How to Make Money Selling eBooks

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Over the last two weeks, I’ve shared how you can make money online by using two different income streams.  Today we’ll discuss the third stream – how to make money by selling eBooks.  In case you’re interested, here are the other two income steams we’ve already introduced:

  1. Make money blogging
  2. Make money writing online

In the last 17 months, I’ve written and sold two eBooks at MH4C.  The first is The Short Term Missions Handbook (STMH), and the second is The Secret to a Successful Budget (SSB).

Why Sell eBooks on your Blog?

[pullquote]One of the best things about selling your own eBooks is that you completely control and endorse the content.[/pullquote]

I’m proud to sell my product because I completely endorse it.  When you make money online, you want to be sure you are earning money by blessing and serving people.  I’ve felt very confident about the quality of my eBooks (but, I’ve also felt very insecure about the process, too) .  Of all the ways people spend money, I think they would be blessed by buying one of my books.  I hope that doesn’t sound egotistical, it’s not supposed to.  I’m just saying, it’s always easier to sell something you’ve made because you are personally invested in and believe in the project.

Ebooks provide a steady source of income.  While you will sell the majority of your books during the launch period, every week or two you may sell another handful of books.  Honestly, once all the hard work is done and you’ve promoted the product, each book sale seems very passive (even though it actually results from a lot of hard work).

Each time another book sells, I think – “Hmm.  That’s a nice added bonus for today.”

Why you shouldn’t sell eBooks on your blog

[pullquote]Selling an eBook means putting a lot of eggs into one basket.[/pullquote]

Putting together a good quality eBook takes a lot of time – time that cannot be redeemed if your project flops.  If you put together a blog post and it doesn’t go over well, you’ve lost an hour or two.  However, if you put together an eBook that doesn’t go well, you’ve lost months of work and effort.

It wasn’t too far into the STMH project that I realized why most people don’t sell eBooks – they are a lot of work.  For that book, my wife and I worked together and set an aggressive deadline.  For about two weeks, we sat at our laptops every night after the kids went to bed.  Then, once the book was done, there was proof reading, landing page design, working with affiliates, and planning a product launch.

Selling an eBook is a huge time investment.

Step-By-Step Guide for Making Money Selling eBooks

Here’s an eBook on how to sell your eBook.  I bought the how to launch eBook before writing my first book.  The book is expensive ($97), but for the headaches it saved, I give it two thumbs up.  Why learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from the mistakes of others?

How to Choose an eBook Topic

Choosing a relevant topic is one of the most important decisions.  There are at least two effective ways to do this.

  1. You can pour over your stats and see if you notice any themes in terms of post popularity and searches on your own site.
  2. You can do a survey of your readers and ask them.

For the first book I wrote, STMH, I did neither of these.  That was due to the nature of the project.  I wanted to write something that I was passionate about.  I wanted to develop a resource that was first, a blessing to people, and second, a way to learn about the technicalities of producing an eBook.

I used both #1 and #2 for my second eBook, SSB.  In addition, the book is part of a series I’d like to do where I address all aspects of personal finance.  A budget seems to be the first sequential place to start.  Had I strictly followed #1 and #2, I would have written about getting out of debt.  However, I wanted this foundational book on budgeting before I moved along to writing about about getting out of debt.

Write the eBook

Format: For both of my eBooks I used Word 2007.  If you have an early addition of Word and you plan to write, you should consider upgrading.  Word 2007 (I don’t know about 2010) has enough features like easy chart insertion and heading sections to make it worth your effort.

Scheduling: In addition to all your other writing obligations, you need to schedule time just for writing your book.  Each weekend I would schedule a couple of hours for writing.  Fortunately, for my second book I was traveling overseas by myself and I spent about 25 hours while I was in airports and waiting for flights working on the book.

Proof Reading: For the STMH,s we broke the book into four section and asked two people each to read a section.  That worked well, but it was hard to coordinate all the changes coming from so many sources.  For the second book, my wife did a first edit, and then I paid someone to proof read the book.

