How an Enterprising Author Sold a Million Self-Published Books

Image of CJ Lyons' Blind Faith

The publishing industry is in turmoil, and there is no shortage of people lamenting the passing of the old order. 

We’ve previously had wailing and grinding of teeth from the music and movie moguls. Now the publishers are the latest to tell us the digital revolution is the end of civilization as we know it.

But the changes are also creating fantastic opportunities for writers willing to take an alternative route to success — and novelist CJ Lyons is living proof.

To date, CJ has sold over a million self-published novels, hitting the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists in the process. At one time, her books held five of the top ten slots on Amazon.

Success on this scale doesn’t happen by chance. CJ is an inspiring example of the emerging author-entrepreneur who is thriving in the new era of publishing. I’m delighted that she has agreed to share the lessons she’s learned with Copyblogger readers. 

I know the writers in the audience will be eager to learn how CJ topped the charts. But when you look at the strategies she used, you’ll see they are also applicable to any nimble content-driven 21st-century business

1. Mine your experience

CJ spent several years working as an ER doctor, dealing with the real-life dramas that came through the doors at all hours of the day and night. This gives an unmistakeable authenticity to her novels with medical settings, that would be next-to-impossible to achieve with mere research. 

She has also worked with victims and law enforcement, and had to overcome post-traumatic stress after the murder of a close friend. This range of first-hand experience has enabled her to extend her reach as a writer into the mainstream thriller venue.
 

I believe these experiences have helped me to make my novels feel ‘as real as it gets’ while still being entertaining. ~ CJ Lyons

Takeaway: No one else on earth has lived your life, had your experiences, or seen the world through your eyes. Ask yourself what you can share from your unique story that will help you attract the right audience.

2. Put in the hours (even when they’re in short supply)

For most people, the punishing schedule of an ER doctor would be more than enough to fill their week. Not CJ. 

She wrote her first novels in the gaps between shifts, which required extraordinary levels of energy and commitment. And like all aspiring novelists, she learned that perfecting the art of storytelling takes time, patience and persistence with no guarantee of success.

I’ve been writing all my life, so motivation wasn’t an issue, but finding the time to write was. The stories would ferment in my subconscious during my work week, and then when I had a day off, I’d blitz write as it all poured out of me. It actually was a pretty efficient way to work and has helped me to write faster — a bonus now that I have such tight deadlines to meet. ~ CJ Lyons

Takeaway: There are no shortcuts to excellence. Whatever your line of work, make the effort to master it. There’s no firmer foundation for your business than being the best in your customers’ world at what you do.

3. Use creative positioning

CJ describes her novels as ‘thrillers with heart’, as they focus on people and relationships, not just the crime, technology, and conspiracy that are the staple of the thriller genre.

I created the term after trying unsuccessfully to explain my unique brand of thriller/romance/women’s fiction to agents and editors. ‘Thrillers with heart’ says it all. My stories promise the reader an emotional journey in addition to the typical thriller roller coaster adrenalin rush. ~ CJ Lyons

By combining elements of the thriller and romance genres to produce something new and original, CJ is using classic crossroads positioning. Brands with this positioning combine previously unrelated elements to create something new.

The movie Alien was pitched to studios as “Jaws in space,” combining the horror and science fiction genres. Primal Scream started out as an alternative rock band, but they really took off when they mixed in elements of house music to create a hybrid sound. 

In the online space, obvious examples of crossroads positioning include NeuroMarketing (brain science + marketing) and you guessed it … Copyblogger, combining copywriting and blogging (which was certainly a novel combination back in 2006 when Brian launched the site). 

Of course, CJ didn’t come up with her positioning as a cold, calculated formula — like many artists, her positioning is a natural extension of her creativity.

Thrillers with heart are the kind of books she found herself writing, so it made sense to put that front and center for the kind of reader who would enjoy her books. You could say that her positioning comes (ahem) from the heart. :-)

Takeaway: Does your work or business combine different elements in an unusual (and valuable) way? Could that give you the basis of a remarkable brand? 

