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I bet you have a dozen (or more!) ideas for an eBook that are just floating around in your head, but the idea of actually publishing an eBook seems a bit overwhelming. Deep breath, m’friend! I’m here to give you my exact guide for writing your first eBook! This step-by-step guide will teach you the process I’ve used over and over again to organize the information floating around inside my noggin’ into an interactive eBook that I can easily sell and distribute to the masses via this magical thing called the internet.
Are you ready to get started? Lets gooooo:
Maybe you already have a topic chosen and don’t need to debate this at all. If so, awesome! If not, I have some tips.
If I asked you to get up from your desk right now and talk for ten minutes on any topic, what topic would you choose? What can you talk about with no preparation and feel both informed and passionate about it?
If that still leaves you scratching your head, try this one. What do people come to you for advice about? Are they always asking how you keep your house so clean? How you built your own website? Why your kids are so well-behaved? How they should redecorate their living room? What sort of knowledge do people seek from you regularly? Whatever that is, will likely make a great topic for your eBook.
It might be puppy training, making ceramics, creating your first Etsy Shop, feeding your toddler, or organizing your spice drawer. If lots of ideas are coming to you — make a list! Start with the topic that excites you the most.
The topic of your eBook is different from the promise of your eBook — and you need to identify both! So, if your topic is “Closet Organization” the promise might be “Learn how to downsize, clean, and reorganize your closet in 60-minutes”. Or, if the topic is “Cheap Travel”, the promise might be “Plan memorable trips on a budget of $1000 or less with minimal stress”.
Tell the reader exactly what they’ll learn or discover after reading your eBook. Be specific, but also try to make it as concise as possible.
Once you’ve picked your topic and identified your promise, I like to do a page-by-page outline of the eBook. For this, open up a spreadsheet or Google Sheet (you can use this for free!). In column A put “Page 1” “Page 2” “Page 3” and so on. Then, in column B, go down the list and identify what type of information will be on each page of the eBook. Use column C to make note of any images or resources you’ll need for that page.
Don’t get bogged down in writing out any content. Keep it simple and brief! For example, if I’m creating a travel guide for Berlin my outline might look like this:
And so on! This will not only help you recognize the topics you need to write about and any images you need to track down (or take), but it will also tell you how long your book will be and whether or not you should cut some stuff out or perhaps split it into multiple books or topics.
There’s really no limit to how long an eBook should be. But remember that most people are purchasing an eBook to quickly learn something — they want the eBook to save them time and help them get to the end result faster. Therefore, I’d suggest trying to make it 25 pages or less, and being as concise as you can with your writing. Deliver them a ton of value, but don’t waste their time!
Most importantly, creating this “blueprint” will help tremendously when you go to write the content and design the layout of your pages. You’ll have a better idea of what the layout/design of each page should be (is it focused on text or image?) and can easily copy and paste the content.
Note: When you finish the outline, revisit your promise. Look through the pages, chapters, or topics you’ve identified. Will working through this material deliver the promise to your reader? If not, what do you need to add or remove?
Go through your page-by-page spreadsheet and parse out the areas that require you to write content. Open up a new Word or Google Doc and split out the topics you need to write about. Using the Berlin example above, I’d need to write:
Best Lodging in Berlin
Best Neighborhoods in Berlin
Tips for Getting Around
List these out in your document, then head to your favorite coffee shop and start writing! You can use the grammar/spell check features to make sure you’re writing is free of errors. I also love Grammarly for help refining my writing. Remember to be concise and cut out any fluff.
I think it can also be helpful both to you and the reader to use bullet points, lists, or numbered step-by-step guides instead of huge paragraphs of text.
Once you have these sections written you should start to see your book coming together. Does anything need to be adjusted? For example, if your section about lodging in Berlin got lengthy it might need two pages, instead of one. This is a great time to update that page-by-page breakdown accordingly.
At this point, you could hand your content + images off to a designer and ask them to create the eBook. But we’re on a budget over here, so we’re doing it ourselves.
For the non-design savvy among us (*raises hand*) we say a quiet prayer and thank the good lord for Canva.com. This free web-based design software makes it super easy to design everything from Instagram graphics to eBooks.
Now you might be thinking that suddenly jumping into designing your eBook feels a bit overwhelming. I did, too. But then I found this super-simple 15-minute tutorial about creating an eBook in Canva. It will literally teach you everything you need to know in less time than it takes to make a pizza:
Best news of all? Canva has tons of pre-made templates that will allow you to simply plug in your text and images. Drag, drop, you’re done!
You can upload your own images, of course. Canva also offers a library of free images, and you can also check sites like Unsplash.com for free images you can upload and plug into your eBook. Sometimes you just need a good photo of a desk or someone holding an iPad and Unsplash has lots of free options for you to choose from.
