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If you want a six figure income from your books, it's a good idea to model people who are already making this kind of money.
Steve Scott seemed to burst onto the indie non-fiction scene in early 2014, but in fact, he has 42 books and has had an internet business since 2006. I interview him about his (not so secret) strategies for success.
In the intro, I talk about my impressions of Frankfurt Book Fair and some of what I learned there, as well as an update on my writing.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you!
Steve Scott is a bestselling non-fiction author of self-help books focusing on habits, including the mega-bestselling Habit Stacking: 97 small life changes that take 5 minutes or less.He has 42 books available right now under Steve Scott and SJ Scott. You can watch the video on YouTube here, or listen above on on iTunes or Stitcher.
- Lessons Steve has learned from his first internet businesses and affiliate marketing, which he started in 2006. Focusing on one business niche and genre, and specifically around building and nurturing an email list. His views of what works in publishing has changed, and now focuses on the hard work over the long term and little things on a daily basis. Steve has become very visible in the last year, but he has been working on this since 2006. The success he has had off the back of Habit Stacking was due to the years of ground work before that.
- On sharing income in public. Steve posts his income in public, part of a trend online as people openly share how their businesses work. For April – June 2014, Steve reported $125,857.37 and he breaks down exactly what that consists of. If you want this kind of success, based on this kind of business model – then copy what Steve is doing! (and when I say copy, I mean in the sense of modelling, not plagiarism!)
- Practicing the fundamentals every day is the way to this kind of success. Write a good book. Consistent butt in chair at least 5 times a week and write. Very good cover images. Building an email list and understanding good email marketing. There is no secret and it's not rocket science. Produce good books and connect with your audience consistently for years.
It's hard work, more good product and time.
- On copywriting skills and creating good non-fiction titles. Steve keeps a swipe file of ideas from blogs like Copyblogger. Steve recommends Robert Bly who wrote The Copywriter's Handbook: A step by step guide to writing copy that sells.
- The process of writing a non-fiction book from ideas to finished product. You can also get Steve's checklist for book publishing here. Steve uses physical index cards for ideas, especially as it gets him away from the computer.
- On disconnecting from the internet and digital fasting. On unlearning self-destructive behaviors that Kindle authors tend to fall into e.g. checking stats. On Writing Habit Mastery: How to write 2000 words a day and forever cure writer's block, one of Steve's books on the discipline of writing. We mention Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, a big influence on Steve.
What do non-fiction audiences want?
- Steve talks about splitting big topics into micro-topics, which stems from his blogging background. His books are around 15,000 – 25,000 words and delve deep, rather than being the ‘be all and end all' megabook which is more like the traditional publishing model. I talk about how, as a speaker, my business model for non-fiction includes professional speaking, which means having a chunkier book is something that enhances your authority. Steve's model is NOT about speaking, it's about selling bulk thinner books so he doesn't need to concern himself with longer books. It's all about what you want as your business model.
- How to stand out in the huge volume of new books. It's a matter of building up your products and your platform, and asking your audience what they want and what they like. Keep trying different things. This is a long term game and you can't stand out with one book. There are a few outliers, but most people only make a good living with a lot of books. Focus on what you need to do, not on what others are doing. Stop comparing yourself. I talk about how I met Alexis Grant online 5 years ago, and how many people have disappeared along the journey. If you stick with this long term, success will come. Most people will drop away.
- The tipping point into a full time income came when Steve fully committed himself to the model of Kindle publishing in Sept 2012, and wrote a book every 3 weeks. The tipping point to the big league earnings was in May 2014 when Habit Stacking took off, and having 40+ books available helped make more income from the back list. Focus on the genre and the niche and write content within that and build up a brand and a series. Be consistent in your writing. Make it a habit.
You can find Steve at SteveScottSite.com and HabitBooks.com. Steve also has a new podcast coming soon at SelfPublishingQuestions.com
Transcript of interview with Steve Scott
Joanna: Hi, Everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I'm here with Steve Scott. Hi, Steve.
Steve: Hi, Joanna. How are you doing?
Joanna: I'm thrilled to talk to you today. Just as a little introduction, Steve is a best selling non-fiction author of 43 self-help books focusing on habits, including the mega best selling Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes that Take Five Minutes or Less, which is one of those fantastic book titles which we will come back to. Steve, you started your internet business life with affiliate marketing, and you've been doing this entrepreneur thing for a while.
I wondered what lessons you learned from that time that have enabled you to achieve so much in publishing.
Steve: Yeah, actually I started probably back in 2004 with just building the internet business, but I say those first couple of years where just I use business in air quotes because I really didn't know what I was doing. As far as lessons that I've learned, honestly from the very beginning of when I started doing fairly well, is the value of just focusing on niche market folks on one specific audience, or for a lot of people listening, that would be a genre, trying to get them to enjoy my overall brand, and specifically join my email list. I would say the two major lessons I learned that I've kind of applied to book publishing are just zero in on a particular type of audience and actually have an avatar describe who your ideal customer would be. Then, just get them on an email list and engage them through email marketing.
