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A Tale of Two Ebooks

This guest post is by Alexis Grant of The Traveling Writer.

During the last six months, I’ve published two ebooks: one that’s selling wonderfully, and another that flopped.

Why did one succeed, while the other—at least in sales terms—didn’t? What was the difference?

It wasn’t a beautiful cover, nor a pre-launch sale, nor an impressive newsletter list. The differentiator was a factor you have to consider before you even begin writing your ebook.

But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, some background on the products, so you can avoid making the mistake I made:

EBook No. 1: How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business

I released this guide to the world without much of a strategy. It was my first time writing and launching an ebook, so it had a DYI cover, no affiliate program and no guests posts at launch. At the time, I didn’t realize promotion—or getting eyes on my product—was just as essential as writing an awesome guide, so I simply created a product I was proud of and put it out there.

I cobbled together a sales page on my website, used ejunkie to sell it and spread the word through my networks, sharing the link to the sales page on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Immediately, the guide began to sell. Not at a ridiculous pace, but steadily, enough copies to make this first-time-product-creator happy. After three weeks, I reported selling 32 copies at $24 a pop.

Then Mashable ran a post I wrote about how to use your social media skills to make money, and copies flew off the digital shelves. Word began to spread among the social media community, and within two months of launch, I’d sold my first 100 copies.

I’d been bitten by the ebook bug! I began studying how to launch a product—homework I should’ve done weeks before—reading resources and guides on the topic and asking launch experts for advice. Soon I’d slapped a more professional-looking cover on the social media consulting guide and created an affiliate program.

Each morning, I woke up to see a guide or two had sold while I was sleeping. So this was what passive income was all about! I loved the instant gratification, and I smiled every time I got an email from someone who had used my guide to land their first client.

Then an idea hit me. I’d been scheming to write a traditional book about how to take a career break to travel, having left my job as a newspaper reporter several years ago to backpack through Africa. What if I turned that into an ebook instead? That would allow me to bypass the traditional publishing process, sell the product on my own site and keep all the profits. Genius, right?

So I toiled away on the guide. This time, I wrote nearly twice as long as I had for the first ebook, packing the guide with practical tips for anyone who was thinking about long-term travel, plus interviews with travelers who’d actually taken their own trips.

The result? Ebook No. 2: How to Take a Career Break to Travel

Now that I knew what it took to sell an ebook, I hired a designer to create a flashy cover and arranged the details for an affiliate program. I pitched guest posts to more than a dozen popular blogs and spend hours writing the pieces. I offered a pre-launch discount to my (lean but growing) newsletter list, plus a bonus for anyone who bought the guide.

In terms of launch strategy, I did everything right.

Except I’d overlooked a crucial detail: people didn’t think they needed my career break guide.

As guest posts for the guide went live around the Web, something funny happened: sales for the social media consulting guide spiked. What?! A few sales for the career break guide came through, but the first ebook sold far faster. I was getting eyes to my site, but they were buying the first guide instead.

For the record, both guides were priced around the same: the social media consulting guide went for $24, the career break guide for $29. And yet people felt compelled to learn about how to make money off their social media skills, not how to take a career break to travel.

The Lesson

In retrospect, I’d made the biggest of mistakes, creating a resource people didn’t think they needed.

To be honest, I knew when I began writing the career break guide that it was a risk; I wasn’t sure how big of a market was out there for that type of book. But I wrote it anyway because finding time in your life to travel is a topic that’s important to me personally. I wrote it because it was a guide I couldn’t not write.

Yet at the other end of the spectrum, the market for the social media consulting guide is even bigger than I realized. Which is great not only for me, but also for the reader. Because there’s a huge need for those skills, there’s also huge opportunity for each of my readers to make money, often on the side of their day job.

And that’s the other differentiator: the first ebook helps readers make money. I think people are more willing to shell out a few bucks if it means they’re going to make money in return. Often, we’re willing to invest if it means financial gain on the other end.

