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How to assemble your existing writing into an ebook

A printed book beside an ebook reader

Let’s be honest: not all of us have a book in us. At least, not a book in the traditional sense. By that I mean a book that we write from scratch from beginning to end.

That shouldn’t stop you from self publishing an ebook, though. Whether you’re non-fiction writer who pens blog posts or articles or essays, or a fiction writer who crafts short stories, you proabably have the fodder for a pretty good book right in front of you.

Collecting your writing into an ebook isn’t (quite) a matter of slapping your work between digital covers and selling the result somewhere online. There’s a bit more work involved.

Here’s some advice that can help you collect your writing into an ebook.

Choosing the writing

Focus on the best or most popular examples of your work. Or both. That way, you’re bringing together the work you’re most proud of.

How do you determine what are the best or most popular examples of your work? Some of that could be instinct — you can usually know what’s your best work and what’s not. Also, isolate the writing that’s garnered the most views (if they were published online), which got the most comments, or elicited the strongest reaction from readers.

How much of your work you choose to collect is up to you. In 2016, for example, I published a collection of nine essays. I could have gone for more, but nine seemed like a good number.

Make sure you have the rights to your work

If you published the writing that you want to use in your book on your blog or your website, or if they haven’t been published before, then you have nothing to worry about.

However, if any of what you’ve written has appeared in a print or online publication, contact the publisher. You’ll want to find out whether or not the rights they purchased allow you to use that work in something you want to publish. The few minutes it takes to make a call or send an email could save you a lot of hassle in the long run.

Organizing your writing

Your book should have some kind of structure. While it’s easy enough to just lump all those your writing together, that doesn’t work well. Unless what you’ve written is on a single topic or theme, your ebook will seem like a hodgepodge.

Instead, think about dividing your ebook into distinct sections or chapters. Those sections or chapters group your writing by topic. For example, in the collection of essays I mentioned earlier, I grouped the essays into three sections: Thoughts About Technology, Travelogues, and Ideas and Opinions.

You can also group your writing in the order:

  • You wrote them
  • In which they were published

If you take one of those routes, you might want to consider writing a short introduction to each essay. In his collections of non-fiction, Harlan Ellison often includes what he terms interim memos before each essay. Those memos give the essay some context — whether historical or personal. Ellison has also been know to include reactions to his essays in those memos.

Reworking your writing

This isn’t essential for everything that you bundle together. But there will be pieces of writing that you may want to edit or rewrite. Why do that? To:

  • Update them with new information
  • Fix any typos you might have missed the first time around
  • Remove passages that don’t quite work
  • Add bits you removed because they would have taken you over your assigned word count

Some (maybe more than some) of the work you’re putting in your book are related. Reworking them lets you add segues and links between them. That gives readers a better sense of continuity and flow.

Write an introduction

I believe that an introduction to your ebook is a must. It orients the reader, and gives them an idea of why 1) you wrote what you wrote in the first place, and 2) why you’ve collected everything together into an ebook.

The introduction doesn’t have to be long — two to three pages is often enough. What you include in that introduction is up to you. For example, the introduction to the essay collection I mentioned is a short essay in itself explaining how and why I got back on the essay-writing horse.

Pulling together your best writing is a quick way to create an ebook. There definitely is some additional work involved, but that work is worth it. Especially if it means your writing reaches a wider audience.

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