Lessons I Learned From Writing Love & Sequins, Or, How To Create A Digital Product That Earns You Squillions!

Love & Sequins!Photo by David McNeil.

Love & Sequins is a book I wrote over the period of a year, around 2009/2010. The idea behind it was that I wanted to write a book, but couldn’t figure out how to make the time to do it when I was also updating my blog every day. My solution was to write 12 chapters in total — one chapter a month — & release it piece by piece. Love & Sequins was also my first ever digital product.

When I came up with the idea to start writing & selling Love & Sequins, I was terrified. I had absolutely no idea if I could churn out 10,000 words a month in addition to everything else I was doing. I didn’t know if people would be interested, or think my writing was worth paying for.

My fears were unfounded. While I had a few people say it was too expensive, the support & enthusiasm for the project was overwhelming. I sold thousands of chapters of my Love & Sequins book, & continue to sell them every day. It is the BEST thing I have ever done for my business & income.

At The Blogcademy this past weekend, I stressed the importance of bloggers diversifying their income, & also my belief that everyone who has an online presence needs to offer a digital product of some kind. The truth of the matter is that if you have readers, many of them would be thrilled to give you money if they could get more of you in exchange!

So, with that in mind, here are some things I learned as I created my first ever digital product. As Danielle LaPorte says, “Launch & learn!” Oh baby, did I ever! The experience was completely loaded with technical difficulties, email insanity & somewhat mind-crushing self-imposed deadlines. But it’s all part of the fun!

Here are some of the biggest lessons I learned…

Give people financial choices!

When I launched Love & Sequins, I gave people a few options. Readers could choose to…
Pick & choose the chapters they wanted: $12 each
Subscribe month to month: $10 per month
Subscribe for the full year: $84 up front ($7/chapter)

Of course, now that I’m not releasing chapters every month, the subscriber option has disappeared. Instead, people can buy a chapter at a time for $12, or the whole she-bang for $84.

I was really pleased with the way this worked out. While the vast majority of people liked to pick & choose with the $12 option, there were huge quantities of subscribers.

However… The month-to-month subscriptions started to cause problems. People would sign up & pay $10 for their first month, I would send out however many chapters had already been released, & then they would cancel their subscription. Sneaky! Not cool. I know who you are! This was a totally flawed system & really didn’t work. It didn’t even make financial sense!

So, learn from my mistake. If you’re going to offer a rolling subscription, make sure it is fair to all your other customers — &, of course, you!

Come up with some kind of sale system!

This sounds so obvious, but somehow I managed to overlook it. Ugh! I was so eager to get the product out once I had completed the first chapter that I completely forgot to implement any kind of system which would make it easy to send out podcasts. (I also didn’t think there would ever be so many sales that it took me more than a few minutes!)

What does this mean? For the first 7 months, I sent the podcast out manually. INDIVIDUALLY. Every order that came in, I responded to personally, attaching PDFs & linking to MP3s. Madness! MADNESS. It’s a wonder I didn’t go off the deep end. Sometimes this took me an entire day. It was awful!

The system was never really perfect. When I completed Love & Sequins #10, I tried sending it out to my subscribers, only to get an error in Gmail saying that my “mail sending limit” had been reached, & that I wouldn’t be able to send any more for another 24 hours. Ugh!

After that, I switched all my Love & Sequins subscribers over to Aweber, a mailing list system I’ve been using since 2007. That way, when I completed a chapter, I could email all the subscribers at once with the information they needed. It wasn’t been foolproof, though — some people didn’t respond to the email asking them to confirm their subscription, & so when I sent out podcasts, they wouldn’t receive them.

The lesson? Add all of those people into a mailing list as soon as they sign on as a subscriber.

These days, all my chapters are loaded into a shopping cart system called E-Junkie, which is super easy to use, & quite genius. I really should have been using it from the beginning.

Be sure to create a system which works for you, preferably even before you announce you have a product! Whether you keep a list of subscribers in Google Documents or print out every Paypal invoice, & whether you do massive BCCs or use a mailing list, just have a system in place. Otherwise you are entering a world of pain, my friend!

Set yourself targets that don’t keep you awake at night…

When I announced the Love & Sequins series, I was gung-ho. “10,000 words a month! EVERY month!”

Unfortunately, I was so enthusiastic I didn’t really think it through. Stringing together 10,000 words takes a lot of time, & though having a monthly deadline certainly keep me on task, it was also a kind of self-imposed tyranny.

Every month, I would trot to the coffee shop & spend days there, guzzling lattes & wracking my brains. Yes, I suppose it taught me some kind of discipline, but it was also extremely hard work. I would suggest going easy on yourself!

Realise that people like different forms of information!

Initially, Love & Sequins was going to be text only, but as I spoke to one of my friends about it, he encouraged me to read it aloud, record it, & make the MP3 an additional extra.

I’m so glad he did — & that I listened! Even though I can’t stand listening to myself read something aloud, other people do not feel the same way! In fact, a massive proportion of my subscribers only listen to the MP3, & never even look at the text!

I find this really surprising, because I am such a bookworm & I figured all my readers would be too. This is the internet, after all. But no! It turns out that people love to listen to my chapters while they commute to work, while they’re cleaning their house or falling asleep. I’ve had huge amounts of people email me telling me they listen to my MP3s on repeat!

