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!

Content Marketing 101: Selling with Storytelling

When I was in high school, our neighbors decided to get out of their stinky pig-raising business. Over the course of the next year, they converted their pens of squealing hogs to rows of grapevines. It wasn’t easy, but today, they own one of the most successful, upscale businesses in our local area: a thriving vineyard and winery.

Not really want you’d expect from rural pig farmers, right?

They make a great product, which I believe is always key, but they also have a great Cinderella story that intrigues people. If you were told that the best bottle of wine you can buy in the entire state is produced by former pig farmers who clawed their way to success when no one thought they could do it, wouldn’t you want to stop by for a tour and wine tasting? Everyone loves a good underdog.

Actually, everyone loves a good story, underdog or not. If you have one to tell, you can use it to build deeper relationships with your fans and convert them to customers.

Finding Your Story

I’m a strong believer that everyone has a story to tell. The one thing your business has that none of your competitors have is you. You just need to find what makes you unique and how you can share your story with potential customers.

If you’re drawing a blank, here are a few prompts that can help you find your story:

  • What’s your origin story? In other words, how did you get started and why?
  • Do you have a unique charitable mission that pulls on people’s heartstrings?
  • Did you make a mistake along the way that your potential customers might also be making?
  • Do you live a lifestyle that most people want?
  • Did you face a common fear to get where you are today?
  • What happened along the way to make you successful?

When looking for your story, it is important to always be authentic. People can sniff out a liar pretty easily, and online, they aren’t afraid to call someone out for being phony. So, make sure that story you tell is the unembellished truth. For example, don’t try to tell a rags-to-riches story if you never experienced true rags. Selling with storytelling isn’t about lying to make sales.

Structuring Your Story

Your story will fall flat if not structured properly. Start with the basics, then build on the framework you’ve created to connect with your readers.

The basics, as the name implies, are simple: a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Your story should start in the same way you would start a blog post: by hooking the reader in some way, so they want to read more. This is the most important part of your story. The rest doesn’t matter if no one reads past your first paragraph. Here are some of the best ways to hook your readers:

  • Share something surprising, like the fact that you used to be a pig farmer, but now run an upscale winery. Whatever you share should make your reader think, “Wow, I want to know how that happened.”
  • Make the reader feel some sort of connect to you. You want them to feel like they are in the same situation you were in at the start of your story, so you can lead them on a journey of realizing they can follow you to learn how to be successful.
  • Hold back a vital piece of information that makes a reader need to keep reading to learn more. Just make sure you can deliver; don’t mislead the reader, because it will only make them roll their eyes and click the back button.
  • Write to your readers. Do you know your target audience? If not, now’s the time to figure that out, so you can write a story that will connect with them. You’ll have a hard time selling with storytelling if you don’t know who the buyer is.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your story lead. Write a few different versions and have some trusted friends evaluate. If you’re feeling stuck, skip the first paragraph and start writing the middle section, the meat of the story. Sometimes, the lead will emerge only after you tell the rest of the story.

The middle of your story should focus on one thing: emotion.

Emotion is how you’ll actually make sales. If you can make a reader laugh or cry, they are your new biggest fan, because it is not easy to evoke such strong emotions from someone – especially someone you don’t know.

No matter what kind of lead you use, during the meat of your story, you need to make the reader feel some kind of connection to you. In our example, the reader might have no idea what it is like to turn a pig farm into a winery, but who among us, at some point in life, hasn’t felt the soul-dragging pain of hating their job? Who among us hasn’t dreamed of starting a business they feel passionate about? Who among us hasn’t been afraid to go for our goals?

Keep in mind, however, that your story might not be relevant to everyone. And that’s okay. You want to touch on the pain points of your target market, but if your story doesn’t resonate with every Joe Schmoe who lands on your website, that’s okay. When you make your message so bland that you try to reach everyone, you end up not being able to instill a sense of excitement in anyone. Again, selling with storytelling is about knowing your target market.

Keep the middle as short as possible, because you want to take readers by the hand and lead them to the end, where you have some kind of call to action (CTA). This is where we are asking someone to do something specific. Sign up for my mailing list. Buy my product. Download this free report. Tweet a message to your friends. Your CTA can change based on where you are using your story.

From One Story to Multiple Stories: Branching Out to Make Sales

Thus far, I’ve been writing about the concept of “your story” as you might use for your About page, but selling with storytelling goes so much farther. Once you’ve told your story (and I do recommend this becoming your About page), you can then go on to tell stories that all connect to the same points.

