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10 Things to Know Before You Write an eBook

July 25th, 2012 . by Peggy

My number one question of all time is, “How do I start writing an eBook?” Here are my top 10 recommendations.

1. Don’t buy any software or services.

Part of the reason I do what I do is to demonstrate to Authors that they really, really can do this all by themselves. As you’ll see as you get to know me, the approach I recommend is actually very simple. Besides, one of the biggest concerns you should have as you build your eBook business is to avoid creating dependencies. In the eBook business, those who build on a foundation of frugality are the ones that win in the long run. The only exceptions are an editor (non-negotiable, in my view), possibly a tech like me, and possibly a graphic designer for your cover. Otherwise, any halfway tech-savvy marketer really can do this from their kitchen table.

2. Start writing in a basic word-processor.

This is not the time to try to learn anything new. Your focus needs to be creating spectacular content. Avoid the distraction of fancy software by using something with which you’re already familiar. For most writers, that’s still MS Word. My fave happens to be OpenOffice, which is – you guessed it – FREE. It looks a lot like MS Word, and in fact, can open, edit, and save files right back to the MS Word .doc format. Just don’t go out and buy a new computer or think that you need to upgrade. Ironically, I actually spend more time for my eBook clients stripping out the hidden codes and back-end gunk from fancy software, than designing the actual eBook itself. I really do. And it’s a pain. Use what you already have and things will turn out much better in the end.

3. Don’t forget to do your research.

Before you move much farther past the beginning of your outline, be sure that you do some basic keyword research. This is how you find out if the book is even worth writing, because if there isn’t a market for it, why write it? Or, can it be tweaked into something that is marketable? Can you discover an opportunity that you didn’t know existed? Is the idea ahead of it’s time? Behind the times? Right at exactly the right time? I find that in about two hours of some basic – and fun – research, I can learn more than I could ten years ago in 6 weeks of work.

4. Don’t lose momentum.

When that muse appears, RIDE HER, ride her HARD, into the sunset. Your family’s opinion of your late-night writing sessions shouldn’t be allowed to phase you. So what if you drink a little more coffee or eat a few popsicles: just get ‘er done. If you’re in the mood to write, drop everything else. Don’t ignore inspriation, or you’ll bore of it quickly, and then it will never get written. (That boredom is the number ONE stumbling block I see in clients.)

5. Involve yourself in the book’s community.

By this I mean that if you’re writing a steampunk novel, by all means, join a steampunk society and go to the meetings. Business books mean getting out to networking meetings, and setting yourself up for speaking gigs. Poker books mean you should be playing daily, as part of some sort of group. Think of yourself as sitting in the center of a massive web. Look for opportunities to expand beyond your local geographic area, such as joining organizations that have expansion chapters, like Rotary clubs. And that’s just the (so-called) “real world”. Be certain that everyone in the online community related to your topic knows who you are. This is where social media comes in, as a way to easily integrate yourself and let people know about you. Very importantly, you should buy an eBook that is grounded in your community, perhaps the most well-known, and read it in the format in which you think you will publish. (Ie., if you’re aiming for a Kindle eBook, buy a Kindle version and read it that way, to familiarize yourself with the format. It’s surprising how many Authors come to me for help, yet they’ve never bought or read an eBook themselves.)

6. Buy the domain name, and secure social media ID’s in the name of your eBook.

If you haven’t hear me say this before, you need to buy the exact domain name of your eBook’s title. If the .com isn’t available, re-title the book. Setup a basic WordPress blog at that location and start making regular entries as you write, to build traffic to your site. Even if you never plan to write a single blog post or post a single tweet, at least buy or reserve the title, and your Author name, so that nobody else gets them, as yes, people will look for you by your Author name, the title of the eBook, and under any pseudonyms you have.

7. Start building an eMail list.

Please do NOT simply add people to your email program’s personal address book. Besides the fact that this doesn’t work, it happens to be illegal. (I’ll shortly have a revised version of my Cheat Sheet about this topic, which will explain all of this in detail.) Instead, use a free or low-cost account at MailChimp, aWeber, 1ShoppingCart, or even ConstantContact.com to manage this. It not only allows you to build a legal double-opt-in list, but also to offer things like free stuff when people sign up, and have really attractive-looking templates for your content. List-building will become a permanent, ongoing activity in your business. The sooner you start, the better.

8. Design the cover.

This might sound premature, but actually, it’s quite important. The sooner you can start talking about your upcoming eBook, the better. You’ll need to put an image of the cover on an information page on your blog, perhaps on your business cards, and of course, on social media. I have also printed out poster-size versions of it and put it on my vision board to inspire me to get it done more quickly. Or to brag.

