Five Part Series: What I Learned from Writing and Self-Publishing My First Book

Today we’re starting a five-part series on how to write, publish, and launch your first self-published book. Heath graciously agreed (after only a few months of nagging, mind you) to let me come on the podcast and share all my stories that I’ve been DYING to share about publishing a book. So you can listen to our conversation by hitting play above, or read a version of our conversation below.

We’re talking about:

  • My goals for selling my book
  • Why giving away my book for free was BRILLIANT
  • Why I wanted to publish a book
  • Validating a book idea
  • And my secret for actually finishing and publishing this book

Enjoy!


For years, I dreamt of publishing a book. It was a pretty pie-in-the-sky dream, and one I’ve had since I was six years old. Of course when I was six I also wanted to be a prima ballerina but one of these goals seemed much easier to achieve than the other.

A few short months ago, I finally did it. I published my first book, A Beginner’s Guide to Living in an RV.

I started a blog before writing a book—because that was the advice everyone was giving five years ago when I was graduating college and trying to figure out how to make my dream happen. If you want to write books they said, you start a blog, build an audience, become an expert, then write your book.

That was the proven path I took. I started AlyssaPadgett.com—which was later combined with Heath’s blog to form HeathandAlyssa.com because two blogs were WAY too much for this family. We grew our site together, sharing everything we knew about full-time RVing and running a business on the road, and then I wrote my book (along with a few other pit stops along the way).

Before self publishing my book on Amazon I was terrified.

I was terrified people would hate it, terrified nobody would take me seriously and terrified of all the unknown factors standing between me and clicking “publish”.

working in the rv alyssa
I look incredibly calm, but this was hours before clicking publish on my book.

In my head, I had built up writing a book as something you do after 40 years of experience and once Random House comes knocking on your door. It wasn’t something you did after a few years of blogging and with just a crazy idea that I could actually do it all on my own.

Nothing brings out your internal doubts and feelings of imposter syndrome like publishing a book. Like I talk about in this podcast episode, I couldn’t sleep through the night without waking up from stress dreams about my book. The most recurring one was that I end a sentence with “AND ADD MORE HERE”—my internal note to myself to finish a thought before publishing. So far this mistake hasn’t happened, but the fear of it will jolt me from a REM cycle!

Fear—that pesky little emotion that creeps up any time you attempt something cool and worthwhile—kept me from publishing my book for months (back on episode 100 I talked about what I was feeling right before the book launched).

Now that six months have passed and I can look back on the whole process in a slightly more stable emotional state, I’m overwhelmed at the results of launching this book.

In this blog post, I wanted to share with you what I learned from writing, launching and marketing my first book. This is actually the first of five podcast episodes/blog posts that I’m writing to share my book launch experience. My hope is that by sharing what I’ve learned in this process, maybe it can encourage others to get over the fear of clicking publish on their own book.

What I Expected from My First Book Launch

My main goal for my book launch was simple: sell 400 books.

Rumor is, according to various sources on the internet, the average self-published book sells 200-300 copies in its lifetime (2,000-3,000 copies if you work with a publisher). So my goal was to at least knock those numbers out in my first week. I wasn’t entirely sure how possible that would be, but I had a launch team and a marketing plan that I hoped would serve me well.

Screenshot of a private Facebook group I created for my book launch team that helped me share the book once it went live on Amazon.

I told Heath that if I sold 400 books in my first week and 50 a month after that, I would be ecstatic.

I ended up selling over 2,000 books the first day, over 5,000 in the first month!

WHAT! That’s crazy!? And quite possibly proves I know nothing about setting sales goals.

To date, here’s a breakdown of book sales for the first six months:

  • Kindle books: 7,366
  • Paperback books: 1,282 (released in late February)
  • Total books sold in 6 months: 8,648

After the first few hours on launch day, I reset all my sales goals for the year. I had based my sales goal on what I knew about self-publishing from Heath’s book. When we launched his book in 2016, I think we sold 20 in the first day and about 350 in its lifetime using Gumroad (he didn’t release on Amazon). A little bit of my goal of 400 was just wanting to outsell Heath’s book in spectacular fashion. Mostly because I had a lot of ideas for how we could make Heath’s book successful and he did NONE of them! (Not that I’m bitter about it, obviously.)

Just like I was when I launched my book, Heath was worried it would suck and everyone would ask for their money back, so he didn’t invest time in marketing the book. Instead, it sat on our website dormant for two years selling a couple copies here and there. Please if you spend hours and days and weeks writing your book, don’t let it suffer this end!

