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How to Be a Rockstar eBook Seller [Interview]

Posted By Darren Rowse 21st of January 2008 Pro Blogger Interviews 0 Comments

125X125-1In mid December last year I posted a mini review of a new ebook – How to Be a Rockstar Freelancer by Cyan and Collis Ta’eed from the popular FreelanceSwitch blog.

I enjoyed the book so much (and am always fascinated by bloggers making money from these types of resources) that I asked Collis if I could interview him about the process of writing and promoting the ebook. What follows is that interview:

Where did the idea for a book come from?
Actually initially I had been writing a book about business online, and I was about two chapters in when we launched FreelanceSwitch back in April 2007. The site was such a hit that I instantly dropped the business book and decided to write one tailored to the market we were creating.

I hunted around on Amazon to see what other books in the category were around and was pleased to find that most other books on freelancing are by writers for writers. I thought a book aiming to help all types of freelancers would be well received.

How long did it take to write?
I’d say in actual hours it was probably about 80 hours of writing, but it happened over a period of 9 months. Certainly I could never have written the book in two straight 40 hour weeks.

What I was unprepared for was that editing took the same amount of time. Fortunately Cyan was responsible for this task (as well as writing one of the chapters herself) and we also managed to rope Leo Babauta of ZenHabits in return for redesigning his site.

Moreover that was just a single edit. We are now working on a second edition with more edits and incorporating any feedback we’ve had.

Any tips for budding authors in terms of writing it?

My main tip would be that unless you a very self disciplined person there will be a lot of times where you *really* don’t feel like writing. The more you put it off, the worse it gets. I found it was best to allocate some time, a day or a few hours before work, and start writing, no matter what. Sometimes you delete everything you write in the first half hour, but once you get into the swing it gets easier and things flow.

The other tip is to not discount the editing process. As someone with no background in writing or editing, I completely misjudged how long it would take to edit a book and how much revision is needed.

Finally it’s worth registering your book with the library of congress in Washington. Although strictly copyright is bestowed on the author of the work automatically, having a registration makes proving your ownership a much simpler process.

What’s the relationship like between the blog and the book?

Having a blog is to me an ideal platform to launch a book. There are two reasons for this:

(1) You have an audience of people who are interested in your opinion on a particular subject. This is a natural group of people to purchase a book extending and formalising the knowledge you are giving out on the blog. Moreover it is a great platform to begin selling your book, as inevitably word of mouth helps drive sales.

(2) When you blog you develop a network of other bloggers who know you and more than likely see your book release a newsworthy event. We’ve been so fortunate that on the release of the book, a variety of sites have featured or mentioned it.

Additionally, we’ve found that selling a book has been an excellent way of monetizing the site. This is something we’ve struggled with, particularly with advertising which seems to be tough business to be in. Selling a product – be it a book, or a course like they say in Teaching Sells – is to me, a much more dependable business to be in. Where advertising is relying on a few, large transactions, selling a book is relying on a lot of smaller transactions. This is inherently more stable.

How are sales going?

Sales have been really good, exceeding our own expectations. Since I know, personally I’m always dying to get actual numbers when other people talk about things like sales, I’ve made a graph of the daily sales of the book for Problogger readers to reference (see below).

Some things to note are that periodically the sales spikes, particularly around the 18th of December when we sent out sample copies to many other bloggers to give away or review. Also the first day (the 14th) and the 22nd when we mailed out a discount offer for the book.


So overall, it’s been good. I know that some ebooks sell in much larger quantities (e.g. the 37Signals book which has sold more than 30,000 copies) and I suppose many sell in smaller quantities. The main thing though is that the sales seem to be settling into a consistent earning proposition.

Are you able to get a break down on how many are buying it from Freelance Switch as opposed to from other sources? I’m interested in seeing if it’s readers who are buying it or others?

Not exactly, however we have an affiliate program, so I can say how much of the sales have been a result of that. About 1/3 of all sales come from an affiliate link.

