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.

Leave a Reply

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.)

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

  1. The industry is changing fast, but it’s truly empowering to take responsibility for one’s own career — sometimes that can be the true secret of success.

  2. to self publish or not? After I read this article and included links, I was committed to self-publishing, but now I have editors and academics telling me no way…conundrum…what to do?

    I just finished my memoir about surviving– The Choices We Make: A 9/11 survivor’s memoir about overcoming a life that killed her sister and how she chose to accept a life of love and happiness.

    My academic friends read & edited it and are highly discouraging about self-publishing. HELP! I do not know what direction to go, and they say self-publishing is a huge mistake.

  3. Hi Tim,

    Thank you for everything that you share. It is truly inspiring.

    My Inquiry:

    How much should I sell my eBook for?

    The book is a step-by-step process for learning to read and understand the written Korean language (not simply just a book, as it requires a more proactive focus of attention).

    I’m debating between $9.99 via Kindle (with 70% royalties), or $14.99 via self-publishing (with 100% royalties).

    Thank you for any advice anyone can offer on this matter.

    1. There’s been many studies on this.

      First off, you don’t want to do $9.99. That’s what the mainstream publishers do to make a profit. You don’t need to make the same kind of profits they do.

      The ideal amount when you first self-publish is $3.99. This seems to maximize both volume and profits. I tend to start there and gradually lower it as sales flatten out.

  4. Tim,

    Do the self-publising / kindle principals listed here apply to first time fiction authors? If so, would you consider being an advisor to a first-time fiction autho (Me)?

    You could have an entire blog post that followed the author from editing to final publication and eventually compare financial / best seller lists results to an first time fiction author who went the traditional publishing route.

  5. Tim,

    Do the self-publising / kindle principals listed here apply to first time fiction authors? If so, would you consider being an advisor to a first-time fiction author (Me)?

    You could have an entire blog post that followed the author from editing to final publication and eventually compare financial / best seller lists results to an first time fiction author who went the traditional publishing route.

  6. Thanks for the information. I finished to small stories and thanks to your info on backcover/flap covers, I still have some work to do. The good news is, that I have taken great notes from your site and it is very informative.

    Thank you again for helping the new comers.

    CRobinson

  7. I just received an offer from a publisher for my memoir, but I have no idea if it is any good. I do not have an agent because that exciting process of sending out query letters has made me want to get a desk job. I would love an agent, but I don’t have two months to wait for a response and I have a contract to consider today. Question: How do I know if this contract is fair? What questions should I be asking/considering? If anyone has any advice, I would appreciate it because I’m still considering self-publishing.

    1. Hi there this reply is now 2 yrs past your original post and I was wondering how you got on and how your book was selling ? I recall reading a post you made on another blog where you made reference to writing about living with a bi-polar husband, my memoir (if I was to write it) would be about living with a narcissistic son with borderline personality disorder !! Man what a trip that’s been. [Moderator: email address removed]

  8. I’ve published a few ebooks over the past few years and had some minor success and made a few $$$ doing so with my tour business. I wish I would have had this information when I started out. My books are very narrowly focused and I was looking for a way to research my next project and this is perfect to help me out.

    Glad I found your blog 🙂

  9. I especially loved the marketing piece of this post. Marketing and promotion for self-published authors requires great patience. The analogy to the lottery is nice. Overnight success is rare. But if your product is excellent and you place it in front of the right faces, with perseverance you might accomplish great things.

  10. Mr. Ferriss, this is as good of an article or whitepaper as I think I’ve ever read — and I’ve been around a long time including big name consulting firms. Keep up the outstanding work! Best, M

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for the Scrivener recommendation. I absolutely LOVE it, wish I’d found it years ago! It has hugely simplified the structuring phase of my writing (goodbye, dear Post-Its!). Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned.

  12. Very good explained and very helpful contents for the starters who want to dive in this pool of e-books business.I bookmarked this blog and i am sure i will read this ones more for generating good business through as described. Thanks TIM good job done for all.

  13. Love this post. I read it in its entirety. You reinforced my determination to complete my in-progress Kindle book. I couldn’t agree with you more on so many of your points. I have been also considering their Create Space, but my intuition is strictly telling me to go first – not to discount Create Space – with Kindle for so many reasons, especially one which you mentioned, the impulse buy. Thank you for all your thoughts, words, and advice. I appreciate them.

  14. I’m a little late to the party, but I have to applaud you on this post. I’m currently at the cover design/formatting stage and found this to be very helpful. Thanks, brah! Keep fighting the good fight!

