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

What To Do When Your eBook Isn’t Selling

June 14th, 2012 . by Peggy

Here are some tips not just from me, but from other Authors or creators of information products.

1. Write a second eBook.

Yeah, I know, this sounds completely counter-intuitive, but this one really does work. Why? Think “inbound links”. In terms of discoverability, the effect can be magnified many times. (Think SEO benefits.) This is a great place to expand in greater detail or to focus on one particular topic area. Every sales book I’ve ever read talks about this in some way, and yes, it has personally worked for me. It’s given me credibility as a topical expert, and has gotten me speaking gigs, where I ultimately sold more books.

2. Check that you’re being really, truly visible.

If you’re not always on the move, producing more content, the market will know. It’s a wheel that takes a lot to get rolling, and if you stop pushing it, the momentum you’ve built can only take it so much farther without you. Are you blogging? It creates more traffic to your sales page. Using social media? Twitter is free and works on any smartphone. Talking about your eBook somehow, to someone, every single day? Are you doing speaking? All of this is what’s known as “working it”, and that’s the real job of an Author – not writing. Never underestimate the power of a t-shirt with your domain name on it. I’ve gotten at least a half-dozen clients a year from that alone.

3. Revise it.

I’ve had one book that’s had three titles and four covers. Admittedly, they were not all great, but when sales have not been as expected, I take it down, revise it, put on a new cover, or change the platform. (Ie., if it’s not selling well as a PDF, try moving it to the Kindle format. Fresh market, new links, etc.) This is exploiting the most advantageous aspect of an eBook: it’s not carved in stone. It’s a living document that you can re-upload at any time. (Watch your version tracking, in a hidden spot in each book’s copyright page that tags it v.1.0, v.1.1, etc.)

4. Create parallel content.

By parallel content, I mean creating content that is not exactly what is in your eBook, but that is very clearly and closely aligned to it. If your eBook is about weight loss, create a low-cal recipe blog. Make a few cooking videos for YouTube with links to buy the eBook. (Video is so simple now that it really is inexcusable to not do this for such a visually-oriented subject.) If you’re talking about how to be a great consultant, write a few articles about how to manage your billing and accounting. Thinking with empathy about the needs of your audience will clue you into topics of interest very quickly.

5. Solicit some reviews.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of review exchanges out there – just Google “book review exchange”. (The concept is, “I’ll review your eBook positively if you review mine.”) They are typically no cost, and can mean anything from an Amazon Kindle review to an actual interview or blog post. I’ve heard one very successful Author suggest that you should aim for a few more each month. Again, this is actually about creating more inbound links to your content, ie., SEO benefits.

6. Examine your metadata.

Metadata is all the stuff you don’t see, but your computer does. For example, when you upload your eBook to Kindle, you are asked for keywords related to your eBook, and to choose a category, name all the contributors, write a description, and more. Did you actually do all of that? Does it need refreshing? Did you add keywords and check the page title and so on when you built your blog or website? Did you max it out? Hidden stuff mixed with quality visible stuff is what attracts traffic.

7. Setup an affiliate marketing program.

This takes a little more effort, but once setup, can be a virtual money machine. (Again, I have an upcoming Cheat Sheet about this. Watch my announcement list or the Facebook Page for details.) Essentially, offering to pay other website owners or list owners for marketing your eBook can be extremely cost-effective, and can be done almost indefinitely. You can listen to an audio about this topic that I recorded here: (Once you sign up, check out week 3’s recording. It’s free.)

8. Examine your consistency.

By this I mean not just consistency in how often you do certain actions, like a certain number of tweets per week or writing a blog post each Tuesday, but also consistency in your messaging. Have you been sending mixed messages to your audience? Are you known for certain catch phrases? Do you use them often enough? Do you clearly align your objectives for each chapter with the messaging for the entire eBook? Does your blog also reflect that same mission and attitude? Do you practice what you preach? Do you slip? (We all do – don’t knock yourself up over that. Just get back on track.)

9. Check the usability of your shopping cart.

This is one of those stupid things that we might assume is working, but perhaps isn’t working all that smoothly from the viewpoint of the buyer. It’s amazing what can cause a consumer to abandon a shopping cart. I’m not talking about system failure, but instead, how easy and obvious things are. I have a “filter” person that I ask to test all things like this for me – my Mother. If it passes the Mom Usability Test, it’s good enough for the general public. It has often surprised me what things can trip people up. Sometimes it’s the location of a button, or the words actually on the button, or the colour of the button. It’s crazy.

10. Check your Klout. is an impartial way to know and gauge how you’re doing in the world of social media. Examine your rating, the details and explanation, and compare yourself to others in your business. For those lower on the scale than yourself, watch for the up-and-comers. For those higher on the scale than yourself, what can you learn from them? What can you emulate?

In my experience, for my own books and those of my clients, it’s often the little things that make the biggest difference. This list is a starting point that may lead you down side roads that you had not considered. Testing things scientifically is important: make one change at a time, and watch the results. And of course, everything is worth testing.

join the discussion

When eBook Choices Seem Overwhelming

June 11th, 2012 . by Peggy

Stuck in a revolving door of confusion about eBooks?Stuck in a revolving door of confusion when it comes to various technologies around eBooks? You’re not the only one.

