10 Mistakes I Made Publishing My eBook, and How You Can Do it Better

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

 

Do you have questions about how to earn more from your writing? Learn more in my community Freelance Writers Den – take ecourses, attend live events, ask writing pros your questions in our forums, and use our exclusive Junk-Free Job Board.

 

 


  1. Jennifer says:

    It was a great post. As the Internet has gotten larger and more prolific, it can be difficult to research and find the exact information you need. Ebooks have filled this need with instant, tailored information, delivered for a price. Publishing an ebook is much easier than publishing a paper book, and it can pay even better. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great tips, Carol. Thanks for sharing your experience. Now there are companies offering to do a lot of that legwork for writers. While I haven’t checked them out yet, it could be worth paying a reasonable fee to have someone else take care of the “headache” aspects of e-publishing.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Dinah –

      Funny you should say that. I have a collaboration with one ebook publishing house where they DO take care of it for me. But I don’t want to give up a big cut of royalties on every ebook I’m creating, so I still really want to learn how to do it myself.

  3. John Soares says:

    I feel your pain Carol, as I’ve made many of the same mistakes with my e-books. I’m currently working on two new products, both shorter and more specific; I’ve had it with writing long manuscripts.

    Publishing on Kindle is also in my game plan, so I’ll be listening with keen interest this week.
    John Soares recently posted..What You Must Know to Find What You Need With Google

    • Carol Tice says:

      I know! I don’t know what I was thinking. OK, I do know what I was thinking: I would write this long ebook masterpiece that contained everything I ever learned about freelancing. Wrong!

      People respond much better to highly focused, concise ebooks…so that’s what I’ll be putting out in future.

  4. Page Huyette says:

    Very timely post — I’m in the brainstorming phase of re-formatting a lot of my online course content into a Kindle format and love your idea of creating a suite of comprehensive learning products. I do wonder about Sean’s prediction and how it translates to laying on your belly reading a book on the beach–I’ll take sand in my pages over my Kindle any day.

    Looking forward to this webinar!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m with you, Page! But I get the sense that my teenage son would be fine with the Kindle on the beach…or listening to a book on headphones, or some such. So I look at him, and I see the future.

  5. Jewel says:

    Great article.. This is very helpful for everyone. Your experiences will serve as a good tip for everyone who is planning to make an ebook too, very informative and detailed. Thanks for sharing! :)

  6. Kim says:

    I am much more apt to, as you say, “write this long ebook masterpiece that contained everything I ever learned.” I am so grateful to have read this today. I am in the midst of an ebook creation on a Faith Based Path to Happiness, and I will be putting your valuable advice and expertise to use.
    Thanks so much for helping writers gain a foothold in our niche and grow!
    Kim recently posted..Finding gratitude amidst the storm

  7. SuzanneG says:

    Wow! Thanks for the great info. I’ll be rethinking the way I’m approaching a couple of projects. Especiallly helpful was the idea of creating a series. And I’m one of those readers who doesn’t enjoy sitting in front of a screen for hours, reading a long manuscript. So short works for me.
    SuzanneG recently posted..Leaping Into Failure: Chances Are You’ll Reach Excellence

  8. M. Sharon Baker says:

    Carol,

    Thanks for sharing. I haven’t jumped into to the ebook business, but it is in my future plans.

    Have to take issue with your price issue. $36 is not too high – it just might be too low.

    Recently I saw a post that says people are willing to pay much more – $297, $197, $97 – way beyond your price for an ebook. The trick is making sure you are delivering specific information that the target base is starving for – information that’s hard to find anywhere else.
    M. Sharon Baker recently posted..Two Storytelling Secrets Marketing Managers Can Use To Transform Boring Case Studies

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well yes. For instance, How to Launch the S**#! out of your Ebook by Naomi Dunford is a $97 ebook that I think does real well. But as you say — it’s so focused, on just that one thing.

      The general, broad-stroke, here’s a comprehensive guide to everything you might need to know to do X, I think doesn’t work so well, and the feedback I got was that the price point was too high.

      But I’ll be doing it all awesomer coming up, you just watch!

