So you want to write an ebook and join the thousands of people skipping the slow, selective, traditional publishing route. But how? This guide will outline the basic steps of creating an ebook and address some common questions along the way.
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Can anyone write an ebook?
Yes. You do not need to wait for permission or approval. If you’ve got an idea for an ebook, write it.
Can I make money writing ebooks?
Yes. It takes work, but yes. Mark Dawson of Self Publishing 101 is the most legit person I’ve found who does this. He’s a traditionally-published turned self-published author making a great living selling his ebooks. He now teaches others what he does. You can read my full review of Self Publishing 101 here.
Why write an ebook?
To make money. Many people have made excellent money through the sales of ebooks. If you plan to sell your ebook as part of your business, read my post How to Start an Online Business: A Budget-Friendly Guide.
To give away for free. Perhaps you’d like to use your ebook as an incentive for people to sign up for your mailing list (called a lead magnet). Or maybe you want to use it to showcase your expertise or establish your authority on a subject. Maybe you would just like to enrich the lives of others, no strings attached. All are great reasons to offer it for free.
To get published (on your own terms). It used to be that traditional publishing was thought to be the only “legitimate” way to get published, but that’s no longer the case. If you long to be an author and don’t want to go through the long process and uncertainty of traditional publishing, self publishing is great. Read Why I Turned Down a Book Deal for more.
To get in on the exploding digital book market. In 2010, digital book sales surpassed hardcover book sales on both Amazon.com and BN.com (Barnes & Noble). That alone is an outstanding reason to dive in. Get in on a trend that’s sure to continue.
How much does it cost to write an ebook?
It depends on your goal. If you’re writing for fun or to give your ebook away, you can create it for free. However, if you hope to sell it, at the very least, expect to pay a few hundred dollars for an editor and a few hundred dollars for a professionally designed cover.
What tools do you need to write an ebook?
Beyond that, if you plan to design your own cover (not recommended unless you have professional design experience), you’ll need an app like Adobe InDesign to do that.
How long should my ebook be?
There is no standard length for ebooks. Traditional publishers need to justify the cost of printing. Therefore, they are concerned about word count. (This was one of the lessons I learned.) Ebooks are different. Make your ebook as long as it needs to be to say what you need to say.
In April 2010 I decided to write an ebook, mostly as an experiment. I was intrigued by the “launch your own product” process and wanted to figure out how it worked. It was completely uncharted territory for me.
My plan was to finish it by the end of June, publish it in July and then…well, I hoped to sell a few copies.
Things didn’t go according to plan. June came and went, as did July. So did August and September. Then October rolled around and the dark, unfinished project cloud prompted me to make a final push and get it done.
I officially launched Tell Your Time: How To Manage Your Schedule So You Can Live Free on October 26, 2010. By then, I was so relieved it was done I would have been happy with $10 so I could buy an ice cream sundae to celebrate.
But that’s not what happened.
I made significantly more than $10 that first day (like thousands more) and it continues to sell all these years later. Before this whole thing started, I never thought past the first week of launch.
Table of contents
- Things to consider
- Choosing a topic
- A sales page
It’s a lot of work
Even though it’s not particularly complicated, writing and publishing an ebook does take work. A lot of work.
Writing is the easy part
Marketing is the hard part. You must have a solid, trustworthy platform from which to launch your ebook. Prepare to spend a lot of time marketing your ebook after you’re done writing it.
Don’t neglect your platform
Don’t drop everything to write an ebook. Spend 10-20% of your time working on your ebook. Spend the other 80-90% of your time building your platform (a blog is a good way to do that). A platform will make selling your ebook incredibly easier since people will know who you are.
By the way, if you have hopes of becoming published, your platform is key. You’re unlikely to find a traditional publisher who will sign you if you don’t have a platform.
Connections with people drive ebook sales
Before you finish your ebook, develop genuine online relationships with others through social media, commenting and other not-spammy ways of reaching out to strangers. When it comes time to sell your ebook, these are the people who are most likely to help you spread the word.
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Be strategic about the topic of your ebook. This is not a “write whatever and they will come” sort of endeavor. A little research is helpful, as is some serious thought.
This guide covers nonfiction writing although fiction writers are sure to gain a solid understanding of the process as well. (I don’t have any personal experience with fiction, but I would recommend you check out this post by Michael Hyatt.)
For a non-fiction ebook, choose to do one or more of the following:
- P – Solve a Problem. Be helpful. “How to” topics are excellent choices for ebooks. Find a hole and fill it. The hole you find doesn’t have to be huge, it just has to be common to a decent-sized group of people.
- F – Address a Fear. Most of us have fears and we do our best to avoid them. Our fears range from “What are people going to think of me?” to “What if my spouse gets cancer?” to “What if we run out of money?” to “What if I die?” to “What if my children turn out to be tyrants?” and on and on. If you can come up with a topic that addresses a common fear and offers a way to relieve that fear, you just might have a winner of a topic.
