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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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Why Amelia Peabody Keeps Me Interested

April 6th, 2010 . by Peggy

Today was the release of “A River in the Sky“*, the 19th book in the Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters. There’s a reason readers keep coming back.

The multiple NY Times bestselling Author Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters, and aka Barbara Michaels) was a housewife and mother when she wrote her first novel, The Master of Blacktower, (now available on your Kindle in under a minute) in 1966. Mertz’ numerous pseudonymns make it easy to miss what a prolific writer she really is, with a total of 69 books to her solo credit. She holds a Ph. D in Egyptology from the University of Chicago’s famed Oriental Institute, and many of her books have something to do with archeology or Egypt. The Amelia Peabody series of novels focus almost exclusively in this area, and so far are all set between the years of 1884 and 1923.

Mertz’ character of Amelia Peabody is so involving, so enticing, and so electric that I’ve re-read all 18 of the previously-published books in that series* up to 14 times. They are murder mysteries, with a feel that might resemble the bastard child of Agatha Christie and Indiana Jones. (Having not yet read today’s release, I can still say that “The Last Camel Died At Noon” is her best from the series.) There are no other books that I’ve read with that much enthusiasm since I practically lived in the school library’s Nancy Drew section at age 10.

While many could comment on the literary devices and other romantic reasons that Amelia keeps me coming back, I can reduce it to a few simple points that one might also try to include in a non-fiction work.

1. Higher Purpose

Amelia always has something bigger than herself happening, and while it’s not always life or death, Amelia interacts with a wide variety of famous characters in history, plays a part in incidents of the first world war, and is even present when the tomb of King Tut is first opened. While I’m not talking about creating a grand mythology around non-fiction content, Readers want to know that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Everyone’s work has a higher purpose of some sort, so it’s important to tap into that and involve Readers in that same sense of purpose. Amelia’s missions are much like many that we all have in our own real lives.

2. Constant Movement

Amelia is in many ways typical of the ladies of her class and era, and yet in many more ways, extremely atypical. She is of course self-disciplined, and extremely British in her general outlook, but she constantly bucks trends and acts very modern. She is an adventurer and discoverer, and she needs little sleep. Her mind is so quick that it blindsides not just other characters in the books, but occasionally, the books include various bits of narration to piece together certain puzzles for the Reader as well. She climbs mountains, both literally and figuratively, and she does so on a daily basis. It is not just important to maintain pace of story, but also to maintain pace of information, and that it is dished out in bite-sized pieces that the Reader is ready for, right when they need it. When creating non-fiction materials, the voice of the Author is often that of a Teacher, and the pace of that teaching is extremely important.

3. Level of Detail

Mertz’ descriptions of tombs, methods, how archeological finds are treated or cared for, and descriptions of tools, Victorian clothing, medicine and medical treatment, and even buildings and transportation are rich and full of detail. Her details of locations paint a clear image of what the area must have looked like, and make the reader feel as though they are walking on the same street. She describes the people of her era in Egypt with respect and deference to their glorious heritage, and the racial prejudice of many of the British people present as loathsome and narrow-minded. Her crime scene descriptions rival that of any modern homicide detective. Readers want to hear about the guts and the glory, and to put themselves in the position of the problem, and then of course, in the solution. And importantly, the content that augments the books adds additional enrichment, including maps and timelines to further clarify things like excavation areas and pre-historic locations. Things like tip sheets, checklists and web links augment any type of non-fiction material.

4. Heroes and Archetypes

I’ve talked (at least, verbally, if not here on this blog) about this concept many times in relationship to the Archetype (versus Stereotype) concept as described by screenwriting trainer Robert McKee*. Mertz does an excellent job of creating heroes and villains, and uses a variety of archetypal-characters, including a number of cats, which form an additional family of personas that many of us can relate to. She has masterfully used many elements of the classic archetype in creating her Sethos character, who is my favourite literary villain of all time. Sethos is Amelia’s dark-ish nemesis, and even though he waits until the third book in the series to appear, he plays a strong role from that point onward. Again, pacing is important here, as more and more details about Sethos are revealed so very very slowly, keeping the reader in suspense. (While the objective in non-fiction is not typically to create a sense of suspense, the importance of deciding on an appropriate pace is the same.) Sethos eventually becomes a hero in his own fashion, and anchors the story in a classic way that cannot be accomplished through any other method. The hero in non-fiction might be a concept rather than a character in that same sense, but the effect is the same.

5. Letting the Reader Think For Themselves

I admit that I have rarely been able to anticipate who the murderer is in any mystery novel, but Mertz doesn’t force the Reader into any sort of conclusions – false or real – too early. She merely presents all the (fictional) facts of the case, and the Reader is encouraged to try to figure it out. Not too coincidentally, this is an essential component in adult education. Since most non-fiction is about educating your Reader (in some way), letting the Reader/Student take ownership of the story or problem/solution combination is essential to getting them on-side, and making them loyal to your point of view. Just look at how I’m evangelizing about Amelia here – I’m one of her peeps because I’ve “helped” her with so many adventures.

As you can see, fiction and non-fiction both rely on classic tools and devices, and in surprisingly similar ways.

*Affiliate link.

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