I’ve learned a lot since then and wanted to share the insights I’ve gleaned with a lot more ebooks under my belt (almost 100 as of this update), and with some things I’ve seen in my business that have changed and/or stayed the same. Here’s how I originally started this post …
Warning — this is a monster post — almost
2,500 3,300 words long. But, if you’re really interested in making money selling ebooks you write and self-publish, it provides some great insight. So settle in. Ok, here goes …
Note: This post contains affiliate links. Here’s the site’s affiliate disclosure policy for full details.
I’m a self-published author who’s been writing and selling ebooks online since 2002. To date, I’ve written over 50. I could be a full-time self-publisher, as I earn enough from my ebooks to support myself. The only reason I don’t do it full-time is that I own/manage an SEO writing company. I don’t relay this info to brag, but to underscore that what I’m about to tell you comes from years of first-hand experience.
I wrote this post because I receive a lot of emails and questions via social media about how to successfully write, self-publish and sell ebooks.
While there are no “secrets,” there are some things I’ve noticed that have worked for me that help me to consistently earn four figures per month (I want to earn five figures JUST from selling ebooks so bad I can taste it – but it hasn’t happened – yet!). But . . . I digress.
9 Things I’ve Learned Self-Publishing Ebooks Since 2002
Following are 9 things I’ve noticed that helps me to earn good money selling ebooks online. I’m sure there are more, and the experiences of other self-published authors may vary. But again, these are my experiences.
I hope they help – and please share your experiences in the comments section below. This self-publishing thing is in its infancy. There’s a lot we can all learn from each other. Without further do, following is how I make “a lot of money” selling ebooks online.
1. Write within a Niche: If you’re a regular reader of my blogs and websites, you probably know that I published 50 ebooks in 2011. One of the reasons I was able to publish so many ebooks is that I write within a few defined niches (freelancing, internet marketing, self-publishing, small business marketing). And, these niches are inter-related.
Update 2017: I still believe this. It makes it easier to cross-promote and sell even more. My sales numbers bear this out.
2. Write What You Know: I write what I know about. This makes it infinitely easier to start – and finish (the stumbling block for many) – an ebook. I’ve been freelancing since 1993, worked in publishing in New York City for a decade, do internet and affiliate marketing, and have owned several small businesses. So I have first-hand experience with everything I write about.
You’d be amazed at what you know that others don’t that can help them duplicate your success, while avoiding your mistakes. And if you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t know anything that most people don’t already know,” DON’T underestimate yourself.
For example, I was having lunch with a friend just the other day at a local restaurant.
While chatting with the waitress, she told us how she was frustrated because she needed to order a birth certificate for her son, who played high school football. But, she had no idea of how to go about it.
We told her how she can do this online and that it’s quick, easy and pretty cheap. She was like, “I didn’t even know you could order birth certificates online.” My friend and I were incredulous. I thought everybody knew this.
It just illustrates what I’m always reminding freelance writers of, which is — you know so much more than the average person who doesn’t work online.
Most people use the internet – if they use it at all – just for simple things like making reservations and checking email.
They don’t use it for what I call “higher” functions, like uploading photos and video, building simple websites and creating/converting files. So while what you know may seem “simple” to you; it’s light years ahead of what the vast majority know.
Further proof? Ask your friends if they know what a pdf file is, or SEO, or if they know how to create and upload a simple video.
FYI, here’s a great post on how to write ebooks that sell. Fourteen successful ebook authors give their advice.
Update 2017: While people are much more comfortable doing many more tasks online, what I call “higher-level” tasks like creating and uploading ebook files, basic coding, how to start and update a blog, etc., still remain a mystery to most people.
3. Create Ebook Pullouts: While I published 50 ebooks on Amazon last year, I didn’t actually “write” that many. So, how did I “publish” 50? Simple. I created pullouts.
What are ebook pullouts?
These are simply sections from a larger ebook “pulled out” and sold separately. For example, I got five pullouts from the ebook, How to Write an Ebook in 3 Days, Market It & Start Getting Sales within a Week — Really! (IW-19). They are:
Ebook Writing & Publishing Calendar (IW-19A).
How to Price Your Ebook to Sell Quickly (IW-19D).
Update 2017: I haven’t found this to be as profitable as I’d hoped or believed. I think it’s because if people want to know something, they’re much more likely to invest in the entire book than parts of it.
What I’ve found works better than this is bundling like titles, or creating additional titles in a line. For example, once of my best sellers in the how to start a freelance SEO writing career ebook. A highly successful complementary title I wrote is the SEO writing samples ebook. I also successfully bundled other books on SEO writing that I created. This line is my best seller.
4. Be Prolific: To make more money selling ebooks, you need to write more ebooks. Piggybacking on Tip #3, ebook pullouts go a long way towards helping you to be a “prolific” writer.
