Self Publishing School is launching this week, and it's a great way to learn how to write, publish and sell your first book.
I recently caught up with Chandler Bolt, the author of six self-published books and the founder of Self Publishing School.
In this video interview, he told me about:
- How to self-publish a book in 2017
- The one thing you must do before you write or self-publish your book
- How to avoid the common mistakes new writers (not authors!) make
- The simple rule that helps Chandler balance writing with running a successful business
You can listen to the interview online, download the audio to listen to later (click the button below) or watch the video. There's also a transcript if you'd prefer to read the interview.
BC: Hi everyone. I'm joined today by Chandler Bolt, who's launching Self Publishing School this week. Chandler Bolt is also the author of the well-tomed copy of Published: The Proven Path From the Blank Page to Published Author, which is a book I've been through several times since you, Chandler, published it last year.
I found it's a great way of getting that first draft out of your head and onto stores like Amazon and then doing the one thing every writer wants to do: sell copies of your book.
It's great to finally connect with you, Chandler.
CB: Yeah, Bryan. You, as well. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Q. Chandler, could you tell listeners t what you've done so far and the books that you've published.
I've written and published six books. The most recent of which was the book that you just mentioned, which is Published: The Proven Path From Blank Page to Published Author.
I also started a company called Self Publishing School. It's an online training program. We teach people how to write, market, and publish their first book and use that book to grow their income and to grow their business, especially.
The majority of people who go through our program write non-fiction. We also have some fiction folks, as well. We have designated fiction coaches and all that kind of stuff.
My background is I wrote and published a book right before I dropped out of school and it changed my life forever. The book that made close to $7,000 in the first month continued to bring in thousands of dollars a month in passive income.
I just remember it was this epiphany, ah-ha moment. It opened up so many doors for me. It improved my confidence. It brought leads for our business.
There's just so many things that my book did for me, so my life's mission is to help other people unlock that same experience.
Q. I was reading an article in an Irish newspaper called the Irish Times and it explained how a lot of successful authors and new authors struggle to earn a living from their writing and from their book. They might only earn several hundred or only a several thousand euro, or dollars a year, which isn't really enough for anyone to write full time. Has that been your experience with authors that you've worked with?
It really depends. I'm a firm believer that there's a small handful of people who are going to get rich from a book. That's not the majority. That's the minority.
I am a firm believer that a book can make you rich. And writing can, as well. But you have to be strategic about it and you have to know what your end goal is.
For me, with this book Published, I know that I'm not going to become a millionaire off of this book. But I do run a business that's done millions of dollars in revenue. And a big part of it is because of books just like this.
This is a business card for me. This is a … I like to call a book The Silent Salesman because now someone, they've spent four, five, six, eight hours with me. And they're gonna … It's not a bait and switch. It's not like, “Hey, let me fake like I'm going to tell you some good stuff,” and then not. I tell all my best stuff. But then at the end of that, people are like, “Let's check out Self Publishing School.”
A lot of them end up joining the program.
I'm just a firm believer in knowing where you want to go with the book and using the book as kind of … This is like the cheesiest metaphor ever, but I always like to say that a book is like the key that opens up the door to Narnia. It's like this world of possibilities. I'm a firm believer in using the book as the key, not counting on the book to be everything.
Q. It sounds like a lot of new writers should spend a little bit of time up front thinking about what they want their book to achieve before they actually sit down to write it.
Definitely. It all starts with that. It's not to say that … Self Publishing landscape. We have a decent amount of students who, they make a lot of passive income from their book. For some people it's like 500 bucks a month. That would change things for them. That would really mean a lot less pressure on the house. A lot less pressure on their job. Things like that.
We had one student, I just heard this a couple weeks ago, who, she doubled her income and then was able to quit her job. Now she stays at home and home-schools her daughter. All off of money that she earns from her books. Just from her books. Not even the back end stuff. It certainly is possible.
Self Publishing in Amazon has made that possible. I just want to make sure that people know that if you don't know where you're going, then it's kind of hard to get there. You have to start with why you want to do it and what your end goal is.
Q. What's my understanding is that when you talk about the back end, it's, if I'm a writer I would have a course or a coaching service about my book. That I would try and serve my audience with, after I publish my book. Is that fair to say?
That's definitely one part of it. I like to talk about there's seven ways to make money off the back end of your book.
