Advice for Writing and Selling Ebooks On EBay
I got two questions from readers this week about eBay and ebooks. Questions like these are a good way of finding out what you want to know so I'll assume others are interested and spend some time answering them.
Here's the first question:
I numbered Bob's paragraphs so I can refer to them in my answer.
While the first paragraph is probably just Bob being polite, the point about me being a "talented writer" is worthy of a comment.
I used to think I was a poor writer. In fact, I avoided tasks and responsibilities that required writing.
Later, I learned writing is just sharing ideas with written words rather than spoken words.
Let me tell you a story here. . . I went to Subway today and ordered a sandwich. Actually, before I ordered my sandwich I stood behind a woman for what seemed like an hour, but was probably only 2 or 3 minutes as she tried to figure out what she wanted. She finally said I could go in front of her, or I might still be there.
I quickly told the kid what I wanted, and he made it for me. The woman who couldn't order a sandwich didn't understand the path.
You select size, then meat, then bread, then cheese. Toasted? Vegetables? Seasonings? And you're done.
If I told you the woman was elderly and from her accent and comments made to her companion appeared to be visiting the US from an eastern European country would it change your impression of her?
Based on her statements she'd never been to a sub shop before. If you'd grown up in a communist country Subway would seem quite different. It's new and confusing in an exciting way and she wants the perfect sandwich.
That's what writing is like.
When we first start it's all new and confusing. We try for perfection, and get caught up in the details. We forget that we're just explaining something and try to be witty.
After writing for a while we realize we're just sharing ideas and let the words flow. We imagine we're actually talking to someone while writing. (Can you hear me Bob?)
Just like ordering a sandwich, when you write there is a path too. . .
The outline. In the outline we include the information in a flow that seems natural, and we anticipate the reader's questions.
To anticipate reader questions, we need to understand the reader before writing the outline. When we research the reader, we also learn if there is a market for the book.
Many of my books were written by creating an outline and then recording me explaining each section to someone. The recording was transcribed, and then edited. Later I stopped converting some of the transcripts to books, and just made them available as transcripts.
This system and the prior research into audience and market is what you'll learn in my ebook about writing ebooks.
Let's get back to Bob's email. In paragraph 2, Bob just says he found my site while looking for information about putting photos into eBay auctions. Good job Bob. You're looking for help and came to the right place.
In paragraph 3, Bob talks about wanting to sell information products on eBay, but is wary that this won't be "worthy of the tremendous amount of work involved in doing so at the present time."
There are two misconceptions here.
The first misconception is thinking of creating information products specifically to sell them on eBay as a profit center. This is a recipe for failure.
The most successful information product I ever sold on eBay was a video about how to sell on eBay. I'd written my How To Buy Antiques and Collectibles Package, and running ads for it wasn't working. I decided to do a video about selling antiques on eBay, and wrap the sales letter for my package around the video.
While the video was profitable, it was designed to get the sales letter for my package into the hands of people who would buy the package. (Back then the package was a printed collection of books and cassette tapes sold for $229. It had less information than the current collection of ebooks and interviews about buying antiques contains for a 3rd of the price.)
So a simple direct answer to Bob's question about selling information on eBay is it's not worth the time unless you either have other products to sell, or are building a newsletter list where you promote affiliate products.
The second misconception is the tremendous amount of work involved in selling information products. Climbing a hill seems like a tremendous amount of work when you're at the bottom looking up, but when you reach the top, the path doesn't seem that hard.
Bob mentions in paragraph 4 that he's bought material on how to write books before. This might be why he has this misconception. A lot of that stuff is sold as the answer or the guide, when actually it's really just a come on to sell more expensive packages or coaching services.
This crap creates a cycle of dependency that revolves around you buying more items and never doing anything. (You can spot this crap by looking at the way it is sold. If it offers you lifestyle, it's a come on. To make it even simpler... Pictures of fancy cars, houses and boats means it's crap.)
Here's an interesting factoid for you. . . I was talking with a well known marketing guru the other day. He told me his most successful students aren't the ones who buy his big packages, attend his seminars, and sign up for his coaching programs. The successful people are the ones who buy the little cheap come on packages, and then actually do what the little packages advise!
Actually from talking with him more and thinking about some of my friends, it's not even the little cheap packages that are responsible for the success. It's the fact that the people are doing something rather than researching how to do something.
Let me be real clear here. . .
Successful people do things, and then look for ways to improve what they are already doing. They don't buy coaching programs and big packages to get started, they buy them after they've started so they can learn ways to improve their results.
Looking back on my purchases, I used the information in a $30 set of cassette tapes sold on late night TV infomercials as the basis for the business I have today. Later, I bought more expensive packages and courses on writing sales letters, about press releases and free publicity, and other focused topics where I needed specific advice. I paid for these additional materials using the money I was making selling my materials.
Anyway, lets get back to the misconception about the amount of work involved in writing and selling information products.
Writing and selling an ebook seems like a lot of work because rather than researching the people interested in your topic, you're thinking about building a web site.
It seems like a lot of work because rather than constructing an outline, you're trying to figure out how to take payments on the website you dreamed about building when you weren't doing your audience research.
