I published my first book How to Cook In A Jiffy Even If You Have Never Boiled An Egg Before in September 2013. This was a simple college cookbook based on my own experiences of surviving the London hostels for four years as an international student.
I remember going through the full gamut of writing, editing, formatting, and cover designing and publishing all by myself, bumbling around quite a bit and losing my way once in a while. I had to do research and watch a lot of YouTube videos to understand the entire process. After doing everything carefully, I hit the publish button and kept my fingers crossed. After 12 hours, I received a notification from KDP that my book was published and available to buyers around the world. It was a dream come true. I celebrated with my whole family, while excitedly checking different Amazon sites such as amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and amazon.in (I live in India) to find that my book was actually published in all these territories.
I have since added 12 more titles and 7 translations. However, moving from 0 sales to 1000 was a personal landmark. Financially, 1000 may or may not be a big number for you, but it was certainly an achievement for me.
Why is 1000 so important? For two reasons. Firstly, most books, even traditionally published ones, do not sell more than 250 copies in their entire lifetime, yes LIFETIME, I repeat.
Secondly, 1000 sales definitely means that strangers are buying your books and that you have finally moved beyond your circle of friends and family members. Well, I didn’t need to touch 1000 sales to prove that strangers were buying my books. I knew this was true from day 1, because from the day I informed my relatives about my first book, I didn’t get any sales for the next three months! In fact very few people even bothered to reply to me.
My biggest source of satisfaction was that I had achieved this mark all by myself without any big publisher or influencer backing me, and without using paid advertising services. In fact, WITHOUT SPENDING A DIME.
A thousand sales was not the only achievement. As I’ve mentioned, I also wrote more than 12 books in three genres—cookbooks (Cooking in a Jiffy series), motivational books for introverts (Quiet Phoenix series) and on self-publishing (Self-Publishing WITHOUT SPENDING A DIME series). On top of this, I also published seven translations of my books into Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German. I sold books in over 29 countries, including Azerbaijan, Russia, Vietnam and the Philippines where I don’t think any traditional publisher would bother marketing me.
The wait to reach the first 1000 sales can, however, take quite a toll. There may be sniggers from your so-called friends to concerned glances from your family about how will you now service your mortgages and student loans.
But if you keep yourself busy just writing more books, you will realise that time just flies. When I look at my first book, I feel as if it was published ages ago even though it was only published two years back.
In fact I feel that my first two years were simply the beginning, the process of wetting your feet, so to say. The fun will start now.
In London, when we applied for a job with any prestigious English law firm (I am a lawyer by training), our first two years were referred to as the “Training Contract” and us as “trainees”. The same system is followed by other professions around the world. When we completed our training contract, we were called NQs or “Newly-Qualified”.
In a day job, nobody expects to be promoted to the highest level on day one, regardless of your qualifications, brilliance and aptitude. In fact even nurturing such a notion would be considered laughable. What happens to us then when we start our writing career? All of a sudden we want instant success. We want our books to take off on their own. And if nothing happens for a few months, we consider ourselves a “failure”.
So if you ask me, I am going to tell you that ‘Yes, I have just completed my training contract in my writing career’. You can now refer to me as NQ or “Newly Qualified” with the first 1000 sales and a couple of foreign translation sales under my belt.
In this post, I intend to share my ups and downs. I will analyse what worked for me and what did not work for me. I feel that I have figured out a system (and it does not depend upon gaming the Amazon system) that I can use to move from 1000 to 10,000 mark and then 1 million.
Every writer is different so I cannot claim that what worked for me will also work for you. I consider myself a fast writer and do not have any problems finishing my projects. Your situation may be a little different. May be the advice that you should write more books drives you crazy and makes you feel that you will burn out soon. Or maybe you feel that no matter what you do success won’t happen. In that case, try to find what works for YOU.
So let me “rewind” back in September 2013. I celebrated the release of my first book. However, that happiness was short lived as soon as I realised that I had to do something to drive sales.