- C – Satisfy a Curiosity. People wonder about stuff. This is why celebrity gossip is so popular and why reality shows are captivating for many. What’s it like to live in a family of 19? How does so-and-so run his business successfully? Who’s going to be wearing what at the Oscars? You get the picture. The bottom line is, we are intrigued by information that’s not readily available. If you have an inside peek into something the masses might like to know (and are free to share that information), it might be a good ebook topic.
In Tell Your Time, I tried to tackle both the P and the F. I address the fear of living a lackluster life with the how of managing your time in a simple, straightforward 4-step way.
Choose a topic you’re passionate about
Once your ebook is launched, people are likely to ask questions about your topic. If you’re writing to make a quick buck but know nothing about the subject, things will fizzle when you can’t answer their questions. Or, you’ll be frustrated having to answer questions about something you could care less about.
Choose a topic you’re good at
Do others ask your advice about a particular topic? What do you do that people marvel at? What are the questions you get most often? We’re all an expert at something.
For me, I enjoy organizing and most of all, efficiency. So an ebook on time management wasn’t a stretch at all. I also had already gotten positive feedback on the information so it made me confident others might find it helpful as well.
Choose a topic with substance
I read once that an ebook should be at least 25 pages long. That seems reasonable to me. If your topic can be sufficiently described in less than 25 pages, write a blog post, a blog series or a guest post.
Related: My Top Guest Posting Tips
I’m dancing on the line of this one with Tell Your Time coming in at about 28 pages. However, this was somewhat purposeful in that I was deliberately trying to keep it succinct to align with my Unique Selling Proposition (USP) which is a book on time management that isn’t time consuming.
Choose a topic that fits with your established online identity
If people know you as the woman who is an expert knitter, your ebook will be easier to sell if it has something to do with knitting. If however, everyone knows you as the expert knitter but you write an ebook about investing in the stock market, it’s going to be a harder sell.
Exceptions to this rule:
- You want to break into the “investing in the stock market” niche and you’re going to use your ebook as a way to do that.
- For some reason (maybe you mentioned it inadvertently in a blog post at one point), you have gotten a BOATLOAD of questions about investing in the stock market and since it doesn’t really fit into your regular knitting blog, you decide to write an ebook about it so you don’t have to keep answering all the questions individually.
Expand on something you’ve already done
Is there a topic or series about which you get a lot of questions and an ebook would give you the space to dive deeper?
Expand on something the internet is talking about
Is there a hot topic you’re seeing online or in your niche or social media circles? Do you have the expertise to address it in a thoughtful way? Or, check the bestseller lists on Amazon for ideas. How can you branch out and offer your own angle?
Think about your target audience
The ability to put yourself in your potential reader’s shoes will make writing much easier and your finished product much better.
- Who will want to read it?
- When it’s done, who will you market your ebook to?
- What do they want to know? What questions do you get from them repeatedly? What are they asking about your topic?
- Is there enough of them? You don’t have to appeal to everyone on earth. However, if you’d like to write an ebook about ancient Mongolian tribal burial rituals, it’d be good to know if there are a whole lot of people who share your interest before you dive in.
- Will they find it? Do they spend time online? Will they know how to access it? For example, ebooks targeting older populations are going to be trickier to sell than those targeting the 18-24 crowd simply because the older crowd (not all though!) are less internet savvy.
- Will they pay for it?
Create something others can’t easily get for free
Most of the information we come across really isn’t anything new, just packaged differently (“there’s nothing new under the sun”). So, it’s doubtful any of us will ever come up with a completely and totally novel idea. Still, make sure your ebook is unique enough that someone isn’t able to find it for free elsewhere in near-identical form.
And if your ebook content could be found elsewhere, have a solid Unique Selling Proposition (USP). That is, make sure before you get started that you have good reason why someone should shell out cash for your product and not just get the information for free from the other guy.
In my case, time management books and blogs abound. One thing I’ve noticed about them though, is that many are heavy on theory, overwhelming and (ironically) time consuming. In response, I made Tell Your Time short and to the point. I also came up with the tagline “What if you could change your life in less than 30 pages?” I wanted people to see that it was different right off the bat.
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In my post My Top Writing Tips, I share practical tips to get the words flowing, but here are some tips for ebooks specifically.
Use the right writing software
Use the right brainstorming and outlining tools
Use one spot to capture all your ideas and research
When you’re in the process of writing your ebook, chances are you’ll spend a fair amount of your time thinking about it. Many times, your ideas won’t come when you’re actually sitting at your computer writing, but in the car, in the shower, at 2 am or while standing in line at the post office. Designate one spot to be your capture spot and stick with it. Many people use Evernote.
