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How My Ebook Paid for South by South West – in Just Two Months

Posted By Darren Rowse 13th of May 2010 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

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 Although I met some of the up-front costs from savings, I wanted to replace the money which I’d withdrawn from my savings account.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, Charlie offers project coaching.)

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).

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 and LinkedIn.
  1. Really interesting and insightful post Ali. Good to see the mechanics of how you launched the ebook. Might just have to raid the paypal account and buy the “How to Launch the **** out of your ebook”.
    Great post and thanks for sharing with us.

  2. Ali, thanks for sharing so much so much!
    It’s very inspiring to read your experience that your ebook in fact paid for your SXSW. What a successful launch!
    Keep it going! Share more!
    I enjoyed reading your experiences (something everyone can achieve too) and I believe many more will feel the way as I do.

  3. Hey Ali,

    You came out with this post at the right time. I’m in the process of creating an eBook and this information is money!

    Chat with you later…

  4. Before you launch an e-book, I would think part of that success relies on being established as a guru. Is 97$ worth the investment if people aren’t even going to see the site? I guess what I’m saying is, when in one’s blogging career or timeline should one launch an e-book? After you have 5 people commenting on posts, or 200 people subscribing, or 400 people retweeting? I don’t know. I am interested in finding out the ways they suggest marketing an e-book, though, as well as managing the business end, as far as sales tax and things.

  5. I have been in the process of writing my own E-Book at the moment. My problem has been trying to come up with an effective launch strategy. This post gives quite a bit of good info on the inside of how the process of creating an ebook and launching it can look like for the average blogger.

  6. In regards to
    ” Step 6: Give Discounts to Your Groups (You’re Not Losing Money, You’re Gaining Sales) ”
    I think many writers that decide to publish an eBook take all this time and effort, and feel it is probably worth a huge amount, and price it way to high which turns many away from making this purchase. 
    What they should do is focus on getting the book out and MAKING THE SALES which pushes the numbers higher getting more possible readers and as well possibly loyal readers for years to come. 
    Plus, being greedy and over priced is never a good thing in my eyes.  Thanks for the great article Ali, we look forward to more.
    Chris Pontine

  7. Wow, excellent read!! I’ve learned so much from this post. I’m going to check out the books recommended here. I’m also thinking about writing my own ebook/book hopefully launching it by the end of the year, God willing. You have given me some great pointers.

    I’ll see you at the next South by Southwest Conference. :)


    Arie Rich

  8. Great post, Ali, and I appreciate the mentions. I’m glad the Blogger’s Guide was such a huge success.

    @Chris: Pricing ebooks is a tricky endeavor. I’ve priced one at $10, thinking along the lines of your comment, and have received a lot of feedback that people won’t buy it because it’s too cheap. At the same time, I just released a product at $67, and some people think that’s way too expensive.

    The counter-intuitive thing is that the sales peaks were about the same. As much as a hate to plug, I wrote a series of articles about pricing that explains a little more of this, but the short and the long of it is that there’s more to pricing than the number.

  9. Wow, very in depth post and great links as well. I can see why you have been so successful with your book with all the work you put into it. Knowing who to listen to is also very important to be successful.

  10. Wow, thank you for all the advice. I’m just getting to the point of thinking about writing an Ebook. This is helpful.

    @Lea MacVie

    Good question.

  11. This got bookmarked for when I’m ready put out an ebook, which I’ve now decided is going to be sooner rather than later.

  12. Nice post, Ali! That’s good information about your techniques for getting sales kicked off.

    I also would highly, highly recommend “How to Launch” for anyone who’s creating an ebook, it’ll pay for itself many times over.

    Lastly, it was very nice to meet you and chat with you (and Darren) at the Third Tribe meetup at SXSW! I’m glad your ebook was able to help it happen :)

  13. Ali,

    Awesome job! I think one of the biggest things I have been learning is a stand alone sales page as well. Once you get somebody there, on a typical blog, there are just so many distractions and things that can draw your eyes away.


  14. This is a great, inspiring article to those of us who are making our way through writing an eBook and wondering how to market it while we’re at it!!

    Thank you!!

  15. When you are pricing an e-book you need to also think about what you are offering in return for the price that you are charging.

    If the person can get the same idea from local book store for a third of the price, then they will do exactly that. However, if you can offer a big bag of value to your readers, then you will able to charge a much higher price.

    Generally you will spend about as much time and effort into finding a customer for a $9 book as you would for a $97 book, so that’s also something to think about. Just make sure your product can deliver on what you promised in the sales letter.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  16. Congrats on your success.

