How to Use Ebooks Strategically and Reach Your Content Marketing Goals

How to Use Ebooks Strategically and Reach Your Content Marketing Goals

Reader Comments (72)

  1. As a traditionally pubbed author I determined early on to create an income stream from self-pubbed work, because it seemed like low-hanging fruit. But I also thought it must be plucked strategically. Following the plan I talk about in “Self-Publishing Attack!” I’ve seen consistent, upward growth over a two-year period. This income has now surpassed my traditional royalty income, with the added benefit that I can keep adding to the stream.

    Tips: Consistent, quality production over time. Long form, short form. Develop a “grinder” to put your work through (beta readers, freelance editors) and make study of the craft a regular part of your weekly schedule.

    • Love this advice, James — thank you. Having a team on hand to proof your work so it’s top quality is essential.

      It’s an exciting time in the publishing world. Well, not for everyone … but for people like us it is!

  2. I agree with James completely. Good, trusted readers and editors are essential. As is a format person. I found mine on ELance, and he is terrific.

    I have written one niche book (Amazon) and 3 or 4 booklet sized PDF’s that are really easy to share in most any medium. It’s a wonderful way to ‘get the message to your followers’. Currently I am working on a more detailed offering as you mentioned.

    I don’t know if I am happy to see this on copyblogger or not. So far, my key market has been pretty well left alone…even I look good with no competition!

    • I’m laughing over here, Tom (about the last line in your comment!).

      Ebooks have been an obsession of mine for years. I’m just happy Copyblogger allowed me to write about them today, and very pleased the experts I approached were willing to share their insights.

  3. Just in Time! I’m writing my new eBook at the moment. I’ve actually been thumbing though many of my copyblogger eBooks I’ve downloaded in the past as inspiration and a benchmark on what an eBook should be.

  4. Great stuff, Pamela. Jon Morrow tweeted out a link to a similar post you wrote, and it inspired me to get to work on my own ebook. I’m writing “How to Understand College Football Analytics – The Ultimate Guide” as an incentive to subscribe to my email list. It has 3 chapters that are based on my most popular blog posts (one of which I have yet to write).

    And I’m not a ebook “master” 🙂 Just a beginner trying to learn all I can.

  5. I love ebooks–both reading and writing them. In addition to all of the benefits you mentioned, you can also update your book with time sensitive information. I love that I can add new information as things change or new technology appears. It’s a great way to teach and learn new things quickly and easily. I do agree with JSB, you really need to be sure you have a lot of eyes on your work before it goes out because there are a lot of not so great books on amazon and if your book stinks, reviewers will let you know.

    I’ll definitely be attending your brown bag seminar though. It sounds really interesting!

    • That’s a great point, Daphne: ereader-style ebooks can be updated whenever you’d like. You just upload a new file! So if you find a mistake or some information is out of date, you don’t have to worry about your outdated paper book inventory.

      I’m glad you’ll be on the webinar: we always have a lot of fun with those!

  6. Hi Pamela,
    These are certainly great insights,however it appears as if writing an e book is going to take up so much time that
    one will not find time for anything much else.
    How do you start off in the first place?

    • Hi Mona,

      I’d recommend you start small. Ebooks don’t have to be super long. Start by creating a PDF-style ebook, which is easy to do with any word processor program. Aim for maybe 8-10 pages. You can give it away as a “manifesto” style ebook, or give it to people in exchange for an email address.

      Once you’ve mastered creating shorter ebooks, longer ones won’t seem so daunting (or take you as much time).

      • I’ve seen the discussion about length in various groups lately, and I’ve covered it on my own blog as well. I think we need to be really careful with short books. People who aren’t in the digital world as much as many of us are, expect a book to be a book, not a report length piece. In print, the minimum you can bind is 25 pages and I think the average reader expects more than 8-10 pages if you label something a book.

        I’ve said it elsewhere and I’ll say it again here, I think Amazon has done a big disservice by allowing things from a single recipe to a 300 page manual to all be sold as “books”. They have a Singles/short category and I think they should enforce it. Does length mean quality? Unfortunately no, but at least having a book be a minimum length helps buyers understand what they’re getting. Many one star reviews happen because even though the author may indicate “short” in the description, trying to be up front, a short ebook to one person is a long blog post to another. Even if you are giving it away on your own website, I still think one needs to be careful with labels.

