This week in our series celebrating super-successful indie authors, we talk to guitarist Joseph Alexander who has established the terrific Fundamental Changes series of non-fiction books about playing guitar, though a non-stop, single-minded focus on his goals, collaboration with other musicians and an enviable email list of over 25,000. Read on to find out how he does it, and to be inspired for your own self-publishing career, whatever genre you write in. He also shares great advice for those who run small indie imprints publishing other authors' work.
What is the secret of your success?
I wish I knew! I guess it’s constant output. I’ve written 30 books about playing guitar myself and published about 15 more by some other very talented musicians. For the last four years I’ve been working about fourteen hours a day and making sure that everything I write is to the highest possible standard. I try to go above and beyond every guitar guide out there. I add as much value as I can and cram in a huge amount of freebies, such as audio downloads and videos. These downloads help me to grow my email list.
To be honest, having a 25,000+ email list helps tremendously as all out email marketing is automated now.
This results in a constant trickle of sales across all titles and helps to keep my books at the top of the best sellers lists.
What was the single best thing you ever did?
Can I pick three things?
The first one is to just have integrity in everything I write. Add value to your books and never be satisfied with anything less than perfect. This is especially true in non-fiction where there are tons of manuals out there. I decided to write the best ones after being disappointed with some over-priced, under-delivering books when I was younger.
The second thing was an accident. I’m terrible at Photoshop so I asked my web designers to make me a front cover template for my books. I could change the colour, switch out the guitar images and change the text. With the amount of books I was producing this accidentally became my branding and, because of Amazon’s cross promotion algorithms, my books were suddenly everywhere.
The third thing was realising that I could use my branding and domination of the Amazon niche to attract other authors. I’m a fairly competent guitarist but there are obviously certain styles I suck at! I reached out to friends in the industry and asked them if they wanted to write for my Fundamental Changes label. I split all profits 50/50 so everyone gets a great deal. I provide all the branding, proof reading, editing, route to market etc, and they provide the text, musical notation and audio downloads. It’s going really well as it’s been a very easy, low risk way to build my brand and the authors get a 26% royalty of the cover price which is very high in this industry.
Oh, secret bonus answer #4, I recently had all my books translated into Spanish, Portuguese and German. I went from 50 to 200 books in a few months and now my books are all round the world!
How do you get creative?
I get up early and get writing before my girlfriend gets up. This gives me a few hours of quiet time to write before she gets up and my dogs are unleashed!
To be honest, I don’t think of myself as a creative person, i write non-fiction. I don’t think I have it in me to invent characters and back stories etc… I really admire those who can. For me, it’s more about how to stay productive.
I’ve taught thousands of students, so really I’m just writing down what I teach them. I find that the old school method of brainstorming ideas on a piece of paper helps. I put the subject in the middle and write down everything I can think of that I want to show the student. Then I organise that into chapter headings and sub-headings. My guitar books are all around 106 pages long, so ten chapters broken down into three sub-topics of three pages works well. Then I just fill in the gaps and write the musical examples.
How do you prioritise?
Don’t open your email before mid day. Ever. They can wait. In fact, I have freelancers for almost everything now, so any technical enquiries from www.fundamental-changes.com I don’t even see 90% of the stuff that comes in. My virtual assistant knows what needs a personal response, and I will always reply to guitar-related questions. I have people to cut up notation images, people for transcription. I even outsource the recording of the audio examples now so that can be getting started while I’m writing the second half of the book.
A lot of stuff is automated now so I don’t have to get bogged down in details.
In terms of prioritising, it’s still tough because I’m a publisher now, and I try to give my authors as much time as possible. I put people first and help them to make good products which will have a long shelf life. There are still a few books I want to write which are on a back burner while I build the brand, but I’m surrounded by such talented musicians it’d be terrible to not give them 100%.
We released six books in November/December before Black Friday and Christmas. At that point I was prioritising the projects that would generate the most revenue for my authors.
