Creating a Better E-book with Simple Fixes

If you write a lot, then you’ve probably thought of writing a book. Then, what do you do with it? Should you deal with formal publishing houses, vanity publishers, or try to market it yourself? Nowadays, chances are it’s destined to become an e-book–and for good reason. After all, Stephen King realized years ago how the Internet can be used to promote an e-book.

E-books are easily doable for anyone that knows how to use a word processor. It’s a digital medium and it’s here to stay. Many people feel they don’t have polished skills in writing; however, many of those people do have lots of practical experience in other fields and can write to an interested audience. No longer do novice writers have to deal with large publishing houses that have held the upper hand in rejecting their books or charge exorbitant publishing fees.

Before you give thought to writing an e-book for an audience, it should be of use to the reader and readable. Unlike novels in paperback format, people are accustomed to a different format and expectations when using digital medium. This page offers some advice on how to create a better e-book. By no means exhaustive, here are some tips and common sense guidelines that successful authors advise.

Who is your reader? What are your goals?

One thing to consider before writing your e-book is whether you have an audience for your e-book. Is your e-book a freebie, or are you trying to make money? If your topic is esoteric, do you have an e-mailing list you can sell to; or, do you have a topic that a lot of people are interested in? For example, if it’s the latter, diet (weight loss), exercise, and foods (either recipes or growing) are popular to many readers and have high searches. Focus on your reader and give them what they want.

Make the e-book appealing

  • Keep it simple.
  • Write like you speak. Keep it conversational. Remember, you’re not writing a novel, or a thesis for a university professor who’s expecting stuffy, stilted language.
  • The writing process isn’t “difficult” unless you’re writing a treatise, technical manual, or a research paper destined for a scientific or medical publication, et al.
  • Keep paragraphs short. It allows for easier reading. However, if further explanations are needed, feel free to add more copy. If the information gets more even complicated, break it down into logical bite size pieces (chunking).
  • Keep focused, on topic, and add a TOC (table of contents, at minimum). An index and strategically placed hyperlinks for added navigational benefits are welcome.
  • Try to make your e-book the most understandable and easily read e-book available, and keep it informative.

Use good topography

  • Typography (in book-speak) is the arrangement of the e-book: table of contents, index, margins, white space, line spacing, etc. You want the e-book visually appealing and easy to read.
  • White space is popular, as it doesn’t feel crowded.
  • Use short sentences & paragraphs. (Again, write like you speak.)
  • Punctuate headings and subheadings in different font sizes or bold headings. This helps to separate areas of thought, which make it easier for the reader to digest.
  • An example (and freebie too, btw) of how I formatted my simple e-books is here. Although the e-book is free, the declaration of ownership is at the front with copyright notice. It has a TOC (no need for a small book, yet convenient). It’s categorized with hierarchical paragraphs. Also the TOC “book mark” links work. Although some other links don’t work automatically, I did leave the URL so it can be manually copied/pasted. Notice that I also made use of the top and bottom headers, and added page numbers too.

Use visual aids: diagrams, symbols, logos, icons, and others

  • Visuals stimulate the mind, relieves boredom, help to explain, and offer more impact.
  • Personally, the work I’ve done is mainly for information rather than entertainment. I still pretty much live in a B&W world, mainly because I tend to rely more on words to get my point across rather than images (photos) and diagrams, since images and diagrams alone don’t always cut it. However, I’m not averse to using them when needed. But whether they’re illustrations in black and white or color doesn’t matter much to me, as long as they’re functional and do their job.
  • Yet it does seem odd to me that many people appear to go ape-shit over colored illustrations (pictures, images … whatever). The more colorful and interesting they are, the better. And since the consensus is that most people like a colorful world, give it to them. Inserting static images into an e-book is easy to do, and inserting a link to the Internet for animation (videos) is just as easy. Unlike a website, there’s no need to know code when writing on a word processor. One thing to keep in mind: Be sure that when converting your final *.docx into pdf, is to have your export options carry over the hyperlinks into the pdf (if you want to retain the hyperlinks).
  • Use your own photos or use royalty free images off the Internet for your e-book, or you may experience problems down the road by using someone else’s property (imagery).
  • Keep images at a sane file size–meaning, avoid using a 10mb photo in a 50kb document, PDF, or EPUB, for example.

Spelling, grammar, mechanics

  • Professionalism is a matter of attitude. And when your attitude towards your writing is sloppy, well…. your writing speaks for you. Use your spell check to pick out anything obvious. Don’t act like you don’t know what a spell check is–like the authors that have one too many non-lexical words posted on “professional” sites I’ve visited. Proofread your copy anyway, even if you’re using an app like “Grammarly,” for example. (Heads-up: The first [and only] time I tried it, it flagged errors that weren’t. Beware.)
  • Proofread your work to be sure that your words are the ones you meant, even though a spell check flagged them all ok. One example is “from” that was actually meant to be “form” in context. Collusion for collision is another one–and there are so many others. And I’ve lost count how many writers I’ve seen use loose for lose and vice versa.
  • Also, grammar and mechanics: comma splices, dependent/independent clauses, etc.

Acyrologia. Catachresis. Malapropism. Solecism. Call it what you will. We all make mistakes when writing, but habitual errors are noticeable and annoys the reader.

Provide added bonuses that are useful to your readers

  • Add your personal info, like an “about me” page up front in the e-book. You, the writer, have specialized knowledge and credibility. Let the reader know who you are.
  • Preface your e-book with “learning points” or “what you will learn” to provide a statement of purpose and a guide for what the reader is to expect. Oftentimes, an Introduction does that too (not that many people read the Introduction, though).
  • Add a resource page where people can find more info on the topic you’ve written about.
  • Add check-lists/cheat sheets as an added bonus if it’s a how-to e-book. They condense topics, which save time. People like check-lists.
  • Use gray boxes for “insider tips” or a “quick comment” (or whatever you’d like to call them). Exploit your personal insights and experiences and offer these tidbits to your readers.
  • Use source notes to validate your data, whether you use Chicago, MLA, APA, etc.

Final things to consider

  • Use SEO techniques when choosing/using popular keyword phrases in titles and subtitles.
  • Be sure to place a copyright notification. Many writers place it in the footer on every page. Placing the copyright on every page may be over-kill to some, so it’s up to you–the author– to decide.  But what is especially important, is to place a copyright in an obvious area of the e-book. Also, if you’re selling your e-book, seriously consider an ISBN.
  • Two sources that can help:
    U.S. Copyright Protections: 10 Q & A
    Understanding ISBN’s and How to Use Them
  • E-book or ebook? Take your pick.
    Google search at the time of this writing:
    e-book: About 1,020,000,000 results.
    ebook: About 777,000,000 results.
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