If you want to create and sell e-books, your first question may be, “What do I need to get started?” First of all, you need a computer. The two main types of computers are PCs running Microsoft Windows and Macintosh computers running OS X. Start with what you have, but if given a choice, go with a Macintosh.
The main reason I suggest a Macintosh over a Windows PC is that the Macintosh can do everything a Windows PC can do, but a Windows PC can’t do everything a Macintosh can do. A Macintosh can even run Windows, but a Windows PC can’t run Macintosh OS X programs. That means if you find a particularly useful Windows and Macintosh program, you can run them on a Macintosh. If you find a useful Macintosh program but only own a Windows PC, too bad. You can’t run Macintosh programs on a Windows PC.
Perhaps a bigger reason to use a Macintosh involves the iPad, the leading tablet device on the market today. If you want to create apps that run on the iPhone and iPad, you’ll need to use a Macintosh. It’s possible to create iOS apps on a Windows PC but it requires far more technical knowledge than the average fledging author might want to learn about.
Besides the ability to run Windows on a Macintosh and to develop apps much easier on a Macintosh than a Windows PC, a third reason to use a Macintosh involves iBookstore. Right now, Amazon’s Kindle is the leading e-book market with Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Apple’s iBookstore trailing far behind. Yet the biggest flaw with Amazon’s Kindle file format is that it allows a limited form of interactivity, and to create that interactivity requires technical knowledge that most fledging authors probably don’t want to learn. In comparison, Apple offers a free program called iBooks Author, which makes it easy to create interactive e-books (called iBooks) that can incorporate video and animation in ways that Kindle and Nook e-books can’t do.
Since the future are interactive e-books compared to today’s mostly static e-books that display fixed text and pictures, iBooks Author is the fastest and easiest way to create interactive e-books. The program basically works like a simple word processor/desktop publishing program. Since it’s free, you might as well use the easiest tool possible to create interactive e-books, and since iBooks Author only works on the Macintosh, you might as well get a Macintosh.
The biggest drawback against the Macintosh is that it’s always much cheaper to buy a Windows PC instead. Regardless of what type of computer you have, the next step is deciding which software to use.
You can actually use any word processor to write your e-book, but the standard word processor for today is Microsoft Word, which costs around $100. The best free word processor alternatives are OpenOffice and LibreOffice, which run on both Windows and the Macintosh. Both OpenOffice and LibreOffice can create Microsoft Word compatible files known as .doc and .docx files. Since every e-book bookstore accepts e-books stored in Microsoft Word files, you can create your e-book using OpenOffice or LibreOffice and save money by not buying Microsoft Word.
However, if you get a new Macintosh, you can also get a free copy of Apple’s own iWork suite that includes a word processor called Pages. Pages can also export documents into Microsoft Word .doc and .docx file formats, but Pages can also export files into a universal e-book file format known as ePub. If you learn Pages, you can easily learn Apple’s iBook Author program since they both work and look alike, which gives one more reason to consider a Macintosh over a Windows PC.
Getting the right equipment to create e-books isn’t difficult. The hard part involves writing an e-book and then marketing and selling it, but that’s another topic altogether. So here are your two basic options:
- Use a Windows PC with Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, or LibreOffice
- Use a newer Macintosh with a free copy of Pages and iBooks Author
Ultimately the equipment you use is far less important than the content you create and the way you market your e-book. Still, given the future of interactive e-books, the ease of creating them with iBooks Author, and the growing market for interactive e-books through Apple’s iBookstore, use a Windows PC if you must, but realize you have far greater opportunities for creating interactive e-books using a Macintosh.
The type of computer isn’t as important as simply resolving to write, create, and market your e-book in the first place. If you’re able to read this on a computer, you probably already have everything you need to get started, so what are you waiting for?
The Basic E-Book Strategy
Regardless of what computer you use, you need to understand the basic strategy for making money with e-books. Here’s the unrealistic strategy: Write a single e-book and wait for millions of people to buy it. This is like hoping you’ll win the lottery, which does happen to some people, but the odds are that it won’t happen to you. Here’s the more realistic strategy: Write a lot of e-books that appeal to the same audience and sell a few copies of each e-book at a time.
Here’s how this second strategy works. The first strategy relies on hope, which is like tossing a message in a bottle and dropping it in the ocean, hoping a millionaire will find it. It could happen, but don’t count on it. The second strategy is like dropping dozens or even hundreds of messages in a bottle and tying them together with a long string. The chances of someone finding one message in a bottle is slim. The chances of finding a bunch of bottles tied together is much greater. So the more e-books you write and sell, the more likely someone will stumble across one of your e-books.
