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What Kind of Ebook Should I Write?

A close up of a person's hands holding an eBook while sitting on the floor

Ebooks now make up 20% of all book sales. Some of us initially hesitated to read books on screens … and most of us got over that pretty quickly!

Ebooks are good for business. They can spread your ideas, build your email list, and grow your profits.

The barriers to entry are low: no more searching for a publisher or finding an agent required. Your upfront investment is mostly time.

How do you start writing an ebook?

The first decision you have to make is what kind of ebook to write.

Should it be:

  • A 100% free ebook you give away, no questions asked?
  • An ebook you give to people in exchange for signing up to your email list?
  • An ebook you write to make money from — either by selling it on your website, or on Amazon or the iBookstore?

Today’s post examines these three types of ebooks, and helps you decide which one will best meet your goals. I’ll also share tips like how many pages each ebook should have, and ideas for ebook topics you can use as prompts for writing.

Ebook type 1: The Giveaway/Viral Ebook

Brand Personality Checklist
The Brand Personality Checklist is a giveaway PDF to help you pinpoint your brand personality. Get it here.

Why would you freely share an ebook you’ve created without even requiring an email address for download? Isn’t this a wasted opportunity?

Giving away your ebook allows you to put it in as many hands as possible. You can establish yourself as a thought leader on a topic. It’s an effective way to get your ideas to spread.

Giveaway/viral ebooks have no barrier to delivery: you simply click a link to download, or the book price is set at $0.00 at the online bookstores.

This type of ebook tends to be short. The information is targeted to deliver maximum impact in a short amount of time. My Brand Personality Quiz is only a few pages long, and hundreds of people have downloaded and used it.

Content guidance for giveaway/viral ebooks:

  • Solve one tough problem, and leave people with a solution that will give them immediate results
  • Make your ebook 3-12 pages long, with no filler — share valuable information or a passionate plea only
  • Include a call to action at the end — encourage people to spread the ebook freely and share it wherever they’d like
  • Consider mentioning other resources you may have available, like opt-in and paid ebooks (see below)

To make it easy for people to spread your ebook, spell out exactly how to share it: with a link on Facebook or Twitter, by attaching it to an email, by sharing a link on their own websites.

Ebook type 2: The Opt-In Ebook

Design 101 ebook
The Design 101 opt-in ebook showed the basics of polishing up your marketing with good design.

Opt-in ebooks help to build your email list because you share them in exchange for an email address.

These ebooks solve a targeted problem and offer a quick solution to a challenge or series of challenges.

They’re typically longer and more robust than giveaway ebooks. They take more work to put together, and have more pages.

Why would you want to create one?

When someone gives you their email address in exchange for an ebook, you gain permission to continue to communicate with them. And by requesting a specific ebook, they show you what topic interests them.

Having a way to contact them about a topic they’ve demonstrated interest in is invaluable: that’s the kind of targeted list a marketer dreams of!

Opt-in ebooks are usually PDFs, because they’re most often delivered from a website.

Content guidance for opt-in ebooks:

  • Solve a series of challenges with actionable information
  • Aim for 4-8 pages long: your audience wants quick solutions!
  • Mention other resources they’ll find on your website, including paid products

Opt-in ebooks make it easy to build a targeted email list, and establish a relationship with those subscribers over time.

Ebook type 3: The Paid Ebook

Quick-Start Guide to Branding Your Business
The Quick-Start Guide to Branding Your Business was a paid ebook that included a 42 page PDF guide, a 10-page resource guide, 4 worksheets, and a video. 

Paid ebooks are designed to share detailed how-to information, and are longer than giveaway and opt-in-style ebooks. They contribute to your revenue directly — they put money in the bank!

Paid ebooks sometimes come with additional materials like worksheets, checklists or exercises to help reiterate the information in the ebook.

These ebooks can be either PDF or ereader formats, and if you think creatively, they can be both (more on that later).

Content guidance for paid ebooks:

  • Share whole systems for solving problems, including theory, process, and step-by-step instructions
  • Consider supplementing your information with interviews, quotes, and studies to back up your claims
  • Aim for 24-100+ pages long
  • Mention other resources they’ll find on your website, including other paid products or services

You can sell paid ebooks on online bookseller sites, or straight from your website.

One way to sell from both places is to take the same ebook content you offer at the online booksellers and sell it on your website with additional content like worksheets, audio recordings and video.

You can charge more for the additional content when you sell it from your website. It’s true the online booksellers won’t allow you to charge as much, but the sheer volume of the potential audience there may more than make up for the lower price.

Read more about ebooks

Want more ebook ideas and guidance? Start with these posts:

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson is the Chief Marketing Officer at DCS. She’s the creator of the Offer Accelerator Program. Learn more about Pamela’s content marketing books, and read reviews of the tools used to run this site.
Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
I’m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility — and consistent revenue.


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