After 6 years as an indie author, I finally managed my first 5-figure earnings month in March 2020.
Using the most conservative earnings prediction from the Amazon dashboard, I earned £10,188.57 in gross income (before ad costs deducted) over 31 days.
Here are my other stats:
- 1,852,339 page reads
- 15098 book sales
- Number 15 highest position in the entire Amazon UK chart
I delivered these results from a 12-book boxset of my psychological thrillers, priced at 0.99 and listed in KDP Select.
Here are my key takeaways from this experience:
1) The more books you write, the more marketing permutations you have, the easier it is to earn from your books
2) I have experienced greater success when I market my books on Facebook only to women. I have found that they are generally much more social in their Facebook interactions, sharing and discussing the books with their friends and very happy to comment that they love the stories.
3) I found that BookBub ads burned my budget fast with poor results and Amazon just refuses to spend my money, so Facebook is my preferred tool of choice.
4) The sales of this boxset do not appear to have impacted the sales of my other, regular price books over the month. The ONLY place I have promoted this offer (after initial experimentation) is directly through Facebook ads.
5) I included a full-price book in the boxset, which I promote several times throughout the boxset, making certain that I have an upsell in there, on which I can take 70% royalties.
6) I include author notes at the end of each story, in which there is always a call-to-action to join my email list.
7) It was very easy for me to assemble this boxset from existing assets using Vellum for the file compilation, and Fiverr.com to get boxset images created.
8) It was quite clear from my Facebook ads that one of my boxset images was converting better than the other, so I made sure I used that A:B test result to display the most popular image on my Amazon listing too.
9) I used K-Lytics reports and Publisher Rocket to find hot but not-too-competitive categories on which to list the books and this has kept at or near the top of those categories for well over a month now.
10) I've had to develop a thick skin over the level of credit card bills I'm running up, but by carefully monitoring my overall profitability, I know that I am always making much more money than I owe.
In summary, here's my simple 5-figure formula:
Step 1: Create a no-brainer offer ie 12 x books for 0.99
Step 2: Get a great boxset image made, so convey the value of the offer
Step 3: List in KDP Select
Step 4: List your book in hot-but-winnable Amazon categories
Step 5: Promote on Facebook to an audience made up of your ideal readers
Put even simpler, Web Traffic + Conversions = Results 🙂
Long Read Version
My numbers for March 2020
In March 2020, I managed to achieve my first ever 5-figure month of earnings.
In addition, I generated more page reads than I ever could have imagined.
I also sold more e-books in that one month than I did in my first two years of self-publishing – many more.
In this article, I'm going to give you a step-by-step breakdown of how this was done and share every tip that I learned along the way.
I've also recorded a ‘director's cut' audio to talk you through the points I make in this post:
I'm not a ‘successful' author by any means; this was achieved through writing books then setting up a system to sell them to many readers.
But having said that, it definitely wasn't rocket science and it can be easily replicated by anybody with a decent back catalogue of books.
Prologue (I'm an author, what else would you expect?)
I started self-publishing in 2014, mostly by accident, because I'd messed up my application for a contract and had some spare time on my hands.
In 2016, I set up a diary detailing my author experiences as an author at https://self-publishing-journeys.com/
Every week for four years I have detailed the ups and downs of my author journey – and from my point of view, it feels like it's been more downs than ups.
However, over time, I have seen an upwards trajectory in my author income – first, it was $100 in a month, then it was £100.
Soon afterwards, I cracked my first $1000 month, a £1000 month followed, then I started getting accepted for BookBub featured deals and I managed to push my annual income well above £10,000 per year, generated entirely from my books.
At the time of writing, I have written and published 26 books – that's 13 x psychological thrillers (made up of 2 x trilogies and 7 x standalones), 10 x sci-fi stories (made up of 3 x trilogies and 1 x standalone) and 3 x non-fiction books.
The more books I have written, the more trilogies I have created, the easier it has been to market and sell my work.
This reflects the basic philosophy of one of the most useful educational destinations for self-published authors, the 20Booksto50k group – that is, write more books, make more money.
