Cut to the Chase: How To Write A Really Kick-Ass Short eBook

Something I’m becoming known for is getting right to the point. I’m not big on filler or writing words just to have a higher word count. I like to say what I need to say and move on.

That’s how I am in life and that’s also how I am as a writer.

The funny thing is, my ideal readers love this.

Case in point, I received a message from a reader recently who said the following:

I like how you just tell things how they are and you don’t waste your readers/students/fans time with a bunch of fluffy bullshit to fill up the pages.”

I took this as a huge compliment. Especially because I sometimes take a lot of heat from people about writing short books. Things like, “it’s misleading to call it a book when it’s so short” or “short books don’t count as books.”

To which I say, that’s just an opinion. I’m not writing for those people. I know those people aren’t my ideal readers.

My ideal readers are people, like you. Multi-passionate writers who have busy lives. You don’t have time to wade through gunk to find gold.

I’m a trained journalist, so I’ve been de-fluffed. Because in journalism, you don’t have a lot of space for words (especially in a newspaper) so you have to cut the fluff and make your point.

And while I did lose some of that descriptive writing I used to be better at before I went to journalism school, overall I believe it has served me well.

Because it taught me to be concise. To choose the right words. To say the same thing in 3 words that other writers say in 5 or 10.

All of this has been the perfect foundation for the blogger and eBook writer I’ve become. Writing for the web isn’t like writing for print. On the web, the eye needs white space. It needs a break from long paragraphs.

This is true of blog posts and news articles, so why can’t it also be true for eBooks? An eBook is not like a print book. It’s being read on a digital device, so why wouldn’t the eye still need white space and a break from long paragraphs?

Exactly. And that’s why I write the way I do.

My eBooks are usually on the short side and range anywhere from 37 pages to 118 pages in length. My novels are longer (though still on the shorter side for most novels).

I’m OK with this. And a big reason why is because I prefer short reads when it comes to nonfiction. I’m much more likely to finish a nonfiction book that’s short than I am one that’s really long, even if I’m enjoying it.

I keep a packed schedule and I prioritize my writing over everything else. So short-and-sweet reads are gold to me.

I’m also starting to see that short reads are becoming more of a trend. I’ll tell you more about that in the next section.

Now before you take “short” the wrong way, let me clear something up. Short DOES NOT mean shitty, and writing a short book isn’t permission to half-ass it.

Any nonfiction eBook (or print book) you write should be value-packed, results-based and actionable for the reader. Those three ingredients make for the best books.

This book will help you write books like that–no matter how many pages or words you end up with.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

The Short Trend

My Story

In July 2016, I wrote and published, The 15-Minute Writer: How To Write Your Book in Only 15 Minutes A Day. It was an eBook I’d had in my head for awhile, ever since I started doing 15-minute writing sessions again and having success with it.

It seemed like all the writers around me were raving about the idea of working in 15-to-20-minute sessions. I invited those writers to share their stories in the book as well.

When I finished writing the eBook, I realized it was short–like, 36 pages, short.

At first I let the noise in my head get to me. The voices telling me that 36 pages didn’t count as a book and it was too short and I should add more, blah, blah, blah.

Thankfully, I didn’t listen to the noise. I trusted the gut feeling I had that it was enough and that I didn’t need to add a bunch of fluff. The point was for it to be a short-and-sweet guide to getting your writing done. Something you can come back to if you need a boost, because it’s short enough to read more than once.

I sold more than 800 copies of, The 15-Minute Writer, the first week it came out. And then something crazy happened.

The book hit #1 in 3 categories at the same time. And then it spent a month at #1 in the “Education and Reference: Short Reads (33-43 pages)” category on Amazon.

A whole month. 

And the craziest thing of all–reviews just started pouring in. People raving about how they loved the short format. (Sure, some didn’t love it, but again, those are not my ideal readers.) I never had that many people review one of my books all at once.

Between the reviews and the book sitting at #1 for so long leads me to believe there’s something to keeping things short and sweet.

Why Short and Sweet?

I think that short eBooks are becoming a trend for a few reasons:

1. People are busy–and getting busier by the days

2. People like instant gratification–a short eBook can give them that because they can read it and act on it right away

3. People are sick of “fluff”–there’s so much distraction online and in the world, it’s hard to cut through the noise and get to the good stuff. Short eBooks that make a point quickly do exactly that–get to the good stuff right away

Apparently, Amazon agrees, as there are now a variety of “Short Reads” categories for books ranging from a few pages to under 100.

I don’t believe in setting a specific word count for a book. I think a book should be as long as it needs to be. Some books need more words and pages, and some need less.

