Virtual book, real money

E-books don't have the cachet of a New York Times best-seller, but how many writers will turn their noses up at $300,000 a year?

By Paul Sloan, Business 2.0 Magazine editor-at-large

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Jinjee Talifero and her husband hate meat, despise milk, and disapprove of stoves. Cooked food, to them, is poison. And while they aren't the first health nuts to become what are known as raw vegans, they may be among the shrewdest. They've turned their lifestyle into a healthy business, thanks to the power of the e-book.

Talifero, 40, writes and sells titles like "The Garden Diet" and "Raising Raw Vegan Children." She pulled in $120,000 last year and expects to double that in 2007 -- all for working a few hours a day with a subject that is her passion. Says Talifero, who lives in the secluded valley of Ojai, Calif., "I feel grateful."

During the first Internet boom, lots of people predicted that e-books would replace paper books. That obviously hasn't happened, but the Web is filled with authors like Talifero who are making money and attracting readership that most paperbound authors would envy.

Take Aaron Wall, 27, a self-taught expert in the art of search engine optimization, or SEO. He sells his "Seo Book" for $79 and earns about $300,000 a year. He's even rejected an offer to turn "Seo Book" into an old-fashioned print version. "What's the point?" Wall asks.

Dating and dieting are popular topics for e-books, as they are for paper books, but it's often smarter to find an underserved niche. A Google search can tell you if there's a lot of competition in your chosen field. You can also scan the marketplace section of, which shows the best-performing titles.

Talifero didn't plan to become a raw vegan guru. She worked in Internet marketing until the dotcom crash left her unemployed. Then she noticed that traffic to a family website she'd built -- much of it about her food preferences -- was growing. People began e-mailing questions about her diet. When she tried to sign up for a raw vegan retreat, it had sold out months in advance. Clearly there was a market for her expertise.

So Talifero decided to write an e-book. She put together some recipes and transcribed a speech that her husband, Storm, had given at another raw vegan retreat. She charged $5, but sales were slow, so Talifero doubled the price (pricing e-books too low can actually hurt sales) and threw herself into marketing it. She started an e-mail newsletter -- "The Daily Raw Inspiration" -- and posted comments on vegan forums. She pastes a link to her site below her signature wherever she posts. She also frequently updates her website to boost her ranking in Google's search results.

Talifero advertised in a few health magazines but found it a waste of time and money. She doesn't even pay for Web ads; she uses the Internet to tap into the raw vegan community and sell directly. She's now pumped out a dozen e-books, and her newsletter has more than 14,000 subscribers -- helping her earn more than enough to keep raw food on the table.

THE ANGLE: Be your own publisher

1. Find your niche. Popular topics are more competitive.

2. Price your e-book correctly. Too low and sales tend to suffer.

3. Support your e-book with a newsletter or website.

Editor-at-large Paul Sloan covers the ever-changing Internet landscape on his blog, The Key. Additional Reporting By Marie Cannizzaro. Top of page

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