How to Write, Self-Publish, and Sell Your Book in 2018
“Every human being has genius level talent. There are no chosen ones. GOD has given every single person genius level talent. You just have to find what it is that you are great at, and then tap into it.” – Jay-Z
There are two things I’ve learned to be true over the course of my life. One, everybody is a genius in some way, shape, or form. Two, every experience is one you can learn from, good or bad. So if everybody has some level of genius in them and a bunch of lessons learned they just need an outlet to share it with the world.
For the purpose of this piece, we will focus on a self-published non-fiction book being that outlet. You don’t have to be a great writer, just have something valuable to teach. On February 22nd, 2016 I announced to the world I was releasing my first book ”Don’t Dumb Down Your Greatness” on March 22nd, a month later. There was only one thing wrong, I haven’t written one word yet.
I hate to make premature announcements, but me putting this news out to the world did two positive things that I didn’t realize until later.
1. I made myself accountable – By announcing my book and an actual date to the world, I put pressure on myself to deliver. I even did interviews for websites and podcasts. I didn’t want to look like a fool. When you put a not so distant release date out to the public, you can put that same pressure on yourself.
2. Marketing for your book begins instantly – Unless your J. Cole or Beyonce dropping your project out of thin air can be a disaster. Without realizing it announcing my book early began a wave of anticipation and marketing for the book.
Since releasing my book I’ve sold over 2 thousand copies (and rising) in 1 year on my own. All while still building a startup and working at a venture capital firm full time. I’m going to give you a step-by-step of what I did to write, publish, and market my book. Was it perfect? No. I’ve definitely learned some things the hard way while on this journey. My intention is for you to use this as a starting guide, not an “end all be all” for your book project.
1. State of Mind/Subject Matter
Why are you writing a book? Are you looking to earn money? Or maybe you just want a glorified business card? Perhaps you want to get more speaking gigs? Or maybe you just want to position yourself as an authority on a certain topic so you can get consultant clients?
You have to decide early on what you’re looking to get out of writing the book, so you can have an end goal. For me, I was writing a book because (a) it was something I always wanted to do, and (b) I wanted to be an impact leader in the self-development, black entrepreneurship, and young adult space. That’s still my end goal today.
If your goal is to make the NY Times Bestsellers list, self-publishing is a long shot. You can always treat it like a demo/audition, and use the traction you gain to get a major book deal later. Otherwise, you can still sell over 100,000 books like James Altucher and not be so bothered over making any list.
No matter what your economic goal is. Ultimately your main goal should be to provide positive transformation to the reader. If the reader can’t positively change or get any value from what you’re providing, then all will be lost. You can ruin your reputation.
I’m assuming you have a topic to write abut if you’re reading this. But just in case you don’t have a topic to write about I’ll give you a few tips. This particular subject can be a blog post by itself, I’ll do another time.
A) Write down every single question people ask you (This takes time, could be months). Review those questions and take note of the ones people ask the most.
B) What are you passionate about? What can you do better than most people? Don’t assume just because you aren’t the Michael Jordan of a topic that you can’t speak about it. Write for beginners or experts.
C) What do you do for a living? Your job or career path might have people researching about it.
D) Research a topic. Look and see what keywords are ranking high. Are there other books on sites like Amazon ranking high on certain keywords. If so, that may be a sign there is a market for it.
E) Old blog posts. Usually, a great performing blog post means it’s a topic that people resonated with. If you feel you can expand on the topic, even more, go for it.
When making out your plan you need to expect the unexpected. When I told people I wanted to put a book out in 1 month, I didn’t factor in the time it would take to review and re-edit things. A week or two in, I realized that I had even less time to finish because of approvals and all the work that comes after the writing is finished. Damn.
The first method I used to outline my book I made up myself by observing my favorite authors. I just took out a sheet of paper and wrote down every single topic I wanted to cover. I wrote down the major questions for each topic and then began to answer those questions step by step.
