How Writing E-books Can Save You From a Low Pay Rut

We've talked a lot about using e-books as platform pieces for freelance writers. And we've looked at how they can be used as residual income streams to complement your freelance writing work. But they can do more than supplement your writing income. If  you find yourself stuck in a low pay rut, e-books might even be your ticket out. Let's look at a somewhat extreme example of someone trying to make content mill writing their full-time income.

Let's say you're a freelance writer working for a mill where you earn $15 per article on average. You need to earn at least $3000 per month for a modest full-time freelance income, so you churn out 200 of these articles each month (assuming you can find that many available topics to write about on a consistent basis). Before you assume $3000 per month is too grand of a goal, and you can get by full-time for much less, read this and use our freelance writing rate calculator to find out what you really need to earn.

Two hundred articles is a lot of writing each month just to earn a relatively modest full-time income. And the time involved in writing that much content doesn't leave you with much left over to pursue higher paying freelance writing jobs within better markets. Let's talk about how writing even just one or two e-books can bring in enough income to help you dig out of that low pay rut by replacing some of your low paying work while also freeing up some of your time to pursue better markets for future freelance writing work.

E-book Pricing Strategies for Success

There are many different ways to price your e-book. And in the end, it all comes down to your e-book's specific market. For example, if it's a massive market (like weight loss) you could probably get away with a very low pricing strategy, knowing that you could sell a boatload of copies. But if your market is much smaller (let's say freelance writers), that strategy doesn't work as well. You'll never sell to everyone in the niche so to make a decent profit you need to price higher, knowing that you'll sell fewer copies. At the same time that means you'll have to create an e-book that justifies the higher price (why I treat my own as mini-courses or extremely in-depth tutorials, and load them with tools and worksheets).

Let's look at a couple of different examples using different e-book lengths and prices to find out how much you would have to write and sell in order to replace all or part of your content mill work.

Strategy 1: Short E-book and Low Price

In this example let's say you write a short, 25-page e-book. You price it at a low $10 price point -- a relatively easy price point to find buyers for. Now in many cases a "page" in an e-book is actually much less content than an individual article because of spacing, images, and font choices. But let's assume a worst-case scenario where each page equals a flat 400 words, comparable to an article you might write. How many of these $10 e-books would you have to sell to earn $3000? Three hundred of them.

If you're new to writing and selling e-books, 300 sales in your first month might be a bit ambitious (although doable, again depending on your niche). But I'd say 100 sales is a pretty reasonable goal to set if you take the time to plan out your launch marketing strategy effectively. And keep in mind, any marketing you do for your e-book is also marketing you do for your personal brand, meaning it also has the potential to attract clients in the better markets you want to target. Just keep your e-books relevant to the markets you're interested in.

So if you can sell 100 copies, you'll earn $1000 from 25 pages of content. That's in comparison to the more than 65 pages of content you would have to write for the mill in that same month for that same $1000, plus any marketing you do also has the potential to help you grow your career rather than pulling time away from marketing your services.

As you can see, an e-book doesn't have to replace your full monthly earnings in a low pay rut to have a benefit.

Strategy 2: Middle-of-the-road Length and Pricing

Now let's look at another example where you create a more in-depth e-book and you charge a bit more for it. Let's shoot for that same 100 sales goal in your launch month. In this case we'll say you wrote a 50 page e-book (including a few value-added resources to make the content more interactive) and you decided to charge $27.

In this example, 100 sales would earn you $2700. That almost completely replaces your earnings from the low pay gig. Better yet, you almost completely replace that income with only a quarter of the content being written and published. That clears up even more time for you to pursue better markets that month (and really a month is plenty of time to get your foot in the door with better paying clients if you're even remotely aggressive about it).

Strategy 3: High Value, Higher Price

Now let's look at a third strategy -- creating a much longer and more detailed e-book and charging a premium price for it (this is what I did with my first Web Writer's Guide e-book). Let's use my own e-book's price as an example here -- $37. And let's choose the similar length of 100 pages. If you sell those 100 copies during your launch month you earn $3700 and more than account for your content mill pay. You earned more money while writing only half the amount of content. if you have a small niche, and a big enough topic for the e-book where you can write 100 pages and keep it valuable to your readers, this can be a good way to go.

Other Considerations in E-book Writing

There are a few other things you'll want to consider if you want to use e-books to help you work your way out of a low pay rut as a freelance writer. Here are some things to think about:

  • You won't get paid for the e-book until it's complete. So you might want to use off-hours time to work on your first one until income is directly coming in rather than cutting the existing paying work while you write it. This doesn't have to take long though. I wrote my first e-book during a single weekend (wrote it all Saturday morning and edited it that Sunday and had it up for sale for $17 on Monday -- it sold very well and was in a niche where it attracted new paying clients at the time as well). If you start off with a long e-book, that kind of writing time probably isn't possible.
  • You can always write more than one e-book. If one short e-book won't bring in enough income to satisfy you, go ahead and write two (or three, or however many you think you can write and sell within your market). I suggest spacing them out a little bit if they're all targeting the same buyers though. You don't want to give them e-book fatigue with an onslaught of new titles all in the same month.
  • E-books earn residually. You don't get just a one-time payment for writing your e-book like you might if you wrote one for a client. You'll earn money as long as the e-book continues to sell. For example, the one I released in 2008 and do pretty much no marketing for anymore still can bring in a few hundred dollars each month without me even trying. And that's all income beyond my initial goal.

Whether you aren't being paid enough to make ends meet and live a comfortable life or you simply know you can earn more than you are while stuck in a low pay rut, e-books are just one of many options you have to help you dig your way out. Have you used e-books to help you grow your freelance writing career? Have you implemented one of these pricing strategies? Did you remember to plan out your launch marketing to take advantage of an initial push in sales? Tell us how they worked out for you and what you'd do differently if you could do it again in the comments below.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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7 thoughts on “How Writing E-books Can Save You From a Low Pay Rut”

  1. Thanks for this Jenn. I’ve been thinking about e-book writing for some time now and this just reinforces my need to get going on it. I love your 14 day ebook and I’m thinking of using it for a group project.

  2. This article couldn’t have came at a better time. I have been planning on launching an eBook for several months now. I have the topic all set up and a few chapters written, so I’m a little bit less than half way done. My eBook will probably be around 30-50 pages, so not too long.

    Thanks so much for putting together a pricing chart! I’ve been wondering about how much I should charge per eBook. For me, $20 sounds about right.

    Great read!


  3. Jenn:

    This is just the kind of Xs and Os that is so helpful. I am in the early stages of an e-book and appreciate the guidance.

    You may have already done a post on this, but the other topic that would be helpful is marketing strategies.

    Thanks, as always, for great tips and advice.


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