The Essential Guide to Writing an eBook & Sharing It

You have an idea to spread. A story to tell. A message that deserves to be heard. But how do you share it? My advice: write an eBook. It’s easier than ever to use your words to make a difference.

So what are you waiting for?

Maybe you’re like me and intimidated by the technology. Or perhaps you don’t want to add to the already overwhelming noise of the Internet (which is understandable).

But the bottom line is this: If you have been given a message to share, you must find a way to get it out there.

Writing an eBook
Photo credit: Brendan DeBrincant (Creative Commons)

Warning: If you’ve been thinking about doing this for awhile and keep coming up with reasons to stall, STOP reading right now. Because I am going to tell you everything you need to know to write and share an eBook. When you’re done, you will have no excuse to not begin.

A quick word before we get started

This whole process was messy for me. It was not well-thought or planned. It all just kind of fell into place. In the process, I stumbled upon some important discoveries, which I’ll share below. So I hope my experience serves as an encouragement to you to just begin. You’ll figure it out as you go; I promise.

Okay, without further ado, here’s what I learned about writing a short eBook and sharing it with the world — and how you can do the same, in nine steps:

1. Begin with passion

The other week, I read something on someone’s Tumblr that was a cool typography graphic of a quote by Ira Glass. Someone called it a “manifesto.”

I always loved that word and the idea of a short document, written with the intent of changing something in the world.

I thought to myself, “I could do that.” (I’m convinced that’s how most dreams start.) I immediately thought of something that I had written months ago.

2. Use something you’ve already written

I dug up an old post in which I had actually written a short call-to-action called “The Writer’s Manifesto” (as part of a longer piece called Writers Don’t Write to Get Published).

I started editing and expanding upon what I had written, and pretty quickly, I realized this was going to be something different than I originally thought.

I once asked super-blogger Leo Babauta if it was ethical to repurpose content from your blog for an eBook, and he said it was, but he recommended taking the topic deeper somehow. So that’s what I did.

3. Format it for easy consumption

Prior to writing this, I had downloaded probably close to 100 eBooks, some of which I paid for. I had read exactly none of them in entirety. I knew that people were distracted and unfocused on the Internet and that if I wrote something long it was unlikely anyone would finish what I had written.

So I kept it short (900 words) and broke it up into small, readable “pages” of no more than three to four lines per page. It was full of lots of “white space” to create interest.

I remember Michael Hyatt saying he used Keynote (a Mac slideshow program) to format his eBook, so I opened up the program and began editing and formatting. I chose an “out-of-the-box” template from Keynote that wasn’t too slideshow-looking and represented a minimalist feel.

I wrote, edited, and formatted the whole thing in a night. The next morning, I was excited to ship it but wanted to get some feedback first.

4. Crowdsource your editing

I posted a tweet, offering a free copy of my eBook to anyone who wanted to help me edit it. Over 15 people responded. I sent the eBook to most of the respondents, giving them instructions on what I was looking for.

The first few reviews were extremely positive. Too positive. They essentially told me that my manifesto was perfect, which wasn’t true. Then, I received some pretty critical ones, which hurt my ego and even offended me.

I was then left with the challenge of assimilating a lot of feedback in a way that didn’t compromise my work.

5. Tweak and refine

I read all the feedback, took notes from the notes people gave me, and saved it all in a folder on email.

Then, I started rereading the manifesto, editing as I went. I didn’t look back at other people’s notes; I only referenced the simple, short notes I had taken from what people had shared.

This is important when you’re editing your own work. You need to hear all criticism and suggestions through a filter and carefully consider each change. Otherwise, you can end up with a committee-driven piece of work, which won’t challenge or change anyone or anything.

I spent a week refining it.

6. Leak to influencers and “sneezers”

That next weekend, I sent it to handful of friends and influencers who were active on social media.

When they encouraged me to get the eBook out immediately, I knew it was ready (despite my fears and desire to keep tweaking).

I asked those who had read it to consider telling other people, and they eagerly agreed.

7. Release it… but with a catch

I made the eBook available to anyone who signed up for my newsletter. This allowed me to do two things:

  • Track downloads. I would get a notification in my inbox every time somebody downloaded it, because they were having to opt in to my mailing list. (I did this by uploading the PDF to my site through WordPress and including the file link in my automatic confirmation emails to new subscribers).
  • Follow up with those who received it. The whole point of this project was to build my list and increase my blog readers, so having people join a list allowed me to stay in communication with the manifesto’s readers.

8. Empower people to share

I immediately emailed everyone who had seen it before it released and encouraged them to share it, if it resonated with them. I didn’t guilt or pressure them, but I did ask.

