If you're going to try to do this, the key idea is to build an audience e.g. an email list. You need to budget 50% of your time to writing the book and 50% of your time to blogging/promoting the content.
There's basically three key aspects to making $100k on a programming book:
1. Market - is the topic broad enough to sell $100k in copies?
Weak market: Build an Adblocker with Clojure on Arduino
Strong market: Complete Guide to D3
2. Offering + guarantee - what does the student get when they buy?
Weak offering: my 200-page pdf
Strong offering: my 400+page pdf/epub/mobi, 2 hours of video intro, invite to community chat, interviews with experts, support, questions answered by the author, quizzes, and worksheets
3. Promotion Effort
Weak promotion: posting 3 times to medium
Strong promotion: writing remarkable content, posting weekly, creating downloadable resources, collecting emails - launching to an email list of 10k-100k+
When you hear someone say, "you can't make money in programming books" run their strategy through the filter above. It's no wonder most folks don't make much money, because doing it right is hard.
It can take months to build an email list of 10k, but that's how the game works.
[shameless self plug]
If you're thinking about creating a programming book or a course, this is what I do and I'd love to chat. See here: https://www.newline.co/write-with-us
One thing I've often wondered about this: who are all these people posting their email addresses everywhere?
Even if I'm reading a blog post I'm so interested in that I'd like to read more later, I would never dream of putting my address in one of those "sign up for more" popups. I know many will comment that it's offensive that they popup over the page, but for me that's not even the main reason - email is just not the right place for that sort of thing, I already get enough cruft in my email account without adding blog post notifications too. I know not everyone is exactly like me but surely that is the rule rather than the exception?
Context: We have 100k folks on our list, and our typical open rate is 25%. Almost all are web developers.
I think the key thing required to maintain this is to give value. I'll spend hours personally writing high-quality email tutorials. My friends and family are subscribers and so I treat each email as such.
I feel an obligation that if you open an email from me you're going to get value from it. I might send out 19 emails that teach before I ask for a sale on the 20th (but even then, I'm only going to ask you to buy something I think you might also find valuable).
And I have in the past bought books from peoples blogs as a way of saying thank you for providing great free content.
When you self-publish a book, you need to do way more than just writing the book. You have to do all the things the publisher would have done for you.
By self-publishing, you can get 80 or 90% royalties, instead of 10%, which I think it's worth. It might not be worth for everybody, but, considering how much time I put into writing the book, I wouldn't be happy getting just 10% profit.
Personally, as someone who loves technical writing but less the people bits around it, I'd much prefer doing something like this to "building my brand" and essentially becoming an instructor. (This is roughly what I ended up doing when releasing my first iOS app, though the journalist cold-calling was arduous and questionably reproducible. The success I had was mostly on account of Apple taking notice, perhaps with a small push from positive blog coverage.)
To do this seriously you probably want to contract with a decent PR person.
Wow. I "launched" the premium version of Alchemist Camp just over two years ago to a list of about 250. Now my list is between 3,000 and 4,000.
My business model is a bit different since I'm selling subscriptions to a growing library of screencasts instead of one-off books or courses, but the number of people signing up and staying on my email list is a critical business driver. I get very few unsubs and have approximately a 40% open rate, so it's definitely a top of the line issue.
I suspect my main problem is #1. Elixir is a small market. That said, I'm a bit weak on #3 as well and would love to see some examples of your promotional efforts!
I've spent countless hours during Covid isolation looking for good to excellent books on Engineering and Computer Science. Excellent book authors for examples Lewis Van Winkle, Pieter Hintjens and Andrew "bunnie" Huang do have blogs.
p/s: To be honest the three authors examples are from an Amazon's book reviews but I hope you've got my point.
- how much work do you estimate need to be put for those (a) writing the book and (b) to turning a weak offering into a strong one?
- what is the shelf life of a software programming book?
- Do you make more money by writing the book or by providing consulting for those that want to create content?
Your self-plug in the end implicates that you are more interested in selling shelves than going after the gold.
(b) Hard to say. Some weaknesses (wrong topic) are unrecoverable. Blogging well is way more work than, say, tacking on interviews to an already-great course.
shelf life: longer than you'd think. we wrote ng-book in 2015 and it still brought in thousands last month. (To be fair, I have been releasing updates.)
I don't do consulting. It's the worst of both worlds: the unreliable income of entrepreneurship, but you still have a boss and don't get to accumulate any long-term value.