This way, when you sit down to write, you’ll know exactly where to find all your brilliant ideas. If you don’t have one spot for such a purpose, you’ll either have miscellaneous and extraneous pieces of paper here and there and everywhere, or you’ll just plain forget all the great stuff that was about to make you millions. Poof. Gone. That would be sad.
Block out scheduled writing time
I don’t recommend squeezing “writing an ebook” into the cracks and crevices of your life. Unless you’re a master at project planning and follow through, dedicate a chunk of time every day (or several times a week) to your ebook project.
If there are days you have more time to spend on it, excellent! If not, at least you’ll see steady progress, even if it’s only 15 minutes at a time.
Once this ebook is done, you can keep that chunk of time in your schedule to start on your next ebook or project, ever increasing your income streams.
In my case, there were days and sometimes weeks when I didn’t touch my ebook. It was discouraging and a bit defeating. It also caused undue stress toward the end of the project when there was a deadline looming and I had to make up for lost time.
Keep track of your time
I did not keep track of how much time I spent working on my ebook. I wish I had. Why? Because I like to know which of my income streams are generating the most money based on an hourly rate. I wish I had kept track of my time so I could determine whether or not it has paid off…and if it’s worth it to write another one.
When it’s time to write, do nothing else. Turn everything off knowing you’ll be able to get to those things as soon as our writing window is over.
If noise bothers you, make sure your writing window happens when there’s little of it. Otherwise, put in ear plugs or ear buds. If you need to clean up around your writing spot first, do that too. I’m amazed at how significantly more productive I am when my writing surface is clear of stuff.
Save, save, save…and in multiple places.
Before you begin, create a spot on your computer in which to save all ebook-related material. Unless you are using software that automatically saves things for you, you’ll be saving every 2 minutes. There’s nothin’ like spending forever writing something only to lose it because it wasn’t saved.
I also recommend you set up an alternate place to save your work, preferably not on your computer.
Dropbox is a free cloud storage solution. Another suggestion is to copy and paste your draft into an email and send it to yourself. If you’re using Gmail, just archive it and you’ll always have a copy not on your computer too.
Pretend you’re your target
The ability to see things from the perspective of your reader is key. Sometimes we know a topic so well we forget that others may be seeing it for the first time.
Do some serious thinking about who your target market is. Define them. Picture them in your brain. Anticipate their questions. Pretend you are them and think about what would most connect with you. Then, write that.
Pick a ship date and hook
Once you start writing and get into a rhythm, you’ll likely be able to estimate how long this thing will take you to complete. Pull out a calendar.
Determine a “ship” date. In other words, what day will you launch your ebook? The reason I suggest you pull out your calendar is to make your launch date coincide with calendar events on which you can “hook” your launch.
For example, you may remember me saying I originally had my launch date set for July. The reason I chose that date was because July is when things start ramping up for back-to-school sales and events. It’s a time of year when people are in the mood to get their schedules in order. Therefore, I had a hook for selling an ebook about time management.
Lots of people (i.e. potential affiliates) are writing about back-to-school things in July and August, so they would be more likely convinced to promote my time management ebook at the same time too.
In my case, July came and went, so I had to think of Plan B. The next logical time of year when people are thinking about time management is the new year. That would have been fine, but I launched in late October instead. Doing so had several advantages:
- One message I used for promotion was “Get your schedule under control before the holiday craziness hits. Enjoy the holidays this year, eliminate stress and get a head start on the New Year.”
- It allowed me to take advantage of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend which was a huge selling weekend for me. (Everyone’s looking for a sale that time of year, so I discounted the ebook and pushed #1 above.)
- I was able to promote it to a captive audience of potential affiliates at a blogging conference (along with the huge help of Crystal from MoneySavingMom.com).
- I still had another sale the first week of the new year. The benefit was that plenty of people had read the book by now so I had testimonials to bolster my sales pitch.
We’ll talk more about selling and promoting later, but my point here is to set a “ship” date. Give yourself enough time to get the ebook written, prepared for launch and launched, but challenge yourself to get the thing done in a timely manner as well. Setting a “ship” date gives you something to work towards instead of just letting the project drag on indefinitely.
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Related: If you have a completed manuscript and want to know what to do next, I highly recommend Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing 101 course.
Do I need to copyright my book?
I’m not a lawyer. The following is my understanding of copyright. Sources are cited.
If you are in the United States, your book “is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” (source)
This alone will not allow you to legally enforce your copyright. Should someone steal your stuff and you want to file suit, you have to register with the United States Copyright Office.