If you use Word 2007, be sure that you track all the changes your proof reader makes.

When they receive the document, it may have all your changes visible.  Instruct them to Click on review – show markup + unclick everything so all changes and notes will disappear.  Be sure to click on Review tab + track changes to be sure that it will track everything you change.  If a proof reader wants to add a comment, he can click on the place where the comment should go and then click on review + add new comment.

Get Affiliates on Board

[pullquote]I believe that getting the right affiliates on board is the largest determining factor for how much money your eBook will make.[/pullquote] In my case, I’m a relatively smaller blog with a relatively smaller audience, so much of my exposure came through affiliates.

Important notes when it comes to affiliates:

  • The affiliate’s subscriber size does not matter.  I had some affiliates with thousands of subscribers that didn’t sell a single book and others that with only a few that did much better.  How well an affiliate performs depends on the book topic.  For the STMH, blogs outside of the personal finance niche sold more.  Interestingly, with the SSB, blogs that were not directly personal finance also performed better.  Here’s what I think: I’m finding the closer a blog is to your exact niche and genre, the less likely they are to buy your products.  Basically, people in a very similar niche will overlap audiences, so if they won’t buy it fro,m you they won’t buy it from others.

For the STMH, I offered a 50% affiliate.  However, by the time I sold the SSB, I decreased that amount to 33%.  The reason is due to the price of the book.  Charging more for a book allows an affiliate a better payment even with a smaller percentage.

Here was my simple approach to affiliates – I emailed bloggers who I have a relationship with and told them about the product.  I also sent everyone who was interested a free copy of the book so they could feel confident about the content.

Now that I’ve sold a few books, next time around I may just hand pick a few of my better performing affiliates because it can be a lot of work to monitor a lot of affiliates with questions and concerns.

For both books I set up a page to give important information to affiliates.  For the STMH, I set up this page.  For SSB, I set up this page.

The simplest way I’ve found to sell eBooks and manage affiliates is E-junkie.  Basically, E-junkie is the company it seems like everyone uses, and I can see why.  It is so easy to set up, easy to manage, and it’s cheap.  If you have less than five products you’re selling, it only costs $5 per month.  With E-junkie, you just sign in once a month, download your affiliate sales, and pay the appropriate amount to each seller.  Simple.

Images and Graphics

When you write an eBook, you will want some images and graphics to add a level of professionalism.

Here’s what I suggest doing:

  1. Contract someone from Odesk to make your ad banners.  That’s what I did for the SSB.  For $30, I got 10 different banner ads.  You’ll see the SSB ad right under my subscribe box on the right widget.
  2. Purchase eCover Software Pro.  This $17 tool allows you to make professional looking eBook covers.
  3. Purchase some type of an image graphics bundle.  I got mine for $20, and it has all the images you will need for a landing page (and much more).  I thought it was a great deal for $20.

Landing Page

Setting up the landing page was a much bigger job than I had anticipated.  The first time around I did the landing page by myself, and I think it was evident in the result.  One key advantage of doing your own landing page is that you will learn a lot about html and css coding.  However, if that doesn’t appeal, you can do what I did for my second landing page – hire someone from Odesk.  Be sure to interview the person well to be sure they know what they are doing.  In my case, I should have looked for someone who had experience with Thesis.

Here are a few things I learned about the landing page:

  1. There is no such thing as too much information.  People can skip sections that do not interested them.
  2. Make everything as clear and simple as possible.  For example, tell people to ‘click here’ instead of just hyper linking some text.
  3. Use red sparingly.  I recently changed my landing page for STM (click here) and added a red download button.  I’ve noticed an impressive difference in sales in the last week.
  4. Your first line is one of the most important lines.  Tell them what the problem is and what you plan to do about it.
  5. Money back guarantee is essential.
  6. Offer a bonus product.  Always give buyers more than they expect.

