Back in 2008, I started this blog with the idea that I could post a lot of advice for freelance writers, and that eventually, I could expand that into an ebook.
It sounded so empowering. No editor! No waiting!
Just write it, have a designer pretty it up, and poof — I’ve got an ebook. And I can start earning money from it.
So I set out to write one.
It sorta took forever.
But in 2010, I finally did it — Make a Living Writing, the 21st Century Guide came out.
I was so excited.
There was only one problem…
I had no idea what I was doing
So I made a lot of mistakes.
Don’t get me wrong — I have sold a decent number of copies of the MALW book, and made several thousand totally appreciated dollars off it.
It was the tiny beginning of my journey to diversify my income and develop multiple sources of income. The first step toward my goal of providing better financial security for my family through my writing.
The sad truth is, I could have made much, much more on my ebook.
I’ve got plans for redoing my ebook in future — and readers of this blog will be the first ones to hear about those, later on — but for now, I’m stuck with what I’ve got.
In the meanwhile, I thought it’d be useful to other writers to hear my sad tale of ebook publishing gone wrong, so you can avoid my mistakes.
Here are ten things I screwed up in putting out my ebook:
- It’s too long. This sucker is 220+ pages! I didn’t know that ebooks were better off at a shorter length. People don’t tend to read for hours on end on a digital screen, and they tend to go for shorter ebooks for that reason.
- It’s too expensive. At $36, it offers great value given all the stuff I packed into it, but people are used to paying less for ebooks. Even worse, by blowing out all my info in one book, I had no followup book to upsell the writers who bought the first book. I wasn’t creating a sales machine, like you want. I just had a one-off product. Again, I probably would have done better publishing a smaller ebook at a lower price.
- It should have been split. The book has three sections — how to write for publications, copywriting, and blogging. Duh! I could have created a cool Make a Living Writing ebook series, strengthened my brand, and had more products to sell. It’s always better to have more products because then you can bundle them in different ways or offer them as freebies to incent people to buy other products. Also, splitting it up likely would have gotten the first one done faster and allowed me to start earning sooner.
- Not enough specifics. I’ve learned that writers need to be told very specifically, exactly how you do something. For instance, one I got recently: “If I’m contacting a charity about doing a pro bono sample, what exactly should I say to not seem desperate?” You can bet the next version of this material will have a lot more granular detail and answers to these nitty-gritty questions.
- No setup for sequels. My title says it covers this entire century. What was I thinking? If I’d called it Make a Living Writing 2010, I could have published a new and slightly updated version of it each year, like What Color is Your Parachute? does, and created a franchise. The release of the new edition would have generated new interest and sales each year.
- No related Webinars or classes. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writers, it’s that you love free stuff. You also love live trainings, where you can get your personal questions answered by experts. I found there is much more interest in my one-on-one coaching and my classes than I ever saw from the ebook, because the ebook wasn’t presented as part of a suite of comprehensive learning help. (Look for me to create ebooks from some of my courses and Den bootcamps in the future to rectify this problem.)
- Next to no marketing. I really had no idea how to market an ebook. OK, I built a little interest with a few blog posts about the content. But honestly — I did no contest, no giveaways, I wasn’t on Twitter yet. It was pretty minimal. I didn’t have a bunch of big bloggers contribute to it so that there’d be a team of people ready to help me market it. I look back now and I can think of 20 ways to promote it that I didn’t yet understand. So there was no big explosion of initial sales.
- It’s only a PDF. I did not have the vaguest idea how to digitally publish an ebook. Rather than try to figure it out, I wanted to just do a PDF. I knew how to get a designer to make me a PDF, so I did that. The world of digital publishing for the Kindle and Nook and all the other ways completely confused me. So I ignored it. The problem is, the Kindle format is just exploding. I kept getting inquiries from writers about whether I had a Kindle version — and I had to tell them no, I didn’t. Who knows how many sales I lost.
- Formatted wrong for digital. After doing the PDF, I learned you need very specific formatting in order for a book to transfer to Kindle and other popular ebook formats. Of course, I didn’t bother to learn those specs and use them in creating my PDF. Given that, I would have needed to get someone to reformat the whole thing and repaginate it, which sounded like a massive headache. So I just passed on the whole opportunity. Now I realized it was stupid not to make the effort to get it converted.
- No sales funnel. Let’s face it — at this point, if your ebook isn’t on Amazon, you are missing a huge automatic sales funnel that could be sending you customers while you sit back and do nothing. Your ability to promote it on your own tiny blog is nothing compared to the exposure it gets on one of the biggest sites on the Internet, just from people doing searches in their “book” tab.
The whole time I’ve been selling my ebook, the Kindle phenomenon has just been growing and growing. Now, it’s too big to ignore.
My writer friend Sean Platt says 18 months from now, there will only be digital publishing. We’ll see if he’s right. But I’m not taking any chances with it. I’m going to learn about Kindle publishing now, so I can get on this bandwagon. I recommend you do, too.
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