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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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How to Think Like a Successful eBook Author

June 5th, 2012 . by Peggy

 


Rodin's The ThinkerBecoming successful in any field often requires a shift in thinking. Here are some of the shifts that I myself experienced, and that I continue to witness in clients and other successful eBook creators.

1. Stop thinking of yourself as an Author.

Authors are amazing, creative, driven, and professional people. However, as the motivated creator of an eBook trying to crash into what might be a crowded niche, you need to shift yourself from almost all traditional thinking, and quickly.

My own fantasy of what it meant to be an Author was probably like that of many people: the Author as an introvert creative, working from behind a leather-topped desk in a quiet study, the oak-paneled walls lined with books, and a dog stretched out on a thick carpet at my feet. Occasionally, I would fetch myself a whisky from the mini-bar in the corner, or gaze out at my ocean view for inspiration. My publisher would take care of everything, and send me fat checks once a month, all because I was gifting the world with the gold that came out of my brain.

Yeah, that’s pretty far from my reality. Instead, after a rowdy morning of getting the kidlet off to school and taking something out of the freezer for dinner, I whip through Starbucks on my way to an office that I share with a crowd of marketing types. I then run down my whiteboards and address whomever is screaming the loudest. I eat lunch while typing or talking on the phone, scramble to meet deadlines, meet with new and existing clients about 3 times a week, test out new technologies or tools, write blog posts like this one, plan and execute official launch dates for ebooks or new information products, setup affiliate marketing data for the products of myself and clients, and then when that’s all done, dinner’s over and the kidlet asleep, I do a bit more market research to try to find the next niche that I can exploit to the max.

While I’m not in that luxury den, I must say that I find this much more rewarding. NO, this is NOT a life of luxury, but it is fulfilling. I love marketing. I love technology. And I especially love the freedom that I have to keep reinventing myself and my work over and over again. The reality is that successful fiction Authors (versus me as a product creator) do a lot of the same things I do, all day, every day. They might call themselves something other than an information marketer, but really, that’s what all of us are. Once our false expectations fade about the exotic life of an Author, we discover that this, being a marketer with a sort of literary bent, is actually way more fun.

2. Get into a tech groove.

Let’s face it: books mean technology. Even if you are writing for print in the most traditional sense, with a publisher and (perhaps) even an advance, you’re still in a technology-run business. There is simply no working around that. The time of Authors being lumped in with lawyers and real-estate agents for their lack of tech knowledge has passed. Content creators must now at least understand, and hopefully fully control, all aspects of their content distribution.

At the very least, all Authors must get used to the basics;

  • Writing on a computer, using appropriate word-processing software. 
  • Creating eBook content using a standard word-processor. 
  • Using social media. 
  • Blogging or creating other web content. 
  • Deploying and managing their content (and things like reviews) on popular eBook platforms like Kindle or Nook, etc.
  • Linking to places where people can buy the books, and making them easily accessible.
  • Managing a mailing list properly.

The more advanced techy types will take it to the next level;

  • Setting up a shopping cart on your website to sell books and eBooks. 
  • Formatting your own eBook uploads.
  •  Managing your own blog platform, on WordPress. 
  • Setting up things like feeds for your blog or website.
  • Tracking visitors to your blog or website, to see where your visitors are coming from.

And then there are the ones that really exploit the technology that makes money;

  • Conducting webinars or teleseminars. 
  • Using web video conferencing for lectures or virtual signings. 
  • Managing an ongoing affiliate marketing program.
  • Managing digital ad campaigns to sell books or eBooks.
  • Using podcasting to gain recognition and drive traffic.

If you know you’re stuck in the first paragraph, or less, at least know what you need to delegate to the techy types – and how to explain to them what you want.

3. Stop waiting.

The slowness of the literary industry is improving, but it is still its Achilles heel. Independent product creators must work faster in order to meet demand and build market share. In my observation over many years, the idea for a novel does not get better if it steeps for a few years. Instead, it gets neglected. It’s not just about writing every day, which is also essential, but about setting up a production schedule. This allows you to move from one completed project to the next, without losing your momentum or enthusiasm or joy for the content. In the case of non-fiction, there’s often a window of opportunity that is fleeting and small. You either grab it, or you miss it. Speed of production is the way to make money.

4. Keep producing.

If all you have in you is one novel a year, please be sure you have another job. (But don’t stop writing that one novel, either!) One product does not a company make. But, one product can a market open. What I mean by this is that you can do a lot of work to launch one product into the market, and once you open that door, you then capitalize on that by creating more products to fill the market space you have created. Once you have your spearhead product created, be sure to follow it up right away with a companion product, or a sequel, or a study guide, or a series of implementation exercises, or a new edition, or, or, etc. As the expression goes, the second eBook takes 1/10th of the work, and makes you 10 times the money.

5. Template what works.

If I were to consider selling my business, I know that the part that would be assessed for the greatest value would be my templates. I have systems up the ying/yang. Spreadsheets for processes, lists for checking off, template documents with fill-in-the-blanks, step-by-step guides for myself and for clients, pre-formatted documents for creating everything from class handouts to new eBooks, etc. etc. This is where your real value in a business lies: in its systems. This is true of almost every company. McDonald’s is nothing without its templated systems for everything from food processing and handling, to uniforms for employees, to how to scrub a toilet. Templates are what allow success to repeat. I rarely do anything more than once, because in everything I create or do, I look for a way to be able to do it again without any extra work. Yes, I have a lot of wall charts. Yes, I keep a pile of post-it notes in my bathroom magazine rack. Yes, that makes me look like a major geek. But I know that if I want to look professional, I need to save time, and templating is the only way I know to do that effectively.

The moment I let go of the unrealistic fantasy was the moment my company was born. I found real joy in offering something of value to a market that wanted it. I love sharing this with consulting clients, and watching them make the same shift and get real. No, I don’t have an ocean view (especially here in Las Vegas!) but I do have constant inspiration.

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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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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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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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3 Big Rules of Non-Fiction Writing

March 27th, 2008 . by Peggy

I have had these three rules taped to my wall for many years. The note is in my own handwriting, but I can no longer remember what midnight crisis prompted me to write it down on a yellow post-it in red ink. The sticky back has long since worn off, and there are three dusty layers of tape, two clear and one of yellowed masking tape, because this reminder is valuable enough to travel with me wherever I go.

The rules are simple.

  1. Always delete your first paragraph. It always sucks. It’s full of rushed, unsorted data that exists because of your rush to get the good stuff on paper. The first paragraph is your brain dump. Nobody wants to read at the dump.
  2. Don’t explain too much. The most difficult part of writing in any style is to really understand what your audience wants. (It’s never what you think.) They don’t always want or need to know why a thing is the way it is. Don’t withhold anything – but don’t use more words than necessary to sell your message. Remember what you’re there to do.*
  3. Try to be original. Remember, humans have been on this planet a long time. Somebody has probably already figured out what you’re about to write before you ever got here. But if you can spin the concept in a new and devastatingly clever way, you’ll be remembered for that.

See? Not hard at all.

*This is not original to me. (See item number 3.) I might be flattering myself to suggest that I independently came up with the same idea that also appears on page 75 of the fourth edition of The Elements of Style, but since I’ve already disclosed to my readers that I love Elements more than the bible, I’m sure I just adopted it into my own philosophy.

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