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How to Sell 100,000 Books with Paul Angone

Oct 18, 2023

Paul Angone had an extremely unusual journey to success as an author.

First, he tried to sell a book. For eight years. Nary a bite.

Then a blog post he dashed off went viral. Very viral. From there, he was able to sell a book based on that blog post to a publisher. The problem was that he had to finish it in a month.

Well that book and the next have sold over 100,000 copies and launched a massive speaking career.

Listen in on this mega inspiring conversation about how your reality may end up being even bigger than your dreams. 


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Anna David:  Paul, thank you so much for being here.

Paul Angone:  Thanks for having me.

Anna David: Okay, as I told you, I stumbled across you, because I was trying to find people who had successfully taken courses and made them into books. Somebody did a blog post about you, I reached out. Turns out your story is infinitely more interesting than that. And you have so much to share with my listeners. So tell me about your journey.

Paul Angone:  Yes, thank you so much. Thanks for having me on, it is an honor being here. And I started as a 21, 22 year old thinking I was gonna write a best selling book. And then I quickly realized how difficult that is and how long of a journey it is. And I wanted to write a book about helping confused, broken hurting 20 somethings, because I was a broken hurting confused 20 somethings. So it was built out of this own passion of mine, but then I began that long, arduous journey of how do you get published. So I was working on this book, working on this book. I had every publisher around, turn me down. And this is over the course of seven, eight years. So there's a lot that goes into being unemployed, of working random jobs, of going back to school, getting married, you know, doing life, but always kind of keeping this dream of, “I really want to write a book someday. And I really want to help 20 somethings, and there's really not that many books to do that. And I think this is important. So I'm going to keep leaning into this.” So the long and shortened story of it is, I ended up ending the contract with my literary agent, because typically, you need the literary agent to get you in the game, they're one of those gatekeepers that still plays an important role. Yeah, but I just saw the writing on the wall, because every publisher would say, “we like your book, we like your voice. But we can't publish an unknown. Yeah, you're you're you're nobody, you got to build a platform.” So that's when I started hearing about platforms. So I started my website called

Anna David:    Grown spelled G R O W N.

Paul Angone: That's right, growing, like you're growing pains. And started blogging. You know, this is when blogging was a big deal. 

Anna David:    What year was this?

Paul Angone:  Gosh, that is a great, great question. Let's see, I started 3/8/2011, because I thought it was really funny that three and eight added up to equal 11. So that's how I know.

Anna David: You know, Paul has got an interesting sense of humor. You find that funny.

Paul Angone:  I made postcards too. Literally, we just had our first child, and I have memories of my wife and I making little postcards to mail out to our friends for a website launch. This is us trying to do the best we can. So I blogged for a while and realized that blogging is harder. And finding an audience online is not just easy. After about a year of doing the blog, and again, I've been working about eight years on this. Making very little money, working a full time job in marketing now. And just doing all this at six in the morning, or at lunch or late at night. I wrote an article called 21 Secrets for Your 20s. I just threw this article list up. And before I did that my wife and I had a very serious discussion of, “when is enough enough?” “When do you need to quit?” “When are you beyond being stubborn and beyond being passionate? And now you just got to see the writing on the wall.” Yeah, that's not going to happen. And she was right. And I was like, Yeah, I'll give it a few more months. I was at my deadline. Back against the wall,l type experience. I just threw up this article, this list 21 Secrets for Your 20s not thinking much about it. And then it went crazy viral. And mainly through the social media platform of Pinterest, which I wasn't on, really.

Anna David:    So somebody saw it, some confused 20 something, and posted it on Pinterest. And it just went crazy.

