Monday, February 23, 2015

How to Publish Public Domain Books and Profit Nearly Forever - Part 2

(continued from Part 1)

The How-To Tips of Publishing PD and PLR to Profit From Here On Out

The How To Tips of Publishing PD and PLR to Profit From Here On Out
(Photo: Simon Cunningham)

Sorry I didn't give you exact steps last time. (Of course, you can get this from my books, "Just Publish!" [ebook] and "Publish. Profit. Independence." [ebook | tradepaperback])

Here's the simple logic of it... 

The strategy:
  • Build a big backbench of titles, 
  • Publish these to as many eyeballs as possible. 
  • Encourage search engines hock your books for you.
Most authors make their big bucks from creating books for a certain niche in a series. This was the real secret behind (the over-hyped) John Locke and Amanda Hocking, as well as the perennial Stephen King.

These all write to a specific niche and for that particular audience.

You can do the same thing with Public Domain books, even PLR.

The problem with writing original fiction is that it takes a damned long time - like maybe 2 or 3 books a year. So you have to keep your day job meanwhile. Hocking is a hit now in her 20's, but she started in high school. Stephen King only wrote weekends until he could get enough books selling so that he could go full time. (Years and years.) Locke took about 7 years, and profited from loopholes in Amazon's system at the time (you can't even use his cheat-system anymore.)

The other point, particularly in non-fiction, is that there are a lot of great books out there which are poorly marketing and mostly out of print. Where these fall in to the public domain, where they are picked up and re-published, even if the quality is decent, the marketing usually sucks. (Just check out the public domain covers at Amazon for a hint.)

You can take any pre-1923 book and republish it as public domain and profit from any sales from there on out. About 94% of the books published between 1923 and 1964 were never renewed or never registered, so can be sleuthed out (see link) to see if they are public domain.

PLR is similar. No, you can't publish PLR on Amazon. But iTunes, Google Play/Books, Nook, and Kobo will take them as ebooks. And if you publish as hardcopy, they are accepted anywhere.

How to build your PD or PLR publishing empire

Know this, it's both easier and harder than it used to be. I got started by shoving a great deal of works up as a test through Lulu and they ported them to iTunes and Nook for me. They won't do that anymore. You simply have to port them all yourself. Google allows a mass upload, but Kobo is still an individual book-by-book publishing scene.

Using Calibre, you can pretty simply create and edit any ebook. LibreOffice will help convert it to a print version for hardcopies. Lulu will publish just about anything you want to publish, they just won't distribute it. See my two books above (and this blog) to get all the details of it. Calibre improves almost weekly, so it's a great tool that has continual updates.

1. Find your passion, find your niche.

This isn't get rich quick. You are going to be at this for awhile. Publishing is the simple part. And it will pay for the marketing you need to do to leverage your sales into something sustainable.

You have to be fascinated by the subject and interested in finding new things about it, as well as talking to anyone who will listen - and that is really all that marketing is, if you think it through.

So narrow down your passion and find a niche in that passion where people will pay good money to listen to you. Searching on Amazon or Google Shopping is a good start. There's a lot said about too narrow or too broad niches - so study up on this.

2. Get a series of books on the subject which are public domain and/or PLR.

PLR is mostly about Internet Marketing, but there are some great books out there on other topics. Frequently, you'll find a series of articles about a topic. These can be edited into a book (which is where most of the PLR ebooks out there started.) The great value to PLR is that someone has already done the research for you - you just have to re-write it into something useful. Most of PLR has already been published somewhere. I pushed several dozen books up on the main distributors as a test, and they've been selling like most books - a few sell regularly, and some every now and then. None are great hits - but they haven't actually been marketed, either.

Public domain is even easier to find. Start looking at the original publishing date and you can find some great ones. But just because a book has been registered, it doesn't mean the original wasn't already public domain. I found one recently which had it's copyright renewed in 1943, but it's original published date was prior to 1923. 

A point here - make sure you are working with original text. Many public domain books have been edited and additional, newer data has been added. That new data is under copyright, but not the original. (See this discussion at Public Domain Sherpa.)

2a. Make sure they are public domain. 

3. Get a batch of these and convert them into all possible formats.

Told you it wasn't get rich quick. You are going to have to know how to edit, some spelling, and grammar. You're going to have to know how to make great covers, or pay someone to do it. You are going to have to know how to write great copy for the descriptions. (Suggested here is to learn from Eugene Schwartz.)

Note: you want landing pages linked into the ebook versions - even if you don't flesh out those pages right away. People will want to find more books by that author/publisher. You probably want to start a blog or have a website - it's own topic of discussion.

4. Port these books to all possible distributors.

Lulu (get your free isbn's without Amazon discrimination), Google Play/Books, iTunes (needs a MAC), Nook, Kobo. 

