How I Sold 10,000 Copies of My Self-Published Book

by | Dec 21, 2009

Body Types by Joel Friedlander

Cover of the 2009 edition

Jill and I were sitting around talking about friends and people we knew. I was trying to explain how the system of personality types we were studying was actually complex enough to explain all the differences we were observing in our friends.

At one point Jill said to me, “How are people like me—new to this system—supposed to learn all this? You’ve been talking about astrology, endocrine glands, mythology… I can’t even keep track of it!” She looked exasperated.

“Well, just ask me if you have a question. How about that?” I said.

“That’s no way to learn something this complicated. Isn’t there anything written down?”

We looked at each other.

“Why don’t you write it down, Joel, you know all this stuff. That way it would be available for anyone who comes along later, and it would be better than having to find someone to ask every time you had a question.”

I had to admit Jill was right. It had just never occurred to anyone to write it all down. It was a study that hundreds of people were involved in, and which grew and changed, like a living teaching, over many years.

A Book is Born

Soon I was deep into the book that would become Body Types. What had started out as a little project to write down a few things about types had morphed into a full-scale manuscript that would take me over a year to put together.

Eventually I formed a publishing company—Globe Press Books—and published Body Types in both hardcover and softcover. I had an advantage at the beginning because I was a member of the group that had been developing this Body Type information, and I knew they would buy the book when it came out.

Here are the first two keys to selling your self-published book, and this is exactly what I did with Body Types:

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p class=”note”>First, identify a market for the book that you can easily advertise to. In my case, this was the group that we belonged to. I had membership lists with mailing addresses on them.

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p class=”note”>Second, make that market an offer they cannot refuse. I mailed to every address I could get, offering a special discount to people who ordered before the books were printed.

The great thing about this was that I collected enough money to pay for the initial print run of 2,500 books. I sold hundreds of copies in advance.

Since I had been in publishing, and had a graphic design studio at the time, I knew how to hire an editor, and how to create a book that looked as professional as any other book on the market. There was no indication that the book was self-published because of the strong prejudice against self-published books at the time.

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p class=”note”>Third, get professionals to edit and design your book so you can compete toe-to-toe with any other book on your shelf.

Find a Spot on the Shelf

Next we went after book reviews. This was crucial, since we couldn’t afford to advertise.

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p class=”note”>Fourth, we mounted a large book review campaign. We mailed to several hundred media outlets, gathering numerous reviews.

We then used the positive reviews to leverage ourselves in the larger network interested in spirituality and eastern teachings. We identified this as our natural market.

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p class=”note”>Fifth, we generated press releases using the reviews and used them to establish an identity in our niche.

But What’s it All About?

Keep in mind that the biggest stumbling block we had with this book—and it was our only book for a couple of years—was that it was about a subject that no one had ever heard of. This is a daunting challenge that we addressed by taking our message to educational centers.

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p class=”note”>Sixth, we obtained teaching assignments at large alternative centers like the New York Open Center and the Omega Institute. Catalog mailings listing course descriptions and the title of the book multiplied our outreach through large scale network effects.

This all helped with the specialty bookstores that we needed to make the book a success. In our niche, these are “new age” or “human potential” specialty retailers.

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p class=”note”>Seventh, we personally sold each specialty retailer we could identify, by mail and by phone, to convince them they had to have this book, the only one on its subject.

Back to Press

It took less than a year to sell the initial print run. We now had an account at Baker & Taylor, and a lot of people knew who we were. Because the book was unique, it established a place on the shelf of many bookstores. This is publishing gold. It means that, even though they may have only 1 or 2 copies on the shelf, when those copies sell, the bookstore reorders the book because they know there will be continuing demand.

We went back to press, concentrating on the $9.95 trade paperback (hey, this was the 1980s). Eventually sales, never that robust, slowed down. But they never stopped.

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p class=”note”>Eighth, we listened to our market. Readers only wanted the softcover so we abandoned the hardcovers, which had been a difficult sale anyway.

Eventually I started working on a new edition to incorporate the new research I had been doing, to add illustrations and a new forword by Stanley Krippner, Ph.D. We put a new cover on the book, and issued the second edition with another print run of 2,500 softcovers. Since I now had a publishing company I had national distribution, and the book spread even farther.

The Ripples Widen As They Spread

I was invited to be a presenter at the First International Enneagram Conference at Stanford, and continued to give workshops after we moved to California. A couple of years later we went back to press for another 2,500 books.

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p class=”note”>Ninth, we continued to leverage into bigger networks. Each one helped amplify our message, and bring new readers to the idea of body types.

Body Types stayed in print continuously for 16 years. I didn’t want to keep printing the book, and had handed over the distribution to another publisher, since I had closed our company. Eventually I let it go out of print.

Perhaps 10,000 books in 16 years doesn’t sound like many to you, but it was profitable from publication date. Now, thanks to print on demand and digital printing, Body Types is back on the market with a new cover, happily sitting on Amazon for people to rediscover.

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p class=”note”>Takeaway: Think about what you know that others might find interesting. Know your niche and how to market to people with similar interests. Create a quality product. Take one step at a time and build credibility, leveraging into larger and larger networks. Take the long view, seeding success tomorrow by your actions today.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

17 Comments

  1. Giftus Givis

    Thanks sir. I find this very enlightening and inspiring. I have benefited from your experience. Very grateful for all you have shared. Blessings.

