Self-Publishing Success

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

This story of self-publishing success emphasizes marketing:

So, I researched it a bit and to make a long story short, one thing led to another and this month, it looks like I’ll clear somewhere around $15,000 for my fiction titles.


Not being a writer myself (thank God for Word’s spell and grammar checker!), I relied heavily on my ability to do market research and understand the Amazon ecosystem throughly (in terms of keywords). In my mind, this is definitely what has made me successful in this so far. Aside from that, I am an expert in creating catchy titles, coming up with eye grabbing covers, writing enticing descriptions and hooking folks when they “Look Inside” at the first 10-12% of my books. Of course, I do the very best job I can as a writer but I’m no Shakespeare. Luckily, it turns out that it doesn’t matter at all.

My formula is simple.

Step 1 – Look at what is selling.
Step 2 – Come up with my own spin/version of it and sell it.


Beyond the time, it took me 34 titles (ranging from 8,000 – 20,000 words each) to break the $10,000 earned in a single month threshold. You see, once I ironed out what worked (and didn’t) in my market, it all turned around – my last three titles have been awesome sellers.


I sort of dug around before I got started to figure out the average sales rank of the top sellers in the biggest fiction categories. Then, I just narrowed it down to a few that I thought would be relatively easy for me to get into within 3-6 months. From there, I picked one and stuck with it. It’s one of the most competitive categories on all Amazon so I figured if I went where there was lots of money, that some of it would come my way. There’s people that makes wayyyy more than I do so there’s plenty of room to grow.

As an aside, that’s the biggest mistake I see people complaining about on writer’s forums – lack of sales. But if you read between then lines, I’d say that 95% of the time their work isn’t targeted to a deep pool of buyers. So, instead of trying to fix the problem, they carry on about how their novel which took them five years to write doesn’t sell. Then they blame Amazon or whatever when in fact they are just ignoring the needs of the market. It’s sort of like the karate studio example MJ gives in MFL. Same thing. People doing something for their own selfish desire instead of producing what the market wants.


I would sort by New and Popular and then examine each listing for the following for at least the first several pages of results in Amazon. Compile your results in a spreadsheet and it’ll give you a rough idea of the market’s profitability.

  1. The Sales Rank (if it’s anything above 10,000, I generally ignore it unless it is at least several months old – I’ll explain below).
  2. Whether or not the title is published just on Kindle (by someone like us) or is offered through a publisher. In my experience, this is a much better apples to apples type of comparison than comparing your work to something that has the backing of a publisher.
  3. The number of pages. This will let you know basically what the market expects in the category in terms of book length. It’s not set in stone, you can do whatever you want, but it’s good to have a feel for it.
  4. The publication date. Here’s the thing about this. What I like to see is a title that has good age (>3 months and a rank of <10,000). This will tell you a couple of things. The first is that if it can maintain a rank of 10,000 it means that it has probably had ranks in the low 1,000s at some stage. Once you get down to this level you are going to be selling 75-100 copies a day of whatever it is. But books are wasting assets (sort of like a stock option) and as time goes on, more people purchase it and demand starts to wane. So, if I see a title that still has a low rank after 90 days, I know that this is something I may want to model in my own writing. Usually you will find that this is a person who has been around for a while and has a decent catalog. It’s worth taking the time to look at how they market on Amazon (cover, description, etc.) and learn from it.
  5. The price.
  6. Now add everything up in a spreadsheet and assign a dollar value to it. An easy way to do this, is to just make a spreadsheet with columns for the title, the length, the pub date, the sales rank and the price. A formula that I came across for estimating sales rank in Excel is =EXP(10.526-(0.92*LN(A1))). Basically, put the Sales Rank value in column A1 (or whatever column you want) and then copy the formula to B1 (or whatever). It will spit out a value that is roughly the number of sales made per day. Multiply that times the list price to come up with a gross revenue number per day for that title. The formula isn’t terribly accurate but it’s better than nothing and will give you a feel for market viability which is really all you are after. Once you have all the gross revenue numbers together, total them and that will tell you roughly how much money all of those titles make as a group each day. From there, it’s up to you as to whether or not you want to give it a shot.

By the way, you can also do this whole process by entering a keyword first and then seeing what pops up. You could start at the root directory of Kindle e-books or drill down to Fantasy and do keyword research from there as well. Keyword research is a whole topic within itself that I don’t have time to get into at the moment.

As you know, you are going to be entering 7 keywords with your title anyway, so you want to do solid keyword research also.


  1. Dave says:

    I suspect that the category this author writes is women-porn.

  2. Buckethead says:

    Speaking of marketing, buy my story: Call Me Mumbles.

    It has dinosaurs, Nazis, explosions and profanity — what more does one need?

    More on topic, I’d guess Dave is right. Marketing is important, but as the ebook market settles out, and better recommendation and reputation systems evolve, a lot of crap might end up being left behind.

  3. Ross says:

    This author posted on the “millionaire’s fast lane” forum. Checking out the methods and reviews (especially the lowest) for that product is revealing. A lot of it seems to be energetically re-hashed (and mostly good, if vague) advice based on Napolean Hill books. Add a jigger of breathless marketing, a deep craving for easy money and POOF, it’s a market segment.

    I wish them all good luck but suspect the severe volatility in this market will shake all but the most determined off the boat, and those very few that remain will fall prey to survivorship bias, and quickly publish yet more “How To…” books.

    Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

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