Ebooks can be life-changing. If you want a steady stream of side income, or if you want to take the first big step in your career as a writer, writing an ebook is a great place to begin.
Lots of writers (and would-be writers) recognize that, but have yet to get started on their own ebook. Perhaps you’re one of them: you’re not sure where to begin, or you’re worried about how you’ll find the time.
I’ve been writing and publishing ebooks — for myself and for clients – since 2008, and I’ve helped lots of writers get their own ebooks finished. These nine tips will help you come up with a great idea, do your research, and get your first draft written.
Note: I’m focusing here on nonfiction ebooks — but many of the tips will also work for fiction writers. Feel free to pick out the ones most applicable to you!
Coming Up with Ideas
The biggest mistake that new ebook writers make is to pick an idea that they think is good — without discovering whether or not there’s a market.
Tip #1: Don’t Just Follow the Money
Some topics might sound like great possibilities because you know there’s a big market out there. Don’t decide to write a “dieting book” or “self-help book” (or any other type of book) just because you think it will make money, though. You may find that the market is saturated — and only established big names are currently selling well.
Instead, choose a topic that (a) you already know a lot about and (b) you’ll enjoy writing about. This saves you doing lots of research just to get up to speed, and it substantially increases the chance that you’ll see your ebook through to a final draft.
Tip #2: Think about the Magazines and Blogs You Read
If you’re not sure what your specialist topics are, take a look at your magazine subscriptions or the blogs that you visit frequently: these should give you some clues!
Once you’ve settled on a topic, dig deeper into these resources. You’ll probably find that certain articles (with a different spin each time) crop up again and again; these will be ones that address perennially popular topics, and the core idea that they cover could be a great one for an ebook.
Tip #3: Use Your Blog or Newsletter Audience
If you’ve got a blog or an email newsletter, then you’re well ahead in the ebook game. You not only have a ready-made audience for your work — you also have a great source of ideas.
Two simple ways to do this are to:
- Come up with three to seven possible ebook titles or topics, and survey your audience to find out which they prefer. (SurveyMonkey is great for this.)
- Go through comments or emails you’ve received. What questions or problems crop up again and again? Could you write an ebook addressing these?
Doing Your Research
However well you know your topic, you’ll need to do some research, even if that’s just to check facts and provide a few extra nuggets of interesting information for your readers.
Tip #4: Allocate a Set Amount of Time for Research
Many writers find it’s easy to get stuck at the research stage, gathering more and more articles and resources, thumbing through books again and again, jotting down great quotes, facts and references.
Avoid this by giving yourself a limited amount of time for research. That could mean setting aside, say, two weeks purely for research before you begin writing, or researching for a certain length of time as you come to each new chapter of your ebook.
Tip #5: Read Similar Books or Ebooks
This is an obvious tip, but some writers are overly reliant on blog posts and articles, and don’t necessarily turn to other (e)books. Whatever your topic is, it’s likely you’ll be able to find some similar books and ebooks. If you can’t, you may have to consider whether it’s too obscure to focus on.
You won’t need to read every word of every book you choose; instead, use the table of contents or index to help you find the parts most relevant to you. These can also help throw up extra ideas on aspects of the topic you might not have considered yet.
Tip #6: Be Certain of Facts and Statistics
If your particular topic area has a few oft-quoted facts or statistics, it can be tempting to repeat these without double-checking them. Be careful, though: other authors won’t necessarily have verified the facts themselves.
Between 2008 and 2011, I wrote a lot of material for personal development and self-improvement blogs. One popular “fact” in this area is about “the Harvard Goal Study.” (You can read an account of this supposed study here.)
One excellent blogger in the area, though, debunked this in a post Writing Down Your Goals — The Harvard Written Goal Study. Fact or Fiction? This helped open my eyes to the sad truth that some authors make up facts and statistics to suit them, so you do need to look for original studies, government publications, and other reputable sources of information where possible.
If you come across something presented as fact which seems odd or hard to believe, Snopes.com is a great place to turn for an initial check.
Writing the First Draft
Writers who sail through the idea-generation and researching stages sometimes come to a sudden halt here, but writing the first draft of your ebook doesn’t need to be daunting or difficult.
Tip #7: Write a Full Outline First
One of the simplest ways to make writing easier is to have a clear outline before you begin. Otherwise, it’s easy to get stuck a couple of chapters into your ebook.
Your outline should include:
- A title for each chapter – don’t spend too long agonizing over the exact wording at this stage. It’s usually better to have, say, 15 short chapters instead of five long ones. If your ebook deals with a broad topic, it may also be appropriate to also split it into three to five different parts.
- Subheadings or subsections for each chapter, with a list of points detailing information you want to cover. You could produce this as a linear list, or you could create a mind-map to help you come up with new ideas and link them in different ways.
Tip #8: Create a Distraction-Free Environment
For most people, writing is a demanding, high-energy task — and it’s often easy to give in to distractions.
Don’t put temptation in your path: create a distraction-free environment by using a program that allows for full-screen writing, like Dark Room, Write Room or Scrivener. Turn off your phone. Sign out of your email account, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and anything else that might make sounds or pop alerts up on your screen.
Tip #9: Imagine You’re Writing an Email
If you find yourself staring at the screen, wondering how to word a particular point, or struggling over how much information to put down, imagine that you’re writing an email to a friend (or blog reader). Simply type what you’d say to them.
You could take this even further by using questions for your subheadings, if that helps you get into the flow: “How do I register a domain name?” might make for an easier section than “Domain name registration”, for instance. If you don’t like the question format for subheadings, you can simply reword them at the end.
If you’ve got any tips of your own to share, or any questions about the ebook-writing process, just pop a comment below.