I know a few people who play the lottery. Many of my friends are engineers, and mathematicians long ago calculated that your odds of taking out a ten million dollar life insurance policy and then flying from one coast to the other every hour of every day would be a better investment than purchasing one Power Ball ticket. (Of course in the airline scenario it wouldn’t be YOU enjoying the riches.)

I mean honestly, though, when you turn on the television and see some total stranger in the hills of Kentucky who won millions in Power Ball, do you start scouring the book shelves for “How to Win the Power Ball Lottery” books? No. Not if you’re of sound mind you don’t.

You are not going to sell a million eBooks. At least not any time soon. Neither am I. But that doesn’t mean we stop working. And it doesn’t mean we can’t (or won’t) sell a million of them one day. But here’s a bit of news that might make you happy: you don’t need to sell a million eBooks to be a success or to make a living at it.

I have my book, Black Beast, up on Kindle Nation Daily as Book of the Day today (that’s a lot of ‘days’ in one sentence). I also have a big (10 million impression) ad for my new book coming out middle of next month. I have more Kindle Nation Daily ads coming up throughout the rest of the year.

In addition to strategic paid advertisement, I of course use Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads (although I admit that last one is a bit like the Japanese language at this point, but so was Twitter when I joined last August…so familiarity comes with time). But I also cross-promote with other authors. That’s no big secret; I’ve blogged, guest-blogged, and written articles on the concept since I first started doing it last year. Authors helping authors. Every now and again I actually hear people talk about cross-promotion as if it were a new concept. I’ve been in at least a dozen different cross-promotion campaigns since August of 2011 (so not even a year yet). And authors were cross-promoting long before I was on the scene.

The question that inevitably comes up is “which is best between paid advertisements, self-promoting through social networking, or cross-promoting with other Indie authors”? I have to tell you I’ve seen success utilizing each of these models and I have seen less-than-desirable results with each of them as well.

So much of the book marketing scene right now appears to be hit and miss to me. Yes, there are authors who claim they’ve got the algorithms figured out and that this day or that day is the best to run a giveaway and that one day versus another are better “sell” days or this pricing scheme works best at this time of the month. I’m not saying they’re wrong. What I AM saying is that the majority of those people aren’t on any bestseller lists I peruse and neither are they part of Oprah’s book club. Of course you don’t have to be on a bestseller list to be advancing your career (OR be on Oprah’s list).

Is it better to be on a bestseller list? Sure it is! Just like it’s better to get paid one million dollars a month instead of fifty thousand a year for your day job. Just because you aren’t making a million bucks doesn’t mean you aren’t doing things right and advancing your career.

I watched the movie Beyond the Sea the other day. I was laid up with excruciating back pain and so I decided to use my Amazon Prime membership to catch a movie I had never seen before (Beyond the Sea is the 2004 biopic of Bobby Darin, starring Kevin Spacey). Spectacular movie, actually, and I LOOOOOVE all that old music. The core theme for me: if you have talent, and you dedicate yourself to your craft, and if you REMAIN committed, you can achieve pretty much any goal you set for yourself (of course it helps to have the level of talent Bobby Darin had, but even for him, without the hard work, dedication to craft, and setting goals, nobody would have ever heard him sing excepting his hometown crowd).

When I finally jumped into the social marketing pool last August, I was still a newbie. In a lot of ways, I still am. But one of the things I’ve noticed is the authors with talent and drive (and a willingness to help other authors along the way) tend to do better than any other group of struggling writers I have seen. I liken it to mountain climbing. I’m not talking about hiking—I mean those brave (crazy) men and women who attempt to summit Mt. Everest, or a peak similar to it.

[The are some great books out there (Into Thin Air) and also some tremendous movies (K2) if you so inclined to learn about the grueling, nearly impossible task it is to summit such a mountain—and more importantly what it takes.]

I submit to you that making it in the book publishing market is not unlike summiting Mt. Everest. (And if you are just publishing your first book or haven’t yet, I don’t mean to alarm you—but you are better off being forewarned so that you don’t end up a part of the ice and snow frozen stiff against the mountainside).

So back to which is best. I’ll be honest, I think the answer is “all of the above”. Because I still believe that on average, in the long run, talent and hard work WILL GET YOU THERE. But it won’t be fast. Not for the majority of us. What’s my definition of “fast” you say? It depends on so many factors (some of them being luck, lightning strikes, and standing in the “right place at the right time”, none of which are really under your control) that it’s best just to understand that it won’t likely be “overnight success” and leave it at that.

