Successful Self-Published Author Shares His Mistakes, Failures and Success Tips

Tom Corley boats - crop

My first self-published book, Rich Habits, has sold nearly 50,000 copies so far. It rose to #7 on Amazon in ALL BOOK CATEGORIES in the U.S. and stayed in the top 100 of ALL BOOK CATEGORIES in the U.S. for 3 weeks. That puts me in the top .1% of first time, self-published authors. Most first time, self-published authors sell no more than 500 copies of their books, ever.  I’ve been on CBS Nightly News, Australian TV, The Dave Ramsey Radio Show, hundreds of other radio shows, Money Magazine, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, SUCCESS Magazine, Epoc Magazine (Brazil’s largest weekly), More Magazine and many other print and online magazines. I’ve received media publicity in 23 countries. I’ve even spoken to millionaires on the same stage as Richard Branson.

Every week a new first time, self-published author asks me what they need to do in order to succeed. I never, ever ignore them because I have a very long memory. I remember how hard, how lonely and how depressing it was for me in the early going, primarily because I was on my own. I never wrote a book before, never promoted a book before and knew no one who did any of those things. I had to figure things out on my own, through the School of Hard Knocks. I had to learn what to do and what not to do. And I failed so often and made so many mistakes. Those failures and mistakes are scar tissue inside my brain. Honestly, I think even Forest Gump would be appalled at the mistakes I’ve made. It’s so unbelievably hard to succeed, as a self-published author, if you don’t know what you’re doing. And, so I made a vow to myself that I would never leave a fellow first time, self-published author on the field of battle if they asked for my help. I don’t care how successful I become in this book business. I will always find the time to share what I’ve learned with new authors. So, in an effort to do just that, I thought I’d lay out what I believe are the major things first time, self-published authors need to do in order to have a shot at success. Let’s go.

