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3 Steps to Help You Choose a Topic for an E-Book

Posted By Darren Rowse 12th of December 2009 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

In my recent post on the importance of having your own product to sell I was asked in comments by Todd for advice on choosing the best topic to create an ebook on.

Here are a few quick thoughts on some starting points for choosing a topic for an e-book – mainly for people who already have a blog:

Todd – Good question. For me it was partly just about blogging for a number of years in my niche and starting to just get a hunch for what would work. I guess in that time I began to see patterns in what was working and what was not working in my niche. I also began to get to know my readers more and saw the challenges and problems that they faced.

Of course saying ‘go with your hunches’ isn’t probably the answer you were after – so below I’ve identified a few steps to work through in choosing a topic for an E-book.

Step 1: Ask Some Questions about Your Readers and Their Needs

here are some questions I’d suggest you consider to help you identify and sort through those hunches.

  • what questions do you keep getting asked repeatedly by readers (via email, in comments etc)?
  • what are readers asking you to make recommendations on?
  • what posts on your blog are getting the most visitors?
  • what posts on your blog are getting most comments/discussion?
  • what trends are emerging on your topic in your niche?
  • what’s the biggest problem or challenge for people in your niche – particularly for beginners?
  • what terms are people searching for to arrive on your blog?
  • what words are people searching for on your blogs search tool?

Answering these types of questions should point you in the direction of some topics that could be suitable for an e-book.

Step 2: Ask Some some More Probing Questions to Narrow in on the Topic

Once you’ve identified some of these topics you will probably want to narrow the field a little by asking some of these questions:

  • what topics have you written a lot about already that you could pull together as the basis for an e-book? (see a note on this below)
  • what do you know enough about to write something useful? Do you have the authority and expertise to write it yourself or should you outsource the writing?
  • are you interested in or passionate about the topic? I’m sure that not all authors are passionate about their topics but it sure helps because there is a lot of work involved!
  • is the topic you’re thinking of writing about something that really needs more than a single post – can you write enough to justify it being an e-book and something people pay money for?
  • are there many other resources already available on the topic – how will yours be different?
  • is the topic you’re thinking about too wide or narrow? Sometimes topics are too big and could end up being a series of e-books. ON the other hand some topics are too narrow to really justify being an e-book and perhaps it’d be best to widen it and look at a larger topic.

Step 3: Test Your Topics

Once you’ve narrowed Your Field – test the topics that you’ve come up with. I’ve seen a number of bloggers come up with ideas for big projects that they think are great which in reality are not. If only they’d tested their ideas before investing significant time into them!

You might want to bounce them off a fellow blogger, perhaps test them with a small group of trusted readers, ask some questions on Twitter etc. If you’ve not covered the topic much on your blog before you might also want to test the idea on your blog with a post on the topic to gauge reader interest. Alternatively you might run some kind of poll to see if your suspicions about your readers needs are confirmed.

The key is to try to find out if the topics you’re thinking of writing about are the types of things people are REALLY interested in and willing to pay for. Note: This might be an ideal time for a survey.

Three last thoughts:

1. ‘How To’ Topics – My suspicion is that ‘teaching’ or ‘how to’ type e-books are going to be more attractive to potential buyers than other types. I’m sure there will be exceptions but most of the e-books that I’ve seen do well either lead people through a process, explain something, solve a problem or give them skills and understanding over a particular topic.

2. Start with a Problem – when it comes to selling an e-book you’ve got a lot better chance of convincing someone to buy it if you can tell them that it’ll solve a problem that they have. In my e-books I took the problems/challenges of ‘building a better blog’ and ‘taking better portraits’ and centered everything in the e-book around them. These problems were reflected both in the writing and the marketing of the books. Once you’ve identified a problem you’re on the right track.

3. Repurposing Old Posts – I mentioned above that you might like to consider what topics you’ve written about a lot already that you might be able to base an e-book on. All I’d want to qualify this with is that you’ll probably want to add some solid extra content to these types of e-books. I’ve proved (twice) that people are willing to pay for stuff you’ve published before but in each case I worked hard on adding extra material to make it more valuable.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. Thanks Darren for the informative post. I totally agree with the idea picking on a topic that your readers ask question about more often or a topic on your niche that get most comments.

    Keep up the good work Darren. I’ll keep following you.

  2. Wow great post and couldn’t have come at a better time. I did a survey to see where my readers are at but I haven’t tested a post or spoken to another blogger about my e-book topic idea… I also wasn’t going to do a How-To… I was going to do a “here’s the info, get busy” but you know, people don’t go for that cuz they are lazy and want DETAILED instructions on how to do something.

