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The little Kindle book that earned me $29,000 in five months

On February 4, 2013, I published a collection of novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery entitled “The Anne Stories.” These novels are legally in the public domain, meaning they are no longer under copyright. My collection featured eight books from the “Anne of Green Gables” series. I also included three lesser-known but well-written books by Montgomery. (I have since added one more book of poetry and a collection of 142 short stories.)

I sold the entire collection as a single Kindle download through Amazon for 99 cents.

To be perfectly honest, when I started publishing public domain books for Kindle, I never expected really significant sales from my Anne collection or any other work. My goal was to get a few titles in the store which would each sell between 5 and 15 copies per day.

Not a huge amount, you might say. But with a family of 6 on a single income, every little bit helps. We would have been thrilled with $150-200 per month extra in our family budget.  

My expectations have mostly proven true on my other published books – but not on the Anne collection. It started out slowly for the first few days, but within a week it was selling 20 per day – then 30 – then 50.

On the Saturday morning of February 23, something changed. I logged into KDP mid-day and found the book was selling at a rapid rate. Even now, I’m not sure the exact “spark” that caused the acceleration. Amazon may have featured the collection somewhere on its site. Or perhaps a prominent blogger or Facebook user posted it. But that Saturday alone, the Anne collection sold 2100 copies.

The five months since I posted my Anne collection have brought these remarkable results:

  • Most sales in a day: 7338
  • Total copies sold during this period: 75,000+
  • Total income generated in the US store: $29,300+
  • Best overall ranking in the paid Kindle store: #1

Yes, you read that right. My Anne of Green Gables Kindle collection hit the number one overall spot in the Amazon Kindle store. My wife and I checked before falling asleep on the evening of February 26. The book was sitting at #2 behind a novel by Nicholas Sparks.

Luckily, one of my daughters drank a little too much milk that night before going to bed and accidentally wet the bed. She woke me in the middle of the night. After helping out and getting her tucked back in, I happened to pick up my iPad as I wandered back to bed. The book was at #1. Here’s a screenshot from 3:53AM on the morning of February 27.

The book had fallen to #3 by the time we woke up the next morning. Who knew you could ever be so glad to have a child wet the bed!

One of the funny and true lessons I've learned from this experience is this: you never know which of your efforts will fail and which will succeed. That's part of being an entrepreneur. You have to take the risk; you have to try.

I've started at least two blogs in the past but fizzled out when I didn't keep up with the writing and didn't get the readers I'd hoped for. I started a website-moving service last year to help people move their websites from one web hosting company to another. I'm REALLY good at this process and thought it would be a helpful service. Customers to date for my service: ZERO!

But now I've had significant success in Kindle publishing -- something I actually picked up as a hobby. My wife was reading all of the Anne of Green Gables books to my daughters. The existing books and collection available for Kindle varied some in quality and weren't exactly what I was looking for. So I decided to create the best collection I could for them. 

So if you have the heart of an entrepreneur, keep trying! Don't give up. You may need to make adjustments or take a new approach on something. But don't quit. You CAN find the place where your skills and passions collide with a service or product others need.

As a final note, I'm doing some work to expand my public domain publishing. I've created a little company and website and company called Timeless Reads. If you'd like to see what I currently offer or sign up to be notified when new collections are released, just scoot on over to: http://timelessreads.com

If you have questions about Kindle publishing, please send me a message through 48Days or send me a tweet at @aaronmkerr. I'm a busy guy at times but would love to help if I can.

Finally, if you use Twitter and would be willing to help me out, click here to Tweet a short message and link to my Anne collection.

UPDATE (June 2016)

After receiving many requests, I've launched an online course teaching my entire process for finding, formatting and publishing public domain content. If you're interested, please check out the link below. Get $48 off the purchase price for a limited time using coupon code 48DAYS.

Public Domain Publishing

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Comment by Aaron Kerr on May 19, 2016 at 11:23am

I wanted to post a quick update to those who have commented and expressed interest in public domain publishing. I'm launching a course to teach my whole process next month and have opened up 12 spots for early access at a huge discount. 8 have been claimed. If you're interested in grabbing one of the remaining 4, check out the details here:

http://48days.net/group/writeforprofit/forum/topics/early-access-to...

Thanks!

Comment by Mark J Cundiff on February 23, 2016 at 9:08pm

Great post! Thanks for sharing your story.

Comment by Michael Elliott on December 28, 2015 at 8:26pm

Hi Aaron,

I am looking at some different works and considering publishing for Kindle. How do I copyright what I publish? Do I need to do that?

Comment by David Geiger on December 26, 2015 at 11:19pm

Wow! That's fabulous. I know this is an older post, but how is your sales velocity today?

Comment by Jeff Garrett on October 10, 2015 at 10:43am

Almost forgot...thank you for the purchase.  I hope you find it engaging.  If not, I will gladly take any constructive feedback.

Comment by Jeff Garrett on October 10, 2015 at 10:14am

Wow Aaron,  you're like the gift that keeps on giving!  I will update the authors section on my next revision.  That really is great advice.  Your book does stand out much better than just adding "various" for the authors.  Plus I will be able to add all but one of my authors to the list.

Comment by Aaron Kerr on October 10, 2015 at 4:55am

Jeff,

That's awesome! Congratulations on getting your collection published. I purchased a copy this morning and will check it out today. The cover looks great.

Here's one brief tip that might help with your Amazon listing: I noticed that you just listed "various" in the authors section. Many people will search amazon based on author. Also, the author name becomes a clickable link when displayed on Amazon, which helps readers discover writing by authors they're interested in. So it may help the visibility of your book to add a few of the more prominent authors from your collection. I think you can add at least 7 different authors for each work. That way, the authors names show up and are easier to discover.

For an example, you can see my 12 Years a Slave collection. That collection had various authors, and they're all listed.

Keep up the great work!

Comment by Jeff Garrett on October 8, 2015 at 4:11pm

Aaron,

I would like to thank you for taking the time to post this blog.  It has been a source of inspiration and hope for some time now (took me a long time to finally act).  I have always wanted some kind of passive income, but I've had difficulty trying to figure out what that would be for me.  However, with your encouraging, thorough post, and kind feedback to everyone, I decided to give Kindle publishing a try.  It took me many more hours than expected, but I was finally able to get the confirmation from Amazon last night that I'm published!!!  I am so excited and I've already had a few sales.

The eBook is a Halloween collection of some of the top ranked classics.  It can be found here:  http://amzn.to/1WQ81nJ if you care to check it out.  I took thorough notes on all of your replies to this blog.  I then downloaded your "Anne" book to see how it compared to the Gutenberg versions.  Sorry, but I did a similar orange hyperlink color, only because orange and black seemed appropriate for Halloween.  I hope you don't mind, but I also gave you an acknowledgement in the book for your written help and encouragement.  Without such a great post I'm not sure I would have tried giving the public domain a chance.

I appreciate everything that you have provided here.  Thank you so much!

Jeff

Comment by Vonna Beam on March 10, 2015 at 7:09pm

Thank you, Aaron. I figured it out and I'm uploaded to iTunes.

Comment by Aaron Kerr on March 5, 2015 at 7:21am

Vonna,

You're correct that you'll need to use iTunes Producer to upload to iTunes. However, iBooks Author is not a requirement. iBooks Author is an ebook creation tool that can create ePub files to be read on an iPad or iPhone. I don't use iBook Author at all for my public domain publishing. It sounds like you already have your book in ePub format. You can upload this format directly to Apple through Producer without any other conversion needed. Producer will check the file to make sure it's a valid, correctly-formatted ePub.

Aaron

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