I didn’t make any sales for the next two months. This didn’t shatter me but made me more determined to succeed. I tried to read as much on book marketing as possible. I also read whining stories of other authors in discussion forums. Most of the authors complained that they were not making enough sales and I thought (at that time) that they were complaining too much. At least they were making some sales whereas I was making none.
I made my first sale in November 2013 and that too in the amazon.co.uk store. That was another moment for celebration and yes, after that we vowed to celebrate each and every sale in a new territory.
In the whole of 2013, I only sold 10 copies which does not seem bad now as I had just started then. By the end of 2014, I sold around 470 books (Createspace inclusive). And the process was unstoppable after that.
So let me share the things that worked for me and did NOT work for me in the two years of my “training contract”.
Things that worked for me
Whether writing more books advice works?
Let’s suppose I had written only 2 books in 2 years. Would I have reached where I am today? Not at all. In fact I would still be in the 2013 mode, struggling to make sales. So writing more books definitely works. Not to forget that I wrote in three completely different genres and got feedback from (and discovered by) three different group of readers.
However, there is one more thing. You need to be extremely disciplined to keep producing books. No matter how many books you read or courses you attend, nothing works if you don’t commit to writing. If you want to write 1.5 million words in a year like Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and Dave Wright do, then you will need to write at least 5,000 words per day for at least 300 days (assuming that the other 65 days you are resting or doing something else).
If you take two hours to write 2,000 words per day then you will definitely need to spend five to six hours writing. It’s that simple. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and just write.
Patience: I don’t think we are born with patience. In fact, I am not sure whether the human brain is hard-wired for patience. If it came so naturally, the Buddhists would not have spent thousands of years training the human mind for patience. If you lack patience, cultivate it even if it requires meditation or focussing your mind on something else other than the result.
When I first published, I could have said that selling books (getting even a single sale) was a fantasy. Moving from 0 sales to even a few seemed impossible. So I decided to focus on the process than on the end-result (which is sales). Moving from 0 to 1000 was quite overwhelming. So my advice would be to take things one at a time and to remain focussed on the journey.
Positivity: I have had this debate so many times in my family. Having a positive mind does not drive your sales. So why remain positive and optimistic? What good can come out of it?
While it is true that positivity does NOT change anything in the external world, it alters your personality and your way of thinking. Positivity tells you to keep trying and if you don’t succeed, try to find something else till you consider yourself successful. And that’s really it!
Positivity does NOT guarantee that you will succeed. Nor does Negativity guarantee failure. But your way of thinking definitely alters your behaviour. A negative person will think that no matter what he does, he will always fail and as a result he would stop trying. A positive person on the other hand thinks that he should keep taking action, keep learning, and adjust when required.
There were many instances where positivity helped me personally. My sales plummeted in February 2015 and that too after writing nearly 10 books. I could have given it up and said that there was no point in writing more books. But I always tried to figure out the reason and even when the reasons were not so obvious.
I had till then kept all my books in KDP Select and still I was NOT benefitting. I read experiences of other authors in KDP Select and realised that it was better to publish on all platforms than to put all your eggs in the Amazon basket. I soon did that and have not since regretted my decision. I now get 30% of my sales from other platforms, with Google Play contributing the maximum.
Anyway this was not the sole reason I embraced positivity. I have really thought about my vision of an ideal person. Have you seen people who are always bitter about life, bitching about everything? Would you want to be friends with such people? No, you will want to run away from them. And this is the major reason I did not want to be the kind of person who people want to run away from.
Writing in multiple genres: Writing in many genres helps, provided you are publishing more books in that genre. In some months, my cookbooks sell well and in other months my Quiet Phoenix series and Self-Publishing WITHOUT SPENDING A DIME series outsell my cookbooks. I have yet to decipher the logic as to why and when this happens, but that’s how it is and I have no option but to respect the ‘market forces’.
Publish in as many formats and in as many places as possible: When I first started publishing, I always heard the argument that “Print is Dead” and believed it. I thought that seeing your books in Print was a very 20th centurish desire and had no place now. It was my father who wanted to see my books in Print, and so I learnt to publish my books via Print on Demand (POD). I still remember that I published my first CreateSpace book on the date of my 29th birthday (8 October 2013) and my father promptly ordered three copies to show off among his friends!
