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How I make $400/month with my technical eBook (twitter.com/sahinkevin)
302 points by ksahin on Jan 12, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

A few thoughts:

1. OP isn't as bad a designer as he thinks. The goal isn't a beautiful page so much as "no trust destroying indicators" like weird fonts, bad formatting etc. Good Job!

2. OP could probably double their sales by offering the first chapter for free with email signup on the landing page and then offering a time-limited discount as part of an email sequence.

3. We (in the dev space) have a weird view of these sorts of things as we make relatively so much in salary. But $400/mo is a decent car payment, another way to thinking about this is that OP wrote himself a free car.

4. OP could have taken all this knowledge applied it in his job, etc. but by making this very public and consumable objective proof of his knowledge he's put a solid milestone in his career path. I've friends that have done similar and then picked up six figure consulting gigs, lucrative job offers, etc.

All around, I just want to say nicely done and that I would love to see more developers do similar.

Hey thanks a lot for your comment!

For point 2) yes that's something I could have tried, I see a lot of people doing this so I guess it works.

About point 3) I know that for SF folks making 150-200k / year, $400/month is like pocket change. Just keep in mind that in other countries, like France (I'm French) and many other European countries, a Junior dev is making 30-40k€ on average, and Senior around 45-55k€ (1)

[1] https://www.payscale.com/research/FR/Job=Software_Developer/...

Good call and good approach. I'd recommend taking it a further step.

My co-author and I figured out that a positive feedback loop is key. In addition to our API Design Book at http://theapidesignbook.com/ my co-author and I have a weekly newsletter at http://bit.ly/apiWeekly then he followed the consulting route using those for lead generation while I did some classes for Lynda/LinkedIn Learning: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/instructors/keith-casey and in both cases, we refer back to the book and the newsletter. Then in my day job at Okta, I talk about the same topics and occasionally refer to our stuff among other things as "for more information."

Most of it is free, a few things are paid, but everything builds and complements each other.

No matter where anyone finds us, the threads lead to the other things. This allows people to understand the basics of APIs, learn some advanced topics, and generally stay up to date on the space as a whole.

I have a few friends who have left cushy tech jobs to take roles in the non-profit sector, which they augment with side jobs they enjoy (teaching, writing, etc.) One just plays poker for rent money to augment what she makes booking gigs as a lower-tier musician.

They all seem much happier.

You're welcome! Since you seemed to like the suggestions, here are two more:

1. Try raising prices by 50% for a month, see if your actual unit sales decrease.

2. Record a video for each chapter and then offer that at a (much) higher price point. $250+ - combine all this together and I bet you could crack $1k/mo.

> Record a video for each chapter and then offer that at a (much) higher price point.

Thanks for sharing. For technical topics, I think reading is much faster and reliable because readers can skim and also copy code. I'm curious why it might be effective to produce a video and price it higher?

Some people are almost completely price insensitive for amounts in the low hundreds. They have a work budget that can be spent on training if they want, picking the better value $60 option wont gain them anything at all, and picking the $250 video option might end up being useful maybe. Like if they don't understand a concept the way its written, maybe it's explained differently in the video. It doesn't really matter. They aren't stopping to think about it. The cost is irrelevant to them and that package lists the most things they get.

People (in general) view video courses as being worth more than an ebook alone. I'm with you on this and personally prefer to consume technical information in text form, but there are many who don't.

> The goal isn't a beautiful page so much as "no trust destroying indicators" like weird fonts, bad formatting etc.

Could you give an example of what kind of a font would be a "trust destroying indicator" ? Maybe comic sans I guess, but I have a feeling you mean something more subtle.

> 2. OP could probably double their sales by offering the first chapter for free

Maybe! IDK.

What are the percentage of people that would make the the first chapter in and fail to convert - vs the people that would have bought then likewise never finished?

For what it's worth, I offer my entire book [0] online for free, and I am very happy with both the print and eBook sales.

[0]: https://gameprogrammingpatterns.com/

I get that this model is successful (when it is)... But the counter-intuitiveness is hard for me to overcome.

I'm not a marketer and haven't done a lot of research, but my informal impression is that the logic works out something like this:

Because I have the entire book online, people are much more likely to reference and point other people to it because it's a complete useful web resource. If, say, someone on Reddit asks about learning some architectural pattern, it's natural for someone to say "Oh, check out this book here." It's less likely they would say, "Oh, check out this page which just describes a book that you have to buy to actually answer your question."

