Want To Write An Ebook With The Authority of A Pro? Reset Your Attitude, Plan To Satisfy Readers’ Emotions, And Know What To Say First Before All Else
Writing your ebook like a pro, with force and authority, gets easier with time and practice. You have to give yourself long enough to acquire the skills, the knack and the nuance of writing naturally, and yet sounding forceful because of your powerful thought process.
When writing like a polished pro, it’s not so much about perfect grammar, stunning headlines, being a good copywriter, or having a journalistic background. All good writing qualities are important, but most important of all is to know your topic and your audience very well.
Added to that, we at Solohacks Academy, feel you have to find the fun in writing, and to find your “mojo”.
When you have to write a lot, day after day, writing elegantly had better become one of your joys. Reset your attitude, be empathetic with your audiences, and say the important things first. That’s the small secret to big writing.
1. Challenge the status quo and don’t be afraid to get controversial: be a “devil’s advocate” now and then
If you’d like to write in a way that’s different and memorable, you have to first ask yourself if you merely want people to read your content – or if you want people to read your piece and then get provoked to apply their own minds to the question. Then look around to see if you can have some fun playing the “devil’s advocate”, where you question all that you read or see around you with a cynical or even skeptical eye.
Playing “devil’s advocate” is to take an opposing viewpoint deliberately, or to raise an objection simply for the sake of argument. You do not actually have to believe what you are saying when you take a contrary stance. Just use an opposing point of view to raise some questions or objections. Argue against a point just in order to help generate a debate. This kind of “purposeful opposition” is a skill that calls for practice – but if you can use it well, it will give your readers insights from all sides of a question or issue. It may help understanding.
Some great ploys to use when playing the “devil’s advocate” can be these:
- Ask irksome or negative questions about a topic – they can help agitate and reassemble readers’ minds.
- Think of varied examples that oppose an argument, just to be able to show how these too are valuable ideas.
- Point out flaws in a solution, even if you are ultimately going to rally your “enlightened readers” to support the solution.
How does being controversial help your writing sound like a pro? It’s because you are ready to give people the 360-degree view yourself, without them having to feel like you are arguing just one side of a story. Rather than have your readers search for a contrasting point of view, a pro gives the full picture and then argues in favor of a topic, after furnishing his readers with the pros and cons.
2. Get in the habit of trying to see patterns of thought others don’t see: and learn to ask “why” five times
If you look around you, you will notice many people who are able to see patterns of thoughts in ways very different from most others. We often term such people as “creative”, as if creativity was a rare gift from birth. We don’t realize that creativity can be learned and it’s nothing but a different kind of thinking ability. The more you use those unused mental muscles, the more creative you will become. To begin getting creative you have to learn to juxtapose unrelated things together to see if you can see some way they can fit together. Kids do it all the time. Try it. It always works.
If you haven’t been using your creative muscles a lot, you may feel a bit rusty. There’a beautiful and simple method to get your creative juices flowing – and it’s become world-famous as the “5 Why Technique”.
What is the “5 Why Technique” and how does it work? Sakichi Toyoda, a Japanese industrialist, who was also the inventor, and founder of Toyota Industries, developed this “5 Whys Technique” around 1930. Toyota still uses it to solve problems today. The method is ultra simple. Whenever a problem occurs, or a topic has to be thoroughly analyzed, you have to drill down to its root concept or cause by asking “Why?” five times. New levels of insight into the issue develop as you ask each “Why?”
Here’s a simple example of how this can work for any ebook author – take any statement like, say, “95% of startup entrepreneurs fail at business”:
- 95% of startup entrepreneurs fail at business. WHY?
- Because they don’t have the persistence to go past the early delays. WHY?
- Because they expect quicker results than they are getting. WHY?
- Because they start with too little money for the long haul and run out of steam and become tense. WHY?
- Because they have a start-up budget but no running budget planned. WHY?
- Because they are unaware of how much to budget for running costs and for how long.
In this example, see how many layers there are to this topic of why so many startup entrepreneurs may be failing at business. These may not be the only reasons, but you do get a ladder of reasons if you stretch the topic any one way. Another person doing the same analysis may have his own “5 Whys”. Nevertheless, see how the topic benefits from the rich depth of reasons why failure besets so many eager startup ventures.
This is how pro authors enrich their writing – by drilling down into a subject till they discover layers of insights.
