Well…it finally happened. I sat down with my designer today and the Word files for my e-book and we began the process of getting it ready to publish.
This project seemed to take forever! In fact, it took about 18 months. I’m so excited that it’s finally coming into the home stretch.
I learned a lot in the process of writing Make a Living Writing: The 21st Century Guide. If you’re thinking about writing an e-book — and everybody should be! — here are some of my tips on the e-book writing process:
1. Start small. Why, oh why, did I think my very first e-book should be a broad-spectrum, comprehensive guide to everything you need to know to earn well in the writing biz today? If I was doing this over again, I would have found a chunk to publish first as a stand-alone, smaller first e-book to get something out there while I finished the larger book. As it is, I’ll probably be doing that — I plan to pull out the copywriting section and offer it later as a separate product. But part of this information could have been out there helping writers already — and helping me earn — while I finished the bigger book.
2. Chunkify. This is a phrase I learned from one of my Seattle Times editors. Especially when people are reading online, they need information broken up into small bites. So most of my sections are short or broken out into bullets or numbered items to make them easy to digest.
3. Listen to your audience. If you’re writing any sort of nonfiction, how-to e-book, don’t sit in a vacuum in your office writing what you think people want to know. Find out what they really want to know! I’ve gotten great feedback from my mentees and readers of this blog about exactly what they wanted to know about traditional markets today, emerging writing opportunities and new techniques for finding good-paying clients. The e-book would not be nearly as strong without that critical feedback.
4. Think landscape. E-books lay out in landscape format, not portrait — that is, 11″ wide by 8 1 /2″ high, not the other way around. When I started out, I wasn’t thinking about this. I ended up reorganizing and editing a lot as a result. Landscape format is the shape of most computer screens (though not e-readers like the one above!) — so it helps to think about that shape while you’re writing and looking at how much will fit on a page.
5. Think about structure and style. One of the toughest challenges for me as someone used to writing articles of maybe up to 3,000 words was organizing so much material. I should have spent more time up-front working with my table of contents to figure out where topics would fit best — would have saved a lot of reorganizing on the back end. On the style side, I kept doing things differently — how to put dashes, how to format lists. Think of a style and stick with it to avoid lots of combing through to change little format problems later.
6. Let it go. At some point, it’s time to call the e-book done. But I found it hard to get there. I got great advice from my online buddy Robert Earle Howells, who told me to just press “send” and move on to the next e-book. It doesn’t have to be perfect, he said — it’s an e-book. Nonfiction e-books are meant to be timely and produced quickly. He told me he still sometimes goes back in and changes something in the PDF of his book, and that it’s no big deal. That helped me a lot…I probably would have kept tinkering with this forever, until the recession was long over and a lot of it would have needed revising! Wish I’d heard his advice six months ago…probably would have the e-book out already!
Have any questions about writing an e-book? Let me know — if I think the readers would benefit, I’ll answer them here on the blog.
Photo via Flickr user cloudsoup