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Nothing But the Ruth
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Nothing But the Ruth!

Writing an Ebook: What I Learned

By Ruth Carter

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 you can self-publish an ebook and release it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. And, 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.

Illustration © ImageZoo

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Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet, and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of the ABA book “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” In “Nothing But the Ruth,” they write about the lessons they’re learning while building their practice. Ruth blogs at UndeniableRuth.com and tweets @rbcarter.

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