26 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Your First Ebook

Are you thinking about writing an ebook as a lead magnet for your business? Done right, ebooks can help you attract new customers by giving them really useful information. In this guide, we’ll share the most common ebook mistakes, so you can avoid wasting your time.

Why Writing an Ebook Makes Sense

As a business owner, one of the main reasons you’re going to write an ebook is to give it away for free to help build your email list.

A free ebook is a highly effective lead magnet to generate website traffic and attract new subscribers, especially if it solves a common problem.

Here’s an example: Lots of people want to learn how to write better headlines. Google “headline hacks” and you’ll find a free ebook from Smart Blogger at the top of the list. You’d better believe that attracts traffic!

Writing an ebook -headline hacks

An ebook is also a great way to repackage the content you’ve already got on your blog to bring it to a new audience. And writing an ebook can also show off your expertise to customers without a hard sell.

There are a lot of bad ebooks out there, but your ebook doesn’t have to be one of them. With a little help, you can avoid the worst ebook mistakes and produce an ebook that helps grow your business. We’ve broken these down into four categories:

  1. planning mistakes
  2. marketing mistakes
  3. writing mistakes
  4. design and editing mistakes

Ready? Let’s get started.

Ebook Planning Mistakes

If you want your ebook to generate leads, you need to plan carefully to meet that goal. Here are some typical planning mistakes when writing your first ebook.

1. Having No Purpose
Sure, you know you want to write an ebook, but what’s its real goal? What issue are you trying to help your customers with?

You have to figure this out before you even start planning your ebook, otherwise no one will be willing to trade their email address in exchange for it.

Want a head start on figuring out what problem your ebook should solve? Try this:

  • See what your current customers are searching for on your site.
  • Ask the customer service team about the questions people are always asking.
  • Pay attention to what your social media followers ask you.

Those three sources alone will give you a shortlist of potential ebook topics that will be really useful.

Hubspot really nails their lead magnet ebook strategy by providing ebooks on specific topics their audience wants to learn about. Because of that, lots of people trust them to provide reliable, trustworthy information and check their site first when looking for help in that niche.

Hubspot ebooks

2. Creating an Idea Your Audience Hates
Generating ideas is just the first step in figuring out the best topic to write your ebook about. The next step is to figure out if the people you’re writing for are really interested in those ideas.

Newsflash: just because YOU think there’s information your market needs, that doesn’t mean they think so too. To avoid creating an ebook that your audience ignores, you must validate your idea.

The simplest way to do this is to ask. Take your ebook topic shortlist and:

  • Send it to your email list, asking people to indicate a preference.
  • Create a poll on Twitter or Facebook and have people vote for their favorite.
  • Run an optin form split test with two different titles and let the data tell you which one works.

Once you complete your analysis, you should have a winning ebook idea.

3. Planning “Me-Too” Content
There’s no point in writing an ebook that’s identical to those already on offer to your target market.

That’s why it makes sense to know which free ebooks your competitors are offering as their lead magnets. The easiest way to do this is to sign up for their email lists so you can make sure the ebook you write has something different to offer.

4. Ignoring the Outline
If you don’t have an outline, you don’t know where you’re going.

Create an ebook outline that identifies the key points you want to cover. Here’s how:

  1. Keep in mind the big question you want to answer for your readers.
  2. Write down the main points you need to answer that question.
  3. Put those in an order that makes sense.
  4. Add sub points for each main point.
  5. If you need to do additional research, this is a good time to make a note of supporting stats.

When you’re done, read through the outline one more time to make sure it makes sense. If it does, this will be a good guide when you start writing. Don’t worry too much about the introduction at this stage.

5. Choosing the Wrong Ebook Format
Until recently, PDF ebooks were one of the best ways to create an ebook that looked the same no matter how people were reading it.

They’re still a good way to create an ebook quickly, but reading behavior is changing. Today, PDFs won’t work for everybody. More people are reading ebooks on their cellphones. On those devices, PDFs can be hard to manipulate. And if you’re using a standard e-reader, they don’t look that great either.

That’s why it makes sense to publish your ebook in a format that works well for your readers.

In addition to PDF, there are three main ones:

  • MOBI: suitable for Kindles and Kindle apps
  • EPUB: suitable for other ebook readers
  • HTML5: great for mobile screens and the web

Both e-reader formats allow text to be resized and reflow so it looks right on any screen.

You can check your analytics data to see which devices the people visiting your site are using. To find device usage in Google Analytics:

  1. Login to your account.
  2. Go to Audience » User Explorer » Mobile » Overview for a breakdown of desktop, tablet and phone users
  3. Then go to Audience » User Explorer » Mobile » Devices to see the specific mobile devices people use.

Mobile users in Google Analytics
You can use this info to choose the ebook format that works for most of them.

Another option is to have multiple formats available.

For example, the Book Launch Blueprint lets readers choose the ebook format that works for them.

Choose from different Ebook formats

6. Not Managing Your Time
One essential ebook writing task is allocating time to actually do the writing. If you don’t commit to the project, you may never finish it.