Joanna: Which is interesting and I guess my question here is, because I've listened to quite a few interviews with you and I think you've really moved. You've moved from where you were to this process. Can you explain that a bit more?
What did you use to think about publishing and what do you think now?
Steve: Actually kind of what I thought from publishing, at least from the email standpoint, I would say from 2006 pretty much on, I've always been super into email marketing. But I guess what I started out was actually specifically Kindle Publishing. I was just focusing on the internet business stuff, affiliate marketing, that sort of stuff. I guess, now when I look back on this, I kind of painted myself with the same people or just talking about internet business riches and stuff that even years ago I still don't believe that you can just make money a ton overnight.
It just requires building assets. You have to put forth effort. You have to put effort in on a daily basis.
You have to get up and kind of repeat some of the unsexy process of getting your butt in the chair and writing every single day. I guess that's what I learned from business. It's the little things that you on a daily basis that can actually produce long term results.
Joanna: Great. I like your story, because in the last six months to a year, I've seen your name everywhere. I've seen your books everywhere.
Some people might think that you're like some overnight success, but you've actually been working on this for years.
Steve: Yeah, definitely. I would say from 2006 on to 2012, I've done enough of an internet business just to support myself. I always enjoyed traveling, so one year I pretty much took off the whole year and just traveled, and just support myself by my affiliate marketing business. I guess, again air quotes, when I arrived, just consistently doing the fundamentals which I'm sure we'll talk about in a bit.
But just practicing the same thing I was doing from day one, it's almost like a cumulative effect. Every time you put a book out there, the more people that buy, the more they join the email list, the more reviews you get. Every time I release a new book, it kind of built on itself. By the time Habit Stacking rolled around, I had a pretty sizable email list and following that when that right kind of combination of a title and an attractive e-cover image came out. I'll be honest the book review-wise has not done as well. Again, we'll get into that. But when the book finally came out it was just, because I had laid the groundwork ahead of time, that one just seemed to explode overnight. It wasn't like it happened just from one day, it was all the stuff I did in the year and a half leading up to that point.
Joanna: And how many books did you have out at the same time as Habit Stacking?
Steve: At the time, that was my 40th book and if I could break it down, I think that was the ninth or tenth book in the Habit line, and I had around 15 to 17, forgive me for my numbers I haven't looked at my other book lines, but I had the internet business ones at around 15 to seventeen. I tried a children's book line, because I'm lazy like a lot of people. I tried outsourcing the whole thing, I tried outsourcing a whole bunch of children's books. And that was not a disaster because I still make a little bit of money every month from them, but it was what I considered a failed experiment because I did not apply the principles that I apply now. I tried to outsource the whole process and not really be involved with it. As far as the Habit books, that was the ninth or tenth one when I really set one.
Joanna: And I think that's the point. Talking about income, now you're very open about income. You come from the school of bloggers who share their income.
Joanna: Which I appreciate. Maybe when I earn as much as you, I will also share my income. You recently reported $125,000 American dollars for a quarter, which I thought was fantastic. And part of that is like your saying, people bought Habit Stacking, but then they bought eleven other books in the series. Did you see that spillover into the rest?
Steve: Absolutely. On my blog I also, if you look at a post you see I'm an obsessive tracker. So I actually did an analysis of, I think I did a month before Habit Stacking, a month after. And I think it was the eight books, how much they sold in the month leading up to Habit Stacking, and how much they sold after Habit Stacking, and actually the promotion died out. And I saw fifty percent increase on all my other books. Just for the sole fact that I only did one thing on my marketing overall plan, which was just I released a new book, and just by releasing a new book and having that sell while I saw the spillover into all my other titles.
Actually I released a book, not really one I'm pushing right now, but released it a couple of days ago, and again I see a little bit of an increase just by having a new book out on the marketplace.
Joanna: Which again I think is the point. You developed a vertical, and if you just had Habit Stacking this wouldn't have happened most likely. You would have got a little bump, but you've got this big thing.
So you say in that post that if you practice the fundamentals everyday, and you will achieve a breakthrough in your book business. So, what are the fundamentals?
Steve: Wow, hearing it described like that is kind of lofty statement. I would say, you would do better than people that just throw books against the wall and hope they would stick. So maybe I'll reword what I said in that blog post.
Joanna: No, it's inspiring. Everybody wants a…
Steve: I would say, though, that the fundamentals for me, honestly, it's, which I know, I've listened to your podcast and you preach this as well. Actually, I think I saw you talked about the word count. How you keep diligent word count. I've got, because I talk about habits, and I guess this is the ironic part, but I've gotten out of the habit of keeping a daily word count, but I still write every single day so that's important.
But I would say, one of the fundamentals is butt in chair consistently writing on a daily basis, or at least five times a week. I know some people like to take the weekend off, but just waking up every single day, and I like I do it in the morning, start writing, that's a major fundamental. I would say cover images, that's a huge fundamental, because people do judge a book by a cover. I know you talked about it in your podcast, how you actually reworked your cover images of your fiction books. I think you said you saw almost immediate increase in income. Am I saying this right?
