Today I broke 4000 book sales (across 2 books). I am self-published and two years ago I wasn’t even blogging, let alone writing anything longer than that. I realize 4000 isn’t a huge number for some, but for me (who had zero expectations going in), it’s around 3900 more than I thought I’d sell.
I have two books, and they are on totally different topics. One is a vegan cookbook, one is an online business book. The audience really doesn’t transfer from one book to the next, so in this regard I made it a little hard on myself. But hey, I write what I want to write, and that’s what came out. My upcoming book has nothing to do with either topic.
So how’d I do it?
The first thing I did was listen. Lots of folks told me to write a book on vegan cooking, and as I amassed thousands of followers on Instagram by posting photos of the food I made, I realized these people might be keen on getting a whole book of photos (and recipes of food) I made. So I started with a built-in audience who were asking me to write it, which was key to book sales at the start.
For my online business book my initial audience were the clients I’ve worked with for the last 15 years doing web design and the folks on twitter that were reading my articles on web design. I’ve always been client-focused instead of industry-focused with my topics relating to design and business, so it made sense I wrote a book that mostly deals with web design, but angled it towards folks who are hiring web design professionals. So again, I had a built-in audience of thousands (clients + twitter followers + mailing list subscribers) before I started.
Both books are repurposed content (which is something a lot of people smarter than I am advocate for good reason). The recipes in my cookbook are all meals I’ve made hundreds of times before. The information in my business book is from articles I’ve written and things I’ve told clients for 15 years. So I didn’t have to dig deep for content, it already existed and I already knew it struck a cord with it’s intended audience. All I had to do was work at making it flow as a book and read well (no small task).
Pricing is a tricky business. I’m sure there are formulas for figuring out the best price for what is being sold, but I went with my gut both books. Eat Awesome was $5 for a year, now it’s $1. I felt like I wanted a ton of folks to have access to it, so I priced it pretty cheap. For Be Awesome at Online Business I felt it could be priced higher at $17 (or $10 on sale) because it’s related to business and the information I put into it is easily worth that. Currently I’ve made the same amount for both books—so Eat Awesome has sold far more copies, but since Be Awesome is more expensive, I make more per copy. I don’t know if ‘cheap and lots of copies’ or if ‘more expensive and less copies’ works best, since they’ve both netted me the same amount. Neither book was written to be a main source of income so it’s more an interesting experiment than anything else.
I also did the normal things, like guest posts, interviews, giving copies to people with audiences similar to mine to help in promotion. I’ve also tried a ton of zany ideas for promoting and marketing, always off-the-cuff, “I wonder if that’d work” experiments. Twice I’ve given away llamas as prizes in book-related promotions. One time I gave my book away for free, no signups for strings attached, just because it was Black Friday and I was sick of consumption. Some ideas worked, some failed.
I think what helped the most though was having an existing and eager audience to start. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t have even bothered writing either book (I would have continued just posting photos to Instagram and just writing business blog posts). So what I’ve found to be the most important part of selling books happens before I even wrote them—connecting with and establishing an audience.
PS: I wrote another piece, updated with actual book sales and volume here.