First and foremost, I have to tell you that this article has more than 2000 words. So, if you’re after the “quick and easy guide on how to write a successful ebook”, well, you’re in the wrong place. It’s not gonna be even remotely “quick”, and I have my doubts about “easy”. Sorry about the title, I lied. But it made you click through, right?
Now, since you’re already here, you have only two options: you either sail away, with a small disappointment grimace, or you set apart 15 minutes of your life and start reading. Do as you please, I’m fine with either one.
The good news is that I’m really going to share my writing experience. And yes, by any standards, the ebooks involved are successful. It’s about “100 Ways To Live A Better Life” and its counterpart “100 Ways To Screw up Your Life”. I’m going to describe in detail the context, the reasons for writing these ebooks, the processes I had to learn and master, and, of course, I’m gonna try to do it in a rather detached and descriptive way. Let’s start.
4 years ago I sold my first company. It was an online publishing company on the Romanian market, started from scratch, almost 9 years ago. After 9 years of continuous work and growth, I decided it’s time to start doing something else. In fact, it wasn’t after 9 years. It was a bit earlier. Although the actual selling took place in 2008, I took the decision a year earlier, in 2007. After I took the decision, I needed around one year to finish the negotiations (had 7 potential clients, 2 of them from abroad) and close the deal.
After I closed the deal, I decided to start a blog in English. I already had one, to be honest (the very one you’re reading now), but I decided to transform it from a hobby into some sort of a business. At that time, my English knowledge was limited, to be very indulgent, and my blogging skills close to zero. Also, I had no idea about the English market (other than it was an order of magnitude bigger than the Romanian market). So, I did mainly it because it was hard, not because it was easy. Yeah, I tend to do things because they’re hard, not because they’re easy. It’s a thing I have. Sometimes, this thing makes me a very uncomfortable person to live with.
Before moving on, I have to tell you a bit about my reasons for starting this company. It wasn’t primarily about the money, although I had to learn the money lesson too (the ugly way). As strange as it may sound, I started my business because I was curios. I never did that kind of stuff before, so I thought being my own boss and stuff would be pretty awesome. Looking back at all these years, I understand more and more that it was more like a form of self expression and less like a business. I also understand that it was basically a context in which I learned to cope with failure and success. Having your own business is a very good context to learn how to cope with failure and success, by the way.
But it wasn’t the most coherent form of self expression. I mean, I loved to be the CEO. To have nice business cards and attend to business events. I would lie if I’d tell you I didn’t enjoy it. But it didn’t last long. After I learned how to build a sustainable business, after I learned how to avoid getting kicked by the competition and how to stay on top of my own game, which took around 5 years, some sort of emptiness occurred. And, in no less than 2-3 years after that, I realized what the emptiness was about. It was just a label. It was a more powerful label than “media anchor” (which is what I used to be before being my own boss) but still just a label.
A big part of my decision to sell the company was rooted in this emptiness thing.
The Early Days
A nice thing about having a blog is that you can look back in time and see things exactly how you experienced them at that time. It’s kinda funny to look back and reread the very first post announcing my exit, exactly 4 years ago.
After I finished the hand-over process, which took about 6 months, I spend almost all my time trying to understand how to live off of a blog. That was one of the most difficult times of my blogging experience. I was stumbling, I was trying new things, I was experimenting, I was making mistakes. At that time I didn’t know how to call it, but now I know: I was trying to find my voice.
I set up a goal to write at least 3 articles per week, at around 1000 words each. I had to came up with my own blogging setup in order to cope with this pace. At times, I felt overwhelmed. And, at other times, I felt tired. But I stayed there and did my best to deal with it.
One thing that proved to be especially time consuming was the interaction part.. When I started to blog I was under the impression that all I have to do is to write. The only skill I had to master was to write good, reliable and useful content. In about six months I realized I was completely wrong. Just because I was out there writing, it didn’t automatically mean that people will read my posts. So, I started to learn how to interact. Mainly online, at that time.
In about one year, I created a circle of virtual friends who were on the same road with me. Bloggers on productivity or self-improvement, mostly. Some of them quit, but some of them continued and now they’re leaders in their niche (Adam Baker, Celestine Chua, Steven Aitchison or Colin Wright). One of these online friends was Luciano Passuello, a Brazilian writing in English about mind, and how to use it more efficiently.
One day, Luciano wrote a huge post, called “Tackle Any Issue With A List Of 100”. The post described a method to create huge lists as a way to solve complicated problems. An important part of the post was an example list of 100 ideas about 100 lists. Luciano challenged me (and another 2 bloggers) to try that method. I picked a topic close to my blog niche and decided to come up with a post called “100 Ways To Live A Better Life”.
The First Hit
That post changed everything. It was an instant success. And by instant, I mean instant. Just minutes after publishing it, the post was featured on Delicious, Digg, reddit and any other mainstream media of the moment. I had my first surge in traffic, which was 20.000 unique visitors in that day. Until that, I barely had 8-9000 visitors in one month.
