This week, I caught up with a highly successful Amazon indie author. His name is Marc Reklau. He's from Germany but lives in Budapest, Hungary.
Marc got into the self-publishing game about ten years ago, when selling books on platforms like Amazon was much easier. He writes about personal development, self-help and covers topics like productivity, happiness, habits, and money.
He also uses Amazon ads prolifically to sell copies of his non-fiction books. Believe it or not, he's had a huge success selling books translated into different languages, specifically Spanish.
I was fascinated to hear about Marc's approach – firstly, to writing his books and, secondly, to promoting them via Amazon ads.
In this episode, we discuss:
Marc: When I read a book, I don't really care a lot about if there's a mistake. I care about, what does it give? So, for me, a good book is that a book that gives me information to change my life or to improve my life.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: What does it take to earn a living from selling books on Amazon today? Hi there. My name is Bryan Collins. Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. This week, I caught up with a highly successful Amazon indie author. His name is Marc Reklau. He's from Germany but living in Budapest, in Hungary. Marc got into the self-publishing game about 10 years ago back when it was, I suppose, a lot easier to sell books on platforms like Amazon. He writes personal development, self-help, and covers topics like productivity, happiness, habits, and even money. He also uses Amazon ads prolifically to sell copies of his nonfiction books. Believe it or not, he's had a huge success selling books translated into different languages, specifically Spanish.
I was fascinated to hear about Marc's approach – firstly, to writing his books and, secondly, to promoting them via Amazon ads. Marc describes his process for spending an hour a day promoting his work. He also articulates why he believes translating your books into different languages could be key to earning a good living as an indie author, particularly if you're targeting the United States. He's had great success translating his books, specifically into Spanish. Marc's insights into self-publishing reminded me a little bit of when I started self-publishing books years ago. It used to be much easier to sell a self-published book. That's because there was far less competition, and I suppose professional publishing companies didn't take in the authors too seriously. Even when Amazon began rolling out its advertising platform, there wasn't a huge amount of competition, and you could easily earn a profit on your ads. Now, these days, for better or worse, every indie author needs to invest in Amazon advertising if they want their books to rank and also to sell. That requires a little bit of work.
My biggest suggestion if you're struggling with balancing, marketing, and writing is to take a bit of advice from the screenwriter David Mamet. Years ago, I watched an interview with him. He described how every creative should do one thing every day for their art — in a writer's case, that could be writing several 100 words — and also do one thing every day for their business. So, in a writer's case, that could be setting up Amazon ad campaigns, or setting up their email list, or some other way of getting their writing into the hands of readers. That way, you will always have some creative work that you're getting ready to publish, and you also have a way of earning a living from your work which you can use to write something new or to write something better.
I hope you enjoy this week's interview with Marc. It was a fun one. If you do, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store. Your reviews and ratings will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. Also, if you do like the show and you know another writer in your life who you believe would like to learn about self-publishing, promoting their books, or anything else that we cover in this week's podcast episode, please take a moment to share the show on Overcast, Spotify, or Stitcher.
Bryan: Welcome to the show, Marc.
Marc: Thank you for having me. It's good to be here.
Bryan: It's very hard to earn a full-time living from writing books. Not many people have these days. So, I want to dive into what strategies and advice you'd offer for new writers. But before we get to any of that, how did you get started writing personal development and self-help?
Marc: That's a long story, but I'll make it short. I worked in a book printer, although that was a purely a coincidence. About nearly 10 years now, I got fired from my job. I had done a coaching training before, so I thought — when I got fired, I said, okay, now I have two years. Because I had savings for two years, and I had less welfare for two years. So, I thought I'm going to become a coach and a consultant, and I'm going to learn all my money with that. The jobless welfare comes in. I should try to write a book to distinguish myself, to differentiate myself. Because if there were already many coaches with books — the same thing, the idea of my book came because in my coaching training, I saw there's lots of exercises like goal setting or practicing gratitude, that people who are doing them actually become successful. The problem is, most of the people don't do them.