Getting Over the Short Thing

Before we can move on to the next section, you’ve gotta be OK with the short thing. Because as writers, we’ve got so much nonsense drilled into us–what counts as a book and what doesn’t, what the word count should be, etc.

And that’s all it is–nonsense. Other people’s opinions.

What I say to that is: let the readers decide. No one can argue with book sales, period.

You’ve just gotta do you. And there’s no point in stuffing a book with extra words or pages that don’t need to be there, just to fulfill someone else’s opinion of what counts as a “book.”

Screw that. It’s not about the length of the book, it’s about the impact that it makes.

Impact is the most important part.

Did the book resonate with readers? Did it inspire them? Motivate them to take action? Did it give them something to walk away and implement to make their lives better? Did it teach them how to do something they wanted to learn how to do?

Did it give them what they want while also delivering what they need?

Then you did a good job. Keep going.

And just in case your mind is really being stubborn and refusing to accept the short eBook thing, here are a few examples of short books written by well-known authors:

3 Ways to Put Together A Nonfiction eBook

Writers take writing a nonfiction book so seriously sometimes. Now I’m not saying don’t take your writing seriously–absolutely do take your writing seriously.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be super rigid about everything. You don’t have to write a book from scratch for it to count. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

You just have to say whatever you’re saying in a way that resonates with your target readers. And you can absolutely use content you’ve already created as a starting point.

This section will walk you through three different ways to write your eBook.

1. Use Content You Already Have

When I wrote my first eBook, Butt-in-Chair: A No-Excuses Guide for Writers Who Struggle to Get Started, I used 50-60 blog posts I’d already written from the previous two years of being a blogger.

Yes, I added some additional content, including action steps at the end of each section, and I wrote transitions so everything flowed together. But overall most of that book was blog posts I already had.

Which meant putting the book together was more about organization than it was about writing.

Here’s what I did:

1. Read through all of my blog posts to get an overview of what I have to work with

2. Make a list of all the posts I want to include in the book

3. Go through the list of potential posts and group them together based on similar topics

4. Organize everything into an outline so I know exactly what posts go where and in which order

5. Review the outline to determine if there are any gaps, any additional posts I need to write, anything that needs to be added, additional ways to add value to each section, etc. Anything I come up with that needs to be written or created (for example, an audio recording or a worksheet) I write on a separate “to write/create” list

6. Transfer over all of the blog posts to your Scrivener file or Word doc by copying and pasting from the original

7. Read through the posts to see where you need to add transitions or additional words to connect the sections together and make everything cohesive

8. Go back through and look for places you can add additional value to the eBook. For example, can you add journal prompts to each section? What about creating a few worksheets? Can you make an audio training that gives additional information or goes deeper on something in the book?

2. Breaking Down A Bigger Topic

The next way to write an eBook is to create a series of shorter eBooks all on one topic. So rather than have one book that’s 200-300 pages, you would break that down into smaller chunks that are easier to digest and take action on.

Sure, we all love a good read, but a lot of the times–especially with a nonfiction book–if the book is too long, people don’t finish or they intend to finish, but then never go back to it.

But if you break the book down into smaller, easier-to-read-and-digest-in-a-short-period-of-time chunks, you can add even more value and almost guarantee your reader will make it to the last page.

This works especially well when you’re writing about a complex topic or a topic that has a lot of subtopics.

Let’s look at an example:

If you want to write a book about cooking, you could either write a long book that covers everything in one shot. Or you can write one eBook about kitchen tools and cooking techniques, and one about how to shop for good ingredients and where to find the best deals, and one about how to create your own recipes, and one about…

You see where I’m going with this?

Rather than one huge, long eBook that gives a reader multiple results, instead multiple eBooks that each give the reader one very specific result.

With this same example, you can see how you’d be able to attract readers who are looking for those specific things.

And the cool part about selling eBooks on a site like Amazon is that when someone checks one book out, Amazon recommends your other books. So by having multiple eBooks, the books actually help sell each other.

Because the person who bought “kitchen tools and cooking techniques” would definitely be interested in “how to create recipes” and probably also into “how to shop for good ingredients and where to find the best deals.”

One result per eBook keeps the book focused, on topic and keeps the reader interested.

3. From Life Experiences

Writing about topics related to your life experiences: things you’ve gone through and overcome; stuff you’re interested in, have mastered and can now teach to others; lessons learned and the stories behind them, etc.

This would be more like a memoir-how-to type eBook.

Here’s the thing you may not realize: you’ve got experiences that are worth writing about.

Now I’m not big on only writing about life experiences (that’s just me), but when you connect your life experiences to lessons and then action steps people can take to either avoid your mistakes or to do whatever you did–for example, if you lost a ton of weight, or if you achieved something that other people want to achieve–then you’ve got a book worth writing.

