How One Author Earns $450,000 a Year Self-Publishing on Amazon

how to self-publish on amazon
Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

Self-publishing success stories are all around us… but it’s not often we get a glimpse into how, exactly, these authors manage to sell so many books on Amazon.

That’s why we love this piece from Forbes on how one author earns $450,000 a year self-publishing on Amazon.

The UK-based author, Mark Dawson, writes thrillers and crime novels, and has sold 300,000 copies of his thriller series about a British assassin named John Milton. The Forbes piece says Dawson earned six figures last year, but never quite explains the math behind the $450,000 total it says Amazon has paid to the author.

Of course, any measure of six figures is impressive when you’re just starting out in the self-publishing world, and the tactics Dawson shares in this piece offer a number of takeaways for up-and-coming authors.

Here are some practical tips for succeeding as a self-published author based on what worked for Dawson:

1. Give away your book for free

It sounds counterintuitive, but many self-published authors who manage to gain traction on Amazon give their books away through Amazon’s KDP Select program.

KDP Select allows you to offer the book for free for five days or discount it for up to seven days using what’s called a Countdown Deal. If you offer the book for free, it can rank on Amazon’s Top 100 Free list if it does well, while discounted books are included on the Top 100 Paid list. Once your book makes one of these lists, even within a subcategory, other readers are more likely to see and download it. And if your book does well on the free list, some of that clout will carry over into its sales rank once your book goes back to its regular price.

Dawson tried this strategy when he released his first self-published book, The Black Mile, and readers grabbed 50,000 copies in one weekend. He also now gives away free books in return for signing up for his email list; you can’t miss this offer at the top of his website.

Of course, giving your book away or selling it for cheap doesn’t put much money in your pocket. But this strategy can give a much-needed boost to a new release. And if you can capitalize on that success and use it to build your community so they’re excited about your next book launch, you will likely be able to sell more books the next time around.

2. Learn how to promote your books

For many writers, marketing is the most difficult part, either because they don’t have the skills to pull it off or simply don’t want to. But the truth is, if you want to make a living as a writer, you have to be more than a writer. Figuring out how to promote your books is the only way you’ll sell copies.

Dawson follows many of the best practices for growing a loyal community online: he has grown an email list so he can communicate with readers about upcoming releases, engages with his community on Facebook and offers seminars to other writers who want to self-publish as well.

His email list is 15,000 strong, Forbes reports, a figure that may sound huge to a newbie but is  relatively small compared to most successful online entrepreneurs. It goes to show you don’t need a massive list to earn a living; you simply need an engaged, loyal one.

3. Use Facebook ads to spread the word

Many successful entrepreneurs use Facebook ads to reach their target market, and it can be an effective tactic, so long as you learn how to do it effectively. The trick is to earn more than you spend, and once you do, don’t be afraid to pour money into the Facebook machine.

How do you earn money through Facebook ads? Use the Facebook ads manager to select a target audience that’s a good fit for your book, then experiment with small spends (as low as $10 or $20 each) to see which of your messages and target audiences converts.

If you spend $10 to run a campaign, and 30 people buy your book because of it, you’ve likely made money, depending on the price point of your book and how much you have to hand over to Amazon. Use the analytics in Facebook’s ad manager to track metrics closely, so you can make good decisions about how to spend.

Dawson spends $370 a day on Facebook ads, according to Forbes, and earns double that in book buys.

4. Make time for your writing

Next to marketing, this tends to be one of the biggest challenges for writers, especially those who are trying to break into a career as a writer while holding down a day job or raising a family. How do you make time for writing during a busy day?

Dawson, too, holds a day job; he works in the London film industry, according to his website. And he has a young family. His job requires something most of us would complain about: a two-hour commute to and from London each day. Guess how he uses those hours? He writes thousands of words each day, Forbes reports.

5. Don’t give up

Stories like Dawson’s seem like overnight success stories, but if you look a little closer, almost every author and entrepreneur failed before succeeding.

Dawson released a book through a traditional publisher before transitioning to self-publishing… and it flopped. And you’ve probably heard of most of these famous authors whose work was rejected before it was published.

The trick is to avoid comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle. Everyone’s a beginner at some point. Don’t be afraid of failure, for you need to push past it to do your best work.

Want more details about Dawson’s story? Read the full story on Forbes.

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

Alexis Grant is founder of The Write Life. A digital strategist and entrepreneur, she blogs about alternative careers. Alexis also runs a content marketing company that specializes in managing high-volume blogs.... . | @alexisgrant

Alexis Grant
Kindle Launch Plan

Featured resource

Kindle Launch Plan: $1400 in 30 Days & an Amazon Bestseller

A step-by-step guide to writing, publishing and marketing your Kindle ebook, using strategies that helped creator Nick Loper earn $1,400 in his book’s first month on Amazon.


