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Finally made that million. A Self-Publishers Story...

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TheVoyager

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Jun 9, 2021
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Hi folks,

this is my first post in this forum. Up to now I was just a quiet reader, but I learned a lot from your contributions. Thanks for that. I thought I share my story, as I finally made my first million $ with my selfpublishing business.

Let me begin far in the past. I’m a mid-40, born in germany, where I still live and work. So please excuse if my english isnt perfect. In highschool I was the second worst student, by far the worst in mathematics. That didnt keep me from programming computer games with my Commodore Amiga. But I was interested in spaceflight and SF and mentioned that I was eager to study astronautics at university. Family and friends then were eager to tell me „forget it – you wont make it“. Also an advisor in school looked at my grades and thought that would be not a good idea. Now I know that there is no better motivation for me than some guy to tell me I would not succed.

I had a hard time but finally got my bachelor in astronautics and later a master and PhD in nuclear engineering. A couple of years I worked at university and later at DLR (german NASA) as project manager. Great team, good work, poor salary. Finaly I came to the conclusion, that this was not the thing I would do until the end of my life. I quit to an opportunity in real estate, but this was just short time.

At this time I was an avid SF reader. I even wrote some stories myself, but these writings went directly to the paperbin. Finally i stumbled over these new selfpublished kindle books on amazon. All I read was crap. No professional covers, no copyediting. I had the need to read something of quality, but nothing. A need … That was at a time when german publishers tried to push their own ebook-reader and didn‘t publish ebooks at amazon. A need … At that time I had an idea for a novel and wrote that down within three month. People were saying „You will never succeed. Nobody will read your novel.“

I thought, go f*** yourself! I read every book about creative writing I could get. I visited writing schools in a nearby city and wrote the novel as good as I could. Then I hired a professional copyeditor and cover designer. Some more months later I uploaded the novel to amazon.

The thing went straight to #1 in SF. The first 20 reviews were 5-star. I made 300$ in the first month and then it went up to 1000$/month.

I then began writing my 2nd novel. I took a lot of time to make it better than the first one and published it one year later. It went up straight to #2 of all amazon books and made 50k$ in one month. I remember almost fainting after seeing the numbers. That novel was wildly successful in germany, winning an indie award on the day my son was born and it was nominated for two major book awards. In that year I made 200k$.

Was that novel that good? I dont think so. It was solidly crafted but essentially it was the only novel with that high quality standards in SF on the german market at amazon. It was successful due to the need. Other people followed in that trail and now the situation has changed. One year later there were more authors with professional production and thus more competition. It was harder to be profitable on that level and I learned a lot about online marketing in that time.

Scaling was difficult. The earnings reached a ceiling and now, five years later, I’m still at 200k$ per year. There are only so much people reading SF in germany. But it brought me now my first million since starting the business. And a lot of experience. I tried to break into the english speaking market. Boy, professional translations are expensive. I started a marketing campaign but I was just able to earn the costs back. All in all about 200k$ before leaving the overcrowded english speaking amazon SF market. At least I got that money back.

That business brought me quite a lot of things. I was able to work at home, see my son growing up und be with my family when my old job would have sent me from one business trip to the next. I was able to repay my mortgage 15 years early and to make some travels with my family I never thought I could afford.

But now, 6 years, 16 books and 1.3 million words later I’m somewhat bored. My son will enrole to school this year and I’m missing new challenges. More and more I ask myself if this is, what I want to do until the end of my life.

What i want to do now is to start a new business with the wisdom from my old one. A new challenge. I will write new novels but with a lower daily wordcount, while looking for new needs I could make a new business from. I consider my selfpublishing business as stepstone to the next one.

What will I do? I don’t know. Yet. Perhaps some words about my opinion concerning ideas. There are so much people in this forum looking and asking for ideas. I dont think, that it is possible to ask for ideas. The idea has to find you! You just can go open-minded through life and identify needs and problems you are able and eager to solve. This moment will come and up to that moment you should do anything to bring yourself into the right position by learning and getting experiences.

