How to Write an E-Book That Generates Leads

iStock_000015472610SmallI was speaking to a client the other day who joked, “E-books are the new white papers.” He was kidding, of course. He knows all too well there are significant differences between e-books and white papers, and even e-books and free reports.

That being said, there’s no ignoring e-books. They are all the rage these days, especially in lead-generation where they are working particularly well.

So how do you write one of these things?

The first step is to come up with a topic. People read e-books offered by companies because they want a quick education on something specific. They want to learn how to solve a problem, complete a task, make the right decision, deal with a difficult situation, improve sales performance, reduce costs, and so forth.

And your topic needs to reflect that expectation.

When I’m working with a client on an e-book, the first question I ask is, “What’s the most pressing problem your prospects have that your product or service can solve – or at least make better?” That typically leads to some focused brainstorming and then, finally, a topic.

Your best topic – if you’re fortunate enough to come up with several – is one that involves a problem, need, goal or want that is a high priority for your prospects. You want the e-book to be content a prospect will eagerly fill out a landing page form to get his hands on.

For example, a complaint I hear from clients who write their own marketing copy is that the process is slow and painful. As one client put it, “It’s like a visit to the dentist. It’s agony and it seems to take forever.” So I’m planning an e-book on how to write copy super fast and actually enjoy the process.

Once you’ve chosen a topic the next step, of course, is writing the e-book. If you’re accustomed to crafting white papers and special reports, here are some differences you need to know.

  • Get to the point quickly. You don’t need an executive summary as you would in a white paper. Simply state the problem or goal and then jump right into explaining “How to.”
  • Add visuals. Charts, pictures, illustrations, and infographics help readers – especially today’s busy business reader (and I’m one of them) — absorb information more quickly.
  • Use examples, scenario and stories. They bring the facts to life, and make the information – and your company – linger longer in the prospect’s mind.
  • Break it down. Create tips, step-by-steps, formulas, instructions, and takeaways that make it easier for the reader to implement the information.
  • Focus on how-to, not why-to. You might need to explain “why” in a white paper to build your case for a particular technology or methodology, but in an e-book, the reader just wants to know “how”. Another way to look at it: white papers are about strategy; e-books are concerned with implementation.

To enhance conversion rates – in other words, to get prospects to call or email with an interest in your product or service – I recommend adding a “pitch page”. This is a separate page, usually the last in the e-book, that describes your company.

Now a lot of companies get lazy here and simply insert a boilerplate blurb – similar to what you’d see at the end of a press release. What a waste! You can do so much more with this page. I suggest creating a special offer and including that as part of an inviting call-to-action. Also, include a client testimonial or two. The idea, of course, is to get the prospect motivated to take a clear next step.

For a client recently, I beefed up the pitch page on two e-books they were using for lead-generation, and increased their conversions by 62%. Clearly, this page is important!

So those are some basics on writing a lead-gen e-book for your company or client. If you have tips to share, please let me know. (I may be writing an e-book on the topic!)


  1. Thanks for the helpful article, Steve.

    • My pleasure, Laurel-Lea. Do you have any e-book writing tips to share?

  2. Excellent article. Many thanks.

  3. Thanks for the practical tips, Steve. You asked Laurel-Lea if she had any more tips to share, which made me think of one I use (actually, learned it reading Nancy Drew books as a kid) which is, towards the end but not at the actual end, tease what else you can tell them if they contact you (with Nancy Drew, it was the next mystery to be solved). Always leave them wanting more, even though they’ve just had a satisfying read (and have a lot more perspective than they did starting out-as you said in this post).

    • I used to read Hardy Boys! I really like that strategy, Jackie. The Nancy Drew technique.

  4. Visuals can be tricky in e-books, if we’re talking about something like Kindle format — that might be read on a mobile phone. Visuals are great in white papers or e-books in, say, PDF format, but even simple tables can be challenging to format for mobile or Kindle device reading.

    • That’s the problem with e-books, Will. There are so many kinds! The e-books I’m most concerned with are those used by companies for lead-generation. Rarely are they read in a Kindle (although sometimes they are.) Usually, the reader simply reads the PDF.

      Kindle-published e-books, however, are an entirely different beast. Yes, you need to be careful with visuals. I still use an old that renders images like an etch-a-sketch.

  5. Excellent article, as always! I’m giving a workshop for the local STC chapter next week on minimalism, and I thought about the techniques I teach when I read your article. Reduce prepositional phrases, use active verbs, fewer modifiers … all ways to “get to the point.” I am giving your contact info as a valuable source. Busy business readers don’t want to read Charles Dickens. 🙂

    • Wow, thanks Rebecca. I appreciate you spreading the word. I used to belong to the STC many years ago. Very professional group.

  6. Great piece, Steve. My only complaint is that I don’t get stuff from you often enough! I am quite keen on e-books and relish the chance to read and learn from the good ones. Like most people, however, I hate feeling “duped” by e-books that are mostly white space, large font, and minimal amounts of actionable content. I feel that quality trumps design and catchy visuals every time.

    • All good points, Bobby. I don’t like feeling duped by an e-book either, but it’s not because of white space and large fonts. I don’t mind those. What I don’t like are e-books that are thinly disguised pitches. As I say in the article, leave the pitch to the end. The main content of the e-book should be solid, practical information.

      As for hearing from me more often, I also post a “copy tip” every day on Twitter, and blog about copy and content on LinkedIn Pulse.

  7. In addition to its use a a lead generator, I find that a printed out e-book serves well as a “leave behind” for a lead that was generated in another venue. It is a value add to the person who you called on, but it is a personal touch that gets passed on to others in the office.


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