How to Write an eBook in 5 Days

….Ghostwrite, that is

For the newbie ghostwriter unschooled in the art of quick and dirty writing, the idea of penning an eBook in a few days seems daunting.  There’s a method to the madness for getting the research and the writing done. Today, we’re talking about how to write an eBook – excuse me, how to ghost write an eBook – in just 5 days.

Now,  let’s first clear something up.  The eBook I’m talking about is the quick ghostwriting job. This is not your lifeblood poured on paper. It’s not the passion you’ve waited your entire life to finally pen. At its core, this eBook (and the tons of works that line virtual bookshelves all across the webosphere) is a well-researched, sourced, properly-cited and well-written report with a little personality added.

The average best-selling eBook on Amazon probably has somewhere around 100,000 words. More than likely, these are books that went to print and were published digitally. If you are ghostwriting, however, the average book is going to be under 50,000 words. So again, we’re not talking about the next War and Peace. But for those of us who earn our livings with and without that precious byline, knowing how to capture the essence of a story to communicate what our client wants communicated will greatly expedite the process of writing.

 

Days 1 & 2

Writing Voice

If you’re lucky enough to have a voice distinctive enough to woo customers, you’ve got about half the job done. If not, don’t fret. Just about any tone or writing voice can effectively be studied and mimicked. So if your client is not hiring you to put your spin on what would otherwise be a straight-laced research project, be sure to find out precisely what the client expects.  This can easily be done by finding out:

  • The client’s vision for the book
  • How the ebook will be used
  • If the ebook will be given away or sold
  • The platform on which the ebook will be sold
  • Competing works in the same niche
  • Authors (i.e. writing styles) your client favors
  • The identity of the book’s audience
  • The focus of the book

Once you have that info down, you’ll know whether you should use your Wolf Blitzer, your Jimmy Kimmel or your Housewives persona to pen the work.

Research the Topic

Before starting your research, get a table of contents from your client or write one yourself after a bit of preliminary research and have your client’s stamp of approval before you set out to start the research.

Research is not just the gathering of facts. It’s the gathering of intelligence.

Intelligence is merely a tool we use to find out the truth.

The value of Wikipedia

The research really is the heavy lifting in the writing process. It’s much easier for ideas to flow from mind to paper when you understand the topic. I usually set aside one to two full workdays for the research.  During that time, I gather and read just about any and everything I can on the topic. But I always start with Wikipedia. Wikipedia is never listed as an official source. It’s not deemed reliable, but there are several benefits to starting your research with a Wikipedia article:

  • Wikipedia’s great at giving you an overall view of your topic.
  • Wikipedia provides at-a-glance insight into the impact of the topic so you know why you’re researching a topic in the first place.
  • Wikipedia articles are usually full of interesting quotes and details, many of which have in-text citations that are sourced at the bottom of the article. Wikipedia may not be a reliable source, but the author’s sources generally are.

For the sake of simplicity, I usually just copy and paste research into a Word document. Each source gets its own section.  For instance, the entries for the original research file for a recent eBook I wrote about Joe Biden looked like this:

NEW SOURCE:

“Vice President Joe Biden”  http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/vice-president-biden   accessed 7 March 2013

  •  Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., was born November 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the first of four siblings. In 1953, the Biden family moved from Pennsylvania to Claymont, Delaware. He graduated from the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School and served on the New Castle County Council. Then, at age 29, he became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate.
  • Just weeks after the election, tragedy struck the Biden family, when Biden’s wife, Neilia, and their 1-year old daughter, Naomi, were killed and their two young sons critically injured in an auto accident. Vice President Biden was sworn in to the U.S. Senate at his sons’ hospital bedside and began commuting to Washington every day by train, a practice he maintained throughout his career in the Senate

 

Read. Copy. Paste. Simple, right?

For each new source, there is a new set of bullet points. I typically have as many pages of research as I have pages of content. This helps to ensure I don’t attempt to write a book with too little information.

Conducting insufficient research on a topic is the quickest road to writing fluff.

Limit duplicate content but list any research that seems to conflict. You can always sort out the truth later on.

If you conduct enough research, by the time you finish the research portion of the writing, you will know the topic quite well. Not only that, you will be able to line the research up with the direction your client wants for the book and find your angle. Not every bit of information you find out about your topic is going to be suitable for the book. Your research document should only contain those things that are pertinent to the book you’ve been hired to write.

Day 3: How to Write an eBook

Create a Pull File

Once the research is done, I re-save the research as what I like to call the “Pull File.”  Creating a pull file is the step that sits between research and outline.  The pull file is the entire catalog of information I have collected on a particular topic that I will cut (not copy) and paste into my outline. The purpose of creating a second copy of your research notes as a pull file is so that you can reorganize the content you’re going to use in the order you plan to use it in the actual book. Storing this info in a second file protects the original research. Remember, your research is organized by source. Keeping the original research file separate from the pull file provides you with an automatic backup and makes the job of doing in-text citations a bit easier.

Outline the eBook

Your outline should be based on the table of contents that your client either supplied you with or the one you created that you client signed off on. For instance, the client-supplied outline for the biography on Vice President Biden looked like this:

  • Introduction
  • Early Life
  • Education
  • Early Career
  • Marriage and Early Political Career
  • New Family and Early Senate Career
  • Presidential Run
  • Late Senate Career
  • First Vice Presidential Term
  • Second Vice Presidential Term
  • Future Plans

Have the outline on-hand while you are conducting the research. This way, you know you’re not skipping any important areas.