Paul Angone:  Crazy. They posted the 21 Secrets for Your 20s blog image that I created within like three minutes just threw it up. Yeah, they posted that image. And I was literally having that moment, which I never experienced before, one where I was refreshing my screen. And you could see this share totals, like jumping by 50. By 100. I mean, it was happening right in front of my eyes. But then also my website started crashing, which I didn't know that could be a problem. I've never had that issue. So I'm in the back room of my marketing office pleading with my server to, “please put me, this is the time that I've been hoping for for eight years.” Where publishers were continually telling me, “prove it, prove it, prove it.” And now it was happening. Yeah. So long story short, an author friend was excited and put me in contact with their publisher. So a blogger, author friend, who I had been networking with for years, was like, “Hey, I've signed a deal with these guys. I think they would love you. Let me introduce you two.” And I pitched them the book I'd been working on all along, because I've been working on the same book for years. They said, “No, we don't want to publish that.” “But do you have something else? Because you got so much momentum going on right now?” So I really fell into the idea. I actually remember talking to Jenny Blake, who a lot of people know, great author, friend of mine. And we were even brainstorming, and it was like, in that conversation, we were like, “Well, how about you do like 101 Secrets for Your 20s?” It's got its own kind of brand and momentum. Yep, turn that into a book. And the publisher loved the idea. They gave me a month's deadline to turn that blog post into a book. And I'm not over exaggerating,

Anna David:    That's so rare, but they just capitalize on the momentum.

Paul Angone:  And that I mean, they were an old school publisher, but they were thinking, Yeah, especially my acquisitions editor, and if you can find an acquisitions editor, and there's a whole other story that is aligned with you, that's thinking the same way you are, I mean, it's like magic. Yeah. And so I just, you know, basically it was 9, 10 years of waiting and struggling and building a foundation. Yeah. So that when a viral moment happened for me, there was a lot to land on for readers. It's that whole kind of like, creating an overnight success and 10 years. Yeah. And it wasn't like I was an overnight success. It wasn't like everybody knew who Pauling Dhoni was all of a sudden, but I finally had that foot in the door type moment where I got paid a whopping $5,000 for my book. That was my advance for my book.

Anna David:    How much did you earn in royalties?

Paul Angone:  Well, so since then, so that's why I also encourage people,  who cares about your advance? It's great to have guaranteed upfront money, don't get me wrong. But to be able to pay back your advance quickly, especially for your first book, to not have that pressure. I feel like yeah, and then and then also, so 101 Secrets for Your 20’s comes out, and it had marginal success. It wasn't, it wasn't a New York Times bestseller. It wasn't blazing through 10 20,000 copies within the first two weeks. It was a long game, became a perennial seller. Then I just kept putting in more work into doing interviews where I can, speaking engagements, just building it as much as I could. And I think within the first year, it sold 10,000 copies, which was great, which I was over the top. I mean, because again, people that aren't in this world, they don't realize how hard and how unusual that can even be, you know, everybody just thinks like 10,000, who cares? But since then, it just kept slowly building, it found its home on Amazon, which was a huge help. With other books that were coming out at the same time, like, The Defining Decade and Adulting, similar type books in the same space. 

Anna David:    I keep thinking about Adulting. I remember I read that. 

Paul Angone:  Yeah, and none of us knew each other. But it was that moment in time where all of us were feeling the same thing in different ways. And they are in New York, with big New York budgets. We're helping my smaller publisher budget. Yeah, because I was wearing coattails. We're all on the coattails of each other really. 

Anna David:    It’s the customers who bought also.

Paul Angone: Yeah, exactly. So we were linked up quite a bit. And especially defining decade because she had just done NPR [inaudible] and then she had a TED talk. So she really went crazy with sales. So then you have my little 101 Secrets for Your 20s getting saddling, you know, saddle up right next to her and being buddy buddies. And that was a huge help to me. So long story short, it was like five, six years after that book came out, that I then got into Target, got into Sam's clubs and airport bookstores, I didn't really have any retail placement for five, six years, that is really unusual. It's really unusual. And I totally get that. But what it did start with that, you know, turning a blog post in the book. And that's how it started. 

Anna David:    And to be clear, now it's over 120,000 copies, and there's over 1700 reviews on Amazon.

