ACE YOUR EBOOK
By Lee Schneider
Published by , Santa Monica, California
Copyright © 2017 by Lee Schneider
Red Cup Agency supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author’s intellectual property. Don’t steal. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than excerpts for review purposes) email .
Edited by Monica James
Cover photo by Stanley Dai
Cover design by PixelStudio
First edition: July 2017
1. My Experience
2. Why Do This?
3. What to Write About?
4. Prepare to Launch—Before You Start Writing
5. Writing Your Book
6. It’s Time For Production
7. Distribution Choices
9. What’s Next?
The first thing you think about when you have a book like this in your hands is I wonder if this guy knows what he’s talking about? Glad you asked. I’ve been writing professionally since the 1980s and self-publishing on Amazon and other platforms since 2015. I have self-published five nonfiction books, including one Amazon bestseller. My specialty is nonfiction. If you want to know how to publish a nonfiction ebook or white paper, you have the right book in your hands.
If writing fiction is your passion, I can give you some advice there as well. Red Cup, the agency I own, has managed promo and marketing campaigns for novels.
In the chapters and sections that follow, you are about to receive the action steps you’ll need to develop your book idea from a mere notion to an outline to a book published online for the world to read. As you start writing, it’s exhilarating to watch your ideas take shape and a structure emerge, and to develop your thesis with other viewpoints from authorities and researchers. Along the way, I’ll share my favorite writing apps and discuss how to format your book as a PDF, and for Kindle, Nook, tablets, and other e-readers. We will go over your distribution choices and how to promote your book. I know you’ll want to know how to keep the magic going after the glow of your launch day wears off. We will go there.
I won’t hide the truth: It’s a lot of work to write a book or white paper. Depending on how much you love writing, you will either not notice all that mental heavy lifting or else you will feel every word and pixel you write. In the latter case, you’ll want to hire a freelancer or agency to do the writing, and afterward you can put your final touches on it. For many who embark on projects like this, the work is its own reward. We like to express ourselves and we like to share knowledge. That sounds altruistic, and perhaps it is, but there are other good reasons aside from creative expression to write an ebook or white paper. Let’s get into them next.
If writing an ebook or white paper is so much work, why do it? Good question.
The most important reason to write your ebook or white paper is to spread your knowledge and domain expertise. If you own a business, you want your clients and prospective clients to know how you think and to know what you know. If you’re a consultant, you want people to understand what it takes to work with you. If you’re running a startup or launching a new entrepreneurial venture, you want to educate your new user or customer about exactly what services you provide.
Marketing is an important reason to write an ebook. What’s more, it’s a fun way to market yourself and your business. Some of us think it’s a chore to self-promote. We even consider marketing a dirty word. Okay, but I’ve always countered that argument with this one: If you really enjoy what you do and profit by it, what’s wrong with telling others about it? Writing a book is a wonderful way to gain clarity about your own vision for your work, business, and passions. Nothing sets your mind in order, and helps you express your goals for your company, consulting business, or startup more quickly than building it out word by word, sentence by sentence, and chapter by chapter.
Another good reason to embark on an ebook is self-sufficiency. You don’t necessarily want to rely on journalists to write about you, or podcast producers to call you, or Google AdWords to promote you. In the SEO game, what we call organic traffic is the most valuable. That’s the traffic to your website that occurs when people search for your name, your company name, or keywords related to what you do. If they find you after they do that, it’s a win. They’re on your site. Writing a book and posting it online is one way to create such a pathway to your digital door. It’s a way for you to become known and discovered. It’s yours to distribute, profit by, repurpose, republish, or turn into anything you want.
Books you write can become lecture series. They can become podcasts. When you own the material, you have great creative freedom and marketing clout.
Building your network is another reason to publish a book or white paper. As I’ll cover in a later section, when you are creating material for your book, you have the option to turn to interviews, including other voices and building expertise and scope. You can interview experts in the field, prospective clients, or associates in your outer circle whom you would like to see closer to your inner circle. When you reach out to them and interview them for your book it’s a good exchange for both of you. They get to show off their expertise and reach a wider audience. You get the benefit of the depth that another viewpoint and voice brings, and you’ve made a new friend or developed a potential client relationship or business partnership.
How to Build a Better Client
There’s an old expression in software development, “Don’t make a better X, make a better user of X.” When your prospective clients read your ebook, the experience should put them on the path to becoming better clients. Here’s an example. Red Cup produces podcasts. When prospective clients come to me to discuss producing their podcast together, I want them to know a little bit about podcast production and the value of it, so they’re not starting the convo from scratch. I hope they’ve had a chance to read my . If they have, it will put the initial conversation at a higher level. If they haven’t, sending them a copy is a great follow-up to our conversation.
When you think about what your ebook should be about, you first have to ask why? Why are you writing this thing? The best answer is usually that you have some expertise that you want to share. In your work life, as you’ve developed your platform, as you’ve built your business, you’ve learned stuff. That information and experience is valuable to others.
