This is an excerpt from ACE YOUR EBOOK.
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 UnSit’s 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 Speechpad it will cost you about $1 a minute. Speechmatics will use computer speech recognition to transcribe your files. The accuracy is lower than Speechpad, but so is the cost, at about $0.12 per minute.
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. You 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 to doing creative work.) You can tamp down the inner critic’s objections by trying to ignore him or her, which can work, but which 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, 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 Evernote or I will open Trello, 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 get 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 creatively open up, 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 show first show up as a thumbnail image on Amazon, Smashwords, or other platform. If you are offering your ebook as an incentive to subscribe to your mailing list you have more leverage. You cover can be bigger. You still have to have a great title though, because doesn’t it make sense that your title will be the first element that helps your potential reader get into your book?
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 it, have your initial ideas flow from it. In most ebooks that are free, people expect actionable advice. If you want your book to be read avidly, provide plenty of things for your reader to do. That means working in exercises, quizzes, and workbook-style sections. Provide ways for 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, non-linear playwright, have at it. But it is 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 in front of the other in a linear fashion. With that in mind, let’s look at some potential structures for your ebook.
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Also published on Medium.