Now the first mistake many people make is writing e-books on wildly different topics. If you wrote an e-book on wood carving and a second e-book on making money selling items on eBay, those two topics likely won’t appeal to the same audience. However, let’s say you wrote an e-book explaining how to improve your golf swing. Now you wrote a second e-book on tips for mastering the top golf courses in the country. Anyone who buys and likes either e-book will likely want to buy and read the second e-book, no matter which e-book they start with first. That’s the power of flooding the market with quality e-books on related topics.
Think of how noted authors like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling sold millions of books. If you like one of Stephen King’s books, you’ll likely want to read his other books. If you liked the first Harry Potter book, you’ll be highly motivated to buy and read J.K. Rowling’s other books. By releasing a series of related e-books, you simply increase the chances that someone will stumble across your e-book and once they do, you greatly increase the chances that they’ll buy one or more of your other e-books. Can you see how this is far easier and lucrative than simply tossing e-books on separate topics out on the market and hoping someone will buy all of them?
The two types of e-books you’ll likely write are fiction and non-fiction. The strategy for fiction is to create a series that uses the same characters or setting. Think of all those Harry Potter books that use the same characters over and over again. Once you hook people in with one novel, they’ll likely want to read another one with those same characters.
If you don’t want to use the same characters over and over again in your novels, then stick with a specific genre. Stephen King rarely uses the same characters multiple times in his novels, yet nearly all of his books satisfy people who enjoy the horror genre. Dan Brown, who wrote “The Da Vinci Code,” used that strategy with his earlier books that focused exclusively on thrillers with characters going through wild situations to solve a puzzle of some kind. By selling similar types of novels, you can create the same open net approach of increasing the odds someone will find one of your e-books and if they like it, they’ll be motivated to buy and read your other e-books.
For fiction, the secret is to either write novels using the same characters or write novels that satisfy the same genre such as Westerns, science fiction, romance, or horror. For non-fiction, the secret is to write on the same topic.
Just browse through a magazine stand and you can find several magazines devoted to golf, guns, cooking, dogs, and fashion. Someone interested in fashion may not be interested in guns, but someone interested in guns will likely be interested in multiple gun magazines. By writing and selling e-books that share the same topic, you can create the same open net approach as writing a novel with recurring characters in a series like Harry Potter. Write a dozen e-books on golf, fishing, or parrots, and anyone interested in your topic will likely buy and read your other e-books.
Any of your multiple e-books could sell a million copies overnight, but with multiple related e-books on the market, there’s a far greater chance that all of your different e-books will sell in sizable quantities where no single e-book sells a million copies. If one of your e-books does sell a million copies, great, but don’t count on it. Count on simply creating multiple related e-books that appeal to the same audience, and the odds are much greater that you’ll make more money and sell more e-books than if you try a scattershot approach and write and sell e-books on wildly different topics that don’t appeal to the same audience.
Promoting Your E-Book
Once you write one or a dozen e-books, you absolutely have to promote it yourself so people know they even exist. Even if you write and publish dozens of related e-books and throw them on the Amazon marketplace, they’ll simply get buried underneath the avalanche of other e-books that people are constantly adding to Amazon every day. To promote your e-book, you don’t want to waste money on advertising since so many people get bombarded with ads all the time that they ignore most of them. Instead, what you need to do is give something away for free.
If you’re writing romance or horror novels, give away one of your novels for free. That will increase the odds that someone will get it (since it’s free) and if they like it, they’ll be motivated to read and buy your other novels. If you’re writing non-fiction e-books, write a short e-book providing useful information of some kind, such as how to perfect your golf swing or how to check your car for early signs of damage that could prevent a massive repair bill. People love getting free information, and if they find it useful, they’ll be motivated to buy and read your other e-books.
Besides giving away a free e-book, start a website that contains free information. If you write fiction, you could serialize your novels so people could read your novel as you create it along with commentary from you about your thoughts. If you’re writing non-fiction, create a blog that provides up to date information on your particular topic. By giving away free information constantly, you’ll attract people to your site and if they like the information you provide, they’ll likely buy your e-books too because now they trust you and they know your e-books even exist in the first place.
There are dozens of other ways to promote your e-book, but these two are the easiest ways to get started. The basic idea is to give something away for free to attract as many people as possible. Then if they like what you gave away for free, they’ll be likely to buy your e-book. If they like the first e-book they bought from you, they’ll be more likely to buy your other e-books from you on similar topics.
Can you see how you can build a growing audience of loyal customers while still having the chance that one of your e-books could magically sell a million copies overnight? Building a following takes time and work, but in the long run, it will keep increasing your audience base as long as you provide decent content in return. Remember the fable about the Hare and the Tortoise? The tortoise won because he progressed slowly and steadily towards his goal, and that’s the approach you need to take with making money from e-books. You probably won’t make a million dollars off your first e-book (but you might). However, the odds are much greater that you’ll make money if you steadily work at creating e-books on the same topic and keep promoting your e-books through free information. Slow and steady might not make you a millionaire, but it can help you sell more e-books than just relying on hope alone.