Writing an eBook: How to Get Started (and Finish!)

A guest post by Cara Stein of  17000 Days

Writing an ebook is awesome. You can control the publication process, eliminating the long delays of finding a publisher and waiting for your book to be printed. If you do a free one, it’s also a perfect way to let your future customers take your writing for a test drive.

I recently released a free ebook, How to be Happy (No Fairy Dust or Moonbeams Required) , and it’s done wonders for my subscriber numbers and traffic. I’ve gotten tons of comments from people about how much they liked it and how helpful they found it. Music to a writer’s ears!

Here’s what I learned from the process:

1. Get inspired

For my ebook, the idea jumped into my lap and wouldn’t go away until I wrote about it. (It was a lot like how I got my cat!) But normally, I expect I’ll be going after ideas myself, rather than the other way around.

A good place to look for ideas is what you already know and are good at. What do you know now that you wish you had known a few years ago? What resource would you have killed for when you were starting out?

2. Make an outline

Once you have an idea, making an outline is a great way to start building the book. That’s how I did my ebook. I had a lot of things I wanted to say, so I started listing and organizing them. Once I had the outline, all I had to do was fill in the blanks.

The magic of this technique is it takes an overwhelming task (write a whole book!) and turns it into a bunch of doable pieces. Once the whole thing is broken down, writing a section is a lot like writing a blog post. Write a bunch of blog posts? Of course you can do that!

3. Schedule your writing time

I would love to have the kind of life where scheduling wasn’t necessary, but I juggle way too many things. If I don’t schedule something, it doesn’t get done.

When I was working on my ebook, I set aside a two-hour block four mornings a week for writing. It was a good plan, but I often let other things trample a writing session. Oh, the furnace is out–I’ll meet the repair man Wednesday morning. Poof! There went a writing session. Time to make Thanksgiving pies. Poof! There went another one.

It’s especially difficult when the people around you don’t share your priorities. They want to spend time with you, you say you can’t because you’ll be writing, they look at you like you’re weird, crazy, and lame.

Or maybe I just had this problem because I didn’t believe in myself. If you don’t take yourself and your project seriously, nobody else will, either. If you want to write a book, commit to it, make it top priority, and guard your writing time as sacred. You will finish it if you want to badly enough.

4. Celebrate

Whether your book is short or long, finishing the writing is an accomplishment. Treat yourself!

5. Revise systematically

I tend to write like mad and revise later. I do a little rewording during the writing, but I try to leave my critical internal editor at the door. That leaves me a big rough draft at the end.

This is where I got really stuck. Writing is exhilarating. Revising and editing, on the other hand… far less sexy. I’d try to read through the whole thing and end up asleep on the couch.

Then I had the idea to break the editing down to the size of a blog post, like I had done for the writing. The amount of work required to fix and tighten up a blog post is about one to two hours for me–a doable amount. So I split the book into chunks and revised them one at a time. Much better! Then I could look at the book as a whole and fix it on that level.

Another trick I use for revising is formatting the text. After two or three passes through a piece of text, I can’t read all the words any more, no matter how hard I try to make myself concentrate. But when I move it from a word processor to blogging software or a book layout and start concentrating on headings, emphasis, and lists, it gives me a new perspective and I can read all the words again. This is usually my last round of revisions. In the case of the book, I also sent it to grammar-loving friends for additional copy editing.

6. Launch

Once the writing and editing are finished, it feels like you should be about done, but actually, there’s still a ton of work to do! You need to design the cover and do the layout, or get someone else to do it. Then there’s all the marketing and technical stuff!

For me, the excitement of having other people finally read my book was essential motivation at this stage. There are a squizillion little things that need to be set up and taken care of for the launch to go smoothly. Making a checklist is essential.

Check and double-check all of your links. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to mess up. Try to launch when you don’t have a lot of other things going on. But most importantly, launch! Nobody will get to read your great work otherwise. It can be tempting to keep tweaking and improving, but at a certain point, you have to declare victory and get it out there.

7. Take the long view

Leading up to my launch, I was 100 kinds of excited. All this work, finally coming to fruition! I stayed up until 2 am the night before getting everything done. Meanwhile, my day job was causing a ton of stress and sucking up a lot of energy. By launch day, I was an exhausted, gibbering bundle of nerves.

A lot of things fell short of my expectations on launch day. One of my download links was broken (insert self-flagellation here!). I had less traffic than I hoped, and of the direct traffic that day, only 13.5% actually clicked the “download” link. I was crushed.

Then, I got a message from a reader saying she liked the book but didn’t see enough of me in it–next time, I should include more of myself.

I had asked for feedback, and at the time, I sincerely meant it, or thought I did. The problem is, once I consider something finished, I can’t imagine anyone’s honest feedback being anything but “Stellar! Best thing I’ve ever read! I’ve been waiting for this all my life!” So this feedback, even though it was constructive and mostly positive, crushed me. As fried as I was by then, I couldn’t be see anything clearly. I was devastated, ready to quit writing and retreat to my cubicle.

That would have been a huge mistake! Over the next week, I got some rest, traffic and downloads picked up considerably, and I got a ton of enthusiastic comments from old friends and new subscribers. The rush I was expecting on launch day did happen, just not all that day. It’s also given me the chance to interact and deepen my relationships and feel more a part of the online community as a whole.

Writing and releasing an ebook is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I highly recommend getting started by writing a short ebook or manifesto and releasing it free. The positive energy is addictive!

Cara Stein helps people remember that life is short and make their best days a common occurrence. You can enjoy more of her posts at 17000 Days.  Check out her free ebook: How to be Happy (No Fairy Dust or Moonbeams Required)


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Cara Stein

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