Leverage Your Research
I don’t know about you, but at Red Cup we build lots of lists. We research trade magazines that are publishing articles about retail and wholesale. We build lists of medical conferences that our clients might speak at, keynote, or become panelists for. We build lists of journalists covering wine, education, tech, and finance. We research podcast producers who might want to book our clients. Lots of lists, lots of research. If it all stays internal, it benefits us, of course, and our clients, but nobody else really knows about it. We have a lot of information, expertise, and data to disperse. But it’s in a silo, unless we do something about it.
You, too, have research you’ve done for projects, for clients, to develop your company and customer base. You’ve built something. With an ebook, you can leverage all that work that is internal and make it accessible. (A note to the lawyers out there: If the work is proprietary, secret, or would damage the company, well, you wouldn’t want to make an ebook out of that, would you? I’m talking about work product that you want to share, can share, and would benefit others.)
Consider also that the methods used to develop your research might be valuable to others. If you’ve built lists of clients by researching what software they use, you can tell the world about how you did it. Did you use platforms like Hunter, SellHack, or Datanyze to build leads? Did you use Import.io to scrape websites? Have you become a LinkedIn ninja lead-builder by using Prospectify? Your insights will help others and build your credibility.
Giving away something of value might feel strange at first. About ten years ago there was a lot of talk about the value of a freemium offer. You would give something for free and hook users into buying your paid offerings, programs, or plans. This is still a viable way to get attention and build an audience, but to do it effectively, you have to know what value means to you and to your potential clients and customers.
What is valuable? Back when original content was exclusive and difficult to duplicate, it had a different value than it does today. If you went to a bookstore and bought a copy of a rare book, or attended a concert where there was no bootleg recording allowed, you were participating in a singular experience. That concert was unique, never to happen again. You had to be there, you might tell your friends. There might be only a few copies left of that rare book.
With the advent of perfect digital copies, that all changed. There are still rare books and must-attend concerts, but sometimes copies will do just as well. The digital copy has unhooked value from exclusivity. Just because you have the only copy of a book might not make it more valuable, and because many copies of a book are freely available, that might not make those books less valuable. The free flow of books also affects their pricing.
For ebooks, pricing on Amazon is pretty fluid, from $0 to $3.99 to $6.99 and up. Many authors offer their first book in a series for free, charging for the next books in the series. (More on that in a later section.) If you are building a client list, offering your book for free is a good idea. Consider it a form of advertising. If you believe in karma, you will certainly get karma points for giving away a book that will help others. Even if you’re not all that altruistic, charging a low price for your ebook will make it accessible to other businesses and help them thrive. If you’re building a business, or building a writing career, lower prices will “move more product” and increase your visibility in the market.
A Word About Fiction eBooks
Most of my ebook experience is in nonfiction, but I have managed promo campaigns for novels. If you seek an audience for your fiction work, ebooks are a great way to go. Here are a few tips to start you on your journey.
Many of these tips also apply to nonfiction ebooks. Let’s move on to how to launch a nonfiction ebook.
Get Your Nonfiction eBook Online
Your nonfiction book will find an audience online, but only if you are willing to let go a little. Here’s what I mean: If you list your book exclusively on Amazon for a price, it might make you a few thousand bucks in royalties. If royalties are your metric for success, have at it. But let’s consider some other metrics: influence, reach, and share of voice.
A well-promoted nonfiction ebook can win you some major influence in an online world that is crowded with information, ideas, knowledge, and yes, noise.
[*Exclusivity comes at a cost. *]I touched upon this point earlier, but if you want reach, you have to be generous. When you launch your book, you might want to offer it for free for a day or so. This makes it easy for reviewers to download it, jacks up your rankings in Amazon, and makes you lots of friends. There is also a compelling argument for never offering your book for free. To make the call, you have to ask the question: What do you want to get out of this?
Know your goals. If your ebook cost you a lot of money to produce—you paid researchers, writers, graphic artists, designers, and editors—giving it away might not seem like such a wonderful idea. To help make that call, you can use (mentioned above for fiction ebooks) to take the temperature of the market in your genre. Some ebooks are selling well at $19 a copy, others at 99 cents a copy. Understanding the competition in your genre will be a key element of your success.
Humans are strange animals, especially when it comes to paying for things. I’ve found that raising the price of my ebooks can make them sell better. Perceived value is a big driver in a buying decision. If you price a deep, well-researched, authoritative book at 99 cents, potential buyers are going to wonder what’s wrong with it. If your skinny, written-in-half-a-day ebook is $19.99, don’t expect to move much product. Luckily, platforms like Amazon and Shakespir let you change your book pricing as much as you like. You can iterate your way to success.
The Marketing Storyline
You will get more out of your ebook if you walk yourself through a marketing storyline. Often my marketing storyline looks like this for ebooks with production costs of more than $2,500:
I reissue my more successful ebooks as audiobooks, in paperback editions, and support them with live events like lectures and presentations. Since I have a fairly large financial investment in my books, I am interested in making some money back, as well as gaining influence and reach.
