If you’re a marketer with great ideas worth sharing, you may, at some point, have considered writing an e-book. Sure, you’ve probably written dozens of blog posts and whitepapers, but deep inside, you know it’s hard to distill what you know about a particular topic into a 500 to 1,000 word article.
An e-book, on the other hand, lets you flex more of your writing muscle. A 40 to 50 page e-book for example, will have an average of 8,000 words (based on a word count of 172 words per page) which, while not as long as a novel, should allow you to discuss a topic and its subtopics at length.
Why Bother Writing an E-Book?
From a marketing perspective, there are many reasons to write an e-book.
- When offered for free, e-books are a great way to generate leads through newsletter signups.
- Free e-books can also drive traffic to your website through links and social media shares.
- Publishing an e-book and sharing it as a resource for your audience can shift their perceptions and view you as a thought leader.
- An e-book can be a profitable content asset. Instead of just relying on AdSense revenue on your blog, an e-book can be sold as a product. The expertise and thought leadership you demonstrate on your e-book can be your ticket to speaking engagements, guest blogging opportunities, and media interviews, among others.
The low barrier to entry of writing an e-book means that just about anyone can get on a computer and start typing away. Writing a successful e-book, however, is a different story. Read on to learn what separates great e-books from the rest.
Key Elements of a Great E-Book
1. A Topic You Are Confident In
When setting out to write an e-book, it might make sense to choose a hot or trending topic, thinking that’s what your audience will want to read. Likewise, if you’re publishing on Amazon, you might think it’s a good idea to zero in on the most popular categories.
But this is actually a huge mistake, as the point of your e-book is to demonstrate thought leadership.
In other words, you have to prove you know what you’re talking about. It doesn’t make sense for Rand Fishkin, one of the world’s leading figures in SEO, to write about advertising and print when his bread and butter has always been SEO and web analytics.
Your game plan: Go back to your blog’s core topic and use your most popular posts as your e-book’s launch pad (see Fishkin’s e-book on SEO). This will give you an overview of the ideas and themes you can explore in your e-book.
2. A Specific Subject Within a Larger Topic
OK, you have a general topic you’re comfortable with. Now it’s time to go deeper.
Amidst the sea of content on the Internet, you have a better chance of standing out if you focus on a specific subject within a larger topic. Take this e-book below from Concepro, How to Design Awesome Visual Content for Your Content Marketing, as an example.
Your game plan: Of course, you could always write about content marketing (if that’s what you’re comfortable with), but do you have unique ideas no one else has shared before?
If not, you can focus on a specific element of content marketing—in Concepro’s case, they chose visual content. This helps you break into new ground or dive into a relatively unexplored topic.
3. Proprietary Data
The smartest marketers and brands know that truly effective and memorable content can’t be found anywhere else. And more often than not, this content uses proprietary data, or information that comes internally—from your own research or insights from your organization’s activities.
Take this Google e-book, Understanding Consumers’ Local Search Behavior, for example.
In it, Google relayed the key findings of their own research on local search behavior, which yielded a wealth of insights that local business owners and SEO specialists could act on right away.
Your game plan: Proprietary data on its own is useless if you can’t present it effectively. Try to create images with charts, graphics, or infographics from data to make an impact with readers and generate shares.
4. A Great Cover Page
Cliché as it sounds, people will always judge a book by its cover and the same goes for e-books. Your cover page doesn’t have to be an intricate work of art, but it should introduce your e-book and set the design and content tone for what readers can expect from the rest of the document.
Your game plan: In the example above, Unbounce uses the content of its e-book, The Conversion Marketer’s Guide to Landing Page Copywriting, to drive the design of the cover page. Look to your e-book’s topic and content as inspiration for your cover page. Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be as relevant as possible.
Steps in Writing an E-Book
Now that you know the elements of a great e-book, let’s get down to the basic steps involved in writing one. In this section, we’ll use the e-book THE OPTIMIZATION BENCHMARK Q2 / 2015: The Race to Find the Ideal Customer Experience by Optimizely. It’ll walk you through a few things you can expect to come across in the e-book creation process. Let’s get started!
1. Indicate Whom the E-book Is For
A brief section indicating whom exactly the e-book is written for or what it intends to accomplish for the reader is a nice touch.
This part of your document helps potential readers determine whether the content of the e-book matches their level of knowledge or expertise. And if it doesn’t, at least there’s still the chance they’ll recommend the e-book to people who will actually find it useful thanks to your heads up.
2. Outline the E-Book
Before you begin writing, it’s a good idea to write an outline of your e-book by chapter, which will help you know what information to cover. This is especially helpful if you want to curate your blog content into different chapters of the e-book. However, be sure each chapter transitions smoothly from one to the other.
And as you put the finishing touches to your e-book, your outline can also double as your table of contents.
3. Write a Brief Introduction
Like your cover page, your e-book’s introduction should set the tone for the contents of your e-book and draw readers in. As a rule of thumb, your introduction should answer these questions:
- What is this e-book all about?
- What information and topics will you cover in the e-book?
- What value and benefits can readers get from reading your e-book?
- What happens next after reading the e-book?
4. Follow a Hierarchy
When writing content for each chapter, you want to follow a consistent hierarchy of subheadings and visual cues to make your entire e-book easier to read and more visually pleasing.
Nobody wants to read a wall of text, so break sections using clear subheadings, different font sizes, or pull quotes.
5. Pick a Color Palette and Use It Consistently
When it comes to visual design for e-books, less is more. Obviously, you want to incorporate your brand colors as much as possible. But for contrasting and emphasis, it’s a good idea to have a secondary or even tertiary color as well.
Just make sure your colors are consistent throughout the document. In the case of Optimizely’s, the design features these colors (aside from a liberal use of whitespace):
- Dark blue for headings and lighter shades for subheadings, pull quotes, and graphical elements
- Gray and green, for graphical elements
- Black for ordinary text
It’s clean, simple, and above all, consistent.
6. Use Visual Elements and Custom Graphics
Visual elements have the important function of emphasizing critical information in your e-book’s copy or breaking down concepts in a visual and easy-to-understand way, similar to the example above.
Graphics and images don’t just serve as eye candy—although it does help that they’re nice to look at. Instead, they should help readers understand the material they’re reading, providing important contextual clues.
Graphics are particularly important for illustrating statistics and figures, drawing in the reader’s attention and making the content more shareable.
7. Wrap Things Up with a Conclusion and Call to Action
Remember, for many of your readers, your e-book is just the beginning of their sales journey. Aside from wrapping up the content of your e-book with a nice conclusion, you want to push readers to do something that will turn them into customers down the line.
This is what’s known as a call to action (CTA).
Most e-book authors will tell readers to share the e-book (IF it’s free), but a better alternative is to drive them to landing pages where they can find resources to learn more about the topics you just presented. This will reinforce their impression of your brand and help move them along their sales journey.
Start Writing Now
While this guide to e-books is by no means complete—there’s so much more to talk about, like how to write a great title or how to create tight outlines—it should nevertheless serve as a helpful launch pad for your efforts. The writing process will take a lot of time, but if you follow the tips and steps in this guide, you should be able to get a head start on your very own e-book.
To start you off, we have a handful of versatile e-book templates in Piktochart that are as beautiful as they are customizable. Click on and explore them below!