9. Start looking for an editor.

You may need one of any of a variety of types of editing, from style and content editing, to simple copy editing, which is really mostly grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. The earlier you can form a relationship with this person, the better. As I said above, it’s a non-negotiable. The book must be edited at some point, and it’s probably a lot less expensive than you think. Objectivity is key – do NOT hire a friend or a family member. Besides ensuring basic writing ability, ignore any degrees on the wall. The most important thing about this editor is that you trust them. If you don’t, find someone else.

10. Write a proper marketing plan.

I don’t mean a series of unrealized ideas, but an actual written plan. I don’t mean a business plan, either, but a very specific marketing plan. And no, this doesn’t need to be more than a page. It must simply be concrete. (Concrete does not mean inflexible, by the way.) I use MindMeister.com, which is actually a mind-mapping tool, to create what ends up looking more like an infographic than a marketing plan. This allows me to change it when needed, and I can block out specific tasks that I need to complete in a certain order to make things move along. It also looks pretty darn sexy when printed out and posted on the wall.

While this is obviously not an exhaustive list, I think it covers the most important points. You’ll note that most of this is about setting up marketing tools for down the road, not actually about the writing. This surprises most of my clients that I don’t tell them how to write, or that I don’t start talking about how to use formatting for the manuscript. This is because all of that is secondary to your ability to sell it. Anything in the formatting can be fixed, modified, or more likely, is inconsequential anyway. What I want most for you is to realize the benefit of making these strategic choices up-front.

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6 eBook Tools That I Can’t Live Without

June 25th, 2012 . by Peggy

Part of my job is to try all sort of things that help Authors. Here, I’ll show you six things that I’ve personally tried, and that are really helping me with various things related to online marketing and eBooks.

1) Evernote is great for;

- web-based research, saving web pages

- take a pic of a white board, it saves it as searchable text

- recording audio notes to myself (using the associated FREE Android app)

- my to-do lists and perhaps even dictation on the go

2) Smashwords is great for;

- reviewing an excellent style guide when formatting your eBook for almost any platform

- uploading an eBook to multiple platforms at once, including Kindle and others

3) Audioboo.fm is great for;

- quick podcasts using only my Android phone

- interviewing Authors and Experts with no prep or notice

- immediate, no editing, low-tech

- finding other 5-minute podcasts to listen to, both at home and on-the-go

4) MailChimp is great for;

- growing and managing my email list

- designing and sending out really nice-looking newsletters

- pay only as I need to and my list grows

5) MindMeister is great for;

- outlining before I write eBooks, white papers, audio products, and blog posts

- setting goals and outlining the tasks I need to complete to achieve them

- org charts, planning websites, and even illustrating processes to clients

6) Visual Thesaurus is great for;

- the obvious (an interactive thesaurus like no other)

- brainstorming domain names, eBook titles, products, and keywords

- try changing the settings and watch things fly around!

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How to Title Your eBook

May 1st, 2012 . by Peggy

Here are some great tips for choosing a title for your book or eBook. Done carefully, the correct title can really help ensure the success of your project. Or not.

The title of your eBook should start with your goals and keyword research. Regarding non-fiction eBooks, the title must accomplish the following things;

Your title must directly relate to your keyword research. Read this document to help you with that.

You must be able to purchase the exact URL for the title. For example, if your title is How To Train Your Pet Monkey To Vacuum Your House, you must be able to purchase HowToTrainYourPetMonkeyToVacuumYourHouse.com. (Speaking of which, just how much does a pet monkey cost these days?) If you can’t get the exact title, yes, I would seriously reconsider re-titling the eBook. That domain name should point directly to a sales and information page about the eBook itself.

The title should clearly demonstrate to readers what they will discover in this eBook. Don’t use crazy slang, phrases that you invent, or other non-intuitive language. Be clear. If this is about how to get girls by becoming a great DJ, then please title it, How To Get Girls By Becoming A Great DJ. Since I’m old, and female, I don’t even know what the “street” title could be for that, but you get what I mean.

It should ideally be less than 32 characters. So, the monkey example doesn’t fit that, but Keyword Cheat Sheet does. (Although yes, that slightly violates the hard consonant rule, below.)

It must be easy to understand and speak. Try to include hard consonants that make it easy to hear and understand when spoken over background noise, or when someone has an accent, like us Canadians from Vancooooover.

You must be able to visualize others in a series. If you can share things like title text portions or other imagery among a series of books, you have a greater chance of achieving cross-marketing between your own products.

