Tips for Making Money With Your E-Books

Snocross, an extreme sports e-book by Linda Aksomitis.

Snocross, an extreme sports e-book by Linda Aksomitis. Distributed by Smashwords.

Well, the easy answer to how can you make money with your e-books is to write and self-publish a best seller! Okay, so maybe that won’t work for all of us.

Smashwords, the #1 distributor for indie e-book authors, recently published the results of their own study of what’s selling and making money from books listed with them. It yielded, as research usually does, some useful information for independent e-authors.

Some of the things they identified I’d already landed at just by my own knowledge and experience in the book industry. Research says…you got it…cheaper books sell better.

There were, however, some twists to the pricing game. You’d think–or I did–that books priced at $.99 would sell way better than books priced at $10+. On average, they did sell 3.9 times as many copies, which was good news, except to the writer who now only grossed $3.86 instead of $10 (at least).

Since these two price categories are generally in the same royalty percentage, that’s a pretty even comparison of earnings.

Hmm…most of us would like to optimize our potential income a little better than that.

And here comes another interesting twist. It turns out that books priced at $2.99 each sell about 4 times as many copies as books priced at $10. That’s a good thing, because now the author’s gross income isn’t so gross, as 4 x $2.99 is $11.96, which is more than the $10 base. Better yet, books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 often earn higher royalties than those priced eitherĀ  lower or higher (depending on the individual bookstore’s policies).

My own sales had actually told me the same thing, as I had upped the price of one snowmobile novel, Snocross, to $2.99, and left the older title, Snowmobile Challenge, at $.99 for the past winter season. Strangely enough the price increase didn’t change sales volume at all, but I made more money.

Smashwords’ stats, though, revealed another twist for them and for me. Books priced at $3.99 earned about 55% more than any other price point–what’s with that? Next to FREE, the top sellers were $3.99, and even stranger, books priced at $1.99 earned 67% less than average.

Me, I’d like to hit average, only that’s never really been something that came easily.

Book length turned out to be another surprise for me. Not that e-books can be measured in the traditional “pages”, but they can be measured in word count. (Smashwords list the word count of every book in their store with the rest of its information)

So how many words should an e-book have? The Smashwords’ research showed the top 100 sellers averaged 115,000 words each. Now, for writers like me, who write very lean, that’s not the greatest news in the world.

The lower the word count, says Smashwords, the lower the sales. In fact, they advise against breaking that 120,000 word novel into a trilogy of three 40,000 word novels, which is something I’d always recommended from a marketing standpoint. Go figure.

They do, however, say not to run up word counts with “stuff” that doesn’t need to be in the story. If the novel runs out at 40,000 or 50,000 words, then it’s time to stop and let the book find its own readership.

While their research didn’t include covers–some statistics I’d have loved to see–it did include titles. This time my propensity to make it lean worked in my favor.

Titles apparently, should be short. Those hundred best sellers on Smashwords had an average of 4.2 words in their titles. Titles ranking between 1000 and 2000 averaged 5.7 words. And at the bottom end of things, in book sales ranked from 100,000 to 101,000, the titles averaged 6 words long.

I guess the objective here is to make that title concise enough to grab the reader!

If you’d like to learn more about self-publishing your own e-books, just sign up for an online class with me! If you’d like more information on this data, here’s a slideshare from Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords:


Enjoyed this post? Share it!


Everything Independent Publishers Need to Know About ISBNs for E-Books

Linda Aksomitis

Linda Aksomitis

I get many questions about ISBNs in my course, Publish and Sell Your E-Books, so I thought I’d do a blog post to answer some of them.

Let’s start with the question: What is an ISBN?

ISBN is the acronym for International Standard Book Number. These numbers are assigned by different issuing agencies around the world. So, if you’re in Canada, you need to get your number from the Canadian ISBN Service System or CISS. If you’re in the United States, you get your ISBNs from the Bowker U.S. ISBN Agency.

Another important question students ask is how much does an ISBN cost? In Canada, we’re lucky. Our ISBNs are free and very easy to get once you’re registered as a publisher. Independent authors just login to their account and generate ISBNs as they need them. Other countries charge fees, some of them quite a lot. In the U.S. it’s $125.00 for one, but $1000 for a thousand! See:

The big question many self-publishers ask after finding out the cost is: Do I have to get an ISBN to sell my e-book?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is that it depends.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble (check under Add/Edit a title heading) will both sell your e-book using their own product numbers, so you don’t have to purchase ISBNs if they’ll be your main outlets. All you do is upload your book to their online bookstores and they generate a number that’s specific to them. These numbers are not used anywhere else. They are not ISBNs.

Many other online bookstores do require an ISBN for you to sell your e-books with them: Apple, Sony, and Kobo are some of the largest. (Note, you can give away your e-books on the Apple iBooks store without an ISBN, or you can upload book apps created with iAuthor without an ISBN)

So, what can an independent e-book author do if he or she doesn’t want to spend a $125 for an ISBN? Luckily, there are some free options.

A number of distributors or aggregators, including Smashwords (I use them), will give you a free ISBN for your EPUB format e-book. If your distributor gives you a free ISBN they are generally listed officially as the publisher, so you do need to read each agreement carefully to ensure that they aren’t asking for any rights or putting any restrictions on you. Since Bowker is selling those 1000 ISBNs at a $1, it’s an inexpensive service to provide their publishers.

See the Smashwords information on ISBNs:

If you get a free ISBN from your distributor, the distributor owns the number–not you. You can’t use that ISBN to upload your e-book to additional bookstores or to sell the book yourself from your own site.

There’s also one other catch to ISBNs. An ISBN number is specific to the format of the book, not the contents of the book. With traditional publishing, hardcover and paperback books have always had different ISBNs. This was required for sales to ensure that buyers and sellers could easily identify the format they wanted.

The same thing is true with e-books. You must have a different ISBN for every format of your e-book. I, for example, generate ISBNs for: MOBI (for Kindle), EPUB (to distribute through Smashwords), PDF (to sell myself), EPUB (to sell myself), and for POD (print-on-demand) paperbacks.

That means there are an awful lot of numbers identifying exactly the same book contents, doesn’t there?

If you have more questions, join me in class. A new session starts each month and is offered by community colleges around the world.

Enjoyed this post? Share it!