ve actually been in touch with Tim Ferriss fairly often as he spent some time going back and forth with Scrivener’s creator when he started using the application. Tim even marketed Scrivener during some of his presentations. We tend not to chase for testimonials, but we’d obviously gratefully accept if Tim even hints at writing something for the webpage…”

    How about it Tim? The website is in the box above.

    2) On a writing-related note, I have created a Linux live DVD full of great free tools for writers. That includes Scrivener (the Linux version is in beta). Any hot tips for getting it out to the masses? It would be free.

  20. Hi Tim,

    Long time read… first time poster… love your stuff! (and it sounds like there’s more great posts like these coming soon)

    You mentioned having the blog in place before you launched 4HWW and it’s obvious a book launch would be a lot easier with a following.

    Starting again from scratch would you create the following via blog and social media first and then launch the book/product to the following? Or just get the product out there and build the following as you go?

    If the following comes first what would be your goals before launching?

    Thanks and keep up the great work 🙂

  21. While I currently have no interest in writing a book, I’m SO appreciaging this article because it shows Tim’s amazing quality of being able to break something down into steps that work. Too many people think that “passion” is all you need, and I know how he is able to dissect everything to figure out what ACTUALLY leads to success. Bookmarking for later for sure! x

  22. One of your best ever–tons of takeaway and resources. Plus, with you commenting, it’s like two posts in one. Brilliant.

  23. Thanks Tim ! I’ve read your book “the four hour workweek” and it’s a breathtaking book !

    Of ourse, I’ve read this content in order to create an ebook 🙂

  24. I’m about to self publish my debut novel. It’s a vampire novel that is quite unique and far from your Twilight and Vampire Diaries.

    I was looking into Createspace but was curious if anyone could recommend a company I can submit my document and cover to that can format it and publish it to all of the ebook sites: Kindle, Apple, etc.?

  25. Hey Tim, Ryan Buckley, and Team. Great article. And yes! More like this 🙂

    Quick question. (For Tim OR anyone here in ‘the community’)…

    …Tim, you said, “Each chapter has a beginning, middle, and end like a magazine article.” What, specifically, do you mean by ‘like a magazine’ … a link explaining this, or brief details would be golden.

  26. A lot of reading still to be done, but it seems to be a worthwhile excercise. Having previously not profited commercially from my writing and being an old-fashioned antagonist towards self-publishing, and having never been technically-minded, I’ll keep an open mind and make time for a detailed reading programme of this and all the links recommended from top to bottom.

  27. This post was like drinking from a firehose––but very much in a good way.

    I have read several books on plot and screenwriting. I loved Elements of Fiction Writing – Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell.

    I also just read Save The Cat––It’s amazing too.

  28. Awesome post Tim. This is perfect, as I am getting set to launch my first official eBook. I definitely will check out the marketing books suggested, and I’ve heard Kawasaki mention marketing as evangelism before but never looked too much into it though. Thanks again for sharing.

    -ciao

  29. Tim, where the hell do you get the time? I’m 55 years old and I have to admit for many years I thought I was the smartest guy in the world, but you my friend are my hero. 4-Hour Chef occupies a place of distinction in my library and my most used reference book. Just reading a random chapter motivates me to try something new. Whenever people see it they make a snarky comment about the 4 hour guy, and I just snicker to myself- the fools, if they only knew. Then I know exactly what to give them for Christmas.

    I have my retirement plan right here, and if I don’t get my million, well, what fun I’ll have getting there!

    Thanks for the inspiration! There is hope for me yet.

  30. Tim, I’ve been following your books and blogs for years and today I am throwing my hat in the ring with an e-Book of my own which reflects many of the values you espoused in the 4HWW. It’s called “Vacation Boy: Does This Count as a Career?” Publishing is an exciting new adventure to be sure. Wish me luck!

    While I am writing, I wanted to let you know that some important aspects of my “day job” muse were also borrowed from your book. Great stuff in there.

    We should grab a beer some time and swap stories.

    –Jon

  31. I loved the post, Ihave just subscribed to the blog and I was positively surprised with the extension and deep treatment of the article. Suerely these are not empty words, but a real guide to how to create great eBooks.

  32. I just joined a new writer’s group on Linked-In and this article was the first thing that came up. Man! Am I glad it did. There are so many links you’ve included that I’ve already spent several hours researching the links! Thank you SO MUCH for putting together such a comprehensive article! I didn’t get started on marketing my book until months after I published it through Kindle and Create Space and I’ve been playing catch up ever since. Anyone who reads my comment – pay attention to what this article says about getting your social networking started BEFORE you finish your book!