Joanna: No. No. That was a key word. Difference. But I did do my images, and I don't know about that one yet, I'm still.
Steve: Well I might be a liar, but yeah the e-cover images, I would say email lists. You'll probably hear me preach throughout the podcast how much email marketing is important for my business.
I would say just write a good book and maybe that was the mistake I made with Habit Stacking. The marketing aspect of it, I think I did really well. But maybe the idea, I think is still a valid idea, it's just maybe the execution, the actual quality of the book, wasn't up to my normal standards. And that's something I'm going to fix in a couple of months.
I would say yes, so write a good book and be consistent. When you learn something that's working, I'm a firm believer in the 80-20 principle, so when you see the small 20% activities that really make a difference in your business, don't waste time on the little rinky dinky stuff, just focus on the stuff that actually works and try leveraging that.
In my opinion those are the fundamentals. Just the boring unsexy stuff, but really for me it's worked. Its not trying all these crazy tactics that haven't been proven, it's just being consistent on a daily basis.
Joanna: Like I said, I really love talking to someone like you, because I see your income and I see the people who have consistently been doing amazingly well right now. You know the big names as well like Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy. You know, they're doing exactly the same thing. I think we're at this point there is no secret, is there?
Joanna: It's like diet and exercise. It's exactly the same. You just do the same stuff regularly for years.
Steve: Yeah, honestly, and maybe that's why I've done fairly well in non-fiction space. All I do is listen to what fiction writers are doing. I don't feel like writing on non-fiction writers are doing, but maybe what fiction writers have evolved a bit more and understand the merit of hard work, and I've listened to your podcast, obviously a self published podcast. And I just, everything thing that everyone preaches is just consistent hard work and really, it's no secret. Just do it.
Joanna: Its true, but I do see in what you're doing, some copywriting skills that I think authors could take note of. For example your Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less. Why is that such a good title?
Steve: Actually when I did an interview with James Altucher, he was the one that pointed that out. And I didn't really, I guess it was one of those things that when I was too involved with the process, I didn't really think was that good of a title.
But I guess, what he said is, the actual main title, what I call the main title because I have two types of titles. There's the main title that kind of hooks people in, kind of creates curiosity. And the subtitle actually delivers what the actual promise of the main title is.
So what James Altucher points out is it's not only getting 97 habits, you can incorporate this in your day in a quick fashion. It promises a quick win for readers. And I would love to say I spent hours over that title, it just clicked in my head. I do try to experiment with copywriting as much as possible, so I guess it just kind of came to me, but I knew that that was the back half of the book were those 97 things. The overall arching idea behind Habit Stacking is you can add a bunch of small little habits to your day that only take a couple minutes a piece.
I tried I cram as many words in there and somehow it came out sounding good I guess. I try to simplify as much as I can with the subtitle of any book.
Joanna: I want to give you more credit though. I'm also on your email list. And your emails are very well copywritten as such. You obviously understand call-to-action and headlines and all that.
Joanna: So is that just from years of internet marketing experience?
Steve: Yeah, I guess I could have included that when you asked me about internet business stuff, but I've tried to, I've written sales pages in the past, if you go way back into the early internet marketing, you had to know how to write long engaging sales pages. And it's something I do not enjoy but I guess doing that enough and writing subject lines or blog headlines, you almost internalize the process… I don't have it in front of me. I actually have a Swipe file of a number of blogs that I love, especially copy blogs where I just went back and found like the last five years of their headlines of their blog posts, and just put that into a file. And every time I'm trying to figure out a title of a book or the title of a blog post I'll pull it out and I'll just flip through and see what I if I can find one that I can rework that kind of matches the theme and scope of a book or a blog title that I'm writing.
I do love copywriting as far as what it has taught me, but I kind of internalize it, I don't really think about it much right now. Or when I do stuff I guess I know the fundamentals and it comes to me.
Joanna: Yeah it does. And I'm going to put in a request for a ‘copywriting for authors' book from you. It might not fit your habit thing, but as just a request I'm just going to throw it out.
Steve: Actually it's easy, Robert Bly he does great work as far as copywriting and running a business. I think he has something about copywriting on Amazon. I would go check it out.
I think you can get the best education by reading a lot of stuff that he writes about copywriting and he is an author, so a lot of it can be applied to authors.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well thank you for that one.
Okay you told us a bit about your ideas about, you have a look at other things and get ideas, but can you talk about your process from, ‘I need to write another book next month,' to ‘finished book?'
Steve: Actually, I tend to start books a month to two months before I even put pen to paper. I like the idea of… a lot of the times it's really an almagamation of different things, but a lot of times if I want to develop a habit in my own life, or there's some area of my life I feel that would actually be a good topic of a book, I'll actually create the kernel of the idea, I'll write it down, put it in Evernote, and then during my walks and runs, I'll generally come back with a bunch of ideas. Just something about just getting outdoors and just getting exercise, it just find that's the best way to trigger my subconscious getting ideas. I'm just constantly putting stuff in Evernote.
