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How I Made $1,000 Writing Ebooks for Kindle

  June 3

This post may contain affiliate links.

The following is a guest post from Ernest Dempsey. Ernie is a counselor and fiction author from Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can check out his books or his powerful blog posts about life at ernestdempsey.net or follow him on Twitter @ErnDempsey.

If you would like to pitch a guest post to Budget Blonde, please e-mail me at Cat [at] BudgetBlonde [dot] com. 

We all see the blog posts on various sites about people doing what they love, working where they want, when they want, living a dream life.

I’m a storyteller.  That’s just who I am.  It took a lot of trial, error, and failure for me to figure that out.

I’ve tried to be a number of different things in my life:  landscaper, school counselor, entrepreneur, but none of those gigs fit me right.  Something always felt off.

It was like when you get a tiny splinter in your sock that drives you crazy all day, and no matter how hard you try to just ignore it, it’s there nagging at you.

Discovery

About six years ago, I came up with an idea for a story that I thought would make an incredible book.  I was working as a high school guidance counselor, so time was a little short for writing a novel.

Three years later, I finally finished writing that book.  A single book shouldn’t take that long to write, but at least I did it.

I worked on it sporadically, with inconsistent effort.  It would sit for a few months on my laptop without being touched.  Then I would pick it up again and do a little more work.

My commitment level was pretty low, and I just looked at it as something I was doing on the side.

In 2010, I released the book through a self-publishing service and built a website to promote it.  I sent a message out to all my Facebook friends (I had 600+ at that time) asking them to please buy my novel.

I figured that even if less than 20% of those people bought my book, I’d sell over 100 copies.  While that would barely scratch the surface of what I’d spent to create the book (over $2,000), it would be cool to know that I’d sold 100 books.

The sales didn’t come, though.  In fact, I gave away more books than I sold.  A year later, my total book sales were under 50.

I was crushed.

My ex-fiancé had told me once to stop daydreaming and realize that I was going to need to work a real job like everyone else.  Maybe she had been right after all.

So, I stopped daydreaming, at least for a while.

The next year went by, and I went to work everyday, wishing I didn’t have to.  One afternoon, a teacher I worked with stopped me in the hall and asked when the next book was going to be finished.  She said she’d loved the first one so much she read it twice.

I told her I didn’t know when the second one would be finished, but it was in process.  Yeah, I lied.  But that lie pushed me forward.

Writing for One Fan

I stopped thinking about all the grandiose dreams of selling millions of books and quitting my job.  Well, I still love that dream, but I stopped letting it motivate me.

I started writing just for that one lady.  If she loved my book, maybe there were others like her out there.

In 2012, I released the sequel of my first novel and did a re-release of the initial book after cleaning it up a bit.  I also wrote two short stories that feature some of the main characters and released them only on Kindle.

I signed up for Kindle KDP Select and put all my books on there, opting to forego the expensive self-publishing company I’d used before.  The only thing I spent money on was $250 to buy 10 ISBNs (which you need).

I mentioned the new release to a few friends on Facebook, but I kept most of my promotion out of the personal spaces.  The truth is, I almost never tell people about my books on any social media outlet.

My website also got a little re-design job; again, I did it myself to save money.

December came and went, and I sold a few hundred copies of the combined offering of four products.  It wasn’t a ton of money, but I was blown away.  On top of the sales, books had also been downloaded for free over 5,000 times through the KDP Free promotion days.

I couldn’t believe it.  Most self-published authors will sell 200 copies in the lifetime of their book.  As of May 15, 2013, I’ve sold over 2,000 copies of my books.

Two months ago, I got my first $1000 check from Amazon.  Is it quitting my job money?  No, not yet.

But I’m getting there.  And it is all due to a process I’ve put together.