The idea was you have to share these exercises with people and try to motivate them to do this kind of exercise. At the same time, I was doing them being jobless. Now after 10 years, I can tell you it works. There are really some exercises that if you do them for a period of time, you will succeed. That was the idea of my first book, 30 Days: Change Your Habits, my life. I wrote it. I self-publish it. Then the first half year, I sold 200 ebooks or something. But I kept studying marketing, looking at people who were selling books and then got a BookBub deal. I had 40,000 downloads in a couple of days. Those were for free. But the thing is, afterwards when it went back to paid, suddenly, I was selling 80, 150 books. I could actually start living from my books. With time, I started spending more money. I got less income because Amazon was — the organic visibility was going away.
Bryan: Yeah, I've experimented with Amazon ads and with varying degrees of success over the years. About 10 years ago, I was also let go from a job. I read a lot of personal development and self-help books at the time. Some books I liked were The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I also read a few books by Tim Ferriss, a few other books in that genre as well. Which one has made a particular impact on you?
Marc: On me, it was mostly coaching training as a whole because we were going through like — it was a 200-hours coaching training. We were actually doing all the exercises that we later would apply.
Bryan: You see the accountability to help people, the exercises into practice.
Marc: Yeah, so, we had to do them. That's why I saw they worked. I also did a huge process of reflection and introspection going forward. Of course, the same books inspired me. Tim Ferriss, Anthony Robbins, Jack Canfield — those people were inspiring me. I read personal development books for over 30 years, but I was never doing the exercises. In my coaching trainings, it was the first time I wrote down my goals. Suddenly, things started happening. It also influenced in my first book to say, hey, wow, if you really do the exercises, it works. What I noticed until then was, many times I read self-help books. They were so complicated and so dense, that when you come to the end of the chapter and it says now write down your goals, you're like, "No, I can't. I'm too exhausted right now from reading 50 pages that I can't do it now." That's why, in my books, I tried to do it very simple, lead you to the end of the chapter very quickly. Then there's the exercise. And hopefully, you still have energy to do the exercise because that will make the difference. Not reading the books, but actually doing the exercises.
Bryan: A lot of nonfiction books, particularly in that genre contain fluff and filler. So, it's always good to have actionable points at the end of the chapter. So, is that when you started to develop your writing habit that you've used for writing your series of books?
Marc: Exactly. I also informed myself. I read many books on how to write books. In the beginning, I really wasn't aiming at writing 40,000 words over books, or two or three books a year or selling 700,000 books in total. I was aiming at writing my 1,000 to 2,000 words a day. In the beginning, I said, okay, I'll start at six. I will write 2,000 words for three hours, whatever I reach first. I did that for two or three months and had my manuscript. Many times, I was maybe only writing 1,000 words. I included also the research in it because I was, of course, researching also a lot, reading more personal development books to get more ideas. First book was 2,000 words a day or three hours. Then after three months, I had my manuscript. Then the whole editing process, finding an editor began. After five months, my book was self-published.
Bryan: Writing nonfiction involves a lot of research. That's a key part of the process. What I like to do is just have research for one part of the day, usually in the afternoon or evening, and then try and actually hit the word count, whether it's 2,000 words like you described or whatever the target is in the morning time. Are you still following that process for your books? Because I understand you're writing one to two books per year at the moment.
Marc: I got lazy now. In the last three years, I became very successful. So, I live now very well from my books. I noticed, for five or six years, I was working a lot. I kept this process. Then when success came, I became a little bit more lazy. I now write one or two books a year. When I write, then I stick to the process. But I think writing now is like two months of the year. I do work one hour on my Amazon ads every day and read still a lot to get new ideas. But I know many writers who are, really, the whole year through, write their 1,000, 2,000 words a day. Of course, they publish a lot more books, which at the end should be the goal. So, I'm figuring out how to set new goals.
I told you I'm very lazy, or I became extremely well-organized. Because the 80-20 rule is a big part of my life. 20% of your work should actually make 80% of your income. Because the introspection, reflection, that's something I keep doing. I say okay, maybe I'm lazy or maybe I've just become incredibly well-organized. Because if 20% of the work brings me 80% of my results, then okay. I'm working 80% less than I was working five years ago.
