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 either  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:


5 thoughts on “Tips for Making Money With Your E-Books

  1. Wow! I can’t imagine writing a 130,000-word book! Let alone as an e-book.

    Thanks for the post, Linda. Interesting stuff.


    1. You’re welcome, Doreen! While I wrote a textbook a decade ago that was 250,000 words, I sure don’t plan to do it again…


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