Writing a Book = First Serve in Tennis, Promotion = the Rest of the Match

Tom Corley boats - crop

Prior to writing my first book, I had never written a book before, never promoted a book before and I knew no one who did any of those things.

My journey has been the most difficult undertaking of my life. Everything I learned, I learned through the School of Hard Knocks.

But, eventually, I figured things out. I learned what to do and what not to do.

THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS

Literary Agents – My First 144 Failures

After completing the initial draft of my manuscript in 2009, I mailed out 144 query letters to literary agents specializing in self-help. Only 30 responded. All 30 said No!

Lesson

Literary Agents are wary of first-time authors. First-time authors have no proven track record and, for that reason, it’s very hard to get a traditional publisher, which I cover in the next section. 

Nepotism is your best bet. Find someone you know who can open up the door for you to a literary agent.

Traditional Publishers – My Next 137 Failures

After my literary agent fail, I mailed out 136 query letters to traditional publishers. Most didn’t respond. Of the few who did respond, all but one said No!

I mailed out my manuscript to the one publisher who said YES. Two months later I received a call informing me that they would publish my book.

Four months later my publisher informed me they were filing for bankruptcy.

I realized if I wanted my book and my research to see the light of day, I would have to self-publish. This cost me about $6,000, but eight months later my book was published.

Lesson #1

Traditional publishers are wary of first-time authors. There’s simply too many unknowns with first-time authors:

  • Writing Quality – Seasoned authors are less risky. They very likely have mastered the craft of writing a book. Novice authors are a big question mark and expose the publisher to more risk.
  • Media Contacts – Novice authors very likely have few, if any, media connections, unless they are a celebrity or a prominent figure.
  • Number of Followers – Novice authors very likely have a small email database, unless they are a celebrity or prominent figure.
  • Brand  – Novice authors lack a brand value proposition, unless they are a celebrity or prominent figure.
  • Industry Knowledge – Novice authors are very likely new to the author business. There is a greater learning curve for novice authors.

Once again, your best bet is nepotism. Ask everyone you know if they know someone in traditional publishing so they can open up the door for you.

Lesson #2

If a traditional publisher is not well known, that’s usually a red flag, which means you need to do your homework.

  • Have they been in business for a long time? 
  • Have they published any successful books?
  • Who are the principals behind the publisher? Do those principals have many years of publishing experience?

Lesson #3

The self-publishing industry has changed a lot in the past ten years. There are now some really good self-publishers who do as good a job as traditional publishers in editing, design, printing and distribution.

Lesson # 4

Traditional publishers have a number of value propositions self publishers lack:

  1. Distribution Channel – Traditional publishers still own the book store distribution channel. The elephant in the room is Barnes & Noble, which has struggled financially. If Barnes & Noble ever goes out of business, traditional publishers will lose their biggest distributor and diminish the value proposition they have over self-publishers.
  2. Resources – Traditional publishers fund everything: structural editing (how the book flows), copy editing (grammar, punctuation and sentence structure), design (front cover, back cover, spine, internal design – formatting), printing costs, distribution costs, promotion and marketing costs. 
  3. Media RelationsTraditional publishers have internal and external publicists who have strong relationships with the media and other influencers who can help sell books.
  4. Traditional Publishers Invest in Successful Books – If your book does very well, meaning it sells out within a few months, traditional publishers will invest more money and resources in promoting and marketing your book.

Lesson #5

The most successful authors are the ones who do the best job promoting their books. Traditional publishers do very little to promote and market books, initially. Although they tout that as one of their major value-added propositions. If your book does not sell out within the first few months, your publisher will move on to the next author.What keeps the publisher engaged, are authors who do a great job getting media attention for their books.

Traditional publishers invest in the low-hanging fruit – books that sell.

Book Review Editors – My Next 2,000 More Failures

I mailed over 1,000 books to newspaper and magazine book reviewer editors asking them to review my book. My cost? $3,500, including postage. No one responded. And not one editor returned my follow-up calls or responded to my follow-up emails.

Lesson

Since I began this journey, I’ve since had many book reviews. What I learned is that book reviews didn’t help me sell books. Their real value was:

  • Confirmation – Book reviews affirmed that my books were good.
  • Promotional – I used the book reviews to promote my books.

