How to Write an Ebook and Sell It Online

/ 17 min read
David Campbell

Twenty-five billion dollars. That's how much the Harry Potter franchise is supposedly worth.

In retrospect, J.K Rowling was a surefire bet. Yet eleven publishers turned down her original manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

J.K Rowling is far from the exception. Hundreds of great authors have struggled to get published. Many authors across every genre, from Beatrix Potter to Hugh Howey, were turned down so often that they turned to self-publishing.

This step-by-step guide will break down how to write and launch a successful ebook. We'll start by discussing researching your audience, then look at writing the book, formatting your manuscript, cover design, and more.

How to write an ebook and sell it yourself

Like a good book, this guide has a clear beginning, middle, and end. By following the seven steps listed below, you can get your ebook published on Amazon's Kindle store, or successfully sell it on your own website.

1. Research your audience and competition

If you're based in the US, you might well have heard of the TV show Shark Tank. Entrepreneurs come onto the show and try to secure investment for their business to four sharks who have millions of dollars to invest.

At the start of each segment, the entrepreneur makes their pitch. Then the sharks ask pointed questions. The pitch normally encompasses the following points:

  • What is the business?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Why are people interested in the product?
  • Who are the biggest competitors?
  • How are you different?

Pretend for a minute I'm one of the sharks. Put yourself in that hot seat and pitch your ebook idea. You need to answer those five questions about your ebook. Are you confident about your answer?

Great. You'll be fighting for audience share with talented authors, many of whom have a loyal fan base. Moreover, your audience is quite small. According to Pew Research, only 35% of Americans will read books for leisure. On average, these people read just 12 books a year.

So not only will you be competing with many great authors, but your audience consumes a limited amount of content. Hard truth; that's why so many authors fail. Don't worry. You won't be one of those failed writers.

You've given yourself the best chance of success. You have a good ebook idea. You are clear who you are writing for, why people will love the book, you know the competitive landscape, and you're clear on what makes you stand out.

2. Consider your marketing strategy

If you plan to self-publish your ebook, you need a marketing strategy. That  strategy will place your content in the hands of your soon-to-be adoring fans.

You might find marketing boring, and it may not be related to your creative drive, but it's important.

Marketing is what publishers do for their authors. If you don't plan to use a publishing agency, you'll need to master their skill set. Ideally, you should already have an audience. If you don't have an audience, you need to think about how you'll grow your fanbase.

A good example of an author who grew an audience before he published his first book is Mark Manson. Manson started blogging in 2008. He gathered more than a million followers and email list subscribers. He knew his audience; mainly millennials who were dissatisfied with their lives but were wary of self-help authors.

In 2016, he published his first book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”.

Screenshot of Mark Manson's website(Image Source: Mark Manson)

He promoted his newly published book to his followers. The book has now sold over 14 million copies worldwide.

All of those sales might have occurred organically over time. However, the fact that he had a loyal, established audience almost certainly resulted in a lot of initial ebook sales. Those rapid sales made it much more likely that his content would rank in Amazon's marketplace, and increased the chance of people reviewing his book in large publications.

There is a causal link between having a loyal audience and the chance of your next book being a success. A study published on Springer Open reveals that best-selling authors tend to sustain their success. Or to put it another way, once you make a name for yourself your fans are likely to buy more of your content.

So, how do you grow that audience? The best way to review what works is to reverse engineer what marketing activities publishers do for their most famous authors. After all, publishing houses invest a lot of money to promote books that they think will make them a lot of money.

Investigate the most successful authors you know. This is classic market research. What marketing channels do they use? Sign up to their email newsletters, see the type of content that they share, and use those insights to inform the marketing strategies you'll use.

Email marketing seems to be Mark Manson's favourite channel for communicating with his audience. If you plan to grow an audience as an author the way he did, you could work on growing your email list while you write your book.

We'll discuss the marketing strategy in more detail later in this guide. It's worth remembering, however, that you should be thinking about your marketing as you write. Your marketing plan should not be an afterthought. Back to the book.

3. Create an outline of the ebook

There are two key things you'll need to consider when creating the outline for your book. Firstly, you have the characters. Make a list of all the characters who will be in your book. Try to flesh them out and detail the relationship between the characters. That is important if you are writing a work of fiction.

Next, you need to create an outline for your book.

Unless you’re trying to be like James Joyce, whose “stream of consciousness” approach to fiction has been widely praised and imitated, you need to establish some sort of structure to your book. That structure will help define how the characters interact and reveal your story to the reader.

Creating an outline will give you a good idea about what to write about and how to structure ideas for your reader. Naturally, the question arises, then, what should you keep in mind when you build an outline?

Most stories follow one of the following six story arcs:

  1. Rags to riches – a steady rise from bad to good fortune
  2. Riches to rags – a fall from good to bad, a tragedy
  3. Icarus – a rise then a fall in fortune
  4. Oedipus – a fall, a rise, then a fall again
  5. Cinderella – rise, fall, rise
  6. Man in a hole – fall, rise

If you're planning to write a book, whether it's a work of fiction or non-fiction, you should familiarize yourself with these story arcs. There are some great resources available if you want more profound insights into storytelling:

If you want to write a great book, and you're willing to invest time learning from others, you should read one or more of those recommendations. You will gain a lot of insights and avoid costly mistakes by learning from your peers.

Once you have your story arc, you can break things down into chapters. That will provide a table of contents for your work. Now, it's time to start writing.

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4. Write your first draft

Six months to a year. That is how much time you should be prepared to set aside if you're serious about writing your own ebook. That sounds like a lot of time, and I'm not going to lie to you; it is.

Writing a 200 or so page book will be a journey, regardless of the ebook topic you chose. You will have your fair share of ups and downs. You'll spend a lot of time staring at a blank computer screen. You might get stuck for days writing sentences and deleting them again in Google Docs or Microsoft Word (I spent my fair share of time doing that writing this guide).

Try not to overthink your content, at least not on the first round. As Anne Lamott is famously quoted as saying; "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere."

Keep at it. It might be months. It might be years. But eventually, after an indeterminate amount of time, the hardest part will be over and you'll end up with a manuscript.

5. Edit your ebook (ruthlessly)

Finishing the first draft can feel like a huge accomplishment, which it is. However, as you re-read your content, you'll be dissatisfied with the quality.

That's a normal part of the creative process. Embrace this opportunity to improve the content. Here are some straightforward editing tips to follow when reviewing your first draft:

  • Completely remove chunks of text if they seem irrelevant.
  • Remember: less is more. Short sentences pack a punch.
  • Cut down long sentences (or avoid them completely).
  • Use a tool like Grammarly for proofreading (here's how to get a Grammarly discount.)

Once you've finished editing your content, it's time to get some critical feedback from a professional.

You can either hire a professional editor to review your work, the best option, or ask friends or family for feedback. Your content will probably go through several rounds of editing before you're happy with the finished result.

6. Design your ebook cover

A decade ago, most ebooks looked just like print books. Nowadays, ebook design is a bit more complicated. Though, some things are the same.

For example, the most important part of your ebook is the cover. Your cover is where you set expectations with your readers. If someone likes the cover, they will want to learn more. If they don’t, well, that’s a lost lead.

Spend time creating your front cover. It’s important. It lets your book stand out from the rest. The last thing you want to do is end up just another book in a see of titles that look exactly the same.

10 different book covers with the same stock image on cover(Image Source: AOGA)

See what catches your eye, and use those insights to create something you find appealing. You can use professional book design tools such as Adobe InDesign or online tools to create your ebook. Many of them come with templates that fit the ebook format. Better yet, hire a professional cover designer.

Getting a professional book designer will let you focus on writing, editing, and revising your work. A good designer should be able to create something that people will find engaging. Spend time creating the copy that appears on your cover, the back cover, and the flap copy, as well.

People normally look at the cover, then read the copy. Only after they've done these two things will they decide whether to buy your book or even download and read a free ebook.

7. Add visuals

The visuals that you use in your ebook will be important. Visual elements include photos, illustrations, and even videos. By using the right graphic design tools and knowing the relationships between your text and visual content, you’ll be able to create stunning visual effects that complement your written content.

Remember, unless you’re taking all the photos and drawing all the illustrations yourself, you need to have permission from the creator. One way to ensure that your photos and illustrations are all in the clear is to sign up for stock image services, such as Unsplash. These services contain high-definition visual content.

While visuals are important, your written content should be the star of the show. Don’t add visual elements just for the sake of it. Always ensure that your visual content complements, not overshadows, your text. Unless you’re a photographer and you want to showcase your work, of course.

How can you make money off your ebook?

As an ebook author, your work doesn’t end when you’ve published your ebook. You can’t just make it available online and expect people to download it right away. Even if you’re an established writer, you need to promote the content before you make a profit.

Failing to promote your content risks all that hard work you put into writing and designing your ebook going to waste. Here are some steps you can take to make money from your ebook:

1. Choose the right publishing platform

You will spend a lot of time writing and editing your ebook. You should also put in the same amount of effort, if not a lot more, in marketing it.

Choosing a good publishing platform will allow your ebook to reach a larger audience. Here are some of the most popular ebook publishing platforms:

  • Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP): The Kindle is one of the best-known ebook readers available, and Amazon’s ebook publishing platform is known for its broad reach. It accepts Microsoft Word, EPUB and MOBI files, and converts them into a Kindle-readable format. Royalties can reach up to 70% for books priced between $2.99-$9.99.
  • Apple iBooks Author: If you use a Mac, the iBooks Author is a good platform for publishing your ebook. The software comes with a free tool for designing and illustrating your work and lets you save your book in iBook, PDF, or text format. Royalties can reach up to 70%.
  • Lulu: If you’d prefer to take a DIY approach to format your book, Lulu will help you distribute it to major retailers such as Amazon. However, your ebook needs to pass a stringent quality assurance test. If your book cuts, you can also use Lulu’s marketing service to create a website and publicise your ebook.
  • Kobo: If you want your ebook to be accessible practically everywhere, Kobo is available in 190 countries. It also allows you to convert your manuscript into EPUB format, which makes it readable on a number of devices. Your book can earn you royalties that range from 45% to 70%, depending on its listed price.

Amazon is one of the best options if you’re a first-time author. It dominates the ebook market, has a very wide reach, and pays generously. However, if you’re looking to sell books in Australia, iBooks is also a good place to start as it has cornered around 30% of the Australian market and it offers you the option to set prices in AUD. You can also schedule discount offers any time.

You should promote your ebook on and off these platforms. For example, you can post a link to the book’s product page on your social media accounts or create an email marketing campaign to accompany the book launch. You may also join book clubs and offer your ebook to members at a discount.

With a sustained approach, you’ll hopefully get that viral brand moment where your sales jump through the roof.

2. Launch your marketing strategy

Your ebook is a commercial product. Therefore, you have to market it as a commercial product. Creating a marketing strategy is the first and last step towards earning money from your ebook.

You need to determine how you will promote the content. There are stages to this process:

  1. List all of the people you know who might be interested in the book (especially niche influencers). Offer these people your book for free.
  2. Share your published book with your email subscribers. If you've been updating your audience about your book while you've been writing, you will have a lot of warm leads.
  3. Implement an Amazon marketing strategy. Part of this will involve running ads on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform, collecting reviews, and optimizing your book listing page.
  4. Review the results, and adapt the strategy as needed.

You can create a new Gmail account specifically for the book and use it to send emails to your subscribers and book bloggers who could review and feature your book. This will help you track your email marketing efficiently and keep all correspondence related to the book in just one place.

You will need to optimize it for the online store of your choice as well. The best platform, if you want to sell in volume, is Amazon. Using a tool such as Kindle Spy will help you choose titles and topics that are in high demand. You may also use keyword analysis tools to know what people are searching for and make choices for effective SEO.

Putting your book in the right category will also increase your chances of making money out of it. Amazon has over 500 categories of books, some of them easier to conquer than others. However, putting your book in a less competitive niche just to rank higher might lead to your account being sanctioned. Always choose a category that reflects your topics.