For example, on Boost Blog Traffic, Jon Morrow’s About page tells his story of being a successful professional blogger and living in paradise, despite having muscular dystrophy. But he also wrote about his mother learning about this disease in a post for Copyblogger about fighting for your ideas and he also wrote in a post for Problogger about using your blog to live the life you want and change the world. These are all expansions of his core story, told on his own blog.

Another great example is Paula Pant, who runs the financial blog Afford Anything. Her About page tells her story, but almost every post she writes builds on her themes of living financially independently with stories. One of her most popular posts tells the story of attending the wedding of some friends, who met because they both were traveling, rather than working conventional jobs and settling for an ordinary life.

Not every story you tell has to be an epic. Sometimes, adding in the story element simply means that you’re including some personal details into your content. If you’re teaching someone on your home improvement blog how to fix a broken toilet, tell the short but hilarious story about a pipe bursting in your home – and how you fixed it. When they go to your About page and read about your mission to learn how to do it yourself instead of hiring yet another unreliable handyman, the first story will serve to strengthen your brand.

Do you tell your story through content? What are your biggest struggles with storytelling? For more advanced information about digital storytelling, check out this post.

How Much to Pay a Blogger: The Answer Might Surprise You

“You’re a professional blogger?”

Earlier this month, I attended ROFcon, a geek convention with panels on cosplay, science fiction, comics, and other awesome nerdy interests. Yes, I dressed up! I was especially interested in the literary track, which included panels on publishing and writing. One panel, early in the morning on the last day of the con, was lightly attended, so it was more of a conversation than a formal presentation. The speaker asked everyone where there were in their writer, and I admitted that I did more blogging than anything else.

One of the other audience members was keen to know if I was actually a professional blogger, if this was how I made a live. Why yes, yes I am. I explained that I both run my own blogs and work with clients to help them with their content marketing efforts.

The question I could all but hear churning in the minds of the other people in the room was this: how much money do you make?

While I don’t post income reports like other bloggers, I will say that when I am paid to write posts for other bloggers, I’m paid anywhere from $15 to $500 per post. That’s a huge range, I know! Here’s what affects the price:

  • Whether or not I get a byline
  • Whether or not I get a bio with a link to my site or social accounts
  • How much research is required
  • Whether or not the topic fits well with what I’m already doing or is a departure
  • The length of the post
  • The “finishing” work required (adding images, formatting, etc.)
  • Whether or not I have to pay an editor
  • The size of the site where it will be published
  • Whether this is a one-time gig or a long-term gig
  • Whether or not the client is a friend
  • Whether or not social promotion is requested
  • Other perks I receive (such as free items to review)

It’s not an exact science. If you want to hire me for a $15 per post gig, I’m probably going to say no unless all of the above points are in your favor (i.e. I get a bio, I have to do little research, the post is short, etc.). On the flip side of things, charging $500 per post is rare! Usually, for a 1000-ish-word post, I change around $100 – $200.

But how much should you pay someone to blog for you? The answer is not $100 to $200 per post. The answer isn’t $15 per post or $500 per post either. The answer, surprisingly enough, is this:

You should pay the least amount possible for the quality you want.

There’s this big movement in the freelance world where people are promoting that writers are paid fairly…but fair is subjective. If I can write a post for you in one hour and you pay me $30, I consider that fair (especially if you have long-term work available for me), because $30 per hour is a pretty good rate in my opinion. That works out to around $60,000 per year salary, if I worked a full 40 hours per week at that rate.

Now, if you’re a freelancer yourself, you know that part of your time will be spent doing unpaid work (searching for jobs, educating yourself, etc.), and most of the time it’s going to take a lot longer than one hour to write a post, but the point here is this: what I think is fair may not be what someone else thinks is fair…and that’s okay.

As someone hiring a freelancer to write for you blog, you have to keep in mind that quality is everything. You won’t entice readers to buy a product, join a mailing list, or even read to the end of the post if your quality sucks. And typically the bloggers who are willing to work for very low fees, the bloggers who think those rates are fair, are not going to turn in high-quality content. So, if you set your price at $5 per post, expect low-quality work, for the most part.

But don’t get sucked into the idea that you have to pay a writer exactly what the blog post is worth, because that’s no way to run a business. There has to be some meat on the bone for you. Otherwise, you’re just throwing money into an abyss.

Test, Track, Analyze

How much money, on average, do you make per blog post? If you don’t know, then you shouldn’t hire a blogger yet because it is impossible to set the right price. You need to test methods to see what converts better, track conversion rates over time, and analyze your results. Only then can you truly understand what a blog post is really worth.

