What’s it like to be the 32,284th most popular author?

According to Amazon, there are only 32,283 authors who are more popular than me (on Amazon) today. Updated hourly, this number has fluctuated in the range of 20,000 to 40,000 over the last few months.

With somewhere around 5 million titles in the Amazon database, I figure there are at least a million different authors I compete with. That puts me in the top 3 percent of authors on Amazon. My rank doesn’t look so shabby now, does it?

But, what does that mean, in terms of fame, wealth, book signings, fighting off paparazzi, and all of the other important measures of success? Pretty much nothing. No one (except family members) has ever asked me to sign my books, and I have yet to earn enough to live on for more than a couple weeks from sales of my books. So, why do I do it?

Writing books is valuable for much more than just the writing of the book. For example, what would I be writing about right now if it weren’t for the fact that I can write about writing books?

One of the big things that it’s useful for is to demonstrate just how difficult certain pursuits are – even though the perception is that success happens all the time.

I’m thinking, in particular, about mobile apps and web startups. Almost every single mobile app that has been built has been a failure, in terms of money earned — with the rare giant success. Yet, I get calls and questions daily from people who have a “sure thing” app idea that will make us all billionaires (and I should be happy to work for free because of it).

In the end, my best advice is: think long and hard before you jump into a sure-thing hit project. Is the straight-ahead path of selling app downloads or subscriptions the best way to make money, or can you give away the app to help boost the business you already have? Are there less glamorous ways to make your web or app project pay for itself without relying on it getting a million downloads? Let me tell you now: even with the best distribution network in the world, a great product, founders who are willing to work 24 hours a day, and a marketing budget – getting even 1000 people to pay 99 cents to download something, or to pay $20 per month for a service, or to buy a book, is way more difficult than you can imagine.

So, how do you build a successful website or mobile app? The same way you become the most popular author on Amazon (except for about 32,000 other ones): stick to it for a long time, know your subject and audience inside-out, and look at ways to make your project successful without having to amass a large audience of paying customers.

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