Monday, March 11, 2013

How to Publish an eBook for $0

Would you believe that you can become a self-published author easily and with no initial investment? Not only is it possible, but it's a much simpler task than the profits you'll potentially reap would have you believe. Done right, one ebook could make you as much as $1,000 per month. Multiply that by however many you can write, and you eventually have a full-time living coming from passive ebook income.

My Step-By-Step Guide to Publishing an eBook

1. Pick a general ebook topic

What is something you enjoy? Music? Pets? Fishing? Basketweaving? Chances are, there's a profitable niche waiting for you on Amazon. Make a list of broad topics that interest you.

2. Conduct some light market research

Go to Amazon and directly into the Kindle Store. Under the search bar, click on 'Kindle eBooks.' The broad categories are located on the left-hand side of the page. Pick the category that is closest to your broad topic. Make sure that the topic already has some titles available. This is a good sign that there is actually a market for these topics.

3. Do a little keyword research 

This part is a little bit tricky because it does take some initial guesswork. Identify the highest ranked books in your topic and figure out what keywords people are using to find these books. A good place to start is to look at the book's 'tags' to find a list of possible keywords associated with the book. Enter these keywords into the search bar to see if the book appears on the front page. Use these keywords to determine your title and include a couple in your description as well - this makes the book appear on popular search results. It's like Amazon's own version of SEO.

4. Begin writing your ebook 

Use Microsoft Word or a similar word processor (I only have experience with Word. Your mileage may vary with other software). Word is great for formatting, and most style guides use MS Word as a reference point for their instructions. It's really the gold standard of word processing. That said, if you don't currently own a copy of Microsoft Office, I highly recommend purchasing Microsoft Office 2010, as the new 2013 product has a horrible licensing structure that only allows you to install the software once. It's either that or a subscription-based model, which requires you to renew every 1-4 years, depending on how much you pay up front. It's thievery, if you ask me, and not worth supporting with your dollars.

The Smashwords Style Guide is an excellent guide to ebook formatting that works well no matter where you're publishing. As the style guide will tell you, don't forget to proofread before you publish! Use a spell checker but also conduct a manual proofread.

4. Consider your ebook length

The length of your book will largely be determined by what genre of writing you're doing. Using your own discretion is usually fine, but if you are writing fiction, don't call a 20,000 word book a 'novel' or a short story. It's a 'novella' (A novel is generally 50,000+ words, a short story between 3000-20,000 words).  Avoid publishing books that are less than 3,000 words unless they are free and you really can't make them any longer.

5. Design an ebook cover 

 Make your cover stand out using photoshop, gimp, or some other full-featured image editing software to create something that effectively conveys your book. If you intend to sell your ebook through a retailer (which you should and probably will), do not use a 3D cover. Smashwords will reject your book for distribution if you include a 3D cover image.  The Smashwords Style Guide contains an excellent explanation of the elements of an effective ebook cover.

6. Write a good blurb

Create intrigue and a little tension, especially if you're publishing a work of fiction. It's sometimes helpful to include an excerpt. If you're writing noncreative nonfiction, convey the benefits of purchasing your book to the reader.

7. All done? Upload your finished product to ebook retailers

No matter what you write, Amazon and Barnes and Noble will account for 80 to 90 percent of your sales. Always upload directly to Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing. If you live in the US or the UK, upload directly to Barnes and Noble via PubIt!  Kobo, which will account for 1-2 percent of your sales if you're lucky, has a direct uploading service through Writing Life. Although it's a little more work than leaving it up to Smashwords, you get to keep much more of your royalty. Different genres have small niche retailers that may or may not be worth the effort involved in getting set up. These sites pay out monthly, as long as you have reached a minimum payment threshold. If you set up direct deposit, this threshold is typically $10 USD. Payments occur 45-60 days after the close of the month of sale, depending on the site.