If I do another business it might be a SAAS, as I had a lot of fun with computer programming during my university time. However I’m missing some experience with web programming and I set myself a schedule to close these knowledge gaps. On the other hands this will not be necessary. An entrepreneur is not necessarily the developer of the software or the product. The entrepreneur identifies the need and organises whatever is necessary to find a solution. A good entrepreneur can organize a solution to any problem. If money is needed for this solution there are enough people eager to invest in a promising business. It’s about problem and solution.

There is the need to send a man to mars? I’m sure there‘s a solution for that. Okay, you might find Elon Musk as competitor. But that man also began with programming computer games on his Commodore Amiga as a kid.

I’m really looking forward to the next years and I’m really looking forward to the next guy who tells me „you can’t succeed!“. Let’s go!
 

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lowtek

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Thanks for sharing your story and congrats on your success. I've often day dreamed about writing sci fi as a "retirement" hobby. Glad to see someone make money that isn't a whale in the space.
 

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Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. We started in the self-publishing roughly in the same period (I started in 2014). But for the most part, I've been writing non-fiction for the English-speaking market (and have various translations, including German ones).

I will write new novels but with a lower daily wordcount, while looking for new needs I could make a new business from.

What's your old daily word count and what's your new one?

I tried to break into the english speaking market. Boy, professional translations are expensive. I started a marketing campaign but I was just able to earn the costs back. All in all about 200k$ before leaving the overcrowded english speaking amazon SF market. At least I got that money back.

Your book was a huge hit on the German market. Perhaps it could also be a hit in another country, not necessarily an English-speaking one. Have you considered translating it into French, Spanish, or Italian?

As a fellow authorpreneur who has tried a few times to break out of the industry and do something else, I can say from my experience that there's no other business model as great as self-publishing for those who love reading and writing. It gives you incredible flexibility and very few headaches associated with running other types of businesses.

Obviously, it may be different in your case. But I'd ask yourself if you really want a new challenge and if you're willing to lose a lot of freedom in exchange for it.
 

Private Witt

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Thanks for sharing your story, amazing! I find your experience with great success in Germany and your English markets attempt as very interesting. While not close to your success, I published a book (travel guide) in English in Colombia and moved quite a few, but when I published in my own country (US) another type of work it was a total bomb. I can see the reasons why, mostly in Colombia I was solving a problem, my second attempt was more at an attempt at entertainment. Looking forward to #3 with lessons learned, hopefully by the end of next year.
 

robertwills

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Sep 9, 2020
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Hi folks,

this is my first post in this forum. Up to now I was just a quiet reader, but I learned a lot from your contributions. Thanks for that. I thought I share my story, as I finally made my first million $ with my selfpublishing business.

Let me begin far in the past. I’m a mid-40, born in germany, where I still live and work. So please excuse if my english isnt perfect. In highschool I was the second worst student, by far the worst in mathematics. That didnt keep me from programming computer games with my Commodore Amiga. But I was interested in spaceflight and SF and mentioned that I was eager to study astronautics at university. Family and friends then were eager to tell me „forget it – you wont make it“. Also an advisor in school looked at my grades and thought that would be not a good idea. Now I know that there is no better motivation for me than some guy to tell me I would not succed.

I had a hard time but finally got my bachelor in astronautics and later a master and PhD in nuclear engineering. A couple of years I worked at university and later at DLR (german NASA) as project manager. Great team, good work, poor salary. Finaly I came to the conclusion, that this was not the thing I would do until the end of my life. I quit to an opportunity in real estate, but this was just short time.

