In February 2016 I published my first business book, called Will It Fly? How to Test Your Next Business Idea So You Don’t Waste Your Time and Money. When I was close to finishing the manuscript, my author coach (and more than anything else, accountability coach) for the project, Azul Terronez, said something that surprised me:
“It’ll be fun to see how many books you sell. You might even get on some of the bestseller lists.”
When I made the decision to self-publish Will It Fly?, I also made the choice to not worry about getting on the bestseller lists, because I didn’t think it was possible as a self-published author. After some research, however, I found out that it is possible, but it’s no easy task. After even more research, I realized just how ambiguous these bestseller lists can be, and what I learned became a real turn off.
You might think that a bestselling book is one that sells the most copies, but that’s not exactly true. It’s a lot more complicated than that, especially when you get into the realm of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal’s bestseller lists, which take into account books that are reported through Nielsen BookScan, which doesn’t include all books that are sold depending on where they are sold.
Yeah, it’s weird.
All I knew was that because my book wasn’t going to be distributed in bookstores at first, I was essentially disqualified from hitting the New York Times bestseller list.
The Wall Street Journal and USA Today lists were still up for grabs, but quite honestly making the lists never became the primary goal—and it never should be. Yes, making the lists ultimately means more authority and more money (for future book deals, speaking gigs, etc.), but the system can be gamed, and I didn’t want to do it that way.
I wanted to write a great, timeless book that would help as many people as possible. If I happened to make a bestseller list doing that, then great. If not, well then I will still have created something amazing and I don’t need a list to tell me one way or another.
As Tim Grahl said about the craziness of the bestseller lists in his post “The Truth about the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists”:
“The only answer to this debacle is to stop worrying about hitting the major bestseller lists. At this point, the results are so far outside of an author’s direct control, that it doesn’t make sense to make these lists a goal anymore. Instead, focus on the reader.”
And as many of you know, with the focus of my reader in mind, I actually did end up making the Wall Street Journal bestseller list, which I’m incredibly grateful for.
So yes, it is possible!
As of this writing, it’s been about three and a half years since Will It Fly? came out, and this chapter shares all the numbers we’ve tracked over that time, including ebook sales, paperback sales, audiobook sales, and audiobook bounty unit sales. (I’ll explain what that is in a minute.) I’ll also share details on foreign royalties, as well as income generated beyond the book based on collecting emails and driving people into a related course.
For those of you who have been around for a while, this chapter may remind you of my older income reports. In the first nine years of Smart Passive Income, I did a detailed monthly income report for all my businesses, all my products, and all their earnings. But eventually there were so many pieces involved that I couldn’t go into much detail about any single one of them. I started to feel like the income reports were becoming less helpful.
So I stopped doing them. But I think there’s still potential value in this kind of report. So I’ve decided to do occasional income reports based on specific products or campaigns. That way, I can go deeper to understand how that product or campaign has performed and establish some useful takeaways.
With all that said, let’s dig into the Will It Fly? numbers! These numbers are all accurate as of the end of May 2019.
The Bread and Butter: Will It Fly? Ebook and Paperback Sales
We’ll start with ebook sales, which came from almost 20,000 units. They were sold mostly at $6.99 each (because I offered limited-time discounts through Amazon from time to time), generating $32,893.93. But although there were more ebook units than paperback units sold (as you’ll see in a second), we made more money from the paperback because of the royalty rates. At $7 per ebook on average, we got 70 percent and Amazon took 30 percent.
Speaking of the paperback, we sold 13,556 units at a retail price of $16.95. However, Amazon likes to play around with price points, and because of that, we weren’t always earning royalties based on $16.95 for each unit sold. Amazon changes the price automatically via algorithms to optimize it for sales. So depending on how Amazon prices it, the royalty amount fluctuates.
Paperback sales came to $62,495.48. There were also cases where I spoke at conferences and the organizers bought multiple copies for their attendees; there were also awesome fans who wanted to support me with bulk orders of the book. These numbers, which weren’t counted in the main paperback sales because they were handled directly through CreateSpace, totaled about $3,500.
Paperback and ebook sales combined came to roughly $100,000. Not too shabby!
Then we have Kindle Unlimited royalties. Authors who self publish on Amazon through KDP also earn a 70 percent royalty on books priced between $2.00 and $9.99 and a 35 percent royalty on books that cost more or less than that. With Kindle Unlimited, however, you’re eligible for royalty payments from Kindle Unlimited and the lending library. That means you get a share from a global royalty fund, depending on the size of the fund each month and on how much of your book people have actually read. Since Will It Fly? was released, I’ve earned about $4,000 from these royalties.
