The Choose Yourself Era – How To Sell 300,000 Books

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I asked Joe Ragan if he gets jealous. His wife, Theresa, writes romance novels. She also writes thrillers under the name, TR Ragan. She’s sold 300,000 copies of her books in the past year. She is entirely self-published through Amazon/Createspace. I recommend why and how to get self-published in this post.

“Why would I get jealous?” he said and he was smiling so I knew he was up for the question.

(Theresa)

“Let’s say Theresa writes about a love interest in one of her books. Let’s say her main character is clearly based on her but the love interest is not like you in any way. Do you get jealous of the love interest in her book?” I was asking because I knew if Claudia was a romance novelist and wrote about a love interest that was nothing like me I would certainly get jealous. No matter how much self-work I did I would get jealous. I hate having that mental illness.

Joe laughed. We were at a dinner that Amazon organized for a few authors who had used Createspace for self-publishing. Theresa had burst out a quick seven novels on that platform. Two thrillers and five romance novels.  Whitney, from Amazon, laughed and said, “That’s a good question.” She wanted to know also.

“I never get jealous,” Joe said. And then I was jealous of him. I’m stuck in my brain when it comes to issues like this. Thank god Claudia is not a romance novelist. But then Theresa piped in, “I always make sure the love interest has some aspects that are like Joe. Maybe a food he likes to eat, or clothing he likes to wear. Something.”

See. A good romance novelist knows how to keep her man happy.

I spoke more with Theresa the next time we met, at the Amazon booth at the book expo where we were both signing books. Now I had an opportunity to be jealous of her. Since she started self-publishing in March, 2011 she has sold 300,000 books. 300,000! And now she had just signed a deal with Thomas & Mercer, which is Amazon’s publishing company that competes with the more traditional publishers. “But I’m still going to be using Createspace and Kindle Direct for self-publishing,” she said.

She told me she had been writing and trying to get published for 19 years. She had been rejected by every publisher. She had had two agents but they hadn’t helped her. She wrote every day (“1000 to 3000 words every day. If I get 1000 words done in the morning I can feel happy for the rest of the day knowing I did it”) , she had been in writing groups, she had tried everything to get published. I asked her if she outlined everything before she wrote. “No,” she said, “I just make sure I do those 1000-3000 words a day.”

[A video of Theresa being interviewed at the Book Expo]

“Over the course of those 19 years I’ve received over 100 rejections,” she said.

This is why I don’t like traditional publishers. Think about it. Some 22 year old, fresh out of college editorial associate rejected her books. Now, in just the past year, she has sold 300,000 copies of her books. That would put her on any bestseller list in the world. Clearly the readers have spoken! She’s a success! For 19 years the traditional publishers were wrong.

Her first book came out in March, 2011. Her second in April, 2011. With self-publishing you have to be prolific. But with 3000 words a day that’s possible. She told me,  “At first I was selling hundreds of copies, then thousands, then one site, “A Pixel of Ink” mentioned my book and things really took off.”

(a cat reading Theresa's romance novel: "Return of the Rose")

So after 19 years of being rejected by traditional publishers, she CHOSE HERSELF and is now making a great living.

Because of technology, and the total breaking down of societal, financial, and psychological barriers brought on by the financial catastrophe, its become more acceptable, even welcome, to  CHOOSE YOURSELF. You no longer have to wait for the big media companies to call you. You no longer have to wait for the big companies to reach down from the sky and offer you a job. You no longer have to wait for some website to link to you so you can get thousands of followers. You can work hard, be persistent, and eat what you kill. You can choose yourself to be the dream you always wanted to be. You build your platform and then select yourself to be the star of it.

Theresa wanted to be a writer. She worked 19 years for it. Nobody would chose her. So she uploaded one book, then two, then a thriller, then four more books. Now she is sought after. But it’s too late for anyone to get her before she becomes a success. She already IS a success because she chose herself to become one.

She had mentioned something about emailing reviewers reviews of her book and I wasn’t sure if I had heard right so I wrote her and asked her to clarify. She wrote back and we continued our conversation through emails.

