How hard could it be to publish an ebook in a couple days? Actually, not that hard.
As I’ve been freelancing more, I’ve been thinking how to get more business—a rather important part of the whole freelancing thing. A lot of people have downloadable giveaways like templates, worksheets, and ebooks on their sites. I figured an ebook would be good. I could do an ebook. I’m already working on an ebook for a client, and writing more makes cranking out content easier.
Late Saturday night—it technically was Sunday—I got an idea for an ebook. I scribbled a quick outline in my notebook and went to bed. The next morning I got up and wrote it and turned it into a “real” ebook with pictures and formatting. On Monday I released it to the world. In less than 24 hours I went from “hmm, that’s a good idea” to “hey would anyone like to read the ebook I just finished writing?” Pretty cool I think. I still can’t believe I pulled it off.
Here’s how I did it.
Quick! Write down that idea!
The first step to getting a ebook done in a weekend is writing down the damn idea when you have it. Simple, right? I almost didn’t do it. I almost went to bed thinking I’d remember the idea and the points I’d make. I’m glad I didn’t.
I had recently lost a great idea and post flow that week to “oh I’ll remember it later…”; I wasn’t going to let this one slip away into the cobwebs of my brain. I went to my office, opened my notebook, took out a pen and scribbled the title—10 Tips to Level Up Your Posts—and the 10 tips. Oh the ink smudges? I write with fountain pens and I’m left-handed and I forgot how long Mont Blanc royal blue ink takes to dry on the page. Oops.
That’s step one: when you have a good idea (or what you think is a good idea) stop and write it down. I have a notebook and pen in my nightstand if I get a flash of brilliance in the middle of the night. After this weekend’s success, I’m going to write more ideas down more often.
Figure out some of the ebook mechanics
Truthfully I should have gone straight to bed, but since I had the house to myself Saturday, Sunday, and most of Monday, I was in no rush to go to sleep. Actually I was too excited about the idea to go to sleep. I needed to figure out if Apple’s iBooks Author would be good enough to crank out an ebook and if there was a suitable template for me to use.
Turns out, yes iBooks Author is more than capable and between the templates that came with the app and two sets I downloaded—Books Expert ($14) and DesiGN for iBooks (free with in-app purchases)—I was more than prepared. I goofed around for a few hours finding the right portrait-orientation template and when I thought I had something workable, I called it a night.
I could have waited until morning to do this goofing around, but because I knew iBooks would work out, I could sit down start writing when I got up.
Start writing and don’t stop
Because I had the house to myself, I had no interruptions and no one else to worry about except me. This let me sit down to write and be able to just go. I don’t get the chance very often to sit down and write undisturbed for an entire day and I was not going to waste it.
I started writing about 11:00 AM and wrote until about 5 PM. I wrote in Ulysses (Mac App Store link), but could have used Scrivener or even Word. The tool isn’t really important—okay it kinda is when we get to the iBooks Author part—the important part was sitting down and writing. When I called the ebook draft “done” and ready to edit, it clocked in at about 4000 words (roughly 15 pages).
To pull that task off I needed to be organized. My page of notes and outline from the night before gave me a structure to follow. I wasn’t writing blindly. I knew the beginning, middle, and end. No, my notes aren’t detailed—to you—but to me the phrases triggered the ideas I had for each section. Those ideas I could remember. I ran through the opening lines of each section in my head and liked what the internal voice was saying.
For a lot of people this step, the writing part is hard, which is why I wrote the ebook in the first place. If I wanted to help people create better content, what would I tell them? Hell, what have I been telling people for the ten or so years I’ve been on-and-off teaching about blogging? While writing is hard for a lot of people—oh it’s still hard for me sometimes, I just have practice at writing faster—you can get the words out. Maybe you can’t finish the text of a 15 page ebook in six hours, but I bet you could make a serious dent in it. I’d be willing to bet—especially if you follow some of the tips in the ebook—you can get a good chunk of a draft started.
Step three: sit down and start writing. Take breaks now and then. Stretch. Have a coffee or four. Do whatever you need to do, but keep going until your brain, fingers, or arms give out.
The publishing part
I used iBooks Author for this because I don’t have (or want) inDesign. I have iBooks Author (it’s free) and I had played around with it a few years ago. When I got the idea for writing an ebook, I was pretty sure it would be the right tool for the job. Both Ulysses and Scrivener have ePUB and PDF publishing options, but I was a little wary of those. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get the page layout right in either of them without a lot of screaming at the computer. As it was, I screamed a good bit at iBooks, but I figured out some of its quirks enough to finish.
Speaking of quirks, in iBooks there are templates you can directly import an ePUB book into, and some you can’t. I haven’t delved into how this is done or set up, but the template I picked couldn’t import ePUB. However, once you start a new book with a non-ePUB template, you can import a Word or Pages file in as chapters, sections, and pages. I exported the text from Ulysses to Word and Word into iBooks Author. It worked pretty well. I had to do a lot of formatting—and that took a while—but you should expect that.
Yes, you could write in iBooks Author, but I don’t think I would. It’s not designed for that and doing a big, first pass edit would be hard to manage. Edit in your writing tool of choice, polish in iBooks Author.
For structure I did a title page, one section, and pages. I could have made each of the tips its own section with page(s) beneath as part of a single chapter, but I found that cumbersome (I tried). I might have cranked out one ebook in iBooks Author, but I’m no means an expert. I don’t even know if I did it “right”, but I’m proud of the result. And if you’re wondering I used the “Shock Therapy” template from Books Expert. If you look at the template you’ll see it’s very yellow. I like blue. I figured out how to change the template to be more to my liking—figuring that out took a bit of reading an experimenting, but I managed to pull it off.
After editing in Ulysses, formatting in iBooks Author, polishing, adding graphics, and polishing a final time I turned that baby into a PDF to share with a few people. I did learn that publishing it as “Best” for images doesn’t make much of a difference visually versus “Better”, but “Better” is seven times smaller. The version I sent out first was “Best” and clocked in at 22.2 megs. Ouch. The “Better” version is only 3.3 megs. Much better.
Late Sunday night I shared the completed ebook, less than 24 hours after I had the idea. I worked for a while on setting up a Hubspot lead flow (didn’t work so well) and finding a couple plugins for WordPress to handle the form and download part (Contact Form 7 for the form and Before and After to trigger a download after I got an email address).
I had a few hiccups with Hubspot and the plugins, but that’s a minor detail. I could have just emailed it out to people or posted it as is, and it would still be done. That’s the story. That’s how I got an idea, wrote it out, and created a 15 page ebook over the weekend.
And if you’d like a copy…here’s a form to download it:
Feature image by: Lukas Blazek