How I wrote an ebook in one month and sold 130+ copies in one week
Exactly a week ago, I published Make & Shine, an ebook which is all about personal branding for indie makers. Several people have reached out asking about the process and the experience, so I wanted to share this as a way to say thank you to the community!
This is how I wrote, designed, published, and promoted Make & Shine. This is obviously not a perfect blueprint, but I hope you find it useful.
1) Launch results
First, to put the following process into perspective, here are the results I achieved. I offered to get the ebook via Amazon or via Gumroad, and sold one odd copy to someone who reached out asking to use PayPal.
Okay, so how many exactly?
• Amazon: 29
• Gumroad: 106
• PayPal: 1
One-week total: 136 copies
Even more than the number of copies, the feedback was overwhelmingly good, with the book ending up being #4 on Product Hunt (480+ upvotes at the time of writing!) and people sharing positive reviews on Twitter.
I was more anxious about the reception of the content rather than the reach of the launch, so I was very happy to hear people found the book useful and started applying some of the principes already.
2) Writing it
Okay, so, first things first: you got to write the thing. I used the 30-Day Women Make Challenge as an opportunity to get myself to start and finish writing this ebook. Publicly announcing my intentions made me accountable: there was no way to give up.
Second, I picked a topic that I was knowledgeable about. Considering that I only had thirty days to write and launch the ebook, and that I was leaving for Algeria for ten days, then having five days of neuroscience exams, I needed to minimise the amount of research required. So I picked marketing, because that’s something I’m very comfortable with and I thought could be very helpful to makers.
If the average non-fiction book runs between 50,000 to 75,000 words, an ebook is usually shorter: around 20,000 words, which usually gives you 80 to 100 pages of content, depending on the design and number of illustrations you include.
So I aimed at 20,000 words, which, if you had a full month to write your ebook, would mean about 1000 words a day, and then plenty of time for ebook design and creating marketing assets.
I wrote the outline of the book in a document, first dumping everything that came to mind, and then structuring my thoughts so the book would follow a logical flow. I made each section actionable, writing around the main point I wanted the reader to take away at each stage.
In terms of content, remember that you don’t have the same constraints you would have with a paperback! For example, I added a few useful extras such as worksheets, but you could also create an audio version, some case study videos, downloadable templates, etc.
I also included a thank you page with all of the people and communities who inspired me, supported me, or contributed in any way to the creation of the book. Ideally, you would want to ask someone to proofread your draft, but as I didn’t have much time, I decided it was good to go after a few times re-reading everything myself.
3) Packaging it
Okay, now I needed to make it look nice. It’s a book about branding, after all — I couldn’t launch something ugly.
There are many ways you could go about this. I personally used Photoshop, but you could design your cover using Canva. I’ve actually heard of people designing their entire ebook using Canva — more about this later.
When it comes to designing the cover, I found it really hard to pick something that was both simple and eye-catchy, so I turned to the community to help me pick the right one. Working in public and asking for feedback this way also has the advantage of starting to let people know about the book before it’s actually ready!
I received SUPER detailed feedback from the community, which was amazing.
After a few iterations, I was happy with the cover, so I moved onto designing the inside of the book. And, boy, was it a nightmare. As I mentioned earlier, some people use Canva. But you need to design your ebook page by page. I didn’t have time for that. I started looking around for solutions, until I decided to just do it the way a true indie hacker would… I used Google Docs. Yep. It’s actually pretty cool what you can do already with such a simple tool.
I picked a simple, common font, used an accessibility website to make sure the colours made it easy to read for everyone, added a table of content, and voila!
Or so I wish. Had I decided to just distribute the ebook as a PDF, I would have been done with design, but I also wanted to offer it to Kindle users. After a lot of reading about the best way to convert my file into something that would work on Amazon, I ended up installing Kindle Create, which is a very bad piece of software. I had to restart the conversion process from scratch several times until I got something decent.
If you want to offer your ebook to people in other formats such as EPUB or MOBI as I did, I recommend to use Calibre, which is free and — despite its outdated UI — quite easy to use.
So here I was, with 4 versions of my ebook: PDF, EPUB, MOBI, and KPF (“Kindle Package Format”, which is proprietary to Amazon). Now, onto pushing it live.