Theresa: “When I “emailed a reviewer every day asking for reviews” this is what I meant:  I sent an email to actual book reviewers…mostly romance reviewers and I asked them if they were interested in reviewing one of my books if I sent it to them.

Many reviewers were interested, so I would send them a digital copy through kindle or nook or smashwords, depending on what sort of ereader device they had. Some reviewers took months to get the review done and many posted the review on Amazon. I would then Tweet or put the review on Facebook. This helped to get my name out in the beginning. The more reviews on Amazon, the more sales, more interview requests…more opportunities. Below are just two of many sites where you can find long lists of reviewers. These are the types of people I would send an email asking them if they would be interested in reviewing my book. I did this for the first three months in my self-published journey.

(Publisher's Weekly interviewing Theresa and me)

So again, not only did she upload her book to Createspace and self-publish, she didn’t rest there. You can’t just go back to your desk and write another novel. You have to keep choosing yourself in every medium. Publishers will not market you. Amazon will not market you. If you don’t promote yourself, then nobody will. So she used every social medium. She emailed all the reviewers she could find. She was polite and asked them if they wanted a book rather than shoving it at them. So it was bulk asking,

Then she would take the review and spread it across all media: Facebook, twitter, Amazon, etc. And for each review she saw a corresponding increase in sales. And because she was prolific, her backlist would sell as well. So all seven book started becoming major sellers.

But there’s ONE KEY COMPONENT she needed in order to select herself. And everyone needs this before they can enter the CHOOSE YOURSELF ERA.

I wrote her again and asked her if she was frustrated during the 19 years she couldn’t publish. Here is her response:

” I was frustrated and in the middle of my journey I was even feeling a little bitter about not selling. In 2007, I read The Secret and that book and Eckhart Tolle’s books changed my life literally. I am also loving your book! I never wrote for money, but I did want readers. And I did want to see my book in bookstores. That was definitely a motivating factor. Making money now is icing on the cake. It’s more than I ever imagined. If it all stops tomorrow, I am happy and grateful.

In 2007 I began to appreciate all the things that had always bothered me…like weeds growing in the yard and the fact that I had a roof over my head. I began to appreciate my family and every single thing I had…water to drink, legs to walk, eyes to see. Becoming a positive person has changed my life. I started to see the world in a new way. My oldest son said that the world was always that way, but I was just seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, and he was right. Everything wonderful was always right there in front of me, I just wasn’t seeing it until I change my mind set.”

I have two takeaways from this. One is the psychological barrier it takes to choose yourself. First you have to love yourself.You have to understand that validation comes from within. Not when the big bad media company reaches down from the clouds and “accepts” you, like a parent loving a baby in a crib. You need to love yourself enough that the aura you spread is noticeable by everyone. That the love and validation you crave comes from inside first. And suddenly that validation will automatically guide your efforts as you go through the process of selecting yourself for success in whatever you endeavor.

(The "TR Ragan" book, "Abducted")

The second takeaway is she loves my book. YAY!

Finally, I want to add, I have now read Theresa’s thriller, “Abducted”. I couldn’t put it down. It’s a pageturner, every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, and now I’m compelled to buy the sequel and then whatever comes after that. She deserves every success.

[See also the story of another, more recent, self-published success: “Love Yourself as if Your Life Depended On It”]

 

TDP.ME suggestion for writers: When you set up your goals on TDP.ME, you can put under the “Mental Category” as daily goals:

  • Write 1000+ words a day
  • End the writing for the day on a cliffhanger
  • email reviewers
  • Comment on 5 blogs that are about self-publishing
And under the "Spiritual Category":
"List the things I appreciate today. An appreciation Journal. "

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  • bloodsoakedandwriting

    Good heavens…I needed to read this. While I’m not quite the poster child for how to do it wrong, I certainly haven’t been prepared to do it right. You are helping me change this, and I appreciate it more than I can say. Thank you.
    -J

  • http://www.kararane.com/ kararane

    James-
    great highlight on Theresa & her journey = very inspiring.
    also with art, it is a passion, an essential element to who You are. I must create to express how I feel, regardless of any outside praise or rejection.  No matter my situation & available materials, whether it be a fancy studio or a cave wall, oil paint or crayola markers,, I will make images*! .. this is the daily practice in action as well as a love from within ;)

  • Sooz

    a great blog entry..
    “Everything wonderful was always right there in front of me, I just wasn’t seeing it until I change my mind set.”
    Darn if that is not true for so many of us. Here’s to Theresa and her success. Bravo to her.

