6 Steps for Creating an Ebook That Generates Leads in 2023

December 12, 2022
Updated: Jan 08, 2023
6 Steps for Creating an Ebook That Generates Leads in 2023

Today, ebooks should be an integral part of every content marketing strategy. Why? Because ebooks give audiences exactly what they’re looking for—immediate access to in-depth, educational content.

What’s more, ebooks are content marketing money makers. Marketing teams use ebooks to incentivize customers, act as a lead magnet on sales pages, and increase revenue.

As such, if you can learn to write an outstanding ebook, you can bring incredible value to your client and make a lot of money, even as a beginner.

Ebooks are here, and they are becoming more impactful. In January 2022, the American Association of Publishers reported that among their members — ebook sales accounted for 11.3% of sales revenue.

Gong's Ebook Resources
Gong's Ebook Resources

But writing an outstanding ebook isn’t as simple as putting pen to paper. It’s an art and a science and requires following a proven process.

I’ve been writing ebooks for over 12 years, and here is the exact process I follow to produce high-converting ebooks:

  • Review the company’s style guide
  • Require a content brief
  • Conduct audience research
  • Create an outline
  • Conduct research
  • Interview subject matter experts

Let’s dive into the step-by-step.

1. Review the company’s style guide

You may be able to write an ebook without referencing the company’s style guide. But will you write an ebook that hits the mark and resonates well with the audience?

In my experience, I’d say, “no way.” Here’s why.

Every piece of content is an essential piece of a larger content strategy and customer funnel—not a stand-alone piece. For an ebook to produce results, it has to follow the same rules as every other piece of content—and the writer must know the rules.

The style guide is the company rule book. It gives ebook writers detailed insight into the following:

  • Content objectives. The end goal of content marketing initiatives.
  • Tone and style. How the writing should sound/not sound, what style guide to follow, and how to approach formatting.
  • Word choice. The company’s target grade-level requirements, stance on technical language and jargon, and do’s and don’ts for specific terms.

But referencing the style guide accomplishes more than helping you know what words to use and whether or not to include the Oxford Comma.

It also speeds up the writing process, improves your ebook writing quality, and helps you hit the mark from the beginning. Freelance writer Kaleigh Moore no longer takes on new clients or projects if they don’t have a style guide. Here’s her reasoning.

Why work with style guides

If you want to write a winning ebook, start with the style guide.

2. Require a detailed content brief (or consider the questions in a brief if you’re writing for yourself)

When I started writing long-form articles and ebooks, I would simply ask the client for a topic and then run with it.

Huge mistake.

There were several times when I had to completely re-write the ebook because it didn’t cover the topic way the client was expecting. 

It makes sense why. There are hundreds of ways to approach a generic ebook topic. Without the correct information on what the client is trying to accomplish, it’s impossible to get right.
The solution to writing an ebook that your client will love? Start with a content brief.

A content brief is a short two-part document the client fills out for the ebook writer. The first part of the content brief asks questions about the company. Part one of my professional content brief asks the following:

  • What are your content marketing goals?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Who are your main competitors?
  • What tone are you hoping to achieve? Professional? Informative? Cheeky? Fun?
  • What are some basic ebook do’s and don’ts?
  • Are there any subject matter experts you want me to talk to?
  • Do you have any helpful company assets you want me to review?

This information informs your ebook research and your writing. It also helps get you up to speed on the company.
The second part of a content brief should include project details and should be filled out every time you write an ebook for the client. Here’s what my template looks like. Steal it. Use it. And knock your next ebook out of the park.

Ebook project details

Although simple, I promise that a good content brief will be like an atlas for your ebook. If at any point during the process of writing an ebook you feel lost, refer back to your content brief. 

3. Conduct (or review) audience research

Earlier this year, I posted a 16-word tweet that immediately took off. Top marketing agencies and marketers retweeted it to their audience and it got a lot of positive responses in the marketing community.

The tweet? 

Audience research

The reason this tweet was so popular is that it states the biggest marketing truth—if you don’t research to learn who your audience is, your marketing efforts are for naught.

Sometimes, your marketing efforts can even be harmful to your company. For example, do you remember when Levi’s released its “Hotness comes in all sizes” campaign, and then all the models were well below the average size of the American woman (which is 12-14)? 

Here’s a picture of one of Levi’s ads:

Ad for Levi's
Image source: Business Insider

Um…yeah, the campaign didn’t get a positive response. Instead, it had a lot of consumers up in arms.

While this is an example from print advertising, the sentiment applies to all forms of marketing—email marketing, podcasts, and, of course, writing ebooks for landing pages.

