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sell ebooks
Ali Luke

How to Sell Ebooks: Three Simple Steps You Need to Follow

Last updated: October 19, 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 tactics where appropriate.

Here’s a quick list of things we’ll cover:

What are Ebooks?

Ebooks are books that are electronic versions of the standard paper book. If you dream of creating your own ebook, you might not have the budget to print thousands of copies of your book. So, instead, you create digital file formats of your book for people to get via instant download or email delivery. Some sell ebooks on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service. However, you can also sell ebooks on your own website using Payhip. Selling ebooks is a transformative way to sell digital products as it allows you to help educate or entertain your readers without having them leave their homes to go to the bookstore. You don’t need an ebook publisher either. Even self-published authors can make money selling ebooks on online platforms.

1. Earn passive income

One of the benefits of ebook creation is that you can earn passive income from the books you sell. You can sell on an ebook store like Amazon or on a digital products website you call your own like Payhip. Either option will allow you to reach millions of people. Most people buy books based on the title or book cover, so you’ll want to hire a professional to help with those tasks, especially if self-publishing. Selling ebooks may include a learning curve when trying to figure out how to market your ebook online, however, with some practice and experimentation, you can quickly learn how to start selling ebooks to the masses. Sometimes just choosing the right ebook topic can be a lucrative endeavor.

2. Reach a bigger audience

Millions of people read books electronically. Whether on a kindle device, their phone, or an iPad, selling ebooks can allow you to reach a bigger audience than print books. While flipping through the pages of a new book can be fun, reading on a device is becoming more commonplace, especially with backlit, ink screens. Plus, ebook prices tend to be more affordable than print books, allowing you to be financially accessible for those with less money to spare who still want to learn. So, you can make money selling ebooks while still being budget-friendly for your target audience.

3. Improve accessibility

When comparing selling ebooks to print books, you can drastically improve accessibility when selling ebooks online. Ebook formats are designed differently than print books. So, when comparing the font size of an ebook to a print book, you can create a much bigger font for those with visual impairments. You can also sync your ebook reader to an audio book if you’d like to hear the words. Plus, most ebook readers are back-lit allowing you to easily read them in the dark without straining your eyes compared to a print book that you need to keep the light on for.

4. Improve the environment

You can feel good about making money selling ebooks as ebooks are more environmentally-friendly than print books. Self-publishing an ebook sends over an electronic copy of your own ebook online. So, instead of needing to cut down trees, waste ink, or create physical copies in a factory, you can instantly start selling ebooks online with minimal environmental harm done.

5. Educate and entertain people

While people can read relevant blog posts about a topic they love, most people turn to ebooks to be further educated or entertained. Digital downloads can be a quick way to get fast information in the form of pdf ebooks. In just a few minutes, you can get your ebook delivered to you so you can get lost in a great story or learn something you’re passionate about. Say goodbye to those long shipping delivery times. People who want knowledge, want it now. And you’ll quickly realize that when looking at ebooks sold.

Where to Sell Ebooks Online

Let’s start with the basics: where can you actually sell ebooks online?

Your top options are:

  • Amazon – they account for 83% of independent ebook sales in 2019 and 2020.
  • Smashwords – a one-stop shop that distributes ebooks to multiple book websites.
  • Payhip – lets you sell ebooks directly on the platform or from your own website, receiving payments right away.

These options aren’t mutually exclusive. Some authors use all three to sell their books, though others will focus on just one.

Amazon

Amazon is a huge platform and an extremely well-known brand. Most people who use an e-reader device use 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 sell your ebook exclusively on Amazon, you can get some extra promotional help in exchange. For example, enrolling your book in the “Kindle Unlimited” program allows readers with a Kindle Unlimited subscription to borrow it for free. You will get paid for each book borrowed and read with this program.

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%. Your earnings are also threatened whenever someone returns your book.

You also won’t get your money very quickly. Amazon only pays out monthly, for sales made 60+ days before the payout date.

Smashwords

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 several different online stores, Smashwords is a great way to do it. They make sure your ebook file is in the right format and upload it to those stores on your behalf. The dashboard is also much cleaner and easier to navigate than Amazon’s.

One big drawback of Smashwords is that your ebook file needs to be formatted to their exact specifications before you upload it. This may involve stripping out unique formatting (chapter headings, italics, bold, etc) from your ebook, then putting it all back in again manually. There are a number of individuals and companies that can format your manuscript on your behalf for a fee. But that cuts into your bottom line.