Do slow and steady win the race? HELL NO. Fast, relentless, hard-nosed, sleepless, always thinking, always planning, adjusting in a moment’s notice and then adjusting a moment later. SPEED wins races. But not the kind of speed you’re thinking of at this moment. We’re not talking about minutes or hours or even months. Years. Yes, sometimes it takes YEARS.  Just remember, however long it ends up taking you, there is no “steady” in the book market and slowpoke turtles winning races against the rabbits is for fairy tales. You have to remain engaged, move fast and hard, keep a constant eye on the market conditions—put a different way: if you think you’re going to sell a million books sitting on your keister with your opposable thumbs up your ass (see previous post), you aren’t going anywhere, my friend.


Remember this word, because this is the word that will get you to where you want to go: tenaciousness.There are going to be a lot of letdowns along the way. Trust me. Each one still stings me with the bitterness of the first. But you keep working hard; you keep moving forward. Grit, gumption, determination, stubbornness. They all fit into this category. If you let setbacks literally set you back then you are already losing the game, and the more you let them get to you, the less chance you have of ever succeeding.

Failure sucks. Being at the peak and seeing your book downloaded 18,800 times, then seeing sales pick up, and pick up some more, then witnessing them taper and begin to drop and return near their normal place in the pile is beyond frustrating. It’s backbreaking. It’s calls for a whole new level of soul-searching. But here is the rub:

Look closely. Each time your book slips back down into what you consider to be “that same old place on the list”, ask yourself where it was five months ago? Or ten? Or a year? And remember, you now have 18,800 new impressions of YOU. The author. YOUR BRAND. Heck, my book was #5 on the charts for nearly a day and a half. That’s some serious exposure, no matter where the book ended up after the promotion.

Tenaciousness also means listening to other authors who have been around longer than you and NOT getting discouraged by what they have and you don’t but rather taking notes on what better to do next time—and, most important of all: TAKE ACTION. You have to actually implement change for there to be change. Make every failure into another opportunity for success. You learn just as much, if not MORE, from the mistakes than you do from the successes you have (primarily because we spend so much more time brooding over the mistakes). But don’t brood. Examine. Dissect. Do an autopsy on that horrendous promotion and try and find the disease. What didn’t work? And once you discover it, you know you’ll be stronger next time.


Toughen up. Embrace negative reviews and damning critiques. Many times I’ve learned more paying attention to one heartless review than a hundred positive ones. Are some of them written out of malice? Likely. Does every bad review contain a useful criticism? No. But I have found that most do. Think about it this way: attackers always look for the weakness in your armor. If the reviewer has half a brain, they probably singled out some awful thing you did (poorly formatted, used a cliché, missed a slew of typos, etc.). I’ve actually had reviewers point out something unflattering and yet still compliment me on my overall ability and say they looked forward to reading more of my work. So look at it that way: shoot for a reckoning of sorts; if that reviewer ever reads you again, you show ’em. No more clichés, no more typos, etc. THAT is how you turn a negative into a positive and you don’t even need Mary Poppins to do it.

Grow thick skin, my friends. Like a lizard. And not just any lizard; grow the skin of the Komodo Dragon. The deepest irony I have found is that the more you achieve your goals (success) the more mean-spirited and demeaning comments you will receive. Exponentially. The other day I blogged about how returns of a $4 book on Amazon perplexed me. That night I had five more returns—easily more than all the other returns I’d ever had. EVER. Seriously, over the past year since first publishing I received, maybe, three returns. The other night, just hours after my blog—five returns. Go figure. But guess what? I still sold more copies, retained my ranking, and still woke up the next morning. The world went on, small-minded kaputnik or no small-minded kaputnik.

The world is not full of haters. If it were, I’d jump off a cliff. But trust me, sometimes it only takes one hater to make you feel like the world is full of them. Just remember this: when a bad person does something terrible out of no other motivation than to hurt you or your work, it is THEIR soul that is blackened just a little bit more. Not yours. And you can’t control what these people do or say. But I PROMISE you this: if you ignore it, you’ve won. No shit disturber is happy when no one cares. It’s just the opposite. They draw strength from destroying what others have created. Don’t let them do it.

And finally, watch out for the naysayers. A couple weeks back I allowed the words of a fellow author friend rent space in my head. I was depressed for a week. Here I was at one of the apexes of my life—having decided that nothing was going to stop me from succeeding in this business—and this writer said, in so many words, doesn’t matter how good you are, you won’t make it. Man. It took me 6-7 days to shake off that dose of pure negativity. I respected this guy. Listen, you have to believe in yourself. No one else is going to do it for you. And I’m not trying to sell you any fucking snake oil here; I’m not trying to be unrealistic. The odds are stacked against us. But guess what? The odds are almost ALWAYS stacked against us. Don’t listen to the naysayers.


My definition of success for myself is probably different than yours. I know it’s different than some people’s because I invariably get comments that tell me writers and artists do their work because it’s inside them and they don’t care about the money. Hey, I think that is great—the fact that there are artists out there who are doing what they are doing for themselves only and don’t care if they make dime one is a really cool thing. At the same time, however, I’m not going to apologize for wanting to make money from my books. If I knew I was never going to make a single penny off my books—if the government suddenly made it illegal to sell writing—would I still write? Of course I would. But I wouldn’t work my ASS OFF doing it. For the writer who wants to make a living at it, the hard work begins AFTER the art is created.

