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.
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.