  • Question: What makes a self-published author successful? Answer: When you can quit your day job and focus on your book business full-time.
  • Get a Great Publisher: You get what you pay for with self-publishers. The least they cost the crappier the book will look. I spent 2 weeks researching publishers who specialize in self-publishing and then decided on the one I thought was the best in the business. While they were more expensive than most of the other self-publishers I researched, they promised a traditional publisher quality book. If you want to know who I used, email me. I’m very glad I did my diligence. I have heard horror stories about self-published authors who went cheap and their book looked awful. I know that my publisher’s quality is good because we’ve done 3 books together and my book, Rich Kids, won two awards (Writer’s Digest 2015 Self-Publisher Contest – runner up and the NY Book Festival – I won that one in my self-help category), not only for the content, but also because the book looked and felt top quality. I only entered Rich Kids into 3 contests.
  • Website: You should have a website dedicated to your book business. All you need is one for all of your books. I completely revamped my website in 2013 to make it more media friendly and still retain my blog so I could share content with my readers. Find successful author’s websites and study them. Or just duplicate mine, because that’s exactly what I did. I am also constantly tweaking my website. At least twice a year I do something to change my website a little. You want people to subscribe to your website/blog so you can capture their email address and also so they can read any new content you publish on it. I rarely email my subscribers. I’m too busy pitching the media and writing.
  • Email Database: I use Mailchimp. I have it set up so that Mailchimp automatically captures all new subscribers. I’m not sure how that’s done. I have a website administrator that I pay who helps me do anything related to my website. It costs me about $5,000 a year for her services.
  • Email: You need an email address that is book-specific. Mine is: tom@richhabits.net. This way all of your book-related emails are in one place.
  • Write Every Day: Practice makes perfect. I do a tip of the morning to ya every day, except weekends. Plus I write blog articles that share my research. Some of these blog articles make their way into the media, as I often contribute to the media.
  • Social Media: You should have a Twitter account, Facebook account and a Linkedin account. I also have pintrest and google+ but I mostly ignore them and focus on Twitter, FB and Linkedin. I use Twitter primarily as a way to pitch the media. The media, conversely, sees my Twitter account as my way to annoy them. I do, however, interact with non-media followers every day. I devote 1-2 hours a day to social media.
  • Getting Media Publicity: How do you pitch the media so they will interview you? That’s the 64 million dollar question, my friend. And the answer is: I still don’t know. I’ve been pitching the media for 4+ years straight, 1-2 hours every day. 99.9% of the time they ignore me. But that .1% of the time that they didn’t ignore me generated close to 40,000 book sales. 80% of my book sales have come from 7 members of the media: Yahoo, Dave Ramsey, MSN Money, CBS Nightly News, SUCCESS Magazine, Epoca Magazine and Inc. Magazine. I pitch mostly via Twitter but I also do some email pitches. The people in the media who I now know, tell me they prefer emailed pitches. I also made 1,800 hours of phone calls to radio stations over a 2 year period and got 150 radio interviews as a result. Other than The Dave Ramsey Radio Show, I haven’t had much success selling books via the radio. But what put me on the map was one tweet pitch out of 20,000 tweet pitches that I sent which got me the Yahoo interview. That interview went viral with over 2 million hits in a 24 hour period. One of those who listened to the Yahoo interview was Dave Ramsey. Dave liked the interview so much he had me come on his show. I was told I’d get 5 minutes with Dave (one segment), but the interview went on for 30 minutes. CBS was listening and, so, they interviewed me for their Nightly News program, which aired across most of the U.S. as well as Canada. Other members of the media saw the CBS interview and they contacted me to do some interviews. But my point is that it was one tweet that got the attention of Farnoosh Torabi, who worked for Yahoo at the time. Thank you Farnoosh, the first brave sole in the media who took a chance on a first time, unknown author. If you want to succeed, you have to conquer the media. David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber (2.5 million books) told me that back in 2012. He also schooled me on exactly who the media was, because, honestly, I didn’t know. The media = TV, Radio, Internet and Print. David told me you have to pitch all four at the same time. That was easier said than done. It’s very time consuming pitching the media. And, worse, they very rarely respond. Most of the time, I couldn’t help feeling like I was wasting my time or just didn’t know how to pitch the media. But the more you pitch the media, the better you get at it. You start to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. You hone your message. That’s why I think it’s key to keep all of your media pitches in a Media Pitch Binder. This way you can go back to the pitches that work, find out what you did, and then duplicate it over and over again. If you have a passion for your book business you will find the time to do all this stuff. If you don’t, you won’t.
