A journalist's guide to eBook publishing – part one

Starting today, I’ll be bringing you a three-part series of instructions on how you can create your own eBook. Why an eBook? Because eBooks are one of the few online media where consumers have accepted widely a paid content revenue model, unlike on the Web itself. If you’re looking to diversify your revenue sources – and, as a journalist entrepreneur, you should be – paid content through eBook sales should be part of your business model.

Before I begin though, let’s remember that just because people are paying to buy eBooks online provides no guarantee that anyone will pay to buy your eBook. You’ll still need to find an information need and meet it with the content of your book, and support it with vigorous promotion to your target audience. Ebooks might have taken physical printing and distribution out of the publishing equation, but every other element of the publishing process remains. Overlook any of them, and you’ll find yourself wasting the time and money you do invest in your eBook publishing effort.

So let’s start in the same place that every book starts – with the concept. As a news publisher, you should have a wealth of content available to you from your existing work. But what of all that’s now on your website would someone pay to read as an eBook?

That’s the first question to ask yourself as you plan your eBook publishing strategy. My advice? Find the most beloved content on your site – the series, topic or writer that readers most often forward to others, copy and paste to other sites, and keep coming back to visit days, weeks and even years after it’s disappeared from your site’s front page.

In other words, find the type of stuff that people in past generations would have clipped out of the paper and saved for themselves. Think of the eBook as your collection of those clips, handily delivered to their eReader, smart phone, tablet or computer for a modest fee.

But merely assembling a collection of clips won’t be enough to unlock the full commercial potential of your work. Remember, you’re changing media here. Writing, editing and formatting that work best in a daily article or website post aren’t the same as those which work best in a book. Be prepared to put your work through a tough re-edit for the eBook edition.

Think about how you’ll organize your work for the eBook, in order to create the most compelling narrative for your readers. Do the items you are including best hold together chronologically, or thematically? Or is there a dramatic arc within the pieces that requires you to bend chronology and blend themes to allow that arc to emerge?

Remember also, as much as this might offend some journalists’ notions of objectivity, really great stories that resonate with audiences often require heroes and villains, too. While that’s not a requirement for popular narratives (you tell me the heroes and villains in a “Seinfeld” episode, for example), if heroes and villains are present in your narrative and your newsroom stubbornness is keeping you from allowing them those roles in the book, you are weakening the book for your audience.

Issue such as these are why it’s important to select a topic or theme for which you have an impressive amount of material. You might end up tossing quite a bit of what you thought you had because you discover that it doesn’t rise to the level of inclusion an eBook, after you’ve given it a fresh, hard read.

Do remember that in the eBook world, your content need not be plain text, or even just plain text and images. You can include video (within some restrictions) and hyperlinks within your eBook, too. Hyperlinking, especially internal hyperlinking to other sections of the book, can provide additional value to readers seeking additional detail or cross-references beyond what you could have provided in a traditionally linear book narrative.

You might have noticed at this point that I haven’t yet written much about eBook formatting or the technical details of eBook publishing. That’s because those don’t come into play until after you’ve spent many, many hours thinking about the subject of your book, then selecting, editing, writing and rewriting, producing and re-producing the material you will include within it.

I’ll write about the techie steps in my next piece. One tease: Those of you who learned to hard-code HTML are about to be rewarded.

Next: A journalist’s guide to eBook publishing – part two

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at http://www.sensibletalk.com.


  1. I look forward to reading the next parts. While some of the formatting and technical issues can be challenging, e-books are such an easy, powerful way to reach audiences that everyone should be writing one!

    I have found success with writing and selling e-book camera guides, and I just completed an e-book about how to create, publish, market, and sell e-books called The E-Book Handbook. I hope you’ll have a look at it!

  2. Robert, thank you for such a good explanation. I’ve never thought about eBook this way and as a result I didn’t know about the benefits from using it.