There's definitely the book, or the course side of things. There's digital courses. There's coaching. There's physical products. That could be other books. That could be actual products like Amazon products or things like that. There's Done For You Services, which if you're a lawyer, a real estate agent, a financial advisor, any type of knowledge worker that sells your knowledge, or sells what's up here, then that's your Done For You Service. There's leads for your business. I'm trying to … I don't this list of seven in front of me. It can grow your local brick and mortar business. I think there's one more that I'm missing.
There's a lot of ways on the back end, whether that is coaching, speaking, a course, which is certainly the information side of it. But there's also the physical side and the more, brick and mortar side to it, as well.
Q. Does that apply for fiction authors, as well?
It's a little bit tougher. I'd like to say that there's a big difference between non-fiction and fiction inside the Amazon store and book sales in general.
I'll use this sports analogy. Some people might follow, some people might not.
In baseball you have base hit. You have people who hit base hits and you have your sluggers or your home-run hitters. The sluggers, they hit the home-runs. But they also strike out a lot. That's like fiction authors.
Whereas, non-fiction is more the base hit. I'm very confident that I can teach people non-fiction and it's like, “You're going to to have the base hit. You're going to make some money, you're going to get some leads. You're going to grow your business.”
Whereas, fiction, it's more of a long game. The people who are the most successful, all of the most successful authors, the highest paid authors, the most popular books on all of Amazon, every single one of them, it's fiction. By a long shot. That's because those are the home-runs. But there's also a lot of strikeouts. It takes a little bit at a time. Often it takes multiple books.
If you … When you're selling a non-fiction book, you're selling a solution to a problem. People say, “Okay.” This is a book I'm reading right now: The Four Disciplines of Execution. I have a company. I want my team to execute better. This is worth a dollar amount for me to read this and take notes.
Whereas, if I'm selling a fiction book, I'm selling entertainment. Now all of a sudden I'm competing with TV. I'm competing with Netflix, with Spotify, with music. I'm competing with all kinds of other things that people pay … Sports. Things that people pay for entertainment. There's a little bit of a hurdle as a fiction author for your first book.
People look at that and they say, “I'm paying to be entertained. I want to hedge my bets and buy a book from someone who's well known.” They're a little bit less likely to take a gamble. It's not to say it doesn't happen. Certainly. This usually happens all the time.
There're things that you can do to make sure that your book gets discovered. To make sure that you get reviews on your book. To have social proof and things like that. That's just … I like to give people the lay of the land and the landscape between that fiction and the non-fiction side.
Q. What are the common mistakes you see new authors make when they decide to write a non-fiction book.
So many. You know I just released some video training. In the second video I talk about the five book launch screw ups. There's so many things.
The first thing is people try to go way too broad with their topic. They think that if they go specific that they're going to alienate people, but it's actually the other way around.
One of the second thing I would mention is … There's a saying. It says, “It's easier to sell pain pills than it is to sell vitamins.” If you think about this, pain pills, they're very easy to sell. Because when you're in pain, you whip out your credit card and you will do anything to get out of pain.
Now vitamins on the other hand, it's much tougher. It's pretty easy to see this if you just go into a drug store. You've got all these generic pain medicines. For vitamins we've got sugary ones, we've got gummy bears. We've got ones in shapes like fruit. It's like they're trying to dress up a vitamin. It's so much harder to sell because it's not a basic need.
To give an example, I was talking with a gal the other day who's writing a book on burnout. She was going to write a book about how to avoid burnout. I said, “That's not going to sell that well as if you position it as what to do when you're burned out and how to overcome that.” Pain pill versus a vitamin. That's the second thing.
The third thing, people try to write more than one book at one time which doesn't work.
The fourth thing I would say is people try to get their title and their cover before they even finish their rough draft. That's a really big mistake.
Then the fifth thing … These aren't the five in the video. These are just the ones I'm thinking of from off the top of my mind. The fifth thing that I can think of is people try to edit as they write. We all know someone who has an unfinished three chapters or a half-written book. And they've been sitting on that for months. Maybe even years. Maybe even decades.
Inside Self Publishing School we only have two rules. One is that you can't write more than one book at one time and the second one is that you can't edit while you write.
What I've found is that so many people, if they start to edit as they write, they're going to just get lost in that oblivion. You've got to get that rough draft finished. It's so important. It's the biggest milestone.
All of our content and structure of our course and everything is structured to make sure that people get their rough draft finished as fast as possible. It's just a psychological trigger that switches. When you pass that point, you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You start to think, “This might actually be possible.”
