Three #1 best-sellers and $7,500 in book sales in Feb 2016.

#1 best-sellers are books that sell hundreds, if not thousands of copies per month. They are not easy to produce but it can be done. In this post, you will learn how I boosted three of my books to #1 best-seller spots in February 2016.

Three best sellers 2

Let’s start at the beginning. After publishing my first book in Dec 2014, sales volume hovered around 5-10 copies/mo for a long time. By contrast, this past month my results were:

Feb 2016 Digital Sales

This was the biggest chunk (kindle ebooks). Total exceeded $5K after taking into account KU/KOLL pages read (~$0.0046/pg), paperback copies sold via CreateSpace, and audiobooks via ACX.

When you do the math, this is a 13,300% increase in results compared to my starting point.

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Disclaimer: there is no “silver bullet” to writing best-sellers.

Before I go any further, please know this is not a “silver bullet” story.

There are a few “bronze bullets” – key insights that resulted in big steps forward along the way. However, there is definitely no one “secret” that “unlocks lasting success.”

Here’s the truth:

This took two years of research, experimentation, wasted marketing dollars, and frustration. It took two years of trial and error – two years figuring things out on my own – before discovering what worked.

Even now I am still learning, and truth be told, more learning is critical for long-term success. Book marketing efforts must be expanded and scaled. The quality of my writing must increase.

That being said, there is one clear lesson I took away from last month: persistence pays off. By consistently researching and testing ideas over time, things eventually “clicked.”

This may be a tough pill to swallow if you hope to discover a silver bullet (in this post). But you also need a serious reality check if you think measurable, lasting success will ever result from five minutes of skimming an article.

For measurable, lasting success you must invest time, money, and effort. You must apply the information and insights you discover. You must stick with it long enough to hone your skills, hit milestones, and reach your goals.

Now let’s cover seven specific insights for independent publishing, starting with an extended section on persistence.

Seven ways to write best-selling books on Amazon.com.

1. Persistence pays off.

My 2014 new years resolution was to write a book. It wasn’t about sales, either. It was about checking off an item on my bucket list. It was about self-actualization. The Key to Making Money on Craigslist was published in December that same year.

Approximately one year after publishing this title, I was averaging $40/mo in passive income. This was happening with very little marketing effort. Nice.

This got me thinking, “What if I published more books and multiplied that figure by 4-5x? It’d be nice to have a few hundred bucks coming in passively…”

Around the same time, I was preparing to leave my full-time job and open a consulting firm – and in turn, this gave me the idea for my second book.

“What if I write about the business planning process I used when transitioning from employee to business owner? People might find that helpful.” 24 Hour Business Plan Template was born as a result.

Since its publication I have received many emails from readers.

They say the book gave them inspiration. The book helped them to stop wasting time. The book helped them get organized. They are referring the book to friends and family. Some have hired me as a consultant.

Needless to say, this second book sold way better than my first. Why? Because there is more demand for this type of book. Because the title and cover were better thought-out. Because I finally invested money into promotions.

Furthermore, all of these positive changes were the result of persistence.

Persistence led me to ask the right questions. Persistence led me to do the research. Persistence led me to test various promotional opportunities. Persistence accumulated slowly but eventually reached critical mass. Persistence turned into $7,500 in sales in one month.

Persistence can be scary because there are no guarantees. What if you never figure things out? Never get there? Waste your time? Stop too soon? Keep at it too long? These are all very real risks.

At the same time, persistence keeps you in the game. Your only other alternative is to give up, to quit. But giving up accomplishes nothing. Hence the importance of persistence.

It’s rumored Thomas Edison tested thousands of light bulb designs before finding “the one.” He exhibited persistence to the extreme. Can you imagine if he was not persistent? What the world would be like today?

But persistence does have its pitfalls. You can hang onto something for too long. You can waste time by stubbornly sticking to Plan A when Plan B is needed. Thus we also see a need for adaptability.

Finding the “sweet spot” where persistence and adaptability intersect is tough. It requires good timing, which is tough to have when operating under uncertainty. How do you make a perfectly timed decision with imperfect information?

Ironically, persistence is the application of oneself to a particular thing over a period of time – and this sort of application produces experience and wisdom, which increases intuition… and positively affects decision-making. Thus persistence itself is a critical factor for timely and effective decisions.

Bottom line – I can’t say enough about persistence. Persistence also led to my third book, Job Interview Tips For Winners, with a fourth soon to be announced. Persistence led to the opening of my consulting firm. Persistence has kept my relationship with my wife intact for nine years.

Whether your goal is publishing a book or something else, persistence must be in your toolbox.

Persistence is kind of a big deal.

2. My #1 best-seller assembly line process.

This is the exact process I use to produce new titles. Hopefully this gives you some insight into the steps required / what order to do them in.

  1. Identify book concept / title
  2. Perform keyword research
  3. Design kindle cover
  4. Write book using CreateSpace template
  5. Save 2nd copy as kindle version (extra spaces removed)
  6. Create lead magnet for stevenfies.com
  7. Create and publish landing page on stevenfies.com
  8. Create and publish download page on stevenfies.com
  9. Create autosponder for stevenfies.com
  10. Edit book (content edits, copy edits)
  11. Apply for copyright (optional)
  12. Apply for LOC# (Library of Congress)
  13. Publish on kindle
  14. Design CreateSpace cover
  15. Order and approve CreateSpace proof
  16. Send copy of paperback to LOC
  17. Solicit a handful of reviews / give away free copies
  18. Host Goodreads Giveaways
  19. Being promotions / marketing campaigns
  20. Design ACX / Audible cover
  21. Record to ACX / Audible

3. Market research is critical.

The first thing I do when evaluating markets is review search volume in Google’s keyword planner.