How I Do It

  • Set up a WordPress blog.  You can use a free theme.  I do.  Put a nice picture of yourself at the top.  Pick a topic you can blog about.  It can be food, wine, travel, psychology, music, life observations, or almost anything.  The important thing is that it needs to be something you know about and feel strongly about.  My blog’s topic is personal growth and being the best you can in life.  Start blogging once every week or so.  My readers like me to write twice a month.
  • Set up an Aweber account or a Mailchimp account.  Every marketer on the planet tells you that you need to build a mailing list, and they’re right.  If you had a mailing list of 100,000 people, you could be a New York Times Bestseller the day you released a new book.  That’s the power of an email list.  Chris Guillebeau was excited when he hit bestseller status after he released The $100 Startup. He shouldn’t have been surprised.  Dude has like a gajillion subscribers.
  • Write a good book.  It doesn’t have to be some award-winning thing.  My stuff probably isn’t going to win any trophies.  But it’s not meant to.  It’s meant to entertain people, to make them think less about their hard lives or rough days, and let go for a little bit with some fun, raucous action.  Sometimes, they also learn a little something.
  • Write to a specific audience.  I write my action/adventure stories for that one teacher I worked with.  If you do this, you will always have an audience.  And you will always stay true to your formula of writing.  My audience is comprised of working professionals who don’t want a lot of character development or too many descriptions.  They want fast, action-packed, nail-biting stuff that they can’t put down.  They don’t want to think too much because they’ve spent their day thinking.  Teachers, lawyers, and doctors, are all huge portions of my audience.
  • Only use Amazon.  All hail mighty Amazon.  I’m not kidding.  You don’t need that big bookstore by the mall with the green sign and fancy lettering.  If my books were available there, no one would find them anyway.  The only ones you ever see are the top ten out by the front door.  The rest of the books are hidden in obscurity.  People ask me if I am going to try to get with a mainstream publisher, and I always say no.  Why would I?  I keep 70% royalties with Amazon, and a publisher doesn’t bring anything to the table but a bookstore.  Authors have to do all their own promotion and marketing so why would I give up a chunk of my royalties for that?  Go to kdp.amazon.com, and sign up for an account.  When you do, it takes you to your dashboard.  All you have to do is click “add new title” and you’re in business.  There is plenty of support to answer all your questions in a detailed FAQ-type area as well as a very active forum, all easily found from your dashboard.
  • Promotion.  This is something I’m still trying to get right.  In April of 2013, I sold 550 copies of my books ($1,000 in profit) and only had 235 visits to my website.  Explain that to me.  What would have happened if I had driven 10,000 visits?  I’m working on that now for my upcoming release in June.  There are lots of ways to promote your work online:  contests, guest posts, curate content, social media, forums; the list is pretty long.  Find what you’re comfortable with, and use it.  One more word on promotion:  don’t try to sell to your Facebook friends.  Create a page and invite people to like it, but keep friends as just that.  They aren’t customers, and they won’t buy your stuff.  So don’t count on them, and don’t pressure them.
  • E-publish.  When you do publish, it’s nice to have a paperback to show your friends and family, but out of over 2,000 books sold thus far in 2013, only five of those have been paperbacks.  Yeah, five.  That’s the power of Kindle.  I don’t use anything else.  I don’t need to.  The most common complaint I get from people is, “I don’t have a kindle.”  Then I ask them what they have in their hand.  Oh, it’s a smart phone, with apps.  Good news, your smart phone can download the free Kindle app.  Their minds are blown.  And they buy my books.  E-publishing also levels the playing field.  I can price my books at $2.99, which puts an unknown author into the zone of “I’ll take a chance on this guy for three bucks.”  Here’s the funny thing about that.  I make $2 dollars on that $3 dollar book.  Mainstream authors have to charge $10 dollars to make that much.  That means people can by three of my books for every one from a mainstream author.

Ultimately, writing books isn’t easy.  It’s one of the most difficult things you can undertake.  It requires dedication, consistency, diligence, patience, and commitment.

I don’t have a lot of any of that, so it’s even harder for me.  But I love it.  I love that I can do it on my own time, that I’m in charge, and that I can entertain people for a little while.

Do you want to write a book?

Figure out who you are.

Do you have a story to tell?  Do you have something you can write about that others might want to read?

At this point in my career, writing books is providing a great supplement to my income.  Maybe someday soon, it will become my full-time income. For now, I’m happy with where I am and what I’m building.

Cat’s Opinion: I’m so impressed with Ernie and his ability to sell his books and get his name out there. I think $1,000 is absolutely incredible, and think about all the people that have read his books! That’s amazing! I really want to do this too, and I’m so inspired by his story. Also, can I just say that although Ernie says that consistency, commitment, and patience don’t come easily to him, it’s definitely not true! I worked with him in Jon Morrow’s guest blogging class, and Ernie is super hardworking and talented (and nice!) Also, Ernie – Surprise! I finally bought one of your books. The Lost Canvas is currently on my iPad as we speak. 🙂 Everyone else, if you want to join the Ernie fan club, you can go right here to see a whole list of Ernie’ books that you can buy, all under $3!

