Writing

I Tried to Write an eBook That Would Sell 50,000 Copies and Failed

Tim Denning talks about Nicolas Cole's book.

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

Having a goal to sell an exact number of eBooks is foolish. And I’m a fool.

I got caught up in the fact my friend made $400K USD from selling his eBook about starting a blog. I decided to create an eBook about writing and share my experiences. I spent a bit of time working on it and paid roughly $850 for a book cover from 99 Designs (because first impressions count).

The eBook did okay. It didn’t sell anywhere near 50,000 copies though — or make $400K.

(An eBook the way I’m about to describe it, is a PDF book with chapters that you sell through your personal website only, and send to your email list and post on your social media channels to make sales. It’s not sold on Amazon or anywhere else.)

This is what you can learn about creating an eBook.


Content is like a roulette wheel.

This thought came from the second son of Quora, Nicolas Cole, and a book he wrote called “The Art And Business Of Online Writing.” Cole explains creating content is like a roulette wheel. The more content you create the more chances you have at winning the prize.

When applying this thinking to my eBook that flopped, it makes sense. It’s the first eBook I have ever sold. Of course it was going to fail. The first creative project you release into the world and dare charge twenty bucks for is probably going to flop.

If this was my fourth eBook then the story would probably be different.

Lesson you can apply: Keep creating content and having the guts to charge money for it.

Your failures don’t devalue what you have to teach.

People still got value from my eBook. I got plenty of emails saying the book was well-written and extremely helpful. The number of copies you sell or the dollars that hit your PayPal account has very little to do with your ability to teach through content.

Even though I only helped a small audience write better, the book still mattered. Being helpful is massively underrated. It’s a far better feeling than earning money. We all need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

Lesson you can apply: Your life has value so act like it.

It’s okay to aim high.

Sure I thought I would sell 50,000 copies of my eBook easily. Maybe I was delusional. My friend Michael Crossland, who beat cancer four times, said “shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll end up in the stars.”

If aiming high could defeat cancer then it can help you achieve your goals too. I’d rather have high hopes than no hopes. I’d rather back myself and fall short than never have tried at all.

Release your creativity into the world. Hope a lot will happen and it will, just not according to your timeline.

Timing can throw your plans out the window.

I released my eBook at the same time as a global health crisis that forced all my potential customers into their homes for an extended period of time. They weren’t thinking about my silly little eBook. They were trying to keep their families from becoming infected and being put on ventilators.

It was bad timing for sure. But shit happens.

The universe doesn’t decide to make you a millionaire book salesman/saleswoman because you decided to get off your butt and release an eBook. It’s never a good time to do anything, though. So you may as well release your creativity in the form of an eBook and see what happens. What have you got to lose?

You always have more to learn.

I thought my eBook dreams were guaranteed because of my friend’s success and all the advice he gave me. I was wrong. I failed.

But I did learn a lot. The learning is actually more valuable than the dollars I could have made from the eBook.

I now know a little about how book publishing works. I got to meet and become friends with best-selling Amazon author Todd Brison. I got to go through the process of creating a book cover from scratch and getting frustrated with the many poor designs I received.

I learned firsthand the downsides of DesignCrowd and Fiverr for getting artwork done. I learned it was better to drop a decent amount of money than waste time with illustrations full of cliche stock images — and even stick figure illustrations.

I went through the process of editing and getting harsh feedback, even from friends. I doubted myself a lot. I almost didn’t release the book. I kept asking the question “Why me?” when I thought about the advice I had to offer.

Learning is more important than the outcome. What you learn creates your future value. It amplifies your future value too.

Flow states drove the whole process (again).

Without the help of flow states, the eBook would never have been written. Writing a long-form piece of content takes effort.

To go back to the same project over and over and actually finish it, for me, is huge. I usually stick to short-form writing because a project like a book makes me bored. Changing topics and styles is addictive. You can’t do that with an eBook; you have to commit like a romantic relationship.

I would have cheated on my eBook if it wasn’t for flow states. Noise-cancelling headphones, coffee, warm showers and no distractions were key to getting in the zone and staying in the zone.

The eBook came together in a timeless manner thanks to flow states. If you’re *not* using flow states you’re missing out.

Lesson you can apply: Practice flow states every day.

You can choose the wrong format to be helpful.

I chose the format of an eBook to teach about writing. Perhaps I chose the wrong format. A few close friends have suggested that I should have done an online writing course instead. So, I surveyed my readers and it turns out they were right. People wanted an online course, not an eBook.

Choosing what format and platform you share your experiences through is crucial. Maybe it’s not your eBook or blog post that is the problem. Maybe you simply chose the wrong format or platform.

A writer on Youtube would probably do poorly. A writer on a WordPress blog would probably perform better. A photographer posting images on Twitter would probably not do too well. But a photographer posting their images on Instagram could change their life.

Lesson you can apply: Experiment with platforms and formats to find the right medium for your creativity.

Outsource what you hate doing (and market).

You have to do a lot of marketing for eBooks. I’m a lazy marketer. You could even say I’m a deadbeat marketer.

I emailed the eBook once to my email list and posted it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and my website.

Looking back, I put bugger all effort into marketing. Why? I hate marketing.

That’s why you’re always best to outsource things you hate doing. 

If I had met Todd earlier and got him to market my eBook for me then maybe the results would have been different.

Lesson you can apply: If you hate doing something, give it to someone else to do. Then use the energy you saved to invest in what you love doing.

Give your eBook away as a surprise and delight moment.

People do nice things for me all the time. Sometimes I get these nice messages from people that make me smile. It was recently that I learned my eBook could be a gift to say thank you to people.

I gave it to a few people at work. I gave it to a lady in the Philippians who had issues with PayPal. Giving away your work for free can remind you to be kind. Kind people change the world.

Lesson you can apply: Give away what you know for free to those who need it. The fulfillment feels better than the dollars you could have earned.


Here’s What You Can Learn from My eBook That Didn’t Sell 50,000 Copies:

  • Consistency makes you intentionally lucky over time.
  • Your life has value despite how many eBooks you sell.
  • Hit publish and move on.
  • It’s never a good time to do anything. So do it anyway. Start today.
  • Get into flow every day.
  • Experiment. A lot.
  • Get used to being wrong.
  • Outsource stuff you dislike. Your energy is too precious to waste.
  • If all else fails, give it all away for free. Generous people live well.

Tim Denning
Tim is a thought leader in the personal development, entrepreneur and startup fields.Outside of blogging, Tim works for a large organisation helping fast moving technology companies come to Australia as well as helping Australian tech companies go to the world.

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