Your experiences writing books


I was wondering if some of you have any experiences to share about writing your own books (technical, marketing, business), etc., marketing and making money with them.
Being a bootstrapper myself, when I’m not spending my time improving my product, I’m thinking (among other things) about writing books - mostly technical (e.g. Wed development with Python). But whenever I do the maths, it seems to me almost impossible to make it worthwhile, without somehow your books becoming a Harry Potter - and let’s face it, that’s unlikely.
So then, every time, I’m telling myself that I’m better off spending my time on my product instead.
Given the effort that takes to write a book, I’m wondering if I’m missing something. I must be, because there’s a hell a lot of books out there, so everyone else must know something I don’t.

Can you actually make money with a book?
What sort of sales volumes do technical books achieve?
Is the time better invested in a software product?

Hopefully some of you might have some insights on this topic and perhaps some of you have already been through all this and go the t-shirts. If you could share some of that experience, I for one, and I’m sure many others will be very grateful.


Writing a technical book for a publisher will not make you a lot of money and especially if it is a niche market. I’ve written a lot of books for publishers and only one made a reasonable amount of money (over four editions) but even then comparing money earned v. time spent I’d have been better writing code.

That said, books can help raise your profile. When we were a web development agency a lot of our projects came to use because someone had read one of my books, a lot of the speaking gigs I am offered come from having written books. So there are other benefits that are harder to quantify.

Publishing your own books can be lucrative, but you also have to do all of the legwork yourself. I can recommend Authority by Nathan Barry if you want to explore the idea of self-publishing.

If you want to make money I’d recommend self-publishing, if you want the profile and so on then publishing with a well known publisher can be useful. It really depends what you want out of it.


What @rachelandrew said.

I’d concur… self-publishing a la Nathan Barry is the only way to make real money. The book I wrote (HTML Email) was more to see if I could and for the sense of achievement. I’m not buying a yacht off the back of it, but it feels good to have a book under my belt!

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Another +1 for Nathan Barry’s book. I reviewed it here:

Like I wrote in the blog post though, I’m a bit unsure of where we’re going with the “everyone self-publishes on their own site” thing. I know that I’m wary of buying something with no reviews, and miss the convenience of just pushing one button to get a book like I do on the Kindle. Perhaps it works for Nathan because he’s one of the few doing it. But what if everyone did?

Readmill is interesting for that.

The Pragprog guys allow you to send your epub books direct to Readmill from their site - they also email to kindle.

I self published my book back in 2006. Back then, Lulu was pretty much the easiest way to self-publish, yet still get your book on Amazon, B&N, etc.

The book itself didn’t make much money over the years; a few thousand dollars perhaps, but it did increase my profile a bit and brought in a fair amount of consulting work.

I still receive an occasional royalty check from Amazon or B&N, but for silly amounts, like $7.

Most sales these days come in through Leanpub. If I were to self-publish today, I would just do a .PDF and sell it through my own site or a place like Leanpub.

These days, you can probably get your book out on Amazon without having to go through Lulu or the like. If you can do that, it may be worth it, since it’s nice to be able to order a nicely-bound physical copy of the book, or to send a copy as a gift. But that’s mostly for the ego trip.

You would use Createspace nowadays (for print books) and eBooks are published directly. They were bought by Amazon, and so are well integrated with them. I stopped using Lulu after they went into lala-land, and started recommending scammers like Author’s Solutions.

I would still create epub and mobi versions- plenty of people prefer to read on eReaders. If you have a smart phone or iPad, you can download the Kindle app and read on that. Pdf is a terrible format- it only works on PCs. It’s hard to read a book on your PC. My kindle is very light- I can read books while lying down without straining my wrists, and the battery lasts for weeks.

I tried many tools, but nothing beats Scrivener. It’s not free, but at $40, is very reasonably priced. Though my experience is mainly in fiction.

The PragProg guys, and O’Reilly are people I will buy from without going through Amazon, because their books are also on Amazon, do have reviews, and they’re fairly well established companies.

But there’s a higher bar: I tend to be more skeptical of books that don’t have any reviews, and where I don’t have a centralized place that stores them for me over the years. I also don’t have the Amazon wishlist, where I’ll keep a list of things that look interesting, and come back from time to time and buy one. On the whole, I’m more likely to ignore a book that is not on Amazon.

I’ll share my experience so far, hope it helps.

I launched preorders for my book, Building Secure PHP Apps, five days ago. I have two chapters finished, about 40%, so people are taking a decent risk preordering.