Got questions?  Post them in the comments and Ernie will answer them!

(Please note: Some links in this post contain affiliates.)

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31 responses to “How I Made $1,000 Writing Ebooks for Kindle

  1. Congratulations. I like the idea of just writing for one person who seems excited about it. You can’t predict how the masses will receive it, but if you reach just one person, that’s pretty cool. And kudos for having the motivation to write the second one after you felt disappointed with the sales of the first. I took part in a group ebook and I think we’ve sold 2 copies, despite the major launch effort we put into it. 🙂

    1. You got it. Writing for that one person is so crucial.
      It’s funny because when I wrote the first book, my thinking was to just get the thing done and maybe a few people would enjoy the story. I wasn’t worried about sales. But when the sales didn’t come, I was devastated. I had to remind myself why I wrote it in the first place. That really got me back to the “one person” thing as well.
      I’m curious about your ebook. Send me an email if you want. I’d be curious to see if I could help.
      Or if not, no big deal. 🙂

    1. Do it Michelle!
      Set aside 15 minutes three times each day to get some focused writing time in. Before you know it you will be on your way!
      🙂

  2. I’ve always been interested in the idea of writing and marketing an ebook, thanks for all the suggestions! Congrats on the $1,000 check from Amazon as well, that’s quite an accomplishment for a self published author!

    1. Yeah Kyle, it’s a big accomplishment when you consider most self-published authors will only ever sell 100-200 copies of a book in their lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of successful self-pubbers out there. But the majority never get there. I think it’s mostly due to not focusing on the right things in the construction of their books and lack of understanding the marketing concepts.
      Feel free to email me if you have any questions about the process. I’d be happy to help if I can. I don’t have all the answers but I’ll try to find them. 🙂

  3. I’ve wondered about this for awhile, thanks so much for the info! It’s fascinating to me… I love how the internet has opened up a whole new world of entrepreneurial endeavours and artistic expression for people, yay~!

  4. This is so awesome; going to show it to my fiance! He always talks about writing, but maybe this will give him some direction and light a fire under his motivation.

    1. Cool! Do it!
      I talk to lots of people who talk about writing a book. I used to be one of those people. Maybe it’s time for you to start nagging him a little a few times each day. 🙂

  5. Pretty inspirational. I’ve always thought about writing a book, but I’m not sue what I’d writer about. It’s good to know if I ever figure it out that i can writer it and market it online (something that years ago never would have been possible). Congrats!

  6. Very cool! Just as with anything else, your process isn’t about having a magic formula. It’s simply about finding a niche, understanding the tools available to you, and working hard. Congrats on that first $1,000 and it sure sounds like there’s much more to come!

    1. Thanks Matt.
      Yeah, having a niche is important. And it goes beyond just genre. The true niche is who your readers are. Laura Pepper Wu is really big on identifying your target audience before you even write the first page. I agree with that. John Locke (not the guy from lost) is another who believes in that.
      It means you may never sell a million copies of one book, but you can certainly hit a few hundred thousand. Then rinse and repeat until you have hit that million number if that is your thing. 🙂
      I’m about 997,500 short of a million at this point. I may get there. We’ll see. 😉

  7. Ah, this was such an inspirational read! I`ve always loved being creative with my writing, and used to write short stories when I was growing up. recently, I´ve been thinking a lot about writing a novel, as I´ve got this great idea. I´ve already made a first-draft-plot, and started writing a couple of paragraphs about the characters. So I really want to work on this writing-project this summer, and thanks to this post, I feel really inspired! Thanks!

    1. No problem. Happy to help. I love what you’re doing with the paragraphs about the characters and the plot. A lot of people skip this step but it’s so crucial. You have to get to know your characters like they are friends. If you can get to know your characters, that will translate in your writing and the readers will become more attached to them.
      Keep up the good work. Go get it done! 🙂

  8. This is a pretty inspiring story, Ernie. I have an idea for a fiction book that I would love to write, though it may end up being over the course of three years like you did. I think $1k is incredible and it’s really too bad your ex-fiance wasn’t supportive; it’s important to have dreams in life and you need a spouse who is going to support those dreams.

