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Creating an eBook to Make Money Blogging – An Interview with Leo Babauta

Posted By Darren Rowse 8th of November 2007 Pro Blogger Interviews 0 Comments

Interview-Leo-BabautaYesterday I wrote about Leo Babauta launching an ebook (Zen to Done) as a way to monetize his blog. In that post I promised to try to get an interview with Leo to explore both the wild success of his blog (over 21500 subscribers in 6 months) and the journey to releasing his ebook. Leo was generous enough to answer my questions. I hope you enjoy this interview:

Why did you write Zen to Done? Can you give us a brief synopsis?

Zen To Done is a synthesis of the productivity, organization and simplicity concepts I write about regularly on my site. It started with Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen — I’m a disciple and a fan, and for a while I wrote about it regularly on Zen Habits. I discovered some problems with it — not with the system, but with my implementation with it — and discovered that many others had similar problems. So I set out to figure out what those problems were, and how to solve them.

As a result, I pulled in some concepts I’d been writing about separately: the “Big Rocks” prioritization concepts of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (GTD doesn’t prioritize, purposely), and more importantly, the concepts of simplicity and minimalism that I’ve become known for.

Simplicity is the key for me, and that’s why I call ZTD a “simple productivity” system. We need to do less, not more. We need to focus on the essential, and separate the wheat from the chaff. Instead of doing busy work, we should do important work.

That’s ZTD, in short. You can read more about it on Zen Habits (or buy the ebook!).

Why did you decide to monetize your blog with an ebook as opposed to other methods?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and my philosophy is to provide as much value as possible to my readers, as opposed to focusing on monetization. The decision to do an ebook is consistent with that philosophy.

My readers seemed to really enjoy the posts on ZTD I’ve done on Zen Habits (they remain some of my most popular), and a large number were asking for it to be turned into an ebook. Well, you don’t have to ask me more than 10 times! :)

I decided that the ebook would be the best way to provide additional value to my readers. I’m sure there are better ways to monetize, but I think too often the focus is on the blogger making money, not on the value to the readers. If you give people a lot of value, they’ll appreciate that, and come back for more. That’s my hope, anyway.

How long did it take you to write it?

I set aside my mornings for a couple of weeks to write the book. I still had the regular demands of Zen Habits, and the posts I write for other blogs, as well as my full-time day job and my family (a wife and six kids) … so I couldn’t put everything aside as I’d prefer to do, and focus completely on the ebook.

However, I decided that writing the book had to be a priority, so for a couple hours a day, for about 2 weeks, the only thing I allowed myself to do was write. And I actually enjoyed the process, and have been working on a second ebook (a joint venture with another blogging friend) … with plans to start a third coming up.

it’s a great looking ebook – how did you put it together?

Actually, I can’t take credit for that. I’m a lousy designer. A true designer, James Wondrack, volunteered to do the design, and I think he did a nice job. I’m going to give him a small cut of the first 200 ebooks sold as a thank you.

If any great designers would like to volunteer for my next ebook, let me know!

You’re delivering it with e-junkie – did you look around at other options? Why did you go with the delivery system that you did?

In truth, I’m a newbie here. I did a little research into some of the options, but ultimately made the choice to go with e-junkie based on the recommendation of a blogging friend. It seems to be a good choice so far … it was a super-easy setup, and I’ve had no problems. I also liked that there is no per-transaction fee (only a $5/month subscription fee) and the affiliate program was incredibly easy to set up.

How has ZtD been received by your blog’s readers so far? Are you finding it easy to convert readers to purchasers?

It’s been selling like hotcakes! Seriously, I had hoped to eventually sell 100 of them, over time, but I doubled that number in just a few hours. And so far, they seem to like the book. I hope they do, because I put a lot of work into it, and I feel it has a lot of value.

How did you get 21000+ subscribers to your blog in just 6 months?

