How to Sell Ebooks: Three Simple Steps You Need to Follow
Last updated: September 15, 2022
“I’ve written an ebook … now what?!”
That’s how a lot of authors feel when they realize they don’t know how to sell their ebook to readers.
Whether you’re just thinking about writing an ebook or you’ve finished one, you need to figure out how you’re going to sell it.
Some authors simply upload their ebook to Amazon and hope for lots of ongoing passive income, but this often produces no sales at all. Plus, Amazon will take 35% – 70% of any sales you do make (depending on how you price your book).
In this article, we’ll cover some helpful tools you can use to sell your ebooks. We’ll also take an in-depth look at how to launch and market your ebook, how to price it, and more.
While we’ll be mainly focusing on nonfiction ebooks, many of these tips will apply to fiction ebooks as well. We’ll also look at some fiction-specific advice where appropriate.
Here’s a quick list of things we’ll cover:
- Where Can You Sell Ebooks Online
- How to Sell Ebooks Online in Three Simple Steps
- How to Market Your Ebook
- Five Common Ebook Selling Questions Answered
Where to Sell Ebooks Online
Let’s start with the basics: where can you actually sell ebooks online?
Your top options are:
- Amazon – who dominate the ebook market, accounting for 83% of independent ebook sales in 2019 and 2020.
- Smashwords – who act as a one-stop shop that distributes ebooks to multiple bookstores
- Digital product platforms like Payhip – lets you sell ebooks directly on the platform or from your own website, receiving payments straight away
These options aren’t mutually exclusive. Some authors use all three to sell their books, though others will focus on just one.
Amazon is a huge platform and an extremely well-known brand. Most people with an e-reader device have a Kindle – so if you put your book into multiple online bookstores, you’re likely to see that most of your sales come from Amazon.
If you make your ebook exclusive to Amazon, you can get some extra advantages. These include the ability to enroll your book in the “Kindle Unlimited” program, so that readers with a Kindle Unlimited subscription can borrow it for free. You get paid for each book borrowed and read.
The key drawback to using Amazon is that they take a hefty percentage of your royalties. If your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99 (inclusive), Amazon takes 35%. If your book costs $2.98 or less, or $10.00 or more, Amazon takes 70%.
You won’t get your money very promptly, either. Amazon only pays out monthly, for sales made 60+ days before.
Smashwords distributes your ebook to multiple channels, including Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books. Readers can also buy your ebook directly from the Smashwords website.
If you want to sell your ebook through lots of different retailers’ online stores, Smashwords is a great way to do it. They handle getting your ebook file into the right format and getting it uploaded to those stores.
One big drawback of Smashwords is that your ebook file needs to be formatted to their specifications before you upload it. This can be fiddly, and may involve stripping out all the formatting (chapter headings, italics, bold, etc) from your ebook to then put it all back in again manually. There are, however, a number of individuals and companies that can format your manuscript on your behalf, for a fee.
Another issue is that it can take a long time to get your money. Smashwords only pays out quarterly, and there’s a time lag of 30 – 60 days for them to receive the money from the online ebook stories.
There are lots of online platforms that let you sell ebooks directly from your website – and Payhip is one of the best known.
With these platforms, you create an account, upload your ebook file, and set a price. You don’t need to fill in all the information that Amazon asks for, like keywords and categories.
You’ll have full control over your ebook. You can do things like upload multiple files, so that you can package your ebook with bonuses like video content or .pdf worksheets: this can be very valuable if you want to position your ebook as a premium product.
When someone buys your ebook, Payhip (or your chosen platform) immediately delivers the file to them on your behalf. You make money from the sale instantly. There’s no minimum payout, so even if your ebook is only selling for $1, you’ll still get paid right away.
This is a big advantage over sites like Amazon and Smashwords, which pay long after the ebook sale is made.
Payhip doesn’t take a hefty chunk of royalties from your ebook sales, either. On the free plan, you pay a transaction fee of just 5% of the sale price of each ebook. If you find you’re selling a lot of books each month, you can upgrade to a paid monthly plan with lower or non-existent transaction fees.