I setup a landing page with an email signup about a month ago, using launchrock. I have around 200 emails on the mailing list so far, acquired via twitter.

The first day I released to the mailing list only, with a coupon code. Since then I’ve mostly been marketing through twitter by annoying my followers and offering coupon codes.

I have a fairly popular open source library, Ion Auth, so I added a reference to the book in the docs. Also added a link to my blog homepage (my blog is not popular at all).

As of right now I have 68 sales totaling $1109.58 in royalties.

I’ve spent about 4 hours on writing so far. So that is definitely a net win if I can keep the sales up. This does not count any time for marketing or learning how Leanpub works, etc. Which was definitely a few hours but should be drastically lower here on out and for future projects.

Next is to keep writing. If I can break even with my writing time I’ll consider it a success. $2000 would equal 20 hours freelancing at $100/hr. Having a book on my portfolio and just the experience of finally launching something makes it a net win either way in my mind though.


This thread inspired me to take look at Nathan Barry’s Authority, then to purchase it, then to start writing a small book. It’s called “How to Beat Your Friends at Poker”, and I completely the draft of a chapter one today.

Advice happily accepted :smile:

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That’s awesome @SteveMcLeod! Good luck!

The main thing I learned, create a landing page and start marketing the mailing list now! I had much higher conversion rates from the mailing list.

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Thanks @benedmunds. I created and published a landing page, and spammed my friends on FaceBook. That’s a start…

I second davidw’s view that every single books having its own website / landing page doesn’t sound sustainable to me. Market places exist to solve the discoverability problem, which is why people love Amazon and other similar market places for books.
I must say, that’s the only way I buy books. Independent reviews are extremely important for me.
Being a bootstrapper and knowing how hard the “discoverability” problem is and how much you have to invest in marketing, I’m just wondering if publishing on your own website is only a solution for authors with an established audience (via blogs, social media, etc.). Once you have the audience, selling might look easy, but building an audience is not easy.

@SteveMcLeod: perhaps you can keep us updated with the progress of your venture, I’d be curious.

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FYI, I just posted an update on my book writing experience so far on the forums here:

Hi @benedmunds, I liked your strategy. Just finished Nathan’s book and you follow almost everything he suggest in his book. I will bet that most of your revenue will come from the higher tier $500 option.

Is it too dificult to come up with a middle tier? It is a big range from $30 to $500. There should be an $99 option.

Haha that’s funny since I haven’t read Nathan’s book yet. I’ve actually been trying to decide what to offer as a middle tier and I think I found it, I would love your feedback.

I’m thinking that I’ll make a screencast for each item discussed in the book, mostly focusing on refactoring a legacy app to secure it. So I would start with crappy legacy PHP code and then refactor it on the screencast to be secure. Just follow that format for each topic. Thoughts?

I think that is a great idea!

The only thing I just realized that make it different from Nathan’s approach (and that maybe a huge difference) is that he is totally self-published and he talks a lot of the importance of building your mailing list.

I think LeanPub don’t let you know the emails of your book buyers and that is a terrible thing for next time you have something to sell to them. Actually, the best is to keep talking with your audience frequently.

They do collect email but there is an opt-out so many people don’t allow me to collect their email. Under the LeanPub terms I am free to sell the book myself though so I may setup a site to do it myself. It would also save on fees.

At this point though I’m not sure if the value add is enough to offset the time it would take me to set this up. So I’m still weighing it.

For technical people wanting to write books, I think it is worth cheking

Their production platform is open sourced and free, you may option for their services for 10% of your royalties. The service permits you to easily build a site for selling your book.

I wrote a book for a publisher, which gave me an understanding of how the industry works:

after that I self-published:

Clearly, this was some time ago and the game has changed somewhat, but what hasn’t changed is that you will earn significantly more, with far fewer sales, by self-publishing.

When I self-published there were no services to use, so I used LaTeX to typeset and dealt with a short-run printer. I’d probably do the same now, because you can control and ensure that the quality is high.

I also struck lucky a little when a magazine approached me to put the book on their cover CD. I earned more from that than all the dead tree sales up to that point, and the book had sold very well for a self-published, specialist title. (I also ended up with a two-year journalism gig as a sideline because of that, but that’s another story.)

This will sound old school now, in the days of kindles, tablets, etc., but a year or so after I published, and the content was becoming out of date, I was staring at the screen one evening after a couple of beers and decided to put the PDF of the book on my web-site for 6 USD – I have no idea why I priced it at 6 USD – then I announced it to my target market.

I made significant multiples of previous earnings from that one action than everything that had gone before. Funny old world.