Three things, actually, but the main thing has been, again, to focus on the value I provide to the readers. The three things are 1) provide extremely useful content (with catchy headlines) that solves problems my readers have; 2) write guest posts for other blogs, with the same goal of extremely useful content, so that I can tap into new audiences; and 3) use the first item to tap into the multiplying power of incoming links from other blogs and social bookmarking services such as Digg, Stumbleupon and

I should also mention that I’ve developed some great relationships with fellow bloggers — some outstanding and generous people, really — as well as a great relationship with my readers. These have been key. It’s important that we bloggers not think of other bloggers as our competitors, but as friends, and potential allies. If we link to each other, and share each others’ content with our readers, everyone wins: the blogger who links, the blogger who receives the link, and the readers. And developing a relationship with your readers, while it takes a lot of work (I spend a lot of time answering comments and emails), is crucial to keeping those readers and developing loyalty.

You’re one of the most prolific guest posters on other people’s blogs that I know – it obviously has benefits for you – but can you tell us what the biggest ones are?

I’ve said it before, but writing guest posts on other blogs is probably the No. 1 strategy for marketing your blog and your brand. Well, actually, creating great, useful, readable content on your own blog is No. 1, but if you’re trying to get new readers, you have to reach new audiences. It’s not enough to write great content if no one knows it’s there.

I think of my audience as a sphere of readers. In order to grow that sphere, I need to tap into new spheres, which are the audiences of other blogs. Obviously, some of those spheres overlap, especially if it’s in your own niche … after awhile, you’ve probably reached 95% of the readers in that niche. But not at first, so you should first tap into your niche … and only after you’ve exhausted that should you go outside the niche.

Tapping into another sphere of readers isn’t an easy job. You can do that with a link from another blog, but think about it: a link is usually surrounded by a sentence or two (if that) about your post … but a guest post on another blog is hundreds of words … and what better opportunity to show that blog’s readers how great and useful and readable your writing is?

Guest posts also help with branding: by writing great content for other blogs, you are showing what your brand stands for, and you’re repeating that branding to as many people as possible.

For Zen Habits, guest posting has paid off immensely: readers have enjoyed my guest posts and have come to my blog to subscribe. And the brand of Zen Habits has grown in many people’s minds in this past year, and continues to do so, because of guest posts.

Do you have any productivity tips for bloggers?

Sure, I have many! But some of my top tips:

1. Identify the essential. Blogging can take up your entire day if you let it. Identify the top 3-4 things you can do to improve and market your blog. Knowing what actions/projects are essential and which ones aren’t is the first step to effectiveness. In my opinion, the essential tasks are creating outstanding and useful content, writing guest posts for other blogs, and little else.

2. Focus on the essential. If you have limited time for blogging (and we all do), only allow yourself to focus on those essential tasks and projects … and minimize the rest.

3. Batch process. The smaller tasks, like processing emails and reading through comments and all the rest, should be grouped into a limited time frame later in the day. Don’t do them throughout the day.

4. Keep a list. Whether you use an index card, a Moleskine notebook, a text file, a Google Doc or whatever, keep a list of the tasks and projects you need to do. Get the tasks out of email. From this master list, choose 3 major projects to focus on, and focus 3 most important tasks you can accomplish today. Then focus exclusively on those 3 tasks and those 3 projects.

Those are the 4 things that you can do that will make the most difference.

Get a Copy of Zen to Done for just $9.50 USD

note: This post contains affiliate links

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • A Day job, a family of six children, a blog with 21k subscibers, and now an ebook! You are a living testament to your methods Leo!

    I think I need to buy it because I really struggle to do all the things I need to do in my day. I think that the ‘busiwork’ is a culprit, and I find myself looking at my email constantly. Thanks for the interview Darren.

  • Hey Darren,

    Just wanted to pass on my comments about the ZTD e-book. I purchased it yesterday and read it from front to back, had a couple of hours spare and seemed like a good read. It was great, covering some old ground, but focusing on small habits and adopting a few over the course of 30 days. For the $9.50 I paid for it (an absolute steal) I gained a ‘get up and go’ mentality and have already adopted a notebook and three of the habits – so hopefully my days will be a lot more focused and productive!