Before diving into an ebook, talk to your audience. Find out things like:

  • What their pain points are
  • What level of education they have on the topic
  • What their experience in your industry is
  • What they need to learn from your company
  • What circles of influence they engage in online
  • What kind of content they like

There are several ways to conduct audience research when you’re an ebook writer. Here are the top three ideas:

  1. Talk to your client. If you’re writing a freelance ebook, ask the client everything they know about the audience. Chances are, they’ve already done the hard work for you. You can ask for this in your content brief or schedule a quick call. If you work in-house, contact the market research team to gather relevant insights.
  1. Have organic conversations with your audience. I interviewed a highly popular Gen Z ad agency this year and asked the founder about how he conducts audience research. His answer surprised me. He said he hops on the phone with customers and has organic conversations. If you don’t have access to customers, you can find out more in customer reviews, online communities, social media, and any comment sections.
  1. If necessary, use an audience research tool. There are also great audience research tools at your disposal that will give you insight into who your audience is, what they like, and who they follow online. Audiense and SparkToro are perfect for this.

Remember, learning about your audience isn’t only essential in helping you create an excellent ebook. It also helps you foster good customer relationships.

“When you know your audience’s thoughts, feelings, and desires you are better able to serve their needs, and serving their needs will help you build a relationship with them,” says  Adrienne Barnes, expert writer and founder of Best Buyer Persona.

4. Create a robust outline before you start writing

Now that you’ve done all the preliminary work, it’s time to get to the fun part—writing the ebook.

The first part of the ebook writing process is creating a robust outline for your ebook. Creating an outline before you start writing is especially critical when you’re writing a longer ebook on a challenging topic that includes several chapters.

For example, I wrote an ebook on Digital Adoption for Whatfix. The ebook required a lot of research, several subject matter expert interviews, and it ended up being 27 pages long. 

Creating an outline for this challenging ebook was essential to creating an organized ebook that hit the mark.

Table of content

To add a bit more context on why it’s essential to start with an outline, I like to use a literary example. The Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland may seem like a scatter-brained character, but he gives some of history’s greatest writing advice. He says, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." 

In other words, if you don’t have an outline (i.e., a map, a goal, a destination), you can just start writing—but you’ll get lost along the way, won’t end up anywhere in particular, and won’t meet the goals of the project.

As someone who has written several ebooks and edited over a million words, I can tell you an outline makes the difference between a good ebook and a bad ebook—no matter what the word length is.

To gain additional perspective, I asked some of my Twitter friends why they start the ebook writing process with an outline. Writer and content strategist, Teodora Ema Pirciu, gave the perfect answer:

Outline - why use it

Here’s how to write a good outline for your own ebook:

  • Save the intro for second-to-last. It’s tempting to start with the intro, but don’t do it. After all, if you don’t know what you’re going to say in the ebook, it’s challenging to introduce the topic effectively. Save this part for later.
  • Create a list of the chapters. Identify the main topics you need to cover and divide them into cohesive and chronological order. Each different topic represents a chapter. It will look a bit like a table of contents.
  • Flesh out the points you’ll cover in each chapter. Once you’ve identified your chapters, create a bulleted list of subheadings with each point you’ll cover in the chapter.
  • Write a call to action (CTA). Most ebooks encourage the audience to take some kind of action. Take a peek at your brief and see what action the client wants you to convey. Infuse it into the ebook content. Typically, a call to action works best at the end.
  • Return to your intro. Now that you know what you’re going to cover in the ebook, you’re ready to jot down some ideas for your intro and write an ebook title.
  • Finish with the conclusion. The best advice I’ve seen on writing conclusions comes from Erica Schnieder. She says to think of the conclusion as an extension of the intro. In other words, you don’t want to repeat what you said in the introduction or article. You want to add that extra bit of analysis that supports what you said in the intro.

Once you have an outline, you’re ready for the next step.

5. Conduct research for your ebook

Learning how to conduct quality research for any type of ebook will take more effort, research, and practice than you can get in a short article on writing good ebooks.

The good news? I’ve already done the hard work for you, and I’m here to share my best ebook research tips. 

Create a dump doc

A dump doc is an extension of your ebook outline. To create a dump doc, place your outline in a new Google Doc or Microsoft Word. Then, go through and research each point. As you research, place recent data, reports, and examples under each point in your outline.

A dump doc never looks pretty, but it will help you make sure you have concrete data and examples for every point you’re making in your ebook. You don’t have to worry about grammar or proofreading—just copy and paste your research and write your basic ideas.

Below is an example of a dump doc I created for a free ebook I wrote this year for Salsify on 2022 Holiday Shopping Trend Predictions. You can quickly identify the points I wanted to cover and see links to recent data from relevant reports that back up the prediction. 

