Building Your Email List

How to Write an Ebook Fast (And Make It Awesome!)

I’ve worked with several clients on list-building ebooks (i.e., ebooks that are given away for free in exchange for an email address.) At times, I’ve worked on very tight deadlines. Once client, for example, wanted a 150+ page ebook done in under a month.

When you’re a freelance writer, the faster you can write, the more money you make. So, I’ve been dealing with crazy deadlines since I first started my content marketing career as a writer back in 2006. However, even when writing fast, you have to be able to keep quality up. If you don’t, no one will hire you for a second or third or fourth project…and it’s back to eating ramen for dinner again.

Today, I’m going to give you my formula to help you write an ebook fast, while keep the quality high. People are always in awe of how fast I write. This is how I do it.

Step One: Start with a Wordcount Goal.

How many words do you really need to write? That depends on two factors:

  1. The topic of the ebook
  2. The purpose of the ebook

If your topic is “The Ultimate Guide to Twitter,” you’re going to need more than 10,000 words to get the job done. On the other hand, if your topic is “How to Find the Right People to Follow on Twitter,” 10,000 words or even fewer will be plenty for your ebook. I recommend working on one longer, more complex ebook every few years and publishing smaller ebooks in between. Need help coming up with a good topic? This is a great guest post from Mandi Ehman on Amy Lynn Andrews’ blog on that very topic.

Typically, if the purpose of the ebook is to build your email list, you need fewer words than if the purpose would be to sell the ebook. The more information you ask from someone, the more content they’ll demand. If you’re just asking for a name and email, 5,000 – 20,000 words is fine. If you want my name, email, URL, social usernames, address, phone number, and first born child, I’m going to want a much longer ebook covering a more complex topic.

Regardless, set your wordcount goal before your start writing so you can stay on track to hit that number.

Step Two: Break the Ebook into Chunks of 1000 – 2000 words.

My blog posts are usually between 1000 and 2000 words, which is typically what I recommend for most bloggers (though occasionally longer and shorter posts are fine too, based on your target market and the post topic). Writing an ebook seems like an impossible task…but writing 10 blog posts doesn’t seem so bad. Heck, I did that last week!

So, if I want to write a 15,000-word ebook, I would break it down into about 10 chunks (sections, chapters, whatever you want to call them) to help me write an ebook fast instead of feeling like it is way too much to write. I give each chunk a topic that supports the main topic of the ebook. For example, let’s say I was writing an ebook called “How to Herd Cats the Right Way.” I might break it down into:

  • Introduction
  • Why You Should Want to Herd Cats
  • 10 Common Myths about Herding Cats
  • How Much does Herding Cats Cost?
  • The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Herding Cats
  • Case Study: How One Company is Herding Cats Every Day
  • etc.

I usually brainstorm a fairly large list and then cross off topics if they aren’t necessary for the ebook, overlap with topics discussed in other chunks, or are not robust enough for at least 1000 words. Once I have the list of topics I’m going to include, I organize them in a way that makes sense.

Step Three: Outline Each Chunk and Write Them!

Next, I approach each “chunk” I’ve chosen as if it were its own blog post or mini-ebook. Each should have a brief introduction, supporting points, and a conclusion. Unlike a blog post, however, your intros and conclusions don’t need to introduce the main topic every single time. Remember, this is going to flow as an ebook. So, taking the first topic above as an example (Why You Should Want to Herd Cats), I might outline like so:

  • Why Your Should Want to Herd Cats
    • Herding Cats is Fun
      • Your employees will like herding cats, so it’s easy to get them on board with the idea
      • You will enjoy pitching in to herd cats – it won’t be a task you dread.
      • Herding cats can be a stress relief.
    • It is not Hard to Start Herding Cats
      • There are training programs to help you learn how to start herding cats.
      • Some of your employees might already have cat herding experience.
      • You don’t need lots of supplies to get started herding cats.
    • Herding Cats Saves You Money
      • You’ll see a return in investment after just one month of herding cats.
      • Herding cats saves money on your electricity bill.
      • You get tax benefits for herding cats.
      • If you don’t like herding cats, it’s easy to sell your supplies online.
    • Herding Cats Saves You Time
      • Your employees will be more productive if they learn to herd cats.
      • Studies show that the learning curve for herding cats is low.
      • On average, you’ll save eleventy more dollars per hour by herding cats instead of herding other animals.

