When I say I made $10K in a week, I’m lying.
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.
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.
Shereef wrote this incredible post on Hacker News raving about my work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Joanna Wiebe is the co-creator of Copy Hackers and Airstory. The original conversion copywriter, she blogs, writes books, speaks at conferences and teaches startup marketers how to convert like mofos using li'l old words. You should follow her on Twitter @copyhackers.