Re shovels: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." - It's more fun with friends, and we can teach more topics than just whatever I'm an expert in
see also: https://twitter.com/fullstackio/status/1225462654174744576
So I maintain my technical expertise by just asking a lot of questions. It's pretty great because I have a personal tutor to learn some of the most interesting technologies.
Andy Weiss (Fuschia at Google) taught me rust as he wrote Fullstack Rust.
David Guttman (Js.la) taught me advanced Node with Fullstack Node.
Amelia Wattenberger (the Pudding) with Fullstack D3 etc.
Having such awesome personal conversations - that were essentially lost to the ether - was actually the inspiration for us to launch our podcast: I just wanted everyone to learn what I was learning.
Edit: you're not your
We're sort of the inverse of Web Development (programming) fatigue. We'll run out of products when developers stop creating new web frameworks (and programming languages and platforms and and)
Or is it more just for paid offers whenever you have one? Or both?
I feel like content strategies are a double edged sword. Sure you could have YouTube, Twitter, email, and a blog but then what time do you have left to work on product?
Anyway thanks for the info
It is useful to focus on a single technology or it can be as wide as a general topic?
If you, instead, put in the work to show every step, every detail, and every hack that sort of quality is extremely valuable to beginners.
So I could say, go look at the Stack Overflow developer survey, or State of X 2020 survey, or Google Trends -- and that will help, for sure. But the most valuable thing you can do is show someone what you /actually/ do at work.
I had the idea to work on this: https://jr2sr.com but I don't see much interest yet... Even though I am not pushing it nearly as hard as I should
He is inspiring, articulate, prolific, and all-around amazing. He just wrote a book on this exact topic. (No financial incentive, just a fan. He was recently on our podcast ).
What you'll notice about swyx is that he writes constantly about what he's learning. He takes tons of notes, and is able to digest them in a way that's easy for jr's to digest.
I had no problem accepting just 10% of my book sales - without going through a traditional publisher, it would have been impossible for me to get my book carried by physical book stores. Of course, this was 10 years ago, when physical book stores were more common; this may not be such a consideration today.
Today, you'll only get an advance - or maybe small royalties on low-volume sales and no advance.
If you self-pub, you have to consider the market very carefully. If you look at the Leanpub best-sellers they're mostly senior-level niche performance/career dev topics in mainstream corporate languages - like specific performance tweaks in Java.
The bigpubs usually do broad-brush topics like "How to Visual Studio". They're aimed more at beginners and side-movers. They have the marketing links to sell into the big physical bookstores, but for tech that market is smaller than you might expect, so they're unlikely to make anyone rich.
But... it's worth considering all of this is just another example of product/market fit. You get the best results from growing a customer base and giving them what they really want, just as you do for any other business, but with some added complications around product creation and distribution.
You might want to write a fun book about something creative and unusual in tech, but even with a following it's unlikely to sell many copies.
With selfpub you have some control over the big picture. Bigpubs just do what they do. Upfront money and your name on real shelves in a real bookstore may seem sweet, but there are huge costs to authors down the line, and mostly they're not a good deal now.
One major reason is that I am more likely to finish it and get it done than if I rely on it myself.
Another reason is that I want to be known for one niche, this will help and if that works out then I could likely self-publish and keep more of the profit.
It is slightly more nuanced than I want as much cash as possible for this thing.
On the other hand, I've had other periods when it would have been difficult.
The other thing with publishers is that you're now tied into publishing industry economics. So you can't typically write, say, 100 page book even if that's what you think is the best match for you and the subject. (This is probably the thing that would be most likely to keep me from using a publisher the next time.)
Making money wasn't the goal.
A traditional publisher organized a technical review, editorial review, cover design, type setting and project management for me; the result was better than I could have done on my own.
Sure, I could have hired an editor and a cover designer and all that, but would have been exhausting and a financial risk.
So, I went with a publisher, and accepted that I'd likely never recover the advance that the publisher payed.
If you're after exposure or the best result, a traditional publisher can still be the way to go.
But yes, you don't have all the freedom that you have with leanpub & co.
On the other hand, the price is set quite a bit higher than I would have set it personally for maximum exposure. And I don't have the right to broadly distribute free electronic copies to just anyone I want.
Now, for ebooks, the marginal cost of "printing" is close to zero. But editing and marketing are still expensive. I think there's a lot of momentum towards preserving the historical royalties even if the business has changed.
