100,000 Books Sold – What Happened?

I published my first book in January of 2014. I just published my eleventh book in September 2015. Number 12 is underway with a Xmas publication date.

I write “legal thrillers.” I don't know how “thrilling” my books are, but I don't make up the categories, either; Amazon does that.

Bookbub
My first month I think I sold maybe 40 or 50 books. My second month 400. My third month 1100. I was growing and selling more every month until about August of last year when I came on KBoards and found everyone talking about Bookbub. So I submitted and got accepted for a freebie on about my third try. Since then I've had eleven more Bookbubs (upcoming one is next Tuesday). Most have been freebie giveaways although a couple were promo sales. All in all Booktrakr tells me I've given away about 300,000 books, which I couldn't have done without Bookbub. And I've sold over 100,000.

So I guess BB is really the story of any success I've had. Why did they accept me so often? I think much of it has to do with my covers, which are made by Nathan Wampler. If you would like to ask him about covers he can be reached atnathanwamplerdesign@gmail.com. Please don't get him so busy he ignores my pleas for help. The guy's a genius, as far as I'm concerned and I can only say, based on BB's acceptance of my promos, they must like him too.

It's funny, but I practiced law 40 years and never earned as much as I do now by writing. I'm also an old guy so I wish (if wishes were horses…) I had started this years earlier. Whoops, actually I did. I had an agent back in the nineties when Grisham got so hot, and my agent peddled my books around NY and no one was interested. Even last January when I first self-pubbed I had just queried something like 45 agents and none of them wrote me back except for two canned, brief, brush-offs.

Hot New Releases
I like self-pub. I like writing and releasing on my own schedule. More than that, however, I've come to know that you need to play the Hot New Releases cycle and self-pub allows me to do that. For example, right now my latest book The Trial Lawyer is under thrillers > legal and it's about #4 under HNR. Also, my next book is on preorder and it's also on the first page of HNR and will remain there for the ninety days while it's being written. This is very important to me in how I move books.

KU
I'm in KU 100%. Many of my peers are wide. But I like page reads and get between 1.5 to 2.0 million per month. It would be hard to give that up for the “wide” adventure. Maybe at some point I will, but right now it works for me. Maybe not for you, but for how I'm building my backlist it works just fine. Everyone will have a different plan and use these tools to best suit their plan.

Mark and Nick
Yes, I've taken Mark Dawson's FB course and Nick Stephenson's mailing list course, with crossover between them. These guys, have taught me so much. Mark is brilliant at teaching Power Editor for FB and even a dummy like me now has it figured out. Nick was equally brilliant in teaching now to building that mailing list. My list right now has 5100 names and I can launch a book quite high in the rankings.

Can you learn from me?
This is an area where opinion seems to be all over the road. If we could replicate success from posts like this one, then why don't we all take James Patterson's course and become megasellers by following his path. But that's where it breaks down for me. I think generalities have been good for me to learn here on Kboards (write series, publish often, don't respond to the 1-stars, etc) but so far I haven't had the success others have had simply by following what someone else did. I've had to find my own way.

If I were starting out today, I would: find a small niche; write and publish no more than 90 days apart; tickle the Amazon algos by boosting sales through FB ads. When I first started out I advertised on FB in order to get sales so Amazon's algos would sit up and pay attention. My ads were money losers–but it wasn't profit I was after, it was movement. A gradual upswing in sales. I am NOT saying I acquired hundreds of sales by FB, maybe 4-6 sales per day to start. It doesn't take much. But as a long-time advertiser on Adwords I had come to know that I had to invest money up front to make money on the back end. Why wouldn't that same business tactic work with Amazon? I believe it does. And what Mark and Nick are doing is showing us how to not only get movement in our sales but, by their methods, even to turn a profit. What could be better than moving books on FB ads AND turning a profit? The one feeds the other. Just my opinion, of course. But again, I was all but broke when I started publishing and I know how hard it can be to spend money you don't have on advertising. Yikes. We all come to this differently.