Paul Angone: Yeah,  it's so wild. You know, and that's when you say like, your dream, you know, obviously, your expectations like they can get dashed and crashed and sped up so many times when you're pursuing something that's important to you. Yeah. But then there's also these rare occasions where it will go far beyond where you ever would have expected, you know, to where, like, even a small little anecdote like I have, you know, foreign translations, which is always wild to me. I have bootleg copies of a couple of my books in Iran. And I probably have my most passionate fans in Iran, and they've done a documentary about me. I mean, it's just, I mean, they've come to my house. I mean, it's because there was a filmmaker that he felt like his life got changed by reading about Buchan, Iran, he came to the states and now he's a filmmaker. So he wanted to make a documentary. But it was just so wild. Like , how much hubris would I have to say, “Well, I want to write a book that's going to impact people in Iran, who are 10 year young years younger than me. And I know nothing really about their culture, or what it's like to be there. But I really want to do that.” That would be so unfounded and so foolish to think I could do that. And yet, that's been one trickle effect, of sticking with it, of being stubborn and being passionate about what I was writing about. And then just running full speed once that momentum started going, just trying to leverage Yeah, every little bit of success I had, because it took me so long to get any of it at least it felt like that to me, that I just was like, I'm gonna leverage every little thing I can possible.

Anna David:    That's so you said so many things that are interesting. I mean, I think there's so much to the surrender, the conversation with your wife, where you're like, you're right. And I believe this is a spiritual thing. The universe is like, okay, you've learned your lesson. And what a testament to the non overnight success because you had the skills to back it up. You had the experience, you had  all of the things. I'm still waiting for my breakout success. My career is a testament to just consistent BS, I haven't had the A plus. And you know, and so I think also, this is such a thing about writers, it's so easy to look at someone else, and go,” oh, I want that.” Like, we're so all of us are so lucky to have any piece of the pie. Like I used to kind of go, “Oh, I didn't get what I deserve.” What if I got more than I deserve? What about that? So you have, you know, Iranian documentary, you have your books. And I want to see a lot of the people that I talked to say, Oh, I really want to do traditional publishing because I want my book in an airport bookstore. Somehow, airport bookstores have gotten fetishized. And Hudson will take money. You know, I think it's 10 grand. So get your book. And by the way, I bought Adulting in an airport bookstore. There you go. I know I never buy books in airport bookstores, what’s the big deal? People think it is a big deal.

Paul Angone: Fun full circle. Getting into Target, I never dreamed I would get in to Target. It's really hard to get into Target. And my publisher is a smaller publisher. So it was like one of two books, or three books that they probably have ever gotten in a Target, you know, so I'm a real it was a real rare occasion. But then people would discover you in Target, which was fun. I mean, because books are phased out. They're not just shelved. And so I have people like finding me for the first time Instagramming me while they're still in the aisle of Target and showing me their shopping cart and like, I'm loving this book, so it was a real surreal experience. But again, it didn't start like that at all for me. Yeah, I mean that was literally like 15 years from, I'm going to write a best selling book, and then seeing that first book in Target was a 15 year journey. And there was a ton of surrender. I love how you said that. I mean, over the course of time, there were so many seasons of complete surrender. And really figuring out okay, what am I really in this for? Which I think all authors, I think, if we're gonna keep doing it, we all come to that place where we really fully understand. It's not about that, that sexy dream that we maybe once had. 

But when we get down to the heart of it, that's what's continuing us to keep. So I always asked, you know, 20 somethings especially, or anybody struggling to figure out what they want to do you know, what is something you cannot not do? You have to do it. It's so meaningful to you, because it's so ingrained in your story, and in your failures, and your own pain and your passion. And it's all coming together for something really special. And you're going to be willing to go through way more obstacles and way more rejection and no’s than anybody else. That's maybe trying to tackle the same thing. And then I've had other books, I've done four books now. And each one has its own story. And I'm working on number five. But not all my books have been commercially successful. I still had some that didn't sell as much as I hoped. Even with one book that has been successful, each book has been its own story really.

Anna David:    Yeah. Well, so then let's talk about turning so you turn the second book into a course or how did that work?