You’ve decided to launch with an ebook but also say you’ll do a hard copy on lulu – What was the thinking there?

At 212 pages, the book is a fairly long read. Personally, I don’t tend to read long ebooks (although I still seem to buy them anyway!) With Lulu’s service there isn’t really any cost associated with selling a book in paperback in that you don’t need to hold stock or process orders. The cost per print of each book is around $8 plus Lulu takes a commission as well. So we’re selling the book for $35 on Lulu (Available here) and out of each sale about $21 comes to us.

In essence, there’s really no reason *not* to sell the book as a hard copy.

One day I hope that we’ll have enough capital to get the book into bookstores, but for the moment we’re content to have it as an ebook/lulu paperback.

What techniques have you used to promote the book?

Early on, months prior to completing the book, we added a page to the FreelanceSwitch site promising a book. We included an email newsletter sign up form that I created in about 30 seconds using CampaignMonitor which stated that subscribers would receive a $10 off voucher when the book came out.

Over the three months we had almost a thousand people sign up for the launch code. This meant that we had one thousand people to email when we launched the book. Sure we lost 33% of sales coming from those customers, but the tradeoff of getting momentum and early sales was worth it.

We’ve now got a subscription form for the next book – How to Be a Rockstar WordPress Designer – up at http://freelanceswitch.com/book.

What section of the book are you most proud of/excited by – and why?

Oddly enough the thing that I’m most proud of is the branding of the book. Early on we had planned to call the book “Hired Gun” and make it a one off. But on the advice of our FreelanceSwitch subeditor John Brougher, we decided instead to create a brand for the book – How to be a Rockstar – which means that we can now release other books and leverage the success of the first.

So you can look forward to not only a second edition of this first book to be released soon (and made available to previous purchasers) but also other books in the same line.

Get a Copy – if you don’t have a copy of the book you can buy one at How to Be a Rockstar Freelancer.

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. Hey, thanks very much for this interview and your insight into the process of creating and selling an ebook. I think you’ve done a wonderful job of highlighting some pros and cons, the good and the bad, the potential of it all and the fact that writing a quality ebook is a damned hard job – 9 months, you mentioned, I believe.

    I see so many people want to bash up an ebook in two weeks or less, and it’s rotten garbage. Writing a great ebook that you can launch into a series with quality information is a fantastic thing to do – and you’ve gone about it all right.

    On a side note, editing is a huge job. I agree. Good luck, and thanks for having written the ebook!

  2. I agree with James. Thanks for the realistic timeframes on creating an ebook. Its sobering.

  3. //// My main tip would be that unless you a very self disciplined person there will be a lot of times where you *really* don’t feel like writing. The more you put it off, the worse it gets.

    . :-D You can’t help but wonder if the voice technologies of the next decade will change this tradition.

    Perhaps ‘writers’ will have access to tiny recorders with flexible screens that they can use anytime to record their thoughts – and have it accurately and instantly translated to grammar corrected text …

    … then automatically sent to the a specific updated file location on their home or business PC. .

    Which essentially means, you can write a book, edit it with other participants – in real time – by recording your thoughts

  4. Great interview and so many good insights in there! They’ve made more money than I have publishing through a major publisher, and even though I’ve shifted more copies, I only get a couple of bucks per book! This is excellent proof that self publishing can work and still be credible while actually making money!

  5. This is an excellent article for those of us trying to get thoughts out of our heads and onto paper (or a keyboard). I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a book for years, but never could get off dead-center. Maybe this alternative approach to the traditional publishing world will help inspire me. Thanks for putting this together.

  6. After just releasing my own E-book, I have to say it’s a much bigger task than you originally expect it will be. And mine is only 60 pages!! I can’t imagine writing 212 pages….

    I use e-junkie and I’m loving it. It was so easy to set up and very reasonably priced.

