How to Write an Ebook

This is article #13 out of 50 in The Startup Marketing Playbook.

An inbound marketing strategy typically involves many types of content: PDF guides, ebooks, webinars, infographics, videos and more. Among cornerstone pieces that your team will create to help tell your product’s story are ebooks. Put simply, an ebook is often just a long guide or a combination of multiple blog posts, well-designed and packaged as a downloadable PDF. Just using the label “ebook” packs an additional punch that may intrigue targets and drive downloads.

The prospect of writing an ebook from scratch may be intimidating. Have no fear — we’re going to walk through the process and you’ll soon be writing your own! Consider the following steps to launching an ebook:

1. Understand the core messaging and story

The first ebook you produce should essentially be the manifesto of your product. For example, my team builds mobile apps for health clubs, so our first ebook was “The Official Guide to Club Mobile Apps.” This ebook literally walks through our core messaging and tells our product story without specifically mentioning our company. That is key ensureing credibility. If you have produced your story and messaging/positioning guide, the first ebook should be easy to derive.

2. Write an outline

An ebook seems like a lot to write, so start by outlining it section by section. What is the logical flow that will make your story most digestible? Consider a universally understood structure with an introduction, several key points (perhaps your product’s value propositions) divided into chapters, and finally a conclusion.

Additional considerations when outlining include: what background must be communicated to provide context for the key concepts? How can you intertwine a story (perhaps using a fictional target persona) as an example?

3. Determine voice and tone

Since an ebook is a long piece, it’s important that the tone remains consistent throughout. Do you want to use informal or more conservative language? What tense will you write in? While these appear to be small details, it’s best to document your approach so you can check your consistency as you write.

4. Convert the outline into paragraphs

The writing process is simply converting your outline into paragraphs and combining those paragraphs into a book. Once you get into a rhythm of writing, you’ll see that it can actually be produced rather quickly. Don’t try to get all of the detail right on the first draft; instead, write something quick and dirty, then go back and revise.

5. Determine visual strategy and design it

A successful ebook is far more than content. It is also beautifully crafted with design (layout and graphics) that helps tell the story. A quality ebook should look nothing like an essay. Instead, it should mix paragraphs with custom graphics and supporting images. Do not underestimate the short attention span of your reader. You need to make your ebook as easy as possible to consume.

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Cover page of my team’s recent ebook


6. Leverage an industry influencer as co-author

To help give you ebook additional credibility, consider including quotes, an interview or even a co-author label with an industry thought leader. Often, this person can help you craft quality content for the ebook. Your team does all of the writing and the final product can be co-branded. This gives the influencer a great incentive to share it and at the same time adds value to them by helping to build their personal brand. In return, you get more shares, more leads, and more trust among your target persona.

7. Include subtle product references and a clear CTA

Remember, your ebook should read as if it is being written by a third party about the problem / space / solution that relates to your product. It must not come across as an advertisement or be exceptionally biased towards your product.

In my team’s Official Guide to Club Mobile Apps, we often used the term “your mobile app vendor,” instead of our company name. However, the last page of the book has a clear call to action that identifies our company as a mobile app vendor.

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CTA page of my team’s recent ebook

8. Link tweetable content within the book

In everything we do, we want to look for viral growth drivers: small actions or offers that play into virality (i.e. helping to share a piece of content or grow a user base). In the case of an ebook, consider using your PDF program (i.e. Adobe Acrobat) to make text links clickable and include prewritten social media share boxes.

9. Promote on standard growth channels

Once the ebook is written, designed and polished, treat it like any other piece of content and build an inbound marketing campaign around it. This includes all of the standard distribution channels: email, social, paid search, display ads, etc.

10. Bonus points: convert it into a physical book

I love this trick: after you distribute the book digitally, do a direct mail campaign and mail a printed version of the book to a list of targets. We’ll cover this more in a future post in this series about print media. In general, this can make a tired marketing medium (direct mail) far more impactful.

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