No, seriously. I’m not writing ebooks for the Men with Pens site at all, in any way. This post is just one of those random things that occurred to me while I was doing the laundry and feeding the fish (full disclosure: I do not have fish, because I find their calmness infuriating). It’s just a theoretical post on how to write a good ebook. I have no recent experience in writing good ebooks whatsoever. It is all lies, what you have been hearing.
Now, let’s just focus on the matter at hand, shall we?
Picking a Good Topic for Your Ebook
Incidentally, “ebook” begins to look like Wookie language if you write it often enough. I should write an ebook about English words that sound like Wookie words.
Except no, no I shouldn’t. Because there is no market for such an ebook.
This is the most important thing to consider. Before you waste any time setting pen to paper, is there any point in finishing (or starting) the project? The only way to answer that is to figure out how many people out there need to know about the subject on which you’re writing.
Then you need to figure out how many of those people care that they need to know about it. This number will be much smaller.
For example, many people out there need to know how to not be jerks while driving. How many of those people do you imagine actually buy an ebook called, “How to Not Be a Jerk While Driving”?
You see my point.
How do you know if there’s a market for your ebook? One way is to ask people you know. Another is to keep your ears open and look for people in forums and blogs who are all asking the same questions. If you see a great deal of people asking for advice on how the hell SEO works, you’ve got yourself a great idea for an ebook.
If someone’s already written a kick-ass ebook on that subject, don’t get into direct competition. Either come up with a new angle or write on a new subject altogether.
However, if there are a ton of ebooks on the subject you want to write on and all of them suck, go for it. You could end up being that guy nobody wants to compete with. If you follow the next step, which is . . .
Finding Good Ideas for Your Ebook
A lot of ebooks out there simply take up space. They’re not telling anyone anything they don’t already know. They’re recycling old information in a boring way. They’re pumping you up with a lot of powerful phrasing, like “You too can be a millionaire!”
They’re not telling you how to do it. I mean, really do it. Not pretend to do it kind of do it.
Give readers something tangible to work with. Think about the step-by-step process of whatever you’re writing about. Give them good advice on how to go through each of those steps.
Add in fun or interesting tidbits as sidebars, but don’t make them the main focus of the piece. Fun and interesting is great for breaking up monotony and for inserting some humor, but if your reader finishes the ebook and doesn’t find it useful, just funny, then you you haven’t done your job. They probably want their money back.
If you cannot advise your reader on how to get from point A to point B, you don’t know enough about your topic to write about it. Go do some research and try again.
Don’t forget to help people out. Every ebook should contain links to other resources or articles that might be helpful, and you shouldn’t make your readers go find them on their own.
Is it really easy for someone to Google the name of the book you just recommended? Sure it is. Is it easier for them to click on the handy link you provided? Uh, yeah.
Plus, the handy link doesn’t make them close your ebook so they can go browse the web for four hours.
Writing Good Content Your Ebook
The most important rule of writing is (sing it with me, kids): DON’T BE BORING. For the love of everything wrapped in bacon and deep-fried, do not be boring. Your ebook could be chock-full of great stuff, but if it doesn’t seem like it, you fail miserably.
And then you will cry. And then I will cry. And then we will run out of tissues, and neither of us will want to go to the store because we look so terrible and red-eyed and snotty, so we’ll just sit there snuffling into our sleeves.
It will be very bad.
Don’t be boring. Some of the most mundane topics have new life if you simply think about them in a new and interesting way. Don’t be afraid to be human or to be funny. One of the best ebooks I ever read was Nick Cernis’ Todoodlist, and it was about making to-do lists, for Pete’s sake. You couldn’t get more banal.
And yet, by the time I was done reading Todoodlist, all I wanted to do was follow Nick’s advice and go write one, because I was convinced it would change my life.
That’s the core of everything you write for your ebook. The simplest way to not be boring is to be important. Be vital. Give your topic purpose and intent and write about it like you really believe this is a game-changer. And it will be.
Another Assertion of Complete Innocence
No, seriously. I don’t know whether there’s some really important topic that James wants to make sure you and your mother are totally informed on, like, say, writing for the web and how you can do it for a living and make a kasquillion dollars doing so.
I have no knowledge of anything. I think the cook did it. In the library with the candlestick. I was most certainly NOT in the library working on the most fantastic ebook ever on how to write for the web, full of jokes about squirrels and lots of extra loot and resources and lengthy play-by-plays.
I can’t believe you would even suggest such a thing!
Oh, incidentally, I think James may be announcing something later this month. Possibly. What do I know; I’m just the maid.