    Love your second take~away, J.A…:))

  • Zardoz123

    Great story about Theresa and about her doing what she loves and her persistance and her belief herself. I will read it again tonight with my 13 year old daughter. Thanks James & Theresa.

  • xdisciple

    James, at first I mistakenly thought you meant, Joe ROgan, as this would have raised a lot of red flags…but alas, it was someone else you were referring to… thank goodness… but check this out, Drew Barrymore should know that Winston Churchill was a fictitious character:  
    http://xdisciple.blogspot.ca/2012/06/winston-churchill-was-fctitious.html

    • Bruce Liesure

       “James, at first I mistakenly thought you meant, Joe ROgan, as this would have raised a lot of red flags”

      Why so? Rogan is a good man. He’s bright, talented, accomplished, funny…these seem like positive things.

      • xdisciple

        Yes, I agree, that’s all true.  However, he is associated with those who are hoodwinking you
        Xdisciple: Drew Barrymore plays Jamie Radtke.  See my blog for the overall picture…

  • kamalravikant

    Love this post, James.  The writing goals under mental category are great.  Hemingway had similar, when he was working on a piece, he had to hit certain amount of words a day and also leave it when it was good, so he would have something to return to (I’m paraphrasing the man, of course).

  • Buzco

    Hey James…almost to the point of self publishing myself, thanks to you.  My question is this: you mentioned this author will sign with Thomas and Mercer….what’s the advantage?  Will you sign with a company as popular as your books are, and why?
    ~Linda

    • Theresaragan

      Hi Linda, I hope James doesn’t mind me chiming in here, but that’s a very good question. I talked to a man from the Huffington post at the BEA and he asked the same question. When I set out to market and promote myself and my books, the first thing I decided to do was be positive, be honest and try everything at least once. I would not want to sell all of my books to Amazon or any traditional publisher. I like the freedom and control of self-publishing and plan to continue to be an independent author. BUT, I wanted to see what T&M/Amazon could do with my Lizzy Gardner Series. I didn’t want to spend the time trying to get audio books (which is becoming easier for authors to do themselves). Thomas & Mercer will hopefully give my thrillers a chance to be translated to foreign languages, to be on audio, and to garner more foreign sales. My books will have a chance to be in brick and mortar stores all over the world. But, talk to me in a year, and I’ll let you know if it was worth it. To me, it’s all experimental and as long as I don’t have to send a query and receive another rejection letter, I plan to try it all.

      • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

        Theresa, I think its great you are answering questions here. Thanks!

        • Theresaragan

          Oh, good. Thanks, James. And thanks for including me in such a wonderful and insightful post. I appreciate it.

      • Buzco

        Thank you so much, Theresa!  That is very helpful to me at this stage.  Appreciate the time.
        ~Linda

      • http://danmar.posterous.com/ jmdanmar

        Congratulations on your success (and perseverance), Theresa. There are two things I wish I could do but never bothered to learn: play piano and write.

  • Remanz

    Perhaps I missed it, but what is the ONE KEY COMPONENT you mentioned?

    • http://www.writervixen.com Deborah Hymes

      Remanz, I read it to mean, “First you have to love yourself.” If that resonates with you, check out James’s link to Kamal Ravikant’s “Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It” — a worthwhile 40-minute read!

  • Rita Garcia

    Fantastic post! Loved learning more about Theresa’s self-publishing journey!

  • Sally Chamberlain

    Love it all!!  I’ve read all of Theresa’s books and now I’ll read yours!

  • http://mefrain.blogspot.com/ Efrain

    For 19 years, did she always try to write thousands of words a day? 