At this time I was an avid SF reader. I even wrote some stories myself, but these writings went directly to the paperbin. Finally i stumbled over these new selfpublished kindle books on amazon. All I read was crap. No professional covers, no copyediting. I had the need to read something of quality, but nothing. A need … That was at a time when german publishers tried to push their own ebook-reader and didn‘t publish ebooks at amazon. A need … At that time I had an idea for a novel and wrote that down within three month. People were saying „You will never succeed. Nobody will read your novel.“

I thought, go f*** yourself! I read every book about creative writing I could get. I visited writing schools in a nearby city and wrote the novel as good as I could. Then I hired a professional copyeditor and cover designer. Some more months later I uploaded the novel to amazon.

The thing went straight to #1 in SF. The first 20 reviews were 5-star. I made 300$ in the first month and then it went up to 1000$/month.

I then began writing my 2nd novel. I took a lot of time to make it better than the first one and published it one year later. It went up straight to #2 of all amazon books and made 50k$ in one month. I remember almost fainting after seeing the numbers. That novel was wildly successful in germany, winning an indie award on the day my son was born and it was nominated for two major book awards. In that year I made 200k$.

Was that novel that good? I dont think so. It was solidly crafted but essentially it was the only novel with that high quality standards in SF on the german market at amazon. It was successful due to the need. Other people followed in that trail and now the situation has changed. One year later there were more authors with professional production and thus more competition. It was harder to be profitable on that level and I learned a lot about online marketing in that time.

Scaling was difficult. The earnings reached a ceiling and now, five years later, I’m still at 200k$ per year. There are only so much people reading SF in germany. But it brought me now my first million since starting the business. And a lot of experience. I tried to break into the english speaking market. Boy, professional translations are expensive. I started a marketing campaign but I was just able to earn the costs back. All in all about 200k$ before leaving the overcrowded english speaking amazon SF market. At least I got that money back.

That business brought me quite a lot of things. I was able to work at home, see my son growing up und be with my family when my old job would have sent me from one business trip to the next. I was able to repay my mortgage 15 years early and to make some travels with my family I never thought I could afford.

But now, 6 years, 16 books and 1.3 million words later I’m somewhat bored. My son will enrole to school this year and I’m missing new challenges. More and more I ask myself if this is, what I want to do until the end of my life.

What i want to do now is to start a new business with the wisdom from my old one. A new challenge. I will write new novels but with a lower daily wordcount, while looking for new needs I could make a new business from. I consider my selfpublishing business as stepstone to the next one.

What will I do? I don’t know. Yet. Perhaps some words about my opinion concerning ideas. There a so much people in this forum looking and asking for ideas. I dont think, that it is possible to ask for ideas. The idea has to find you! You just can go open-minded through life and identify needs and problems you are able and eager to solve. This moment will come and up to that moment you should do anything to bring yourself into the right position by learning and getting experiences.

If I do another business it might be a SAAS, as I had a lot of fun with computer programming during my university time. However I’m missing some experience with web programming and I set myself a schedule to close these knowledge gaps. On the other hands this will not be necessary. An entrepreneur is not necessarily the developer of the software or the product. The entrepreneur identifies the need and organises whatever is necessary to find a solution. A good entrepreneur can organize a solution to any problem. If money is needed for this solution there are enough people eager to invest in a promising business. It’s about problem and solution.

There is the need to send a man to mars? I’m sure there‘s a solution for that. Okay, you might find Elon Musk as competitor. But that man also began with programming computer games on his Commodore Amiga as a kid.

I’m really looking forward to the next years and I’m really looking forward to the next guy who tells me „you can’t succeed!“. Let’s go!
What were the titles of your books? Are they still for sale on Amazon?
 

TheVoyager

Contributor
Jun 9, 2021
8
48
16
What were the titles of your books? Are they still for sale on Amazon?
They're still available. I don't want to do advertizing here, but if you're searching for "transport" and "paradox" at amazon you'll eventually find them. If an admin considers this as advertizing please delete this answer.
 

TheVoyager

Contributor
Jun 9, 2021
8
48
16
What's your old daily word count and what's your new one?