For me: I’m working on a book that is going to become a whole interactive course for non-fiction authors. I was fortunate enough to pass $1,000,000 in royalties last year and I want to show people that it actually isn't that difficult to do. Yes it’s a lot of work, but the process can be modelled and applied to any genre of non-fiction. I want to teach people how to do this, it only seems fair to pass on what I've figured out by trial and error.
Also, I’m getting the editing/publishing/marketing process pretty smooth now, so it isn’t as time consuming. I’m going to be trying to work less and start travelling again. I wrote about eight books sitting on the beach in Thailand, and I’m itching to get in the sun again after a few years back in the UK.
For Fundamental Changes: Bass books, then drums, keyboard and vocals. For some reason it’s easy to find bass players and we’ve already got a few great titles. It’s harder to find other instrumentalists who can write, but we are working on it!
What are the highlights for you?
Personally, getting emails from people who have finally ‘got’ the guitar after reading one of my books. I’ve had some amazing emails. I’ve made friends from all over the world and heard some really touching stories. In fact, being able to travel with a laptop and a guitar and still create and run a company was a huge sense of freedom.
I got invited to The Amazon Academy recently to talk about what I do to people, that was really flattering. I normally hate those kind of networking events, but instead of me being the person trying to connect with influencers, people were actually hanging around awkwardly and trying to talk to me. It was weird and cool at the same time as I’m only used to getting that kind of attention with a guitar in front of me. It was a real privilege to be able to chat to some incredible people.
I get to surround myself with some really cool and talented musicians who really enrich my life.
When I published my first author, Simon Pratt, and his books quickly became successful, that was a great feeling because it was such a tangible way to support an excellent musician.
The traditional publishing industry is very difficult for creative, and that goes for music as well as literature. The fact I can give someone a 26% royalty means that there is a place for disruptors in the industry.
It’s a bit daunting to think about it, but I’ve sold 200,000 books and every day there are people out there using my materials to help them crate music. I just hope I’ve done a good job and people really feel the benefit.
What are your top tips for other indie authors?
Work. Sorry guys, life isn’t X-Factor.
There’s no free lunch, and the success I find myself having now has been the result of fourteen-hour days for four years. It’s only now that I work a maximum of four hours (unless I’m writing a book or it’s the run up to Christmas!)I only started marketing my own stuff late last year so everything until that point was a case of getting the best possible books out there and building my mailing list. Amazon is great at promoting books once they’re selling, but you’ve got to get that snow ball rolling down the mountain.
Of course, over the years I’ve found a ton of shortcuts and ways to speed up the writing process. I wrote my first book in 6 months and the most recent one in two weeks.
Planning everything before you start writing helps, then if writer’s block kicks in you can simply move to another section and keep going.
Get bored easily. I don’t know if I’m on a spectrum or something, but I can’t sit still! I feel sorry for my poor girlfriend Amanda because I’m always coming up with new ideas and boring her with them. I can’t relax until they’re out of my head, either jotted down on paper or as a finished project.
A pen and paper is your best friend. Forget all these ’proactivity apps’. Write stuff down, keep it on your desk.
Stay off Facebook. There are a million ways to waste your life on social media. It’s a huge planet, go and see it. You’ll benefit.
Becoming a successful author was a complete accident. I never set out to do this, I was just trying to write a guide for one of my students to help him play jazz. I published it and the sales trickled in. I wrote another, and another. Once I had about eight book, the profits allowed me to employ someone to build my website professionally and get a free lancer to answer emails for me.
There is a hell of a lot of misinformation about publishing out there, that’s why groups like ALLi and Mark Dawson’s pages are so important.
However, as with anything in life, don’t get too bogged down with what everyone else is doing.
Concentrate on your own game, keep writing, build a brand, build your email list and give it everything you have.
Above all, add value to everything you do, and have integrity. Readers can sniff out a fake and will be quick to let you know.Inspiration for indie #authors from #selfpub success @guitar_joseph, #non-fiction author Click To Tweet