How To Come Up With An Idea for Your eBook

Now most of the time when you want to write an eBook, you’ve already got an idea that you want to write. Probably several.

But if for some reason you don’t, this section will give you some suggestions for how you can find an idea or clarify an idea you already have.

Exercise 1: Idea Dump

This is a process I do at least once a week or so. I like to just do a brain-dump of all the potential books I could write.

I won’t actually write 95 percent of the books that I brainstorm, but from all of that will usually come one or two ideas that are must-writes.

That’s how I come up with most of my book ideas. I mean, sometimes an idea will just hit me–BOOM–seemingly out of nowhere. (I call those ideas Divine Downloads.) But mostly I use this process:

1. Get out your notebook or a piece of paper

2. At the top of the page write “eBooks I could write”

3. Brainstorm by making a list of 30 eBooks you could write–write down everything that comes to mind, even really lame stuff. The point isn’t to come up with 30 great ideas, the point is to just come up with 30 ideas. And of those 30, end up with one or two you can actually use.

4. Read through your brainstorm and see what you have to work with–does anything immediately pop out to you? Is anything you see there a “HELL YES?”

5. Repeat again soon.

This idea-dump exercise can be used for just about anything and you can do it as often as you want, even daily.

Exercise 2: List of You

If you really have no ideas, this exercise is for you. I believe that everyone has stories and experiences and skills that they could share with others through an eBook.

You just have to dig them out.

1. Grab a notebook or a piece of paper

2. Draw a line down the center, horizontally, dividing the page in half

3. Draw a line down the center vertically, dividing the page into fourths

4. At the top of the top-left quadrant, write: Things I’m Best At

5. At the top of the top-right quadrant, write: Stories I Could Tell

6. At the top of the bottom-left quadrant, write: Stuff I’ve Accomplished

7. At the top of the bottom-right quadrant, write: Stuff I Can Talk About Forever

8. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and fill in responses under each quadrant, writing down anything that fits. Don’t censor, just write whatever comes to mind.

9. Now go through what you wrote down and see what stands out as something you could write about. Any topics that were repeated across several of the quadrants? Any common themes showing up? These can be good starting points for coming up with an idea.

For example, maybe you see a theme of dogs. You know a ton about dogs, you’ve actually trained dogs for dog shows for a few years, you love talking about dogs and you’ve got a bunch of stories from your dog training days. From this, you could write a book about how to win dog shows or how to prepare your dog for training, etc.

Give the exercises a try!

Outlining Your Nonfiction eBook

First, listen to this accompanying audio (you can do that here).

And then use this worksheet (below) to outline your nonfiction eBook. This worksheet is set up to help you go from idea to outline in 5 simple steps (you’ll need a notebook or paper or your computer to do this worksheet):


1. What’s Your Idea?

What’s the idea for your book? Why do you want to write it? Use the space below to explore these questions. If you don’t already have a clear idea, make a list of things you could write about.

Final Book Topic Choice: __________________________________________

2. Do A Brain-Dump

Now that you’ve got your book idea, it’s time to do a brain-dump of everything you can think of that needs to be included in it. Use the space below (or a notebook) to write out all the ideas, subtopics, etc., that need to be included in the book. Note: don’t censor yourself or leave anything out at this point. If you think it needs to be in there, write it down.

3. Group Common Topics and/or Ideas Together

Now you’ll want to take the stuff from your brain-dump and start to make some sense of it. Use the space below to start grouping like ideas or topics from the brain-dump together.

4. Put Everything In Order

Now take the stuff that’s grouped together and put it in order like you’re writing the Table of Contents of your book. This will be the first draft of your outline. Use the space below (or a notebook) to create your outline.

5. Review Outline and Finalize

Now go back through the outline you created in step 4 and finalize it. Is there anything missing? Anything else you need to add for it to make sense and flow? Anything you should take out? Don’t worry too much right now about naming the sections. For now, just use “working titles” for each section. You can change them later once you’ve written your first draft of the book.


And there you have it! The outline for your eBook. Now you can use this outline as a guide as you write your first draft.

 

The V-R-A of eBook Content

I’ve written a lot of nonfiction books and I’ve also read a ton of nonfiction books. And, for me, there are three things that make for a really great read:

  1. Packed with value
  2. Results-based
  3. Actionable

That’s my criteria for any nonfiction book that I write. Does it fit all three of those things? If it doesn’t, I’ll keep writing and rewriting until it does.

In this section I’ll be walking you through what each of these criteria means and how to execute it in your books.

Value-Packed

Alright, criteria number one: Value-Packed.