It can take a long time to get your earnings. Smashwords only pays out quarterly, due to the 30 to 60 day lag where they receive money from the online ebook stores.

Payhip

There are lots of online platforms that let you sell ebooks directly from your website — and Payhip is one of the best.

Rather than filling in a ton of information on Amazon about your ebook (like keywords, categories, etc), listing your ebook on Payhip is easy. All you need to do is create an account, upload your ebook file, and set a price.

You’ll have full control over your ebookWith Payhip, you can upload multiple files to 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 immediately delivers the file to them on your behalf. You make money from the sale instantly. There’s also no minimum payout—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 don’t pay out until long after the sale.

Payhip doesn’t take a hefty chunk of royalties from your ebook sales. On Payhip’s 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 will still need to pay the applicable fees for your payment gateway, such as PayPal or Stripe.)

You know who readers areSince 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 to help you directly advertise your newsletter to your readers (keeping them in the loop regarding your next book!).

Why You Should Do Direct Selling

Selling ebooks from your website directly to your customers can be a great way to make money fast. You can use multiple marketing strategies to promote your digital products and ebooks while still owning the audience. After all, you can’t own the email list of your customers when they buy your first ebook on Amazon. However, when you sell directly on your website, you can access data via Google Analytics, create a Facebook page, create different file formats, and sell your ebook quickly.

Instead of using a third-party site, consider hosting your own book on an ecommerce platform like Payhip. You have the option of how you do your ebook market plan, such as offering a free ebook as a bonus to your actual book or using your free ebook as a lead capture to build an email list to better promote a series or other reads in your collection.

Plus, when you sell on your own site and do direct selling, you can experiment and make tweaks at a faster pace. Maybe you change up the ebook cover design to make it an eye-catching cover while promoting the same ebook. Or you experiment with more paid ads to maximize sales. Hosting a digital product on your own site can help you maximize sales as there’s fewer costs associated with it.

With direct selling, you’ll regain control over your marketing, your income, your transaction fees, and how much you can sell. There won’t be any algorithms that you need to master or other sellers to compete with. So, you can actually turn that first ebook into a success.

SELL EBOOKS ONLINE

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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 and set yourself up for bestseller status:

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 has no errors and the story shines through.

If you can’t afford that, at least run your manuscript through automated editing software, such as ProWritingAid. This can help you catch any typos and grammatical mistakes. If possible, have a friend or family member look over the manuscript to see if they spot any mistakes as well. You might also get feedback directly on how your work “reads” to someone who doesn’t know the subject or story as well as you.

Cover Design

Cover design is critically important. In most cases, you don’t want to do it yourself unless you’re a professional designer and have researched what works in your niche. It’s all too easy to end up with an amateur-looking cover that puts readers off buying your book.

If you can’t afford professional 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 want to make changes.

Fiction authors in particular need to pay special attention to cover design. The right design will help signal the genre of your book. Some subgenres have specific trends with cover design that readers look for when they’re searching for their next book.

Add an “About the Author” Page

Make sure you include an “About the Author” page at the end of your book, where you can encourage readers to check out your website as well as your other ebooks or digital products. You can also 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 subscribe to your mailing list or download bonus material.

The best place for these links is at the end of your book, but you can also add links to your other books or websites in the acknowledgements or copyright page.

Consider Bundling Your Ebook With Bonus Materials

With Amazon and other ebook retailers, bundling your book with extra materials 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.

You’ll be able to add great bonuses like:

  • Video walkthroughs that demonstrate a key technique discussed in your book.
  • Interviews (audio or video) with experts in your field, to bring a different perspective or add more depth.
  • Printables to help your reader remember or put into practice what they’ve learned. You might have a printable summary of a key framework in your book, or a worksheet to help the reader put a principle into practice.
  • Tools the reader can use. For instance, you might sell lightroom presets to photographers (or other topic-specific materials your readers will appreciate).

Box Sets including all volumes in a book series that can be purchased at once (perhaps for a discounted price per volume).

Step #2: Pricing Your Ebook

A lot of authors struggle with pricing their ebook. With a physical book, you need to charge a certain price simply to break even. But with the minimal distribution costs of ebooks, you can set a low price or even make your ebook free. You can also charge highly for specialized information—some ebooks sell for $97 or more.

Read our in-depth guide on ebook pricing here.

A good place to start is by looking at other ebooks in your genre. 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.

Many ebook authors launch their ebook at a special, temporary low price. For instance, they might have a regular price of $19.99 but launch at $9.99. This can be a great way to bring in an initial burst of sales (which is very important the first day and week).