The point here is that nearly every person’s definition of success is unique. Like a fingerprint. You can no more tell me my fingerprints should look exactly like yours than you can tell me what my definition of success should be. Nor should I try and tell you what yours should look like. But when you decide what success in writing is to you, then and only then can you set your goals. Imagine the first thing you did before writing your first word was to set your number one goal to make money. Then, in five or ten years you realized you didn’t care at all about money and your writing was a catharsis for expunging your innermost fears or dreams or view of the world. But because you had made money your number one goal, you wrote what you thought people wanted to buy (not what you needed to write for yourself).

So decide what your writing means to you. Don’t try and keep up with “The Jones” because every writer is different (and so are their goals). Be tenacious; see who you are striving to become and don’t give up until you’ve made it all the way to the finish line. Grow thick skin and always remember that the ratio of fans to haters is almost always far in your favor. Finally figure out what “Success” means to you and build all your plans, road maps, and everything else you do around that goal. Your goal doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) be the same as everyone else’s. You are unique. You are a writer.

So your writing will also be YOU.


The blank page is dead…long live the blank page.





28 Responses to Are You Still Trying to Sell A Million EBooks?

  1. Caleb Pirtle says:

    We may never sell a million eBooks, but we can try. If we don’t, we never have much of a chance of selling any. And when the going gets tough, we always have you out there beating the drums of common sense, and we need every beat you give us.

  2. Bella Street says:

    Great reminder, Rob! Slow and steady wins the race…or at least gets one across the finish line 🙂

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks for commenting, Bella. And for reading! Any way you slice it the race is a long one and we have to persevere no matter what. 🙂

  3. Jericha says:

    Rob, this is a WONDERFUL post. It touches on all the points I wish I saw more writers making – print AND ebook, traditionally AND self-published. Writing is a job! You work hard to advance yourself in ANY career, you work hard to excel in ANY field, you listen to criticism as constructively as you can in ANY discipline. And occasionally we hit it big (Google buys your startup, everyone loves your ice cream flavor, a celebrity wears your tshirt, Oprah reads your book) and mostly we don’t, but having a job – as you point out – isn’t like winning the lottery. Sometimes the temptation of the dream overnight success can make it feel that way, and then you forget that almost everyone who’s ever been successful has either inherited stupid amounts of money or worked their ass off, and very occasionally both.

    I want to be the best writer I can be, and I want to write the book I wish i could discover on the shelves, and I want other people to love it and be touched by it. And I want to be paid for it. Absolutely. Because art takes work, and the struggle that goes into producing something of beauty is just as valuable as the struggle that goes into producing your microwave or the food you put into it. And really? Figuring out exactly how you want to direct that struggle is incredibly important. This post should be required reading, Rob. Nicely done.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks, Jericha. It’s comments like these that buoy a writer and keep him/her believing that words really do make a difference and that people are listening! In fact, your COMMENT should be required reading. Seriously. Thanks again for taking the time to render such a relevant and inspiring reply! 🙂

      • Jericha says:

        You’re welcome. Just keep writing the gems and I will keep appreciating them. This is what we in the biz (what biz? ANY BIZ) call a win-win situation.

  4. Andrew says:

    As Jim Butcher says it, the way to not get eaten by a grizzly bear is not to be able to outrun the grizzly bear but to be able to outrun the guy next to you. Basically, to keep running the race when other people are giving up.

  5. Rob, thanks for the post. I haven’t sold even one ebook yet, but mine arrives later this month. I released my paperback late last year, and have spent this year, probably too much time, on blogging and social media, and less time marketing my book. I’m still learning though, and have a long ways to go. I think I’ll mark myself in the slow and steady camp. Thanks again for your information. I wish you the best.

    • rsguthrie says:

      You are most welcome, Randall. Thank you for commenting. I said once that
      I always thought the hard part was writing the dang book, but the marketing is by far the most time-consuming activity I do! Congrats on your book (and for the digital version). I wish you tremendous success! 🙂

  6. Rob,

    I love your blogs.

