How a Self-Published Author Sold over 1,000 Books

“Last year, I self-published my first science fiction novel and sold over 1,000 copies in the first twelve months. How did that happen? Was it luck?

No, it wasn’t luck. And it wasn’t influence either. A few unexpected things turned in my favor, but I strongly believe that if you have a good book inside you, do your homework, and put that learning to work, you can successfully self-publish your book and sell thousands of copies.

Here are five things I learned on the road to my first 1,000 copies:

Write your best book:

It sounds obvious, I know. But there’s a world of badly-written, poorly-edited self-published work out there. Because the tools have become so easy to use, there’s a temptation to get anything out there without going through the rigors of research and editing, in hopes of quick discovery and viral success. Don’t give in to that temptation. Before selling even one copy, the product has to be bulletproof. Editing, spell-checking, formatting, consistency, characters’ motivations, plot holes—everything. I don’t think all the marketing in the world will help a product that’s not ready to launch.

Build your “platform”:

In my case, considering the nature of my full-time job, I couldn’t tour, and frankly didn’t have the patience to find a publicist that would respond to me as a first-time author, so I chose the online-only path: website and social media.

Website: Yes, it’s common sense, but if you’re going to self-publish a book, you NEED a website to spread the word and keep the conversation going. It’s a place for fans to contact you and connect with you. You’ll start with zero traffic, as I did, but after a while (be patient!), if you’ve got some engaging content and good keywords, you’ll see the clicks and the sales start to come in. Your website will also serve as your store where you can easily sell your books directly to readers.

Social media: Many people suggest using it, and I agree: don’t go crazy. With a full-time job and writing and publishing on the side, promoting this book sometimes pushes my limits. So, I stick with just Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Choose the ones that feel right for you. For example, if you’re making a graphic novel — very visual — maybe Facebook and Instagram are best. Writing non-fiction? Twitter might be your thing. Try them out and see what works for you.

Get book reviews and exposure relentlessly

I think the biggest thing that helped sell all those books, besides the quality of the work itself and author website, was reviews. Here’s what I did to get them:

  1. Before launching, I asked 75 people to be early reviewers. I stayed in touch with them, launching with 25 reviews on my website and social media on day one. Enough reviews make people start recommending it to others. Your book also gains credibility when readers see many thoughtful reviews.
  2. I also gave away book copies for free and engaged with WhatsApp and Facebook groups for honest reviews.

For exposure: I could write a full article on this, but briefly, spend time networking, check out genre websites, and reach out to offer guest postings, interviews, book reviews, or live readings at places like book clubs. For my first novel, I’ve probably landed ten of these opportunities, which aren’t a lot but have helped me sell books.

Promote your book

Here’s where a little investment can go a long way. There are many ways to use paid promotion to spread the word about your book, but here’s one example that worked for me:

1. Online advertising: Major online services offer paid advertising. I’ve tried all of them. Overall? If you’re willing to spend money that ‘might’ bring in sales and boost your exposure, go for it.

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