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Writing an Ebook: What I Learned

By | Dec.13.12 | Daily Dispatch, Marketing & Business Development, Nothing But The Ruth!

Have you been thinking about writing a book? It can be a fantastic marketing tool that sets you apart from the pack—and you can leverage it to get media attention for your area of expertise. In the past you had to pitch ideas to publishers, of course, but today (good news!) you can self-publish an ebook and release it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. And ultimately, self-publishing a successful first book can be a great way to get the attention of a publisher for subsequent tomes.

Tips and Tricks for Doing It Well

This year I wrote and released my first book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. These are some of the lessons I learned in the process of becoming a self-published author.

1. Write to your audience’s needs. Think about what your audience wants to gain from reading your book. If your audience is other lawyers, you can use terminology they know, but if your audience consists of laypeople (potential and current clients), you need to use language they’ll understand. While my book is written for all bloggers, I had to include explanations of legal terms and cases, yet still give my readers only the information they want. One chapter’s draft was over 6,000 words, and I ended up editing out over 50 percent of the verbiage because I realized my readers don’t care about all the details of the cases; they just care about the lessons they need to glean from them.

2. Make time for writing. Block out time in your schedule to write and edit your book when you’re not going to be interrupted or otherwise distracted. It takes a lot of time. I wrote the first draft of my book in about nine weeks, and I had to work on it almost every day to make it happen, putting myself on a strict schedule of writing two to three chapters a week.

3. Quality not quantity. Forget everything you’ve heard about how long a book should be. In e-publishing, a book doesn’t have to be massive to deliver value. Some are only 10,000 words. My book is just under 27,000 words, which Amazon says is the equivalent of 89 pages. Cover the scope of the chapter topic and move on.

4. Hire an editor and graphic designer. Yes, you’re a lawyer and have fantastic writing skills. But no matter how many times you review your work, you will miss mistakes. It’s imperative that you send your work out for copyediting. I recommend using an editor who is not a lawyer, to make sure your work will be understood by your readers, especially if your target audience is non-lawyers. Remember, too, books are judged by their covers, so spend the money to have a graphic designer create professional-quality cover art that is not only eye-catching, but legible in thumbnail size.

5. Send out your book for legal review. Regardless of your experience and expertise, have another lawyer in your practice area review your work to make sure it’s accurate.

6. Know that finishing the manuscript is only the beginning. It’s a huge accomplishment to finish the final manuscript for your book, but that’s the beginning of a long journey ahead. You will still have to convert your file to release it in online marketplaces and promote it. The downside of not having a publisher is you have to be your own marketing team. I took a course through ePublish Unum that taught me how to convert, release and promote my ebook. They offer classes online using Google Hangouts and private consultation services so anyone can use them to release their book.

7. Set a price appropriate for the market. You know how expensive legal books are. Now look at ebooks in the Kindle Store. You will see that the majority of authors price their books significantly lower than traditional publishers. A lot of books are selling for $2.99. When picking your price, consider what your audience is willing to spend on a book by an author they don’t likely know, and look at the site’s royalty structure.

8. Print a handful of hardcopy books, too. It appears the market is shifting away from paper books to ebooks, but there will always be some people who want a tangible book. You can use your hardcopy books as giveaways at your speaking engagements. Also, if you have TV interviews, it’s easier to hold up a real book than to show it on your Kindle or iPad. Plus, your mother will probably want a copy for her coffee table.

So, to sum it up, if writing a book is on your to-do list for 2013, I strongly recommend self-publishing, but know what you’re getting into and be sure to hire a qualified copyeditor, graphic designer and legal reviewer. Don’t try to do it alone.

Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her virtual practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal 2012 Legal Rebel, Ruth is a 2011 graduate of Arizona State University College of Law. Known for her daring antics and outgoing personality, she is co-founder of Improv Arizona, and also blogs weekly at UndeniableRuth.com. In her Attorney at Work column “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new virtual practice.