4. Be generous

You’re probably familiar with the idea that it makes good business sense to be generous in sharing digital content online, as a content marketing strategy. 

But have you ever considered mailing hundreds of your physical products out to strangers, for free

Because that’s exactly what CJ did. Back in 2008, when her readers were getting impatient for the follow-up to her novel Lifelines, she decided to keep them happy in the meanwhile — much to her publisher’s dismay — by offering to mail them a free copy of the book, personalised as a gift for their friends or family. 

The publisher refused to participate, so CJ bought 350 copies of the book and paid all the postage herself. It was expensive and hard work, but as CJ told me,

I realized that not only was I making my audience happy, I was hopefully growing it by getting my books into the hands of new readers, and that’s when the light bulb went off and I realized my best promotion was getting my books into the hands of readers.

Since then the proliferation of ebooks has made it possible to do this without lugging so many parcels to the post office, but the principle remains the same: be generous, let people experience your great work and your business will grow.

And real generosity is more than a marketing strategy. Now that she’s achieved extraordinary success, CJ is using her platform to give back, with her Buy a Book, Make a Difference project:

I began writing thrillers as a way to cope with the pain of losing a close friend who was murdered. So now that my readers have helped me build such a successful career, I wanted to give something back. The Buy a Book, Make a Difference project provides money to charity as well as scholarships for police officers to receive forensic training. 

I named the scholarship after my friend and my readers get the chance to become heroes as well as they’ll determine the amount we raise for each new release. So far in 2012, we’ve raised $12,000 and have provided six forensic scholarships. I hope to double that in 2013 — actually, I’m pretty certain we can because my readers rock!

Takeaway: Generosity doesn’t just feel good, it’s also a smart strategy for growing your business. Be generous in sharing valuable ideas online (mailing free products is optional). As Brian is fond of saying, if it feels like you’re giving away too much, you’ve probably got it about right! 

5. Price strategically

Some online entrepreneurs, used to charging a healthy price for digital products, look at the low price of ebooks on Amazon and shudder. And there’s no shortage of voices from the traditional publishing industry condemning self-published authors for ‘devaluing books’ by charging as little as .99 cents a title.

What both of these groups fail to appreciate is the strategic function of pricing in a high-volume dynamic marketplace such as the Amazon book store

Is a novel that took months or years to write worth more than .99 cents? Of course. 

But supposing you could achieve exponentially more sales by pricing at .99 cents versus $9.99 or even $4.99? 

That’s what CJ did. When her novel Blind Faith picked up enough momentum at $4.99 to pay her monthly mortgage, she decided to take a risk and drop the price to .99 cents. 

Far from eroding the value of her book, she saw sales take off like a rocket — she hit the Amazon best seller chart (a powerful form of social proof in its own right) and the magic Amazon algorithms kicked in, promoting her book on “customers who bought this book also bought” lists and elsewhere in the store.

I have to give Mark and Brian and their Creative Entrepreneur Roadmap course credit for giving me the courage to try this and several other initiatives (like giving away 50,000 free ebooks!). Once I got over my ego being tied to the price of my books and realized that my readers were far more valuable, I began to make every business decision with my readers in mind.

My new mantra when faced with a dilemma is: Will this make my readers excited and delighted and ready to jump for joy? If the answer is yes, it’s the right thing to do — and so far that philosophy has paid off in spades! ~ CJ Lyons

As Seth Godin puts it: 

For books under $20 (which means just about all ebooks), all that matters is volume. Not margin, but volume.

Takeaway: When pricing your products, consider context as well as intrinsic value. If you’re selling in a marketplace with a potential for high volume, consider pricing low (maybe temporarily) to achieve a strategic advantage.

6. Earn permission to stay in touch (and know when to ask for a favour)

I left out something really important from the last section. 

CJ didn’t just drop the price of her book. She did something that distinguished herself as a creative entrepreneur, as opposed to the average self-published author who uploads her book and crosses her fingers that a low price will entice readers to take a chance. 

In fact, CJ had been doing this something for years … earning the trust of her readers, asking for permission to stay in touch via email, and sending them valuable content over time (like those books in the mail). 

