How an Enterprising Author Sold a Million Self-Published Books

How an Enterprising Author Sold a Million Self-Published Books

Reader Comments (68)

  1. This is a great article. Here’s a summary of things I’ve picked from it…

    “Mine your experience”

    I have a unique life and that gives me a unique opportunity to differentiate myself even in a crowded marketplace.

    “Put in the hours”

    If an ER doctor finds time to right novels, I can’t ever justify NOT finding time to take my business to the next level be it through blogging, guest posting or whatever.

    I must put it the work that is necessary to achieve success. No one hands it to anyone and I my case won’t be any different.

    “Use creative positioning”

    I can’t be like anyone else. I shouldn’t bother about that. I’ll use my creativity in combination with my unique experiences and skills to create a space for myself in my niche — That’s how I am going to thrive.

    “Be generous”

    When I give top value for free I am NOT wasteful. Instead I am actually oiling the wheels of my success. People are more likely to do business with me when they are warmed up to me — Isn’t that what we call preselling?

    “Price strategically”

    Pricing isn’t just something I’ll do to turn more profit. It has to be an part of an overall marketing strategy. I could price my entry stuff very low so they can have a taste of me. When I deliver top value and distinguish my business, I can sell them something a lot more expensive, for example, and NOT put them off. That is, if it’s done strategically.

    “Earn permission to stay in touch”

    Build a list. I learned it the hard way. Get permission to stay in touch confirms that it makes sense in any business where such a strategy is permissible (It wouldn’t in the funeral services niche).

    “Accelerate when you build momentum”

    For me this means I just have to get more value from each happy customer. Turn them into raving fans, fine. However, I should do my best to sell more of what they need. I should turn them into my sales force. In short, leverage the goodwill to build even more goodwill and generate more business.

    • I really like that summary–“Price Strategically.” Maybe this is because I’m a rookie, but I’d never thought of deliberately planning to fluctuate price until I read this piece. It’s a great idea, though, and it seems to build into the greater idea of overall activity awareness every single blog posts attempts to generate.

      “Don’t just throw content out there and hope it gets picked up!” they say.

      “Make a plan and take the time to think before you generate!” they say.

      Maybe they should create a Content Marketer’s Nirvana course based around reaching that pinnacle of Zen-like content awareness?

      • Ebook pricing on Amazon has quite a few permutations – I’ve even heard some self-published authors described as ‘day traders’ for the way they lower/raise prices according to their position in the charts.

        “Zen-like content awareness” – Sonia is very good at that. 😉

  2. If an ER doctor finds time to right novels, I can’t ever justify NOT finding time to take my business to the next level

    Could be a good thing to pin above the desk. 🙂

  3. Really think something different that will make you standoff from the crowd.I have started a blog in 2010 and shut down it in 6 months.

    Now I have started a blog in which I will fetch videos from worlds top brands YouTube channels in realtime.I was seeing success day by day via Google analytics.

    Everybody starting out there is thinking they will get rich quickly.If you want to earn you have to work hard.This is what she has achieved.

  4. Man I love this! I’ve been toying with the idea of publishing an ebook. I’ve got a small outline right now Im working on. Just gotta schedule the time to work on it. A lot of it is research and experience based so I’ve also gotta schedule that time. I know if I schedule it, it’ll happen!

    • I know if I schedule it, it’ll happen!

      A great place to start!

      One good thing to build into the schedule is separate time for research and production – so that the former doesn’t become a way of avoiding the latter. 😉

  5. Man I enjoyed reading this article. It came at the perfect and I feel more motivated than ever to continue growing my list for the release of my book next year. No matter how busy i am, there is no excuse. Just like you said, if an ER doctor can find the time to write her book and do all the marketing her self, then I most certainly can!

    You did a real great job of writing this article Mark, very informative, motivational, and the quotes really set it off!
    I think I’m going to check out that Creative Entrepreneur Roadmap too!

  6. Hi everyone! Just wanted to pop in and thank Mark and Brian for doing this post–I’m so honored! A few folks wrote me after reading this to ask about the course. To me it was extremely valuable as I had no business background, so to be able to be walked through the specific how-to’s AND learn the reasoning behind each step was priceless.

    For those of you pressed for time, give up ONE hour of TV a night and use that hour to write a single page, in a year you will have a full length novel. For shorter non-fiction books, you could probably have four done in a year, just by scheduling writing time instead of an hour of TV….just saying….

    As for flexibility, yes, you nailed it, Andrew and Matt–look at what your audience is enjoying, whether it’s a specific type of videos or books within a certain price range or genre, and see if that plays to your strengths and fits your vision.

    Don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed, give yourself the flexibility to explore all your options–yes, you may “fail” in some of them, but if you dare to fail you will learn so much and your next effort will be that much better for it. I call it always “falling forward” so that even my “failures” contribute to future success.

    Okay, I’ll stop prattling now, thanks again to everyone at Copyblogger!
    CJ (having such a huge fangirl moment, being here!)

    • All good, TY so much! Bookmarked, shared, and now on to practicing it. And perhaps exploring your thrillers with heart. Does everyone tell you it would be funnier if you were a cardiologist? I know, lame joke.