3. Look at subjects through many different emotional angles: look at things with others’ eyes and from others’ shoes
Here’s something very interesting you can do if you want to find refreshing new ideas on topics that have gone stale from tons of other people writing the same things about it. You just have to imagine the same topic through the eyes of eight people having eight different emotions as they read it.
It’s all in the emotionality. All experience is emotional. Different emotions beget different ideas. When you want a new look at an old problem, try wearing a different emotion for a moment and the whole topic will change to show up aspects you never saw before.
You may also wonder why I’ve stressed both – looking at topics through different people’s eyes, and then also from others’ shoes. This is because I think when different people see an issue they see a set of emotions in themselves. Emotions are described as e-motions – the energy that drives people to motion or activity.
Some emotions are felt but never acted upon. Some others immediately galvanize activity. Thus, when you look at a topic from the eyes of different people you may feel their varied emotions. But when you then look at the same things from the shoes of others it tells you whether the emotions you initially felt were powerful enough to make you want to “walk the walk”.
Naturally, the emotions that make you act are more powerful than the emotions you merely feel, even if it is important to know how you feel. Authors, who are pros, have the ability to make readers not only feel emotions strongly, but are also able to create the urgency to act. They are able to change behavior by charging up the emotional state of the reader.
If you too aim to be a pro, writing your ebook with authority, you need to be an emotion-cum-behavior instigator. That’s when people will see the practical value of your ebook, because it helps them make action a part of their lives.
4. Break things and ideas apart mentally and put them back again differently: relearn the ways of young kids with disruptive curiosity
Most adults forget the joys of taking apart thoughts and re-assembling them differently. Kids do this instinctively. In fact, at kiddy age, playing with a toy and breaking it apart is the same thing. Till the kid knows what’s inside the toy, the curiosity is never satiated.
As we grow to adulthood, however, we lose this joy of disruption and destruction. I once read an article on how people hate to see a list that says: “Here are the main points in no particular order”. Arrangement, order, sequence, pattern … whatever you may call it, makes adults comfortable with the status quo. When “break-apart” stops being the adult’s mantra, learning also stops. Brain muscles grow lethargic, and the ability to absorb new ideas becomes dull – because new ideas challenge the neat order in the mind, frozen by years of keeping it that way.
So, one of the easiest ways to take someone else’s ideas and make something original out of it is to take it all apart, break the sequence, turn it all upside down, put it all in some other order and see what you get. Many pro authors grow their own mental muscles, and challenge those of their readers, by deliberately introducing a “break-apart-and-reassemble-the-pieces” approach. Audiences and readers love such writers because they do the dishevelling work for them (which feels too messy to do oneself), and then when they reassemble ideas into a new shape, a precious new insight may dawn that makes the reader’s mind feel cleansed and refreshed. Life begins anew from another perspective entirely.
This is one of the ways pro writers help people who read their writings. They allow the reader to vicariously go through the motions of the “break-apart-and-reset” technique without the reader having to toil over this kind of unpleasantness. A pro author is valued because he can be the “child” inside the adult, and indulge in disruptive curiosity on behalf of the adult, who will not give himself the permission to learn by destruction as he did in childhood.
5. Keep the language very natural as you write: this is the hardest thing to do when you think you have to write to impress
Natural language is key to a satisfying read for the reader of content. Imagine the nightmares we would all have with this kind of information overload we’re swimming in, if all of this content was written in the style of a heavy textbook on Mechanical Engineering. Write as you speak, let the tone be informal even if the points are heavy, and don’t throw it all out in huge chunks. Let the reader breathe every now and again, and stop to ponder a bit. Give satisfying pauses.
Actually, it sounds easy to just say “be natural as you write” but this is the part that most pro authors find really difficult to master. I once saw a picture of a fashion model dressed in “elegant rags” – tattered jeans, frayed shirts, and dirty keds, all adding up to a very expensive fashion statement. The headline read: “In the fashion industry it may cost a million bucks to try and look poor.” I thought of this analogy because some writers, to try and sound natural, labor so hard.
To be natural and “authentic”, writing must sound like speaking. When you speak, you don’t search for the “perfect word” or look up a thesaurus for a different way to say the same thing. You don’t sound stilted. You don’t sound like you’re writing a piece of flawless fine art. Spoken language accepts small faults, and glosses over them. In fact, it sounds natural because of its flaws.
If you really want to write like a pro, it helps immensely to learn the way Ernest Hemingway taught people to write. This great writer believed that language became hard to understand when it was full of overlong sentences, fluffy words, weak adverbs, and “passive voice”. He kept his sentences short and used simple but meaningful words. He shunted out several weak adverbs and used power verbs instead. He also changed all sentences to “active voice” to give them more energy.
