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Self-publishing success stories are all around us… but it’s not often we get a glimpse into how, exactly, these authors manage to sell so many books on Amazon.
That’s why we love this piece from Forbes on how one author earns $450,000 a year self-publishing on Amazon.
The UK-based author, Mark Dawson, writes thrillers and crime novels, and has sold 300,000 copies of his thriller series about a British assassin named John Milton. The Forbes piece says Dawson earned six figures last year, but never quite explains the math behind the $450,000 total it says Amazon has paid to the author.
Of course, any measure of six figures is impressive when you’re just starting out in the self-publishing world, and the tactics Dawson shares in this piece offer a number of takeaways for up-and-coming authors.
Here are some practical tips for succeeding as a self-published author based on what worked for Dawson:
1. Give away your book for free
It sounds counterintuitive, but many self-published authors who manage to gain traction on Amazon give their books away through Amazon’s KDP Select program.
KDP Select allows you to offer the book for free for five days or discount it for up to seven days using what’s called a Countdown Deal. If you offer the book for free, it can rank on Amazon’s Top 100 Free list if it does well, while discounted books are included on the Top 100 Paid list. Once your book makes one of these lists, even within a subcategory, other readers are more likely to see and download it. And if your book does well on the free list, some of that clout will carry over into its sales rank once your book goes back to its regular price.
Dawson tried this strategy when he released his first self-published book, The Black Mile, and readers grabbed 50,000 copies in one weekend. He also now gives away free books in return for signing up for his email list; you can’t miss this offer at the top of his website.
Of course, giving your book away or selling it for cheap doesn’t put much money in your pocket. But this strategy can give a much-needed boost to a new release. And if you can capitalize on that success and use it to build your community so they’re excited about your next book launch, you will likely be able to sell more books the next time around.
2. Learn how to promote your books
For many writers, marketing is the most difficult part, either because they don’t have the skills to pull it off or simply don’t want to. But the truth is, if you want to make a living as a writer, you have to be more than a writer. Figuring out how to promote your books is the only way you’ll sell copies.
Dawson follows many of the best practices for growing a loyal community online: he has grown an email list so he can communicate with readers about upcoming releases, engages with his community on Facebook and offers seminars to other writers who want to self-publish as well.
His email list is 15,000 strong, Forbes reports, a figure that may sound huge to a newbie but is relatively small compared to most successful online entrepreneurs. It goes to show you don’t need a massive list to earn a living; you simply need an engaged, loyal one.
3. Use Facebook ads to spread the word
Many successful entrepreneurs use Facebook ads to reach their target market, and it can be an effective tactic, so long as you learn how to do it effectively. The trick is to earn more than you spend, and once you do, don’t be afraid to pour money into the Facebook machine.
How do you earn money through Facebook ads? Use the Facebook ads manager to select a target audience that’s a good fit for your book, then experiment with small spends (as low as $10 or $20 each) to see which of your messages and target audiences converts.
If you spend $10 to run a campaign, and 30 people buy your book because of it, you’ve likely made money, depending on the price point of your book and how much you have to hand over to Amazon. Use the analytics in Facebook’s ad manager to track metrics closely, so you can make good decisions about how to spend.
Dawson spends $370 a day on Facebook ads, according to Forbes, and earns double that in book buys.
4. Make time for your writing
Next to marketing, this tends to be one of the biggest challenges for writers, especially those who are trying to break into a career as a writer while holding down a day job or raising a family. How do you make time for writing during a busy day?
Dawson, too, holds a day job; he works in the London film industry, according to his website. And he has a young family. His job requires something most of us would complain about: a two-hour commute to and from London each day. Guess how he uses those hours? He writes thousands of words each day, Forbes reports.
5. Don’t give up
Stories like Dawson’s seem like overnight success stories, but if you look a little closer, almost every author and entrepreneur failed before succeeding.
Dawson released a book through a traditional publisher before transitioning to self-publishing… and it flopped. And you’ve probably heard of most of these famous authors whose work was rejected before it was published.
The trick is to avoid comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle. Everyone’s a beginner at some point. Don’t be afraid of failure, for you need to push past it to do your best work.