E-Book Outsourcing: Is it Right for Small Business Owners?
This guest post was contributed by Charles Dearing, a freelance tech writer and webhost expert who keeps tabs on all the latest hosting news and follows popular webhosts such as Hostmonster.com.
Running a business takes so much time, energy and capital that there is often little if any resources to spare on projects such as ebooks. Yet some projects are vital to the continued growth of your company.
If you have identified the distribution of a free e-book as a means of list-building, but simply do not have the time to write it yourself, is outsourcing the ebook an option? It is possible, even for a solo entrepreneur, but it takes some thought and planning.
Public Reaction to a “Ghost-Written” eBook
“Ghost written” is a provocative, even pejorative term, evoking “as told to” books by ditzy Hollywood types. Why should you join that crowd, you think?
Ask yourself: did you personally install the electrical wiring in your office? If you don’t have a strong background in web design and production, did you write the HTML and Java code for your company’s website? Do you have – or have you considered having – a fulfillment company warehouse, pack and ship your product(s) off-site from your location?
Outsourcing the writing of a work can be considered in the same context.
If you have an e-book written to your specifications, it is very much your book: intellectually, ethically, and certainly legally. This process is so common, in fact, that there is even a legal term for it: work for hire. The writer does not even have to have his name on the title page. Most professional writers accept this and do not have a problem with lack of public credit.
Planning Your eBook
Let’s assume that your company sells hand-crafted briar tobacco pipes. It’s a high-end, lucrative subset of the online tobacco/smoking market. It requires developing a customer base that either already understands and desires these pipes, or educating pipe smokers who might want to “step up” to your market. So, you want to create a free e-book on tobacco pipes to promote your company and expand your customer list.
When planning this book, you should consider:
Scope: Should the book discuss the history of all tobacco pipes? Just briar pipes? Do you want to go back to the 19th century, or just concentrate on contemporary pipemakers? The book might showcase famous pipe designers (such as Achille Savinelli), or describe the various styles (shapes) of briar pipes.
Audience: Do you want to speak just to current fine briar pipe users/collectors, or do you want to market to those who might become new fine pipe buyers? Do some research on your target audience before you decide.
Size: What word count do you feel would adequately cover the subject? Since you are not yet working with a writer, you will probably have to guess at this stage.
Cost: Establish a budget, not only to cover the cost of writing, but graphics, design and production (particularly if you plan to offer CD copies as well as downloads).
Deadline: Since the book is directly tied to promotion of your products and your company, you may want to coordinate the release date of the e-book to a particular date. Perhaps the 5th anniversary of your company, Father’s Day or Christmas. Leave some wiggle room, but by all means set a deadline.
What Will This Cost?
Ideally, you will arrive at a price that doesn’t break the bank and doesn’t compromise on the quality of the writing and the content.
If you instruct a new writer who has only minimal commercial experience, they are most likely to be cheaper. Whilst you may end up with what you want, it is also quite possible that the quality will disappoint.
If you stretch the budget and go for a well-known writer, you may have to sacrifice the volume of content to stay within your price range. There may also be delays in completing the project due to their stretched workload.
If you expect to pay $100 for a 5,000 word e-book, you might as well give up now. It’s not going to happen. Figure a minimum of 8¢ up to 50¢ per word. So, for a 5,000 word e-book, figure $400.00 to $2500. That includes research, writing and editing and possibly some re-write.
Find a Writer
Finding a writer is not as difficult as it might seem. If an e-book published by another company has impressed you, contact the company and ask if they’d be willing to put you into contact with the writer. If you search the internet, there are writers’ brokers, bureaus or agents which can put you in touch with professional writers. There are many, many writers who can do a professional job, but keep in mind that you are looking for particular features in a writer:
Experience: Does the writer have a track record of having written for publication? Ask for samples of his or her writing.
Research: Is he willing and able to do the necessary research to write an original, solid, interesting book?
References: As for and contact publications or companies for which the writer has worked. Find out if he has a good reputation for working well with their clients and is willing to write to the client’s specifications. Most importantly, does he meet deadlines?
Availability: Just because you want a particular writer does not mean that he is willing or able to work for you. Provide the information from your plan (subject, scope, audience, size and deadline) and find out if he is willing to take on the project. If he is enthusiastic about the subject, great, but even if, for him, it’s just another job, make sure that he will be committed to the project in a professional manner.
Fee: A good freelance writer is not doing this for the glory or for Art. It’s a specialized job which requires talent and experience, but he is writing to make a living.
Working With an eBook Writer
Agree upon terms up front, setting out all the details. Yes, that means a contract. It doesn’t have to be drafted by a lawyer, but it should be clearly written and detailed. The points that must be covered include:
Description of the project (“A 5,000-word work on 20th century briar tobacco pipe designers and artisans.”)
Ownership: As a work-for-hire, your company will own all rights. That means that you will own the book out-right; you can edit, change, publish, give away (or sell) copies without any further claim by the writer to the work.
Writer’s responsibilities: The author promises that the contents will be factual, original (not plagiarized) and not libelous of any individual, group or company. (Note, however, that as publisher, you are ultimately responsible for all of these, despite any promises by the writer.)
Fee and payment: Flat fee or per-word? A deposit with balance upon acceptance? Decide what is most comfortable for you, but be prepared to negotiate.
Deadline: Write in a first-draft look about two-thirds of the way through, so you can see where the project is going.
At the first-draft stage, read the manuscript (with the understanding that it is a first draft) and offer suggestions. Upon delivery, you might be surprised at some directions the writer has taken, but these will often be pleasant surprises. He may have discovered an angle or an approach you hadn’t thought about. That’s why you hired a professional writer in the first place.
Hiring a writer to create an e-book that will have your company’s name on it can be a nerve-wracking, risky and expensive venture. But it has great potential for creating a marketing piece that will provide great value to your company.
And, by the way, the proper term is “commissioned,” not “ghost-written.” You commission a book. It sounds very Medici that way.
Have you ever commissioned an eBook or other written work? If so, how did it go? Let me know in the comments section.