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30 Lessons from Selling $30 Million Worth of eBooks

This is a guest contribution from our very own Shayne Tilley.

class snapshots

Before you hit me up for a loan, let me preface this post. That number represents eBooks sold in for various masters and partners in the last decade. Yes there are a couple of mine in there, but it’s a tiny fraction of a % of the total.

Okay, with that out of the way, a big part of my digital life has revolved around eBooks. I’ve been trying to sell eBooks before anyone really knew what they were. I’ve tried just about every approach, channel, launch strategy there is, and made pretty much every mistake in the eBook. I’ll admit, a lot of the time I was making it up as I went along. There were no rules to this eBook game.

If you’re about to start your own journey with eBooks here are 30 lessons I learnt along the way…

1. Good eBooks sell eBooks

When it comes to selling eBooks, there are lots of techniques and tactics that will people motivated to buy, but there is none more powerful that a great eBook.

True word of mouth will sell more copies than your marketing copy ever will.

2. Page count doesn’t matter (when it comes to pricing)

People are happy to spend a $100 on an eBook that solves a problem they put a high value on. Higher than the eBook price anyway. The length of your eBook should be as long at it needs to be to deliver the value you promise.

Don’t pad for price.

3. Some people are great at explaining things, some are not

I read and listen to people like Darren and my friend Kevin Yank and I know they are better at explaining things than I am.  It’s the truth but it didn’t stop me writing two eBooks. It did teach me that I needed to focus on the skills I wanted to improve on.

4. Momentum early pays off immediately and in the long run

Every eBook I’ve launched that has gained great early momentum (and was evergreen) has always delivered the most over a long period of time.

Don’t think about what you’ll earn from great launch now; think of the impact momentum will carry over the life of the eBook.

5. You’re not actually selling content

I’m talking about practical eBooks here. You can read / listen / watch for free on the web a how-to on any topic.  EBooks organise things for us into a nice little bundle and often have a higher editorial standard. That convenience and quality is what we buy, not the content. There are exceptions to this I’ll admit, but it’s something to think about

6. The story matters

People care about why you wrote the eBook just as much as what’s inside. When you tell a story and share emotions, people will be a lot more inclined to listen to what you have to say.

7. Marketplaces find buyers but screw with your pricing

If you want to play in the sub $10 eBook market then getting your eBook into places like iEBookstore and Amazon are a no brainer.  But they’ll work against you if you want to aim higher than that.

Used well, these marketplaces can reach millions of readers but if you have your own audience you might not need to bend to their will.

8. Reviews matter

Bad reviews can kill eBooks – legitimate or not. Sometimes there’s not much you can do about a bad review but you should know what people are saying. Don’t just look at Amazon reviews, Google ‘[your eBook] review’ and see what comes up.

Chances are your potential customers already are.

9. Print is still prestige

Whilst this is perhaps fading, printed books carry more prestige than an eEBook. You might consider printing a small batch of books so you can give them to your clients (and your mom).  This is even more important if your eBook is the bait not the fish (we’ll talk about that later).

10. Evergreen lives longer, relevant launches bigger

If you want your eBook to live a long life then evergreen content is the way to go. If you want a big win now, a timely eBook is an option as long as you remember that the clock on the longevity of your sales is already ticking.

11. You’ll sell more than anyone else will

You just stick your eBook on Amazon and let Amazon work it’s magic, right?  Wrong. Don’t expect to create an eBook and just magically sell your way to retirement.

You’ve got to continue to sell you and the eBook at every moment, if you want it to pay the bills.

12. If there are 100 of the same eBooks on your topic, you need an audience

The amount of times people talk to me about their social media eBook does my head in. Honestly. There are so many eBooks on this topic already – why would someone buy yours?

If you’re going to plonk your eBook into an open marketplace with a bunch of similar eBooks that already have history, sales and reviews, you might be wasting your time. But if you already have your own audience and can launch it to them, you might just get some instant momentum.

13. Invest in an editor, and or a proofreader

People expect quality in eBooks. I don’t care how good a word nerd you think you are. Get a second opinion.

