I think as human beings we all have something of value to share with the world and we shouldn’t be afraid to share our stories.
John Locke. Amanda Hocking. Hugh Howey. E L James. They were the original breakthrough best-sellers, the self-publishing superstars who competed against the traditional publishing mega-machine and won. As reports of their indie success became public, they were the envy and inspiration of aspiring authors around the globe.
Today’s headlines tell a different story. The publishing marketplace is filled with indie-author best-sellers. Industry experts believe self-published books make up over 30 percent of Amazon’s best-sellers and up to 60 percent in some genres (e.g. romance). Kindle creator, Jeff Bezos, says over 1,000 self-published authors each earned $100,000+ in book sales in 2018.
But unlike Locke, Hocking, et. al., very little is known about this new crop of writers and how they achieved their self-publishing prowess. And that’s too bad. These are self-publishing success stories that need to be shared with the next generation of would-be authors.
Luckily, BookBaby has worked with more than its fair share of top-selling indie authors. My goal is to showcase some of these prodigious writers and learn how they accomplished their astounding sales success. I hope these stories will provide ideas, inspiration, and motivation for up-and-coming authors working to publish their first book.
Meet Ryan Aslesen, a BookBaby author who is getting very close to his dream. “I’m not working full-time as an author… yet,” says Aslesen. “I have a pretty great job that allows me the time to write. But, writing is what I want to do full-time.”
Aslesen, a security consultant, lives near Las Vegas, NV with his wife Amy and sons Darien and Mason. He is a former Marine officer, veteran of the War on Terror, and graduate of Presentation College and American Military University. He’s also a best-selling author.
Aslesen’s highly regarded Crucible series of books is an action-packed blend of military adventure, sci-fi, and horror. “Tom Clancy style special forces meets John Carpenter’s The Thing,” is how one reviewer described the books.
Aslesen’s experience in the military and working in security has helped him in more ways than just depicting realistic military drama. “I think my background has been helpful in that I can compartmentalize, going from work mode to writing mode,” says Aslesen, who works on his book on lunch breaks and after early office closings on Fridays. “I also try to carve out some time before work and on weekends, so that makes about seven to ten hours of writing each week.”
How has Aslesen achieved his self-publishing success? Let’s find out.
How many books have you written?
I have published five books to date: Existential (2018), Crucible (2018), Undead (2018), Apex (2019), and Nexus (2019).
What inspired you to start writing books?
My wife, Amy, inspired me to take the plunge and seriously start writing, though I had toyed with the idea of writing something for a long time. My son Mason had recently been born and I was approaching my 40th birthday and it felt like life was slipping away a bit. A book was always something that had been in the back of my mind, so I started writing notes and roughed-out a couple of chapters on a legal pad. I honestly had lost steam with it and was thinking about shelving it when Amy came across it and thought it was pretty good. That gave me the push to move forward and I made a promise to myself to finish the book. Those notes eventually became what is now Existential.
How long have you been writing?
I had started writing as a kid, when I was only five or six years old. I would dictate stories to my grandma and she would write them down and then read them back to me. I did a little bit of creative writing in high school and college but didn’t do anything with it formally. I didn’t start writing seriously until late 2015, when I first started on Existential.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing?
I grew up reading a lot of “techno-thrillers” by authors like Tom Clancy and Harold Coyle and feel like they have influenced my writing to some degree. I also really enjoyed some of the movie novelizations like the Alien series and Star Wars by Alan Dean Foster. I don’t really consider myself much of a book snob. My tastes are eclectic — I’ll read anything from nonfiction to horror and sci-fi.
Did you try or consider traditional publishing?
I never tried going the traditional publishing route. I knew there’d be a lot of time and rejection involved with it and I didn’t want to play a waiting game with my books. Plus, based on the research I did, I really didn’t see a whole lot of advantage to it. I enjoy the freedom and creative control being a self-published author allows. If an imprint or publishing agency approached me, I would obviously want to hear what they had to say. I have toyed with the idea with some of my future projects, thinking that perhaps it would get me to that next level. However, I have seen the success a lot of indie authors have had and think the industry is evolving quickly.
Why did you ultimately choose self-publishing.
I choose self-publishing for the creative freedom it afforded me. I have total creative control over the story, the characters, the cover, the blurb, and the marketing. Of course, it is all on me to execute those at a high level, but, it is nice to not have to answer to anybody.
What’s the best/worst thing about self-publishing your books? What was the most surprising part of the process?