Less than 50,000 searches per month might mean too small of a market. Anything over 100,000 might be getting too broad.

People tend to buy books for a specific reason. This is why focused-topic books sell better.

Now I could be wrong, but it seems the 50,000-100,000 search range is optimal. There are other tools I use for market research, but this is a good starting point.

4. Title and cover design matter.

We all “know” not to judge a book by its cover (or title).

Except that’s exactly what we do.

Research shows more than 50% of the buying decision is title and cover.

It’s a best practice to have a catchy cover. Furthermore, your title should accurately describe what the book is about.

If you’re not sure what a good cover looks like, look at the current best-sellers list on Amazon.com. Alternatively, walk into any prominent bookstore and see what’s on the shelf. Plenty of ideas in plain sight.

There isn’t much more to say here, except to reinforce how much your title and cover matter. These are make or break first-impression factors. You have to do your best to get them right.

5. Action “Trumps” perfection.

My first book, The Key to Making Money on Craigslist, was a major effort. It took nearly one year to write. My editor went through five rounds of edits with me.

Everything was done “by the book.” From the copyright to the ISBN number… from the Library of Congress submission to publication online… it was ridiculously time-consuming.

Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be. But maybe not.

Consider the sales performance of my second and third books. Each of them took far less time to write and publish. There were steps I skipped for each, and each book has gotten a little shorter.

Yet these books have sold more copies in a few months than my craigslist book ever has in its lifetime.

That being said, there are definitely trade-offs.

Job Interview Tips For Winners verges on being too short and not useful enough. It was always meant to be an introductory guide, but some readers have felt it’s a bit thin. These are points well made and I am grateful for the feedback.

24 Hour Business Plan Template has gotten plenty of positive praise, but it might have benefited from improvement. For instance, another round of editing and more information on validation.

But what if in the pursuit of perfection, these titles were still unpublished? Last month wouldn’t have happened and I would not have gathered valuable reader feedback.

Just like with persistence, there is a balance here that must be found. Namely, the balance between “getting it done” and “getting it done right.”

Lean too far towards the former and you risk putting out shit. Lean too far towards the latter and you risk never putting anything out at all.

What I have learned in such situations is action always trumps perfection. This is something special forces operators and the US Marines also know well.

The Marines have what’s called the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). The OODA loop states you are better off making more decisions faster, than delaying decisions to wait for better information. This is supported by oodles (pun intended) of research.

The problem with waiting is that you freeze. You lose initiative. You don’t cycle through decision processes quickly enough to learn from them. In the end, you can afford some failures because your decision rate is high that your average outcome is to succeed.

This is a philosophy I have applied to my life with publishing and beyond. Clearly it’s best to get something out into the world vs. holding off for fear of failure. The quicker you get it out, the faster you can learn, adapt, and respond to catalyze success.

This doesn’t mean I won’t write longer, more thoroughly vetted books in the future. But it also doesn’t mean I will stop writing the short-reads, either. Each project will ultimately stand or fail on its own, and I’m okay with that.

6. Investment separates hobby from business.

Notwithstanding the above, the most notable “bronze bullet” – the thing that truly brought me to the next level with publishing – was financial investment into promotions.

Let me be clear: I’m well over a thousand dollars into ads and promotions. Luckily, I’m still in the green due to positive ROI from these campaigns. There are no guarantees though.

Your mileage may vary – as will mine depending on the title, advertising channel, and level of optimization.

There are a number of companies, bloggers, and industry providers that sell advertising. BookBub, Goodreads, NetGalley, and Amazon are great starting points.

On these platforms, you can engage readers with free giveaways, discount giveaways, digital advertising, and more.

Social media can work, too, if you know what you’re doing. Note: I don’t recommend starting with social media unless you have experience with it.

Then there are the guys at Hustle Crate, who wanted to feature my book in their February entrepreneurship box. Talk about an awesome mutually beneficial opportunity.

Hustle Crate

The bottom line on investment/ads is this: if you aren’t willing to put chips on the table, don’t expect to be dealt any cards – much less win a hand, or tournament.

Investing somewhat heavily in ads made a big difference for me last month. If you want to sell a good volume of books, you too should expect to dump hundreds or thousands of dollars into promotion.

You simply can’t attract readers or capture sales without visibility. Period.

7. Execution is everything.

There is a part of me that hesitated to publish this post. Why? Simple: this post reveals “trade secrets” that took me a long time to acquire.

The idea of freely sharing “trade secrets” is scary.

What if a ton of people take this information, then use it to flood the market – increasing competition, and reducing the effectiveness of these methods for me personally?

But let me tell you why I’m not worried: very few people will ever execute these steps properly.

Note: I firmly believe everyone has the ability to execute these steps. But I know most people simply won’t execute them.

Proper execution requires time, motivation, and money. It requires an above-average risk-tolerance. It requires many moving parts be organized. It requires execution in a methodical manner.

Anyone can do these things, but not everyone will.

This is where only you can decide your fate.

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