In September of 2019, I very publicly committed to a prolonged rapid release schedule on my podcast, in an attempt to emulate the incredible success of my indie author pal Adam Nichols who'd inspired me with his $100k author earnings.
It failed miserably; I barely managed to move the needle on my income, in spite of making a massive commitment to author ads, Facebook ads and writing eight books over the course of that year.
It was humiliating and very disappointing, but at least I'd managed to learn something from it.
In my opinion, and I have heard this repeated on the 6-Figure Authors podcast since, rapid release doesn't really work unless you have hundreds of readers already who can't wait to read your next book.
That is certainly not my experience as a small-fry author, so it was back to the drawing board for me!
Not long after, another author pal – Jon Cronshaw – started to share some fascinating information about a strategy that he had stumbled upon … and that's what changed everything.
The 5-figure box-set strategy
Jon kindly explained to me how he was making roughly 3.5k per month by selling a 0.99 box set of eleven books from his Ravenglass Chronicles series.
Interestingly, the solo books hadn't been selling that well but packaged together, they were making good money.
Jon had learned this technique from the author, Brandon Ellis – we like to share great tips in indie-author land 🙂
These are Jon's figures, published with his permission:
Inspired by what Jon told me and seeing those numbers, I decided to give it a try.
I packaged together twelve of my psychological thrillers, got a nice graphic made on fiverr.com and then listed it on Amazon.
My numbers for February 2020 were:
- Direct income from boxset = £2248
- Number of copies sold = 4581
- Pages read = 317,788
That was a great start, but I wanted more.
So, in March 2020, I systematically ramped up my Facebook adverts.
I remembered interviewing Adam Croft for my podcast about his breakthrough novel Her Last Tomorrow.
It was selling so fast, Adam couldn't find the ads money fast enough, having reached his limit on credit cards.
I remembered that lesson from our interview.
So in March, I ramped up the spending on Facebook ads and braced myself for credit card mayhem.
Here are the numbers for March 2020, for that one boxset:
- 1,852,339 page reads
- 15098 book sales
- £10,188.57 in gross income (before ad costs deducted)
- Number 15 highest position in the entire Amazon UK chart
I've never managed to achieve numbers like that previously.
The closest I've come to it was when I promoted my Don't Tell Meg trilogy on BookBub, and that brought in £5k or thereabouts over the month.
The problem with BookBub featured deals is that you can't rely on getting one – so you need some extra tricks up your sleeve.
When you look at the Royalties Estimator provided by Amazon, they give you three numbers, based upon a page reads fee increase, decrease and staying level.
Here are those numbers which you can also see in the screenshots gallery at the top of this page:
Decrease = £10,188.57
Same = £10,503.90
Increase = £10,819.23
Decrease = $12,689.72
Same = $13,082.46
Increase = $13,475.20
Decrease = €11,395.37
Same = €11,748.05
Increase = €12,100.73
The 5-Figure Formula
Here's what I did to achieve those figures – you'll be amazed at the simplicity:
Step 1: I assembled twelve of my existing books, ordering them by popularity and positive reader response.
My strategy was to front-load with my strongest material, to encourage strong reader responses in the early stages of consumption.
Step 2: I got a collection of graphics made on Fiverr.com, with different permutations to allow for A:B testing ie which image works best?
Step 3: I listed the book at 0.99 on Amazon and made it available to Amazon Unlimited readers – that way I get paid for sales and page reads.
Step 4: I set up ads on Amazon, Facebook & Bookbub.
The Facebook ads easily won the day and delivered great results with a net profit rate of 68-78%.
It really was that simple.
I stopped the BookBub & Amazon ads in February by the way, Facebook was working well for me by that time.
Behind every top-line sales figure, there are a number of missteps, problems, issues and successes.
In the ten points below, I burrow down deep into what I did to achieve my results, but also, I want to share the reality behind those numbers.
Sure, the gross amount generated was over £10k, but what was the net sum received – the amount that went into my pocket?
How to generate 5-figure books sales in one month
1: Write many books
You can't use this technique if you don't have enough books.
Even though my rapid-release work didn't really pay dividends in 2019, it did force me to write another five thrillers, bringing my total to thirteen books in that genre.
