How to Write a Successful eBook – Interview with Jeff Goins

I’m a big fan of Jeff Goins. He writes a really smart blog and he’s a super nice guy. It’s been truly a pleasure to get to know him during the past several months.

I was thrilled when Jeff launched his eBook, The Writer’s Manifesto, a couple of months ago. It’s phenomenal! And, I was even more pleased to see it spread like wildfire. In the first week alone, nearly 1,000 people had downloaded his eBook. Not too shabby, eh?

So, I thought I would bring Jeff over here to talk to you about how he did it. If you have any interest in creating an eBook, then check out what Jeff has to say. Also, if you want to see his eBook for yourself, you can download it here.

Now, let’s get on with the interview!

Why do you think businesses should consider writing and giving away an ebook?

Because ideas that spread, win. Seth Godin taught me that.

The bottom line is that if you’re a business wanting more exposure and don’t know how to get it, why not try something completely off the wall? Why not try being generous? If you stand for something other than the bottom line (and I hope you do), why not try giving that idea away for free? In the form of an ebook?

The idea is that by being generous, you earn the right to be heard, and then you can speak into your audience’s lives and influence them. Influence, of course, can lead to sales or referrals or whatever you consider a conversion. It’s not exactly a formula, but if you follow the basic idea of building a tribe around an idea, and you practice generosity to build it, you will ultimately win. I believe that with all my heart and have seen it to be true in my own life and work.

What is the most important ingredient for a successful ebook?

It has to be good. Moreover, it has to be original and compelling. I’ve seen too many bloggers and entrepreneurs try to turn this into a formula. It’s not. You have to have an idea worth spreading. Otherwise, the whole thing falls apart. Yes, people may get something for free from you. They may even join your newsletter. Who knows? They might even actually read your mediocre ebook. But that’s where it’ll stop.

And that’s where a really good ebook begins — once they’ve downloaded it and joined your list. That’s when they begin to be changed by your idea. And then, they pass it on and change others. Pretty soon, you’re not selling a product or even promoting an idea anymore. You’re starting a movement.

Your ebook is called the Writer’s Manifesto. Why did you chose that topic?

Because I was frustrated. With other writers. With an entire publishing industry that’s broken. And mostly, with myself.

I needed to be honest in a format that would allow me to refine my thoughts over time without the temptation of an instantaneous audience (i.e., blogging). I needed time to process what I was feeling and wanted to put some distance between myself in the work, so that when the piece released, I didn’t have a strong emotional connection to it.

I chose that topic, because as a writer, I wanted to inspire other writers. Plain and simple. I didn’t want to sell anything. I just wanted to inspire people. Of course, this has led to all kinds of great business opportunities, but it didn’t begin that way. It began with passion.

What is the most important consideration when choosing a topic for your ebook?

I just hinted at it in my previous answer. It’s passion. What do you really care about? Forget about marketability and analytics. What’s one idea worth spreading? What’s the most important thing you can say today?

Say it in an ebook. Say it well — with power and conviction and authority. And if it’s truly compelling, people will listen. They will follow you.

People pay millions of dollars for that kind of influence. And you have an opportunity to earn it for free. Pretty exciting stuff. All you have to do is be generous.

Why do you think the Writer’s Manifesto has been so successful? Why do you think it spread so quickly?

A few reasons:

  1. Collaboration. By the time the book released, I had communicated with over 50 bloggers and influencers who believed in the project. They were ready to tell the world about it. They had seen earlier drafts. It was as much theirs as it was mine. We all wanted to see it succeed.
  2. Brevity. It was short. Really short. Like, a thousand words short. Short enough to read in one sitting and then tweet about it. And that’s what people did.
  3. Hustle. I don’t want to discount luck, because there was some of that involved, but contrary to what some may believe, the ebook wasn’t an instant success. The day it released, I really hustled. I emailed it out to about 120 friends, asking them to share it if they liked it.

I sent it to perfect strangers whom I hoped would talk about it, and some did. It took a lot of work before the manifesto reached a tipping point. But once it did, the work I had to put into making it a success was pretty minimal.

For example, just this past weekend, well over 200 people downloaded it. Two months later, it’s still going strong.

