Work Smarter, Not Harder

by Marg McAlister


OK. Everybody stand up! Now... let's see a show of hands. Who would rather earn a living as a writer than doing anything else? Hmmm. Lotta hands there. We'll break it down a bit further.

Now... sit down all those who want to make a living just through writing fiction. (Stop protesting. I know J.K. Rowling is earning megabucks! So is Noreen Roberts. And I know Paul Jennings is doing OK too. But... the odds are against you. So sit down... and listen.)

That leaves us with fiction writers who don't mind writing non-fiction too, eh? Right. Sit down all those who are including ghostwriting, job applications and resumes, short stories, biographies, articles, screenwriting, copywriting, or editing and proofreading. (What? More yelps of indignation?)

Sure, you can earn money doing those things. You can even earn good money. It's all pretty labour-intensive, but you can do it. Do we have anybody left? Maybe someone who's writing a cookbook or a new diet book, and has a good enough 'hook' to enter these competitive markets? Or maybe something I haven't thought of.

By now, you're probably wondering where I'm going with this. I've been busily cutting you off at the knees in regard to one form of writing after another. Why? Aren't the things I've waved away perfectly legitimate ways for writers to bring in an income? Yes, they are... but the focus of this article is earning a living from writing by working smarter, not harder. And while you should certainly take into account the type of writing you enjoy, we're going to focus on the 'working smarter' part - and in particular, on one new strategy that even non-writers are embracing in a big way.

A Scenario for You...

Let's assume that you are good with words. Even if you have not yet been published, you're one of those people who always enjoyed writing. School essays... letters... community newspapers... short stories. Your teachers might have told you that you 'should be a writer'. You agree. You'd love to earn a living by using your writing skills.

But... it all seems so hard. You've got rejection after rejection. You can't interest an agent in your work. You've spent hours writing your novel/short stories/articles and you're getting nowhere. Your dream of earning a living from home and having spare time to spend with your family seems to be drifting further and further away.

Or... maybe you're actually earning a living as a writer, but it's incredibly labour intensive. You spend hours on writing other people's resumes, or copywriting, or ghosting other people's books and articles... or you've done so much work as a proofreader that you think you'll scream if you see another poorly written paragraph.

So what's the solution?

OK. Let's imagine that someone told you about a subject that was 'hot'. Lots of people are eager to find out more information on this topic. They're actually looking for a book on the subject. Assuming that you don't hate the subject matter, would you be prepared to research it? Would you be happy to write the book, knowing you had a hungry market? Would you be prepared to move away from traditional methods of publishing? Would you be prepared to learn a few new skills to complement your writing ability? Yes? Then here's how you can do it.

First, if you're reading this then I assume you have a nodding acquaintance with computers and the Internet. If you have that much knowledge to start with, you can build on it to make an income on the Internet.

Second, while there is a learning curve involved with everything, what you see below are the basic steps to creating and selling an ebook that people want. I'm not saying you will be able to do this overnight. You'll need to spend some time (and probably some money) making sure you are familiar and comfortable with each step. But... you're a writer. You're used to finding out what you need to do in order to build your skills and market your work. This is just another system - and one that might greatly appeal to you! These are the key elements.

The "Work Smarter, Not Harder" System for Writers

1. Do research to find out what people are searching for on the Net.

Think about it. How often have you fired up Google to search for information? Financial advice... pet care... tips on your favourite hobby... home decorating... holiday destinations... research for a novel. What search terms do you type in? Probably things like "home budgets" or "teach a dog tricks" or "how to pave a courtyard". Millions of people every day are trawling the net looking for advice like this. A large percentage of them find what they want in an e-book. They read the contents list, they pay for it and download it.

Yes, they might be able to find the same content in a 'real' book. But the computer is there. Right in front of them. And they want to know now. There's a good reason that e-books and e-book readers are so popular these days! It's easier to pay on the spot and have the information they want immediately.

"But," you say, "Rather than pay for it... why wouldn't they just keep looking for free advice on different websites?" Well, they probably do. But in the end, if they can find the information they want in one compact ebook, they'd rather hand over $9.95 or $23 or whatever and print it out. It's so much easier than spending 2 hours bouncing from one web site to another and printing out a page here and a page there.

There's another factor in successfully persuading people to buy your ebook, of course. It's the quality of the copywriting on your web page. But we'll come to that.

First, let's address the question in many people's minds... how do you know what people are searching for? There are standard tools for doing that. Some of them you'll have to pay for; some you won't. For example, if you go to you'll find a handy tool to tell you how many times in the past month people have searched for any word/phrase you nominate. It will also give you related search terms.

2. Create a Product That Gives People What They Want

Once you know what people want, you can start thinking about how to give it to them. Do they want to know ten easy tricks to teach their family dog? Do they want to know how to juggle? Do they want to know how to plan a fairytale wedding on a budget? Ebooks have been created on these subjects and thousands more. If you have an interest in a subject, of course that makes it much easier.

Melinda Barton, for example, yearned to be a wedding planner. With young children and the need to bring in an income, she wasn't able to realise that dream... but she did put her knowledge and expertise into an ebook on the subject, and that ebook is now selling steadily. How steadily? It brings her in between $2,000 and $3,000 each month - in American dollars. Not every ebook author generates this amount of money each month. Some earn much more. Some earn much less. And some authors of multiple titles have found that one ebook might earn good money, while another brings in a small trickle... but it still adds up over time.