Every book you write is an asset; you've expended that time once, but you can profit from it time and time again, repackaging each book in different formats.
I sell my books separately, I bundle them in smaller boxsets and now I've put the lot (minus Now You See Her) into one ridiculously priced unit.
It's just another sales unit – a widget if you want to call it that – which can make money in my author business.
Regard your work as assets and think hard about the numerous ways you can sweat those assets.
2: Drop the price – but think of profit
To make this offer work, we have to offer the boxset at a ‘no-brainer' price.
I've actually had Facebook users asking if the offer is a scam, the price is so low.
There are two objectives for this offer.
Aim 1 is to sell units and in selling those units I want to cover my ads costs at the very least, then I want to make a profit if I can.
This is an Amazon Unlimited offer and I make money on the page reads too – over 1.85 million of them at the time of writing.
That income will come in over time as readers work through that 2081 page e-book … and because my upfront sales are more than covering my advertising costs, that's all additional profit when it comes in.
So Aim 2 is to get the book into the hands of Kindle Unlimited readers to get a long tail of reads over time.
This creates additional profit where the immediate sales have already covered the costs of the ads.
It's worth noting too that when I drop the price of a package of twelve of my thrillers, I risk undermining sales of the other books.
I've been very mindful of this and I'm watching the numbers closely, but I can share the following observations:
- I have still made steady sales of my other books at the normal level
- I wouldn't run a BookBub promo during this time, I'd switch off my Facebook adverts and bump up the price until I'd worked through the big kick a BookBub promo gives me
- I include an upsell in the book to try and squeeze more cash out of the deal. I have a sales page to Now You See Her (which is a full-price, 70% royalty book) at the end of the Don'tTell Meg trilogy, at the end of the Morecambe Bay trilogy and at the end of the six standalone books. This is called a cross-sell, where we try to squeeze a bit more cash out of a sale.
3: Use Vellum to create a boxset
It took no more than half an hour to compile the Vellum files for my existing books into the boxset file that made up this special offer.
That was half an hour's work to create a unit which has made more income in two months than the average annual income of a traditional author – not bad for 30 minutes work.
Why am I telling you this?
Stop messing around with cheap, complicated software which makes jobs like this difficult.
If you intend on writing more than one book, invest in Vellum and be done with it.
It saves me so much time and allows me to create sellable units so swiftly, it pays for itself in no time at all.
Vellum is created for use on Macs, but you can also use it on a PC when you know how.
4: Use Fiverr for your boxset graphic
It goes without saying that you need to have great covers on your books to make decent sales.
However, the advantage of a box set like this is that you only need to have one fantastic cover at the front of the graphic, so it's worth spending some time considering which might work best.
To see the service I use on fiverr.com to get my graphics made, click HERE.
It's a very inexpensive service and the images look fabulous.
Now, here's the interesting thing.
After a week or two of running Facebook ads, it became clear that the box set on the right-hand side was creating more clicks than the one on the left-hand side.
I switched off the ads which used the first images and also changed the listing on Amazon to use that second image.
Don't ask me why one image did better than the other, but I'm not going to argue with Facebook's data.
5: List in Kindle Unlimited
The trick behind this strategy is two-fold;
1 – We create an e-book with many, many pages in order to generate income from page reads
2 – We create an e-book which presents incredible value to targetted readers
Don't list wide with an offer like this, you need to be seeking a huge number of page reads.
Remember, upfront sales need you cover your ad costs and generate as much profit as possible, page reads create long-tail and additional profit.
6: Use K-Lytics or Publisher Rocket to find hot categories in your niche
It's important to research the categories that you list your box set in in order to maximise your chances of making it to the number 1 slot if you can.
If you get high in the charts, Amazon will promote your book more to targeted readers, giving you free promotion.
That's a good thing, by the way.
Here are the ‘holy grail' characteristics that you need to look for:
- A category that has lots of buyers
- A category that has low competition
There are two tools you can use to target categories which offer those benefits.
K-lytics is my personal favourite: https://k-lytics.com/
Look out for the latest report in your genre and check out the hot category and keyword recommendations.
Your second option for researching hot categories is Publisher Rocket: https://publisherrocket.com/
This software download will also help you to locate those lucrative crooks and crannies of Amazon.