Don’t include digits or numbers. People never know whether to write the digit or spell it out. If you must include digits, buy all the related domains, such as 7monkeys.com, as well as sevenmonkeys.com.

Once you have chosen your title, lock it in by actually buying the domain within the hour. If you have spent hours searching if certain domain names are available, and then you walk away and don’t purchase the one you want immediately, you might lose it. This is because many domain registration services have automated systems that spy on your searches, and then if you don’t buy the good ones, they will. And, they do this quickly. You are doing the difficult imaginative work for them, and they can easily capitalize on good domain names by trying to resell them using their automated systems.

Don’t forget to also buy your Author name domain as fast as possible. It is one of the great agonies of my life that I do not own PeggyRichardson.com – I was too late to grab it after I searched to see if it was available. I do own PeggyRichardson.ca, however. (Which brings you to this blog.) That way, you can use your own name or that of your eBook to drive traffic, because as I always say, YOU are the product, not the eBook.

Just for fun, try using the Lulu.com title scorer to see if your eBook is destined to be a bestseller. This is about as scientific as astrology for eBooks, but it can be great at eBook parties. (Yeah, I do that. Whatever.) You can also play The Titling Game by trying out the wackiest titles you can, and see what is the highest score. You just never know what might make you famous: http://www.lulu.com/titlescorer/index.php.

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Make Your eBook Into a Magazine

April 10th, 2012 . by Peggy

With my upcoming audio product eBook Fast Lane, I’m including a slim workbook for eBook creators. Here’s how you too can create an eBook that is also a magazine.

HP has a service called MagCloud, and it is exactly what it sounds like: a cloud printing service for magazines. Yes, you can upload your mailing list, and they will print the number of required copies, and send them out to your list. You can also order them for yourself at a very reasonable price. They have three different sizes, and the print quality is excellent. Check out the latest I just created for this platform, for friend and client Shari Molchan, of MolchanFinancial.com.

Shari wanted an eBook, but she also know she wanted something to have at her speaking events and classes. With MagCloud, we created a single file to upload – that’s right, not different versions of the file for eBook, downloadable and print – uploaded it once, and we were in business.

The PDF we created to upload to MagCloud also works as a download on Shari’s website (in lower resolution, to make it smaller and faster to download), and when the digital version is downloaded from MagCloud, it works as a cool iPad app, which shows off Shari’s content to best advantage. The print version is beautiful, using the best in magazine printing technology, bagged and delivered to your door.

SLICK, huh?

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Writing for eBooks vs. Writing for Paper Publication

May 25th, 2011 . by Peggy

Someone recently asked me, “Is there a difference in writing style between eBooks and paper publications?” Yes, and it can be quite dramatic.

People buy eBooks for completely different reasons than they purchase paper books. Again, it comes down to knowing your audience and their needs.

Let me share with you the top three reasons that people have specifically stated or demonstrated to me about why they might choose an eBook over a paper book. All of these cases apply to only my own work with non-fiction.

1. They want the information right away. Like, yesterday. They search online first for the content, find a resource, like a blog that tells them things they like to hear, and then find out that the blog Author also has an eBook available for download.

2. They don’t have time to read that much. I’ve heard more than once that people have a perception of paper-bound books occasionally being too deeply explorative of topics. They just want the facts. They don’t want to know the backstory – it won’t change how they use the information or how they make decisions.

3. They just don’t want more “stuff” in their lives. An eBook on their phone, iPad or other digital device is more or less invisible. It doesn’t require storage and is always in their back pocket. They can make notes or send paragraphs to others via email or even Facebook.

So if we know all of these things about our reader, how can we imagine that they want to read an eBook?

- uncomplicated, unburdened writing
- plain language, not a lot of buzzwords
- straight-to-the-point explanations
- external references will work easily (like web links for more info or your bibliography)
- high-level exploration of the topic, unless it’s specifically stated that yours is an in-depth work
- written in a lighter, more entertaining style
- consider modularizing content into self-contained sections that make sense on their own, allowing readers to make choices about how they choose to read the content, perhaps just one mini-chapter at a time
- use clear headings and sub-headings
- use consistent organization, conventions, and glossaries that interlink to your main content
- be sure that your chapter headings and subheadings links work properly, allowing people to hop around to parts of the content clearly
- make sure that your sales copy clearly represents what readers will receive
- use standardized platforms and technologies with the widest appeal and compatibility (watch out for the use of Flash on Apple devices, for example)
- offer them follow up content that meshes with your first book or offering

In closing, let me offer you a single caution: don’t make assumptions that your eBook readers are young hipsters, and can understand euphemisms and slang. Lighter and more entertaining doesn’t mean using cultural references or inside jokes that may be missed by a 55+ crowd.

