How I turned blogs into a book in just five days

Earlier this year I decided to create my second ebook. Rather than making something from scratch like my first one, I was interested in seeing if I could take a series of blog articles I'd already written and turn them into a book for sale. I saw it as an experiment I could learn from and a space to try out some ideas. I'm a believer in always experimenting and you might be able to learn from how I went about doing it, as there were no specialist expensive tools involved.

I had a series of articles in mind that I had written over the previous six months about iPhone app usability. It took 10 well-recognised principles of usability written a while ago and updated them by using lots of modern iPhone app examples (and reducing them to 9 principles in the process). The idea came about because I had started doing some UX work on iPhone apps, which I didn't have much experience in, so I used the blog writing as research and also evidence of my new knowledge in the area. Pulling the blog articles into a book made sense as they were a linked series and someone could read it and pick up app usability from scratch.

The final product is called 9 Principles of iPhone App Usability and comes in at 97 pages. Read to the end if you want to know the future of this book (and like a good discount code).

Note: five days assumes 8 hours per day and in my case they were actually spread over two months. Bit if I had a straight clear week it would be possible to do it in one go...

Preliminary – blog writing

Tools: Notes app

Obviously this is about turning blog articles into a book, so the articles needed to be written first. I wrote them over the period of about 6 months, putting one out to my mailing list every 2-3 weeks, in between writing about other UX topics. In each case I introduced the principle and then found at least 3 real life examples of apps to demonstrate it. Some of them were picking up a fair bit of traffic on my site, which made me think there could be some interest in bundling them together.

If you're interested in the timing for this, I probably spent about 4 hours writing and image editing per article (so 36 in total).

Writing articles on Notes app

Initial design – 4 hours

Tools: Keynote

I started the process of book creation by deciding what software to use. As it was going to be an ebook I considered using iBooks Author as I had previously, but I found it didn't offered much more than the likes of Keynote. Intrigued by the possibility of just using Keynote I set about doing the first version of the book layout.

I find structure is the most important thing when defining a book. Having a clear one makes life a lot easier as you'll know what to write (and how much). In my case the 9 articles would each naturally represent a chapter of the book. The principle could be introduced on the chapter heading page, there could then be a section introduction to explain it further, followed by the examples with screenshots and text. The book would then be top and tailed with an introduction and conclusion to explain the original usability principles and the purpose of the book.

I knew it was going to be a mostly visual book with lots of examples and I wanted the text to appear alongside the app screenshots for added context, so I opted for a landscape layout. I set my document up to be the same size as a standard (if there is such a thing) landscape monitor or tablet screen and set to work. I came up with initial styles for the chapter heading pages, the text-only pages, and the example pages. I knew I would refine them later but wanted the layouts early on to help define the amount of text required.

Early version of book in Keynote

(Re-)writing – 12.5 hours

Help: copying/editing

This part actually started with getting my brother (he was in-between work at the time and needing income!) to go through all my existing articles and copy/paste the text and images into the Keynote doc to form the nine sections. If you don't have the help of someone else then add about 4 hours for this bit. This enabled me to see how consistent the chapters were and where there were gaps.

As the articles had been written over the period of several months, they had roughly the same structure but had evolved as I went through the series. The main part that was inconsistent was the introductions for each article, some were very short and some didn't exist at all. So one of the main jobs was rewriting all of these to fit on a single page and to help give proper context for each principle. I had initially aimed to have one example app per page (see image above) but this meant the text size was small and not easy to read on screens, so moved to spread the content out over two pages (see image below).

I tackled it chapter by chapter and actually ended up rewriting almost everything, because on second viewing I felt I could make it clearer. I also recaptured some of the screenshots to update them. If I was distraction-free, I found this kind of writing pretty quick as a lot of the thinking had been done. So each chapter only took 1-1.5 hours plus about 2 hours for the introduction and conclusion.

It was then time to send it out for checking/editing. This is a really important step as you can guarantee you will have made mistakes or not explained some parts enough. You don't have to use a professional but you do need someone with an eye for detail; I used my brother again as he's good with the written word.

Early designs and rewriting book in Keynote

Designing and glossary – 5 hours

Help: early reviewers

With all the content pretty much sorted, I returned to the page designs to improve them. The example pages just needed a bit of tightening up but I spent more time improving the chapter heading pages to be bolder and worked on improving the motif of the app icons/buttons.