Remember: just because you like to receive information in one way, that doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same! Offer people options: text, MP3s, videos, etc. There are so many possibilities, don’t just work in one medium!

Stand behind your pricing!

No matter how you price your product, there are always going to be some people who think it is too expensive — even if your book was 1 cent, a percentage of the population would be furious about it! Don’t take this stuff to heart. It is just part of life.

When I first launched it, some people couldn’t understand the pricing. One girl pointed out that magazines were less expensive than a single podcast, & yes, she was right. The difference? Magazines are supported by advertising; my podcast was not. Magazines make all their money from the people who pay big bucks to advertise in their glossy pages, not from their subscribers. The money that comes in from their subscribers is but a drop in the pond, & more useful to them by way of being able to say, “We have x thousand subscribers” — which of course helps them net those advertising dollars!

I didn’t put any advertising in Love & Sequins, & I’m glad. It was just writing, writing without an agenda, pure & simple, direct to the reader. It was unadultered & real.

When customers question you about your pricing, you shouldn’t feel inclined to explain why your podcast is priced the way it is. It is priced the way it is priced for a reason. You don’t need everyone to be your customer, & there are always going to be people who don’t think they should pay for anything! You don’t want those people as your customers, trust me.

I put a lot of work into my podcasts & think they’re worth the money. Based on the number of people who buy more than one, clearly they agree with me! Like I said, stand behind your pricing, & don’t doubt your value.

If you’re going to do it, do it properly!

If you’re going to charge money for something, it should be as good as you can possibly make it. You’re not just scribbling a blog post, which people can skip over if they think it’s not up to scratch.

This is something people are paying for — & no matter what your financial situation, you need to be aware that for a lot of people, $12 (or whatever it costs) is a lot of money. It’s a stretch. It’s a risk. Be sure you deliver!

Write a really sexy sales pitch!

I love writing a good pitch. I find it sexy & satisfying. I love the sizzle! I adore creating a little view into what I’ve created — a view which tantalises & excites the reader into wanting more.

Don’t be embarrassed to talk up your product or service. If you’re not excited about what you’re selling, how can you expect anyone else to be?!

I can write a sexy pitch because I LOVE my product. If I wasn’t the person writing it, I’d totally want to buy it! If I didn’t feel so good about what I was selling, I think I’d be embarrassed & want to hide in a corner. I wouldn’t want to tell anyone. If you’re not stoked on your product, SCRAP IT! Start again. Life is too short to be mediocre. Do it again & this time, make it AMAZING.

Then when you come to write a sales pitch for it, you’ll find it much easier — & more fulfilling.

Advertise your product prominently!

When my father suggested I add a banner for Love & Sequins to the sidebar of my blog, I didn’t think it would make much of a difference. Let’s just say, I was drastically wrong!

We often think of our readers as the same group of people we’ve had since the start. Sure, if you’re lucky, you will have retained some of those people who have been with you since the beginning. But the truth of the matter is that your website is attracting new people ALL THE TIME who have NO idea who you are, what you do, or what makes you better than anyone else! Make sure your offerings are obvious & easy to buy!

While YOU are always aware of what you have for sale or on offer, other people are not! If you don’t make it clear & obvious & easy for them, they will completely miss it. So often we don’t see what is right in front of us — make sure that doesn’t happen to your readers.

Your blog audience are potentially customers of yours. Think of your website as being like an actual, physical shop. Would you put the best things for sale in a back corner, hidden away on the very top of a shelf? No! You would put them front & centre (& hopefully in a way that is not too obnoxious)! So do that on your website, too!

Don’t be shy about who you are or what you’re great at. Like I keep saying, you have to be your own cheerleader, your own P.R. agent, your own pushy stage mother!

Offer amazing customer service!

As wonderfully convenient as it would be for the transaction to end as soon as you’ve sent out your product, it is not that simple. Every day I receive emails from people asking me to re-send a chapter they’ve lost or to ask for help downloading an MP3.

I answer all these emails myself. I answer emails on the weekend, too, because it doesn’t matter that it’s the weekend. My customers have coughed up the money for me, so the least I can do is help them when they need it.

Be good. Be helpful. Think about how you would want someone to respond to you if you had a problem with a product. I have offered to refund half the cost of a podcast when someone had a computer problem, emailed past customers offering them discounts, held sales & competitions to give away subscriptions. It’s all part of being thoughtful.

I really really really want people to be thrilled & delighted by Love & Sequins! Even if the product is great, if I am unresponsive, rude or unhelpful, it really puts a damper on the whole experience. That is the last thing I want!

Like I said, the process doesn’t end when you send out a chapter. It’s really only the beginning! Selling a digital product is an ongoing process: be sure to commit to it.

In conclusion…

I strongly believe that artists — whether illustrators, graphic designers, writers or photographers — deserve to earn a living for what they do. ART HAS VALUE. Don’t ever think that you’re destined to be a “starving artist” just because society has convinced you that is the only way.

It’s becoming clearer & clearer to me that creating & selling products of all kinds is the way of the future for bloggers. Those who don’t are missing out on an enormous opportunity. In my opinion, the best thing is that your creations can be as sexy, crazy, & wonderful as you like. Just make something your readers will love!

So, would you consider creating a digital product & offering it to your readers? Do you have any questions about the process? Let’s chat about it over on my Facebook page!

Love (& sequins!),