If you are a Thesis user, I suggest you bookmark this very helpful post on how to set up a landing page on Thesis.

Some other helpful information about landing pages can be found here:

Accepting Payments

For payments, I only accept payments from PayPal.  At one point, I did accept payments from Google, but I had to manually confirm purchases.  I only accepted one method of payment.  When you use E-junkie, you just attach your PayPal information and E-junkie will do the rest.  Before you know it, there is money in your account, and E-junkie has automatically sent out the download link.

How to Price your Product

Personally, I’ve always found this to be the most difficult part of selling my own products online.  Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. The product price needs to be appropriate for the product.  For example, we could be charging more for the STMH since people have talked about how good a value it is for $9.95.  Also, we know that churches who purchase the book for short term missionaries will get a lot more value out of the hundreds or thousands of dollars they are spending to send short term missionaries.  However, I’ve found with Christian/religious based books, authors need to be more sensitive with the pricing due to pricing backlash.
  2. Offer a value guarantee.  Because I lack some confidence in the area of pricing, I offered a value guarantee for my SSB.  If it’s not worth $17, let me know and I’ll refund the money. That way the readers also get to evaluate the value of the product.
  3. Set the price based on value.  When selling eBooks, you need to focus on the value you are offering to people – not the amount you are charging.
  4. Always give more value than the price of your book.  Personally, I think both of my books have the potential of saving hundreds or thousands of dollars over a lifetime.  For the STMH, it is valuable in terms of helping people be prepared for a costly short term mission trip.  For the SSB, helping people budget is the key to a debt-free (and much cheaper) lifestyle.

The Product Launch

This is one area where I know I need to improve.  I’m just not that good a creating a buzz.  Fortunately, I had a good team of affiliates who helped promote awareness about the book.

Of course, some of the best methods are Twitter and Facebook, but unfortunately I’m rarely active on either of those venues.

Random tips:

  • For my products I’ve always offered a special discount to my readers.  I want them to have bonuses for being part of the MH4C family.
  • End the launch on a Tuesday because that is a busy internet traffic day.
  • Offer a compelling bonus or discount to help motivate buyers.  For the SSB, I offered the book for $12 instead of $17.
  • Develop a strong subscriber base.  If you plan to sell eBooks, signing up for Aweber is a must.  You need a way to communicate directly with your readers.
  • I have mixed feelings about product giveaways and next time I probably won’t allow any giveaways.  The reason is because people hold off on buying the book to see if they might win.  The problem is that they may forget to get back to the landing page to check out the product.
  • This is the time to call in any favors.  If you’ve been working with other bloggers and need a favor, contact those you are closest to and see if they can help create a buzz for the book.

How Much Money Can You Make Selling eBooks?

First, you need to remember that there are a few things that can/will impact your bottom line:

  • Cost associated with setting up your landing page, buying images, and eBook cover.
  • Fees charged by PayPal.  Typically, 30 cents per transaction and 2.9% of the sale price.
  • Affiliate payments

Adam Baker has openly shared his earnings from selling his eBook.  Here’s what I feel comfortable telling you about my Secret to a Successful Budget eBook.  Right now, I’ve made right at $6.00 per hour for the time I’ve invested in the project.

Depending on your perspective, that number may seem low, but it’s a number I’m happy with and here’s why:

  • The eBook is continuing to sell.  I view an eBook much like an investment.  Over time, it continues to grow and add more and more value to my website.
  • The eBook can serve other promotional functions.  I plan to recycle its value.  So for example, on occasion I may use it to promote other products.
  • I can always have additional mini-launches with the book when I put the book on sale for a short period of time.

Basically, here’s what I mean.

The work is all done, and I’ve been reasonably compensated (though not outrageously profitable).  The best part is that I still have an extremely valuable tool at my disposal!

Anyone else have any tips on how to make money selling eBooks?


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