How to Make Money on Your Writing While You Sleep
Gary Scott is a millionaire self-publishing expert with a multimillion-dollar publishing empire. He and his wife Merri built their empire from nothing, and now sell reports and newsletters to a clientele that spans 82 countries.
The most enticing part of the very exciting life Gary leads is that once he writes and starts selling his information products, they virtually sell themselves. They are making money for him whether he’s writing, vacationing, sailing … even sleeping.
When we spoke with Gary recently, he revealed some of the secrets of self-publishing – specifically, creating and selling information products. These are special reports, booklets, and guides that you create virtually cost-free. And then you sell them using the same copywriting skills you have right now.
TGT: Let’s start by asking what is the income potential of creating and self-publishing information products?
Gary Scott: In our worst years, Merri and I made $300,000 to $400,000. In our best years, we make millions of dollars. We started with nothing. And we now have five houses here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We own a hotel in Ecuador – a hacienda with 800 acres. We have millions of dollars in the bank. Zero debt. All five of our kids got a great education. No financial concerns. And that’s all because of writing.
Keep in mind that I’ve never had a large customer base for my information products. My biggest readership at any one time is about 22,000 people in 82 countries. That’s compared with publications that have readerships in the hundreds of thousands.
We have a very small, highly defined niche market. Even in that very small market, when you combine the ability to write copy and create your own products, it’s incredibly profitable. When you do that, you keep most of the revenue.
TGT: How did you come to the self-publishing business?
Gary Scott: I came into it as a 21-year-old insurance salesman. One guy I tried to sell insurance to must have liked my presentation. He talked me into taking a job selling mutual funds in Hong Kong.
When I got to Hong Kong, I found a much different culture. You couldn’t sell to people there by making telephone calls. Writing letters was the only way to do it. So I wrote to get people to learn about and buy mutual funds.
Our business evolved into writing an investment newsletter – which really was copywriting aimed at getting people to buy mutual funds. Since that time, our business has been kind of confusing. I’m always asking myself, “What am I? A writer? A copywriter? An economist? Or a publisher?” The reality is, I’m all four blended together.
TGT: You’ve been involved in many different product creations. Tell us about one of your favorites.
Gary Scott: If I had to pick one favorite product of mine, it was a report based on a book written in the early 90s by a fellow named Harry Figgie: The Upcoming Bankruptcy of 1995.
It was a very scary book about how the American economy was going bankrupt.
After reading it, I realized that since I had been investing internationally for over 20 years, I knew the answers to the problems Figgie raised. I knew people could invest outside the United States and how they could do it. So I wrote an eight-page marketing letter and created a 144-page report called “International Investing Made Easy.”
It was specifically designed to reach the market of people who’d read Harry Figgie’s book and were afraid to invest in U.S. markets. We sold it for $149, and we made millions and millions of dollars from it. It was highly, highly profitable.
This is where publishing and copywriting go together so well. When you’re a good copywriter and see a need in the marketplace for information, you can write the copy … and you can literally create the product.
When you have this close coordination between what the marketing story says and what the product actually is, you get a powerful combination. We’ve built a whole business around just that one instance of copy creating the product and then building a clientele.
TGT: What do you mean by the term “marketing story”?
Gary Scott: As copywriters or publishers today, we have more competition for attention than for money. Many readers in many markets have more money to spend than they have time to read marketing copy.
But people love stories.
A copywriter needs to have the ability to grab – and keep – the reader’s attention. That’s the hard part. Everyone’s used to headlines, but once you get somebody into your copy, you have to keep moving them along. And that’s where a story is really powerful. Because stories bring problems to life in an easy-to-understand and interesting way.
People identify with a sympathetic character striving for a worthwhile goal. And if you have a story about such a character in your marketing copy, some element within the buyer – that element being a need they have – will identify with this sympathetic character. They’ll keep reading. And because they’re sympathetic to the character, they’ll be more open to the action the copy asks them to take.
The story is very, very important. The busier people get, the more important the story becomes. You would think it would become less important – that we need to take more shortcuts, that we need to write shorter copy, that we need to be brief. But that’s not true. The good storyteller will capture and keep the audience. The longer you keep the reader reading, the more likely they are to take the action you want them to take.
TGT: How can a copywriter come up with ideas to create products?
Gary Scott: The products that work best stem from your own needs. When I read Harry Figgie’s book about impending economic disaster, I felt fearful. That feeling is what led me to write “International Investing Made Easy.”
Examine your own feelings as you walk through life. You may be in an airport, for example, standing in a long line, completely fed up with airlines, completely fed up with the airport, completely fed up with security and all the things we have to go through to get on an airplane today.
A product could stem from that anger, that frustration. “There must be hundreds of thousands of other people who are fed up, too,” you might think. “Maybe I could create a product that could help people ease that frustration.”
That product might be a complete guide on how to get along with airport security … or seven valuable lessons on how to get on an airplane more easily … or how to make air travel pleasant again. There’s a multitude of products that could stem from your frustration. But it begins with the feeling. Whatever that feeling is – anger, love, hate, greed, or fear – examine your own desires. That will show you where the need is. Then see how that need relates to your prospect.
That’s why I always start by writing the copy first when I’m creating a new product. I write the copy and then the copy leads me. It forces me to create the product that delivers the solution to the problem I created in the copy.
TGT: How does copywriting for information products differ from writing for other products?
Gary Scott: If you are writing copy for an information product, you generally have something that solves a specific, here-and-now problem. For example, a report titled “How to Avoid Airport Security Lines.”
That is a very specific problem, and you have a very specific solution. So your copy has to point out what the problem is and explain how this report provides a current, useful service. It has to explain what the benefits of that service are – what the reader will gain from that information in terms that are as concrete and emotional as possible.
If you’re writing copy to sell a subscription to a periodical like a magazine or newsletter, though, you need to broaden the problem. In other words, the problem may change from “How to Avoid Airport Security Lines” to problems with travel in general.
Your promo copy for the report would focus on an immediate, specific problem that the report will solve. (“The only 15 airports in the world with security you can trust – and why you need this information right now!”)
Your promo for the periodical would go for a larger, longer-term perspective. (“The problem with travel in today’s world is that we not only have to face bigger and bigger crowds, larger airplanes, and more crowded airports, but there’s the risk of terrorism.”) Your copy for the periodical might briefly mention the 15 safest airports, but only as one of many things the reader will learn in upcoming issues.
TGT: What is the best piece of advice you have for a copywriter who wants to get into information-product creation?
Gary Scott: Two things. Number one, write – and don’t worry about what you write or how it comes out. The only thing required is desire. If my high school and university English teachers were still alive and found out I make my living writing, they would probably die of a stroke. I certainly had no background other than my desire to communicate with people.
The second thing is to write as much as you can about things you love. Try to write from the heart. If you write about things that you’re enthused about, it shows.
Write about your wants, needs, and desires, but convert them into other people’s concerns. Read everything you can about what you want to be involved with. Then start writing. Use what other people are writing as a template to write about what you are interested in and what you love.
TGT: Any parting thoughts?
Gary Scott: I urge anyone thinking about self-publishing information products to recognize that this is one of the biggest growth industries in the world. We live in an information era. Every day, there are vast amounts of new information out there – so much information that it’s hard for people to keep up. The result is an ever-increasing need for writers to take in all that data and refine it into material that’s simple, easy-to-comprehend, interesting, and useful.
The opportunity is phenomenal for anyone who wants to get into copywriting, creating information products, and/or self-publishing.
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