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)

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