My name is Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW and I self-published Amazon best-seller Nelson Beats the Odds, a semiautobiographical comic book about a young man who struggles with the stigma of being placed in special education. I released Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One and Tameka’s New Dress this past summer. The compendium gives readers a chance to experience Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress in one thrilling graphic novel.
After being diagnosed as learning disabled and spending seven years in special education, the last thing I thought I would become was an author. I wasn’t a big reader or writer growing up, in fact my poor handwriting landed me in special education. Despite my challenges, I always dreamed of starting my own business. My dream came true in 2015 when I launched Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words, LLC. I used the my company to publish my three graphic novels.
My success as an author-publisher has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Since releasing Amazon best-seller Nelson Beats the Odds, I’ve been featured on MicheLA, Fox and Friends Weekend and NBC 12 News. Last year, I shared my wisdom in a workshop entitled “Self-Publishing and Social Justice“. I created the workshop to help prospective self-publishers create stories with social justice themes. Below are nine tips that helped me sell nearly two thousand books online and become an Amazon best-seller.
1. Build a Following
The most common piece of advice I’ve heard from successful authors is to start a blog. I took the advice and started Nelson Beats the Odds on WordPress.com. My blog “Former special education student publishes best-selling children’s book” has over 50,000 views and over 24,000 Facebook shares. The blog’s popularity landed me interviews, speaking engagements and a huge increase in book sales.
My social media portfolio includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat. My Facebook page is very popular, accumulating over 9,600 likes, thanks in part to Facebook ads. I joined several Facebook groups including Black Educators Rock, an online group with over 150,000 African American educators. Sharing posts in the group helped my book become an Amazon Best Seller in the Kindle Store Learning Disability category.
My visibility on Twitter @ronniesidneyii, @nelsonbeatstheo, Instagram ronniesidneyii, @nelsonbeatstheo, Tumblr @creativemedicinehtw and Snapchat @nelsonbeatstheo is steadily growing. Instagram is great because it allows you to simultaneously post on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr. Instagram is also owned by Facebook, so your Facebook ads appear on Instagram for no additional cost.
2. Find your Target Audience
From day one my goal was to inspire young people to beat the odds. When I grew up, there were very few children’s books with African American characters or characters with disabilities. I was in special education for seven years and I know exactly how it feels to be a struggling learner. Nelson Beats the Odds is a reflection of my experiences and a testament to my grit.
My experience working with families headed by grandparents inspired me to write and self-publish Tameka’s New Dress. As a therapist, I’m seeing more and more families where the grandparents are the primary caregivers due to parental substance abuse, incarceration and mental illness. The grandparents face a number of challenges such as poor health, poverty and a lack of access to critical resources.
Nelson Beats the Odds gave me access to networks I was previously unaware of. I have worked with the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center (PEATC), I’m Determined, Virginia Council for Learning Disabilities (VCLD) and Virginia Council for Exceptional Children (VCEC) to advocate for the needs of exceptional education students across the state of Virginia. I’ve been invited as a keynote speaker by the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia Union University, VCU School of Social Work, Central Rappahannock Regional Library and the National Foster Parent Association.
3. Hire/Recruit Free Lancers and Friends with Desired Skill Sets
Once I decided to write Nelson Beats the Odds, I went to Facebook to see if I could find an illustrator. Unforunately, none of the dozen or so referrals caught my eye. After joining eLance, over 30 illustrators from around the world expressed interest in working on Nelson Beats the Odds. Imagine that! Design caught my attention because of their diverse portfolio and personal connection. Kurt Keller, 1/2 of Imagine that! Design, told me he was diagnosed with dyslexia and spent several years in special education. I felt safe leaving my story in his hands because he related to it.
I worked with a variety of friends on both Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress. A high school friend named Tiffany Carey Day has been my biggest contributor, serving as chief editor on both books. Editing is not my strong suit, so Tiffany and others helped me out tremendously.