My marketing storyline is different if my ebook cost less than $2,500 to produce, or even was free to produce. (Nothing is free, of course, because your time spent writing has value. In this context “free” means that you didn’t pay anyone else to write your book and you did all creative work yourself.) If your book is being released as a PDF to give to journalists or prospective clients, or will be a giveaway to help people sign up for your mailing list, you have a different marketing journey. If your book will go up on platforms like Amazon or Shakespir at a cost of 99 cents, it means that you are looking for reach and influence, not money. The book you are reading right now is that kind of book. I’m writing it to show my domain expertise and to inspire you to write your own ebook. You probably got it for free or close to free. Here is my marketing storyline for this book, which is costing less than $1,000 to produce.
Note what’s missing in that marketing storyline: Amazon. For my six-month period, I want control over the book and I want to offer it exclusively to mailing list subscribers. After it has served that purpose and helped me build my list, I will seek a wider audience on Shakespir, and I will include a mailing list link at the end of the book.
Make your marketing storyline your own, depending on what you want to get out of your ebook. It’s always a good idea to build a vision for how the book will serve you and your company before you jump into writing it. Take a deep breath, because that’s just what we’re going to get into next.
What will your book be about? To answer that question, take a look around. Have you published lots of blog posts, recorded podcasts, or made presentations? Has that material aged well? You might be able to repurpose some of your existing writings, recordings, and presentations. Look for a theme among those materials. If one emerges that serves you, use it.
We have a client at Red Cup who makes a treadmill that goes under your desk so you can walk while working. We helped develop blogs, podcasts, and video presentations around WALK-1 product, discussing workplace wellness, longevity, and health. When it was time to produce an ebook, we had nearly everything we needed to make it. The theme was already there in what we had already produced. Most importantly, the theme served the client’s goals: to enter a larger discussion about fitness and workplace wellness.
Blogs are the easiest material to repurpose. Presentations and podcasts might be more challenging. Here’s a tip: If you have them transcribed by a service like [+ ][+ +]will use computer speech recognition to transcribe your files. The accuracy is lower than Speechpad, but so is the cost, at about 12 cents per minute. (More on this later.)
Let’s say you are starting fresh, with no previous material to repurpose. The first thing you need to do is send your inner critic out for a walk. Your inner critic is that voice in your head telling you that you can’t do this, you aren’t qualified, you’ve never written a book before, and that you lack the knowledge and experience to write about anything. You might know that voice well, or it might surprise you with its fierceness when you begin a project like this. Not to worry. It’s part of what Steven Pressfield describes as the resistance to writing anything. (One of his best books is The War of Art. Worth a read if you find yourself struggling to break through the resistance that pops up when doing creative work.) You can tamp down the inner critic’s objections by trying to ignore him or her, which can work, but requires a strong will. You can take another approach, which is to fool that critic. That’s what I do.
I release all expectations about how good or bad a writer I am. I get out a notebook and a favorite pen or pencil. I seek a change of scene, going to a cafe, walking outside, getting myself moving. Sometimes I will dictate an audio recording into an app like or I will open , a visual planning app, and start putting out ideas without judgement. It usually works, for two reasons.
First, by moving, walking, or changing the scene of where I usually work, I’m inviting fresh ideas and distracting my inner critic. Second, using modes other than writing gets other parts of my brain working, so by speaking my book ideas into a recording app or moving cards around in Trello, there is a sense of creative freedom, of “just playing around” with the ideas of the book. My inner critic takes a break, I can open up creatively, and the initial ideas of the book get recorded or written.
Organizing Your Initial Ideas
The most important part of your book will be the cover. (What?) Really. The second most important part of your book will be the title. This is the brutal truth of ebooks: For most people, your book will first show up as a thumbnail image on Amazon, Shakespir, or another platform. If you’re offering your ebook as an incentive to subscribe to your mailing list you have more leverage. Your cover can be bigger. You still have to have a great title, though, because this will be the first element that helps your potential reader get into your book. Makes sense, right?
There is another reason to focus on your title as an important element. Titles are promises. When you organize your ideas, they all proceed from the promise you make in your title. Choose it carefully. Change it during the writing if your goals change. Test it out on friends. When you zero in on a title, have your initial ideas flow from it. In most free ebooks, people expect actionable advice. If you want your book to be read avidly, be sure to provide plenty of things for your reader to do. That means working in exercises, quizzes, and workbook-style sections that allow your reader to put your ideas into practice.
As you sort through what your book will be about, you’ll want to consider readability. People are narrative animals. If you want to play at being James Joyce or your favorite edgy, nonlinear playwright, have at it. But it’s far more likely that your readers will crave a narrative structure to what you write. If you don’t put one in there, they will try to create one themselves. People are funny that way. Most of the time, they want to see one thing after the other in a linear fashion. With that in mind, let’s look at some potential structures for your ebook.
Notes on Structure
How will you structure your book? The array of options may seem daunting, even infinite at first. But don’t worry, they aren’t. Here’s a menu for you. You can’t choose all of them, but you can mix two or more to present a successful narrative that will make your readers happy.
The most compelling stories (for most readers) are personal. Let’s call this one the biographical approach to your book. If you have a compelling personal story that includes some key learnings about your industry, work, or your life, telling it as a chronological tale might work well for you. If you choose this option, remember this: Telling a personal narrative doesn’t mean you must begin at the beginning and end at the end. Most successful biographical movies do not begin at the beginning. They start with a crisis point in the main character’s life to set the scene and hook the viewer, and then after that they flash back to the beginning of the story.
I have used this one myself often. Seek out examples of success stories and tell them one by one. Make sure that each story is a little different from the last. If you try to tell the same or closely related tale of success over and over, your reader will get bored. Think like a lawyer preparing a case: Each story is something like a witness, and each one will testify to a different point you want to make.
This method has its genius, because you get other writers to do your work for you. Ask friends, experts in the field, and colleagues to write up their take on your central thesis. Be sure that each story illuminates a different part of the tale you are telling. Some publishers/authors take a mercantile view of this method and ask each contributor to pay a fee to have their chapter included in the book. I am not a fan of that approach, but you can certainly ask contributors to buy you a nice Christmas present. If they refuse, you don’t have to send them a card next year.
I used this structure for my first book, Be More Popular: Culture-Building for Startups. If you think of your book as a course given in book form, that means you have some lessons to teach. How would your reader/student best grasp your topic? You might use a mix of some of the methods I’ve listed here, beginning with a short personal story to set the scene, salting in some use cases, providing exercises and workbook materials, and breaking down your thesis into a step-by-step process. In a book of this kind, you’ll need to make it clear what the reader will get out of it, what steps he or she needs to take to accomplish the goal, and what the payoff will be. The underlying assumption that the reader makes is if I follow all these steps it will all be worth it. Your book, should you choose this structure, has to make good on that promise.
Ugh, really? In my view, a historical treatment for a topic is an easy way out, because it gives you an excuse to present a list of supposedly significant things that happened, and all you are obligated to do is arrange them in a timeline. Historical storylines are best left to geniuses like David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Tim Wu.
Many successful ebooks are written from a single perspective—the author’s. They are journeys of self-discovery, replays of experiences, collections of tips, tricks, and use cases. Books of this kind can be powerful when the experiences replayed are high value and show off special expertise. The book you’re reading right now is an an example of a single-perspective book. I am sharing my knowledge with you. Many of my other books are not like this at all, however, because to write them I interviewed others and added their perspective. Perhaps it’s because I have a background as a journalist, or because I’ve made a lot of documentaries. I like to seek out a chorus of expert voices and include them in my books. I do this to round out my thesis or gain perspective on it.
For Chronicle of a Startup Town: Los Angeles I interviewed startup founders who defined the ecosystem of the Los Angeles business world. I interviewed people who originated the coworking spaces that redefined what it meant to work in LA. I queried investors and angels. Their perspective brought a lot to the book. I used the same method for The Angel Playbook: An Essential Guide for Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors. I got in touch with angel investors and venture capitalists and asked them about the investment climate. I spoke with CEOs who had benefitted from angel activity or who participated in startup incubator programs or business accelerator boot camps. I didn’t pretend to know everything about the topic of angel investing, but I knew I could ask smart people the right questions and build a good book.
The Right People
Where did I find all those people to interview? One of the best tools for requesting interviews, known as sources in the journalism trade, is HARO—Help a Reporter Out. is a free alert service that goes out to journalists and sources alike via an email. If you plan to publish your book on Amazon, or will serialize parts of it as a blog or podcast, you can request experts to weigh in on your topic of choice. The way it has worked well for me is to write a short description of the kind of person I’m looking for and list a few questions I would like them to answer. Then I invite them to respond via email or to set up a phone call with me. If they email back, I have my answers right there and they are ready for the book straightaway. If they want a call, I use [+ ] would work as well). [+ ][+ +]also works well. You can even set up Skype to record the call. (Before recording a call, you should ask the other person’s permission. It’s common courtesy to do so, and in some states, it’s the law.)
Transcribing those phone calls transforms them into material you can easily adapt for your book. As I mentioned earlier, [+ ][+ +]is much less expensive because the transcripts are done by natural language processing—in other words, by a bot. If you are willing to spend some time correcting those texts, you will have yourself a usable transcript.
On the other hand, you don’t have to record the conversations or transcribe them. You can take notes as you speak to your sources. This works for some, but not for me unless I am typing along as fast as my interview subject is speaking. (If I take handwritten notes that fast I usually can’t read them afterward.). Transcripts allow me to get the quotes right, and since I’m not focused on typing, I can connect more conversationally with the person I’m interviewing.
is a service similar to HARO. You post a query for free and sources respond to answer your questions.
Both services will bring outside voices to your book, adding perspective and layers of expertise.
Add Research and Data for More Authority
No matter how smart, well-informed, or well-connected you are, when you write a book it’s always nice to have a little help. When I completed my most recent book, about angel investing, I wanted additional depth and I relied on outside research services.
KKL , based in Seattle, Washington, offers research and writing support on a job-by-job basis. You can request research backup for specific chapters you’re working on or concepts you’d like to cover.
Wonder Another job-by-job service I use almost every week is . It is very good with list-building requests, like “Give me a list of the top five organic food stores in the United States,” or “What Fortune 500 companies have the best gender parity hiring practices?” I have also had success asking their researchers to write a short explanation of complicated topics, like equity crowdfunding. The researchers at Wonder do high-quality work. As of this writing, you will pay about $50 per request. You have to keep your requests tightly focused, but if you submit a diffuse request that is hard to understand, a research lead will get in touch and ask you for clarification.
Fancy Hands For research that is not technical, I have had a lot of luck with . I ask for top-five lists of most influential bloggers on topics I’m writing about, or lists of conferences I might want to attend or that are relevant to the book I’m writing. Fancy Hands will also shop virtually for you, seeking out the best deals on printer ink or the best bed-and-breakfast for your weekend getaway. Because of the jack/jill-of-all-trades nature of the service, the researchers might not be knowledgeable about complex, insider topics. Your requests have to be fairly simple, and achievable within 20 minutes of searching online. If it takes longer, they will want to charge you for more requests. It’s a subscription service, and a basic account is $29 per month, which gets you five requests.
Upwork For longer-term research projects, might be a good fit for you. The key to success is being specific about your research request. I often set up Google spreadsheets with information to be filled in. For example, if I wanted to learn more about recent successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns for educational games, I would set up a sheet that had columns for the name of the campaign, the amount raised, and the name of the campaign creators, with a final column for notes and contact information. I would specify that I want my researcher to dig out at least ten campaigns, and direct the researcher to the Kickstarter site to search for this information, or a Kickstarter data scraper like . You can set up your job request on Upwork to specify only applicants who are fluent in English, or who have knowledge in your subject area. Since Upwork is the most remote of these outside options, sometimes jobs can go off course. It helps to keep your instructions clear, not assign too many tasks at once, or to stop the job if it’s not meeting your needs.
Need Additional Support?
If you find that you want more support than a per-job service can offer, you can always hire an editor for your book. My agency, , offers those services, and provides access to trustworthy freelancers.
What Writing App?
Writing is an intensely personal experience. Ask three writers what tools they use for writing and you will get three different answers about what’s best, ranging from paper to pixels to a mix of the two. I do my best work when handwriting in my favorite Moleskine notebook using a pencil made in Japan or Germany. While it’s fun to be a pencil nerd, the thing about writing an ebook is that sooner or later you have to transfer your work into the digital realm.
is my writing application of choice because I can work on a laptop, an iPad, or even on my phone. All my drafts sync up no matter which device I pick up. It’s very nearly a distraction-free work environment, with a look that you can customize at will. Best of all, it exports seamlessly to Word, a PDF, HTML, and EPUB. This makes formatting your ebook pretty easy.
is a Ulysses competitor. Same distraction-free writing, same clean formatting interface, same output schema, with an MD format, but not the EPUB format.
Both Bear and Ulysses make organizing chapters easy. You can move sections around, split out sections to make new chapters, add footnotes and annotations. As of this writing, making a table of contents is tricky in either app, and that’s why you have to go to Word if you need one.
[+ +]is perhaps the most familiar of these options. In the world of ebooks, many, if not all, roads lead to Word. If you’re using the Windows version of Word, all of your formatting, including table of contents, will easily transfer into the publishing platform of your choice. If you’re on a Mac, you will need to do a little extra work to get a table of contents properly set up. On either platform, your footnotes and links will transfer perfectly from Word to your ebook format. (More on this in the formatting section, a little later on.)
works well for ebooks with a word count up to around 20,000. (A general guideline is one page is 500 single-spaced words or 250 double-spaced words). If you are cowriting with an editor or coauthor, or have to show your work to a client as you write, Google Docs might be the perfect option for you. All changes are updated instantly and it’s easy to comment on sections and share ideas. You can export right into Word for easy transfer into ebook formatting, including a hyperlinked table of contents. I’ve found that for books longer than 20,000 words, Google Docs gets a bit unwieldy and slow. Also, if you need to reorder sections of your book, Google Docs’s outlining function isn’t as elegant and easy to use as Ulysses’s.
Your Book Cover
If the final deliverable for your ebook is a PDF, your cover can be 5 × 7 inches, eight and a half by eleven inches, or anything in between, and it can be landscape orientation (the wide way) or portrait (the tall way). It’s really up to you. The most likely size is 8.5 × 11, because that will fit well on a computer screen. You will want it at 72 dpi resolution so that it doesn’t appear blurry. If your book is going out to Amazon, Nook, or Shakespir, you have to hit their spec. For Amazon Kindle, your cover should be at least 1,563 pixels on the short side, and 2,500 pixels on the long side. For resolution, 72 dpi is good, and JPG or TIFF formats are accepted. Barnes & Noble’s format is 1,333 pixels by 2,000 pixels in JPG format. Shakespir’s format is about the same as Amazon’s—1,600 pixels wide by 2,400 pixels tall, delivered in JPG or PNG format. Your cover has to be taller than it is wide, with a 6:1 ratio, in portrait orientation.
If all this is getting confusing, it’s best to hire a designer. I’ve hired designers on to design covers, and the results have been good. I can also recommend the guys at . is another resource for designers (and editors, as mentioned earlier). is yet another resource for graphic artists and designers (and researchers, also mentioned earlier).