Bryan: You probably understand what to focus on or do more often. That frees you up then to do that time off and work on other projects.
Bryan: Is writing nonfiction books, is that your main business or how you pay the bills?
Marc: Yes, finally. Because normally, nonfiction authors, they write a couple of books and then they use those to get invited to speaking gigs or to a lot of coaching consulting. I tried it; it didn't work for me. I had coaching clients but never enough to have a good life. I do every year one or two well-paid speaking gigs, but they are not enough to maintain a good lifestyle. Then 2018, it was that moment when I saw it's going down again. The good times was over. I didn't get BookBub deals anymore.
Bryan: This was when indie authors had to use Amazon ads to sell their books.
Marc: It's when that started. That was when I noticed, for myself, I'm going down. If I don't do anything, I might have to look for a job or whatever. But nobody wants me anymore anyway, because I haven't been working in a real job since 2013. My girlfriend helped me because she's a LinkedIn consultant. She did my LinkedIn. She always said, "Marc, every post needs a reason. What do you want to achieve with the post? Do you want to get conference? Do you want to get coaching clients?" I was plucked. I was like, "Ugh, leave me." But I had to force myself. What do I really, really want? Then once we did, after she repeated the question the fourth or fifth time, I said, "Okay. Without fear, if I could choose, I really would like to earn all my income with my books. That's it. I don't want to do coaching. I don't want to do a conference."
For LinkedIn, that didn't make a lot of sense. But for me, it was amazing. It was a breakthrough. I admit it to myself the first time. Okay. I want to make all my money with books. There are authors out there who are doing it, the fiction authors who earn a lot of money. I found Mark Dawson, the British crime writer said he was earning a lot of money. He also had a course, so I investigated him.
Bryan: This is Ads for Authors. I took that course a few years ago.
Marc: Yeah, exactly. I found Ads for Authors. Then, of course, I did my due diligence. Because everybody says they're making a lot of money with books. But later, when you look, you really have to study where are they positioning, Amazon and the students? Are the students positioning are found out? Yeah, I mean, you can see it with the reviews. If his books have 2,000 reviews, it's selling. He has many books with many reviews. That's okay. That looks good. I did the course. I was so desperate, so I followed it to the letter. I started very small with Amazon ads, but I could see there was a change. Before, I was earning $1,000 a month. When I started doing ads, it was $1,300, $1,500. Then I just did it for 17 months. I counted that because I did a presentation. I did the same thing every day managing my ads, making new ads. After 17 months, I have achieved my first €15,000 month only with my books.
Bryan: Congrats. Was that profit, or was that before you take into account that?
Marc: The profit was maybe 10,000.
Bryan: That's excellent, yeah.
Marc: It's good that you're asking. Because it's always nice to talk about when you make 25,000 30,000 50,000. But I have to say profit was always like 10 to 12. So, the net was 10,000 to 12,000, which is okay. This is a deal I take any time.
Bryan: Yeah. Were you primarily using Amazon ads, or did you also use Facebook ads?
Marc: Yes, that's the good thing for me now that I say okay, I didn't even try Facebook ads. So, I could start with Facebook ads and see if I can get some more, like 5,000 more would be nice. Then BookBub ads might work. Because I think five years ago, many people wanted to pay 299 for an ebook. But I think people now paying 499, 599, they got used to it. I never bought ebooks for 799. I rather would buy the paperback. But now I actually don't care. If it's the book I like, I pay 799 or 999 for the ebook. Also, because in Hungary, I don't have Amazon Prime anymore. So, let's have the ebook instead of waiting one or two weeks for the paperback book, right?
Bryan: Yeah, I sometimes buy a book in multiple formats. I'll buy the Kindle book and read it. Then if it's particularly good, I'll get the print book. For example, I was reading a book about training for triathlons. I bought the print book for the race plans. But the Kindle book just so I could read it on the go. So, I'm curious. Are your book royalties mostly from Amazon? Are you also selling in other platforms?
Marc: Yes, 50%, that was also fun. I have changed my business model. Because last August, Amazon closed my account — of course, by mistake. But that was horrible because you go back from 15,000.