The final step is to distribute your ebook through Smashwords. Smashwords allows access to approximately 10 ebook retailers, including the Apple iBookstore, which is very difficult to upload to without the help of a third party distributor (unless you're a legal business entity). Sales from Apple alone can account for 10-15 percent of your sales, and you'll sell a book here or there on the other retailer sites. Smashwords pays quarterly, so this is a nice little bonus chunk of cash.

All of these services are free to set up. Your payment comes in the form of a portion of your royalties (usually 30-40 percent) whenever you sell a book.

8. Price it right

$2.99 USD is really the golden ebook price, and there's not really much more to say about it. If you're book is longer than 20,000 words, you can get away with charging more, but $2.99 is really the sweet spot in terms of number of sales and total revenue. Most retailers don't start offering 60-70% royalties until your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Anything above or below that range is sold at a 35-45% royalty, earning you substantially less money.

For example, a book priced at $0.99 on Amazon will earn you $0.35 per copy sold. You may sell more copies at that price point, but if you priced the same book at $2.99 (earning you around $2.07 per sale), you would only need to sell 1/6 (17%) the number of copies to make the same amount of money. Your sales will not drop to 1/6 the volume with that price change, so you are 99% certain to make more money selling for $2.99 than $0.99.


  • It's possible to find profitable niches in both fiction and nonfiction. I've written successful titles in both, and they've served me well in different ways. There's no need to write about something completely foreign or that doesn't interest you.
  • It's not necessary, but writing about a diverse range of topics can be a smart business move. Different ebook genres sell better at different times of the year. Having a diverse catalog of books can ensure a relatively steady stream of income.
  • If you're crunched for time, not a good illustrator, not a good writer, or simply don't want to do the work, there's good news. Virtually every part of the ebook creation process is something that you can outsource to somebody else. You can pay somebody else to do your covers, format your ebook, publish your ebook, edit your ebook, or even write it from beginning to end. A simple Google search will quickly lead you to services available in your country. 
  • This is all based on my experience and that of my personal sphere of fellow writers. Your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Quick Update; Big Post Coming Soon

January was a crazy month. I had my best ebook month to date, earning over $3,200. I only put out one book, though. The month was absolutely crazy.

Things I did in January:
  • Moved: I left New York and moved in with my parents in Florida. Most of my moving expenses were reimbursed, which took a big load off my back. I am putting away money like crazy since I've been home, as my expensive have been greatly reduced. I'm buying a car on my 25th birthday a month from now. That's a huge step toward getting to LA, which I think I'll be able to do at the end of July!
  • Quit my teaching job: I am now writing full-time. I'm putting in eight hour days, six days a week.
  • Said Goodbye to My Boyfriend: Very sad. But it's okay.
I took about a month to relax and decompress, which honestly was a little much. No books written, and with the Christmas rush over, my sales dropped significantly.

I'm really getting my time management butt in gear now that I'm totally self-employed. It's a fascinating skill that I'll post about soon. For now, I'm writing a big article on how to publish an ebook that I hope to have up by the end of the weekend.

Cheers everyone!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2012 In Review

This has been a life-changing year. Jumping head-first into internet marketing and ebook authoring has turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made. I've never been more excited about my future.

The story

I started out the year flat broke and unemployed, taking freelance work and borrowing money from my family to stay fed and housed. In March, I finally fell into what I thought would be steady employment in the sales department of a tech startup. I really enjoyed the work and earned a generous income on only 25 hours of work a week. I was moving in the right direction.

Working at the tech company exposed me to ways that some people were making money online (among other things). I remember one particular day when somebody posted an article about somebody who made gobs of money spamming Pinterest. The guy used bots to post thousands of Amazon affiliate links to Pinterest boards and reap cash from the clicks. The exposure to this idea got my gears turning, and I began looking into Internet marketing.

Unfortunately, I was laid off two months later. I had enough money saved by that point to tide me over for two very lean months before I once again ran out of money and had to go on unemployment. I lived off of unemployment while I looked for a job, eventually stringing together a patchwork of music teaching jobs that did little to put a livable amount of money in my pocket.

