Intimidated by the thought of writing your first ebook?
Sure, a 2,500 word ebook may be a daunting project for a content creator, but it also has the potential to be an invaluable content marketing tool. Take it from the industry experts at HubSpot, where ebooks act as lead magnets that get shared thousands of times a year.
Achieving that level of success, however, takes a bit of insider know-how.
We’re here to help. Our guide will get you from understanding the basic concept of ebooks, all the way to the actionable steps you can take to publish your first—or your fiftieth.
What is an Ebook?
An ebook is long-form content that is designed to be easily read and consumed on a digital device. More specifically, the single word “ebook” can refer to two separate concepts, depending on the context:
- An electronic version of a published book that can be read on a dedicated ebook reader, like an Amazon Kindle.
- A downloadable piece of long-form marketing content, typically formatted as a PDF and packed with relevant info on a specific topic within your industry.
These definitions sometimes overlap. Some of the best marketing ebooks are also available for dedicated e-readers. For the purposes of content marketing, though, we’ll stick to the second, marketing-specific concept.
Content marketers typically use ebooks as gated content. The flow might look something like this:
- The business promotes its ebook by linking to a landing page with a sign-up link.
- Interested users provide their contact information to request the free ebook.
- Once they submit their info, they get instant download access to the ebook.
- The business, meanwhile, grows its email list with highly qualified leads.
Done right, this process works. Gated content, and ebooks in particular, can be a powerful source of lead generation because they offer real value to your audience.
Ebooks provide answers, solutions, and insights way beyond other, shorter forms of content, rewarding you with audience information for further lead nurturing and customer conversion efforts.
Heads Up: if you’re only looking for self-publishing tips, jump down to the bonus section at the end of this step-by-step guide. The bulk of this article, though, will be geared towards content marketers looking to build out their content strategy beyond the blogging basics.
Where to Get Ideas for Your Ebook
We’ve covered the what and why. Ready for the how?
As with any type of content marketing, the beginning is the hardest part. Starting a new ebook from scratch often means staring at a blank Google Docs screen and idly tapping your fingers while every thought you’ve ever had flies out your ears.
That’s why, before you even think about the writing, you should do some thorough brainstorming for ebook ideas.
Writing an ebook is different than writing short-form content for blogs, Twitter, or Facebook. Because it is a standalone piece, the idea is what will make or break your ebook. Fortunately, there are a few spots you can turn to for inspiration.
Think About Your FAQs
There’s no better source for an ebook topic than digging directly into your audience’s needs. After all, they’re the ones you need to attract in order to make this type of gated content successful.
One way to find a relevant long-form topic is to focus on the questions you most frequently get from your target audience. They’re likely asking quite a few, whether on social media, your website, or in reviews. Use those queries as a starting point and break them down into greater detail.
These topics tend to lend themselves to evergreen content, further elevating their potential as potential ebooks. Your customer base will appreciate the in-depth exploration of the questions on their mind.
Take a Look at Your Existing Content
Are you already working on shorter-form content marketing, like blogging? Great. You probably have at least a few existing (and successful) posts that deserve a deeper dive.
Pay special attention to the posts that have continued to perform well over time. Another option is to find a series of multiple posts on a similar theme that could be combined into a more comprehensive ebook.
Check Out Your Competitors
To be successful, your ebook needs to be unique. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get inspired by your direct and indirect competitors.
The growth of ebooks as lead magnets means there are likely plenty of examples for your industry and target audience. A quick informal competitive analysis has a few benefits:
- You ensure that you’re not writing on a topic that’s already covered in-depth elsewhere.
- You gain a better sense of the content, length, and formatting that your audience expects.
- You see where the existing content has gaps that your ebook could successfully fill.
Perform Keyword Research
You may not choose to optimize your ebook for search engines, but some thoughtful keyword research can still be useful in nailing down your topic.