    1. Yeah, you really need to have someone in your life who believes in you. The funny thing was that she thought I was trying to get rich quick or something. Writing books is not the way to do that. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling. Ha! Even then, those books took a long time for her to crank out. John Grisham self-published his first book and sold them out of the back of his car. So it’s not a fast road. But it is very liberating. In the grand scheme of things, a grand isn’t a lot of money. However, the sales continue to grow. I did over 500 sales in April and nearly reached 700 for May.
      The key is to keep hustling, keep writing, and not worry about sales or any of that stuff. The sales are the bi-product.
      Make yourself sit down for 15 minutes a few times each day to write. Don’t edit it. Just set a timer and don’t stop til it goes off. Writers block? Nope. Even when you don’t know what to write just write “I don’t know what to say here.” Your brain hates that and will make you get back into the groove.
      Do it that way and it will take you way less than 3 years to get it done. I promise. 🙂

  9. This is very encouraging. Like they say, the first step to success is getting started. Although I am not sure book writing is for me, I have some other ideas that I would like to put together and promote. I need to think of your situation and remind myself to make time to get it done and move forward. Congratulations on the success!

    1. Thanks Greg.
      You’re exactly right. Writing is just one type of business. Setting aside those little chunks of focused work time are the key to making the big strides later.

      Good luck with your projects!

  10. Good for you, Ernest, on pursuing your dreams!!!! We recently started listing our books with KDP Select and love getting checks every month. Can’t wait for our big $1,000+ checks to come in too – yea!

    1. It’s only a matter of time Laurie.
      One great thing about KDP Select is that you can tweak it, much like a radio in your car. By pressing certain buttons or twisting knobs, you can increase your exposure, get more sales, and build readership. It’s kind of amazing. 🙂

  11. Thanks for a great post! I have started a book that will take a lot of research, so I need a lot of time for that one. But, I also have ideas for several books that I could write in a short period of time (non-fiction). I keep putting those off because the process of actually getting it ‘out there’ seems so daunting. You have broken it down it a series of easily reached goals. I am going to write the list and start crossing things off tomorrow. Getting these smaller books out will make it easier to build a platform for the research book. I’m really excited about this

    1. You’re more than welcome Rhonda.
      I like the idea of writing some of your easier, shorter things first. That gives you a little success and a feeling of completion that can build momentum for the bigger projects.
      You sound a little like me in that you have lots of project ideas rolling around in that brain. I have to fight the urge to work on multiple things at once and focus on one book at a time. Be sure you do that, too. I heard a great podcast from Pat Flynn about focusing on one thing at a time. He said that if you focus on one project, you could have a product out in two months. But if you focus on three or four things, you may not have a product out for a year or so. Better to start getting your content out there to the readers who crave it and start building your readership. 🙂

      1. I couldn’t agree more. I will do one at a time, but keep a running list of all the ideas that pop up for the others. That way I won’t be tempted to get sidetracked! The fabulous thing about this post is that it takes away the option to ‘put it off until I have more time.’ I have printed it out and put it on the wall where I can’t miss it. Nothing like accountability staring you in the face:)

  12. Congratulations to you, Ernest! Your story is so encouraging, and I’m really impressed with what you’ve accomplished. Way to follow your dreams! It’s inspiring, and I’m so glad I stumbled upon this post today.

    I LOVE this post, mainly because I feel like we’re two peas in a pod! I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I put it off for years because I worked in a stressful job that didn’t suit me. I recently changed fields, and I’m in a great job that I love (with creative energy to spare at the end of the day!). I’m over 50,000 words into my first novel, and I couldn’t be more excited! Your story makes me even more motivated and inspired, so thank you!!

  13. I loved this post and really appreciated the honesty in it. I’ve been blogging for three years and although I don’t think I’m a puliter prize winner author, I think some of my stuff is good. And there is some of that good stuff that I think is great. I’ve stalled though in this place where I want to do more with it but the relentless tit for tat commenting on other blogs to get comments on mine is so tough. I want you there because you want to be there, not because you owe me one. And my facebook friends don’t read my stuff. Why is that? The blog has about 30,000 hits over the past three years and so few are driven by facbook. I’m surprised by that because I put my heart and soul out there and the people closest to me don’t seem to take it seriously. I want to write a book but with being able to drum up barely a reader, I’m not sure why. I think I have to write to the one or two folks who tell me regularly they love my stuff. I recently got married in May and I had fifty people at least ask for the vows I wrote and then told me over and over again I should write a book. I was so flattered. I feel stuck though. I need to press forward. I like writing too much, to not keep doing it. Thank you for this post. I really appreciate it, very much.

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