The major difference with my book was that it launched on Amazon, where the effects could snowball in a massive marketplace.

I didn’t intend to sell as many copies as I did (my goal leaped from wanting to sell 2,000 copies in the first year to 10,000 copies). However, I spent many a long night researching launch practices, evergreen sales, and Amazon hacks to develop a marketing plan that would make my book successful. And one unlikely tip rose to the top of my strategy.

So I suppose the real kicker is that when I say that I sold 2,000+ copies on the first day, I kind of didn’t. Because I gave the book away for free.

Why I Gave Away My Book for Free (Initially)

A few people expressed their disbelief (and unfiltered judgment) for my poor decision to give away my book for free during launch week. Why would you put all this work into making a product and then give it away?

But fortunately, I don’t listen to bad advice and did it anyway.

I decided to give my book away for free in order to reach as many people out of the gate as possible and boost my status in Amazon’s algorithm, which ended up converting to more sales.

Here’s how it worked for me:

I found that when you make your book free during that first week, it does a couple things.

1. Amazon shows you love in the search algorithm when you sell more books (even if they are free).

You aren’t earning money, since the book is free, but a book sold for free = a book sold to the Amazon algorithm. This affects your sales rank, so as you are selling thousands of free books, you’re getting higher and higher in the Amazon store. My book made it as high as #49 in all of the Kindle Free Store on that first day. (So note to future published authors: you need to sell around 2,000 books in a 24-hour period to make to the Top 100!)

This initial rank tells that Amazon algorithm that my book is worthy of reading and to rank this book higher in search results in the future. Reviews, the information on your product page, and keywords will also play a role in how the algorithm favors your book as well. But all these metrics factor into how your book will perform long-term. You want to have an amazing first month of sales, and I found that making the book free initially helped gain more early momentum for me.

2. More word of mouth and people reading my book right out of the gate.

Since I’m a first time author, 99.9% of people have no idea who I am. Making my book free allowed an initial flood of readers to find my book. When they liked it (hopefully), they could share the book with their friends or family or leave a review of the book (which helps again with the algorithm).

Amazon shows you how many pages are read via Kindle Unlimited each day, a really cool stat.

How to give your book away for free on Amazon:

When I say give your book away for free, I don’t mean making your price set to zero. When you sell your book on Amazon, you use Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP. With KDP, they give you two types of promotions you can run on your book each quarter. Kindle Countdown Deal and Free Book Promotion. With the Free Book Promotion, you can make your book available for free for five days during the quarter.

I scheduled five different dates in the first month for my book to be available for free. Those free days sold 4,500+ copies of my book. The real kicker is this, every time I run a free promotion for a period of time there is a large spike in paid book sales immediately following the promotion.

More Reasons Why I Wanted to Publish a Book (And Why You Should Too, Really)

I wanted to write a book for years. Learning how to leverage and sell on Amazon was a major bonus for us, but writing a book was strategic for us in a few more ways.

A book establishes credibility.

If you’ve written a book on a topic, you’re automatically regarded as the expert. Blogging and podcasting and video are great but a book is the ultimate business card saying LISTEN TO MY BRILLIANCE (again, Amazon’s words, not mine).

A book compiles all our knowledge in one easy to read place.

70% of my book you can read for free on this blog. This is true for many books written by bloggers. We test the info on our website to validate the book chapters and gather comments and questions and update, re-write, and clarify the content.

Taking all of those blog posts and putting them into a book makes it easy for readers to learn and understand all the information. Everything is in order and categorized. It saves time and creates a resource you can easily look back on when you have questions in the future.

Zig while they zag.

In the past few years, every blogger I know has started publishing courses. There’s an online course for EVERYTHING. Of course we have courses too, so I’m not knocking this approach.

But there’s something to be said for zigging while everyone else zags. There’s plenty of courses on how to start RVing, but fewer books. Writing the book was my way of standing out and branching away from what everyone else was doing. Plus, many of these courses cost $20, $30, $50. My book would fill in the same info at that lower, more affordable price point.

Following what everyone else is doing is tempting. But if you want to stand out, do something different.

How do you write and publish your first book?

This post is the first of five Heath and I will be sharing about writing, publishing, and launching a book (though many of these strategies will apply to any product launch!). In the next episode, we’ll talk about how to validate your book idea before you even start writing it.

If you have questions throughout the series about writing or publishing a book, drop a comment and I’ll answer all of them!


This is Part One of a five-part series: