How To Sell An eBook

For many entrepreneurs, the question of how to get started is the first major challenge of their self-made careers. You have an area of expertise; a skill, an ability, but how do you monetize it? How can someone take what they know and turn it into a steady living as an independent businessperson?

The first step I’d recommend is to create and sell an eBook in your area of expertise. eBooks are the ideal first step in launching an independent enterprise, because they are low-risk, low-cost ways to start selling what you have to offer. Freed from the whims of paper book publishers, anyone who wants to has the ability to sell a book online. What better way to introduce yourself to the market?

Not only can eBooks be the perfect beginning to a new career, they are profitable in and of themselves. There is money to be made selling eBooks, especially specific niche and technical books that offer instruction or education on a given topic.

Take the example of Bret Kelly, a self-taught expert in using the archiving app Evernote. Kelly didn’t work for Evernote; he just loved the endlessly applicable features of the service. He used it so much, in fact, that he thought it would be useful- and valuable- to publish a guide on how best to utilize it. His eBook Evernote Essentials sold thousands of copies. Not only did he profit wildly from the book itself, Evernote eventually offered him a position.

What’s the lesson? Kelly had an interest, and an area of very specific and useful expertise. He published an eBook (a relatively easy, inexpensive enterprise), and consumers ate it up. The industry in which he was interested took notice, and rewarded him even further for his initiative.

Big Publisher or Solo Marketing?

Writing the eBook is the easy part. Once you’ve committed your expertise to pdf (or iBook Author for Mac users), the next step is deciding exactly how to get it out to the consumer base you’ve written it for. There are essentially two ways to market your eBook: on your own, or with the help of a bigger eBook marketing operation like Amazon. Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks.

With Amazon, you have the benefit of their vast reach and sheer promotional presence online. Amazon as a virtual storefront has millions of people passing by every single day, so having your book in the window is a plus. They are the juggernaut of internet publishing, and their infrastructure can handle everything you’ll need done short of actually writing the book for you, including virtual delivery and payment collection.

The drawback is that Amazon takes a hefty cut of your profits in exchange for their services. As to exactly how hefty, the answer to that is as complicated as Amazon’s pricing structure is convoluted. Depending on the format of your book, its price, the direction of the wind and the alignment of the planets, an author can lose anywhere from 30 to 65 percent of their sales revenue. Amazon does all the legwork, but it comes at a substantial (and difficult to estimate) cost.

The other drawback to publishing with a large operation like Amazon is exactly that: it’s large. Too large, in fact, for many authors to stand out in. Amazon’s virtual window is the biggest window in the biggest storefront in the publishing world, and it holds a LOT of books, potentially including books in your subject area. You’ll have to do your own promotional activity outside of Amazon in order to bring consumers to your small corner of that window. As a result of this extremely crowded marketplace, prices are extremely low; to stay competitive, authors have to sell for as little as a dollar or less.

Given these factors, I recommend publishing and selling your eBook on your own. The process of doing so is less daunting than many assume, and a healthy entrepreneurial spirit is what drives the project in the first place. Even with the help of an operation like Amazon (which you can still use concurrently with your own publishing and promotional scheme if you choose), at the end of the day, you’re the one that’s going to have to sell this eBook.

From my viewpoint, it makes more sense to do so without sharing the revenue!

Marketing Your eBook

To market your eBook on your own, you’ll need a sales website. Depending on your skill set, you may be able to use your own site, provided you can design an effective sales page. For those who aren’t coders or experts in sales-page specifics, there is Leadpages. Leadpages designs landing pages for sales projects like eBooks, and while the cost of their service is significant, the ease with which you can build a high-functioning sales page may be well worth it.

You’ll also need a digital collections and delivery system. For help with that, there’s Gumroad, a digital payment processor that’s particularly good for eBook sales. For 5% of each sale and 29 cents per transaction, Gumroad can handle all transactions and deliveries securely and easily. Not only does Gumroad not charge unless you make a sale, it also comes with an attractive html overlay that won’t interfere with the aesthetics of your site.

Monetizing Your Expertise

Once you have an attractive and dynamic site, promote sales by employing a tried and true strategy as old as business itself: the free sample. Offer a free chapter or other excerpt to your site’s visitors. The key is to offer something of value that will showcase the expertise that makes the whole book worth paying for. Most importantly, require an email opt-in from the visitor in exchange for this sample, and be sure to follow up with promotional emails.

Another strategy for maximizing sales revenue from your eBook is to use tiered pricing. The beauty of digital products is that they can be “packaged” in infinitely variable ways. Nathan Barry, eBook publishing expert and author of Authority, the definitive guide to niche and technical eBook publishing, developed a three-tier price structure. The lowest price point includes only the eBook itself, while midrange and top tiers include extras like interviews, video tutorials and graphic guides.

The attraction of the tiered system is that it not only generates more sales generally, it increases profits exponentially. As a matter of basic sales psychology, consumers are generally more inclined to make a purchase when more choices are presented, rather than simply responding to a “yes” or “no” proposition.

On top of that, technical and how-to eBooks are considered valuable tools for professional development- which means the customer buying it is likely doing so using a company account, making him or her more likely to spring for the upper tiers. While a quality eBook alone can be sold for anywhere between $12 and $30, a top-tier package can be sold for over $100, well worth it to a company who sees it as an investment in their employees.

Finally, offer a money back guarantee with your product. Some shy away from offering the money back guarantee for fear that it will be abused, but statistically returns are actually pretty rare. For consumers, the sea of conflicting information (and empty  promises) the Internet offers can be frustrating. A guarantee, along with an impressive free sample, makes them comfortable enough to commit to the purchase. As long as your product is up to snuff, a guarantee is a promise, not a liability.

Writing and marketing an eBook is the perfect first step for a budding entrepreneur willing to make their way into 21st century business. They’re low-risk, low-cost, and they provide the opportunity to articulate and showcase the expertise and passion at the heart of your aspirations. The sale of your eBook will be the first time you exchange the value of that expertise and passion for money. That makes it your introduction to the marketplace, and to the future you hope to build.