Bryan: Your ads account or your KDP account?
Marc: No, my KDP account.
Bryan: Oh, wow.
Marc: Because of a mistake. That was horrible. A bot went crazy. Then the Amazon rep also was not very empathetic. But then I got it back. That's when I questioned everything. It was the first time I could look at my numbers. For example, of my gross, Amazon is 70% of my gross income. But net, it's only 50. Then I get Ingram. So, I have my paperback also on Ingram. I do the expanded distribution with Ingram. Then after August, I took all my books out of KDP. I'm now wide with my ebook, of KDP Select. So, I am now wide with my ebooks. But that takes a little bit. It's not a lot of money that's coming in. But it's getting better and better. It's like starting all over again. But I'm willing to do this. They say having all your eggs in one basket, there's something to it. I learned the hard way.
Bryan: Yeah, especially when you have a series of books like you do that are all consistently branded. It's easier to sell them on multiple platforms.
Bryan: KDP is probably the best place to start. Are you also selling audiobooks?
Marc: Also audio books. What I wanted to say is like, of my total income, 90% of books what means Amazon. The other platforms: PublishDrive, Draft2Digital, Ingram, and audio books, and then some small direct sales, which I'm also not pursuing very much. Maybe it would be a good idea to pursue them. Because sometimes companies ask me for 20 or 50 books for their employees. So, I deliver them via Amazon or via Ingram.
Bryan: I understand you're also starting to translate your books in two different markets — for example, Spanish.
Marc: Yes, I did it very early because I speak Spanish. I lived in Spain for 17 years. I write in English because most of my info comes in English. So, for me, it's easier to write in my bad English. But then later, I have a good editor and a good proofreader. They make it nice. Then I translate it to Spanish. Then I get a Spanish proofreader to make it nice again. There was also a little bit luck for me — well, luck, yeah — that I can speak the language and can do my own translations. Because when you don't have a lot of money, translations are expensive. So, I did that myself and just had to pay the editor. I have to tell you, most of my money now, I would say 60%, 70% come from my Spanish books, which is incredible. So, I'm not even earning so much anymore with my English books. But the Spanish market has become such a gold.
Bryan: There's less competition, I would imagine.
Marc: Less competition. Above all, Spanish books in the US is amazing. That's my absolute cash cow.
Bryan: Yeah, it's the second biggest language.
Marc: Exactly. I think you have already like 200 million or 100 million Spanish — not only in the US, but also the whole of South America except Mexico — buys their books on dot-com. So, it's an incredible reach. And I can see that.
Bryan: Do you have to use advertising to sell your books, your Spanish books?
Marc: Yes, that's also how I know that advertising works. Because I didn't sell any Spanish books in the US before advertising. Then I think at the end of 2019, it was possible to advertise Spanish books in the US on the dot-com store. That's when it took off. That was incredible. Of course, Spain is also a nice market — .es. But of course, not with that many readers. But really, for me, the greatest thing was that I can advertise and sell my Spanish books on the dot-com.
Bryan: Have you created Spanish audiobooks of your books as well?
Marc: My books have been up there for a few competitions for a long time. Since 2015, my books have always been up in the Amazon Bestseller list. Then I got contacted. From Storytel, I sold four audiobooks. Then I have another three books with Booka, which was a Spanish audiobook publisher which now sold their rights to American. So, those are my audiobooks I have with publishers. All the rest, I produced myself with Findaway Voices. Probably, if I get back the rights from Storytel, I'd also put up the books myself on Findaway Voices. Because that's what I noticed. I like to be in charge of my own rights because in the beginning—
I was lucky with Storytel, because they're really doing a lot to sell my audio books. Sometimes traditional publishers, I have one book with the biggest Spanish traditional publisher. I was so happy when I got the deal. Then now I'm so sad that I gave it to them because it's not selling. You're just a number there. So, I like to have my own rights. I will probably do that also with my audiobooks.
Bryan: So, you've recently written a book about minimalism. When you're selecting topics today, do you pick a topic based on what's of interest to you, or do you pick it based on what you think your market or readers would like to buy?
