Sacha Greif is a web designer who specializes in user interfaces for web and mobile apps. He has worked with clients such as Hipmunk, Le Monde, MileWise and UNESCO.
In this interview, Sacha:
- Tells us how he earned around $15 000 from selling a web design e-book that took him two weeks to create.
- Explains what worked for him in terms of pricing and marketing and gives advise for fellow web designers who want to write and sell their own e-books.
- Shares his thoughts on the importance of passive income and why e-books are a good way to earn money on the side
Interested? Keep reading!
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Sacha Greif. I’m a freelance web designer. I’ve been freelancing for the last four years, working mainly with start ups (the most famous is probably Hipmunk. I’ve also worked for big companies, like UNESCO, for example. I’ve actually worked for UNESCO for a year before becoming a freelance web designer, and before that I’ve worked in Beijing for a web agency.
That’s how I started in web design (before that, I mostly did sites for myself and for friends, but nothing professional). Right now, I’m focusing on personal projects. One of them is the e-book, which did pretty well and the other one is Folyo , which is a job board for freelance designers.
You’ve written a successful e-book, but before we get into that story, maybe you could share some of your website stats with our readers, like what is your monthly traffic, do you have e-mail or RSS subscribers, etc., just so people would know where you stand in terms of online influence?
I have around 1,500 RSS subscribers right now and it was around 1000 at the time of the launch.
My traffic is around 500 visitors per day, however, I had some big spikes when I launched the book (from the post on Hacker News, etc.), which was helpful.
I also had about 3,500 – 4,000 Twitter followers at the time of the launch. I’d say it’s not so much having a lot of traffic, but being able to reach an audience (by Twitter, Hacker News, Reddit, etc.).
Also, it helps when people recognize your name, or maybe your design or your brand, so even if they didn’t read my blog everyday or every week, when they did see a link, they thought “Oh, yeah, I recognize that guy”. I think that is important.
Okay, so about the e-book, maybe before we start, you could share some numbers, like how many copies you’ve sold and what revenue/profit you got in the first 24-48 hours, as well as how much profit your e-book has generated since the launch and how much it’s currently bringing in every month?
Okay, I’ve compiled some stats for you about that.
There were three main phases of selling the e-book: the launch, after launch and affiliate promotion (selling the e-book through the third party sites).
During the launch, which was really good, I sold about 2000 copies in the first week or so, which generated revenue of about $8,000.
After the launch, I kept selling the e-book for a couple months and it brought it around $4,000 more. At that time, I was promoting the e-book through other sites, getting guest articles on some blogs, etc. So, it was much much slower than the launch, since it was half the amount of the launch in two months, although it was still good.
However, after a while it started slowing down, so what I’m doing now is I’m selling the e-book through sites like AppSumo, which are basically sites that give their readers special deals on different products. That has made me around $2,000 so far.
Altogether, the e-books has generated around $15,000 so far, which is really good, because I never expected it to bring in so much (especially considering that it’s a rather short e-book).
I’ve spent around two weeks on writing the content and then, of course, much more time promoting it via articles, interviews and such.
Do you think that this e-book will continue to be a reliable stream of income or will it dry up eventually?
I think it will definitely dry out, unless I do something about it. Here’s what I’m doing in order to prevent this stream of income from drying up:
- I’m trying to partner up with some companies.
- I’m working on the e-book available on Amazon Kindle Store.
- I’m thinking about getting the e-book translated into Japanese or French.
This is important, because if you don’t do anything, you get less and less people everyday and market gets smaller and smaller until a stream of income eventually dries up. It’s important to understand that it won’t keep going at the same rate forever. You have to keep expanding and tap to new audiences (like Amazon or AppSumo) in order to keep generating a decent revenue.
Would you recommend writing and selling e-books for other web designers? Why or why not?
I think it’s a really good idea, but obviously, I can’t promise that it will be successful. You know, even for myself, I’m not sure whether a new e-book of mine would be as successful. Maybe it would flop completely. E- books are a good starting point. They’re not very difficult to write and sell, since it probably takes a lot less time to create an e-book than to build an app. They’re not the magic bullet, though: there are a lot of e-books out there already. They’re as challenging as other means to make money online.
