On Thursday 29th of November 2018, it happened! While attending a training day for a writing project I’ve been recruited to work on (will share the details with you soon), the one thousandth copy of my book was sold.
I was delighted. There was a sense of inevitability as I’d reached 999 sales the night before after selling some copies at a meet up group I run, but it was still fantastic to achieve this milestone. Doing so, brought a close to a six- and three-quarter year journey!
It took me six weeks to sell the first copy of my book, Screw The System (launched February 2012).
It then took me a year and four months to cross the 100 copies sold milestone.
It was a further five and a half years to then reach the 1000 copies milestone.
During this journey, there have been title and cover changes, updates and a new book released and then retracted. It’s been emotional. Many times, I’ve been at the point of despair (wondering whether my life’s work might have been for nothing), only to rise to the pinnacle of elation (when receiving a meaningful email, review, endorsement or in-person comment about my work). With time, I’ve grown wiser. I’ve learned there’s a process to this book selling game.
I’m going to share it with you now. I’m doing this because there’s something important you need to know. If you believe you have a message to share with the world, are prepared to spend endless hours crafting it into a book that’s readable, interesting and flows and won’t give up in spreading this message to as many people as possible, then I GUARANTEE you’ll also reach 1000 sales (and, very likely, far beyond).
For, if I can achieve this goal, with no budget for advertising, no initial audience and NO CLUE about marketing and promotion (at least, initially), then anyone can.
Let me take you back to the 8th February 2012. For a moment, my finger hovered nervously over the ‘enter’ button on my keyboard. Then, I pressed it.
After four years of working on my book, Screw The System, I finally self-published it on Amazon. I’d rewritten it a painful 3 times. However, despite all the ups and downs, I was certain it was going to be a success.
As the weeks passed, and all I could see on my Kindle Direct Publishing results page was a big fat zero, I started to wonder what was wrong. Naturally, I questioned the book. Perhaps there was something wrong with the title? Maybe the idea of ‘screwing the system’ was too unclear or too aggressive?
What I know now, but didn’t then, was that this perceived failure had little to do with the contents of my book, or its title. Instead, I was making a fundamental error. I was attempting to sell a book before building an audience.
How the hell was anyone to know my book was on Amazon?
Even in 2012, the market was saturated. There were hundreds of thousands of self-published titles to choose from, plus all the conventionally published ones. Furthermore, I hadn’t notified any of my tennis coaching and hypnotherapy network about the launch. I didn’t have an email list. Hell, I didn’t even have a landing page or website. Finally, my social media activity was severely limited, having only joined Twitter and Facebook the previous month. And yet, for some reason, I naively assumed the book would sell itself.
Eventually, a few did, and a trickle of sales began. However, the pace was slow, averaging about 1 a week.
A couple of strategies gave me a boost on my journey to selling my first 100 copies. A guest blog post for MindValley and, later in the year, PickTheBrain, gave me an additional 20 sales (in total). I wrote articles for them and, in exchange for this content, they allowed me to leave a link to my book at the end of the post.
My writing mentor and friend, Tom Butler-Bowdon, sharing my book (for the first time) with the subscribers to his email list, as part of a Christmas offer, also generated around 15 sales. Apart from that, I scraped along for a year and half, desperately hungry for book sales, but not knowing how to generate them.
Selling my first 100 copies felt like an achievement. However, taking a year and a half to do it was never going to get me anywhere close to where I wanted to be.
I needed to come up with a new strategy. Unfortunately, at the time, I was still focusing on the contents and packaging of the book.
After studying a ‘Kindle Krusher book selling course’, I’d convinced myself that the title of my book was all wrong.
Screw The System is putting people off, I rationalised. It’s alienating personal developments large female audience. It’s not presenting a positive direction for the reader to follow. I wasted hour upon hour trying to come up with new ideas and worrying about the implication of having to rewrite parts of the book if the title change was too great.
On the subject of wasting time, it was during this period I put a lot of effort into growing my social media presence. Despite google analytics revealing Facebook and Twitter weren’t driving much traffic to my website, I persisted with allocating approximately half my time to creating thought provoking posts that had very little impact.
The one thing I did get right was increasing the number of guest blog posts I wrote. A seminal article on how to generate website traffic alerted me to this strategy. From November 2014, I began writing close to one a month. These mainly drove subscribers to my website, but they also had the knock-on effect of increasing my book sales on Amazon. However, as December 2015 rolled around, I still hadn’t registered 400 sales.
I did have something up my sleeve, though, and unbeknownst to me, my fortunes were about to take a slow upward turn.
Throughout most of 2015, I’d been rewriting Screw The System. Although happy with the original version, after 3 years of reading other personal development sites and doing my own blogging, I could see ways to improve. I also finally chose to change the title and cover, opting for the not too dissimilar Escape The System.
Along with the updated content, I had a new strategy. After devouring the content of business building website (Fizzle), I decided to launch Escape The System to my email list (as a PDF sold through my website) rather than on Amazon Kindle.
It did ok. Although I only made 15 sales, it was the highest concentration of purchases I’d experienced over a seven-day period. Furthermore, with a subscriber base of just below 700 (at the time), and a typical email open rate of 20%, the conversion rates were respectable.
A light went on. Perhaps email marketing works!!
Something else changed at the start of 2016. I began contacting personal development groups in London, looking for speaking opportunities. My first was at Inspire’d Stage, and the positive reception switched me on to the idea of selling my book off the back of a successful talk. More followed, as I spoke at Interesting Talks twice, Live your Legend a few times and a few other meet up groups.