4) Publishing it
I read a lot about the various publishing platforms one can use to launch an ebook. There are lots of them, including smaller and non-obvious ones such as Google Play Books, Leanpub, and Lulu Publishing. Being new to this whole ebook thing, I decided to focus on the most popular ones, and there were two clear winners: Amazon and Gumroad. Some people are fervent defenders of Amazon, whereas others only sell on Gumroad.
- You get access to a huge platform of potential customers that can get your ebook delivered straight to their device.
- People are very much used to buying on Amazon and will usually be okay using their credit card on the site.
- Great SEO thus discoverability via Google.
- They force you to price your ebook between $2.99 and $9.99 if you want to keep 70% of what you make. Outside of this bracket, you only keep 30%.
- Amazon owns the customers, you don’t! You do not get their names or email addresses. There are hacks and tricks around that, but it’s not ideal to build an engaged base of loyal readers.
- The review process can be quite long.
- You still need to do all of the marketing and it’s actually super hard to get reviews.
Now, Gumroad. It’s a platform to sell digital and physical goods without any hassle, either on your own website or on theirs.
- You own the customers! Gumroad gives you access to their email addresses so you can get in touch with them.
- You can design your book as you want and sell whatever content you want. Gumroad accepts any type of digital files, including .ZIP, .MP3, etc.
- You can instantly publish your content. There is no review process.
- Gumroad offers lower fees, and you can price your content however you want, from $0 to $1000. You can even sell a product that costs more than that by asking them to verify it manually, or let your customers pay whatever they want by entering the price themselves.
- Quite unknown compared to Amazon, so some customers might feel more hesitant to enter their credit card information.
- … really struggling to find more.
Being unsure as to which one was the best one — maybe people would be really put off by Gumroad if they never heard of it? — I did what anyone would have done: I decided to publish on both platforms.
Considering I sold 78% of the copies via this page on Gumroad, I think it’s fair to say I was right to not rely exclusively on Amazon for publication.
The crazy thing? The package on Gumroad was actually more expensive ($14.99) than the one on Amazon ($9.99). I took advantage of the flexibility Gumroad offered to offer additional content, and more people picked that option.
With this very first experience, I’ve become a huge fan of Gumroad.
5) Launching it
After a couple of days, my ebook was approved by Amazon. So I was live on both platforms, and I needed to launch. I built a website for the book which showed the cover, a description of the content and my background, as well as the two buying options.
I then soft launched on a Friday by posting the link to the website on Twitter and Medium, and emailing my newsletter subscribers. The goal was to get a few sales and see if everything worked. And it did!
On the Monday, I properly launched the website. Where launching properly = launching on Product Hunt (which made sense here because the target readers were makers and creators). I picked Monday because it’s usually a bit more quiet and I didn’t want to have to compete with other big launches — an intuition that has recently been backed by another maker.
I also sent individual messages to everyone mentioned in the “Thank You” section and to makers who were included as examples in the book.
The upvotes and comments started coming in, and as I mentioned earlier, Make & Shine ended up #4 of the day on Product Hunt. Which means it was included in the daily newsletter, getting even more people to see it!
I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome, and while I think marketing for makers is definitely an area where more educational content is needed, I’m very aware I wouldn’t have made it to the top 5 products if it wasn’t for the community.
6) Promoting it
Everyone talks about the big dip after a launch on Product Hunt. This is why I advocate for building your own audience so you can keep on promoting your products independently afterwards. I’ve been pretty busy with a few other projects this week, but here are some of the things I’ve been doing.
- Adding the link to Make & Shine everywhere, including my email signature;
- Emailing each customer individually to thank them for getting a copy — if you haven’t heard from me yet, it’s because I’m not done, I’m genuinely writing to everyone one by one;
- Creating an affiliate programme so makers who recommend my book can also be rewarded — super easy with Gumroad;
- Working on a print version so I can organise some giveaways around Christmas;
- Building additional content around the book, such as this list of Telegram Communities I published this morning, or this blog post 😉
- … and many more ideas I’m brainstorming to extend the reach of the book beyond Product Hunt!
Whether you’re working on a web app, a SaaS product, or an ebook, marketing is a daily effort where consistency pays off, so I’ll give you an update in a couple of months to see how this all worked out.
In the mean time, I hope this post gave you a good idea of how you could go about writing and publishing your own ebook if you wanted to.