    THANK YOU!

  3. I’ve tried to go about this the hard way before, not really asking what people want. I learned a lot from that mistake. I thought I knew what people wanted so I just wrote from my experience, but I was smacked right in the face when I realized I was wrong.

    These are solid points. The only problem with asking questions is you need an audience, but if you don’t have an audience you might want to borrow an audience or even ask fellow bloggers as you suggested.

    Cheers!

  4. Thanks Darren for the excellent and sound advice.

    I’ve recently added the Search Meter WordPress plugin to my blog that displays all terms that my visitors are searching on my blog for… it’s completely helpful to come up with new material.

  5. Sounds like some really straight forward advice. I do have a question, Darren. I have set up my aweber account and I am collecting e-mails rather nicely. But, I want to offer a product. How do I go about setting up a redirect to a download page for the e-book? Also, how do I make that download page? Thanks.

  6. Darren, great post. I’m really excited about putting together an ebook but don’t think I have the readership as of yet.

    I was thinking maybe I could put out a smaller version of an ebook for free in an attempt to increase readership. (one blog i have is only 3 months old and another 2 weeks old.)

    Also, how long is the average ebook? Good question posed by my wife.

    Thanks for the awesome work you’re doing.

  7. Darren this is a wonderful post, but for bloggers with a lesser reader base cannot ask their readers what they want maybe they can analyze the market. I know that “how to” books are most attractive, and you can keep your title has “how to” if your content doesn’t match. One question I wanted to ask Darren do u have to have lots of capital to successfully launch your ebook or do you atleast need a high traffic blog. If not please do write a post on how to successfully create, launch and profit from your ebook without being a biggie in the niche.

  8. You could also create a post that gives readers a taste of the topic to see how they respond to it. Great advice – I am going to be starting an ebook in early 2010.

  9. While the title is “how to”, the content can include why, where, when, what and how. Obviously the focus is on how.

  10. Using the questions your customers ask is a great one. They are giving you golden information, namely what they really need you to tell them. If they have the question, so do a lot of other people. I try to focus on those questions when I plan all of my content.

  11. Darren,

    This is exciting that you are pushing all of us to seriously consider putting out our own product.

    I think that most of us should have as goal to put out a product in 2010 and build from that.

    Great post!

    Krizia

  12. This is perfect. I’m embarking on my first Ebook and already had quite a few ideas before starting it. Even re-purposing prior posts from one of my other blogs. This came just at the right time. I’ll be adding the “extra content” of course like you mentioned.

    I noticed that wasn’t mentioned in the article but if anyone is reading this, read your ebook out loud and record it. Include it for higher price or tack it on as a bonus or up sell. It’s added value for your customers and an added modality of consumption! (Not to mention easy to do)

  13. Darren, great post. I’m really excited about putting together an ebook but don’t think I have the readership as of yet.

  14. As I prepare to write my first e-book, I conducted a survey of my readers. Their preferred topic (by a margin of 3-to-1) was not what I expected, so I was definitely glad for the survey.

    My thoughts now are to write an initial e-book on the #2 topic that is mostly compiled from previous posts and offer that for free for subscribers. Then, I’ll write the “preferred” topic e-book and offer that for sale. Does that combo make sense?

  15. This is so helpful. I think this is a good guide to all those who wish to have a product to offer to their readers (i.e an e-book).

    Thanks for the great post

  16. Darren,
    Using some type of site analytics service and tracking which posts generate the most interest provides great guidance. I’m actually surprised which pages/posts are getting the most hits – they’re not the ones I had hoped people would respond best to :-(

    So now I’ve got to decide to persist in what I really want to write about, or, to write what others want to read about. The first choice will make me feel good about following my convictions, the second will actually put food on the table.

  17. I like number 3 repurposing old posts, BUT, I am not a fan of bloggers pulling series from their blog, repackaging it for sale. Here’s my reason. Bloggers have come to rely on a series as a guide and revisit it when a question or issue arises, plus many bloggers link to series posts and if a blog owner pulls a series then one is left with a bunch of broken links.

    People may be willing to pay for rehashed content, but somewhere along the way one loses their credibility and trustworthiness and comes off just looking like a money grubber. At what point is not all about just making money?

    Coming up with Ebook ideas and content is not easy so I appreciate these tips that you have provided. :)

  18. But most of people nowadays just tweak the ebook that they already had and write back again to be a new ebook. Some of people using PLR ebook and change the content little bit.