  7. What a fantastic story! I think people do think to hard on making a unique story or message in a book when their story is unique itself…we can pull from many of our own experiences. It’s great to hear positive success stories like this good for her! My good friend sold over 65,000 books this same way, all at about the same price point and the readers on my blog loved to hear his story in the interview we did.

  8. These tips are so true. It seems like you are opening the eyes of, not just authors, but online business people. These are tips that can be used across the board!

  9. I’m really impressed with CJ’s story as I’ve watched the e-book market gain momentum.

    Giving up one hour of TV a night won’t be such a chore 😉


  10. My business definitely combines unique elements to deliver a valuable experience. Who would listen to or want to watch a hypnotist in a tee shirt and jeans? Students and twenty somethings who wear the same.

  11. Mark,

    Thanks for this. I’m getting ready to self-publish a personal development ebook and there are some major “foods for thought” in this. I’m thinking more heavily about the idea of giving the book away to drive traffic to the website, but with no list and no online presence, I don’t really know where to begin giving the book away in any form that will make an impact. If I charge a small fee, I can JV with online marketers to promote the book and potentially reach more readers through their efforts. What are your thoughts?


    • Trent, if you have no list or platform yet, why not use the book to build one? I’m assuming this isn’t the only book you have in you that would be of value to your audience. So maybe give it away to folks who subscribe to your mailing list? While you build your list keep creating great content for your readers as you work on the next book/course/project.

      I don’t know anything about JV partnerships, perhaps others can advise you there.

      Hope that helps,

    • Hi Trent, glad to provide some food for thought. Here are a few more morsels…

      It’s hard to advise for sure without knowing more about your business model and goals, but whenever you give something valuable away (in a commercial context) you need to be clear about how it will move your business strategy forward.


      If your goal is to build your list, then as CJ suggests, you might give it away in return for an email address.

      If you’re offering a service, (personal development coaching?) then giving it away could be an effective way of finding clients – as long as you include a clear sales message in the ebook.

      If you want to show the world how valuable your ideas are and attract the attention of potential allies, then this could also be a good strategy. (It was one of my free ebooks that first got me on Brian’s radar and we ended up as business partners, so it definitely has potential!)

      If this is a substantial ebook and/or you’re looking for ebooks to be a major source of income, then making it free on Amazon (maybe temporarily) gives you a shot at exposure to a wide audience.

      If you charge for the book then you start earning right out of the gate, and many people will ascribe more value to it (and be more likely to read and apply the ideas).

      And so on… do you see how the options depend on your goals?

      Re your point about JV partners, you might find it more effective at this stage to guest post on relevant blogs in your niche, to gain visibility and authority, and build your list. (It will also make you more attractive to JV partners in future).

      I hope that helps, all the best with the book!

  12. Great article! I’m cutting-and-pasting a few excerpts and pinning it to the bulletin board in front of my desk for inspiration as I continue the long, slow slog to build readership!

  13. This is a great article. I have numerous colleagues in CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Speakers) who are currently struggling with the transition to digital books and pricing on multiple platforms. Many of them have audiences who want the tangible product at the back of the room when they talk, but your article/interview has really put into perspective the “long tail” economics (in Chris Anderson’s words) of the internet. It’s not just the new opportunities that the platform offers (links within content, video etc), but also the pricing structure opportunities if you can plug into volume. In addition to speaking about marketing and strategy, I also teach marketing at several Universities in Vancouver. I often use the publishing industry as an example where all 4Ps (product, price, place/distribution, promotion) have been disrupted. I plan to share this link with my followers and circles. Thanks again.

    • I can definitely relate to the “tangible product at the back of the room when they talk” (not to mention my bookshelves, as a lifelong book-lover). And I think there’s a great opportunity here to have the best of both worlds – paper books are great AND there’s a huge trend towards digital reading, which is a wide-open opportunity for enterprising authors like CJ.

  14. Thanks to Copyblogger & CJ for putting this info together. I’ve been sitting on a novel idea for about 6 months now and even though I have tons of notes and outlines/ideas together, I haven’t pulled the gun on actually writing.

    Tonight, I write.

  15. CJ Lyons is an inspiration and a wake up call for all us writers struggling to find time to write (or making excuses why we can’t)! Her life story resonates with me, also, especially the murder of her friend. My sister was murdered by her husband, who was the sheriff of Kimble County, Texas – a crime that became a media circus.

    I’ve been playing around with the idea for a book based on that experience, but until now haven’t wanted to revisit that bleak time in my mind. Maybe I’ll do it someday, when I feel like I can face it.

    Right now, though, I think Ill work to carve out more time and finish the epic historical paranormal thriller (how’s THAT for crossroads positioning?) I’m working on, and increase my production of short stories.

    Self publishing may very well be the best (only?) practical way to put out a “crossroads” genre novel. Traditional publishers have trouble figuring out how to market them.

    • Maybe I’ll do it someday, when I feel like I can face it.

      Sounds like a wise choice. Sometimes it pays to build up your momentum as a writer before tackling the really demanding subjects.