Before hiring a book cover designer be sure to ask for samples of their work. Also be sure they are asking you questions about your book: your intended audience, your tastes, color scheme, and font preferences.
Designing an ebook cover is a specialized task. The cover is your introduction to your readers online. They will be trying to get a sense of the book in a few seconds. Study the color schemes and designs of books similar to yours and look for patterns among the bestsellers. Remember that the first impression of your cover will be as a thumbnail image—small! Be sure title elements and graphics are legible in that small format. Before submitting my book cover ideas to designers, I make mock-ups. I download a stock photo image to use as a main element or background, and try different layouts and fonts. I might make as many as six different versions of the book cover. I’ll show these around to friends, post them to Facebook and ask which version resonates, or send them out in my email newsletter and ask my subscribers to vote on their favorite. By the time I send the mock-up to my designer, it has had many eyes upon it. I sort through all the responses and let them influence my opinion about the cover I want to commission.
Expect to pay from $25 to $750 for an ebook cover. That’s a big range, but depending on your needs and the graphic detail and depth of the cover, you can get good results at the low end. One potential time-saving trick is to base your cover design on a stock photo or image you license from a vendor like .
How to Format
With a print book, your table of contents is merely a list, but your ebook table of contents is hyperlinked. When you click on a chapter heading, you are taken to that chapter. If your book is going out as a PDF, then use Adobe Acrobat to make the PDF and your links will work perfectly. (On a Mac, simply outputting your Word file to PDF will not necessarily create working links for a table of contents. Use Adobe Acrobat.) A hyperlinked table of contents is one of the nice things about reading in the digital format, so I think it’s worth the extra production work.
If your book is going to Kindle or Shakespir, your table of contents has to meet their requirements. If you’ve made the book in Google Docs, your links will work just fine when you convert to Word on the way to those platforms. If you’ve made your ebook in Word, you will have to do a little more to be sure that your table of contents links properly.
In Word for Windows, if you use a consistent header style for your chapters, you can specify that header (such as “Header 1”) and Word will automatically link up all your chapter headings to the correct spot in your book. On a Mac, you do this differently. You create a “bookmark” at each chapter point, and a corresponding hyperlink in the table of contents. Then you can run your book through Apple’s iBook app, or an and check the links. If they don’t work, you’ll have to reformat the links until they’re right.
Remember that page numbers have no meaning in an ebook, so your table of contents should not include them. Readers will be enjoying your work on a variety of devices, such as phones, laptops, iPads, Kindles, or tablets. They may be turning the screen horizontally or vertically or changing the font size. All of that makes the traditional concept of pages meaningless in the world of ebooks.
Once you have your book in Word with a working table of contents, you are well along the path to successful ebook formatting. The next step is to check the manuscript for consistency. Here are the critical elements:
Running the book through an EPUB reader or through iBooks will let you see whether your spacing, fonts, and styling are consistent. One of the reasons I use Ulysses is that I can split the screen, showing the work in progress on one side, and the EPUB version of the manuscript on the other. It’s easy to make small corrections that way.
Formatting for Kindle
After you’ve checked everything, upload your Word doc to Kindle. The Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) platform will convert it to a format called MOBI, which is proprietary to Amazon. You can download the MOBI file to check the formatting or look at it in an online simulator Amazon provides. There’s even a spell-checker. If you’ve included rare or interesting fonts you’ll find that Amazon has converted them to more common fonts such as Times or Verdana. Some of the most common problems I’ve seen in this conversion process are inconsistent spacing and formatting. You might see pages breaking where you don’t want them to break, or chapter headings that are in the wrong font. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries of running the manuscript through KDP’s conversion process to get things looking right. If you run into trouble, the KDP help desk is good, but not particularly swift to respond to requests.
Amazon will assign your book a free tracking number, called an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number), which is used to uniquely identify your book. This is the only ID number you’ll need for an ebook on Amazon’s Kindle platform. include an ISBN. You can purchase an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for your book, but it’s really only necessary if you are selling a print version or on platforms other than Amazon.
Listing your book in Amazon is free, but the platform takes a percentage of your royalties.
Formatting for Shakespir
Shakespir also has an ebook converter. It can take your EPUB file or Word file and automatically convert it into a variety of formats for distribution on the Shakespir platform and others. It does a lot of the work for you, so you only have to upload your book once. Shakespir takes care of the rest: formatting and distribution. If everything is good, you’ll get a note back from Shakespir’s editors advising you that your book made it through their formatting process. If it failed their quality control process, they tell you what you need to fix.
When your opus makes it onto Shakespir’s premium platform, it will be distributed to Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBooks, Scribd, Kobo, Yuzu, and other digital storefronts. Listing on Shakespir is free, but the platform collects a percentage of your royalties. The percentage changes depending on whether you make the sale on the Shakespir platform, or on one of the other platforms Shakespir works with. Shakespir also provides a free ISBN for use on the platform, which is required for distribution in Apple iBook store and Kobo. I’ll discuss this more completely in the distribution section, covering the pros and cons of publishing to Amazon and Shakespir.
Should you double space or single space your text, or indent first lines?