I can't recommend one over the other and a determined online marketer, I own both of them 🙂
7: Promote with Facebook ads
This is the part of the process where the heavy lifting was done.
Listeners to my Self-Publishing Journeys podcast will know that I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.
The last time I ran a successful campaign on that platform they closed my account without giving a reason or offering me a reprieve.
In February 2020, I started running some tentative ads, testing my new account and hoping that I wouldn't get clamped by Facebook.
The ads proved to be immediately successful, and from an initial testing budget of £5 per day, at the time of writing, I'm now running them at £400+ per day and still making a profit.
I spent £6061.84 on Facebook ads in March 2020, and this includes campaigns which didn't work – the blanked-out line was an ad for my sci-fi books and has been excluded in calculations.
You can also see a test ad for Australia which was proving too expensive:
Here are my notes and observations:
1 – I targeted my ads only at women. I find that I get a much better response from women and they leave predominantly positive and social comments.
2 – Initially, I targeted UK, US, DE, CA & AU … but I read a great book in February which put me right on that, and recommended not promoting on Kindle to DE, AU & CA:
3 – I don't fuss too much about the numbers, preferring instead the simplified Chris Fox method … how much I have made – how much have I spent = profit. I'll probably start to get more sophisticated about it all in April, now I can see how much money it's making:
4 – I got clamped by Facebook TWICE in March and my heart sank, thinking it was ‘game over'. Fortunately, this time, they let me back in both times. I haven't got a clue what the problem was, they never tell you.
5 – It makes my heart go into frenzied beating mode when I see how much I'm spending on Facebook ads. You'd have to be very well off to pay that in cash!
I'm putting thousands of pounds on my credit cards. However, I know I'm getting paid far more than what I owe in two month's time, so that's okay. However, for this reason, make sure you keep a very close eye on your numbers and your ongoing profit.
6 – Most people tell you not to use book covers in your Facebook ads. However, my cover images instantly display the huge value of this ridiculously priced offer, so I figured it works best with covers on an offer like this.
7 – I got AMAZING engagement on my Facebook ads, the like of which I've never seen before. I know it's a really long image, but just look at the screenshot below – I have another 4 x ads like that, each with a long list of similar comments:
8 – I hid negative comments and blocked anybody who was a plain nuisance. Over hundreds of comments, I've done that about four times in total, I find that I get much better behaviour on Facebook when I target women.
If I'm paying for the advert, you don't get to post negative stuff 🙂
It's like coming into my house and walking your dirty boots over my carpet.
9 – You'll get lots of queries like ‘Can I get these in paperback/on Kobo/I don't have a Kindle' etc.
It gets a bit wearing after a while, so I made a ‘how-to' video below explaining how to buy the books and read them via the Kindle app:
10 – There were some specific tweaks I made to my ads which you might like to know about:
- I always select manual placements and only display my ads in the main Facebook feed
- In Optimization & Delivery, I change the setting to CPC rather than Impressions
- I usually use the CTA (call to action) Learn More, but after seeing a couple of questions from people who were asking how to get the books, I changed it to the more direct Get Offer
- I'm too cautious and law-abiding to use Amazon affiliate links in my Facebook ads, even though I know I'm leaving money on the table 🙁
Finally, I learned everything I know about Facebook ads from the book Help! My Facebook Ads Suck and predominantly via Mark Dawson's excellent training at https://selfpublishingformula.com/courses/
8: Don't rely on Amazon ads and BookBub ads but apply for a BookBub featured deal
I did try running BookBub ads and Amazon ads on this offer, but I have found that BookBub ads burn my budget too fast with too few results and Amazon ads, on the rare occasion when I do create one that's profitable, fail to deliver for me at any scale.
When I do run Amazon ads that work in a small way, they're always automated targeting.
I have shown the books that I learn from below, for reference and in the interests of information sharing:
I do highly rate BookBub featured deals and have had 6 or 7 in two genres over the past three years, each of them proving lucrative.
I did try for a BookBub deal on my Morecambe Bay trilogy while I was running this offer.