    All of that said, I just received an awesome review from Kirkus Reviews and am trying to figure out how to maximize out this opportunity. Even though the genre of your books is very different from mine, you wrote this article in such a way that we can all draw from it. Thanks again!

    Cheers!

    Marsha

  33. What an awesome, useful post. So glad I found it!

    Tim, I have several non-fiction books from pre-kindle days I’d like to turn into kindle books. Do you, or anyone reading this, know of a company that does the conversions?

    PS I have all your books but the chef one, and am ordering it now!

    Thank you!

    Tamara

    1. Tamara,

      I know there are several companies out there which handle Kindle conversions, but I haven’t worked with any directly. I have offered this service myself. I formatted my own Kindle books, along with several for clients. If you are interested, please feel free to email me at powerbookguy at gmail dot com, or you can send me a tweet to @aaronmkerr.

      Best of luck with your books!

      Aaron

  34. Wow. Very thorough and enjoyable, thank your for this.. Good “looking out” again, Tim! Love it when successful peeps share the wealth.

    Self-publishing is a dream come true. Amazon blazed a trail for indies and Kindle was a game changer and millionaire maker. This one passive income stream is great but more importantly, the opportunity to do what I love is well, priceless.

  35. This article is absolutely awesome. Thank you! I learned several new things from your post. I am glad that I can find your blog from Google.

    I agree that blogging is a good way to promote ebooks online. Actually it can be completely free to make a blog or website. There are many free blogging sites where you can create a blog easily. If you want to host your own blog with WordPress or b2evolution, you can also try hosting services provided by many free web hosts.

  36. Oh wow. This post leaves my jaw hanging. Why? Because it is a pipe dream.

    The people who have the chops to make it successfully as a self pubbing writer are either a)insatiable learners with a strong drive to communicate or b)have been writing since grade school.

    B is why I am making a living at writing. And a little bit of A too.

    I am seeing a lot more of this internet marketing get-rich-quick verbiage regarding self publishing. It’s a lie. 99% of people who attempt to follow the advice here will fail.

    Self pubbing is not passive income. It requires constant work and new books to keep your name in front of the consumer’s eyeballs. Tim, what are your sales like now? Most books peak and then mature with slowly dwindling sales. Creating new content that people want is what reinvigorates your back list and that is easier said than done…no matter how much of it you outsource. Some genres require new books weekly. Then you have to be sure your pitch is right, that you’ve read the market right and all that time consuming research can fail you in an instant.

    And I wish it was as easy as outsourcing! I would have Bill Gates money by now! I see no mention anywhere of how much that is going to cost. For someone who speaks English and has a college degree, expect to invest thousands. You could probably design a product and make a few prototypes in China for the same amount of money. If writing doesn’t come naturally to someone, they should invest their time and money in creating a product that does.

    Also, unless the culture there has changed markedly, anyone who goes to the Absolute Write forums and says they are self pubbing will likely be banned. That is just bad advice to send anyone there. They have never welcomed indies. The cool indies all hang out at Kboards’ Writer’s Cafe (and even there you can only trust about 20% of what you read).

    There are going to be a lot of people who jump on the bandwagon because of your post when they would be better served by following their own passions and interests.

    M

  37. Great info. I always dig that you load your blog posts with great links to add more value. Thanks for all the helpful tips. Your writing style has an easy and intriguing flow. Give thanks!

  38. My question is this: I understand that the publishing process is quite different when you are self-publishing an e-book, but how is writing an e-book different than writing a traditional book?

    1. I just published my first book last month with a new startup publishing company. We did a digital first release meaning we released the ebook when it was ready and will release the print once it’s done typesetting. I wrote the book thinking specifically about the reading experience on Kindle. Here’s what I did differently to optimize for ebooks during the writing process:

      1. I wrote VERY short chapters so that readers can jump in for a quick dip and feel satisfied. This drives the print typesetters crazy but is perfect for Kindle.

      2. We included link-able content in the back matter of the book so that people could check out my website, the protagonists’ Twitter account, etc. simply by clicking through.

      3. I kept the prose casual and snappy. Less like literary fiction and more appropriate for a digital reading experience.

      Hope this helps!

  39. Many of the articles detailing tips, tricks and ideas for self publishing are rather cookie-cutter, however with your it was nice to see some individual examples and links to back those tips up.

  40. Great article and very informative.The one thing WE need at this point is someone to edit the book.I am not a English major and need help.This is one step missing.Do you know a good and safe way to hire someone to do this?

    1. James, a good editor is crucial to helping pull your manuscript together in a professional manner. You can hire editors (and cover designers, etc.–even ghost writers) on eLance.com and oDesk.com. Just post an ad and you will be flooded with candidates from all over the world with quotes ranging from bargain basement from people trying to build their experience credentials to high end professionals. I found my editor Janet Dooley for “Vacation Boy: Does This Count as a Career?” on eLance and she did a fantastic job.