    Most of them are people who want fast cash by selling their own ebook while they are totally not an expert in that particular topic.

    So what is your opinion about them? It is good to make an ebook if we are just stepping into blogsphere?

  19. I was actually just brainstorming this concept today. I came up with plenty of ideas but this (extremely well timed) post has helped me narrow it down to one or two.

    I guess the next step is to make a poll of some sort to gauge interest. The question is how to phrase it without asking outright “which would be better..?”.

    Having said that I remember reading somewhere recently that if you can get a reader already commited to a product in their mind, they’re more likely to buy it. I guess they feel obliged to purchase it after choosing that product over another..

  20. Hello Darren ,
    Gr8 thoughts on making of a e-book.Personally I like the different question to ask and how to ask about deciding for a idea on ebook.
    As asked before my question is same what to do when one do not have too many readers to ask for . What to do then ?
    But any ways thanks .Any post on creating ebooks and marketing them would be welcome too .,

  21. Nice post, i have been considering writing another ebook for a while and was wondering what it will be called and what it will be about.

  22. What should be done first? Getting good solid daily traffic or just putting up a blog/site, make a small promotion of it, put an ebook or course for people to buy or get for free if they join the list?

    I mean if you already have good traffic, then you can expect lots of people buying your product or subscribing to your list, but then you can look opposite, if you don’t have traffic, you can offer something really great, people start talking about it, your create buzz, thing goes viral and bam you got traffic and more sales/subscriptions.

    Each scenario has its good and bad sides, just don’t know which one is better.

  23. I think you should consider those niches which are common and have common problem.

    Find out the solution … write down them in simple language and sell them.

  24. I personally would start with a question – best ebooks are the ones that answers an important question and then shows how to get over the problem.

  25. Hi Darren,

    i think for the success of any e-book its title and theme is very important,

    thanks for the post.

  26. Alright, this is a complete article to start looking for inspiration, I am planning to launch an ebook next month, I guess I’ve done enough survey for the topic it is covering. I’ll add some part that I missed. Another thank! Greetz, Azis – Indonesian Blogger for Blog Optimization

  27. It’s very true that you have almost 100%control over a business if the product that you are selling, it’s yours. Clearly, you know where you want your product to be seen, how you want it to be known, you know all the details..and it’s really better for you to have the control.

  28. I agree with your suspicion about ‘how to’ guides or posts being popular. I have a few how to posts on my blog and they’re by far the most popular. One in particular.

    Comprehensive check list there you’ve provided in how to determine what ebook we should write. Have bookmarked this for future reference. Really looking forward to writing my first ebook!

    That’s cool that you’ve acknowledged a commenter and started a blog post about their comment :)

    Sarge | BeginnerBlogger.com

  29. what a great post. …think about the possibilities of writing many and meaningful ebooks. You could write them … give them away…or at least have people pay and donate it to charity…but think about it…if you worte 5 ebooks a year then after a few short years you would have a library of meaningful articles that you have written. How would that make you look compared to the guy who just writes posts?
    ANY THOUGHTS?

  30. I think this post could be applied to more than just writing an ebook. If you think about it a good amount of it could be used to drive your content strategy going forward. That being said I like what this post has to say. I actually hadn’t thought to just ask my readers what they’d be interested in reading. I will definitely make reference back to this post as I go through the process of launching my first product.

  31. An excellent and well structured process. One element you might want to add, in answer to previously posted comments, is to broaden your market research to sites beyond your own blog. For example, you can read the same blogs your intended market reads. Also, if you don’t have a large enough base (perhaps you want to use the e-book to build that base), join social media groups or chat rooms and ask your questions there. Keep up the great work. I enjoy your writing.

  32. I am thinking of putting together a book to sell via the Amazon Kindle store. What are the pros and cons of doing that versus a PDF e-book that I sell from my own storefront? What about publishing a paper book with Lulu? Other than the obvious decrease in profit margin, are there any other negatives?

    Thanks to all.

  33. Thanks Darren Rowse, I am tottaly agreed by your ideas. I think how can you make a useful post for us it is really difficult to share that anybody share his own ideas to other peoples so that they also succeed in their life.

  34. Good tips. I’ve nearly completed my first e-book. I’m going to have readers review it before I sell it.

    I’ve seen several people publish their own books. They should have gotten an editor before they went to the trouble.