  • great interview. To be honest I had never heard of Leo. That is an amazing effort to get 21,000 readers in just 6 months!

  • As much as I would love to read this ebook, I still prefer to read a paper book.

    This also reminds me of the 5S – Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, Shitsuke.

  • This is great information. I took away one important point.
    Start inside your niche and then expand.

  • Great post, guys.
    Timing is perfect, as I am really considering an e-book that I will produce.
    Which software should I use?
    All of the folks that sell the e-book software say basically the same thing:
    “Ours is the easiest to use.”
    To me, the scope of producing an e-book is pretty overwhelming to me.
    Any tips?
    Thank you for the great post, and for gettting me energized!
    Joel Libava

  • Ivy

    Writing an eBook is another great way to increase subscribers. Look at John Chow – he leveraged his free eBook on how to make money online and increased his number of subscribers considerably.

    It is always easier to market your blog, and yourself, if you have multichannels. Someone with a great blog with great content, will still lose out to someone who has a good blog but who has published his own book and gives seminars / talks. That is the power of integrated marketing.

    So if you’re holding off that eBook idea for a while, you should start on it soon!

  • Such great timing as I’m going to write my own ebook very soon about “Steps To Blogging Success”.

  • “a wife and six kids” – that should keep you really busy. You must be a master at organization and time management! I enjoyed the interview. Thanks, Darren.

  • This is awesome , that is very impressing 21.000 subscribers in 6 months !!!
    Thats about 100 subscribers each day!!!!

  • neon_n00b

    hahaha.. this post shows how to make money by hiding affiliate promotion by means of a staged interview. hahaha…

  • Joe

    There are some great tips here in this interview, Darren. I’m not quite ready to make the jump to purchase an ebook yet, as I’m still trying to get a decent income from blogging before I have too many expenses. $10 can be a lot for a beginner blogger making only a few cents a day!

  • Congrats, Leo, on doing what many of us think about but don’t actually do!

  • Truly inspirational. We’ve been helping entrepreneurs, online and offline business people put together their own informational products (ebooks, books, courses, etc…) for some time now and I always get the “roll of the eyes” when we share our 6-week system for producing ebooks or infoproducts – leo beat the system by 4-weeks!

    I’m happy to read about the method of building a solid “platform” of readers and subscribers prior to launching your ebook – not only is this great for launching your product successfully – it’s also a terrific group for discovering new opportunities and testing topics, content and price points.

    Leo’s next stage will no doubt be creating a back-end, higher-priced product or service for the subset of his readers who are keen to learn even further. Could be a multimedia package, a membership site or a coaching/consulting program that takes his business even higher…

    Thanks for the interview Darren.

    PS. Regarding the comment from Joel – consider strongly producing your ebook in pdf format – you will save yourself a major headache regarding cross-platform compatibility of other ebook software – it’s the defacto standard for most informational-type ebooks.



  • I ttried writing an ebook in the past but it didn’t make it .. nobody actually downloaded it

    I got loads of comments saying that it was a scam and things like that which is rather demoralising

    What do you think? Is it really that effective?

  • “Instead of doing busy work, we should do important work.”

    This is a lesson everyone should heed. There are so many distractions in our daily lives. It’s easy to get side-tracked and waste the day away without getting anything accomplished.

    One thing that worked for me was hanging a whiteboard on the wall next to my desk. One on side I keep a “to do” list of all important tasks I need to accomplish on one side. On the other I scribble down ideas and thoughts to follow up on later rather than getting distracted from the task I’m currently working on.

    It’s worked well for me and helps me maintain focus.

  • I’ve been reading Zen Habits for two months. It was partly due to Zen Habits that I started my own blog.

    I’ve enjoyed Leo’s writing style and advice. He really has added valuable content. ZTD is an ebook I look forward to reading.

  • it looks interesting – I create lots of ebooks and reports to get readers to my blog and other websites

    also great work on guest blogging – as I need to try to do some of that as well for more exposure!

  • Great interview! I’ve been following Zen Habits for about a month and really love the content. I actually also published an e-book a few months ago. My approach was to make it available as a free download from my blog and use that as a way to attract people to come back for the content. Like you mentioned, it’s not about the money; it’s about providing value to the readers. Keep it up!

