In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I talk about writing stupid ebooks, how you can make the most of spreadsheets online, and much more.

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  • 0:58 – 1. Supplementary ebook materials
  • 7:32 – 2. Writing stupid ebooks
  • 9:02 – 3. Spreadsheets as magnets, resources, and products
  • 13:32 – Pick of the week

DPP041: Writing Stupid eBooks, Leveraging Spreadsheets, and More

Hi everyone, I’m Tristan Higbee, recording yet again in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and this podcast is all about the things I see and would like to see in the world of digital publishing, including blogging, ebook and video creation, podcasting, and other things relating to internet business and online marketing. You can find a full transcript of each episode of this show at

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Ok, I’ve got 3 topics to talk about today, so let’s get started.

1. Supplementary ebook materials

I’ve been reading a lot of books recently about long-distance hiking. I think I talked about it a bit in last week’s episode. In the last few weeks, I’ve read half a dozen of these books. They’re a lot of fun to read, but I keep finding myself pulling out my computer to do Google Image searches of places and even people mentioned in the books. While I respect any author’s attempt, whether successful or unsuccessful, to paint word pictures, I like seeing real pictures too, at least of things that are as photogenic as the mountains and trails that I’ve been reading about. Apart from just wanting to see pretty pictures, looking at photos of something that’s being described gives me an idea of the author’s writing style and the way he or she sees things. It’s a point of reference and comparison. For example, in one of the Appalachian Trail books that I read, the author talks about standing on one side of a valley and seeing a sheer wall of rock on the other side of the valley where the trail went up. I’m a rock climber and am always interested in seeing pictures of big walls of rock, so I looked up that area online and found that that hiker’s idea of what a wall of rock is and my idea of what a wall of rock is are two very different things. Once I’ve established something like that, I have a reference point that I can use to better relate to what the author is saying and trying to convey.

So now we get into the problem of logistics. It’s not practical to include a hundred photos in an ebook. The file size just skyrockets. But there are ways to get around that. What if the author of one of these long-distance hiking books said at the beginning, “Look, I would have loved to include a lot more photos in this book, but then the file size would have been massive and it just wouldn’t have been practical. However, I have set up a page on my website that is specifically for readers of this book, and it contains over a hundred photos (with captions) of the Appalachian Trail.” As a reader, I would be all over that. It would be especially awesome if in the book, for example, the author talks about meeting another hiker named John, and then next to that sentence, in brackets there would be the number 37. That means that you should go to that photo page that the author has set up and go to photo number 37 to see a photo of John. You could even link from the person’s name or from the number to that photo online.

By doing this, the reader gets a much deeper level of integration into the story. It’s almost an interactive experience, and I’d be much more deeply invested in the book and have a more positive connection with the book. On top of that, doing this as an author is a great way to get people to come to your website. It’s much more effective than just saying that they should come to your website so they can subscribe to your newsletter.

If you do this, I’m going to offer a word of caution, and that’s that any materials you separate from the ebook itself should be supplementary, not essential. If you buy a book about how to build a backyard greenhouse, you’re probably going to need to include some how-to photos in your book. People shouldn’t have to go to an external website just to fulfill the basic premise of the book. The book should be self-contained, and any additional material should just be that—additional.

Depending on how valuable your content is or how exclusive you want it to be, you could put the content behind password-protected pages. If your site runs on WordPress, you’re in luck because it’s easy to do. WordPress has built-in functionality for protecting individual pages with a password. (It’s on the right side of the new page screen. Where it usually says “Visibility: Public,” click Edit and you can create a password for the page.) If you want to password-protect only part of what’s on a page, there’s a WordPress plugin called Password Protect by WPMU DEV. I bought it and have used it a bunch of times and it works well. I think it was like $30. They don’t show you the price on their website without you having to create an account, which is stupid, so I don’t remember exactly how much I paid for it. It’s a bit pricey for what is a very simple plugin, but I like it and think it was worth it.

If you’re not using WordPress, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. I’m pretty sure you can password-protect individual Squarespace pages. You can’t protect individual Tumblr posts, but you can set a password for an entire Tumblr blog, and because Tumblr blogs are so fast and easy to make, you could just create a new one that’s just for the supplemental materials you’ve got. I don’t believe that you can do it on a Blogger blog, though there are apparently workarounds that require pasting some code into your blog’s template. But that’s for Google to tell you about, not for me.

There’s a lot more than just photos that you could hide behind this password-protected page. I’ve hidden free audio versions of the book. I’ve hidden additional PDF materials or even PDF versions of the book. I’ve hidden videos. These materials can be great selling points in your ebook sales copy. For people who buy my rock climbing tips ebook, I tell them that there’s a URL and password at the end of the book that will let them get a free PDF copy of one of my other climbing-related ebooks, and I think that’s a pretty sweet deal for them.

2. Writing stupid ebooks

How to Open a CoconutI’m a very strong proponent of the idea that you can write an ebook about pretty much anything. I’ve seen ebooks about very specific, very niche things become popular and sell well. But there is a line that we shouldn’t cross. There comes a point where it’s just silly to write about certain things. I ran across an ebook the other day called How to Open a Coconut. And no, that isn’t some metaphor or allegory, the book was literally about how to open a coconut, which I think is absurd. No one on Amazon is searching for books about how to open a coconut, and people doing a Google search for that aren’t going to pay a few dollars to read about it in your book. They’re going to watch a YouTube video or read an page or something.