So by the time she decided to drop the price of Blind Faith, she was able to send a friendly email to more than 10,000 readers.

The only promotion I did for that sale on Blind Faith is I sent out an e-mail to my readers and I said, ‘Hey, help me make a dream come true. I want to hit the Amazon Top 20 and we’ll see, maybe that will also lead to hitting another list.’ 

Well, two weeks later Blind Faith was number four on the USA Today list and a week after that it debuted at number two on the New York Times bestseller list. So my readers really started that momentum that built into something that I just couldn’t even imagine doing on my own. ~ CJ Lyons

The massive dent CJ made in the best seller lists came from a smart combination of an irresistible offer and a well-timed call to action to legions of eager fans. 

She was only able to do this because she had spent years focusing on the big picture, building her permission asset through hard work and generosity. In her case, overnight success was anything but.

Takeaway: Make it a priority to build your email list, by sharing valuable, inspiring and/or educational content with your biggest fans. Never forget that these people are the future of your business, and treat them accordingly. 

7. Accelerate when you build momentum

CJ was not satisfied with one big hit, nor even a string of them – she has kept up her remarkable rate of production, expanding her book range vertically, by writing series of books, and horizontally, by writing different types of books and creating other products.  

As well as her ‘Angels of Mercy’ and ‘Hart and Drake’ thrillers with a medical background, she has ‘Shadow Ops’ and ‘Lucy Guardino FBI Thriller’ series, as well as standalone thrillers, collaborations with Erin Brockovich and appearances in anthologies. She also teaches what she has learned on her journey, in courses and blog posts via her NoRulesJustWrite site. 

In one sense, this is down to the natural enthusiasm of a creative person who loves her work and likes exploring new avenues. 

It’s also a smart entrepreneurial strategy, as it allows her to accelerate her success, giving her readers more of what they love, and keeping them interested by taking them in new directions. 

I’m bored easily, guess that’s why the ER suited me so well, so I love being able to keep my promise to my readers of providing Thrillers with Heart while exploring every aspect of that brand, including some future series cross-over novels.

My newest projects are YA (young adult fiction) — I love reading YA and as a pediatrician love having the opportunity to empower kids when they’re at this very vulnerable age. But the cool thing is I can actually go darker and edgier with my YA than my adult fiction because kids crave emotional honesty and for adults sometimes being ‘as real as it gets’ is actually too real and too frightening. ~ CJ Lyons

Takeaway: When you feel your momentum building, look for ways to accelerate your success vertically (by giving your audience more of the same) and horizontally (by creating complementary products or services). 

Doing great work isn’t enough

CJ has an artist’s dedication to the craft of writing, which is a necessary condition of her success. In an ideal world, it would be nice to think that just writing great books would also be sufficient to achieve what she has done.

But the reality is that, over and above the effort CJ puts into her writing, she has also approached her work as a creative entrepreneur, applying her creativity to the process of moving her business forward as well as her story lines.

One of the things that helped CJ accelerate her success was taking a course called the Creative Entrepreneur Roadmap …

A quick note from Brian Clark …

Mark was a little shy about highlighting the fact that C.J. is a student of his. In fact, she’s a student of mine as well, in the form of a course Mark and I created called the Creative Entrepreneur Roadmap. I’m not as modest as Mark is :) so I’m perfectly willing to tell you that the course distills some powerful thinking about how a small-scale creative business can keep their creative energy high and still make a profit.

The course also includes lessons from Sonia Simone, Jon Morrow, and Tony Clark. It’s all high-quality material and if you’re a creative entrepreneur, you should go check it out.

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a coach who helps clients take a more artful approach to their marketing at Lateral Action. For bite-sized inspiration follow Mark on Twitter and Google Plus.

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  1. This is a great article. Here’s a summary of things I’ve picked from it…

    “Mine your experience”

    I have a unique life and that gives me a unique opportunity to differentiate myself even in a crowded marketplace.

    “Put in the hours”

    If an ER doctor finds time to right novels, I can’t ever justify NOT finding time to take my business to the next level be it through blogging, guest posting or whatever.