14. There’s not such thing as a perfect eBook

Don’t expect to create the perfect eBook. It doesn’t exist and probably never will.  For the perfectionists, call it done and ship!  You won’t make any money with it in draft.

15. Even the niche of a niche can be profitable

Don’t think you need to create the next 50 Shades of Grey to make good money.  Even the super niches are large enough to create a volume of buyers and well worth your while.

The wider the niche the more potential customers but the more competitive it will be, so it’s a balancing act.

16. Write your blog post / press release first

This is a technique I use to understand who my readers are and what they want.  Your sales page should be full of benefits and promises. Write those promises first, then make sure your eBook delivers on them as you create it.

17. You might have an eBook and you don’t even know it

Two of the most successful eBook publishers I’ve worked with created their first eBook as a collection of posts – with a few extra bits wrapped up in a nice design.

Remember what you’re selling, then look at what you’ve created already and you just might find an eBook in there.

18. Think in launch month, not launch day

I’m not going to talk much more about launches, as there’s another 30 lessons in there.  But if your launch plan is only one day – you really need to talk to me!

19. Get someone else to review or write your sales copy

Of the hundreds of eBooks I’ve launched, the only sales pages I didn’t write were for my own two eBooks. Why? Because I just couldn’t be objective.

You’re likely to focus on the hard parts to write, which probably are not the part your readers care about. You’ll infer and miss stuff — it’ll get messy. Get someone else to do it, or, at a minimum get someone else to pick it to pieces for you.

20. Sometimes you just can’t pick ‘em

I’ll guarantee you this, there’s no guarantee or sure fire success when it comes to eBooks. Sometimes you can pick ‘em and other times, they’ll come out of left field.

But you’ll never know if you don’t try.

21. You’ll be surprised who doesn’t help spread the word

When you launch you eBook, there will be a bunch of people who you’re convinced will help you spread the word. You’ll learn a lot about the people who do and who don’t.

22. Your perfect launch day was probably yesterday

I’ve spoken about this before, there is no one size fits all perfect launch day (or every single eBook would launch on the same day!). So just get it done and stop worrying about when.

23. Your eBook can be the bait, or the fish

You can write eBooks, charge money and that’s your income. You can write eBooks, charge money and open doors. Or you can give away eBooks to sell other products and services.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these plans however, you need to understand your objectives and focus on them – rather than trying to get the best of every world.

24. Lots of people will tell you it’s easy

Creating an eBook isn’t easy. There are lots of things to think about and anyone who tells you it is easy probably has a product to lead you to. That said, it’s hard work done once and can be extremely valuable. At a minimum, it’s something to be really proud of.

25. It’s not a forever investment

There is a time-limit on every eBook. Well, maybe not all eBooks – but most. Don’t expect that in a decade, you’ll still be selling the same eBook in the thousands.

If you want to keep the revenue flowing, think about new editions and new titles.

26. Procrastinators need a stick

My stick is my partner Justine, and Problogger’s stick is Jasmine, our eBook creator (she’s a wonderful person!). If you procrastinate, you need help. Find it in any way you can, or you’ll never ship.

27. Titles and cover images matter (even digitally)

Think about what your title means to a reader, now and tomorrow. Think about how they will remember your title and how they will describe it to others.

Coming up with a great eBook title is a bit of an art form like email subject lines and headlines but you don’t have as much chance of running A/B tests to get it right!

28. Split your selling and your writing

This is really a tip about your mindset. When you’re writing, you’re delivering a message to your reader and you need to focus on doing the best possible job. Immerse yourself and be narrow-minded.

When it comes to selling, you need to approach it as objectively as you can. Try to think like your selling someone else eBook not your own — or get some help

29. What worked for them, won’t always work for you

If enough people try something, eventually someone will get it right but that doesn’t mean it will work for you.

Someone else’s success is probably during a different time, on a different topic with different readers – and you’re a different writer.

Your perfect launch story is your own.

30. Just go with it

Of all the things that scare you about putting an eBook out on show, the reward (even if it’s just a personal one) will be worth it.  I’m a two-time author who got D’s in English.  If I can do it then you can!

