When I was in my early 20s, I was fascinated by club promoters. How did they know so many people? How did they reliably fill up the clubs? I tried to be a promoter myself with a friend but we never brought more than 50 people each to the four parties we threw. It was fun, but we weren’t exactly successful.
What I didn’t understand was that those promoters brought value to other people, not just once, but continually and consistently. Even before they started throwing parties, they’d be the go-to source for asking advice on where to party. They’d always be at the clubs making sure people were having a good time. They’d buy rounds of drinks and make the night a little more enjoyable.
They already had a huge following by the time they decided to throw their first party. This is how bookselling works today. The book is the party, an afterthought to the value you’ve been bringing before it hit the Kindle store. Readers give you money not just for the book, but for all the free value you gave them before it was released.
I get a lot of emails from guys asking how to make money from selling books. This list is for them…
1. Ask not how to make money—ask how to bring value. How are you going to help or entertain people? No one cares about your goal to make $3,000 a month in book sales. They want to know how your writing will positively affect their lives. If you don’t know the benefits that people will receive from your writing, you will not be successful.
2. The blog is more important than the book. I don’t know of a single non-fiction self-published writer who is successful without having a blog. We’re not in the old times where you can drop a book out of thin air and have it be a best seller. Before you start writing the book, you should have a plan to blog for one year to build an audience. After one year of selfless writing where you ask for nothing in return, you may then start writing a book that you will sell to your readers. If you don’t have enough material to maintain an active blog and a book, you won’t make it.
3. The snobby author is dead. Readers want to correspond with the people they follow. You can’t pull a J.D. Salinger and be “mysterious” by disappearing from the face of the Earth. I remember once I asked an author if his book was available in ebook. He didn’t bother responding and I didn’t buy it. While I can’t reply to every tweet or comment left on my blog, I do respond to over 90% of my emails, even though it takes a considerable amount of time. Today’s writer should be more like a friend than an aloof celebrity.
4. The cover is more important than you realize. I know you’re thinking, “But Roosh, your covers suck!” This is true, but in my genre guys want nondescript covers that don’t get noticed in public. This is becoming irrelevant as we move to e-reading so don’t be surprised if my future covers become more descriptive and pretty. The most important thing is to have a cover that looks great as a thumbnail. Take note of Amazon’s “Customers also bought” section. If your thumbnail looks like crap there, it will get less clicks. I know you’ll be broke when doing your first book, but plunk down the $299 and get the cover done via 99 Designs.
5. You don’t need an editor, but you need a copyeditor. Readers hate typos. For them it feels wrong for a book to have them. They’ll put up with meandering prose and even grammar mistakes but typos get to them. Go to Elance and find a copyeditor to proofread your book before publication. It’s okay to send rough drafts to your friends for free to receive general comments, but you really need a pro to catch all the typos.
6. Don’t be stingy with review copies. You have to think long-term with your book, not just the first month of sales. Even if your audience is small, I wouldn’t give out less than 10 review copies. For Day Bang I gave out over 30.
7. Price the book at what your readers want, not what you want. This is how most authors price their book: “I want to make $2,000 a month, so if I price it at $20, I only have to sell 200 copies!” Newsflash: your readers don’t care how much you want to make per month. They want cheap books filled with content that makes them feel like they are getting a good deal. Therefore your book should be priced low, with absolutely no consideration to how much you want to make. Even I’m surprised how price sensitive customers are.
If someone buys my book for $9.99 and sees yours for $20, they’ll ask, “Well, it better be twice as good as Roosh’s.” If not then they will feel ripped off. You must price your book based on the market, and right now the market is driving prices down. Price it too high and you might as well just announce that you don’t want to sell any books at all.