        • Cheryl, I’m actually recommending Mona create a short PDF ebook, not a Kindle ebook. I agree that 8-10 pages is way too short for a Kindle ebook.

          PDF ebooks can be a lot of things: worksheets, checklists, buyer’s guides, white papers. I’ve even created a series of mini posters in PDF form. Getting started with a PDF is a lot less daunting than trying to tackle an ereader-style ebook.

          • I think this is where some of the confusion comes in for people. You listed worksheets, checklists, white papers and even posters. None of those are books, digital or otherwise. They are PDF/digital versions of exactly what you listed.

            I’m curious as to why you classify all of those things as books (print or e/digital is just the means of delivery, not the product) ? No one would walk into a store and look in the book section for a poster for example, nor would someone in business offer a white paper and interchangeably call it a book.

            Some may say this is semantics, but I don’t think so at all. People need to understand what they are creating or what they are buying.

  7. I’ve got plenty of ebooks under my belt, but I’m still trying to figure out how to use them to best support my business.

    I opened up a Trello board to list all of my ebooks (both complete and in progress) and made lists for my free ebooks, my paid ebooks and courses, and used that to see how they relate to one another.

    This exercise gave me insight in how to use my content pieces to support each other, and I hatched the idea for an autoresponder series that I wouldn’t have thought of without this exercise.

    • Great idea, Caelan. There’s nothing like laying out all your content and seeing how it relates to help you make connections between the pieces. This could be done on paper, too, or even with sticky notes!

    • Thanks for mentioning Trello, Caelan; the app looks like a fantastic tool for repurposing content into different requirements! Truly enables “seeing the Big Picture.”

  8. I’m excited to see Copyblogger talking about eBooks! I use eBooks in lots of different ways. I sell them as PDFs on my blogs, and they’re also available via Amazon Kindle and Kobo. I also offer PDF eBooks as freebies for joining my email newsletters. Recently, I pitched an eBook publisher with the newest book I want to write. If they accept it I’ll let them publish it, otherwise I’ll publish it myself. And lastly, I work with other writers who want guidance on creating their eBooks. I actually run a 90-day intensive eBook program that takes writers from “Concept to Completion.”

  9. Thanks for this Pamela. We “published” our first eBook a few weeks ago. It’s a pdf, available for free download on our website, as part of a long-term inbound marketing strategy. We titled it “Finding a Fit in 5 Easy Steps: How to Choose the Right Camp or Summer Program”.

    We’re in summer programming for teens and tweens. This year we realized that parents across the country are struggling to get their heads around the industry. It’s opaque. So we set out to help them. We assume that most of the folks who download the eBook will use it to find some other program, but we’re ok with that. Over time, we want to become a place where parents come for trusted information — and some of them will send their kids to us.

    So, looks like it’s not going to do much for us for this summer, but now the eBook ideas are flowing and I hope to do 1-2 more in the fall in advance of 2014.

    Appreciate the grinder advice. Need that.

  10. I have a couple of mini ebooks on the Kindle store and have PDFs as sign up incentives on my website and blog. I’m currently working on a more substantial ebook. I find that having launched publications positions you as an expert in your field and a ‘go to’ person. I definitely recommend going down this route!

  11. I never believed in the strategy of gaining large audience by redefining the eBook. To say I had no idea about that and its after reading your article that I happened to understand the entire concept. Thanks for the share.


  12. Great tips. I’ll be publishing my 7th eBook on Kindle later this month and am happy to report sales have been increasing every month and now account for a generous portion of my income. The one thing people really need to be aware of is that writing the book is often the easy part – it takes work (and writing more books!) to get your work into the hands of readers and build a following.

    • That’s what I hear from everyone, Marquita. It takes a while, but over time sales build. Patience is key. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  13. From what I’ve seen in studying business having an eBook available boosts that connection with the customer and prepares them for contact with you. It immediately builds a sense of trust which is so important, especially when working in a creative field. I love the pieces of advice from other eBook masters, thanks so much for sharing!

  14. I’ve used a 70 some page eBook (compilation of blog posts) as a free give away for years (via an Aweber pop-up). It’s helped me build a really nice sized email list. I’ve also thought about doing something more elaborate to sell including exploring the new Snippet format which seems pretty cool.