I really like the writing style of authors Chris Guillebeau, Ryan Holiday, and Robert Greene. For most of their writing, they like to start chapters with profiles and true stories of individuals and situations. Then once done telling that story, use the main points they want to make to support the rest of the chapter. It would look something like this (roughly):
Chapter Title: The Monkey Cage Cleaner
– Story/profile “The zoo keeper who didn’t pay attention”
– Main point 1 “Why you should pay attention”
– Main point 2 “Things that go wrong when you don’t clean it right”
– Main point 3 “Why you’re not getting hired again by the zoo”
– Summary/wrap up “find a new job”
For my upcoming book, I’m following a different outline method. NY Times Bestselling author Tucker Max wrote a book called “Book In a Box” which became super helpful for outlining. This is a high-level version of what he has for an outline (grab the book, best resource to read after this post):
Chapter 1: [INSERT TITLE]-[INSERT DESCRIPTION]
[INSERT SUBPOINT 1]
– [INSERT QUESTION/STORY 1]
– [Optional: INSERT SUPPORT]
[INSERT SUBPOINT 2]
– [INSERT QUESTION/STORY 2]
– [Optional: INSERT SUPPORT]
Conclusion: Summary of all the main points
Other parts of the book you shouldn’t forget about writing:
Introduction – Can be a short blurb
Title Page – Just a title of the book
Copyright – A page with all of your copyright information
Table Of Contents (I make this easy, see next section)
Foreword – Can be written by you or someone else.
Dedication – Do you want to dedicate the book to someone?
Why outline? Because you need something to give your writing some kind of structure. Outlines do change over time, some chapters you may decide to get rid of, and that’s OK. As long as you stick to the plan you will have a solid body of work when it’s all said and done. Even if you wanted to get a ghostwriter, having a well thought out outline is still a step you have to go through.
3. Writing (The hardest part!)
I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Writing is the hardest part of this entire process. Once you have a solid outline, you should only focus on writing moving forward. I get calls from people all the time asking about self-publishing, nobody ever asks about actually writing the book. Funny. A flashy cover or slick marketing tactic can’t cover up for your lack of content.
You have to get scientific. When are you most creative? Writing my book really got me to know my strengths and my weaknesses. I know that when I wake up in the morning is when I write best. So for 25 days straight I would wake up at 5 am, brush my teeth, and jump right on the computer. I stayed there for at least 2 to 3 hours straight. I used the Pomodoro Technique to time my breaks.
Sacrifice is also on the table. I cut back on leisure activities and social events to focus on writing. Only when I couldn’t focus would I take a day off to go have some drinks, or go to the movies to take my mind off things.
Even with all the time and sacrifices I still wasn’t a good writer, so I used a few tools to help me along the way. These tools also helped me speed up and worry less about certain activities because they were automated.
Pressbooks – This was my main dashboard for my book. Pressbooks allowed me to use a familiar WordPress interface to write out my chapters. The app also automates page numbers, table of contents, and internal book theme designs. Once you are done writing you can export it into a format that your print company can use or digital. (Get 25% off with discount code: Anthony)
Grammarly – Grammarly is the tool I use to make sure I’m dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s. It corrects spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure so you won’t look like a complete idiot. It’s not perfect but it does a great job.
Hemingway – This app helps you to make your writing more bold and clear. Be careful when using this one, because it doesn’t apply to every sentence. Sometimes it takes a longer passage to explain something.
Google Docs – Used mainly as a backup to the writing I do on the above apps. Also, if you are using an editor they may prefer this platform over others. Be prepared for a lot of copying/pasting.
How long should the book be? That’s completely up to you. There are no rules when it comes to self-publishing. For my first book I just decided to get my point across as best as I could, and then I would end the chapter no matter what. I was on a strict deadline. This next time around I’m going deeper, so chapters maybe abut 3 to 5 thousand words a piece.
Study the books and authors in your field. How long are the typical books in your niche? Just don’t get caught up typing a bunch of nonsense in order to create filler, it could impact the quality of the finished product.
Editing is a tedious process. If you think you’re a dope editor, then proofread your own work and put it out at your own risk. I have several versions of my book because of editing mistakes I have failed to catch early on. The writing assistants can’t do all the work for you. When you spend hours upon hours on your book, you develop tunnel vision. You may not be able to see your own mistakes. No matter how good of a writer you may feel you are.
When you plan out your book you have to count in the time it may take you to go through the editing process. I had a friend who did editing for a living, so I paid her to go over my book several times for me. You can find editors through a quick Google search or on popular freelance sites like Upwork. Just make sure you check reviews and pick someone that speaks your native tongue well.
Not everyone will spot the small mistakes in your book. I remember reading a really popular authors book and spotting some small errors. The book was so good that I overlooked them. But some people take it seriously and will be dramatically upset that you put something out like that. It’s happened to me.
5. Book Cover
They say don’t judge a book by its cover. Bullsh*t. We now live in an age where image matters even more than it ever did. If your book has a bad looking cover, it’s now safe to assume the same amount of effort went into the actual writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best book in the world. Unless Oprah cosigns it, you will have an uphill battle.