Think of the questions your audience is asking from a search term perspective. Get inspiration from the keywords they’re using frequently. This will give you some initial ideas, which you can then test out with a couple of shorter blog topics to see if they resonate.
Another benefit: You might not optimize your ebook itself for a specific keyword, but the ebook’s landing page certainly can (and likely should!) be optimized. If you’ve already done your keyword research on potential topics, SEO on that page becomes that much simpler.
Connect to Your Marketing Strategy
No content exists in isolation. That’s especially true for ebooks, which become cornerstones of your content strategy. So why not start there for inspiration on potential topics?
Once you start digging in, you’ll see plenty of options:
- Do your audience definitions and buyer personas suggest a specific topic?
- Is there anything in your mission statement that lends itself to a full publication?
- Can you use your marketing goals as inspiration to come up with an ebook theme?
- What strategies are you pursuing in other channels, like your podcast or social, that could be fleshed out further?
IMPORTANT: No matter what topic you choose, you need to have enough meat to fill a multi-page piece with substantive information. Forget the fluff—every page needs to be packed with helpful information to prevent your audience from feeling misled or disappointed. Keep that in mind as you browse for inspiration and topic ideas.
Step-by-Step Guide: How to Write Your First Ebook
Don’t think of writing ebooks as a romanticized author’s life, where you sit at the typewriter and write whatever inspiration comes to mind—unless you’re okay with nobody reading it. (If you even manage to finish, that is.) Instead, go for a more methodical approach with these eight steps:
- Create an Outline and Table of Contents
- Estimate Your Word Count
- Start Writing Your First Draft
- Get a Second Opinion
- Finalize the Content
- Decide on Your Ebook Title
- Work Out the Formatting
- Design the Ebook Cover
This method might be counterintuitive for many bloggers, but it is a straightforward process once you start. By following each step diligently, you can ensure that your hard work will not be wasted.
1. Create an Outline and Table of Contents
Technically you don’t need a content outline, but it will make everything else easier. The outline helps you break your core idea down into smaller, more easily digestible points with supporting evidence.
Your content outline also helps with the flow of the ebook. As the experts at Search Engine People point out,
“Without an outline, it’s harder to connect ideas correctly. For example, you might write a piece of content and only realize you’ve forgotten something essential after publication. With an outline, you can identify potential gaps before you start writing so that you can make a piece of writing as complete as possible.”
Use these guidelines to create your outline:
- Start with the broader themes, in the forms of chapters or subheaders.
- Write your way down to the finer details, including core points to hit under each header.
- Include data, images, and sources under each area as you come across them. That way, you don’t have to spend time searching in the writing or formatting stage.
- Move around individual headers and topic areas as needed. Remember, flow is an important piece of the user experience.
Once you’re happy with the outline, you can use it to create a table of contents. This will be a helpful tool for both you and your audience to navigate quickly around the publication.
2. Estimate Your Word Count
Before you dive into the writing process, it pays to have an idea of how much you’re planning to create. Having a number in mind can help make the process a little less daunting, while also helping you understand just how much you’ll need to cover in each section.
Don’t make it a random guess, though. Instead, estimate the length of the content by balancing three separate components:
- Listen to the experts. Most estimate the ideal ebook length to be about 2,500 words, although that depends on the topic. Don’t use 2,500 as a hard upper limit.
- Check out the competition. The length of their content will give you a good idea of what your audience typically sees. You don’t want to stray too far from that.
- Consider your outline. The topic might be so in-depth that you need 5,000 or even 10,000 to truly cover it in the depth your audience expects.
All three of these variables are important, but the last is the most crucial. And remember that your word count is not set in stone. You’re merely estimating it at this point to help drive your progress as you start writing your draft.
3. Start Writing Your First Draft
It’s time to put pen to paper—or, more accurately, to start hitting that keyboard. With your content outline in hand, start writing the first draft of your own ebook.
Remember: an ebook is more than just paragraphs of text. We’re not talking about a novel here. Apply the core rules of content marketing:
- Make sure the text is skimmable, with plenty of bulleted or numbered lists and subheaders.
