How to Create an eBook to Build Your Email List

One of the most common types of free resources offered by digital entrepreneurs is a downloadable ebook. You see them everywhere. Usually the title will be something like “9 Ways to <take such and such shortcut>” or “How I Solved <insert problem here>”.

Then, people who want access to that information will give their name and email address and get the link to the ebook as a reward. The email address is added to the author’s mailing list and they can now start sending email messages to the person.

This is also often called a “lead magnet,” because it’s so valuable that it attracts people to your mailing list. Once they’re on your list, they become a “lead.” (If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s simply slang for a potential customer.)

I want to just interrupt this article for a moment and be human. I personally don’t like the term “lead magnet” because it dehumanizes the customer. I prefer to call them free resources (even though if you ask for an email address it’s not technically free). But you’ll hear me use both terms interchangeably. I use lead magnet because it’s good for SEO, but in most of my social posts and course content, I’ll use “free resource” or “downloadable freebie,” or sometimes just “freebie.”

Ok, back to the list building…

If you have a business, or want to start one, you need to have an email list. 

Let me say that again…

You need to have an email list.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I don’t care how old you are or what your business is.  Email is still the best way to nurture relationships and convert potential customers into buyers.

The single best way to grow your email list is to create something of value that people will be willing to give your their REAL email address to get their hands on. Not a fake or throwaway email. Yes, you’ll get those as well. Don’t worry about those. They’ll eventually disappear when you purge your list.

Just make sure you are creating something that’s so valuable people will want to give you their REAL address, because they really do want to hear from you!

Now let’s talk about how to create an ebook.

1. Decide your topic.

First, what is your business about? What products are you selling? And even more importantly, what problem does your product solve for your customers?

The topic of your ebook needs to be in line with your business and your ideal customers. 

My very first ebook was called “The Small Business Website Design Guide” and my business was a website design and development consulting company. People who wanted the ebook were interested in creating a website for their business. They downloaded my book, I put them on my email list, and I started emailing them regularly.  Eventually I promoted my consulting business to my email list, and that’s one of the ways I got new clients.

2. Create an outline.

You want to keep your ebook simple.  This is not a 100-page project. You want to keep it under a dozen pages or so. Each page in the ebook should focus on a specific area of your overall topic. 

Once you have decided on your main topic, write down five to seven different areas of the topic that your audience would want to know about. These are the sub-topics. There may be dozens of them, just write down the first 5-7 that come to mind.

[If you’re not sure, you can survey your audience. If you don’t have an audience, you may need to do some research. Facebook groups can be a great place to learn about what people are looking for.]

Now that you have five to seven things to focus on, pick the three that seem the most interesting, or most valuable. Ideally these will be concepts that are relatively easy for people to learn about without too much effort.

Do the three areas have a natural sequence? Does one build upon another? Does knowing how one works make learning the others easier?  If there’s a natural flow, then put them in that order.

3. Write your first draft.

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers has this rather vulgar term for the first draft. She calls it the “shitty first draft.” I love this because it removes any expectation that the first draft will be even halfway decent.  Most writers will write six, 10, or even 30 versions of their material before publishing it.

So don’t agonize over this first draft. Just grab the first of the three focus areas and start writing about it. Pretend someone is sitting in front of you and they asked you to tell them about it. Just write it as if you were talking. Don’t worry about punctuation or grammar or misspellings.

You could even narrate it via Siri. Sometimes I do this in my car. I’ll just open a blank Google doc (while I’m sitting at a red light of course), hit the little microphone button, and start talking as if I was explaining something to somebody.

Don’t worry about how long it is right now. Just ramble on, getting it all out of your head and onto the page. During subsequent revisions you will polish and reduce. It’s easier to cut than add, so spill your guts freely!

When you’re done with the first of the three subtopics you chose, go on to the next. Rinse and repeat until you’ve covered all your topics.

If you’re writing over a period of days, don’t go back and reread anything you wrote previously until you have all three of your subtopics covered. 

Then leave it alone for a few days. Your subconscious mind will continue to work on it in the meantime, and you won’t even realize it.

4. Write several more revisions

After you’ve let it rest a bit, sit down with your shitty first draft (or narration) and start cleaning it up, adding and removing and rewording things as you go. This is not a polish! It’s a quick cleanup to it makes some semblance of sense.

Taking breaks in-between, do several revisions. Each revision will get easier and faster. Simply reread everything from beginning to end, making tweaks, fixing flow, adding context, telling little stories, removing irrelevant stuff, etc.

Do each revision independently, from start to finish. Then leave it alone for a few hours, or a day. Or a week.

For my weekly blog posts (this one included) I’ll generally write three, sometimes four drafts before I say “it’s good enough, publish it already!” For an eBook, you’ll probably want at least eight to 10 drafts before you’re happy with it.

Right now I’m on draft two of this post, and it’s getting rather long. I’m already thinking in the next draft I’ll have to take major chunks out. We’ll see :).

5. Write the intro and outro

Now that the main content of your ebook is pretty much ready for prime time, you’ll need to add an introduction. This is a good place to tell your audience a little about yourself. Be personal; let them get to know you a little. Possibly explain why you wrote the ebook, or talk about how the concepts helped you in your life or business. It should flow well, and give a good intro to the content of the book.

At the end of the book, after the main content, tell them how they can contact you, work with you, or find your community. Don’t sell them anything, but give them something to do next. What if they have questions? Want more details? Don’t leave them hanging, tell them how to take the next step. Put a personal photo of yourself and add your signature there also.

At this point your content is basically done.  It’s a good idea to have someone read it to make sure it makes sense and flows well. If possible, find someone to read it who is part of your ideal audience.

6. Format the book’s content

The topic of book formatting is huge. I could create a whole book about it! (Hm… maybe I will.) But here are some basic guidelines:

  • Use lots of whitespace. 
  • Keep your sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Use a big font. Only one. Sans serif.
  • Use headers and subheaders, making them bigger and bolder than the rest of the text.

The best way to learn how to format a book is to download other books that cover similar topics and use them as examples or inspiration.

7. Design the book

This is by far the hardest part about making an eBook.

The easiest way to do this is to hire someone. You can find a reasonably priced graphic designer on Upwork or Fiverr. If you go that route, look at portfolios and reviews before making a selection. You should be able to get a good cover design (front and back) for about $50 or so. If you want to have a nice design on the inner pages as well (I recommend it), that might run another $20 or so.

If you don’t want to spend $70 you can get a free account on Canva and design your own book. If you’ve never done this before, be prepared to spend many hours of your time. Don’t underestimate this. I’m a pro and it still takes me 6-8 hours to design a book from scratch.  

If you’re a beginner expect it to take at least 20-30 hours to make it look good. If it takes you less than that, that’s awesome, kudos to you!

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Use your brand colors
  • Include lots of “white space”
  • Keep the graphics simple
  • Lighter is better than darker
  • Don’t color your copy (i.e. your text should be black on white, or at the very least dark on light.)

Look at other ebooks and use them for inspiration. My most popular ebook to date can be downloaded at if you want to check it out.

8. Generate Your PDF

Once you’ve got it all put together, export the entire book to a PDF file. This is the standard format for all downloadable ebooks.

Now you’re ready to start using your ebook to build your list. Congratulations!I’d be happy to review your new ebook and give you my critique.  Feel free to email a copy to and I’ll reply within 2 weeks (usually much less).

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