Here is an inspirational story of Mark Dawson, who earned $450K last year on Amazon as a self-published writer. You can learn a lot from Mark. We all can.
Mark writes books about a British assassin named John Milton, a character described as James Bond with a conscience. (Here’s an article about him in Forbes.)
Here are five things Mark does to earn that $450,000 from Amazon.
1. He designed a series, not a single book.
Mark started the John Milton series in June 2013 and has since written six of them. His other series have similar cover styles and are written in the same genre. Once someone discovers one of his books, they have plenty more to read.
Building an audience who loves your product — whether it’s for a book, an app, a game, or a widget — is tough, time-consuming and expensive. Once you’ve got them hooked, give them something else to buy from you. As you choose your next project to work on, make sure it’s something that will appeal to your existing audience.
2. He started small.
Mark’s first Kindle book, The Black Mile, was ambitious — it took a tremendous amount of time to research and write. In contrast, his second book was leaner. Just under two years later, he has seventeen titles. This is due in part to his discipline — he writes during a four-hour daily commute to London, every day — but also largely due to the scope of the projects he takes on. If every book was as ambitious as The Black Mile, he’d have only two or three titles to his name instead of seventeen.
When you’re choosing your first project — or your next one — hammer down the scope. Don’t make the rookie mistake of spending $100k and two years on your first project, only to learn the hard way that marketing is way harder and more time-consuming than you imagined.
3. He gets readers hooked.
When you go to Mark’s Amazon page, you’ll see he has a lot of books. Where do you start? There’s a four-book starter bundle. But do you want to risk that much money on an author you don’t know? What if you hate the books?
No worries. Mark’s welcome message offers you the first four books in the series, free! All you have to do is sign up for his email list.
It’s a win-win. You get four free books and can try out a new author, risk-free. Mark gets a healthy list (15,000+ emails) that he can engage with. He can let them know about new releases, and since they’re fans, they give him great reviews on the store.
4. He works hard at marketing.
Mark spends on Facebook ads — as much as $370 a day. (And why not? Prospects are sent to an Amazon page full of glowing reviews for his books. He easily doubles his return.) He holds seminars and gives advice freely to other writers. He responds to all of his fan emails. And yes, he also has to approach bloggers to get reviews.
As a developer, you need to spend at least the same amount of time on your marketing efforts as you do on development. Mark has a flawless sales funnel. How’s yours? (If you’re asking me, “What’s a sales funnel?” then it’s time to learn the basics.) Start educating yourself on content marketing and list building. You’re going to need to build a community. How soon, you ask? Start about a year before you launch. Time to get moving.
5. He approaches it like a business.
I put this one last because it’s the most important one. Mark does not treat what he does as a hobby. He doesn’t research and write books, then complain that no one is reading them. He engages with his fans. Holds seminars. Gives advice to other writers.
“Dawson also credits his success to his unusual attitude towards publishing. He approaches it like a business, one in which writing is just a single cog in the media machine. He engages (responding to all fan messages) with all of his fans and focusses on building a rapport to ensure their loyalty. He holds seminars to give other writers advice and guidance. And through all of these activities, he collects names and email addresses that have amounted to a 15,000 person strong mailing list. It’s through this that he disseminates his new work. What Dawson has done is essentially build a small but loyal community that translates into near guaranteed sales.” -Forbes
In this day and age, that shouldn’t be an “unusual” attitude in publishing, or in app development. Every single indie going into this space should understand that he or she is starting a business. If you treat it like a hobby, you will never have that success you crave.
6. He has Built a community.
Dawson’s secret weapon is his Facebook group and mailing list, through which he builds repeat customers and personal relationships with readers.
“It’s essential to have a mailing list, it’s the most powerful form of marketing you can get. I’m currently adding 150 new people a day to mine. I’ve also got a Facebook ad that runs and offers free books if you sign up to my list, that brings in 30-40 a day. My Amazon page has a link to the mailing list too.” He explains.
“A subscriber is more important to me than a sale because I know that I can offer them lots of books, rather than one. I want to get into a position that I can market to them directly. Even though it’s a bit archaic, it’s still the most personal and powerful form of advertising. My books also have live links to the mailing list on the back of the book if you’re reading on an Apple iPad or a Kindle Fire, then you can press the link and go straight there.”
As it stands, Dawson has 20,000 people on his mailing list, which he started in late 2013. Each one of those people buys, on average, five of his books. Although, it’s not just about selling, but building a community Dawson says.
Sections of this post were first shared on Medium and Forbes by Charlyn Keating and Jay McGregor respectively.