So I'll generally do that a month or two before a book, and then by the time it comes down for a brain dump or outline, I'll have a lot of content already kind of pre-written in my head. Little phrases I want to say or things I want to include, and it's just this simple matter of just putting stuff into an outline. I'm huge into index cars, just taking those ideas, putting them into 10 to 12 index cards that represent a chapter, taking individual index cards after that and adding to that stack. I like the index card approach because you can kind of sort them around, rip up ideas that you just don't think were really working.
I feel almost a process of eliminating ideas, ripping them up, moving around, that by the time you come for your outline or I guess what the guys self-publishing podcast call their ‘beats,' I feel they actually have a pretty tight book that just, all I really need to do is just flesh out each individual idea.
Joanna: Which is cool. Ryan Holidaycalso uses physical index cards.
Steve: Yeah, yeah.
Joanna: Which I think… so you don't use Scrivener or anything?
Joanna: How can you be so successful and not use Scrivener!
Steve: I've tried, I really have. I sat and I watched the videos and I'm like, I just, it's… I'm probably going to make people's heads explode, I just like Word.
Steve: I know, I know. Do what Joanna says, don't do what I do. I now hire people for formatting and stuff, I just… I don't want to learn Scrivener. I guess it's something I had to come to terms with. I really want to, it's just… and I'm sure it's the greatest tool since sliced bread I just don't use it.
Joanna: It's great to hear that, because some people I know are so wedded to Word. Because it sounds like you do that organization on cards, physical cards.
Joanna: Yeah, which is… if you don't do physical, I don't do physical, I do Scrivener, and that's the big thing is it helps you organize and drag and drop and stuff. So you do that before you write, basically.
Steve: Yeah, exactly. And I guess, while I love technology, I am also very careful with being on the phone or in front of the computer too much. I purposely try disconnecting as much as possible. I just don't like having to sit down in front of a laptop to do everything. And sometimes it's just nice… honestly it's, on days like this where it's the fall, where I'm living, it's really nice weather, I love to just go outside and if I have like an outline or index cards, it's something I can do where I feel like I'm working, but I'm also not in front of the computer.
Joanna: Which is cool, and you're the habit guy, and that is a good habit. I must say, I do try the digital fasting pretty regularly, you know. At least a day a fortnight now. Which sounds terrible, but really just disconnecting completely.
Is that a habit you would recommend for authors?
Steve: Oh… I would say absolutely. Actually, specifically for Kindle authors or self-published authors, the one thing… and I do it like everyone else, you check your stats, you check your reviews, check, check, check, check, check, check. And that's really dangerous a habit. Especially if you read a negative review and then it kind of ruins the rest of your day, especially your writing.
So actually a habit that I developed I'm actually really quite proud of is, I'll… generally I'll work from home in the mornings, and I'll sometimes go to Starbucks and I'll go running in the park at the end of the day. And I'll come home around seven or eight at night, and I'll have dinner with my fiancé, but literally the moment I step foot into my house, I plug my phone into, actually this room that I'm in right now, I plug it into the wall to charge, I walk out of the room and I don't touch my cell phone until eight o'clock in the morning.
So, I literally don't touch my phone for 12 hours. And the positive by-product of that is I just don't check stats as much anymore and I don't check my reviews. I don't do the stuff that kind… is self-destructive behavior. So I really try to be very conscious about…
And actually, I think I heard you say, it was on the Sell More Books show, where they talked about reading Kindle books, do you prefer your phone or your Kinder Paperwhite. I actually went out and got a Kindle Paperwhite just for the sole fact that I can read books at night without having that kind of, if you're reading on the phone then you suddenly check over and see how your books are doing and stuff. I'm trying to eliminating as many of my own self-destructive habits as possible.
Joanna: That's great. Now I'm not just not a data person at all, to be honest. I barely check anything.
Steve: That's good.
Joanna: And I took my email off my phone a year ago. It must be over a year now, and that's just brilliant.
Steve: That also saves me so much, like just agony of… you look at the email but you don't respond back. But you think about the email and actually sometimes your mind's not present in the moment because you're thinking about that thing that you have to do. The phones are great, but they're also, they're kind of ruining the human connection that we have as a people.
Joanna: Yeah. Actually, there's a lot of discipline involved in being an author full stop. Do you have a book on discipline?
Steve: I would say the best one that, it's actually very simplistic, it's, you could almost sum it up on a sentence and it really is just writing, have a mastery, just get up, sit down in your chair and just make it what's called The One Thing. And whatever the most important aspect of your business is, you make that a focal point of your day, so for me the one thing's writing, so I structure my day where I can't let anything else intrude, so if I know if I put that hour or two of writing in the morning that whatever may come with the rest of the day, I've at least done the most important thing.