      And good point re crossroads positioning and self-publishing. I’ve come across quite a few stories of authors who were told their book didn’t fit into the right categories for a publisher to take it on, only to publish it themselves and find lots of willing readers.

  16. Wow, now that’s a gem! And then people say time spent on Facebook is just wasted 😉

    Thanks for the inspiration! I’ll definitely give it some more thought as I get my next book ready for release.

    All the best,

  17. Re-read this for the third time and managed to get some more takeways. The thing that comes across with all these successful self-publishers is there understanding and deployment of internet marketing strategies. When I read John Locke’s book explaining how he sold a million ebooks, it felt like I was reading a book by Frank Kern or Eben Pagan. I think the Kindle KDP market is rife for further exploitation by savvy online entrepreneurs


  18. As someone who self-published my first book in 1989, and who has made over $1.5 million over the years from my creative works, I can vouch that the advice here is generally really solid.

    For example, regarding giving away copies of your books, I have given away over 13,000 copies of my books over the years and continue to give them away.

    One does not have to follow all the advice here, however, to become highly successful. One example. Having a strong social media presence is not essential as long as one has some strong other creative marketing strategies. In fact, I like to take the approach that when it’s trendy to do something, do the opposite. In this regard, this blog post by Bob Baker is still one of my favorite blog posts ever regarding book marketing;

    One of the things that should really be stressed is the commitment, dedication, creativity, and the tenacity that is required to make it in this business. Most people read posts like this and think I can do it too! Fact is, 99 percent of people will not succeed at this level.

    Here are some of my favorite quotes by people in the book industry to place things in perspsective.

    “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.”
    — Seth Godin

    “Book writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Anyone who decides to write a book must expect to invest a lot of time and effort without any guarantee of success. Books do not write themselves and they do not sell themselves. Authors write and promote their books.”
    — Dan Poynter

    “The vast majority of self-published books sell less than ten copies a year online and through traditional retail channels, and that probably disappoints a lot of self-publishers. But it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s hard enough for traditionally published books to register meaningful sales, and they have huge built-in advantages.”
    — Jeff Herman, Literary Agent

    “No amount of money or marketing can overcome a book that doesn’t deliver. So your first challenge is to write a book that your networks assure you is as good as you want it to be. The content of your books
    will determine how you sell them to publishers and promote them to book buyers. Content precedes commerce.”
    — Rick Frishman

    “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.”
    — Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver

    “Are you publishing this book to make a living? Good luck with that. Less than 3% of newly published authors make enough in royalties and advances to be happy to live on.”
    — Seth Godin

    And I am going add a quotation by Joe Konrath. For the record, I am not a big fan of Konrath because of his constant criticism of traditional publishers (My opinion is that Konrath hasn’t applied critical thinking skills in his analysis of traditional publishers.) Nevertheless, I do admire and acknowledge the success that Konrath has achieved. What’s more, I particularly agree with Konrath’s statement:

    “Write a damn good book. This should be your main priority. It’s also one of the hardest things to do, and the hardest things to judge for yourself if you’ve done it. The problem is, most writers believe their books are good. Even at our most insecure, we believe complete strangers will enjoy our scribblings enough to pay for the privilege.”
    — Joe Konrath

    Again, as Konrath says, “Write a damn good book.” Of course, the problem is that the vast majority of writers think they have a damn good book, when, it fact, they don’t. In other words. and to quite frank, they are delusional. Today, particularly on the Kindle platform, I am seeing so much crap and mediocre products being posted and saturating the market. And much of this is a result of the so-called book experts selling book-writing and book-promotional products to these wanabee best-selling writers without telling the truth about their chances for success.

    What good will promotion do for all the mediocre (and even a lot worse than medicre) products being put out there?

    As this marketing legend stated:

    “Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.”
    — David Ogilvy

    One last quote to really put things in perspective:

    “What people really want … is to be broke. At least, that’s one likely interpretation
    of a new YouGov poll that shows more people [in Britain] would rather be a writer
    than anything else. Now, it’s possible they’ve all got their eyes on the
    J. K. Rowling squillions, but the financial reality is rather more depressing.
    Most book manuscripts end up unwanted and unread on publishers’ and agents’
    slush piles, and the majority of those that do make it into print sell fewer
    than 1,000 copies … It’s not even as if writing is that glamorous. You sit
    alone for hours on end honing your deathless prose, go days without really
    talking to anyone and, if you’re lucky, within a year or so you will have a
    manuscript that almost no one will want to read. Your friends and family
    will come to dread requests for constructive feedback …”
    — John Crace writing in “The Guardian”

    In short, the key to making it in this business is to be a 1 percenter. You have to be sure that you are more creative and more commited to marketing your projects than 99 percent of writers are. If you aren’t, don’t expect to have any true best-sellers and make money at this game. I know that I am a 1 percenter. How about you?

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • I love this reply as much as the original post — thanks to both of you for sharing this genius and inspiring information … I will put it to good use.

  19. Book coming out in August? I just hope it’ll sell. I know it has potential, and I’m not tooting my own horn here. Let’s hope my marketing is own point. @bloggerESP

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