Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

How To Create An Ebook (or Manifesto) That Will Go Viral

100,000 sounds like a pretty good number of downloads for an eBook, don’t you think?

One. Hundred. Thousand. And counting.

That’s the number of downloads my first free eBook reached earlier this year. Would you like to know how to get that many downloads or more for your next eBook?

Creative Commons by Kenny Matic

Let me first explain what “going viral” means to me.

Viral means to have people care enough about your work to share it.

Click here to tweet that.

Is that what you want?

If so, then I’ve got some news for you.

There’s no secret formula to creating a viral eBook.

Here’s what matters

The most important elements to creating a free eBook that goes viral are to make it relevant and unique, something that stands out.

What I am talking about is writing a book that matters.

And by matters I mean people who read it will tie an emotional value to it, relate to it, i.e. that it is relevant to their situation or life and it peaks their interest.

The higher the emotional value the more likely it is that they will talk about it, share it and refer others to your blog for similar content.

Your eBook doesn’t have to be superbly written (although it helps), many eBooks that have gone viral aren’t (this drives elitists crazy), and the same goes for songs and other media as well. As long as it expresses an idea that you are passionate about sharing with others, the writing does not need to be technically perfect.

It must matter to you

It’s about creating something that truly matters to you first!

I’m sure you’ve been told countless times to write for your reader, to make it about them and I agree.

But if you are not passionate and do not care about the subject then do not expect your readers to care either. This one point alone is what confuses so many people who thought they wrote the next “Idea Virus”.

Consider for a moment something that truly matters to you. It might be wonderful and fun or it might be terrifying, but whatever it is, you are passionate about it.

I bet you just thought of something, and if that idea scares you a little, that’s good. It’s a start.

It’s the emotional connection we are looking for and if it excites you and even frightens you a little, then you’re probably closer than you think to an idea that has the possibility of going viral (or at least worthy enough that people will remember who wrote it).

Once you have the idea the key is to put your own personal spin on it or perhaps teach something about a concept from your own unique perspective.

So here’s the tip I have for you about creating something with the highest likelihood of going viral:

Create an eBook that people will care about after they’ve read it.

Click here to tweet that, too.

If you can do that one thing, the odds of it going viral increases considerably.

You can write that eBook. I know you can and I would love to read it.

It’s about you, not just the reader

But keep in mind that the key is for you to care about it first. This guarantees nothing, of course. But it does give you the greatest opportunity.

What do you care about? What do you like to read about, research, or study in your spare time? What is so much on your mind that you cannot wait to write about it in your journal just to see where it will lead or what you will have to say?

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say.

~Sharon O’Brien


Let’s get back to my first eBook. 100,000 is an enormous number of downloads.

However, I was freaking terrified of total unmitigated rejection when I released it to the public.

Oh boy, let me tell you, I was petrified that no one would care, much less read and share it.

It took me months before I was brave enough to check back with the websites where I had uploaded it and when I did, I was shocked and amazed.

Below is a screen shot of only one site. (I mean, gee wiz, I didn’t even have a professional cover and it had over 40,000 downloads already.)

How did this happen?

1) I wrote about something I deeply care about.

2) I listened to my subscribers and realized there were several issues that were quite common amongst us.

3) I noticed we like to make fun of ourselves in relation to the subject, but at the time it was too taboo to make fun of it so it was kind of an inside joke among my readers and me.

4) I understood I needed to lighten up about my struggles and what better way to do that than to write about them with a light-hearted twist of humor. No one had done that yet with my subject matter and certainly not written a book and given it away for free.

5) Hold my breath and ship.

 So let’s break this down:

1) Passionate about the subject.

2) Found relationships between the subject, myself and my readers.

3) Did what no one else had done before by creating a humorous book about the subject and giving it away.

4) I shipped, uploading it to every site I could find that would allow free downloads, including peer to peer, social networks and even Usenet. I can verify clicks on most sites, but I have no idea how many people emailed it or downloaded it from sharing networks.

5) It wasn’t do or die. I had no idea if anyone would download and read it, but I wanted to put it out there to see what would happen. A bonus to all of this is that now humor is being used more often to teach people about ADHD and how to manage the symptoms, which is a testament to taking a risk that I thought was worth taking.

Advantages of a free eBook

1) Generosity is appreciated and it feels good.

2) If it goes viral so does your name and what you are about.

3) You reach more people by having something which is easy to share (see 2).

