Lessons learned after selling 1.1 million books and ebooks
It’s been a while since I made a blog post, so pardon the big numbers in the post title – it’s really more to get your attention and give back than to brag.
Feel free to comment and ask me anything in this post and I’ll try to help you.
So yes, according to my publisher and my royalty checks , I’ve sold 1.1 million books and ebooks since 2009. This was split between 3 books with a fourth one coming out in August. You can reference them here.
For those who know me, you know that I started out as a newbie in 2001 just trying to find a niche for an ebook to put on Clickbank. I was working full time for JP Morgan Chase back then and the only time I had was my lunch break, nights and weekends. I taught myself everything from scratch (html, photoshop, copywriting, niche marketing, SEO, Google Adwords, email marketing, etc) while working in a one bedroom apartment on an old refurbished computer that I bought from a used computer store for $300.
I was a one man operation when I first started but I was super motivated. Nobody knew my name Online and I didn’t give two sh*ts about failing. There weren’t many long indecisive planning sessions – I was just indiscriminately throwing all my ideas against the wall to see what sticks. I didn’t care what anybody thought of me (except my customers) and had that determined newbie energy that I wish I still had LOL. I didn’t have a coach or big name mentor and I didn’t buy many training courses – I just watched what other successful marketers were doing and I took lots of action.
Eventually I figured things out, starting making a full time income Online, left the corporate world in 2007, and then got a big break signing a book deal with Simon & Schuster with a multiple 6-figure advance in 2008.
So enough about me, let me share the top 3 lessons I’ve learned:
1) Getting a book deal is just like getting JV partners – they will want you more when you’re already successful and don’t need them.
Book publishers are really struggling. Their margins are very low and their business models are outdated. Add to that the fact that most of the authors they sign don’t even earn back their advance. Consequentially the big publishers are taking on less and less risk. They want books that are a sure bet to sell well.
What made me stand out was that I was already an established brand Online. Before signing with them, I had already sold over 50,000 self published books and ebooks and I had an email list of over 150,000 subscribers. When I hired a literary agent to submit proposals, we got a deal signed within a few months.
The lesson here is – build a list and a brand. Establish yourself as an expert on a topic first. With all the resources you have today – social media, guest blogging, article syndication, video marketing, etc., it’s now easier than ever to share your expertise to the masses. Success leaves clues and when decision makers can find those clues Online, you have a much better chance of getting a deal. And even if you don’t – you can make still a killing by self publishing.
2) All you need is one good idea.
When I first started self publishing physical books, I didn’t know that there were print on demand book printers and fulfilment services. We eventually figured it out the hard way – out of a desperate necessity lol. But before we smarten up, we used to sell a spiral bound cookbook that I’d actually have photocopied at Staples. And we would manually take the books to the local post office to ship the orders. It got to the point that the post office clerk hated to see us coming because we’d hold up the line for like an hour lol. You’d think that they would appreciate all the money we were spending, but all they were concerned about was keeping the line moving and finishing their shift.
During Christmas, we would get so many orders in that we’d go to the 24 hour post office in midtown Manhattan at like 1 am with a car full of boxes. After a while we hated to see new orders coming in because of all the manual labor and stress involved.
One day while printing books at Staples, a lady probably in her late 50′s standing next to me noticed my cookbook titled “America’s Most Wanted Recipes” and asked me what kind of recipes were in the book. I told her it was a book featuring copycat recipes from restaurants like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Cheesecake Factory etc.
All of a sudden her eyes lit up in excitement and she asked me to let her see the book. I told her that we sell the book on our website if she’s interested in getting a copy. She looked at me in disbelief and wouldn’t take no for an answer – “just let me see it, I just want to see the recipes!” She then kinda snatched it from me and proceeded to look through the book.
I couldn’t help but laugh at how bold she was, but part of me was flattered that she was so interested in my book.
The lady gave me $20 on the spot for a copy of the book and thanked me for letting her buy it. Right then and there I knew that I had a winning idea that I should focus all my efforts on.
So how do you know if your idea is a winner? If it has a such big amazing claim that when you show it to a regular person they immediately become curious enough to ask you questions about it. As long as you can actually deliver the benefits of your claim, you have a winner.
Now in no way am I telling you to lie or be sleazy. But at the same time, you can’t be subtle in communicating the main benefit and value of your product.
Just look at the headlines of some of the top selling products Online and you’ll see that they all have that big claim. And it’s not as difficult as you might think to find a winning idea. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you can just put your own spin on an existing idea to make it even better.
Build a better mouse trap. It doesn’t matter if an idea has already been done, just do it better. For example – Yahoo was around before Google, MySpace before Facebook, Network Solutions before GoDaddy. That didn’t stop them from starting their business and eventually dominating.
3) Focus your efforts on maximizing the potential of one niche.
Once you find a winner, stop everything else and just focus all your efforts into marketing it. Go hard like you want everyone on the planet to know about it. Turn every stone with your marketing campaign – jv partners, affiliates, SEO, PPC, media buys, press releases, social media, viral marketing, article marketing, etc.
While everyone else is jumping from one idea to the next without maximizing to potential of any one, you’ll be way ahead of them by focusing your efforts. If everyday you just focused on building a list in one market and giving value to that list, after a year you’ll have more than enough loyal subscribers to make a full time income. All you really need is 500 dedicated customers paying you just $8.50 a month to earn over $50k a year.
The bottom line is, if you have something that people really want, you’ll have the motivation to get it in front of everybody. That is the power of having a big idea and focusing your efforts on it – you can’t help but succeed.