Day 3 includes outlining the book. The method for outlining the book is simple. Open your outline / table of contents and open your pull file. Cut and paste the information from the pull file into the corresponding section on the outline.

So the two bullet points mentioned before:

  • Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., was born November 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the first of four siblings. In 1953, the Biden family moved from Pennsylvania to Claymont, Delaware. He graduated from the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School and served on the New Castle County Council. Then, at age 29, he became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate.
  • Just weeks after the election, tragedy struck the Biden family, when Biden’s wife, Neilia, and their 1-year old daughter, Naomi, were killed and their two young sons critically injured in an auto accident. Vice President Biden was sworn in to the U.S. Senate at his sons’ hospital bedside and began commuting to Washington every day by train, a practice he maintained throughout his career in the Senate

Would be distributed this way in the outline:

  • Introduction
  • Early Life
    • Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., was born November 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the first of four siblings. In 1953, the Biden family moved from Pennsylvania to Claymont, Delaware.
  • Education
    • He graduated from the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School
  • Early Career
    •  and served on the New Castle County Council.
  • Marriage and Early Political CareerNew Family and Early Senate Career
    • Then, at age 29, he became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate.
    • Just weeks after the election, tragedy struck the Biden family, when Biden’s wife, Neilia, and their 1-year old daughter, Naomi, were killed and their two young sons critically injured in an auto accident.
    • Vice President Biden was sworn in to the U.S. Senate at his sons’ hospital bedside and began commuting to Washington every day by train, a practice he maintained throughout his career in the Senate
  • Presidential Run
  • Late Senate Career
  • First Vice Presidency Term
  • Second Vice Presidency Term
  • Future Plans

Add Your Perspective

The outline process is the time to organize the facts you have collected and to add the intelligence you have gained.  For biographies, I generally add a section to the outline where I include what I’ve gleaned from the information I collected. Sometimes that’s the person’s impact. Sometimes it’s their legacy. Sometimes it’s just a tagline for the personality. This is the type of information that goes into the Preface or Introduction of a book.

Vice President Biden amused me. Researching his story put me in a place where for weeks, I thought of him as something of a pop culture hero. His outline included a section called “Personality.” The introduction of that book was comprised solely of the bullet points that made up the personality section.  It included things like:

    • Cocky and aggressive, boyish charm, dazzling smile, athletic agility, quick and overflowing gift of gab.  Very competitive.  He’d never shy from a confrontation.  Joe was the money man.
    • “He’s always been a guy for the heart. He wants to be the guy wearing the cape: Captain Good.” – Tom Lewis, friend of Biden’s at Archmere and roommate at  University of Delaware.
    • Capable, responsible, informed political figure
    • one of Washington’s most prominent Democratic lawmakers,
  • Came out of nowhere to win against popular incumbent at the age of 29 and went on to be re-elected to six consecutive terms as Senator of Delaware, the longest-serving Senator in the state’s history.

These little glimpses of personality go beyond Mr. Biden’s accomplishments and identify how he was able to accomplish so much. This perspective serves as valuable intel and lends itself nicely to a book’s theme. It also helps to establish the tone of the book. It’s akin to how news reporters have an upbeat meter when reporting good news and a slow, careful delivery for reporting bad news.

Day 4: How to Write an eBook

Do the writing

It’s time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys). This is where the magic happens. I usually take a walk, shower, or engage in some other rhythmic, monotonous activity to clear my head, focus on the project at-hand and sort my thoughts. By the fourth day, I’ve spent three days completely immersed in the topic at hand. What do I think? What have I learned? How has my opinion of the topic changed? This part of the process is important to me because it helps to streamline and fortify the writing angle and it tweaks my writing style a bit.

Every book is selling something. The client’s goals + my real life experience with the facts of the case, so to speak, help to create a solitary idea of the book, the idea(s) it supports and the way I articulate that idea.

Whatever sticks out, whatever seems most interesting, whatever grips me is the angle I usually go with. Otherwise, it’s easy to just read the facts and regurgitate them. That’s called rewriting and you don’t need a ghost writer to do that. There’s software for that. Besides, rewrites are no fun to write or read.

Take all of Day 4 – every single hour of your workday to write this book. Do nothing else. Get comfy. Grab a cup of coffee. Sit down and pen something great.

Day 5: How to Write an eBook

Review and Edit

Day 5 is edit day. Take an hour or so to walk through the content you have written with fresh eyes. I wouldn’t recommend doing this within 12 hours of the last word you penned in this book. And it helps if you have spent a portion of the day working on another writing project on a completely separate topic. Give your brain time to recalibrate and turn its energy to something else before you review what you have here.

Once your brain has effectively moved on to something else, make any edits or updates to the manuscript. I often find it’s during the review and edit day that I find entire paragraphs that should be rewritten for flow. Or I pinpoint areas where I’ve slipped out of my Jimmy Kimmel and into my Wolf Blitzer voice. Review and Edit is generally when you’re going to see these faux pas and be able to correct them before sending the original off to your client.

Add References

Add the References page. This can be done pretty easily using the References tab / menu in Microsoft Word. You’re going to feel so proud and your client will be so impressed with your thorough research. You did research the topic thoroughly, right? No cutting corners. No saying you used a source that you didn’t actually use. No funny business.

After you have reviewed your work and added the references, you’re essentially done with the project.  Send it off for your client’s approval / critique / edits.  And move on to the next ghost writing job.