  • Maintain a Contact Database: Keep a detailed record of everyone you come into contact with re: your book, especially the media. I use Outlook to document facts about everyone including: # of kids, spouse name, schools they attended, what they like (i.e. flowers/plants), etc. My Outlook automatically feeds into my cell phone.
  • Send Thank You’s: Every time I have gotten a major media interview I sent those involved a personalized gift. It’s usually no more than $50 per gift. Most are very appreciative and that helps build the relationship. Some, however, don’t acknowledge the gift. As an example, I sent one of my biggest interviewers, a cigar lover, about $200 worth of the best cigars around and he had his secretary send a boiler plate letter thanking me for the gift. It made me feel insignificant. Most people in the media are amazingly supportive, however.
  • Manage Your Expectations: Most media interviews will have very little impact on book sales. My SUCCESS Magazine profile sold only 2,500 books. But every now and then, for reasons only the book gods know, an interview takes off and books fly out of inventory, like my Dave Ramsey interview, my Inc. Magazine piece and my MSN Money piece. One other point I want to make here re: expectations is this – don’t get pissed off about how the media treats you. Their heads are spinning like tops most days. They’re under enormous pressure from their bosses on an hourly basis. They are doing 3 jobs and, as a result, they have zero time. You’ve just got to keep sending them pitches. Eventually, one of the pitches will be what they need at that particular second. Luck favors the persistent. Persistently pitch the media every single day. Don’t let it get you down when they ignore you. Expect them to ignore you. That’s what I do. Now, when someone in the media responds to a pitch, I nearly fall off my chair because I wasn’t expecting any response.
  • Inventory and the Media: If you are going to pitch the media, as a self-published author, make sure you have access to working capital (money). If an interview goes viral, you will sell thousands of books. You need to be able to meet the demand. For example, when I was interviewed by Dave Ramsey, I sold about 9,000 books within a two week period. I had to pay my publisher $27,000 in order for them to print the books. Thankfully, I had the money to meet the demand. When the SUCCESS Magazine article on my Rich Habits hit the stands, I had lined up $150,000 in working capital. I had no idea how many books I would sell. My worst case expectation was 10,000 books. My best case expectation was 50,000 books. I sold 2,500 books. There’s just no way to know which media exposure is going to sell books. Don’t delude yourself into thinking they will just buy your eBooks. They won’t. My eBook sales are about 20% of total book sales. Most people still want to read words on paper.
  • Podcasting: Podcasting is great training ground for honing your message. It took me 2-3 years to figure out how to communicate my research in a way that was of interest to the media. Do as many podcasting interviews as you can. Right down every question they ask you. Write down every response to every question you write down. In time, you will commit most of that to memory and refine it so that you sound like an expert. It takes time and practice. Once you have about a dozen podcast interviews under your belt, then you can move on to radio and hopefully TV or Internet video interviews. Put all of the questions you get asked by the media and your responses into something I call the Media Interview Binder. I’ll discuss what that is shortly.
  • Pitch Sheet: A Pitch Sheet is one page that summarizes who you are, some facts about your book and the topics you can discuss. Attach a 2nd page to the One Page Pitch Sheet for sample questions the interviewer can ask you. Keep this sample question list at no more than 10 questions. Make sure you have answers written down for each question. This Pitch Sheet and the questions are also sometimes referred to as the Media Kit. I put my Media Kit on my website under the Media Room page.
  • Doing Media Interviews: Prepare at least thirty minutes for each interview. Find out what the interviewer wants to focus on. Maintain a Media Interview Binder with a lead sheet for each interview that summarizes: name of the media outlet (i.e. The Dave Ramsey Show, WBAL, Fox News, etc), time zone of interviewer, main phone #, hotline #, host name, producer name, market (i.e. Miami), a section for your notes, mailing address, interview date, interview start time and end time (the time in your time zone), email addresses of everyone (host/producer), live or taped?, who calls who?, is interview by phone/skype/in person?, do they want copies of your books?, how many?, did I send thank you?. Re: time zones: if you are in the eastern time zone – central will be 1 hour earlier than your time zone, mountain will be 2 hours earlier and pacific will be 3 hours earlier than your time zone.
  • Book Contests: Enter as many as you can afford. They range from $50 – $200. I only figured this out late in the game, with my 2nd book, Rich Kids. I entered Rich Kids in: The 2015 NY Book Festival and won it in my category (self-help), Writer’s Digest 2015 Self-Published Book Awards Contest and was runner up in my category and The 2015 Independent Author Network book contest. Winning, or placing in the book contests won’t result in books sales but it does give you more to brag about for promotional and marketing purposes. It gives you author gravitas. I promote the awards on my website, in all my bios, in my new books and to the media. It also will help you down the road if your end game is getting a traditional publisher. Traditional Publishers, and Barnes and Noble – their main distribution channel, for some reason obsess over book contests and book reviews.