I wrote a blog post as a teaser for the eBook and also used it as a landing page, including suggested ways for people to share the manifesto.

In the book itself, I included links to Twitter, Facebook, and my blog, encouraging people to connect at a Facebook page I set up and via a hashtag on Twitter to share how the manifesto affected them.

9. Hustle to get to a tipping point

I also continued to email the eBook to some more friends, bloggers, etc., asking them to read it and share it, if they liked it.

At some point, I didn’t have to keep doing this. Within a few hours, it had reached a tipping point. People were sharing it on Twitter, passing the manifesto along to their friends via email, and sharing it on Facebook.

I continued to send a few personal notes with the PDF attached to some friends, but at that point, this was just icing on the cake. The community was now sharing it.

As more people read it, I asked some to endorse it and many did.

You should write an eBook

The first day it was released, over 500 people downloaded my short eBook The Writer’s Manifesto. I received email from writers, artists, youth pastors, bloggers, musicians, and creatives who were moved by it in some way. And since then, thousands more have read it and been touched by the words.

I am, quite frankly, stunned. I never thought it would reach so many people. And that’s just the thing: I’m not special. (No more than you, anyway.)

In other words: This is something you can do, too. And I hope you will, because as Seth Godin says, “ideas that spread win.”

I’m no expert at this, which is exactly why you can do the same thing I did:

  1. Write about a compelling idea in a short format.
  2. Give it away.
  3. Encourage people to share it.

Every creative person would benefit from writing a manifesto and sharing it with the world. Isn’t it time you wrote yours? The only prerequisite is passion.

Do you have a message that the world needs to hear? How would you / did you share it? Share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments.

*Photo credit: Brendan DeBrincant (Creative Commons)

Disclosure: Some of the above links were affiliate links.

84 thoughts on “The Essential Guide to Writing an eBook & Sharing It

  1. I’m considering doing a similar give away for my own blog.  I was planning on asking you some of the questions you’ve answered here. The e-book I am going to make is a novella I wrote. While I’d love to say that I’m going to give it away just because of your manifesto, the reality is no one wants to publish a novella for an unknown author. I suppose though, it does boil down to the fact that I care more about getting my story out there then getting paid for my story, but I hope to grow my subscriber base so that when I go to query my novel I can show a better following. Does that qualify as complying? I don’t know, but I am anxious to get my story out there.

    My blog is a free WordPress blog, but I’m considering changing to be able to include Google Analytics and Disqus since those don’t work. Should I wait until I have migrated to give it away as you did, and where should I migrate to? Do you have an opinion on where I should move to blog to?

  2. this is great dude… i’ve definitely been thinking about doing something in the eBook realm… i have a word count plugin on my blog that says that i have over 400,000 published words… so i’m sure that i can come up with something.

    regarding the technical side of doing it… i’ll probably follow much of your advice pretty closely, and check out sarah mae’s ebook (on my kindle now). but as far as what to share, i’ll just have to do a little pass through old posts, maybe searching post tags on various topics to see if i can get inspired on a specific’ve definitely inspired me! oh… and would you be willing to give me feedback on a first draft of whatever i come up with?

  3. Jeff, I think one of the reasons for your continued success is your generous and gracious manner of sharing your insights. This was another fabulous post that is beneficial to anyone who writes!

  4. Thanks for sharing your process, Jeff. This is great! And I’m so excited that you’ve received such a positive response – well deserved, my friend!

  5. I’ve been considering it for a while. I think what’s holding me back is the technical stuff, but you’re making it sound pretty easy. 

    1. It’s easy. Don’t let that hold you back. Use a PowerPoint of Keynote or even a word processor and just export as a PDF. Easier to do on a Mac than a PC but both are pretty easy.

  6. I considered writing an e-book. I’m doing the blogging thing right now at https://www.anjikinzywhimzy and frankly I”m a little overwhelmed by how much work it takes to get the blog setup, keep it going, and all that goes into promoting it. Thanks for your info on writing an e-book. I have a habit of over-thinking things sometimes and that’s one of those things that sounds hard, but isn’t. I think I”ll give it try! 🙂

  7. I’m definitely writing an eBook. I hope to start in a few weeks. Between how you did this and Godin’s interview with Hyatt that was posted today, I’m leaning towards giving it away too.

    1. that’s a great strategy. sets you up for a followup piece, and now you have a tribe ready to listen. Godin did this with Unleashing the Ideavirus, and his next book was a bestseller.

  8. This is a very well architected post for anyone thinking about writing an eBook.  Great work!

    What I love most about creative work is that it forces us to focus outside ourselves.  Which is not only healthy, it’s Biblical.

