How to Write an eBook Single Nonfiction Best-Seller

eBook single

If you’re a journalist or an author who enjoys writing nonfiction stories, the eBook single represents a new revenue stream for you. In some cases, authors can net more than $100,000* for a 60-page effort.

Of course, the big money is in fiction ($250,000 and up for a short piece if it gains widespread popularity) but you’ve got to be a big name author to crack that list 99% of the time. And if you’ve pulling in that type of money, you don’t need to listen to me. You’re doing just fine.

For months I tracked the Kindle Single nonfiction and fiction best-seller lists, and by studying the movement of books landing on the list, there are some clear lessons I’ve learned. So before you decide to sit down and write your way into a new tax status, pay attention to the advice below. This is not surefire advice, but if you want to improve your odds of cracking the Top 10 titles in the nonfiction eBook single category, your book should have one of the following characteristics.

Be topical

This is a critical element and it often distinguishes eBook singles from long-form books. eBook singles can be published mere weeks after big news happens. None other than Stephen King came out with an eBook single, “Guns,” a month after the tragic shootings in Newton.

Writers have to think like a newspaper or magazine editor and play to stories of immediate topical interest. One of 2013’s most successful eBook nonfiction singles has been Lincoln’s Little Girl, a slight look inside the Lincoln White House. However, it was pegged to the theatrical release of the Spielberg film, and it benefitted by the film’s Oscar nominations and DVD release. Another popular title, The Rolling Stones Discover America, was timed to the band’s 50th anniversary. Other topical best-sellers include The Battle of $9.99, Always Right and To Have and Uphold.

Be personal

Let’s face it. Reporting is hard work and takes time. It’s much easier to mine one’s own experience and turn it into art.  It’s also more rewarding. These types of nonfiction eBook singles have performed well, especially is they are dark or personally embarrassing. I sometimes call it the Literature of Personal Shame.

Among the year’s best-sellers in this category: Falling: The Story of a Marriage, Drinking My Way Through 14 Dating Websites, The Long Run and Mara Altman’s That’s What She Said. Altman also had a big hit last with The Bearded Lady, a funny book about her body and facial hair. The Brooklyn-based publisher The Thought Catalog is especially skillful at bringing these types of eBook singles to market written by and aimed at knowing 20-somethings.

Be funny

Comedy is hard. But if you’re funny, there’s some serious money in the eBook single market. Plus, the length is ideal: who can be funny for 250 pages? Among this year’s best selling, humorous eBook singles: Andy Borowitz’s An Unexpected Twist (published almost two years ago and also very personal), The Onion’s Joe Biden parody The President of Vice, Fred Stoller’s My Seinfeld Year (published 18 months ago and still cracking the best-seller list), and Brian Donovan’s Not a Match (also very personal; about his online dating disasters).

Be a sleuth

True crime sells. Want proof? The Yoga Store Murders has been the best-selling nonfiction Kindle Single for more than a month. Before that, Doug Preston’s Trial by Fury: Internet Fury and the Amanda Knox Case perched on top of the nonfiction Kindle Single list for most of the spring. Josh Hammer’s The Honeymoon Killers also made the best-seller list this year. The downside: these types of eBook singles require extensive reporting.

Be social

Make sure your Twitter handle is easy to find. Put it on your email signature. Have it prominently displayed on your business card and website (and if you don’t have one, start building one today). I can’t draw a straight line proving that this will drive sales, but it’s an important marketing tool and it enables conversation with your audience.

So those are my general tips. Some big eBook single nonfiction best-sellers simply defy easy explanation for why they succeeded —  except that they were damn good reads. Kevin Jackson’s Mayflower: The Voyage from Hell and Victor Gregg’s Dresden: A Survivor’s Tale were on the best seller lists for months this year.

And of course, don’t forget to apply to Amazon to become a Kindle Single. Not being selected as a Kindle Single will severely impact your ability to sell a lot of books. The Kindle Single store is by far the world’s most important digital real estate for authors writing nonfiction eBook singles. But there are other options like iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Google Play and Kobo. And of course, working with a company like Bookbaby is also critical to your commercial success. They have the 360-degree know-how, experience and insights to help ensure that your extremely well written, clever, timely and Twitter-friendly eBook single won’t turn into a ghost story and vanish into thin air.


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  1. Howard, thank you for this write-up. I have a question hopefully you can help with. I’m writing s short book (maybe 100 pages) and it is to go along with my music album (I release music through CD Baby). The album is Heavy Metal Workout II (2nd in a series of instrumental metal workout music) and my book is Heavy Metal Workout: My Story of Metal and Weights (will be how I got started with both passions, how I combined the two, and there will be a workout guide at the end).

    I guess my main question is should I aim to release these at the same time? Or should I release the book a few months after the album is released? Secondly, do you have any tips on marketing both products and getting the book to show up in Amazon together with the music album? Hopefully that makes sense.

  2. Thanks Howard, for such a insightful article. I am working on a book in self help domain. Your article has been pretty useful. Keep sharing good work.


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