First, find out a few conversion numbers:

  • How many people click a link on your blog and go directly to a pay to make some kind of purchase?
  • How many blog readers sign up for your mailing list, and how many subscribers make a purchase within, say, 3 months?

Let’s say that you sell widgets for $50 each. Over the course of three months, you publish 30 blog posts and make $12,500 in sales (meaning, you sold 250 widgets). 15% of those sales came from your blog and the rest came from other sources. That gives you a base value to your blog of $1875 over three months, or $62.50 per post.

Let’s say also that 50% your email subscribers are from your blog, and you know that over the course of 3 months, about 5% of subscribers buy a widget. If you have about 5,000 subscribers, that adds another $12,500 to your 3-month total, and if half of those sales can be contributed to your blog, that adds another $6250 to your total (or, about $208.30 per post). We’re now up to $270.80 per post.

You could track even more. For example, what percentage of first-time readers go on to follow you on social media, and what percentage of those followers go on to make a purchase? But for now, let’s just assume that you make about $271 per post.

Does that mean you should pay the blogger $271 per post? No freakin’ way.

 So What Should You Pay, if not $271?

Well first, what is the cost of that blog post before the writer even gets involved? Did you pay someone for keyword research? Do you pay a VA to help with blog publishing? Do you purchase images for your posts? What are your hosting and domain name costs?

Even if you do some of this work yourself, think about it in terms of paying yourself. Let’s us a base rate of $30 per hour, which is a nice little income.

  • You do the keyword research yourself and spend about 5 hours per month on this task…15 over the course of 3 months for a total “cost” of $450, or $15 per post.
  • You hire a VA to do finishing work on your posts (tagging, categorizing, formatting, etc.) and pay $1 per post.
  • You purchase images for blog, paying for a $30 per month for a subscription service to a stock site and an average of $100 per month for a photographer to snap images of your products. You also pay around $3 per month for basic photo editing through PicMonkey. That all works out to around $13 per post.
  • You pay about $50 for your blog hosting and domain name, specifically for your blog. That works out to $5 per post.

All of that taken into account, your costs before the writer is $34 per post.

So does that mean you should pay your writer $237 per post? Again, no freakin’ way.

Because, while you might get the customer to spend $50 per widget, that’s not your profit. Widget cost money to make – materials and labor. There are sales reps and marketing staff and other personnel to pay. You have to keep the lights on. Let’s say that your margins are incredible and you make $25 profit per widget, 50%. That means that your profit per post is just over $100 per post.

Is that what you should pay writers?

Well…maybe.

Normally, you’d want to leave some meat on the bone for yourself, but let’s say that a high percentage of your customers end up buying again and again. In that case, it might be okay to break even on first-time buyers, if it’s pure profit going forward. Or, if a high percentage of blog readers become loyal fans who promote your brand to their fans, the word-of-mouth marketing might be worth breaking even on the blog posts.

So $100 might be your magic number.

But…

There’s always a but. And this blog post has a REALLY BIG BUT.

I Like Big Buts and I Cannot Lie

The but in this case is this: You’re a business owner, not a charity.

While I do believe that you have an ethical duty to pay your workers fairly, exactly how much you make per blog post should not necessary dictate how much you pay per blog post. The research you do to figure out how much you make from each blog post can help you ensure you aren’t paying more than you’re bringing in, but it isn’t necessary part of the equation when figuring out what to pay. If it is, your blogger is essentially making a commission.

Now, that might be the best option. If you have a blogger who is bringing in lots of traffic and doing an amazing job coming up with post ideas and executing, you might want to pay a certain percentage. But if that’s how you think about paying for a blog post, then logically, the payment should go down if the blog conversion rate goes down.

Instead, what’s fair is to find out how long the blogging work takes and pay people a fair rate based on their experience and quality of work. This is, in my opinion, anywhere between $15 and $50 per hour.

If you do all of the above tracking and analyzing only to find out that you can only justify paying a lower amount, say $15 per blog post, NEVER compromise on quality. You can teach someone how to use WordPress, and people will, over time, get more Twitter followers. You can even hire a much less expensive VA to do the finishing work on the blog post, like adding images, to cut down on the time your blogger is working. But if the writer turns in crap, you don’t want them. Trust me. You might as well be throwing your $15 per post into a black hole.

I wish I had a more black-and-white answer about payrate for you, but the truth is, that it’s just too subjective of a question. My best advice is to look for someone who cares about their work, and who will continue to improve and grow. Send them to blogging conferences if you can afford to do so. Invest in online education. Reward them for a good job. And when you find a good writer who works hard for you, do what it takes to KEEP THEM! Writers are a dime a dozen online, but the good ones who will actually help you build your business are few and far between.