  9. LindaH says:

    Great post and great insight on how to get your ebooks published and where. This post gave me great ideas on a booklet I’m revising for my business. Thought I should publish as a .PDF on my website, but now I’m considering creating it for Kindle too. With the ever-changing audiences and readers demanding more for less, it really is important to be so progressive. I’m diversifying my offerings and this will be one avenue I definitely want to pursue.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Carol. Always great to know how the experts have cleared the pathway to help the rest of us move forward with a little less struggle.

  10. Glori S. says:

    Yeah, we do love free stuff. It’s very generous of you to share these “mistakes” and I appreciate that you did. Like you (at least before), PDF is the only ebook format I can make an ebook.

    I’d definitely be using your tips someday!
    Glori S. recently posted..5 Secrets Successful Online Writers Are Hiding from You

  11. Mark Hermann says:

    Carol,

    Your timing is impeccable on this one as I’m working on completing my first eBook. And there’s so much that goes into just WRITING it, let alone the formatting, marketing, sales funnel angles,etc. Who can know it all? And what’s the point of all that hard work writing it if no one hears your “one hand clapping” in the digital woods? So thank you for this.

    Coming from the music industry (and I know you know a little about that topic), they were quite certain the CD would live forever and they could just continue to reap their profits off the backs of the artists. But the same recording and distribution technology that became available and affordable to the lay person, which created the DIY music artist and forshadowed the death of the music biz is we knew it, is about to do the same to the conventional book publishing biz.

    Beyond the excellence of the content itself, it’s going to be all about how well you market that eBook and get the word out that will determine if it gets its day in the digital sun. Speaking of Sean Platt, I’m working on something with his company that may well address how to help with that promotion (but can’t disclose this yet as it’s being built ; -). Promise to let all your readers know when that happens.

    Thank you again for saving me on at least some of the headaches that are certain to come.

    Best,

    Mark

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sounds great Sean — definitely let me know. I know everyone is super-interested in how we can all jump on the digital publishing revolution and profit from it.

  12. Great post, Carol. I am sooo looking forward to the webinar on Wednesday. I am working on a series of ebooks; but with the intention of combining them into one big book (with each booklet representing a chapter) once they are all complete. Maybe I should keep them all separate? Also, I haven’t used Kindle format because I have a few pages in some that need printed. My understanding is you can’t print from a Kindle. Guess that’s another question for Wed.?

  13. Sean’s crazy, but it will be really interesting to see what people are reading 10 years from now, especially if kids start reading more and more digital books in school. :)
    Joseph Putnam recently posted..The Top Ten Ways to Know You Have Entrepreneurial DNA

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, I have a hard time seeing the change happening that fast, but we’ll see.

      And my 10 year old is already reading on the Kindle for school ;-)

    • I picked up an interesting comment today from an editor at Hachai Publishing: “Hard copies remain necessary if books are to be read and enjoyed on Shabbat, during which we do not use computers, handhelds, Kindles, or any other electronic devices.” I understand that in some Jewish traditions, the ancient prohibition against kindling [no pun intended] a fire on the Sabbath is still applied to using anything that runs on electrical or ignition power.

      I have my own objection to using e-devices for *outdoor* reading: this may not be a problem with all e-readers, but on my iPad 1, the screen becomes virtually invisible under the combination of bright sunlight and dark glasses!
      Katherine Swarts recently posted..One Little Letter Makes a Difference

      • Carol Tice says:

        Well, I’d be the person to ask, as I do not operate electronic devices on the Sabbath for that reason. And yes, that would mean Orthodox Jews are not reading your book on that day. But they’re mostly reading spiritual stuff that day and doing Torah study. I can assure you they’ve got tons of devices and use them like mad other days of the week ;-)

        Obviously, print books still have many uses…but I have gotten complaints that my ebook is only a PDF and not available on the Kindle.

        But that’s all going to change now that I’ve taken Daniel’s training! Just got off…insane amount of useful info.

  14. Gerald says:

    I was very disappointed by the webinar you promoted here. Twelves slides on the subject (only just) basically telling us how to fill out Amazon’s form and then 23 slides pressure upselling for the real course and 36 we didn’t actually see. I felt like I was sitting through a timeshare presentation from the 80s!

    Your brand has been damaged in my eyes.