    • Theresaragan

      Good question! In the beginning I was raising four children. NO, I did not always write thousands of words per day. But I did always TRY to write every day. A page or a scene would do. If I let too many days go between writing, I lose momentum and focus on where I want the story to go. When the kids were small I wrote late at night, early in the morning and while in the car waiting for them to get out of school. I gave myself the goal of 1,000 words a day years ago, but I do not beat myself up if it doesn’t happen. AND, I only recently (2 or 3 years ago) upped my word goal to 3,000 words. I have hit 5,000 words before, but 1,000 words first thing in the morning is the easiest way for me to get the words written and feel good about my day. I don’t worry about writing crap words either. The good stuff comes in the revisions. And after writing all of those words, I do end up deleting a lot of words after typing THE END. The best thing to do is to be kind to yourself and just do what you can.

      • http://mefrain.blogspot.com/ Efrain

        Thank you very much. You’re an inspiration : )

      • Paul

         “The best thing to do is be kind to yourself and just do what you can.”

        A major mental/emotional block for many people. We as a culture don’t understand loving self-discipline. Everything worth while has to involve banging your head against it.

        No wonder so few follow their dream or learn to love themselves. It’s against everything we’re tacitly taught.

  • Titus Faber

    Great article – it is good to read about those who have done well in addition to getting a few practical tips.

  • AnnGMorrone
  • Tguest

    Who is Joe Ragan?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Theresa’s husband

  • http://twitter.com/NoahLampert NoahLampert

    Being grateful is one of the most powerful tools we have.

    Awesome Post James and congratulations to Theresa. Inspiring stuff.

  • http://www.maryannwrites.com/ Maryann

    Thanks for the insightful and interesting interview. It is always so neat to read success stories like this. Appreciate the helpful links, too.

  • Helen Ginger

    I think I need to get off email. Or perhaps, get off some email lists. I get hundreds a day and even just scanning through the majority takes too much time. If I learned one thing today from Theresa, it’s to focus on the writing!

    • Theresaragan

      Thanks, Helen. When I am responding to comments like now…I write for an hour and then check in…write for an hour…check in. Internet can be a big time suck if you let it be. I always wondered how Nora Roberts wrote so many books. I bet she never gets on the internet at all!  

  • Robinheinen

    Great story! I’ve been thinking a lot about self-publishing lately. I like to travel, I don’t like to spend big bucks… so I travel cheap, see less touristy stuff, but have more fun. I am thinking about writing a budget travel book (maybe even a series). what do you think? I just hate the standard stuff you read about all the tourist sites. I want to create something new.

    • Theresaragan

      I think this is a great idea! My sister does a lot of traveling and she is always looking for new travel books. And everybody likes a good deal. I agree, when it comes to traveling it’s time for something new. Good luck. 

    • http://danmar.posterous.com/ jmdanmar

      Please do. I’m not a trader so I don’t have a lot of money for travel. :-) But I need to do some catching up before it,s too late so that kind of series would be welcome.

  • http://www.timothysykes.com timothysykes

    The truth though is that 99.9% of self-published books aren’t worth the time people put into them nor are they worth the paper, let alone the e-ink they’re printed on…it’s FAR more important to be a marketer/promoter than it is to have any product of quality when you self-publish…the big hits come with marketing and quality products, thats why I’m set to make $3 mil this year :) Please stop encouraging the mediocre and untalented into believing they have a shot at success, they don’t, they should go play lotto and deliver things to talented people via zaarly

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OOF7L3LZII37P2F4OQS7INHHZ4 Crusader79

      Golly.

    • Theresaragan

      Hi Tim, this post really isn’t about making money. It’s about working hard and following your dreams. For 19 years, I didn’t make one dime. It’s not about money. Nobody is mediocre and untalented unless they are told that over and over again and then begin to believe it themselves. Everybody should follow their dreams. Life is way too short not to. Believe in yourself people! If you have a story to tell, tell it. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s been done or that you are wasting your time. You can do it!

      • Paul

        There is a great need for gatekeepers…and it’s mostly felt by people who believe that 99.9% of everything (and everybody) is trash.