    I must put it the work that is necessary to achieve success. No one hands it to anyone and I my case won’t be any different.

    “Use creative positioning”

    I can’t be like anyone else. I shouldn’t bother about that. I’ll use my creativity in combination with my unique experiences and skills to create a space for myself in my niche — That’s how I am going to thrive.

    “Be generous”

    When I give top value for free I am NOT wasteful. Instead I am actually oiling the wheels of my success. People are more likely to do business with me when they are warmed up to me — Isn’t that what we call preselling?

    “Price strategically”

    Pricing isn’t just something I’ll do to turn more profit. It has to be an part of an overall marketing strategy. I could price my entry stuff very low so they can have a taste of me. When I deliver top value and distinguish my business, I can sell them something a lot more expensive, for example, and NOT put them off. That is, if it’s done strategically.

    “Earn permission to stay in touch”

    Build a list. I learned it the hard way. Get permission to stay in touch confirms that it makes sense in any business where such a strategy is permissible (It wouldn’t in the funeral services niche).

    “Accelerate when you build momentum”

    For me this means I just have to get more value from each happy customer. Turn them into raving fans, fine. However, I should do my best to sell more of what they need. I should turn them into my sales force. In short, leverage the goodwill to build even more goodwill and generate more business.

    • I really like that summary–“Price Strategically.” Maybe this is because I’m a rookie, but I’d never thought of deliberately planning to fluctuate price until I read this piece. It’s a great idea, though, and it seems to build into the greater idea of overall activity awareness every single blog posts attempts to generate.

      “Don’t just throw content out there and hope it gets picked up!” they say.

      “Make a plan and take the time to think before you generate!” they say.

      Maybe they should create a Content Marketer’s Nirvana course based around reaching that pinnacle of Zen-like content awareness?

      • Ebook pricing on Amazon has quite a few permutations – I’ve even heard some self-published authors described as ‘day traders’ for the way they lower/raise prices according to their position in the charts.

        “Zen-like content awareness” – Sonia is very good at that. ;-)

  2. If an ER doctor finds time to right novels, I can’t ever justify NOT finding time to take my business to the next level

    Could be a good thing to pin above the desk. :-)

  3. Really think something different that will make you standoff from the crowd.I have started a blog in 2010 and shut down it in 6 months.

    Now I have started a blog in which I will fetch videos from worlds top brands YouTube channels in realtime.I was seeing success day by day via Google analytics.

    Everybody starting out there is thinking they will get rich quickly.If you want to earn you have to work hard.This is what she has achieved.

  4. Man I love this! I’ve been toying with the idea of publishing an ebook. I’ve got a small outline right now Im working on. Just gotta schedule the time to work on it. A lot of it is research and experience based so I’ve also gotta schedule that time. I know if I schedule it, it’ll happen!

    • I know if I schedule it, it’ll happen!

      A great place to start!

      One good thing to build into the schedule is separate time for research and production – so that the former doesn’t become a way of avoiding the latter. ;-)

  5. Man I enjoyed reading this article. It came at the perfect and I feel more motivated than ever to continue growing my list for the release of my book next year. No matter how busy i am, there is no excuse. Just like you said, if an ER doctor can find the time to write her book and do all the marketing her self, then I most certainly can!

    You did a real great job of writing this article Mark, very informative, motivational, and the quotes really set it off!
    I think I’m going to check out that Creative Entrepreneur Roadmap too!

  6. Hi everyone! Just wanted to pop in and thank Mark and Brian for doing this post–I’m so honored! A few folks wrote me after reading this to ask about the course. To me it was extremely valuable as I had no business background, so to be able to be walked through the specific how-to’s AND learn the reasoning behind each step was priceless.

    For those of you pressed for time, give up ONE hour of TV a night and use that hour to write a single page, in a year you will have a full length novel. For shorter non-fiction books, you could probably have four done in a year, just by scheduling writing time instead of an hour of TV….just saying….

    As for flexibility, yes, you nailed it, Andrew and Matt–look at what your audience is enjoying, whether it’s a specific type of videos or books within a certain price range or genre, and see if that plays to your strengths and fits your vision.

