How to Write a Book That Funds a Year of World Travel, When 23 and Unemployed
The day I published my first book, Smart Sports Betting, I was sitting on the floor of a hostel in Dubrovnik, Croatia — and got an email calling me a “god damn douchebag.”
I had low expectations as a 23-year old, unemployed, self-published author … but I was more expecting crickets than insults.
A month later I was back in my $350/month, 2-story apartment in Prague, and realized I had made $1,150.06 in passive income profits. The book took me 10 days to write, I spent $5 on a cover, and zero time and money on marketing — besides notifying friends, family, my 46-person email list, and direct-messaging most of my ~850 Twitter followers.
I was as thrilled as I was confused.
When I was 16, I shattered my tibia and fibula playing soccer. It was so bad that the doctor claimed I was lying.
“This had to have been a car accident.”
Not the thing to tell a frightened kid in pain; I assumed they’d have to amputate it. Nice knowing you, right leg. At least I’m a lefty!
I was eventually fine, but had to miss school for two weeks. A tutor came to “catch me up” on schoolwork … and two hours later, she left.
“What else did I miss?”
That’s it, she insisted.
When I realized I could make up two weeks of schoolwork in two hours, I realized that everyone around me was insane.
If you’re reading this, you get the cliches. Don’t trade time for money, don’t tether yourself to one location unless you want to, don’t waste time with pointless bureaucracy in pointless meetings that solely exist to make people feel important and busy.
But you may not know how to break free of the cycle. There’s a reason almost everyone does it; it’s safe. Simple. It’s the default.
Truthfully, I didn’t write a book to fund remote-work-world travel. I just had something to say, and nothing to do. Because I was teaching English in Prague, one of my 4-year olds got his tooth punched out and his mother berated me, so I quit.
I self-published a book because I had to do something, and nobody could stop me. It’s all upside, no downside (besides feeling like a fool).
After making $9,904.55 on the book, and more on dozens of freelance jobs … I was hooked. How could I go back to an office, making a quarter of the money, in four times the hours?
Traveling to 20+ countries without needing to work, writing when I wanted to, was pretty awesome.
My book details how to self-publish your own successful book, from zero readers to making a living writing (99 cents, for a limited time!) … but I’ll give you the cliffs notes.
Self-publishing is almost as easy as posting on Instagram.
Traditional publishers are dying.
They’re hanging on a thread, based on reputation and laziness, mainly. Basically, publishing has been decentralized — like photography.
You used to need expensive tools and time to develop film … and then who was going to publish your photos? Now, you can use your iPhone and post to Instagram. People make a living doing this.
To publish a book, you used to need a publisher to foot the bill for printing paperback copies. They were powerful, hard-to-convince investors. Now, companies like CreateSpace (affiliated with Amazon) can print on demand. Meaning: Someone orders my book RIGHT NOW, and CreateSpace prints it so fast that it can arrive to your house the next day.
Since there’s no risk for them to publish … they’ll publish anything. You can write a book about Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump having micropenis sex (yes, that’s a thing I may have written under a pseudonym).
Because of that, most self-published books suck. But while the floor is low, the ceiling is high.
The Martian started out as a self-published book. Fifty Shades of Grey (laugh all you want — it’s the best-selling Kindle book of ALL-TIME), too. Actually, both started as periodic fan fiction posted for free on blogs.
Now they’re blockbuster movies.
What’s the difference between garbage e-books and a self-published book so good you wouldn’t know it was self-published?
Title, cover, description and reviews are important — after the fact. Those are all easy to figure out (and detailed in my book).
The only long-term book marketing that works is word of mouth.
Meaning: You have to actually write shit people want to read, will read, and then share online and in person. (I recommend Nobody Wants to Read Your S**t for a detailed description).
It sounds simple. And yet 90+% of self-published books make no money, because people just don’t care.
The percentage of people who actually read books is very small. And of that small group — they have a quick bullshit detector — and will happily click on a cat video the second you bore them or preach.
You’re a stranger to them, and they don’t owe you anything.
Unless you write a book that entertains/informs with every line, you’re screwed. I’m screwed. The cat videos always win.
Turned out, that guy called me a “god damn douchebag” because I accidentally sent my book-launch email to 46 people by CC’ing them all — meaning 46 random people had his email address.
Honest mistake from a tech-illiterate writer. I apologized. He understood.
10 people on my list bought my book. That turned into fifty. Now, thousands. All word-of-mouth and Amazon SEO.
How do you know if your book will spread?