So there you have it, 30 things I learned selling a crap load of eBooks.  I’m sure there are more so I’d love to hear about some in the comments!

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Comments

  1. Shayne,

    Loved the list and will remember it when I launch my first paid eBook. One thing I think that really needs to be remembered is to focus on the longer term rather than the immediate launch.

    That’s where the bread and butter are. The ones who come in later, drip by drip.

  2. Gin says:

    One can’t forget the fear of actually putting it (ebook) ‘out there’ (stage fright?) and the spotlight it creates. It may hang around while ‘writing’ up the ebook. Just grab it by the horns, deep breaths and ‘face’ that fear. Great tips!

  3. This is one of the most interesting posts that I have read in a long time. It takes me back to 2006 when I raked in $11K in 3 weeks in UK alone. The secret to selling ebooks is to write ebooks that solve peoples problems.

  4. I love this post. It’s given me great ideas, it’s clear and succinct, and it gets to the bottom line of Just Do It!

  5. This is one awesome post, Darren!

    It seems like many people are selling–or at least attempting to sell–eBooks nowadays. My intuition says that it’s likely that many people try namely because of there being such an incredibly low barrier to entry. I do think the first moves in the eBook industry had the luxury of raking in tens of thousand (or millions) of dollars simply because there is not only low-barrier/cost to entry, but, there wasn’t nearly as much competition a few years ago.

    Way back in 2009, my husband was able to create and launch an eBook that earn several thousand in the matter of just a few days. That is definitely a far cry from this guest author’s earnings…but, it was definitely quite the experience for both of us. Honestly, I sat on the sideline for alot of it and was really quite skeptical. It felt like alot of work was going into just preparing and setting things up for a launch. I don’t know exactly WHEN the original author here launched his eBooks, but these are very impressive earnings.

    Since 2009, my husband (nor I) have tried to launch any other eBooks. Intrigued by what he did (seeing payment notifications roll in every day was a great feeling….), I really started to gain interest in the industry. I always felt bad about not being as supported as I probably should have been…but, I think, at the time, it was easy to be skeptical. Since, and now that I’ve learned alot about blogging and internet marketing, we talk about things like his eBook selling experience alot. One thing he always told me was that you should never try to be everything to everyone. By doing so, you can destiny any project for failure. While they can and will inherently limit an audience, competition nowadays almost requires that you be as specific as possible, as far as an eBook topic. Granted, I am conveying this based on things my husband has told me…however, picking a specific, hungry, niche seems to be a concept that is important in other aspects of internet marketing, as well.

    Great post Shayne (and Darren)!

  6. Laney says:

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge Shayne. I’m sure there’s an eBook in me somewhere. Maybe I should start writing that sales page to reveal what it is?!

  7. Momekh says:

    One lesson to beat em all: sit down and write. :)

    Great write-up Shayne! Thanks for the inspiration.

    Also, how tiny can you get with 30 Mil? You see I have this idea that can rock the world, if you’ll just look at the business plan and go over — :) hehehehe.. amusing preface!

    Keep doing what you doing.
    God bless and good luck! :)

  8. 30 is smart, go with it. Good tips!

    Ryan

  9. Edson Hale says:

    The success of your ebook entirely depends upon its marketing. Here again the rule of 20:80 applies where you need to spend an hour for writing it and four hour for planning its marketing. In practical sense if you daily write two pages of your ebook you need to spend four hours to make a brilliant marketing plan to promote it and then to sell it like hot cakes.

  10. Gautham says:

    Wow, 30 million worth e-books, that’s a surprising figure. The best strategy for e-book marketing is to create hype before the launch of product.

  11. Alex says:

    “There were no rules.”

    I think it’s such a silly remark to use. It’s like saying, because there were no rules, I invented some.

    • Shayne says:

      Alex, you know what, I totally agree. I should have said guidelines / benchmarks / comparisons. It was more when it came to pricing for example, there were no real precedents on what your price should be. eBook formats were still emerging. Print and / or Digital were still big questions.