How Much Can Self-Published Authors Earn? A lot more than you probably think!
One self-published author who earned over $5,000 in March of this year detailed how important being prolific is to earning in the post, Are More Authors Than You Think Making a Living Self-Publishing?, writing:
Careers aren’t made on one or two books. Being prolific counts for a lot. At the risk of stating the obvious, the more books you have, the more books people can buy. If you’re working your buns off on promotion, and you only have one book out, you’re only going to be able to make 35 cents to a couple of dollars (depending on your book’s price) from each customer.
But, if you have an eight-book series, and that same customer you worked so hard to get enjoys your work enough to go on to buy all of them, the earnings potential is much higher. Also, more books means more ways for people to stumble across your work.
Update 2017: This is still true. The more you write, the more your income can shoot up. Not every title you write is going to be a big seller though, but you will likely have a couple of “breakout” titles that will account for most of your sales. I have three ebooks that account for about 90 percent of my self-publishing income.
5. Publish via Several Outlets: Last month, I received my first payment from Barnes & Noble. I also receive monthly payments from Amazon, Clickbank and Lulu; this is in addition to the ebook sales that come from this website. This makes five outlets from which I make money selling my ebooks.
Let me tell ya, it’s a nice feeling!
Most of the monthly payouts I receive from sites like Amazon, B&N and Lulu come at the end of the month (note dates in graphic below). So, it’s a nice chunk of change to count on – because it’s usually just in time to pay big bills like the mortgage.
The best part is, it comes right to my bank account. So no matter where I am (and I travel a lot), I can do my online banking worry free (eg, schedule bills to be paid, transfer funds, etc.).
I still have tons of outlets I plan to publish on. Every outlet I add is another income stream. The great part about this whole publishing thing is as the ebooks are already written, as long as I keep them updated and relevant, I can make money from them for years. As an aside, because I own all the rights, I keep most of the money. That’s the beauty of self-publishing!
Update 2017: More and more outlets pop up every day for indie publishers to distribute their books. In 2015, I started using Draft2Digital (D2D)as an outlet. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made because it allowed me to start publishing via many more outlets immediately.
Before signing on with D2D, I was only publishing via four or five outlets. Now my books are distributed to 6 other outlets thanks to them. I upload once to D2D, and they take care of distributing it to the other outlets. An added bonus is it’s easy to format your book on their platform — and you can take the files you create there and publish them on any outlet you wish.
Learn more about distributing your ebook with Draft2Digital. I’m sure you’ll love them as much as I do.
6. Get on a Regular Marketing Schedule: In all of my reading on ebook marketing, the advice can be confusing. You see, some successful self-publishers say spend more time writing than outright marketing. Others say you must market to make sales. I fall in the last category by the way.
Recently, I had a simple eureka moment about this. It all depends on your genre. For example, I write “how to, non-fiction ebooks” for the most part. When most discuss ebooks and self-publishing, they’re talking about fiction.
So if you’re a fiction writer, especially in “hot” genres like sci-fi and romance, it can be relatively easy to sell a few thousand ebooks with little marketing, especially if you find “an audience” who start to recommend you and give you a lot of reviews on sites like Amazon.
Non-fiction is a whole different ball game. I advise all self-publishers though to get on some type of regular marketing schedule. This ebook game is only gonna attract more players as time goes on. Hence, it’s going to get harder to get found. So if you make marketing a habit from the get go, you’ll have a much better chance of standing up to – and out from — the competition.
Update 2017: While marketing is important, what I’ve learned is that your next book is always your best “marketing.” I blog here, send out weekly newsletters and have a pretty good social media presence — on Twitter and Pinterest especially. I don’t do much over and beyond this, because I have so much other stuff on my plate. When I publish a new book though, that always seems to up the sales of existing titles.
Learn more in this post about marketing your self-published books.
7. Learn SEO: Speaking of marketing, you simply must know about search engine optimization to be effective online these days. You don’t have to become an “SEO guru,” but you must have the foundational blocks in place in order to make whatever web marketing you’re doing work.
Update 2017: Without my knowledge of SEO, I probably never would have gotten into self-publishing. I say this because, knowing SEO taught me how to market online. It increased the amount of money I made from the few titles I had out. Once I saw the possibilities, I was off to the races. I haven’t looked back.
8. Build an Authority Presence: In my opinion, this is particularly important if you publish non-fiction. Via this site, I dispense a lot of free info on stuff I write about in my ebooks, eg, how to start a freelance writing career, how to make money selling ebooks online, how to make money as an affiliate marketer, etc.
All of this not only builds my “brand”, it sets me up as an authority presence on the web – one I’m well-respected in. You can’t put a price on this. And it leads to ebook sales. Why/how? I’ve said this tons of time, but there’s a lot of garbage on the net. So before people dispense their hard-earned money, in many cases they look for trusted sources to purchase from.