When you do what is in front of you for each specific step, and ONLY the minimum that needs to be done for each step, the work actually gets done pretty fast.
Let's get back to Bob's email. In paragraph 4 Bob asks about the current market for information products.Let me ask you a question. . .
Why are you still reading this article?
I know the answer already so don't spend too much time thinking about your answer. It's because you want information. Not just any information, you want specific information about writing and selling ebooks.
This proves there is a market for information about writing and selling ebooks. I also know there is a market for information about antiques and collectibles and about selling on eBay.
Today the market for information products is larger than ever before. It's HUGE and still growing.
That said, it is not as easy to successfully sell information products online today as it was when I got started. There's more competition, more clutter, and a lot of prospective buyers have been damaged by people selling items that don't deliver.
The days of throwing together a simple 3 page website offering an ebook and a free newsletter, then quitting your day job a few months later are over. (That's Jim Cockrum's story, not mine. I never had a day job.)
If you've selected a niche with hungry buyers, you'll be able to make some money selling your book from the start, but to build a business you'd need to do the book, and then spend 10-15 hours a week adding content to a website to build a reputation within the specific niche.
After a year or two of working to build your reputation, and adding additional products or services you might be able to consider quitting your day job.
Bob also asks in paragraph 4 if my book - "the one you claim will help a writer get their words down on paper" will help him since other books haven't.
Then in paragraph 5 Bob talks about being disabled and how the cost of my package on writing and selling ebooks is better spent on his meds.
In paragraph 6 Bob wants to know if writing ebooks like I do is a good "gamble" for him.
I really can't answer this question. I don't know what it is that causes one person to work at something and succeed and another to give up or get distracted by another bright shiny object and start chasing something else.
If I knew this, I would be a world famous success and motivational speaker and author, not an antique dealer who writes about eBay and how I run my business.
I do know that my package about writing ebooks contains an easy to follow step-by-step plan that will get an ebook written working only 4-6 hours a week in a month. I think that anyone who actually follows the plan can get a book written.
The first week of the plan explains how to research topics and make sure there is a buying audience you can easily reach. If this is done, the book should sell.
I'd tell Bob not to spend the money he needs for his meds on the book, but the book comes with a two month money back guarantee. So instead, I'll tell Bob to buy my package, and write a note in his calendar 30 days from now to ask for a refund if he hasn't got the book done.
This way Bob doesn't risk the money he needs for his meds.
Here's the second question about ebooks and eBay.
Again I'm numbering paragraphs so I can refer to them in my answer.
Harlan starts out by complimenting me on my awesome website. Thanks. I've been working on it for 10 years. It might not be fancy, but I spent 6 months last year going through each page updating the content to make sure it was correct information. Harlan's comment lets me know my time wasn't wasted.
In paragraph 2 Harlan explains that he understands the money to be made selling information products on eBay comes from the backend. This is the same point I made to Bob earlier.
Then in paragraph 3, Harlan is asking about the cost to put an ebook onto a CD. This is needed because eBay prohibits selling downloaded reports.
Locally, I can get a CD made with a printed label in a paper sleeve for under $1.50 in quantities of 100 or more so I'd suggest checking the local services. (I emailed my duplicator and she said $1.10 per CD is my current price so if you need CDs and can't find that price locally drop me a note.)
But, before having any CDs made, I'd make certain I could sell them and make the CDs myself.
If your computer won't burn CDs, you can buy an external burner that plugs into a USB port. I have one sitting here that was about $60 years ago. Probably much less now. I also have a label maker called the STOMPER that I think was about $20. CDs are about 50 cents each so you can get everything you need to burn a small quantity of CDs for under a hundred dollars.
Use a paper sleeve and a cardboard mailer (22 cents each) and you can mail yourself for about $1.00. This would put your costs during the testing phase around $2.50 per CD.
When your product starts selling, then you can have them made and mailed for you. The big cost will always be having someone doing the packing and mailing.
Before I move on from the CDs, one quick note. . .
Harlan mentions he was "dumb" and wrote a 15 page report from scratch. Assuming he spent some time checking to make sure there are willing buyers he can reach, I don't think this was dumb.
I think this is a great start.
Even if Harlan never manages to make money on the report, he's learning. The best way to learn something is to do it. Many people spend their time looking for reasons why they cannot do something.
Harlan seems to be working along on his path, and found a hurdle (The price of CDs) he wants advice about. Pat yourself on the back Harlan.
Back to the report Harlan wrote and his questions. . .
Don't get caught up with the idea that you're selling ebooks. You're selling information, and one of the many ways you can deliver the information is an ebook. Paper booklets, printed books and manuals, audio recordings, and videos are other ways to deliver information.
Double sided a 15 page report is 8 sheets of paper when printed. You can mail 8 sheets of paper for about 69 cents. If the idea is to get newsletter subscribers, put a colored sheet of paper in the envelope with the report offering a bonus by email. (8 sheets of common paper is 2 ounce postal rate. 9 sheets is 3 ounce rate. So you should adjust your margins or fonts to get the report down to 14 pages.)