However, in general, having a source of passive income is important. It’s a must-have for me, because if you’re freelancer, you don’t have much job security. It’s hard to plan for the future without a safety net of some sort. Also, if you’re taking a holiday, or just stopping work for a couple of months, it’s nice to have an additional source of income that keeps going, even if it’s very small, even if it’s a few hundred dollars a month. At least it can cover your food bill or your rent, you know.
It’s important for me personally (although it’s not the only way to do it, you can be very successful without any sort of passive income). I don’t want to say that every designer needs a passive income source, because people would complain if I did, but personally, I think that it’s important.
How did you come up with an idea to write and sell your own e-book and how did you choose the topic for it?
I don’t remember how exactly I came up with an idea to write my own e-book, but I’ve been writing on design for a long time.
I always think how can I explain it in a way that it wouldn’t look to complicated and that people would see that they can do it themselves, even if they don’t consider themselves designers.
For example, I wrote a post about designing CodeYear.com. I designed it in one hour. I wrote a post about the process behind that and it was very well received, it got a lot of re-tweet and people responded to that well. Obviously, I didn’t write about it to say “Oh, web design is so easy, you can do it in one hour” , but I think that a lot of people got the message that it’s not so complicated and that they can do it themselves. A lot of people were receptive to that, so that’s why I decided to write an e-book an show that when I design, it’s nothing magical, it’s a problem solving and step by step evolution of the concept.
So, I would say that the basic idea is to show what is behind the scenes when it comes to web design.
How did the process of writing an e-book look like (from the initial idea to the final, “ready to be sold” version) and how long did it take to get to the final version? What would you do differently in terms of writing the content of the e-book if you would have to do it all over again?
I knew I was going to work on this app and it was open source project, meaning there weren’t any private aspects to it, therefore I could showcase the process.
I decided to write an e-book even before starting the design. I think that was important, because it allowed me to take screen shots every step of the way. I started writing the book when I was around half way or two thirds of the way. This way I already had a good idea on how app would look like. Also, during this process, I’ve discovered some parts of the design that didn’t make sense, therefore I went back and changed them. It took me one week to write the first version of the book and then it took me one more week to make final edits.
I paid a lot of attention to the layout of the book, for example, I didn’t want to have one section which was five pages long and another which is one page long. This is why it took me one more week to make final adjustments.
When it comes to writing e-books, a lot of designers seem to have this block “I’m a designer, I’m not a writer, I don’t knowhow to write.” Maybe you have some words encouragement for them? Or maybe an advice on how to overcome that block?
You have to become a writer. You can do that by writing on your blog, or doing guest posts, or any other way you can. You need to practice. That’s the only way to get better at writing, I think.
I’ve read somewhere that the more you write, not only you get better at writing, but you also get more ideas on what to write about next.
Many people try to save their ideas, like save their idea for the ultimate blog post, but that’s not how it works, really.
You need to realize that first, you can write about the same thing twice and second, the more you write, the better you become at writing.
How important choosing the right design is for e-book’s success? How did you go about creating the design for your e-book? What are the most important things that someone who’s writing their first e-book should know design- wise?
I don’t think it’s too important.
I certainly think that you shouldn’t go overboard and get a very fancy design that makes it hard to read the e-book Also, if people will read your book on Kindle, it will strip out all the design from it.
On the other hand, what I did do, is I made sure that the e-book colors and typography matches my blog design. It’s a small touch that is useful from the branding perspective, because it makes the e-book a little bit nicer and more coherent with the other things I do. So, if you have website, maybe you should include similar fonts, colors or your logo in your e-book, but that’s about it, you should not go overboard.
You have given a lot of though to the pricing of your e-book. Can you give us the overview of the marketing theory and research behind your pricing decisions? What would you advise to people who want to launch their own e-book in web design niche?
Well, basically I launched with a very low price, $3 for an e-book.
There are few reasons for this:
My e-book is not for web designers, it’s for people who are interested in design, but don’t consider themselves designers. These people are not making their living with design, so I wasn’t sure whether they would be willing to pay $20, $30 or $50 for an e-book on it.
On the other hand, I was sure that $3 is not too much. It is my first e-book and it’s pretty short. I mean, it’s not a good reason to do it, but I thought that if it’s cheap, people won’t complain too much if it sucks.
Of course, people will tell you that “Oh, you have to charge a lot!” and talk about psychology of pricing, meaning that the more you charge for something, the more valuable it is perceived to be, which is true, but..