Fortunately, today you have the Free Online Hemingway App where you can write – or copy and paste – your uppity language and get the app to suggest ways to pare it down to Hemingway’s standards. Believe me, I thought I was a “natural-sounding writer” till my writing got chastened roundly and soundly by the Hemingway App.
6. Let the headline evoke some emotion: 95% of your readers may only read your headline and react to it without the benefit of your copy
As a cub copywriter working at Ogilvy & Mather, the multinational advertising agency, it was my good fortune to attend a workshop with the great master David Ogilvy himself. Now, David Ogilvy had an oft-repeated dictum that “95% percent of the people read only your headlines.” Yet he also had another dictum that “Long copy ads work better than short copy ads.” The two edicts sounded like they were contradictory, so we cub writers asked him: “Why bother with long copy for ads, if 95% of the readers will not get past the headline anyway?”. His answer was an insight I’ll never forget. He said: “That’s because even if people don’t read the long copy, they will believe the business has enough to say about itself”.
Will people read every word of your ebook? Probably not. Speed reading courses teach how to skim through content by reading just the first lines of paragraphs to get the gist of where the writer is taking the writing. If the headline is everything, then the title of your ebook must do a smarter job of selling your ebook’s purpose than all of the inside pages put together.
Now how do you write a great title that works for your ebook as hard as the inside pages would, if they were fully read? Let’s see …
A lot of non-fiction ebooks are about personal or business growth, and so marketers may see titles as requiring to be a form of “logic to sell”. But nothing sells logic like emotion. So make sure the title of the ebook emphasizes a deeply felt emotion.
If you want to write about a concept that can help small businesses, you don’t talk of the merits of the concept, you talk of the change it can make to entrepreneurs’ lives. In a survey I read about recently, people were exposed to titles like “500,000 site visitors in just one and a half days!” Did they get awed by the number 500,000? No, they got all fired up by the “ease of life” that was hinted at in the “one and a half days”.
Moral of the story: Ebook titles are everything – and they work through emotion. But make sure you know which emotion pulls best.
7. Don’t sound either like a tabloid – or a PhD thesis: remember, the extreme ends of the writing spectrum are both dissatisfying
Writing an ebook is not just about offering valuable information or even interesting information. There is a type of content that subliminally annoys people, and a kind of content that feels satisfying to read. Satisfaction is a whole different emotion than curiosity or even need fulfilment.
Satisfaction, especially in the sense that makes meaning to readers of content, lies in the small things. The eye feels glad to be on the page, the mind finds assimilation easy, and the whole piece flows like casual conversation. The reader doesn’t have to backtrack to catch what was said, or get “interrupted” by a choppy layout, or have to hurdle mentally over passages that suddenly get pedantic.
Can you write for “reader satisfaction”? Sure you can … but you have to understand where writing sounds good enough to be of the “pro” class without becoming too loose or too tight. Pro-class writing avoids edginess of any sort, and prefers to be within the “golden mean”.
An important point to know about ebook content that is satisfying to the reader … neither style at the extremes of the continuum is comfortable to a reader. The frippery tabloid style of writing is as hard on the reader as the ponderous thesis style of writing.
Tabloid writers often feel compelled to “make a piece juicy” and the lumbering effort behind the seeming frivolousness shows itself up to the reader.
Similarly, writing too much detail, like in a dissertation, is very hard on target audiences, who (as we have heard), simply can’t cope with too much sideways travel along a topic.
8. Give the who, what, when, where, why and how: all-time great journalists have always known this secret and traded on it endlessly
No piece of content – whether for an ebook chapter or a blog post – is truly perfect without the five “Ws” and one “H” type of information. Human thirst needs to be given the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How, whatever else is given.
Journalists have known this secret for years and years. This is the perfect way to keep the eyeballs on your writing. Slake the thirst for information by giving all that is vital for information hunger first. Then get into the explanations.
Journalists also believe that if this order of information is maintained (i.e. if the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How are ideally be presented in that same order), readers find it even more satisfying, perhaps because they have a need for the Who before the Why, and the What before the Where.
When using this “Five Ws and One H” format, remember this. Try to get all of the 5W’s and H in one sentence, maybe two, if possible. An example would be an opening sentence for a chapter like this: “Entrepreneurs wanting to succeed in the next few years online, after Covid-19, had better use the current slack to perfect their working systems.” Here, if you notice, the whole argument you want to put out in the chapter is right there upfront. Later more detailed explanations can follow.
