125: What Self-Publishing a Book Taught Me About Selling Films Online

Film Distribution
Film Trooper

[Podcast] What Self-Publishing a Book Taught Me About Selling Films Online

In this episode, I go through the step-by-step process of how I self-published my book and how that can help you sell your film online more effectively.  File this under film distribution and sales.

orange bar thinFilm Distribution ...


Film Distribution is so fascinating to me because it’s sort of the end game.  And it’s not really just distribution.  It’s really sales and marketing.

What do you need to do in order to market and convince someone to buy your film?

What are the principles of selling—anything?

Film Distribution

How does self-publishing a book apply to selling your movie online?


What is film today?  It's nothing more than a digital product.  In the same vein that music is a digital product, and art, and books!


Amazon offers an online marketplace for selling books.  And they’ve opened this marketplace to all sorts of truly independent writers to sell their work.


An independent author can sell their book alongside a New York Times Best Selling novel, published by one of the top book publishing companies.  That’s amazing!


Over on iTunes independent musicians can upload and sell their music alongside major recording stars.


And now filmmakers can do the same on both iTunes and Amazon with their films.


Since independent authors had a head start on this whole self-publishing thing before us, filmmakers, I wanted to know what it takes to write a book and sell it on Amazon?


That’s what I did!  I decided to write a book and use some of the marketing and sales tactics that have been taught to me by those entrepreneurs who have found success in this arena.


Why write a book and not just make a film for this experiment?


This is how fast things are moving.  At the time, Amazon hadn’t opened their Amazon Video Direct service to independent filmmakers yet.  You could sell DVD’s through their subsidiary company, CreateSpace, but you couldn’t sell your film on the VOD/EST side of things.  Until now!


Also, writing a book was cheaper than making a movie.


What was the book?  It was “How To Make and Sell Your Film Online and Survive the Hollywood Implosion While Doing It.”


Sell Your Film Online


At the time of starting the writing process, Steven Spielberg had been quoted as saying, that "There is going to be an implosion, Hollywood blockbusters will go crashing into the ground and that will change the paradigm."  It doesn’t appear that this prediction will come to pass … yet.  There is still time.


Regardless, it was an interesting starting point.  The book explores other business models that the truly independent filmmaker could follow to become completely independent of whatever may happen to the Hollywood business model.


The research for the book highlighted why I made a feature film for $500 without a crew.  What worked and what didn’t work in the marketing and selling of that film.  But mostly the book is a curation and research of how online entrepreneurs sell digital goods with great success and how independent filmmakers can apply those strategies to their film.


This book was designed to flip the current business model on its head and offer another solution to the problems all digital content creators face.


A Step-By-Step Process to Self-Publishing a Book ...


I started to write the book using Microsoft Word on the Mac.  I switched over to Apple's Pages program half way through, as it was easier for me to export the document file out as an .ePub file format which I could open up on my iPad via the iBooks app.


With Word, I had to do a few other steps to get it into a format that was easily viewed and tested out on a smartphone or tablet.  Also, with Pages I was able to work off the iCloud, allowing me to work on the file with my desktop, or my laptop, or my iPad.


I prefer to create documents using Google docs because I enjoy the cloud convenience, but Google docs at the time didn’t have an export option that was set up for ebook compatibility.


So, that’s why I chose Pages to write the book with ...


I don’t want to make it sound like writing a book was easy, because it wasn’t.  I had never done it before.  At some point, I realized that I needed to buckle down and stop working on almost everything else just to finish the book.  But once I did, it was a huge monkey off my back.


Now came the real writing — the editing process.




How Recording An Audiobook Became My Editor ...


Since I was already producing a weekly podcast, I decided to record an audiobook version, but the process in doing so would allow me to edit the book.


As I was recording each mission (This is what I call them in the book instead of chapters) I would stop and ask, “Who wrote this?  This doesn’t even make sense.”  Then I could correct the writing on the paper that I was reading from.  Jump back over to the computer and make the corrections to the Pages document.


A poor man's copy editor 🙂


Eventually, I got through it.  I had a raw recording of my reading of the book and an edited written copy ready for publishing.


