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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Self-Publishing Your Online Course As A Book: A Complete Guide

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Self-publishing your online course as a book may be a great way to distribute a valuable piece of content you have to a broader audience. But can you just print your online course, choose a nice cover artwork and start selling your book? As you might imagine, writing, printing, publishing and distributing your online course as a book involves a lot of steps and decisions to make. To help you out, Heather Hedden has written a great guide to take you through all the steps you need to turn your online course into a successful published book.

Photo credit: Clipart

In this in-depth guide, Heather spans from all the doubts you might have before turning your online course into a book to the main strategies and options you have when you choose to distribute your learning material to a wider audience.

The core idea behind publishing your online course as a book, is that you must have a clear plan of what your book will look like well before you start:

  • Will your book be a textbook or a professional manual? This will influence not only the writing style you use, but also the very structure of your book itself.
  • Have you already decided how to supplement your book? Will there be a historical background, further explanation of a core topic of the book, illustrations, statistics?
  • Who will publish your book? A self-publishing service or a commercial publisher who may help you reach a larger audience?

Also, having a precise strategy for your soon-to-be-published book is indeed crucial because:

  • A book is not an online text that you can edit at any time after publication. On a web-published piece you can always add extra references, correct typos or reformulate sentences that are badly written or make it difficult for your readers to understand your ideas. When you publish a book, you must wait to ship a new edition to fix all your mistakes.
  • A book must be far more accurate and factual than an online text because countering with negative criticism for a printed book is more difficult than it is for a content published on a web site. You cannot reply as fast as on the Internet, nor provide additional resources to support your ideas with the same ease.

If you want to self-publish your online course and reach a larger audience beyond your own students, this comprehensive guide is definitely worth reading.


How To Turn an Online Course Into a Book

by Heather Hedden - originally published on eLearn Magazine

Self-Publishing Your Online Course: Early Steps


Educational courses and nonfiction books go hand-in-hand.

It's not unusual for course instructors to write books based on their courses.

Online courses have an advantage in this regard, since much of the course material is already written down in narrative form.

Creating a book, though, is quite a different endeavor from creating an online course.

If you're considering converting your online course to a book, at the outset you need to ask yourself certain interrelated questions:

  • What kind of book will it be (textbook or for professionals)?
  • What is needed to supplement the online course texts to fill out the pages?
  • Who will publish it?

You will also need to make certain editorial changes to the content.


Option One: Write a Textbook


It may seem natural to convert an online course into a textbook, seeing as it:

  1. Serves the same instructional purpose,
  2. likely already includes exercises and other study questions, and
  3. can be jointly marketed to the same audience.

But developing a book needs to be thought out carefully.

First, ask yourself if a textbook based on the online course would make sense commercially.

If your own students are the primary audience for the book, that's a relatively small market.

Traditional textbook publishers want to see a large potential market, and your online course may be in a niche specialty area.

If the book is intended to be used specifically in conjunction with your course, prospective students may question why they need to purchase a physical book in addition to accessing all the course material that's online.

You also need to consider how you will expand the number of words in your course outline and notes to fill the number of pages expected in a textbook.

I recall initially thinking that if I simply converted my five-week online course to a book, the book would be less than 100 pages.

Adding more examples of the same content may not be a good idea.

Considering the factors of audience, publisher, and book scope, it may make more sense to write a professional book rather than a textbook.


Option Two: Write a Professional Ebook


Although a professional book has a fairly narrow market (those in or interested in a given profession), it still appeals to a broader audience than a textbook.


  • No implied goal of comprehensive instruction,
  • no need for exercises and study questions,
  • no need for book customers to consider themselves as students.

A professional book can be a lighter read and more informal in style than a textbook, while remaining serious.

Another advantage of writing a commercial book, rather than a textbook, is that you have more flexibility in what kind of content to add when supplementing the quantity of text from an online course to fill out a book.


How To Supplement Your Online Course


Online lesson texts are short, and even if there are numerous pages, the amount of text would never total as many pages expected for a commercial book.

You can be creative in how you supplement your text, but it will require additional research.

For example, you can add discussions of the history of the field, the state of the profession, case studies, emerging trends, sidebars profiling people or organizations, etc.

When I turned my 13-lesson course "Creating Website Indexes" (see "Creating an Independent Online Course for a Niche Skill") into a book titled Indexing Specialties: Web Sites, totaling 153 pages (excluding the foreword, introduction, and index), I only needed to add some information about the history of the field and explanation on how to use two additional software tools.

When I later expanded a 5-lesson continuing education workshop Taxonomies & Controlled Vocabularies (Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science) into a 414-page book, The Accidental Taxonomist, which turned into a 414-page book (including the appendices), I added:

  • a chapter on the profession, with content based on a survey (using SurveyMonkey) and phone interviews of people in the profession
  • information about the growth of the field, based on surveying a number of trade journal articles over time on the topic
  • a section on licensing taxonomies (which would not have made sense in the course on how to create them)
  • Additional information on software tools, mentioning more products
  • The content of several conference PowerPoint presentations that I had given in the meantime.

Another way that you may be able to supplement content is with illustrations, screenshots, and other images.

Your online course likely has external links. Your book can therefore include screenshots of those externally linked sites, when relevant.


Book Publishing Alternatives


When figuring out who is going to publish the book, your options are self-publishing, using a professional association, or looking for a commercial professional publisher.

Unless you can argue that you have a large audience, mass market trade publishers will probably not be interested in your work.

1. Self-Publishing


Two of the existing books in my narrower field of taxonomies had been self-published, one of them even as a course textbook.

