Accidentally Successful

Since mentioning over the past week that I’ve taken more of an interest in figuring out how to write more books, I’ve been devoting a bit of time to figure out how the authors in the business and marketing, non-fiction arena become successful.  It’s been a bit of an interesting process of discovery for me because I was expecting there to be a lot more to it.

There are some authors, especially in the Kindle space around non-fiction who have built really successful “publishing” businesses for themselves.  When you look at a guy like Steve Scott who at one point in 2016 for about 12 hours had the #1 book on all of Amazon, you can’t help but think that’s impressive.

That’s a guy who spends about an hour a day writing from home while looking after his baby without a publishing deal outselling Stephen King, JK Rowling, EL James and every other massive author you can think of and their massive marketing machine.

Steve has been pretty generous in the past with explaining his process and how he goes about creating books.  There’s a bit of “aw shucks” to it when Steve describes his success, but you read between the lines and you can see that it’s a combination of experimentation and a lot of elbow grease.

With that in mind, I started going out and trying to find other people who’ve been successful in the self-publishing space to see what they say, but more importantly, what they know about WHY and HOW they’ve been successful.

First up, like a lot of stuff online, there are people trying to sell you their knowledge and systems that are entirely fictional in nature.  They have expensive training programs and courses on how to become a “best selling” author but the truth is, they’ve never REALLY done it themselves.  They show you how they were #1 in some sub-category that nobody cares about that was the result of them manipulating free book giveaways.

There are a lot of people like this in this space.  It only takes a cursory glance to work out that they’re selling something they don’t do – or at least not something they do very well.  It’s mainly regurgitated nonsense.

Once you get past the hucksters and internet marketers, then you start finding the actual successful self-publishing authors and begin researching them.

Many of these people are quite generous with what they know about how they’ve become successful and I appreciate that form of generosity.  It’s an abundance based mindset because they’re happy to share… They also probably know deep down that most people won’t put the work in so they don’t really have any risk exposure.

So, what did I find out listening to these people talk on podcasts, read blog posts they’ve written about self-publishing and watching them do video interviews?

Without being harsh, I learned that most of them are successful by accident.

Ok, let me couch that a bit differently so that it makes some more sense.

They are doing something, it’s working and they’re not entirely sure why, but they just keep doing it.  If it stopped working tomorrow they probably wouldn’t understand what changed or how to fix things.

It’s a bit like the lab rat in a maze, they get to the end, push the button and a pellet drops out.  The rat keeps doing it.  The rat doesn’t know why or even contemplate it, it just wants to run through the maze over and over again so that it can push the button and get a pellet.

If the person providing the pellets kept making them smaller or less appetizing, the rat wouldn’t know what to do.  It would just keep running through the maze until it decided that the effort wasn’t worth the reward.

Here’s an example.

I listened to one author who is successful in the self-help space talk about his process for promoting his book – on three separate occasions he said that something he was using had become less effective or too expensive to show a positive ROI.

The interviewer asked him, “So how have you adapted to these things and what’s the impact been?”

The author’s response was, “I stopped doing those things and ultimately, I’m just selling fewer books now.”

That’s accidental success.

The same person on a different podcast was talking about using Amazon’s ad platform and it was clear that he had no idea how paid advertising online worked and even less of a clue about the value of acquiring a customer.  He basically said that if he didn’t get a 30% return on his ad spend, he stopped the ads.

The person hosting this podcast asked, “But what if you break even on acquiring the customer and then they go on to buy other books?  Surely breaking even is still reasonable for acquiring a customer considering your backlog of books?”

The author, “No, I don’t look at it that way.  I only focus on making book sales one at a time.  All those other things like collecting emails, having backend sequences and whatever else, those are too hard to manage.  If I spend a dollar advertising a book, I need to make $1.50 back from selling that book.”

This was just one person, but over the last week, I’ve probably found a dozen people like this.

I refuse to work this way.

Starting in April, I’m going to focus some of my attention on book publishing, but it is going to be regimented and defined.  I will learn the process, I will refine it so that it works repeatedly and I will understand all of the moving parts so that if something changes or stops working, I can fix it.

This is how you have to think if you’re running an online business.  You need to understand what’s going on and all of the moving parts.  You absolutely have to know your metrics and what the value of everything in your business is.

I don’t have to be a creative genius who comes up with stunning book covers, but I need to know that book covers are important and I need to understand how to acquire them.  I don’t need to know how to format my book for Kindle and CreateSpace/Ingram Spark, but I know it needs to be done.

I need to understand that the way to build a proper publishing business isn’t to just write a lot of books, I need to figure out how to collect email addresses from readers and promote other things to them on the backend including future books.

Saying things are too hard or not evening bothering to understand how or why things work makes you no better than the rat in the maze.

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