Update: In March 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled “a copyright owner must actually have its work registered by the United States Copyright Office prior to filing litigation to enforce its rights.” In other words, “actual approval of a copyright application by the United States Copyright Office is required before suit can be filed.” (source)
If you’re the type that tends to be wordy, eliminate everything that doesn’t contribute to the main idea of your ebook. Ebooks are often read on computer screens or other digital devices, many of which are not ideal for reading. So, if you can get your information across in a more concise way, do it.
If you’re the type that tends to be lacking in words, make sure the vital parts of your ebook are sufficiently explained. If a reader has a question about your ebook, they will have to go out of their way to contact you for clarification (unlike the ability to easily post a comment in response to a blog post, for example). Make it clear so they aren’t frustrated.
Ask people close to you — you know, the ones who will tell you the truth and love you no matter what — if they will read your material and give feedback. (I don’t recommend approaching fellow bloggers or other business or networking acquaintances for feedback at this stage. More explanation on that to come.) Take special note of any clarification questions they ask or confusion they express; these are the areas you’ll definitely want to go back and modify. Then, take your loved one out for lunch as a thank you. Just a suggestion.
Strive for excellence, not perfection
Having just told you to edit until you’re blue in the face (practically), don’t get stuck trying to make it “just so.” Do your best but accept that it’ll never be perfect. You still want to make your ship date, remember?
Choose a great title
In my opinion, now is a good time to choose a title. Here are a few reasons why:
- Editing makes the content of your ebook fresh in your mind. Reading it from start to finish provides a perspective you didn’t have when you were in the thick of writing.
- Now that your content is mostly finalized, you might realize that over the course of writing, you took some twists and turns you didn’t anticipate. If you chose a title at the beginning, review it to make sure it accurately represents what your final copy communicates.
- If others are reading/editing your ebook for you, take the opportunity to toss around title ideas with them too.
The ideal title (plus an alternative)
The ideal title is one that encapsulates the main idea of your ebook in just a few words. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to come up with such a title. In that case, find a catchy title and then create a subtitle which provides further explanation. In any case, a potential reader should have a good idea of what your ebook is about simply by reading the title.
Choose a title with an available domain name
Other than choosing a title that actually fits the content of your ebook, if possible, choose a title with an available domain name. Then, register that domain.
This is likely to make choosing a title a bit tricky, so take some time in doing so. You’ll have to weigh all the possibilities and perhaps spend a fair amount of time searching. But if you can snag the domain name of your ebook title, it’s a major bonus when it comes to marketing and promotion.
If you can’t find an available domain name, you may need to get creative. For example, if your ebook title is already taken, you might decide to tack on “book” or “ebook” to the end. (Check out my post How to Choose a Domain Name for more ideas.)
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Once you’re satisfied with the content of your ebook you’ll need to format it so it looks good on a page.
The following tips are for PDF formatting. If you want to format your ebook for Kindle and Nook, I highly recommend checking out the file formatting guidelines at Amazon and the Kindle Direct Publishing Help and Nook FAQ & Support Resources Page (Nook).
Choose a page size
I recommend formatting it to fit a standard page size (8 1/2 by 11 inches here in the States). This will make it easier for you to set it up and for your readers to print (if they do). You can choose either a “portrait” or “landscape” setup. However, if you go with landscape, I suggest you break up your text into at least two or three columns across the page to make reading easier.
Use generous margins
I think a 1-inch margin all the way around is a safe bet. Not only does this make reading easier, it also eliminates the problem some printers have which is to cut off a larger portion at the bottom (portrait) or on one side (landscape) when smaller margins are specified.
Whitespace is your friend
Whitespace refers to the parts of the page which are empty and not filled with text or other content. Large margins create whitespace, as does a wider-than-normal line height (like 1.5), a larger font (I used 14), bullets, lists etc. You want reading to be effortless and whitespace is a key factor in making that happen.
Decide if you’re going to get fancy
If you’re so inclined, you might consider inserting captions, pull-quotes (highlighting special portions of your text in a larger font or box somewhere on the page) call outs (like labels for illustrations; similar to captions for images), etc. (You can find examples of how these look here.) It’ll be more work, but done right, it could add a nice touch to your finished product.
On the flip side, it might cause formatting issues, so I’d recommend checking on several digital devices to see how it renders before you make it a definite go.
Clean, simple and uniform formatting is best. Don’t go crazy with a wide array of font sizes, colors, underlining, etc. If a reader turns a page and thinks, “Wow, that heading is large,” or “Bright font color!” you’ve gone too far. A reader’s attention should be on your content, not your formatting. Only format enough to make your ebook more easily readable.
Pay special attention to images
If you’re using images, make sure they are well done and proportioned correctly so they aren’t skewed. If you’re not a photographer yourself, consider purchasing professional images from a site like Depositphotos. If your photos are only average and you don’t want to spend the money on professional ones, I think it’s better to leave them out altogether. Low-quality images can diminish the perceived value of an ebook.
