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.