Let’s break it down: “(Who) Entrepreneurs (what) wanting to succeed (When) in the next few years (Where) online, (Why) after Covid-19, (How) had better use the current slack to perfect their working systems.”
Now, there’s one more principle that journalists use that may help your ebook writing immensely. We all know that people come to a new chapter with fresh interest, but as they read along, it may tax their slender attention spans and energy levels. So it’s good to follow the journalists’ “inverted pyramid” approach. That means that the most important information (5W’s and 1H) are in the first paragraph. Each succeeding paragraph includes less important information. Eventually, the chapter should pass the cut-off test, which means any number of the paragraphs could be cut off from the bottom of the chapter (after the lead paragraph) and it will still make sense.
9. Differentiate your writing for different readers: one set are your potential customers and another set are your peers
When you write an ebook, your potential reader audiences are not the only ones to impress. You also have to factor in your peers, whose reviews could make or break your book. You may need some of these peers to give you a foreward or a back-cover blurb, or give you backlinks from their sites or a shoutout on the social media. That’s why it is very “pro-style” to consider both audiences when you write.
For one set (your potential readers) you need your book to be “written down” in language, for those who may need less theory and more commonsensical, do-able lists of actions. For the other set (your peers) you need your book to be “written up” using language that satisfies their credentials and expectations of value and topic authority.
There are three points to keep in mind when executing your ebook writing separately for both groups:
The “content” part of the content has to be different. For peers, include a lot of expert quotes, facts, statistics, debates, trends, research findings, cutting edge predictions, etc. They need something in your ebook that surprises them because all of them may have done intensive reading themselves. For customers, include lots of bulleted lists, names and details of tools, process details, cheat sheet style delivery, and links to other sources of explanation.
The “language and vocabulary” of the content has to be different. For peers, you need to “up your style”. You need to sound like “one of them” rather than like an up-and-coming writer. Whereas, for reader-content, the process is in the reverse. Write down to the lowest denominator of the audience, so that the language and vocabulary is not daunting, the reading is easy, the instructions are clear and crisp, and there’s a lot of “hand-holding”.
The “tone-of-voice” of the ebook content has to be nuanced. This is a bit of a tough one to master. If you are a solopreneur, you need to wear two hats – and wear the authoritative tone-and-style versus the informal tone-and-style in tandem. If you practice at it a lot, and do an equal number of blog posts for both audiences, you will get into a tone-and-style eventually that can shift up and down a continuum.
Every ebook needs a fine balance of suitability for both beginner audiences or lay readers, as well as advanced readers or peers with market standing. It’s a tough ask, but over time, you acquire a style that works for both. Your writing, without losing its quality, learns to fluctuate happily between the simple and the advanced ideas.
10. Garnish with some influencer validations: before readers run off to look up other authors, add in their contra-opinions yourself
There is a human tendency that many established writers know well. It is that if you write an ebook, and are super-convincing as you do so, for a while the audience will feel energized and motivated. But soon the questioning side of human nature will begin to kick in. “Can everything here be the gospel truth?”, people will start asking themselves. “Are there other views that go against what’s said here?”, will be the second question.
People have a natural tendency to know what the flip side of the coin is. Pro authors know this, and so they make it their objective to give readers both – their own sides of an argument as well as the flip side – before readers run off to buy other ebooks that argue the point differently.
But in offering the flip side of any argument, it pays not to sound like you don’t know which side of the fence you are firmly on. So it’s an oft-used ploy to present the flip sides of your stance via the words and quotations of other great writers in your area of expertise.
Sometimes other writers you quote may back up your arguments, albeit with other persuasions than you have used. Sometimes, other authors may challenge your stance outright. It is a good idea to include many such “for-and-against” positions.
There’s one other point to keep in mind when you choose to include varied opinions from other thought-leaders in your ebook. Seeing other great authors named by you matters more than their quotations themselves. It’s not exactly what is said by the other biggies that makes your readers feel good, it’s the people who said that who make them feel good to be in such high-thinking company. Readers feel satisfied that they have heard many other voices that are important to hear.
Readers also see extra value in a book where the author quotes a lot from other great authors. The variety of opinion, all available in one place, is a big attraction. It may make readers feel like they are getting six authors for the price of one – so they don’t need to run around looking for other points of view in other ebooks that they need to buy.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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