By outlining the details, you can easily sit down and write sections that flow cohesively into one another, even if you write them out of order. Remember, you can also copy and paste sections of your own blog posts if they are relevant for the ebook. You own the rights, so don’t be afraid to repurpose something you’ve already written to use in a blog post.

Section Four: Read the Ebook from Start to Finish.

After you’re done writing each section, start at the beginning and read your ebook from start to finish. Fill in any gaps and remove unnecessary sections. Are you near the wordcount you wanted? If not, it might be time to go back to the drawing board and brainstorm more chunks to add or cut the ebook into two smaller ebooks.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, though. Unless you’re writing the ebook for a client, it doesn’t really matter how many words your ebook ends up being.

Once you’re happy with the content of the ebook, I highly recommend working with an editor and designer to complete the finishing work. You can do it yourself, but it’s very hard to self-edit. Hire a professional – you’ll thank yourself later!

So, that’s my process for writing an ebook quickly, whether that ebook is for myself or for a client. Questions? Just let me know!

Ebook Tips: What You Need to Know to Write an Ebook People Will Love

I cringe to think about the first ebook I ever wrote.

I was in college at the time, writing articles for an SEO company, and my manager came to me with a question: Could I write something longer? She had a client who was willing to pay twice my per-page rate if I would put together a 50-page ebook for him.

I jumped at the change, but I wish certain ebook tips have been in my memory bank at the time, because that draft sucked. I mean, really sucked. Luckily, my manager was patient and all to happy to give me feedback and allow for revisions. Still, I’m pretty such the final copy I sent in was pretty embarrassing, at least by my standards today!

Writing an ebook is no small feat, but this is still, in my opinion, the number one way to build your email list. In fact, I’m working on my own ebook right now for this very purpose (sign up for my email list on the sidebar now and you’ll get a copy when it’s finished!). The problem? Lots of people create ebooks that are unsuccessful, either because they don’t help collect many leads, the leads are low-quality, or there are too many unsubscribes. Let’s look at a few ebook tips that can help you avoid these problems.

Ebook Tips for More Leads

You poured your blood, sweat, and tears into your baby, and she’s finally ready to unleash on the world. You upload your ebook, proudly put a sign-up box on your blog, and sit back to watch the leads roll in.

Crickets.

Is there anything more disheartening than working hard on something that is ignored? Here are my best email tips for getting more people to download your ebook, and, thus, give you their information.

  • Ask for less information. You want my name and email? No problem. My Twitter handle. Well…okay. My phone number? Meh, I don’t really want your ebook that badly. The more information you force someone to give you, the fewer signups you’ll get, no matter how great your ebook is.
  • Work on the title. Just like a catchier blog post title will get more clicks, a catchier ebook title will get more signups.
  • Give people something totally new…and needed. What kind of insider information can you offer that they can’t get anywhere else? That should be the subject of your ebook.
  • Pay for cover art. Unless you are a designer yourself, pay to have someone create a beautiful cover for your book.
  • Prominently display the sign up form. I’ll probably never find your ebook if it is hidden on a page of your blog or you need a special URL to get to it. Stick it at the top of your sidebar.
  • Share the news! It astounds me that people don’t use social media to remind new followers to sign up for their ebook. You don’t need to be annoyingly promoting every day, but every so often, mention it. Your new followers will thank you!
  • Ask others to share. When I wrote about link building and guest posting, I talked about the importance of building relationships when others. When you have a new, awesome resource, like an ebooks, it’s time to call in some favors and ask people to share.

Ebook Tips for Better Quality Leads

Another common problem people have when giving away an ebook is not collecting quality leads. In other words, you get a huge number of people signing up for your ebook, but few of those people actually convert into sales. Here are a few ebook tips that can help you squash this problem:

  • Do research before writing. Your free ebook shouldn’t be about what your think people want. It should be about what they actually want. And by they, I mean your target market.
  • Keep your ultimate goal in mind. A free ebook is just part of a sales funnel. If your ultimate goal is to sell more widgets, your ebook needs to be about widgets. If it’s about gizmos, your audience won’t be primed to take that next step and buy a widget.
  • Make sure your target audience can make the purchase. If you sell used cars, writing a driving guide for teens might seem like a good idea. One problem – most teens can’t afford to buy a car! So even though the topic is related, something more attractive to the actual decision makers – mom and dad – would probably get better results.
  • Start email people right away. Don’t let people linger on your list with no follow up! Set up an autoresponder campaign to keep them engaged – strike when the iron is hot. And anyone who was really in it for the freebie will get annoyed at the constant communication about unwanted topics and unsubscribe quickly. Get ’em off your list as fast as possible!