    Even for a niche blogger like me, an e-book is a great way to monetize. I’ve seen a lot of success so I encourage others to try it as well. It’s a very satisfying thing to accomplish!

  7. This is just what I needed as *I* am writing an ebook now :)


  8. James…while the eBook process is a long you, you’ve got to realize that this eBook is extremely long compared to most. At 212 pages, it is at average 4-5 times longer than most. If you cut the timeframe down by 4-5 times (80 hours divided by 4 or 5) then you come out with only 16-20 hours of work.

    Now you can see how people can pump out 40-50 page ebooks in 2 weeks, right?

    …still not sure if it’s the best way to go, but it certainly becomes a less frightening project – with just as much time per page to ensure quality.

  9. *long one…(in the first line)

  10. SteveE says: 01/21/2008 at 10:15 am

    Does anyone have any information or reviews on the Lulu self-publishing service from a non-U.S centric point of view?

    I’m from Australia and would like more information regarding self-publishing as an Australian.

    However any information would good nice :)

  11. Shane Arthur says: 01/21/2008 at 11:32 am


    Cyan, or anybody looking into self publishing, would find interest in two books:

    “Aiming At Amazon” and “Perfect Pages”

    Shane Arthur

  12. I’m so glad this post was done. I’m trying so hard to decide how to improve my income stream, and want to be realistic as I consider doing e-books. I have the ability but with two young kids and tons of other responsibilities its hard for me to be able to concentrate on writing.

  13. @ Chad – There is no standard length for an ebook – an ebook can be 10 pages or 400. However, I’ll agree that most people focus on ebooks of between 20 and 50 pages – why? Because people who read ebooks really don’t read them. Shame, really.

    I’ll disagree that people can pump out a really good quality ebook of 50 pages in two weeks. We’re fast, and 50 pages including formatting and graphics takes a month of intensive labor, which includes two edits. We’ve pushed for faster and the quality took a hit. It isn’t worth rushing to get sloppy work or cheap content, I think.

    But that’s just us ;)

    @ Chrissie – Ejunkie works really well – I agree!

  14. 80 hours is fast for 212 pages. And the title is awesome.

    Ebooks are so useful when you want to learn something straight away and not have to wait for delivery.

    And I can understand why people go down this route – it’s far more profitable than traditional publishing for the average author.

    What I do hate is these lazy people who write something 50 to 60 pages long, because they’re too lazy to put in the effort to write anything worthwile.

    Something that short is not a book and it’s misleading of them to say it is in their sales blurb.

  15. James – I agree…I’m new to eBooks (writing my first one). So once I get around to formatting and editing I’ll probably have a completely new take on it :)

    Scott – Outsourcing is also a great option. I’m getting a 200 page book done on eLance for $400. The quality is pretty solid (being completed by a lady with her masters in mass communications) and I’m doing all the formatting myself…but overall it’s saving me a TON of time.

  16. That gives me some ideas and tips for my future ebook releases…

  17. I think many problogger readers may find this an interesting debate in regards to “self-publishing”.


    I am going to move forward with this regrding my own site at monologueblogger.com

  18. Nice to see coverage of the e-book and book topic as a monetization method alternative to advertising, affiliate programs, etc…

    It makes so much more sense to put time into creating your own content and equity that can be leveraged for months and years to come.

    I have e-books in 3 different niche markets, one that has sold for 8-years now with only a few hours of updating each year to keep it current…pretty good for the 45-days or so it took me to put it together.

    There really is a large group of “underground” information publishers that are quietly making a living packaging ‘how to’ information for their audiences…exciting stuff.


  19. Page length is kind of arbitrary. You could put a Tom Peters book on one page or on 50. Same thing with ebooks. It depends on font size, page size, white space, etc.

  20. These are great results, I like this.

  21. A link to 37 Signals but no love for the Teaching Sells reference?

    That’s one less beer I’m buying you in Austin, Darren. :-)

    Actually, that might be a good thing.

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