But what exactly does that mean? Especially considering “value” is one of those things that differs from person-to-person.

I like to define value in terms of my target reader.

So I ask the question: would my target reader find value in this book? Is it something she would read and be so excited to have found because it helped her to do something she’s been wanting to do? Can she walk away from reading it and immediately make changes in her life based on it?

If so, then I know the book is valuable. No matter what the length of it is.

Value is relative, which is why it’s important to know who you’re targeting as a reader and then keep focused on that specific person when writing the book. The right person reading your book will always find value in it.

And if someone doesn’t find value in it, it’s because they’re not really your target reader and aren’t meant to be.

I know that’s a tough shift to wrap your mind around. As writers, we think we have to appeal to everyone and we want everyone to buy our books.

But when you target everyone, you target no one.

Focus on your ideal reader, the person who needs the book you are writing. And forget about the rest.

How To Add Value

Adding value to an eBook can come in all forms. Here are some of my favorite value-adds:

> Related Content–create videos, mp3s or written content that is related to the topic or content in your book and link to it inside the book. I like to do additional trainings or expand further on something that I just touched on in the book. Related content is a great way to add value.

> Worksheets or a workbook–downloadable PDFs that you can link to or create to go along with your eBook is awesome. A great way to add more value.

> Bonus Content–this can pretty much be anything–written, MP3s, videos, an eCourse, whatever you can think of. Bonus content is usually stuff that’s related to the book topic, but that didn’t get included in the book. For example, I created a schedule for what you could do in 15 minutes to actually write your book and put a link to it in the back of The 15-Minute Writer. When people click the link, they go to a page on my site where they have to give me their email address to download the bonus content.

Results-Based

Now I’d argue that most nonfiction books are results-based. The problem is so many of them are based on getting multiple results, instead of just one very specific thing. And that can be overwhelming to a reader.

When you focus on one result in each book, you make it easier for the reader.

So what does results-based mean? It means using your book to help people achieve a result of some kind.

To lose the last 10 pounds. To start a business. To do their taxes. To cook delicious Italian food. To clean up their writing habits.

Whatever result your target reader would want. And if there are multiple results, focus on one per eBook (unless the results are all along the same lines and then you could put them all in one book if you wanted to).

But the idea here with writing a short eBook is that you focus on one result. Otherwise it’s hard to keep it short (which is the whole point).

The other thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the time, as an expert writing a book, you’re focused on the deeper things that your reader needs in order to make changes or to do whatever it is you’re teaching them or showing them how to do.

But the reader is focused on a surface result.

For example, you want to teach your reader that mindset is the thing that will really help them to finally get the body they’ve been dreaming of, so you focus on that in the book. But the reader isn’t thinking about mindset. That probably didn’t even occur to them.

The reader is looking for a surface result: to lose the last 10 pounds and fit into her bikini before summer.

So you have to give the reader what they want, while also giving them what you know you need.

Actionable

This is one of my biggest pet peeves with eBooks. There are too many eBooks that give lots and lots of information, but don’t give you anything you can take action on.

When someone is reading a self-help book (or a nonfiction eBook), nine times out of ten it’s because they want to learn how to do something. And without giving them something actionable they can walk away from your book with and use in their real-lives, your book falls short.

I know the reason I’ve had so much success with my eBooks this year is because I’ve focused on making all of them super actionable.

I include journal prompts, worksheets and assignments to help people take action on what they’ve just read. I also include additional related content, like links to MP3 recordings and videos that give more value and more actions you can take.

The whole point of a how-to book is to be able to take action. So make sure you’ve given your reader something to take action on.

Wrap Up

Well, there you have it. My short-and-sweet guide to writing a really kick-ass short eBook. (And yes, I could’ve made this content into a short eBook–that was my original plan. But I’ve decided that I don’t want to write books about writing books. I have a lot more fun working live with writers–or via my digital eCourses–to help them get their books written.)

QUESTIONS?? Leave ’em in the comments. 

And if you’re ready to write and publish your nonfiction eBook, be sure to check out my self-paced eCourse: Write and Publish Your Nonfiction eBook in 10 Days. It includes EVERYTHING you need to go from idea to self-published book. Learn more here.

 

4 replies
  1. Kathleen Gabriel
    Kathleen Gabriel says:

    Good stuff! I feel more able to revise my cookbook now – I want to re-issue it at the end of October to get some more sales and help people cope with NaNoWriMo better. Your organizational tips will help. Thanks for posting this.

    Reply
  2. Pam Fuchs
    Pam Fuchs says:

    Thank you for this information. This was very helpful because you were specific on ways to write an ebook and covered all that needed to be included. I’m starting a outline now

    Reply

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