Note: All the basic stuff on Canva is free. But some templates or stock photography will cost money. Just be aware of this as you design your eBook. You can use my link to try their pro membership free for 30-days, which is plenty of time to design your eBook!
The biggest mistake I see people make with eBooks is undervaluing their work and pricing it too low. Sure, a simple eBook could be priced at $4.99, but I’d encourage you to think about the value you are providing to people and what they stand to gain from reading your eBook (like saving or making money!).
My best advice is to price it in a way that you feel good about. Don’t gouge people, but don’t give it all away for free, either. Sometimes people feel weird about charging more for an eBook than people charge for hardcover books. I think this is silly for a few reasons: eBooks align with our current technologies, and for a lot of people, are more convenient and easier to navigate. You can update your eBook at any time, which means your eBook is always up to date with the latest information (and depending on your delivery method, you can allow people to opt into updated versions forever and deliver updated copies to them via email automatically). Lastly, you are likely online and creating additional resources for people every day. Think of your eBook as a way to supplement all the other work you do online.
Once you’ve written your eBook and designed it in Canva, you’ll want to export it as a file called a PDF. PDF stands for Portable Document Format, and it’s a cross-platform file that can be accessed and viewed on a large range of devices and programs. This is the most common and compatible file type for an eBook.
Around the 15-minute mark in the video above, Aurelius will walk you through how to export your eBook as a PDF from Canva. Easy peasy! And you could stop there.
But, if you want the file to be even smaller you can also opt to compress it using a free service like ILovePdf.com. It will depend on how you plan to distribute it and how you see your customers using it. If you expect people to print it, you might want to leave the quality and file size as-is. But, if you want to attach it to an email or have people use it on their iPad, it might be nice to compress it further! This part is totally up to you.
You’ll notice that this post is my exact guide for writing your first eBook. This is not a comprehensive technical guide to marketing or distributing your shiny new book! There’s no point in jumping ahead and overwhelming yourself with the technical aspects of marketing or distribution. Because until you write and create the ebook, you have nothing to market or distribute.
My honest advice would be to stop reading right now and focus on actually writing and creating your eBook, then return back to this post for the following tips:
Marketing tip 1: no one knows you wrote the eBook if you don’t tell them you wrote it. And I’d suggest that you start sharing as soon as you finish reading this post! Show them the behind-the-scenes and take them along on the journey as your pick your topic (maybe let them help you choose through a poll!), while you write all the content, and while you select images and put your finishing touches on the eBook. This is a great way to help them feel invested in the project before it even launches.
Marketing tip 2: don’t assume that everyone sees every post. Something like 5% of your audience sees a Facebook or Instagram post. An email newsletter has an average open rate of like 15%. So, remember that talking bout your eBook once isn’t gonna cut it. You’ve got to keep telling people about this amazing resource you created.
Distribution tip 1: you can email it directly to them yourself. Maybe the idea of needing some sort of online checkout or automated system to deliver your products is what’s stopping you from sharing your knowledge with the world. Just ask people to Venmo/Cash App you the cost of your eBook with their email in the note section. Prepare an email template and when you make a sale, simply customize the email slightly, attach the PDF file, and fire it off! Even though this is very manual, it is a great way to hit the ground running and put your eBook out into the world for free, with basically no learning curve or overhead costs.
Distribution tip 2: you can try a service like PayHip to sell and distribute digital products such as eBooks for free. This will take care of both payment collection and delivery for you. Their pricing model is very generous for their free service and this seems like an easy way to get started with selling digital products online.
Distribution tip 3: automate it! If you have a website and want to have a really seamless customer experience you can set up an automation that will deliver your eBook for you. This can be done in various ways, but mine is set up like this: I sell my eBook on my website using Shopify. Once purchased, the eBook is delivered via email using Shopify’s Digital Downloads App. You could stop there — but I also have a Zapier automation that will add each customer to a corresponding list in Flodesk (my email marketing service). That way I have an email list of all the people who have read my Minimalist Wardrobe eBook, and another list of people who have used my Insider’s Guide to Copenhagen.
You can also sell and deliver eBooks through services like Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble and plenty of others. I don’t have any experience with this, as I currently sell all my eBooks directly through my website. However, you can find a great tutorial about self-publishing via Amazon.
I hope it was helpful to hear more about the process of writing an eBook and to get my step-by-step method for churning them out. When I was deciding what to write about I relied heavily on what people often pop into my email or DMs to ask me…and below is a sample of the ones I’ve written so far! Now I have a comprehensive resource I can send them to. Click through to view their sales pages and get a peek at how I market and distribute them:
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