However, CreateSpace, a year down the line, has now become an important stream of income. I am glad that I published my Print books through CreateSpace and did not believe the many self-publishing gurus who were recommending against this sector.
The same logic applies to publishing your e-books to Google Play, Apple, Kobo, Nook, etc and your translated books through Babelcube. They have all by now become small streams of income complementing my Amazon sales.
Ups and downs happen, so do not worry: Some months are great while others will make you doubt your own abilities. In August 2014, I sold a grand total of 17 books only. It looks disappointing but if you see the bigger picture (i.e. total sales in a year or more), it does not look too bad. Downs will happen. I am always prepared for that. But that does not mean I will give up on my writing dreams. So whenever you are having a bad month, don’t brood too much about it and distract yourself by completing your next project.
Pricing is your best marketing strategy: Always remember that your goal is to attract new readers and to slowly build your reputation. The best way to do is to play around with Free or $0.99 pricing strategies and see what works.
Not too dependent on paid advertising: I feel really pleased that I achieved my target of 1000 sales without blowing a hole in my author venture. I achieved this target without paying money to any major advertising sites like BookBub, Book Gorilla or E-Reader News Today. So, I feel it is possible to build a book business which does NOT heavily depend on paid advertising.
Keep Learning: I read a lot and my favourite books that I read last year was The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy and The Principles of Success by Jack Canfield. These books helped me change my mind-set. I learnt to focus on small things and to revel in every small success. And I wish to retain that mind-set for the rest of my writing career.
Things that did not work for me:
Goodreads Giveaways: While running a Goodreads Giveaway may get you some exposure, it costs you money and does not have any positive return on investment. In 2014, I ran around 8-10 giveaways that cost me around $100 and did not at all pay me back in sales. I will do a detailed blog post some day on my experience but this year and in the coming few years, I have decided to stay away from Goodreads Giveaways.
Building a huge following on social media: I created my Twitter handle in 2014 and went from 0-600 followers in a couple of months. However, there was no noticeable impact on my sales, so now I don’t focus on Twitter.
Instead, I focus on something which is much better: e-mail list. If you don’t like social media, may I suggest to just create a profile on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google Plus and Linkedin and leave it at that. If you have to focus anywhere, focus on building your e-mail list instead.
Press Releases: Whenever I published my new book, I always use to release a Free PR about my book launch. Thank God I didn’t spend any money on this. The Free PRs did not have any impact on my sales. I guess people see them and then forget. So if you don’t want to waste your time or money, stay away from PR.
Blogging: I own two blogs cookinginajiffy.com and this one (publishwithprasen.com). I keep both the blogs alive and blog twice a month. Blogging does not drive your sales and if you have to choose between driving traffic to your blog or writing your next book, I would suggest go for the latter.
Blogging is NOT for profit. Being successful as a blogger takes as much time as building your self-publishing career. Successful bloggers blog every day and create a 2000-3000 word post almost every day. You will definitely finish your book if you wrote 2000-3000 words every day and with the same amount of effort. Plus a book will earn you money for the rest of your life whereas a blog post won’t.
Nevertheless, I would still suggest that you buy a domain name and hosting account and create a basic blog. Maintain it only once a month and share your contact details. Don’t create too many blogs, just focus on one even if you write in multiple genres or under multiple pen names. I have noticed that people do contact you through your blog. So it is important to keep a minimal online presence.
Anyway, writing my next book has been the best strategy for me. I think the high book volume production model suits me and I am working hard to take my daily word count to the next level.
I hope that using the same techniques, I will now be able to move from 1000 sales to 10,000, and from there to 100,000 and so on.
Did you find this post useful? Do feel free to leave your comments below.
What has been your best marketing strategy? Do you like to write a lot or do something else in your spare time? For example, creating Udemy courses, podcasts, or taking up speaking assignments.
Would love to hear your views.