  41. Your article definitely activated the gold fever receptors in my brain but after reading the post I can’t help but encourage your readers to consider Steve Hely’s debut novel, How I Became A Famous Novelist, published by Grove/Atlantic. It is an amazing read and I learned later that it is a satire on the publishing industry.

  42. I am 66 years old. My question: Does the advice and instruction you give in 4-hourbody apply to us old guys or just the 20-somethings?

  43. Hi Tim – I have an e-book I am trying to promote – simply because when I was standing on the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt my spirit mentor asked me to write it and share John (my husband) and my experiences while travelling to sacred places. Maybe you might be interested in reading our e-book ‘Two Soul Mates’ walking through time and history. It is written as a memoir but others could relate to it and learn to use their own Psychic Abilities. Our Soul/spirit holds past stories the same as our D.N.A. earth body does. Past Lives are like our spirit ancestors who influence us still. [Moderator: Link removed.]

    Do any of your readers have any suggestions on how I can promote it?

    Thank you for your kind commitment in helping others…..Valli… I live and work in Australia – I am not very computer savvy – so what can I best do?

  44. I’m thinking about self publishing my novels on amazon because there is this technological advantage that’s at my disposal.

  45. Quick question. Does Juice Plus+ work against the Slow Carb diet? I take two pills two separate bottles of the fruit Juice Plus+ per day.

  46. This post was very helpful in giving me more ways in which to market my first Amazon Kindle book. I’m new to this “self-publishing” world and I truly appreciate any advice that will help me sell The Last Navigator and reach as many readers as possible. Thanks!

  47. Hi Tim,

    Psyllium husks are used in LCHF diet i.e. for making omelets to be more like pancakes, and I am just wondering if it’s allowed in the slow Card diet as well?

  48. Very helpful and thank you for the time sharing this with those who enjoy writing, but are hesitant when it comes to marketing their own work. Maybe it’s time that my detective, Walter Balducci, tackles the mystery of self-publishing. Regards.

  49. Thank you for this helpful article. I recently published my comic novel on Amazon and put links to it on Facebook. A photograph of my failed, collapsed cake actually stimulated more interest than a link to the book! I shall follow your advice to tempt the reader by putting a section of the book on the page. Blogging seems a useful tool too.

  50. Thanks Ryan, and Tim! I’m now writing my fourth eBook and the other three haven’t gone anywhere (yet!). Do you have any suggestions for turning books into film scripts?

  51. Thanks Tim. This is a great post and a super blog. I tried a couple of years ago to sell my books to agents without result and have come to the conclusion that its extremely difficult for a new author without credentials to get published traditionally. Your article has opened my eyes to e-book publishing. I would love to see some more advice from you about the marketing aspect, this to me is the hardest part. Please talk more about this. Thanks, Avery

  52. Tx for the boost. In 1996 I created simple & easy a self-defense system called Vohan. In 2010 I’ve been recognized in Belgiulm by the Euro-Budo federation and next year I’ll have the first Vohan clubs in India & Sri-lanka. But Belgium is a small country, and Europe is not as “open” as the US…so I was a little bit ‘lost’, but after having read different topics on this blog, and escpecially this one; I received a self-confidence and assertiveness boost… the things I use to teach my Vohan students ;-). Tx foor this post and all the interesting comments.

  53. Great post! this article is inspiring for those who want to sell books. it will be a very good help in terms of selling books and what should be done in selling these books.

  54. This has been very helpful as I am about to start my journey down the e-book path with no experience what so ever! Well here we go!!!! wish me luck!!!

    Thank you Tim and Ryan!!

    aaaaaaannnnd start writing now!

  55. Tim,

    Brilliant post. I’m curious, though, about how you might have written it for that one book that could change the course of human history. In an alternate universe, let’s say that Nicholas Copernicus had just come to you and asked for advice in marketing his new book about heliocentricity. The sun doesn’t orbit the earth – quite the opposite. And the book is going to undermine the belief system of many powerful people.

    How would your post have changed, if at all?

  56. Absolutely superb advice and information thank you so much for sharing! I already have the 4-hr work week on my bookshelves and my executive coaching clients love it (plus of course there are a few wee tips that I use myself!)…

    I published a ‘real’ book in 2009 which has just been turned into an eBook (How to Keep Your Cool if You Lose Your Job) but I’m out of my depth with the eBook marketing thing so this information is golden thank you again and keep up the amazing work!

  57. Loved this post Tim and just discovered you! I’m from Australia and researching e-books as I have allot of ideas. Amazing info that was clear and practical! Keep up the good work.