    BTW, a big shout out to the Copyblogger Media team for their Genesis framework and Synthesis hosting. I’ve been on it for about a month and I’ve been so pleased! My site is faster than ever and I no longer worry about Bluehost crashing or Malware attacks.

  15. Thanks for the great article, Pamela. Can you recommend any firms that help design/develop e-books? Also, do you know of any databases or resources that offer benchmarking on prices?

    • Hi Jonathan,

      I don’t know of any firms (someone else here does, maybe?), but I do offer a product that gives you the tools to do this yourself if you’re interested. There’s a link in my bio to a webinar I’m hosting next week that will tell you all about it. Maybe I’ll “see” you there? 🙂

  16. We use an interview-based model to help people produce content.

    Here’s the math if you want to speak a 20,000 word ebook into existence:
    People talk at about 150 words per minute. So, it would take about 133 minutes of conversation to hit 20,000 words. However, there’s a certain amount of “waste” when going from transcription to manuscript, so I’d recommend about 30% more time in interviews to keep the word count up there. Let’s just round up to 175 minutes.

    A good approach is to tackle the content creation in Chapter-SubChapter format. So, when you do your outline, think about a Chapter Topic and 3 or 4 sub-topics or sub-chapters. If you had 4 Chapters with 3 subtopics each, that would be 12 “chunks” of content plus a forward and summary.

    If you set a goal of covering each “chunk” in a 12-15 minute interview, you’d be pretty close to the target.

    A lot of people would find it easier to speak those sub-chapters into existence than to sit down and pound them out on a keyboard. For those who prefer to write, you should write. However, for those who dislike writing, but are otherwise experts in their subject matter, the interview technique can be a fun and stress-free way to create content. Be sure to find an outsider to conduct your interviews. It will help to ensure you are explaining things in a way that the average person will understand. Your interviewer must be given leeway to ask you to explain yourself.

    There are plenty of transcription services that can turn your spoken words into text. Your next step is to hand that transcription to a capable editor. Voila! A book that you didn’t have to type.

    • I love this technique, Dave, and have recommended it before (although not with the word count data: thanks for that).

      A lot of people who don’t consider themselves writers are actually quite talented at speaking in fully-formed sentences. This is a great way to get those words down on paper (screen?).

      • Pamela, with our technique it doesn’t matter if the sentences are fully formed or not. Coherent and understandable is just fine. We’ve got a client who is dyslexic. Even stuttering and stammering are not problems for our editors…although that could up the number of minutes in the calculation. 😉

  17. We’ve hit an unexpected snag in our first ebook: Video. We wanted to cover a topic in depth, but also need to show videos of our research (eye-tracking studies of business video). Our assumption was, “Hey it’s 2013. This should be a piece of cake.” Surprisingly, it is very difficult to embed video into an ebook and have it work on PCs, iPads, Android tablets and whatever they come up with next. Don’t even ask about getting it onto Amazon.

    If we get it together, it’s going to be VERY cool. And we’ll write about how we did it. Viva ebooks!

    • Brian, there is a new platform called Snippets. Look up Let Go by Pat Flynn as he’s one of the first to use it. They’re not exactly ebooks, but they are multi-media and meant to be read/viewed on tablets, phones etc. It may not exactly solve your issue, but it may be a step in the right direction for you.

      • I was going to suggest something really low tech like hosting the videos online and linking to them from the ebook, but I like Cheryl’s suggestion better. 😉

      • Thanks, Cheryl. My iPad v1 can’t run Snippet (need IOS 6) and no app for Andriod yet. I’ll find a way to get your book, though!

  18. This is very good and supports what I am doing right now. I have been writing ebooks for my blogs, but now I am publishing content on kindle and that is really giving me some great marketing ideas. I reach more people through the kindle platform and that is good. And there are a lot of great kindle books to help me along in my discoveries. Thanks.

  19. I had a blast just reading the comments here – full of great info. The idea about compiling blog posts into a PDF to give away for membership on the mailing list is a great idea that I’ve been meaning to get to sometime. I’ll do it this week because it is just too powerful to pass up. Visitors to my (Hawaii-focused site) can use that to download all the articles I have about moving to Hawaii in one place to read on their phones, iPads, or whatever they’ve got.

