How to Create an eBook in Less Than 20 Hours (Part 1 of 2)

This post was written by John White on Thu, 02 Dec 2010 08:34:12 +0000
Posted Under: content marketing,eBook,value in content

An eBook is a relatively painless vehicle for content, especially when an article would be too short for the topic and a white paper would be too long.

Read Back Book Exchange - DarwinA few months ago I decided I needed to write an eBook.

The term “eBook” (or “e-book”) applies to two very different items:

  • an electronic version of a book, for consumption in a reader or eBook device, like the Kindle or the iPad;
  • a marketing piece that conveys information in the way that a white paper does, but with a more readable, easy-to-turn-the-pages feel.

There are several different file formats for the former; the latter is usually a PDF, which most devices can accommodate.

Anyway, I wanted to create it for a few reasons:

  • to see how much work is involved;
  • to have one as a portfolio piece to show clients and prospects;
  • to use as incentive content in search engine marketing.

It took me under 20 hours to create (there’s a little fudging in that figure), and I’m pleased with how it turned out. Here’s the story of how I did it.

Starting point

I began with a document I’d cobbled together over the years called “How to Hire Writing Talent.” I’d pecked at it for a long time in a document/PDF format, gradually accumulating a dozen or more issues I though marketing managers should consider in hiring a freelance writer. It was akin to a buyer’s guide.

I was never happy with the layout or feel of the document, but I did want the content published, so I chose it as guinea-pig copy for the eBook. The new format would be enough of a challenge; I didn’t want to complicate matters by having to author brand-new copy as well.

Next, I trolled the Web for tips on writing an eBook. There are good resources on what to do with the eBook once you’ve written it, but few on the mechanics of putting it together.

Good and bad eBooks

I found four or five eBooks and studied them for things I liked and disliked about them.

Good eBooks:

  • employ landscape layout, so that each page takes up exactly one screen and spares the reader the scroll-up-scroll-down business common to portrait layout;
  • have decent design elements that give the reader a feeling of light yet inormative reading;
  • contain some interactivity – embedded audio, video, links – along with the text;
  • can fit a topic/chapter/lesson/point on a single page.

Ugly eBooks:

  • are obviously just Microsoft Word documents distilled into PDF;
  • are glorified slide decks distilled into PDF;
  • fail to capitalize on the reader’s expectation of a book;
  • don’t print out well.

Which application?

The best eBooks I found were created in Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress. I didn’t want to rent, buy or learn either of these packages, and I didn’t want to hire a designer for a project of indeterminate length and constant experimentation.

This obstacle delayed the start for several weeks, as I considered alternatives and examined more e-books. One day I stumbled onto an e-book from Marketo, and gradually realized that they had used Microsoft PowerPoint to create it. Most pages did not take advantage of the eBook format, but otherwise they had managed to use the application to create an eBook that was more than a PPT warmed over. It struck me that PowerPoint, for all its deficiencies and general overuse, had potential as a modest authoring tool for a modest eBook.

Microsoft Office Online has hundreds of slide templates. I found a free one that provided a good point of departure, tinkered with the color palette and slide masters and came up with something workable.

To be continued…

This is getting long for a single post (although it is becoming the stuff of its own eBook), so I’ll finish it next week.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to the final product, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Marketing Communications Writer” (alternative titles welcomed).

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Marketing Communications Writer.”

photo credit: brewbooks

Reader Comments

John,
I’m glad that you wrote this article. I have entertained writing an e-book for a while, and the thing that discourages me the most is the element of design. Like you, I don’t necessarily want to invest in software packages that I might only use intermittently. And of course hiring a designer is not something I’m interested in doing particularly for a FREE e-book. So I’m glad that you’ve provided an alternative here. I will be eagerly awaiting Part 2 of this article. I also looked at your final product. I like that it employs nice visual enhancements and is very easy on the eye – ‘bolded’ words, bullets, a lot of white space etc.
You might have persuaded me to rethink my pending e-book project. But I’ll wait for part 2….

#1 
Written By Patricia Redsicker on December 3rd, 2010 @ 6:11

Glad you like the eBook, Patricia.

Do NOT wait for part 2. If I get hit by a bus this afternoon before posting part 2, I don’t want it on my conscience that somebody was waiting on me for something. There’s enough in the PDF for you to clone and do your own without waiting for part 2. You can bang your eBook out this weekend. Good luck, and send me a copy when it’s ready.

#2 
Written By John White on December 3rd, 2010 @ 7:55