4. Be Fearless
You’ll never have enough time, money or support. Get use to long nights, overdraft fees, maxed out credit cards and disappointments. One of my favorite musicians Fela Kuti said it best, “the secret to life is to have no fear.” Fearlessness created the foundation for my success.
My life changed when I stopped being a bystander and started being the baby who picks up a remote control for the first time and presses every button until something happens. One of the strengths of being diagnosed with ADHD is impulsivity. There have been times when I hopped in my car with a trunk full of books and set up at an event I just heard about. My journey has taught me to trust my instincts .
Last year I read two of the most empowering books ever written, “The Alchemist” and “The Secret“. The insight offered in the two books are invaluable, particularly for those seeking their divine purpose. There is an awesome video Steve Harvey did last year about jumping. In order for you to launch your dream, you have to be fearless and jump.
5. Set a Modest Kickstarter Goal or Use Sites like Indiegogo
The biggest mistake I made was setting my Kickstarter goal for Nelson Beats the Odds at $10,000. I was really ambitious and thought I could reach the goal in 45 days. I only managed to raise about $1,800. Since I didn’t reach my goal I was unable to receive any money. When I began working on my second book, Tameka’s New Dress, I set my goal for $700. I raised a little over a grand this time around but hit my goal. Crowdfunding sites are great platforms to launch your vision. I recommend you research Kickstarter other crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and GoFundMe before you make your decision.
6. Stay Hungry
I’m pushing my brand just as hard today as I did when I first launched. Since releasing Nelson Beats the Odds, I’ve been featured on MicheLA, Fox and Friends Weekend, NBC 12 News and Comcast. My work ethic and persistence also landed me interviews with Understood.org, Teach.com, ADD.org, Virginia Pilot, Free Lance Star, Rappahannock Times Dispatch and the Richmond Times Dispatch. Work your butt off to be the best in your respective genre and they visibility will come.
7. Use Multiple Publishing Platforms & Distributors
When I realeased my first book, Nelson Beats The Odds, I didn’t know anything about publishing. Every website I searched recommended using Createspace. The site is free, easy to use and has great customer service. In less than a day my book was available on Amazon and Kindle. I encourage everyone to try Createspace, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Ingramspark. It’s very difficult to get books into traditional book stores, but the three sites listed above give you access to Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BarnesandNoble.com, BooksaMillion.com.
Amazon also has a feature called Author Central. I created an Amazon author page that allows me to upload my blog, biography, photos and videos. The page also gives you access to the Nielson Bookscan. The bookscan gives you an opportunity to track your sales and view which region your books are most popular in. As of October 16, 2016 I have sold 1,911 books. On average, I bring home about a $1,000 in online sales.
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is another great service.They have a feature where you can offer your eBook for free five times over the span of 90 days. I also encourage authors to publish their book in paperback, hardcover, eBook and audio book. The more platforms you have, the more accessibility customers have to your products.
8. Network & Promote
Since writing Nelson Beats The Odds, I’ve had an opportunity to meet authors, educators, musicians, poets, clothing designers and artists. I intentionally surround myself with successful people. I spend a lot of time scanning social media and other internet websites for events and individuals to network with. I vend at least once per week. Vending is a great way to make money and network.
When I released my first book, I asked friends to share photos of their children reading Nelson Beats The Odds. It was an effective strategy that increased my visibility. I started #iBeatTheOdds, a popular Facebook social media campaign , to give individuals a platform to share stories about how they beat the odds. It was liberating for me to share my story and I want to give others the same opportunity.
After releasing Nelson Beats the Odds, Sidney was inspired to develop the Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator app for iOS mobile devices. The companion app allows users to customize photos and share them with friends on social media. The app gives the brand an additional platform to promote on.
9. Expect Nothing and Appreciate Everything
Developing thick skin is mandatory because not everyone will buy into your dream. There when nothing goes your way and you want to quit. Shake it off and bounce back- you will learn more from your failures than your successes. Remember, always show gratitude to those who helped you along your personal journey.
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