(Note: You’ll also need to pay the applicable fees for your payment gateway, such as PayPal or Stripe.)
Even better, with platforms like Payhip, you know who your customers are. Since they’re buying directly from you, rather than from an intermediary like Amazon or Kobo, you’ll know their email address. With Payhip, you can even connect your account with an email marketing service like AWeber or MailChimp. This lets you stay in touch with your readers and easily promote your future ebooks to them.
How to Sell Ebooks Online in Three Simple Steps
Finished writing your ebook? Here’s what you need to do to start selling it online:
Step #1: Getting Your Ebook Ready to Sell Online
Editing and Proofreading
Your ebook needs to be well-edited and proofread. That’s non-negotiable. In fact, many ebook authors pay a professional editor and/or proofreader to ensure their ebook is high-quality.
If you can’t afford that, at least run your manuscript through automated editing software, such as Grammarly. This can help you catch any typos and grammatical slips that you’ve missed. If possible, have a friend or family member look over the manuscript for you too.
Cover design is critically important. Don’t be tempted to do it yourself, unless you’re a professional designer. It’s all too easy to end up with an amateur-looking cover that puts readers off buying.
If you really can’t afford cover design, use a tool like Canva to create a simple cover – and pay special attention to the typography. The good news is that, if you’re using Payhip, you can instantly update your cover at any time if you do want to make changes.
Fiction authors need to pay special attention to cover design. The right design will help signal the genre of your book.
Add an “About the Author” Page
Make sure you include an “About the Author” page or similar where you encourage readers to check out your website and/or your other ebooks or digital products.
The best place for this is at the end of your book, but before any material such as an acknowledgements or copyright page. That way, it’s more likely to be seen instead of skipped.
You could include information like a short biography, an explanation of what else you offer, and a “call to action” that encourages the reader to do something, like visit your website or download bonus material.
Consider Bundling Your Ebook With Bonus Material
Are you going to bundle your ebook with any special bonuses? With Amazon and other ebook retailers, this is tricky: you have to host the bonus files on your website and provide a link in the ebook.
With Payhip, it’s really easy to include extra material. You can simply upload those files along with your ebook itself.
Some great bonuses to consider include:
- Video walkthroughs that demonstrate a key technique you discuss in your book.
- Interviews (audio or video) with experts in your field, to bring a different perspective or add more depth to content in your book.
- Printables to help your reader remember or put into practice what they’ve learned. For instance, you might have a printable summary of a key framework in your book.
- Tools the reader can use. For instance, you might sell lightroom presets to photographers and content creators.
Step #2: Pricing Your Ebook
A lot of authors struggle with pricing their ebook. With a physical printed book, you need to charge a certain price simply to break even. But with the minimal distribution costs of ebooks, you could set a low price or even make your ebook free.
Of course, you can also charge highly for specialized information: some ebooks sell for $97 or more.
A good place to start is by looking at other similar ebooks. What are other authors charging?
With fiction, you’ll probably be pricing at $4.99 or lower, unless you’re selling a “box set” of multiple titles. Again, look at what others in your genre are doing.
Many ebook authors launch at a special, temporary low price. For instance, they might have a regular price of $19.99 but launch their ebook at $9.99. This can be a great way to bring in an initial burst of sales.
Raising and lowering pricing is easiest on a platform like Payhip where you can instantly make changes. If you’re selling through Amazon, it can take several hours for the price to be changed live, after you change it in your KDP dashboard.
Some other key things to keep in mind when pricing your ebook are:
- If you’re selling on Amazon, pricing between $10 – $19.99 will get you less money than pricing at $9.99 due to Amazon’s royalty structure. Plus, you’re unlikely to sell any ebooks above $19.99 on Amazon: buyers on that platform are used to cheap price points.
- Your aim is to maximize profit, not just sales. For instance, if you could sell 10,000 copies of your book at $2 (making $20,000) but 5,000 copies at $5 (making $25,000), it would be better to charge $5.
- A higher price can be reassuring to customers, as it positions your ebook as a premium product. If you charge a much lower price than other similar ebooks, that may put people off buying – they’ll wonder what’s wrong with your book!
