Howto: eBooks+

MCMTuesday, September 14, 2010

This is part of a series of posts offering real, solid, practical advice on how to be a weblit author. They’re in no particular order, so get ready for some crazy focus shifting!

People like physical things, and when you write with websites as your end-result, you can find it hard to sell copies of what you do. Even PDFs are hard to sell to people in person, because they don't really exist. So how do you let someone support you while giving them something in return? And how can you do it affordably? eBooks+, that's how.

Here's how it works: when someone wants to buy a copy of your work, they pay you a nominal sum, and you give them a 4x6" glossy print of the cover of your book, with a URL and code on the back. When they visit the URL and enter the code, they can download the story in as many formats as you can manage. Like magic!

Step one: print your cover as nicely as you can. I find the cheapest way to do this is to go to your local photo printing service, and give them a high-resolution JPG of the cover file. In most cases, you're going to want it to have borders, because the prints can end up crooked or cropped in funny ways, and you may lose some important details or text. These prints will last forever, and they look really nifty on the photo paper, especially for only $0.11/copy (or less).

Step two: make your files using whatever software you have handy. At the very least, I'd offer a PDF of the full book, but if you can manage making EPUBs or MOBI files (for iPad and Kindle), that would be excellent too. There are lots of great tools to help you do this, but it's beyond the scope of this post, so I'll just say "good luck" and stay tuned for a future article covering this topic.

Step three: set up a code-processing form on your website using whatever tools you have. I've made a simple system to accomplish this, which you can download here. If time allows, I may convert this into a WordPress plug-in, but for now, those of you who understand PHP can at least play a little. The gist is: visit a page, enter your code, and if the code is good, it will display a list of files to download.

Step four: print labels for your covers using basic return-address mailing stickers. On it, you want to hand-hold your customer so they don't get lost. My labels read like this:

TYPHOON To download your ebook, visit


and enter code ABC123

Stick one label to the back of each photo print (try not to put them all in the same place, or when you pack the photos, they'll stack strangely).

Step five: sell the suckers! If someone wants to buy a copy of your work, you can offer them a quality product for insanely-low prices! Make sure to autograph each print, because one day, they're going to be worth something!

Important: Communicate the value! This is especially important if you have print books on sale too: if someone's put off by the high sticker price of your book, or they'd prefer to read your web fiction on a Kindle or iPad rather than a website, this is your solution. Don't hide it away, because there are a lot of people out there who'd love this kind of thing.

Do eBooks+ work? Well, based on my initial test run, YES, they do. Especially in cases where the print book seemed like too much of a gamble to new readers, the ebooks sold quite well. In fact, I've had requests to SHIP the covers to people who had heard about it from their friends. I'm not sure there's a good business model for that, but at least I know the concept is good!

So that's eBooks+. If you use this idea (or improve on the concept), please let everyone know by leaving a comment below.

Finally, I want to invite anyone in the weblit community to send me their “How To” posts and ideas for this series. If you’ve done something cool you think other people could use as a foundation, just send me an email and we’ll get you hooked up!

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