      • Alex says:

        I appreciate the concern. My mistake that I didn’t mention any examples. Great research and understanding of the subject.

  12. These are wonderful tips.Thanks for sharing them, Shayne!

    I launched my first ebook last month. I call it a workbook because I really want people to understand there’s lots of work involved to actually benefit from it. I also like to do things differently so I give 30-day access to a private group where people get accountability to work on their blog.

    Oh, and I am marketing it very low-tech, mostly by talking to people one-on-one (online or in person) about the benefits.It may not lead to lots of sales immediately, but I am learning a lot from people who decide to buy and those who decide not to.

    I welcome your comments at http://blogformatting.com/what-exactly-are-you-buying/ – would love to get your feedback :)

    • Shayne says:

      I would say my biggest bit of feedback is I didn’t really get a strong clear cut reason to buy over the thousands of other blogging books out there. There could also be a bit more of point in there – for the people that don’t really know you.

  13. David says:

    I am contemplating that whether I should write an eBook or not. This post gives me hope that writing one will be beneficial, if I manage to market it effectively!

  14. That’s a brilliant post on Ebook. In fact, one of the best I have gone through in the recent times. I have gone through many blog posts which are written by the blogger by going through other blog posts. But this post seems penning down the real life experiences in selling Ebooks.

    Some of the interesting points that attracted my imagination are:

    1. “Write your blog post / press release first”
    2. “Reviews matter”

    I absoluetly agree with the point “You’ve got to continue to sell you and the eBook at every moment, if you want it to pay the bills.” But most of us just forget about this and stop promoting our Ebook after a short period of time. I must say this is an important and excellent point every Ebook writer should keep in mind.

    However, I don’t agree with the point that stresses upon investing in Editor or a Proofreader. What is its necessity when you are there for yourself? What I personally do is: Complete the write-up, take a half hour break and then proofread the piece myself. It doesn’t take me lots of time and actually saves me lots of money too, which I would have to pay the proofreader.

    In the end, Thanks for such a blog post. Illuminating I must say.

    • Hiring an editor, or at least having someone else who is going to give good feedback look at your work for both content and grammar is a necessity for the vast majority of writers and authors. As an experienced freelance writer and author, I still hire an editor. Most of the time, our brain sees what we meant to write, not what’s actually there so it is easy to gloss over errors, especially small ones.

      When writing blog posts, you can easily go back and fix it should you spot a problem (or if someone spots it for you). It’s not as easy with books (though it can be done).

      There are plenty of reasons people can give a bad review, a big one that is much easier to fix is complaints about typos and grammar errors. Spending the extra time or money with someone else is always worth the investment in my opinion as well.

  15. Arbaz K says:

    OK, this might be the best post I have read on selling ebooks or any other products.
    I second the point that one must not just think about the launch day, instead you should concentrate on the whole month and make the most out f it.
    And the page count doesn’t matter really. I once bought a book worth $50 and it had only 15 pages but it solved the problem that I was into, so the investment was completely worth it.
    One awesome post, I must say :)

  16. Akhil says:

    I am also thinking to writing a book about buying and selling…this post is really helpful for me..Your writing is so different…very simple and informative one…I got a lots information from this awesome post…thanks for a good post about selling and buying.

  17. Great article on e-book publishing. I have just recently published (under a pen name) my first e-book to Amazon Kindle Store and I must say, I wish I had read this article before I published! There are so many nuggets of pure gold in this post that I will read it agin to glean more for my next e-book which is already in progress. (Part Two of a series that I plan to package into another full product)

    Here are the big AHA’s that stuck out to me:

    6. The story matters
    I did not apply this principle in my first e-book, I will add a new section as a prologue or expand the introduction to include this and republish.

    8. Reviews matter
    I know this and honestly am struggling to get the first reviews. Any tips would be very appreciated.

    15. Even the niche of a niche can be profitable
    I took this to heart with my first e-book. I used the key word Carb Cycling and there are only 27 books that come up. Mine is at the #5 position right now. I have sold 20 copies since I published and honestly, I am pleased. Better results than expected.