To solve this, work out how much time you have available for writing each day or each week, and use that information to set a deadline for finishing the first draft. Then block out writing time on your calendar and commit to your ebook project.

7. Giving Up
We get it. Sometimes it seems hard to get a whole ebook done, when you could wow your customers with a quick checklist or template instead.

But, as we’ve said on our blog before, a benefit-driven ebook can be a great lead magnet, so don’t give up.

Ebook Marketing Mistakes

If you’re thinking that once the plan is in place, it’s time to start writing your ebook, you’re almost right.

Sure, you can start writing, but what’s crucial at this stage is to get your ebook marketing strategies in place. Here are some ebook marketing mistakes some people make.

8. Forgetting About Ebook Marketing (or Starting Too Late)
Sometimes you can get so caught up in producing the ebook that you forget you need to tell people about it.

That’s what happened to Hector Cuevas of Hectorpreneur. As a result, he had to delay his book launch till he managed to prepare some marketing material.

Remember, writing an ebook isn’t just about the book, it’s about everything you need to help that ebook reach your target audience. That means you have to start marketing early and build a buzz that will make your ebook successful, which brings us to our next key ebook mistakes…

9. Failing to Build a List
If you’re marketing anything, you should start building your email list immediately. People still read emails and they deliver an excellent conversion rate, so don’t ignore the potential for spreading the word about your ebook. As we mentioned earlier, setting up an email list specifically for your ebook can help you decide whether it’s a valid idea. Once you have the green light, it’s a good way to start building up a relationship with the community you want to reach.

writing an ebook as a lead magnet

10. Having No Optin Form
If your ebook is a lead magnet, then you need a way to capture those leads. An optin form is a great way to do this, and here’s how we recommend you do it:

  1. Build a high-converting optin form.
  2. Leverage OptinMonster success themes to confirm their subscription and deliver your ebook.
  3. Also send your ebook via email to ensure lead magnet delivery.

The analytics and email marketing data you collect from your optin form will also help you to understand your target market even more.

11. Ignoring SEO
SEO is a critical part of your business model, says Unbounce, especially for lead generation. Pay attention to optin form and promotional copy, headlines and content keywords, as well as page speed and design. Better SEO equals better search position, putting your ebook promotional page on the road to better conversions.

12. Forgetting About Social Proof
Consumers trust other people’s opinions more than your marketing. If you don’t include social proof like testimonials, reviews or even download numbers in your marketing, your ebook will be less successful.

How do you get social proof when you’re writing your first ebook?

One way is to give a few people advance copies and ask for reviews or testimonials in return. Then feature those in any promotional copy.

If you have other stats that make you look good, use those as social proof, like Hiten Shah does for his Content Marketing Playbook.

Writing an ebook - social proof

13. Choosing the Wrong Title
Your ebook title is your best chance to make a good first impression and encourage leads to join your list.

As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so it’s important to get it right first time. You can use one of these 26 tools to help you create better headlines to come up with some ebook title choices. Then you can narrow it down by asking your subscribers and split testing title variations on your optin forms, as mentioned above.

14. Getting the Hook and CTA Wrong
When you’re marketing your ebook, there are two important parts of your your ebook promotion. (Well, they’re all important, but you really have to nail these two).

The first is the hook, which tells people what they will get when they download your ebook. Unless this offers real benefit to readers, it will fail. See how Hiten Shah entices readers by promising to share the secrets of growing Kissmetrics:

Ebook marketing hook

The second is the call to action (CTA) which tells them what to do to get this benefit. A call to action is the text or image that prompts the people seeing it to take action.

You can split test your landing page to see which hook and CTA are most effective for your ebook.

Ebook Writing Mistakes

With your ebook marketing plan in place, it’s time to start writing. There are quite a few ebook writing mistakes to avoid, including:

15. Not Knowing Your Topic
What if you’ve found the right topic for your audience, but you don’t have the chops to write it?

Then don’t. You’re never going to win subscribers if your ebook doesn’t show off your expertise. You might even take a hit to your reputation.

When you’re choosing your topic (see ebook mistake #1), pick something you know about.

Otherwise, consider hiring an expert to ghostwrite your ebook for you. That way you get a great lead magnet to meets your customers’ needs, but don’t have to do the writing yourself.

16. Delivering Thin Content
There’s a lot of competition for your audience out there, so thin ebook content just won’t cut it.

What do we mean by thin? Content that seems unoriginal or that doesn’t deliver on the promise of the title and hook.

Good ebook content will wow readers and make them eager to share the resource with others. THAT’s how your ebook becomes a successful lead magnet.

To avoid thin content, check to make sure your ebook answers the questions and provides the solutions readers hope to get. Otherwise, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

17. Providing Too Much Detail
Of course, there’s also the opposite problem, too. Some people try to solve every customer problem in the history of the universe with a single ebook.

Just. Don’t. Do. It.

If you’re using an ebook to win customers, you need to walk the fine line of solving one issue for them, while still leaving them wanting more.

