This post stems from an internal Radix training session where we aim to share best practices among our writing team. It’s by no means a definitive guide, but rather some handy pointers to help you produce a strong first draft.
What is an ebook?
If you’re a copywriter writing for any type of B2B organisation, you’ll probably have been asked at least once to write an ebook. These modern successors to the white paper are used widely as top-of-funnel and middle-of-funnel content pieces – either to educate potential buyers on an issue they’re not currently aware of, or to show them how to tackle an issue they are aware of.
B2B marketing ebooks aren’t like the ones you read on your Kindle on the tube. They’re usually around 2,000-2,500 words long, produced in landscape format, with less copy on the page than the white paper of old, and more artwork and graphical elements to lighten the reading experience.
The tone is usually lighter too: accessible, fun and interesting, with conversational rather than academic language, and snappy headlines and subheaders to introduce key sections and points.
Three hallmarks of a great ebook
With so many companies now producing ebooks, it’s hard to write one that really stands out. There are three qualities that I think characterise a great ebook, and only one of them is down to the writing itself.
Hallmark #1: Audience insight
The first hallmark of a great ebook actually applies to all great B2B content. It’s really understanding who the audience is, knowing what matters to them, and understanding what they need from your content.
To make an impact, the ebook should pack an emotional as well as rational punch, and it’s hard to make an emotional connection with your reader if you don’t know who you’re writing for.
This is especially important if it’s a top of funnel ebook. Here, your aim is to make your reader aware of a problem or opportunity they don’t currently know they have – so you need to be able to relate this unknown problem or opportunity to something the audience does know and care about. That takes research, careful questioning of subject matter expert, and (ideally) a persona to work from.
(If you don’t have a persona, try using our handy guide to creating a buyer persona in minutes.)
Hallmark #2: Genuine usefulness
Once you’re confident you understand the audience and what they care about, the second hallmark of a great ebook is that it brings the reader useful, practical, actionable and unique information they can’t get elsewhere, which genuinely helps them to do something they want or need to do.
Ideally, this information should be so useful and hard-to-find-elsewhere that the reader will not only feel compelled to act upon it, but also to share it.
Getting to that level of usefulness and uniqueness is extremely hard, but if you or your client have done some work on finding your ‘sweet spot’ – the intersection of ‘information you have’ and ‘information your audience needs’ – it becomes easier to do!
Hallmark #3: Great writing
And the third hallmark of a great ebook is the writing itself. Reading it should be an enjoyable, enlightening and inspiring experience, not a slog. If you write as if you’re having a great conversation with your reader, about something you both care about, you can’t go far wrong.
How to approach the ebook project
At Radix we have a process for writing a great ebook, which all of our writers follow. If you’re a freelance or agency copywriter writing for a client, this process could be a good one for you, too:
- Read the brief. If you’ve been given a written brief, read it thoroughly and make a note of anything you’re not sure of. Then have a quick call with your client to clarify those points. It’s always better to clarify upfront than to second-guess what the client meant and have to rewrite your draft when it turns out to have been wrong.
- Make sure you have enough information. The best ebooks come from carefully interviewing relevant experts – either within your client organisation, or in the wider industry. These are the people who have the ‘sweet spot’ information that will make the ebook genuinely relevant and useful to your reader. Don’t write the ebook without this expert input, unless you feel that you yourself are already an expert in the topic you’re going to write about.
- Do your research upfront. Your ebook needs to be convincing, which means you’ll need to include stats, figures, and quotes that support your argument. You should also arrange interviews with subject matter experts whose knowledge can help add credibility.
If you can’t find stats, figures and quotes to support it, it almost certainly means you don’t have a convincing argument. It’s best to find this out before you start! So do your research upfront, and gather together all of the supporting information you’ll use in the ebook.
Another major advantage of this is that when you start writing, you won’t have to break off to look things up – you’ll have all the info to hand and you can just drop it in.
- Write an outline. This is an essential part of getting the ebook right. It’s a chance for the client to review what you propose to write and make any corrections or suggestions before you go too far down the route of writing it.
There are lots of ways to write an outline, but we’ve learned the hard way that the outline should not be a rough first draft. Very often, a client will misinterpret your ‘rough first draft’ as the actual first draft, and wonder why they’re paying you. Rather, think of the outline as a ‘pitch document’, as if you were pitching your ebook to an editor or literary agent. There’s lots to consider there, so that’ll probably be the subject of my next post…
- Write the first draft. By this point, you’ve interviewed your subject matter expert(s), you have an approved outline, and you’ve got all your supporting material to hand. You’ve done a lot of legwork already, so you should find it relatively easy to write the first draft.
A word of caution: as you write, a new thought or idea may occur to you and you may be tempted to go off in a different direction from the outline. Don’t do this. Your outline has been approved, and it’s what you’ve agreed to deliver. Hold the thought, though – maybe it can be used in a different piece of content down the line.
- Re-read your draft. If your deadline allows, don’t send the draft off to the client as soon as you’ve finished it. Put it aside for a few hours – ideally overnight – and come back to it later with fresh eyes. You’ll almost certainly spot things that could be phrased better, and these relatively small tweaks can go a long way to strengthening your first draft. (And the stronger the first draft, the less rework you’ll have to do later.)
Writing the introduction
The introduction is a crucial part of the ebook. It’s the introduction that will make people decide whether to keep reading – and in general, you want to keep them reading, because there will almost certainly have a call to action at the end that you want them to follow.
So what should a great intro do?
