Case Study

So You Want to Write and Self-Publish an eBook? A Case Study and Lessons Learned

by Tracy Brisson

Case StudyAs your business and entrepreneurship goals grow, you might consider publishing an eBook to showcase your expertise and generate passive income. It’s relatively easy for you to self-publish a digital book and make it available across a multitude of platforms, including your website, Amazon, and others. In just a few steps, you can theoretically expose yourself to a whole new audience for your service.

As a business owner and career coach, I am 100% onboard with this strategy and think everyone should consider creating a work that highlights how they think and offer it on the market. It’s not only a good business decision, but also a personally transformative experience.

There are an inordinate number of resources available on self-publishing that can help you make decisions on design, pricing, distribution, and marketing among other topics. However, there are a few things that I learned the hard way when I published my two eBooks in 2011 and 2013. Here are the three questions I wish I‘d asked myself before I started my writing journey. I’ve included hard data on my progress- including how I failed- that might help you with your book project.

First, do you know all of the possible goals you want to achieve with your eBook?

Here is some basic information about my two books to give you some context. Book 1, a book of reflections and stories on career success that I published in 2011, is priced below $5 and I’ll be transparent that I have barely cracked $1K in sales since it debuted two years ago. Book 2, a resume advice book, is priced at $9.99-$14.99 and generated thousands of dollars of sales for me in its first six months.

Based on those numbers alone, you would assume that I consider Book 2 more successful book than Book 1. If so, you’d be wrong.

Book 1 serves as an introduction to my coaching- it shows how I think and interpret information for my clients, includes personal stories of my own career development journey, and provides some tangible next steps for readers. It allows people to get to know me and (luckily!) like me at a very low-risk. Every time I do a pricing promotion or targeted marketing campaign for Book 1, at least one of the book sales converts into a coaching client. I have been able to retain more than 50% of each conversion for six months or longer, generating over $1K in revenue per customer compared to the average $6 in revenue I earn per Book 2 customer (after Amazon royalties and marketing costs).

I’ll admit that my initial goal for Book 1 was to generate passive income, but once I realized what it could do for me if I managed the marketing and pricing correctly, I have been more than happy with its performance. Before you publish your eBook, think about these goals and whether you want to change your content, marketing, and performance expectations.

Second, are you sure that an eBook is really the best format for your message?

When I started my self-publishing journey in 2011, I had laser focus on writing eBooks. Personally, I have not bought a paperback or hardcover book in years! When Book 2 came out in May 2013, I received a few requests for a paperback edition so I figured out how to offer a print-on-demand paperback edition that August.

Since doing that, the paperback has outsold the eBook version of the book three to one, even though it is $5 more.

There could be a million different reasons why this is the case. However, I believe the potential for the eBook market for non-fiction is likely overhyped. For example, before you start writing, you can use the Kindle Sales Rank Calculator ( to help you better analyze the possibilities for your book category by obtaining estimates of the number of books sold per day by your competitors based on their overall rank in the Kindle store. I’ve found that the top Kindle book in the resume category, What Color in Your Parachute?, a classic book that has been around for decades, consistently sells about 30 eBooks a day… and the book ranked at number 20 only sells one copy a day.

When I sold 30 paperbacks one glorious day in November 2013, my book only shot to number 45 in all resume books, print or digital.

The data and other findings lead me to believe that most people are buying resume books in print…. And I wish I’d done that research before I started this process because it would have changed a lot of my pre-planning and decisions, especially around the cover.

My quick takeaways?

If you are looking to introduce a product that will earn you passive income, I encourage you to do research on the performance for your specific non-fiction category and plan your book project accordingly. If I had known how poorly resume books performed in the book market, I’m not sure I would have prioritized Book 2 as a project last year even though it has done well for its category.

It is relatively easy to issue a print-on-demand version of your book and if you aim to have a book that stores, libraries or colleges might shelve, plan on at least 150 pages so you can have the title printed on the spine. You’d be surprised who might request bulk orders of your book.

Third, do you have a plan for your next book… even before you publish your first?

A recent GoodReads survey asked members “What do you want to do when you get to the end of a book?” and the most frequent response was that they wanted to see what else the author had written.

As a business owner, you may be used to testing products to determine if they will be successful on the market before releasing another. The eBook market does not work that way, especially if you sell on Amazon which now heavily favors book series.

The more books that you have available, the more each book will sell individually… and the truth is it may be impossible to sell many copies if you just have one book.

So if possible, plan out a series of books around your topic that you can publish a few months apart. When a reader finishes your first book on a device like a Kindle or NOOK, he or she will likely be prompted to buy your next book based on past buying patterns. My sales for Book 1 more than tripled after I issued Book 2, even though it was almost two years old and in a different category. If I had understood this, I would have finished a companion book about job interviews before releasing the book on resumes. The reality is I’ve left a ton of money on the table by not having that ready.

So most definitely- go write that eBook! But think ahead about your goals, research the different avenues your book can work for you, and understand how the various platforms work and make the best decisions possible for you.

Tracy Brisson is the author of the bestselling resume book Confessions of a Teacher Recruiter: How to Create an Extraordinary Resume and Hook Your Dream Job ( and owner of The Opportunities Project, ( a national talent development, career coaching & recruitment consulting agency. You can connect with her on Twitter at @tracybrisson.