Really Taking Off: The Will It Fly? Audiobook
With the audiobook, we sold 19,389 units. This is where things get really interesting. We definitely sold more Kindle and paperback copies, but with the audiobook, I get a bigger cut of each sale—about $5 per sale. As a result, I’ve made just about the same with audiobook sales as I have with Kindle and paperback sales: $96,945. That’s pretty amazing, and it shows you the power of offering an audiobook. I’m especially thankful that I’ve kept the rights to my audiobooks and will continue doing that moving forward, including with my newest book, Superfans.
You can make a lot more money on the audiobook than other book formats—which is why a lot of people wondered why I was giving away the audiobook version of Superfans for free with pre-orders. Yes, we gave away the audiobook during the pre-launch, which means we might end up losing money on it. But it’s more important to me to offer a ton of value and give people an incentive to pre-order the book.
Pat Flynn, Bounty Hunter
Now, let’s talk bounty units. What are bounty units, you ask? Well, when you have a book on Audible, if you can convince someone to purchase an Audible subscription and they make your book their first book, you get a $50 bounty. What’s especially nice is Audible gives a person their first credit for free when they subscribe. So if they use that free credit for your book, you’re going to get $50 if they continue their subscription.
I was able to sell 490 bounty units at $50 each, which is $24,500. That, added to $96,000, brought total audiobook sales to $121,455. Total ebook sales (if you also count the Kindle Unlimited royalties) came to $36,981.81, which is far less than the audiobook sales. So when it comes to digital audio versus digital print, there’s the possibility for almost a four-times return if you prioritize the audiobook.
Breaking the 50K Unit Barrier
That means total book earnings from the self-published book, with 52,166 units sold, came to $224,432.29. We broke 50,000 unit sales, which is really cool. Total earnings per unit was about $4.30, both audio and digital and paperback considered. A quarter million dollars is not bad, especially when you consider that sometimes royalties for traditionally published books don’t get to that level! Those royalties, on average, are in the four-, maybe five-figure range. But we definitely made a lot more money from the book alone by self-publishing, which was amazing.
That said Will It Fly? wasn’t only a self-published book. Yup, there’s more to the story . . .
Will It Fly Across the Ocean? Yes!
Then there’s total royalties from foreign rights. That’s right, Will It Fly? is international! I worked with an agent who helped me sell the book to traditional publishers across the sea in a few different countries, including Korea, Vietnam, Romania, Taiwan, and Poland, for a total of $19,600 in advances. Here are some pictures of the covers of the book as it was published in a few of those places.
Because these versions were published by traditional publishers, I didn’t have any say in the book cover design or any of that stuff. I just sold the book to them and they made it happen. But it’s been really cool and gratifying to see the book expand beyond the US, with the various awesome cover designs.
I noticed, especially in Poland, that a lot of people have responded really well to Will It Fly?. They’ve talked about the book using hashtags and tagged me on Twitter and Instagram.
Serving and Selling Beyond the Book
All in all, the book itself has generated $244,032.29. However, book sales are just one group of transactions related to the book. There are other ways to use a book to make money and serve your audience. As any good business owner knows, a book can be treated as the first step in a process to generate more sales and ultimately help more people, which can help generate even more sales.
Beyond the book, there are a couple interesting notes to share. First, I created a free companion course that I linked to in the book. The Will It Fly? Companion Course has allowed me to collect email addresses so I can stay in regular contact with my readers. The beauty of this companion course is that although it’s free, it’s still really valuable to the reader. The course is kind of an obvious next step for someone who’s read the book and who wants to get access to more tools and more resources. The course was created using Teachable, and it took about a day and a half to put together. It’s not designed to help people on its own, but when combined with the book it definitely adds value.
At this point, 26,680 people have enrolled in the Will It Fly? Companion Course. That means more than half the people who read the book have agreed to share their email addresses with me.
This is a HUGE deal. Let me repeat that:
(This number doesn’t include people who purchased the book in foreign countries because I’m unable to track those figures. It’s probably less than 50 percent overall, but very close to 50.)
One of the most important reasons to create a course or some other way to collect email addresses is Amazon (or any retailer, for that matter) doesn’t give you your readers’ email addresses. In particular, I’ve used that list to help solicit reviews for the book. We’re approaching 800 reviews on Amazon right now, which is amazing, and more than some other popular books by better-known authors. So thank you to everyone who has left a review. And if you’ve read Will It Fly? and haven’t left a review, I’d love to know what you thought of it.