Ebook Tips for Fewer Unsubscribes

Lastly, I hear a complaint from people that their ebook was downloaded hundreds or thousands of times, but everyone unsubscribed really quickly. As noted in the previous section, one of my best ebook tips is to start communicating with people right away so the freebie hunted unsubscribe quickly instead of taking up space on your list. But if it seems like everyone is unsubscribing, something is definitely wrong!

  • Hire an editor. The majority of the ebooks I download are hot messes. An editor is well worth the money, because they’ll make sure your book is organized well and that the fat is cut, not to mention they’ll find typos and grammatical errors.
  • Care about design. If your ebooks is a wall of text, I’m probably not going to read it, no matter how interesting the topic sounds. And I’m probably going to unsubscribe because I’ll assume that I won’t have time to read your emails either. Send a little time make sure your ebook is well designed, filled with snackable content bites that I can easily consume.
  • WRITE BETTER CONTENT. I don’t mean to all-caps-yell, but some people think that because they’re giving away the ebook, the content doesn’t have to be that good. It’s just a freebie, right? You couldn’t be more wrong. This is your foot in the door. It’s like a sample at the grocery store. It has to be the BEST you have. Otherwise, no one will want to buy because they’ll assume everything you do is crappy quality.

Some Final Ebook Tips for Lead Generation

Before closing, I wanted to give you a few final ebook tips that will help you overall, not just in one of the above categories.

First, keep in mind that not every lead is going to be qualified. In other words, this is a numbers game. Just because someone downloads your free ebook doesn’t mean they are interested in ever buying anything from you. That’s okay. What matters is that you keep your conversion rate as high as possible, and that you track it. That way, if conversion dips, you’ll know that something is wrong and you need to figure out what happened.

Second, split test everything. This blog post about a/b testing is a great place to start if you’re wondering what to split test. You can’t know what works and what doesn’t work until you try it. Trust me, you will be surprised at what has absolutely no effect, even though it is a big change, and what has a huge effect, even though it is a seemingly meaningless change. Once, I changed the my sign-up box to be thirty pixels wider on a niche site and it increased sign ups by 5%. Five percent is pretty significant. Another time, I made the box red and really stand out from the background when it had previously blended in, and sign ups didn’t change at all.

People are weird and act different across every single website.

Third and lastly, sign up for others’ ebooks and experience the processes. What did you like about it? What did you find annoying? What made you want to unsubscribe right away? Use your experiences to help build out your own download process and autoresponders.

I’ll now turn it over to you to answer these questions: What makes you download some ebooks and not others? Once you download, what makes you love some ebooks and hate others? What about autoresponders: are there some you love and others that make you unsubscribe right away? If so, why? Give us your best ebook tips in a comment below!

Image credit: “TXTR lecteur ebook low cost” by ActualLitte, modified

30+ Killer Ways to Build Your Email List

This post was originally published on the NMX blog. It is reposted here with permission.

Who doesn’t want a biggest email list? It doesn’t matter if you’re a blogger, podcaster, web series/video producer, or business owner – having a bigger email list allows you to reach out to your target market on a one-on-one level.

This post is a compilation of every technique and tip I’ve come across or used to grow my own list. Of course, you don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) use all of these tips. Pick and choose the ones that make sense for your needs. And feel free to add more by leaving a comment below!

1. Put a sign-up form on your sidebar. This seems like a no-brainer, but every day, I see lots of blogs and websites that have no way for someone to subscribe for content. DIY Themes lists the top of your sidebar as the first place you should have your sign-up form.

2. Put a sign-up form at the bottom of every blog post. Someone who readers a blog post all the way to the end is very engaged, so you need a call to action (CTA). Put a sign-up form there as your CTA and you’ll capture email addresses at a higher rate. Read more about compelling CTAs from Flyte New Media.

3. Put a sign-up form on popular pages. At the very least, put a form on your about and contact pages. (And learn about creating a better About Page here.)

4. Ask your current subscribers to tell their friends about your list. Give them easy options within your emails to forward and share your content.

5. Use QR codes for easy sign-ups at live events. They’re free to create and give people a very quick way to sign up with any smartphone.  Come QR code creation options include Kaywa and Microsoft Tag. You can put them on signage and promotional material like brochures.