Illustration © ImageZoo

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8 Responses to “Writing an Ebook: What I Learned”

  1. Alan A. Fowler
    13 December 2012 at 8:23 am #

    I’m looking to write an eBook, but one thing I’ve been cautious about is the price of an ISBN vis-a-vis the price point of the book. My initial thoughts are to price it competitively, e.g. $2.99, but I wonder if I’d sell enough to just recoup my ISBN investment. Likewise, I’ve considered just giving the eBook away for free, using it as a marketing tool without the potentially unrecouped expense of an ISBN.

    Any thoughts/ guidance on navigating the ISBN factor?

  2. Ruth Carter
    13 December 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    We had that discussion as part of the class I took with ePublish Unum. I learned when you’re a new self-published author, you’re often a nobody in the literary world. People will be more likely to take the risk of buying your book if it’s at a lower price. You’re also more likely to get the impulse shoppers. It’s a numbers game.

    If your first book is well received and you get a following, you’re more likely to get them to buy your next book at a slightly higher price point.

  3. Paul Burton
    13 December 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Ruth: Love the pointers in your article.

    After self-publishing my first book a number of years ago, I was flattered to be approached by John Wiley & Sons and asked to submit a book proposal. I had visions of Lear jets and private islands. That is until I started building the book proposal based on the sample they’d given me. It quickly became apparent that I was writing a proposal one how [bold] I [/bold] was going to market (and sell) the book [bold] they [/bold] were going to print. And, for all my effort, I would make a few dollars per book, against which all returns would be deducted. Conclusion: Self-publishing is the future for 99% of authors.

    Since that time, I have written and self-published three new books, plus a half dozen booklets on specific subjects. I use an editor in Maine, a book designer in Nebraska, a proofreader in California, and a digital publisher in Missouri. On the e-book side, everything is uploaded into Amazon’s CreateSpace platform, as well as Smashwords’ platform. I sell as few here and there and give a lot away as part of my seminar business. (I do time management programs for lawyers and legal professionals).

    The point of this is that anyone who wants to create a written product should jump on the self-publishing wagon and ride into sunset. Oh, and the absolute very best book I’ve read (and reread) on actually writing is Steven Pressfield’s “Do the Work.”

  4. Joan Feldman
    13 December 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Self publishing on the rise — on CBS news site this week:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3445_162-57558088/authors-exercise-their-write-to-self-publish/

  5. Dagmara Mach
    23 December 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Ruth, great tips. I can especially relate to the first bit about being concise and targeting the needs of your audience. I often find myself becoming too attached to my written word and including excessive amounts of information to fully explain topics about which I’m passionate. Letting go of content in order to appeal to a wider audience is one of the hardest parts of writing.

    What types of online promotion did you use with your book and how effective were the different mediums?

    BTW, I just checked out your website and I think you’re doing an amazing job! It’s not often that you find so much great & visually appealing content on a law firm’s website. Kudos!

  6. Rebecca Abbott
    24 February 2016 at 2:36 pm #

    Hi Ruth,
    I’m an attorney and building a website right now for my solo law practice. I’m also considering writing an ebook on estate planning, and promoting and selling that ebook on my newly created website. Do you see any ethical issues or problems with me as the attorney promoting and selling my ebook through my lawfirm website? Any thoughts or ideas would be greatly appreciated. Love your blog, by the way!
    Thanks,
    Rebecca

  7. Ruth Carter
    24 February 2016 at 3:43 pm #

    Hi Rebecca –

    I don’t see an ethical issue with that, but check with your state bar association. To me, announcing and promoting an ebook is like announcing an article or any other type of publication. I have a “Books” tab on my site’s homepage. No one has ever had an issue with it.

    Best of luck with your new site!

  8. Steve McAllister
    6 May 2016 at 2:57 pm #

    What, if any, are the legal limitations of a lawyer publishing an ebook or paperback book?


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