This is a matter of personal preference. Look at ebooks that you like and get some ideas. My preference for ebooks is 1.5 line spacing, with a six-point space between paragraphs, and no first-line indent. Remember that the reader can change the font size and spacing at will, so nothing you choose is fixed. You shouldn’t add a paragraph return (empty space) after each paragraph because this will cause formatting problems later.
Having a consistent style for paragraph breaks is necessary and adds to the professional look of your book.
Third-Party Formatting Apps
is a beautifully designed application that will spice up the formatting of your book and deliver versions suitable for Amazon, iBooks, or Barnes & Noble’s Nook format. If you don’t have the patience to click through your manuscript to fix all the little errors that are introduced in the conversion from Word, then Vellum is for you. It’s easy to use and delivers elegant results. If you are importing your manuscript from a Word file, the app attempts to set up a table of contents for you. Vellum is free, but you must pay to export your book into the three publishing formats. The way it works is you edit and format your book as much as you like in the free app, but when it comes time to export your book, you have to pay. As I write this, you unlock a single ebook for $29.99. You can buy a ten-book license for $99.99. An unlimited license to format as many books as you like is $199.99. If you plan on writing a bunch of commercial books, particularly fiction, this would work well. I found some of the font styles a bit precious for nonfiction, but that’s a matter of personal taste.
is a publishing platform that also offers an ebook formatting tool called . If you’ve used Adobe Illustrator, this will seem familiar to you. It works best with photo books or books that incorporate graphics and images. You can play around with various layouts, page sizes, and illustrations. It exports to PDF or EPUB, but you can’t distribute directly to Amazon from Blurb, unless your book is a photo book. Blurb will help you make a print copy of your ebook, but I found the Bookwright interface unwieldy for text-driven books so I wouldn’t recommend it for your next novel or nonfiction opus.
There are so many distribution choices for your ebook! Amazon, Shakespir, and are the big three, though Amazon or Shakespir will be your most likely choices as we’ll discuss below.
To decide among them, let’s circle back to your decision to write your book and what you hope to get out of it. Some ebooks are best offered as inducements to join an email list or as a follow-up to a meeting. (Some of you have received this book in one of those two ways.) If exclusivity matters to you—if you want only a select group to receive your book—offering it for sale on your website or via your mailing list will work for you.
If you want maximum reach, you’ll want to choose between Amazon or Shakespir, or work the system to do both. Amazon is the platform of choice for visibility. Most people who read ebooks are familiar with it. People receive Amazon gift cards from friends and family, and they may discover your book when shopping for something else.
As powerful as it is, Amazon exists in its own universe. Amazon doesn’t release stats like “hits” to your page, so you don’t know where your page traffic is coming from. Since Amazon doesn’t allow you to modify the page code, you can’t install tracking pixels, and therefore you can’t directly know how successful an advertising campaign on Facebook might have been. (Though you can infer success from book sales.) Amazon controls the look and feel of your book page, and even your pricing. Amazon might display your book as “free” to members of Amazon Prime, or make your audiobook “free” to members of Audible.com. If you enroll your book in an Amazon Kindle program called KDP Select, Amazon says it will give your book wider distribution to Kindle users through a Kindle lending library. You can also run promotions, offering your book for free for a period of time up to five days. There’s a catch: Your book must be offered exclusively as a Kindle edition for 90 days.
Notes on KDP Select
When it launched, KDP Select seemed like a great option. But the market for free books has become oversaturated. Getting your book locked into one platform and one seller for three months doesn’t look so terrific any more. You’ll need to ask yourself if you are publishing an ebook for the income or for the exposure, a conversation I will dig into more completely in the next section. For now, I would only recommend the KDP Select program if you want to pump some life into a book you’ve already published, your “back list,” in other words, or if you want to make some noise for your first book and have determined that most of your audience is already on Amazon. I have been placing some of my books in the KDP Select program to promote them, but taking them out after the required 90-day period and moving them to other platforms, like Shakespir.
Notes on Shakespir
Shakespir is a non-exclusive platform. They don’t mind if your book is also on Amazon. As long as your book isn’t in the KDP select program, you are free to publish it on Shakespir as well. There is a significant advantage to this. Shakespir has a robust community of readers. Your book will be indexed by Google, making it more discoverable. If your book is accepted into the Shakespir premium platform, your book will be offered to Barnes & Noble in Nook format, Apple’s iBooks, Scribd, Kobo, Yuzu, and other digital storefronts. You don’t have to do a thing; Shakespir does the distribution for you, and it’s free. On Shakespir, you control your pricing, including making your book free if you want to. You can offer your book to libraries at reduced rates. You can generate coupons that last forever or with expiration dates.
The disadvantages of Shakespir? Not as many people know about it. Your buyers might already be shopping on Amazon for something else, as I mentioned, and then discover your book. That isn’t going to happen on Shakespir. The casual browser on that platform is looking for books, not blenders.
Other distribution platforms include BookBaby, Lulu, and Blurb. I can’t think of any reason to choose them over Amazon or Shakespir (or both) unless you want to produce a physical, printed copy of your book.
