How to Write and Sell Simple  Information for Fun and Profit
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How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit

Your Guide to Writing and Publishing Books, E-Books, Articles, Special Reports, Audios, Videos, Membership Sites, and Other How-To Content

Robert W. Bly

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eBook - ePub

How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit

Your Guide to Writing and Publishing Books, E-Books, Articles, Special Reports, Audios, Videos, Membership Sites, and Other How-To Content

Robert W. Bly

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About This Book

The definitive guide to making real money as a writer—revised and updated for the online media market of the 2020s.

Do you love educating others? Do you want to make money doing it? The world of how-to writing is waiting for you! In How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit, copywriting legend and self-made millionaire Robert W. Bly shares his secrets to how any motivated person can turn simple information into a six-figure income.

Bob Bly spells out how you can find your writing niche; develop ideas for profitable how-to books, e-books, articles, video, audio content and more; research, write and publish effective, practical, how-to instructional materials; repackage content in a dizzying variety of proven-to-sell products; promote and market your work; and earn $100, 000 a year or more.

This revised and updated second edition of How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit adapts Bly's tried-and-true formulas for writing success to the modern online content market, including best practices for monetizing podcasts, YouTube channels, webinars, Facebook groups, social media, software, and more.

You don't have to be the world's greatest writer. You don't have to be the leading guru in your field. But if you have a curious mind and love learning new things, you can be a six-figure success as a how-to writer—and How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit will show you how!

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Welcome to the World of How-To Writing
Popular culture sometimes makes fun of how-to writers as the hacks of the literary world. In a 1980s TV sitcom, Bob Newhart played a New England innkeeper who was also a how-to writer, which the show lampooned as lacking glamour and excitement.
He was a nice but dull guy who wrote books on do-it-yourself home projects. One of his titles was Grouting without Pouting, and he did most of his book signings in the local hardware store. When he autographed his book for a store customer, the man asked, “Can I get one that isn’t scribbled in?”
Instead of mesmerizing millions with the next Harry Potter or creating heartbreaking works of staggering genius, we how-to writers often deal with seemingly mundane topics: how to build a water garden; how to improve your credit rating; how to invest in real estate; how to make money on Instagram or YouTube; how to research your family history; how to barbecue ribs; how to maintain a swimming pool.
Because it is, on the surface, so straightforward and factual, one can argue that how-to writing is the easiest writing specialty to break into. And in some ways, it is; how-to writing provides a quicker, surer entry into publication than most other writing categories for several reasons.
Although still competitive, it is less so than journalistic and literary pursuits. After all, vast hordes dream of writing the Great American Novel, so getting a novel published by a major publishing house can be a challenge. If you’re writing a memoir, your chances of finding a publisher—unless you are a celebrity, have a dramatic story that made national headlines, or have a million social media followers—are slim at best. Children’s books are similarly competitive.
In LA, people from all walks of life—from the gardener clipping your hedges to the attendant parking your car—are working on a screenplay. But the group of writers who dream of writing the Great American Guide to Growing a Greener Lawn is a bit smaller, making the market for how-to nonfiction less difficult to crack.
Yet the money can be considerable. The late Jerry Baker, known as “America’s Master Gardener,” made a fortune as a how-to writer with books and booklets teaching Americans how to grow a greener lawn, beautiful flowers, lush shrubs, and healthful vegetables.
Here’s another factor: To sell a novel or narrative nonfiction work requires a high level of writing skill. But the requirements are somewhat different for how-to nonfiction, where the main virtues are not style but accuracy, practicality, clarity, instruction, and organization. Can you explain something or teach a skill in a clear, organized, and entertaining fashion? If you can, then you can succeed as a how-to writer.
Are your writing credentials thin? It’s true that publishers of how-to nonfiction are more interested in your expertise than your literary flair. But being an expert doesn’t mean knowing more than anybody else in the world about your subject. You don’t have to study for half a century or get a PhD to be qualified to write how-to nonfiction. As best-selling author Samm Sinclair Baker said, “Whatever your lifestyle, you have some special knowledge from living experience that you can impart to others for their profit and your own.”
You do not need to be the leading practitioner, scholar, or expert in your field to write a book about it. My business partner, author and speaker Fred Gleeck, explains that you only need know more about your subject than 90 percent of the people out there. “Don’t worry about the other 10 percent; they’re not your market anyway,” says Fred.
Someone once observed, “Experts don’t necessarily know more than others; it’s just that their information is better organized.” You don’t have to be a great scientist to write a science book for the general public. But you do to need to organize your content in a sensible, logical, easy-to-follow presentation. And when you write or speak about it, your prose must be clear, engaging, and even entertaining.

What if you are not an expert in any subject?