Most people come up with an idea, fall in love with it, put their head down for months or years … pop up with a book, publish it … and nobody buys.
This has nothing to do with intelligence or writing skill. It’s simply an outdated, risky way to write a book.
The key is to treat your book like a startup.
Startups “do things that don’t scale.” Meaning: you get your first users manually, going door-to-door (either literally, or figuratively, online).
You don’t launch your big product (book) until your ideas have traction.
Meaning: You find your audience (Facebook/LinkedIn groups, subreddits, blogs, forums, Twitter, etc.) … test small ideas on them, look for emotional responses (meaning they’ll talk about you) … and ramp up from there. You connect individually with people, stay in touch (via an email list), and keep iterating and writing.
I go far more in depth in my book, but that’s the basic process.
While the $9,904.55 of passive income in two years has been nice … it sure as hell hasn’t paid for the $2,000 a month Remote Year bill, plus expenses.
You shouldn’t write a book to make passive income.
The main value of a book is indirect.
It takes more effort to stand out with a book, but bookshelves are far less crowded than the blogosphere.
Books are steroids.
For a writing career: A book is a portfolio and advertisement for future work, on steroids.
For a speaking or consulting career: A book is a pitch on steroids.
For getting a freelance or normal job: A book is a resume on steroids.
For launching an online course or business: A book is a sales pitch and initial marketing on steroids.
For an existing business: A book is a business card on steroids.
A book is the ultimate platform builder, and platforms are what writing, speaking and entrepreneurial careers are built on.
Here are the exact steps I used to launch my book and full-time solo writing career.
1) Realize ANYONE can self-publish a book, easily.
And yet making money, and writing a good book, is hard.
2) Answer: Why am I writing a book?
It should be for indirect benefits: To build a platform, or even just to improve your writing and get feedback.
3) Acknowledge your doubts. Then ignore them.
Not an expert? Don’t know where to start? Doesn’t matter (as I explain in my book).
4) Write one short article.
Guess your target audience, find them, and give them one thing that will make them go … “YES!”
5) Gauge emotional response.
Solicit emails/comments. Did anyone care? A charged negative response can be a good sign. Why did people react, or why not?
6) Write, gather emails, connect.
Keep doing this. Treat articles as sample chapters. Engage with readers, find out what they want and give it to them. Delight them.
7) If you have traction, hone your book idea.
It must be specific. If nonfiction, write a “copy thesis” (via Ray Edwards’ How to Write Copy That Sells).
“Any [YOUR AUDIENCE] can [SOLVE BURNING PROBLEM X] by reading [TITLE] because [HOW IT SOLVES PROBLEM X].
If fiction, identify your genre and theme. Refer to The Story Grid to understand stories that “work.”
8) Purple Cow-ify
As Seth Godin would say: How will your book stand out, like a purple cow?
9) Outline non-anally
Make a vague outline so you know where you’re going. Then break it with your creativity.
10) Research, lazyhead!
Have you read the best 5+ books in your category? Have you talked to dozens of potential readers, personally? How do you know what they want?
11) Get scared. Then laugh and chill.
It’s going to suck. But the reward will be worth it.
12) Make Writing a Habit
Create habit cues, a writing environment and easy quota, and give yourself a reward. Repeat daily. Have accountability.
13) Write (figuratively) drunk.
Word vomit. Have fun. Don’t censor. Nobody will read your “shitty first draft” but you.
14) Edit (figuratively) sober.
Self-edit once. Does that sentence add anything for the reader? How about that word? Don’t hire an editor unless you have money. Edit many times until it’s “good enough.”
15) Fuck around.
You’re going to miss some of these instructions, and bang your head a lot. So did I. Laugh. It’s OK.
16) Give up.
Your book is never going to be as good as you want it to be. Is it “good enough” to help/entertain one reader? Give it to them, and others, and get feedback. You can make a second, improved edition later.
17) Fire up word of mouth.
Make a great cover (use a Canva template yourself, or hire someone). Write an amazing, copywritten description. And title. And subtitle.
See You Are an Author: So Write Your F***ing Book for specifics.
18) Capture emails in your book.
Give something valuable away, that doesn’t fit in your book.
19) Soft launch, feedback, iterate.
Put it on Amazon. Follow Kindle Publishing (e-book) and CreateSpace (paperback) instructions. It takes ~10 minutes.
Use Reedsy Book Editor for effortless formatting.
Launch to email list & network. Get feedback. Do people spread your book? If not, fix until they do, or write a different book.
20) Make your readers friends.
Connect with readers, learn their needs, and serve them for eternity (whether in business or writing).