Add a header & footer
Use the footer option to insert page numbers (done automatically) as well as a link to your website. Read your word processor’s Help section if you don’t know how to insert page numbers.
Include front matter and/or back (end) matter
- Copyright Information. This is something I did not pay a whole lot of attention to and will certainly update in future editions. Because I’m a bad example, I’ll send you over to Dave Taylor’s site where he discusses this issue and gives you some examples.
- Table of Contents. This is just a good idea. Make it better by linking your Table of Contents to the actual sections in your ebook.
- About the Author. A bio at the end of your ebook gives you the chance to tell a little bit about yourself but more importantly, it gives you a natural opportunity to insert a call to action, such as inviting your reader to visit your website and sign up for your email list.
- Acknowledgements, End Notes, Bibliography, etc. If your ebook calls for any of these pages — particularly credit to anyone quoted or referenced — by all means, include them. However, keep in mind that they are likely only going to be glanced over. So, be accurate, but don’t spend untold amounts of time getting them “just so”.
- Printables. If you are providing printables, they could be included within the body of the ebook or at the end. My recommendation is to put them where they fit naturally and cause the least amount of reading disruption. Require readers to sign up for your email list to download the printables.
Get an ebook cover
Unless you are exceptionally talented, I highly recommend you get a professionally designed cover. The cover will set the tone for your whole ebook. If you get someone to design it for you, ask if they can also make matching banners and graphics.
If you’d like to find a designer, you have a ton of options. A few resources I have not used myself but have read good things about are oDesk and 99designs — both allow you to find people you can outsource projects like this to. Please do your homework and be sure to read up on anyone you might work with, but an ebook cover might be a great and cheap way to test one of these services out.
Save your document as a PDF
The software tools mentioned above will allow you to this easily.
Check the links
One your ebook is saved in its final form, go through it and check all links to make sure they work.
Print it out
Once you’ve put everything together, be sure to print out your ebook to make sure it prints correctly and as you intended. Also, check it out on digital devices to make sure it renders properly.
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How much should you charge for your ebook?
Maybe you shouldn’t charge for it at all. For the most part, we’re talking about selling your ebook here. However, don’t overlook the benefits of giving your ebook away for free. In fact, for some, it might actually be a better move in the long-run. You might consider it if you:
- Have limited traffic. Limited traffic isn’t always an indication you should give your ebook away, but if few people know who you are, it’ll be hard to convince them to buy. Established trust counts for a lot so if you’re just getting started online, a high-quality, useful ebook for free could be just what you need to establish that trust and make your mark. This is likely to benefit you going forward.
- You have a limited pool of potential affiliates. In my experience, affiliates drive sales. Promotion by affiliates is exponential and not limited to just the readers you have direct contact with. If you haven’t had the chance to develop solid relationships with other bloggers, you might consider either (a) waiting to launch your ebook until you have a chance to network more or (b) give it away for free now and write another to sell later on.
- You aren’t comfortable with marketing. If the thought of promoting or “pushing” your own product makes you nervous, giving it away for free relieves a lot of pressure. You also won’t have to deal with the associated fees and customer service that a paid-for product requires. That’s not to say you should release a subpar ebook. To the contrary, make it outstanding — blow their socks off! It might be a great way to grab the attention of a lot of people and make a solid mark in your niche by creating an outstanding product and giving it away freely.
What’s a good price?
Ah, the $64,000 question. This is something I pondered quite a bit before I launched Tell Your Time and a question I’ve been asked a lot since. The fact is, I don’t know what a good price for your ebook is since there are so many factors to consider. However, I’ll tell you my thought process in the hopes that you can pull some pointers out and apply it to your own situation.
The first thing I did was hunt for other ebooks similar to mine and took note of pricing. I looked at things like quality, page count, content etc. and tried to determine how my ebook might compare.
I also visited blogs, not necessarily in my niche, but other blogs that my target readers might visit. I noted what types of ebooks (or products) were available and about how much they were selling for. This gave me a good idea of what my target audience is used to paying for online products, ebooks or otherwise.
Get the opinion of others
Next, I started asking around. One of the places I asked was in a forum for experienced online entrepreneurs. I provided a link so they could download the ebook for free and then asked them what they thought I should charge.
In the forum, a number of people told me the price point I was considering (somewhere around $10) was way too low. In fact, someone suggested I should sell it for $47. The reason? Perceived value. To many consumers, a higher price often indicates higher value and buyers are willing to pay for something of high value. I really appreciated the feedback, but in the end, I knew there was no way I could successfully sell my little 30-page ebook for $47, nor did I want to. Here’s why…
Think about your readers
If you have a blog, hopefully you have a good idea of what kinds of prices your readers are used to paying for things like your ebook. Are they high-end shoppers or bargain hunters? What can you reasonably expect they will respond to?
