Self-Publish The Bestseller Inside Of You: A How-To
Amazon said, Let us know when you are next in Seattle. We want to do some stuff with you.
I had no plans to be in Seattle. Zero.
So I booked my ticket and called them back. “Guess what! It turns out I’m going to be in Seattle next week.”
Great! Let’s do some videos.
I shot about 20 videos for Amazon. As always, it’s an education to spend time with the largest bookstore in the world.
One person once wrote me, “Do you only self-publish because no publisher wants your books.”
I didn’t write back. He was mean! But I’ll answer here: No.
Maybe back in 2011 I didn’t want to go through the process (AGAIN) of begging a publisher to publish my 7th or 8th book.
I love self-publishing. I will tell you why. I hope you do it as well.
Why do I hope you do it? I don’t really know. Maybe you feel you need “permission” from editors, agents, peers, publishers, marketers, bookstores.
Maybe this is a love letter to my dear friend: you don’t need permission. You are special and worthy of love without it.
I’m going to list the reasons why I like to self-publish, how to get started on writing, and whether or not there is any negatives.
Let us go then, you and I!
I live and breathe on challenges. I make every day a game. The other day I had to hug someone for 30 seconds or more. A stranger.
I was with a friend and I told her the challenge. I told her i was too afraid to do it. I was terrified.
She said, “Ok, if you don’t do it within 20 minutes I’m going to do it first. I will shame you.”
The next person who walked by… I said, “Can I hug you?”
He said, “Uhh, ok?”
And so I hugged him and I wouldn’t let go. He said, “Is this good now?” And I said, “No” and kept hugging. He said, “Uhh, I have to get to work now.” And after 30 seconds I let go.
I gave myself another challenge a few years ago. Write and publish a small novel in a weekend.
I did it. I finished by Sunday night and uploaded it to Amazon under a pseudonym. In world history, you would never have been able to write AND publish a book in a single weekend.
With a traditional publisher, you write an outline and a few chapters, you get an agent, who submits to editors, who convinces a marketing department, who convinces a publisher, who begs bookstores to buy it. Then they buy it from you.
I love traditional publishers and agents because they loves books. I love talking to editors about books. I still want the love of editors. So this is not against them.
But I like speed. From the first time you put words on a paper, until you see your book traditionally published, will take you one to two years.
I took a weekend on a novel. My typical self-published book is around six months.
Another friend of mine publishes a book every two or three months. Another friend writes fantasy novels –maybe two or three a month.
He’s sold over two million copies of his books. All through self-publishing.
Seth Godin asked me, “How do many people pick the books they buy?”
I don’t know.
He said, “They see the books on the bestseller table.”
His point: people SEE a book. You have to make your cover look like a bestseller.
The best designers in the world are freelance. They pick and choose their clients.
For my last book, “Reinvent Yourself” I noticed something unusual. People wouldn’t just say, “I’m reading “Reinvent Yourself”. I always noticed they tweeted the photo.
Because it’s beautiful. It’s a work of art. The designer (cc Pamela Sisson) spent about four or five months working on nothing but that cover.
Cost: $3000. But I’m sure the cover alone has sold more than that many copies.
Interior design was also key. I hired the best interior designer (cc Erin Tyler). And my own editor. And someone to help me format it right for Amazon.
Then I determined the price. I want readers more than money (I’m a big believer in Kevin Kelly ‘s “1000 true fans” concept).. So I price as low as I possibly can.
Then I get to determine all of the marketing. Then I get to raise and lower price or offer the book in various bundle deals to subscribers of my email newsletter. And so on.
Soon I will make the audio book. I control those rights as well. And I hired a foreign rights agent to sell the rights in other countries.
“Choose Yourself“, a self-published book, I’ve sold the rights in over 12 countries.
C) HIEROGLYPHICS ==> GUTENBERG ==> AMAZON
The first writing we can decipher has to do with basic accounting. “I made 4 here, and lost 3 there.” Something like that. Profit and Loss.
The oldest story in the world: Money.
The people with the money controlled the information. Controlled the stories.
When Gutenberg made his little press,one group was very upset: Monks.
Would easy distribution take power away from the Monks who were the publishers of the 1400s.
The answer was yes.
And now anyone can write and publish a book. The dissemination of how YOU feel about he world can now be written down and published.
Nobody can tell you “no. “No publisher in NY or LA can say, “the market is not ready for this.”
YOU and I are ready for this. So let’s write it.
Have I told you yet how much I love you? I’m a slut for words.
- You don’t need to be a good writer.
- You don’t need to have a good story
- You don’t need to have anything to say.
Write a book of blank pages. Write a book of graffiti written on toilets.
Or, write the best science fiction novel of all time (both “Wool” and “The Martian” were originally self-published).
You now have permission to write.
E) I JUST HAD AN IDEA
In 1995 I wanted to make a website. I never did it. But here was the idea.
Every day I’d take a picture of the most beautiful person (woman or man) that I saw. I’d write down WHY.