I watched a few free Internet marketing webinars in the abundant free time I had. Thinking it would be a good investment, I bought Lisa Parmley's $97 Authority Site Model course. Even though I did not end up pursuing site building as taught in the course, I did learn a lot of important Internet marketing (IM) fundamentals.

I spent almost a month constructing a website, slowly realizing that it wasn't really congruent with my style of working. Shortly before I finished my first site, I was reading Steve Pavlina's blog. He had posted a link to Vic Johnson's Getting Rich With eBooks 3.0 course, which was completely out of my price range. The sales pitch ended up being all that I needed to take action. I figured I could piece together the knowledge from the course that I had already paid for and apply it to the medium of Kindle books.

Sometime at the end of June, I wrote my first ebook. I researched my topic, wrote, and published the book all in the same day. Two days later, I jumped around my apartment when I discovered that I'd made my first sale. I put out two ebooks that first month and made $24. I had had doubts that I would be able to make any income passively, but this proved to me that I could do it.

I kept writing and was able to increase my passive income to about $700 a month. With my lesson clientele beginning to grow and the two month pay delay finally starting to put some ebook money in my bank account, I was starting to rebuild my financial life. I've been making a livable income for the last few months - the equivalent of something just barely above a minimum-wage full-time job in the US ($1250/mo) - but working my day job only 15 hours a week. That's been fine by me considering the circumstances. Because I've been living very frugally, I've also been able to stash away some money and get current on all the debts that I'd fallen behind on during my period of unemployment.

A few months ago, I was put in touch with someone who has been making $9,000 a month selling ebooks. With his tips (which I summed up in this post), I was able to write some ebooks that sold really well and boost my income significantly, hitting the four figure mark for the first time in November.

December was incredible. Christmas provided a huge sales boost, and I finished out the month with over $3000 earned. I won't know the exact numbers until the middle of the month, but I am guessing that it will be $3,050 to $3,100. I only put out one book in December.

All in all, I earned nearly $7,000 passively this year, and at minimal expense to myself.

I also managed to pay down enough debt and save enough cash to drag my net worth into the black! My net worth is now positive at around $230. It's not much, but it means a lot to me. I am actually building wealth now!

Big Changes

The jump in my passive income has allowed me to move forward with some big changes in my life. Last week, I put in my notice at my job. I'm going to write full-time from here on out.

I've also decided to leave New York City, where I've been living for almost eight years. I have a plane ticket home to my parents' on January 30th. I'm going to live with them for a few months while I save up money to buy a car and move to Los Angeles. I think a 100 percent down payment on a quality used vehicle will make an excellent 25th birthday present to myself. :)

Goals for 2013

Work: Though I didn't have any concrete goal set for how much I wanted to be making, the fact that I broke $3,000/mo in six months has me feeling like I could do pretty much anything. I'd love to be up to $10,000/mo by the end of this year - but even that seems a little low. We'll see what happens. I think I'll continue to adopt the strategy of loose goals. It's been working well for me so far, so why mess with a good thing?

Financial:  I'd like to completely pay off my remaining debt.

Personal: I doubt my ability to get to my income goal without seriously cracking down on my productivity. I want to get into a solid workflow and stick to it consistently. I am good at sticking to things when I consistently remind myself of my goals and keep myself motivated. I am going to do a better job of that in 2013 and be less susceptible to slipping up when life hands me challenges.

I'm also focusing on managing and eliminating the pain I experience as a result of my repetitive strain injury. The pain is most present in my hands and wrists, which seriously interferes with my ability to type.

The healing and management of my injury requires me to take care of myself physically and psychologically, so I am going to join a gym and begin seeing a therapist upon moving home. I was exercising regularly and in great shape in college, and I don't think it's any small coincidence that my pain started when I stopped exercising. I've also had great success with counseling in the past, and find myself wanting to return every few years to 'clean house'.

All of that said, happy 2013 and happy moneymaking to everyone!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

November Was Great; December's Even Better!

It looks as if what I once perceived to be a long shot has finally come true. In November, my passive income reached the four figure mark, almost exactly.