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Great Example: Pre-Release Book Marketing

January 26th, 2011 . by Peggy

Blood Work, by Holly TuckerAuthor Holly Tucker is about to release her book “Blood Work” on March 21st. Check out her pre-release activities to help market her book.

Holly has great cover artwork, and she uses it. She also happens to be adorable herself, so she has her photo in her newsletter. She has created regular and clearly-written contact with her potential reader base, and she’s quick to remark on things like positive reviews (in Publisher’s Weekly – congrats, Holly!) in her neatly crafted newsletter.

But here’s the thing I like the most about this newsletter: the opening line. “My amazing agent, Faith Hamlin, wrote something today in response to a bunch of questions that I had sent her. ‘You’re doing. Fine. Don’t worry.’ ” The periods are what caught my eye. It’s subtle, reassuring, and you want to know the answer to the implied question. It’s like a promise stating, this will not bore you. It slows down the reader and forces them to pause and pay attention.

A good subject line or opening line is tough to write. It must convey excitement, create good feelings in the reader’s brain, and encourage them to read the rest of it. I rarely read an entire newsletter, I confess. So many of them are poorly-written, contain no useful information, etc. But Holly’s style is very readable, and even though she’s not giving me anything scientific I can use in my business, I want to know about her journey as a Writer, as the creator of the “second baby” as she refers to it. I feel her excitement. I want her to succeed.

Good luck Holly! You can learn more about the book here: http://www.holly-tucker.com/blood-work/#about and follow her on Twitter as @history_geek.

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Jill Exler Is My Hero

December 7th, 2010 . by Peggy

Jill Exler is a Mum, Author, and Entrepreneur who is really hitting the streets with her tool for self-published Authors, Jexbo.com.

Jill’s smile isn’t the only bright thing about her. Jexbo only takes 5% for any self-pubs that list their books on her site, as compared to (ultimately) over 50%, depending on the variety of services available for Authors. Jill created the site herself after stuggling with her own self-publishing issues.

I love that Jill took things into her own hands, and that she’s kept her business model so simple. Her service is complemented by an interview series (Hey Jill! I’m available!) and a newsletter aimed at self-pubs. It’s all about helping self-pubs advance their businesses.

Jill takes things seriously, and she doesn’t mess around. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jexbo. What a clever cookie.

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BookCamp and Social Media Camp Weekend

October 4th, 2010 . by Peggy

This past weekend, I attended two events. Friday was #bcvan10, or BookCamp Vancouver, and Sunday was #smcv10, or Social Media Camp Victoria. Both events made quite an impression on me.

Here’s a bulleted list of what I learned at Social Media Camp and BookCamp. (I’m too tired to turn my notes into prose.)

  1. I need to leave the house more often. (So much for the glamorous benefits of being self-employed.)
  2. Book publishers are trying really hard to succeed in the area of eBooks. Some are fighting the ePub revolution tooth and nail, but many houses are working to convert entire back catalogues to ePub format. The problem is, they’re spending far, far too much money to do it. Their methodology for this needs serious re-examination.
  3. Social media ROI is measurable after all – it’s not just about karma. Correlating the relationship between tweets and visits to my blog is easy. Visits to my blog has a direct relationship to new client intake. (But don’t mess with karma, regardless.)
  4. I’m not the only one who wants to know the real people behind my social media connections. People can build a certain amount of trust online, and that’s accomplished best with video (I know that from personal experience – nobody said it this weekend) but meeting people in the real world is what closes the deal.
  5. My personal understanding of the way SEO and social media work together was not fantasy – it was bang on. (Blog post or white paper forthcoming.)
  6. I think I’m going to re-issue a number of the eBooks I’ve created under various pseudonyms with my real name slapped on the front. Re-brand, re-market.
  7. People trying to self-publish fiction need a whole new way of connecting and doing business. I hope that some of the people I met on Friday at BookCamp have a chance soon to attend Social Media Camp. Everyone in that business is either lost, frustrated, or slowly going broke. It’s crazy. Non-fiction has it much easier, but there’s a reason I don’t do fiction. It’s just sooooo hard.
  8. It was very encouraging on Friday to hear that so many people are on the eBook bandwagon. I had serious concerns about being the naughty eBook girl in a room full of hardcover lovers. (Which I still am, by the way.) But instead, I felt encouraged and optimistic about the relationship between eBooks and traditional publishing houses, for the very first time. Many companies might survive, including ones that only a year ago had self-prophesied their doom.
  9. I need to be much more consistent about my own application of social media. My Klout rating had dropped to *6* from 24. But, after today, it’s now up to 35. @meganberry was right – it’s not about the number of followers.
  10. This is going to be a crazy next three months.