You'll find that there are already people out there actively looking for the expertise that you have locked up in your brain. That's great! Not only do you have people waiting for your ebook - you'll have a ball writing it. BUT - you don't have to write only about what you know. If you're a good researcher, you can find out pretty much anything on the Internet. Here's another thought for you. You're a writer, so you could probably research and write your own ebook. But many, many people are hiring freelancers to write their ebooks. If you don't know a lot about a subject, you could try submitting your project to a freelance site and asking for writers with a specific interest or background in your subject to respond. It might be well worth it to you to get someone else to do a rough draft for you, and then tweak and polish it yourself.

The flipside of this is that you could offer your services as a freelancer. That's a way to earn some income... but aren't we talking about working smarter, not harder? Do you want to earn an income on a piece-by-piece basis - probably at a fairly low rate - for years? Or would you prefer to learn a method that will bring you a passive income flow for months or years to come? I thought so. So let's push on.

3. Create a Web Page to Sell Your Ebook

I'm willing to bet that a whole bunch of people reading this just heaved a disappointed sigh and muttered, "That's me out, then. It's too hard to put up a website." Don't let the need to create a web page put you off. Yes, there is a learning curve to figuring out how to put up a web page. BUT... mastering this will repay you many times over - and it may be a lot easier than you think.

For example, for a few years I wrote my Writing4Success tipsheet in the Composer that came free with Mozilla web browser. I'm a great fan of Mozilla (Firefox): I like the tabbed web browser; I like the mail program; I liked the Composer they provide to create web pages. (Now I use XSitePro for my tipsheets and my website - there are plenty of options.)

The Words On Your Web Page

As a writer, you have an advantage over many others who want to start a business on the Internet. You like working with words. You like playing with them to get just the effect you want. So... you're well set not only to write an ebook, but to write the copy on the web page that will help to sell your ebook. Copywriting is persuasive writing. You have an outcome in mind. If you check out the copy on well-crafted web sites, you'll see that it is guiding you towards doing something:

  • buying an ebook or software
  • signing up for a newsletter
  • joining a private membership site
  • attending a seminar or workshop

To encourage people to buy the ebook that you have created, you need to choose your words carefully. Focus on the benefits that people will enjoy if they buy your book.

Will they dazzle their friends with clever card tricks? Will they discover a painless way to budget and save an extra $50 a week? Will they be able to have a fairytale wedding for thousands of dollars less than they expected?

One of the easiest ways to learn copywriting techniques is to study other pages that work well. When you find a website that makes you want to go ahead and try or buy the product, print it out. Put it in your 'swipe' file. (All good copywriters have a 'swipe' file - it's filled with examples of copy written by other people. Why re-invent the wheel?)

In addition, you'll find a swag of information on the Internet. Just try typing 'copywriting advice' into a search engine and see what comes up! And of course, you can buy e-books on copywriting. You're sure to see those as you surf the Net!

4. Make it Easy for People to Pay for Your Ebook

Your ebook needs to be instantly available. To make this possible, you have to give people a convenient way to pay for it. You can set up a shopping cart and a merchant facility (Bankcard, Mastercard and Visa) through a facility such as Eway, an Australian gateway that allows real-time (instant) processing of your orders. However, most people find that it's easier to start out using PayPal or Clickbank. To find out more about using these various options, go to:


5. Post Your Web Page (Your "Sales" Page) to the Internet

Once you have:

  • researched your market
  • created your ebook
  • created your web page and written the copy, and
  • signed up for payment options

then it's time to upload your site and your ebook to the Internet.

To do this, you need to (a) register a domain name; (b) find a web host and (c) decide on a program to 'FTP' (transfer) your page to the web.

Ideally, your domain name should reflect the name of your ebook's subject matter. For example, if people are searching for 'teach your dog tricks', then a good website name might be ''. (I'm sure that site is probably taken... if so, think of others that are similar: ""; "" and so on.) An excellent resource for brainstorming domain names is

A web host: I don't like to recommend any one web host (good ones have come and gone) so it's best you do this research yourself. There are plenty out there. Try typing 'web hosting Australia' or 'web hosting America' into Google. Compare prices and features.

An FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program: This is simply a means of transferring your web page(s) from your computer to the Internet. I use WS_FTP Pro to transfer my website files. This is an excellent program and used by many people. Cute FTP is another popular program. You can find FTP programs at these websites:


6. Get Traffic to Your Website

The final thing you need to do - and a very important thing, as you can imagine - is to attract traffic to your website. It's all very well having an ebook on a topic that people are searching for - but how do they find their way to your website? This is really the key element. (And you were thinking that creating your ebook was the important thing! :-))

It's worth spending time finding out just how traffic is attracted to various sites on the Internet. What you read here will be helpful - but do spend some time reading about traffic generation. (Yep, fire up Google again and get ready to type in "traffic to websites"!) It would be nice to put your website up and have people rush to your door, credit card in hand - but it doesn't work that way. Your site won't automatically pop up at No. #1 in Google - not for a while, anyway. You have to be proactive in attracting traffic. And an excellent way to do that is to use Google Adwords.

You simply write a small ad (just like the ones you see on the right of the search engine results pages). If people are interested in what the ad says, they click on it - and are taken straight through to your site. The trick is to word the ad in such a way that you attract just the people you want. Will it be expensive? Not as much as you might think. You want only people who are prepared to pay, say, $25 for an ebook, right? So in the ad you might put something like: "15 New Dog Tricks + free dog training report $25 ebook." (This is just a quick example, but you get the idea - let people know what they'll be paying, and that deters those who are hunting only for free information. As an advertiser, you will pay only for the 'clicks'. There's more information on the Google Adwords site.)

Find out more about Google Adwords here:  

This has been a very brief overview of an opportunity for writers to earn a passive income from the Internet. Like all opportunities, it works best if you do 'due diligence' on the likely success of your topic. The focus of this article is on giving people what they want - which is the surest way to earning money from your efforts!

© Marg McAlister


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