The Coaching Habit was published on February 29, 2016. (Leap Day! Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?)
In the year since, it’s sold nearly 200,000 copies, including 8,000 ebooks in one week in May. It made the Wall Street Journal bestseller list “organically” (which is to say, accidentally). It received more than 500 reviews on Amazon, 450 of which are five-star. And it’s been the number one book in the business/coaching category for about 95 percent of the year.
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So perhaps you’re considering writing a book yourself, or you’ve gone as far as to have a first draft in a digital drawer somewhere. We’ve all seen our marketing heroes grow a base of fans, then customers, then empires through “content marketing.” And the big kahuna in content marketing is the book. This is how you officially rise to “Thought Leader” status, it’s how you differentiate yourself from your competitors, you drive revenue, you launch your speaking career, you start hanging out with other cool authors. Easy enough, right?
As with most things involving your business, it’s a bit more complicated than it seems. Writing a book is a long, lonely, and oftentimes unsuccessful endeavor. My “instant success” was anything but. The Coaching Habit was the result of four years of floundering, rejection, and toil. So you don’t make my mistakes, allow me to share everything I used to vault my book from idea to bestseller (with a table of contents to skip to what you’d like to know).
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Part I: The New York publisher, the big-name agent, and misery
In 2010, I fell into a book deal with a fancy New York publisher. It happened remarkably quickly. I was planning to self-publish my second book and had printed a small run to send out to my friends for their feedback, a final step before I hit the “All In” button and printed several thousand. One of those friends, Nick, sent his copy on to his publisher who got excited and called me. I got excited, and told them they had 48 hours to make an offer, given the impending big print run. They got flustered but made an offer. And in less than a week, we had a deal.
Woo-hoo! (Note: As I’ve subsequently discovered, this is not at all how it normally works.)
Do More Great Work was launched, and it’s done well. In five years, it’s sold about 90,000 copies, and people who like it love it. I had my first experience with a publisher, and it was mostly good. There were the usual disappointments about design compromises (a little gap), and about what they thought of as marketing (a much bigger gap).
Courtesy, as well as my contract, obliged me to offer my next book to this publisher. And this time, rather than “Accidentally Do It Myself” like last time, I thought it was time to get an agent. Because that’s what “Real Authors” have. After talking to a few, I found someone who I considered smart and strategic, and who had an impressive roster of business authors. I signed up… and quickly entered a special kind of purgatory.
The next three years were spent in back-and-forth between me, the agent, and my publisher, and I failed to make any progress. I wrote proposals. The agent turned them down. I wrote more proposals. The agent and the publisher turned them down. I wrote entire books. My editor told me they “loved them” but didn’t “love them.”
So I tried to write the book that I thought they’d think they might love, if they knew what that book was, which they didn’t. Another miserable fail. And I wrote at least one other full-length version of the book somewhere in there as well, also rejected. It was a colossal waste of time that I could have spent growing and improving my business. I had lost my way. It crossed my mind more than once that I should be spending my time on something, anything, more productive. You know, marketing, sales, that sort of thing.
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Part III: Invest more upfront (and keep more money)
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Just so you know how the money works, for my first book Do More Great Work, which was published only as a paperback, I was paid an advance of $15,000 (which I was THRILLED about) and a royalty rate of eight percent for full-price books (this does not include those sold at a bulk discount rate).
The book sells for between $10 and $15, depending on how Amazon is feeling, which means I earn about $1 per sale, plus-or-minus 20¢. In the six years since it was originally published, it’s sold about 90,000 copies, meaning I’ve easily earned out my advance, and I get checks once or twice a year from the publisher (checks that get smaller each time).
For The Coaching Habit, I had to invest a bunch of money upfront (more about that above) and had to spend a bunch of money on the launch and ongoing marketing (more about that below). However, the economics of this book, if I can sell it, are much better. It costs me between $1.50 and $2.00 a copy to print it. It costs me money for shipping and storage. Our distributors pay us 60 percent of the sale price. The book sells for between $11 and $15, so that means I earn between about $4 and $6 for each print copy sold. The Kindle version sells for $5, and we get 70 percent of that from Amazon, so about $3.50 per copy sold. That’s anywhere between 300 and 500 percent more than I’d get with a traditional publisher!