    Don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed, give yourself the flexibility to explore all your options–yes, you may “fail” in some of them, but if you dare to fail you will learn so much and your next effort will be that much better for it. I call it always “falling forward” so that even my “failures” contribute to future success.

    Okay, I’ll stop prattling now, thanks again to everyone at Copyblogger!
    CJ (having such a huge fangirl moment, being here!)

    • All good, TY so much! Bookmarked, shared, and now on to practicing it. And perhaps exploring your thrillers with heart. Does everyone tell you it would be funnier if you were a cardiologist? I know, lame joke.

  7. What a fantastic story! I think people do think to hard on making a unique story or message in a book when their story is unique itself…we can pull from many of our own experiences. It’s great to hear positive success stories like this good for her! My good friend sold over 65,000 books this same way, all at about the same price point and the readers on my blog loved to hear his story in the interview we did.

  8. These tips are so true. It seems like you are opening the eyes of, not just authors, but online business people. These are tips that can be used across the board!

  9. I’m really impressed with CJ’s story as I’ve watched the e-book market gain momentum.

    Giving up one hour of TV a night won’t be such a chore ;)

    Sue

  10. My business definitely combines unique elements to deliver a valuable experience. Who would listen to or want to watch a hypnotist in a tee shirt and jeans? Students and twenty somethings who wear the same.

  11. Mark,

    Thanks for this. I’m getting ready to self-publish a personal development ebook and there are some major “foods for thought” in this. I’m thinking more heavily about the idea of giving the book away to drive traffic to the website, but with no list and no online presence, I don’t really know where to begin giving the book away in any form that will make an impact. If I charge a small fee, I can JV with online marketers to promote the book and potentially reach more readers through their efforts. What are your thoughts?

    Trent

    • Trent, if you have no list or platform yet, why not use the book to build one? I’m assuming this isn’t the only book you have in you that would be of value to your audience. So maybe give it away to folks who subscribe to your mailing list? While you build your list keep creating great content for your readers as you work on the next book/course/project.

      I don’t know anything about JV partnerships, perhaps others can advise you there.

      Hope that helps,
      CJ

    • Hi Trent, glad to provide some food for thought. Here are a few more morsels…

      It’s hard to advise for sure without knowing more about your business model and goals, but whenever you give something valuable away (in a commercial context) you need to be clear about how it will move your business strategy forward.

      So…

      If your goal is to build your list, then as CJ suggests, you might give it away in return for an email address.

      If you’re offering a service, (personal development coaching?) then giving it away could be an effective way of finding clients – as long as you include a clear sales message in the ebook.

      If you want to show the world how valuable your ideas are and attract the attention of potential allies, then this could also be a good strategy. (It was one of my free ebooks that first got me on Brian’s radar and we ended up as business partners, so it definitely has potential!)

      If this is a substantial ebook and/or you’re looking for ebooks to be a major source of income, then making it free on Amazon (maybe temporarily) gives you a shot at exposure to a wide audience.

      If you charge for the book then you start earning right out of the gate, and many people will ascribe more value to it (and be more likely to read and apply the ideas).

      And so on… do you see how the options depend on your goals?

      Re your point about JV partners, you might find it more effective at this stage to guest post on relevant blogs in your niche, to gain visibility and authority, and build your list. (It will also make you more attractive to JV partners in future).

      I hope that helps, all the best with the book!

  12. Signed up for the class! Thanks, CJ, for blazing the trail!

    Becky

  13. Wow I was not expecting to get that much value out of this post when I first clicked to read it! The most fascinating part is that this is not just for authors. Any entrepreneur can use these same take aways to help them build their business/careers. It’s amazing what can happen when someone can step out of their comfort zone and instead of doing what is “suggested” they do what they feel would be best for the ones supporting her (aka the readers/clients)

    • Thanks, Zach! I think you nailed it: step out of your comfort zone…dare to fail. There’s a darn good reason my writer’s site is called: No Rules, Just WRITE!, lol!
      Best of luck,
      CJ

    • Absolutely, the same principles apply to any entrepreneur. And yes, CJ is definitely operating outside the usual rules/comfort zone!