Now, the audiobook took a while to edit and mix, as I had to get rid of all the heavy breathing, all of the"ums", and the lip smacks, etc.


But like anything, you power through it and get the product ready for publishing.



Self-Publishing with CreateSpace ...


Amazon is amazing.  If you want to publish your book as a hardcover or a paperback, you can sign up and utilize their CreateSpace services.  I made a decision that I only wanted to offer a paperback version as my physical good.


To get started with CreateSapce, you sign up and create an account.  Go through the step by step sign-up process, which includes adding your banking information and tax information.


With CreateSpace, you can self-publish not only books, but music, and films onto DVD’s.  And now, which wasn’t available at the time when I was writing the book, CreateSpace has a link to their Amazon Video Direct upload service.  But we’ll get into that later ...


At this time, CreateSpace oon-demands on demand printing of Standard Definition DVD’s.  Bluray is not offered for some reason.



CreateSpace is an on-demand printing and publishing service.  This means you don’t have to spend money on printing your books, or CD’s, or DVD’s in large bulk quantities and have all those boxes stored in your garage.  The power of on-demand publishing, is that when a customer buys your book, CreateSpace will print, package and ship a copy out to the buyer.


Once I had uploaded all the necessary document information, including a book cover that I designed in Photoshop.  CreateSpace, by the way, gives you all these templates for book covers with size dimensions.  Just open those templates into Photoshop and start designing your own cover.  I uploaded the files for my book, did a few tests and got final approval.


As soon as that happened I made sure to price the book at the least amount, which was $14.95.  I paid that amount and within 2 days, I had a paperback version of my book at my doorstep.  That’s crazy.  It’s amazing to hold in your hand a real book that you wrote.


Sell Your Film Online


Self-Publishing for Kindle ...


Initially, I thought I would only be writing this book for the Kindle eBook market.  So, a lot of my testing was to see how the book looked on an iPad and a Kindle eReader.


Amazon has another subsidiary company called, KDP, which stands for Kindle Direct Publishing.


Again, you’ll have to sign up and create an account with KDP to add in your banking and tax information.


KDP accepts different file formats and will convert your PDF or Word Doc file into the correct Kindle format.  But I felt that it might be better to have control over how that was converted, so I took my .ePub file format (Again, the .ePub format was exported out of Apple's Pages, and opens easily in iBooks) ... Anyway, I took the .ePub file and converted that into a .MOBI file format.


This is the format for all Kindle books.  There is a free converter program called, Calibre, that handles these conversions.




With the Calibre program, I tested my .MOBI file conversion and uploaded that to my KDP account.


I filled out all the description, meta data, added my book cover artwork, and set my price … then hit publish.  Within an hour my book was on Amazon for sale!  Again, it’s just amazing.


Self-Publishing as an Audiobook ...


Here’s what I did in order to publish the audiobook version.  Amazon has a separate partnership with another service called ACX, which stands for Audiobook Creation Exchange.

Like the other Amazon services, you'll have to sign up and create an account with your bank and tax information in order to sell audiobooks through ACX.



There is a preferred naming convention and specific formatting that ACX requires from your audio files, so I just cleaned up my exports to fit their requirements.


These were things like a sample audio file, an opening and closing credit, and chapter breakdowns.  I uploaded the MP3 files as directed.  Uploaded the album artwork.  Since I had designed the book cover in various formats for the paperback, and the kindle ebook, I just made one more for the audiobook.


I hit publish and within hours my audiobook was available for purchase on Amazon.  Crazy isn’t it?


Pricing and Royalties for Self-Publishing ...


Selling the paperback version of the book, I couldn’t go any less than the $14.95 price point, due to the cost of the on-demand printing.  I could price the book at any price higher than that.


For the Kindle eBook, I could price the book at any price I wanted ... with a catch.


For the audiobook, I had no control over the pricing.  ACX automatically priced the book at $14.95.  It’s dependent on how long the duration is for your audiobook.  My book runs about 7 hours in listening time.  Other popular novels span over 35 hours of listening content.  This is why those audiobooks cost upwards of $49.99


The royalty split for the paperback books is 35/65.  Amazon gets 65%, I get 35% of the sale.


The Kindle eBook version is the same split.  Amazon gets 65% and I get 35%.


