Humanus Feed
eBooks and Digital Publishing

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 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, 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.

join the discussion

Dealing with Post-It Note Addiction

March 12th, 2008 . by Peggy

Some might say that I have serious control issues. Not a bit of it – I just like all the forks to face west in the cutlery drawer. The blades of all the knives must face east, but the spoons can be any which way. I still stack my mixing bowls according to size and colour, but I’ve conquered my issues with the folding of fitted sheets in the linen closet.

Because of this monkey on my back, for many years, my drug of choice has been 3M Post-it notes. It’s not difficult to maintain this addiction, because I don’t have to buy them discreetly. But the cascade of storage problems for the variety of note styles I now have in my personal stock has forced me to add harder stuff to my repertoire, like Rubbermaid storage products. And when I need a fast fix, I rely on my handy box of Ziploc bags in my bottom desk drawer.

One of the key ways that Post-it notes have actually helped to further my career is through something called a card-sorting exercise. This is custom-made for writers with organizational issues and a parade of marketing issues and tasks to sort out. I can’t do an outline without them now.

To really make this work, you need a broad surface that holds the adhesive on a Post-it really well. A glass patio door is pretty much perfect, but a window or white board will also do nicely. You will also need an assortment of Sharpie pens in colours that you find attractive. I use different colour pens to differentiate different clients: Joe is blue, Rick is green, Sue is orange, etc.

A card-sort exercise can be used for a variety of things, but my favourite is for prioritizing information and processes. If you’re working on a project where you have to stop and ask yourself things like “What comes first?” or, “Have I covered all my bases?”, this trick is for you. It is especially helpful in creating steering documents for group projects, because it ensures that all members of the team share the same vision. I always use it for project planning, marketing sessions, etc., but I also use it for simple stuff like planning my vacations, and my daily to-do lists.

Essentially, anytime a concept, task, challenge, or don’t-forget item occurs to you about a project, you write it on a Post-it using about 4-5 words max. I try to write large enough that I can read the note from about 10 feet away. This means you can relax – it’s now documented, and you won’t accidentally forget it. You can now feel free to open yourself to the next concept.

Once you’ve put all those ideas that were spinning around in your head on their own notes, you stick them all on a wall or glass door. (They seem to stick better on glass than painted surfaces.) Then, simply re-arrange them in priority order, or in columns, or to assign particular tasks to certain people, or whatever categorization you choose. When you’ve got them arranged how you like, use a digital camera to take a snap of the wall, and then you can remove them if necessary. By studying the photo, you can make a lovely chart which can be turned into a PDF and emailed to all team members.

I’m actually quite fond of leaving them up on the wall when I have space. There’s nothing more satisfying than ripping a task note off the wall once completed, and crumpling it up to throw in the fireplace. Plus, all I need is a periodic glance at my wall to remind me of what my tasks are and keep me on track.

If you’d prefer a virtual version of this exercise, 3M has created a cool mini-app that only costs $20 bucks. This hip little program allows you to click on a virtual yellow pad of notes, and quickly type a note to yourself. You can then arrange them all over your desktop in the same manner that you would on the patio door. This is great for doing on a plane – no phone to distract you, nobody tapping on your door.

I just checked, and I have notes stuck on a wall in every single room of my house. That includes the bathroom. I even have them in my car. Try explaining that to the cop that stops you for speeding. He only needs to glance around the car to know what you’re high on.

join the discussion