A Guest post by Ali Hale – author of The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing.
March 11th – 16th 2010: I went to South by South West (SXSW) and had an amazing time. I went to panels and parties; I saw friends and personal heroes … and I even got to give Darren a hug. I was there for Ev William’s now infamous keynote speech. Chris Brogan admired my Metallica t-shirt. I went to a great panel by Tim Kring (the writer of Heroes.) I failed to guard Naomi Dunford‘s drink. (She forgave me. I think.)
Okay, that’s enough name dropping for one paragraph…
Last year, South by South West felt like an extravagant dream. I live in the UK, so my expected costs looked like this:
- Conference fee – $395† (including “early bird” discount)
- Flight – $721
- Hotel – $717.60
- Shuttle bus – $40 (five day pass)
That came to a grand total of $1,873.60 – and that’s without allowing for costs like taxis, food and drink. Although I met some of the up-front costs from savings, I wanted to replace the money which I’d withdrawn from my savings account.
The solution? I wrote an ebook, The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, and launched it on February 9th – just a month before the start of SXSW. Two months after that launch date, I’ve made $2,146.50 profit, which covers the flight, hotel, ticket, and sundry expenses in Austin:
(NB: I’ve deducted the affiliate share and what I paid for cover and banner design from the “sale amount”, to get the profit.)
In just a couple of months, that one ebook covered all my SXSW costs. Without it, I’d have really struggled to afford the conference. And, of course, the ebook is continuing to sell … even though I had a busier-than-expected start to 2010 and haven’t yet done much promotion.
But here’s what I did do. I’m hoping you can take some of these tips and use them to see just as much success – and more! – with your own ebook or product.
Step 1: Write the Ebook (Easier Said Than Done…)
Okay, this is a bit obvious – but I had to start off by actually writing an ebook. However great your launch plan is, you’re never going to be able to implement it without a product to sell.
I’m a writer by both training and profession, so words come easily to me. If you hate writing, or really struggle to make your thoughts coherent, then you might want to consider a different product – perhaps a series of audio downloads instead of an ebook (you can get someone to transcribe these, or you can provide notes, to add extra value).
Whatever type of product you choose to create, you’ll find that the process requires self-discipline and stamina. I find that Dave Navarro’s writing really inspires me: he has a number of blog posts specifically about product creation, and he’s got a great way of being encouraging and no-nonsense all at once!
I also bought “How to Launch the**** Out of Your Ebook” by Dave Navarro and Naomi Dunford. I was a bit worried it wouldn’t be worth the price, but it turned out to be a huge help and I’m now really glad I’ve got it. I’d purchased it mainly for help on the launch process, but there were also plenty of tips and encouragement on the writing itself. They manage to be honest and realistic while giving hope!
If you schedule out 6 months to write your ebook it will probably take 7 or 8 months in reality. But that doesn’t matter, because the damned thing will get done. And that’s the magic. Saying you’ll ‘get to something when you have the time’ never works out. Putting something on your calendar? Much more likely to happen.
(Dave Navarro and Naomi Dunford, How to Launch the **** Out of Your Ebook, p45)
(I’ll let you into a secret here. “How to Launch” helped me get The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing into great shape even though I only used a fraction of Dave and Naomi’s advice and didn’t do any of the worksheets and didn’t listen to any of the extras which came with the ebook. Yet even the little bit which I did do meant that I sold enough extra ebooks to more than justify the purchase price. Don’t tell them!)
Step 2: Get Feedback – and Use It (Especially When Five People Point Out the Same Problem)
Once I’d finished the first draft of the ebook, I wanted to try the ebook out on readers (something which Dave and Naomi strongly advise in “How to Launch”). I posted on the forum of a membership group, asking if anyone would be willing to read the draft and offer feedback.
Several people did volunteer to, and provided invaluable feedback. Often this was easy to use – for example, most of the readers mentioned that I had three separate, somewhat repetitive sections which dealt with using images in blog posts, and I merged these into one simple, succinct chapter:
Occasionally, the feedback made it clear that I needed to do more thinking. One reader said that the ebook seemed very basic and that the content of the early chapters didn’t teach her anything new. Another reader felt that it was too complex, and struggled with quite simple blogging terminology. I realised that this wasn’t a problem with the ebook – but it was an issue with audience. I needed to clarify that this book was aimed at people who have already had some experience with blogging (even if that’s very limited) but who want to take their writing a lot further.
I finished the second draft of the ebook, rewriting several chapters, cutting out some material, and adding new sections. It took some extra work, but I was proud of the end product: it was as good as I could make it.
Step 3: Call in the Professionals (They Don’t Have to be Called Charlie, but It May Help)
While the ebook itself was all there, there were a couple of elements which weren’t quite in place. One was the title. I’d been using the working title of “Writing Blog Content”, but my good (and honest!) friend Charlie Gilkey gently pointed out that this wasn’t the catchiest title ever.
I agreed. But I was stumped. Titles aren’t my forte, and I just couldn’t come up with anything which was attention-grabbing but which also summed up exactly what the ebook was about.
In a Skype session with Charlie, we came up with “The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing”. (If you’re ever stuck on a project,.)
The other area where I needed help was with the design. I mentioned earlier that words come easily to me. Sadly, graphics and layout don’t! Again at Charlie Gilkey’s suggestion, I bit the bullet and paid for a designer. This was a big step for me – what if my ebook didn’t even sell enough copies to cover the design cost? What if I didn’t like the design? And I’d left design until the last minute, so I needed the designer to get me the finished cover and advertising banners within a week if I was going to meet my launch date.