As I wanted this to be accessible to beginners I created a glossary at the back to explain any technical terms that came up. I had flagged some that I thought needed to be there and got my brother to do the same when editing. Using Keynote it was easy to link the words in the book to the relevant point in the glossary.

Also at this stage I sent the book over to three fellow designers to get them to review and sense-check it. They came back with a few changes and a few more words to add to the glossary.

Writing glossary for ebook

Videos – 6.5 hours

Tools: QuickTime, iMovie

One of the key things I've learned when selling my own products is not to just offer a single option. By offering more than one you make people more likely to buy as you increase the chance there's something to suit them. When selling info products like this the thinking goes that the more work you do for the customer, the more they'll pay. For example a book tells people information and costs x but an interactive video course actually shows them and costs 2x.

However this was a quick experimental product without too much time for something more advanced. I was also interested in trying just two options with an upgrade that was only a little bit more expensive (rather than three quite different tiers of pricing). So for the upgraded version I simply recorded screencasts of me talking aloud through the chapters of the book. This way it could act like an audio book and also a presentation of the content, as if watching a class/talk.

This was simply a case of using the free QuickTime app on my Mac to record the screen and my voice as I went through it and then iMovie to edit out the mistakes and pauses. These were exported as an mp4 for each chapter, ready to be sold.

Video of book chapter

Sales page – 7 hours

Tools: my website, Convertkit, Gumroad, Pay with a Tweet

With the book nearing being done, I could turn my attention to the launch tasks. The first task was to write the copy for the sales page. I followed the template that worked well for my first book: establish a problem; explain my solution; break down what's in the book; offer buying options; FAQs; information about me. The most time was certainly spent on getting the top copy working.

I then turned this into a page on my site, mainly following my previous template (as I was looking to keep things simple). I tend to code mine by hand (on ExpressionEngine) as I'm comfortable with it and like the flexibility but there are plenty of landing page tools or templates out there. I added a few images to show the thing off and make it clear it was a book. I also set up the email form so people could sign up to get a sample chapter, something that is pretty quick and easy to do using my mailing list provider, Convertkit.

Most importantly I needed a way for people to buy the product, for which I used the elegant and simple Gumroad. Essentially you just upload your files, write a description, and set a price. You then take the embeddable button and put that in the relevant place on your site. They then take care of payment in a pop-up window and supplying your customers with access to the files.

I was also intrigued to try out something new for launch day, using 'Pay with a Tweet' to build a bit of momentum. The idea being that the first ten users would get a big discount if they tweeted about the book on the day of launch, which would help spread the word. I set up the tweet and defined that the destination URL would take them to a simple page on my site, which had a promo code on it. I added the promo code to Gumroad so it would work. Top tip: with big discounts use a promo code that looks random so users think they are getting something one-off that can't be shared. I had a countdown on the site showing how many were left of the ten discounts, which I simply changed manually on launch day.

iPhone book sales page

Promo and launch – 6.5 hours

Tools: Facebook ads

I wrote and sent three emails for my mailing list for the launch period. I had already trailed it in previous weeks before sending the launch email about the book being on sale. I gave all users a 20% discount for the first few days, giving a reason to email again to tell them that the discount was ending. I also re-messaged those that didn't open the first email, trying a new title and simpler copy.

I set up a page on Product Hunt, which is fairly reliable at driving clicks. On top of this I pushed it on a few web design and UX link sites and of course tweeted about it.

Finally to keep momentum up at the end of the launch period I thought I'd test out using Facebook ads. The main work here involved setting up a Facebook page for my business and creating an ad image. I only spent a couple of hundred pounds and it sent through a few interested people but I'm not sure a sales page is the best thing to land people on as their first experience of a site. My bigger annoyance was that the clicks Facebook were charging me for were massively overestimated compared to what I was seeing on Google Analytics and Convertkit. I have my doubts about how much to trust their system.

Twitter promo card


The speedy process worked and I ended up with a book I was proud of, proving it can be done for a fairly small amount of work. However sales have tailed off since launch (a common pattern) and more importantly iPhone app design is no longer a topic I write about. I'm in the middle of re-focussing this website on evidence-based design and ecommerce advice, to better fit the work I do and to help me to do fewer things better. Websites have a habit of growing over time and need pruning if you're to stay on top of the maintenance as a one-man band.

As a result have now retired this book from sale in September 2016. However if you're particularly keen for this information, give me an email and I'll see what I can do...

Published on 20 September 2016

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