I thought I was dope and could do my cover myself. I ended up designing this:
I knew this was horrible, but I didn’t really have a budget to spend on a super good designer at that moment. I came across Spike Lee’s movie “Do The Right Thing” and got inspired by it so I wanted that influence to be on my cover. Still no budget.
I went to Fiverr and searched until I found a guy who I felt had the talent to pull it off. Once I found a guy I gave him super detailed specific directions on the logo I was looking for. He produced the logo and I put it in a book cover style:
People are searching Amazon and your book will be next to thousands of other books. How will you stand out? Make sure to use solid colors, bold fonts, and appealing imagery.
Once you have all of your ducks in a row as far as your book subject, book title, written content, editing, and cover art, you’re ready to give it to the world. Let’s take you through a few key steps to make you more official.
Get an ISBN – What exactly is an ISBN? It stands for International Standard Book Number. Almost 99% of books produced have an ISBN. Check the inside flap of a book you own and you will find one. Your book almost doesn’t exist in the world if it can’t be officially identified with this number.
Here is the ISBN for mines: 978-0692671870
You can purchase an ISBN from the official site here. My advice is to get at least 2 to 3. One for your print book, one for the eBook version, and one more in case you decide to do an audio book down the road. Amazon allows you to use an ISBN from them, but my advice is that you own your own ISBN number.
Generate a UPC code – Once you have an ISBN you have to generate a UPC code that you can place on the back of your book. You can use this site to generate a barcode from your ISBN free. Once you have that UPC code save it, and send it to whoever is doing your book cover to place on the back. So keep in mind as you’re designing your book cover to make space for it.
Create a Print Copy of Book
Using the export feature on Pressbooks, you can now generate a print PDF copy of your completed book. Sign up to CreateSpace.com (Owned by Amazon), this is where you will upload that PDF you just generated. There are alternative sites like IngramSpark which allow you to do the same. Ingram has a better relationship with bookstores, but for this example, I have used CreateSpace.
CreateSpace is a “Print on demand” book manufacturer. What does that mean? That means anytime someone orders a book from you, that’s when they will manufacture the book, and send it out. They don’t hold inventory with thousands of copies of your book sitting in a warehouse. So it allows little guys like us to sell as many copies as we want without worrying about cardboard boxes and shipping packages.
CreateSpace also sends your book to Amazon directly from the dashboard. So anyone can order your book, and all you’d have to do is check the dashboard to see when new copies have been bought. (also distributes books to BarnesNoble.com and Walmart.com)
What if I want physical copies? if you want physical copies of your book then you can order directly from the dashboard as well. The good part about this is they won’t charge you the retail price you set. They will only charge you the manufacturer price which is significantly lower than you think.
So how much money do I make? CreateSpace takes a small portion of each book sold. This is to cover the shipping and printing costs they do for you. Personally, I don’t mind because I’m earning more from each book sold than if I had to ship them off myself. For business reasons I can’t disclose my margins, but let’s just say you won’t be phased if you price your book appropriately.
I also earn a significant amount when people order bulk copies from me. You can just use the dashboard the buy books at manufacturers price, and sell them at a wholesale price you set. Royalty free.
Creating the eBook
To create the Kindle/eBook version of your book you sign up for Kindle Direct Publishing. Using PressBooks, you can generate a Kindle version of you book from them. Upload that version to the KDP dashboard and your book will be on Amazon shortly after being reviewed.
Congratulations, you made it this far. Now the second hard part begins. Selling your book. Here are a few resources to help get you started:
Why these two resources? There is nothing more important than getting those first 100 copies out the gate. For some, it will be fast, for others brutally slow. I truly believe if you learn how to create digital content and build an email list you will generate a significant amount of sales from that alone. Use family, friends, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to generate some buzz.
If your book is controversial or interesting you can also pitch to magazines, blogs, and digital media stations. Here is an interview I did with Cheddar on Wall Street this year. I was able to place my book directly front and center.
Speaking gigs are also a great way to move books. Anytime someone asked me to speak at an event I would require them to purchase books for attendees. Especially if I wasn’t charging them my normal fee.
I’m not showing these items to brag, I’m
showing you to say “it’s possible!” I wasn’t an author before 2016, now I’m planning several more books. This all while still chasing my dreams and building companies. I wanted to give you that first push towards publishing your genius.
I would love for you to send me a copy of your book if this post was a kick starter for your own project.
Feel free to email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) or hit me up on Instagram @AnthonyFrasier if you have any further questions. I’m all ears.