So my book is much higher profile than it would otherwise be. A lot more people are discovering my book and coming into the funnel. The fact that they can read the whole thing without paying probably means a smaller fraction of people buy it, but the increase in the total number outweighs that.

Also, giving it away for free gives people a lot of gratitude towards me and that in turn can cause some to buy it. It feels less transactional to them because they don't have to. In fact, I've had a lot of people email me saying they had already read the entire book online but bought a print version just to show thanks.

Let's say that preview shouldn't discourage "buying for the shelf", with the plan to read the book one day even if that never happens. I presume this accounts for a wealth of turnover in the book market.

For item 2, Do you know of a email trickel system that would take care of this. Or is it just a salesforce/crm feature to look for?

"How I now make 2x/month by posting a thread about how I make x/month"

I did learn something new though. I would have assumed that either zero or tens of thousands of people would buy a technical ebook, in the same way that any random musician's album usually makes $0 or becomes a hit. Small consistent sales are a surprise to me.

That's interesting. I wonder if that's the same reason indie developers will write books or make assets rather than games that may or may not be a hit.

Agree, but it's part of the game (:

Copied the rapper recipe.

First, good job!

Second, I also made what I consider very good money (for a side-project) from an ebook using a markdown-based approach. All I will say is that I broke six figures in USD and/or Euros.

Third, I happened to use LeanPub to publish incrementally, and that worked very well for me.

Fourth, yes you can charge real money for a technical e-book. I think I have consistently asked for around $30.00, although the interface allowed people to pay less.

I always allowed people to read the book online for free, and people still paid. Did they pay out of a sense of fairness? Did they pay for the convenience of reading an offline copy in iBooks, Kindle, and/or PDF? You be the judge.

Many, many people paid more than the minimum. I have now dropped the minimum to zero, and I still get people paying me more than $20.00.

Lastly, I didn’t get into writing for the money, but I started charging because:

1. People take words more seriously when they cost money. It’s true. It shouldn’t be true, but it’s true.

2. I take writing my words more seriously when I set a goal of asking people for money.

Combining 1 and 2, I felt that whenI set out to charge money for writing a book, I would write a better book. Whether people paid me or not, writing a better book would be better for me, so I couldn’t lose.

Those of you seeking to write for money may have different goals. But those two things drove my decision to charge and to change a non-trivial amount of money.

If you had told me that by charging less, I would make more revenue, I still might not have charged less, because I wanted to force myself psychologically to write a book worth $30.

what is your book about?

There are a couple, but this is the one that was somewhat successful in a monetary sense:


Reminds me of this author’s post on here a while back on the command line tools he used to write books...


This is mostly unrelated but does anyone else now have a problem with clicking "See Replies" on twitter and having the page not do anything in the last few weeks? (Chrome running uBlock origin and twitter in dark mode.)

Seems fine if I load it in Firefox.

Yeah I've had the same issue with Chrome + uBlock Origin. The issue is there even with uBlock disabled.

The workaround that I've found is that you first load twitter.com and then paste+go the actual tweet link in that same tab.

You could give Nitter a try.


Same issue.

Sounds like the author is using a similar stack to me, markdown -> PDF, epub. I wrote a bit more about the writing process and consideration for traditional publishers here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22027026

Nice story. I’m not sure web scraping is a “niche” subject anymore though.

That's because OP is playing the internet marketing game (very good work, OP ;), in that world "niche" means "market vertical subset."

For OP's case:

> Market Vertical = Technology

> Niche / Market Vertical Subset = Webscrapping

Interesting how each world places its own connotations on words, and if you don't speak the "language" -- even though we're all speaking English! -- miscommunication is guaranteed.

Thanks! You're right it's not a "niche" subject. But Web Scraping with Java is probably a little "niche"!

You would expect this book to be filed under ‘general interest’ in a bookstore?

Niche compared to something like nutrition, personal finance or even "learn to make web apps".

A few questions: I have been writing a book (about cryptography[1]) and have done very light advertising for now (even though the book is available in early access).

Is there something that I should really be doing while I’m writing the book? And not after?

[1]: https://www.manning.com/books/real-world-cryptography?a_aid=...

Your conclusion has a misspelled word 'crypotgraphy'

Always wondered about the pricing, I wrote an eBook as well (https://redux-book.com/)

But our pricing is WAY lower ($0-$16).

Do people really pay $29-$69 for an ebook? Wonder if author tried other pricing to see if it can increase sales.

