How to Make Money Selling eBooks Online
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A year into starting my first blog I knew two things: I loved writing and I’d made approximately zero dollars from it.
So I decided to self-publish a book.
But I didn’t just compile old blog posts into a book to sell on my website. I took the time to learn the ins and out of writing an eBook and selling it online, and I tried to be as strategic as possible.
I used ideas from writers who self-published before me and innovated some of my own marketing strategies. Some worked while others flopped.
But in the three years since I self-published my eBook, I’ve earned over $40,000 in passive income.
Selling eBooks isn’t easy money and it’s not for everyone. But if you already make money as a freelance writer or are looking for other ways to make money blogging, then publishing an eBook is a great way to expand your business.
Who Should Write and Sell eBooks?
Writing an eBook is a great way to make money blogging or try a new way to earn some side income.
You don’t need to be a professional writer, have perfect grammar, or have any publishing experience to make money selling eBooks, but there are a few criteria to consider:
- You’re a subject matter expert. For nonfiction eBooks, you don’t have to be a writing expert, but you do need to be an expert in whatever topic you’re writing about. Fiction writers should be extremely knowledgeable about their genre.
- You have a lot to say. When you self-publish, you can make your books as long or short as you want. That said, people are not going to be happy if your book is the length of a blog post. If you plan to sell your book, it should be at least 20,000 words for nonfiction. Fiction eBooks should be around 40,000 to 50,000 words.
- You can maintain focus. Alternatively, if your book has 30,000 words that take you on multiple disconnected tangents, you haven’t helped or entertained your readers. You need to be able to maintain a clear and helpful focus to create a book that creates an impact. And for fiction books, you’ll need to make sure you have a solid plot that readers can easily follow.
- You have a small amount of cash to invest in the project. Self-publishing is inexpensive but in most cases, it’s not free. You’ll want to budget at least a few hundred dollars for the project even if you plan to give away your book for free.
If this sounds reasonable, then your business may be ready to benefit from a self-published eBook.
Related: How to Become a Freelance Writer
How to Write and Design eBooks
The first part of making money from eBooks is to create one, but you need to figure out what type of eBook you’re creating. There are two types: eBooks that you give away for free or ones that people buy upfront.
The ones that you give away for free are generally a bonus you offer to entice someone to sign up for your email list so you can sell them a higher-priced product or service later.
This doesn’t have to be a thousand-dollar product. Dana Shultz of Minimalist Baker does this, offering a free eBook featuring 20 of her most popular recipes. It allows new readers to immediately see what they can expect from her website and prime them to buy her full-length cookbook.
The eBooks that people buy upfront are typically held to a higher standard. The reader is likely very interested in the topic or a prolific reader, and you’re going to need to put a lot more work into this kind of book.
It’s up to you to decide which type of book you want to write based on what your end goals are. If your goal is marketing a high-priced course or service, then offering a free book is a great way to get your target audience on your email list. If you’re looking to make a profit from eBooks, then your strategy will be to create high-quality books that keep readers coming back.
There are paid courses like Michelle Jackson’s Make Money with eBooks that take you through the process of identifying your topic, writing and editing your book, and developing a marketing strategy, but you can also start with these steps.
1. Set a budget.
Decide how much you want — or can afford — to invest in your eBook. You can spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars to write, publish, and launch your eBook, so figure out what you can spend and still stay profitable.
When you decide your budget there are two expenses that you should prioritize over others: editing and cover design. Once you have those covered, the rest of your budget can be spent on other things.
Every good book needs a good editor, but you might also need a proofreader. If you’re on a tight budget, you can try to find an editor that will do both. You’ll need to budget from $200 to $1,000 or more for a 50,000-word manuscript.
Even if you’ve written an original and creative book with perfect copy, you’ll also need a high-quality book cover. Since people do judge a book by its cover, a rudimentary or unattractive cover may lead readers to assume the content is of poor quality as well. Try to budget anywhere from $100 to $400 or more to pay a graphic designer to create your book cover.
If you have money left in your budget, you can spend it on things like ads, formatting, and other book-related expenses.
2. Research and select a topic.
Everyone wants to start here, but it should come second. Since a book is an investment of time and money, you need to know your budget and do your research before picking your topic.
If you’re a fiction writer, research the genre you plan to write to find out what readers are buying, the tropes they enjoy, and read reviews of similar books. This will help you figure out how you can meet or exceed reader expectations or create something that seems lacking in that genre.
If you plan to write nonfiction, you should also do a comparison of their topic to some best-sellers. But it’s equally important to consider what you want to sell beyond the book. This will help position you as an expert when selling that product or service.
3. Write the book.
Create an outline and write a rough draft that makes a comprehensive resource or engaging story. It sounds simple, but this is where most people who think about writing a book become overwhelmed. It’s intimidating to think about writing an entire book, and many writers get stuck at this step.
