Should You Write an Ebook for Your Online Course?

If you’ve never considered writing an ebook, here’s how to decide if it’s the right marketing strategy for your online course.

You’ve been working on your marketing strategy for a while, you’ve got your course up and your blog rolling, but you’re still looking for a good way to draw in leads for your online course. It’s a tough position to be in, but I have a suggestion for you: write an ebook.

First of all, writing an ebook doesn’t have anything to do with the traditional publishing industry, nor does it need to follow the length or format of a published book. In fact, most ebooks have about as much to do with books as running an online blog has to do with writing a syndicated magazine column. So if your first thought on hearing that you should consider writing one for your course was “I could never do that,” banish the thought. If you can write an online course, you can write an ebook.

Of course, there are some ebooks that fit into the world of traditional publishing, just as there are some blogs that are also syndicated columns. But the bulk of ebooks you find these days—especially those used for marketing purposes—are nicely designed and self-published PDFs. They can be as long and complicated or as short and sweet as you need them to be. The important thing is that you write something valuable and describe it accurately to anyone who might download it.

That sounds doable, right? So, with that out of the way, let’s tackle a few more of the specifics.

How long does it need to be?

I just said that it could be as long or short as you liked, but that’s not strictly true. Of course, I don’t expect anyone to write a War and Peace-length tome, but if you did, it would be the wrong tactic. (If you have that much to say, at least split it into an ebook series.)

At the same time, you can’t rightly describe a single-page document as an “ebook.” You should at least hit double-digits. Anything less that that is stretching the limits of what your readers will accept as a “book,” even if the online standard of ebook these days more closely resembles a pamphlet.

Typically I see ebooks range from 20–30 pages, with some ranging as long as 60 or 70 pages. However, the longer the ebook is, the less likely anyone is offering it for free.

That said, page length is an inaccurate way of describing the amount of content in an ebook, given that these tend to be heavily designed. Ebooks are meant to be read on a computer, and as large blocks of text can be tiring to read in that context, they use more visuals and may devote an entire page to a single pull quote. (In that sense, they’re really more like very long infographics.)

In terms of word length, you can write an ebook that’s as short as 2000 words if you give it enough love and attention from your design team. It takes 3,000–4,000 words to hit that 20-page mark, and 10,000 words would be very generous indeed. (Actual published books are in the 40,000–50,000-word range for business non-fiction.)

What should it be about?

Your expertise, of course! No, but seriously: picking the subject matter for your ebook is a challenge. You want to choose something that will speak to the needs and interests of your potential learners without giving so much away that they won’t sign up for your course.

You also need to choose the content level carefully. Think about what type of learner you want to speak to: are you writing to beginners who have never taken a course of yours? Or are these veteran learners who are already familiar with your material and interested in something more complex? For your first ebook, you probably want to write something for beginners. But remember that you can target more advanced learners later with a more complex ebook.

How do I use it once I’ve written it?

Once you’ve written and designed your ebook, you want to display it prominently on your website. Put it on your homepage, and in the footer of child pages. Design a landing page just for your ebook, and run an ad campaign designed to push traffic to that landing page. Get people interested.

Then, once you’ve sparked interest, decide if you want to offer it for free or if you want to try to sell it. Both these have marketing potential, but the strategies behind them can be very different.

If you’re offering your ebook for free (which I would recommend for anything under 30 pages or about 4000 words), your main goal is lead generation. Gate the content by offering it as a free download after they submit their email address. You’re building trust with potential learners by offering them something of value for free, but you gain a chance to follow up later via email where you can communicate with them directly.

Selling your ebook is a more difficult endeavor, but it can be done if you keep a few things in mind. First, no one is paying more for your ebook than they would pay for a real book. In fact, they’re probably paying less. And in order for that purchase to feel worthwhile, you will need to write something longer and put more design work into it. This is where you start seeing ebooks that are more… well, bookish, in character. If you can produce something in the 50–70-page range, there’s a chance you can sell it for ~$10.

However, even if you’re selling your ebook, there are more ways you can use it to bolster the value of your content. For instance, you could create a webinar around the content within your ebook, sell the webinar for $150, and offer the ebook to anyone who signs up as a bonus. You can offer the same deal to anyone who signs up for your courses. And if you keep going and write a full series, you can offer them as a bundle at a discount.

Ebooks are a great way to generate leads and repurpose your blog content.

For my part, I believe the greatest value for ebooks comes from using them as lead generation tools. In this context, you don’t even need to write a lot of original content—just grab a blog series, edit the together to make something more coherent, design it to look nice, and there’s your ebook. Your learners will find value from having the content gathered together in one place, and a downloadable PDF is far easier to share with friends and colleagues. If you win your learners over with great content, they may just take on your marketing for you.

Author

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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