    On the odds– I see the book business as no different than many others. There are all sorts of people with good ideas who for whatever reason never stick with it long enough to realize their goals. In the writing business, I see cut lines everywhere. Some people work on their first book for years and give up before they type “the end.” Some finish the book and leave it unpolished. Some polish it and put it on KDP and then sit on their thumbs. Some stop after that first book. And so on.
    I am convinced that success in the book business is a matter of grinding it out for a long time. Like you, I have been working this deal hard for a couple of years. I am starting to see those efforts pay off little by little. But all that means is that I have to keep my head down and keep working.
    And by the way if you get lucky and sell a million e-books next week, let me know. The first round is on me.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Ah, Stephen…well you know that I love that you love my blogs! In all seriousness, it’s comments like these that boost me up when I think “is writing this thing really helping anyone?”. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. It really does make a difference. Cheers, and Happy Hump Day! 😀

    • rsguthrie says:

      P.S. If I ever sell a million copies, I’m buying the bar, so the drinks are most certainly on ME. 😉

  7. Tom says:

    I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed and really appreciated this post. I am just beginning to follow my passion and write every day and it is through reading your blog and others like it that I find encouragement, camaraderie and a sense of community. Thanks for your candor, inspiration and willingness to share.
    Now on to the next page…

    • rsguthrie says:

      I’m honored to be on your list of blogs, Tom. I agree with you wholeheartedly, too—that there is a camaraderie out there we must each tap into. Authors supporting authors; writers helping each other achieve success. There are enough readers out there for all of us (tenfold), so it makes sense to share what we learn and help the person on the rung behind us up to the next step. Cheers, and thanks for commenting! 🙂

  8. I’m new here, having been directed here from a tweet. (Now following you on Networked Blogs.)

    I’ve found your post useful, Rob, on many levels – perhaps one of the key reminders for me are that (1) when you’re in the writing ‘business’, it’s for the long haul, and (2) success is not a generic definition and can mean different things to different people.

    But your final paragraph wraps it up beautifully: “Decide what your writing means to you.” After all, if you’re not enjoying it, or benefiting from it, what on earth’s the point?

    Thanks again!

    • rsguthrie says:

      First, thanks for the follow, for reading, and for commenting. It really helps to know there are some people out there who are getting something out of my posts. The funny thing is, so many times when I post something, it’s because I just learned it myself! I figure we’re all on the same road and we might as well share what we know—even though we are each different, many times the road we traverse is the same, so pointing out potholes, shortcuts, and the like seems to me to be good camaraderie. Thanks again for commenting. It’s truly appreciated. 🙂

  9. […] posted. Anyway! This week Rob offered some great, common-sense advice for those of us who hope to sell a million books one day. He also shared a great post about the potential of zombies as a teen love interest. Come on, […]

  10. Paul D. Dail says:

    R.S., stopped over here as a result of Jonathan’s link at his blog. I’m a member of his TESSpecFic group.

    Anyway, great post with lots of good advice. Most of these things I already knew, but they are all things that I think we need to hear again… and again… and again.

    I’m a writer because it is what I love to do. I don’t really have a choice. I will always be a writer, even if it doesn’t bring in a single dime. However, I will be honest and say that the siren song of stories like John Locke is hard to resist, but you have a great point in the fact that seeing someone win the lottery doesn’t necessarily make me go out and buy a ticket.

    Anyway, glad to have stopped by. Hope you have a good weekend.

    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment, Paul. Any cohort of Jonathan’s is a cohort of mine. I certainly wouldn’t MIND selling a million copies either. 😉

  11. C.K. Garner says:

    Hey Rob,

    This was a timely post for me. I’ve read and reread so many versions of how to market my book once it is released, I get bogged down in information. I think what I gleaned from this was to assist other Authors and share the path with other upcoming Authors. I’m going to go and invite a few guests to be interviewed and post on my blog, now. If you’re interested in being the guest of a newbie, let me know. Cheers! C.K. Garner

  12. Terry Tyler says:

    Dead good post. So right, too – and about the sticking at it. I work harder at this than I ever have done at anything; I start the day on Twitter, I write, I go on FB and Goodreads, tweet again, write again, do an author interview – I almost never have a day off. And now I’m getting more readers, more reviews, people saying I have ‘quite a following’ – like you I’ve been ‘at it’ for a relatively short period of time – not the writing, but the promoting (about 8 months). Most nights when I go to bed my shoulders ache and my eyes feel like I’ve got sand in them. My house is less that immaculate, and I hardly ever go out. It’s 11.15 pm and I’m still in my pyjamas from this morning – I have a very understanding husband. But yes, it’s all worth it. It is, really!

  13. Jim Wright says:

    Well, I couldn’t have come across this post at a better time! I’ve been depressed, angry and mighty discouraged by the meager sales of my little tale. A couple times I’ve thrown in the towel, only to pick it up again an hour later or next day. Thanks for your coaching and encouragement. I really like your unvarnished version of what we have to do to be successful in this business! I am your new disciple!

    • rsguthrie says:

      It’s tough.I feel that way all the time and then I read a clip from an Indie author who’s damn good and isn’t selling a single freaking book. Unfortunately, we’re all in the same boat; fortunately that means we can each pick up a paddle and make it to our destination infinitely quicker. 😉 Thanks much for chiming in (and for reading). 😀

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