Well, for me, I just felt better charging less, which again, is not a very good reason, but at that time, it made sense to me. Anyway, I think the pricing was very successful. It was a combination of luck and not wanting to charge too much. I mean, now you can buy apps like “Angry Birds” for $1 and people have spent months or even years developing it, so it just doesn’t feel right to charge $50 for something that I’ve written in two weeks. I know I’d probably make more money like that, but it just doesn’t feel right.
However, there are also psychological principles, about which I talk in that article, like low price point and high price point, etc. It’s hard to know whether these principles will work for other people, though, because if you go back to that article, you’ll see that another web designer who also published an e-book on web design on the same day charged $39 for it. He basically did the opposite of what I did and it worked very well for him (he also wrote an article defending the opposite point of view). This is why I don’t want to tell people that they should do it this way or that way. It’s more about experimenting and maybe trying to diversify (like selling it on other websites, e.g. AppSumo).You have to find a way to find the right price point, so you would be able to sell it for a low price without devaluing it in the eyes of a customer or sell it for a high price without leaving people feeling cheated.
For example, you could have three price points, one a normal price point, another that’s a bit lower (like a special deal or Christmas) and then maybe a higher price point for a deluxe edition or extra content.
You’ve mentioned Jarrod, the guy who launched his e-book on the same day as you, charged $39 for it and then wrote an article about his pricing strategy which was basically opposite to yours. You’ve both made a decent chunk of money from your e-books, therefore obviously, both strategies work, just for different purposes. When do you think web designers should use your pricing strategy and when they should use Jarrod’s pricing strategy? When is it better to price really low and sell more copies and when it’s better to price much higher and sell less copies?
I think it depends of your goals. When your goal is to get your name out there and build a fan base, it makes more sense to sell low. When your goal is to make money and you think you can make more money at a higher price point, then go for it. Honestly, for me it’s hard to defend Jarrod’s position, because it’s not a position I chose and I don’t agree with it, but.. I’d probably charge $40 for an e-book if I’ve spent a lot of time on. I know he has spent six months on his e-book, so it makes sense that he doesn’t want to sell it for $3. I can understand that, but I know that I’m not planning to spend that much time to write an e-book, I’d much rather release each chapter as a separate e-book and watch the revenue compound. Amy Hoy has a course on selling software products. She advocates selling to few people, but for a higher price, which was what arrod did, so if you’re interested in using that strategy, you should go check out her site, but I don’t advocate this strategy.
You also have a well-written landing page. How did you go about writing the initial version? How did you improve it over time? And what’s up with “Only 12.7 million copies left” and other jokes ( I mean, aren’t landing pages supposed to be serious?)? What people who want to write a successful landing page should know?
I wanted to make the landing page memorable, that’s why I included some jokes,that’s why I’ve spent a lot of time on it, I think I’ve spent 3 or 4 days on it.
I wanted to make it easy to read and not have too much content on it, but on the same time, I wanted to address people’s most common questions.I also wanted to include some humor in it to make it stand out from other similar pages.
I think it’s pretty important, because it’s what people will judge your e-book on, but you should keep things simple and include your personality in it.
Maybe you have some copywriting advice for web designers, like what people who want to write a successful landing page should know from a copywriting perspective?
I think that a mistake that a lot of people make is that they don’t put themselves in the place of the buyer. Sometimes you have a really good idea on how to sell a product, but you don’t stop to consider it from the buyer’s perspective. As long as you design it from the point of view of the buyers and not from your own point of you, you’ll be good.
You didn’t publish your e-book right away. You got feedback from different people, presented e-book materials live on ParisHackers meetup and told them they can get it for free if they sign up to your e-mail list and also spend some time tweaking the e-book website itself. Can you tell us more about all of this pre-launch work? What turned out to be effective and what didn’t? What would you do differently if you would have to do it all over again?
I don’t think that I would do anything differently, because what I did worked pretty well.
What I did was I have built a pre-launch mailing list. It wasn’t a big mailing list, it was like 40 people, but it was 40 people who downloaded the book and retweeted about it. I offered people a free copy of e-book in exchange for their e-mail list, feedback and retweets.
I think anyone can do that, via meetups, Twitter, etc.
You launched your e-book by submitting your landing page to Hacker News and asking people who received free copies of your e-book to upvote it if they enjoyed it. Can you tell us more about that? Why did you choose this particular strategy? How didit work? What would you do differently if you would have to launch another e-book now?