- Keep your paragraphs short, ideally around 40 to 55 characters.
- Write in an active voice.
- Stick with simple sentences as much as you can.
- Avoid technical jargon unless it is common knowledge for your entire target audience.
- Keep your reading level around 9th grade or lower.
Writing is a complex process. If you’re already familiar with creating long-form content, go ahead and dive in. If not, keep reading for our Content Writing Tips below to get you started in the right direction.
4. Get a Second Opinion
Once you have a draft in hand, show it to someone else. A second set of eyes will be crucial to help you know you’re going in the right direction.
In a multi-member marketing team, finding a second opinion should be easy. It gets a bit tougher if you’re on your own. In that case, you might want to try finding a ‘trial’ audience, perhaps a loyal long-term customer, to read through the content.
This is another step that might not be intuitive for most bloggers. An ebook, though, is too big of an investment to produce entirely on your own.
Ask the reviewer to avoid focusing too much on spelling and grammar. Instead, get feedback on the concepts, the value of each section, and the quality of the evidence used to support your points. They should also keep an eye out for any unnecessary filler content.
5. Finalize the Content
Based on the feedback you’ve received, it’s time to finalize the content. You want to be sure that the text is perfect before moving to formatting.
This starts with making sure you get the grammar and syntax just right. Run spell check, no matter how expert a wordsmith you may be. Then, read the text to yourself out loud to find any awkward sentences.
Finalizing the content also means working on the transition between individual sections. A great ebook accomplishes two things:
- It’s a deep dive into a specific topic, from start to finish.
- It serves as a quick reference for anyone who needs only a snippet within that larger topic.
Individual sections in your content outline help you accomplish the second. The first, though, is only possible if you make sure one section flows well to the next.
Pro Tip: add callouts and sidebars. When you have particularly important takeaways, quotes, or statistics, pull them out of the text and into their own separate box. As you finalize the text, mark those sections in your content so you’ll remember them as you work on your ebook format.
6. Decide on Your Ebook Title
Surprised it took this long to get to your ebook’s title? Too many marketers start here first, then fill out the content to match the title. Ideally, though, the process is exactly the opposite. Once you have your content, find a title that covers both the overarching idea and the content it contains.
For example, you might have found in your content outline that every section can naturally be numbered. Or you might have found that you’ve heavily relied on examples to illustrate your content. Maybe you even started down the industry trends direction.
All of those directions come out of the writing process, and they can lead to titles ranging from Your Complete Guide to [Topic] to 10 Industry Trends You Need to Know in 2021.
No matter which direction you go, keep a few things in mind:
- Your ebook title will show up on social networks, your website, and any other space where you’re advertising your ebook.
- The title is your opportunity to hook your readers before they dive in. It needs to be both catchy and memorable.
- Because you want to generate leads, your title will likely become the title of the sign-up landing page as well. Make sure you use keywords your audience will search for.
Looking for more inspiration? This guide on headline writing can apply to ebook titles, as well.
7. Work Out the Formatting
For long-form content like ebooks, formatting is almost as crucial as the text. It has to look appealing to keep your audience engaged and flipping through the pages.
If you’re not familiar with layout and design decisions, HubSpot has some ebook templates for you to use. If you want to give it a try yourself, though, be sure to follow a few best practices:
- Use your brand colors and any graphics that your audience would expect on your website or printed marketing materials.
- Add visuals, but only if they make sense within the page’s context. An explanatory picture is great, but a stock photo just to fill some space may not work as well.
- Pull out those quotes or key facts mentioned above into their own column or space.
- Whenever you can, visualize statistics and other numbers with graphs and tables.
8. Design the Ebook Cover
Time to get fancy! Once the general layout of the book is complete, put the finishing touches on it with a great cover design.
