Passive income is the name of the game these days—and when it comes to passive streams, e-books are far and away the most accessible place to start.
Where potential passive income streams like Photoshop actions or Lightroom presets require technical expertise, apps require money, and online courses require everything from equipment and scripts to tons of time in the editing room and customer support for membership access—all you need to write an e-book is access to a computer, a bit of patience, and expertise that others are willing to pay for.
Which is probably why my first-ever passive stream, back in 2017, was an e-book: Sell Them What They Want, Give Them What They Need: A Concise Guide to Writing Copy That Sells. The e-book eventually grew into a longer book of a slightly different title, which came with a workbook and video, but when it launched, all it was was my words. And it did pretty well!
I launched that book fairly quickly, too. Part of that may be that I was an English major… but I can say with 100% certainty most of it is due to the fact that I got organized ahead of time. It was only the second time that I committed to a project of its size on a deadline, and both times, getting a plan in order early paid off.
I’m excited to share with you today my process in getting that e-book completed, on time and with success, in 6 steps. If you’re thinking of writing an e-book, I hope these steps help you publish your first (or next) e-book faster and better than you ever believed you could!
Step #1: I identified the need.
We all have knowledge that someone else would pay for—information or insight that others want to learn, don’t have a big budget to learn, or tried to learn once and just didn’t get on the first try. This is first place to start with writing your e-book: What are you able to teach?
The topic for my e-book came about because I identified the need among small business owners in my area for compelling website copy. By that I mean, I desperately wanted to support local businesses, but when I would go looking for a restaurant or boutique in my area, all their websites were boring, and didn’t contain the deeper information I was really looking for. And a lot of them, I could tell, were written by the owners of the businesses, and not by a copy professional.
Well, I figured, maybe they don’t want to pay a copywriter $900 to do their website… but they clearly need help. Perhaps they’ll pay $30 for an e-book they can receive instantly to their screen!
Step #2: I did market research.
When someone needs better copy but can’t or won’t pay for a pro, what do they do? These days, they usually ask someone they know who might be able to help, or they turn to Google.
I actually leveraged both of these resources when I started assembling material for my book. It so happens that as someone who wants to work with businesses, I have joined a lot of Facebook communities for businesses where members are invited to ask questions for open discussion. So I went to those groups and ran a search for words such as “copy,” “write,” and “website,” and brought back questions other members had asked, like:
What should I write for my about page?
When I’m writing the content for my website, should I speak in first person or third person?
Do I need any information on my contact page, or is just the form okay?
Should I list my prices on my website?
How do I make my package options sound good so that people are more willing to pay my high prices?
Do I need a slogan?
Why is no one buying from me? Do I need to change my copy?
This intel gave me great content ideas for my book… and it also told me what these same people were probably typing into search engines, in the hopes someone had written a blog post or cheap e-book that covered the topic in an easy-to-understand way. So now I had keywords to work with for my book, too!
Step #3: I outlined my book.
As a teenager, I was very resistant to outlines. I felt like they really constricted the creative process. As an adult, I am much wiser.
Writing a book is similar to writing a blog post, but on a much bigger scale. It has to break down into stand-alone points (chapters and sections), but all those points should build on one another, and there should be an over-arching “flow” that allows the reader to follow you safely through everything you have to say without getting bored or confused.
An outline gives you a chance to see if you’re capable of a task this size—both in terms of how much content you actually have for the book, and in terms of your capacity to break the big picture down into shorter assignments.
In the case of my book, I knew I wanted to talk about what copy is and why it’s important to do it well; all the places you have to use copy that you might not even realize are “copy”'; how to use copy to speak to the one person in the room that you want to serve; how to excite people to buy from you; and how to use copy to keep building relationship with people after you’ve made a sale.
This told me I had more than enough to write a book. All I needed to do was break down the information into chapters and put them in a logical order, and then voila—I had an outline.
Step #4: I let myself write a first draft.
Once I had specific chapter names written out, the next thing I had to do was live up to the titles I gave each one. As a writer and natural lover of teaching, I didn’t find this to be difficult.
What was difficult was not giving in to the temptation to re-read every paragraph just a few seconds after I wrote it. I told myself to write until I ran out of steam, then to get up and have a snack or stretch or run an errand to shift my focus to something else. And only after I knew I could be somewhat objective was I allowed to re-read my work.
The only reason I believe I was able to stick to my resolve was that I wanted to have something I could sell over and over (without doing any extra work) as soon as humanly possible. Not because I was lazy, but because at the time I felt overstretched and, simultaneously, broke.
It might help for you to set a deadline for your own book, like I did with the 30 days, so that it’s easier to avoid the temptation to keep re-reading what you’ve written. Re-reading not only sucks up time; it also desensitizes you to your words a little more each time through, making it harder for you to recognize language that sounds a bit “off",” and easier to miss typos.
Ideally, you’ll be able to write the entire book before you re-read it once. This will make you the best possible critic for your own work. That said, we’re all human. Mostly, I advise you to write a chapter in full before you re-read it, and not start in on the editing process until the entire first draft of the book is complete.
Step #5: I “killed my darlings.”
This is an old writer expression that basically means once you’ve poured all your heart and soul into your master work, you are ready for the hardest part of all: cutting out all the pieces that might matter to you but definitely won’t matter to anyone else.
People who are buying books to teach themselves something want actionable insight that will get them results, and they want it fast. If you’re a colorful writer who uses lots of descriptions and poetic phrases, this is going to absolutely kill you come editing day—because it’s those long descriptions and poetic phrases that are going to cause your readers to put down your e-book, leave you a bad review, and then go looking for a better resource.
In the perfect e-book, the language will read smoothly, but every chapter will be compact, with at least one clear takeaway that the reader can implement today to see real results tomorrow. Anything in your e-book that doesn’t fit that description needs to get axed before you publish it.
Step #6: I published it in the simplest way possible.
The simplest way for me to publish my e-book was to export it to PDF, and to upload that PDF to Amazon. Since that time, I’ve added two chapters to the book, re-exported it, taken it off Amazon and added it to my site—where users can get it with a workbook and supplemental video—but at the time, Amazon was the easiest thing I could think to do.
There are many options out there these days that will allow you to make your e-book look totally professional, but if those options are going to slow you down from publication, then I discourage you from doing them for your first edition, especially if you need money, like, yesterday.
Remember: You can always upgrade something you’ve completed, but if you never complete it, then you can never “ship” it (sell it). So work on the monster part of the project first—getting it done—and worry about tweaking it later.
Was this helpful? If so, pin this post so that you never lose it! Then share with me: Are you writing an e-book right now? Or thinking of writing one? Tell me the topic! I can’t wait to read your e-book in the next 30 days.