    I have 3 eBooks of my fiction (all of which contain exclusive content), a 48 minute audio book of one of the stories, and a guide to short story writing. I have discounts for my regular visitors and include coupon codes any time I have a guest post on another site. I have an entire site devoted to sales – http://www.hyraxpublications.com/store/ -, my prices are low (well, I *think* they are low), and the content gets good reviews from those who have received courtesy copies from me.

    Nonetheless, sales are very disappointing :( Part of it is probably the fact that I don’t have much time to launch the *** out of anything :) Maybe if I start waking up at 4:15 instead of 5:15 …

  17. Thanks for the comments, all! Really appreciate it … this was a great post to put together but it took quite a while to think it all through!

    @Leah — Good question. I don’t think there’s one “right” time to launch an ebook, but I definitely think you’ll see more reward for your hard work if you’ve already built up a following — or if you can do what I did for mine and leverage other people’s audiences (especially through affiliates).

    I’m going to launch the first ebook aimed at my Aliventures readers soon, and I’m up to around 1,250 subscribers there. I’ve got more followers than that on Twitter, but in my experience, blog readers seem a little more engaged.

    @Beau — It was great to meet you too! :-) And hopefully see you next year as well? (I’m already hyped about SXSWi 2011…)

    Some great discussion here about price. Do check out Charlie’s posts over on Productive Flourishing – he’s got some very thought-out points there.

    My feeling is that *some* ebooks are overpriced and overhyped, but if you buy from people you “know” — whose blogs you read, whose email lists you’re on — then you can trust that you’re getting something quality. Plus, most ebook authors offer a 30-day discount, so if you really feel it’s not worth the money, you can return it.

  18. I’ve started and then stopped on 2 different eBooks. Reading your article, reminds me that I MUST knock out an eBook and get it up for sale right away. I’ll take your advice and make a plan/schedule to get this going.

    Congrats on your book and thanks for sharing your experience, it is a big help!


  19. Most people get raked over the coals for making even the suggestion of a product they’re selling, and maybe even worse for promoting an affiliate product. Has the moderator just not approved the “how dare you” posts or do you have some magic that makes readers not have an issue with your methods?

  20. Let me have a shot at guest posting!… :]

  21. Great job! By now, I pubblished a FREE 100+ page ebook on how I went from from scratch to make $2000+ per month. But I’m writing a new ebook that I hope to launch soon.

  22. Ali! Thanks for the mention above. I had a blast working with you. You’re one cool cat.

    And I really appreciate this excellent write-up of the whole process.

    Take care!


  23. Really informative post Ali, I’m taking notes!

    Your ebook is great, and I’m glad it paid for your trip to SXSW. It’s great to see all the flow on benefits and the momentum you’ve built up by getting that quality content out there.


  24. My eBook is right now the biggest project on my plate. I am also a trained writer, but the launch and promotion of it might as well be greek. Looks like I am going to have to pony up for Navarro’s book.

    Thanks for the tip on the sales page as well, I will absolutely use that advice.

  25. Thanks for the tip on the sales page as well, I will absolutely use that advice.

  26. @Michelle Thanks! I hope Ali’s answer helped! It helped me!

    @Ali I also think it helps to build up a following. It’s been really tough building up a following on my blog, but I think I’m finally starting to see a trend on what people comment back on. I’ve been working at “31 Days” for a while, and some of the information has really helped for my niche, but I really don’t have a ton of followers yet.

    I can see a ton of things I could write an e-book on in education, especially in online ed, but I would want to launch it at a time when I had a small following.

    How does one leverage another’s audience?

    It’s interesting that you mention your followers being more engaged on the blog, when for me, it seems to be the opposite. There are a lot of people in education on Twitter, but not many are engaging the blog. I’ll keep plugging at it.

    One last question, how long did it take you to see results on your blog? Followers, pingbacks, etc…

  27. This article was a real eye opener. There is a lot of stuff out there about writing ebooks but this one actually lit a fire underneath me. I’ve been planning one for a while but I haven’t done really more than that and I think a good ebook in my niche would be welcomed well. Thanks for the motivation and some real, usable information..and not just why ebooks are great.

  28. Thanks alot really inspirational! I didnt ever think that ebook sell has lot earning potential! Can I sell your ebook on my blog??


  29. Ali, you have exceeded yourself. You have packed in so much info. I love the fact you itemised and presented really identifiable info. Easy to relate to, thanks for your post.

  30. That’s what I call inspiration!

    Great post Ali +_+

  31. If you make it to Blogworld Expo I want to say hello!

    I loved the write-up that you’ve provided of your entire process here! I wrote an ebook a long time ago titled: “How to Build A Community Around Your Blog.” It was a collaborative piece (in other words I drew on insights from several other bloggers) and I didn’t sell it (I gave it away for free).