Think about your affiliates
First, ask yourself who your affiliates will be (or you hope will be). Next, ask yourself what they would be comfortable promoting.
In my case, if the people I was going to reach out to to become affiliates were used to promoting products in the $50 range, I might have considered pricing my ebook at $47. But they’re not. Something in the $10 range was far more appropriate.
Think about what your target market is used to paying for similar ebooks
Affiliates aren’t everything though. You must consider your product as well. If you are selling a highly-specialized or highly-sought-after product, maybe $50 is not only appropriate, but on the low side.
For me, let’s face it, there is no shortage of time management books and blogs. Anyone can pop onto Amazon or visit their local library or google “time management” and find all kinds of tips readily available. So, a price point of $47 was becoming more and more out of the question.
Think about what you want to do in the future
Another reason I did not want to price my ebook higher than $10 is because I wanted to give myself the option to publish it as a “real” book somewhere down the line. A quick “time management” search on Amazon reveals that $10 is probably about average for similar books.
Don’t price too low
I’m of the opinion that it’s better to price a little high than a little low. There is something to say about the perceived value of a product. For example, when you buy something at the Dollar Store, you don’t assume it’s going to be high quality. In fact, if you’re like me, you kind of assume it’s going to be low quality. For that reason, the Dollar Store is not a store I generally go out of my way to visit; I just stop in when it’s convenient. The same goes here. You don’t want to give the impression that your ebook is so low-quality that it’s not even worth going through the purchasing process. Price it in a way that represents the value accurately and fairly but gives the impression that it’s worth the money your buyer will part with.
What’s your rock bottom price?
Remember that you will have expenses associated with your ebook so make sure you price it high enough to cover those expenses and (hopefully) make a bit of a profit as well. This might be considered your “rock bottom” price – the lowest you can go and still cover (at least) your expenses. Your goal is to leave enough wiggle room around this price to be flexible with sales too.
Set a price with sales (as in “On Sale!”) in mind
It’s easy to come down in price and it’s virtually impossible to go up in price. Also, if you’re going to have sales, make the sale significant. “10% off” is okay, but “50% off!” will get a lot more attention and hopefully translate into more sales.
Another great benefit of having a sale is that it provides a great excuse for promotion. In other words, having a sale gives you the opportunity to alert your readers and affiliates, get a little buzz going about your ebook again and help people to remember that it exists. However, I recommend you keep your sales to a minimum. Too many sales can lower the perceived value of your ebook as well. After all, why should someone buy your ebook at a higher price since they know they don’t have to wait long before the next sale will roll around.
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So the ebook is done and now it’s time to sell it. You’ll need a way to distribute your digital product in a way that’s easy for you and for those buying it. I highly recommend you use a service which automates the process as much as possible.
As I mentioned, in this tutorial, we are mainly covering the steps to selling a PDF copy of your ebook. However, with some formatting adjustments, you can sell your ebook on Kindle (get started and here’s another resource), Nook (get started) and many other sites too.
If you use WordPress, there are a lot of plugins you can use to do this. Easy Digital Downloads is a popular example. Personally, I’ve always steered clear of plugins because I don’t want the responsibility of handling sensitive information (credit card numbers, etc.) and I don’t want to deal with technical glitches plugins pose. I’d much rather pay a company a small amount to handle all that for me.
At the very least, you will want a dedicated page (or post) on your existing blog or website which will serve as the main sales page (landing page) for your ebook. However, you might also want a dedicated website for your ebook.
Hopefully you were able to register the domain name which matches the title of your ebook as mentioned above. This is just a good marketing move in general, but if you have the domain, you could easily set up an entirely separate website for your ebook (even if your “site” is just one page for now).
Why would you want a separate site for your ebook?
- If your ebook is somewhat unrelated to your existing site. If that’s the case, a dedicated site might be a good idea. It helps keep things more clear and it keeps your existing readers from getting confused.
- To give you the option of building a new site around your ebook. Is the topic of your ebook a new one for you? Are you branching out and contemplating turning it into an entirely new venture? If so, starting out with a brand new site leaves you the possibility of exploring other related projects or streams of income in the future.
- To make things more clean and straightforward for the search engines. This is particularly the case if your domain name contains strong keywords.
In my case, I had (and still have) an idea for a unique website experience, but haven’t made it a priority, so my sales page currently resides on my main site. So, if someone types in “TellYourTime.com” they’ll still get there, just not directly.
How to set up a separate site for your ebook
If you want a unique site for your ebook, setting up a new site is easy. I explain how to do that in my post How to Start a Blog (works for websites too). Once you’ve set it up, you’ll simply want to make your homepage static (that is, not a blog) which is also explained in that post.