  • Those four productivity tips are great, Leo! I want to try them; my food for thought of the day. Sometimes I think that “if only I had more time, I could…” but I need to learn to better organize the time I already have! You’re right, we all have a limited amount of time for blogging, even if it’s our full time job.

  • Great Interview. Congrats to Leo for such a successful launch of his e-book. Nice tips to learn from.

    Leo works, has a family with kids, blogs, guest blogs and has time to write an e-book? I’m tired just from reading what he has managed to do.

  • Considering you have a full time job, and six kids the fact that you run such a succeful blog and have time to write an ebook is proof in itself that you are a master of time management…

    I may just have to pick up the ebook!!

  • Mike,
    Great idea with the white-board. Purrfect for my ADD moments!
    {Lots of em}
    Joel Libava

  • thanks for all the feedback people – you’re right, Leo is a real inspiration.

    neon_n00b – not sure that there are any hidden affiliate links here. I disclose that they’re in the post in the last line and I think most of my readers are used to the idea of making money from blogs via affiliate links (this being a blog about making money online and all). I also think that the interview contains genuinely interesting and helpful information that is on topic for this blog so I’m not sure what the problem is.

  • I had a huge amount of success with my own ebook by just giving away all the content in HTML form and then charging a low price for the ebook. It has had an incredibly long tail, selling many copies each day for the last several months.

  • Leo

    Thanks for all the nice comments, everyone! And Darren, thanks again for the interview … it’s a real honor for me. I read every interview Darren does with interest, so it’s a bit surreal to be on the other end of it. :)

    For those who commented on my productivity tips … and about all of my commitments/achievements … it sounds like a lot, but in truth, I’ve simplified my life tremendously over the last few years, and so I’m able to concentrate a lot more on what I really want to do and what I really love doing … the stuff that’s important to me.

    I actually implement my tips in this ebook (and on my site), and that’s the basis of everything I write: this is what works for me. Your mileage may vary, but at least you know that it’s tried and true.

    Actually, there’s other stuff I do that I didn’t mention: exercise, I edit a newspaper for veterans here on Guam and publish a quarterly newsletter for the local Military Order of the Purple Heart chapters, I do a lot of freelance writing and I work for a local non-profit project trying to capture the culture and history of Guam in an online encyclopedia ( … not launched yet).

    In the past 18 months or so, I’ve also quit smoking, taken up running, completed a triathlon, become a vegetarian, tripled my income, nearly eliminated my debt, completed a triathlon, wrote a fiction novel and become an early riser.

    Again, it all sounds like a lot, but it’s not: focus on one thing at a time, develop habits, and learn to motivate yourself. While keeping your life as simple as possible. More on my site. :)

    Thanks again for the nice comments, folks!

  • Darren, if nothing else I have to thank you for introducing me to Leo. I first read him here, and immediately became a Zen Habits subscriber. I plan on getting his book because very few people write organization stuff that I can actually use. Most of it I find pretty useless. But Leo does organization and productivity in a way that even “piles” people like me can understand and easily incorporate. Thanks for highlighting his book.

  • Mark

    neon-n00b, you’re a jerk. Both Leo and Darren provide immense value on their respective blogs. If it galls that Leo actually shares part of that immense $9.50 purchase cost, maybe you don’t belong in this online community.

  • bjorn

    I saw this more sale on his blog …

    The price is really odd.

    If he wants to keep it under 10 bucks, then go for $9.95 or $9.90 …

    Personally, I would suggest $14.99

    There is a lot to be said about price point, psychology, and your profits.

  • Loved the interview, esp. the bit about 21k subscribers in 6 months. Wow – inspiring!

    Selling an ebook is one of the 33 ‘Blog Profit Ideas’ I shared in a report I created in 2003 – and amazingly, it has sold 767 copies on auto-pilot since then!

    There are still some ‘models’ in that report I don’t see being widely exploited – Leo has taken one of them to a new high level, though… 200 copies in a day is GREAT!

