A Lucrative Income in the e-Book Business

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on April 29, 2020 in Make Money

Back in 1996, my family and I were evicted from our home…in 1997, I made so little money that we qualified well below the U.S. poverty line. If you had told me back then that I’d be where I am today, I would have called you crazy.

But by tapping into the world’s booming e-book industry, I’ve been able to travel the world and enjoy a luxury lifestyle I could have only dreamed of before. There have been times when I pulled in $5,000 a day—all with e-books.

And you don’t need to be a Hemingway or J.K. Rowling to earn this way. In my college days, I got an F in English. But today, I’ve authored 14 books, most of which have been Amazon bestsellers. In fact, you don’t even have to write anything at all to make money in this business.

In addition to my own books, I’ve published almost 50 books written by others. Some were books I took from the public domain.

Some were written by ghostwriters. And a few were licensed from authors who already had a print book and allowed me to convert it to an e-book format.

That’s not to say that my books are literary masterpieces. They’re not. They’re just good at doing what they were designed to do, providing information—what I call “how to” solutions—to people who have problems of one kind or another.

I didn’t start out to earn a living from e-books. I was just looking for a way to get back to zero after a disastrous few years. But with the techniques below I made my fortune.

License Existing Books

When I started out in this business, I didn’t have the time to write a book…nor did I have the money to pay someone else to ghostwrite it for me.

One of the fastest and easiest ways to start making money with e-books is to find a book that’s already been published as a print book and license it to publish online.

As the publisher, you get the lion’s share of the money, paying the author the standard 8% to 15% royalties based on your net sales. Or you can pay a one-time payment for the rights to publish online. I once bought the rights to a book for $200, simply because I liked the content. Over the years, I’ve made over $50,000 selling it as an e-book.

Many older books were published before e-books even existed, so the publisher never purchased the “e-rights” from the author. Those authors are prime candidates for licensing, as are authors who self-published their print books and don’t yet have an e-book version. It’s usually because they don’t understand how simple it is to convert a print book to e-book (or they’ve got bigger priorities in their lives).

The first book I licensed in this way, Attitude is Everything, had sold more than 75,000 print copies—so there was no question that there was a demand for the information.

The author, Jeff Keller, who later became a good friend of mine, was happy for me to do the book conversion and send him a royalty check every month. And I got a pretty good deal out of it too. Attitude is Everything turned out to be my number-one-earning e-book for several years.

Lately, the access to potentially licensable works has been made easier by the appearance of websites like iprlicense.com, where the rights for a wide range of books worldwide are available.

Imagine the number of books that have been published in foreign languages but have never made it to English. You could buy the rights to those books, have them translated online for a fee, and sell them on Amazon.

You’ll even find prospects in your own library. I once found a compelling self-help book. But when I went searching for it in an e-book format I couldn’t find one. So, I sent an email to the author (her email address was in the book) outlining what I wanted to do. She responded positively and we earned thousands of dollars a year during the term of our agreement.

The actual book-conversion process is not only easy, it’s so inexpensive to outsource that you really needn’t do it yourself. There are freelance websites, such as Fiverr.com, where you can have your book converted for as little as $5. Then I create a new cover for the online version of the book, which can also be outsourced.

Public Domain

Another deep well of books for you to publish are those in the public domain. These works are no longer subject to copyright protection.

The copyright has expired, either because of age or because it wasn’t renewed. That means the work is available for anyone to use…including you.

I found a database of tens of thousands of public domain books, Gutenberg.org, and was overjoyed to find many of my favorite personal-development books up there. Books like Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich and James Allen’s As A Man Thinketh were in the public domain, free for anyone to publish.

There are a couple of techniques you can use to turn these public domain books into money-makers. It can be as simple as taking a public domain book, creating a digital version, and offering it for sale on your own site or on one of the big retailers like Amazon. I did this myself and found success with books by classic self-help authors Vernon Howard, Robert Collier, and Claude Bristol.

Or you can take a classic story, like Cinderella or Peter Pan, adapt it in your own words and publish it as a new work. This way you’ll not just publish the book but you’ll also be able to copyright and have sole access to the rights. Disney has been doing this for years and made billions.


I’ve had a lot of success with self-help books—both those taken from the public domain and new books that I’ve commissioned myself. Having your books ghostwritten will mean a one-time payment to a ghostwriter but after that, it’s all profit.

The key talent with this technique is picking a topic that’s in demand. I’ve published books on divorce, obesity, buying a home, heartburn, and more. I knew little, if anything, about most of these topics. But I could put myself in the position of someone who needed information on the topic.

I hired ghostwriters to write these books for me, using a pseudonym as the author. Most of them were affordable to produce. A book that earns modest royalties can pay for itself inside of six months. And all your future earnings go straight in the bank.

A few years ago, I noticed a certain heartburn product was being advertised heavily on TV. I don’t watch that much TV. But every time I did, I’d see their ad over and over again. I quickly realized they must have been spending millions advertising their product. That they were willing to spend so much money on advertising told me there was a demand for heartburn and acid reflux remedies.

A quick search on Amazon revealed there was a deficit of books that showed folks how to treat heartburn and acid reflux naturally. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a simple e-book, with natural remedies for heartburn and acid reflux, could be a lucrative money spinner.

In just a few hours, with a little surfing on the web, I came up with a rough outline for the book. I included that outline in my specifications to the ghostwriter and they did the rest.

In just 30 days from conception, I had uploaded an e-book version of the finished product. And within a few weeks of that, it had rocketed to the top of the category at Amazon. In 90 days, I had recouped my investment, including the fee for the ghostwriter. It’s been in profit ever since.

The best thing about these types of books is that they’re “evergreen.” In other words, the information will be just as relevant 20 years from now as it is today. Heartburn, for instance, is likely to be around for as long humans inhabit the earth. That allows you to collect royalties for years into the future, creating one of the most satisfying passive income streams I’ve ever experienced.

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Written by Vic Johnson