How to Outline Your Next eBook for Your Inbound Marketing Campaign (Template Inside)
I’ve been a content strategist at Cleriti for over a year, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned a couple lessons on, it’s how to effectively produce an eBook. The thing with eBooks is that they need to be relevant, easy to read and full of rich research and insights (especially if we’re talking about content in the B2B space). Whether I’m working with freelancers to write the eBook or creating it with my internal team, having a great outline is the first step to making sure my grand ideas come to fruition.
I’ve been down a couple of paths when it comes to outlining eBooks. I’ve taken the easier path and quickly outlined something without much thought and logic behind it, and I’ve taken the harder path of mapping out the flow and doing heavy research to inform subject matter. In my experience, the former has made for vague, rambling copy that goes off on tangents, and the latter has given me much better results. So, I’m going to share my process with you.
I always say that more work in the frontend leaves less work in the future. Stay tuned for an eBook outline template (linked in Step 2), to learn what makes an eBook great, how to do the prep to write an eBook that resonates with your audience and pro tips you should really consider listening to when you start developing your next eBook project.
What makes a good eBook?
I think there are a variety of types of eBooks, and they all serve a different purpose. Some are provocative and introduce a new idea, some explain a process and make it easier and some are purely educational and flesh out a subject. There are probably many more, too, and they all serve their own purpose. But what really makes an eBook great is when it resonates with the audience intended to read it. I highly suggest taking my outlining advice that’s in this post, as well as reading this Smart Blogger post on mistakes to avoid as you undertake this task.
How do you achieve this? It comes down to process. First, you need a well-thought-out buyer persona. Second, you need to come up with a campaign theme that buyer persona would relate to. Third, you need to develop an eBook that fits within that campaign theme and piques the interest of the target audience (which the buyer persona is based off of). This process ensures that you don’t create something that your audience might not care about as much as you think. Plus, it gives you a solid base to launch a campaign that’s all connected. Because once you have a stellar eBook idea, you can create a schedule of blogs that all support that bigger topic.
In a nutshell: a good eBook is specifically targeted at your buyer persona and serves as the basis for a comprehensive campaign that’s all tied back to one theme your target audience will really care about. Plus, when it’s actually produced, it has a logical flow of information and looks pretty so that it’s easy to digest (click here for some resources you can use to help get it produced).
The Nitty Gritty Mechanics of a Stellar Outline
So how, exactly, do you get your eBook up to par with the qualities listed above? Well, you have to put some work in during the planning stage. Here are the steps to get your next eBook in tip-top shape to really resonate with your target audience and send the message you want them to receive.
Be sure to develop an overall main point for your content. What do you want readers to take away from your eBook? What reaction do you want them to have? Set a clear direction for the content and tone of your offer.
Have an outline format ready to fill out. Everyone works with outlines differently, so your format might not look like mine. As long as you give yourself room to get as detailed as possible, you’re good to go. Here’s a quick sample of how I lay out main points.
- Introductions are meant to motivate readers, explain a problem to readers, challenge an existing idea readers may have, etc. Please choose an angle to take and introduce the most important topics readers will learn in this eBook.
Chapter 1 Title: (insert chapter title)
- Main point 1 (perhaps you introduce a problem)
- Sub point (add in extra details or an example)
- Sub point
- Sub point
- Main point 2 (maybe here you explain to readers why they need to solve this problem)
- Reason 1
- Reason 2
- Reason 3
Once you have your outline format, it’s time to fill out the details. What information is required for you to live up the expectations of your campaign theme and main point of the eBook? Come up with 3 to 5 main points that logically flow together. We like this type of flow, it’s a really good go-to:
- Chapter 1: introduce a problem and explain why the audience needs to fix it
- Chapter 2: dive into specifics of the problem
- Chapter 3: discuss how exactly to solve the problem
- Chapter 4: give an optimistic outlook of how solving this problem will beneficial
When your chapters are all decided upon, go into extra detail for each point and sub point that’s in the chapter. Provide clear examples, details and research that will keep the chapter on track and reveal interesting insights to readers. You’re the expert — use your expertise to wow your audience and make a strong case for change/action.
Add in any research relevant to sub points you’re making. I like to add hyperlinks to points so I know (or my freelance writer knows) to reference that article/research.
Do a couple read-throughs of your outline to make sure it makes sense. When it’s logical and you’ve fleshed out every detail, it’s time to write and design it. Woohoo! You’re ready to go.
Pro Tips You Should Probably Listen To
I gave you a step-by-step, but I also want to leave you with a little wisdom I’ve learned from creating my fair share of eBooks and whitepapers.
- The outlining process is messy. Sometimes you think you’re on the right track, but when you read through it, you realize something doesn’t quite make sense. There might be a gap in logical flow of information, or there might be two sections that are repetitive. Whatever the case, it’s ok. Rework it, and try again.
- Do as much up-front research as you can. If it’s all there in the outline, writing it will be much easier.
- If you’re working with a freelance writer to produce the content, be sure to provide them with as many details as possible. My colleague, Jen, has literally made a glossary of terms for a writer to make sure they understood the content through and through.
- Be sure to draw out all connections between points. This helps with writing transitions and moving from subject to subject.
- Be sure you don’t ramble. Keep your points clear, and keep your main objective of the eBook in mind as you detail each portion of the outline.
Go Forth with Your Awesomeness
Hopefully my experience will help you next time you want to create a new eBook. Everyone has a different writing process, but the bottom line is that you need to fully think through your goals, process and subject matter before you go and produce content. You’ll thank yourself in the long run when you’re not stuck trying to produce an unrealistic or illogical project.