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How One Castle Rock Author Shot to the Top of the Charts With Self-Publishing

Self-publishing eliminates the middle men and enables authors to connect directly with their readers


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Jeff Carson was struggling to find passion in his career as a blogger and “digital nomad.” That is until Carson stumbled upon the world of self-publishing and decided to start a new career as a novelist.  

Now, Carson has written 13 books in a mystery thriller series and is one of Amazon’s best-selling authors, having made its top 100 authors list on multiple occasions. The books follow detective David Wolf in a fictional town in Colorado, called Rocky Points. All of the books were self-published through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), a program launched by Amazon in 2007 to make it easier for authors to self-publish eBooks and paperbacks.

While self- and independent-publishing has certainly been around for decades, the advent of the internet and digital technology (primarily eReaders) has certainly made the practice more prominent. Rather than go through the traditional trade publishing route, authors can eliminate the need for agents, publishers and wholesales and simply establish a direct relationship between themselves and their readers.

Carson first discovered KDP and self-publishing while reading online forums and threads about the practice. “Then, I remembered back talking to my parents a few times, saying it would be the coolest job ever to be a novelist,” Carson says. “I always thought you have to be like a millionaire first or be retired with millions of dollars and then start writing. But, it just occurred to me, I've never delved into the world of writing, so I delved in, and read everything I could find on self publishing.”

Ultimately, he realized through this research that you could make a decent living self-publishing. Carson talks below about the benefits and challenges of self-publishing, his secrets to finding success in the practice and why he chose KDP as his method of publication.

Why Should You Self-Publish?

For Carson, self-publishing was both an economic and emotional decision. “I had read about all these people who had taken 10 years of their life to write books, and they couldn't get published by other people, by traditional publishers,” he says.

The economics are simple, he says. Traditional publishers give you a much smaller cut of the book’s profits, and even then you might have to share that cut with agents and other stakeholders. However, with KDP and other self-publishing, you make 70% of the cut.

“I think when you self publish, the biggest benefit is that you never give up on yourself,” Carson says. “You're in the driver's seat, and you have the ability to market and drive the engine the sales of your books.”

Of course, self-publishing isn’t without its challenges. Authors have to take on the marketing and branding of the books. For Carson, to overcome this, he looked at what other best-selling authors (who went the traditional route) did. “What do their books look like?” he says. “You have to make your books look precisely like that, not kind of like that, not like a self published version of that, but like exactly like that.”

Sometimes, this includes hiring professionals — editors, book cover designers, writers for books descriptions to name a few — to mimic aspects of traditionally-published books. This includes writing books that would be accepted by traditional publishing people, Carson says.

What Are Your Options for Self-Publishing?

For Carson, he evaluated two options for publishing his own books — publishing wide across all the available platforms or publishing exclusively on Amazon. Other available platforms include Kobo, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, Apple iBooks and more.

He ultimately chose Carson for the benefits that Amazon gives for publishing exclusively and because of Amazon’s market share. These benefits include the ability to offer your book for free the first five days or at a discount for seven days and the ability to have your book as part of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited platform.

According to Carson, this brings good publicity to all your books. “That’s the benefit of going exclusively with Amazon is you reach the most readers in the simplest way,” he says.

Tips for Finding Success in Self-Publishing

The main way that Carson created sales for his books and found success was writing more books.

“I went into it with an overly realistic idea that I would have to create a lot of content and work hard to find my niche audience,” he says. “And it wasn't gonna be after one book, or two books or three books. I wanted it to be after one book,or two books or three books but I told my wife at the beginning I was like ‘Hey I'm gonna write 10 books because I know that's gonna be a make or break point,‘ if I’m not making it by then, then obviously I'm not good enough I got to do something else.”

Not only was it Carson’s hope that this would make him a better writer, but that it would give reader’s immediate satisfaction when they started reading the series. “I knew after reading all those self-publishing books that the business model was, to have one book and make it big is like a one in a million thing, but the odds get a lot better if you just write more and more books,” he says.

And then, he used the resources available to him to market the book. This included using the KDP promotions, submitting his books to newsletters to be shared that way and promoting through his own Facebook and email lists.

Carson says that he wouldn’t recommend this route to everyone, but that anyone willing to take on the role of publisher, writer and marketer and “realizing it’s a learnable thing,” should jump in and give it a shot.

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Ali Longwell

Ali Longwell is the digital editor at ColoradoBiz. She has also written for SDxCentral, a B2B online technology publication, as well as Denver-area lifestyle magazines 5280, Denver Life Magazine, Avid Lifestyle and more. She can be reached at alongwell@cobizmag.com

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