How to make money from eBooks

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Always fancied becoming an author? Self-publishing an eBook is cheap, easy and can earn you some serious cash! 

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Most people think that, unless you get lucky and end up becoming the next J. K. Rowling, writing books is not an easy way to make money.

But remember that big blockbuster film The Martian (sci-fi peril-fest starring Matt Damon)? Bet you didn’t know it actually started life as a humble self-published eBook!

The book’s author, Andy Weir, began publishing chapters on his blog, but then pasted the whole thing into a text document and sold it as an Amazon Kindle book for just 99 cents a copy. Within months The Martian was topping the best-selling charts, and then Hollywood wanted in!

Give or take a bit of Hollywood glam, that’s all publishing an eBook is: taking a text document, converting it into an eBook and selling it – but how much can you actually make?

Should you self-publish an eBook?

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Self-publishing might sound like a bit of a headache, and it’s definitely got its pros and cons – in a nutshell, this is what it involves:

  1. Quick publication – Forget finding, pitching to and getting accepted by a publishing company. If you’ve got an idea for a book, you can get it on the shelves yourself in next to no time!
  2. Be prepared to work hard – Getting your book stocked by big-name retailers isn’t that difficult, but be prepared to do most of the hard work (writing, marketing and selling) yourself
  3. You can publish a print book too – But since going digital is cheap as chips, that’s what we would recommend and what we’ll be discussing in this guide
  4. Career boost – Getting a book to market is great work experience. It’s perfect CV fodder for loads of careers including publishing, retail, sales, management and marketing
  5. Passive income – Even if you don’t become a millionaire, publishing a book can set you up with passive pocket money for years to come
  6. Anyone can do it – Don’t be put off if you’re not creative or a closet geek. All you need is an idea, a bit of lateral thinking, plenty of motivation and time. And this page, obvs.

How much does it cost to self-publish a book?

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Producing an eBook can be ridiculously cheap and, often, completely free.

However, if you want to make a professional-standard eBook that’s going to impress, you might want to think about paying for services like editing, book cover design, formatting and promotion.

You could look into sites like Fiverr where you can get someone to do this stuff super cheap, or you can ask a friend or do it yourself, but try not to cut corners too much – readers will be able to tell and they won’t give you a good review.

If you reckon you can persuade other folk to invest in your book early on, have a look at Publishizer – a book-based crowdfunding site (where strangers fund projects in return for goodies and good karma).

How much can you make from eBooks?

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Selling your own book can net you anything from pounds a day to almost nothing! The good news is that you get lots of say in your potential earnings, so it’s worth taking a look at the sums:

  • eBooks sell for anywhere between 99p to £8.99 and up, but the store (and your publishing platform) will take a chunk of each sale
  • You can sell your book for whatever price you like – and you can alter the price to test different tactics – but the sweet spot depends on your book’s length, reviews and competition
  • If you’ve got cash to invest (or can crowdfund to pay for it), marketing is the best place to put it: no one can buy your book if they don’t know it exists!

Paying tax on eBook earnings

The money you make from each sale of your eBook is known as royalties. As with any source of income, once you start earning money above a certain amount, you’ll need to contact HMRC. No need to panic: our guide will show you how to submit a self-assessment tax return if you need help.

Most publishing platforms operate internationally, which means you’ve got potential customers around the world! Unfortunately, if you earn money in other countries, their governments will want a slice of your hard-earned sales too.

But doesn’t that mean you’ll be paying twice as much tax? Yup. The good news is that the UK has a number of tax treaties in place with various countries to stop you paying again.

Whether you can claim the tax treaties depends on your nationality, where you live, and lots of other details which means we can’t go into all the fine print here. But don’t worry: each publishing platform will explain exactly what forms you need to fill in to deal with this!

eBook topics in demand

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We’d recommend writing about something you’re interested in, not just something you think is going to make you money. Your readers will be able to tell if you’re not passionate about the subject, and getting the words down on paper will be a slog for you as well.

Pick a subject you’re genuinely interested in but, that said, it’s also worth looking at what sells. Visit your local book shop or check out the best-selling lists on Amazon, Waterstones, and international sites like Barnes and Noble.

Fiction (particularly erotic fiction) is by far the biggest seller in the eBook market, but that doesn’t mean other areas aren’t profitable as well – it’s all about finding your niche.

For example, eBooks on religion and spirituality, and business and money, also tend to do particularly well.

What to write your eBook about

  • Your novel, poems or short stories
  • Publish your old essays (check with your uni first!) or write a study guide for your subject
  • Illustrate your own children’s book, or publish your comics
  • Write a city guide or publish your favourite walking routes
  • Find out-of-copyright books, repackage with notes, an intro, or a translation and sell them under your own imprint
  • If you’re fluent in another language, team up with another writer and publish a translated version of their work
  • Write a practical guide about something you know really well: living on a budget, dating, Mongolian throat singing, essential badger maintenance – whatever.

Once you’ve decided on your topic and written your eBook, we’ve got a complete guide to publishing and marketing it so you can start earning money ASAP!

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