    I am going to run a KDP select Free promotion in about 10 days. Any feedback on the book would be appreciated. Not looking to promote but really need the feedback. http://amzn.to/1hD1ar5

    Thanks again for a great article. Very helpful.

    • Shayne says:

      Hey James. There’s a whole unique art form when it comes to diet and nutrition books. I’d be happy to share some of my experience / opinions, but it’s probably better to email me (my address isn’t had to find) as it’s a little more complex than I can probably do justice in comments. (I did a lot of work with http://www.iquitsugar.com/)

  18. Jack Smith says:

    Great points..Thanks for sharing. Reviews is the first and the main important thing that matters a lot.

  19. wow so amazing and really it works. I should follow all these tips and do try to earn money. All tips really great.

  20. Tom says:

    This is one of the most interesting posts that I have read in a long time. Loved the list and will remember it when I launch my first paid eBook. I’m sure there’s an eBook in me somewhere.

  21. Tom says:

    This is one of the most interesting posts that I have read in a long time. Loved the list and will remember it when I launch my first paid eBook.

  22. Great post Shayne, I enjoyed reading it and chatting with you on Twitter.

    Cheers
    Stuart

  23. Thank you Shayne! We launch our first ebook in 2 weeks. I’m super excited and feel a lot more confident after reading this as we SEEM to be following a lot of your tips. Now I know how to improve on a few more things. Can’t wait to ship it and start on the next one! Both Craig and I love learning from you, so thank you.

  24. Great post, with many useful tips – I’ve already shared it to my students and fellow travel authors! I’d suggest, though, that this post gets edited, as well. I was surprised!

  25. Matt says:

    A very fruitful post! :) a very interesting post!… I am thinking of writing now.. oh my $30 M!

  26. Terrific post! I personally need to use this tips since I am in the process of writing an ebook. Will be sharing this post with my blog community!

  27. Vincent Polisi says:

    Truly excellent post.

    I would add that from my experience, a slight correction/adjustment needs to be made to the timing doesn’t matter mantra.

    Launching an ebook can be ridiculously gratifying or emotionally devastating as you’re watching the sales numbers come in for the little nuggets of wisdom you worked so feverishly to pen, package, promote and pre-launch.

    Nobody likes to launch a dud or have lackluster sales.

    It’s been my experience that launching on or very near paydays (Fridays, the 1st or the 15th) and/or 3 or 4 day holiday weekends tend to drive the greatest amount of dollar volume for launch week. People have more disposable income at these times and are more prone to an impulse buy.

    Additionally, as we learned several years before Darren blasted it out via Twitter, the money is in the list. You’ll sell more ebooks to your subscriber list than all other sources combined, generally speaking, so it’s imperative to build your list so you have an audience to pre-launch and launch to.

    Beyond that, it’s also imperative to control your initial reviews in arenas like Amazon where, believe it or not, competing authors and publishers will blatantly and fraudulently slander and discredit your work in an effort to boost their own work in the rankings. Hard to believe and sad, but true.

  28. Rosemary says:

    Great post Shayne. Thanks for hosting it Darren.

  29. I remember when I first launched my ebook. I was so eager to launch it that I didn’t care much about the design of my website. I started PPC and learned many things. I ended up changing the design completely. I also made changes to my copy.

    I have learned that when you have a desire to launch an ebook, “neither rush nor procrastinate”. Make a viable plan and follow it thoroughly.

    Regarding new editions, you are 100% right. I updated my ebook a few years after the initial launch. I had talked about various services and their functionality in my ebook. I noticed that a company that was once free was now charging. So, I had to update my ebook. You’ve got to stay up-to-date and update your ebook from time to time. Well, in my case, every couple of years.

    By the way… Nice tips Shayne : )

  30. I wish I would have seen this sooner. We just launched our kids cookbook on Amazon today, so fingers crossed we did something right. :-) Thanks

  31. abejith says:

    I agree very much with the fact that editing is very essential. It gives a good impression on the product.

  32. Alexa says:

    As for me, this post looks a bit idealistic. I think trying your tips will be a great disappointment ‘cos it won’t live up to people’s expectations.