    Reply
  2. Brian Robben

    Only a couple of years late to the party. Anyway, your last sentence, “Take the long view, seeding success tomorrow by your actions today,” resonated with me the most. I try to live by this message and I feel it helps me keep a positive attitude even when my external circumstances aren’t so positive. Great post!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Never too late to start marketing, thanks for your comment Brian.

      Reply
  3. Adejoke

    Hi Joel,
    Thanks for your article. Very informative and encouraging. I published a parenting book last March and printed 2000 copies.
    I’ve however only managed to sell about a quarter of them and even though feedback from the book has been very encouraging, I still have about 1,500 left.
    I have a Facebook page for it, an Amazon outlet to sell, sold one on ebay and recently cancelled my partnership with XulonPress who were only able to sell 4 copies in the 15 months of the books life.
    I’m kind of at my wits end now. I’m wondering what to do next

    Reply
    • Christa

      Hey Adejoke!

      One thing I would recommend is going to book festivals/ conventions in your area and selling your book there. Also, is your book carried in any local bookshops? You could offer to do a signing there, which not only brings in new people to their store, but you will also attract new customers to your book who already patron that place. Are you a part of any FB book groups? You can always advertise there, especially if you offer discounts/specials.

      Good luck to you!

      Reply
  4. Michael Reed

    Hello. Did you start your book design with Kinkos?

    Reply
  5. Jeffery Bradley

    Hi Joel,

    Great post. My target market is the lucrative but elusive African American niche. I’ve self-published 5 titles. I’m testing different marketing strategies, particularly offline marketing using rented lists. Can you elaborate more on this part of the post:

    “Second, make that market an offer they cannot refuse. I mailed to every address I could get, offering a special discount to people who ordered before the books were printed. ”

    What exactly was the offer? Did you send a sales letter (1,2 or more pages), brochure (color or b/w), and business reply card?

    Reply
  6. Jeff Emmerson

    So hardcover books are harder to sell than softcover? I’m doing an image-wrap cover for my heartfelt Memoir, so any advice is appreciated.

    Cheers,

    Jeff Emmerson

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jeff, it all depends on the book. Buyers sometimes expect a book to be hardcover (like a training manual or a big cookbook) and would prefer the hardcover. On the other hand, memoir, fiction, self-help are probably more attractive to readers in softcover. It’s the price differential and people’s perceived value that come into play. If you price both versions you will see how different your retail price is. Of course, you can always do both, and satisfy all readers. This is even easier now that you can do them through print on demand suppliers. Hope that helps, but if you have more questions just leave them in the comments.

      Reply
      • Vitold Rivitisky

        Great advice: starting your very own publishing company.

        Reply
  7. Enrique Hernandez

    Joel, I really enjoyed your tips, for me are a gold recommendations. I am living in Mexico. I wrote 4 academic and business books, and I wrote 5 novels.

    I can tell you that in my past seven years I have been trying to sell my books and novels in universities, libraries and all kind of cultural organization without success.

    When I read your tips and understood that I must change some thing in my marketing strategies to improve the chances of sell my books. My dream is to see some day my book in some american, canadian or european library. It does not matter if I sell ten or one thousand books.

    My best regards.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Enrique, I’m glad you got something from this article. The great thing about books is that they last a long time. I put this book back into print through print on demand and it’s still selling today.

      Reply
  8. Joel

    Thanks, Jesus. Hope you enjoyed the book. There’s a pretty steep learning curve but the farther you go the better the pieces fit together. Nice to have you reading here.

    Reply
  9. Jesus Maria Alvarez

    Thanks Joel. This was very helpful. I am where you were all those years ago and I’m very excited about the upcoming journey. Thanks for the road map and all of the useful resources on the site.

    BTW, I own a First Edition BODY TYPES. It’s held up pretty well.

    Reply
  10. betty ming liu

    Well, that’s really impressive because in the end, you made five figures on your book. You were really ahead of your time because everything now is about the long tail approach to marketing. Thanks for explaining all this. Very inspiring!

    Reply
  11. admin

    Hey Betty, thanks for visiting. Yes, having 10,000 readers is, in itself, quite gratifying.

    As I recall the softbound books cost me about $1.85 each. Copies I sold direct netted me $8. When I shipped to bookstores, I netted $4. Those sent to B&T netted about $2.50. And when I got a distributor, I raised the price, so I netted about $2.80. Also sent out a couple of hundred review copies.

    It’s awfully hard to quantify this, because it happened years ago, and it’s pretty much a “long tail” from a sales perspective since most of the books are sold when it’s new, but the sales just keep on coming in, albeit in small quantities, for years.

    I had planned to write two other related books but I got caught up in publishing other people and never did those two. I think that might have been the best course, from a $profit point of view, because I had already opened the market with the first book.

    You can make good money with these books. The best are how-to books or subjects around which you have a lot of expertise to share.

    Now with print on demand, the printing costs are basically eliminated, but you can’t sell a trade paperback for $9.95 either–the digital books just cost too much to produce.

    Reply
  12. betty ming liu

    All the specific details make this such an informative read! I think 10k books is a huge amount, esp for a labor of love. How many people can say that???!

    I am curious about one thing. What does “profitable” mean in your case? What can we hope for in a similar situation? Making enough to pay for one family vacation? A new car? A month’s rent? A few special dinners out? I hope it’s not too nosy for me to be asking this. I’m already past the fantasy of hoping to get rich on publishing. But would love to hear more.

    Reply

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