How a self-published author inspired by Stephen King knocked his idol from the top spot on Amazon

How this self-published coder surpassed Stephen King on Amazon
How this self-published coder surpassed Stephen King on Amazon

Dylan Jones, 39, started reading Stephen King novels when he was 11. He's pretty sure he's read all of King's fiction, which is saying something: King is an impressively prolific author.

It was King who first inspired Jones to try writing. "He was, I think, probably the single reason that I started writing, to be honest," Jones tells CNBC. "He's definitely a role model."

So it felt almost surreal when, on August 16, 2015, Jones' novel, "Black Book," the first-installment of an ongoing trilogy, passed King on the most popular list in the horror genre of Amazon.com. And the triumph wasn't a fluke: The novel, which Jones describes as a "time-traveling western," has surpassed those of his idol a couple of times since then, too.

That first time it happened, he was particularly excited. He was, as he says, "over the moon, of course! To see something I did on a laptop, not even with Microsoft Word, but with a free, open-source word processing software package — to see that climb above the reason that I started writing in the first place is quite a thing."

Seeing his book top King's works also made Jones determined to dedicate himself to his writing.

The cover of "Black Book," by Dylan Jones.
Photo courtesy Dylan Jones

Reading has always been a joy for Jones and he considered majoring in literature. But, as a teenager, he also learned to code and his uncle, a career adviser, and practical one at that, advised Jones to pursue computer engineering professionally. "'You have got to put food on the table, don't you?'" he told Jones.

When Jones was in college, he remembers a roommate coming into their shared room to find Jones working on a script for "Rocky 6" when he should have been preparing for upcoming exams. He's always loved to write. It's a pleasure, he says.

Nowadays, Jones reads and writes only fiction. "You read so much nonfiction online anyway everyday and in newspapers and magazines ... if I am in a book, I just want to relax and escape," he says.

Nearly two decades ago, the Internet was still a novelty. He wasn't able to use it yet to publish his work. So Jones bought research books to find the mailing addresses for magazines and he submitted paper copies of his short stories to them.

About once a month every month for years, Jones received rejections in response.

He took solace in the fact that his idol, Stephen King, collected rejection letters on a long nail. In fact, King collected so many rejection letters the nail fell out of the wall. King took the nail out of the wall, replaced it with a spike, and kept writing.

Jones kept writing, too, because he liked the process. "It was just that I enjoyed it, pure and simple. It was something that I enjoy doing," Jones says.

He wrote, marketed and published "Black Book" over about six months in 2013 while maintaining his day job of building mobile and web applications. He self-published the novel on Amazon towards the end of the year. In the summer of 2015, a year and a half a year later, "Black Book" generated buzz online and started creeping up the charts.

Eventually it overtook King.

Though he's topping the charts, Jones doesn't make tons of money. He published "Black Book" for Kindle, as an audiobook and in print, but the price points are relatively low and Amazon takes a percentage of each sale. The Kindle version of the book is going for $2.99 and the print version goes for $4.40.

And though Jones hasn't become a full-time writer, he likes coding, too, and is pleased to continue to do both.

"I enjoy both of them equally. I enjoy writing and I enjoy coding. I wouldn't want to say I want to leave any of those things behind at any point," says Jones. "It would be good to find a balance where I can find time to do both and be able to pay the bills and live a happy life."

For other side-hustlers, Jones' advice is remarkably practical: Get up early and do your work then before you begin your regular job.

"Everyday life can easily get in the way of writing," Jones says. "I would suggest, whatever your passion is, to do it first thing in the morning before the daily tasks get in the way, because you might find at the end of the day you might not have the energy to follow your dream."

This guy went from a cart collector at Target to running a six-figure company by doing this
This guy went from a cart collector at Target to running a six-figure company by doing this