How to Create an Informational E-Book

August 10, 2011

I've had a blast writing and now promoting my first e-guide, How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business. So much fun, in fact, that I’m already scheming to writing another.

While most of the time I spent on this project related to writing and editing, I put in a good number of hours figuring out the logistics of formatting and selling the guide. Now I’m going to share that knowledge with you, to spare you that time when you create your first informational e-book.

The coolest part of this process is that costs almost nothing. It costs you time, of course; I spent about 35 hours writing, editing, formatting and setting up an e-commerce system. But the only actual cost is a $5/month subscription to e-junkie, which I'll explain later.

I opted to publish only in a PDF format, because PDFs can be read on a computer, iPad, Kindle, even printed out in hard copy. Are there more sophisticated ways of publishing? Yes. But a PDF met my needs for this project, and it was the simplest way to accomplish my goal.

This is a rather lengthy post, but I want to offer enough details that you can easily do this yourself!

If you’re interested in creating an e-book, here's a 13-step guide:

1. Come up with an idea. The best way to do this is to pinpoint a problem you can solve. What question do readers of your blog ask you again and again? Which inquiries do you get over and over? One reason why I chose the topic of social-media consulting was because people kept asking me — usually over email or Twitter — how I did it.

Before going any further, ask Google whether anyone else has already created an e-book that's similar to your idea. One of the reasons I was really excited about my guide was that no one else had written one about how to launch into part-time social-media consulting, even though there’s a huge demand for those services. I knew I was responding to a need.

If your idea's already been done, how will your project be different? Why would a reader buy your e-book over someone else's?

2. Write it. Just sit down and do it. I have no idea how long informational e-books usually are; I didn't worry about this when writing mine. I simply wrote it until I had no more to say. Mine came in at 14,000 words, which, when converted into 14-point font, became 62 pages.

I wrote my guide in Scrivener, a program I already owned, but you can write in Microsoft Word, Google Docs or whatever works for you. I like Scrivener because it helps me organize and easily re-order my jumble of thoughts.

Part of writing an e-book is choosing a title. While I was in the midst of writing mine, I happened to read a post from author and traveler Chris Guillebeau, who advised against calling any informational product a book and instead suggested calling it a guide or manual or strategy. E-book creates the expectation of a full-length book and low value, he said, which isn’t the impression you want to give. It was because of this insight that I called my product a guide.

Include links! Links greatly increase the value of e-books, just like they do blog posts. This is an easy way to direct the reader to more information, to provide additional value without having to include it in your project.

3. Move everything into Google Docs. (If you're not using it already, that is.) Here's why: You're going to want to turn the document into a PDF, and Google's PDFs can include links, unlike several other PDF converters. I usually use PromoPDF to convert PDFs, but that stripped my links. Get everything into a Google Doc, but don't convert it yet. That comes later.

4. Change your fonts. The problem with Google Docs is it doesn't offer many choices for fonts. Since the reader will be seeing this on a screen, you want to use a larger-than-normal font. I went with 14-point Georgia. My chapter titles are 18-point Tahoma. Find fonts that are easy to read but also have a little personality.

If formatting doesn’t come easy to you, plenty of people will do this for you for a fee.

5. Design a front page. You don't need anything fancy, at least for your first guide. Keep in mind that most people who see your cover, and those who are considering buying it, will see it as a small image. That means you should have a large title or image so potential buyers can get the gist of the cover even when it’s smaller than actual size.

If you want something fancy, look for a designer that will do it on the cheap. This could be an excuse to try out Crowdspring or 99designs.

6. Add a Table of Contents. Hold off on adding page numbers until you've formatted the book entirely.

7. Turn the document into a PDF so you can see any spacing issues. This is the one problem with my system that I never figured out how to fix effectively. Because formatting and spacing changes when you convert from a Google Doc to a Google PDF, you'll notice spacing issues in the PDF that you didn't see in the Doc. This is tedious to fix because once you make one spacing change — adding or deleting a space — it throws off the rest of the document.

I converted to PDF more than a dozen times during this phase and still had to go back each time to make spacing tweaks. There's got to be a better way to do this, but I haven't figured it out yet. (If you know a fix, hope you'll tell us about it in the comments!)

8. Add page numbers. Google Docs doesn't allow you to add page numbers, so you have to do this during the conversion process. Once the spacing issues have been resolved (because that affects page numbers), choose “print settings” and add page numbers. Don’t actually print the document, just let it live in PDF form on your desktop. Then add the page numbers to your Table of Contents.

9. Convert to PDF a final time. Finally! While I only offered my e-guide in PDF, one reader did request another format. She wanted an epub file so she could read it on her eReader. This is now on my to-do list.

10. Choose a price. Informational e-books tend to sell for more than regular books; I give some examples in my launch post. Since this was my first go, I thought less about how much I needed to earn to make it worth my time and more about how much people would spend to get their hands on my work.

A friend who's into this stuff and I decided on $29, but when I asked for feedback on Twitter, a few folks said that was too much. So I lowered the price to $24. Who knows if fewer people would’ve bought it if I’d sold it for more, or whether more people would buy it if I sold it for less. Anyway, pick your price, because you'll need that for the next step.

11. Join PayPal. You probably already have an account, but if you don't, you’ll need one. This is how people will pay you, by transferring money from their PayPal account (or paying with their credit card) into yours.

The only problem with PayPal is that its default is to only let you transfer $500 each month into your bank account. I've already done that this month because my e-guide sales have exceeded that limit. There is a way to override this limit of course – or the platform would be useless for super successful sellers – and figuring out how to do that is on my to-do list. For now, it's nice to watch the cash pile up in my PayPal account.

12. Join E-junkie. For just $5/month, E-junkie takes care of all of your commerce. This $5/month – or $60/year – is the only cost that you'll incur during the writing and selling of your e-book (other than your time). Pretty great, right?

E-junkie offers a bunch of different options for how to sell, but I chose to upload my guide to the site. When a buyer purchases the guide, e-junkie sends them an e-mail with the download link. That means the buyer gets it automatically, no wait.

If you decide to use E-junkie to sell your e-products, I hope you’ll use my affiliate link.

When I get a receipt of purchase from PayPal, I sometimes respond to it and ask the person where they heard about my guide. That helps me figure out where to target my marketing efforts. Down the road I'll automate this request for feedback, too.

13. Create a landing page. This is the page on your blog from which you’ll sell your e-book. Here’s mine as an example. There’s all sorts of advice out there about how to create an effective landing page, but I’d say the most important part is keeping it short and to the point. Make it easy for readers to buy!

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