So as far as discipline, I just… you almost have to know your own weaknesses, and I'm pretty self conscious about what… if I get out of bed and I don't really do much I know that really can snowball into a bad day where I just don't be productive. So you just kind of have to know your own moods and have little kind of tricks and hacks to avoid those certain rabbit holes that we all get into.
And really it's almost on a case-by-case basis. Each individual person has to know their own limiting actions and account for that and figure out a way to get around that.
Joanna: Ah, so much I could ask you about that. I think you're a bit like Leo Babauta, right, from Zen Habits.
Steve: Yeah I love, absolutely love, love that. I was kind of joking with you before, called that your crush on Steven Pressfield, I think I have a man-rush on Leo Babauta.
Joanna: Yeah, and if people don't know, Leo blogs at Zen Habits, and talks about, as you do, habit change.
Joanna: And amazing, amazing stuff. So I want to just ask you about, so you've written these 43 books now. What do you see, with the data that you have, and that you have these books… what do readers want from non-fictions?
So what are the things that you're repeating, like shorter books, or what are the things that people want?
Steve: Honestly… I'll start by saying my opinions kind of change on this. What I saw initially when I was first getting started is there's the giant how-to massive compendium books. These are the self-, traditionally published, 50 to 100,000 words. And they tend to really try to cover every possible question that people have. And I guess my strengths/weakness, I'm not to sure what you'd call it, is I kind of came from a blogging mindset, where I liked the idea of your blog representing your actual niche.
So someone comes to your blog, they want to find out content about a specific market. I almost look at each Kindle book as a very long blog post. So I'll try to tackle one subject and just really drill down into it. And on the actual word count level, I try to keep those around 15,000 words.
I feel that it's evolving, and people are starting to really embrace the 15,000 word count, so now I'm trying to put a lot more quality of the content, and a little bit longer word count anywhere from 20 to 25,000 words. But I just really like the idea of if you have one problem, then you could read one of my books and it solves that specific problem, and I'm not trying to bore you with 100 other details that really don't relate to that one particular problem. And if you wanted to find out more you can always check out my other books.
I like really kind of drilling down into a topic and try to provide as much value for that one specific issue.
Joanna: Yes, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you was to drill this into my head. So I just got this in the post, it's the Business For Authors, my latest, How To Be An Author Entrepreneur. Now this is 70,000 words. This is an almost… and my non-fiction is long. And it's so funny, because I was thinking, when I was thinking about this book, because I've been following you for a while and I was like, “Why can't I make this shorter?” And then I thought about it as a business model. So my main business model for non-fiction is professional speaking.
And when you're a speaker, it's actually important to have a physical book. And I've got books that are as short as that, like a novella at 22,000 words, and it's way thin. And of course your business model with these thinner books, do you do print for those? Do you do speaking, how does that work?
Steve: Yeah, actually, I would say definitely, you and I have a little bit different model. So honestly with what you do and I know you speak a lot, so honestly, the longer book that really covers a lot of content, that's honestly probably a better move for your particular business model.
I don't do speaking, I actually… it's just something I just, I've never been interested in, I don't really like the idea of coaching. It's just personal preference, like you I'm an introvert, I actually like kind of my little cave, I like hiding in my little office in New Jersey.
If I go do travel for a conference, honestly a lot of times I like sit in the back of the room learning rather than having that feeling, that nervousness of having to step on stage and actually talk.
As far as the, I do do print books. They really just don't sell well, and probably just what you mentioned, they're just… they're not the longer books. I think people just prefer the Kindle books. So I think that only comprises, it's only about three to four percent of my overall volume. And audiobooks are about 10%.
So the audio is what really surprised me, that's the one I didn't see coming.
So yeah I would say 85% to 90% is Kindle and the rest are just the kind of, the peripheral stuff.
Joanna: Yeah, and I think it's a really important point for people. It will depend on what the business model is and whether you want, like, one seminal work to wave around or you… but I must say that you're making a lot more money, so yours is the more advisable business model if people want to go that way.
But I like the fact that you talk about drilling down on this vertical. And I noticed you use different names, don't you? You put an initial in…
Steve: Yeah, that was a big whoops on my part. I didn't spend the five minutes it would've taken me to look at variations on my initials. So there's… I'm SJ Scott, or my pen name for the Habit books. But there's a JS Scott, what I just found out is a romance erotica writer. So… you switch those initials around, you get a whole different brand of book, so. I should… and probably what I'm going to do in the near future is I'm probably going to, at least for the Habit books, put Steve SJ Scott, and just go with it. I try to keep with the… actually I think that's what you did, you did JF Penn and Joanna Penn, I tried to get cute with it and tried to just do initials and, I feel that kind of creates brand confusion. The one thing I was worried is I didn't want to have people to look at the internet books and I wanted to keep those very separate, because I felt those were really separate audiences.
And especially with Amazon, where there's 10 per page if you have 56 e-books, it's easy for books to get lost, so I wanted to make sure people could find the books that they wanted to with the least amount of clutter.