  15. Great article, I found it while researching how to create and publish ebooks and I got a lot out of it. Specifically what I want to do is make small “making of” featurette style ebooks for each of my new upcoming independent film projects. What sort of avenue would you recommend one take if they’re wanting to include a lot of production pictures and links to videos?

  16. Excellent article. I found that Amazon Kindle market is getting really crowded these days (there are more than 2,7 million titles). The guys from K-lytics did an excellent 10-minutes video on the Kindle market [Moderator: link removed] in case anyone is interested. This take niche research to a whole new level. Definitely worth seeing before publishing the x-thousandth Paleo Cookbook 😉

  17. Terrific article. The self-publishing world is terrifying and rather overwhelming. I published my first thriller last December. Reviews are building gradually but sales are slow. Anything I can learn about this business is helpful and your article was the best I’ve read so far. Thank you for the advice. Wayne.

  18. Hey Tim,

    I am a History graduate and always dreamed of writing History books. Could this apply to non-fiction/historical writing or what would have to change to publish a an ebook?

  19. I want in on this. I have been doing sales since I was 13. I have done every single type of sales. Door to Door. business to business, over the phone, set up appointments. Walk ins like just everything. I have never tried online sales. How is it. And can I be a part of it.

  20. Nice. I can’t do forums though, i’m going to stretch way outside the box and find an alternative to that, because forums and me are like two different pieces of a puzzle. Thanks again Tim and keep up the great work.

  21. This is utter rubbish. Here’s some facts for anyone who’s considering using Amazon, Kobo, Lula (loud guffaw), or anyone else as a portal for their own productions.

    1. The only real winners are the aggregates. They don’t really do much for hosting your product and creaming off their percentage, which is quite a chunk considering how little they do for it. Sure, they have to pay their “quality control” team to ensure that your book matches their cacky terms and conditions, but that’s about it. Considering their quality control team are willing to pass any old shite as long as it fits into their remit, that isn’t saying much.

    2. If you can write complete and utter pointless asinine drivel – such as the dross churned out by Barbara Cartland for Mills and Boon – I’m sure you’ll do fine and Amazon will look upon you very favourably. But whatever you do, don’t write anything with any poignant socio-politico metaphor in it. Amazon will certainly frown upon that. After all, it may offend certain readers and that would hamper their customer base relations. Just as well that Eric Blair (George Orwell) wasn’t alive today. He’d been totally screwed, finding his “1984” and “Animal Farm” completely sidelined and invisible in the search results. Yes, if they don’t want a certain book visible, they can just hide it from the results and you’ll never get to see it.

    3. If you really believe that you’re likely to make any money of note, forget it. I took the trouble to purchase a Kindle book – something about “Illustrating Childrens Books for Kindle” – and the author informs the reader that you’re lucky if you make £100 per book over the course of a year. Well, £100 would essentially equate to nothing more than half a title page, so I’m guessing you’re looking at a very short book if that’s the kind of income you’re hoping to attain per book. Unless you want to be working 24/7, like some comic artists, for a pittance.

    4. I see that some people advocate identifying niches and cobbling together a load of information off the internet and tossing it together into a book, like they really care for that subject. I love that cynical approach to creativity. Strange. I always had the idea that a book (particularly a work of fiction) is something which is carefully crafted over a long period of time and ultimately has a an important statement to make about something. I guess that’s why there’s such a load of crap on Amazon and Kobo. Just a load of rubbish tossed together. But it keeps Amazon laughing, watching the pennies roll in.

    So if you’re happy to be a slave to the aggregates, you jump right in there, and you’ll find out if you make it or not. I’m willing to bet that after you’ve sweated for months over a book, you’ll probably be lucky to pull in a couple of hundred quid, after you’ve wasted your time with a load of marketing on web pages and blogs and stuff, and sucked up to everyone Facebook and Twitter to take a peek at your offering.

    Not for me, I’m afraid. The proof of the pudding lies in the book itself. That is where the real satisfaction is gained. Not in courting attention and relying upon hype to promote your work.

  22. Hey Tim, thank you for these actionable steps & for everything else you’ve helped us all with over the years. I’m at the very start of my journey to self publish a series of ebooks (#1 on copywriting & #2 on freelancing, both out this year) with the aim of helping interested people become location independent, inspired by you and Rolf Potts book Vagabonding!

    Cheers man & happy new years!

    Steve

  23. Superbly written article. I am just beginning my journey into e-book publishing. Your article addressed so many of my concerns. Thank you for your guidance.