When I run BookBub deals, I always run them on trilogies and have made up to £5000 in a month on the best promotions.
I make book 1 free, price book 2 at 1.99 or 2.99 and price book 2 at 2.99 or 3.99 and because they get good read-through, I make my profits from books 2 & 3 sales.
If I had got a BookBub, I couldn't have continued to run that box-set offer, or I'd have shot myself in the foot, I suspect.
To mitigate for that situation, I had a back-up boxset waiting in the wings – one that wouldn't screw my profits on a BookBub promo – this boxset back-up does not feature the books that would have been promoted in the BookBub featured deal:
9: Celebrate the headline numbers, but learn from the real numbers
I'm astounded by those figures, I never thought I'd be able to squeeze a 5-figure month out of my books.
The thought of receiving a payment of over £10k for my books is mind-boggling, so I will be taking a moment to celebrate that achievement.
However, years of internet marketing work prior to becoming an author have taught me to burrow deep down into the headline numbers, which are a vanity metric.
I speak about this in my book How To Create & Sell Digital Products (below).
The question always should be what's my profit?
So, let's take a close look at the numbers, and I'll work in my home currency for this calculation.
Facebook ad spend for March 2020 = £6061.84
Lowest gross earnings = £10,188.57 – £6061.84 = £4126,73 profit [+ page reads over time] > 68% profits
Highest gross earnings = £10,819.23 – 6061.84 = £4757.39 [+ page reads over time] > 78% profits
Bearing in mind my ad costs include all my failed tests and experiments, I would hope to get those percentages closer to 100% profit in the following month.
10: Carry on carrying on
So, what happens now?
The aspiration with advertising should always be to set up what I call a ‘money machine'.
You should always aspire to make your money back as a bare minimum with advertising unless you have a big marketing budget that needs to be burned off.
However in this scenario, forever long it lasts, I have a Facebook money machine giving me, for the time being, a great level of profit.
So, I intend to carry on promoting, pushing my credit cards to their maximum limits and checking my numbers every day to ensure that I'm always in profit.
I expect the performance of those ads to drop at some point, but how low do you have to go on profit before it ceases to be worthwhile?
Even at 10% or 20% profit margin, I reckon I'd still be excited.
Summary 1: Glass half empty
Having taken a moment to celebrate this minor success on my author journey, I want to throw a wet blanket over it.
That's because we have to keep a level head when something like this happens.
Yes, the income is fab. Yes, those numbers are fab. Yes, I'm really proud of that achievement.
However, there are some buts to this whole episode:
1) Facebook tantrums
If Facebook decide they don't like my ads again, they can shut me down and it's game over.
I'm completely exposed and vulnerable.
The simple truth is that I need them more they need me AND there's no other advertising channel I've tried that is capable of delivering results like that.
Read Facebook: Judge, Jury & Executioner here
2) Moving the needle
This is great as a one-time experience, but it doesn't move the needle in terms of my overall author career.
When I was number 15 in that UK Amazon chart, I was surrounded by authors who are able to achieve that ranking on a single book, at a price yielding 70% royalties, no doubt at a much more profitable rate than my promotion.
What I really want is to be able to achieve those results without giving away the shirt on my back.
Summary 2: Glass half full
1) Money in my pocket
This is great for cashflow!
Who would stick their nose up at that?
I've discovered the elusive Facebook money machine – I put £100 in I get £170 back.
For as long as that continues, I need to keep it up!
2) Page-reads long tail
With over 15k units sold, that's going to be a lot of pages read over time.
My book is 2081 pages and I get paid per page read.
That's likely to generate a snowball effect and impetus as I sell more books.
So, there are two paydays with and offer like this; I get paid on a sale, then I receive payments over time as more and more readers work their way through the boxset.
I hope this blog post has been useful to you.
Clearly, you need to have written enough books to be able to deploy this technique.
But if you do have a great back catalogue, and you'd welcome a decent bit of cashflow, maybe now is the time to take this technique out for a spin.
If you have any tips or observations, please don't hesitate to leave a comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts 🙂
This technique generated 3 x 5-figure earnings months before dropping below that level. It also generated my first ever KDP All-Star Bonuses, two of them at the time of writing.