    That’s your core message.  And I love it!

    I really appreciate what you do, Jeff.  And I’m proud to be part of this exciting and growing group of Creatives that are coming together online.

    Can’t wait to see what becomes of all of us!

  9. Solid stuff Jeff.  I’m in the process of formatting mine in Keynote now.  Hopefully will ship in a week.

  10. I’m definitely planning on writing an eBook. I like the idea of giving it away, especially because people don’t feel like they’re risking anything (even if it’s only .99) and they get to know you and your work. Thanks for sharing your process, and I just downloaded Sarah Mae’s book yesterday. 🙂

  11. Dude, I know I’ve said this a bunch but can’t tell you how much you encourage and challenge me. I have a horrid case of reading ADD so its rare for me to read long-ish posts without thinking of squirrels or the mango I had last night. I read every word of your posts. 

    Thanks for your faithfulness and hard-work. 

  12. Awesome this is wonderful. Thank you Jeff for sharing. Just two question, ur option to download the ebook is for those who subscribe. What about those who have subscribed to your post already? Also could you share what pluggin do u use to be notified in ur inbox every time somebody downloaded it?

  13. Wow! What a great play by play on how to accomplish something that’s been on my heart for a while now.  Thanks so much Jeff for all you do in pushing us to create more and share.

  14. Jeff,

    I’ve had the vision in my heart of writing an e-book for quite some time! I keep procrastinating and putting it off. To be honest, for no other reason except my “lizard brain” keeps holding me back!

    Thanks for this post. I plan on using this 3-day weekend to go to work on my first e-book. Thanks for encouraging me that this is something I can do! I’ve only been reading your blog for a few weeks, but it’s quickly become one of my favorite blogs to read. Pure gold!

    Thanks for following your passion!

    Doug Smith

  15. Jeff, this is great stuff and I already have my e-book subject matter.  You’ve provided many details of how you got the e-book out, but my question is the production.  How do you create the pages in Keynote?  Is it copy-paste into slides?  I’m not familiar with the program or the process of creating this giant PDF.  Secondly, could you detail the whole WordPress subscription and downloading process. 

    1. Good questions, Hans.

      I wrote it in text-edit, converted it to plain text, then copied and pasted into keynote. At first, it was only a few pages, then i broke it up into about 40 (pages=slides). There are some cool functions in this program, like being able to link to other slides, which was how I created the table of contents.

      Then you export it as a PDF.

      Re: design: I used an out-of-the-box template — not much to it. Pretty simple!

      Re: subscription — I used Mailchimp to get people to subscribe to my newsletter via email, and then included a link to the PDF file on my blog in the autoresponder confirmation email (I mention this above).

  16. …wait.  You used an “off-the-shelf” template?!  Aghast.  :^)

    A couple of thoughts/questions:
    – Do I need to wait until I have a big enough “audience” on my blog to start to write/market an e-book?
    – What are your thoughts on monetizing this process?  First one free, second one dirt cheap, third reasonable?  Or short ones free, longer ones cost?

    1. Yep. Don’t wait. I intend to monetize. Use the first one to build a tribe and play with price points and monetization strategies after.

    1. Hi Shy,

      I don’t, but that’s a good idea. I intend to talk more about the eBook this week, so I’ll put together some files that people could share. Thanks!

  17. I want to know how to actually produce an ebook. I understand it can be done in MS Word. Also Adobe InDesign which I use regularly. Is there a website you can direct me to describing the nuts & bolts to producing an ebook? I especially want to know about the sizing of graphics. Thanks.

    1. I basically followed Mike Hyatt’s steps to creating an eBook:

      The basic steps are:
      1) Write in a word processor.
      2) Edit it. I crowd-sourced this to 15 people who volunteered via Twitter.
      3) Design it in a program that can be easily exported (I prefer Keynote for its ease-of-use). Unless you’re a designer or going for a minimalist design, I recommend outsourcing this. (I did the latter.)
      4) Export as a PDF.
      5) Distribute online. I just uploaded it as a file to my blog and made the link available to people who subscribe to my newsletter (you have to edit your confirmation forms, by adding a link to your file).

      Regarding the finer points of sizing graphics and whatnot, I’m afraid that I can’t be of much help. I’m sure Google could help with the nuts-and-bolts design questions you might have. Hope that helps.

  18. I am working on an e-book with activities to inspire creativity, based on the projects I have been doing with my summer camp kids. I will be offering it as a giveaway for my blog about creative writing,

    Your Writer’s Manifesto is what inspired me to do this. Everyone talks about having giveaways to increase traffic, but I couldn’t think of what to do until my novel gets published. You gave me this idea and I am SO grateful!!