    I’m writing another one now along that I’m also giving away for free but I’m also exploring going through the process of writing something I can sell. You’ve given me a great outline and well, now it’s time to execute right?…

  32. Ali!
    Such a great post – love those “play by play” posts with real-life nitty gritty details. Thanks so much.

    I’ve recently launched a few info products and I’m going to tweak them a bit according to your steps listed. :D

    Congratulations on your ebook success! Wishing you much more…


  33. Great step by step of make good earning from a e-book. Thanks for sharing it because it is really help me to know what I should do when launch an e-book in future.

  34. Guest posting is the hardest for me as well.

    There’s a lot of back story there. Just got to suck it up and do it.

  35. Completely and totally AMAZING… If this AMAZING story does not tell the story of social media, I dont know what will..

    Your community that knows/likes/trust you so much that they paid your way to SXSW, knowing the “future” content you will be providing from SXSW would be more than the cost of the book!

    CRUSH IT! Brian-

  36. Ali,

    Got the books and also got the discounts by buying them from the affiliate program. I have just added your affiliate link to my old blog, http://www.atanone.net together with Darren’s books.

    Now I have to find time to read them, since in the past few weeks, I have just got Darren’s Problogger Book, then few other blog related e-books like yours. I also have to digest the CSS book so I don’t have to post and ask CSS related silly questions to configure the Thesis template I used in my Wellness Blog.

    It seems like I have to prioritize which book I have to read first, but definitely, I like both of your books. Thanks for the good introduction here, otherwise I would have to wait longer before I know that these ebooks exist.

  37. @AuthorSpeakerTimes – I have no idea, I was bracing myself for a bit of a backlash. Clearly I was so insanely useful in this post that it didn’t happen. ;-) *ahem* … in seriousness? I think people are starting to accept that blogging is a career, and that while bloggers love providing value for free, it’s a win-win to invest in high-quality info products.

    @Charlie – Cheers! Hey, I’ve just sent you an email about my next ebook :-D

    @Nunzio – Awesome, glad I could give you a motivational nudge :-)

    @Ricardo – Alas, Blogworld expo looks like it’s off the books this year (it’s right after my honeymoon and I think that’s gonna get a bit stressful!)

    @Brian – Cheers! I like to think the ebook itself was worth more than the cost ;-) but yes, definitely the revenue from the ebook is letting me do more interesting stuff. :-)

    @drt Awesome! Sounds like you’re stacking up some materials there. I’d suggest going through the Problogger Book first — it’s a great comprehensive guide — then try The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing.

    Good luck with the CSS too. The best way I’ve found for learning it is just to get going and start tweaking things (just keep a backup of files in case it goes horribly wrong).

    The w3schools site has lots of free, straightforward help on CSS (and other web things like HTML) — great if you forget a particular command.

  38. What an inspiring story.

    Personally, I think most bloggers fail at creating and making a profit from an ebook because they don’t have a plan. You have created one and I will definitely bookmark this post for future reference.

    Congrats on the eBook, that was really impressive.

  39. What’s the affiliate rate you are offering? Ankush, http://ankushwood.blogspot.com

  40. Thank you so much Ali for sharing your experience on how to make money writing and selling ebooks, without holding anything back.

    Your strategy of guest writing for a popular blogger like Darren, and getting affiliates to help market it for you are worth noting.

  41. Outstanding! It’s one thing to write an ebook for sale, but it’s a whole other thing to get the book to sell. You’ve pointed out some really strong steps that I think many of us over look.

    Have fun at SBSW! :)

  42. I’ve been very interested in how successful ebooks are writen and promoted. Thanks for letting us into your process.

  43. You didn’t guard my drink.

    You didn’t read my book.

    Somehow, I am still looking forward to seeing you in Vegas.

  44. Let me tell you a simple step after completing your e book.

    Note down a list of top bloggers and ask them to review your ebook in positive manner and paid them for their review.

    In second week repeat same thing.

    By now its complete I am sure you will be able to make very good amount of sales and profit.

  45. @Naomi – I shouldn’t be trusted with other people’s drinks at the best of times, let alone when I’m jet lagged… ;-)

    Alas, I probably won’t make it to Vegas (lacking both money and time by Oct) :-( But rock on SWSWi 2011…!

  46. Thanks Ali (and Darren),

    I’m taking notes! I am always amazed that the right information appears just when I need it most!

  47. Great article, gives me some good ideas how to launch an ebook or “how to” guide. Can I ask you Ali how many pages has your ebook?

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