- If you’re writing fiction, you’ll need to stick to the standard pricing for similar books in your genre – most readers won’t pay $9.99 for a novel from a new author.
- If you’re really stuck, try “pay what you want” pricing (PWYW). This lets you set a minimum price for your ebook (e.g. $5) – customers can then pay what they want, so long as they meet the minimum price. Platforms like Payhip allows you to easily set up a PWYW pricing for any of your ebooks.
Step #3: Making Your Ebook Available to Buy
Once you’ve got your ebook itself ready and set your price, it’s time to make it available for readers to buy.
If you decide to use Payhip, this is really easy to do.
First, you’ll need a (free!) Payhip account. Just go to the Payhip home page, enter your email address in the box, and click the ‘Get started’ button:
Next, you’ll be prompted to choose a password. Type in the password you want to use, then click the ‘Create account’ button:
Payhip will now prompt you for:
- Your name or business name. This will be displayed on your online store. It often makes sense to just use your own name.
- Your store username. This will default to the name you entered, but you can change it if you want to.
You’ll then see the welcome page, where you can simply click on the icons to set up your online store:
Tip: Make sure you set up a way for people to pay you. Just click on the Setup checkout button to do this. If you don’t already have a PayPal or Stripe account, create one first.
Your Payhip store means you don’t even need a website of your own: you can just send people to your store page, which will be payhip.com/username.
Of course, you can sell ebooks from your website too. Payhip makes this process seamless, using special embedded checkout buttons. You can see an example in action on James Coglan’s website:
To use this type of checkout on your website, simply click the ‘Share Product’ link next to your product in your Payhip account. Then, click the ‘Embed Button’ tab.
You can choose the button text, theme, and type, before clicking ‘Get Your Embed Code’.
For more help, check out our post on selling ebooks on your own website.
How to Market Your Ebook (Before, During, and After launch)
Simply making your ebook available to buy isn’t likely to make you rich. You need to market it too.
Marketing isn’t a one-off event. Here are some things you can do:
Before You Launch Your Ebook
- Get reviews or testimonials to use in your marketing. The easiest way to do this is to send out advance copies of your ebook for free, encouraging people to send you a short review such as, on your book’s sale page on Payhip, or on your website. You can easily do this by setting your ebook price to $0 or by giving out a 100% off coupon code to your readers. You can also publish your free ebook as unlisted, making it only accessible by people who have access to your book website URL.
- Build an email list. You don’t even need to set up a full website to do this. You could just have an attractive “coming soon” page with a sign-up form so people can join your email list.
- Set up social media profiles for yourself as an author. You should keep these separate from your personal profiles, so you don’t bombard your readers with photos of your kids or your latest vacation, and so your friends and family don’t have to read constant posts about your ebook.
- Partner up with affiliates. Your own audience might be small or nonexistent … but you can take advantage of other people’s audiences using the power of affiliate marketing. With Payhip, it’s really easy to let affiliates sign up to promote your ebook. You can choose how much commission they get (50% is fairly standard).
During Your Launch
- Make sure people know about your ebook. Don’t be afraid to tweet or post about it multiple times (though don’t go too over the top). Remember that social media algorithms mean that most people in your networks won’t see every post. You could also email people who you’re close to. Definitely send out more than one email to your newsletter list, if you have one.
- Encourage your affiliates to promote your ebook. Hopefully, you already have some affiliates on board: now’s the time to remind them about your book. Make it easy for them to promote it. Send them images they can use (like the book cover) and suggested text they could use for emails and for social media posts.
- Guest post on blogs related to your ebook. This is a great marketing technique for non-fiction, as it lets you reach an audience that’s already interested in your topic. By guest posting, you’re getting a sample of your writing and ideas in front of them. Use the bio of your guest post to let people know about your ebook, and link to the best place for them to buy it (probably your website or Payhip store).
- Consider a blog tour. If you’ve written a novel or other fiction book, a blog tour can be a great way to get the word out. This is a bit like a traditional book tour, but online. You write guest posts or have written interviews with different blogs, usually with a post going out on a different site each day. There are companies out there that will arrange blog tours for you, or you can contact blogs yourself.