6. Put a QR code on your business card. That way, you’re leading everyone you meet to your list.

7. Tell your social followers about your mailing list. Ask them to sign up if interested in receiving more content from you. You can even add a custom sign-up tab on your Facebook page.

8. Tease your content on social media. Tell people how great your latest email is – and give them a link to sign up if they want it.

9. Tell people how many subscribers you have. People like to be part of a large group. So, if you can show a number or say “Join 592 other people…” you’ll play into that heard mentality and get more sign-ups.

10. Try a pop up ad asking for an email address. Some people like them, some people hate them, but for most people, they do convert. The good news is that you don’t have to use a pop up ad that smacks someone in the face the moment someone gets to your site. Play with the settings to find a good solution if you’re going to use pop up ads. Not sure about pop-ups? You’re not alone. Check out The Great Pop-Up Debate.

11. Ask for subscriptions when people comment. Blog commenters are engaged and already giving you their name and email address. Here are some tips from Moz about getting more comments.

12. Get customers to sign up. If you have a physical store, have a sign-up sheet by the cash register where people can give you their email address. If you have an online store, ask during the checkout process.

13. Print a link to your subscription form on your receipt. If your product is digital, you can include the subscription form directly instead of asking them to click a link.

14. Use testimonials. What are people saying about your emails? Show social proof to entice people to sign up. Check out Copyblogger’s tips for getting better testimonials.

15. Offer a free ebook. Make sure the ebook has an enticing title and a well-designed cover, and choose a topic that really grabs readers. Here are some ebook tips worth reading.

16. Offer an in-depth case study, report, or white paper. Give your readers something special that they can’t get anywhere else.

17. Run a contest. To enter, people have to be signed up for your email list. TopRank has some great tips on running an online contest.

18. Give people exclusive content. It can encourage people to sign up if they get something via email that they can’t get elsewhere.

19. Host a webinar. Either require people to be on your email list to attend or ask them to sign up afterward. Check out Hubspot’s post on how to host your first webinar.

20. Link to your sign-up form in your email signature. It goes out to everyone, so you should capitalize on the opportunity.

21. Speak at events. Put a link to your sign-up form on the last slide or, even better, create a resource page with all the notes to your presentation (including a sign-up form) and give it to your audience so they can just listen to you instead of trying to take notes.

22. Create a useful tool, app, theme, etc. for people to download. People love free gifts beyond the text documents that most people offer. If you typically sell this kind of downloadable, create a free version as well to help you collect email addresses. As a bonus, this helps you give people a sample of your product!

23. Offer a discount for email subscribers. This works best when you give a substantial discount or bonus freebie on orders that people really want.

24. Promote your email list at the end of guest posts. It’s typically more effective to have a specific CTA at the end of a guest post instead of just linking to the homepage of your blog.

25. Ask people to sign up to your list at the end of videos. Videos are extremely engaging, and not only will you pull in new subscribers via YouTube, but you can also post the video on your blog (and hopefully other people will too).

26. Host an offline event (like a TweetUp). Afterward, email attendees to thank them for coming and invite everyone to sign up for your list. Here’s a post from Mashable about hosting a successful TweetUp (with many tips that can apply to other meet and greet type of events as well).

27. Play around with the language on your sign up form. Test what works best. What happens if you say “Please sign up…” versus “Please join us…”? What about if you call it an email list versus an email club?

28. Play around with sign-up form colors and dimensions. Sometimes a form that blends into your site works best. Other times, you need a bright, jarring color that stands out. KISSmetrics has some great examples of sign-up forms that work you can check out.

29. Make it as easy as possible for people to sign up. The more information you ask people to submit, the fewer people are going to fill out the form. People don’t like the work of a long sign-up form, and they may not understand why you need the information.

30. Partner with another blogger. Offer a giveaway, free product, or other special jointly to anyone who signs up for both of your email lists. Or, you can do a deal where you promote one another (i.e. you send an email to your list encouraging them to sign up for their list and vice versa). Want to work with a “big name”? Here are some tips for getting past the gatekeeper.

31. Partner with a group of bloggers. This works even better than partnering with just one blogger!

32. Promise future content. A great example is to write a blog post series or regular feature. At the end of every post in the series, ask people to sign up for reminders of more content.

I’ll continue to add to this list as I hear of more techniques for growing your email list. Got a suggestion? Leave it as a comment below!