  24. I read your blog while in 2012 while deployed to Afghanistan as a Soldier. Now I’m retired and finally putting my writing to good use. While searching the internet for self-publishing ideas, I came across this blog again. Thank you for giving me the kickstart I need to keep writing.

  25. There is a lot of really great info here…

    …Could I add the pay what your want pricing method has worked for me

    [Moderator: link removed]

  26. Wonderful article. Very very helpful as my business partner and i are braving the world of self publishing! Appreciate your honesty and practical information.

  27. I can’t believe this post is 2 years old, Why didn’t I read it then! it seems like everyone is talking about this now. I’ve published my first book and I’m working on 3 more as we speak It took me a while to figure a lot of the stuff this post covers. Tim how do you do what you do! Teach me your ways.

  28. Excellent. Got interested in self publishing via James Altucher but how did I not know about you? And by the dates on the comments it seems I am late to this party. I will have to read and re-read and read all the suggestions. Whew! Daunting! Think I need assistance. What do you think of BookinaBox and Bookfuel?

    Great post keep it up.

    Thanks!

    R

  29. As someone who’s father made his living as a fiction writer for 40+ years, was on the NY Times Best Seller list, and nominated for a Pulitzer – I have to say that I think your article is brilliant, and your approach is terrific because it puts the power back in the hands of the writer – rather than the publishing industry….. I wish my father had known about this option for his work…. He loathed the publishing industry with a fierce and vitriolic passion, raged at publishers, had a deeply conflicted hate-love relationship with his agent — and maintained that the what you cite as the “old fashioned way of publishing” sucked the life and soul out of a writer and rendered them powerless…. It pissed him off so much, in fact, that he screwed himself many times by sabotaging the publishing/promotional tours his agent set up for him, including getting totally blitzed and walking out of the green room of a certain huge, main-stay, late-night TV show host he was supposed to appear on to promote his book (which at the time had been optioned for a movie – with George C. Scott) — shouting “”*** you all and the ***** horses you **** limped in on!” or, words to that effect, his version became ever more colorful as the years passed…. As a result – I have never attempted fiction, don’t intend to now, but I got some serious “how-to’s” inside me….. This has encouraged me to try and emerge from the shadow of my father – and the daunting portrait of publishing he pummeled into me, lolol…. Kudos…. and thanks!

    (and btw – I never knew my father had been nominated for a Pulitzer until just before he died… When I asked – shocked and impressed – why he hadn’t told me before – he totally snorted – “Because I didn’t ****** win, f’chrissakes…..!”)

  30. I’m about to publish 3-5 foreign language book. There is a Japanese proficiency test every year that has 100 thousands to 200 thousand participants. Pass rate for this test is 50% as study guides are horrible, so I’m taking public domain libraries and finding duplicates in both English and japanese, then formatting them as study guides and adding public domain pictures. This way I can write one a day, and it is something requiring a special skill that most do not have. Wish me luck. If my first batch sells well I’ll make more.

    1. Sorry twice a year, so potentially 200,000-400,000 people a year looking for study aides (though some will not speak english) im also going to do it for french and spanish though as i speak those too. And reformat the books again to sell in the japanese kindle store as an english study guide.

  31. Hi Tim,

    A great post with the best content available ever read. This post can be more like an ebook to be read. The money making statergies was on ebook selling was superb!!

  32. I have been reading/researching the topic of writing & self publishing (mainly in the non-fiction category) for what seems a damned eteternity now and Thank God for this post !! After all the dribble and rhetoric I’ve had to consume in other posts reading this was like a ‘reality based’ breath of fresh air !! I’m a total newbie to the complete topic, I can’t even decide what my niche market is yet let alone begin the writing process. I’m a battler and a survivor though and – I wouldn’t say trained – more like – dragged – through the school of hard knocks so I’m not scared of hard work, the unknown or bullshiters and bitches. I’ve seen the book both in hard copy and through my iBooks app ‘The 4 hour week’ – I’m now gona go buy it – and trust me – I have to be pretty damned impressed before I fork out on ANY THING !!!