Raising and lowering pricing is easiest on a platform like Payhip, where you can make changes to the listing that reflect immediately. If you’re selling through Amazon, it can take several hours for the price to be changed on the listing 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 because of 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 because it positions your ebook as a premium product. If you charge a much lower price than other ebooks in your niche, that may send the wrong message about the quality of 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. 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.

Step #3: Make Your Ebook Available to Buy

Once you’ve got your ebook ready and set your price, it’s time to make it available for readers to buy. With Payhip, this is really easy to do. Just go to the Payhip home page, enter your email address, and click the ‘Get started’ button.

How to sell ebooks online with payhip

You’ll be prompted to choose a password. Type in the password you want to use, then click the ‘Create account’ button. Remember, Payhip accounts are free!

payhip register

Payhip will now prompt you for:

  • Your name or business name. This will be displayed on your online store. It usually makes sense to just use your own name, unless you’re building a business related to the topic of your book.
  • Your store username. This will default to the name you entered, but you can change it if you prefer.

You’ll then see the welcome page, where you can click on the icons to set up your online store:

Tip: Make sure you set up a way for people to pay for your book. Just click on the Setup checkout button. 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! You can just send people to your store page.

Of course, you can also sell ebooks from your website. Payhip makes this process seamless with special embedded buttons. You can see an example in action on James Coglan’s website:

payhip checkout flow

To use this type of checkout button on your website, simply click the ‘Share Product’ link next to the book 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’.

payhip share embed

For more help  on this part of the process, 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 isn’t going to make you rich. You need to market and advertise it so your ideal readers can find it.

Marketing isn’t a one-off event. It’s a constant and integral part of the process. Here are some ideas you can work into your marketing strategy:

Before You Launch Your Ebook

  • Get reviews or testimonials you can use in your marketing (e.g. on your book’s sale page or on your website). The easiest way to do this is to send out advance copies of your ebook for free to reviewers and bloggers. Then, use snippets of their review in promotional materials.
  • 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. You can then send updates on your work, alert them to events, and provide useful content that keeps them reading!
  • 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. Your friends and family probably  don’t want to read constant posts about your ebook, either.
  • 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 for people to sign up to promote your ebook. You can choose how much commission they receive from book sales they help make happen (50% is fairly standard).

During Your Launch

  • Make sure people know about your new ebook. Don’t be afraid to tweet or post about it multiple times. Remember that social media algorithms mean that most people in your networks won’t see every post. 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 before your launch. Now is the time to remind them about your book. Send them images they can use (like the book cover) and suggested text they could use for promotional emails and social media posts. If it’s easy for them to promote your ebook, they’ll be more likely to do it.
  • Write guest posts for blogs related to your ebook’s audience or subject. This is a great marketing technique for nonfiction, as it lets you reach an audience that’s already interested in your ebook’s 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. As a result, they’re missing out on a lot more ebook sales. Keep promoting your ebook by running occasional flash sales, mentioning the ebook in your email newsletters, writing more guest posts, or setting up automated social media updates. Even something as simple as adding a link to your ebook in your email signature or your blog’s sidebar can help.
  • Keep building your email list. Your email list will be a hugely valuable asset, helping  you connect with people interested in your work and are more likely to 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. You might 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. You’re also more likely to show up in search results!
  • Keep an eye on your sales. Payhip provides 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 log in to your Payhip account and click the Analytics tab.

Do You Need An ISBN for Your Book?

An ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s used to help find your book, especially if there are similar books with the same title.If you’re hosting an ebook on your own website you don’t need an ISBN. However, if you aren’t going the self-publishing route and are working with a reputable publisher, you’ll need to get one. 

Dos and Don’ts for Successfully Selling Ebooks

Do host on your own ecommerce platform. Selling ebooks on Amazon Kindle exclusively can be a great way to generate income passively. However, that’s only one place to sell ebooks. You can also promote on Google Play and of course your own website. Most ebooks can be found on an author’s website, so why not consider that an active part of your strategy. You can use Payhip as your digital products ecommerce platform to host your own ebook on your site. Plus, you can also create a landing page for your ebook on your own site where you detail exactly why someone should buy it.

Don’t be your own graphic designer. Anyone can read a guide on how to design a book cover, but that still doesn’t mean you have the design chops needed to create an ebook cover that people get excited to buy. Plus, it’s not just about knowing how to do graphic design but also to help sell books based on an epic design. Your book cover is what will help drive the most ebook sales, so you’ll want to hire a professional graphic designer who specializes in ebook design.