    • http://twitter.com/myTraderGang Trader Gang

       A book tells your story, period.  What others spend on their published goods is out of scope…

    • http://twitter.com/wagefreedom Tom

      “…99.9% of self-published books aren’t worth the time people put into them…”

      Tim, no one has any idea of the value of the time someone spends creating, nor of the eventual value of that which they’re creating. It’s part of the beauty of the process.

      I’m surprised that you see the value of your own time as being worthy of leaving such transparent linkbait in this context. Your schick amused me but now I think it’s cynical and lame. Failed marketing. Unfollowed.

    • RazMatazz

      ALERT. This Sykes dude is one of the people Mr Altucher says to AVOID. Stick with people who encourage your greatness. STAY FAR AWAY from people like Mr “That’s why I’m set to make 3 mil this year.” Lame alert…

      • http://www.timothysykes.com timothysykes

        Actually James said this about me: So he chose himself. He did all of the above. I’ve since looked at his
        audited track record and seen that he’s made millions from trading. I
        know 1000s of daytraders. 1000s. I know one successful daytrader and
        that’s Tim.

        I accept your apology for your lie, you must be a penny stock promoter, welcome :)

  • http://www.shoot-4-success.com/ Mike

    James
    This was right on time. You seem to have the gift of dropping gems when we most need them. I was sitting in my car considering looking for another job until I can get my side business going. I’ve been looking and underpaid but have found nothing. So after reading this I’ve decided to choose myself and continue my dreams. 
    Thanks

  • http://kymira.blogspot.com/ Chimera Swa

    As a budding writer, this post is very inspirational. In today’s world of instant gratification, 19 years seems like a long time but I think Theresa deserves every bit of the success she has had. Kudos to her! Now, I need to go and finish my 1000 words for the day :) 

  • PC

    James, hoping you are wrecklessly good to yourself and those around you. These last few posts have been great. So thanks brother.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Thanks PC. I’m always hoping you “keep me real”. 

  • June Shaw

    Great article! Thanks so much for it.

  • GKLT53

    I LOVED YOUR ARTICLE ,,,  BOTH INTERESTING AND INFORMATIVE!

  • http://twitter.com/matthewdl Matthew Dean

    Well said.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wagnerfilm Martin Wagner

    While it’s exciting to hear of Ms. Ragan’s success with self-publishing, aspiring writers should not allow themselves to get unrealistic expectations of their own success if they self-publish. The fact remains that most self-published work is simply poor, and the writers who produce can’t get publishing deals with the majors simply because they aren’t any good. I’ve been an online reviewer for 11 years, so I can speak from some degree of experience. I see a lot of these books, and in only a tiny handful of cases have I discovered a book worth reading past the first couple of pages.

    Whether you choose to self-publish or pursue the traditional path of agent and publisher, the first and only goal you should care about is being the best writer you can be. Too many people want success to happen quickly for them, and they flatter themselves they are ready for the big leagues when they really aren’t. It’s not self-publishing that’s made Ms. Ragan a success. It’s that readers, apparently, think her writing is actually good.

  • Sylvia McDaniel

    Great blog.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the marketing that we forget to write something fresh and new each day.  Thanks for the reminder.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Sylvia, that’s such a great point. Ultimately, everything else is a servant to the art. if we get too caught up in it then we become the servant instead of the artist. 

  • http://claudenougat.blogspot.com/ Claude Nougat

    Excellent post and congrats to Theresa, an inspiring story! All the more so that this is a rare event: as a famous Indie author said at Book Expo America this year, “very few Indie writers will ever make it!”
    A recent survey of some 1,000 Indie authors confirmed this (it’s not just the opinion of one pessimistic author): most of the sales go to one percent or less of the authors…Here as elsewhere, we’re into a one percent vs. 99 percent situation. I just thought I’d mention this in case some of your readers (who are also self-pubbed authors) get depressed looking at their sales numbers…
    One thing that did strike me: how thorough and hard-working Theresa is: she fully deserves the success she got, and that stubborness is definitely something to emulate!

