10 Steps to Making a Living as a Self-Published Author – Part Three: Iterate (#9 Expanded)

Write Craft with Sean and Johnny

Did you miss Parts One and Two? If you did, read them here and here before you move on.

Okay, now that you are caught up, let's continue...

Iterate (Step 9 Expanded)

For me, this is even more fun than “doing it again.”

At Sterling & Stone, we’re always seeing what works and what doesn’t, shedding old processes to make room for new ones. We iterate a lot. It’s core to what we do. Here are 10 areas to focus your iteration, in what I feel is a reasonable order.

Constantly Promote Without Constant Promotion 

Now that you’re putting new work into the world, you should be gaining readers with every new release. And that’s great. But you want as much of your marketing to be done on autopilot as possible.

Make sure that you have smart funnels set up so that readers can constantly find you and read through your catalog without you having to tweet your book 387 times. No one wants that.

The better you understand how Amazon and other retailers work, the better job you can do with autopilot promotion. That gives you more time to …

Keep Learning

Things are constantly changing. Not only do you need to keep up with those changes, you need to understand them. We never stop learning, doing, experimenting, or pushing things as far as we can so that we better understand our potential.

Only after publishing fiction for four years did we finally understand that sending 100 qualified buyers (with compatible shopping histories) to a book on Amazon could yield more benefit than sending 1,000 random readers. Not just because the conversion is better, but because then Amazon knows how to market your book for you. This becomes ever more important as you grow your catalogue, because …

Your Catalogue is Your Portfolio

Manage it well. Don’t make the mistake of focusing on your new content at the expense of your older titles. This was also a hard lesson for us to learn, and one we’ve invested heavily in correcting. You can do it right from the beginning. But be warned, this will require a bit of …

List Hygiene and Management

You need to identify your ideal reader, without being afraid to say adios to anyone who isn’t. List building isn’t an arms race. It’s better to have 1,000 of the right readers than 10,000 random email addresses of people who don’t even read. Take the time to clean your list. And tag them. Know WHO is buying which books, so that you can offer them the titles that they’ll love most.

Survey them, find out what they want more of, then offer that. If there’s a new genre you want to try, find out which of your readers are most likely to follow you to that new genre before you invest months in writing there.

Move from something like MailChimp or Aweber (where most authors are) to something more sophisticated like Active Campaign. With tagging in place, you can work on building …

Street Teams

One author in our Mastermind hits six-figures with EVERY release, and publishes every other month. She knows exactly how to get her readers working for her, so that the buzz on every book builds into something substantial. She does more with a smallish list all by herself than most publishers do with a huge team for their biggest authors.

With tagging and Street Teams in place, that’s a perfect time to start thinking about …

Paid Traffic

Right now the best ROI in this business comes from a company called BookBub. A BookBub ad can be a silver bullet for your book. And I don’t believe in silver bullets. If you can land an ad, your book will get a metric ton of downloads. (UPDATE: Written Word Media is another service like BookBub that is also emerging as a leader in the industry and is worth investing in.)

With a smart funnel in place, professional covers that catch the first-time buyer’s eyes, a well-written description that compels them to click, and a well-crafted story that naturally leads readers from your promoted book into the next and the one after that, money will rain.

Facebook ads are also great, but they take a lot of work to figure out. Amazon has their own in-house advertising platform.

Over time, the specific types of paid traffic that work best will shift and change, but there will always be well-converting ways to advertise your funnel-starter book directly to the person most likely to love it and then read through your catalogue.

Once you know that your book converts, investigate any means of traffic where you can spend $1 and get more than that $1 back. And remember, even break-even sales earn you readers, and if you’re good at what you do (this all can be learned) then you can do it for life, and grow with every new release.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful? To spend all that time creating?

Well then, you’re definitely going to have to …


Chances are you’ve already done this. Fantastic. Your most important asset is time, and no one can ever make the things that you do. So hire people to buy you more of those minutes.

You probably shouldn’t be working on your website, designing your own covers or promo images, doing your bookkeeping, figuring out Facebook advertising, or anything else that is subtracting from the momentum that matters most.

If your work is a pleasure, then every day is amazing. You can make that happen by trusting people to help you grow your business and yourself. By the time you’re dealing with multiple releases, a changing landscape, list management, Street Teams, paid traffic, and general list management, you are actively costing yourself a lot of money if you’re refusing to outsource. We’ve seen plenty of authors fall into this trap, and it’s always a mistake.

You want to be spending the majority of your time building new worlds, adding titles to your catalogue, or …

Finding New Ways to Connect with Your Ideal Reader

Now it might be time to blog. Or start a podcast. Or adapt one of your books into a screenplay. Maybe you’re a musician (I’m jealous) and want to “score” your book.

You have an audience. Show them how much you appreciate them by giving them new things to love. Every crowd is different, and yours will love you for some very specific reasons. Find out what those reasons are, then bond with your readers on their terms in a way that makes you happy and is relatively easy to execute.

This might mean drawing maps for your fantasy books if you’re an artist, writing character bios for your readers’ favorite characters, or holding live chats on Facebook where you’re discussing your books with your fans.

Think about ways you can include “DVD Extras” in your work. Remember those? Be creative. I encourage you to really …

Challenge Yourself

If you stay comfortable too long, your art and ideas will die. Even worse, your passion might follow. So keep pushing yourself. This is one of our favorite things to do.

Part of our business model at Sterling & Stone is to “do things that have never been done.” So many artists waste their time searching for great ideas instead of taking the time to make their ideas great. We wanted to flip this around – to prove that ideas are everywhere, and that waiting for the perfect one decapitates your potential. You can always learn by doing.

So Johnny and I created something called Fiction Unboxed. We promised our audience that within 30 days we would write and publish a book, starting without a title, genre, world, single character, or anything else.

We promised to do this live, allowing “Unboxers” to watch us brainstorm and vote on our early direction. They chose our genre. And then we wrote. I grew a beard for the first time, just for the real-time novelty of watching daily videos as I went from clean-shaven to full beard in a month — all live in front of more than a thousand people.

We did this because it pushed us. It redefined what was possible. It helped the writers who were following what we do understand how story can be unraveled, and that simple ideas are only the start. We did it because it terrified us, and was therefore the best way to stretch our present art and future potential.

You’re only cheating yourself if you don’t work to push your art and commerce. Only then will you be …

Open to Where This Journey Will Take You

This is my favorite, because oh the surprises.

My first love is film. I’ve always dreamed of making movies, but never in a million years did I ever imagine that I would. At least not until recently.

Now that has become our reality. Sterling & Stone will make movies one day. We have several lines in the water already, and 2019 is looking shiny and bright.

The last eight years of self-publishing have been nothing like I expected, but I wouldn’t have wanted them any other way. Sterling & Stone used to have an education wing, and while I’m glad that we’ve shuttered it to focus on fiction, I’m also proud of the difference we’ve made, and our amazing team of storytellers came from this audience.

Be open to where things might lead you, and more than anything …


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