Make More Money Selling Short Nonfiction Ebooks

Before the holidays I was talking to a few colleagues about my very first e-book. It sold reasonably well, or at least much better than I expected it to at the time, bringing in a little over $4000 in the year and a half it was on the market. It led to lucrative freelance relationships bringing in thousands of dollars in additional freelance writing work. And all of that came from just one weekend of work.

Those colleagues I was talking to encouraged me to share the story. So a few tips were shared in the most recent email newsletter about how you can earn thousands from a short nonfiction e-book, even without relying on Amazon and other e-book sellers. Some of that will be covered below (but if you don't want to miss similar updates, you can subscribe to the newsletter in the blue box in the right sidebar).

The story was also brought up in this week's podcast in response to a community question about e-book revenue. (Listen now if you haven't already.)

And now I'd like to go into a little more detail so hopefully you can find similar success with your own nonfiction e-books.

What I Did

Here's a quick rundown of the process I used at the time:

  1. I drafted a short e-book of approximately 20 pages. Note: this was a traditional .pdf e-book, when 20-50 pages was the norm. These kinds of e-books can still sell well if you target the right markets. But if you feel more comfortable calling shorter e-books "guides" or something else, have at it.
  2. I targeted the e-book to my target freelance clients. At the time most of my clients came to me for PR consulting and PR writing (press releases, media kits, ghostwritten trade features, case studies, etc.).
  3. The edited file was converted into a .pdf version which was uploaded to my business website.
  4. It was sold at a premium at $17, later lowered to $7, and after about a year and a half it was retired and released as a freebie. (Note: At that time I used ClickBank to sell the e-book, though I'd use to do the same thing now.)
  5. In addition to putting the e-book sales page on my business website (which already reached by target buyers and had decent search engine rankings), I promoted it on forums. This was the primary way it was sold.

Why it Worked (and How You Can do it Too)

As you can see, there really wasn't a lot to the process. And while I wouldn't do things exactly the same way now, it worked out very well at the time. (For example, while it makes sense to take on the writing and editing yourself if you release an e-book targeting your freelance writing client base, in the vast majority of circumstances, I'd highly recommend hiring an independent editor.)

If you're put off by the warnings that most indie authors don't sell many e-books, pursuing short nonfiction e-books like my example might improve your chances of success. If you can use one short nonfiction e-book to generate five figures of income with a minimal time investment, imagine what you could do by publishing several.

If you'd like to try a similar approach, here's what made my first e-book so profitable:

  • I targeted a highly-specific audience -- in this case owners of small online businesses who were brand new to press release writing and distribution and who were hesitant to spend money hiring a PR professional to handle those releases for them.
  • I built a solid reputation in a major forum catering to online business owners, many of whom were in my exact target market. And I was an active member of several others. I focused on giving solid advice related to PR (rather than constantly trying to sell things). That helped me become known as a go-to resource for the business owners hanging out there.
  • The e-book was focused on a very narrow topic -- writing and distributing online press releases. Go too broad in focus and you'll often end up light on information about the specific problems your buyers are trying to address.
  • The e-book focused on actionable information. When your e-book helps readers solve a problem, they're often willing to pay a premium. Again, the more specific the better.
  • People reluctant to hire a professional freelancer are often more willing to try something themselves. Information teaching them how to do that is often cheaper than hiring a pro for a single project, even at a premium (no Amazon pricing mentalities here). That can lead to relatively easy sales.
  • Highly-specific target markets are usually rather small. But by pricing at a premium, you don't have to make a lot of sales to have a profitable e-book on your hands. Bonus points if the information isn't easy to come by (or at least not from trusted sources). I was one of the earlier online PR specialists, which gave me an edge -- there wasn't very much information out there about online-specific press release formatting and distribution when it was released.
  • The e-book could be tied to other income sources. In my case it was tied to freelance writing and PR consulting services. I knew from the start that the initial price wouldn't be the permanent price. But while the demand existed, before others rushed into the market, I made the most of it. But no matter how that turned out, I knew it would pay off more by building trust with freelance prospects.Some bought the e-book, used it to handle their own projects, and I made money from the e-book sale. Others bought the e-book, read it, decided the DIY route looked like too much work, and hired me. And others put the e-book to use with a DIY release, realized that they could have gotten even better results with a PR pro's help, and hired me for their next project.That led to several lucrative client relationships, bringing in thousands of dollars over the years, all in addition to the $4000 or so in direct sales.This is an area where nonfiction e-books shine. It's easy to tie them to other revenue streams to increase your overall return on investment. That might be freelance writing services, consulting, webinars, longer print books, other e-books, e-courses, or any other product or service related to the same target market.

Remember. This was my first e-book, created largely as a test and mostly as an authority piece. While its success made it a very profitable project, I'd consider it a moderate success at best. With a little more time to sink into a premium-value e-book or guide (and an ability to tie it to a larger revenue plan), you can earn even more than I did.

Have you ever used this kind of short nonfiction e-book to promote other services or products? Did you extract direct income from it through sales first, or did you go right to a free release? Tell us about your niche and how similar strategies worked within it by leaving a comment below.

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