As a fellow authorpreneur who has tried a few times to break out of the industry and do something else, I can say from my experience that there's no other business model as great as self-publishing for those who love reading and writing. It gives you incredible flexibility and very few headaches associated with running other types of businesses.

Obviously, it may be different in your case. But I'd ask yourself if you really want a new challenge and if you're willing to lose a lot of freedom in exchange for it.
Thanks for your comments. Writing was never the big thing I loved doing. I learned how to write well enough but now I'm just glad everyday when I'm finished with my wordcount. With that business I reached the ceiling. I've reached all I can achieve in my opinion, so I have to look for new challenges.
Of course I won't quit the selfpublishing business, but I have to reduce the amount of work here. Some days I had a wordcount on writing days of 3000-4000 per day (especially near deadlines, as i had licence agreements and advance fixed-date contracts with editors). I'm tired of that and I want to reduce the max wordcount to 1000 per day for 5 days a week, before loosing fun at writing altogether. This gives me time for new, other challenging projects that won't necessarily wreck all of my freedom.
 
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TinyOldLady

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ESA is calling for screenplay applications. How about a space movie as a new project ;) ? Although with your background there is probably nothing new for you to learn.

Congratulation on your success! I‘ve just read the beginning of Vakuum and had to smile, since I made my PhD in neutrino astronomy
 

BizyDad

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Congrats on your determination. Inspiring story. Thank you for sharing.

What's your old daily word count and what's your new one?
I'm curious of this as well. And how much time each day you spent writing vs the other facets of the job.
 

Ing

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Cool!
 

Kid

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Make a company that will help german writers to translate their books into English and publish them to US.
 

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TheVoyager

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Congrats on your determination. Inspiring story. Thank you for sharing.


I'm curious of this as well. And how much time each day you spent writing vs the other facets of the job.
depends ... if I'm near a deadline, I'm writing up to 4000 words per day. That's my max. With 500 words/h this amounts to 8 hours. Then there are weeks I'm just editing or just doing taxes. Roughly 25 to 30 % is writing. 70 to 75% is editing, organization, taxes, marketing, communication ... Roughly I'm working 6 hours per day at five to six days a week.
 

TinyOldLady

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May I ask you how much you invested in your first books (edig, cover, ads)?

And also what changes do you see with the books, that you released with a big publisher? Are they more popular and less advertising is needed?
 

TheVoyager

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Jun 9, 2021
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May I ask you how much you invested in your first books (edig, cover, ads)?

And also what changes do you see with the books, that you released with a big publisher? Are they more popular and less advertising is needed?
Sure. First book 1000EUR for cover and about 2000EUR for editing. IN 2014 it was possible to have success without any marketing or ads. Today that would be very hard. Currently I use amazon ads, e-mail marketing and social marketing (non-payed). From time to time I publish via big publisher as you reach completely different customers (retail stores). So this is also marketing for my other self-published books. For publisher released books the publisher does marketing and thus makes involuntarily marketing for all my other books. Everytime a new novel is published sales also increase for the old novels. I cannot necessarily say that publisher released books are more successful, but it's good for the mix of backlist and current titles. (But only if it is a really big publishiong house)
 

TinyOldLady

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From time to time I publish via big publisher as you reach completely different customers (retail stores). So this is also marketing for my other self-published books.
Of course! I didn‘t think of that.

Thank you for your reply. I find 2000 for the editing of a novel is good, 1000 for a cover is a lot, but at least it payed off. I like your covers :)
 
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MJ DeMarco

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They're still available. I don't want to do advertizing here, but if you're searching for "transport" and "paradox" at amazon you'll eventually find them. If an admin considers this as advertizing please delete this answer.

Feel free to post them since people asked. Not considered advertising as it is part of the conversation.

Congrats on achievement!
 