4) Most authors are afraid of giving something away for free, they want to be paid for their work (and put food on the table). That’s understandable, but in today’s marketplace that puts them at a disadvantage because people like to sample who you are and what you are about. An eBook provides that.

5) If you want, you can write an extended edition and sell it later. You can even sell the free eBook if you want. Bootleggers uploaded my free eBook to Amazon and it became a bestseller. It took some work, but I got Amazon to take it down! That was eyeopening.

*10 Things I Hate about ADHD is no longer available for download on any of the sites I uploaded it to (only peer to peer or Usenet, once they are on those it’s out of your control). Several years have passed since I first published it and I have since decided to write an extended edition that will be published to Kindle, hopefully next year. With my latest free eBook “Good Enough” becoming so popular I may eventually write an extended edition of that, too.

I’ve published over a half dozen free eBooks and each time I worry about the latest not being good enough. Somewhere inside I find the will to publish anyway, because what I write about matters so much to me that if no one else cares, well, at least I do.

As it turns out, when I write about something I care about deeply, I’m actually writing for a lot of other people, too.

Now it is your turn

So tell us, what idea do you have for a viral eBook? Share in the comments.

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • Amazing.

  • Another encouraging post, Bryan. My husband is a cancer survivor (19 years now) and I’ve often thought about writing a book from the perspective of the spouse. Someone once said to me there are two types of cancer survivors – those with the disease and the caregivers. Although I’m concentrating on writing fiction right now, your post encourages me to think again about my idea.


    • I think there’s clearly a group of potential readers for your eBook. Once you’ve written it, the next step is to find the places where they are most likely to find it. Bless your heart!

  • Great and inspiring post. I was wondering if you had a recommended length for a free ebook. Some are so short it seems more like an extended blog post, but I was wondering what was considered average. Thanks!

    • Actually, Johanna, a lot of bloggers do exactly that. However, I don’t think your going to find a ‘perfect’ average number of pages. Some say the shorter the better and some say they need to be longer. I say it matters that you deliver your message and how long or short it is doesn’t matter as much as that.

  • Perfect timing, Bryan! Thanks for the encouragement!  You answered many questions I’ve been pondering with regards to the construction of my Determinedsol Manifesto.  My core belief being that focusing on a determined, humble approach to life can enrich our lives with intense passion to inspire the world to help others; through my struggles come life lessons to brighten souls! 

  • Maria Morgan

    Love this Bryan! Way to go! You’ve inspired me as I pursue launching my first free eBook (available in January). God bless!

    • Awesome, Maria!! Let me know when it is available, I look forward to read it.

  • When your extended version of Ten Things comes out I am buying it, I have lots of friends who deal with ADHD students. Plus, all my friends deal with me and that alone qualifies them for a copy of the book.  When? How much?

    • lol – that’s great, Marilyn. Stay tuned, I’m not sure on the answers just yet.

  • annepeterson

    Just read this now. Needed to read it. I’m wondering how I would go about finding those sites you mentioned where others could download my ebook. And, are these sites only for free ebooks. I was thinking of having it free for five days, or whatever that time frame is, and then having a low price on it. I’m getting closer, Bryan.

    • Anne, this has been asked a lot lately. I’m going to create a reference post to all the free eBook sites that I know of. Btw I think you can make your eBook free on Amazon for a certain time, then create a price point. I have not done it yet, but I think Jeff Goins wrote about that. Might want to ask him. Bests.

  • Great Post! Bryan, I love the way you write. You’re depth behind your words is evident. Solid and hard hitting. Thanks!

  • Kendra Burrows

    What a great article! Thanks.

  • Susan Lower

    I’m looking forward to reading your book when it comes out. ADHD is something very real in my own family and I’ve written about it on my own blog. I’ve thought about writing an ebook to giveaway, but had the same fear as you mentioned above of someone bootlegging it. I also wondered what they typical word length is of an e-book?

    • I don’t know if there’s a typical length for a free eBook. If it delivers on its promise that’s more important, short, long or in-between. My shortest eBook is by far my post popular. My advice is not to worry about bootleggers, it’s just not worth it and will hold you back from doing what you want to do. Although, I admit, dealing with them is a pain! The new book should be out in May or June, maybe sooner. 🙂

  • I’ve published my first e-book on Amazon, a horror novel called ‘Sweet’. A free version is on this website. http://www.protagonize.com/story/sweet-1

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