My story is still being written. I am no where near where I want to be but I am getting there. In October, the 6th largest publisher in the world, China South Publishing & Media Group, will release two of my books – Rich Habits and Change Your Habits Change Your Life. Getting any traditional publisher to publish your book is very hard. Getting the 6th largest one in the world is even harder.

I’ve been at this author business since 2010. The one big thing I’ve learned is that you have to write and promote your writing every day. Persistence creates luck and you need luck in order to succeed as an author.

That’s it. I hope this information helps you in your very noble quest to become a successful self-published author. It’s not a pipe dream. Mark Twain was a self-published author and so were many famous authors. I’m an email or phone call away. My email is: Tom@richhabits.net (I prefer email). This way, I can print it out and read it in the early mornings.

One last thing. It’s not always about money. No matter how successful you become, I believe you have an obligation to help those who are climbing the same ladder of success you climbed. Reach down and help pull those up who are trying to succeed. Pay it forward every day.

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Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley understands the difference between being rich and poor: at age nine, his family went from being multi-millionaires to broke in just one night, due to a catastrophic fire that destroyed his Dad's thriving business. For fourteen years they struggled with poverty. There were eleven in Tom's family, and they lived in constant fear of losing their home.

Driven by the desire to unlock the secrets to success and failure, Tom spent five years studying the daily activities of 233 rich people and 128 poor people. He discovered there was an immense difference between the habits of the rich and the poor. During his research he identified over 300 daily activities that separated the “haves” from the “have nots.” Tom decided to write a book to share what he learned. That book, Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals (1st Edition), went on to become an Amazon Bestseller in the United States forty times over a three year period. To give you some perspective, in order to be a true Amazon Bestseller in the United States, where you actually receive a specific Bestseller designation from Amazon, you need to be in the top 100 of all books sold by Amazon in the United States in a given day. Rich Habits did that for nearly thirty straight days, rising as high as #7, eclipsing such Bestselling authors such as Stephen Covey, Robert Kiyosaki and J.K. Rowlings. Imagine that - an unknown, first-time, self-published author selling more books than J.K. Rowlings!

Tom now travels the world, sharing his Rich Habits and motivating audiences at industry conferences, corporate events, universities, multi-level marketing group events, and global sales organizations’ presentations and finance conferences. He has even spoken on the same stage with famous entrepreneurs and personal development experts, such as Sir Richard Branson, Robin Sharma, Dr. Daniel Amen, and many others.

Tom has shared his insights on various national and international network, cable, and Internet television programs such as CBS Evening News, NBC News, Yahoo Financially Fit, Money.com, India TV, News.com Australia, and a host of others. He has been interviewed on many prestigious nationally syndicated radio shows, including the Dave Ramsey Show, Marketplace Money, and WABC.

Tom has been featured in numerous print magazines—such as Money magazine, Inc. Magazine, SUCCESS Magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, Fast Company magazine, More magazine, Epoca Magazine (Brazil’s largest weekly) and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine—and various online publications, including USA Today, CNN, MSN Money, SUCCESS.com, Inc.com, and the Huffington Post. Tom is a frequent contributor to Business Insider, Credit.com, Bankrate.com and a few other media outlets.

National publicity has garnered international media attention for Tom and his Rich Habits research spanning 23 countries. Broadcast media, online publications, and television throughout Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Central and South America have shared his powerful message.

In an effort to help parents, grandparents, teachers and adults become success mentors to the younger generation, Tom released his second book, Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to be Happy and Successful in Life in 2014. This book was the self-help category winner of the 2015 New York Book Festival and Runner-up in the prestigious 2015 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards Contest. In 2016 Tom released his third book, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life. This book provides the latest science on habit change as well as more of Tom's unique research on the specific habits that helped transform 177 ordinary individuals into self-made millionaires.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, and hold a master’s degree in taxation. As president of Cerefice and Company, CPAs, Tom heads one of the premier financial firms in New Jersey.
 
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
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Comments

  1. Tom.

    I loved this post. You are my mentor though far away. God bless you. Thank you for paying it forward!

  2. Dear Tom,
    Thank you for all of the fantastic content. Where do you find the time? (!) 🙂
    I appreciate all of your hard work and I have shared your daily email with others! You are great!

  3. Dear Tom, this is by far the best post I have ever read on self-publishing and post promotion work. You really touched my soul. I am immensely grateful for all your advice and will be seeking more from you in future. I happened to read your post on Yahoo and land on your site. You totally rocks. I am ordering you book in hard copy only.

    Thanks a zillion.

  4. Ratikanta.Singh says:

    Dear Tom,thanks a lot for this article.I will try to utilise some of your ideas.I am a self-published author with a book on quitting smoking.The title of the book is MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MADE POSSIBLE.Your article has encouraged me a lot.

  5. Very good post. Thank you for sharing

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