Are you in this for income or for exposure? This is a stark choice, and it’s not against the rules to say “both,” but if you do, your strategy for promoting your book will be weaker.
Getting the maximum exposure for your book has value beyond getting paid. You increase your content footprint on the Web. Your domain authority increases. You can become better known. More exposure can bring you and your company all of that. But it will only work for you if you are willing to make a financial investment in your book that you might not get back. Books, as you know by now, cost money to make. You may need to hire cover designers, editors, formatters, and promoters. Even if you decide to do all that yourself, it will cost you time, and your time is certainly valuable.
If you promote your book by offering it for free it will attract a certain kind of reader. (The reader who wants free stuff!) It may also set up the expectation that all your editorial material might be free, which is probably not the case.
A sound strategy is to offer the first book in a series for free, and then expect payment for the rest of the series. Certain editions of an ebook might be free for a limited time, but the audiobook or hardcover might cost. Offering a free book to an exclusive group, like those you want to join your mailing list or become your client, is another sound strategy because it’s limited to a specific market and user persona. Offering a book for free—hoping to garner exposure—will give your Amazon rankings a temporary bump and might get you a few reviews. On Shakespir, the civic-minded can offer their books free to libraries.
Beyond those reasons, there isn’t much to gain from offering a book for nothing, especially because it certainly cost you something to make.
There is money to be made in ebooks, but most of the authors making it are writing genre fiction. The genre fiction vertical encompasses mysteries, romance novels, fantasy novels, and speculative/sci-fi. Many of the most successful books are part of a series. Authors offer the first book for free or at low cost (or sometimes a free excerpt) and then charge more for the successive volumes. The reason it works is that readers of mysteries just love mysteries, and are always on the hunt for more books in the genre they love. Often a successful genre novel will have an excerpt of the next book in the series as a bonus chapter at the end of the book, encouraging binge reading.
Once genre fiction readers discover an author they like, they tend to read everything that author has created. (For me, Raymond Chandler, Georges Simenon, and Vladimir Nabokov fall into that category. I have read every book of theirs I can get my hands on, often in an ebook version if a paperback or hardcover was not available.)
[*What Works Best *]Self-help books do very well in the paid ebook category. This also applies to books that address an immediate need or teach you how to do something. My book Be More Popular: Culture-Building for Startups was an Amazon bestseller when it first came out, and continues to sell steadily, both as an ebook and in paperback.
If you expect to make money by publishing your nonfiction ebook, it should address a niche need, show readers how to do something, or provide advice they can’t get anywhere else or as conveniently as in your ebook.
If your (free or low-cost) book is being used as collateral to entice people to sign up for your mailing list or become clients, then you’ll need to set yourself up on mailing list software like , , , or . Once people sign up for your list, you can deliver your ebook as a link. You can use those platforms to send out a series of scheduled emails, often called “drip campaigns,” that build interest in your next book or your company’s services.
How Will Readers Discover You?
Google AdWords or Facebook advertising campaigns will direct readers to your book, whether you want them to sign up for a list, or just get it on Amazon. The secret to these campaigns is to start slowly and experiment with building a cohort of interested people around your book’s topic or theme. If you’re interested in digging into advertising strategies, check out my book Be More Popular: Culture-Building for Startups. As the title suggests, it covers marketing for startups, but the concepts are easily applied to book promotions as well.
Keywords and Descriptions
KDSPY is the best tool I’ve found for fine-tuning descriptions and keywords for Amazon. In the busy online universe, readers will encounter your book first by searching for keywords, then reading your description and seeing a thumbnail image of your cover. That’s not much information on which to make a decision, so you must squeeze a lot of juice out of your keywords and description.
Searching on Amazon and Shakespir for books with themes and ideas similar to yours will bring up the most popular volumes. You can study their descriptions and keywords to help build your own. If your book isn’t selling as briskly as you’d like, try changing up the keywords or the description.
The category you list your book in will also make a big difference in sales. Self-help is a category with thousands of books and much competition. Business communications is a category with less competition. It’s usually better to be a big fish in a small pond, so take time to explore the right category fit for your book. It will improve your discoverability on Amazon and Shakespir. This is particularly vital in the hotly contested genre fiction categories. If the description fits, you might have more luck listing your book in the supernatural thriller category than in the more general fantasy category.
Blurbs and reviews are the way many potential buyers will be convinced to cross the divide and press the buy button. Blurbs provide social proof, showing that others liked your book. If you are offering your book for free at the start, you can ask ten friends to grab a copy and review it. It’s worth it to have at least a few reviews on an Amazon page to get the ball rolling. Another tactic is to price your book at 99 cents for the first few weeks, and gift reviewers a copy of it. They can’t redeem your 99-cent gift card for much on Amazon, so they’ll be more likely to pick up the book and give it a try. You can pay for reviews as well. Check out Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, two of the biggest names in the business.
Thanks for reading this book! I hope it helped to give you a good overview of the ebook terrain. At we write and produce ebooks, and get authors speaking gigs on podcasts and at conferences. We also run promotional campaigns for authors that include social media campaigns and advertising and media releases that go out to reviewers and journalists.
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