  33. Could I apply these same awesome techniques to my artwork? I do have a book out and honestly, I write because I love writing; however, I’ve never had any pie in the sky notions of stardom, simply because the market is saturated with less than worthy material, at best. I’d love to apply these methods to getting people to purchase my artwork. I find, this market as well, is wrought with many hungry sharks who shirk the system, stealing art and selling it in droves to unsuspecting buyers. It makes me sick to think that the gifts that I have, are stolen from others with little to zero morals. Art and writing are gifts I do well at. I wish I had been gifted with a math and science brain; however, that is not the case. I realize I’m not swimming alone in this proverbial fish tank with sharks; it’s still a very frustrating and painful place to be. I appreciate your free and worthy advice! Thank you so kindly, Mary E Tilley

  34. I have a question for you,..I have several ideas for eBooks but one of them is to write one book that covers many different aspects of a commonly discussed topic but a topic that I find many different people who have no real idea about have written about and it is inaccurate, any how my question is this: Would it make more sense to write one longer more detailed eBook covering every aspect of the topic OR several shorter more targeted eBooks; this way I can use each one to gain a following of my own around my ebooks and authorship? I have done writing on blogs of my own and I have written articles for other people as a freelancer over the years but no where close to what I want to do. Writing books has always been my dream. I would appreciate your input very much, again I am just wondering if you think it would be more beneficial for me as the author to write one longer ebook or several shorter more targeted ebooks? Thank you in advance for your time and response(s)!

  35. RE: Book Description: I can hear many writers (that are typically introverts) crying – ‘I don’t want to brag, I just want them to read my ideas or make money’.

    Well if you don’t put the effort into a good book description then no one will read the book (and learn your ideas) or will you make much money. A good book description and one good chapter is better then a poor book description and 200 great ideas (that no one reads or buys).

    Great post with many take-away’s and resources.

  36. 2012? I just found this post in 2016, and the information is still relevant and actionable. I see a sheep society and wish that I could sell some basic information product and market the crap out of it. The best business blogs report that most companies still do lazy marketing, so the field is still open for new ideas.

    The comments to this post are as informative as the original article! Thank you to so many.

  37. Great post tim!! Awesome and exceptional information’s, especially marketing and promoting your book is benevolent. Of course the most biggest success in a business lies between marketing and promotion. Thanks for sharing. Like it.

  38. Is there anything to fear with publishing books in terms of legal issues? If one publishes a diet book isn’t there a need for disclaimers or some sort of “consult a physician before…”? Diet books being just an example. Since more and more things have common sense warnings on them in today’s world I worry about giving any advice in a non-fiction book.

  39. Hello Team & Tim-

    Thanks for this.

    Can anyone recommend a Step by Step “how to” on selling PDF’s online- My Trash isn’t really “Amazon” material.

    I was just thinking to put together something on a single web-page with a “Download Now” on the Cheep and support the marketing with a FB page.

    Looking for references on how to build an inexpensive site, that takes credit cards and emails the Book after payment- (maybe I overlooked the article?)

    Suggestions Please!

    Thanks again for being awesome!

  40. Wow! A lot of great information…the business of making your writing a lucrative business can feel overwhelming..but you gave a lot of insights to help me look at the steps for getting my material out there thanks much love

  41. Even though this article has been written a few years back, it still was extremely valuable for me. Its really gives me things to think about.

    Thank Tim!

  42. 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.

    [Moderator: link removed]

  43. Some excellent information in this blog post. I have looked at selling my eBook on Amazon, but charging the author 15 cents per mb of bandwidth seems more like pricing from 1996, rather than 2016. It’s not financially viable in cases where you have a large book with lots of images and additional content.

  44. Holy shit this is a fucking goldmine of information. Thank you Once Again Tim for your wealth of Knowledge, and can’t wait to meet you one day to say how much I truly mean it! Thank you!

  45. Hey Tim, great post, thankyou! Im halfway through my first novel and no idea how to publish so this article will be my lighthouse in the dark night of self publishing!

    I loe your books, have them all. Four hour body was awesome!

    Thanks again 🙂

  46. How is it possible that I have never seen this? Dude, seriously. You gave me a handful of tips I never saw before, and reinforced the stuff I have been learning the hard way. Thanks for giving me some of my time back.

  47. Amazing post .. it is looking like a case study.

    We deal in social media platform for artists like eBooks authors, musicians, photographers….

    Social media can also play a major role for eBooks authors and we do it by providing amazing features for selling eBooks..

  48. Sell books related resources : test-banks, solution manuals and instructor manuals, is one of best choice of online business. After one little period you will receive a lot of purchase email. What you need is to create website (so simple using ready templates for hosts like bigcommerce), and upload these resources and connect with some payment method like Paypal.

    I have a lot of folders (> 4000) for many publishers :Wiely, Cengae, Person, ….

    Thanks