There will always be those who shell out money for get-rich-quick schemes where they don’t take the time to investigate who the person behind the website is. But these are not the type of customers you want to cultivate. REPEAT sales is what makes a business successful; self-publishing is no different.
So get a web presence and start interacting. I don’t care if it’s a simple blogger blog (heck, even some self-publishing gurus still use this platform). You can worry about design and all that other stuff later. The main thing is to just get started.
I update my blog (this site) at least
once twice a week – sometimes more. I also interact on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest regularly, and have other complementary websites that I update regularly (eg, SeoWritingJobs.com).
Another benefit of having your own website is that you can sell your ebooks from it. As I’ve stated here, my website is where the bulk of my sales come from — so having your own web presence is muy importante!
One thing – don’t blog just to blog, or interact on social media just to market your stuff. Share insightful information that actually helps others achieve their goals. If you’re shaking your head going, “But I’m new at this; I don’t have any ‘insightful’ information to share,” don’t worry.
Share your journey and what you’re learning as you go along. Hint: Your failures tend to be a lot more interesting than your successes, so don’t hesitate to share those in all their glorious details. To see what I mean, read my ebook publishing failure story.
Update 2017: Your blog is your home on the web. It’s a place where readers can come to learn about you as an author, and where you can share information about existing books, upcoming projects and more. And, the most important thing is, it gives you a place to collect email addresses. Building a subscriber (reader) list is one of the first things you should concentrate on doing as a self-published author. Why? Consider the following.
Let’s say you have a list of 1,500 readers and you charge $3.99 for each new release. If only 10% bought when you sent out a new release announcement, that’s almost $600 right there. Now, imagine you had a list of 5,000, 10,000 or 20,000 — or more. See how you can start to make really good money — just from your subscribers?
That’s the value of having a website and collecting email addresses. It’s how many self-published authors sell thousands of copies and make good money, without being a big name like Stephen King or James Patterson.
Man, my ebook sales are really going to shoot up. I can’t wait!
To be honest though, sales via Amazon haven’t been nearly what I expected them to be (I still sell the majority of my ebooks from my primary website (this one)). But, they are creeping up each and every month. And, the more outlets I manage to upload to, the more money I make.
So when I wanna give up or pull back on my marketing to focus on something else, I think, “Where will I be in two years if I stop now?”
I KNOW I’d regret it, so I trudge on – doing my article marketing, blogging, newsletter publishing, tweeting and placing free classified ads (these are the methods I use to market my ebooks by the way).
A couple of years ago, one of my goals was to move into a strictly managerial role at my SEO writing company (NewMediaWords.biz). One of the things that I knew would allow me to do this is to increase what I made from selling my ebooks.
It took a couple of years to achieve this goal – and there were so many times that I wanted to give up. But I did it. Nowadays, even if my SEO writing company never landed another client, I’d be ok. As an aside, this makes freelancing so much more fun, because I can turn down work if I don’t feel like the client is a good fit for my agency.
Although it’s probably going to take me longer to achieve the financial milestone I’ve set for myself as for as ebook sales, I remind myself to stick with it – even when progress is so slow that a snail seems like the road runner!
A comment by noted self-publishing guru JA Konrath in response to an article on The Guardian underscores this. He wrote:
This [self publishing] isn’t a gold rush, with finite wealth to be attained. This is quite simply an easy way for writers to directly reach a worldwide audience. Not everyone will get rich. But good writers, who keep at it, have a long time to find that niche audience that will support them. Ebooks are forever. Writing articles for the Guardian… not so much. [See 31 July 2012 9:19 comment in link just above]
Update 2017: In 2013, I started self-publishing romance novellas (short titles of 10,000 to 30,000 words or so). Since then, I’ve written over 40. One of my best months was $3,800 — most of that was from the sales on Amazon, as I detailed in the linked-to book.
I still write non-fiction, how-to ebooks as well, and update old titles — although most of my time writing these days is spent on my fiction books, simply because they don’t have to be updated like non-fiction titles.
I point this out to say, I persevered and have found a formulate that works for me. You can too!
I hope this reflective insight helps you on your self-publishing journey.
Is Making Money Selling Ebooks Online for You?
Making money online selling ebooks is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for lazy people. It’s not for those who need others to motivate them.
But if you are the anti-thesis of this, ie, courageous, hard-working and self-motivated, you really can make a lot of money selling ebooks online (I’m proof of this) – if you don’t forget that last ingredient – perseverance.
Share Your Ebook Selling Tips and Questions?
Have any ebook selling tips you can share? Have a question about how to make money selling ebooks online? Please share in the comments section below.