    I have 26 published ebooks at Amazon and other channels. I wrote my first book on a whim in 2006 because I knew I didn’t want to teach English any longer. I sold a couple of books a month. I wrote another. I sold more. Another, another, and another. I was doing about 15 books a month then. It was slow, but, I was selling them for $8-40 each, so I had some income. I decided to write many more and sat down and cranked them out over two years. We were making somewhere around $500 per month net. Then I started optimizing titles, descriptions, covers, keywords, categories and whatever else I could. Today sales are 3x that per month with some months going well above that. Ebooks have become a business. It didn’t happen overnight, it was a hard effort sustained over a couple of years.

    I have friends that wrote ebooks and didn’t done so well. I have one friend that looks like he could break through and start doing it full-time, but he also has a full-time writing job for someone else that is hindering his progress. That might be your situation as well. If so, STICK WITH IT AND WRITE YOUR BOOK!

    Get a book out there and see what it does. Use the feedback from idiots in the reviews to help you make your book better. Sometimes there is truth in the venom they spit.

    Write in different genres. Write fiction and non-fiction, see what works best for you. Write big topics and micro-niche topics. Write what you know. Write what interests you. Just write until you get a book on the market and go from there. Look at ebooks as your pension plan. Write enough of them and you can take off for a year of travel or working on some other important project. Hell, you could could even spend some time with your kids.

    Best of luck!


    • I love that this post has attracted people who’ve put in a few years at this, and are dropping in to share their experience.

      Your story about keywords is a great cautionary tale: it’s worthwhile to spend some time upfront getting those right, because the benefits build over time.

      Thanks so much for sharing your hard-earned knowledge, Mike!

  20. Beautiful breakdown, and walkthrough.

    Long story short, I originally created a print-on-demand book.
    I went with a publisher who the big shops use so I could get into all the various channels, including libraries.

    Not to mention, I wanted a physical book to hand Mom (that was before she became a Kindle fan 😉

    The BIG surprise for me was, when I finally shipped a Kindle version, I could not believe how in a single month, I made several thousand $$$ more than the entire previous year of the printed book.

    Margins and convenience (and folks who want to do the “the green thing”), made all the difference in the world.

    The other surprise was the sheer volume.

    My bestselling author friend convinced me to re-design the cover.
    He said, “think in terms of selling icons on the Web.”
    It was beautiful advice.

    How beautiful?

    Well, 20,000+ users downloaded it during one of the promo weeks.

    The true beauty though, is how you can write the book once, and keep selling it … a true information product.

    • That’s great advice about the cover! It has to work at postage stamp size, and presents an interesting design challenge for sure.

      And this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of Moms who are tablet fans. The ability to carry all those books and enlarge fonts is ideal for everyone, but especially people who are getting older and may have vision issues.

      Thanks for sharing your experience, J.D. 🙂

    • J.D. and Pamela

      I am just entering this fray and conversation. So….is there a particular program to write e-Books, or do you just write a book, convert it to PDF, upload to your website, and then?

      I suspect, though, that one of you–or even both of you–have a step-by-step blog somewhere that I could connect to to help me. If so, please let me know.

      Thanks a ton.

  21. I’m about six months into my website project featuring stories and inspiration for people interested in non-traditional veterinary careers. I’ve been able to get almost 200 e-mail list subscribers the slow and steady way, without any freebie PDF to go along with it, but I know I could be more successful if I ever sit down and make this happen!

  22. Much to my amazement, sales of ebooks have been my online life-blood since 1997. It was a classic case of find-a-need-and-fill-it: I developed proposal templates for getting approval of telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements. Even at $29.95, they proved to be consistent sellers.

    To this day, updated versions of the PDF “proposal packages” are *still* the most popular product on my WorkOptions website, although sales volume is not at pre-recession levels. (Sigh.)

    Most recently, I converted my PDF maternity leave negotiation guide into a Kindle ebook. This one is limping along (PDF sales were better at 3x the price–go figure), but I have some promotional tactics to employ in the months ahead. If they work, I’ll turn my latest PDF ebook, How to Get Six Weeks Off to Travel, currently a giveaway item, into a Kindle ebook.

    The low barrier to entry make ebooks a handy tool in the online toolbox.

  23. I recently published my first ebook. I’m not trying to make money from it. It’s another way I stand out among 1500 real estate agents in the region.