5. Additional marketing: 

6. Now, take your best book in this series (the one you can talk the most about) and make it your representative.

  • Discount the price everywhere - not free, but very low. This is your loss-leader.
  • You want to take each chapter and create an ecourse out of it. 
  • Then you set up an opt-in form for an autoresponder (Mail Chimp is free for the first few hundred subscribers) to enable people to give you their email addresses.
  • Blog about all these books in the series so you have landing pages for each book
  • Then set up some hidden pages on your blog/site which have direct links to discount books on Lulu.
  • Promote these special offers to your list as exclusive specials. Note: set these up so you make some money on each one, but they are obvious values.
  • Create videos for each lesson and get these posted on YouTube and Flickr, as well as DailyMotion, etc.

7. For any new book, set up pre-release prices and do proper releases to your mailing list for new books coming out. 

This is the Amazon Instant Bestseller Tactic. If you can get enough people to buy them at a low price, then leave nice reviews, you will rocket your book up Amazon's algorithms and get more sales. If your book is in a particularly narrow niche, you'll rise to their "bestseller" status - but that takes more homework, again - see my earlier books above.

Then if you leave the Amazon link embedded in all your Pinterest, Flickr, and video posts (as well as your blogs) then the returning link-love will also help your standings on Amazon. 

Meanwhile, your Lulu sales, as well as your other distributors' ebook sales will pay for your other marketing expenses. 

8. From there...

  • All your books can have special releases on their own. Each re-release can become an "Amazon bestseller."
  • You can create binders/collections of the books and release them on their own.
  • You can get someone to create an audiobook of your bestseller, and get this on Audible (sold on Amazon)
  • You should create hardcopy versions for each ebook as you go - but the bestselling books should be put out into "Global Distribution" via Lulu, so can be sold everywhere. (You can even get a hardback version created via Lulu - which is even better revenue.)
  • More ecourses.
  • Create digital product versions which can be sold via affiliate sites (such as JVZoo) and iAmplify. Your readers can get paid for promoting your book - and should.
  • Weekly blog posts with audio/video will improve the discovery potential for all these books.
(Note: there may be more money in selling courses based on the book, especially in non-fiction. Check out Udemy.)

9. Then: rinse, repeat.

Once you've done all you can for this niche set of books - and carefully published and marketed any additional books you've now found for this series - then you can do the market research to find a new niche (or related one) and do the above steps on it.

Note: now you have a mailing list, so your work can become even more popular and profitable.

The trick is to work our your own assembly line and market as you go. Stick to a simple batch of books before you start any further ones. Believe me, there's a great deal of satisfaction helping people find a long-dead author's work. But you want to get paid for your efforts. So marketing the books is key - and it's what sets you apart from all the other PD re-publishers.

Why this works - Long Tail Marketing.

Mainly because it's self-supporting. Publishing books and doing the minimal marketing of an attractive cover and enticing description will leverage on the existing brand of any author and their books. Distributing as ebooks to every possible ebook distributor should (depending on how profitable the niche/author is) give you regular income to reward you for your work.

When you use modern online marketing efforts to ensure the search engines know about your books, then you fuel a greater fire under that book - which improves discovery. Up to a few years ago, you couldn't find these books other than in a used-book store. And in many cases, this is still true on Amazon.

By creating ebook versions, you are now introducing a new version so people can see if they like it. Then you also offer the hardcopy version, which most people still prefer.

It's all Long Tail Marketing - meaning there are a lot of people out there for any particular niche. You don't have to have bestsellers all the time, but they are nice. The trick is to give your niche some great value continually. As you add on more and related niches, you build a set of inter-referring web pages and marketing content ("if you liked this book/author/publisher, then you may also like...")

This can leverage you into being able to publish full time - when your book sales approach approximately twice what you make at your day job. (That means it will pay for your monthly bills and Social Security, etc.)

For now, just have fun with this.


  1. I just found this post. Great advice. I do have a question. If we annotate a public domain book, offering new information that aligns with our niche, is that book still considered public domain? Or does the annotation make it a new book?

    Thanks again. I was really happy to find this. I'm just at the beginning of this series. This helped a lot.

  2. The downside of this, aside from it just being gross to profit from another's work, is that there are 44,000 plus "hits" on Amazon right now for the classic "Little Women". People are giving a wonderful book one-star ratings because the dingbats who re-published LW did a really sh--y job. I thought people were just having trouble with the e-book, which is much easier to fix if people will properly report the errors in the "book". But I felt a bit sick after reading hundreds of comments saying "The paper was such crap that the words ran through. I gave it to Goodwill!" (that was sh---y too, but I can only fight one battle for the moment.
    Please - if you must "build an empire" or whatever your personal reason is to publish and sell CLASSICS that are now in the public domain? Please do it right. I don't want people to dismiss all books because some look like they were written by a blind monkey, it's too sad.