The music industry seems to have made this leap to electronic distribution (near exclusively in their case). If royalties have been upset in that industry then we should probably expect something similar for writers.
And once upon a time, buying, inking, moving pulp was not cheap.
There are other things too like a content editor. Does the entire book flow together (2+ authors, that's a big deal). Is the language style the same? Are there spelling and punctuation errors? Is the formatting correct? Someone has to build the index at the back of the book. (Sometimes the author does this). Lots of things. Not to mention, the company puts their name behind the book. I buy a lot of books simply based on the publisher and pass on others. As an author, you're paying them to lend their reputation to your work.
That is definitely part of the publisher's pitch, but from what I gather, that is less than they'd like you to believe.
> Content editing.
Good editing is invaluable, but it's important to distinguish different kinds of editing. "Developmental editing" is high-level "what kind of book does the market want us to write" guidance. If you're writing a technical book, you shouldn't need that. You should already be plugged into the scene for the people who want your book and know what they want. Your domain expertise should also mean audience expertise.
An editor at a publisher doesn't have your domain expertise, and probably doesn't know the audience as well as you do. When I wrote a book on software architecture for games several years ago, an editor at O'Reilly wanted me to use Objective-C as the language (instead of basically pseudo-codish C++). Think about how much I would have regretted that choice today.
Line editing and copyediting are making sure your stuff is grammatically correct and consistent. This is really helpful, but you can also simply hire a freelancer to do it.
> Publishers often hire another person who is at least or more knowledgeable on the subject to review what the author says.
They pay technical editors a pittance. (I know, I've been asked to be a technical editor for several books.) Those that have the deep skill you want are too busy and worth too much to do it. Those that say yes probably won't do as good a job as you'd hope. It's simply not worth their time to go through your book with a fine-toothed comb. They'll find a lot of stuff, but you really can't rely on them. And, again, this is something you could hire yourself if you wanted to.
For my two books, I simply made the repo for them open and let people file bugs. That has been much more thorough than a couple of busy technical editors would be.
> There are other things too like a content editor. Does the entire book flow together (2+ authors, that's a big deal). Is the language style the same? Are there spelling and punctuation errors? Is the formatting correct?
Yeah, this is important. Though it's worth thinking about how much you're willing to pay them to do this. If it's worth it to you, great. But it may not be.
> Someone has to build the index at the back of the book. (Sometimes the author does this).
Yeah, indexing is a chore. You'll do a better job than an indexer would because you know the domain better. You can also, honestly, just kind of half-ass it. Indexes are less important now that you can search in ebooks.
> Not to mention, the company puts their name behind the book. I buy a lot of books simply based on the publisher and pass on others. As an author, you're paying them to lend their reputation to your work.
This is true and is a big one. The big publishers have done a great job of building prestigious brands and they loan you that prestige. That can be very valuable. This matters in particular for fiction where there is a sea of garbage. With technical books, it's so hard for an author to finish a book that I think it's less of an issue. Also, frankly, I think a lot of publishers have been diluting their brands by publishing stuff that isn't that good.
Either way, readers will come to your book largely because of the topic and hopefully because they know who you are already. A pretty woodcut animal and O'Reilly logo on the cover only goes so far. How much is that worth to you?
The way to look at this is: will a traditional publisher increase my sales enough to more than pay for the share they take? If so, do it. If not, they're just leeching off you.
Ultimately, I've decided to go with the traditional route because I don't have the audience.
Also, that 10% is after discounts and payment processing fees. So it works out at about $2/book.
If you live in the US (she didn't) then Amazon can be a decent option for a lot of reach though.
Amazon and other similar print on demand services also help with this but it's not suitable for all products (full colour can be a problem).
With certain professional books publishing with a known publisher definitely gives the book a certain "gravitas" (deserved or not) that it may not have if you independently publish. And if you're mostly writing a book to burnish your professional reputation (as is often the case) rather than to make money, that may be a pretty good tradeoff even if you could have made more in direct sales if you published yourself.
To be honest, I'm not sure publishers do an awful lot for you directly though you will probably have to pay out of your pocket for things like editing services if you go it yourself, but the name does still often matter.
I did a lot of the editing myself, my writing is fine, but my feedback was mostly typos/grammar/phrasing - not a coherent look at the overall structure and content which a more experienced editor may do.
I had declined both of them as they only offered 10% royalty rates.