Remember, it’s a dump of research, so you can even copy and paste things into the doc—and it doesn’t have to look pretty.

Content dump

Once you’ve finished your dump doc, you know you have research to back up your claims.

Keep an ongoing pulse on industry or academic trends

Part of being a good ebook writer is staying educated on what is happening in your niche. For example, I often write on ecommerce, retail, and marketing and advertising. And to write content that stands out, it’s essential for me to know what’s happening in the industry.

There are a few different ways to stay educated about what is happening in your industry or academic niche. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Subscribe to the top industry publications. For me, this means subscribing to publications like AdWeek, Business of Fashion, Retail Dive, and more. I read these publications religiously, and it helps me stay in the know in my industry.
  • Subscribe to industry newsletters. In addition to publications, I also subscribe to publications like Retail Brew, Marketing Brew, Stacked Marketer, and several other newsletters from industry leaders. My niche changes often, and good research means playing the long game.
  • Create a data vault (AKA Swipe File). Since the ebooks I write are typically in the same niche, I also have an organized data vault. When I come across recent reports and data that I know I’ll want to reference, I copy and paste the information into my vault. The vault is organized by industry and topics so that I can find it easily.
  • Participate on social media. Social media may seem like a silly suggestion for staying up-to-date in your industry, but it’s one of the best places to join the conversation. People post reports, articles, opinions, and have debates on industry-related topics. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Reddit are goldmines.

Use a research tool to speed up the process

Google is one of the best tools for ebook research. You can find new data, recent articles, examples galore, and expert analysis that will lend credibility to your ebook.

But—there’s a wrong way and a right way to use Google when researching your ebooks.

First, you need to know how to access the right information and to access it quickly. Research takes the majority of my time when writing an ebook, and anything I can do to speed up the process is helpful. 

Additionally, Google does you little good if you’re sifting through the wrong publications, only coming up with outdated stats, or can’t find the original source of a stat.

To combat this problem, I’ve fine-tuned my Google search skills and learned hacks for how to find PDFs, search individual sites, and more. Here’s an example of how electronic book writer Daniel Kenitz searches Google to find related surveys and stats.

Searching Google

Admittedly, it takes time to learn Google search hacks. An alternative is to use a tool like Waldo. Waldo is a Google Chrome extension that helps you find relevant data with the stroke of a key, create lenses to only search relevant publications, and find reports and quotes. 

Essentially, it’s a tool that helps you speed up the research process and also weed out results that are garbage. It’s free and helpful to every ebook writer.

6. Interview subject matter experts (SMEs)

Ebook and long-form article writing have seen a trend shift over the past few years. It used to be common to see ebooks that had a lot of claims with data and reports to back up those claims. But it wasn’t as common to see quotes from subject matter experts.

This has changed in the past few years, and top publications are tearing a page out of the journalism handbook to spice up long-form articles and ebooks.

Now, it’s common to see quotes from SMEs infused into ebooks. Here’s a perfect example of a quote from a Salsify ebook that shows how good ebook writers are at using this technique.

Interviews

It makes sense why ebook writers are including more expert quotes in ebooks. Both quantitative and qualitative data are valuable in supporting arguments, and it doesn’t make sense to favor one kind of research over another.

Here are a few strategies to find subject matter experts to interview for your ebook:

  • Start with company experts. There are people at the company who commissioned the ebook who know everything about your assigned topic. Ask the content manager who the best person to talk to is and then set up an interview. I like to include the option of a phone call, sending questions via email, or allowing the SME to answer via a Loom video.
  • Find other experts in the industry. It’s also smart to include insight from other industry experts that don’t work at the company. Of course, you don’t want to highlight a CEO of a competing brand, but getting outside insight will help strengthen your argument.
  • Use a journalism quote-sourcing site. There are several places online where you can connect and vet subject matter experts. I like HARO, Qwoted, and Help a B2B Writer.
  • Social media. Industry experts are all over Twitter and LinkedIn. Connect with them and ask for a quote.

You’re ready to write your first ebook

Once you’ve followed the process above and have organized your SME quotes, you have all the pieces to the ebook writing puzzle. Now, all that’s left is putting all the pieces together and to start writing the ebook.

If you follow the processes above the first time, you’ll save time, write your first draft faster, create stronger content, and, ultimately, be able to charge more for your outstanding work. You’ll also find it easier to go from having your first ebook idea for your client or company to becoming a successful ebook writer and entrepreneur. 

While this advice is directed mainly at content marketing writers, the same process works for people interested in self-publishing non-fiction on Amazon’s Kindle direct publishing platform or any other ebook publishing platform.

P.S.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.

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