How To Write An eBook To Sell: 7 Steps To Make Money From Your Writing

Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

Ultimate Guide Table of Contents

In this week's Digital Writing Compass, we want to talk about writing an eBook.

But not just any eBook—an eBook you can sell and start earning money from right away.

We are going to cover a few of the basics and then break down the steps you can take to give your eBook the best chance of hitting the best-sellers list.

Let’s dive in.

What Is An eBook?

An eBook is a digitally formatted book.

Unlike traditional paper books, eBooks don't require physical storage space or paper. They can be read on a computer, tablet, phone, or an “e-reader” like an Amazon Kindle. The most common form of an eBook is a PDF or Kindle, but it can also be in any format that can be read on a digital screen.

eBooks can be downloaded in seconds, making them an ideal monetization method for writers.

Is My Story Worth Writing As An eBook?

Everyone has a story to tell.

And the answer to whether or not your story is worth writing as an eBook is YES! Absolutely yes. People with all kinds of different backgrounds and experiences have been able to find success by sharing their stories through books. And there's no reason your story shouldn't be one of them.

But, before you even think about running off to a cabin in the woods, smoking a corn cob pipe, and writing a 60,000-word book, you need to test some of your core ideas in a few 50-word tweets.

  • Gather data on what's resonating
  • Double-down on your most-engaged category
  • Publish your ideas every single day in that category
  • Expand the most-popular posts with stories & examples

You will know what story is worth writing when you listen to the data.

Now, there is nothing wrong with writing an eBook because you just want to tell your story. This is a worthy goal, but it’s a very different goal than writing an eBook that answers a question your readers actually want the answer to and are willing to open up their wallets and pay for.

Be clear about who and what you are writing for and you can’t go wrong.

Is Writing An eBook For Profit Actually Possible?

The age-old dream of a writer was to get a “book deal” for tens of thousands of dollars with a major publishing house.

Most book deals begin with an advance to fund the writing process and an agreement to give up 90% of the profits from your product. An advance for writing may seem like a dream come true until you realize you could make 10x that by taking the longer, more methodical road. Plus, a 10% royalty is nothing.

It’s way easier to write a book that prints money when you self-publish.

No one pays you an up-front advance, but a book can easily be self-published (cover design, formatting, etc.) for less than $1,500. And you receive 100% of the profits.

For example, Cole self-published The Art & Business of Online Writing in August, 2020. He spent $3,000 on design and $0 on ads. He marketed it to his email list and social media following, recouping his investment in the first week. Since launch the book has generated $2,000 / month in passive income. Not only that, the book has led to an increase in speaking opportunities and multiple six-figure ghostwriting clients.

Self-publishing means taking a tad more risk but there is way more long-term upside and endless distribution opportunities.

Check out this complete guide on self-publishing.

Why Learn How to Start Writing An eBook Before Even Putting Pen To Paper?

Before you start writing anything, you need to know where you are going.

The problem most writers run into when they sit down to write a book is they try to write it linearly. They start with the very first word, and then try to write a second word, and then a third word. This is like trying to find your way through a corn maze with nothing but a flashlight in the middle of the night. Three steps into the maze and you are lost!

If you’ve ever been to a corn maze in the fall, what helps you actually get through it?

It’s not a flashlight.

There is a map of the maze you can study, and there are stairs you can climb to get a view from above.  You don’t want to start exploring the maze until you know where the end is. When you are writing a book, this is called outlining.

Instead of starting blind, start with a birds-eye view and make a plan for your book.

  • What question are you answering for the reader?
  • What are the Big Ideas to answer that question?
  • What are the Sub Ideas (stories, stats, takeaways)?
  • What's the right order for each Big Idea/Sub Idea?

Answering these questions is like knowing the beginning and end of the maze.

Once you can see the finish line and you know what you are working toward, you will write 10X faster.

How To Write An eBook To Sell: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing An eBook For Money

If you want the best possible shot at producing a best-selling book, we want to give you a framework for turning your Obvious and/or Non-Obvious insights, perspectives, and stories into an asset that not only gives you the title of “author,” but changes the way people think AND pays you dividends long into the future.

