How to Write an Ebook: Choose a Sellable Topic

So you’ve decided to write an ebook and you’ve got a designated spot in your schedule to work on it.

What should your ebook be about?

Be strategic about the topic of your ebook. This is not necessarily a “write whatever and they will come” sort of endeavor. A little research is helpful, as is some serious thought.

When choosing a topic, think PFC:

  • P – Solve a Problem. I know I’ve said this about 15 million times on this blog, and I apologize for being a broken record, but seriously, be helpful! “How to” topics are excellent choices for ebooks. Find a hole and fill it. The hole you find doesn’t have to be huge, it’s just gotta be common to at least a decent-sized group of people.
  • F – Address a Fear. Most of us have fears and we do our very best to avoid them. Our fears range from “What are people going to think of me?” to “What if my spouse gets cancer?” to “What if we run out of money?” to “What if I die?” to “What if my children turn out to be tyrants?” and on and on. So, if you can come up with a topic that addresses a common fear and you offer a way to relieve that fear, you just might have a winner of a topic.
  • C – Satisfy a Curiosity. People wonder about stuff. This is why celebrity gossip is so popular and why reality shows are captivating. What’s it like to live in a family of 19? How does so-and-so run his business successfully? Who’s going to be wearing what at the Oscars? You get the picture. The bottom line is, we are intrigued by information that’s not readily available. If you have an inside peek into something the masses might like to know (and are free to share that information), it might be a good ebook topic.

Now, if you can kill two birds with one stone (with PFC) and figure out how to effectively include two of the three in your ebook, all the better. I’m sure there are even some of you creative minds who will figure out how to solve a Problem, address a Fear and satisfy a Curiosity all in one shot. May you become ebook superstars! ;)

In my case, I tried to tackle both the P and the F. In Tell Your Time, I address the fear of living a luckluster life with the how of managing your time in a simple, straightforward 4-step way.

Here are some additional things to think about when choosing an ebook topic:

1. Write about something you’ve got a passion for or at least know a fair amount about.

Once your ebook is launched, people are likely to ask questions about your topic. If you’re writing it just to make a quick buck but you know nothing about the subject, things will fizzle when you can’t answer their questions. Or, you’ll be frustrated having to answer questions about something you could care less about.

If others ask your advice on a subject, that’s often a clue that you have something great to offer (even if you don’t feel like a ninja).

For me, I enjoy organizing and most of all, efficiency. So, an ebook on time management wasn’t a stretch at all. I also had already gotten positive feedback on the information so it made me confident that others might find it helpful as well.

2. Choose a topic that has some meat and substance.

I read somewhere that an ebook should be at least 25 pages long. I’m not exactly sure who came up with that figure, but it seems reasonable to me.

What you don’t want is a topic that could really be covered in about 10 pages and then you just use a bunch of filler to expand it to 25 pages so you can call it an ebook. If your topic can be sufficiently described in less than 25 pages, write a blog post, a blog series, a guest post or perhaps an ebooklet (in which case you should sell it for much cheaper).

I’m dancing on the line of this one with Tell Your Time coming in at about 28 pages. However, this was somewhat purposeful in that I was deliberately trying to keep it succinct to align with my Unique Selling Proposition (i.e. a book on time management that wasn’t time consuming).

3. Write about something that fits with your established online identity.

So, for example, if people know you as the woman who is an expert knitter, your ebook will be easier to sell if it has something to do with knitting (or a topic somewhat closely related). If, however, everyone knows you as the expert knitter but you write an ebook about investing in the stock market, it’s going to be a harder sell.

The exception to this would be if (a) you want to break into the “investing in the stock market” niche and you’re going to use your ebook as a way to do that or (b) if, for some reason (maybe you mentioned it inadvertently in a blog post at one point), you have gotten a BOATLOAD of questions about investing in the stock market and since it doesn’t really fit into your regular blog, you decide to write an ebook about it so you don’t have to keep answering all the questions individually.

I sort of found myself in this situation. Obviously, my site is about blogging, but one day I threw up some tips about saving time using Gmail. Well, those tips turned out to be some of my most popular posts. While time management didn’t quite fit in the “blogging for money” niche, it was somewhat related and was a feasible diversion in ebook form.

4. Have your target audience in mind before you begin.

This is related to the previous point, but the gist of it is, make sure you have a group of people in mind that you will market your ebook to. Who will want to read it? Would they be willing to pay you for it? The ability to put yourself in your potential reader’s shoes will make writing much easier and your finished product better.

The size of your target audience matters too. You don’t have to appeal to everyone on earth. However, if you’d like to write an ebook about ancient Mongolian tribal burial rituals, it’d be good to know if there are a whole lot of people who share your interest before you dive in. Do you have a market at all?

Also, does your target market spend much time online and therefore would be likely to (a) find your ebook and (b) know how to access it? Ebooks are still an enigma to many people so keep that in mind when choosing your topic. For example, ebooks targeting older populations are going to be trickier to sell than those targeting the 18-24 crowd simply because the older crowd (not all though!) are less internet savvy.

For me, time management is something everyone deals with, so I went big on this one.

5. Make sure the information is something they can’t easily get for free elsewhere.

You may have heard people say “there’s nothing new under the sun” which is largely true. In other words, most of the information we come across really isn’t anything new, just packaged differently. So, in that sense, it’s doubtful any of us will ever come up with a completely and totally novel idea.