I didn't have to pay for editing. I did everything myself: writing, diagrams, proofreading, marketing.
In fact, I decided to self-publish it after reading this article from Antonio Goncalves about his Java EE 7 book:
(The good news is that it's not really expensive to pay someone to do if you don't really need the services of a full-blown editor who is advising on structure, flow, etc.)
Agreed, but it's easy to hire a freelance copy editor. In fact, that's often what traditional publishers do too.
IMO, it's not something you can rely on software for although software catches a lot of course. The one time I didn't do it worked out OK. But I had a co-author and we had sufficiently reworked the (somewhat shorter) book enough times over a fairly long period that I decided it had had enough fresh eyes on it to stand on its own.
And of course publishers aren't perfect either. I've found a few typos in my last book which did go through a traditional publisher even though I also proofread it pretty carefully. (One mistake was in front matter which I added fairly late on which makes me suspect there would have been a lot more errors in the book if I didn't check it carefully myself.)
At one time publishers did all the advertising and actually "publishing" (printing). They also took the risk of course.
Sad practice is, that some local publishers which have a working niche refuse to sell ebooks. They rely solemly on traditional hardcover publishing.
No ebooks, yes. But it is - sadly - working for them.
Most authors don't do all this guy did. Most simply write the text and leave it there. Publishers do everything else this guy did to move the book.
(I've written parts of several books, and have received small royalty checks for well over a decade)
Also, I don't see why them taking on a risk of printing upfront should be offloaded on the author through smaller fee.
If an author wants access to the distribution network of a certain publisher, they must pay.
Ever wonder why the biggest authors don’t simply run their own publishing houses? They understand the value provided. And they rarely if ever reach 50% in royalties (I’ve never heard it, in many decades of following professional writing).
What I do find is authors generally have no idea of the value provided. In which case they’re welcome to self publish. But self-publishing rarely results in great sales either.
Both avenues have pros and cons. That said, I’d likely still choose a publisher, since my time is also important, and I’d prefer not having to be average in a dozen skills when I can invest effort at being much better at a few.
I said that I doubt they could help me find a better job considering that my book is mostly about Java Persistence and Hibernate :D
Under what circumstances would you expect someone to discover your book (they can't buy it if they don't know about it).
If I want to learn a particular software tool (Kafka, Kubernetes, git). I might go to Amazon or Google and search the name of tool, possibly with "book" appended.
If I want to learn how to do functional programming, I'll search for "functional programming book" or something like that.
What's a search term that I'd be likely to use that would lead me to your book? Or is there one?
Most of my readers get to know me from these resources prior to knowing about my book.
I am familiar with consulting. Initially I thought that giving all special knowledge away for free would be the worst thing I could possibly do.
Boy was I wrong.
Nowadays I give presentations detailing step by step exactly what people need to do in order to achieve some outcome, with as goal that they could do it 100% by themselves if they want to.
My theory is that this leads to more sales due to me becoming more visible + it builds large amounts of trust + the best possible clients are going to be very busy + the best possible clients are aware that they could implement all my advice by themselves, but if having me on board as well increases odds of success by as little as 10% (or increases the total impact by as little as 10%), it is still going to be a win to have me on board as well.
It accomplishes a few things:
* While I was writing the book, I published each chapter online as I finished it. The top of each page has a link to my mailing list. This was a great way to build an audience. By the time the book was complete, I had a mailing list with thousands of people I could tell about it.
* It lets readers try before they buy, which builds confidence.
* It makes for a very effective web presence. People searching for the topic are likely to find it.
* People really love it. Even if they never buy it, they become fans because they've been given something for free. That in turn makes them walking advertisers for the book. I've had people who read the entire book online buy a copy afterwards just to say thanks.
* It enables people who can't afford it to still have access to the material. This may not make me more money, but it's important to me.
But reading the book is easier than browsing the articles because the book has a certain structure while the articles focus on a single topic only.
If folks really like your content, they'll often pay for the book just to support you.
edit: This might sound vague, I'm curious because I'm trying to figure out my own niche.
Since I liked the topic, I decided to write a book about high-performance data access with Java.
What did you use for the blog?
My blog is running on WordPress.com. I'm using a Business plan so I can better customize the website.
I'll be adding this one naturally
Have you thought about adding the scale of the author's following and/or social media presence?
For example, this story's author has 21,000 followers on Twitter, and a successful blog.
