Where Informational EBooks Fit Into Self-Publishing

September 15, 2011

I have a confession to make.

After my recent post about how I’m considering releasing my next project — a how-to- guide on taking a career break to travel — on my own rather than aiming for traditional publishing, a few of you wrote me notes about bookstores where the book might fit, how I’ll need a reputable company to help me create the book and how it will be great to hold my book in my hands sooner rather than later.

The truth is, I never planned on creating a physical book.

What I’ve been considering is an informational e-guide, one readers could check out on their Kindle, iPad or desktop, or print out to read in hard copy. The thought of self-publishing an actual paperback does not appeal to me in the slightest. Instead, I see this as another way to reach readers, a digital product that will complement Book No. 1 (a travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa), which I’m hoping to publish traditionally.

Here’s something I’ve learned during my studies of ebooks over the last few months: Informational e-guides are in a league of their own. These types of ebooks may be one piece of the self-publishing puzzle, but they fit in a very different corner than other genres of self-published books.

Now, I’m still thinking this through, still learning about this platform. But here’s how I see informational e-guides as different than the typical self-published book:

  • The subject matter is of a how-to, self-help nature. It’s a taste of the author’s expertise, a consulting session boiled down to words. It’s not fiction or even narrative non-fiction. This is partly why Chris Guillebeau suggests never calling your product an ebook. Instead, he says, call it a guide or manual or strategy, any descriptor that will suggest it’s packed with value.
  • The price point is much higher. Self-published novels, even ones by well-known authors, sell for as little as 99 cents online. But informational e-guides full of practical value sell for $24, $49, even $97. That means you can sell to a much smaller group of readers and still make a decent profit. (Monica O’Brien goes deep into this topic in her Full Disclosure newsletter this week, which unfortunately is behind a paywall. But this is a good opportunity to mention her tell-all series on how she’s trying to build a six-figure writing career.)

  • Informational e-guides are generally sold through the author’s website, not on Amazon.com. But as Monica points out, recommendation engines like Amazon are powerful enough that it’s worth considering selling your product there instead. (I have no idea whether any big-name e-guide-sellers have also made their product available on Amazon. That’s next on my list to research.)
  • Promotion works slightly differently. It’s easier to build an email list and blog and overall launch strategy that’s based on giving people a solution to a problem, rather than the promise of a good story (although informational e-guides often include a good story, too, or at least anecdotes). If you want to learn about this in greater detail, I’d recommend Dave Navarro’s How to Launch the **** Out of Your EBook (affiliate link), an e-guide that sits at the top of the price ladder, $97, and still has sold lots of copies.
  • Informational products don’t carry the self-publishing stigma. I’m still wrapping my head around why, but it’s true.
  • The price of creation is much lower. It costs virtually nothing other than your time to create a quality ebook. Yes, you can hire someone to format the book and design a cover and edit the book and help you get the word out. But I think content here is far more important than design. Some people say front-cover design can make or break your ebook, but I’m not sure I buy that when it comes to informational e-guides. What really determines your sales — other than content — is how well you promote the product. (Update: I’m hiring someone to edit my career-break guide and design a cover.)

Big-name bloggers are all selling informational ebooks that don’t have a hold-in-your-hand equivalent… until a traditional publisher asks them to repurpose their information into an old-school book because they’ve become so popular that their fan base wants to read — and buy — anything they write.

So that’s the kind of self-publishing I’m thinking about. Not the physical-book kind, but the wave-of-the-future, all-digital-all-the-time, informational-ebook kind. The kind that will complement my traditional publishing efforts, not replace them.

What do you think? Would you ever consider creating an informational product that’s only available in digital format?

If you haven’t checked out my first eguide, here it is: How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business.

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    17 Replies to “Where Informational EBooks Fit Into Self-Publishing”

    • Absolutely, in fact this reminded me how I want to write and e-publish a short but informative how-to manual for hikers and those interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail as I have done it twice, both north and south.

      • Jade Craven says:

        You should check out Frank Wall, from http://www.ourhikingblog.com.au. He’s released a paid eBook for people who have hiked the Overland Track which is a popular walking trail in Tasmania, Australia. He also has other experiments in digital publishing such as a book on food for hikers and a digital magazine at cradlemountain.net.

        I reckon you could learn a lot by just seeing what he’s doing and it may give you ideas on how you could publish. He’s very friendly and would probably be willing to talk you through what he’s done, too.