  24. It just happens that I am currently in the process of creating my first E-book and this article has provided me with some good learning resources for which I’m very grateful. I couldn’t resist clicking on the “Psychotactics” link and as a result have subscribed to Sean’s newsletter.

    Anyway, I’m still not sure whether I’ll go E-book or self publishing on the Kindle format so any further insights would be deeply appreciated from who ever would like to contribute?

    Thanks again for the great content,


    • I’m glad this was helpful, Maurice! Hopefully others will chime in with their insights about PDF vs. Kindle.

      In the meantime, you could sign up for my free webinar next Wednesday: this is one of the topics I’m going to cover.

      • I just might do that if it’s at the right time Pamela. I have my own meetings on Wednesdays from 12 – 1pm Est. for my membership but may be able to attend if it’s not past 3:00pm.

        I’ve made it a rule to hibernate the PC during the week from 3:00pm until 8:00am next morning during the week. Life’s too short not to save some fun time! 🙂

  25. Don’t forget to test your ebook title by using that title on Adwords and see which gets the better response. Might be a bit expensive for some of you but can definitely pay out in the long run.

  26. Ebooks are great and the neat thing about them is if you make a mistake you can edit the mistake and reapply the update to the ebook to customers.

  27. I published eBook for one of my energy related site last to last month and the response was tremendous. The book was downloaded by over 500 people in less than one week. I’m planning to write one eBook more so that my site can standout from the crowd.

  28. I’ve got my eBook giveaway that’s helped up my email list a little bit, and that’s been nice. Time to move on to the revenue generator. Thanks for the motivation!

  29. Hi Pamela,
    I like your article. Only I disagree on the “relatively easy”, creating an E-book. You have to reach everybody’s potential. There are beginners and more experienced readers. Some of them will drop out…. I have 2 E-books and have to update them regularly to let readers stay focussed. So, how do you do that? Maybe it’s also a goog idea publishing your E-book in a presentation and share it on Slideshare.


  30. Hey folks,

    I am trying to wrap my mind around the where and how of ebooks and any insight is appreciated.

    I have yet to discover pure clarity on where to sell my ebook. My website or Amazon Kindle? Large difference in pricing. Maybe on my site I would sell it for $29 and on Amazon, $2.99. What are some thoughts on making this decision?

    Also… help me understand the difference when someone starts a kickstarter campaign for a book and is asking to be funded for say, $5k, $10k or more. Self published but obviously different than created an ebook and uploading it to Kindle.

    Thanks much,
    Dr. Nicki

  31. Great article.As you can see, using e-books to spread the word about your business, products and services and to build your brand is an excellent tactic. Create good quality content and you can gain a wider audience and potential new clients.

  32. This is a great post Pamela. Very clearly defining the differences between a pdf and epub.
    Also, there is such great information in the comments here. Thanks to everyone for the input.

  33. Not only was this a fascinating post for anyone looking into creating an ebook – but these are among the most interesting and useful comments I’ve read! A good combination!

    I’d love it if anyone has any advice about how they (successfully) promoted their first ebook. If it was an ebook and you had a site that didn’t have much traffic – how did you get traffic for your ebook? I think the publicity bit is probably harder than compiling an ebook. Interested to hear any thoughts.

    I like to network on blogging communities like blogbods, stumble upon, reddit, etc but I couldn’t directly sell my ebook on their sites, I can only share my blog posts with a link to my site. And other than that I don’t get much traffic. I’d be curious to know how someone with low traffic can sell ebooks?

    In fact even if they’re free, I don’t see how people would find them. For example, I am on the first page of Youtube for a keyword that gets 3600 searches a month – no one views my video though. Second page of Google for the same search term – no visits from that either! Frustrating because the content is good (I’ve tested it on strangers!) Would love some advice. Have linked this post via blogbods – the content and comments are too good to keep to myself!

    • Thanks, Tom. I agree: the comments have been fantastic on this post.

      One tactic you might consider is guest posting on blogs that have larger audiences than yours. I do this (obviously!) and have found it’s a great way to get exposure for my work.

      You could also offer to host a teleseminar or webinar (if you’re comfortable with those) for readers of a site that’s larger than yours. This takes doing some networking with the site owners, and some time to put the presentation together, but it could be well worth your time.

      And finally, don’t forget that offering affiliates a cut of a paid ebook is an excellent way to get it in front of different audiences. Again — it takes networking and development, but might make a big difference.

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