With ACX and the audiobook, Amazon takes 75% and I get 25% of the sales.


At this point, you’re probably thinking, “What the hell?”


Will this happen to me on the film side?  Not quite.  Let’s dig into this deeper.


Platform Matters ...


Amazon is a marketplace ... and a search engine.  When someone searches on Google, they are trying to find an answer to a question.  No one is really searching on Facebook, you’re fed information or fed misinformation.  The mindset of someone on Facebook or YouTube is to absorb free content.  It’s very hard to switch a user’s mind from getting free stuff to paying for something.


But when anyone is on Amazon, they are searching for things to buy.  They are in a different mindset.  And they already have their credit card information in the system, so all purchases are just a click away.


The reason that Amazon can take such a large payout is that they own the marketplace.


Here’s a side note.  I opted to sell my book on other platforms, such as Gumroad.  This allowed me to try some other marketing stuff through my own website and take a much larger cut.  But the problem was, I couldn’t generate as much traffic as Amazon was giving me.  Also, a potential customer would have to enter their credit card information on a new platform like, Gumroad.  I created more barriers to sale with this process.


Seeing something for sale in Amazon made it more official.


Now, selling a Kindle eBook version on Amazon you have options at making a greater percentage.  You can decide to sell your eBook exclusively through Amazon and get a 70% royalty return.  Now that sounds much better, doesn't it?


If you want to get a higher royalty payout, then you can’t sell your book any higher than $9.99.  But then again, you’ll earn about $7 per sale this way.  On top of that, once you agree to these terms, Amazon has a whole set of marketing tools that can help your book get better placement in their marketplace.  But remember you can only sell your book on Amazon with this offer.


I didn’t do that.  I'm not that smart 🙁  In hindsight and moving forward, the next book I publish I’ll utilize this offer for sure.


This only applies to the Kindle eBook version.  The physical paperback version still remains at a 35% royalty payout and the audiobook price and royalty is firm.


Speaking of the audiobook — ACX automatically makes your book available in Audible and iTunes.  If you can’t produce your own audiobook recording, ACX offers this as a service too!  If you’re a voice actor you can apply to become one of the talent that gets called up to read a book.  If you’re a writer, you can hire and have ACX produce the audiobook version for your works.


Marketing Strategy:  Create a Launch Group ...


Launch Group


Let’s jump into the marketing and launch plan of the book and how all of this can be applied to selling your film online.


Here’s the simplest game plan you can apply when it comes time to launching any digital product, be it a book, a music album, or a film.


Form a book launch group.  Invite 100 people to join your private launch group.


You want your launch group to do the following:


  1. Buy your book/digital product
  2. Have them leave a rating and review of your book
  3. Spread the word about the book to others


What I did was to offer the book for FREE to the first 100 people who would automatically be added to the launch group.  I shared updates of each chapter so the group could read the book ahead of time and be ready to leave a rating and review at the moment the book was launched it into the market.


Although, I asked them to spread the word about the book, I didn’t have in place any great incentives, or a way to follow up with them to see if they had or hadn’t.


So, even though I had over 100 people in the launch group, only 34 people left a rating and review.  You really have to follow up with each person and give them incentive to leave a rating and review.


Seriously, I mean, you really have to work it — And some of these people were in my family!



Where I Messed Up ...


Because I had tried selling the book through my own website initially using Gumroad, those customers had to go back over to Amazon and leave a rating and review.


Well, what I didn’t know was that Amazon tags each review with either a “verified purchase” or nothing.  Some companies will pay for false reviews and there is a service that will scan Amazon to help a consumer determine if those reviews are legitimate or not.


So, you can imagine how much better my reviews would have been if they had more “verified purchases” next to them.


Here’s What I Should Have Done ...


I should have made the book exclusive with Amazon and sold the book as low as $0.99 for the first 100 customers in my book launch group.


Then, urge them to leave a rating and review.  Since I was selling the book through Amazon and not on my website, I would have gotten more reviews and had all of them tagged with “verified purchase”.  I’ll do this next time with my next book.


Then after the 100th sales went through, I would increase the price to $9.99 and make a 70% royalty.