  58. Thanks so much for the article – super practical, super helpful. Im going to do this!

    I will spread it around to help others in the same process.

    Thank you!

    Viva La Revolución of book publishing!

  59. Thanks so much for your blog entry about how to (really) make money with an e-book.

    I have a question, though, about nonfiction e-books. I’ve written an e-book about how to write a great essay, based on my personal experience as an English tutor in college and graduate school. How can I promote a book that, while necessary and, I daresay, very important in high school, college and graduate school, isn’t what anyone would call sensational or glamorous?

    In other words, if you have an nonfiction, instructional e-book that addresses a big need in a niche, is well-written and simple to follow, how do you price it, and then promote it? Do the same guidelines that you outlined above apply, or are there special rules-of-thumb that you might want to share with budding writers like me?

    Lema

  60. I was earning close to $1,000 a month in royalties from the Kindle Direct Publishing from e-book sales only.

    I have several titles but one book sold incredibly well. I charge $9.99 a book, and keep over $6 in royalties. We used to sell over 120 – 150 copies a month.

    Then my most popular book was pirated off of Kindle by a site that sell your book for 50% off in the Kindle format. They get taken down and pop-up again a day later.

    Amazon and KDP know about these sites, but there is not a lot they can do.

    I have also sold print copies for $50 a copy, but because of the pirate issue, Create Space will not sell the books for me because the pirated content is now available elsewhere for free. This is despite being the copyright holder.

    For these larger selling authors it may not be as big an issue, for me I noticed the decrease in sales. The books I have still earn a bit, last year I still had over $7,000 in e-book kindle sales – it is a nice source of extra money.

    My advice is a good book, good cover and great book blurb.

    I have never promoted my book, not once. If it sells well, Amazon takes notice, and their re-sellers will promote your book for a share of your profits.

    Happy writing and good luck.

    1. Hey EC, I’m sorry to hear that. Can you share the website with us? I know a lot of Kindle authors and would like to share this information with them. Hopefully Amazon is going to take REAL actions when more KDP authors bring this issue to them.

      Yes I agree. The key here is to write a good book and establish your author platform. In that case, your readers get values of what you have written and they will continue to buy from you even that it’s not on Amazon anymore. You build your real fans out.

      Hope you are still writing and publishing. Take care!

  61. A friend of mine just shared this article and what an incredible resource. Fantastic stuff Tim! Thank you. I greatly appreciated the way you broke everything down and all the juicy links you provided; the Noah Kagan article rocked. Write on!

  62. Thanks for the article. I did some resesrch, as you urge, and it looks like ill be switching from writing horror to scifi and fantasy. Horror is a much smaller market. Too bad really. I much prefer horror. But I like the others too..

  63. Hello I have written 11 self help biblically based healing n recovery booklets on the topics of addictions n related issues. I need a sight where I can upload my ebooks where my customers can click to translate in there language purchase n download. Can u guide me to such a service. Thank you bless you. [Moderator: Email address removed.]

  64. “…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.”

    Finally, someone saying the truth. It’s important to let people know it’s not “easy money”. It’s hard work, over time. You have to learn a lot, to be creative and give good value… and still you have a small chance of making enough from it. Unless you are really talented, dedicated, and you can find your way to live wisely in this world of possibilities.

  65. well you can get a brilliant cover but it is too expensive use the cover of the book of the futer of india a new vision for the world it was published by notion press by seeing it”s cover i was about to buy it but you know i am just a kid so i have 15000rs in my buget it is enouh to buy 299 rs bok but i don”t have any credit card or debt card no so i ended up getting the free sample ebook instead of hard cover and after reading the ebok i liked it very much so you know i could not buy it still so i also recomand you to write a good book and show it to a professional editor well he will charge you almost 65000rs and he can evn take 4 months to edit it and you can even go to websites like http://www.amazon.com and post it and you can show it to multiple publishers and they will publish your book but they will not pay you for publish your book insted you will have to pay them to publish your book but they will offer you a loyalty if you have written a good book nd it had been edited by a professinal editor acoding to the demands to the peope”s demands your book will become a best seller and you can cover the publishing charges with that but if you do not buy a good cover your book will end up getting flooped and you will be in loss and not in profit

  66. Wow, what a great post! My first book was self-published in May and I’m looking to turn up my marketing a notch and this advice was just what I needed to focus my plan of attack. I have a couple of never-seen or done before ideas to continue launching my book. I also wrote a couple of blogs and I guess they were ok but didn’t realize how important it is to continue writing them. My target market is women seeking time management and fitness help, but how do you find women looking for time management tips but they don’t have time for social media or to read blogs to find out about my book? I’m confident your post is just what I needed….thank you!