Writing an eBook: the Numbers (Or Why You Should Never Just Write an eBook and Hope to Sell It)

And actually, the second part of the title might be the most important point of this article. But more on that later. One of my activity as an entrepreneur is to manage ressources websites, like my most successful website Open Home Automation, where I regularly publish content about DIY home automation projects. And my main source of revenue from this website, as you will see in that article, is an eBook. In this article, I will guide you through the numbers generated by one eBook which I have now published about one year ago.

Writing the book

This eBook I will take as an example in this article is called “Home Automation with Arduino”. It is a book dedicated to build home automation projects using the Arduino platform (which is one of the most used prototyping platform amongst hobbyists).

I decided to write that book shortly after starting a website on the same topic. I wrote the book at the same time I was writing the first articles for the website, and in total it took me about 120 hours to write the book. Note that because it’s an engineering type book, the number of hours are difficult to estimate as there was a lot of background work and learning over the years. But for that book I had most of the background ready in my head, so the actual writing time I mentioned before includes the time to write the book, take pictures of the different projects found in the book, edit the book, and publish it in different formats like PDF, MOBI (Kindle) and EPUB (iBooks).

Why just putting an eBook out there is (now) a lost cause

There was a time which I didn’t know mysefl (I started writing in 2012) where you could apparently just write an eBook, put it on some marketplaces like the Amazon Kindle platform, and just start to sell it. People would find your book, and with only a little marketing you could start earning money from your writing. But now, this changed significantly. Publishing your own book on all digital platforms (and even in paperback version with print-on-demand services) as never been easier. It literally takes less than 10 minutes to publish a book on the Kindle platform for example. And then, less than 24 hours later, your book is online.

But that doesn’t mean it will sell. Because it’s so easy to publish an eBook, it means there are now so many books (including a lot of very bad ones) on the digital stores. So if you are an unknown author trying to publish your own book, nobody will ever find you and buy your book, except maybe some members of your family. Or if you are writing in a niche that is so small that you won’t have much sales anyway. I don’t know the statistics about the percentage of books that make nearly no sales on the Kindle store at the moment, but I guess it would follow a Pareto law (20 % of the books generate 80 % of the money). But don’t worry, there is a solution so your book doesn’t end up in the limbs of Amazon.

If you decide to start writing your own book, I can really recommend spending time to build an audience in the same time. For that, you need some kind of website where you will give value to an audience, before you ever think about writing and publishing your own book. This will be your main marketing channel. For my first eBook, I hesitated a lot between creating the book first and starting a website then, or the other way around. I don’t think there is a real one-fits-all model, but what I would recommend is to start by creating a website with 5-6 solid articles. Then, you can create an audience from that. If you see that there is a good response from your visitors and if you can create some interest, it is a sign that you should start writing your own book. This way, you’ll limit the risk of writing a book that nobody will ever buy.

And you can also base the core of your book on the most successful articles on your website. I’m not saying to copy/paste these articles into your book, far from it. What I recommend is to take the topics people are the most interested in (if it makes sense for your book), and then integrate these topics in your book in a structured fashion.

Numbers from the book sales, and some extras

That being said, let’s now dive into the core of the article and look at the numbers. So far, I sold 1065 books since I first published the book on my website as a PDF one year ago. This includes the sales from the PDF book directly on my website, on the Kindle platform, on the iBooks platform, and as paperback using the Createspace Print-on-Demand service. In total, these sales generated a gross revenue of 9077 USD during that year, which is about $756 a month.

That’s what I got from the book. Now, let’s see what work I had to do to get there. The website itself where the book is sold is running under WordPress, and only requires about 1 hour of maintenance every month. For the content itself on the website, I spend about 6 hours every two weeks to create new content and do the marketing part (social media, newsletter, etc.) to promote my book. I also publish one video on Youtube every month, which is a video equivalent of one project that is posted on the blog. That takes me about 8 hours to shoot and edit. I also make an upgrade to the book every 6 months. I believe that’s absolutely necessary as I am creating new content on my website using new technologies, and I want to integrate them into the book so it stays up-to-date and competitive. I already did that kind of update twice, and it takes me about a good week of work, so 36 hours every 6 months.

If we make the total and put everything down to how much time I spend in a month on that business, we get about 31 hours/month spent on making the website run & therefore promoting and selling the book. I included the total time that I spend to initially write the book as well. If we divide the total revenue of the book by this time, that makes a result of $24.4/hour from the book sales. If we exclude the initial time of writing the book, we get a result of $36/hour which is now what I get in recurring revenues from the book.

But there are additional things that I havent’ included yet. As we saw, running the website and promoting & selling the book go together. And on the website, I included some advertising and affiliate marketing, so people can easily find the products I am using in the different tutorials on the blog. Combined, I earned about $153/month from these channels during the past twelve months. And that comes at no extra time investment, so it makes the total for the whole website at $43.3/hour. Not that bad at the end.

So, should I start writing?

I know I probably go against what many people are saying about eBooks publishing, but I think that yes, it is definitely still a good idea to write & self-publish a book. If … you are ready to do all the promoting work and really build a business and an audience around your book. If you’re hoping to put your book on the Kindle platform and just earn income, you’ll most probably end up with zero. But even if it requires more effort than in the past, I really recommend doing it. You will have tough moments, but writing a book is an amazing experience and can bring a lot of value to your audience, and as we saw in this article a confortable revenue stream for you.

So what about you? Have you written your own eBook already? Had any success? Or just thinking about writing an eBook? Would love to know what you think on that topic, so please share below!