Storytelling

How to Decide If Your Idea Should Be an E-book or a Blog Post

We all like to feel affirmed, right? I certainly do. That’s partly why I like Nicola Brown’s article on the role of a content marketer so much. Her description of my job elevates it beyond copy-editing Powerpoint decks. Her piece for the Content Standard argues, “Proofreading’s important, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg,” which is music to my ears.

Her article describes how an editorial background can infuse useful values into a content marketing strategy, pointing out that most writers who’ve worked at independent publications are trained to produce content that’s free of clichés, narratively engaging, and universally readable. Best of all, she makes this argument in 1,400 words. Though I appreciate her argument, if it were expanded into a different format with more words, she might start to lose her audience.

That’s the thing about additive content—piecing together small bits of content like articles into something more substantial, like an e-book. It only works if your blog post is the tip of an iceberg. In Brown’s case, her argument is just a really well-shaped piece of ice, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Content marketers are often on the hunt for ways to adjust and repurpose their most successful projects. So how do you know if your idea is worth an e-book or a blog post?

When to write a blog post

Blog posts can be op-eds, news analysis, listicles, reportage, case studies, Q&As, profiles, or trend pieces. There are a million ways to fill that space, though an ideal range probably spans 400 words to 1,500 words. There are some cases, depending on the complexity of a topic, when 2,000 words makes sense. Anything longer than 2,000 words has become its own category of “longreads” (excuse the Orwellian term). Those pieces of content tend to be feature stories that require diligent reporting and research that could belong in a print magazine.

Let’s say you have an idea and you’re not sure where it belongs. Is your idea just a hot take on Facebook’s latest algorithm changes? Is it timely news analysis on a new report about emoji usage? Not every e-book has to be perfectly evergreen, but you shouldn’t stall your team to put together a long-term project that will feel dated by next quarter.

Consider your resources as well. If your design team isn’t available to add illustrations or graphics for an e-book, perhaps they’re willing to break up the art into chunks and release your idea as a series of blog posts. If you’re still in the early stages of developing an audience, your series of blog posts can help advance your SEO and give potential a reason to keep coming back.

Additive content can also provide a nice little runway for launching an e-book down the line. If a blog post or two takes off, engagement metrics can give you the proof you need to justify further investment.

When to write an e-book

Deciding which ideas merit their own e-book can be trickiest of all. It’s not just a matter of deciding how many words you need to make a point. To download an e-book, your audience needs to hand over contact information, and if a customer gets partway into your e-book and regrets giving you their email address, then you’ve effectively put a lot of time and energy into damaging your relationship with your audience.

The general consensus is that an optimal e-book starts around 2,500 words, but some go all the way up to 15,000 words. (For reference, most publishers consider a work of fiction to qualify as a novel if it’s between 50,000 and 110,000 words.)

Imagine your e-book’s readership the way you might plan for a house party. Don’t announce a party if you suspect only a handful of people will come—there’s nothing worse than a “party” that’s just three strangers in a room eating chips.

If the potential readership is waiting for your e-book, conduct some research on how you’ll prepare for the launch. I personally had no idea how much analysis is necessary before a book comes out until I read Shane Snow’s plan that started a full year prior to his publication date. He broke his potential audience into segments and analyzed their reading patterns, used Docalytics to track where his editors were getting bored, set goals, and brainstormed ancillary content he could publish to encourage people to buy his book. An e-book and a non-fiction book are different beasts. But if that process sounds much more complex than what you had in mind, consider the idea that you’re not yet prepared.

Finally, consider the content itself. An e-book isn’t really the best venue for thought leadership, although you can certainly weave that in. Data-based research like an independent study is more likely to satisfy audience expectations. Think of your e-book as a product with a price tag that says “give me your email address.” Then ask yourself whether the average member of your audience will believe it was worth it after they finish reading. If someone turns away disappointed from a blog post, the residual damage will fade after a few days. But if someone gives you their private information and feels duped by the content, that regret could last forever.

Ultimately, if you suspect you have an idea worth a long-term feature project like an e-book, your idea deserves to be vetted by all sides before you commit. Err on the side of caution. Sometimes the negative impact of publishing a half-baked idea outweighs the potential success of adding an email address to your list.

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