Then I’d take a photo of the ugliest person I saw (other than the man in the mirror) and write down why.
I’d put the photos on a website each day and invite comments.
I know. It’s mean. The web can be cruel. Meaning, the humans who make it can be cruel. And, believe me, much cruelty has been inflicted on me on the world wide web.
But maybe this would be a fun idea for a book.
Or not. But nobody can stop me.
I have so many stupid ideas for books it’s almost scary how stupid and mean I am.
One of these days I will write all of them. Or one of them. I don’t know. Some of them. Certainly some of them.
Here are my advances from traditional publishers (I’m trying to remember them since it’s over the space of 13 years).
“Trade Like A Hedge Fund“: $5,000
“Trade Like Warren Buffett“: $7500
“Supercash” (I finally got an agent): $30,000
“The Forever Portfolio“: $100,000
“Investing for the Apocalypse“: (I fired my agent and had to find my own deal): $60,000
“The Power of No“: $15,000
Here’s what I made from just one of my self-published books:
“Choose Yourself” (priced mostly at 99 cents): between $300–400,000 (including foreign rights, which sold to many more countries than my traditionally published books.)
But that’s not all. I kept begging my publishers to help me focus on career choices rather than just how to make a single book a success.
With “Choose Yourself” I was able to focus on number of readers. Then I was able to provide additional services and opportunities for readers and for other writers who I felt offered valuable opportunities to readers.
I made a little business out of that. The business has books, podcasts, courses, special reports, etc. Because I have control over my writing I can control my success.
I will care for my career if nobody else will.
Marketing for a book is very difficult.
After 18 books, I think I am starting to have a grasp on it. One time I tried to show a publisher some tricks of how I did marketing.
She said to me, “I’ve been marketing books for 19 years, I think I know what I’m doing.”
And I hit myself because it’s my fault I didn’t present better.
I tried to help some more. I wrote some ad copy for the book for them to send to their email list.
They wrote their own copy and sent that. Inside of their own copy for my book they had links out to ads for other books. They didn’t really care about me. They sold almost none of my book on a two million person list.
I should have just rented their list and put my copy on it.
Well, now I could do whatever marketing I want.
I can rent email lists. I can bundle with other products. I can hold contests and do giveaways.
I can control price. I can build Facebook “look-a-like” lists and market to those lists. I can advertise on Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter.
I can test with small amounts of money and see what the most profitable routes are so I can scale.
I can try out different types of copy to see what works the best.
And on and on. This is an entire topic by itself.
H) REDEFINE ‘BOOK’
I look at my friends who self-publish or “alt-publish” and I learn so much. I try to learn from everyone.
Kamal Ravikant wrote his book, “Love Yourself” a few years ago. He claims I convinced him to write it but I think he forgets the real story.
I DIDN’T want him to write it. I wanted to take his story and make it a blog post. I am totally selfish and willing to screw over even my own friends!
But he said, “Uhh, I think I’m going to make this a book.”
And then he did something that ZERO publishers would say “yes” to.
He wrote and published a 70 page book. Publishers HATE 70 page books. For them a book is a strict 60,000–80,000 words. NOT 10,000 words.
But Kamal proved them wrong. 2300 positive reviews later he proved them VERY wrong. It’s one of those most inspirational books ever written.
For me, he changed the definition of what a book could be. It could be small. it could be too big. it could be whatever you want.
And one time I was watching a talk being given by my friend, Tucker Max. He blew my mind with one thing he said.
In the talk he says, “What if you want your great-grandkids to know your family’s history. You can now write it in a book and publish that on Amazon.”
Nobody will buy it! Only your great-grandkids. And their great grandkids.
But there it is: your family history. Never before could someone do that because no publisher would have deemed it worthwhile.
But it IS worthwhile. Your family history is priceless to your descendants. And now it can be made into a book.
So the definition of a book is up to you. It’s no longer up to a handful of four publishers with a small army of editorial assistants who have the power to “yes” or “no” a good idea.
I) SELF-PUBLISH and THEN PUBLISH
Publishers are getting smart. They often look at self-published books as the minor leagues of publishing.
“Wool” was self-published, sold a few hundred thousand copies and then went to Simon & Schuster for a big advance and mass distribution.
Same with “The Martian” which not only became a huge bestseller, but a movie (note: both Hugh Howey (“Wool”) and Andy Weir (“The Martian”) have come on my podcast to tell the story.
And a tiny book called “50 Shades of Grey” was self-published, sold about 250,000 copies before it was picked up by (I think) Simon & Schuster and then sold 150,000,000 copies. More than every book in the Harry Potter series combined.
Another friend of mine is about to take his self-published book and offer it to publishers. He thinks he will get about a $500,000 advance .
For “Choose Yourself“, I got the call from publishers after it was self-published. But I decided not to go that route. I am afraid I am too much of a control freak.
The other day, for the first time, I saw two copies of “Choose Yourself” in a bookstore. Go Amazon!
J) GET IT OVER WITH
We all have at least one horrible book in us.