Fortunately, another Charlie, this time “Charfish Charlie” from Charfish Design, came through for me splendidly. I loved the cover design and the banners which he produced, and I know that if I’d cobbled together something in Paint, it would have looked amateur and wouldn’t have done justice to the contents of the ebook.
Step 4: Have a Stand-Alone Sales Page (aka “Listen to Daniel Scocco”)
This is a lesson I learnt the hard way! I launched my previous ebook with a badly optimised page on the website that I had at the time – and I definitely lost out on sales. Even after Daniel Scocco from Daily Blog Tips told me that the sales page needed work, it took me several months to get it right.
It just didn’t look professional, and potential customers were getting distracted – clicking away to look at other material, rather than clicking through to buy.
This time, I knew what to do. I got a sales page set up on its own domain right from the start. Although I designed it myself, I thought this through and drew on design elements from sales pages that looked good to me.
I used the†eCover Software Pro to make a 3D book graphic, rather than using the flat cover image. †And, inspired byDave Navarro’s sales page for Becoming an Early Riser, I put readers’ quotes down the side.
These testimonials came from readers who’d provided first-draft feedback – many of them emailed me to say that they’d found the ebook really useful. I checked with several individuals that they were happy to be quoted on the sales page:
Step 5: Get Affiliates on Board (And Make Their Life Easy)
As you saw from the screenshot above, $706 was earned by my affiliates between February 9th and March 16th. That’s money I’m more than happy to pay out, because the other $706 (the 50% that I get when an affiliate makes a sale) is money which I’d otherwise not have had!
Ideally, you want affiliates with a larger audience than your own. Darren is an affiliate for The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, and†a single tweet from him saw a couple of extra sales:
If appropriate, you might want to come up with a special campaign with one or two affiliates. I got Charlie Gilkey on board – he’s not just a good friend, but who also has a great blog with very engaged readers. I worked closely with him on the launch, and he posted a review of The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, along with an exclusive sample (Chapters 3, 7 and 13) for download which included a discount code and his affiliate link to the sales page. Charlie made hundreds of dollars as an affiliate as a result, and I made hundreds of extra dollars in sales.
Don’t discount smaller affiliates, though: every extra sale matters, especially when it comes from reaching someone else’s audience. In order to encourage people to sign up as affiliates and to make things as straightforward as possible for them, I created a special page with step-by-step instructions and advertising banners for download – you can take a look at it here: The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing Affiliate Page.
Step 6: Give Discounts to Your Groups (You’re Not Losing Money, You’re Gaining Sales)
I didn’t have the time and resources for a big launch, so I went for quick results by offering generous discounts to key groups. I looked for areas where I already had a presence or connection, and here are just a few examples of what I did:
- Emailed all the buyers of my previous ebook (the Staff Blogging Course) with a $10 discount code for The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing
- Offered discount codes in the byline of my guest posts
- Gave a discount to the readers of my blog Aliventures (even though that blog is focused on personal development rather than on writing/blogging)
When you’re preparing to launch, think through any groups which you could utilise in this way. It’s a win-win situation: †you get to publicise your ebook, and group members feel special because they get a discount.
Create unique discount codes for each group, so that you can track where buyers have come from. For example, I used the code “ProBlogger” to give ProBlogger readers a $5 discount on the purchase price.
You could consider giving a discount to:
- Your blog readers
- Any membership sites which you belong to
- Forums which you’re active on (you can often use your signature for this – though check forum rules)
- Buyers of previous products (e-junkie lets you send out a newsletter to buyers – do be very careful that this doesn’t come across as spam)
- Your Twitter followers
Although it can feel like leaving money on the table if you’re giving out discounts, the truth is that many customers might not have bought your ebook otherwise. Plus, getting a discount makes them feel special – they’re primed to feel good about your product before they even download it.
Step 7: Guest Post (This One’s On My To-Do List…)
This is the one step which I didn’t take very far in the promotion, because it requires a solid investment of time and energy. However, now that the busyness of SXSW is over, I’m going to be doing another round of guest posting in order to promote The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, as I found guest posting really effective with my last ebook.
And this time round, even a single guest post on Problogger (Navigating the Middle of Your Post – Without Getting Lost) resulted in an almost-instant 15 extra sales.
If your time is limited (and let’s face it, whose isn’t?) then guest post strategically. Your ideal guest post opportunity is on a blog where:
- The blog is on-topic for your ebook (I chose Problogger because my ebook is aimed at people who are already blogging and looking to take their writing further)
- The audience are receptive to paid products (Darren publishes reviews, runs ads and sells 31 Days to Build a Better Blog)
- The audience is fairly large (Problogger definitely meets that point!)
- You already have a relationship with that blog’s editor and readers† (I’ve guest posted for Darren in the past)
I’m going to be taking guest posting further in the next few weeks, and making sure that I get The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing in front of the people who’d find it most useful.
And, with a bit of luck, that’ll pay my way to Blog World Expo…
If you’ve been holding back on publishing an ebook (or an audio series), a conference trip just might be the motivation that you need. It really is possible to make a significant amount of money by investing some time and energy into creating and launching a product. It worked for me, and I’m hoping it’ll work for you too.
See you at SXSW next year?
Ali Hale is a freelance writer and blogs for a number of large sites. She’s the proud author of The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing – if you want to take your blogging further, check it out. ProBlogger readers get a $5 discount: just type in the code “ProBlogger” (no quotes).