Your First $1000/month from Self-Publishing...
Written by Tommy Kok on Sep. 1st 2020
That first dollar... That first one thousand dollars... That $1k per month in "passive income"... How is it really like? Well... in today's article, let's discuss the unsaid truths of publishing. Before that, let's inverse today's topic. Why and how do people who starts off self-publishing NOT achieve $1k per month?

Why people don't make $1k per month...

To put things into perspective... let's go back in time to the year 2016. My story might be boring to you but it's interesting to me so let's go through it! (just kidding) The reason why I'm sharing it is to shine some perspective and share some context. The context is almost always more powerful than the content. Warren Buffett telling you to purchase "XYZ stocks" will be worth gazillion more than a homeless man telling you to purchase "XYZ stocks". Same content, different context.

Here's begins the storytelling...

The year was 2016. I was making my first $500 per month. Note, however, that I wasn't profitable. I invested over $18k at this point into the business. I had near $0 in my bank. I wasn't rich in any way. However, that $500 per month is powerful. Together with a group of students and 2 teachers from Singapore Polytechnic, we went to Cambodia's orphanage for OCIP (Overseas Community Involvement Program).

It's not like the students who went (including me) were saints or anything. Some went for CCA points, some went for better portfolio and some like me just wanted to see the world. The first day in the orphanage touched me. A few days later, it touched me to tears (like real bad crying... like a big baby). So what exactly happened and what does it have to do with you making your first $1k per month in publishing?

Well... long story short, I'm so inspired by the students in the orphanage by their stories, dreams and aspirations that I decided to take things my own way. Rash and brazen, I gathered all the older kids (ages about 17-20) into their classroom. All of them sat down. Here I am, standing in front of all of them. The teachers in charge weren't around, 80% of the students from my school weren't there. I didn't know what to say. All I had in my mind was that I wanted to leave a dent in these students' minds. They left a massive dent in my universe instead...

I began by giving each of them a piece of paper to write down their name, dream job and why. After they did that, I gave them "one of those speeches" whereby "your dreams are possible" and "you can do it!".

Well... it is a... one-of-a-kind experience. Many students cried. I ALMOST did. One thing I could never forget is that I was boasting about how I was making $500 in PASSIVE INCOME every month then. I was of course in no position to say anything. However, $500 coming in to your accounts with minimal work is many dreams come true for many of them. The truth is that $500 isn't enough to buy food in Singapore (lol).

For now, let's keep the main point the main point. I flew back to Singapore and within less than 6 months, I made my first 5 figures per month. It was $11,947.68 to be exact. I wrote an article about it titled: Can anyone start and scale a book publishing business?

Enough about me and my story. This article is about You. How do You scale from $0 to $1000? Here's some real good golden nuggets below:

1. Motivation is Your Number 1 Ally.

Very often, many newbie self-publishers complain about not reaching their goals. The perceived "passive income" of this business really ruins the minds of many self-publishers. If you are not already maximizing your time every day then there is simply nothing to complain about. I'm not saying to work 24/7/365. However, if you are spending less than 3 hours per day... then you are really just dreaming and wishing.

This is a harsh truth... I get it. But the truth is almost always harsh and painful before it gives you the freedom and dignity.

With that being said, let me give you some practical advice that you can take to fast-track your journey from $0 to $1000 per month.

Tip #1: Write your own books.

Yeap... you were probably "sold" by some online guru that you can do nothing, outsource everything and make "PASSIVE INCOME". While waiting for ghostwriters and all these different VAs (Virtual Assistants) to complete your book, you should be doing something. Unless you are already packed with the other miscellaneous like communications with VAs, doing up outlines, doing research, writing broadcast emails then you absolutely have no excuse not to write your own book. However, my guess is that 99% of self-publishers who are productively doing these things would already have been past $1k per month. So, don't kid yourself.

Now, when it comes to writing your books, keep it simple. Do the research and outline as how you'd have done (or find ways to do it better) and then break everything down even more to write your book.

Create one theme for your book. Break that one theme down into 7 to 10 chapters. Break each chapter into 3 main points. Break each main points into sub-points, ideas and brainstorms. Research relevant videos or blog posts for each main points.

If you do all those, writing a 38,000 word book would be a piece of cake. Writing a 12,000 word book would be a walk in the park. With all that being said, your research and outline skills must be on point. Otherwise, it would be like trying to build a sky scrapper on top of powdery sand (hint: the outcome will not be fun).

