How To Sell Your eBook Yourself

“Writing books is a terrible business model for authors,” — Tim Ferriss wrote in his blog article “How Authors Really Make Money”. And it is a terrible model indeed in the sense that probably not a single author is now paid only for the process of writing itself. The author is paid if his books can be sold: according to the above article, generally, if a book goes hardcover, its author receives 10-15% from cover price for each copy sold. Besides, to get a book published requires some efforts from the author and may take quite long time after the book is actually written. With the traditional approach an author is expected to put some efforts in writing a good book and in getting it published by a publishing house. And all this only to end up earning 15% from a sold copy. Someone may call it unfair. Fortunately, this situation may be somewhat changed with digital self-publishing.

Imagine that you have written a book you consider quite competitive and attractive. You have converted it into a digital product (an electronic book or ebook) and started to sell it online paying a commission for each sold copy to anyone who is willing to promote your book. There are no literary agents, no publishing houses with all their quibbles, and the best of all, you get from 25-30% to 100% of each sold copy’s cover price. This approach looks much better than the traditional one. And it works! Actually, it is not a top-secret technique, but a widely known affiliate marketing scheme.

The business of selling self-published digital books has a lot of benefits:

  • Higher earnings: it is you who define the comission (royalty) you receive from each sold copy. In theory, it may be 100%, but since you will need affiliates to promote your product, practically you can probably earn somewhat between 25% and 100%.
  • Faster publication: digital publishing does not require as much time as paper printing. An electronic book done in a couple of weeks after submitting it for publication.
  • No limit for number of copies: once published, a book is always in stock.
  • Low entry costs: to prepare a book for online sale may cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
  • Wider market: the whole world is your market. Theoretically, you can reach, say, the Japanese or European customers as easily as the American ones.
  • Little infrastructure costs: there is no stock, no print presses, no bookshops, no even offices. The business can be run from anywhere in the world, from any laptop connected to the Internet.

The business has its downsides too:

  • Responsibility: selling digital books is actually a business, and you are actually a business owner responsible for everything. Even if you outsource a lot, that does not take the responsibility off from your shoulders.
  • Multitasking: you must be a jack-of-all-trades. You will have to deal with webmasters, designers, bankers, lawyers, accountants, customers, etc.
  • Entry costs: some money is needed to start the business. Likely, several hundreds to several thousands dollars of initial capital is necessary to start the fire.
  • Negative bias: digital books are still considered as a poor substitute of paper ones or as a low-cost junk written by amateurs. Fortunately, the situation is changing as more and more booksellers offer serious books in digital format.
  • Lack of reputation: when you publish and sell a book through a publishing house or a well-established online store, all their reputation works on your favour. Without them you may need to put more efforts into proving that you are a credible author and your books are worth buying and reading.
  • Competition: Amazon sometimes sells their Kindle mass-market books as ridiculously low as at $4.99, and they have great sales volume. Unless you are already a known and popular author, the unique and specialized content is much better for individual online sales than mass-market books (but Tim Ferriss thinks otherwise).

If you think that selling your books yourself is an option for you, here is a roadmap of how to set up this simple business scheme:

  1. Write a good book.
  2. Get your book digitally published, i.e. covert it into ebook suitable for download and on-screen reading. Of course, you can make the ebook yourself: for example, just format your text nicely in MS Word. But it is always better to have your ebook typesetted professionally and made in, say, color PDF or iPad-compatible ePub. Today many companies offer digital publishing solutions at affordable prices.
  3. Set up a website promoting your ebook. You can do it yourself if you wish. There is no need for a fancy razzle-dazzle site with a lot of different functionality. The website must just look professional and give enough information about your product to the potential buyers. Needless to say that creating a website can be outsourced too.
  4. Set up an order and payment processing system. Of course, that may be done manually too: ask buyers to pay with check or via Paypal, and upon receiving the payment send them your product by email. But again, order processing may be outsourced.
  5. Find an army of affiliates who are ready to promote your product and to drive customers to your website for a commission. Probably, you can do it yourself also. But it is much better to use special services, like Clickbank (which is also an order processing system, by the way).

With enough money it is possible to outsource the whole process of the items #2-#5. And even #1, of course…

When everything is assembled, you will get a product, a nice website promoting it, an order system that automates billing and delivery, and promoters who receive their commission only for copies sold via their promotion. If your product is actually as good as you think it is — this business model simply can not fail. And it can be run on autopilot too, requiring relatively little attention.

So, is it a perfect business model? No. In business there are no one-suites-all solutions. But this model is good enough to be given a try, and definitely will be a good option for not a few authors.


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