After a few months of being up and selling on Amazon, you should start to get Amazon book reviews. To accelerate the process, consistently ask readers and everyone you know to review your book on Amazon. Those reviews might sway potential buyers of your book to make a purchase.

Speaking Engagements – My Next 150 More Failures

To try to create some buzz, I spent eighteen months doing 150 free speaking engagements. I spoke to over 2,000 people at high schools, colleges, libraries, churches and business associations, you name it. I spoke at night, at lunch, in the mornings, on Saturdays and on Sundays.

I gave away about 2,000 books, setting me back another $6,000.

I sold very few books, despite my efforts.

Lesson

Speaking engagements don’t sell books but they do help you to sharpen your message and become a much better speaker. Do as many speaking engagements as you can. I my opinion, fifty is the magic number. After fifty speaking engagements, you will evolve into a pretty good speaker. 

Publicists – My Next Three Failures

I spent about $25,000 on three different publicists. Only one publicist provided any value. Even so, I got very little media publicity and, consequently, sold very few books.

Lesson

Good publicists are expensive but they are worth it. The best have powerful media contacts. Before you sign up with a publicist, ask for the contact information of three or more author-clients. Then call the authors to find out if the publicist was worth the money.


For those first three and a half years, I spent nearly $70,000, thousands of hours and all I had to show for it were 706 books sold.

I was depressed, emotionally spent, and in my mind, out $70,000.

I lost all of my confidence and felt like a complete failure. More than once, during this hellish ordeal, I penciled in my journal my desire to just die to end this nightmare. I cursed the dreamer inside of me. What a fool, I thought I was.


REDEMPTION

Just when I was about to quit, however, everything suddenly changed:

  • On July 16th, 2013, a Yahoo Finance video interview I had done, unexpectedly went viral with over 2 million hits.
  • On July 19, 2013, Dave Ramsey, the # 3 radio host in the US, saw the Yahoo video and interviewed me on my Rich Habits research and my book. Ramsey had, at the time, 8.7 million devoted listeners.
  • That same day, my book Rich Habits rocketed to #7 on Amazon in ALL BOOK CATEGORIES in the U.S. and stayed in the top 100 for 3 weeks. My little-known, self-published book was ahead of J.K. Rowling, Tony Robbins and Sheryl Sandberg’s blockbuster New York Times #1 bestselling book Lean In.

Since that fateful week in July 2013, a lot has happened:

All told, my Rich Habits research has been read or viewed by some 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

The success of my books, and all of the media attention I received, had people/organizations from all over the world reaching out to me to speak at events.

  • I’ve spoken to over 2,500 high school and college students around the US.
  • I’ve spoken to millionaires and billionaires at the Titan Summit.
  • I’ve spoken on the same stage as Sir Richard Branson.
  • I’ve been to Australia twice to speak at the very exclusive Wealth Retreat.

Thanks to all of the media publicity, I’ve sold nearly 70,000 books – all self-published, I might add. That puts me in the top .1% of self-published authors, since most self-published authors sell fewer than 500 books in their entire lifetime.

In 2017 I secured three major international publishers for all three of my self-published books.

My journey from Hell to bestselling author is best illustrated by a simple accounting of my gross royalties during this journey:

  • 2010 $306
  • 2011 $193
  • 2012 $2,254
  • 2013 $35,808
  • 2014 $55,325
  • 2015 $66,002
  • 2016 $91,379

Lesson

Never quit on your dream. Be persistent and work diligently every day writing and promoting your book. Build relationships with the media and influencers and stay in constant touch with them. Pitch your writing and new content to the media and influencers constantly.

Good luck visits those who are persistent. 


HERE’S MOST OF WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN ORDER TO SUCCEED AS AN AUTHOR

Write & Study Writing Every Day

  • You must practice your writing every day.
  • You must study other writers.
  • You must become a better wordsmith – every day I studied the definition of words I might be able to use in my writing.
  • You must study phrases – I studied phrases that I might be able to use in my writing.
  • You must learn the key ingredients to a good book – I studied how to describe characters, scenes, how to create plots, how to create a protagonist.
  • You must become an expert in the author business – I read thirty or more books on writing.

I write a Tip of the Morning to Ya every day, except weekends. Plus I write blog articles that share my research. I also write articles for the media – I am a contributor to Business Insider, CNBC, occasionally SUCCESS Magazine and Money Magazine, and many others. Constantly writing helps sharpen my writing skills.