Here are the steps:

Step 1: Choose A Top 7 Business Book Category

According to a study Cole and his partners over at Category Pirates conducted for their best-selling book, Snow Leopard, the Top 500 best-selling business books of the past 20 years all fall into these 7 mega categories:

  • Leadership
  • Relationships
  • Insights/Thinking
  • Personal Finance
  • Case Study/Allegory
  • Functional Excellence
  • Personal Development

Writing in any of these categories will give you the greatest chance of writing a home run best-seller.

For a full category analysis, check out the breakdown in this thread.

Step 2: Decide What Kind Of Book You Will Write

In Ship 30 for 30 we teach the 4A framework.

Choose and focus on one “A” to set a clear expectation with your reader.

  • Is your book Aspirational? Will it inspire the reader?
  • Is your book Actionable? Will it teach the reader how to do something?
  • Is your book Analytical? Will it break down how something works with numbers?
  • Is your book Anthropological? Will it explain the “why behind the what” is happening?

If the reader doesn’t know what they are getting, they will move on.

Here's an example of four different books in the Personal Finance category.

Step 3: Ascend Up The 7 Categories To A Superior Category

The top two categories from the mega category list are Personal Development and Personal Finance.

Writing in any other category will always come second to writing about improving the reader’s life or helping the reader make more money. So, regardless of which one of the mega categories you choose, you want to find ways to lean into Personal Finance or Personal Development.

Notice the difference between these titles:

The Greatness Guide: One of the World's Most Successful Coaches Shares His Secrets for Personal and Business Mastery

Change Your World: How Anyone, Anywhere Can Make a Difference

One promises to teach YOU how to make a difference, the other might show you how to be great, but it’s through a very different (personal experience) lens and thus sets a very different expectation.

Something interesting that doesn’t provide any immediately applicable value to the reader is going to struggle to gain traction.

  • This book will change YOUR habits.
  • This book will make YOU more money.
  • This book will move YOU up in your career.

People don't just buy a book to read it, they buy it for the transformation it promises.

Help the reader transform into the person they want to be.

Step 4: Make Your Title Best-Seller Worthy

The content of your book might be amazing, but if you whiff on the title your book isn’t going to sell any copies. So, when coming up with your main title & subtitle, follow these rules:

  • Rule #1: Be clear, not clever.
  • Rule #2: Use language that signals the primary benefit.
  • Rule #3: Use a Non-Obvious title with a very Obvious subtitle.

Listen to Cole walk through these rules in his AMA talk on book publishing.

Step 6: Aim For 200-300 Pages

While page count is probably the least important variable, the best-seller book study showed the highest-earning business books (by aggregate sales) have an average page count in the 200-300 page range.

Step 7: Price It High

While it’s nice to have a book that moves a truckload of copies, it’s exponentially different to have a book that hauls in boatloads of cash.

The book study showed there are many best-selling business books that move more copies but bring in way less money than their higher-priced counterparts. Authors who want to optimize for reach tend to price their paperback and eBooks in the $9 to $19 range, whereas authors who make the most money from their books tend to price their work in the $19 to $35 range ($29/30 being the average).

If you want your book to lead to a life-changing financial outcome for you and your family, then price it high.

Additional Tips for Making an eBook

Before we wrap up, here are a few additional tips for writing an eBook.

You Need An Attention Engine First

If you don’t yet have an email list, there is almost no point in publishing and writing an eBook.

Instead, you should be focused on writing online and building an email list or newsletter before you start to write an eBook. Without an attention engine, no one is going to know your book exists.

Organization Is More Important Than Style

Most first-time authors place so much emphasis on the "sound" of their writing voice. It's not that important.

What will make or break the success of your book is the organization of the ideas in your book.

Write Your Book In 2 Months

The average book takes approximately 250 hours. You can either procrastinate and spread 250 hours across 10 years, or you can put your nose to the grindstone and get those 250 hours done in 2 months.

Your writing speed is a direct reflection of its priority level.

Start With What You Know, Research What You Don't

A lot of first-time writers think they need to wait until "they're an expert" before they can start writing. Don't do that.

Start with what you've got now, and fill in the gaps as you go along.


Nobody cares if you wrote a book but it's sitting on your desktop in a folder titled "Book V1." Which means your real goal isn't to just "write" a book. It's to Write & PUBLISH your book.

You have to cross the finish line.

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