My Websites Were Earnings Thousands Per Month, Until…By Steve Gillman

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After I started publishing content online, I got emails from visitors telling me how much they liked my websites. I smiled, sometimes responded, and hit “delete.” Later, subscribers to my email newsletters sent complimentary comments as well. I smiled, sometimes responded, and hit “delete.” It was almost two years, after I started putting websites and e-books together, before I realized I should save these testimonials. I then added the appropriate language to the “terms of use” pages on my sites, allowing me to use a few lines from any email received, and I set up files to sort the e-mails worth saving. From that point on, I carefully saved hundreds of testimonials, and even used a few once in a while.

I was a reluctant marketer, to say the least. Like most writers I would prefer to just write and have my writing “discovered” somehow. Fortunately, for a few years it was almost easy to do just that with websites. I included keywords near the start and finish of each page so search engines would find them and I wrote many short articles to distribute for free with links back to the sites, and the traffic poured in. The pay-per-click ads pasted onto my pages were clicked and many thousands of dollars were automatically deposited into my bank account each month. I’m not making this up, by the way. Sadly, traffic to my websites is down by about 90% now; the easy days are gone.

Along the way I did study marketing because, well, I just like to study things. I learned enough to write about marketing, but didn’t apply what I had learned very well. It was too easy to just keep writing, and watch the income grow for six straight years. I stumbled into a book contract because I had mailing lists online and apparently publishers like to see that. That’s when I learned about the need to market not just to readers, but to publishers. I took notes because, well, I just like to take notes.

Even though I was invited by John Wiley & Sons Publishing to write 101 Weird Ways to Make Money: Cricket Farming, Repossessing Cars, and Other Jobs With Big Upside and Not Much Competition, they still wanted a formal book proposal and an “author marketing plan.” Fortunately, they sent a form with guidelines to help me prepare the latter. From it, I learned that public speaking is one of the best ways to promote a book. I was prompted to attach a speaking schedule for the next year and to estimate the number of people who would hear me speak. That part of the form was returned blank. I don’t do public speaking. I don’t want to speak in front of people. I like sitting at home in my underwear speaking through the keyboard.

The form also told me that it’s good to buy large quantities of one’s book to give to clients and audience members in order to build support and recognition. My clients were anonymous readers of web pages and newsletters who sometimes clicked on an ad, and my wife was my only live audience. I left it blank where the form asked how many books I intended to buy. In fact, I crossed out the line in the contract requiring a minimum purchase of 100 books because it would have eaten up 10% of the advance I was getting. What was I going to do with all of those books?

My editor asked me about interviews I had previously done on the subject of unusual ways to make money (add a “.com” to those five words to arrive at the website that got his attention and resulted in my book deal). I had been on various radio shows a dozen times (they called me) and he suggested that I contact all of them to get interviewed again near the publication date. That’s when I learned that I should have kept records of all interviews and other publicity. All I could remember was that they were morning “shock jock” shows and one of them might have been on a station from St. Louis, Missouri.

Some people say I was lucky to get the contract, and lucky to have sold more than 12,000 copies of the book so far. I’m one of those people, but I wonder how many copies might have sold if I wasn’t such a reluctant marketer. John Locke, who created a series of crime novels specifically for Amazon’s Kindle platform, did so well that he later wrote the book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!. In it, he admits that he is primarily a marketer who happens to write. When I first read his book, I got excited but I eventually decided that marketing is more of an art than a science, which explains why an intelligent guy like me can’t quite get it. It’s not a bad excuse and it has some truth to it.

Of course even the most truthful excuses don’t accomplish much and I don’t want anyone reading this to start thinking that success is likely from writing without marketing. So, to complete this roller-coaster tale, I have to tell you that, with my writing (online and off) now paying only half of the bills, I recently worked as a security guard, I did construction cleanup and I occasionally paint houses. These employers, the first I’ve had in nine years, have paid at most $11 per hour, and I don’t really like jobs so I keep quitting. I like sitting here in my underwear working from home, as I’m doing right now.

So I’ve decided to study how to market my writing (and myself), and also to apply what I learn. As soon as I finish this paragraph I’ll research how to send a proper query letter and maybe I’ll do it right and sell this article. Then, if my wife is not the last person to read it, I might not have to stand in the hot Florida sun holding up a sign for minimum wage… again. I’m not making this up, by the way.

Steve Gillman’s website about odd businesses and jobs inspired his book, 101 Weird Ways to Make Money, which, in turn, led to the creation of the ever-growing website, http://www.EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He has created over two dozen informational websites covering various subjects ranging from metaphors to wilderness survival to buying a cheap home, and has written books on subjects as diverse as backpacking, meditation, and creative problem solving.