In July 2012 I published my ebook, Music For Geeks and Nerds. I earned about $6,000 in profit in the first seven days and more than $10,000 in one year. It’s not nearly as much as someone like Nathan Barry is doing, but it’s reportedly more than what I could make with traditional publishing. It’s my first profitable product and I’ve learned a lot from publishing it. I hope this post will be a useful datapoint to anyone interested in self-publishing their own book.
Validating the Idea
I had the idea of a book to use programming to teach music for a long time. To see if people were interested I presented the tutorial Making and understanding music with Python and a little bit of Math at a Python conference. I had no idea if people were going to subscribe to the tutorial, but in the end I had a great time teaching it and since I received good feedback I decided to go ahead and write the book. Validation is an important step because nobody likes to work on something for hundred hours only to discover that nobody wants it.
I sell the book on my own website and on Amazon (both Kindle and paper). On my site I use e-junkie (with PayPal) and Gumroad for payment processing. At the time I didn’t know what to expect, so I went with both. Today I would use Gumroad only. This article by Sacha Greif comparing payment processors was very useful. To this day I get most of my sales from PayPal, but I’m pretty sure it’s because the big button links to the e-junkie cart:
I’ve been meaning to ditch PayPal and use only Gumroad, but I never got around it.
The percentage of sales in the first week were: 75% from e-junkie, 15% from Gumroad, and 10% from Amazon. Today it’s almost 50–50 between e-junkie and Amazon.
Learning About Marketing
As an academic my knowledge about marketing and launching products was negative. I learned a lot from Rob Walling’s Start Small, Stay Small and from the Micropreneur academy (run by Rob and Mike Taber). The Academy has a private forum were we can ask questions and help each other. Before launching I received very good suggestions from many people, specially from Dave Rodenbaugh (thanks Dave!).
I was so afraid that PayPal would freeze my account that I called to let them know that I was going to sell a book and that I might have a few sales.
I sent an email to my mailing list and posted a link to Hacker News, where I did managed to get on the first page:
I also managed to be the 3rd book on the Music category on Amazon and 5th on Programming:
I was overwhelmed by the positive response. Some have even emailed me to say they liked the silly jokes in the book!
It was a really good idea to clear my schedule and stay home answering questions and suggestions on Hacker News, email, and twitter, and fixing small problems.
These are the main lessons I learned:
- Have packages and different tiers. I did think about having screencasts and videos but I just didn’t have the energy nor the time. Not only it could have increased my revenue but it could have increased the value for the readers.
- Have a mailing list and keep it updated. I had a mailing list, but I only wrote once to announce the book launch. As a consequence the conversion rate from the mailing list was small.
- Write blog posts. I could have written some blog posts on my website and as a guest on other blogs to raise interest in the book.
- My Amazon sales probably cannibalized some of the sales on my website. Having a book on Amazon may be good for validation (“Look ma, my book is on Amazon!”) and it’s also good for the readers since they have another way to purchase the book. But I probably won’t use Amazon for my next book.
- Nathan Barry is the man. I launched my book about the same time Nathan launched his first book. He went on to launch other products and to be extremely successful. In his latest book he talks about his approach to launching products. I bought it recently thinking I was not going to learn much since I have already launched a book, but it was extremely useful and I have taken lots of notes. If you are interested in launching books or informational material, I greatly recommend it. I’m looking forward to apply what I’ve learned from his book in my next product.
In all, I’m happy with my first book. It’s hardly a full income, but I had a blast by actually launching something (instead of day dreaming) and learning more about non-academic publishing. I’m happy that I could produce something that hundreds of people found useful and I’m looking forward to launch my next book.