eBooks are books or pamphlets in a digital format. They’re a unique form of web content because they’re inherently portable. An eBook can be shared and spread far beyond your web presence.
There are a number of ways bloggers, webmasters or any web user can leverage an eBook to achieve a variety of outcomes, from building a brand to attracting traffic, and everything in between.
In this post I want to present a guide to creating your own eBooks from the idea stage right up until distribution. I’ll also describe various ways you can use the eBooks you create to build buzz and achieve individual outcomes. Best of all, the process can be completed without spending a cent.
What could I do with an eBook?
- Encourage RSS subscriptions — you could use the Feedburner FeedFlare service (accessible via the ‘Optimize’ tab inside your Feedburner control panel) to add a link to your eBook at the bottom of each feed you publish. Let your readers know that each feed subscription comes with a bonus eBook. You can see this method in action at ChrisG.com. Here are instructions on how to do it.
- Package archives — you could celebrate each year by offering your blog or website’s archives in eBook format. This is a great way to get new visitors up to speed on what you do. You can see this method in action at Boing Boing.
- Publicize your brand — encourage those who download your eBook to share it however they like. As long as it clearly features what you want to promote (yourself, your site, or your products) you will be benefiting from the free advertising.
- Go viral – Seth Godin’s eBooks have been instrumental to his success. If your ideas are interesting enough they could go viral — an incredibly powerful promotion of both yourself and your product. Seth’s most famous eBook, Unleashing the Ideavirus, was later published in both paperback and hardcover.
- And more — take some time to think about how you could best leverage your eBook. What are you trying to do with it? What will be the best method to achieve your goal?
What form could my eBook take?
What you include in your eBook will depend on what you’re trying to achieve with it. I’ll list some broad approaches and describe how they could be useful.
- Digital book — the most traditional form of eBook, the digital book, is usually upwards of a hundred pages and presents itself as the kind of book you might buy at a bookstore. Unleashing the Ideavirus, for example, is 197 pages. This type of eBook is your best bet at going viral or being widely circulated because it packs a lot of value. This type of eBook will typically be broken into chapters on particular topics and contain more than one idea. While it has the potential for the greatest gains, it is also obviously the most time consuming option.
- Manifesto — this type of eBook is less time consuming to create but also retains the potential to go viral because it focuses on communicating one idea in 1 to 25 pages. A great example of a manifesto-style eBook is Tim Ferriss’ The Low Information Diet, at 16 pages. What is your best idea? Your number one tip? It may just be the perfect idea for a manifesto. Here’s another example, this time written for bloggers: Killer Flagship Content. That one is 17 pages.
- Bonus or archived content — if you’re a blogger or webmaster you could create a bonus content eBook. This simply involves packaging a quantity of new content in an eBook rather than publishing it on your site. You could use this as an incentive to subscribe or encourage readers to distribute it freely.
How do I make an eBook?
The best format for an eBook is PDF. These files best re-create the effect of reading the pages of a book on screen. You can create PDF files directly with Adobe Acrobat if you’re lucky enough to have access to the program. This is a $0 budget guide, however, so I want to suggest some free resources we can use to achieve the same effect.
If you have Microsoft Word I’d recommend creating your eBook in .doc format. If you use a different Word processor you can create your eBooks in .rtf format. These can be converted to PDFs with the help of some free online programs, but first, let’s discuss formatting.
Number and link
Ideally, the footer of each page in your eBook should be numbered and contain a link to your web presence, your logo or your name. Your choice will depend on what your eBook is designed to promote.
Make it visually interesting
One advantage to the eBook format is that printing costs aren’t an issue. You can use slick fonts, colored headings, photographs, and other items to add visual interest, but keep in mind that detailed elements like images will increase the download size of your eBook.
Read a little
Download good eBooks and look at paperback copies of books you think look good. Write down what you like best about the formatting and try to emulate that in your own work. Don’t be afraid to use chapters, sub-headings, introductions, and so on.
Most of us like the idea of publishing a best-selling book, if only in the realm of fantasy. I’d recommend taking the presentation of your eBook as seriously as you would a potential best-seller. Readers will notice (and appreciate) the care you’ve put into what you create.
If you’re not a Word Processing genius…
If you’re not sure how to translate your vision into reality it’s worth gathering the skills required to do so. Try to locate specific sources of information as you need them, rather than wasting time learning about features you may not need.