After You Launch
- Keep promoting your ebook. Lots of authors launch their ebook with a big fanfare … then do nothing more. You could run occasional sales, remind people in your email newsletters, write more guest posts, or set up automated social media updates. Even something as simple as adding a link to your ebook in your blog’s sidebar or your email signature can help.
- Keep building your email list. Your email list will be a hugely valuable asset, letting you bring on board people who are interested in your work and who might buy your book. You can use an autoresponder (a sequence of automated emails) as part of your “book funnel” to promote your book to new members of the list.
- Write the next ebook. Successful ebook authors very rarely stop with just one book out there. Write a book on a related topic, or even a sequel to your original book. People who’ve bought one ebook from you will often buy another.
- Keep an eye on your sales. Payhip gives you detailed reports on your sales, and regularly checking these can help you spot what’s working (e.g. whether you made lots of sales on a particular day when you ran a promotion). To see these reports, simply login to your Payhip account and click the Analytics tab.
Five Common Ebook Selling Questions Answered
You might have some questions or concerns about selling ebooks. These are some of the most common questions that come up:
How Can I Stop People Pirating My Ebook?
This might seem like an odd answer, but for first-time ebook authors, obscurity is much more of a threat than privacy.
While you can put certain protections in place to prevent your ebook being pirated, these can get in the way of legitimate buyers. They won’t do much to slow down pirates, either. Frankly, if someone really wants to pirate your ebook, they will.
This can seem disheartening or even infuriating. However, people who pirate your ebook may never have been willing to pay for it anyway – so you’re not necessarily missing out on money.
For now, don’t worry about piracy. Just get your ebook out there, and encourage as many people to buy it as you can.
Is Selling Ebooks Profitable?
It certainly can be! There are plenty of fiction and non-fiction authors making great money from ebooks – and many have been doing so for years, such as Tim Ferris (non-fiction) and J.F. Penn (fiction).
Of course, there are also lots of ebook authors who don’t make much money, for a variety of reasons. If you’re new to ebook selling, the easiest way to make a profit is to avoid spending too much upfront.
Invest in crucial things like cover design and (if you can afford it), paid editing. But don’t spend loads on advertising, on buying thousands of print copies of your book. You may find that you don’t recoup the costs.
Successful ebook authors find that it can take several books to build sales momentum – particularly with fiction. So if your first book doesn’t quite bring about your dreams of fame and fortune, don’t give up: just get on with writing the next one.
Do I Need to Pay Tax on My Sales?
This is an easy one to answer: yes. The money you make from your books is income. You need to pay whatever income taxes apply in your country, and you’ll likely need to register as self-employed (or even as a limited company) as an author.
If you’re selling to customers in the EU, you also need to pay EU VAT. You’re expected to pay this even if you’re resident outside the EU. Payhip takes care of this for you.
What Types of Ebooks Could I Sell?
You could create almost any type of ebook – you’re limited only by your imagination. Ebooks can be very short or very long; they can be on all sorts of different topics; they can include lots of images or none at all.
Here are a few ebook sellers on Payhip, covering a wide range of topics, to inspire you:
Lynn Seddon – author of ebooks about exploring nature with children
Joanna Penn – author of thriller novels and of non-fiction books for writers
Lissa’s Raw Food Romance – author of raw food recipes and meal plans
How Can I Get Paid For My Ebook?
How you get paid for ebook sales (and how quickly you get paid!) depends on how you’re selling it.
Payhip lets you take payment through both PayPal and Stripe. Stripe is a payment gateway that lets you take credit and debit cards.
PayPal payments come into your PayPal account instantly and can then be withdrawn to your bank account; Stripe payments take up to a couple of business days.
Other platforms, such as Amazon, pay by methods such as direct deposit, wire transfer, and check. Amazon makes payments monthly, and it takes between 60 – 90 days after you actually sell a book to get the money for it.
Ready to start selling your ebook?
Create a Payhip account today (it’s completely free) and explore the options you get. You can upload your ebook whenever you’re ready.
If you need to make changes at any point, you can instantly add or remove files, edit your ebook’s description, change your ebook’s price, and more.
To get going, just go to here, and get started for free!