Q. I personally find it quite difficult to not edit while I write. And it's taken me a few goals to learn. Even still, I have to remind myself not to do it.
Q. Which comes first, the book or deciding what your add-on service is?
That's such a great question. Absolutely the book. Because the book gets everything started. A lot of people want to get distracted and they hear … There's so many people saying, “You need a course.” Or, “You need a platform.” Or, “You need email list.” Or, “You need …” Whatever they're saying that you need.
I'm a firm believer that it starts with the book. The reason being is because you're tapping into an ecosystem. Amazon is an ecosystem. Just like when you have a podcast. You have an ecosystem inside Apple. In the Apple store. The podcast store. You're tapping into an existing group of buyers.
Amazon has … Excuse me, last time I checked the stat, which has actually been a little while, over a hundred million buyers inside Amazon. What that means is you don't have to have an audience. If you're starting a course, if you're starting any of these other things, you have provide the audience. You have to drive the traffic. You either have to pay for the traffic, you have to pay other people for the traffic, or you have to hustle your way to getting people to get there.
The good news is, with Amazon, there's a built-in ecosystem over a hundred million buyers. You just have to channel that traffic your way. There's fundamental rules that you can follow to make sure that you do that. The rules apply across any ecosystem.
The same thing that you would do to rank a pod cast, you're doing to rank a book.
What I did with my first book, is I launched the book. Like I said, it made close to seven grand in the first month, continued to bring in thousands of dollars a month in passive income.
But also, in that first, I want to say it was three to six months, it brought in 4,000 email addresses. Now I have this list of 4,000 people. And I had a problem which not many people have, which is a good problem. I was like, “I've got this list of 4,000 people. I don't have a product to sell them, other than my book.” That's a good problem to have, because I'm like, “I have buyers here. I just have to come up with what's next.” I kind of tinkered around and started to build other things. For me it all started by first doing the book.
Q. One thing a lot of new writers struggle with is the idea of marketing. I think you touched on a few marketing concepts there from working on the paying point that a reader was experiencing, to using your email list and so on. What would you say to somebody who, maybe, doesn't think that they should spend time marketing their book or thinking about it because they just want to focus on getting that first draft done and getting the book out and so on?
I'd say you're crazy if you're thinking that. Obviously I'm all for you focusing and getting your rough draft done. But you've got to think about how you're going to sell this. There's this fallacy … I feel like there's two types of people. There's total product people and total marketing people. Every now and then you'll get a mix in the middle, but I'd say that's less than 5%.
There are people who, they love the writing and hate the marketing. Then there are other people who love the marketing and hate the writing. If you're in that boat where you just say, “I just want to write and people will find it,” kind of like if they build it, they will come. It's just so not true.
You have to be able to crush what you're doing. You have to be able to market. You have to learn that.
This is spoken to someone who … None of this came natural to me. I sucked at selling myself. I sucked at selling. I was bad at marketing. In fact, I hated all of those things. I got so frustrated of … It's like you keep working, keep working, keep working and nothing's coming. You've built it, but nobody's coming.
I hate that feeling, so I committed myself to mastery of marketing because I realized that if I learn how to market and I learn how to sell, I'll never be broke, I'll never be lacking for customers, and I'll never be out of a job, if I ever need one again. If I have that skill. Everyone needs more customers. I really devoted myself to learning that and I would suggest that, if you're thinking that, that you do, as well.
The big switch that flipped for me is I was studying this, and one of the instructors, or one of the book or course or something I was going through, he said, “You have to believe that people's lives are better because of your product. Do you believe that?” Thinking to myself, “Definitely. I've seen this work. I know this is good.”
Then he said, “Okay. If that's the case, then you're actually doing a disservice to them if you don't do everything in your power to get them to buy what you're selling.”
It sounds kind of funny. I just remembered hearing that and I thought, “Yes.” I think of that every time I'm like, “I don't want to seem a little sales-y here.” Or I don't want to follow up. Or I don't want to do this or do that, I think about that. I know that I've got to do everything within my power and within my morals and ethics to get this person to buy what I'm selling because if not, their life will be worse. I genuinely believe that. I think that's what you have to believe. That makes marketing and selling a whole lot easier.
Q. I think that's a great mindset. Maybe one that a lot of new writers, I know myself included, would struggle to adopt, at least first. What's working particularly well for you for book marketing at the moment?
I'm testing out some Amazon ads. Those are working pretty well. It's hard to scale. It's like, I'm trying to spend more money and Amazon just won't spend it. I'm doing so profitably. That's working well.