    • Theresaragan

      Claude, good points. half of those surveyed make $500 a year. I would have loved to to have made $500 a year during those 19 years. Also, what was wonderful about that survey is that 95% of those surveyed considered themselves a success. In my opinion, that’s all that matters. For many authors, including myself, knowing that readers can make the decision to read my books, or not, is half the battle. It’s so refreshing not to have 24 editors in NY deciding which books will or will not be read. Readers get to decide. I agree with George, too…running to fairs and tweeting won’t work for every writer. At some point, I believe, that word of mouth is what sells the most books. 

  • Diana Layne

    Theresa, always enjoy reading your interviews.

  • http://www.ivblogger.com/ Sheyi @ivblogger.com

    great write up here. i am new in teh amazon publishing world and i just want to make sure i am doing the right thing to make my new ebook go viral.

    Sheyi

  • http://twitter.com/georgeohar George O’Har

    Generally speaking, most self-published books hardly sell at all. Theresa is an exception. Amazon has about a million books on Kindle. How many sell big? Amanda Hocking, as well as a few others. What you say about legacy publishing is true, those twenty-something nitwits fresh out of a second rate learning program who know as much about reading and writing as an autumn leaf getting to bang the door on your nose. I grok that. I also agree with you that legacy publishing is dying. That said, the vast lot of self-published novels are crap.

    Which is not to take away from Theresa. What she accomplished is impossibly hard. And somewhere, luck had to enter into the equation. She writes in a genre, romance, that sells (as does Hocking). Maybe that has something to do with it. But the idea that running to book fairs and signings and tweeting your wares will lead to success is a fool’s errand.

  • http://emspeaks.wordpress.com/ EmSpeaks

    This is some beautiful and overwhelming information. I just released my first self-published novel and am fumbling through the marketing process. This blog has been by far the most helpful.

  • Angel

    Nice article!! I am more sure that I can trust createspace and just self publish. I have a learning disability but I will have some one edit my book before I publish it. I hope that I get more than 21 people that will buy and read my book. This article helped me to see my dream is not a waste!! I am not looking to get rich of writing a few books but I would like to get a few books out there!! Thanks for the the inspiration!! I just need to find out how much the self publishing process is before my partner comes all the way up to my state though so we have enough money to do everything. I am not a rich girl. Can anyone tell me how much it all is in the end of the process? Is it more than 800 bucks?

  • McDonald O’here

    What an inspiring article-!! I am one of the reviewers that was contacted last year and it brings me such satisfaction to know I could have been of any assistance. Recently, I have been reviewing another blockbuster best-seller in the making called the Cozy Tyme Cuddler. This plush brand is going to literally turn the market on its head. Entrepreneurs need to dream and never let anything deter because you can win.

  • The Jiggly Bits

    Gosh, I just love your blogs. They are like daily inspiration. Thank you for writing them.

  • Frank229

    I think the big lesson here is really about loving yourself and accepting your strong points as well as your flaws, and letting go of perfectionism (you can’t write 1000-3000 words a day if you don’t). Too many people are focused on the sales and that it’s only 1% of all self-published authors, etc. That’s the wrong mindset. Yes, it’s great that she got to that point, but she couldn’t have gotten there without building the foundation first. The foundation is you. That’s what ‘Choose Yourself’ is all about to me. On the surface, it sounds selfish, but it’s a lesson that’s been always been there, waiting to be discovered. ‘Follow your bliss’, as Joseph Campbell said. Once you do, you become the hero in your own journey.

    I’m realizing more and more what it means, and there are many, many subtle ways this manifests throughout your day, but the more you pay attention to who you are trying to please and how, the more you realize that in some ways, many of us hate ourselves. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s a wake-up call and how else to explain why we do so little that makes us happy? The first real step is asking yourself, ‘Who am I, and what makes me truly happy?’ For myself, having to answer that question and not b.s. my way through it was life changing. I realized how often I’m putting on a mask to make others happy. In some ways, I felt like I wasn’t even sure what my personality consisted of (I’m still not, but it’s a process). But I think once you start putting yourself first, self-love and acceptance and confidence find their way into your soul. I don’t think it’s possible to be successful AND happy without these core beliefs. Also, that, I think, is when you begin to feel truly grateful, rather than practicing gratitude as some kind of self-help exercise. It comes out of feeling, for the first time, the lightness of true happiness and self-acceptance.

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