Thursday, July 08, 2010

How To Make Money on Ebooks

1. Write a damn good book. This should be your main priority. It's also one of the hardest things to do, and the hardest things to judge for yourself if you've done it.

The problem is, most writers believe their books are good. Even at our most insecure, we believe complete strangers will enjoy our scribblings enough to pay for the privilege.

I recommend joining a writers group and getting feedback. Seek criticism, not praise. Praise is like candy; we love it, but it isn't good for us. If you want to bulletproof your manuscript, you want to find out what is wrong with it, and you need eyes other than your own to do that.

I don't recommend paying for a freelance editor--it's better you learn craft on your own. If you really feel you need an editor, get recommendations, references, and know exactly what you're paying for.

2. Price it right. I believe an ebook should be priced at $2.99, because the Kindle royalty rate is 70% for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Above or below that, it's 35%.

Three bucks is a more than fair price for a full length digital book. (Full length is over 50,000 words.) If it's under 50k words, go ahead and price it for less. Or put a few short pieces together to make a long piece.

Even with short pieces, make sure they are good enough. I'm selling quite a few short stories on Kindle, but they don't sell nearly as well as my novels. Also, the short stories I'm selling have all been published before in print magazines and anthologies, so I'm pretty sure they're good.

3. Format it correctly. If you know HTML and MS Word very well, you can probably do this yourself. But you'd get more professional results using someone who knows what they're doing. I recommend Rob Siders at

A poorly formatted ebook will get bad reviews, and ultimately it WILL NOT SELL.

4. People judge books by their covers. Make sure your cover is professional, not something you slapped together with an istockphoto image with some Arial text laid on top using Photoshop. My covers are done by Carl Graves. He's at cgdouble2(at)

5. Write a great product description. If you want to know the format for this, read back jacket copy of books similar to yours. Your description should include:
  • Genre
  • Word count
  • Author bio
  • Reviews (if applicable)
Check out and follow that format for your descriptions.

6. Choose your platform. I upload to Kindle directly at For iPad, Sony, Kobo (Borders), and Barnes & Noble, I use

Keep in mind that both Kindle and Smashwords require different formatting. Also remember that some vendors Smashwords uploads to tend to discount ebooks. If they discount your ebooks, Amazon will match the discounted price, and you will only get 70% royalty on the discounted price.

7. Publicize your ebook. You should be on Twitter and Facebook, and have a website. You could have a blog and a newsletter. I recommend announcing your ebook at in the Book Bazaar section.

Other ways to publicize your ebook include:
  • Trading back matter excerpts with other ebook authors
  • Searching online for various Kindle and ebooks groups
  • Putting your ebook link in your email signature
  • Developing an online presence by participating in blog comments and forums
Q: Do I need an agent?

A: You don't need an agent to publish your own ebooks. But I recommend getting an agent. Mine is invaluable. She's currently shopping my self-pubbed titles to foreign markets and audio publishers, and is essential for negotiating contracts for film rights and print deals.

Q: How can I get an agent if I self publish my own ebooks?

A: The old catch-22 was "You can't get a publishing contract without an agent, and you can't get an agent unless you have a publishing contract." With the rise of self-publishing as a viable alternative to regular publishing, it becomes "No agent will want to represent a self-published ebook unless the book is no longer self-published."

Print publishers WANT erights, and I doubt any will give them up. That means agents won't be interested in representing you unless you give them the opportunity to sell all of your rights. If you sell a ton of ebooks, you might interest an agent in repping your book, but you'd have to stop selling ebooks.

Q: Should I forsake selling ebooks in order to try and land a print deal?

A: Let's look at the pros and cons of both sides.

Traditional Publishing Pros
  • Wide distribution and more exposure
  • Most offer an advance, sometimes a large one
  • They do the editing, formatting, cover art
  • Marketing power
Traditional Publishing Cons
  • Take six to eighteen months before publication
  • Price ebooks waaaaaay too high
  • They have power over cover art and title
  • Don't use the marketing power they wield effectively
  • Pay royalties twice a year
  • Don't involve you in many of the decisions regarding your book
  • Difficult to implement changes
  • Lousy royalty rates, between 6% and 25%
  • Very hard to break into
Self Publishing Pros
  • Paid once a month
  • You control price and cover
  • Publication is almost instant
  • Easy to implement changes
  • Every decision is yours
  • Great royalty rates
  • Anyone can do it
Self Publishing Cons
  • No free professional editing, formatting, or cover art
  • Fewer sales
  • Less than 10% of current book market
  • Greater potential to publish crappy books
You need to figure out what your goals are, and set them accordingly.

Q: Would you personally stop selling ebooks in order to get a print deal?

A: No. I'm making too much money on ebooks. But that doesn't mean you'll earn what I'm earning. There are many factors involved, including luck.

Q: Who should sell ebooks?

A: If you have an out of print backlist, you should sell those as ebooks. If you have a book your agent couldn't sell, you should sell those as ebooks.

If you're doing well selling books, you might want to consider publishing your next book yourself. I just published two original novels, ENDURANCE and TRAPPED, and both had traditional publishing contracts. I chose instead to self publish, and I'll earn more on my own within 12-18 months than I would have with those deals.

Q: What if I can't get an agent?

A: Then maybe your book isn't good enough. Perhaps you should focus on writing better. If you're pretty sure your book is good enough, you can always self-publish. But be ready for negative reviews and poor sales if it isn't up to par.

Q: Is it true that the only people who are successful with ebooks are "name" authors?

A: No. I've blogged before about many other new authors who are doing as well, or better, than I am. This myth won't ever die, and is perpetuated by lazy thinkers who don't bother with five minutes of research.

Q: How will readers find good books when everyone is self published?

A: There are millions of books in print, yet readers seem to be able to find what they want. Adding a few million more won't change anything. There will always be ways to separate the good from the bad, and subjective taste always plays a part.

Q: Can I make a living by self publishing?

A: I don't know many people who make a living being traditionally published. Most of my peers have day jobs.

That said, I'm making a living self publishing. I'm sure others can and will. But whether you can or not involves a lot of factors, some within your control, some not.

But, in my humble opinion, a dedicated writer who turns out good material on a consistent basis will be able to, on average, earn more money self publishing than traditional publishing. I say this having done both.