Ebooks can be life-changing. If you want a steady stream of side income or you’re eager 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. I’m focusing here on nonfiction ebooks, but many of the tips will also work for fiction writers.
These nine tips will help you come up with a great idea, do your research, and get your first draft written.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Choose a Topic
- Identify Your Unique Expertise
- Survey Your Audience
- Allocate Time for Research
- Read Similar Books
- Fact Check
- Develop a Full Outline
- Write Distraction-Free
- Prepare to Sell/Market Your Book
9 Tips for Writing an Ebook for the First Time
The biggest mistake new writers make when figuring out how to write an ebook is picking an idea they think is good, without exploring whether there’s actually a market for that topic.
Tip #1: Choose a Topic
Some topics might sound like great possibilities because you know there’s a big market out there. But 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. 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: Identify Your Unique Expertise
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 certain articles crop up again and again (with a different spin each time); these indicate perennially popular topics, and the core idea they cover could be a great topic for an ebook.
Tip #3: Survey Your 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:
- 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 or even a Google Form.
- Go through comments or emails you’ve received. What questions or problems crop up again and again? Could you write an ebook addressing those?
Tip #4: Allocate 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
This may sound obvious, but some writers are overly reliant on blog posts and articles, and don’t necessarily turn to other (e)books. Whatever your topic, 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: Fact Check
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.”
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.
Tip #7: Develop a Full Outline
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, at the very least:
- 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: Write Distraction-Free
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.
Set yourself up for success by creating an environment that supports your goals.
Tip #9: Prepare to Sell/Market Your Book
Once the writing is done comes the hard part: selling and marketing your book! Check out our list of resources for doing just that:
- The Best Way to Sell Books
- How to Use BookBub to Sell Books
- Get Offline and Meet Your Readers IRL
- 3 Simple Tricks to Sell More Copies on Amazon
- 9 Marketing Mistakes to Avoid
If you’ve got any tips of your own to share about how to write an ebook, or any questions about the ebook-writing process, just pop a comment below.
This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.
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