Finally, those who know me know that I have asked probably the most butt-dumb questions on KBoards in a long time. I had to, because I knew absolutely zero about self-pub when I first came here. When I found KDP I was a phone call away from publishing with a company called XLibris and the guy had me talked into something like a $3,000 program guaranteed to line my garage with insulating boxes of books. Thank God for KDP. I went on their site and read it like ten times, each time looking for the part where it says how much I would have to pay to publish a book. Amazon removed the last obstacle for me: the gatekeepers. And all I have to do is keep writing, which is like a virus that wracks me and won't let go anyway. With or without Amazon, I'm writing anyway.

Never give up. I lost my first six books I wrote before my first self-pub in January 2014. Left on other people's computers or lost in printed formats. Gone. But maybe it's just as well, I don't know. But the point I want to make is that I had written continuously for thirty-some years since college until Amazon opened the door for me. Nobody bought anything from me. Nothing. But once the door opened, I had unlearned a lot of bad habits and was left with a style that more than anything aims for clarity of story. That's it, simple. Nothing matters to me but clarity of story. Sometimes I hit it, sometimes I miss it. But there's my goal.

Good luck everyone.

ETA:

I'm a strong believer in preorders because a preorder can stay on the “coming soon” pages for 90 days. Then when the book is released it gets another 30 days on the HNR page and then gets into the “New Releases/last ninety days” pages after. At this point my practice is to then establish another preorder book and climb back on the “coming soon” pages again while my latest release is HNR for thirty then “New Releases/last ninety days.” This is the cycle, of course. Your mailing list will help you maintain a high level of visibility as you do this.

This model requires constant publishing, every ninety days. But in my experience, it is these lists that sell books on a regular daily basis, moving them ever higher as they go. It also requires a mailing list to keep your book churn up while the HNR algos kick in.

What is beautiful is that Amazon gives us these data filters (the lists) as tools we can (and should) use. I have been unable to find another sales portal that gives me this.

  • October 12, 2015
Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 9 comments
Amber Dane - June 15, 2016

I came across your interview on Alliance of Independent Authors today and was like, I remember him from kboards 🙂 Congratulations on your success!
Great post. Thanks for sharing

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admin - June 15, 2016

Thanks Rae. UP is one of my favorite books. I must admit, however, that i had a few nightmares as I was writing it, due to the intense research I was doing based on survivors' stories. Never again.

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Rae Petty - June 15, 2016

I first discovered your book Unspeakable Prayers on Bookbub. LOVED it. And now I am going to get all of your books! I really like how you write and I love the legal parts of it. Please continue to write forever! 🙂

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admin - June 15, 2016

You're welcome, Linda. When I read lots of posts like mine, I do start to see a pattern. Thanks for writing!

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admin - June 15, 2016

Thanks Thom. My system isn't perfect because it requires writing and publishing on a regular basis. Sometimes I have a lot of trouble keeping up with my own calendar. But you know what? It sure beats working for a living!

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admin - June 15, 2016

Come on over, the water's clear and fresh. Lots of room for writers of legal thrillers. You've clearly got the writing chops from your SciFi days, so maybe legal thrillers would be just the right slot. I will help you any way I can. And thanks for all your support over the years, Patrice. Soy mucho obligado!

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Thom Reece - June 15, 2016

Thank you, John. Very interesting read. Your 90-Day system makes lot of sense and is something almost anyone should be able to accomplish. Nick's list building system is solid direct response technique and I am just beginning to embrace the Facebook advertising. I have a bit of learning curve to climb with that, however.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts… and congratulations on your success with self-publishing.

Thom Reece

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Stan R. Mitchell - June 15, 2016

Congrats! And thanks for sharing this very valuable info!

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Linda Jordan - June 15, 2016

John, thanks for telling us how you structured your Indie career. It helps so much to read someone who's clear about what worked for them and what didn't!

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