NOTE: You can also set up message rules in your email program so when a payment comes in for the report the buyer gets an email saying you're mailing his purchase and explaining the benefits of your newsletter. Do this even if you're mailing CDs
Sending a few sheets of paper by mail is your cheapest and easiest option for testing if people will buy the report.
In fact, the first information product I ever sold on eBay was a few sheets of paper with advice for putting pictures into eBay auctions. It started out as a few sheets of paper shoved in an envelope, and evolved into a small booklet, then a video with the booklet as a bonus. The video was replaced by the longer and easier for me to update Auction Revolution manual.
My whole business that you see really started by selling a 3 page report on eBay in the 1990s.
Let me digress a bit and go back to Bob's earlier question about the work involved.
Don't make the common mistake of thinking you have to build a website and a catalog of ebooks like I have overnight.
Don't make the mistake of thinking everything has to be perfect, or that you need everything ready to start selling.
I surely didn't.
When I first started, I didn't know how to print a fancy booklet, or even how to print on both sides of the paper, so my early buyers got one sheet of paper for each page of information.
Later, after I knew the report was selling, I went to a copy shop and got help figuring it out. This lowered my costs per sale, made it easier to send the reports, and even made them a little more "professional" looking.
Start where you are and work forward from there.
Back to Harlan's questions:
In paragraph 4 Harlan is asking how much he should sell his report for, and about returns.
Normal prices range between 99 cents and $4.99 for simple reports on eBay. You should start at whatever your cost to produce and mail the piece is rounded to the nearest dollar or 1/2 dollar so you lower the chances of loosing money. Don't forget to include eBay and PayPal fees in your cost.
Then start testing different prices. You want to find a low price point that works because the lower your price, the less chance of someone copying you and trying to compete with a lower price.
Remember, you're looking for total profit from sales of the lead generation piece and from the backend. If the backend is doing really well you can lose money on the first sale. But you should never start out with the assumption that you'll make money on the back end and risk loosing hundreds of dollars.
About the returns. . . It's common for us to fear high returns when we start out. If you're delivering the information you promise your return rate will be low. Certainly less than 10% on a low priced product.
In my business if my returns fall below the 8-12% range I assume I'm not selling hard enough. If the return rate goes above 15%, it means something is wrong with the book, the sales path, or I'm selling to the wrong market.
I wrote a book about using guarantees to increase sales and I'm planning on issuing an updated version next month as part of a package I'm doing with a copywriter.
Until then, start selling the report, and pay attention to the returns. The return rate will change as you test different prices and offers. You'll find your worries about returns aren't justified.
Moving on, in paragraph 5, Harlan says he wasted his time on a public domain book with too much competition, and asks about using PLR and public domain materials.
PLR stands for Private Label Rights. These are reports you buy and can rewrite and sell under your own name. Public domain refers to materials not protected by copyright.
With rare exceptions my opinion is PLR and public domain items are only good for use as bonus material. This is because there are few limits on how many people can sell the materials.
PLR has the additional problem of being mostly crap.
An exception is PLR and/or public domain can provide you with additional products if you already have a list of buyers.
Also, hard to find public domain materials in tightly focused narrow niches can be good sellers. An example is most of the doll repair guides on eBay are just old magazine articles redone as simple printed reports.
I have a package on public domain materials. It contains an interview I did with James Jones about how we sell public domain items on eBay and a book about finding and using public domain materials.
The package is only $17, and makes a great example here because I didn't really write the ebook. The ebook was PLR that I spent some time reformatting and editing to make it a valuable bonus for the interview.
Check out my package on Selling Public Domain Items On EBay here.
In paragraph 6 Harlan asks about the value of the eBay Me Page. He's correct that few eBay users ever look at Me Pages anymore. This doesn't mean it's not worth the time to set one up, just that your results will be much lower today.
The few people who do well with their Me Pages include language within their listings to drive people to the Me Page. It only takes a few minutes to set up a Me page so you should spend the time.
PS. In paragraph 7, Harlan talks about the work he's putting into his business. He sounds enthusiastic. Excited. Contrast that with the closing comments Bob made. Who do you think is more likely to actually get something done? PPS This is what the two people who wrote the questions contained in this email look like from where I'm sitting. Harlan bought ebooks from John Thornhill and Jim Cockrum, and then went seeking out additional expert advice as he worked along. Harlan seems like he's willing to do the work involved, and make the mistakes along the way, and learn from them. He has MOMENTUM. This is a key to success. On the other hand, Bob seems to have given writing ebooks some thought in the past, and even bought some instructions, but gave up on the idea. After seeing some information on my site about writing ebooks when he was looking for photo advice, Bob's now toying with the idea again. Bob's wary of wasting his time, and because he hasn't started the tasks seem overwhelming. Rather than momentum, he suffers from INERTIA. This inertia is a hard thing to overcome. I've been there. Here's a free interview about overcoming inertia and Getting Things Done.
Many of the articles and free reports here on IWantCollectibles were originally sent to readers of my Antiques and eBay Newsletter. Not all articles make it onto the website, and readers also get notices of free reports and special offers.