The Secret to Making Money by Writing Free Ebooks

Image: Ebook
Maria Elena under Creative Commons

Did you know you can make money by giving away free ebooks? It doesn’t sound possible, but it is: I’ve done it with five of my books. If you can write, edit or hire a writer, you can make hundreds (or thousands) of dollars giving away ebooks.

It’s common for authors to give away their ebooks to build name recognition or to promote their other books. But those aren’t the only ways to make money with free ebooks. Here’s a strategy that worked for me.

How to Make Affiliate Income From Ebooks

A few years ago I bought a PDF ebook about building niche websites. By the time I had read half of it, I had signed up for a link-building service the author recommended. I paid $150 a month for the service, and because he had linked to it using his affiliate code, he earned a $30 share of each payment.

I also bought two other products he linked to, resulting in commissions of $10 and $20. Altogether, he made $60 from me in a couple days with his affiliate links, and the link-building service paid him another $30 for every month I was subscribed! His ebook cost me about $20, but he would have come out ahead even if he had paid me $20 to read it — or given it to me for free.

That got me thinking. It must be easier to give away a book than to sell it…

I spent a few days putting together a little ebook. The result, “Mind Power Meditation,” has eight short chapters on using meditation to boost the power of your mind. Several times in the book, I mention a brainwave entrainment product used for meditating, linking to it using my affiliate code. When a reader clicks through and downloads the $85 package, I get $42.50.

A week after finishing it, I gave the ebook to my “Mind Power Report” subscribers and quickly made a few hundred dollars in commissions. I gave the book away on my websites too, and I still make an occasional commission from it years later.

Are you ready to give it a try? Here’s what you’ll need to do:

1. Pick Your Subject

I wrote ebooks based on my existing hobbies and interests. The writing comes naturally this way, and it’s easier to stay motivated. Fortunately I have many interests, so I could choose ones with more commercial promise. If your passion is drawing and painting it might be difficult to find relevant products to promote. Then again, there are affiliate programs for art supplies.

You could also find high-commission affiliate programs and create a book based on whatever products make the most money. This approach makes sense if you can write about anything easily. It also works if you don’t write the book yourself — more on that in a moment.

2. Choose an Affiliate Program

Affiliate marketing is simple enough. You sign up to promote a company’s products and they provide a unique code you use to link to them from your website, blog, Facebook page or (of course) ebook. Every time someone goes to the company’s website through your links and completes a sale, you earn a commission.

I Googled “art supplies affiliate program” to find the company I linked to in Step 1. That’s one way to locate appropriate products from which you can make a commission, but you could also use a directory of affiliate programs to see many possibilities in one place. Affiliate directories are great for inspiring ideas, and you might find four or five useful and relevant products to promote in the same book.

Looking at various affiliate products can change your mind about your subject. For example, I could have focused on traditional meditation in my ebook, but brainwave entrainment became the dominant theme in part because I make $42.50 per sale on the product I promote. That was better than making a $3 commission on a meditation cushion.

3. Create an Ebook

I had been studying and writing about meditation, so it wasn’t difficult to write my ebook in a few days. At 11,000 words, it’s only as long as ten articles like this one.

If you don’t want to write, you could pay a writer to put your ebook together. However, that’s an expensive proposition unless you have a friend who will do it for a share of your profits. If you put your project up for bid on Elance or a similar site, be careful to verify writing samples to ensure you’ll receive quality work.

You can also put together a book of free articles as the producer/editor. Find relevant experts online who will give you an article in exchange for a short bio at the end that links to their website or blog. Plan to email or call dozens of authors to get enough articles. But once you have your articles, you just put them together, add recommendations with affiliate links for appropriate products, write a quick introduction, and you have your book.

If you use MS Word, you can quickly convert your ebook into a PDF, or use an online converter like CutePDF Writer. It’s easy to create a download link for the book on your blog or website.

Yes, the “advertising” in your book will annoy some readers, but don’t worry about it. Many readers will want to learn about products they can benefit from, so for them your links make the book more valuable. If the products you link to are relevant, you won’t have many complaints. (And perhaps you could remind the complainers that the ebook was free.)

4. Give Your Ebook Away!

My experience is that fewer than 1% of readers will click a link and buy an affiliate product. Of course, my experience includes my poor marketing skills, so you might do better. In any case, give away as many ebooks as you can! Here are some ways to do that:

  • Email a copy to everyone you know
  • Put a download link on your blog
  • Link to your download page from Facebook and Twitter
  • Distribute your work through free ebook websites
  • Convince blog owners to give it away as a gift to visitors
  • Convince newsletter publishers to offer it as a gift to subscribers
  • Advertise for free on Craigslist under “Free Stuff”

For best results, get your book into the hands of readers who are passionate about the subject and will love the products you recommend. Good luck!

Your Turn: What do you think about giving away free ebooks to make money?