So do I regret writing the second ebook? No, and not just because I care about the topic. A big part of my transition into entrepreneurship is allowing myself to experiment. Sometimes I’ll make mistakes, but sometimes—like with ebook No. 1—I’ll strike a chord, one that helps fund my next project. In many ways, experimenting—and as a result, learning—is what this is all about.

Alexis Grant is a journalist, social media strategist and entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her Solopreneur Secrets newsletter.

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Comments

  1. Great article, Alexis!

  2. Rick says:

    Outstanding Alexis!

    It’s always great to hear a real-world scenario coupled with great advice, and references to boot.

    I’m hoping to go down the Ebook path somewhere in the future, and this will be a great help.

    Thanks!

  3. Thanks for being transparent with your mistakes Alexis. Most people like don’t like to “publish mistakes”.
    What ever the ebook/product I believe its important to do the homework first before investing time on it. Of course it depends on purpose on why one might write an ebook in the first place.

  4. Hi Alexis,

    Powerful lesson here.

    Experiment. Test. Gauge. Reminds me of the Emerson quote: “All life is an experiment. The more experiments, the better,”

    You learned from your experience. Instead of seeing one experience as a failure, and one as a success, you took 2 successes from your comparison. No regrets, no wasted time, no wheel spinning. Just 2 valuable lessons.

    As an entrepreneur I see the importance of testing, experimenting, tweaking, each day. No need to call anything a failure. Just try something out, see how it works, and adjust accordingly. Winners see success after success, because even if something doesn’t work out as intended, they can see the successes in each situation.

    I feel it’s important to write from the heart. It’s also critical to write something that your core audience wants, that your core audience needs, to solve their problems. I write virtually all of my articles, blog posts and ebooks based on the demands, questions, worries, concerns or issues my target gifting audience expresses to me on a daily basis. So much easier to cater to my audience to increase my readership, rather than trying to put something out there which I feel good about, but which my audience does not care about. Listening before writing makes all the difference.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Alexis.

    Ryan

  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Alexis. Listening to your target market is crucial when you are creating a product.

  6. Archan Mehta says:

    Alexis,

    First of all, let me congratulate you for contributing your post on this awesome blog. It was incredible to read about your ideas and opinions. I would like to encourage you to keep up the great work.

    However, I feel you are underestimating the travel market. There is a dearth of writers of your calibre. People really need tips and techniques as they travel all over the world.

    Moreover, you will find more people on sojourns due to the current state of our world economy. There is no guarantee of job security anymore, so people are more willing to sally forth. They will need writers like you to help them navigate through uncharted waters and find their place in exotic lands.

    Personally, I love travel writing and would recommend “Wandering Earl.” Earl is a great guy and has recorded his experiences for the benefit of readers. It is a blog worth reading. I always feel inspired by people like you and Earl. You provide vicarious experience for those of us who want to travel, but can’t seem to muster up the courage or the resources to back-pack half-way across the world. Cheers.

  7. Steve Hippel says:

    Just purchased an e-book about product creation yesterday. It’s something that I’m planning to have my first real crack at in the spring. Really glad this post popped up in my feed reader. The timing could not have been better.
    Thank’s for sharing your failures with such honesty. Oh, not to mention your successes.

  8. Kenny Fabre says:

    Alexis

    your journey is great man, I created my first ebook already, and I know that selling ebooks is a very profitable niche, as you realized with your first ebook

  9. Carlos Ramos says:

    I have not gotten an idea for an e-book yet, not even as a resource for sign up in newsletter.
    Thanks for the nice article :).

  10. Justin Mazza says:

    So true . I wrote a great and resourceful eBook for new bloggers but sales have been abysmal. I didn’t figure that so many new bloggers would believe that they wouldn’t need such a book.

    Live and learn and thanks for sharing your experience with us Alexis.

  11. Thanks for sharing that insight into what to do & not do! Not checking the market exists is a mistake a lot of people make ( I know!!)…but as everything we learn – appreciate that you shared this with us…hopefully I will not make this mistake…but no doubt there will be others to catch me out :-)

  12. Claire Splan says:

    It seems like pricing may also be keeping sales low. Both of those prices are rather high by ebook standards.