My tips for writing a sales page
Whether your ebook sales page is housed on a site all its own, or it’s a post or a page on your existing blog, there are a few things to remember. This is not an exhaustive list. Indeed, writing an effective sales page has become an art, and for those who do it well, a nice way to earn a hefty income!
- Start with something that immediately draws people in. Initially I had a boring “Tell Your Time is about…” paragraph at the top of my sales page. Now I’ve changed it and in bold it reads, “What if you could change your life in 30 pages?” My goal is to pique interest and get people to keep reading.
- Be bold but don’t lie. I thought about saying “Change your life in 30 pages!” but nixed that idea. First, I certainly can’t guarantee my little ebook will change anyone’s life (though the feedback has been very encouraging). Second, a “What if…” statement makes people stop and think more than a late night infomercial-type “Lose 40 pounds by morning” claim in my opinion.
- Include your “Buy” button several times throughout the page. Give people the opportunity to buy at several points, especially when there’s a natural break in your copy. Don’t miss the opportunity for a call to action.
- Give an idea of what they’ll get. An ebook is tricky in that (a) it’s a bit of a novelty for many people and (b) you can’t page through it like you would a book in a bookstore. So, providing your Table of Contents or a synopsis is a good idea. (Sidenote: If you do use your Table of Contents here, make sure the topics in your Table of Contents sound interesting! For example, “Envelopes of Time” is more intriguing than “A helpful time management principle” don’t you think?)
- Add testimonials. If others have offered feedback or have said nice things about your ebook, ask them if you can include them on your sales page. A link back to their site is good too, so be sure to ask them if there’s a particular page they’d like you to link to.
- Look at other sales pages for inspiration. If you’re a bit stumped and aren’t sure how to craft your own sales page, a good way to get some ideas is by looking at the sales pages of others.
- Use your Amazon Associates link. If you are also selling your ebook on Amazon and are including a link on your sales page, be sure to use your Amazon Associates link to make a bit more money. (See the terms of service explaining this is acceptable here.)
If you’re like me, affiliates will play a huge role in your sales. I highly recommend running an affiliate program. Sure, you won’t get to keep as much money per sale, but your reach will be much wider. Selling is the hardest part in the process, so if you can enlist the help of others to promote your ebook, all the better.
What exactly is an affiliate?
An affiliate is someone who likes your ebook (or product) and wants to tell others about it. They sign up as an affiliate and after doing so, receive a unique affiliate link which they use when mentioning (promoting) your ebook. If someone clicks through that link and purchases the ebook, the affiliate receives whatever commission you have set. Make sense?
Create a page where affiliates can sign up
In addition to your sales page, you’ve got to have a place where someone can sign up to become an affiliate of your ebook. Here’s mine. Make it easily accessible on your site. Link to it within your ebook at least once or twice. Link to it at the bottom of your product sales page as well.
Make the affiliate sign-up process enticing
Why should someone sign up to be an affiliate for you? What’s in it for them? Remember, they’re putting their name behind your product, so they’ll want to make sure it’s worth it.
How much affiliate commission should you offer?
Opinions vary on this point and it also depends on the product. Personally, I think digital products, such as ebooks, should have a higher commission since they are much easier to produce and distribute. Physical products are likely to have a lower commission rate.
For ebooks and other digital products, I recommend a rate in the range of 35-50% of the purchase price.
Make the affiliate sign-up process easy
Provide clear instructions explaining how to sign up, how to use their affiliate code and how they can put it on their site. I also provide my email address on my affiliate page in case they have questions or need help.
Make buttons and banners
Provide graphics your affiliates can use to promote your ebook. You can either make these graphics yourself or have someone do it for you. Tip: Whether you make them yourself or hire someone else to do them for you, I do recommend you stick to standard ad sizes.
Choose a service to run your affiliate program
By this point, hopefully you have settled on how much your affiliates will receive in commission. There are numerous services you can use to run an affiliate program. There are expensive options and simple ones. The service you choose will depend on your needs. For most, a simple solution to start is sufficient.
As I mentioned above, I’ve used SendOwl to sell my digital products. They make it easy to run your affiliate program right within the service.
Communicating with affiliates
There may be times when you want to contact your affiliates. I wouldn’t suggest you inundate your affiliates with emails, but if there’s a sale coming up for example, you might want to send out a quick heads-up email to let your affiliates know. Another time I’ve wanted to contact all my affiliates is when I did a giveaway among them.
More tips for managing affiliates
- As I mentioned earlier, don’t be spammy. Only email your affiliates when it’s necessary and appropriate.
- Keep your emails short and to the point. I like to use numbered items which makes extracting information they need easier. I simply don’t want to bog them down with lengthy emails — they deal with that enough.
- Include all vital information. If you’re announcing an upcoming sale, for example, be sure to tell them when it will be, how long it will run, the day and time the sale will end (and according to what timezone), the appropriate coupon code if there is one, as well as any other pertinent information. Ask yourself what you would need to know if you were an affiliate and were going to be writing a post alerting your readers to the sale.
