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eBooks and Digital Publishing

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Wrote My First eBook

July 2nd, 2012 . by Peggy

I’m about to complete my part in eBook number 170. Here’s what I wish I’d known before I started this journey.

1. You will need to write much more than you thought.

Alice might be in Wonderland - but she's not in over her head.

I knew that I’d probably want to write more than just one eBook, in fact, I could imagine dozens that I wanted to create, but deep in my heart, I didn’t really think I’d get to be part of this many. While I’ve certainly not created all 170 alone (about 1/3 of them I did alone – the rest were collaborative efforts with some incredible people) from that first one, I gave myself permission to not do it if I didn’t feel like it. That was not realistic. It was also not professional. I recently said to someone who had just gotten through number 1, “That’s great – now do 7-10 more by the end of the summer.” She was not enthused.

The reality is that eBook success is exponential. This is a volume business. While each item that you create might be a wonderful success, it might also be a horrible failure. Long-term success depends on producing timeless content with a long life span, and creating enough content that you’re known for a body of work rather than one or two products. Besides, a pattern is easy to replicate – only the first eBook is a learning experience.

2. You must be committed to your niche.

Over and freakingover again, I say, know your keywords.

The most expensive part of any business is customer acquisition. (Aka, sales.) Once you get a client under your wing, it’s much cheaper to sell more of the same sort of stuff to the same person, than it is to get new customers. That means that you really need to know your audience, and their needs, from day 1. This is most easily discovered through keyword research. Then your job becomes very simple: just create more of that which your niche desires. Otherwise, you find yourself constantly in a state of experimentation and newness. Your niche is your reader family. Take them unto your bosom. They are actually pretty easy to feed – if they want spaghetti every night, then for heaven’s sake, give it to them.

It took me a few years to get really good at doing keyword research. In the meantime, I did a lot of guessing, and wrote a lot of lovely content that didn’t sell. Spare thyself this agony. I’ve shared the basics here in this free eBook: Keyword Cheat Sheet, now in version 4.2. Costs you nothing to both download and use.

Don’t forget you can also serve multiple niches. I write under 11 different pseudonyms (some for clients, and confidential) and each of those serves a completely different niche. I’m sure there’s crossover, but a pseudonym is like a sign that says to readers, “Hey, remember that stuff you liked? There more of it right here.”

3. The money is in affiliate marketing.

While it’s true that things like SEO and social media are extremely important, affiliate marketing allows me to leverage the networks of others. (I had heard that expression for years before I knew what they were talking about.) By making small payouts for each referral, and making it easily trackable, it means that if I just focus on creating really great stuff, I can make other people confident in recommending it.

Affiliate marketing is a fairly broad term that has a number of different meanings, but essentially, eBookers can use it to track payouts to others who help them sell more books. There is no limit to the number of affiliates you can have, or how creative you can get with it. Watch for more help with this topic from me in coming months, in things like classes and eBooks.

4. It can be extremely boring.

I admit there have been days when I feel like if I spend one more minute looking at a monitor, I’ll claw my own eyes out. To top it off, for a little over 5 years, I worked from home in a beautiful but isolated area, a small gulf island off the west coast of Canada. This meant that if it weren’t for the dog, there were days when I wouldn’t open my front door. If I were to do it again, I’d make sure that I worked in a shared office space of some kind, like I do now, and networked in the real world more, like I do now, and lived in a city or more populated area, like I do now, in Las Vegas.

Besides the lifestyle issues, I now know it wasn’t good for my writing. Isolation is often seen as a requirement of Authors, and while I’ve seen the benefits of that sometimes, I can now see that I lacked objectivity about my business in general, and certainly about writing. It definitely makes for better non-fiction writing to be part of a team, where I’m not working exclusively on my own agenda. Being able to think like a reader, instead of like a writer, is an important skill for writers of all types.