  1. Neil Larkins says:

    The rest of the Forbes article tells the whole story. Best to read it before you get too excited even though Dawson’s success is still available to anyone who puts in the grunt work and a lot of it.

    • Hi Neil — It definitely takes hard work! But I love hearing success stories of people whose hard work pays off. ~Alexis

      • Neil Larkins says:

        Yeah, me too. I don’t believe I’ll ever have anything near to this kind of success, but the fact that I can have SOME success keeps me going. Twenty years ago when I first thought about writing this chance DID NOT EXIST AT ALL. Now the opportunities are EVERYWHERE! Yes, everyone is trying for the brass ring but having a place to find gold is better than having no place at all.
        Thanks for your work.

  2. Great article, Alexis. I especially (of course!) love number 4 on your list. 🙂

    While I almost fell over when you mentioned that Dawson holds a full-time job in addition to this dreamy writing career I like that you added that important note at the end: don’t compare our beginning with Dawson’s “middle.” Many a new author has given up in defeat when their own success doesn’t mirror some of these outliers.

    Good for him for his success though–I love reading about people who make a living doing what they love.

  3. Great article, Alexis! I love #4. Writers oftentimes focus their energy and time on their first book and before two long it’s been years since they published a new book. The trick is to keep going.

    Stories like Dawson’s seem like overnight success stories, but if you look a little closer, almost every author and entrepreneur failed before succeeding. ~ Love this! People don’t realize this and give up because of it.

  4. Great article Alexis!

    I’m just wondering: why use Amazon and get (only) 8% commission? Yes, they convert well, but at the same time you can use eJunkie or Clickbank to get 76% commissions?

    Now, I have 2 sites running. They have the same products running (ebooks). One Amazon, one Clickbank. Now guess which one brings in more money?

    You’re right. Clickbank. ($113 vs. $1096 in March 2015)

    If you’re confused by all this (well, it took me long enough to figure out all the details) you may want to check out Affilorama (for your ref:

    Again Amazon is great but there are better alternatives and you don’t want to waste your time, don’t you?


  5. This is all fantastic advice! Young authors need to understand that it’s not a “get rich quick” career path, but there are ways to earn an honest living if you utilize all of the strategies that you have listed here. The most important suggestion that you mentioned has to be the social media factor. As a self-published author, a lot of the marketing is going to fall on you, and social media is an excellent tool to spread the word about your writing.

  6. Thank you for this piece.

    As a newbie to the writer’s life, and a lover of autonomy, self-publishing seems like a no-brainer. There’s lots to learn though and reading about those who’ve found success self-publishing eBooks will hopefully mean I can avoid (at least a few) mistakes along the way.

    Keep them coming! 🙂

  7. The link to the rejected authors list on buzz feed has several inaccuracies. “Gone With The Wind” being the most prominent. The book was never rejected, much less 38 times.

  8. Now this is useful to know.
    I love the idea of not wasting commuting time – a friend of mine uses his epic commute on the train to spend time with his sleeping baby daughter before she goes into the creche for the day! I’d never even though about facebook ads, but now it just seems like common sense!
    There are a lot of stories out there about online success, but none of them really go into how it was achieved – unless the article is very dry in which case I don’t read it. I like this one. Very easy to follow without treating us like idiots.

  9. Thank you Alexis for this article I just published my first novel and was wondering about the KDP promos that they offer. So far a few people who have read it have left grest reviews. I’m just wondering what are the best marketing strategies for me.

  10. I have being dreaming of writing ebook for along time i have many good titles that i beleive are reading and readers will like it .
    I am in africa and kindle amazon doesnot accept so what can i do ?

  11. Thank you for this it’s amazingly helpful and is going in my bookmarks. 😀

  12. Nice piece


  1. […] How One Author Earns $450,000 a Year Self-Publishing on Amazon […]

  2. […] reading stories like this and this, I’m convinced that the reason why many authors like myself are giving up on the […]

  3. […] We canonize the ‘rags to riches’ stories of DIY authors like E.L. James, Meredith Wild, and Mark Dawson, who seem to have struck gold with their self-published novels. To make matters worse, our brain is […]

  4. […] We canonize the ‘rags to riches’ stories of DIY authors like E.L. James, Meredith Wild, and Mark Dawson, who seem to have struck gold with their self-published novels. To make matters worse, our brain is […]

Speak Your Mind