- You might want to mention helpful tips for promoting your ebook (or product). If I know of a promotion technique that has worked well for me or for another affiliate, I’ll mention that. For example, I’ve encouraged my affiliates to highlight the percentage markdown during a sale because it seems to convert better. So, I will suggest that instead of using verbiage like “Tell Your Time is on sale this week!” a more effective way to say it is, “Tell Your Time is 50% off this week!” Indicating something is 50% off tends to get more attention since it’s a significant discount.
- Thank them for their support and/or throw in some goodies. I am genuinely grateful for my affiliates and I do my best to make that clear. To show my appreciation I upped the commission for one sale (to 60%) and I gave away gift cards to two affiliates who sold the most during another sale. It’s fun and it want them to feel valued.
Paying your affiliates
Paying your affiliates is easy and takes only a few minutes each a month if you use the Mass Payment feature in PayPal. Here are some tips for setting up your affiliate payment process:
- Choose a payment date. Consider paying your affiliates between the 7th and the 15th of the month for the previous month’s sales. The reason for the delay is because some transactions (like eChecks) take a few days to clear. By holding off mass payment a week or so, you can be sure any outstanding transactions made at the end of the month have cleared.
- Make sure you have enough cash in your PayPal account to make the payment. On the first of the month log in to your payment service and see what your total affiliate payout will be. Then check to see you have enough in your PayPal account to cover it. Otherwise you’ll need to transfer some money in which takes a few days. Sidenote: I don’t keep funds in my PayPal account except for a very minimal “cushion” amount (usually between $50-$100). PayPal has been known to freeze funds and so I prefer to keep control over them by transferring them to my business checking account immediately.
- Download the TXT or CSV file generated by your payment service. This is what you will upload into PayPal’s Mass Payment feature.
- Pay your affiliates. After logging into PayPal, go to Tools (top of screen) > Send Money > Make a Mass Payment. Follow the prompts to upload the TXT or CSV file. Choose to identify recipients by email address. Customize the accompanying email if you wish. Be sure to enter the payment into your financial records.
There is no shortage of marketing tips available online. I certainly won’t attempt to cover everything (nor could I) but here are some things I did to get the word out. First though, some explanations so we’re all on the same page…
Marketing and Advertising. What’s the difference?
I like this explanation:
The best way to distinguish between advertising and marketing is to think of marketing as a pie, inside that pie you have slices of advertising, market research, media planning, public relations, product pricing, distribution, customer support, sales strategy, and community involvement. Advertising only equals one piece of the pie in the strategy. (source)
There’s a lot of stuff in there, but for our purposes, let’s just say marketing is how you’re going to spread the word about your ebook.
Give your ebook away in a pre-release
Consider giving a way a free copy of your ebook to a handful of people. The key here is to be selective and strategic. Don’t be stingy and definitely don’t be spammy.
The people I would recommend you give it to are people who have some influence in your niche, have a good, solid following (although not necessarily a large following) or would make a good affiliate. The best people are the ones with whom you already have an established relationship.
A brief, to-the-point email asking them if they’d like to take a peek at your soon-to-be-released ebook is sufficient. Let them contact you if they are interested. If you don’t hear back from them, just move on.
To those who take advantage of the pre-release, give them a week or two to read it and then shoot them a personalized email providing affiliate information if they are interested and ask them if they’d like to submit a testimonial to be included on your sales page.
We all know and understand the importance of word-of-mouth and the power of personal recommendations, so having testimonials about your ebook can be very helpful.
Great testimonials are those that pack a quantitative punch. For example, instead of a testimonial that says, “This is a great ebook!” choose one that says, “Wow! After reading this ebook, I saved $50 on shopping over the course of a month!”
Guest post or be a guest on a podcast
Guest posting is a good way to get your name out there and tell ’em about your ebook in your bio. And oftentimes, podcasters are looking for relevant and interesting people to interview.
Social media & forums
Take part in discussions in forums, comments on blogs and social media. Create a steady stream of promotional content that gets pushed out to all your social media channels. Leaving the link to your ebook sales page in your email signature is helpful too.
Plan a sale (or sales) or event
Look at the calendar and figure out when you could have a few sales on your ebook. Sales generally create some buzz. Perhaps you’d like to ramp things up and create an online event related to your launch.
Once your ebook is launched, host a giveaway on your blog. Get your affiliates involved too.
Keep a running list of ways you might be able to get the word out about your ebook. Take advantage of calendar events, seasons and other similar ebbs and flows. Watch what others do and see how you can adapt their strategies and tactics.
Did you find this post helpful? I’d love it if you shared it with your readers and followers!
Originally published January 18, 2011