5. The ramp-up time took a lot longer than I thought it would.

Partly because I was a noob, and partly because I was unfocused, it took me a long time to learn what I really needed to get done in what period of time. The original audience that I assumed existed, it turned out, didn’t exist at all. At first, I ignored the ghost writing market. (Stupid.) I didn’t write any fiction because I assumed it wouldn’t have a market. (Also, incredibly stupid.) I chose prices that were both too high and too low. (Stupid, and unresearched.) I agonized over the little things, which it turned out was a waste of my time. I took forever to figure out that I needed to partner with others to create cool products and services.

While I still struggle with typical self-employment issues, like setting aside time for my own projects versus that of clients, I now realize that the instant success that I thought was coming was a joke. I ignored the concept of critical mass, and it took until my own product number four before many people noticed my product number one. This took over 2 years, and in the meantime, instead of recognizing that this was all part of a normal development cycle, I called myself a failure.

The lifespan of eBooks can be just as long, if not longer than printed books. They are subject to update and regular revision, as they’re not burdened by the overhead of a stock of books. This means that you can spend a lot longer ramping up an audience, building your list, your reader base, and your discoverability. It’s worth it, and it’s normal. Savour it as part of the journey.

So when I take my daughter into my lap, and explain to her what it takes to be a good eBook creator, (and those of you who know me know that I do this often…) I talk to her about technology, commitment, and taking the dog for a twice-daily walk. At six years old, she already has a plan to write a series of books about cats and Barbie. Next week, we’re doing the keyword research about that.

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Non-Fiction Author as “Teacher”

May 12th, 2009 . by Peggy

In non-fiction writing, Authors can often consider themselves to be Teachers. Here are some tips to help the Reader learn more from your material.

The essentials of instructional design tell us that it’s not enough to simply impart information to the Learner. The Learner must digest that information and put it to good use before the Teacher is successful. Learners must take ownership of of the material by using it in their own unique ways.

Here are my top 3 tips to enhance your Reader’s / Learner’s experience:

1) Focus on the improvement factor.
What is the intended outcome of the act of reading your material? There’s a huge difference between telling readers how to do something, and giving them an opportunity to make comparisons of new techniques to what they are doing now. Learning is active, not passive. If a reader participates in the material through an exercise, answering a series of questions, or even simply reading a well-designed “if / then” chart, they can compare their current skills or status with a new set of desired skills or status.

2) Create a sense of community.
Readers want to know that they are not alone. Community does not necessarily mean arranging real-world meetings of groups of Readers, but if that’s appropriate, why not? Online discussion groups are also now extremely easy to set up. If the content is not an easy thing to put into public discussion, you can use characterizations and examples to personify parts of the learning process, such as creating a character that is always referenced in your examples or stories. (Example: “If Sally uses probing questions with her prospect, she can learn more about the buyer’s needs…”) Real-life endorsements and stories from users perform this function before the book is even in the Reader’s hands.

3) Testing solidifies and confirms the Learner’s experience.
Think back to elementary school: did you ever really know how well you were doing until that math test came back with your mark on it? Feedback is important all the way through the learning experience, and testing is the easiest and fastest way to make that happen. A test doesn’t even have to look like a test, as summaries at the end of a chapter or section will help the user perform self-testing. Even clever section titles can help the reader ask themselves questions and lead them down a logical path that you plan for them.

Treating the Reader like an intelligent Learner is the best way to ensure that your content is thought of as useful and professional. Readers always want information they can put to use imediately.

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Education and Creativity: Ken Robinson

March 30th, 2009 . by Peggy

This extremely funny TED video is of a talk by Author Dr. Sir Ken Robinson, who delivers this moving talk about creativity and education.

Dr. Robinson is the author of the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, which I’m dying to read. His stories here in this video are so encouraging, even as the points out the major flaws in our current educational system, and how creativity is as important as basic literacy. Yet, our educational system is designed specifically to destroy the natural creativity we are all born with – the challenge is to keep our creativity as we become adults.

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