  14. Great article. I love reading success stories and what worked and continues to work with tweaking here and there for different authors!

  15. Great article! I’m cutting-and-pasting a few excerpts and pinning it to the bulletin board in front of my desk for inspiration as I continue the long, slow slog to build readership!

  16. This is a great article. I have numerous colleagues in CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Speakers) who are currently struggling with the transition to digital books and pricing on multiple platforms. Many of them have audiences who want the tangible product at the back of the room when they talk, but your article/interview has really put into perspective the “long tail” economics (in Chris Anderson’s words) of the internet. It’s not just the new opportunities that the platform offers (links within content, video etc), but also the pricing structure opportunities if you can plug into volume. In addition to speaking about marketing and strategy, I also teach marketing at several Universities in Vancouver. I often use the publishing industry as an example where all 4Ps (product, price, place/distribution, promotion) have been disrupted. I plan to share this link with my followers and circles. Thanks again.

    • I can definitely relate to the “tangible product at the back of the room when they talk” (not to mention my bookshelves, as a lifelong book-lover). And I think there’s a great opportunity here to have the best of both worlds – paper books are great AND there’s a huge trend towards digital reading, which is a wide-open opportunity for enterprising authors like CJ.

  17. Thanks to Copyblogger & CJ for putting this info together. I’ve been sitting on a novel idea for about 6 months now and even though I have tons of notes and outlines/ideas together, I haven’t pulled the gun on actually writing.

    Tonight, I write.

  18. CJ Lyons is an inspiration and a wake up call for all us writers struggling to find time to write (or making excuses why we can’t)! Her life story resonates with me, also, especially the murder of her friend. My sister was murdered by her husband, who was the sheriff of Kimble County, Texas – a crime that became a media circus.

    I’ve been playing around with the idea for a book based on that experience, but until now haven’t wanted to revisit that bleak time in my mind. Maybe I’ll do it someday, when I feel like I can face it.

    Right now, though, I think Ill work to carve out more time and finish the epic historical paranormal thriller (how’s THAT for crossroads positioning?) I’m working on, and increase my production of short stories.

    Self publishing may very well be the best (only?) practical way to put out a “crossroads” genre novel. Traditional publishers have trouble figuring out how to market them.

    • Maybe I’ll do it someday, when I feel like I can face it.

      Sounds like a wise choice. Sometimes it pays to build up your momentum as a writer before tackling the really demanding subjects.

      And good point re crossroads positioning and self-publishing. I’ve come across quite a few stories of authors who were told their book didn’t fit into the right categories for a publisher to take it on, only to publish it themselves and find lots of willing readers.

  19. Nice and very informativ article here i have picked usefull tips from here and i would try these Hope i ll get success

  20. Wow, now that’s a gem! And then people say time spent on Facebook is just wasted ;)

    Thanks for the inspiration! I’ll definitely give it some more thought as I get my next book ready for release.

    All the best,
    Saoirse

  21. Ditto to all of the above accolades and kudos–! I’ve also passed it on to my writing group and friends as well.

  22. Re-read this for the third time and managed to get some more takeways. The thing that comes across with all these successful self-publishers is there understanding and deployment of internet marketing strategies. When I read John Locke’s book explaining how he sold a million ebooks, it felt like I was reading a book by Frank Kern or Eben Pagan. I think the Kindle KDP market is rife for further exploitation by savvy online entrepreneurs

    Lewis

  23. As someone who self-published my first book in 1989, and who has made over $1.5 million over the years from my creative works, I can vouch that the advice here is generally really solid.

    For example, regarding giving away copies of your books, I have given away over 13,000 copies of my books over the years and continue to give them away.