Will It Fly? Led to One of My Most Popular Courses
Collecting email addresses has also helped generate additional sales from another course I created. That course, Smart From Scratch, came about as a result of a request from many Will It Fly? readers who said they wanted to go deeper.
I opened Smart From Scratch initially to beta testers for $147, and it’s currently available for $249.
Overall, 1,684 students have enrolled in Smart From Scratch, which has generated $215,308.71. It’s been amazing to see how the book became the first step that led so many people to want to go deeper and get access to step-by-step tutorials, specific examples, and support and accountability through community and office hours.
TheWill It Fly? Recipe for Book Success: Answer the Burning Questions
The grand total of earnings directly and indirectly from Will It Fly?, from self-publishing the book, selling it overseas, and selling the Smart From Scratch course, came to $459,341. I’m extremely happy with that, and it’s been really neat to go back in time and see how this book has performed.
I hope you find this inspiring as you build your platform, because the platform I’ve built is definitely the reason this book has been so successful. Will It Fly? wasn’t a viral hit like Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning, which tackles some of the fears and issues people encounter when they want to start a business or change their life, and has really taken off. But Will It Fly? has still been a big success, and I’m really happy with how it’s done.
This brings me to why I believe this book has become such a success, and that’s because it answered some of the most burning questions my audience was asking. The content for the book was based on the answers to a survey I did in 2014, combined with a number of conversations and questions on social media among my audience about what they needed help with. And they told me exactly what they needed help with. They didn’t know where to get started. They didn’t know how to pick a niche. They didn’t know how to do market research. They were afraid of losing money and wasting time. Hence: Will It Fly? How to Test Your Next Business Idea So You Don’t Waste Your Time and Money.
The Numbers for Will It Fly?
Here’s a detailed rundown of all the numbers shared in this chapter:
*Published February 2016 | Figures accurate as of May 31, 2019
- Ebook Sales: 19,221 units (at $6.99 each) = $32,893.93
- Paperback Sales: 13,556 units (at $16.95 each) = $62,495.48 (~$4.61 per book royalty)
- Kindle Unlimited Royalties: $4,087.88
- Audiobook Sales: 19,389 units (profit $5 per sale) = $96,945
- Bounty Units: 490 ($50 each) = $24,500
- Total Audiobook Sales: $24,500 + $96,945 = $121,455
- Total Ebook Sales: $32,893.93 + $4,087.88 = $36,981.81
- Total Paperback Sales: $62,495.48
- Total Bulk Paperback Sales (from Conferences and others): $3,500.00
- Total Book Earnings (Self Published): $224,432.29
- Total Units Sold: 52,166
- Total Earnings Per Unit: ~$4.30
Royalties From Foreign Rights
- Korea: $10,000
- Vietnam: $1,200
- Romania: $1,000
- Taiwan: $5,600
- Poland: $1,800
- Total Foreign Royalties: $19,600
- Total: $244,032.29
Beyond the Book
- Emails Collected via Will It Fly? Companion Course: 26,680 enrolled on Teachable (51 percent conversion rate!)
- Smart from Scratch Course (Will It Fly? Leads into Smart from Scratch. Note: Not everyone in SFS has read Will It Fly?, but it teaches the same material, in way more depth, with step-by-step examples and accountability, community, and office hours): 1,684 students enrolled, $215,308.71 in earnings
- Grand Total: $459,341.00
Every Book Is an Opportunity to Serve More People
Finally, a big thank you to everyone who’s supported Will It Fly?. This book is proof that you can serve and sell at the same time. And a book is a great way to do that, because of all the ways you can connect it to other opportunities and offerings, like your email list, courses, coaching programs, and other products you can provide to better serve your audience.
This book, along with everything that’s happened in the wake of it, such as the companion course and Smart From Scratch, has been another SPI experiment that has helped me learn and grow. I’m very thankful for it, especially the fact that the audience is what has made it the success that it is. I’m hoping for similar success, if not more, with Superfans, not just in terms of sales and revenue, but how it can help people.
I know from experience that building superfans and creating amazing experiences for your fans is the best way to futureproof your business. It’s the not-so secret secret to success in business. I think every business, no matter its size, can benefit from creating superfans. Even if you’re just starting out, learning these things up front is going to help you stand out. It’s going to help you tackle or avoid a lot of the technological and competitive challenges out there right now.
So Team Flynn, you’re amazing. Thank you for your support of Will It Fly? and everything else I do. I hope this chapter is eye-opening and helps you see all the possibilities that exist for you with a self-published book. If this guide has convinced you that the time is now to write and publish your own book, then click through to the final chapter where you can learn about a resource to help you with your next steps.