    All success

  • I only just read Leo’s comment – and I understand what he means. When you want something done, ask a BUSY person.

    People find it just as hard to believe when I mention how I juggle my writing, blogging, teaching and other online stuff with a busy professional schedule as heart surgeon and parent of a demanding young lady!

    I once blogged about a day in my life – it’s in the archive here:

    Leo, you should meet Tim Ferriss, another ‘simplification’ guru (author of ‘4 Hour Work Week’) – we have an interesting email correspondence schedule, because he only checks email once every 2 weeks! At least, he got me down to twice a day!

    Ordered your ebook too, will read it right away. Sure to pick up some tips. Thanks for bringing it to my notice, Darren – and I’ll be following Leo’s blog too, thanks again for making that happen :)

    All success

  • Trent, where did you hide your link to your ebook? I just gave The Simple Dollar another look (I’m a rss reader), but I couldn’t find a link to the ebook anywhere.

  • One thing that is maybe holding people back from publishing an e-Book is the thought of writing a huge amount of top quality information.

    It’s the value of the information that the e-Book contains that is important rather than it’s length or e-covers etc.

    My first ever e-Book was very recently published and is only 14 pages long. There was nothing more that I could think of to add to it.

    The first customer was very happy with their purchase.

    You could always give away a free report just to get started.

    Just author a PDF file, zip it up and upload to your website. Then provide the URL to that zip file as the download link.

    It’s best to zip it up since IE will open it in a browser window, so it might not get downloaded.

  • You’re absolutely right Andy – fear of rejection and therefore the need to be ‘perfect’ are two very common (and related) reasons people don’t start or finish their ebooks or books.

    How do you find value?

    That’s what’s great about Leo’s case study is that he created his ‘platform’ of readers – those passionate about his market – first, then listened to what they were saying which gives him first-hand knowledge on what they see as valuable.

    What all of this means of course is – get blogging, create posts that illicit comments, listen to your readers and create your products to answer those questions…


  • Jeff, spot on about the ‘platform of readers’ PRECEDING the ebook writing.

    In one of the 7 ‘Internet Infopreneur Reports’ I give away for free on my site, I deal with the topic of ‘Writing a Book the SMART Way’ – and it is remarkably similar to the approach Leo has taken.

    If you’d like to download and read the report for free, here’s the link:

    All success

  • Wow, Leo, I think the thing that makes me take the most notice is how you are a living testament to your words, a real renaissance man. I would love to learn more about how you organize your day (week, etc) or even decide how to organize it.

    Darren, between the high profile success of Leo’s ebook and Brian Clark’s Copyblogger ebook released a few weeks ago, I am seeing growing interest from the rest of us on learning exactly what goes into an ebook, such as:

    – How it is valuable as a medium as opposed to other ways of communicating with your audience online
    – When you know its the right time to write one
    – What goes into actually writing process (to be desirable and of maximum relevance to an online audience)
    – … and other stylistic touchpoints to keep in mind

    These are questions relevant to a “real” book as well, but as everything online comes from a different navigation point, a trusted guide is always desirable. I hope to read more about this in the blogosphere and on Problogger in the near future.

    Thanks for bringing us this interview with Leo– good stuff.

    Maya Norton
    The New Jew: Blogging Jewish Philanthropy

  • I´ve been looking for a good method to automatically deliver digital products and thanks to this interview (a very good one, by the way, Darren) I think I will try e-junkie. It looks great and easy to use and let´s face it, if someone like Leo recommends it, it has to be a good way to go for anyone without much spare time. :D

  • Thanks Leo and Darren for another amazing post. I am so blown away how Leo is able to get 21000 subscribers, hold down a day job, and 6 kids. Wow. Leo, is writing very easy for you-ie 1st draft and it is printable?

    Also, do you reprint your post in others as guest post rather than write new content?

    I find that my posts are so long. I am afraid if I do not give enough detail the posts will seem so empty. What does everyone think is an ideal number of words if there is one. People just have such limited time to read today. Does anyone thing too long of post are harmful? Could I be spending too much time? Leo, do you address this on your blog?


