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The art and science of writing an ebook

Here’s a guide to writing an ebook, starting with identifying your audience and initial market research, through proof reading, design, promotion to eventual launch…

Here’s a guide to writing an ebook, starting with identifying your audience and initial market research, through proof reading, design, promotion to eventual launch…

So far, there’s been hundreds of downloads of my ebook The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media by people from all over the world, all eager to learn more about social media.

The very nice ladies at Brighter Marketing made me an offer I just couldn’t refuse; to bundle The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media ebook with their own brand new book, The Brighter Marketing Bible for Small Businesses.

What I’ve managed to achieve with my ebook is the culmination of a combination of hard work and good fortune. The purpose of this article is to give you as much advice as I can offer about planning, designing and finally promoting your own ebook.

Rule #1 know your audience

This might sound obvious, but unless you’re actually capable of communicating complex ideas in simple terms, even though you know exactly who you’re pitching your ebook at, the only people who’re going to be able to understand it are people like you. And that, my friends, is absolutely pointless.

If possible (and I would highly recommend you consider building yourself a little focus group) get people who represent your target audience to read what you’re writing. Don’t leave this until the very end, or any technical issues will command considerably more than a simple search & replace in Microsoft Word!

I would advise you avoid buzzwords all together, unless:

  1. you are absolutely certain those buzzwords are quite common and unavoidable in the broader context;
  2. and you provide a thorough explanation of what those buzzword mean.

Be mindful of the fact that one explanation can often lead to another, and another, and yet another. I discovered this for myself when mentioning the broader aspects of social media marketing and related complimentary activities like SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Some people suggested I just go for it and write about SEO, too. However, if I did that, the book would take forever to write and I’d be moving away from the core theme, which brings us to rule #2.

Rule #2 stay on theme

You will be tempted to draw deeply upon your knowledge, or the collective knowledge of others. Do so, but within the remit of the theme you’ve chosen.

I can only advise, which you’re free to take or leave. However, for the purposes of The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, keeping things simple and on theme was essential. My intended audience was and still is people from a variety of business backgrounds who’re hoping to bring themselves up to speed with a new discipline (although social media is, to a greater or lesser extent, a collection of disciplines), with the purpose of adding another layer to their skills set.

I’ve been surprised by the number of people from education, media and PR backgrounds who’ve downloaded my ebook. Though they are all welcome, I really did expect to appeal more to business people. However, I may have inadvertently become the victim of my own prophecy; that most businesses aren’t ready for social media:

“So what about the other 99% of businesses out there? Those who don’t have live-action video clips featuring famous singers, actors and sport stars, or Podcasts, or tons of new content pouring into their websites every day, or well-trafficked ‘blogs, over-flowing with comments.

My business has quite a broad base of clients from a variety of industries, including print, property, manufacturing, production, distribution and healthcare, among others.

In all honesty, I cannot think of one single client that would in any way benefit from a Social Media marketing campaign.”

And there I go, drifting off theme in my own article! Anyway, the point is, don’t let yourself drift from the core message you’re trying to communicate to your audience, especially if this is your very first ebook.

If at the end of writing your ebook, you feel it’s incomplete, write another ebook; one for each of the topics you didn’t cover. Or, maybe you thought there was more to add, but you didn’t quite know enough at the time to write with total confidence? Well, that would bring us to rule #3.

Rule #3 know your stuff!

There’s no substitute for experience, so know your chosen topic inside and out. If you don’t, your lack of knowledge will show. Maybe you know someone who knows more? Then get them to co-author, or write a chapter or two.

Maybe this friend or colleague knows more about your topic? Ideally, you want as much insight into your market as possible, which neatly segues with rule #4.

Rule #4 conduct market research

Don’t be put off if you discover someone else has written a similar / same ebook. The world is a big place, and there’s room enough for more than one book on the same subject. In fact, I would suggest using those other books as a basis for research material for your own ebook.

The more contacts you have, the better. Ask friends what they think. Ask friends to ask their friends what they think. Start a survey, asking people what they’d pay for an ebook, assuming you intend selling yours.

If you do intend charging for your ebook, it’s best to find out what other ebook authors are charging, and what people think is a fair price for an ebook.

Incidentally, don’t limit your research to those ebooks that are charged for. If I were you, look for any ebooks that match your theme. Of course, you can’t buy copies of every ebook, but some do offer the option to download the first 2-3 chapters.

Rule #5 proof reading is not optional

As a commodity, trust is like gold dust. When someone reads your ebook, they expect a certain quality threshold to be met — bad spelling and grammar undermine your trust currency. And even if your reader is persistent, getting snagged on typos and irregular grammar or unfamiliar colloquialisms will have them sighing with frustration and scratching their heads in confusion.

I’m fortunate in that my social network is a thankfully eclectic mix of people from a variety of backgrounds, most of which are in media, design, PR, management, sales & marketing et cetera. After a short spell of shooting questions out into the magical ether, my calls were answered and a proof reader was found.

Not everyone will be as connected as I am, so you may have to pay someone to do the proof reading for you. Alternatively, you could approach a local college or university and see if they offer proof reading services, which is something I was considering myself.

Rule #6 think seriously about the design

The number one concern raised by the people I asked about their experiences with / of ebooks was the almost universally atrocious design. Again, this is about building trust and instilling confidence in the reader — communicating visually to them that you know what you’re doing.