From that moment, my blog started to really pick up. I also started to get a glimpse of how I should write in order to generate huge amounts of steady traffic. A few weeks after, I came up with a counterpart of the first hit, called “100 Ways To Screw Up Your Life”. It wasn’t as fast and popular as the first one, but, surprisingly enough, it keeps a very constant level of awareness ever since.
Even now, 3 years after I published those blog posts, I get at least 3-400 unique readers for both of them each and every day. The blog literally floats by itself.
The Next Challenge
As you can see, we’re 2 years after I started my blog and I wasn’t nearly close to my first ebook hit. I wasn’t even scratching the surface. To be honest, I had no clue how to do it. But, somehow, I knew I just had to stay there and do my thing. So, I stayed there and did my thing.
Meanwhile, on the personal level a few important events took place, the most important being the beginning of the separation from my ex-wife. It wasn’t enough that I decided to run a marathon (eventually, that was the definition I came up with for what I was doing with the blog) but it also started to ‘rain”. Well, whatever.
A few months after my first blogging hit, an interesting challenge appeared, apparently out of nowhere. One of my blog friends, Steven Aitchison challenged me to write a few ebooks. In one month, that is. Like who is going to write more ebooks in one month.
I only wrote one ebook at that time, “30 Sentences For A Millionaire Mindset”. Writing that single ebook took me about 2 months. And I wasn’t even remotely satisfied with the result. And now I was going to enter a challenge to write a “few” ebooks in one month. Good. At least it took my mind away from the personal trouble.
I finished the first month of the challenge first, with 4 ebooks completed. Then I lost the second month with only one. But during the first month I finished the two ebooks based on my first “100 Ways to…” blog posts.
The ebooks were published on Amazon, as PDF’s and later on Kindle and iBookStore. I also created a separated website for them: 100 Ways To Live. Based on my experience with this entire process I also wrote a blog post about self-publishing that quickly became one of the first resources in this area (with more than 350 comments at the moment of writing this). To be consistent with my own approach, I also wrote another ebook, called “How To Self Publish On Amazon, Kindle And iBookStore”. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Unexpected Luck
Things were pretty much set, ebooks selling on Amazon, Kindle and iBookStore (some more than others) when, out of nowhere, again, I got an email from a publisher from Korea. That happened last year, in November. There were already 2 and a half years after I finished those ebooks and 3 and a half since I started the blog. Apparently, the author of the email was an agent, and she was interested in translating my two ebooks from the “100 Ways To…” series and buy the distribution rights for 3 years for the Korean market. To be honest, I was very, very apprehensive.
One of the unexpected consequences of running a moderately popular blog is that you get a ridiculous amount of email. I think less than 5% is useful, the rest is spam, namely people trying to sell you various things, to put you on their marketing lists or to make you become an affiliate. I was very close to delete that email.
But I re-read it. It doesn’t really sounded like she was selling something to me. Apprehensive as I was, I said “what the heck”, let’s see how this goes. I answered very briefly and from that moment, things changed completely. We exchanged a few emails, agreed on contracts, signed them, snail mail them (yes, all the way to Korea) and, at some point, she let me know that my ebooks were live.
That, my friends, was a very, very pleasant moment.
Starting from December last year until the end of June, the ebooks were sold in more than 1500 copies (I still have to receive the final sales report, but that’s pretty much the expected number). Based on the content of the book, the publisher also made an iPhone app, which was almost one month number #2 on the Books section of the Korean AppStore.
At the end of June, my agent emailed me again and told me she has a new deal for me: the printing thing. In other words, the new publisher she found will print my ebooks (apparently, they want to make one single package out of two, which kinda makes sense, if you think) and sell them on the regular print market. We signed that contract. At the moment of writing this, I’m waiting for the first print run.
Also, the ebooks will be presented by my agent at the Beijing book fair, which will take place at the end of August.
Yes, it feels good.
Ok, enough stories. Let’s do that practical thing. So:
- If I wouldn’t quit my previous company, I wouldn’t start this blog.
- If I woulnd’t start this blog, I wouldn’t meet Luciano Passuello, who pushed me to write my first blog hit ever
- If I wouldn’t follow through the challenge of Steven Aitchison I wouldn’t write the two “100 Ways To…” ebooks
- If I wouldn’t follow through that out-of-nowhere email from Korea, I would have miss the opportunity to have my ebooks translated and printed
As you can see, there are a few people mentioned here: Luciano, Steven, my agent. These are my people, from my life. They have no meaning whatsoever in your life. Turn your head away from them and start looking for the people who are important in your life.
As you can see, there are a few events mentioned here: an exit from a company, starting a blog, following a few challenges or serendipitous encounters. Again, they are my own personal history. They have no meaning whatsoever in your life. Turn your head away from them and start looking at your own events. Find out what’s important in your life.
As you can see, it took almost 4 years after I sold my company to reach this moment. And it wasn’t anything spectacular about getting there. I just stayed there and did my thing.
Overnight success took me 4 years. Your mileage may vary.