I run a launch team with all my books. I did it with Published and it was a huge success. We've got a post on the Self Publishing School blog we can link up to the … It talks about how to do run a launch team. It's a little bit more than I can go into now. It's a group of people that are supporting your book launch. Launch teams are working really well.
Two other things. I give away the audiobook for free at the beginning of all my books. That drives so many leads. Really just helps deal out my email list and my audience and drives a lot of people to my business and to Self Publishing School. That really helps.
Then the fourth thing is what I call the review sweeper. This is kind of neat. 21 days out … Basically, when someone downloads a free resource as part of my book, and they give me their email address in exchange for either an audiobook, PDF, any of the resources in the book, anything that has to do with, say, for example Published, I'll drop them into a sequence.
21 days later I'll hit them with the first email. It'll say, “Hey. This is Chandler. I saw that a few weeks ago you got my book Published. I'm just curious to hear what you think about it. Hit reply to this email and let me know.” They'll hit reply and they'll let me know. Then I'll have someone on my team reach back out to them and say, “Hey, this is so awesome. Thank you for …” Obviously if the feedback is good.
If the feedback is bad, then it's like, “I'm so sorry to hear that.” But if it's good, they'll reach back out and they'll say, “Hey, this is awesome. I'll make sure that Chandler sees this. Very appreciate for your feedback. Quick question. Could you do me a huge favor? Or, could you do Chandler a huge favor and just copy and paste what you just said into an Amazon review? It really helps this book and help this get more into more people's hands. It takes two seconds. Here's the link.”
Reviews are so important. They weigh very highly in Amazon's algorithms. That's the first email.
Then I send two more spread out over a week. The next one, it'll just say, “Hey, this is Chandler. I saw you got my book a few weeks ago. Would you mind leaving an Amazon review? Here's the link.”
Then I'll send one that's last call. It says, “Hey. Last call. I'm not going to bug you about this anymore. I don't want to bother you. But if you could take two seconds sometime today to leave a review, that would be a really huge help. This helps the book and helps me get this in more people's hands.” Give that one final plea.
I call that the review sweeper because it just keeps sweeping in reviews. Week after week, month after month, and year after year. I implemented this with Published. I looked, it was like three or four weeks after the book had launched. I want to say I had 75 or so reviews. I looked the next week, and I'm like, “We should have hit a hundred by now.” I look the next week and we had 118 reviews.
They kept … I think we just hit 170 like this week. It's only been, what's that, two months since the books launched. It just continues to bring in reviews. My book launch, I want to say that has like almost 620 reviews. That just really helps and goes a long way.
Q. Just one last question. You're quite focused on Amazon. Have you had much success with Kobo, iTunes, Google Play and so on?
I haven't. That being said, I haven't really messed around with it much. I would recommend chatting with Nick Stephenson of Your First Ten Thousand Readers about that. He's a really smart guy and a really great friend of mine.
I'm kind of just a laser focus guy. There's this stat that says over 70% of all books are sold on Amazon. So when I'm looking at 80, 20, or the Pareto principle for me, it just makes sense to focus all my efforts on Amazon and double down there. But I know there are certainly some people that have had success. We've also written about this on the SPS blog. We actually interviewed, I think it was the founder of Kobo and the founder of, want to say it's the Nook Store, and then maybe there was one other, about this and whether or not it's worth it. I'd recommend checking out Nick's stuff. He's pretty smart on that sort of thing.
Q. Great. Thank you. Chandler, where can people find you online if they're interested in learning more about self-publishing, or your course?
There's two places that would probably be helpful for people. One is self-publishingschool.com. We've got free copies of my book on there. Stuff like that.
The others, if you want to go in-depth on like a little bit more of the writing side of what I talk about, we've got a really good post. It's called How to Self Publish a Book in 2017. It just lays out the steps … I've got one little process that I use to speak a book. I talk about that in there. I've got a video and everything. Those are the two places that'd probably be most helpful for people.
Q. Great. I'll put the links to those resources, along with the post. Chandler, thank very much for your time.
Bryan, thank you so much for having me.
About Chandler Bolt
He’s also the founder & CEO of Self-Publishing School, the #1 online resource for writing your first book.
Through his books, training videos, and Self-Publishing School, he’s helped thousands of people on their journey to writing their first book.
Get your 101 writing prompts today
Need help getting started writing? Use these proven writing prompts. I'll also send you practical writing advice and more as part of my newsletter.