And one more thing: #11. Affiliate marketing is still the big pothole that I see missing from both the book marketing picture and the social media picture. (Document of some sort forthcoming.)

Cool people I met, connected with, or otherwise admire from this weekend:

- http://twitter.com/unmarketing (Scott Stratten, Keynote at #SMCV10)
- http://twitter.com/julien (Julien Smith, Keynote at #SMCV10)
- http://twitter.com/jmaxsfu (John Maxwell, Professor at SFU, co-organizer of #bcvan10, eBook advocate)
- http://twitter.com/justyn (Justyn Howard, Speaker at #SMCV10)
- http://twitter.com/brendonjwilson (Speaker at #bcvan10)
- http://twitter.com/raincoaster (Lorraine Murphy, Speaker at #SMCV10)
-  http://twitter.com/Kathleen_Fraser (Speaker at #bcvan10 and Mpubber)
- http://twitter.com/stitchtowhere (Cynara Geissler, Speaker with Kathleen at #bcvan10)
- http://twitter.com/seancranbury (Host of Books on the Radio, guy with camera, co-organizer of #bcvan10, Mpubber)
- http://twitter.com/daveohoots (Marketing Dude for Hootsuite.com and Speaker at #smcv10)
http://twitter.com/tpholmes (co-organizer of #smcv10)
- http://twitter.com/meganberry (Marketing Manager for Klout.com and Speaker at #smcv10)
- http://twitter.com/somisguided (Monique Trottier, Social Media chick and consultant, co-organizer of #bcvan10)

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The Word On The Street – Here I Come!

September 14th, 2010 . by Peggy

I’m super proud to be speaking at this year’s The Word On The Street Festival in Vancouver, BC. On Sunday, September 26th, the other two Book Broads and I will be hosting a FREE panel titled “Build it and they will come – NAH!” It’s all about book marketing, publicity, and generally being in people’s faces.

The description of our talk goes something like this: “Many writers assume once the book is complete, it will sell itself, right? Wrong. No matter the method of publication — traditionally published, entrepreneurially published, or electronically published — the onus of promotion falls on the author. The Book Broads offer practical advice for writers (published or not) to raise their profiles, extend their reach and build their fan base.
Join Angela Crocker, Kimberly Plumley, and Peggy Richardson as they take the sting out of the overwhelming prospect of media interviews, blog posts, Facebook updates, podcasting, and so much more.”

Queue up early! We start at 1:45pm downstairs in the Peter Kaye room of the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library. (Yeah, that building that looks like the Roman Colloseum.)

See you there!

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If Seth Is Doing It, Why Can’t We All?

August 25th, 2010 . by Peggy

Seth Godin, AuthorThe adorable Seth Godin announced this week that he has created his last traditionally-published book. Here’s why his plan may or may not work for everyone.

(It’s a great post, by the way, and I strongly suggest you read it.)

Seth is brilliant – that’s not debatable. He’s a rebel, a visionary, and his writing has caused me to seriously question many things about the way I consume, and the way I conduct my own business. He has spent the last 12 years developing great books that (mostly) turned out to be bestsellers. He claims this latest book, Linchpin, is his “life’s work”. (Can’t wait to read it.) And he has decided that none of his future writings will be distributed through traditional publishing channels.

Why this works for Godin;

- He already has years of live market research under his belt, which is by his own admission, really because of his relationship with great publishers.

- He has a massive private following through his blog and social media connections.

- He really does know his stuff, and he practices what he preaches.

- He has plenty of capital, both monetary and intangible, to re-invest in his business.

- He has a staff.

Do you have all of those things? Possibly not. I know I don’t. So here are my suggested alternatives for those of us who don’t, in the same order.

- We can perform a surprising amount of market research on our own. Let’s start with keyword research.

- We can build a following by doing exactly what Seth does, such as using our own blog and social media connections, and building slowly. We don’t need it to be massive to be effective – we just need it to be loyal. Loyalty must be earned.

- Very simply, we need to do and be the same. This does not take money or even much time. Transparency sells.

- Does it really take a ton of money to make things happen? Can we adjust our expectations to take advantage of our existing resources? What is the value of sweat equity?

- Staff can be had easily and quickly using virtual assistants. Knowing what to delegate has been my big project for 2010. I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.

Does it work for everyone? Not if they don’t have the drive and imagination. But since all of us are writers, perhaps we have an advantage.

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