First of all, I doubt that’s really true. Every person has unique skills, training, and experiences. You certainly are an “expert” in your own life and many of the things that make up your life.
For instance, in the early 1980s, I quit my management job in the corporate world to become a freelance writer. I was soon earning six figures a year. So one thing I was an expert in (or at least had experience with and knowledge of) was how to make a lot of money as a freelance writer. I put this experience into a how-to book, Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $100,000 a Year, now in its third edition with Henry Holt & Co.
If you truly feel you have no expertise, go out and acquire some. Take courses. Work in a specific trade or industry you want to write about. When my colleague L. Perry Wilbur wanted to write a book on the mail order business, he started selling products by mail to gain firsthand experience and knowledge of the industry. Another writer I know was hired by an ad agency to write materials for a welding account. He promptly signed up for night classes in welding and became a certified welder.
Opportunities to learn through both reading and active participation are plentiful in most fields. A few years ago, I received a mailing about investing in silver. It interested me, and I thought it might make a good magazine article. What did I do? I called the metals company and bought a few thousand ounces of silver! Now, if I pitch the story to a magazine editor, I can truthfully say in my query letter that I have made a six-figure profit trading precious metals.
Publishers and readers prefer authors who appear to have credentials in the subject they are writing about, but, often, neither the publishers nor the readers investigate authors’ credentials to any significant degree. Therefore, you can write a nonfiction book on a topic even if you possess only what I call “thin credentials.” Thin credentials are qualifications that sound more impressive than they actually are. If you are going to specialize in a particular field or subject, I advise you to obtain some credentials, thin or otherwise, to establish credibility.
Years ago, I had an opportunity to earn a handsome fee writing about information technology (IT), except the client wanted to know my credentials. My degree is in engineering, not computer science. However, anticipating that computers would be a subject I’d someday want to write about, I searched for the easiest computer certification one could earn. It turned out to be a Certified Novell Administrator (CNA), which required me to take only one course and an exam to earn the certification. When the client asked me whether I had any experience in IT, and I replied that I was a trained CNA, I was hired on the spot.

What does a how-to writer do?

A how-to writer is a teacher in print, video, audio, or online. However, instead of teaching in a classroom, the how-to writer does most of his teaching in written format. The school teacher transmits knowledge in a small-group setting (the classroom) over a prolonged period (the school year), giving students personalized instruction. The how-to writer typically reaches a broader audience, on a less individualized level, using various media, although some how-to instructors offer small-group interaction in online classes, coaching, and mastermind groups.
Having experience in your topic is not mandatory, but it does give the writer an edge. It is no accident that some of the most successful writers of nonfiction books for young readers, such as Seymour Simon and Vicky Cobb, both in science, were science teachers before they became authors.
There is a huge market for materials that instruct, inform, or inspire, and the potential for a six-figure or occasionally even seven-figure annual income for authors who can provide that instruction and inspiration is large and proven. Earnings for the typical freelance writer in the U.S. are more modest, averaging a respectable but not spectacular $63,488 a year.
Oscar Wilde said, “There is nothing as depressing as a small but adequate income,” and there are two primary reasons the majority of writers do not get rich from their writing.
The first is failure to specialize. As you no doubt already know and will be made even more acutely aware of in this book, the age of the generalist is vanishing. In every endeavor, from writing to medicine, specialists are more in demand and higher paid than generalists. In health care, for instance, oncologists and cardiac surgeons earn far more than general practitioners.
The second factor that holds writers back from enjoying a high income and the good life that goes with it is that they limit themselves to the traditional freelance writer’s media: magazine articles and nonfiction books.
In today’s electronic age, print represents only a small portion of the spectrum of communication media available to writers. The writers who make the most money often write in many media, not just books and magazine articles. “Any form of writing can change the world,” states Mary Pipher in Writing to Change the World. “Your goal is to find the form that allows you to use every one of your talents in the service of what you consider to be your most important goals. You want to search for what you alone can say and then how you can say it most effectively.”
How-to writing goes far beyond books and articles to multiple formats, media, and distribution channels. Some writers stick to just one medium: They write articles for consumer magazines, or they write a blog. Others write for multiple media, and by doing so they reach a broader audience while selling more of their writing for more money.
Here are just some of the formats in which you can write, publish, distribute, and sell your how-to writings:
College courses
Flash cards
Instruction sheets
Magazine articles
Membership sites
Newspaper articles
Radio shows
Special reports
Syndicated columns
Training classes
TV shows
White papers
When I started my career as a how-to writer and copywriter in the late 1970s, writing essentially meant producing articles and books, and maybe some slide shows or filmstrips.
Thanks to the advent of personal computing, the internet, and social networking, how-to writers have a dizzying array of formats available to them. Today, if I have something to say to my readers, I can write an email and distribute it to my 30,000 online subscribers at the click of a mouse; post it on my blog where literally millions of internet users can access it in an instant; or say it on Twitter or Facebook.
Of course, no one pays for my blog, or my Tweets, or my e-newsletter, which you can subscribe to online for free at Today’s how-to writers publish a mixture of paid and free content. You can make money with both. You can use the free content to sell the paid, and recycle much of the free stuff into products people buy. In this book, I’ll reveal how it’s done.

The state of how-to writing in the digital age

Has the internet helped or hurt the how-to writing profession? Odd as it may seem, it has actually done both.
For writers who make their living with traditional freelance writing—magazine articles and books—the web has made it tougher in many ways. Thanks to the ready accessibility of timely information on the web, newspapers and magazines are on the decline. With fewer advertisers, they publish fewer pages and, as a result, fewer articles. With a few exceptions, writing articles for magazines pays modestly.
Magazines are shrinking their page counts and many are shutting down their print editions and existing only online. In 2020, O magazine discontinued its print edition. Other magazines that have shuttered their print publications and are digital-only include Teen Vogue, Redbook, Glamour, Bride Magazine, Maxim, Self, Jet, and Playboy, just to name a few.
What’s more, the web has spawned a new generation of writers—some professional, others amateur—who happily write articles for websites and e-newsletters for little or no pay. While consumers must pay for print magazines, they can read these thousands of articles online at no cost.
Nonfiction books still sell, although some categories have been diminished by the internet, most notably reference books. In the preinternet era, reference books were the primary repository of information. Today, you can find the content you need online, where much of it is available for free. Reference books were always fun straightforward to write. But far fewer of them are needed today.
On the plus side, the internet gives the nonfiction writer quick and easy access to valuable data and research that can be difficult or impossible to find offline. The web is an online library that never closes! Often, you need to know odd facts and figures when writing, and with the internet, y...

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