Self-Publish If You Can’t Get a Good Traditional Publisher

If you can’t secure a good traditional publisher, self-publish, if you’re serious about becoming an author. I learned that the less self-publishers cost, the poorer the quality of the product. Good self-publishers have good editors. Good editors find the blemishes in your book. They push you to improve your book – The editors for my first book, Rich Habits, forced me to completely re-write my book twice.

I know that my self-publisher is good because I entered one of my books, Rich Kids, into 3 contests and won awards in two of those contests:

  1. Writer’s Digest 2015 Self-Publisher Contest and
  2. The 2015 NY Book Festival.  

If you want to know who I used as my publisher, email me. Warning, they are expensive.

Create a Great Website

You must have a great website dedicated to your book business. All you need is one website for all of your books.

Make your website media-friendly. Find successful authors’ websites and duplicate their website. Or just duplicate mine, because that’s exactly what I did.

Create a Blog That Links to Your Website

Start a blog. Blogs allow you to practice and perfect your writing skills. They also allow you to share your content with the media and influencers. Incorporate your blog into your website so it becomes one-stop shopping for readers and the media.

Get Subscribers to Your Blog/Website

You want people to subscribe to your website/blog so you can capture their email address and also so you can email them new content. Put the Subscribe Here button front and center on every page of your website. Mine is at the top right of every page. Make it easy for them to find, and simple to subscribe.

Get an Email Database

I use MailChimp. I have it set up so that MailChimp automatically captures all new subscribers from my website/blog. 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.

Get a Book-Specific Email Address

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.

Create a YouTube Channel

Gen X & Y like videos. So does the media. If you want to appeal to them, create video content. I created a YouTube channel and I constantly add new video content to it and then post some of that content on my website/blog.

I also do a Tip of the Week, which is a video I create for my subscribers/followers.

Videos are easy to embed in emails, articles, pitches to the media, etc.

Promote Your Writing on Social Media Every Day

You should have a Twitter account, Facebook account and a LinkedIn account. I also have Pintrest and Google+ but I mostly ignore them. I use Twitter primarily to pitch the media. If it wasn’t for my relentless Tweet-pitching, I wouldn’t have been interviewed by Yahoo Finance, Dave Ramsey or CBS. And I would not have sold those 70,000 books.

I devote a minimum of one hour a day to social media, oftentimes, much more.

Pitch The Media Relentlessly

In my opinion, seeking and getting media publicity is what separates successful authors from unsuccessful authors. Think about any successful author. Have you seen them on TV, listened to them on the radio or read about them in the media? The answer is yes. Successful authors are masters in promoting themselves to the media.

Writing a book is like the first serve in tennis – the rest of the match is PROMOTION.

An average book can become a huge bestseller, if the author is an exceptional promoter. The most successful authors are not necessarily the best writers but they most certainly are the best promoters.

You need to consistently pitch your content to the media.

How do you pitch the media so they will interview or write about you?

I still don’t know. I’ve been pitching the media every day since 2010. 99.9% of the time they ignore me. But that .1% of the time is why I have sold close to 70,000 book sales.

I pitch mostly via Twitter but I also do some email pitches. The people in the media, who I know, tell me they prefer emailed pitches.

I learned that if you want to succeed as an author, you have to conquer the media.

The media = TV, Radio, Internet and Print.

It’s very time consuming pitching the media, but the more you pitch the media, the better you get at it.

Create a Media Pitch Binder

I keep all of my media pitches in a Media Pitch Binder. This way I can go back to the pitches that worked, find out what I did right, and then duplicate it over and over again.

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.

Say Thank You

Every time someone interviews me or writes an article about me, my books or my research I thank them via email or via a card.

Every time I get a major media interview or some national media exposure, I send those involved a personalized gift. It’s usually no more than $20 per gift. Most are very appreciative and that helps build a stronger relationship with them. Since few do this, this helps set you apart from your competition.

Manage Your Expectations Regarding Media Exposure

Most of my media exposure has had very little impact on book sales. But every now and then, for reasons only the book gods know, an interview or media article takes off and books fly out of inventory.

Don’t get pissed off if the media ignores you. Expect them to ignore you. That’s what I do. This way, I’m never disappointed.

Remember, luck favors the persistent.