  19. Is the process any different for fiction writing?

    Also, I know that Kindle has the ability to convert PDF’s into readable format for ebook reading devices.  Is this Keynote method usable for ebook readers too?  Would you do it differently if your primary audience was using ebook readers?

    Have you done anything to get it available for download on Amazon/Kindle or other such sites?

    This is good stuff Jeff!  I like it!

  20. Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

  21. So ready to take the advice on Stop thinking about it and DO it!  I have One big question that keeps halting me…
    —Shouldn’t an ebook have “something” that people will WANT to read… for instance…
    Does an ebook have to have an “how-to,”  or a message that people will use more than once?
    Have been reading, and reading,,think that my “platform is ready,”  read Sarah Mae’s eboook, previewed her eboks for her, and for others,,, 

    Bottom line- How do you know if your ebook subject is captivating enough, or usable?

  22. Jeff, have you worked at all with iBooks Author?  Just wondering how it would compare with your use of Keynote.  Also, has it been pretty simple to work with Amazon in selling/posting your ebook?

  23. Jeff – I needed the encouragement and you make it seem so possible. Can you point me in any direction for some of the technical details? I’m used to working with such a basic blogging platform that knowing where to link to an ebook, how to integrate some of the technology seems just barely out of my reach (but so easy to grasp if I had some instruction). Know of any resources? 

  24. Another tip that we should include is to design a quality
    ecover for the ebook, since this is the first thing that
    get the customer to read the title and the content.

    If you want to create a nice ecover for your ebook, do this:

    1-Download a free background image, there are many free resources
    2-Get a nice font, such as League Gothic, Alegreya
    3-Download a good image editing software: InkScape/Gimp
    4-Open a new document and set the image dimensions: 800 pixels x 600 pixels
    5-Insert the image
    6-Type the Title of the ebook
    7-Important: the title should be 80% of the ecover surface, because this must be
    the most visible element even in thumbnail view.
    8-Add a frame to include the Author Name
    9-Add colors but keep at most only two colors other than blank/white

    Believeme, if you get a quality image, the book ecover only need a nice title.

    By the way, we design high quality book ecovers, and every week we give
    away free ecover design between our facebook fans.

    Nice post!

  25. Hey Jeff.
    Well done. At the very least you have convinced me to persevere and complete my first, (of many I hope) e-book. Thanks for the great info and best of luck with all your endeavours.

  26. This is so informative and timely. I have been nursing the idea of writing an ebook on a subject I am very passionate about. I needed information and help about how to do it. I even thought of asking you by email, only to find you had provided the information a year in advance! So glad to find this today. I am going to print it and start work immediately on the ebook.

    I still need to know how to upload the finished product on Any tips?

    Thank you so much for this rich resource.

  27. Yes. Like Seth Godin did say, “Ideas that spread, win.” And all of this sounds great. Yes, I want my ideas to win. Yes, I want 500 people to download my upcoming e-book “Busy People Get Healthy (In Half the Time)” and yes, I am ready to write it right now.

    But, the difference is that you shared yours with what seems like an already large network. My network is still really small (30 followers on twitter, 80 on facebook-65 of which are my friends). Any advice for me? (I mean, I’m reading all the greats- Jon Morrow, especially) I guess, the next step is guest blogging…is that what you did to build your network?

  28. How hard is it to publish your ebook as a hard copy? Ebooks are great for today’s society where people don’t actually buy books anymore but do you miss the traditional type of books? What is the process after you’ve published an ebook and you want to sell it as a hard copy?

  29. Okay you talked me into it. I’m going to write an eBook.
    Before, I was planning on writing a nice, 300 page-long hardback that would probably take 1 year to write and 2 years to get published. But you opened up my mind to my other options.
    After reading your Writer’s Manifesto I now see that a good idea doesn’t have to be lengthy and wordy. A short eBook does just as good a job (if not a better one) of getting a point across.

  30. I’ve read your manifesto ebook and it was very helpful. I haven’t been able to get “Wrecked” and when I attempted to download it, the server informed me that I’m already on the email list. I know that but for some reason, haven’t seen “Wrecked” yet. Any suggestions?

  31. It truly is hard to read the crowdsourced edits for a piece of your own work.
    The first set of edit suggestions I received today made me feel like putting the editor in their place!

    This is where I learned to separate self-centered opinions from meaningful suggestions and put what I found to good use.

    Thanks for sharing the process, Jeff.
    It has helped me get my first ebook out the gates!

  32. I am inspired to write because I love black metal bands, should I use this passon as my starting point for my own free ebook so I can spread why I love writing particular types of horror? Id love to be a horror author.

Comments are closed.