Our biggest jump was once we moved to "pay as you like".

PS. Made ~$20K over 3 years. PSS. If anyone has any suggestions on how to promote eBooks, would love to know

Yep people really pay $29-$69 for a 130 pages eBook!

I tested all the prices between $9-$99 and I found these three tiers approach to be the most effective.

To be honest, this was a very difficult subject for me, here was my thinking process: - How much does a physical tech book costs --> I checked the best sellers on Amazon and saw $25-$35 - Since I was selling an eBook, I was thinking that I should AT LEAST divide this price by 2. - Not only that, but I "only" had 3 years of experience, so I should again apply another discount.

So I launched at $9...!

Then I learned about pricing strategies, value-based pricing and all. I did some experiments, increasing the price every month, and I was completely shocked to see that the conversion rate was still the same.

Hope it will help.

I imagine the more niche the subject is the higher you can go. Also, I'd expect that whoever buys books about web scraping has a very specific goal in sight.

@ksahin: En lisant le titre je me suis dis que vous deviez en vendre des tas par mois, puis en voyant le funnel... auto-édition bien sûr ! C'est impressionnant qu'avec une petite/moyenne audience on peut se 40% du revenu minimal si on ne passe pas par le circuit traditionnel.

En tout cas merci pour les chiffres et les plateformes utilisées, c'est motivant. J'ai en effet un projet à moyen terme (non technique) qui avance pas à pas mais des fois je me dis que ça ne fonctionnera pas...

Hey thanks for the comment (better to write in English on HN I guess). Go for it! Self-publishing is obviously much better in terms of margins, but you have to take care of the distribution (in my case the blog was useful)

"J'ai en effet un projet à moyen terme (non technique) qui avance pas à pas mais des fois je me dis que ça ne fonctionnera pas..."

"I indeed have a medium term (non technical) project which is moving forward one step at a time but sometimes I tell myself it won't work..."

The only way to know is to try your best. At least you won't have doubts about whether it could have worked and you'll undoubtedly learn something.

Perso j’ai choisit de publier avec une maison d’edition pour le premier bouquin. Je pense que ca aide.

I'd almost question if $400/mo. warrants the time put into creating the book and subsequent marketing efforts to continue making $400/mo?

Your comment shows a lack of perspective.

Depending on where you live, $400 could be a good amount. OP could be living in another country where this kind of money could be very interesting.

Life is not that simple.

What if:

- He actually needs to do it for regular job or pure interest, so the time is already lost. This way, you kill 2 flies with single shot

- Hosting and other stuff can be done for $0 nowdays

What I learnt here (not really, just improved current understanding) is that people suck at deduction and resort to simplistic observations that have no roots in reality.

I used to think side projects / businesses needed to replace my income for it to be worth it. After I started getting into the habit of budgeting I started to realize that a even a few hundred extra bucks a month can go a long way. Since this is a one time sell product there's little support to spend time on (just give them a refund). The author also has organic marketing with SEO.

Depending on what you're doing there can also be significant value to being perceived as both an expert and an authority in your field.

author did not put too much effort into marketing as explained in the posts. the target audience was already figured out and the blog acted as a funnel... hosting is $0 as per author.

so yes, this is totally worth it as a side project.

Well, then, it would not make sense to publish a free ebook, would it?

This is a great point. It's $400 in sales per month. I'm willing to bet hosting, domain, any paid ads, any fees from leanpub, etc. makes up at least $100-200 a month. Probably be better to just do freelance/consulting on the side and make an extra $100/hr in a day.

OP here, the number I gave is after fees. The website is static, hosted (for free) on Netlify.

It’s not just about the money as I said in the tweet! It’s about being (a little bit) paid for doing something I like (writing)

Totally fair, thanks for clarifying.

>It’s not just about the money as I said in the tweet

probably web scraping, along with SEO, is one of the most shameless niches in tech and is crammed with people with nearly zero tech skills and are only for the money. Maybe for your case you just happened to love web scraping, but this niche itself is the lowest of low. Thankfully Cloudflare and the low barrier to entry/increase of supply make sure that no one can make much more than he should (which is $0 imho).

For all the people who somehow think HN is a better class than Reddit, I present to you the above comment (and my own).

> Probably be better to just do freelance/consulting on the side and make an extra $100/hr in a day.

Creating a technical book about a specific subject is a great way to advertise yourself as a freelancer/consultant as well.

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