In 1991 I wrote a novel called, “The Porn Novelist, The Romance Novelist, the Prostitute, and They’re Lovers” , riffing the title off of a movie: “The Cook, The Thief, The Wife, and Their Lover”.
I never did anything with it.
But now, if I want (which I don’t), I can publish it.
People often have the hardest time with the first book they write. It’s a milestone. It’s what divides the “writers” from the “book writers”. Well…take that horrible book out of the box you put in storage and publish it.
Then write your next book.
Every great writer I know wrote a horrible first book.
K) NO STEREOTYPING
In any industry, there’s an urge to stereotype. If you write finance books, a publisher won’t want you to write a dystopian novel. And so on.
I’ve written non-fiction, fiction, a children’s book, personal improvement, finance, etc.
It doesn’t matter. I will write whatever I want. And I’ll write forever.
Nobody can stop me.
J) A BOOK IS THE NEW BUSINESS CARD
Let’s say you are up for a consulting or speaking gig.
One person wrote a book and the other didn’t.
Who will get picked?
It might seem unfair that it boils down to that. But I will tell you for sure: 9 times out 10 the person with the book will get the gig.
Nobody can tell who is 10 or 20% better or worse. All they see is the book.
[ RELATED: How to Self-Publish a Bestseller: Publishing 3.0 ]
WHAT IF I CAN’T WRITE?
A lot of people have a story. A message. A vision. But have no time to write a book. It’s hard to write a book.
This is why I like Tucker Max’s business model, “Book in a Box” — tell them your book, they interview you extensively, and six months later (maybe less) your book is published. You now have a book.
DO SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS HAVE A STIGMA?
I have two very smart, very talented friends, who are having a hard time getting a publisher.
Both of these friends are being jerked around by everyone who keeps throwing ideas at them.
But they should just write their books and publish them. Instead, they say things like, “I need a traditional publisher. Too much stigma.”
Fair enough. I can’t argue with someone’s beliefs. I know only what is good for me. And even then, I usually don’t even know that (I have to be honest about this).
But let’s go to the data.
AuthorEarnings. com has good data.
Here are the facts:
A) Self-published books have higher star ratings than traditionally published books (on average).
In other words, they are better.
B) Self-published books have better ranks (on average) than traditionally published books.
In other words: they sell more.
Is there a stigma? That’s up to you and your private thoughts at three in the morning.
WHAT IF I HATE MARKETING?
That’s ok. I hate marketing also.
Ultimately there is only so much marketing a person can do.
Here are the two real secrets of book marketing:
a) Write a book people will share.
Your readers are your best marketers. Write the sort of book someone will tell their friends about.
It doesn’t matter how many ads, reviews, podcasts, book signings, letters, whatever you do.
If a reader won’t tell a friend about your book, then your book is no good and won’t sell.
b) Write the second book.
“The Martian” was Andy Weir’s second book. His first book sold ZERO.
“Wool” was Hugh Howey’s tenth (I think) book. I never heard of him before “Wool.”
And EL James had 5 million fans of her Twilight fan fiction on fan fiction. net before she wrote her first book.
But here’s the important thing. Publishers won’t market your book either. They can “announce” your book. But a week later they have five more new books to announce.
You are the one one in charge of your marketing, your career, your process.
For your entire life. For every project you ever do. For every relationship you have.
ARE BOOKS DEAD?
The typical National Book Award Winner (in the United States) will sell 2500 copies of their book.
Less than most blog posts.
So why write a book?
A blog post is a certain format. You can write a blog post in a day or a few weeks. A book is a different format.
With a good book I get the sense that the author takes his or her very best thoughts and crushes them down like coal into diamonds before fitting them in between two covers.
That’s ok if a book sells only a few copies. You deliver your very best thoughts to your very best readers.
And then both sides celebrate. Because a book is an event.
It’s a party of words. It’s a bloodbath of your fears. And now you’ve given them as a gift. To me.
WHY DO I CARE SO MUCH?
I don’t really know. I wanted to be a writer when I was 12 years old. I wanted to publish a novel when I was 23 because I wanted to be a prodigy and I so clearly wasn’t.
I wanted to write because I felt it was the only way I could express myself so people would like me. I was too shy to express myself in other ways.
I wanted to write because I wanted people to think I was smart and clever and look up to me. I felt if I wasn’t special in some way that I would have a bad life.
I was wrong. I was so wrong about everything. What I really needed was therapy of some sort.
I’ve done many things since my first desire to write a book. And most of them have twisted themselves into misery.
But I love books. I love writing. I want to share that with you. I want you to have the pleasure I have felt from seeing my own book out there.
And maybe I want to justify my choice. But I believe in this also. I want you to share my pleasure.
And I want you to read my next book. And yes, I want you to love me because perhaps I don’t love myself as much as I would like.
Ultimately a book is a love letter. From me/you to all the strangers in the world I am afraid to talk to but I want to. I really want to.
[RELATED: 33 Unusual Tips to Being a Better Writer]
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James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated.