Exactly How I Wrote an Ebook That Made $10K in 1 Week

Exactly How I Wrote an Ebook That Made $10K in 1 Week

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how to make money with ebookWhen I say I made $10K in a week, I’m lying.

Sort of.

I mean, I did actually sell over $10,000 worth of my ebooks in the first week.

But it’s not like my ebooks appeared in a poof of magic.

Or the marketing strategy followed in a second magical, smoky gust.

I wish that had been the case. Someone needs to build an app for that.
How to write an ebook that sells
No, it wasn’t that easy.

Like the most successful people on earth tell folks like moi: there’s no such thing as an overnight success.

You have to work for a decade to become an overnight success. (Click to tweet)

So if you’re reading this post because you want to get rich quick, sorry.

(After all, $10K isn’t exactly “getting rich”. But it’s nothing to sneeze at, either.)

If you’re reading this because you have loads of expertise in a subject area – and even a blog filled with great content you can leverage – and you want to self-publish your own ebook on that subject matter, you’ve come to the right place.

This is the story of exactly how I wrote the first 4 Copy Hackers ebooks and made sweet, sweet coin ‘overnight’.

STEP 1: I Put in My 10,000 Hours

You need to put in the time it takes to become an expert at something before you write an ebook.

Okay, you don’t need to.

You can go take a course and write a book on what you learned.

But I wouldn’t recommend it… because I wouldn’t want to read a book that’s just someone else’s info regurgitated.

I built the copywriting department of a B2B agency, put in 5 years climbing the ranks at Intuit, consulted with a UK-based optimization agency, and helped about a dozen start-ups before I put pen to paper to write my own ebooks.

Put in your time.

Become an expert.

And you’ll have tons of useful stuff – complete with examples, case studies and results – to write about.

That makes for a good ebook.

STEP 2: I Stumbled on an Amazing Influencer and Did Free Work for Him

I didn’t know what was in store for me when, in Sept 2010, I offered to help a start-up founder named Shereef Bishay (BetterMeans, ClassParrot, DevBootcamp) with his website copy.

He’d written the website for project management tool BetterMeans, and he’d posted a request for copywriting help on Hacker News.

I offered to help him. Gave my copy recommendations. Thought that was it.

But Shereef is amazing. So he didn’t leave it at that.

On Oct 26, 2010, Shereef wrote this incredible post on Hacker News raving about my work.

Raving.

He even posted my recommendations deck on SlideShare so others could see and use them.

It was totally out of the blue.

I’d just launched Page99Test.com – as in on that very day – and the traffic Shereef’s post sent to my little hobby writing/reading site was stellar.

That alone was awesome.

But it didn’t stop there.

STEP 3: When the Market Shouted at Me, I Listened

In the days following, my inbox was flooded with requests for help.

As a writer, I don’t like to use clichés like “my inbox was flooded”, but it was!

Startups of all sizes were begging for an hour of my time.

That was a sweet ego boost. I agreed to review web copy for about 8 or 10 startups.

Unfortunately, I received way more requests than I could handle.

I had to say “no” to a ton of people, which felt gross because I’m stricken with Please Othersitis, a debilitating disease that causes me to fall into deep depression when I have to refuse a request.

(The only cure is more cowbell.)

Anyway, a handful of the people I turned down suggested I write an ebook instead.

FYI: This is the “testing the market” part of my lean startup.

I didn’t go out and ask; the market came to me and told me they wanted copywriting ebooks.

I listened.

STEP 4: I Did Free Work to Build up Case Studies

I decided to write an ebook about copywriting for startups. (Deciding to do it is a major part of actually doing it, BTW.)

I asked the startups I took on to agree to let me use the experience, their questions, their results, etc. to build case studies for use in my ebooks.

And for the next 3 months, I gave away my services and documented everything.

Note that I don’t think you have to give away your work. I just decided to.

It was a strange phase I was going through, like the year when I rocked a pixie cut.

STEP 5: I Sat Idly

Ah, writing a book.

It’s the best way to get your house dusted, get your oil changed, get caught up on your correspondence.

I procrastinated.

STEP 6: I Got a New Boss I Had to Escape

You shouldn’t talk shizzle about your former boss, I know, but OMG I do not mind burning that bridge.

I’m not naming names – he knows who he is.

Anyway, the point is that something changed in my cushy, comfy, high-paying day job… and I had to get out.

I quit.

And my hubby said, “Maybe you can finish that book now.”

To which I replied, “The one about the dead girl?” (I write ‘fun fiction’ on the side.)

To which he replied, “No, the one that will actually bring in a buck or two. We have bills to pay.”

STEP 7: I Hunkered Down and Wrote

I wrote and wrote and wrote.

Ended up with 250 pages and yet so much left unsaid.

I got my ebook to a point that I felt pretty good about it. Good enough to send it out for feedback.

STEP 8: I Solicited Feedback from Beta Readers

The people I’d done free work for and a few others were at the top of my list of beta readers, all of whom were in my target market.

I sent them “advance reading copies” (called ARCs in da biz) and waited, cringing, for their feedback.

I was right to cringe.

It didn’t go over well.

The content was good, my readers said. But the book was too long.

They reminded me that startups don’t need to learn all the ins and outs of writing copy, persuading visitors, and optimizing their website.

Startups need to learn how to write a headline right now.

Or where messages come from in the first place.

Or how to get visitors to click on their buttons.

My target market needed bite-sized pieces of info that hit on specific topics.

STEP 9: When My Beta Readers Spoke, I Listened

I decided to listen to every piece of feedback I got.

To do this took a mindset shift.

See, as a writer, I felt a sort of philosophical desire to hold true to my artistic vision – you know, the thing we march up to the top of the mountain to have revealed to us in a psychedelic mist.

My vision.

I quickly realized that such an attitude was super-problematic.

Because I wasn’t a writer who was writing a book.

I was a skilled worker who was creating content. Valuable content – book-worthy content.

But, at the end of the day, just content.

I was not venturing into the world of non-fiction writing or publishing.

I was venturing into the world of content marketing.

With that mindset shift came this cascading waterfall of changes to my strategy.

I decided to break the big ol’ book into 4 targeted books.

I put in a limit of 55 pages per book and made that short length a differentiator in my marketing.

I decided to sell the ebooks myself, like a true content marketer – not through Amazon, iTunes, or any other distributor that would place restrictions on my pricing.

As you probably know, when you sell with Amazon, you get the benefit of their traffic (if anyone can find you in their marketplace), but you have to price your book between $1.99 and $9.99 or over $20 to earn 70% royalties. (More about that here.)

I wanted more control than that.

And, given that I knew I was going to be marketing these books like a mofo, I questioned the logic of driving traffic to a page on a site filled with my competitors.

Especially when that site was only going to give me a portion of the earnings.

And especially when I was willing and able to do the work of selling the books myself.

When I decided to do everything myself on my own site, I chose not to use Lulu, Leanpub or any other service that helps with the whole self-publishing business.

That said, I’ve researched the bejeebus out of Lulu and Leanpub, and they both seem to be really awesome resources for self-publishing.

In fact, I’ve recommended both to those who’ve contacted me with questions about how to write ebooks.

STEP 10: I Built My Website

I needed a website that:

  • Looked good, legit, credible.
  • Was built on WordPress so I could update it easily, take advantage of plugins, etc.
  • Offered shortcodes so I could make the content readable.
  • Had ecommerce / shopping cart capabilities that worked with PayPal (because we Canadians don’t have many other merchant service solutions than that yet).
  • Allowed me to fulfill orders of digital products.

We landed on a WordPress theme by WooThemes, which works with WooCommerce.

My hubby set the whole thing up, and then I went in and wrote the copy.

STEP 11: I Produced a Minimum Viable Product

To keep my costs low, I decided to make only PDF versions of my ebooks available at launch.

Why? Because it’s cheaper for me and perfectly fine for readers.

  • You can read a PDF on your computer.
  • You can read it on your iPad.
  • You can print it out, make notes on it, and so on.

I figured that, if people wanted other formats like EPUB, they would write to me and request them.

If I got enough requests, I would cough up the bucks to get the conversions done by a pro.

I then went to 99designs.com and posted a job for a book cover.

I had to upgrade to the $700 level to get some decent options, which sucked, but I ended up with covers I’m happy with.

(Side note: If I were to do it again, I’d hire a creative agency.)

STEP 12: I Decided on Price

I could have basically given the books away for $5 each or some ridiculously low price.

But I’ve found that the more people pay for something, the more they’re likely to invest in using it and the greater the value they’ll associate with it.

There’s a threshold, of course. But that was my experience, so that factored into my pricing strategy.

I started at $12.99 per ebook.

And then I did the thing that is – without question – the cornerstone of my success as an ebook writer and self-publisher: I bundled.

The total for the 4-book bundle was $51.96, off of which I took another 15% (or so) ‘cos, IMHO, it feels great to get a lower price for buying a bundle.

STEP 13: I Launched in the Community That Had “Created” Me

I launched my Copy Hackers ebooks with this blog post on Hacker News, which rose quickly to the top of the home page.

It was in:

  • 2nd place within an hour
  • 7th place by the fifth hour
  • 8th place by the sixth hour

How to launch an ebook

Sixteen hours after posting, it was still on the first page (albeit in position 22 by then) and it had 91 comments.

If you’ve ever tried to get – and stay – on the Hacker News home page, you know this is saying something.

The market had spoken. They liked.

It didn’t hurt that I’d offered a big discount to the HN community that brought the price of a whole bundle down to $16.

Heck, when you’re launching, it’s a-okay to slash your price… for a short period.

The first person to buy my ebook bundle?

Good ol’ Shereef Bishay – who else?! He’s a giver.

Thank goodness, Shereef wasn’t the last to buy.

Marketing Takeaway

So there you have it.

The story of how I made a pretty awesome amount of cash ‘overnight’.

Because you’re probably wondering, yes, the books are still selling uber-well.

At last count, nearly 5,000 bundles have sold since the books launched in mid-October of 2011.

And since that’s all “passive income”, it does, at times, feel like easy money.

Best of all? The feedback from readers has been hugely positive.

If you’re thinking of writing your own ebook or turning your blog archive into an ebook you can sell, I hope my story helps you.

If you’d like more details, leave a comment and we’ll chat.

Good luck,
Joanna

PS from Ana: if you are experiencing difficulty leaving a comment on TGC, please take a moment to contact me to help me figure out the issue. THANK YOU!

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40 Comments (click here to leave a comment)

  1. Mihaiela

    What an awesome story! I am currently working on my blog and in the brainstorming process of a book. I am contemplating doing an e-book to help keep overhead low along with earn more. Thanks for sharing!

  2. What an awesome story! I am currently working on my blog and also in the brainstorming process of a book. I am considering doing an e-book to keep overhead low and earn more. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I can count on one hand the number of ebooks I’ve paid for in my life. Joanna’s bundle was one of them – and it delivered.

    Great to stumble on this post and see how it all came about. Looking forward to the next publication :)

  4. Joanna, your experiences are inspiring for the kind of person who wants to get rich overnight by working their tail off for 10,000 hours. Lacking both the requisite expertise and work ethic, I recently promised to NOT send an e-book to subscribers.

  5. Ricky

    Thanks for the great idea. I never even considered breaking down my blog and turning it into an e-book. I bet I could do a bit with it. With some editing and optimizing it could be something very wonderful. Thanks a bunch, if it makes it anywhere, I will give you a shout-out for the idea.

  6. This post was inspiring for me as I’m working on my own eBook project. I like the whole work ethic vibe, as I despise the get rich quick stuff. The bundle idea was the golden nugget for me, thanks!

  7. Thank you for the honest sharing of the rough drive to success. It allows me to ponder on the possible route I have to take if and when I decide to take the plunge of writing my very own ebook. I have long dwelled on the idea but couldn’t take the first step. I wonder when I will find the courage to do so. Hooray to your success. Wishing you more in the future!

  8. Fantastic post! I like that you twisted a sort of “how to” guide into an interesting story. Not only is it very helpful to anyone aspiring to write an eBook, but it was also a genuinely good story. Great stuff, thanks for sharing.

  9. Joanna, as someone who’s written 2.5 ‘failed’ ebooks, I have to say, this is beautiful.

    Super-helpful, eye-opening stuff that I wish someone had told me earlier :)

    I especially like your take on the mindset of a writer venturing out into writing, and a content-marketer creating book-worthy content.

    Rock on and ryze up!

  10. Hello Joanna. You’ve actually provided an extensive process list here that can be re-purposed as a checklist. I like how you went beyond publishing and shared some marketing ideas like building a website and deciding on a price point.

    The best tip for this audience is that you developed a product to accompany it. Thanks for the tips and hope to read more from you in the future.

    Actually, I see you did some business with Quara. I was wondering if you’d be interested in an interview for my blog.

  11. Wow! Congratulations on your hard work, its definitely paying off! It just goes to show what really is possible when you’re willing to do the hard yards, and not just expect things to magically come to you while you sit at the computer stuck to facebook all day!

    Your post is very inspiring and gives me more motivation to work hard to achieve my own goals. I hope one day I too will be able to write about similar successes!

    • Thanks, Mark! Isn’t it amazing how much *better* it feels when you put in a lot of work and succeed… vs, say, winning something? The work is worth it in SO many ways. :)

  12. EBOOK that made $10,000 in a week;
    EXPERT in your field like Joana,
    EXERCISE feedback from readers before launch,
    EXTRA discount like Joana gave,
    ENLIGHTENING post on how you done it.
    EXPECT another rush of 10,000!

  13. It’s great to read a full document of this kind of process – the e-book industry is something I’m thinking of getting involved in and this really spells out the steps that can be taken to go about it.

    Ditto to Scott Webb re minimum viable product – this is the item that stands out for me as a really useful idea, not letting oneself be overwhelmed with grandeur and yet still making the product as available to as many people as possible. Nice one!

    • Rob RS, I’d highly recommend getting into ebooks, if you’re already thinking of it (and if you like to write). When you have something to share that others need, ebooks are a great way to build a business with happy customers.

  14. Joanna, great story of overnight success. For all writers it can be one long night. You paid your dues, researched, revised, and generated extreme value. Inspiring.

  15. Nice! Your procedure is a learning experience! There IS indeed value out there in the inter-world. You did it the right way, the hard way, step by step, and it paid off!

    I have noticed that many folks who give their talents away FREE get smacked eventually by a big boomerang of success. I should hope to be as blessed as you are someday!

  16. Scott Webb

    I thought the screenshot of sales looked familiar! I work with WooThemes and remember the case study post of using WooCommerce and a WooCommerce Theme.

    Key step here for me was step 11. Minimum Viable Product. I have recently got caught up in thoughts of “What do I do now so that the ebook I create is iPad 3 ready? OMG” hahaha. I bet many others think this too. But starting with the minimum viable product is brilliant. It’s like 1.0 versions.

    I feel a bit of weight off my shoulders :)

    And congrats again!

    • Totally agreed, Scott! No point investing a ton in your product if you don’t yet know how the market will respond. We’ve got to leave room to optimize our products like we optimize the sites that sell them. (PS: WooThemes is great, no?)

  17. I enjoyed reading this post. I’ve recently decided that I’m going to use my experience with editing and writing to do something similar. (This post has come at a good time for me). I’ve been wasting too much time trying to make money online in the way that everyone else does it.
    I have little technical skill. I need to look elsewhere and actually make use of my talents – writing and editing.

    Good luck with your book and all the best to you. Thank you for your timely and encouraging post.

    • I’m so glad to hear it, Anne! All I’ll say is, if you have a target market in mind (e.g., “How to Write Blog Posts for New Grads”), find out where they are, if you don’t already know, and start spending your time in that community ASAP. I don’t think things would have gone well for me if no one in the Hacker News community had heard of me when I launched. Best of luck to you!!!

  18. Joanna, thank you for not pretending it was an easy ride! Sounds like you did it through determination, commitment and vision! This is inspiring!

  19. Mccoy

    Well done Joanne. Looks like I have a few more hours to put in before hitting expert status myself…

  20. I was so glad when I read it did not happen overnight and that it took a lot of work. That made it real for me and motivating. Not only was it great content but great marketing with the bundle. Thanks for sharing this experience from top to bottom.

    • No probs, Lisa! (BTW, the only thing that happens overnight is SLEEP. :) Then you’ve got to get up and do the work to be an “overnight success”.)

  21. Kenny Fabre

    Joanne

    great job and great tips, I’m currently completing my ebook I’m looking to surpass your sales amount of 10k

  22. congratulations Joanna. creating and distributing ebooks is one of my personal favorite methods of establishing income streams. your case study was very insightful. all the continuing best to you

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Sunil! Agreed – ebooks are a great form of content marketing. Free or paid, they’re super helpful when you’re building your brand and growing your business. Best to you, too!

  23. Ankesh Kothari

    I love it how you broke the book down and then bundled the parts. That is an awesome example of packaging. Of meeting your audience’s demand – but giving them what they need.

    Would love to know how you managed to keep the sales strong after that first wave of being featured on Hacker News…

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Hi, Ankesh! Since launch, I’ve been fortunate to keep growing through word-of-mouth (the tight-knit tech startup community is really great that way!), a few guests posts and appearances, a great enewsletter list (where I give out tons o’ content, which peeps seem to appreciate) and a really great relationship with the guys at AppSumo, where Copy Hackers is currently available for purchase.

      If I hadn’t had the strong start I did, I’m not sure where I’d be. That’s why I really focus in this post on the importance of connecting with a great influencer early on. Without Shereef (and a few others, like Syed Shuttari of LetsLunch), it would’ve been tough.

      So go do great free work for people who believe in reciprocity! :)

  24. Joanna,

    First of all congratulations. Great job doing so well with your first ebook.

    But you are also absolutely right. Every “instant” success is actually the culmination of a long series of laying the groundwork. There is no such thing as just putting something out there and having that instant success.

    I like the step-by-step analysis of how you did it. Hopefully it is very encouraging to others and gives them a game plan and an idea of how tthey can go about setting up for their, “overnight” success (that takes a lot of planning and work to achieve)

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Steve. If you watch Shark Tank (or Dragon’s Den), you hear a LOT about how there are no overnight successes —- Robert Herjavec brings that up frequently. I’m definitely not saying I’ve “succeeded”… but insofar as the Copy Hackers ebooks go, I’ve been lucky to have a strong start that’s kept up nicely —- so hopefully others can take something away from that. :)