Marc: No, it's like a process. You know, it's very funny. I should concentrate more on the market. But for me, it was like a process. So, I started with habits. Because habit was, for me, the way to get going.
Bryan: Yeah, if I remember correctly, it was a particularly popular genre back in 2016, 2017.
Marc: Exactly. Then when you get in habits, you automatically get interested in productivity. So, my next book was about productivity. Then I kept on research and everything. I found out, oh, wow. happiness. Happiness makes you more productive. So, with the same tools, a person that is happier than his colleague will be more productive. That's amazing. It's a brain thing, right?
At the same time, my book was translated to Japanese. I have a fantastic translator there who discovered me practically. Then he said, "Hey, I want you to write a self-love book because I think it would sell well in Japan." Then I wrote the self-love book. It didn't sell well in Japan. But I have it in English, so I uploaded it in English. I translated it to Spanish, and now it's selling crazy in Spain. Then I wrote a book about people skills. Because the world thinks the Japanese are so polite, and I thought so too. But he told me, "We're not so polite as we seem." I wrote that book, which is going well. Then on my way, I became a minimalist. I was interested in minimalism, and then I became a minimalist. I moved from my house to a boat. So, I had to throw half of my stuff.
Bryan: You're not in a boat right now, though.
Marc: No, now I'm living in a good apartment but with few stuff.
Bryan: For our listeners, I can see a cooker and a door in the background. It doesn't look like a boat.
Marc: Yeah, then I found out you can even live in a great apartment as a minimalist. But then, I moved from my boat to Malta. I moved by airplane. So, I had to throw away a lot of stuff. Again, things that I didn't — I just got rid of things that I didn't need. Now, really, my belongings, they fit in one and a half suitcases. So, for me, I can move everywhere with one and a half suitcases, with less baggage than other people go on a three-week vacation. At the end of this, I thought, well, yeah, I'll write another book about it. Because mostly, when I write a book, I experiment it out of productivity. When I have a feeling I'm good at it or it works for me, then I write a book about it. Look, it worked for me, right? Maybe it works for you, too.
Now I'm writing actually a book which I always wanted to write. But I didn't see myself, like, when can you write a book on how to become rich. But now I'm at a point where I say, okay, 10 years ago, I was jobless. I got €800 welfare, jobless welfare, for a month. In the last three years, I had many days where I made $800 with my books a day. I'm not super rich. First of all, rich is what you consider to be financially independent. If you spend €1,000 a month and you earn €2,000 by passive income, you are basically financially independent. Also, I see it as a bridge. I'm not a super-rich guy. So, still, when you read the book, you can see, okay, if this guy made it, I can do it too. Then I put in all the stuff I did. Again, it's getting rid of unnecessary things, spending less on unnecessary things. From that, you build on. So, that's my latest project.
Bryan: So, that's the book that you've published recently. What are you working on next?
Marc: The Happy Minimalist was the one I published recently. Now I'm working on this book, on a money book. I don't have a title yet, but it will probably like From Jobless to Six- Figures or something like that. Because I would like to call it From Jobless to Millionaire. But I'm not a millionaire, so I can't call it like that. So, I have to think of something else.
Bryan: When you were researching your books, do you read a lot of different books in the same genre?
Marc: Yes, absolutely. I read 10, 12, 15 books on productivity. But the important thing was not the reading. Because if I only read it and then write it, I think it wouldn't be that successful because people will notice it. I mean, that's a guy who talks about things he reads. But one thing is that. One thing is a guy that writes about things. He really experimented and improved his life. That's what I'm doing. On every subject, I would read 5 to 10 books minimum. But then, I have to also do it.
Bryan: Are you reading them on Kindle and taking notes? What does your research process look like?
Marc: Yeah, reading them on Kindle, getting it all into my head, and then mixing it up in my head. Then somehow it comes out. But it's very interesting. Even in these money books, I wasn't investing until a year ago. Then I read three books on investing. Then the three authors, who were totally independent from each other, all said the best way is investing in an index fund. I thought, okay, if those three guys say it, let's start. Now I'm doing it. I don't know how it's going to go. Because they all just say, well, with this economic crisis, maybe it's the first time index funds don't work anymore. But we will see. But you get also just lots of great ideas. Then practicing them and doing them and then say okay.