How important is the design of the ebook?

It isn’t and it is. I designed my ebook myself, and I’m pretty ashamed of how I did it. I used an out-of-the-box template from Keynote. It was simple and elegant, but totally generic. What I was going for, though, was minimalism. I wanted people to focus on the content — the actual words, not the bells ad whistles.

So, design for me, wasn’t that important. It just needed to not get in the way of the reader’s experience with the content.

However, I’ve seen really bad ebooks designed in Microsoft word. They have typos and bad formatting (read: NO formatting), and I immediately stop reading them. These people need help. It may be worth bribing a designer friend in Tootsie rolls or actually dishing out some cash to do it right.

I have a friend who makes tens of thousands of dollars a year off of an ebook. He paid $3500 to design it, and it was worth every penny. I have another friend who makes that much every month in sales on her ebook. She paid something like $250 for the design. Both knew what they were doing. The point is to be intentional, not lazy.

What’s the biggest hurdle you faced in developing your ebook?

Sitting down and writing. Fighting the excuses and just doing it. That’s always the hardest part.

My ebook (it was really an essay, quite frankly) took me one night to write, but two weeks to edit. The hardest part, by far, was sitting down to write it. I procrastinated doing it for months. I was afraid and insecure and anxious. Those feelings never went away. I eventually just resolved, “What do I really have to lose?” And so, I did it.

What’s your best advice for someone who wants to write an ebook?

Make it meaningful. Dig deep into yourself and pull out the most important message to you right now. And then write it down. Passion begets more passion. People will be excited to follow you if you lead them.

What’s next for you? Do you have another ebook up your sleeve?

I actually have another manifesto available for free on my website right now called Wrecked for the Ordinary: A Manifesto for Misfits. You can download it on my website without having to give your email address or anything.

As far as what’s next, I really want to write a longer ebook on blogging. I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to writing for the Internet, and I want to share those lessons in a short book that I can sell. I’m thinking of calling it something like: Everything I’ve Ever Known About Blogging… Is Wrong.

I’m also hoping to write a real-live, hard-copy book (yes, they still make those) sometime in the near future.

* * *

Don’t forget you can download a copy of The Writer’s Manifesto here (did I mention that it’s free?!).

Jeff Goins is a writer, idea guy, and mobilizer. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and dog. You can connect with Jeff on Twitter or check out his writing tips on his blog.

About Laura Click

Laura Click is founder and CEO of Blue Kite Marketing, a Nashville-based integrated marketing firm. In addition to being the lead blogger on the Blue Kite blog, Laura is a proud Mizzou alum, avid runner and dog lover. You can connect with Laura on Twitter at @lauraclick, on LinkedIn or Google Plus.

  • Erica Allison

    Great interview, Laura! I’m going to send this to a client of mine who has an e-book in the works (more in her brain, than actually out of it!).  I think it could be very helpful.

    • http://flybluekite.com Laura Click

      Awesome!!! So glad this is helpful. :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      If you need it, Erica, I can help with referrals to people who can design/format it for you.

  • http://newenglandmultimedia.com/ Michelle Quillin

    Laura, thanks so much for doing this interview with @JeffGoins:twitter! I think many bloggers are really author-hopefuls who have several books rattling around in their heads, but manage (yes, on purpose) to avoid writing them. We have so many excuses, don’t we? Writing an ebook makes most of those excuses obsolete! 

    Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your own ambivalence, and for being honest about the emotional process. I’m happy for you that you finally just DID it! 

    By the way, who are the folks you mentioned in your interview whose ebooks are selling so well? Curious! 

    • http://flybluekite.com Laura Click

      You’re right – we all have excuses (myself included!). I’ve had an ebook in the works for months. Now it’s time to get it done!!!! 

      I’ll see if I can get @jeffgoins:twitter  over here to answer your question. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins
  • http://twitter.com/adamtoporek Adam Toporek

    Nice interview Laura! I have only recently begun hearing about Jeff but it’s obvious he has a lot to offer. Congrats to him on the success of the book. I will be downloading it for sure!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Adam! Would love to hear your thoughts.

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