BizyDad

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depends ... if I'm near a deadline, I'm writing up to 4000 words per day. That's my max. With 500 words/h this amounts to 8 hours. Then there are weeks I'm just editing or just doing taxes. Roughly 25 to 30 % is writing. 70 to 75% is editing, organization, taxes, marketing, communication ... Roughly I'm working 6 hours per day at five to six days a week.
Thanks for the insight into your day to day. Again, congrats on your success.
 

ChickenHawk

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I started a marketing campaign but I was just able to earn the costs back. All in all about 200k$ before leaving the overcrowded english speaking amazon SF market. At least I got that money back.
Thanks for such an informative post, and congrats on your success! As a fellow self-publisher, I totally agree that the U.S. Amazon store is overcrowded. Plus, advertising to the U.S. market is very expensive -- so expensive that without a decent-sized backlist, it's getting harder to be profitable. Even though I'm based in the U.S.A., I currently earn more from the Amazon UK store than on Amazon.com.

A question... What's your sense of the Amazon German market compared to the US. market? I know you said that it's getting more competitive, but does the German market seem more friendly to authors, in the sense that it's easier to turn a profit? Every so often, I debate getting some of my books translated into German, but the high cost of translations makes me pause, wondering how difficult it would be to earn that money back.

Since you've had German books translated into English for the U.S. market, I thought you might have some interesting thoughts on the potential of doing the opposite (translating English books into German for Amazon's German store).

Thanks for any insight!

P.S. If you haven't tried this already, it might be worth looking into advertising your English versions in Amazon's UK store. I use Amazon AMS ads and Facebook ads to the UK and have found the effort to be more profitable lately than my efforts in the U.S.A. Maybe you've done this already, but I figured I'd mention it just in case.
 

TheVoyager

Contributor
Jun 9, 2021
8
48
16
Thanks for such an informative post, and congrats on your success! As a fellow self-publisher, I totally agree that the U.S. Amazon store is overcrowded. Plus, advertising to the U.S. market is very expensive -- so expensive that without a decent-sized backlist, it's getting harder to be profitable. Even though I'm based in the U.S.A., I currently earn more from the Amazon UK store than on Amazon.com.

A question... What's your sense of the Amazon German market compared to the US. market? I know you said that it's getting more competitive, but does the German market seem more friendly to authors, in the sense that it's easier to turn a profit? Every so often, I debate getting some of my books translated into German, but the high cost of translations makes me pause, wondering how difficult it would be to earn that money back.

Since you've had German books translated into English for the U.S. market, I thought you might have some interesting thoughts on the potential of doing the opposite (translating English books into German for Amazon's German store).

Thanks for any insight!

P.S. If you haven't tried this already, it might be worth looking into advertising your English versions in Amazon's UK store. I use Amazon AMS ads and Facebook ads to the UK and have found the effort to be more profitable lately than my efforts in the U.S.A. Maybe you've done this already, but I figured I'd mention it just in case.
Thanks for your comments. I had some advertizing in UK but quit it together with USA. Might be worth a try to make some marketing tests again. Thanks.

Concerning the german market I think it is still easier than USA or UK. At least in the SF genre. It depends on the specific genre and even the subgenre and you need a marketing strategy what is not that easy in a foreign-langauge market. German market has its quirks. In the SF genre I see some translations of American selfpublishers that dramaticaly failed. Some of them pumped a lot of buck$ in advertizing but never had a chance as I can tell that nobody in germany cares for that specific subgenre of SF. Some other guys had good books but didnt change the cover for the german market, as there are other expectations.
Another problem lately are big german publishing houses that throw cheap stuff on amazon under a second label and push it through the charts with aggressive marketing.
Also there are some genres like thriller or crime that are totally overcrowded in germany as well. Most sucessful german authors do a lot of social media activities what is also challenging for a non-german speaking author. Conclusion: The german market is more friendly than USA but it's getting harder every year. The risk is high.
 
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