The best part of self-publishing is the creative control. The worst part has to be the marketing. I was most surprised by how fulfilling it was to complete a book and hold it in your hands. I knew it would be cool, but it was very fulfilling and it’s why I have continued to do it. When I initially wrote Existential, I told myself it was just going to be that book, that it would likely flop, and I would check that box in my life and at least say I had done it. Had I known what I do now, I would have started earlier in life. As with anything, there is always that 20/20 hindsight with writing, but the only real way you learn and improve as an author is doing the craft itself.
Why did you choose to work with BookBaby? Is there anyone on my staff that stands out to you?
I had compared BookBaby with several other self-publishing platforms and had done quite a bit of research before I took the plunge. BookBaby offered the most services in one place at a competitive price. I knew I could do a lot of things myself or have them done somewhere else, but I liked the convenience that BookBaby afforded me as a one-stop shop that also gave me a very wide distribution platform. Sam Sedam is great in distribution support. He probably gets annoyed by all the questions I continually ask, but he is a wealth of knowledge, is always helpful, and on the rare occasion I stump him, he always does some research and gets back to me with an answer. Darcy Post is also great in getting my book packages put together, and though I am comfortable with the process at this point, she definitely helped guide me along with the first couple of books.
Can you share some of your sales results?
I have over 250,000 books sold or downloaded to date across all formats and distribution channels. Before people reading this run off and quit their day jobs, you should bear in mind that some of those sales are through Kindle Unlimited, so I only get paid when the pages get read. Some of those books were sold during promotions when they were priced at 99¢. You need to sell a ton of books at that 30 percent royalty rate to generate substantial income. I have been fortunate enough to get my best-seller badge on several competitive categories on Amazon. The hard part is maintaining that success against an onslaught of competition.
What defines publishing success to you?
At this point, publishing success is writing a book that is true to me, that readers enjoy, that earns back everything I have invested into it financially (i.e. editing, formatting, book cover, marketing), and then starts to earn royalties free-and-clear. The larger definition of success, to me, is when I can make a living solely on writing.
How do you market your books? What works/doesn’t work for you?
I have been lucky enough to get selected for some BookBub features. I also have tried my hand at Amazon ads, BookBub ads, and Facebook ads. I currently use BookBub ads and run a Facebook blitz when I release a new book through BookBaby’s Facebook and Instagram ad service. My advice to new authors is that you will need to do some marketing to be successful — it is hard to make a book stand out and get it in front of readers. For the marketing to be successful, you must be in it for the long haul and be willing to invest to slowly build up a reader base.
It is difficult to throw marketing dollars at a book, especially if you have only one or two books out. You will start to see a little bit better ROI once you have a bigger backlist. But to do that you have to continually keep producing quality content. I honestly haven’t seen a direct profit from marketing. If I did see a true ROI, I would mortgage the house and put more money into it. What I have seen is that I usually get close to breaking even, or maybe lose a bit of money, but I see a rise in my rankings and my long-term book sales tend to do better.
I also notice that when I release new books, I get more sales since I am attracting follow-on readers. I have also recently set up an author website at www.ryanaslesen.com and have been slowly trying to build up my mailing list. I haven’t had a ton of success with that, but I usually point my ads towards my Amazon or other vendor pages versus my website, so that might be something I have to experiment with in the future. If anyone knows the secret formula to marketing a book, please reach out to me, because I am all ears.
What advice do you have for authors contemplating self-publishing their first book?
Don’t even think about it — I don’t want the competition. Just kidding, I encourage everyone to take the plunge. I would caution you to realize most books don’t generate a ton of sales and you need to be in it for the long haul if you want to be a writer. However, publishing a book can help you in a lot of ways: it helps give you credibility in a potential field of expertise, it gives you something of value to share on a website, and can serve as a calling card.
I think a lot of new writers run into is something I learned in the Marine Corps, which is “paralysis through analysis.” Don’t fall into the trap of doing so much research and over-thinking the process and then not ever moving forward. Your best bet is to learn by doing and not be afraid to make a mistake. Trust me, I have made plenty.
My last bit of advice is to realize it is going to be an investment of time, energy, and money. Don’t cut corners — a certain degree of your success will be predicated on things like using an editor and a proofreader, hiring a good cover designer, a good formatter, and how good your sales copy and marketing platforms are. BookBaby is great in that regard, because they allow you to focus on your writing and give you a lot of that support in one place. I have used BookBaby for my book distribution, print on demand, digital and print formatting, metadata optimization, and Facebook ads. I haven’t used their marketing consultation services yet, but it is something I am considering for the future.
Publishing a book is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done and there really is a rush seeing your book in your hands for the first time. I think as human beings we all have something of value to share with the world and we shouldn’t be afraid to share our stories.
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