    One does not have to follow all the advice here, however, to become highly successful. One example. Having a strong social media presence is not essential as long as one has some strong other creative marketing strategies. In fact, I like to take the approach that when it’s trendy to do something, do the opposite. In this regard, this blog post by Bob Baker is still one of my favorite blog posts ever regarding book marketing;

    http://book-promotion.blogspot.ca/2010/11/how-to-become-book-marketing-ninja.html

    One of the things that should really be stressed is the commitment, dedication, creativity, and the tenacity that is required to make it in this business. Most people read posts like this and think I can do it too! Fact is, 99 percent of people will not succeed at this level.

    Here are some of my favorite quotes by people in the book industry to place things in perspsective.

    “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.”
    — Seth Godin

    “Book writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Anyone who decides to write a book must expect to invest a lot of time and effort without any guarantee of success. Books do not write themselves and they do not sell themselves. Authors write and promote their books.”
    — Dan Poynter

    “The vast majority of self-published books sell less than ten copies a year online and through traditional retail channels, and that probably disappoints a lot of self-publishers. But it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s hard enough for traditionally published books to register meaningful sales, and they have huge built-in advantages.”
    — Jeff Herman, Literary Agent

    “No amount of money or marketing can overcome a book that doesn’t deliver. So your first challenge is to write a book that your networks assure you is as good as you want it to be. The content of your books
    will determine how you sell them to publishers and promote them to book buyers. Content precedes commerce.”
    — Rick Frishman

    “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.”
    — Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver

    “Are you publishing this book to make a living? Good luck with that. Less than 3% of newly published authors make enough in royalties and advances to be happy to live on.”
    — Seth Godin

    And I am going add a quotation by Joe Konrath. For the record, I am not a big fan of Konrath because of his constant criticism of traditional publishers (My opinion is that Konrath hasn’t applied critical thinking skills in his analysis of traditional publishers.) Nevertheless, I do admire and acknowledge the success that Konrath has achieved. What’s more, I particularly agree with Konrath’s statement:

    “Write a damn good book. This should be your main priority. It’s also one of the hardest things to do, and the hardest things to judge for yourself if you’ve done it. The problem is, most writers believe their books are good. Even at our most insecure, we believe complete strangers will enjoy our scribblings enough to pay for the privilege.”
    — Joe Konrath

    Again, as Konrath says, “Write a damn good book.” Of course, the problem is that the vast majority of writers think they have a damn good book, when, it fact, they don’t. In other words. and to quite frank, they are delusional. Today, particularly on the Kindle platform, I am seeing so much crap and mediocre products being posted and saturating the market. And much of this is a result of the so-called book experts selling book-writing and book-promotional products to these wanabee best-selling writers without telling the truth about their chances for success.

    What good will promotion do for all the mediocre (and even a lot worse than medicre) products being put out there?

    As this marketing legend stated:

    “Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.”
    — David Ogilvy

    One last quote to really put things in perspective:

    “What people really want … is to be broke. At least, that’s one likely interpretation
    of a new YouGov poll that shows more people [in Britain] would rather be a writer
    than anything else. Now, it’s possible they’ve all got their eyes on the
    J. K. Rowling squillions, but the financial reality is rather more depressing.
    Most book manuscripts end up unwanted and unread on publishers’ and agents’
    slush piles, and the majority of those that do make it into print sell fewer
    than 1,000 copies … It’s not even as if writing is that glamorous. You sit
    alone for hours on end honing your deathless prose, go days without really
    talking to anyone and, if you’re lucky, within a year or so you will have a
    manuscript that almost no one will want to read. Your friends and family
    will come to dread requests for constructive feedback …”
    — John Crace writing in “The Guardian”

    In short, the key to making it in this business is to be a 1 percenter. You have to be sure that you are more creative and more commited to marketing your projects than 99 percent of writers are. If you aren’t, don’t expect to have any true best-sellers and make money at this game. I know that I am a 1 percenter. How about you?

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • I love this reply as much as the original post — thanks to both of you for sharing this genius and inspiring information … I will put it to good use.

  24. Book coming out in August? I just hope it’ll sell. I know it has potential, and I’m not tooting my own horn here. Let’s hope my marketing is own point. @bloggerESP

  25. Great post about CJ Lyons and her determination to succeed. Very nice read we really enjoyed it – thanks Mark!