    As for Sean Platt’s comment: look back ten/twenty years and tell me how many digital documents you can still read from that time. Now tell me how many paper documents you can still read from then. Paper will not go away in our lifetime – it’s still the only durable medium we have – digital formats change and the equipment we use to access digital changes so rapidly that we have to upgrade every three or four years or get left out of the loop. (Do you still have a Palm device, for example? Fewer than ten years and they, and everything on them, essentially became obsolete.)

    Thirty years ago we were told we would have paperless offices within the decade. What are the odds something like that will happen in 18 months?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Gerald –

      I had stressed to Daniel that my events need to be 1 hour and get to questions before that time is up…and I’m not happy that it didn’t happen. I really want to apologize. I was one of the people who didn’t have 2 hours to devote to this, so believe me, I feel ya.

      I’ve never had this happen before in a year of putting on live events, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do to make it right, besides apologize. And I am really sorry. This just should have been planned as a 2-hour Webinar, clearly, and I would have liked to have known that up front.

      But the bottom line is…I feel like I COULD now go publish an ebook tonight. Promise fulfilled there.

      But I’ll be doing a blog post about this tomorrow, so stay tuned.

  15. Amandah says:

    Great post, and I’m glad I read it because I have a lot of ideas and have one book written (for teens), but I wasn’t sure if I should turn it into an eBook or keep it as a ‘full blown’ non-fiction book. Of course, I could self-publish it and write eBooks based on the material, develop webinars/teleseminars, speak with teens/parents/professionals who work with teens, etc. Hmm…I have a lot of thinking to do. It’s time I get off my butt and get my products out there. :)

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on — and that’s mostly what the Webinar we did today was all about – how to get ebooks up there and selling quickly rather than thinking and writing endlessly, like I did. ;-(

      • Amandah says:

        Sadly, I missed today’s webinar because of a scheduling conflict. But, I started editing my manuscript and put it on my writing calendar. I’ll start reviewing parenting/teen blogs and pitch guest posts to start building my platform and momentum around the book.
        Amandah recently posted..5 Simple Ways to Make Blog Posts Viral (Even if You’re about to Give Up)

        • Carol Tice says:

          Stay tuned tomorrow for a link to the replay of the Webinar…which turned out to be 2 whole hours with a ton of Kindle publishing tips. I personally learned a boatload of stuff that I’m glad I didn’t have to blunder around for years to find out (my normal mode of learning about the freelance-writing world).

  16. It’s always easier to learn from mistakes, better yet if someone else made these mistakes
    Ali | Writers Blog recently posted..The Top 10 Websites That Pay You To Write An Article

  17. Thanks for your post Carol,

    To my great surprise - reading your post - I now discover that I might actually have done a few things right with my tiny little ebook becaus mine isn’t to long,
    or – expensive,
    euh…., well, and that’s about it :)

    Also a lot of great Successes are actually ‘Side Effects’
    the same with my tiny little (- the Vision -) ebook, because while creating a Blog for collecting Readers Feedback and for Promoting my tiny little eBook, I discovered Affiliate Marketing as a way to be able to (pre) sell all kinds of other (related) Products
    and writing Reviews about Products & Services.
    HP van Duuren recently posted..What Do You Think About My Book Review?

  18. Carol,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your e-book. It’s helpful to see a self-analysis. And, thank you for bringing in Daniel Hall and opening it up to those of us who are not in The Den.
    I’m getting ready for an e-book, so this was good information. It was basic, but I got exactly what I felt you promised in the intro.
    Walker Thornton recently posted..The Hard Cold Truth About Becoming A Great Freelance Writer

  19. Liz says:

    Hey Carol,

    Great and enlightening post.

    I published my first ebook back in 2007 and I just recently published it to Kindle, which I highly recommend. It’s not hard but there are formatting issues that you have to get right for Kindle.

    But just getting it out there and taking advantage of the reach you get from Amazon is totally worth it.

    Liz :-)
    Liz recently posted..6 Ways To Create An Information Product – Without Writing!

  20. Tony Tovar says:

    What an excellent post!

    Gosh, had I known this I might have waited a little longer to come out with two ebooks at once instead of just one. I’m definitely happy with the results as I’m making a fair number of sales daily but I think I’m in the same boat and have learned a whole lot from the process.

