(NOTE: This post is a companion piece to Peter Bowerman’s NFAA teleseminar on the subject to be posted on 8/17/17.)
In late 2009, I released my fourth self-published book, the updated edition of my first, The Well-Fed Writer (TWFW), an award-winning how-to about my chosen field (since 1994) of lucrative “commercial” writing – freelancing for businesses.
I released it only on my own site (it wasn’t on Amazon or in bookstores yet) and only to the subscribers (~7000) of my newsletter geared to commercial freelancers. As of the release date, I’d invested $12,500 to design, edit, and print 6000 copies of the book.
Within 45 days of its release, I was in the black.
600% Profit Margins?
Virtually every penny I’ve made since has been profit. And during that exciting launch phase (and to this day), even though my physical books sell for $20, my average sale hovered around $40+, yet with a fixed cost of no more than about $6 and often, nothing.
Most of the profit? It came from companion ebooks with zero costs for production (just the time it took to create them), storage and shipping. In many cases, I was making all-digital sales, involving no physical books at all, and hence, pure profit.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. My ebook strategy has been unfolding since 2002, and has four components…
#1: Ebook Version of Physical Books
Creating a digital version of your physical book is a no-brainer, and they’ll appeal to folks in remote areas, those into instant gratification, and the tech-savvy crowd.
An FYI: As of this writing, I offer my ebooks only as PDF’s, and I’ve gotten fewer than five requests for alternate-device-compatible ebooks. It’s coming, but not nearly as fast as you’d imagine.
#2: Ebooks as Purchase Bonuses/Standalone Purchases
While I love Amazon and bookstore sales, selling books off my site is best. I make more profit, can capture buyer information, and perhaps get a signup for my ezine or blog. So, to spur people to buy directly from me, I offer a free ebook bonus (and free Media Mail shipping).
For TWFW, the bonus is a 200-page compilation of 39 past issues of the newsletter mentioned earlier. Buyers of my other book, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher (TWFSP), choose from two e-bonuses – digital versions of two appendices from the book:
1) The Time Line, a printable, chronological to-do list, and…
2) The Self-Publisher’s Resource Bonus, a 16-page resource listing, with all links hot.
With purchase bonuses, think useful, high-value content peripheral to the main book (or from the book, but more user-friendly). I sell all the purchase bonuses as standalone products as well – mostly to buyers of the book from Amazon or bookstores.
#3: Ebooks as Companion Products to Main Book
This is the most exciting (and profitable) part of the strategy, and an ideal avenue for how-to books. I’ll introduce it with a question:
What digital content could you package along with your book, for which people would be willing to pay an additional $5, $10, $20, $30 or more?
Even $5 extra would defray some or all production/shipping costs on that book.
I stumbled on this idea while finishing up TWFSP in 2007. I assembled all the marketing materials I’d crafted in the course of successfully promoting my first two WFW titles (the result at the time: 52,000 copies in print and a full-time living for five years (now 10 and counting…). We’re talking contracts, various pitches, marketing proposals, releases, blurbs, promo sheets, and a lot more.
At 101 pages, it was a killer marketing template for self-publishers, and from someone with nearly three decades of sales, marketing, copywriting and publishing experience (www.wellfedsp.com, then SP Biz-in-a-Box).
The Well-Fed SP Biz-in-a-Box (BIB) ebook was born. $19.95 when purchased with the physical book (or ebook version), $29.95 if purchased separately. 60+ percent of buyers of the main book off my site buy it as well. So, while the book alone purchased off my site is $20 (with ~$14 profit), the bundle is $40 with a $34 profit (or the book’s ebook version + the BIB = $30 pure profit).
The strategy was so successful, I duplicated it for the updated version of TWFW, discussed earlier. Here, I created two companions: a 120-page Tool Box ($19.95 with book/$29.95 standalone), and a 16-page Time Line ($8/14.95). Together, they’re $27.95/$39.90 ($5 off the after-market bundle, giving it an appealing, under-$40 price).
Again, high-value content. Take the time to create superior products people just have to have. Package crap, fluff, or filler and you might sell a few, but bad word-of-mouth won’t sustain it. As it is, positive word-of-mouth about my stuff – through various online channels – ensures ongoing sales.
A Few Bucks More…
I added one final twist: the ebook version (normally $12.95) of the physical book for just $7 more if purchased with any bundle (“Can’t wait to get your hands on the book?”). So, with a print book, its digital version and two companion ebooks, there are a lot of possible bundles (see all at www.wellfedwriter.com, then The Book).
But, guess which one was, by far, the most popular, during those first few kick-butt months described earlier? The biggest one ($54.90). Blew me away.
Casting a Wide Net
Of course, many buy my physical books through Amazon and bookstores. So, to spur sales of the higher-priced, after-market versions of all the companion e-bonus products for both books, I “tease” them in an appendix in both hard books, yielding an ongoing trickle of $30 or $40 sales. Yee-hah.
#4: Complete ALL-Digital Packages
Finally, I created digital-only bundles priced from $19.95 to $39.90: the ebook version of the main book plus one or more companion ebooks. And get this: Over the past 18 months, 85+ percent of my web site orders have been digital-only products or bundles.
Outcomes like above absolutely annihilate the conventional publishing royalty model. On four occasions over the years, I’ve been approached by publishers who’d noticed my success, seen the quality of my books, and proposed having me go the conventional route. Flattered as I am when it happens, frankly, there’s nothing they can do for me that I’m not doing far better on my own. Nice place to be.
Peter Bowerman, veteran commercial writer, is the self-published author of the three award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles (www.wellfedwriter.com), how-to “standards” on lucrative “commercial” freelancing. He chronicled his self-publishing success (100,000 copies of his books/ebooks in print and a full-time living for 10+ years) in the 2007 release (and its 2014 update—both multiple-award-winners): The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. www.wellfedsp.com. In 2010, he launched The Title Tailor, his book-titling specialty (www.titletailor.com).
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