Knowing your options may seem like you’re opening a can of worms, but actually, I find that most of the choices in eBooks really boil down to just a few questions.

The problem is that these few choices have been inflated and repackaged a million ways. When various companies start inventing their own words to use for the same things, nobody knows what the heck is going on.

Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to pigeonhole options when they present themselves, and know if a new choice is something you really need to consider, or if it’s overrated or unneccessary.

Here are the questions I hear about the most in my presentations and workshops.

1) Do I need to create a PDF or an ePub?

This is really the biggie. Everything else falls into place based on this. For more information on each of the platforms, and how to make the choice based on your content type, read this previous blog post from me.

2) Do I need to hire an “eBook Publishing Company”?

This category of company invented itself a couple of years ago. Are they capitalizing on the confusion by charging outrageous prices for stuff that most people can do themselves? In most cases, absolutely. (However, there are some that I’m testing and that I may recommend in future.)  The built-in systems inside Amazon Kindle, for example, enable any non-techie to do it all by themselves. Anybody who can type an MS Word document can publish on Kindle. For more information about how to actually do this stuff yourself, sign up for my mailing list. I’ve got new video classes coming online very soon.

3) Do I need an Editor?

A resounding YES. For me this is not negotiable. In almost 170 eBooks, I’ve met exactly two writers who did not require the services of an editor. Two. Neither you nor I are one of those two. Find someone qualified you can work with, and just make the best deal you can. Try this database of freelance editors to start.

4) Do I need to hire someone to typeset my eBook?

If you are creating something that you want people to buy and read on Amazon Kindle, no, you certainly do not, as that’s not how Kindle works. (If you don’t know this already, it means you need to buy an eBook on Kindle and read it, to familiarize yourself with the platform. You can read an Amazon Kindle eBook for free using your computer, your phone, or your iPad or other tablet – you do not need to buy a Kindle device, or even pay money for an eBook for that matter.)

However, if you’re creating something that should be printed out and written in, or that contains many illustrations or tables or charts, or that must be seen in colour to make sense, then yes, you may want to consider hiring a designer to lay it out as a PDF for you. This means it’s more likely that you’re going to sell it off your own website, rather than on a platform like Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and etc. (Please, I beg of you, don’t simply type up an MS Word document and use that to create your PDF for download. It looks like crap.)

5) Do I need to hire a cover designer?

Unless you have some reasonable graphic design skills, yes, a professionally-designed eBook cover is totally worth the money. Don’t try to buy software and learn it as you create a homemade-looking cover design – too frustrating. You can certainly get a really attractive cover designed for you for about $200 – $500 USD. There are some great people overseas. (Or, hire me. It doesn’t matter – just be sure it looks slick.) I’ve written about eBook cover design guidelines here. You can share that previous link with your graphic designer.

6) Do I need a website devoted entirely to this eBook?

Perhaps not. What every book does need, however, is a landing page. If you already have a WordPress site, that means just adding another page to your current site, one that is totally devoted to selling your eBook, without distraction, alternative navigation, or outbound links. This page is where you’ll direct web traffic to “land” when they respond to things like your social media links, any ads you have to sell your eBook, or from other websites and blogs.

Let us say that you are a chef, and you’ve written a cookbook. The cookbook is a PDF, which means that it’s loaded with colour photos, lists of ingredients, and indented instructions. You want to sell this off your own website, and use it to build your profile. The best way to accomplish this would be to devote one landing page on your site to just selling the eBook. From that page, create a really HUGE and obvious link in the top right corner that says “Order my copy NOW!”, and make that button go directly into the shopping cart experience.

That sales page does NOT need to be independent of your website. In fact, it will work better if it’s not, as it reduces maintenance for you, as well as being able to easily capture traffic from the rest of your website.

7) How do I start writing? What should I use to type it?

Just use whatever you are most comfortable using. These days, everything can be exported and imported. Most people still write in MS Word, which is just fine, no matter how you plan to ultimately output your eBook. (I happen to prefer the free software Open Office over Microsoft products, but as I say, it doesn’t matter.) It helps a great deal to reduce the amount of formatting you use, and keep it as simple as possible, to avoid having to make adjustments to the manuscript later on. Whether you plan to release it as a PDF or as an ePub, as in, Kindle, etc., MS Word (or Open Office) is still a perfectly good way to start out.
Don’t worry at all at this stage about things like spacing, designing the layout of things on the page, or especially fonts. This seems to get asked all the time, and yet, at the first stage, this is absolutely the wrong thing on which to focus. Instead, worry about your marketing plan, your outline, and finding any images you wish to include, again, no matter which type of eBook you plan to create.

While this is not an exhaustive list, this certainly covers the most common questions I hear. The key is to simply not worry about the details too early in the process. The bigger question of things like your marketing plan and your keyword research are still the most important first steps.

join the discussion

« Previous Entries