Now, here’s how this can be applied to selling your film online.


iTunes and Amazon are great marketplaces for selling your film online.  Both platforms work in the same way in terms of ratings and reviews.


If you want to get your film onto iTunes, pay an aggregation service like BitMax a flat fee to encode your film and submit it to iTunes.  This can range anywhere from $800-$1,500 per film.



You'll still want to organize a launch group.  Build a launch group of a 100 people that will get the film at a discounted price.  Have those people pre-order your film on iTunes and leave a rating and review for the film as well.


If you make enough noise and traction with pre-orders and reviews, you may get your film listed in the “New and Noteworthy” section of iTunes's search page.  Your film could be listed alongside Hollywood films with big stars and distribution companies.  If you do get on the “New and Noteworthy” section, then milk it for all it’s worth by driving more people to buy your film.


What you’re trying to do is get enough traction and sales going in those first few weeks, that the organic search of iTunes will take over and start pairing your film up with other popular films.


Even better, if you can get the launch group to leave a review in Rotten Tomatoes and maybe even get a few certified news publications to review your film, then iTunes will grab that data and add it to your film’s description.


I’ll do some more research on what it takes to get your film review effectively on Rotten Tomatoes for a later podcast.


Amazon Owns IMDB ...



Now with Amazon, it’s all about IMDB.  Amazon owns IMDB.  You’ll want to register your film’s info on IMDB and get your launch group to leave a rating and review there too.


You may need to offer the same launch group a discounted price for your film on Amazon too.  So, this group is being instructed to pre-order the film on iTunes and Amazon at the same time.


The great thing about Amazon, is you don’t need to pay an aggregator to get your film listed and sold in their Amazon Instant Video marketplace.


You can go to either CreateSpace or go to Amazon Video Direct to signup and submit your film directly.


You may need your launch group to leave another set of reviews in the Amazon page as well.


So, this same launch group would have to ...


  • Pre-order your film on iTunes and Amazon
  • Leave a rating and review in iTunes directly
  • Leave a rating and review on Rotten Tomatoes
  • Leave a rating and review on IMDB
  • Leave a rating and review on Amazon directly.


That’s asking a lot from your launch group, so make sure your incentives and gifts you give them is worth it.


You'll really have to brainstorm of how to convince your launch group to do all of the above bullet points without alienating them.  Their loyalty and support will have big dividends in the long run.


In both iTunes and Amazon, what you’re trying to do is take full advantage of the initial release of your film to generate as many sales as possible with as many reviews as possible.


When the honeymoon ends, you’re hoping that your leg work will have sparked the organic search tools of both iTunes and Amazon to pair your film up with other Hollywood films that are similar.


This way you can still make sales down the road when someone is looking to rent or buy a film on those platforms.


And don't forget!  Capitalize on the bragging rights that your film was listed for weeks next to a film starring Jennifer Lawrence 🙂



How Were The Results?


My book has made over $10,000 in sales to date.  And if you were someone who bought a book, then little did you know, but you were part of my version of my crowdfunding campaign.


Instead of doing a traditional 30-day or 60-day crowdfunding campaign, I opted to write a book and sell that as a "real good" in the marketplace.


The money earned from this product would go to fund my next film.  Most crowdfunding gifts or giveaways are T-shirts, a copy of the script, a thank you note, etc.  I really wanted to create a “real” product, and hopefully a product that had a lot of value.


I made my money back and a little profit from selling my first film online.  My book has earned me even more money than I could have expected.  I’m hoping that my third product will earn me even more money and I can continue to increase my knowledge and sales as I go along.


I’ll keep you posted.


I hope this episode was helpful in your journey as a filmmaker … and now I have to ask --


Will you please leave a rating and review for me over on iTunes for the podcast?


Just go to https://filmtrooper.com/itunes  as it’ll take you to the iTunes page and you can leave a rating and review for me 🙂


If you don’t know how to leave a rating and review then just watch the video below:


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Scott McMahon is a Fellow Film Trooper at Film Trooper, a website for helping filmmakers attain filmmaking freedom. Scott recently made a feature film for $500 with no crew called, The Cube. Want to know what equipment was used to make that film? Grab a FREE gift at www.FREEGEARGUIDE.com