Whatever strategies you implement, encourage your readers to buy your ebook at the same time by offering discounts, freebies, or sneak peeks at whatever you’re working on at the moment. The more sales you generate in a short period of time, the higher the chance it will get noticed.

3. Gather your fans

A key element of your digital marketing campaign will involve collecting the details of people who read your book. To do this, you'll need what online marketers call a landing page.

A landing page is a page that leads only to one destination: a conversion. If you're looking to collect the details of people who have read your book, you should do the following:

  1. Add a CTA at the end of your book to a landing page.
  2. Create a landing page where you can gather the email address of readers.
  3. Set up an email sequence to thank readers for subscribing to your email list, offering them something of value, and asking them to leave a review of your book.

As you learned from the Mark Manson example, your email list is one of your most important marketing assets. You'll need to engage with your new leads. That might involve sharing previews of future content, running webinars where you share valuable insights, and more.

4. Sell it yourself

Listing your book on your own online store has its own distinct advantages: you can set your own price, keep a higher portion of the profits, control marketing, build better relationships with your customers and showcase your books exactly how you want to.

Paperform makes it easy to create a sales page for your ebook. In just a few minutes, you can create a page that describes the book, shows the cover, captures lead information and accepts payment, all in one place.

3 real-life examples of ebooks done right

We’ve covered the tasks you’ll need to complete if you want to be a successful author. To make this blog post more insightful, here are three real-life examples of successful indie authors who wrote successful ebooks.

1. Another Man, Another Chance by John Locke

Screenshot from Goodreads of Another Man, Another Chance by John Locke(Image Source: Goodreads)

John Locke was the first Indie author to sell over a million eBooks. As an aspiring Indie author, there's a lot you can learn from him.

Every book he's published has been a bestseller on Amazon. He uses a low pricing strategy, which is unusual for a successful author. His books cost just $2.99 cents each. Most famous authors price their books somewhere between $5-$15. The low price point attracts new readers and loyal fans.

2. Wool by Hugh Howey

Screenshot of Wool by Hugh Howley on Penguin(Image Source: Penguin)

Hugh Howey started as a self-publishing author who wrote books in his spare time. He published several books before one of them, Wool, became a best seller. He turned the book into a series, which was picked up by Apple TV.

Howey utilizes a variation of the John Locke pricing model. He has some books priced at a low introductory rate and has other books which are more expensive. This is a great strategy for growing an audience. When the readers are hooked, because they've fallen in love with your content, they will pay for your more expensive books.

3. So You Want to Start a Podcast by Kristen Meinzer

Blue book with headphones on white background(Image Source: Harper Collins Publishers)

Kristen Meinzer is a good example of an accidental author who made it big. She started as a podcaster reviewing movies, then went on to become the co-host of a book review podcast, “By The Book”, and published her first romance novel as part of an assignment on the show. With her book about podcasting, So You Want to Start a Podcast, she goes back to her roots and offers aspiring podcasters a useful guide to the industry.

Over to you

If you intend to use written content to generate revenue, publishing an ebook is a good way of introducing yourself and your brand to a wider audience.

However, knowing how to write an ebook and make money from it involves more than just writing whatever is on your mind. Because you want to earn money from it, you need to follow a strategy that will maximize your exposure and earnings.

There are many steps to writing an eBook. Start by creating an outline for your book, break your content into chapters, and then start writing. Once you've got your first draft, edit the content ruthlessly. It pays to hire a professional designer to create your visuals and an editor to review your content.

The guidance and examples in this post are meant to inform, educate, and entertain. With a bit of hard work and the right tools, you can be on your way to writing your first book in no time.

This post was written by a guest author named David Campbell. David Campbell is a digital marketing strategist at Ramp Ventures, and is part of the marketing team at Right Inbox, Voila Norbert and ZoomShift.

About the author
David Campbell
David Campbell is a digital marketing specialist at Ramp Ventures. He helps manage the content marketing team at Right Inbox. When he's not working, he enjoys travelling and trying to learn Spanish.

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