- Create an immediate rapport with the reader. The intro is where you show you understand your reader’s world, their professional goals and their personal aspirations. You’ll mirror the language they use, and set their expectations for the rest of the ebook in terms of the tone you’ll use. (Will this ebook be fun to read, for example, or will it be matter-of-fact but brimming with useful information?)
- Frame the problem the target audience is facing. Articulate the main issue your ebook addresses, and clearly show how the ebook will help them overcome it. Right out of the gate, you need to make your reader aware that you have something important to tell them about something they care about, and that this ebook will help them to tackle the issue to their advantage.
- Define who will get value from the ebook. Show you know who your audience is by defining what kind of person they are – both professionally and psychographically. “This ebook is for contact centre managers in consumer-facing organisations who want to improve customer retention rates and aren’t afraid to try radical new ways of working”.
By defining your audience you give the reader an opportunity to decide “yes, this ebook is for me” or “no, this ebook is not for me” before you’ve taken up too much of their time. And it shows you’ve put a lot of thought into who you’re writing for, which again signals that you understand their world.
(You could even use reverse psychology to define who won’t get value from it – “this ebook is not for people who shy away from radical new ways of working”, but always do this in a respectful, rather than snarky, way.)
- Set out what they will learn from investing their time in reading it. Your reader is busy, and they need to know the ebook will be worth their while. So set out clearly in the intro what they will learn, and how they’ll be able to use the information to their advantage.
- Briefly set out the client’s credentials in the topic area. Generally, top-of-funnel and middle-of-funnel content pieces are all about talking to the reader about their own issues, and giving them expert advice on tackling them. They aren’t hard-sell pieces for your client – that comes later. But at the same time, you need to convince your reader upfront that your client really has something relevant and valuable to say on this topic. A brief statement of the client’s credentials can go a long way to establishing that credibility from the outset.
A typical ebook introduction
A good ebook introduction might go a bit like this, for example:
Introduction: The Problem with X
Your situation is like X today, and because of that, you’re not achieving Y. This ebook will show you how to escape X and achieve Y.
It’s for X type of person, working in X type of organisation, with aspirations to achieve Y and/or avoid being X.
Over the next xx sections you will learn A, B, C, D and E. You’ll be able to use this information to do Y.
It’s worth your time because we’re experts in this area, and we’ve helped 10,000 [people like you / organisations like yours] to achieve Y.
Plus it will be super fun. Let’s go!
Writing the sections
You’ll already have structured the individual sections of your ebook in your outline, so now it’s just a case of fleshing them out. A few pointers to help here:
- Try to give all your sections roughly the same structure and word count. This will give all the sections equal weight of authority, and make the ebook feel like a professional, satisfying read. It’ll also help the designers to lay out each page consistently.
- Don’t go overboard on length. A typical ebook is around 2,000-2,500 words, which probably only gives you around 300-350 words per section. Get the key points across crisply and succinctly, so as not to detain your reader unnecessarily.
- Pay attention to headlines and subheads. Make them enticing and appealing. You want your reader to enjoy reading the ebook, to feel like they’re having a great chat with someone who’s interested in them, and is telling them really valuable and useful stuff.
- Think how your copy will look on the page. What design elements will there be? Are there elements of your copy that would actually work better as a visual or graphic? If so, provide basic instructions for a designer to create the image.
PRO TIP: If you write in MS Word, try writing your ebook as it might be laid out – in landscape format with boxes for copy and graphical elements.
- Bring your copy to life. Reading lots of abstract, theoretical stuff can be boring. Show how the point you’re making works in the real world and directly impacts the reader. Give examples of how it might work, or instances where it has worked. Did your subject matter expert make any nice analogies or use any catchy phrases to explain the topic? If so, work these in.
(For more on this, see our post on how to make your copy sparkle.)
- Back up your points with credible statistics and quotes. You’ll have gathered these in the research stage, so all you need to do now is drop them in. Don’t forget to attribute them to their original source.
- Link to other content pieces. If the client has produced any other content that’s relevant to any of your sections, include a link to it in the section. Even if the reader doesn’t make it all the way to the call to action at the end, your ebook can still provide value – and that value can be measured.
- Include a key takeaway or recommendation at the end of each section. What’s the one thing you want the reader to remember about this section? Make it easy for them to remember it!
Writing the summary
This is where you sum up the key points of the ebook in the form of a handy list that will help your reader to achieve Y or avoid X (you can refer back to the intro at this point).
If you’ve been including key takeaways throughout the ebook, you can list them again here, so your reader has a nice summary of the key points to remember from the ebook. If your ebook is designed to be actionable, it can work well to include a pull-out checklist here.
A nice touch is to include links to further resources – either the client’s own content or (if you want to be really helpful) industry-wide content that adds relevant and interesting new perspectives on the topic you’ve discussed.
Writing the call to action
If your client’s sales cycle is a long one, your ebook is probably designed to play a specific role in guiding the reader along their “buyer journey”. If so, it will include a call to action at the end that encourages the reader to take the next step – whether that’s to read another piece of content, book a demo, take a trial or get in touch with your client.
A diligent client will be measuring the value of the ebook by the number of people who follow this call to action, which means you need to make it as persuasive as possible. So don’t leave the CTA to the last minute, when you’re exhausted and can’t wait to type the final full stop.
Instead, write the call to action early on – ideally in your outline – and make sure you assess it thoroughly when you come back to your draft with fresh eyes before you send it off.
…and that’s it!
There’s actually lots more I could say about ebooks – like how to choose a really good title, and how to write a really good outline – but as I’m already at ebook-style length for this post, I’m going to leave it here for now. Look out for both of those things as future posts, though. And if you’re looking for help to create a really great ebook, we’re always happy to help!