    @NicheMonger
    Tony Tovar recently posted..To Self Publish For Kindle Part #2 – Cost Of Publishing An Ebook

    • Carol Tice says:

      I don’t know if I’d advocate doing two ebooks right at the same moment…but having a second one ready to go shortly after the first is better than releasing one ‘big’ one and having nothing to follow it with and upsell your audience who bought the first one.

      • Tony Tovar says:

        I’d still say come out with both at the same time because you make the assumption that folks who really liked your first book will be looking for you for the second one. If you’re looking to up sell folks, the best time to do it is when they bought the first one. Getting folks to make that second purchase when they’re already in the buying mode is easier than trying to sell them again in the future.

        There are ways to promote to them later if you can get an email but that’s another topic.

        @nichemonger
        Tony Tovar recently posted..To Self Publish For Kindle Part #2 – Cost Of Publishing An Ebook

  21. Miquel J says:

    Hi, I read your interesting article about how sell ebooks. I have the website http://www.howsellebooks.com with one interesting affiliate program where you can earn 60% sales promoting my ebook about how sell ebooks. I think than it’s very interesting for you. Thanks.

  22. Miriam says:

    Thanks you for your post. It is a great help for me at the right time that I’m about to try eBook

  23. Thanks Carol for these insights. I’m creating an ebook and these have helped me out.
    Yourself, and everyone who’s commented should probably check out BookTango.com. I found these guys yesterday: publish your book for free, keep 100% of your royalties, and get it listed with all major “funnels” as you’ve called them here.
    You can be that I’ll be going with these guys!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Michael, I hear good things about CreateSpace from Guy Kawasaki, whom I trust and who’s done a lot of self-publishing very successfully.

      There are a LOT of platforms out there, and I’m going to be exploring them more in the coming months and posting about it here.

  24. Laura at SEO says:

    Well, I have made many of them myself.Trying to learn from them since. Great insight.
    Laura at SEO recently posted..5 Tips to Optimize your WordPress Blog for Search Engines

  25. Eddy H says:

    Nice read, I think this is interesting and another way to make a few extra bucks online. Appreciate the good rundown on things.

  26. Mark says:

    Hi Carol – thanks for sharing this – will help me avoid similar mistakes in the future

  27. christian says:

    hello there i am a such a newbie in the blogsphere…..I am planning to open a new blog and its domain is christologic.com and i wouldn’t mind to have your feedback on it since my blog would be writing about personal experiences, opinions, and travel. But i am planning to open another blog where i can publish short stories and poem, can you give me an advice on this?

    thank you

  28. mark says:

    This is a helpful post. Just wondering, when uploading a book, it asks for a publisher name. Can a person just invent one and put that in there? What do you think? You know what not to do.

  29. Linda Leyble says:

    Hi – thanks for this post. I knew about having to have the right format for an ebook to be on Kindle and Amazon. Those distribution centers are a bit way off for me right now. But – what I want to do is to offer a short ebook in a PDF on my blog/Facebook page etc – to encourage people to sign up for my blog and to like me on Facebook. How professional does a free ebook have to be? Can I just hire an editor to help me with the layout for that?

    Then – I have to figure out how to set up the page that gets their email and name signed up on my blog. Any ideas about that?

    Love your blog…will now go and search around for your other articles.

    Thanks,

    Linda
    Linda Leyble recently posted..Embossed Plaster Art for a Home Staging Project

    • Carol Tice says:

      Linda — My first ebook was just a PDF as well…certainly better than nothing. And yes, I hired an editor and a designer to do it.

      I use Mailchimp for blog subscribers — it’s free to the first 2,500 names so try it out! You can read more about my experience with Mailchimp on my Products I Love page — see the tabs up top.

    • Hi

      Great post and love your blog. I have to agree that once you write your first ebook the challenge is then to get it known. Obviously Kindle is the best way but if your objective is to drive people to your website/blog or facebook page there are different strategies to follow. It’s great that so many people are feeling empowered to write without the need for the whole publishing machine that used to come with paper books.

      Thanks for sharing this post.

      Anna

  30. Desiree says:

    This is the second article that I’ve read about ebooks. It’s an avenue I really want to pursue. But honesty reading about it for just half an hour makes my head feel like it’s going to explode!! Love your article though, makes me realize that I don’t have to wait until I hit the 300 page mark to publish.

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