Joanna: No, I agree, I think the different brand is really important, but still, people can still find it.
I mean, you do have two websites as well, right?
Steve: Yeah, and actually I'm starting a podcast so I guess that'll be a third website. I think eventually I'm just going to take the ball, run with it, and just create one… I'll still have my blogs, but as far as a social media presence, I'm really going to just put Steve Scott, author-preneur, something like that where it's just… if you want to learn about habits or you want to learn about Kindle business publishing, that sort of stuff, then they can find me all on one central location.
So I do the separate blogs, but the Develop Good Habits blog, I'd really just, I've done a terrible job of keeping that updated. So it's something I started and I kind of just let fall by the wayside.
Joanna: No, I'm interested… and then, we're obviously both really positive about self-publishing and everything, you know. And I never see like a zero-sum game, I'm up for everyone in world publishing, to be honest. Because as a reader, I read three to five books a week, and I don't write three to five books a week. I mean I am a hardcore reader.
And I really think that there's room for everyone. But, someone like you, who's putting out books really fast, who's got all of their, you kind of represent the kind of author that some people are scared of, that people talk about when they mention words like tsunami and the sheer volume of stuff. And many authors are scared about the massive growth in volume.
So how do you think authors can stand out in this big growth period?
Steve: I would say, first off, I would say just do what you think would connect you to the audience best. I would say first off, it's… I think the guys at self-publishing podcast, I know I've mentioned them twice, but they're a good example, that they're like machines with their content and I've read a couple of their books, it's good content. It's good fiction.
So just because you can produce fast doesn't make it necessarily bad. But I would say as far as an author, or an author getting started, it's just you really have to make a determination would you want to start with the kind of smaller books that tackle one's subject, or would you rather just kind of go for a longer book. It's just, I guess it's really a matter of actually building up your platform and just gauging readers and finding out what exactly they want.
You can learn that by just talking to them and asking, like I use my email to ask questions all the time. Or you can just look at the reviews of your books if you start to see a pattern of what people don't like about your books and you can shift tactics, but…
I guess, again both the strength and weakness of what I do is I definitely have a ready-fire-aim approach to stuff, I kind of just do stuff and see what happens, and if it works it works if it does not, I'll just do something differently. So I'm not to sure if that completely answered your question.
Joanna: Yeah, no, I think it comes back to what you said in the beginning as well, this is a long-term game. So if an author writes one book, they can't be expected to stand out, in my opinion.
Just don't think you can stand out with one book anymore.
Steve: No, not at all, I know that the 50 Shades of Grey is people love touting that as one of the best examples of success with self-publishing, but it's really, it was a rare incident. I can see how he calls that an outlier, it's just something that you just, you don't expect that to happen to people. The most successful authors are the ones that are out there just continuously doing it and eventually, you start to just build an audience up literally one person at a time, every time someone emails you, you email them back and you talk to them and you try and engage them and just do a little bit every single day, and it does build up, it's just…
It is hard because sometimes you see these interviews with these numbers and maybe it's just, sometimes that can be counterproductive, seeing these numbers, that you get a little bit down on yourself, but it's really, it's a long-term game, it's not overnight. You just have to do… focus on what you need to do instead of what other people are doing, just try building it one book at a time, one email at a time, one blog post at a time. Just keep on creating content and finding what people want.
Joanna: I'm going to be talking to Alexis Grant, do you know her? She…
Steve: Yeah, yeah, she and I Skyped a couple times and emailed and stuff. Yeah. I'll try to get more into her content, but yeah, I know her.
Joanna: Yeah, she and I met on Twitter like the first week I was on Twitter, like six years ago or something. Five years ago. I met her. And we're going to have a conversation in a couple of weeks about what's changed for both of us over the last kind of six years since we've first met online. And one of the things I've been thinking about is how many people have just disappeared. People that we met at the beginning who've just gone away.
When I look at how long you've been working at this, I just think, your success is not, you're not an outlier, I don't believe you're an outlier, I think you work, you've just worked bloomin' hard, you know? Over years.
Steve: Yeah. I guess for me it was just… I had a blog that was not really that successful and I was kind of spinning my wheels with blogs, so I was just, instead of blogging every single day, I might as well just put this in Kindle book format. And I guess I just took, the area was working hard and not getting results and just translating somewhere else. And maybe for the people listening that aren't seeing the success they feel they deserve, maybe try something else like… I forget that quote, but basically the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
If you're just not seeing success and you're really trying hard, maybe try a different thing, maybe try a different way that you're trying to track readers.
You could start a podcast or a YouTube channel, start a blog. Doing something different that maybe you'll find that sudden surge of readers and followers and that's kind of what it is, just took what I was doing, just jumped on a different platform.
Joanna: And then I just want to ask about your tipping point. Did you see a tipping point in terms of number of books?
Like when did it go from being just a bit of a laugh and a bit of a hobby to this is actually a viable business?