Well, first of all, I made sure to only ask people to upvote after they read the book and if they enjoyed it. The idea was not to game the site, but to make the e-book known among people who were already regular Hacker News users. I did this because I wrote the book specifically for Hacker News readers: people who value design and enjoy reading about it, but don’t consider themselves desingers and would enjoy reading about design basics. In fact, I had a few emails from disappointed buyers saying that they didn’t learn anything from the book, and that’s because they were designers themselves. It means that knowing your target audience is important.In other words, if I’ve launched the same e-book on, say Forrst instead of Hacker News, it might’ve flopped completely
What is your suggested plan of action for someone who is launching their first e-book? What kind of step-by-step process would you advise to follow?
I don’t feel really qualified to answer this, as I’ve only launched one eBook… so I don’t know if I’m capable of repeating my success!
However, I would say, your main problem is always going to be how to make people care about your product. How to bring them to your site, basically, so if you can figure that out, you’ll be good. Maybe it can be posting on HN, Reddit, having a fancy landing page with CSS transforms, or running naked through your city with your site’s URL tattooed on your back…
One way or the other, your plan should include a way to generate interest.
What are the biggest lessons that you’ve learned from writing and selling your own e-book?
I would say the biggest lesson is that there are a lot of ways to earn a living from your design skills online.
You know, if all you do is freelance projects for clients, you might miss out on a lot of opportunities. One thing about the internet is that it’s really hard to predict what will be successful and what won’t.
However, I still think you should try and branch out every once in a while. It could be an eBook, a template, an icon set.. You’ll never know until you try. Even if you don’t make money out of it, at least you will have made something cool I guess that’s the lesson.
Are you planning to write more e-books in the future? Why or why not?
Yes, I am.
You know, since the first one worked so well, I should at least try to capitalize on it. I will probably write on the same general topic of design basics for aspiring web designers. Even if the second e-book won’t work as well as the first one, it will still be an additional stream of income.
Also, having several products gives you more opportunities, since you can sell them in bundles, you can offer one for free as an opt-in bonus, etc.
Last, but not least, what would you advise to fellow web designers who want to create a stream of passive income for themselves by writing and selling their own e-books?
I would say, don’t do it because I don’t want more competitors!
..but seriously, I would say go for it. You don’t need to spend years writing your first eBook, even a couple weeks can be enough to write something short and sweet.
My only advice would be to try and find a niche instead of writing about general design principles. Having a niche means that your product will stand out more, and you’ll also have a built-in audience.
A good example is http://www.typographyforlawyers.com/
Thank you so much, Sacha!
In a nutshell:
- Having an audience (no matter how small) helps a lot when it comes to selling your own products.
- It’s not the traffic itself that brings a lot of sales, it’s an ability to reach your target audience, whether it would be through your website, through other websites or through social media.
- You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money when creating your first e-book. Sacha’s story is a good example that you can get it ready in as little as two weeks and still make a lot of sales. It still has to be valuable, though.
- You don’t need to go overboard with design (especially keeping in mind that Kindle strips away all the design), as long as your e-book looks nice and is easy to read, you’ll be fine.
- There are a different pricing strategies that work for different products and help people achieve different goals. It’s good to learn about them (even though various pricing strategies might be completely opposite) and then decide for yourself what works in your particular situation.
- Landing pages are important, because this is what people will judge your e-book on, so make sure that you craft a really good one. It’s good to learn a little bit about copywriting if you want to make more sales. However, the general principle is to think from a customer’s perspective, address their concerns and offer the solutions to their problems. As long as you do that, you’ll be fine.
- You have to know your target audience very well if you want to promote the e-book effectively. One of the reasons for Sacha’s success was that he wrote an e-book knowing who he’s writing it for and then promoted it to his target audience. A good product might flop if you try to sell it to the wrong people.
- You have to know that sales will slow down eventually. Once that happens, it’s a sign that it’s time to expand and tap into new audiences. A good way to do that is to sell your e-book on Amazon, on sites like AppSumo, and build a network of individual affiliates.
- Writing and selling your own e-book is a great way to build streams of passive income, but don’t expect them to magically make you rich, because it’s still a lot of work.
- Having a source of passive income is very beneficial for freelancers, because it provides you with financial security and make you less reliant on client work, as well as allows you more flexibility when it comes to vacations or days off, since this stream of income doesn’t stop showing up when you stop working.
What did you learn from this interview? Share in the comments!