Still, make sure your ebook is unique enough that someone isn’t able to find it for free elsewhere without too much effort. And if your ebook content could be found elsewhere, have a solid Unique Selling Proposition. That is, make sure before you get started that you have good reason why someone should shell out cash for your product and not just get the information for free someplace else.

In my case, time management books and blogs abound. One thing I’ve noticed about them though, is that so many of them are heavy on theory, overwhelming and (ironically) time consuming. In response, I made Tell Your Time short and to the point. I also came up with the tagline “What if you could change your life in less than 30 pages?” I wanted people to see that it was different right off the bat.

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  1. Diane Corrales says

    You didn’t address fiction e-books so I am assuming this is only related to HOW-TO books?

    • Amy says

      I think a lot of the tips in this series apply to fiction books as well, but you will have to make a few adjustments for fiction. Thanks for stopping by, Diane!

  2. Mark says

    Hi Amy,
    I have thought of writing an ebook for a while now and I am glad I found you. I have the Adobe CS5.5 program suite complete with “InDesign” (an e-book program). A 25 page ebook as you mentioned, is the least. However, need more info. For example, there is word spacing, line-height, character styles and so on. I don’t expect a comprehensive answer. However, how many words per page for readability and possibly font-size should I target. The rest I can figure out myself. I think readability is an important reason for the user and this is my concern.


  3. says

    Hi Amy, thanks so much for the useful info. I have been researching how to write ebooks for some months now and I have a draft ebook ready but I am a bit confused about the structure of the blog I should create since I intend on writing in 2 major areas: Technology (my career) and Politics (my hobby)….

    From your experience, would you recommend having 2 completely different blogs with different domains or one major umbrella blog under my personal website name (kinda like your structure here) and have these topics as sub-categories? I am really confused and I greatly appreciate your insight.
    Thanks again and waiting for your feedback!

    • Amy says

      I think the biggest question to ask is if you can maintain two different blogs with regular posts, etc. If you’re only writing an ebook on the one topic but don’t see yourself continuously writing on that topic, I wouldn’t start a blog. Having said, that if you mean setting up a different site for your ebook (as a static site and not necessarily a blog with regular posts), you could certainly do that.

    • Amy says

      Oh that’s very kind, thank you Jill. Go for it!! I had no idea how much the ebook experience would change things for me.

  4. Tess says

    I’ve been reading through all of your eBook related articles over the past day or so and, while I know they’re geared more toward nonfiction books, I’m still learning (though I am, obviously, a fiction writer). I was wondering of you had any differing advice for eBook authors who are getting ready to sell a fiction novel? I realize this may not be an area you have any expertise in, and if that’s the case I completely understand, but you know what they say; it never hurts to ask! Thanks for your time, Amy!

  5. says

    Wow, your post is very helpful. I am planning to write an ebook and hopefully I can share it someday with you.

    Thank you! Will like you in Facebook!

    • Amy says

      Yes, I think that would be fine. The goal is to provide in your ebook what they can’t easily obtain on their own, whether it’s brand new information or not-so-brand-new information that is packaged in a more streamlined and accessible way.

  6. says

    Hi Amy,
    I started reading your blog few days ago and I love it! I love your wordpress tutorials and will be referring my web design clients to your site to help them learn how to use WordPress.

    I have been thinking about writing an ebook as well (I have two ideas) and your series is just what I needed to motivate and guide me in this process! I am so excited to find your series and can’t wait to follow each step. Thanks for taking the time out to share your experiences!

  7. says

    Well, here I go! Today I decided to write an e-book, and I knew your blog was the place to start for great advice and practical direction. Thanks again for your generosity!

  8. says

    Hi Amy,

    your PFC system is great. It just helped me to find a title for my ebook. So it is useful both for the content and also for the title.


  9. says

    I have to tell you that I am doing the dance of joy right now (trust me, you don’t want to see!). Just a few weeks ago I got my new self-hosted blog set up and everything moved over. I never could have done it without you! I wouldn’t have even known where to start.
    Then yesterday, I hit another milestone, thanks to you again. The button for your ebook was the first ad I placed on my site, and yesterday I got my first “income” from it. Yeah!
    Thanks for what you’re doing. I set aside time every week read your posts and apply what I learn. You’re doing a great things for those of us who don’t exactly get along well with computers! Thanks!!

    • Amy says

      Amy, you just made my day. I’m so glad it’s been helpful and yay for a sale! By the way, I just took a jaunt over to your blog and I’m IMPRESSED!! Love the clean design. Excellent job. (And my husband’s name is Brian too. Funny. :) )

  10. says

    Hey Amy! I’m so stoked for this series because I have an ebook in mind, and so does my husband. His will be be for a much smaller niche group, so it will be interesting to see what happens with it compared to something like Tell Your Time. Just wanted to say keep ‘em coming!

  11. says

    I like your PFC ideas and will do my best to integrate those into my ebook. I tend to be ultra-factual and I forget to specifically address fears and problems.

    About “Make sure the information is something they can’t easily get for free elsewhere.”
    I read that this is a common fear in writing an ebook. People think, “Who would pay for this information that they can find online for free?” Maybe you even have it on your own blog already.
    But the reality is that people will pay for the convenience of having all of that information compiled in one convenient and well organized package. And some people really do not know how to find information online. (I’ve gotten emails asking for help with something that took me literally three seconds to find on Google search.)
    Obviously, you want to offer something unique and useful. That goes without saying, but the organization and compiling of information is valuable too.