8a. Fighting piracy hurts your readers more than the pirates. If I were to put a password on PDF files, or enable DRM on the Kindle edition, I would just be annoying readers. Pirates can’t be stopped, and caring about them shows that you’re more concerned about how much you earn than the reading experience of people who buy your book. Make it easier for customers by putting your book on all available outlets, such as Createspace (for paperback), Amazon (Kindle), and Smashwords (everything else). Again, pretend you’re a buyer. Wouldn’t you want the book easy to buy without DRM? You fail as a bookseller when you encourage a customer to go to Google and search for a pirated copy.
8b. Give so much value that your reader would feel bad about pirating your work. 80% of the information I give is free on my blog or newsletter. About 20% of my writing is packaged into books. So when a customer is faced with a choice to pirate the book or give me money, he chooses the latter. I lost count how many times guys told me, “Your book is the only one I didn’t pirate.” They know I’m not some soulless corporation, but one guy trying to put out good work.
9. Promote your book, but not too much. Imagine if I plugged my books on every post or tweet. You’d get annoyed because book promos are not value. Don’t think that having a large blog readership or Twitter following means people want to receive ads. Outside of book release days, the frequency at which you can promote your book should be “once in a while”. Leave a link to the book somewhere on your navigation bar and then shut up about it. People know about your book and reminding them every day is going to turn them off.
10. The blog is more important than the book. Yes I know this is at number two but I must stress how important it is. Even after your book drops, a project that took you god knows how many hours of blood and sweat to make, you have to keep blogging. You’re only just beginning! Your blog must be permanent and eternal, while the book is a secondary part of that. If you aren’t ready to accept this, your book will not make it in today’s publishing climate. Even when I go on a blog break of a couple weeks, I notice a dip in sales. Your blog is the heart that pumps oxygen to your book. Without the blog, your book dies.
11. Pray for luck on Amazon. If your book is in a hot niche and you have decent sales, it will be listed in the “Customers also bought” section of more popular books. My book Bang lists well under The Game and Mystery Method so it has enjoyed nice sales from people who don’t even know about my blog.
12. After releasing your first book, get to work on the second. To make a living from writing, one book is not enough. You need to keep going and put book after book after book, all while blogging. A lot of people see my ability to live abroad and don’t realize that my income came after blogging forever and putting out, as of this writing, thirteen books. Even though you think you only have one book on you, trust me when I say you’ll get the idea for a second after you complete the first. A good goal is to complete one book a year.
13. Use the end of one book to promote another. When you get to the end of Bang, there is a promotion for Day Bang. When you get to the end of Day Bang, there is a promotion for Bang. If someone finished my book, they probably liked it and will be willing to read another one of my books. Sales beget more sales.
14. Stay on top of self-publishing trends. For hundreds of years, bookselling was the same. You put the book on paper and it landed in a bookstore. Things are changing so fast that how I sell books now is completely different than just three years ago. PDF used to be the gold standard, but now I include EPUB and MOBI formats in all my direct sales. Paperback used to account for 100% of my sales, but now it’s less than 33%. Thankfully today there are sites like 99 Designs and Elance to hire contractors to help us, along with informative blogs like Joe Konrath and Self Publishing Review.
15. People buy you just as much as the book. Most of the sales from one of my recent books, Bang Poland, went to guys who will probably never step foot in Poland. So why are they buying it? Because they like my work and want to support it. I can open Microsoft Word, take a dump on my keyboard, and call it Bang Your Mom and it will have sales because people trust what I’m doing. This increases your responsibility as a writer because the last thing you want to do is make people feel like they are paying more for less.
16. Information products are still king. Even though I love my memoir A Dead Bat In Paraguay, it gets demolished in sales by Bang and Day Bang. The reason is that people want something that directly benefits them. Plus it’s easier to sell an info product—just list how it will help a person’s life. It’s much tougher to sell fiction and memoirs.
17. Say thank you. Times are tough and that ten bucks that someone just gave you could have gone somewhere else. Don’t take your readers’ support for granted, and even if it sounds trite, say thanks. You can even use smiley faces.