How to write an ebook

keyboard for writing an ebook

Writing has never been as lucrative as it is today. Ten years ago, you still had to grapple with editors, publishers, and PR people for your book to see the light of day. Thanks to ebooks and Web publishing, anyone with a computer and a decent vocabulary can now become a self-published author. But making it big in the ebook business—now that’s another story.

The ebook industry is a big one, infinitely bigger than print and other systems before it. For the ebook writer, that means infinitely more competition and infinitely higher standards. To even get a second glance, your writing has to stand out big time.

But before you put down that pen (or close your word processor), here’s good news: ebook writing is easier than it sounds. This guide runs you through the basics to get you started on your first ebook.

Niche and series writing

ebook writing has to be very targeted. A print publisher may take on a manuscript about diabetes, but an ebook has to be more specific. A corresponding ebook might be about diabetic diets, sports for diabetics, or local diabetes support groups. E-book readers are usually looking for specific information, the kind that takes hours to find at a library. If you’re well-versed on a topic but don’t have a specialty, now’s a good time to find one.

What if you have a lot of information to share? Consider breaking up your topic into smaller categories. Instead of writing one big ebook, write several shorter ones as part of a series. Series writing is popular for e-books because it helps people find just what they need—no need to browse through the whole book in search of one useful paragraph. It means more work for you, but it’s work that is guaranteed to sell.

Writing for the e-reader

E-books are designed to be read on screen. The average reader may not notice, but there’s a big difference between reading on screen and reading a printed page. You have to write with the e-reader in mind. Here are some rules to keep in mind.

Stay concise. E-book readers don’t have the patience for flowery paragraphs that say next to nothing. A little creativity won’t hurt, but it’s important to get straight to the point. Squeeze all the pertinent info into the first couple of pages. Usually, if they don’t learn anything in the first five minutes, they’ll give up altogether.

Avoid large text blocks. Between a black-and-white document and a colorful magazine, the latter would get most if not all of the readership. E-readers are turned off by large blocks of text, but are drawn to color and images. Break up your text into small paragraphs, and try to put at least one image for every two-page spread.

Use lots of subheads. E-books are read much like web pages—the reader scans the page in search of certain words or phrases. Mark each section with appropriate subheadings so they’ll know what each block of text is about. Keep the sections short. Try to put at least one subtitle on every page.

Choosing an ebook format

In the broadest sense, an ebook is any book-length text that’s in electronic form. This means that a Word document or text file will qualify as an e-book. But most e-books are sold in specialized formats designed for specific programs, known as e-book readers. The following are some of the most common:

Microsoft Reader.  Works on the Pocket PC, Windows Tablet, and Windows operating systems.  Reading is easier on the eyes because of the ClearType text. You can highlight and create bookmarks, but you can’t print out the text.

Adobe Reader.  Uses the popular PDF format but in a smaller, more compressed version. The CoolType system is designed like ClearType and allows faster and smoother reading. There are some compatibility issues with the Palm OS.

MobiPocket.  One of the most universally compatible readers, although some may not work on Mac and Unix/Linux systems. It allows you to zoom in and add notes. There’s even a progress bar to show how far along you are. 

Marketing your ebook

When you’re done writing, it’s time to do some marketing. There are lots of ways to sell ebooks—most of them online—but the first thing you need is a web site. Invest in your own domain name. It lends a great deal of creativity to your project and gives you more freedom over marketing content. Once it’s all set up, you can start considering marketing methods.

Choosing the right channels requires a bit of market research. Find out where your target audience can be reached—the sites they visit, the stuff they download. You can do this via online surveys and by asking friends in your circle. Most likely, your hangouts will be their hangouts too. Some of the more common channels include:

  • Forum posts.  Cheap and direct, but time-consuming. Casually link to your website while offering useful, relevant information.
  • Article directories.  Takes a lot of work, but very effective if the writing is good.
  • Banner ads.  Great visibility, but not much credibility. Well-versed web readers will just ignore them.
  • Pay-per-click advertising.  Immediate targeted traffic and usually fast sales. It doesn’t require much marketing savvy, but there is some risk involved.
  • E-mail marketing. The electronic version of direct mail, this is one of the least popular forms of marketing. It’s best used as a supplement to other promotion efforts.