I’ve seen very clever people stand in front of an audience, fiddle with their spectacles, mumble, fidget, “umm” and “err” as they talk into their tie, droning on as if they’d never spoken in their entire life — presentation has a profound effect on people’s perception of you.

Since I’m a designer, the natural course of action was to create my own design style. This had to be a design style that would be adaptable for the Social Media Marketing Technology blog itself.

Not everyone is like me, so here’s where you may have to involve a colleague or a friend who’s in the design industry to help out. In the long run, investing in good design is going to lift you out of the mire and shift you to the top of the ebook pile. You’d be surprised by how many people make their decision based purely on the design of something.

A lot of the ebooks I’ve seen are little more than re-worked Microsoft Powerpoint slides, which are in most cases truly appalling.

If you’re think about the design, then you’re thinking about layout as well as presentation. You want your ebook to feel right when people are reading it, so here’s where you need people to act as Guinea pigs for you.

As an added bonus, you might benefit from making the extra effort and having the whole book laid out in QuarkXpress, or Adobe InDesign. That way, if you:

  • decide to make changes, you’re using one of the world’s leading print design and layout applications;
  • or if you decide to have a printed version, most of the hard work is already done.

Talk to your design people and make sure they can handle this for you. If you don’t have design people, then contact me!

Because I’m giving my ebook away, all I needed was a response form, with the download link to the ebook on the thanks page. I’ve written my own response form script in PHP called Respondr, which you can download for free.

However, the problem with offering the ebook as a download on the thanks page is that anyone who’s downloaded your ebook previously can share the link with anyone else. So I added some code that prevented the thanks page from revealing the link to the ebook unless they’d come from the response form page itself.

Not everyone is going to be able to do what I did, so in addition to a designer, you’ll need a web developer like me — yes, I’m a web developer, too!

Rule #7 plan a promotional strategy for your ebook

So you’ve written your ebook. Now what? Well here’s my promotional strategy:

  1. Soft launch by sharing with friends, contacts et cetera via Twitter and my Facebook profile, encouraging everyone to share.
  2. Identify key influencers and offer my ebook prior to main launch.
  3. Get onto StumbleUpon, with some major votes / reviews, if possible.
  4. Post as an Update to my Page members of Facebook.
  5. Promote on Ecademy, a social network for businesses.
  6. Launch here on the Blah, Blah! Technology blog.
  7. Launch on my company blog, Octane Interactive.
  8. Add a button to the Blah, Blah! Technology blog and the Octane blog.
  9. Plan the wording for each promotion carefully, so I’m not saying the same things.

Make no mistake, if you don’t have access to the same resources that I have, there’s much work to be done. However, you can compensate. So think laterally about your connections and who you know, with an emphasis on who and what they know.

Once you go live, things will change, trust me. So be prepared to think on your feet, move quickly and capitalize on whatever opportunity presents itself.

A word of warning is appropriate at this time; don’t keep pinging out links everywhere to everyone. You’ll just piss everyone off and burn up what trust currency you have. Enlist the help of friends and let them send out messages and updates to their social networks.

Rule #8 launch, monitor and analyze

Google and I both agree that you can’t have too much data. Once you’ve designed and built your blog:

  • Get on over to Google Analytics, sign up for your free account and add their tracking code to your blog template pages. Also, set up some goals so you can track people downloading your ebook. If you’re selling your ebook, you can even add some of the options from your ecommerce package here.
  • I would also recommend you sign up with Clicky, to track your visits in real time. Being able to see visits live is immensely powerful, enabling you t react immediately to issues, such as people abandoning sign-ups, downloads et cetera, or to unexpected reviews, mentions and the like.
  • You want people to subscribe to your blog, right? Well sign up with FeedBurner and add their subscriber tools to your blog. Make sure you add both the regular RSS button and the email subscription option — there’s still a ton of people who don’t understand RSS but know email inside out.

Rule #9 follow up those readers!

Thinking again about trust, now your ebook is in the hands of your readers, think of ways to connect with those people. Because I was promoting my ebook via my social network, some of my readers were / are followers on Twitter, for example. Chances are, if your ebook is good, they’ve been sharing the link to your ebook download page. Now’s your chance to connect with those people, ask them what they think and politely request their feedback.

Ideally, you’re looking for two things: a review, in the form of a blog article; and / or a written testimonial. Ask for some examples of how your ebook has benefited them. Finally, ask for their permission to use their testimonials on your blog.

I was fortunate enough to have two guys write a couple of great reviews, which I’ve added links to from my ebook blog front page. When people see things like this, you’re instilling trust in them that others value your work, so impartiality is essential. If people think it’s something written by a friend or a colleague, you’re not doing yourself any favours.

And finally…

Chances are, things have changed and your ebook needs to reflect those changes. Over time, it’s possible your ebook evolves and grows into something bigger and better. So don’t look upon change as bad thing, use change as a chance to demonstrate how you’re able and willing to change with the times.

Assuming you’ve done everything that needs to be done, all that remains is to press the start button and get that ebook out there.

And all that remains for me to say is, good luck!

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

1 reply on “The art and science of writing an ebook”

Some great advice here Wayne for writing ebooks or for general publishing.

Rule #2 is one I always need to remind myself to do, keep on subject matter. Not only does it dilute the content on the subject matter, but it removes the opportunity to talk about the other matter at a later time.

Thanks for sharing this.

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