Don’t even waste your time writing this kind of thing. There’s been a sort of Kindle ebook gold rush going on over the past year or so, and people are just looking to make a quick buck. You’re not going to make any kind of buck, quick or otherwise, by writing stupid, crappy ebooks like this. Invest the time you would have spent writing five crappy ebooks on writing one good one.

3. Spreadsheets as magnets, resources, and products

I’ve mentioned before that a podcast that I listen to is called the Pen Addict. In my mind, it’s a perfect example of a niche podcast. I honestly have zero interest in pens and paper, but I really enjoy the hosts of the show, and I listen to every new episode. In one of the recent episodes, they were talking about Field Notes, which is a company that makes nice little pocket-sized notebooks. A lot of their notebooks are produced in a limited run, people collect them, and the resulting scarcity has resulted in a thriving secondary market on eBay. There’s a Field Notes group on Facebook, and one of the guys in the group made a spreadsheet and logged every eBay sale of a Field Notes notebook in the spreadsheet. He included stuff like what was sold, the quantity, the condition, and of course the price. A lot of people in the Facebook group really liked the spreadsheet, and the guys on the podcast obviously liked it enough to talk about it. It was a valuable resource for the people in that community.

I’ve thought about doing this with rock climbing gear in the past. Climbers are extremely cheap and are always looking for good deals on gear. I’d love to see a spreadsheet that listed the final selling prices of various bits of climbing gear.

You might have heard of the website Flippa ( It’s a marketplace for websites. Most of the sites listed on there are garbage, but there are some good ones. What if you checked Flippa regularly and entered in a spreadsheet the data for each website that sold for at least $1,000? You’d include stuff like starting price, number of bids, how the website makes money, how long the website has been around for, how much the site sold for, and other stuff like that. To me that sounds extremely valuable for people interested both in buying and selling websites.

Off the top of my head, I can think of three big ways that you could use spreadsheets online. The first is as a free resource on your website. Instead of offering a free ebook or video or something, you offer a spreadsheet. It’s something that would entice people to come to your site. In the past couple weeks, I’ve seen several downloadable spreadsheets on the hiking and backpacking blogs I’ve been looking at. Gear lists that include item weights are popular, as are spreadsheets that detail the weight and nutritional benefit of various hiker meal plans.

The second way to use spreadsheets online is to have a spreadsheet be the main attraction of a website. If I were to make the spreadsheets about used climbing gear prices, that’s an idea that could be a website all on its own. There’s enough value there to stand on its own.

And then the third way to potentially use spreadsheets is actually as products that you charge for. I think the Flippa example is a good example of this. You hear all the time that if you have a product that will help people save time, save money, or make money, then it will be easy to sell. If you can make a spreadsheet that provides data that will help people save time, save money, or make money, I see no reason why you wouldn’t be able to sell it. In the Flippa spreadsheet example, you could charge a monthly fee and send out a new report each month in the form of a spreadsheet.

All of that is to say that I think that spreadsheets in general don’t get the love they deserve online. Maybe that’s just the biased spreadsheet nerd in me talking, but they really are extremely valuable, both in perceived value and potentially actual monetary value. So start thinking about how you can use spreadsheets in your niche, and I’d love to hear about what you come up with.

Pick of the week

MenubarClockAnd that now brings us to my pick of the week. This is where I pick one useful thing to share, and it can be an app, a website, a podcast, or anything else I find valuable. I’ve got two picks this week. The first is a Mac app. If you don’t use a Mac, I’m sorry, but you’ll be able to use the next pick, so stick around. The app is called MenubarClock [link], which is all one word. I travel a lot and am usually on the other side of the world from the United States, where most of the people that I interact with are located. The menu bar on a Mac is that bar at the top of the screen that has the time and battery life and stuff like that in it. The MenubarClock app adds another clock, so you can have two clocks there in the menu bar. The default one I still have set for local time, but then the second one I have set for one of the US time zones, so I can know at a glance if it’s an OK time to tweet or call my parents or update a blog. It’s $0.99 in the app store and takes a bit of tweaking to get it to work right, but it’s a great little app and I highly recommend it.

AdBlock Plus

My second pick of the week is AdBlock Plus [link]. This is an extremely popular and free browser add-on or extension or plugin, or whatever it’s called in the browser you use. You’ve probably heard of it before; it is one of the most popular browser extensions out there. There are versions for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer, and Android. It blocks ads on websites, but that’s not why I use it. In fact, I’d rather not use it because I’m all for supporting websites that use ads to help pay their bills. But like I said at the beginning of the show, I’m in Bosnia right now, and my internet connection is extremely slow here. Using AdBlock Plus to remove the ads makes my browsing experience noticeably faster. You probably won’t notice it on a fast connection, but if you’ve got a super slow connection, you’ll notice a difference. Without having to load the ads, the pages load faster on my slow Internet connection. You can learn more about AdBlock Plus and download it at

Final words

And that’s all for episode 41 of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out for complete transcriptions and other blog posts there at the blog.

Please don’t hesitate to email me any questions you might have regarding digital publishing. I love talking about this stuff, and I’d love to help you out. You can follow me on Twitter by going to That will redirect you to my Twitter account, since my name is a bit tricky to spell. If you do follow me there, be sure to say hi. And again and as always, I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed this podcast, and thanks for listening.