The Choose Yourself Era – How To Sell 300,000 Books

I asked Joe Ragan if he gets jealous. His wife, Theresa, writes romance novels. She also writes thrillers under the name, TR Ragan. She’s sold 300,000 copies of her books in the past year. She is entirely self-published through Amazon/Createspace. I recommend why and how to get self-published in this post.

“Why would I get jealous?” he said and he was smiling so I knew he was up for the question.


“Let’s say Theresa writes about a love interest in one of her books. Let’s say her main character is clearly based on her but the love interest is not like you in any way. Do you get jealous of the love interest in her book?” I was asking because I knew if Claudia was a romance novelist and wrote about a love interest that was nothing like me I would certainly get jealous. No matter how much self-work I did I would get jealous. I hate having that mental illness.

Joe laughed. We were at a dinner that Amazon organized for a few authors who had used Createspace for self-publishing. Theresa had burst out a quick seven novels on that platform. Two thrillers and five romance novels.  Whitney, from Amazon, laughed and said, “That’s a good question.” She wanted to know also.

“I never get jealous,” Joe said. And then I was jealous of him. I’m stuck in my brain when it comes to issues like this. Thank god Claudia is not a romance novelist. But then Theresa piped in, “I always make sure the love interest has some aspects that are like Joe. Maybe a food he likes to eat, or clothing he likes to wear. Something.”

See. A good romance novelist knows how to keep her man happy.

I spoke more with Theresa the next time we met, at the Amazon booth at the book expo where we were both signing books. Now I had an opportunity to be jealous of her. Since she started self-publishing in March, 2011 she has sold 300,000 books. 300,000! And now she had just signed a deal with Thomas & Mercer, which is Amazon’s publishing company that competes with the more traditional publishers. “But I’m still going to be using Createspace and Kindle Direct for self-publishing,” she said.

She told me she had been writing and trying to get published for 19 years. She had been rejected by every publisher. She had had two agents but they hadn’t helped her. She wrote every day (“1000 to 3000 words every day. If I get 1000 words done in the morning I can feel happy for the rest of the day knowing I did it”) , she had been in writing groups, she had tried everything to get published. I asked her if she outlined everything before she wrote. “No,” she said, “I just make sure I do those 1000-3000 words a day.”

[A video of Theresa being interviewed at the Book Expo]

“Over the course of those 19 years I’ve received over 100 rejections,” she said.

This is why I don’t like traditional publishers. Think about it. Some 22 year old, fresh out of college editorial associate rejected her books. Now, in just the past year, she has sold 300,000 copies of her books. That would put her on any bestseller list in the world. Clearly the readers have spoken! She’s a success! For 19 years the traditional publishers were wrong.

Her first book came out in March, 2011. Her second in April, 2011. With self-publishing you have to be prolific. But with 3000 words a day that’s possible. She told me,  “At first I was selling hundreds of copies, then thousands, then one site, “A Pixel of Ink” mentioned my book and things really took off.”

(a cat reading Theresa's romance novel: "Return of the Rose")

So after 19 years of being rejected by traditional publishers, she CHOSE HERSELF and is now making a great living.

Because of technology, and the total breaking down of societal, financial, and psychological barriers brought on by the financial catastrophe, its become more acceptable, even welcome, to  CHOOSE YOURSELF. You no longer have to wait for the big media companies to call you. You no longer have to wait for the big companies to reach down from the sky and offer you a job. You no longer have to wait for some website to link to you so you can get thousands of followers. You can work hard, be persistent, and eat what you kill. You can choose yourself to be the dream you always wanted to be. You build your platform and then select yourself to be the star of it.

Theresa wanted to be a writer. She worked 19 years for it. Nobody would chose her. So she uploaded one book, then two, then a thriller, then four more books. Now she is sought after. But it’s too late for anyone to get her before she becomes a success. She already IS a success because she chose herself to become one.

She had mentioned something about emailing reviewers reviews of her book and I wasn’t sure if I had heard right so I wrote her and asked her to clarify. She wrote back and we continued our conversation through emails.

Theresa: “When I “emailed a reviewer every day asking for reviews” this is what I meant:  I sent an email to actual book reviewers…mostly romance reviewers and I asked them if they were interested in reviewing one of my books if I sent it to them.

Many reviewers were interested, so I would send them a digital copy through kindle or nook or smashwords, depending on what sort of ereader device they had. Some reviewers took months to get the review done and many posted the review on Amazon. I would then Tweet or put the review on Facebook. This helped to get my name out in the beginning. The more reviews on Amazon, the more sales, more interview requests…more opportunities. Below are just two of many sites where you can find long lists of reviewers. These are the types of people I would send an email asking them if they would be interested in reviewing my book. I did this for the first three months in my self-published journey.

(Publisher's Weekly interviewing Theresa and me)

So again, not only did she upload her book to Createspace and self-publish, she didn’t rest there. You can’t just go back to your desk and write another novel. You have to keep choosing yourself in every medium. Publishers will not market you. Amazon will not market you. If you don’t promote yourself, then nobody will. So she used every social medium. She emailed all the reviewers she could find. She was polite and asked them if they wanted a book rather than shoving it at them. So it was bulk asking,

Then she would take the review and spread it across all media: Facebook, twitter, Amazon, etc. And for each review she saw a corresponding increase in sales. And because she was prolific, her backlist would sell as well. So all seven book started becoming major sellers.

But there’s ONE KEY COMPONENT she needed in order to select herself. And everyone needs this before they can enter the CHOOSE YOURSELF ERA.

I wrote her again and asked her if she was frustrated during the 19 years she couldn’t publish. Here is her response:

” I was frustrated and in the middle of my journey I was even feeling a little bitter about not selling. In 2007, I read The Secret and that book and Eckhart Tolle’s books changed my life literally. I am also loving your book! I never wrote for money, but I did want readers. And I did want to see my book in bookstores. That was definitely a motivating factor. Making money now is icing on the cake. It’s more than I ever imagined. If it all stops tomorrow, I am happy and grateful.

In 2007 I began to appreciate all the things that had always bothered me…like weeds growing in the yard and the fact that I had a roof over my head. I began to appreciate my family and every single thing I had…water to drink, legs to walk, eyes to see. Becoming a positive person has changed my life. I started to see the world in a new way. My oldest son said that the world was always that way, but I was just seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, and he was right. Everything wonderful was always right there in front of me, I just wasn’t seeing it until I change my mind set.”

I have two takeaways from this. One is the psychological barrier it takes to choose yourself. First you have to love yourself.You have to understand that validation comes from within. Not when the big bad media company reaches down from the clouds and “accepts” you, like a parent loving a baby in a crib. You need to love yourself enough that the aura you spread is noticeable by everyone. That the love and validation you crave comes from inside first. And suddenly that validation will automatically guide your efforts as you go through the process of selecting yourself for success in whatever you endeavor.

(The "TR Ragan" book, "Abducted")

The second takeaway is she loves my book. YAY!

Finally, I want to add, I have now read Theresa’s thriller, “Abducted”. I couldn’t put it down. It’s a pageturner, every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, and now I’m compelled to buy the sequel and then whatever comes after that. She deserves every success.

[See also the story of another, more recent, self-published success: “Love Yourself as if Your Life Depended On It”]


TDP.ME suggestion for writers: When you set up your goals on TDP.ME, you can put under the “Mental Category” as daily goals:

  • Write 1000+ words a day
  • End the writing for the day on a cliffhanger
  • email reviewers
  • Comment on 5 blogs that are about self-publishing
And under the "Spiritual Category":
"List the things I appreciate today. An appreciation Journal. "

Share This Post

Other posts you might be interested in: