With people staying home now more than ever, ebooks are having a moment.
Just today, The New York Times released an interesting article about how the COVID-19 crisis has shifted American spending habits. The piece notes that, while many forms of entertainment/media have seen stark drops in sales, those of ebooks and audiobooks have actually increased.
So, if you’ve ever flirted with the idea of writing an ebook, there’s no better time to get started. And as a professional ghostwriter, I know a thing or two about the process.
When I ghostwrite an ebook, my job is to take a client’s rough work and turn it into a cohesive publication. They might give me a full outline or simply a working title. Then, I step in to research, organize, and write the text of the ebook itself.
I’ve ghostwritten over 100 projects for various businesses and authors, and I’m going to let you in on my top tips for writing yours:
Start with brainstorming.
The first step of any good writing project is to brainstorm. And if you don’t have a topic in mind yet, try asking yourself the following questions:
What is the purpose of this ebook? If it’s to promote my business, what kind of industry am I focusing on? What do my potential clients need to learn? What kind of knowledge gaps am I equipped to fill?
What am I really knowledgeable about? What are my strengths? What am I interested in?
The goal of your ebook should be to teach the reader about something you’re an expert on. Look at your own background and skills to find a good topic to narrow in on.
You can also take a bit of time to research popular ebooks. For example, you can check out the Amazon Kindle Store to see which titles are selling well at the moment — both in general and in your specific niche.
Pick a particular topic, and try to come up with an interesting title. (This can always be edited later — it’s just to get things started.)
Make a thorough outline.
With a title/concept in mind, the next step is to get organized. Consider the following:
How long do I want my ebook to be? 3,000 words? 5,000 words? 10,000 words?
How will I structure the book? What are some potential titles for my chapters?
With that in mind, start creating an outline for your ebook. You can always change this later, but start planning out different chapters.
For each chapter, you’ll need to conduct research. Using the internet or print books you have at home, find reputable sources in your field.
Treat it almost like an assignment you’d write in school; come up with your topic/thesis and find some sources to reference. Your outline should have plenty of notes and links to various relevant articles.
As with writing a homework assignment, you don’t want to be caught plagiarizing anything. Keeping a handy outline with all of the links to your references will make it easier to cite them within your ebook itself. Even if you’re just paraphrasing something you’ve read, you need to link back to the original source.
(An added step is to later use Copyscape Premium as a final plagiarism check to make sure you haven’t missed any citations. I’d highly recommend this.)
Set a timeline/schedule.
After you’ve got a good handle on what you’re writing about and how you’ll actually organize it, you’ll need to look at when you’ll get it done. So, open up your calendar and see what your next 1-2 months look like.
Make a timeline for completing your first ebook draft. Schedule in work sessions (ideally at least 1-3 hours at a time) across several weeks. Figure out when you’ve got the time to write, and make a plan to do so.
Of course, if you’re writing a super short ebook, it might only take you a week or two, but if it’s more extensive, you could be looking at over a month’s worth of work.
Whatever the length of your project, staying organized will help ensure that your project gets done.
Start piecing everything together.
Once you’ve made your schedule and are starting work on your ebook, you need to put a few basic things in place. Using your chosen platform (I often use Google Drive to write drafts of ebooks), get the skeleton of your ebook worked out.
Create a simple title page; write a table of contents; find some free stock images to include with each chapter. (Pexels and Pixabay are both excellent sites for finding images that are free for commercial use.)
It doesn’t need to be perfect, but getting down a bare-bone version of your ebook will allow you to fill in the blanks with your writing.
Complete your first draft.
Over time, you can start actually writing your ebook. Using your outline as a starting point, draft up your chapters. Be sure to properly cite each source.
When it comes to the quality of your writing itself, don’t stress too much about making it perfect — your first task is simply to get it written. You can edit everything later.
Keep things simple to read; most ebooks meant for the general public should feel quick and snappy. Your job isn’t really to create a highly-dense piece of writing — the tone of an ebook is typically short, sweet, and to the point.
You want to communicate helpful information to your reader, but you also don’t want to bore them with complicated jargon and lengthy paragraphs (at least not in most industries).
In a way, you can think of an ebook as an extended blog post. If you’re already an experienced blogger, you’ll know that writing for the web involves breaking complicated concepts into simpler terms. Your job is to streamline reputable information into a breezy, digestible format.
Congrats! You’ve finished your first draft. The next step is to start editing. You can obviously do this by yourself at first, but you’ll want to get a fresh set of eyes on your ebook, too.
Ideally — if it’s within your budget — the next step is to hire an editor. If you’re on a shoestring budget, sites like Fiverr or Upwork can connect you with low-cost freelancers, but the quality isn’t always the best.
(For reference, I’ve used Fiverr as both a freelancer and a customer, and the whole thing is really hit-or-miss. The extremely low rates aren’t ideal for sellers or buyers; the result is an oversaturated marketplace with many inexperienced freelancers essentially racing to the bottom/seeing who can do the most work for the lowest rate of pay.)
For this reason, I’d suggest researching freelancers on sites like LinkedIn, or simply through a Google search. Try to find somebody who’s experienced in digital content and has a thorough portfolio.
But if you don’t have the funds to spend on a professional at all, you can try asking family and friends to give you their feedback. Try offering them something in return, even if it’s just a small favour, for their time.
Start looking at next steps.
Once you’ve finalized your draft, you can start looking at next steps. If you have the funds, you can look into hiring a graphic designer or book designer to help with the formatting/layout of your ebook.
Alternatively, sites like Canva offer free graphic design tools, and you can do some online research of your own to find technical tips on your ebook layout (like choosing between PDF or EPUB format, creating a clickable table of contents, etc.).
Personally, I usually opt for a PDF format and use free Google Drive templates to get my basic formatting done. But I’m not an expert on that side of things — I’m just the ghostwriter — so definitely do your own research to see what makes sense for you.
After that, you’ll want to look into distribution: Will you sell it on Amazon? Will you offer it as a free download for subscribers of your email list? Figure out the best way to get it to your potential readers. (A designer can often help you optimize the ebook for various platforms.)
There you have it: a basic guide to writing your first ebook. I hope you found this article useful, and that you’ll consider drafting up your own title.
And if you’re ever looking to hire a ghostwriter or editor for your ebook, I’m also available to hire as a freelancer. Visit the Contact page to send me a message and get started.
Thanks, as always, for reading my Writing Advice column, and be sure to follow the blog if you’d like to keep up with future posts.