Do write a compelling book description. It’s time to use those writing chops to help with sales. Writing a book description that excites people to read on is a key piece to do as an author. Before someone buys a book, especially if they’re skeptical, they’ll read the description to make sure it’s the right read for their specific situation. So, tell a great story that encourages the impulse buy.

Don’t pay for reviews. Honest reviews are key. Even though it can hurt to see a 1 or 2-star review, that feedback can help improve your future books as you continue self-publishing. Don’t be afraid to ask for reviews, but be okay even if it isn’t what you want to see. Those five-star reviews are coming for you. You’ll continue to get better at your craft with practice. You can get beta reviews to help you get early feedback on your books, to ensure it’s exactly what people want to read.

Do ask other writers for marketing tips. As you prepare for selling ebooks, consider connecting with other authors. You can learn a lot about an author’s marketing strategies to help prepare you for book sales. Most authors will tell you they’ve built up an email list on their own website or they’ve hired an agent to help promote their books, or they’ve run social media ads. These can all be life-changing for you as you learn how to sell ebooks.

Don’t forget about piracy. Ebook piracy is all too common, especially when selling on a third-party website. If you host your ebook on your own website using Payhip, you can reduce the number of times people download your book, stamp the book with an id, or some other tactic. On Payhip, you can choose the number of times someone downloads your book, most authors choose a maximum of three times, if it’s much more than this it’s possible someone else is downloading your book that didn’t pay for it.

Do promote on social media. You can automate social media to sell ebooks by creating posts in advance and scheduling them for a later time. Your ebook marketing plan should include various posts on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube to help you generate sales fast. You’ll want to ensure your social media posts build excitement for your upcoming book while being relevant. For example, if you’re a romance author, you might do social media posts about love. If you write mysteries, you might leave little clues for your fans to help detect. If you write science books, you might share several science facts you’ve uncovered.

Don’t neglect the right pricing strategy. Offering free ebooks can help build an email list but won’t make you a dime. However, offering a free ebook can help attract people to your book series to get them hooked. There are many ways you can price an ebook. On Amazon, some people price it between $2.99 to 9.99 to earn a 70% commission. However, when you host on your website, you can price it higher while retaining much more than a 70% commission. Ultimately, there’s a science between ebook pricing to figure out whether free ebooks or a higher pricing strategy is your best bet. 

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 From 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 skilled pirates, either.

Frankly, if someone really wants to pirate your ebook, they will. This can seem disheartening or infuriating. However, people who pirate your ebook may never have been willing to pay for it anyway—you’re not necessarily missing out on money. If someone stumbles upon your work, they may be more inclined to pay to read the sequels or other works you’ve published.

For now, don’t worry about piracy. Just get your ebook out there, and encourage as many people to buy it legally as you can.

Is Selling Ebooks Profitable?

It certainly can be! There are plenty of fiction and nonfiction authors making great money from ebooks – and many have been doing so for years, such as Tim Ferris (nonfiction) 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 publishing, 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 services. But don’t spend loads of money on advertising, or 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 book.

Do I Need to Pay Tax on My Sales?

Yes. The money you make from your ebooks 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 intend to make this an income stream.

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 a resident outside the EU. Payhip automatically takes care of UK & EU VAT for authors who use the platform.

What Ebooks Sell Best?

The most popular ebook genres are children’s fiction, modern literary fiction, classic literary fiction, and fantasy fiction. Overall, people love to read fictional stories. Creating stories can be a great way to sell ebooks. The most popular genres within these categories include: fantasy, science-fiction, romance, adventure, mystery, and horror. So, the ebooks that sell best tend to be fictional stories, instead of non-fiction. However, if you’re writing non-fiction, autobiographies, cooking, art and photography, and self-help books tend to sell best.

What Types of Ebooks Could I Sell?

You can create almost any type of ebook—you’re limited only by your imagination. Ebooks can be very short or very long and cover all sorts of different topics. They can include lots of images or feature none at all.

Here are a few ebook sellers on Payhip to inspire you:

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 your ebooks.

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.

Amazon pays by slower and more old-fashioned 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. It’s not the most efficient system, and today’s ebook publishers need a more modern way of getting paid.

Ready to start selling your ebook?

Create a Payhip account today (it’s completely free) and start exploring what features make this a great platform for ebook sellers.  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 the price, and more. You have the power to make your book exactly the way you want—and get paid for it in a timely and efficient manner.

Get started publishing your ebooks FREE today!

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