9 Powerful Tips for Writing Your First Successful Ebook

9 Powerful Tips for Writing Your First Successful Ebook

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.

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56 comments

  • Razwana says:

    Great tips, Ali. When I wrote my first e-book, I wrote it for myself. With no intention of hitting publish. It took the pressure off for sure!

    • Ali Luke says:

      Thanks Razwana! I think all writers need to write for themselves first — I always try to create books that I’d love to read. 🙂

    • Maryam says:

      Agreed.. When u writing for the first time you should write what u like it will give u a smooth and enjoyable pressure free experience of writing.

  • Is there a recommended length for a good e-book?

    What do you recommend as the best tool for formatting the document for e-book readers?

    • Ali Luke says:

      The length can honestly be anything from a few pages to massive … though if you’re charging for your ebook, you’ll normally be looking at 10,000 words plus as a very rough guide. (You might well get away with less if you’re writing about a very specialised topic.)

      I use Calibre for formatting for Kindle (.mobi, which becomes .azw for the Kindle, and .epub, which is a standard cross-platform format). There are plenty of companies that can handle formatting for you: BookBaby, for instance.

      • Very informative and insightful. Thank you so much

        • Darla says:

          I am brand new to blogging and writing books, but I have been through many difficult years in my life due to depression and bipolar disorder, and got divorced after 19 yrs of marriage because my illness ruined my marriage, or me and he couldn’t understand. I have been through hell and back and have felt inspired to tell my story to help others. This seems to be a pretty common illness these days, more and more people are being diagnosed, including my 23 yr old daughter. If I can do this and help only one person, i feel it would be worth it. Any advice or tips for me? I know a lot about this topic already as I was diagnosed 20 yrs ago, and have many articles given to me by many different psychiatrists I’ve seen over the years, as well as many many therapists. I would really appreciate some good advice.
          Thank you, Darla.

  • “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.” –I love this tip and I think it’s a good way to find an idea that people actually care about.

    I recently published a free ebook, and got good feedback from it, but I’m definitely bookmarking your post for the ebooks the I plan to write in the future. 🙂

  • Lois Browne says:

    Thanks, Ali. I’m focusing on fiction at the moment — I just self-published my first mystery — but as a life-long non-fiction writer, this post is very helpful and gives me some ideas for future projects.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Congratulations on getting your first mystery novel out there, Lois! And good luck with all your future projects — I’m glad you found my post useful. 🙂

  • AFord says:

    Appreciate the helpful insights shared here. Am bookmarking “The Four Essential Stages of Writing” to glean even more. Thanks for sharing.

  • Neil says:

    Some good new information here. I wrote and published an e-book three years ago and have had no success AT ALL in getting anyone to buy it at 99 cents. It’s a mystery fiction novella, not self-help or instructional. Think I’ll write my next one on what I know, rather than what I made up.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Neil, good luck with the novella and with your next project. I’ve found it much, much harder to market fiction than non-fiction — Joanna Penn from The Creative Penn has a lot of great tips to help, though.

      • Neil says:

        Thanks, Ali. I’ll give Joanna a look-see. I’m like so many writers: pretty good (or so I’ve been told) but massively discouraged. I surely do appreciate those who are willing to give a hand up to those like me. Keep on keepin’ on.

  • Peacemaker says:

    Well done Ali! These tips are great to get started!

    • Neil says:

      Writing and publishing ones work as an e-book may seem like the hardest part, and it is hard, especially for beginning writers (even experienced ones can find it difficult), but it is the promotion that presents the most challenge. If you’ve never done it, then you’ll find the learning curve formidable. And the work, the time and effort, is quite daunting. But many have done it. So to those who want to earn “a steady income” by self-publishing, I say, roll your sleeves up because you’ve got a heavy task ahead of you with no promise of success. Yet, you’re an entreprenuer and that’s what the entreprenuerial spirit is all about: hard work, sacrifice, risk and heartache coupled with the chance of big returns, your returns, and the satisfaction that you did it! Good luck.

  • Esteban says:

    Thanks for sharing such a pleasant idea, post is good, thats why i have read it fully

  • rugstudio says:

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who had been doing a little homework on this.
    And he in fact ordered me dinner due to the fact that
    I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this….
    Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to talk about this subject here on your
    site.

  • Anonymous says:

    I work as web copywriter and content writer for a few years (in Romanian language) and now my clients want also ebooks. I hope this is not so different.

  • James McKillop says:

    Hello! I am interested in writing stories for children. What website or who can recommend where to begin my stories.

    Thanks!

  • Hi. Do you accommodate guest bloggers and/or contributors? Thanks!

  • Paola Rodriguez says:

    Hi, I am in the process of writing an ebook and wanted to know if you had any site that you would recommend where I could copyright my finished ebook. I am currently looking for a site that offers the service for free and was looking into copyrighted.com but am still unsure as to whether or not it is my best option. Thank you.

  • Claire says:

    Great Article, Ali, thanks for sharing your opinion. Writing is hard, but it is only the half as we learned from our customers. Marketing and Promotion is the other part and hard too. Heads up and don’t give up!

  • Jason says:

    Awesome! Thanks for these wonderful tips.

  • Forrest says:

    Just showed this to a client of mine who is working his way through an ebook now. Thanks!

  • Bright Joe says:

    I’m thinking of starting to create eBooks for my blog. I want to build an Email list by giving out the eBooks to the people who subscribes. These 9 tips are very helpful for me as I never thought of starting before.

    Thanks for the awesome blog post and especially these 9 tips.

  • Issi says:

    If I did research for an ebook how do I use and cite the information. Can someone give me information as to how and where in an ebook to put my references, I know usually they’re at the end of the book just not quite clear. Thanks

  • Asad Iqbal says:

    Hello and great thanks for wonderful article.

    I would love to hear back from you on my Email as I’m looking forward to discuss some fabulous ideas regarding Ebook Writing, Creative Writing and even couple other things 🙂

    Kind Regards,
    AI

  • Hi Ali Luke,

    Today I was thinking to start ebook and I searched for first-time tips for EBOOK, I just landed on your blog and really liked the way you explained.

    I am going to start ebook next week but I have a question.

    Is it a good practice to keep your name in Ebook Title like Learn Selenium by Mukesh or something like that ? or Should I keep the name with Subject Line?

    • Ali Luke says:

      You can certainly put your name on the cover, though I wouldn’t put it in the actual title.

      Don’t use the word “by” on the cover, either; it looks amateur. Take a look at other books / ebooks in your field and see what they do.

      e.g. This would be a good layout for the cover, with the title at the top or in the middle and your name at the bottom:

      Learn Selenium

      Mukesh Otwani

  • Thanks for sharing these beneficial tips. My problem is when I start writing, I can’t stick to the outline and ends up with the stream of words instead of quality structured writing.

  • Hi Ali luke,

    Thanks for this wonderful article..!! 🙂

    I am an online trainer of one of an IT subject (Selenium Automation Tool) and want to write an ebook on the same topic. I have a website also on the same topic. This blog is really gonna help me.

    Can you suggest some blogs or videos on “How to keep ebook Interactive?”

    Thanks,
    Saurabh

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