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.
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.)