Bryan: Do you outline a book, like the money book, in advance based on your research?
Marc: Yes, absolutely. So, I write down chapter ideas. I have to say, in my last book, ChatGPT helped me a little bit. Because I just told it, give me 20, 30 ideas in a money book. Then I compared with my notes. I was, oh, I like it. So, it helps. Then I write 200, 250 words per chapter or 300. Because I write very short chapters. It seems that that has made my book successful.
Bryan: Are you writing your chapters in Scrivener or some other app?
Marc: No, I write them on Word, and then I pass them through Grammarly. Although, I think I have to also get the other one. Written word? No. It doesn't matter. Well, I use the software to do the first corrections.
Bryan: What grammar checker do you use for Spanish, out of interest?
Marc: In Spanish, I use humans. I don't know of a program there. I think the success of my books comes from the short chapters. So, that's how I do it. Now I try to find 50 to 60 or 70 chapter titles.
Bryan: Do you work with the same editor in all of your books, or do you find different editors per project?
Marc: No, I always have to find new ones because of bad experiences. I have never found one who kept the level high. It seemed like always they're doing good on your first book. Then in the second book, they already don't do so well anymore, and the third book. The problem is when I can't find mistakes in the manuscript, then it's a problem. Because it's not my language. I don't see my mistakes that I make. But if later I find a mistake, then it's like uh-oh. That was a little bit of bad things. So, I always have to look for new editors. But I hope that I finally find one that I can stick with.
Bryan: Do you spend long editing and rewriting your books before you publish them?
Marc: No, not so long. Well, I go through it twice. Second time with Grammarly, and then I gave it to an editor. Normally, I trust their work. Maybe that's also my problem. Maybe if I would give it to two editors, it would be better. Every now and then, I get feedback. My reader, actually, the guy or girl from the street who doesn't care a lot about the spelling. They are just taking the information and apply it.
Bryan: They're looking for actionable insight rather than a lengthy book.
Marc: Yeah, for action takers. My books are for action takers. I think my readers are like me. When I read a book, I don't really care a lot about if there's a mistake. I care about, what does it give? For me, a good book is that a book that gives me information to change my life or to improve my life.
Bryan: So, will your money book be out in 2023?
Marc: I hope so. I'm a little bit lazy, so I don't have to process that. I told you before I'm not disciplined sitting down every day. Maybe I should get back to that maybe. Because I think if I sit down every day, I can finish the manuscript in four weeks. But right now, I'm a little bit not so very disciplined. So, we'll see.
Bryan: But you're working on it on most days, from what you've said.
Marc: Yes, definitely. that's another thing after 80/20. So, when I say I'm lazy, that's always like maybe I'm not lazy. Because when I'm evaluating money-making tasks and not money-making tasks, I know that every ad I make will bring money. But every book I made, of all my books — I have 13 books. In English and Spanish, it's 26. Then I have some in German, and some box sets and everything. But eight books, four books in two languages bring in 80% of my income. So, I probably have to write four books so that one of them becomes a real good seller. It's always easier to make more ads than to write four books for me. That's a little bit of thing.
Bryan: Yeah, a book can take you months. Marc, we're out of time. Where can people go if they're interested in reading your work?
Marc: Oh, there's only one Marc Reklau. Well, there are two. But one is with a K. I'm with a C. So, Marc Reklau with a C. If you put it in Google, you'll find me. You put it in Amazon, my books come up. In social media, I'm all just Marc Reklau. But I'm always one and a half feet out of social media because I don't really like social media. The only reason I stay in there is that I might start with Facebook ads this year, so I have to stay in there. But I'm an old school guy. So, email@example.com is my email. That's my favorite way to communicate and the best way to connect with me.
Bryan: That's R-E-K-L-A-U. I'll include the links in the show notes. Thanks for your time, Marc.
Marc: Thank you.
Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books, discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.