We know it’s what is on the inside that counts, but still: a book cover matters. It’s likely the feature graphic you’ll use anywhere you promote the ebook, so you need to make sure it looks great, displays your title correctly, and makes sense given what your book is about.
Ideally, you have the graphic design skills or resources to open InDesign and get to work. If you don’t, though, here are two options that won’t break the bank:
- Use a free or low-cost option like Canva to design the ebook cover.
- Work with a freelancer on a service like Fiverr for professional-looking book covers.
Bonus: Ebook Publishing Beyond the PDF
For a marketing ebook that you can use to generate leads, the process is now complete. You export your ebook as a PDF, upload it to your website, and start promoting links to the landing page.
But what if your intentions are different, like publishing a fiction or non-fiction book on the Kindle store, Amazon, or elsewhere?
For more complete standalone digital products, the process becomes a bit more complex. Consider how you want your book to be available and familiarize yourself with the different formats:
- EPUB is designed to fit multiple types of devices and is compatible with most ebook readers and mobile devices.
- MOBI is compatible with e-readers from most retailers, except for the Nook from Barnes and Noble.
- AZW is an Amazon-exclusive ebook file type designed for the Kindle.
- ODF is designed for OpenOffice, an open-source alternative to Microsoft Word.
- IBA is Apple’s iBooks ebook format and is not compatible with other readers.
If you simply want your ebook listed on Amazon, consider Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) as an option. It comes with some disadvantages, like a simple format that is better suited for books than graphical marketing publications, but it can get your ebook listed quickly and effectively.
Ebook Content Writing Tips
By following the above steps, you’ll be well on your way to a successful ebook. If you’re still unsure about the writing process itself, however, follow these tips for a smoother experience.
Use Your Preferred Writing Software
We wouldn’t dare jump into the debate on whether Google Docs is better than Microsoft Word for writing your ebook. What you should use, however, is the software you’re most comfortable with. You can even write it in WordPress and export it to Word later, if that’s your cup of tea.
Don’t Overdo it on Length
Your ebook should only be as long as it needs to be. That sounds vague, but it’s a reminder that there is no magic number when it comes to the perfect length of ebook content. It could be 5 pages or 50. As long as you avoid fluff and get your ideas across with plenty of to-the-point evidence, you’re in a good spot.
Write Towards the CTAs
Think about what you want your ebook to accomplish. It’s likely more than just getting information across to your audience; odds are, you want them to do something. Once you understand your calls to action, write towards them by keeping your language applicable and connected directly to your audience.
Use Grammar Tools
Proofreading can be tough—not to mention tedious—but typos and awkward sentences can kill an otherwise successful ebook. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools to help you bridge that gap:
- Microsoft Word and Google Docs both have integrated spell check tools for your use.
- External tools like Grammarly can help you go beyond the simple typos to sentence structure, word overuse, and more.
It’s tough to write an ebook in a busy office or a living room with little kids running around. You need significant time, often hours, to focus on getting it just right. Go into a quiet room, set your phone to Do Not Disturb, and avoid checking social media while you’re writing. You’ll be amazed just how much you can get done.
Learn to Beat Writer’s Block
We’ve all been there: that blank page just becomes more and more threatening as you figure out how to fill it. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you overcome writer’s block. From using imperfect words to changing your POV, writing out of order, or even stepping away for a bit, find the techniques that work for you to get your ebook done.
Get Help if You Need it
Finally, it’s important to remember that you’re never on your own. Throughout this guide, we’ve highlighted resources for help in proofing, design, and more. Let’s not forget the core of the ebook, though, and the single most important factor in its success: the writing.
By partnering with Verblio, you can access comprehensive ebook writing services to help you get the foundation for a great publication and stand out from your competition. You can even get help turning your blog posts into ebooks if you already have great content on your site.
Make no mistake: creating an ebook takes time. But if you approach it the right way, it can become a crucial piece of your B2B content marketing campaign. In that case, the ebook becomes the cornerstone of your digital efforts to drive leads, build credibility, and enhance your sales funnel.