Paul Angone:  Yeah. So long story. I ended up publishing the book I'd been working on all along, it was my second book. And it was called All Grown Up Searching for Self Faith and a Freaking Job. It's like my memoir, and the publisher that rejected me three times. yours before, ended up publishing that book and not realizing they had rejected me because it was all different people. And I did not tell them that they had rejected me until after the contract was signed. Then I said, By the way, you've rejected this book tons of times before, but none of you realized that so the joke's on you. 

Anna David:    It just shows that rejection is not personal. It was just platform.

Paul Angone:  And it wasn't even permanent. I mean, they literally rejected me three separate times, only to be the publisher that published me. And then my third book, we decided, well, let's make it a series with my first book. And we'll do 101 Secrets for Your 20s. Let's do 101 questions you need to ask in your 20s. And again, I kind of follow the same model, in the sense that that was a blog post, where I wrote 11 questions you need to ask in your 20s. And it did really well. And so I mean, that's the beauty of, you know, what I call market testing, to put it in a big business sense, your business terms, your market testing your ideas. So you're seeing what the audience is resonating with? And I really took that information and said, Well, gosh, people seem to really dig this idea of questions as well, what questions do I need to be asking? So let me make that my next book and become a series. And then that is how my first book got into Target was I had the new book that was tied into my first book, again, leveraging the craft, and everything that I can. And then they pitch both books together. And they meant they brought both books in. And so then I had two books in Target, and had success. And then that third book, I also then turned it into a course. And a lot of the material the questions were in my course and vice versa, it was kind of all inner interweaved together. 

Anna David:    And so how did you actually convert the book into a course? You have 101 questions, yes. And so how is that a course? 

Paul Angone:  Yeah, so then my course became signature sauce calm.  And my whole metaphor was, is that we're all chefs in the kitchen, in a sense, and we're all bringing these ingredients together that are unique to us, where we live our story, our values, our strengths, our skills. And we're putting together this flavor that the world needs that the world is hungry for, that is unique to you that hopefully, people are gonna be lining up at the door to have. And so within my course, I have 10 ingredients that I feel like go into your signature sauce. So I was basically trying to take my books, and go one step further. So there was more of a deeper interaction and engagement level. So where I could take it, I was basically doing it as a group cohort. And so smaller, where I would take like, 40 to 50 people. And we would go through it together. And I would jump on a one once a week call. 

Anna David:    Yeah, I was checking out your course, it looks like you still do that, you still do a weekly call?

Paul Angone:  Yeah, so I have done it. It's ebbed and flowed, you know, there's been some seasons where I've been more heavily involved in the course. And then some seasons where people can self select to join, and just go through it at their own pace. So it's always open. So sometimes they do that. 

Anna David: And it becomes worth it, if you have 10 students, it's not worth your time, even though you really want to help people. At what point does it become, quote, worth your time? How many students do you need?

Paul Angone:  We can price our courses all differently. And that's the beauty of courses. I've heard of Steve Harrison, a guy who helps authors a lot. And I've heard him talk about, you know, people know what to pay for your book. People don't know what to pay for your course. It's more subjective. And so there is a beauty in the sense that you can have different price points for those different levels of engagement. And they might think, you know, $500 is a steal or $1,000, or $100. And even at $100, well, that's like 10 times more than they probably are paying for your book. Yeah, so that's cool. So for me, it was like 25, 30 people. If I had that amount, it would be totally worthwhile to me.

Anna David: And it is kind of more research, hearing what they have to say.

Paul Angone:  Exactly. And to hear that real life discovery, where they're not just maybe even emailing me reactively to something I've written, but I'm experiencing it with them. It's almost a little bit like a speaking engagement, which is another part of, you know, how the business gets leveraged into engagements. Is that real time interaction, which we just don't have, for the most part as authors, when we're writing our book, when we have our head down, and we're just working on the book. So to have that real time kind of engagement is really helpful to see. Okay, what is actually working? What is meaningful? And what is something I need to dive into deeper, maybe even later on, that's your next book or your next speaking engagement.

Anna David:    And so what advice would you give people who want to either turn a course into a book or turn a book into a course? 

