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10 Practical Tips for Creating Blockbuster E-Books

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Great content is at the heart of any successful social-media strategy. After all, the best way to be invited to the table is to bring something nutritious to the feast.

The e-book, a more up-to-date and reader-friendly version of the traditional whitepaper, can be the entrée that sets your networks salivating. Properly planned, an e-book can elevate your organization above a morass of competitors and establish it as the go-to authority in your industry.

Yet without careful planning, your e-book may become a sinkhole of confused agendas, missed opportunities, and poor distribution. I can't anticipate every issue or anxiety, but after many bruising battles with that beast we call experience, I can suggest a few things that might help you avoid the pains and achieve the gains.

1. Establish buy-in on the e-book concept

By "concept," I don't mean the subject or topic of your book (though you need buy-in for that, too). I mean consensus on the very idea of producing an e-book itself: creating useful content that is of value to prospects but that does not overtly promote products, services, brand, or company.


Frankly, some people just cannot wrap their heads around that idea and will insist that you link every e-book section or idea to a product or service feature that addresses the topic at hand.

That won't work. Anything that smells of direct promotion undermines your credibility and, therefore, the whole point of writing the e-book. If the powers that be can't be persuaded, abandon ship. Give up the e-book, and try something else.

2. Get approval on the outline before writing the first draft

After you've lined up your subject-matter experts and completed your research, don't move directly into a first draft. Instead, create an annotated outline that lists your key ideas, each with three or four bullet points that demonstrate how you'll support them.

Share this document with your team for feedback. The outline makes it easier for everyone to find the holes or weak spots in your approach—or to think of new ideas that may be missing. It's much simpler to make changes in course or content at this point, rather than after you've invested time and energy writing an entire draft.

3. Bring your public relations (PR) team on board from the start

If your PR team members are good, they don't just relate to the media but have relationships with crucial media players. You'll want to get their perspectives on any e-book ideas you'd like to pursue. And you need to give them lead time for developing a campaign so that when the publication date arrives a process is already in place for distribution and promotions. Heck, you may even get an article or interview (or two).

4. Break your brand standards

Do I mean the very same brand standards your company spent five or six figures developing? The same brand standards entombed in massive three-ring binders on every designer's, copywriter's, and marketing manager's desk?

Indeed I do. If you design your e-book in conformance to brand standards, you're telling the world that it's more of the "same old stuff." But you want your e-book to stand apart as something different, something fresh, something out of the ordinary. To do so, break your standards (even if it means breaking the marketing director's heart).

5. Invite guest contributors

You need not write all the content in your e-book to ensure credibility. In fact, it may be advantageous to include a section or two bylined by expert guest contributors (and written with appropriate attribution). In The eBook eBook, for example, Patrick Ciano is my contributor on graphic design; he is far better qualified to write about it than I am.

Another advantage: With skin in the game, your guests will be inclined to promote your e-book in their blogs, Tweets, and other outpourings. Let them be your co-conspirators in your e-book's promotion.

6. Consider multimedia elements

Why not? You're distributing your e-book electronically, so feel free to add elements that print cannot offer, such as hyperlinks, Flash sequences, and embedded audio and video. The real limits here are the additional time and money required to create these elements. It's up to you to decide whether the added punch merits the added cost.

7. Print some copies

If multimedia does not play a crucial role in your e-book and you've invested in a great design, give serious thought to printing (as in offset or digital printing on quality stock) a few hundred copies.

Why? Because a beautifully produced, tangible book makes a terrific handout at conferences, a great leave-behind at important sales calls, and a memorable calling card with new prospects you'd like to impress.

Overall, your e-book is an imposing statement about your commitment to ideas and execution. (Note: Several of my clients have said their e-books were the key to pushing fence-sitters into the close!)

8. Don't neglect direct

Yeah, I'm talking about the fat, balding uncle of the marketing world—direct mail: He's not hip and he's not sexy, but he always pulls through in the clutch.

If you're serious about promoting your e-book and have the budget, make direct mail part of your plan. With the right list, a cogent direct-mail offer can draw responses that other mediums (email, telemarketing, print ads—even the Web) can't match. This is especially true when your target audience isn't particularly Internet-savvy.

9. Plan your follow-ups

You've created your e-book—congratulations! Now what? Work on ways you can take advantage of the attention, credibility, and goodwill your book can generate.

Build on your themes with articles, webinars, or speaking engagements. Consider launching a blog focused on the issues raised in your e-book. Shake down conferences at which you should be a featured speaker. The possibilities are many, but they all require your commitment to pursuing the next steps.

10. Work with the pros

I've written this article with the firm conviction that regular people with ordinary talent can turn great ideas into extraordinary marketing materials.

But I also know that reality throws curveballs. The best-laid plans get laid aside; under assault from other pressures, that great e-book idea gets buried under the sediment of daily deadlines that absorb all your attention. Then one day your inspiration becomes a source of regret ("I wish we had done that") rather than a source of pride ("Look at what we accomplished!").

Truth is, the pros may or may not do a better job than you would. (Though, in fact, with the benefit of experience, they often do.) But they will certainly get the job done. And getting it done is the single, most-important key to e-book success.

Note: This article has been excerpted from Jonathan Kranz's e-book, The eBook eBook: How to Turn Your Expertise Into Magnetic Marketing Material. You may download it free, without registration.


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Jonathan Kranz is the author of Writing Copy for Dummies and a copywriting veteran now in his 21st year of independent practice. A popular and provocative speaker, Jonathan offers in-house marketing writing training sessions to help organizations create more content, more effectively.

LinkedIn: Jonathan Kranz

Twitter: @jonkranz

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  • by David Gilroy Tue Sep 8, 2009 via web

    We've been producing these kinds of books for three years and they are key to the success of our marketing. We've always printed copies of the booklets, and even got ISBN numbers, which means they end up on Amazon. We've even sold a couple online? See them in action at http://www.conscious.co.uk

    Regs....David.

  • by Jonathan Kranz Wed Sep 9, 2009 via web

    Very cool, David! And I'm impressed that you didn't take a one-shot approach, but developed an entire suite of ebooks.

  • by Michael Camp Thu Sep 10, 2009 via web

    My eBook is designed for computer screens and laid out in landscape. Do you recommend re-formatting ebooks for print to be more like a booklet?
    http://www.synergybusiness.com/7secrets

  • by Jonathan Kranz Thu Sep 10, 2009 via web

    Not necessarily. Landscape can look beautiful in print, too. I don't think the extra time/effort of redesigning for portrait is worth the hassle.

  • by Jeff Fri Sep 18, 2009 via web

    Those are some great tips and thanks for the free ebook download. Looking forward to read it

  • by Jonathan Kranz Sat Sep 19, 2009 via web

    Thank you, Jeff! Good luck with your own efforts.

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