Take a leaf out of Hubspot’s book. They have a series of short ebooks covering multiple issues their customers need help with. Hubspot’s inbound marketing strategy brings in 75% of its leads, so it’s definitely a strategy to copy.

18. Writing the Introduction First
As we hinted in mistake #4, don’t write the introduction too early. Sure, it’s the first part of the book, but it’s not the first part you write.

The reason? The introduction summarizes or teases what’s coming up in the book. It’s hard to know what to highlight if you haven’t finished writing!

Books usually evolve away from your original idea, anyway, so it’s smart to avoid having to write the intro twice.

19. Editing as You Go
Take it from us, one thing that’s guaranteed to delay your ebook writing process is trying to write it and edit it at the same time.

It’s tempting to fix the little typos and errors that creep in as you write, but experience shows that gets in the way of actually finishing the ebook. Write first, edit later: it’s a motto many writers live by.

20. Allowing Poor Writing
That said, you can make the editing process smoother if you try to write your ebook the right way first time round.

Avoid over-long sentences, complex words and phrases, jargon and anything that stops readers from understanding your ebook. If you’re not sure about the quality of your writing, you can test it for readability using a tool like Grammarly.

you can use Grammarly to check your grammar

21. Thinking That One Draft Is Enough
Writing an ebook is definitely not a case of “one and done.” Even expert writers go through a couple of rounds of writing in the content creation process.

Even with a robust outline, you’ll find things you need to change to make your message clearer or to answer new questions that come up. And if there are lots of people who have to approve your ebook, the process will take even longer.

Fleshing out the ebook outline (see mistake #4) and getting advance feedback from everyone in the approvals chain is one way to make the process smoother, but expect to do more than one draft before the ebook’s done.

22. Forgetting to Link
When you write the ebook, don’t waste the opportunity to promote some of your other relevant content or to give readers the chance to connect with you elsewhere.

For example, Hiten Shah’s Content Marketing Playbook has a link to a survey on the last page. That will help him to learn more about his readers’ interests so he can target future content to them.

Using links - writing an ebook

If your ebook isn’t a PDF (see mistake #5), then you can use Bit.ly or your favorite URL shortener to create a memorable short link to a piece of pillar content.

23. Failing to Back Up
It’s crucial to make sure you have a backup solution installed before starting the writing process. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of an ebook project and discovering you have lost the final version of your work.

Try using a cloud backup solution that backs up automatically so you never have to worry about it.

Backup, backup, backup – we can’t emphasize this too much!

Ebook Design and Editing Mistakes

Finally, there are a few other errors that many people make in the final stages of the ebook writing process. Here they are:

24. Thinking You Don’t Need an Editor or Proofreader
When writing your first ebook, it’s easy to convince yourself you don’t need an editor or proofreader, but that’s not true.

After you’ve worked on the project for a while, you’ll be too close to it to know whether it really works for your target audience. If you want to be sure you’re delivering the message you want, and delivering it clearly, you need an editor.

In many companies, the editor and proofreader are the same person, but proofreading is still important. An editor checks your ebook for structure and content. A proofreader makes the final check for mistakes so you end up with a professional-looking ebook. You’d typically proofread your ebook after it’s been designed just in case there are errors when laying out the text. It’s a good idea to check graphics with text overlays, too.

If you’re running your business alone, and need help with proofreading, you can ask the people on your email list. Some of them would love to get an early look at your ebook in return for giving feedback.

25. Messing Up Your Cover Design
While the content will keep people reading your ebook, the cover will help them decide whether to download it.

As Smart Blogger says, a DIY cover design approach could seriously hurt your rep. Making sure the cover is the right size (if you’re doing a Kindle version, the specs will be different) is just the first step.

You also need to choose images that reinforce your message, are crisp and sharp, and most importantly, that you’re allowed to use. If you’re on a budget, you can find great images on Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay.

If you have a budget for quality images, then iStockPhoto is a good place to start to find a beautiful ebook cover image or some vectors and illustrations you can use to create your own.

Let’s face it; there’s no rule that says a business ebook has to look boring. Get your ebook cover right, and it will attract even more leads.

Ebook cover design

26. Being a Perfectionist
Finally, when you write your first ebook, it’s easy to get caught up in making it perfect. Yes, you want it to be excellent, but if you’re nitpicking over tiny things it’s time to show your baby to the world.

Don’t worry; since it’s a digital product, it’s pretty easy to fix a mistake if you spot it later. So move beyond perfectionism and make the ebook available so it can start generating leads for you.

You now know the key mistakes to avoid when writing an ebook so you can get yours right the first time. When you’re ready to use your new ebook as a lead magnet, make sure you’re not making these optin design mistakes that even the pros make.

For more free guides to effectively building your email list, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Sharon Hurley Hall
Sharon Hurley Hall is a Content Marketing Manager at OptinMonster. She is a professional writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 25 years including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer, and ghost writer. Find out more about Sharon at sharonhh.com

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