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How to Write Your First Ebook: My Experience and Learnings

If you want to learn how to write an ebook using a proven process then you’re in the right place. I wrote my first ebook in 2012 and that same ebook is still making me a few thousand dollars in passive income every year.

In part one of this guide, I’m going to reveal to you how I chose the topic of my ebook and the process I followed to write it. I’ll also include a section on how I formatted everything.

✍️ Part 2 and 3 ebook series:

This is part one of a three-part series on writing, distributing, selling, and marketing an ebook.

Go to part two if you need help with choosing a distribution platform and setting up a website.

Go to part three if you need help with marketing and you want to increase sales.

For each of the above, I will also go over some alternative approaches that you can consider if my approach doesn’t resonate with you.

Let’s get started!

Quality matters

Writing an ebook is not a get rich quick scheme and shouldn’t be treated as such. People who crank out ebooks for the sole purpose of making money generally tend to produce piss poor work and it’s because they are starting from the wrong place. Depending on how skilled someone is at marketing, they might make a quick buck or two, but eventually the internet will catch on.

The people who tend to have the best long term results approach the process as a labor of love. Even those who might not be quite as enthusiastic, still make a genuine effort to provide value in other peoples’ lives through the information they share.

As I mentioned in the intro, I wrote my first ebook more than a decade ago. While the sales are nowhere near their peak of what they were when I was actively promoting it, the book still makes money. There are three primary reasons for that:

  • I provided a lot of upfront value to my target audience, which helped establish trust.
  • I demonstrated expertise in the subject matter, which helped establish me as a knowledgable authority.
  • I wrote a damn good book that capitalized on my expertise, and that added even more value on top of the free upfront value I provided.

All three components are clutch, but the first and third would not be possible if I was writing subpar content with the sole intent of making money. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that monetization shouldn’t be a goal, but your starting point has to be the end recipient and not your wallet. Focus on producing quality content for your audience and the money will eventually come.

Oh, and for the love of the Lord, please do not use AI to write your book.

Picking a topic

My topic selection was very organic because it was based on a life experience that I went through. In fact, you can argue that the topic chose me, more so than me choosing it. This is because I made the decision to write the ebook when I was about halfway through the program rather than deciding to do the program so I could write an ebook.

I’m not going to write the specific name of it here because I don’t care for it to be picked up by search engines, but I’ll share a photo of me from the program below to give you an idea:

Life experience that inspired the topic of my ebook.

This approach works really well and has been used by other successful ebook sellers, including Pat Flynn of SPI (Smart Passive Income). Pat used his experience of studying for and taking the LEED AP exam to create a set of ebook study guides [1].

Similarly to me, he did not take the exam with the intention of writing study guides for it. He took it for his own personal career growth reasons. But then at some point he realized that he had valuable information to share with other people who were at an earlier stage in the same process.

How to apply this to you

The idea is straightforward:

If you have direct experience going through some challenging life event – be it a program, an exam, or something else – you can share your firsthand knowledge with others who are getting ready to go through the same experience.

The more exclusive the information you provide, the better. Although depending on what it is, you might want to check first that the info you’re sharing isn’t protected in some way. As a good rule of thumb, if you had to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) as part of your intake, then I would absolutely read the fine print. The last thing you want is a cease and desist letter on your desk or in your inbox. Tread carefully.

Alternative approaches

If my particular approach isn’t relevant to you, don’t worry. There are plenty of other ways you can choose a topic. The main thing is that you should have experience in what it is you’re going to talk about and that it’s going to help others who are at an earlier point in their journey of doing the same thing. This could be any of the following:

  • How to start X hobby (e.g., gardening, pottery)
  • How to learn X skill (e.g., handstands, juggling)
  • How to overcome a personal struggle or life challenge (e.g., illness, addiction)
  • How to adapt to a significant life transition (e.g., career change, becoming a parent, moving to a new place)

Alternatively, if you have formal job experience or advanced education in some field, then you can also write an ebook about whatever topics you are considered an expert in.

It really comes down to two things:

  1. Sharing genuinely useful information with people who want / need it.
  2. Positioning yourself as someone who knows what they’re talking about (either because of direct experience or formal training/education). If you’ve been blogging about a particular topic for a while then this can also work as a way to establish your credibility.