I made $1,000.37.

The sudden jump is all because of two new books I put out that did incredibly well. I also opened two new streams of income (Amazon Affiliate program and Kobo Books). Two weeks into December, with one additional title published, I have already made over $1,000. With the holidays, I'm confident that that will reach $2,000 by month's end.

All it took was persistence, good market research, a basic understanding of SEO, and some writing skills. I really cannot stress enough the importance of making sure that your product will sell before you launch it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

eBooks Are Awesome

Holy Cannoli.

I've released two books in my new series, in my new niche, and I've never had any ebook sell this well before. These two books have made me over $100 so far. One of them, priced at $0.99 (35% royalty), has been out for nine days and has made me $76. The second, priced at $2.99 (70% royalty), was released this morning and has already made me $46. I had my best sales day ever, making a total of $70 across 10 ebooks. $57 of that came from these two new books.

With a week to go in the month, I've already exceeded my best month on Amazon by $37. I am confident that next month will easily become my first four-figure month. There is a small chance that this month will end up being my first (I've got all these nifty numbers because I started keeping a more detailed daily sales spreadsheet halfway through this month).

I'm releasing three more books in the next three weeks, all a part of the same series. My mailing list is growing every day and I have a reliable system of promotion in place to get the initial sales I need to push my books up the Amazon ranks.

The biggest news of all is:

In pretty much any scenario that plays out at this point, I am going to be able to quit my job in February 2013 and write full-time! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Learning from Mistakes

Jaana over at Passive Income Stream Creator has hinted that I should write a post about the mistakes I've made over the past few months and what I've learned from them. I thought that was a fantastic idea, so here we are!

A little bit of backstory: The first five ebooks I wrote did very well and continue to make me money five months after their release. Instead of leaving 'well enough' alone and moving on to the next project, I instead decided to build a website to generate more sales of my ebooks, which ended up being a waste of time because i didn't do the math beforehand. Oh well, lesson learned.

After that, I juggled through several ideas and ended up releasing two more ebooks - not a lot. In between those two releases were a few more ebooks that I started, but decided not to finish after realizing that they weren't going to make me any money. The two that I did release didn't really make me any money anyway.

To date, one has sold 0 copies after being live for over a month. A lot of effort and research went into that book, and I was really disappointed. I learned a lot writing that book, though. It was a lot longer than any of my other books and required much more intense and detailed research. It was a large undertaking and I stalled on it quite a bit, but finishing it proved to me that I am capable of undertaking larger scale projects - very important for my new niche of focus.

The other book I wrote during this time sells 2-5 copies a month, which I won't turn down since it cost me absolutely zero dollars to produce and costs zero more to keep on sale. I won't turn down an extra ten bucks a month, but if I keep writing books that only sell that amount, it's going to be a long road to creating a livable passive income. That's out of the question when there are so many better options.

I hit on something right with my first books when I discovered a topic that was:

  1. Popular
  2. Selling Well
  3. Not saturated/had a gap in niche coverage
But for some reason, with my next few books I decided that I would only focus on number 3, and ended up writing books for which there was no market. Silly me!

I'm willing to write whatever sells, so I've finally gotten back on track by jumping into a flaming hot niche that meets all three criteria. I just released my first book in this new niche and it has already moved nine copies in less than 24 hours (having gone live on only two sites and with no promotion) - a good sign that I've hit all three criteria. Here's hoping. Now, to get back to the business of writing...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Net Worth: It's (still) Less than Zero (but...)'s way closer to 'zero' than it was the last time I checked. It now stands at $-547, up from a roughly calculated $-3,140. I attribute this huge jump mostly to more accurate calculation, but also to:
  • Getting current on my debts (+450)
  • Continuing to pay down those pesky student loans (+84)
  • Putting my first small bit of money in savings (+200)
If all goes well, I could get to 0 by the end of the year, then start actually building wealth! I'm really excited. It's a big mental shift for me. It feels good to struggle less.