Thinking of writing an ebook?
I’ve compiled a wealth of information on writing, publishing and marketing ebooks originally shared during the latest WordCount Last Wednesday live chat on Twitter, which took place Wednesday, Oct. 27.
My guest on the chat was Boston area freelance writer Susan Johnston, who blogs at The Urban Muse. Earlier this year, Johnston published her first ebook, The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets.
During the chat Johnston shared what she’d learned about picking appropriate material, formatting, distribution and promotion. Her comments have been edited for clarity.
What are the advantages of self-publishing an ebook vs. a traditional print book?
Self-publishing means you don’t have to wait for a publisher to choose your book, go through the printing process, etc. Plus, it gives a writer more control over their content and distribution methods. My ebook wouldn’t have worked as a traditionally published print book because there are so many links and so much time-sensitive information. I noticed a gap in the marketplace – a lack of info about online writing markets – so I decided to fill that gap.
How did you get started? What were your first steps?
I looked through my blog for content I could expand upon, then compiled a list of suitable markets. I also looked at the kinds of questions readers left and made sure that my ebook covered all those answers in detail. The blog was a great way to crowdsource topics for the ebook and figure out the kind of info readers wanted.
How much of the book did you take from blog posts and how much was original material?
Less than half the content was pulled from the blog and the rest was original. The directory of markets, which is a large chunk of the ebook, did not appear on the blog.
Is an optimum length or number of chapters or structure for an ebook?
Length depends on the topic. But you definitely want it to be broken into sections and subsections so it’s easily digestible. My ebook is relatively short – 61 pgs – so I wouldn’t want to have too much overlap with the blog. And I used a Q&A format.
Once your ebook is out, should you consider using bits and pieces from it for new blog posts, or keep it premium?
Keep it premium. If you’re charging, buyers want to feel like they’re getting something special.
What about turning an already published book into an ebook?
If your book is out of print and the rights have reverted back to you, it can be a great way to keep it in circulation. There are services like Smashwords.com that can help out with that or you can hire someone to format your book as an ebook.
What about links you include in an ebook – what happens if they go bad?
I took that on as an ongoing project. Buyers of my ebook can sign up for free updates where I add or subtract markets. I also invite readers to email me if they spot a broken or out-dated link and I’ll go through and check periodically. Eventually, I may deeply discount the ebook with the caveat that it won’t be updated anymore. I’ve seen other authors do that.
What subjects sell well as ebooks?
It’s important to choose a topic that fills a need, like the Damon Brown ebook on the iPad or my ebook about online writing markets. Do people want to know how to brew their own beer or start an Etsy store?
What software, services or other resources did you use to put your ebook together?
I typed my ebook using Microsoft Word and hired Amie Fedora to design the cover, then converted to a .pdf file. For simplicity’s sake, I just chose to use a .pdf because that’s almost universally readable. However, I tried to format as I went along and that was a huge hassle! Next time, I’d write first, format second. The toughest part was getting the fonts to embed properly in the .pdf, but there are lots of online resources to help with troubleshooting. Whatever the issue is, you can usually get help by Googling or tweeting. For instance, you could Google “MS Word 2008 embed fonts in .pdf.”
How did you handle setting a price and accepting payments?
I looked at how similar ebooks were priced and chose $15.99. Some ebooks are $9.99 but you can’t discount much from there. Mine is $15.99, and I occasionally discount it to $9.99. My ebook is available through Lulu.com and E-junkie. You can also sell through Amazon but you’ll need an ISBN for that. With E-Junkie, you can have readers pay through PayPa and they automatically generate a download link for their purchase.
Do ebook services take a percent of the sale price?
E-junkie takes a monthly fee and Lulu.com is free to set up and takes a 20 percent fee per sale.
Other than selling through ebook services, how did you promote your ebook?
I promoted it through guest blogging, giving away review copies to bloggers, promoting it on my blog and in my newsletter and on Twitter. Having an established blog and Twitter following really helped. Here’s a guest post I wrote with 12 promotional strategies for ebooks.
What are some common mistakes writers make in putting together an ebook?
Unappealing covers are one mistake. Invest the money for something that conveys a professional impression.
How profitable are ebooks?
It depends on how well you promote it, how the ebook is priced and if there’s a strong need. But the margins per sale are much better than going through a traditional publisher. With a print book, you might get a little bit in royalties for each book sold, but with ebooks it’s almost pure profit. With ebooks, you don’t have hard costs like shipping and materials so they make great blog giveaways, since you can just email a download link.
If you’ve written an ebook, what was your experience? What advice or resources can you share?