Steve: Honestly, it was when I decided to fully commit myself. So the first two books, they were just, I hate to say it, I literally just threw blog posts up there, kind of formatted, again, obviously those aren't my best efforts. So I kind of threw two cast-off books, went away, this was summer of 2012, so basically went away just for some weeks on vacation, and saw that they were actually selling halfway decent. And when I decided, I'm like, I was telling my girlfriend at the time, now is my fiance, I was telling her, “You know there's something about this Kindle stuff, maybe I should sit down and actually put some effort into it.” And I just, I suddenly got the bug, I just sat down September 2012 and I just literally wrote a book every three weeks, and I just focused on that.
And I would say within, by December, I was making enough where, if I had to, I could've lived off my Kindle earnings. But it was really just working, I would say, 20-ish hours a week on it.
Actually, it was somewhere upwards of 25 hours a week, I work a lot less now, I would say I work about 15 hours a week on my actual Kindle books, but it was just, to answer your question, it was really when I just fully committed to the process, and kind of, 80-20 everything else. Anything that wasn't helping that one particular business, I just dropped.
Joanna: Which I think is a really good point. But when did the, I'm just personally interested in when the kind of, when did it jump from “Yes, I can live on this,” to “Whoa, I can really live on this.”
Steve: I would say May of this year. The fundamentals, it was my 40th book, was Habit Stacking. And I was doing fairly well before that, I was, at that point, I was like, this is more money that I could possibly imagine. Habit Stacking took off and I had a couple after that that just rode the coat tails of that one. And it, to my opinion, numbers I truly never thought or imagined.
Like, you hear these ridiculous numbers and all these statements by people doing stuff, and you're like, that's not true, that can't be possible. And it really, it, I would say it blew up. I think it's gone down since then, I'm trying to take the lessons from Habit Stacking and apply it to different books. So take the marketing lessons, but also put it behind quality books. I'm trying to see if I can replicate that and have another couple of books that really take off like that.
But again, it's just a learning game, you make this stuff up as you go along.
Joanna: No, absolutely. Yeah, well, I'm very impressed with what you've done. And I talk about you a lot, actually.
Because I think we have so many examples of fiction authors who are doing this regularly, but are you the only one who's doing this with non-fiction?
Steve: I would say I'm one of the few that's doing it and being honest about what books are theirs. Because it seems to be a common thread that the non-fiction authors just don't talk about what books… it's like Fight Club. They're like, oh there's a bunch of books and make a pile a money, here's my income statement. But then they won't really show what books are there.
It was very scary to actually do that, I was like oh man, I'm going to open myself up to negative reviews, I'm going to open myself up to copycats and I've gotten both. But I feel it's better long-term to be very honest about what's working and what's not, and I feel that you're… when you add… like that old quote that when you add more value to the world, you get it back.
Joanna: Social karma.
Steve: Yeah, social karma. I would say it was from there, like the spring of 2014 and pretty much since then it's been kind of ebbing and flowing. But it was just getting those few books out there that just did really well.
Joanna: And then a final question, because you know you're a self-help guy, you do a lot on the psychology and we talked a bit about self-discipline…
what do you think is a sort of fundamental mindset shift for an author to move into this kind of more successful realm?
Steve: a couple things, I would say put your eggs all in one basket if you're going to be focusing on writing as a career. I would say when you're first getting started, focus on a genre, focus on a niche and really just try writing as much content in there, and that could be the form of, if you see that one particular line of books is actually doing well, write more in that series.
Or if you see that a particular type of niche is doing well, continuously focusing on that, and I would say go as far as if you see something working, really put your eggs in that basket.
And I guess an example of this is, this is a very dangerous strategy, so really think carefully about it, but I actually put all my eggs in Amazon's basket. I literally just have everything on Amazon right now. It is two years right now that I have been Kindle publishing full time, and only now am I starting to look to other sites like Kobo and obviously some of the other things. But it's took me two years to even consider going elsewhere.
And I feel just having that all in one area concentrated just focusing on one topic and one platform really has helped me achieve success because it's very easy.
If someone likes your book, they just go on Amazon and continuously buy others. And I feel with all this, it's when you have all the sales tools they kind of just help build that snowball that one book reader turns into a buyer of multiple books, and just you get enough of those, those 1000 true fans you start to build a huge following on one platform.
And I would say another habit or mindset shift. I would say just consistency.
Just the one thing for all of us, that's writing, so you want to structure your day around writing, that should be your top priority, I would say. Up there with spending time with family, going to work, exercising, that should be something that you block out that's part of your day, that should be, you never schedule appointments then, you just make sure that you get that one thing done before pretty much anything else.
Joanna: Fantastic. Right, Steve, where can people find you and your books online?
Steve: I would say my books, habitbooks.com, they can find online. Actually let me throw this out there, you can find Kindle publishing information at stevescottscite.com, but I'm actually starting a new podcast, selfpublishingquestions.com, and hopefully launching that at the end of October, but it'll be kind of the shorter form daily type of podcast where people can just call in with a question, I'll just spend time answering it. I kind of enjoy those shows rather than some of the longer ones where I like to focus just on, if people are struggling with a certain area, they can just call and I'll do my best to answer.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thank you for doing that as well. Given how successful your being, you're being generous with your time.