Although the audiences weren’t large (at their peak 60, dropping down to 10 at the smaller groups), typically 10% to 20% (and once 25%) of them would go on to buy a book.
All the while, my Amazon Kindle sales continued to trickle in. The title and cover change did little to boost sales, but, with time, I began to average two, instead of one, sale a week.
Unfortunately, during 2017, guest blogging became a redundant strategy. My go-to website (Pick The Brain), like many other personal development sites at the time, stopped showing the amount of social shares an article received. The option to share the article (on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc) was still there, but now that the number of shares was no longer visible (e.g. an article has received 1000 shares on FB), it appeared to disincentivise people to share (don’t ask me why). However, as one door closes, another opens.
At the start of April 2018, I sold my 800th copy. Feeling inspired, I set myself a goal.
It had taken me ten months to sell the previous 100 copies, so I wanted to sell the next 100 in nine. This would have been impossible to achieve if I hadn’t had a new book in the pipeline.
Throughout the tail end of 2016 and all of 2017, I’d been writing ‘How to Create an Income Without Working a Boring Job’. By April 2018, I was in the final stages of editing the book and preparing for the launch. By June, it was ready.
Encouraged by the launch of Escape The System, I decided to use email marketing to maximise my sales. I offered the book at a discounted price (for one week only) and then emailed my subscribers with a link to buy.
This time, rather than selling the book through my website, I sold it through a third-party site called Gumroad. The downside was that they kept a small (but fair) percentage of the sale. The upside was that their platform offered the possibility of selling the book in more than one way.
When emailing my subscribers, I gave them the option of purchasing ‘How to Create an Income Without Working a Boring Job’ on its own, or as part of a bundle deal with Escape The System. I made the bundle only $1.50 more expensive and, to my delight, this greatly increased sales.
In total, this launch brought me around 50 sales (counting a purchase of the bundle as two). Two more campaigns followed, the first through my author friend Thibaut Meurisse, and the second through Tom. On both occasions, the book sold well, with the bundle constituting the majority of the sales.
These campaigns ensured I smashed my goal of selling 100 copies in nine months. I did it in five. So, I then set myself the goal of selling the next 100 in four.
Tom and Thibaut’s email campaigns ran into this time period, bringing me an additional 60 plus sales. I also featured at the Laptop Lifestyle Bootcamp weekend event as a speaker and the organiser bought 10 copies of Escape The System to give away as prizes. These, combined with the low, but continuous, sales of my first book on Amazon, ensured I reached my next 100 in only three months. Finally, I crossed the 1000 sales milestone.
Above is a breakdown of my 1000 sales. Although Amazon Kindle constitutes the largest portion (with 40% of the sales), don’t be fooled into thinking this was the most effective sales strategy.
Escape The System has been available to buy on Amazon (in one form or another), since February 2012. That’s over six and half years. In that time period, it’s only sold 400 copies on Kindle and 180 in paperback. Compare that with only five email marketing campaigns bringing me 150 sales, and you can see where you should be directing your attention.
For more tips, read the list below.
My book selling story doesn’t end now that I’ve reached 1000 sales. I’ve got big dreams and my next goal is 10,000. Ironically, this might be easier to achieve than the 1000 mark. This is due to the recent book deal I’ve been offered by a UK publishing company.
During November of this year, Watkins Media contacted me in response to a proposal I submitted to them for ‘How to Create an Income Without Working a Boring Job.’ They liked it and after meeting me and running some figures, presented a contract.
This was a fantastic boost. I’ve grinded out almost 7 years following the self-published route and now I get to see how being a published author impacts my sales. My hope is that the arduous task of building an audience will be, somewhat, mitigated as my book appears in bookstores up and down the country and overseas. I can’t now launch ‘How to Create an Income Without Working a Boring Job’ on Amazon, as the publishing company want to be the ones to officially release it at the start of 2020. However, I’m sure it will be worth the wait.
As I think back on my journey, and all the highs and lows I’ve experienced, my mind returns to June 2015. At this point, for some reason, I couldn’t get off the 337 sales mark. I didn’t make a single sale for at least a month, perhaps longer. Despite all the effort I’d put into making my book as good as possible, and all the time I’d spent learning how to market and promote, nobody was buying.
I felt like I was at a crossroads. After 8 years (including the writing period between 2007 and 2012) invested in the project, what did I have to show? A handful of sales and a revenue stream that didn’t even stretch into four figures. Surely, under any reasonable measure of attainment, I was a failure.
Fortunately, I didn’t see it that way. Ever since I’d begun my journey, I’d been recording my book sales. I noted every single one down in my diary as a positive result. Therefore, when it came to difficult moments like June of 2015, I had 337 reasons to continue.
I could have seen it differently. Perhaps most people would. They might have looked at the length of time it took to achieve those sales, and the effort that went into getting them, and ask whether it was worth it.
Furthermore, they might have looked to examples of authors who’ve released their first book, and gone on to sell a million copies in the same period of time it took me to sell 337, and made comparisons. They might have said ‘that’s what happens if it’s meant to be. You’re clearly not supposed to make a living from being a writer if this is how long it takes.’
I would have been justified in thinking like this. However, if I did, I’d have never gone on to get a book deal and sell over 1000 copies.
Although proud of my achievements, I’m far from an expert. Six- and three-quarter years is far too long to sell 1000 copies. Please learn from my mistakes.
Before ending this blog post, I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of my book. Some of you have even bought multiple copies and then gifted them to friends. Some of you have written fantastic reviews on Amazon. All of you are hugely appreciated. I couldn’t have done it without you.