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

  35. These are very great tips. Thanks so much! This really helped me out a bunch.

  36. I’ve seen several people publish their own books. They should have gotten an editor before they went to the trouble.

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

  37. Thank you Darren for these excellent tips. Though I don’t plan in making an e book anytime soon these tips still help in blogging.

  38. I totally agree with the idea picking on a topic that your readers ask question about more often or a topic on your niche that get most comments.

  39. Providing free ebooks to our reader is a good strategy for build traffic to our blog. I am preparing for writing ebooks on work at home. But I think I have to collect more data for perfectly writing my work at home ebook.

  40. Darren,

    Thanks so much for answering my question. Your thoughts are right on track with what I thought. I just guess it’s hard to know in my niche if someone will pay even a small dollar amount for that information if they can scour the internet looking for it piece by piece.

    Thanks again.

  41. Thanks Darren. I’m currently exploring on creating E-Book and your article answered it! Yeah, there are a lot of creative and awesome ideas out there but you have to know what your reader want in order to encourage them to take what your offer.

    I suggest that free stuff is the most encouraging element for your readers before you publish the premium one.

  42. I’ve been thinking about Darren’s suggestion to do e-books on the topics of your most popular articles. I write for consumers, and among my most popular posts are: “How to Buy Eyeglasses,” “How to Buy a Dishwasher,” and “How Often Should you Change Your Bed Sheets.”

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

  43. Great post on writing an e-book.

    I was wondering what everyones thoughts on charging for e-books is. Should e-books be free or should the writer charge their readers to download it?

    Thanks
    Tom
    Tekrux

  44. Great post Darren!
    Great job.

  45. Thanks for the great tips on writing an eBook. I’m in the process right now of writing an ebook/case study on how I’m teaching my 70 year old father how to make money online.

    I feel your article helps me focus even more and confirms that
    Yes, I’m solving a problem; Yes, I’m sharing How To content, and Yes, I’m rewriting some content that I’ve posted before but adding to it.

    Thanks Darren!

  46. I can testify to the wisdom of this advice. The South African Minister of Education announced 18 months ago that each teacher in South Africa would be given a laptop. I blogged about it (only in a news reporting fashion) but got so many comments from teachers who indicated that many of them had no idea what to do with laptops. I started posting answers to some of their questions … and these became so popular that I did more research, found more questions, posted more … eventually i created a structure on my blog for easy reference (http://www.e4africa.co.za/?page_id=241) … 101 questions and answers. The problem is that, in our case, the teachers who need the information most do not have access to the web … so my “e-book” on the web was lost to them … I approached a few sponsors who agreed to have the book printed in hard copy … to date over 10 000 copies have been printed and distributed … the book is entitled: “Laptops for Teachers – 101 Questions”.

    This was so successful that I am now busy with a second book … each chapter a blog posting … later to be printed … “Interactive Whiteboards for Africa” (http://www.e4africa.co.za/?page_id=1223).

    An added advantage of this form of writing is the fact that once I have posted a topic, much valuable information is added through comments, which can then be worked back into the text.

  47. I agree with all suggestions and the most interesting thing here is using customers questions and feedbacks as seed for planting our tree. That is what they really need! However, I also think that testing the first draft by sharing with high profile bloggers on that niche and quoted them in the final release is more convincing. Thanks

  48. Great information – having written 12 “How To” infoproducts, here are a few additional tips…

    1. Make sure the topic you choose taps into a desire your prospect has to do, be, or have something they dream about (it must be a passionate desire to achieve something – like Darren’s topic of helping to grow a busy and profitable blog)

    2. Collect questions from multiple sources – yes you can survey your market, but also look at what questions they are asking on discussion forums, what questions are magazine articles around your topic answering?

    3. Look for evidence that other information products are selling on your topic (check Amazon for competition and sales rank, check Clickbank for ebooks on your topic, check for seminars, workshops, membership sites, DVD’s as well as ebooks to tell if there is evidence of existing demand within your marketplace for information.

    Jeff

  49. I didn’t have to brainstorm mine.

    It came about when I was planning my 2009 Tour de France/L’Etape du Tour trip – no website or guide with all tips and tricks in one spot.

    So when I was on the plane on the way home I punched out a 70 odd page guide to touring France for Le Tour, got home, added some links etc etc, polished it, then launched it.

    No thinking needed. I find the best ideas come when you stop trying to think about them but actually come across them in everyday life.

    Also why I launched a site for beginner cyclists (Melbourne specific) and coffee finder.

    Tim

  50. Thanks for sharing your knowledge in such a good way. I was looking for such kind of article to create an e book. Thanks a lot again.

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