Book Inventory and the Media

If you secure a traditional publisher, you don’t need to worry about inventory – they do.

If you self-publish, however, you need to worry about inventory. If one media interview or article goes viral, you will find yourself with thousands of orders for your books. You either fund those book orders or you lose them. If you can’t fund book orders, you instantly lose credibility with readers and booksellers.

Don’t delude yourself into thinking readers will just buy your eBooks if your print books are unavailable. They won’t. My eBook sales are consistently about 20% of total book sales. Most people still want to read words on paper.

Create Audio Books

In early 2016, I created two audio books and uploaded them to Audible.com. I consistently sell between 250 – 1,000 Audible books a month. This is an additional revenue stream of between $1,000 – $3,000 a month. Audio books that can be downloaded onto your phone are starting to become big business.

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 and others. Do as many podcasting interviews as you can, in order to figure out how to answer questions about your book.

Write down every question they ask you. Write down every answer to every question. In time, you will commit most of that to memory and sound like an expert. It takes time and practice.

Once you have about a dozen podcast interviews under your belt, then you can, with confidence, move on to radio and hopefully TV or Internet video interviews.

I put all of the questions I’ve ever been asked by podcasters or the media into my Media Interview Binder. More on the Media Interview Binder under Media Interviews below.

Media Pitch Sheet

A Media 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 your Sample Questions at no more than 10. Make sure you have answers written down for each question. This Pitch Sheet and the Sample Questions are also sometimes referred to as the Media Kit. I put my Media Kit on my website under the Media Room page.

Media Interviews

Prepare at least thirty minutes for each interview. Find out what the interviewer will focus on. Maintain a Media Interview Binder with a lead sheet for each interview that summarizes the following:

  • Name of the media outlet (i.e. The Dave Ramsey Show, WBAL, Fox News, etc).
  • Time zone of interviewer.
  • Main phone #.
  • Hotline #, if radio.
  • Host name.
  • Producer name.
  • Market (i.e. Miami).
  • A section for your notes.
  • Mailing address of host, interviewer.
  • Interview date, interview start time and end time (in your time zone).
  • Email addresses of everyone (host/producer).
  • Is interview live or taped?
  • Who calls who?
  • Is interview by phone/skype/in person?
  • Do they want copies of your books? If so, how many books do they need?
  • Did I send a thank you or a gift after the interview?
  • Re: time zones: In the US, if you’re 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.

Enter Book Contests

Enter as many as you can afford. They range from $50 – $200. I entered Rich Kids in three contests. I wanted to see how it would do and I wanted some validation that I was as good a writer as I thought I was.

Rich Kids won The 2015 NY Book Festival. 

Rich Kids was runner up in the Writer’s Digest 2015 Self-Published Book Awards Contest.

Getting runner-up in the Writer’s Digest contest confirmed, in my mind, that I was indeed a very good writer because Writer’s Digest is the trade publication for professional writers.

Winning, or placing in the book contests won’t result in more books sales but it does give you 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.

Get Book Reviews

Getting legitimate book reviews gives you credibility. With Amazon taking over the book industry, however, Amazon reviews are becoming just as important. Build your Amazon book reviews database by asking readers to review your books.

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.


My story is still being written:


I’ve been at this author business since 2009. Below are the three most important things that lead to success:

  1. Write Every Day – You have to write every day in order to become a good writer.
  2. Promote Every Day – You have to consistently promote what you write every day to the media and influencers.
  3. Never Quit on Your Dream – Believe in yourself and your dream and never stop trying. You have to be persistent and relentless in the pursuit of your dream. Persistence creates luck and you need luck in order to succeed as an author.

Becoming a successful author is not a pipe dream, even if you are forced to self-publish. Many famous authors started out, like me, a self-published author.

Mark Twain, for instance, was initially a self-published author. A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens, was originally self-published.

I’m happy to help and that help is just an email away: Tom@richhabits.net.

Don’t phone me, email me. Phone calls take too much time. Plus, this way, I can print out your email and read it in the early mornings, when I do my Rich Habits reading.

If I can do it, you can do it.

Never Quit on Your Dream – Luck Favors the Persistent

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Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley is a bestselling author, speaker, and media contributor for Business Insider, CNBC and a few other national media outlets.

His Rich Habits research has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

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.
Email Tom
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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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