The Secret to Selling E-Books by the Boatload (Even if You’re Busy)

Carol Tice

Business graphAlmost any writer can toss together a quick e-book — and many have. But creating and marketing an e-book that’s a moneymaker is much more difficult.

I know because I just did a survey about self-publishing with over 400 writers, and about 20 percent of the participants said they’ve published their own e-book or physical book.

But here’s the bad news: Most of those e-books don’t earn much.

Real writers’ real e-book income revealed

Almost half of the self-publishers reported they made less than $100 from their e-book! Another 30 percent made $101-$500. (You can see more survey results here.)

Now, maybe some of those e-books were created to be free marketing tools. But still, I found that a troubling figure.

Why? It costs money to create a professional-looking e-book. I personally spend $1,000-$1,500 producing each of my e-books. So revenue of under $500 means that the majority of writers’ e-books are probably losing money.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work!

Self-published e-books and print-on-demand physical books are supposed to create a nice side income stream for freelance writers. But something’s going wrong for most writers who try it.

How can you sell more e-books or self-published print books?

You need three basic things to ensure a steady stream of sales:

1. Peeps

The reality is, most sales are made by promoting your own e-book to the people who are interested enough in what you do to give you their email address. That’s right — you’ve heard it 1,000 times before, because it’s true. The money is in your list.

Even ninja-guru, super-successful e-book self-publishers, who invest real marketing money to buy Facebook ads, hire a publicist, and use other pricey techniques discover their top source of sales is: emailing their list. For instance, ace self-publisher Steve Scott analyzed many e-book marketing techniques he used recently, and came to that same conclusion.

If you can build a list, it really helps you market a book without a lot of effort. That’s actually the exact method I’ve been using.

So if you don’t have a list yet, it’s never too early to get started.

You may know I have a few things on my plate, so it’s not like I can devote months round the clock to selling an e-book. With each e-book I’ve put out this year, I’ve sent perhaps a half-dozen emails, tops.

And yet, I’ve earned over $12,000 from e-books in the first half of 2014 alone. How can I do so little marketing and still earn well?

Well, besides having at least a modest-sized list (around 15,000), there’s something I do first:

2. Awareness

The easy way to sell an e-book is to presell it. Prepare the ground early and build awareness with that list of yours. That gets people aching to buy. Be talking about it, in a non-salesy way, for months — ideally, even years — before you actually sell it.

As soon as you have the concept, start talking. Yes, before you write it! The more you involve your tribe in your writing process, the more excited they’ll be to buy.

A few of the things I’ve done to presell my e-books:

  • Conduct surveys to find out what people need to learn on the topic
  • Post potential covers to discuss
  • Share the table of contents and ask “what’s missing?”
  • Ask for input on several possible titles for the work
  • Offer free excerpts from the e-book
  • Recruit beta readers of early drafts
  • Request reviews from early readers

Preselling is a huge help, but there’s one final item that really makes selling e-books a snap.

3. More e-books

This is huge.

I know because once upon a time, I put out one e-book and then didn’t have another one to sell for several years. That was a recipe for low sales.

The easiest way to sell e-books is to keep putting out more e-books. Ideally, e-books in a related series, that continue to offer more info on a related topic, so that buyers of the first e-book would be a natural audience for the next one.

I know — I said my tip would work if you were busy! But doing an e-book series may not be as hard as you think.

My first e-book had three parts and was 200+ pages long! I could have easily put it out as three small e-books instead. Then I would have had a great promotional funnel and lots of fresh reasons to bring people back to buy the older titles.

Now that I have four different e-books all on my sales page, it’s amazing to watch how many people will buy a different e-book than the one I’m pitching, or buy two or three e-books even though I was only actively promoting one of them.

Or…use updates

Really don’t have another e-book in you right now? Think about what you can do to refresh the e-book you’ve got.

Put out a new edition. Add a workbook, a template people can download.

Give yourself a new reason to talk about your e-book, and it’s easy to attract additional sales — as long as you’ve got those first two elements in place.

 Have you self-published? Leave a comment and tell us your best sales technique.



  1. David

    Hi Carol,
    Another great article. When starting out with a new blog, not much readership or traffic, how do you begin to engage an audience that may not be there? I know building a platform with a ton of traffic is important, but how does one improve traffic and engage a readership that may not exist?

    I’m sure somewhere before you’ve mentioned this, whether on earlier posts or your freelance writers den, perhaps you could mention it again.

    Thanks again for all your great articles.

  2. Dan Jones

    Great advice, Carol. Glad I found your blog.. for the first time!

    To build an email list, what types of things should someone send out to subscribers that they couldn’t already get on the website? Is it just a straight duplicate of a blog or something else but in email form?



    • Carol Tice

      Hi Dan — welcome to the blog! Be sure to subscribe, I send out lots of offers and also exclusive posts that only my email subscribers see. 😉

      That’s a great question. It can be any number of things — you have to experiment and see what works best. I began with a short, co-written free report on 40 Ways to Market Your Writing, which was originally part of a Webinar I gave.

      Then for a long time, I had a 20-week e-course, Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers. I wrote them on an occasional basis, as I had inspirations for additional marketing approaches to add to the series, so it took many months to write. This series was originally published as a series of emails on my blog. But remember, it’s hard to find things in a blogroll, so there’s value in organizing them into a course for people.

      Right now, my subscribers are getting a free podcast, The Freelancers’ Fear-Buster, which I created specifically to be my new free product for subs…and then later, signups will get an offer to elect to take Marketing 101. I crowdsourced the content for this podcast, so it has 17 successful writers & experts’ thoughts on overcoming fear.

      That’s my free-product history! The real answer is…offer something that makes people sign up. The more value you can offer in your freebie, the more signups you will get. I switched mine recently because I find fear is the #1 concern writers have to deal with. Keep asking your audience what they need to learn, and build a free product that addresses it.

      I’ve also heard that tools & templates do very well as free opt-in rewards.

      Best of luck with building your offer!

  3. Mridu Khullar Relph

    Eh, I was 23. It was more important to me to travel the world, do what I defined then as meaningful journalism and feel like I was making a difference. I wouldn’t have written for the NYT or Time if I hadn’t shut shop. So, you know, pros and cons.

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