This brings me to tip #2.

Tip #2: Improve your fundamentals.

Your book cover, book description, book outline, book research, niche research and understanding of the niche must be constantly evolving. If it's not growing, it's dying. As simple as it is, 90% of publishers never think about all these. Our publishing businesses are all governed by cause and effect. Just like how You and I are governed by the law of gravity. Try jumping a million times with the intention to fly. It won't work. Gravity will pull you back down. In the exact same way, if your cover or description or research or outline downright sucks, then the effect will be... yeap... nothing impressive too. I went a little deeper here on: Can anyone start and scale a book publishing business?

Tip #3: Read bestselling books.

The advantages of doing this is really many folds. Read the bestselling books by self-published authors. Search for "SJ Scott", "Pete Hollins" and "Patrick King". They are in my opinion, the few best in the self-help industry for self-publishers. Well... Pete Hollins and Patrick King are/is actually one person. Anyway, buy their books. Read them. Join their mailing list. Take a look at their free bonuses. There's so much to be learnt doing this instead of trying to find another guru on YouTube.

Also read those big boys like "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", "The Miracle Morning" and "Psycho-cybernetics" to name a few. I guarantee you will become better in almost everything publishing. You will notice common themes, trends and patterns. Read these books with the intention to #1: grow yourself and #2: grow your publishing business.

Again, motivation is your number 1 ally. If you just take the above 3 tips and put them into action, your business growth will be greatly accelerated. However, people always ask me a ton of vague questions about publishing. Why? Because they are confused. A confused mind will always say no. No... to a better life, better skillsets and better income. How do we cure that then? Well...

2. Focus on the only three things that matter.

In publishing, there's only 3 things that matter. There's tons of components and micro-processes but it really boils down to only these 3 things.

1. Understanding your niche,
2. Creating transformative products,
3. Selling your products.


I hear you saying that already. "But there's the keyword research, outsourcing, communication, paying money, formatting, editing, publishing, reviews, blah blah blah", right?

Well... The way to get the most out of your business is not by adding more things. It's by eliminating most things and focusing only on those that matter. If you look at the 3 things that matter, most publishers have already lost at the first one.

Focus #1: Understanding your niche.

Seriously ask yourself. What is the #1 pain of your niche? Who is your niche? Why do they buy? Why do they need your ebook or paperback book or audiobook? Where do they usually hang out physically? Where do they usually hang out virtually? Who are their role models? How does a typical day look like for your niche?

Unless you understand your niche better than they understand themselves, you will have a seriously tough time selling them. It's like throwing nails to a hammer instead of using a hammer to hammer the nails in.

Here's an example. People who searches "Keto diet for weight loss" doesn't actually want to eat a Keto Diet. Stay with me. All these people want to do is lose weight. Plain and simple. To be more exact, all they want to do is lose weight faster without much pain. Pain of exercise, pain of hunger, pain of humiliation and pain of shame. Now... does diving deep like this make a difference? Hell yeah, right? It affects the cover, description, context, content, outline, EVERYTHING. And we are only touching the surface... Imagine how much of a trouble most self-publishers are in. Yeap, it's an uphill battle with snowballs rolling down the mountain.

One of the best advice I can give you is to read ALL the negative and positive reviews of your competitor's books. Of course, don't read those books that aren't selling (aka bad ranking). Now, even if you understand your niche inside-out, you're still missing something.

Focus #2: Creating transformative products.

This is everything isn't it? The quality of your eBook cover, paperback book cover, audiobook cover, description, content, title, subtitle, quality of narration etc. Yes, you don't want to have the best book but a bestselling book. However, you can't have a bestselling book (not sustainably) without having a transformative book. And I use the word "transformative" because people are looking to solve a problem. To transform themselves to someone more. And you as the non-fiction book publisher holds the key. The key to unlock all the joys that people have upon solving their problems.

You and I both know that everything cannot be covered in an article like this. However, one of the biggest killer of most self-publishers is their book covers.

The problem is this: It's their book covers.

They think it's awesome but sales are terrible. They showed Fiverr designers their competitors' books and their designers have tried to create a similar one. However, the results are pathetic. What's going on?