    • Jade Craven says:

      Not necessarily. Compared to kindle books, yes, but $20-30 is really reasonable for the ebook market. Their is only $5 difference between the prices of her two books and such a small difference wouldn’t account for the huge difference in sales.

      It could be due to multiple factors – her audience isn’t ready for such a product, it’s harder to have this convert to new audiences due to the perceived low ROI. The good thing is that she is looking at the market, testing and applying her knowledge to new products. That’s something that a lot of people wouldn’t have the guts to do.

      • Claire Splan says:

        But she has priced these ebooks at hardcover prices. When you pay $20-30 for a hardcover book you’re taking into consideration the very substantial cost of printing and binding. Ebooks don’t have that. If you look further into the ebook market you’ll see that the only books that sell well when priced above $10 are ones that have a very small niche audience. I think this book would have a much larger market if priced appropriately.

  13. Thanks for the insights. I do have to say, no matter the sales, ah the very thought of taking a break to travel… Love it!

  14. Sidney McGaffigan says:

    I agree with Archan’s comment that there is a huge and growing market to find a mentor/teacher for travel writing. Perhaps the problem was that you’ve built a following with people who want to learn how to make money on the web using social media, etc. and they aren’t focused on traveling. If you build a following of those who love to travel, and writing about their experiences is a by-product of their travel, your travel writing book(s) will take off. Personally, I’m interested in learning more about travel writing so I would follow you on that topic.

    Best of luck in all you do.

  15. Slavko says:

    Great example that a product is actually worth only as much as the need for it on the market.
    It is great though to hear something from a personal experience. That way you actually stop us from having to make the same mistake.
    People usually don’t wanna talk about their mistakes. Many thanks to you for sharing that with us.

  16. Thank you Alexis for such an informative post. I think you hit the nail on the head about how people didn’t think they needed your book. I feel that people who are considering taking a career break are really on the fence, so they are not likely to purchase a book unless they think they are really going to do it. With the people I have spoken to, usually the decision comes suddenly. One day they are only vaguely thinking about it and the next day its done.

    Maybe you can market your book to particular professions, like say teachers, rather than travellers.

    Another tactic with ebooks is to give them away for free to build your audience. I wrote my first eBook “8 Types Of Natural Light That Will Add Drama To Your Photographs” and gave it away for free. Within 3 months 1,000 copies have been downloaded. I’m sure many of those people downloaded it because it is free and has no risk. That introduces them to me, 30% of them signed up for my newsletter, and now they are part of my audience. I didn’t make any money, but hopefully the potential to make money in the future is higher.

  17. Glynis says:

    Excellent post, Alexis. I’d like your opinion. I’m wondering if an e-book that points out the pitfalls in something would have a change. It wouldn’t be about money directly but by avoiding the pitfalls, a person could spend their money more wisely and even save some money.

  18. Helen says:

    One of my friends also sells books. He told me once that each book has its own promotion strategy depending on the target buyer. That is, the promotion strategy of one book may not be suitable for another.

  19. Joan says:

    Great article! I am in the process of writing an ebook. Like someone else mentioned $24+ seems like a lot for an ebook. Not exactly sure what price to go with when so many ebooks are under $2. Maybe people pay more than I think they will.

  20. Great post Alexis. I have published two successful e-commerce related e-books myself priced at around $10. One of the important lessons for me was to identify the problem an e-book or any information product can solve for any individual. If there is a strong and compelling problem and your product solves the problem, pricing will never play a big role in its success.

  21. Thanks for sharing your experience Alexis, not every ebook can be a success financially, but some can be more fun to write than others. I’m working on my first ebook I plan on releasing later this year :)

  22. Rich Nilsen says:

    Thanks for this piece. However, I have a related question. I’ve written a book that a lot of people who are suffering from sleepless nights need. “Sleep Great for Life” ebook certainly has a large market to tap into.

    Any helpful advice for getting this ebook into more people’s hands would be greatly appreciated.