  • Amy

    If anyone wants to offer both an ebook and a printed book, I had a really good experience with They do take a cut of what you make, but for someone who needs or wants to offer both printed books and ebooks, they make it really easy. I used them to publish a cookbook that I offered for sale on my blog and web site and it did really well! There were no upfront costs, they handle the delivery of the product, and they’ve always paid right on time to my paypal. I’m now working on book #2!

  • Leo

    @Anna: Thanks for the nice comments. Regarding your questions:

    1. Is writing easy for me? It depends. I tend to write very quickly, and instead of writing a rough draft and revising, I tend to revise in my head as I go along. But I’ve been writing professionally for 17 years, as a journalist and freelancer, so I’ve had a lot of practice. But *honest* writing … the kind that comes from the gut and the heart … now, that isn’t easy. I might still do it quickly, but it is gut-wrenching, soul-battering work … I love it, but it takes a lot out of me.

    2. Do I repost my original content as guest posts on other blogs? No, never. When I give a guest post to another blogger, I want him to know that I’m giving him new stuff, and the best I could do … if he’s kind enough to give me a guest spot on his blog (and that is a very generous act), I should return that kindness by giving him some awesome, original content. It’s also better marketing, better for SEO purposes (duplicate content on different blogs is frowned upon), and if it’s original, you can point your own readers to the guest post on the other blog, so the guest post send new traffic to both blogs.

    3. Ideal length of a post? As many words as it takes to communicate the idea clearly and usefully. Sometimes, you’re communicating an idea that only takes a couple paragraphs. In that case, it would be a waste of your readers’ time to write more. Sometimes, and this is most often the case for me, the idea needs more detailed explanation. For example, it’s easy to tell someone that the keys to losing weight are more exercise and eating fewer calories. But does that do justice to the topic? It would be more useful to give details on how to do each of those things in a practical way. For myself, I find that lists work best (this comment is a list, for example) … they communicate the practical steps/tips for doing something (solving your readers’ problem) in a concise, clear and scannable way.

  • Darn you Darren :)

    I had a review of ZenHabits typed up about 2 weeks ago to be posted during my blog opening week, but you beat me to it. Arghhhhh…=)


  • I hate eBook

  • Leo, I am constantly amazed by your determination, your writing ability and your productivty. You’re an inspiration to other bloggers and deserve all the praise.

  • jay

    think the ebook angle solidifies the case for a Mac tablet

  • Hey Darren.
    Great that you found and share to us such a good blogger.

    Hey Leo
    Great that you are a living testimonial to your methods.

    Hey Darren
    Good question!! You bring out some (maybe all) of the best in him with your questions.

    Hey Leo
    Great answer. I think that the idea of thinking in your readers perspective is a good mine (maybe an old mine, nonetheless still a gold mine) and giving lots of value to your reader should be a (pro)blogger’s holy grail. :p

    Hey me to Leo
    My one cent advice in return for your gold mine. Why not start a little competition like what Darran did once a while for a cover for your 2nd ebook? Maybe a price of 10% cut of the first 200 ebook plus copies of the 1st and 2nd ebook?

    Hey Darren and Leo
    Fantastic post. Blogger’s techniques, blogger’s marketing and blogger’s mindset and blogger’s self development all roll into one single post. A post in itself reflecting upon the zeny thingy.

    Hey me
    yah…. this is a pretty “old” post and I really wanted to comment on this post. Its great.

  • errrggg…. so many typos.
    Gold mine not good mine.
    Share with us not share to us.

  • Hey Darren
    Interesting comment feature. Long comment awaits moderation and short comment doesn’t. Like to share why?

  • jay

    so many typos

  • Leo is the best writer and blogger. He rocks.

  • I’m building up my visitor traffic now, things are going well. Its time I started to think about monetising things a bit more. Ive started to write my first ebook but now Im starting to be flooded with the concept of so many ebooks I will have to schedule them all in over the next year or so for sure!!

    Cheers guys!