Well... most Fiverr cover designers aren't amazing. Those amazing ones are usually forced to compromise on quality once they have too many orders. Therefore, this is one big trap. If so, what's the solution?

Well... handpick your cover designers on UpWork ( You've got to go through many designers (a little bit of investment) to choose one amazing one. The investment will be worth it because one amazing designer is worth 100x more than a lousy one. Also, stop trying to spend $5. Spend $20 or more per design. An amazing cover designer is worth every single dollar.

Alternatively, invest more (about $200 USD) and launch a cover contest on 99designs ( Well... you'll get about 30-50 variations of an eBook cover by launching a cover design contest there. If you haven't checked out 99designs before yet, definitely do so. Get inspired and look around at the cover designs that are designed there. The ideas you will get is infinite.

Let's now assume you have a transformative product. What's next?

Focus #3: Selling your products.

The thing almost nobody understands in the self-publishing industry is that no matter what strategy you are using, all you are trying to do is sell your books. For fiction publishers, there's newsletter swaps. For non-fiction publishers, we rave about Amazon Advertising. When it comes to selling your products (ebooks, paperbacks, hardcovers or audiobooks), you have to understand that reviews equals sales.

Reviews Equals Sales.

However, all reviews must be achieved through white hat methods. No review swaps allowed. No paying for reviews allowed. No dirty under table dogged grey hat shit allowed. How, then, do you get reviews? Well... here's some tips below.

#1: Launch to your email list.

If you don't have an email list, start one now. The dividends will payoff and compound in ways you'll never expect. However, do remember that building and cultivating an ENGAGED list of people is hard work. The payoff, however, is worth every sweat.

#2: AMZ Discover. is still a decent enough way to find legitimate reviewers. Yes I've done it. And yes I've gotten reviews. My results is nothing explosive enough to boast. However, I managed to get a top 1000 reviewer to read dozens of my pen name's book and she left reviews on all of them... PLUS, she emailed me ways to improve for each of them. These gems exist. Remember that amongst readers/reviewers lies some diamonds. Finding them is tough, and they are courted by many. However, if you can just find a few... then your initial 5-10 reviews won't be a problem.

#3: Think.

Well... don't be angry. However, there's tons of ways to get reviews. The reason why people are so fixated about not getting them is because... of the review swap culture from 2014 - 2019.

I'll give you a hint. Where do people spend their time at? Connect with them and then talk to them. The reason why "Selling Your Products" work so well as focus #3 is that it is focused enough and at the same time broad enough to give you the freedom to innovate and think.

Heck, I'll stop teasing you. Add people/readers/reviewers as friends on Facebook and Linkedin and build relationships. Don't fall into the trap of always hiding behind your computer just because you are using pen names. Get out there and start shaking the world (or money tree)...

Now. Getting reviews on Amazon legitimately ain't a joke. It's tough, tedious work. You and I both know. Some people rave above ARC readers, some rave about pubby. Some still use review swaps. Key thing is, don't forget your ultimate goal which is "Selling Your Products'.

If Amazon is a red ocean filled with the blood of self-publishers, then aggregate platforms is really the blue ocean. Yes, Amazon still has the most demand. That's true... but so what? It's not how big the platform is but how much you can make from it. Ease of reviews is one big problem. Amazon requires people to spend $50 before being able to leave reviews. Even then, reviews are constantly being flagged even if it's legitimate. Amazon accounts are constantly being restricted from their ability to leave reviews.

That is exactly why publishing onto aggregate platforms is so amazing.

I have an article titled 10 Secrets of Publishing in Aggregate Platforms and that goes much deeper into aggregate platforms.

We've covered a lot and instead of stuffing you with more knowledge, let's recap what's been covered in this article.

1. Motivation is your #1 ally: Write your own books. Improve your fundamentals. Read bestselling books.

2. Focus on the only three things that matter: Understanding your niche. Creating transformative products. Selling your products.

Recommended Articles:

1. Can anyone start and scale a book publishing business?

2. 10 Secrets of Publishing in Aggregate Platforms

That's it for this article! Hope you've learnt something cool! More than that, I hope you make thousands if not tens of thousands more because of what you've learnt!

Keep Publishing! :)

Tommy Kok

Tommy Kok helps people start and scale successful book publishing businesses. After 500 books published and 5 years of experience, his advice holds water. 

If you're interested in starting your own publishing business or scaling up and publish profitably then definitely reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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