It doesn’t need to be that way, though. Rough drafts are considered rough for a reason. Write the book the best you can according to your outline, but don’t overthink it. You’ll have plenty of time to fix the book once it gets to your editor.
4. Fact check, self-edit, and hire an editor.
Now is the time where your book goes from good to great. Prior to sending it to your professional editor, make sure you do some self-editing and fact-checking before putting the manuscript in someone else’s hands.
Your editor will then go through your book to make corrections and point out places for improvement. After it’s been edited, make sure you read through it to verify that it reads the way you want, everything is correct, and for fiction books, the plot is consistent and has no holes.
5. Format the book.
There are several formats your book will need to be in for various platforms. In general, a PDF is the bare minimum; this format is fine for free eBooks and eBooks sold on your website. If you want readers to have access to it on an eReader, you’ll need a Mobi version for Kindle and an ePub version for all other devices.
You can hire out the formatting of your book or, if you plan to write many books, invest in formatting software like Scrivener or Vellum.
6. Design a cover.
When your book is free you can get away with designing your own cover with a free online cover maker or using a free web-based design program like Canva. But if you want people to buy your book, you’ll most likely want to hire a graphic designer to create an attractive cover.
If you don’t have the budget for a graphic designer, don’t worry. You can get an affordable cover at 100 Covers or Fiverr or pay a little more for more options at 99Designs.
7. Find beta readers.
Beta readers are people in your target audience who read your book and provide feedback before the book is available for sale so you can make some final edits or adjustments. These readers will also leave reviews on the book, which can help with pre-sale numbers and profits.
If you have an audience from your blog or social media platforms, it should be easy to attract beta readers with the offer of a free book. If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have an audience or platform, you can offer to give beta readers a gift card or some other reward after they submit feedback and a review.
How to Sell eBooks Online
Now comes the fun part — selling your eBook. There are several steps you’ll need to walk through to make sure your book is seen and purchased by readers.
8. Choose a selling platform.
The best place to sell eBooks online depends on your goals. Most writers will either choose to sell their books on Amazon or on their own websites. If you’re a fiction writer or just starting out, getting eyes on your books is more important than making 100% of the revenue. Given that, enrolling your book in Amazon’s KDP Select program is probably your best option.
When you choose to enroll your book in KDP Select, you agree to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through Amazon. KDP Select will get your book in front of thousands of readers subscribed to Kindle Unlimited and give you access to additional monetization and promotional tools.
However, if you’re a nonfiction writer or you’ve already built a large audience, you may earn more by learning how to sell eBooks on your own website. You can also use an e-commerce extension like Shopify or Easy Digital Downloads.
9. Price your book.
You don’t have to charge a lot for your book to make a nice supplemental income. If you charge $2.99 for a book on Amazon, the minimum amount you need to charge to receive 70% of royalties, you’ll make $2.10 per book. If you sell five books a day, you’ll make $315 per month. If you write a sequel or follow-up to that book that also sells five a day, that’s $630 per month.
After a few years of writing, you could easily have 15 books. If they’re all cleanly written with great covers, you can expect to earn almost $5,000 a month on book sales.
Alternatively, you could reach the same goal if you sold your book on your website for $11, paying only a $0.50 cent transaction fee and selling one per day.
10. Market your book.
Whenever you run a deal on your book, you can pay to have it listed in a daily deals newsletter like the ones sent by BookBub or Bargain Booksy. You can also get the word out about your book by being a guest writer on blogs, reaching out to book bloggers, creating a book campaign on Instagram, or being interviewed on relevant podcasts.
Ads on Facebook or Amazon are also great ways to market your book; just make sure to keep the audience as targeted as possible.
11. Partner with affiliates.
You can get more new eyes on your book by incentivizing other authors and content creators to share your book with their audience. You can offer them a portion of your sales or give them a fixed number of books to give away to their audiences.
The selling platform you choose should have an option to create affiliate links to make it easy to track who earned what. Amazon has this option as do e-commerce platforms like SendOwl.
12. Offer a freebie for leads.
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you want to get your readers on your email list to ensure they’re the first to know when you release a new book or product. A great way to do this is to offer a relevant free offer like a short webinar or a bonus chapter in exchange for the reader’s email address.
You can use an email marketing service like ConvertKit or MailChimp to create landing pages and to store and send downloads when people sign up.
Marketing Your eBook Is an Ongoing Process
Your work continues long after you write, edit, and publish your eBook. If your goal is to make money selling eBooks, you’ll need to continue marketing your book long term. Keep running ads, signing up affiliates, giving interviews, and taking other actions that spread the word about your book.
And while marketing never ends, it’s much less expensive to sell a book to a current fan than find a new one. Expand your business and keep readers coming back by writing more books, creating products, and giving readers who like your work more options to purchase from you.
Writing an eBook was the best move I’ve ever taken for my business, but only because I followed every step intentionally. It takes a lot of time and effort to do it that way, but the rewards are worth it.