If you want to know how to add a footer to each page, for example, Google what you want to do and the Word Processor you’re using (ex: “add footer to each page in Open Office”). In most cases this will be enough to answer your question. If not, try searching for a general guide/tutorial directory for your Word Processor of choice. Here are some example tutorials for Microsoft Word.
Edit, edit, edit
Unlike a blog post or web-page you can’t re-edit an eBook to your heart’s content. Once people begin to download and share copies of your eBook you can’t exactly ask them to give it back in exchange for a fixed copy. It’s essential that you get it right the first time.
- Rigorously edit what you’ve written. Draft, re-draft, check spelling, check grammar. Let your eBook sit for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. Print it out and carefully go over the paper copy. Sometimes things you missed on screen will be glaringly obvious on paper.
- Enlist the help of others. Give it to family and friends to read through. They will likely notice some errors you missed. They can also tell you which bits were unclear to them. If your eBook isn’t targeted at the average person you could instead share it with some trusted friends or readers who are within the target demographic for your book.
Convert your document to .PDF
Once you’re confident that you’ve created a solid final draft you can start to think about converting that into the finished product. There are a myriad of online converters and freeware programs you can use to quickly change document files into PDFs. It’s worth experimenting with a few to see which one works best for you.
Adobe, the creator of the .PDF format, allows you to convert 5 documents to PDF for free via this page. Another free program I like is PrimoPDF, which allows you to create PDFs directly from your source document via the ‘Print’ option.
If you’re not satisfied with either of these options you’ll be able to locate many others by Googling “document to .pdf converters”. A good strategy is to copy some of your eBook into a sample document of three or four pages and use that to test how different converters will present your eBook.
What you’re looking for
- Clarity. You want the PDF file you create to display your text clearly and crisply. Some converters will blur your text — avoid them.
- Retention of formatting. Your PDF should look as much like your source document as possible. Check that fonts, colors, images and columns are displaying correctly.
- Small size. The smaller your PDF is the easier it will be for people to attach it to e-mails, host it on their own site, or spread it through other viral methods. An ideal size is below 1 megabyte, but anything below 5 megabytes is acceptable. I would hesitate before releasing a PDF larger than that size. Consider cutting out unnecessary images or decreasing their quality.
Once your PDF eBook is looking and reading exactly how you want it you can start thinking about distribution. The first step in this process is to upload it to your webhost (if you have one). If not, there are a number of free file-hosting services you can use.
- Scribd — free document hosting, kinda like YouTube for PDFs.
- TinyLoad — host 300mb worth of files with no bandwidth limit.
Rewards based distribution
If you only want your PDF to be available to certain people (usually as a result of them completing a certain action, such as subscribing to your feed, reviewing your site, etc.) you should make the file available for download on a section of your site not connected to the main navigation network. This allows you to control who has access to your eBook.
For extra security you could make the download page password protected. Choosing a complicated password (something that is unlikely to produce any search results, such as a random combination of letters and numbers) should help you track down anyone providing the password to your download page. A Google search for your password should be all you need. You might consider changing the password if this kind of theft occurs.
This kind of distribution aims to get people actively sharing and propagating your eBook. Here are some tips to help your eBook go viral.
- Ask them. Encourage readers to share your eBook inside the document.
- Edit the file name. Add ‘ReadandShare’ to your document’s filename. Seth Godin uses ‘IdeavirusReadandShare.pdf’.
- Change the context. Emphasize that your eBook is free to download and share in each location that you offer it (static pages, forum posts, e-mails, etc.)
- E-mail list. Create an email list for eBook owners. Offer the link to the join page for this list inside your eBook. This creates a feeling of exclusivity and will allow you to leverage your existing audience if you release another eBook in future.
- Leverage traffic. Publicize your eBook on your blog or website. Make it as easy as possible for readers to download it.
- Provide ideas. Suggest ways your eBook could be shared. Encourage readers to host it on their own site, e-mail it to friends, and link to your download page.
The end result
It’s entirely possible to complete all these steps and end up with a high quality eBook that cost you absolutely nothing to make.
Feel free to direct any questions, ideas or concerns into the comments section below. If you do publish an eBook as a result of reading this post, or have published one in the past, feel free to link to it here, also. It certainly can’t hurt your viral campaign!