An email list is a treasure for both businesses and author blogs. BUSINESSES use it as a database to inform customers and potential customers, promote products and get feedback. For online businesses, it’s crucial.
PUBLISHED AUTHORS use it to keep on connecting with people who love their work. EMERGING AUTHORS use it to build a community of people who like some of the same things, and who might become fans and even champions of their writing in the future.
People have found that offering a free gift like an ebook to subscribers can boost their sign-up rate by as much as 1000%. Wow. That’s a big difference!
These are some things that I’ve discovered while creating promo ebooks for clients, and preparing my own downloadable ebook, Should I Self-Publish?
Tip 1: Choose a topic you know and love
You’ll save time if you choose a topic that you know so well you can write it off the top of your head.
And you’ll write with more energy and passion if it’s a topic you’re truly engaged with.
Places you could look for inspiration and material for NON-FICTION topics:
- Old blog posts that can be brought up to date and combined into a book.
- Academic articles that you’ve prepared in the past and can rewrite for a different audience.
- Speeches you’ve given at conferences or seminars that can be rewritten and reconfigured.
- Things that often seem to come up in conversation with clients, and which you talk quickly and passionately about.
- If you’re writing a non-fiction book, consider condensing some of the key points of your book into a short-and-sharp summary, or giving away the first chapter.
If you’re having trouble writing it all down, one thing that can help is chatting with an interested friend about the topic and recording the conversation on your phone or voice recorder.
If you’re writing FICTION, consider some of these ideas:
- The first chapter of your book.
- The first chapter of your book with notes in the margin that give insight into the inspiration for particular dialogue or settings or actions or characters.
- A short story that tells some of the “back story” of one of your major characters.
- Deleted chapters, or collections of deleted scenes. This one probably works best for published authors with a book that people already know. But it could also work if you blog about the writing process, with a readership of other writers. Then you could show why you deleted those scenes, even though you loved them.
- Personal stories of how you came to writing, or your research process — things that might be useful, inspiring or entertaining to the target reader for your fiction.
Tip 2: Choose a topic your target reader cares about
This can be tricky and sometimes seems to involve large amounts of intuition (otherwise known as guessing), no matter how scientific the boffins try to make it sound! But there are clues to be found.
- What do your customers ask about the most? In person? By email? On social media? Don’t rely on your memory — check!
- Where do your ideal customers or readers — the customers or readers you really want — look for information, and what questions are they asking there? Check other blogs or websites in your industry and various social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc.
- If you have a blog or articles on your website, which ones get the most comments? Which ones get the most page views? How long are people staying on those articles? Which ones get shared the most?
- What Google keywords bring your site the most traffic? How long does that traffic stay?
- If you have a B2B business, what are the popular topics in your industry magazines?
Tip 3: Keep it short, but not too short
Most people don’t want to read all three volumes of The Lord of the Rings on a computer screen. So short is actually better. But not so short that there is no substance. Find the balance.
You probably don’t need any more than 5000 words. (For comparison, mine is 4400 words.) But if the book is presented in a very visual way, or contains nuggets of information, it could be only a few hundred words in total.
Tip 4: Make it ACTUALLY USEFUL!
This is the most important point. Promo ebooks come under the category of Content Marketing, even if you are not a business, and prefer not to think of yourself as engaged in “marketing”. The crucial thing about content marketing is that it has actual Content. Otherwise, it’s just Marketing.
A promo ebook that is useless has the opposite effect to the one you were looking for. You can even make enemies for your “brand” by offering a pointless ebook. People don’t enjoy feeling that you don’t value their time.
We need to find the balance between giving enough information to make the reader value the promo ebook, without giving away too much of our intellectual property in the process. It’s not easy, that one.
For myself, I generally err on the side of generous, rather than the other way. Sure, there are people who will take advantage of what you are giving away, and never buy anything from you. But they probably weren’t going to buy from you anyway. And if they enjoy your promo ebook, they might spread the word to their social networks, and you might reach new clients or readers that way. And either way, maybe you’ve helped someone, which has its own reward in a sense of personal satisfaction.
An example… in one of the following points I recommend the free ebooks from Help Scout. I don’t use their type of service, so they haven’t got a customer from me. But I recommend their ebooks to people both as examples of design and because the topics are often useful. Maybe someone who reads it as a result of my recommendation will become their customer! That’s the unpredictable way this whole social thing works…
Free promo ebooks are still most often made as pdfs, rather than the various ebook formats that are read on Kindles, Nooks, etc. This is handy, because it means you can make it gorgeous! The design features on a pdf stay where you put them, rather than slithering all over the screen like the html formats do. Use this to your advantage.
Tip 1: Use landscape rather than portrait orientation
This one might take you by surprise, but think about the shape of a computer screen. It’s landscape, isn’t it. If you make your ebook in landscape format, readers can see the whole page on the screen at once. If you make it portrait orientation, they can’t — the top or bottom will be cut off, when the text is at a readable size. (For tablets, people can turn it either way. And many people won’t bother trying to read a pdf ebook on a phone — it’s too small. But if they do, they can still turn it either way.)
I first got this idea from speaker-and-blogger Michael Hyatt, when he described how he created his promo ebook. I’ve since seen it used to good effect in several other places, especially the range of free ebooks from Help Scout. (Some gems among those ones, in both business ideas, and ebook design inspiration — well worth checking them out.)
Mostly, I use US letter size (8.5 by 11 inches / 215.9 mm × 279.4 mm) if the ebook is primarily for a North American audience. If it’s primarily for an Australian or British audience, I use A4 (210 x 297mm). This may seem academic, since it’s to be read onscreen, but some people may wish to print it out.
Tip 2: Make it visual
There are two factors operating here. Many people don’t like to read dense text on a screen, so making it visual helps them absorb the information.
Also, when people download a free ebook, they are not overly committed to it — after all, it was free. If you want them to read it and connect with your books or your products, you need to grab them, quickly. Using some beautiful — and meaningful — visuals can help with that.
There are lots of good sources out there for free or inexpensive images. Beware of copyright, though — I’ve written before about that. For my own projects, I save time and hassle by getting stock images for less than $2 each from Bigstock and iStockphoto.
Tip 3: Make your text large and don’t put too much on each page
The larger the font, the easier it will be to read on a variety of devices. And many people find it hard to read really dense text on a computer or tablet screen.
A second advantage to this is your own as the writer — you don’t have to write so much! 😉 Make it pithy. Condensed little nuggets of useful information.
Tip 4: Include lots of links
You can have useful links to a variety of places, but the really valuable ones from your own point of view are the links BACK to your own website. If your promo ebook works the way you’d like it to, it will get shared and sent around. Those second-hand readers have a much better chance of ending up back at your site (the central hub of your online business or author marketing), if there are meaningful links within the book.
You can have a basic link to your website in the footer on each page, but also include “deep links” to specific articles and blog posts and pages, where relevant. Make it as easy as possible for your reader to locate the content they find useful or interesting.
What’s your experience? Have promotional ebooks encouraged you to sign up for email lists? Do you have a promotional ebook available on your own blog or website? What positives do you have to report, and what can we all learn to do better?
Featured image via Bigstock/Irina Volkova