Steve: Well, thank you.
Joanna: Yeah, and this is what I love about being indie, I think… well I don't know if traditional publishers, traditional authors have the same kind of network, but I feel like we've just got this great group of people who share everything and are honest and it's awesome.
Steve: Oh yeah, I, like I said, I've learned a lot by just listening to your podcast and other ones, and it's… I feel it hopefully will legitimize the model that eventually when there's enough people, that really feel, oh, these self published book are actually good, they're enjoyable fiction, they're helpful content. That sort of thing, that I feel it helps all of us, not just the individual authors. So I really do believe in that, it's like if we help each other out, it will help all of us in the long term.
Joanna: I agree. Well thanks so much for your time, Steve, that was great.
Steve: Well thank you.
I have one thing to say about this: “Survivorship bias”.
Looking at the successes is not sufficient.
Joanna Penn says
There are plenty of people who don’t succeed at self-publishing – but I don’t particularly think that would be interesting for my podcast. My aim is to inspire people, and educate myself and others – so I will continue to interview the successes.
Denis Ledoux says
Totally agree, Joanna. You both came across as thoughtful, intelligent and knowledgeable. I was greatly inspired by this interview. Great and successful effort from both of you!
Great interview, Joanna.
Steve has been a shining example for me personally while building my catalog of Kindle books. I like to model the successes of others as much as possible and Steve’s transparency has allowed me to do so. I’ve even been able to quit my job and become a full-time writer. His niche-topic, large catalog approach is very effective especially in the self-help niches.
Also, learning copywriting has been, by far, one of the biggest reasons I think I’m able to self-publish successfully. It’s strange when I look at other self-published books and it becomes immediately obvious that the author isn’t knowledgeable in the art of selling a story or information. Along with the book Steve mentioned, there’s one called “Cashvertising” that your readers may find useful as well. Also, there’s a copywriter named Ted Nicholas who has a ton of useful sales writing information on the web.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Ron, and I think modelling others is the best way to learn – it’s certainly what I have done for years as well. Steve’s success inspires me too – and I love that he is not an overnight star, but someone who has put in the hard work over years and provides value for readers. Thanks for the book recommendation too – I will check that out!
Listening to this podcast was my treat to myself after a hard week of writing. I’ve liked Steve’s work for a while, and was interested in hearing him. I was not disappointed. You are an awesome interviewer. You ask the questions we all want to ask, then you let the person speak. So many don’t. Thanks Joanna
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Ronnie – I’m glad you like my interview style too 🙂
I really appreciate this article, find it inspiring and thank you and Steve for it! But I do agree with the first commenter that it would be useful to hear more “failure stories” to go along with the successes. It’s becoming easier to get advice from those who’ve succeeded — which is great — but it would also be so helpful to see a dissection of a good idea gone wrong … I suspect it might be difficult to get a volunteer who’d share their story for that, though.
Joanna Penn says
I’ve been sharing what works and what doesn’t work – for me personally – here for almost 6 years!
Also, have a listen to my discussions with Jim Kukral, we both discuss failure – but I certainly mention it in many episodes and ask people about their failures. Even in this one, I ask Steve what he’s learned and he talked about some of the issues with Habit Stacking that means he is rewriting it – I think you have to reframe what you’re hearing – all the successful people I talk to have failed in many ways and then continued into success – we just call failure ‘learning,’ so when I ask ‘what did you learn?’ I am asking about failure!
Thanks for your reply! I’m new to your blog — just found this story via Twitter — so my apologies for not being up-to-speed. I look forward to checking out more of your helpful information now that I’ve found you.
Rev. Stephen B. Henry PhD. says
Great interview, excellent advice and information, and wonderful extras on the page, but can you please make your links open in a new tab or window (target=”_blank”) so it doesn’t kill the audio when looking around and clicking elsewhere on the page?
Rachel E. Nichols says
Just curious about something. I have a niche idea for helping people with bipolar manage their daily routines to lead more meaningful lives. Is it too niche to be worth publishing? Which model would be best?
Joanna Penn says
Niche books are a great idea – do your keyword research on Amazon – but there’s enough people worldwide that this will find its market. In terms of ‘model,’ if you mean self-pub or traditional, then it’s a personal decision. If you want total control and getting it out fast, then go indie. If you want print publication and someone else to run the editing/cover design, then approach trad pub channels but be prepared for it to take a while … all the best
I for one am actually quite surprised to hear that a man with 45+ published books under his belt only earns about $150k a year. I mean, that’s a lot of books. :\
Joanna Penn says
I’m not sure what you think authors earn – the official stats say under $10,000 per year – so Steve is an outlier 🙂
No doubt $150,000 is a lot of money, and good for him. But with that many books… That’s only about $3,300 per book per year. Just a bit discouraging, that’s all.