Brain dumping and organizing

As I mentioned, I made a decision about halfway through my program that I was going to write a preparation guide to help others when I finished. In light of that, I began taking mental notes, and whenever possible, physical notes as well. My notes were about “topics of interest.” Put another way, they were valuable pieces of information that I knew would be very useful to learn beforehand, prior to starting the program.

When I returned home, I combined my handwritten notes with my mental notes and did a giant brain dump. I first wrote down all of the various topics of interest and then over the course of about three days I typed like a madman, filling in the information about each of the topics.

When I finished, I looked at everything I had, and thought about how to organize it into chapters that would have a logical flow to them. I created an initial table of contents and then moved all of my text around to make it fit into the order I decided upon.

After that I added some relevant images and edited some of the content to make sure that it transitioned neatly from one chapter to the next. Finally, I let it sit for a few days before coming back to it to do a final editorial review and proofread.

Alternative approaches

The particular approach that you choose to take is going to be highly dependent on where the source of your information is coming from. I don’t mean that it’s coming from you – that’s a given – but I mean how you obtained it to begin with.

In my case, I had to absorb an extremely large load of information with a very high attention to detail, crammed into a very short time period. I knew that if I didn’t dump all of it as soon as possible that I would very quickly start losing it. This resulted in an avalanche of text flooding out of my brain when I sat down to type.

Most of you will probably not be faced with that same sense of urgency, but you can still follow the general process I described above:

  • Create a list of topics related to your subject
  • Write content for each of those topics
  • Organize your content into chapters
  • Add images and make necessary edits to ensure flow and cohesiveness
  • Do a final editorial review and proofread to check for grammar / spelling mistakes

The above isn’t set in stone and you can move things around. For example some people might want to organize their chapters before they begin writing. I would recommend this in most cases. The only reason I didn’t do it that way was because I wanted to make sure that I got everything out of my brain as soon as possible.

Converting a manuscript into an ebook

First, let me tell you how I converted my written manuscript into an ebook and then I’ll give you some additional options.

I used the default Mac word processor program called Pages to write everything and to do my edits. When I finished, I simply converted the Pages file to a PDF by using the native conversion feature inside Pages.

Using Mac Pages to convert a pages file to a PDF.

That’s it.

In hindsight, this wasn’t the best approach because it was written in a basic format – like writing a paper for a school report or something – rather than being properly formatted according to “professional” ebook standards.

However, these days, Pages also has templates, including ones for books:

Book templates in the default Pages word processor program.

Not only are the templates really good (and free), but Pages also lets you save your finished ebook in multiple formats. This includes the popular EPUB format:

Saving ebook in EPUB format in Pages for Mac.

Your personal formatting decision will be largely influenced by how you choose to distribute your ebook later on. For example, if you go with a third-party platform like Amazon, then you’ll want to save your ebook as an EPUB file. However, if you decide to self-publish, then a PDF is probably the best choice. I’ll cover this in more detail in part two of this series.

Other ebook editors

If you’re not using a Mac with Pages installed or you’d like other options, there are plenty.

One alternative I recommend is a free software called Calibre. This tool has a built-in editor that allows you to edit ebooks in the most popular ebook formats, EPUB and Kindle.

Calibre ebook editor.

Sigil is another free EPUB editing tool that you can try as well.

If you plan to self-distribute your ebook like I did and you want to stick to the PDF file format while still being able to design your layout, then Scribus is a good (free) option.

For a more robust, premium software, you can try Adobe InDesign. Plans for that start from $22.99 USD per month (there’s also a free trial if you want to take it for a spin).

My two cents here is that the free options work completely fine. Unless you have some particular need to use InDesign, then there’s no need to spend money on it just to format your ebook.

What’s next? 🤔

After you finish writing, editing, and formatting your ebook, you’ll have to decide on how you’re going to sell it. Believe it or not, there are quite a lot of directions this can go in.

The first decision you’ll need to make is whether you’re going to self-distribute or whether you will use a third-party platform to do your distribution for you.

Both of those choices then have their own, multi-level decision making trees below them. The third-party options are a little more limited, but with self-distribution, the world is your oyster as they say.

I’ll cover this process and your options in part two of this series on writing, selling, and marketing an ebook.


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