Paul Angone:  Oh, that's a great question. I think at the core at the heart, it's got to be something that’s obviously extremely meaningful to you like you. I think a lot of times you've had to have personally gone through the frustration, the hardship, the obstacles you've overcome, in a sense, you haven't had that you haven't even had to completely overcome, I don't think any of us have ever completely overcome. But it's got to be so meaningful to you that you're going to be willing to go through the time and energy and hardships to create something really of value, and that's meaningful. And then I think all along the way, whether it's a book into a course, or course into a book, it's really getting that feedback, tapping into those feedback mechanisms that you can to just like a comedian would, right to, they're going to try to work on their our content, you know, they're our talk. And they're constantly whittling it down with every engagement with everything to get to the real heart of okay, what is my strongest hour? Yeah, you know, I think we're doing that as course creators, as authors. As bloggers and podcasters. Whatever medium you're taking on, you're getting that feedback mechanism, your market testing your ideas, to figure out okay, A, what am I most passionate about giving my time to? And B, what’s seemingly resonating the most with my audience? And do those two align? Or how do I make them align? If I can't see how they align right off the bat?

Anna David:    So if you're going from course to book, it's easier if you're doing cohorts, and you're having, you know, live experience with people so you can see their reactions. But otherwise, do you think it's taking the modules and converting them into chapters? Do you have any advice for that?

Paul Angone:  Yeah, I think it could work that way. And mine is not super straightforward either, where the name of my books, 101 Questions You Need to Ask in your 20s. And let's be honest, Your 30s too, was my subtitle. And then my course is called Signature Sauce. So for that one, I didn't even carry over the same name. I felt like within the course format, I can wrap my mind around like 10 ingredients. Here's the 10 things we're going to work on. And then these questions infused into those ingredients. So I retailer it, yeah, in a way that I felt fit a course. The best. And for the course, too, I did get help. So I had a great couple, Heath and Alyssa Pageant, who they're our viewers, and they have RV books. And RV campgrounds are great. They're entrepreneurs, podcasters, and great people to check out. But they helped me. They lived with me for like five days. And we just filmed and they helped me with. Okay, what is this? You know, process? What do we need to make into our course? Is this working? So I did even have real time feedback from other creatives and professionals. So I was not trying to do it in a silo. Yeah. Which was helpful, because that was my first foray into building a course. I didn't know what I was really doing. 

Anna David:    Yeah. And they were friends of yours, or they moved in to help you? 

Paul Angone:  I paid them, you know, so I paid them. Yeah. So I paid them to come film. And to come edits and graphics. I mean, they were a one stop shop as a couple. And I don't think they're don't don't hit them up now, because I don't think they're doing this as much now. But finding those people, I think, was to make that investment. Yeah. And it was like, well, in one course, you know, if I launch, you know, 3040 people, you know, figuring your breakeven points, and it makes complete sense. It's like, if I launch one cord, I'm gonna, I'm gonna pay all the expenses, you know, right off the bat. Yeah. And then from then on, it's gravy. So it only made sense for me to invest my own finances into the building of the course to make it as good as I could.

Anna David:    And that's what we always tell people about books. You can find people, you know, who will write and publish a book for $5,000. You can find people who will do it for $500,000. But invest in that, you know, if you're going to write your book yourself and you can't get a publisher, invest, don't just go throw it up onto Amazon. This has been so great. So if people want to find out more about you, reach you, where's the main place they should go?

Paul Angone:  Yeah, is still my home base. And again, GROWN And you can snag free chapters from all my books. If any of these books sound interesting, you can get free chapters.

Anna David:    And you have a free course?

Paul Angone:  Yeah, so you can take a taste test of the Signature Sauce course, where you can do three modules, three lessons. I think, though, that's called Getting Unstuck. And so you can sign up for that through Or just find me at Paul Angone. And if you can spell Angone, good luck, with that you're better than most people because it's a hard Italian name to spell.

Anna David: I’m glad you pronounced it for me so I can do the intros.

Paul Angone:  My middle name is Anthony, so I could be Tony Angone, if I wanted to be a true Italian.

Anna David:    Mobster alert. Okay, well, Paul, thank you so much. This has been such a pleasure. And you guys, thank you so much for listening.