        Feel free to email me at jade@jadecraven.com if you need some help figuring out how to do this. I’m a hiker and would love to see more digital books available 🙂

    • Carradee says:

      Would I consider it? Definitely. I’m actually writing one, building from all the times a classmate has bemoaned the essay-writing process and I’ve shared a tip that they later tell me worked wonders for them. I’m still working out how I’d sell it, though.

    • I’m planning on writing this type of ebook, but looking for good info on how to build my email list. I don’t have the huge list of subscribers and followers that some writers have. Can you point me to a few good sources? I’ve been focused in other areas of late and know I’ve missed some posts on this topic. I loved your post on how to creat an informational ebook and have it saved for reference. Thanks, Alexis

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hi Marcia — This is a topic I’m just learning about as well; I just launched a newsletter! I think the challenge centers around figuring out what you’re going to offer your subscribers, giving them a good reason to subscribe. I’ve been educating myself by Googling “how to build a newsletter” and reading everything I can get my hands on. Also, I hired Jade Craven (see her comment above) for some consulting on this topic — She’s a gold mine.

        • Thanks, Alexis, I’ll check out Jade’s site and continue to Google myself.

          • Jade craven says:

            I know of someone that made $1800 in 3 days from their launch, and only had 78 people on her list. Here’s the article: http://stickyebooks.com/2010/05/25/1800-in-3-days-ebook/. Basically, it came down to having the right affiliates.

            Currently, your ‘list’ is made up of blog readers. There are multiple things you can do to build your list but it really depends on your goals. An idea is including a ‘sign up’ form on your about page.

            Hope that helps and feel free to email me if you want.

            • Thanks so much Jade. I have a free WordPress blog right now and they don’t allow affiliate sales. Mine is an author site, so most of my connections are other authors, agents, social media gurus etc. I’m trying to expand, on Twitter, into other areas–non-writers. I have a subscribe button on my home page and place a call-to-action for subscribing on each post.

      • Joanna Penn says:

        Hi Marcia – my #1 list building tip is to have a giveaway that people want to sign up for. I know you also hang out on my blog so you can see I have the Author 2.0 Blueprint. So you give away something of value for free that relates to your information, and people are happy to sign up. I have found this works very well for list-building. Then you can also set up an auto-responder email series with more information.
        There is a lot of information about this type of thing at http://www.Copyblogger.com which is my favorite blog about blogging and info marketing.

        On the ebook vs digital product thing, I think we have to refer to digital products as something other than ebooks now the Kindle is so popular. Ebooks used to stand out online, now they don’t so perhaps calling it a mini-course or a multi-media product means you can charge more for it (include some audio and video)

        Plus, I just have to plug Jade as well – she is super-connected and knows her stuff.

        • Hi Joanna! Thanks. Since mine is an author blog, I’m preparing a short story about one of my book characters to give away. At that time I’ll sign up with Aweber for sending that out and capturing email addresses. I’m also planning a NF digital guide to sell. One of the big theme on my blog is achieving goals (Life List Club) and my inspirational posts in that theme are the most popular of all that I do, so that’s my topic for the Guide. In the past couple of months, my blog views have doubled and I think it’s due to that segment of my blog, lpus I have a popular search word in my tagline (sexy). 🙂 I really appreciate your comments and Jades. Thanks Alexis!

    • Mona Tippins says:

      Thank you for this info. I am planning to have my new travel guide published as an e-book but I hadn’t thought of doing it myself. It’s something I’ll think about before my final decision. My travel memoir will be out soon as an e-book but I had my publisher of the print book handle it.

    • Kylie Dunn says:

      Great article. I actually self-published an informational e-book a few months ago, 30 Days of Drive based on one of the 30 day activities from My Year of TED. I’ve really struggled with marketing it though, I know what I have to do it’s just finding a way that I’m comfortable doing that (but that’s a whole other issue). Due to the nature of the process I really needed to make it an ebook, because it references a lot of online material – although mine is a lot cheaper than the prices you mention above (wow!)
      I found the process a bit challenging, at the time I couldn’t find any simple guides to assist with the self-publishing process, and some of the things I needed to know or be aware of. This led to publishing a second informational ebook within a month of the first, but the second is a freebie that I offer to subscribers of my website (www.dinkylune.com). It’s called After the Writing: A short guide on navigating the self-publishing world if any of you are interested.
      Good luck with it Alexis, I’m sure it will be great.

    • Kristal says:

      Yes, I’m absolutely interested in creating a series of informational guides to encourage and assist beginner and seasoned crafter to create beautiful stationery.
      If you have any information especially in the niche market please feel free to email me.

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