Self-publishing is clearly becoming more popular and easy with online, on-demand publishing services, such as

Self-publishing, however, has the drawbacks of putting all the burden of marketing on the author, not enforcing editorial and typographical quality, and perhaps not selling as well due to the lack of a reputable publisher in the customers' eyes: "If your book is good, why wouldn't a commercial publisher publish it?"


2. Professional Association


If you are writing a professional book, then you shouldn't overlook the possibility of the professional association in your field serving as the publisher.

Many professional associations publish books written by their members, often in partnership with a commercial professional publisher, thus giving the opportunity of authorship to otherwise untried authors reaching a somewhat limited but focused professional market.

Author royalties may be lacking in such an arrangement, but at least you get the desired targeted exposure and the reputation as an author for your next book.

My initial book publishing experience was with a professional association, turning my online course "Creating Website Indexes" into a book of the American Society for Indexer's Indexing Specialties series.

As a member, I had met the society's book publishing coordinator at one of the annual conferences. Although I hesitated at first, knowing I would not earn royalties, I decided that the added promotion for my ongoing online course would be worth it, and my previous attempt with a commercial publisher proved unsuccessful.

The full version of my independently offered course had been 13 lessons, so little additional content was needed.

And the task of editing the texts into book chapters took about 10 weeks, working on it part-time. Thus, the limited amount of work in converting the course into a book manuscript made this "volunteer" work worth the self-promotion I subsequently obtained from it.

Getting a book published by the professional association served as my credentials, one year later, to a commercial professional publisher, who accepted my next book proposal, which was also based on an online course.

The publisher, Information Today, Inc., was in fact the partner publisher of the American Society for Indexing, and thus I had the opportunity to meet the editor-in-chief in person at a conference.

With the incentive of earning royalties on the second book, I put in considerably more time and effort to make a better and lengthier finished product.

Working part-time, on and off, it took me close to a year to re-write and supplement my online lesson texts to create the book, The Accidental Taxonomist, which was three times as long as my first book.


Editorial Changes and Additions


A book is typically written in a different style than online texts. At the very least, the language is slightly more formal - not as chatty.

For example, I used the second person ("you") in my online texts, but eliminated it in the book. While this revising was more work than I expected, it was still far easier than researching and writing from scratch.

Unless you are writing a textbook, exercises or assignments in online courses also need to be changed into narrative examples. After all, if you had created them to teach a principle, they are probably useful.

Most, but not all, exercises can translate into narrative text well.

When I had a colleague check over my book manuscript, she said that one example did not make sense. I realized that the example had been based on an exercise, and while it served well as an exercise, it did not work as straight text. In the end, I cut it out.

In print, there's no room for factual inaccuracies.

Attributions are often required, too.


Differences Between an Online Course and a Book


While, theoretically, we shouldn't see errors in our online courses either, that environment is a little more forgiving.

  • We can update an online text any time.
  • Differences of opinion are tolerated.
  • Typically, no one but the students are reading your online texts.

A book, on the other hand, can be read by anyone, including other authors in the field or competitors who might look for excuses to criticize the text.

Books are also subject to published reviews.

Therefore, in contrast to online courses, questionable facts must be checked carefully for a book, and an expert reviewer must go through the copy closely.

Prior to submitting a book to a publisher, one or more professional "experts" in the field need to review and critique the manuscript for accuracy, completeness, and impartiality. Some publishers may do this on their end, but if not, it's the author's responsibility.

Other components of a book - front matter and back matter - also supplement the core text.

Besides the expert reviewers, another expert should be recruited, perhaps someone renowned in the field, to write a foreword.

On the other hand, the author will likely write his or her own introduction or preface, explaining the background of the book, mentioning, among other things, that it was based on an online course (that's still available!).

The book will also need a bibliography or further reading section.

A book's bibliography is expected to be more extensive than what you may already have in your online course.

You also might choose to have additional information in an appendix that you had not previously written.

For The Accidental Taxonomist, I added a glossary.

In my online lessons, I had simply included external links to a number of glossaries on the subject, but that wouldn't suffice in print.

A final detail: Images.

Image size and quality (pixels per inch) is significantly lower for the Web than for print.

Thus, you will likely have to redo all your online images, returning to the original source, taking a new screenshot, and saving it at a higher resolution (about 300dpi). This can be tedious, but it does add value to the finished product.



If I had not written an online course first, I would have never ventured to the next step of authoring a complete book based on the pre-existing content.

Content reuse is important is saving one's time and energy.

Reaching a wider audience for my ideas and the synergy of marketing both course and book have been great benefits.

I encourage other writers of online courses to seriously consider converting their lessons to published books.

Originally written by Heather Hedden for eLearn Magazine, and first published on April 1st, 2010 as "How to Turn an Online Course into a Book".

About Heather Hedden


Heather Hedden, is principal of Hedden Information Management. She had over eight years' experience in controlled vocabulary management and thesaurus development at Gale (Cengage Learning) before starting her own business. Previously she worked as a periodical database indexer with Gale's predecessor, Information Access Company. As senior vocabulary editor at Gale, she also developed taxonomies for web search interfaces. From January 2007 through July 2008 she worked full time as an information taxonomist for the enterprise search software developer Viziant Corporation.

Photo credits:
Option Two: Write a Professional Ebook - goXunuReviews
2. Professional Association - Vectorizados
Editorial Changes and Additions - Guacamole Goalie
Differences Between an Online Course and a Book - AllPosters
Other Images - Clipart

Heather Hedden -
Reference: eLearn Magazine [ Read more ]
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posted by on Wednesday, May 19 2010, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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