Another example is 200k in sales https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23502770 where the self-publishing author admitted that practically all sales were due to 35,000 Twitter followers.
Have you come across an example of a successful book launch where an (unknown) author didn't already have a large following?
Horses for courses, as we say in the UK, but working for an SP500 company means a boss, reporting, office politics, and spending most of the day doing things that other people want you to to do. If you're independently minded and want to break out of that world, stories like the OP's are nice to see.
I was approached by recruiters asking me if I wanted to work for Google in Zurich. I had to decline them.
I'm happier being a solo-entrepreneur. The best part is that I get to learn a lot of stuff about running a business, which was impossible when I was a employee.
I know my case is an extreme corner case, but I did finally try my hand at writing a book to make money. Long story short, I left my job, was living on my savings, tried a few things, etc. The only active earning came via 1/2 workshops I conducted at my college. I started maintaing materials for those workshops and expanded it on my own interest and tried to get donations. But no one did (GitHub didn't have sponsors at that time).
Finally, as a sort of last ditch effort before being forced to start working a job again, I tried my hand at converting my materials into a book. I had been working to convert "Think Python" to "Think Ruby", so that gave a bit of experience and confidence as well. Second book gave an initial sale of $250+ (enough to pay two months of my expenses), so I've continued with it.
With the pandemic, my workshops have dried up. Fortunately, I have 6 books now and looks like I'll comfortably cover my expenses this year. My monthly salary from 6 years back when I left the job would've covered my current yearly expenses, but I'm unlikely to go back to working like that again.
I have to imagine consulting gigs would go up. And as the "guy who wrote the book on it" you can probably charge significantly more.
If you live in the US. Which I'm (maybe wrongly) going to assume the author doesn't. 100k dollars is a life changing amount of money in a lot of countries.
I'm not living in the US. I live in Romania. In Europe, salaries are not as high as the ones in California. But then, even in the US, the Silicon Valley salaries are much higher than in other states.
The great thing about selling products is that there is no upper boundary to how much money you can make. So, over time, you can end up making 250k $ from a single book.
The advantage of passive income is that you can use your time to create new products, which, in turn, can generate more income. It's not easy, but it's not impossible either.
I live in Poland and a one-off 100k USD as a side income in a year would absolutely change my life. I am _not_ exaggerating.
Sorry for nitpicking, it really bothers me when such small and easily correctable error continues.
It depends on how you approach this investment. For me, a book is like any other product I make. It takes a certain amount of resources to produce and launch it, and it should generate at least as much revenue as I would have made if I had chosen to do consulting instead.
However, selling products can scale better than consulting. So, over time, you could end up making more money from a certain product (e.g., book, video course) than if you were employed or doing consulting.
Anyone that smart could make more than that - guaranteed just by consulting.
I’m most familiar with the Apple related ecosystem, but there you see people with a following making a money via optional subscriptions (Accidental Tech Podcast,Upgrade), subscription only podcasts (Dithering by John Gruber and Ben Thompson), or daily newsletters (Ben Thompson).
If he is not doing just for the money, then go for it. Another example is John Siracusa of ATP. He wrote large reviews of each version of OS X for the first 10 years that literally took months, did much more than his contract required and admitted that if he actually accounted for every hour he worked on it, it paid much less than minimum wage.
One more mention is Horace Deidu. He got his start as an analyst, started podcasting and now hosts paid workshops and conferences.
I keep on updating it and will release a second edition soon.
The marketing effort is not just for the book. It also helps me sell:
- video courses
- on-site training
- online training and workshops
- find consulting opportunities
- subscription licenses for a software product I created, Hypersistence Optimizer, https://vladmihalcea.com/hypersistence-optimizer/
So, it can surely help you sell other services. However, this Twitter thread aimed to point out that a book can also make good money, not just be an exposure mechanism.
I'd have absolutely no idea where to even start consulting, or whether I'd have any aptitude for it. I'd be very surprised if anyone anywhere wanted to pay me $100k for consulting!
But I could probably write a book.
People have strengths in different areas.
By the time you established yourself as an expert in the field like he did, consulting opportunities would open themselves up.
I just have a very small network compared to him, haven’t tried to market myself and just through word of mouth, I’ve had a couple of people asking me about consulting for their startups that could have easily netted $30K - $40K at $125-$150/hour.
I have a strict policy about not doing side gigs so I turned them down. But now, I probably would have had to turn them down regardless because of a conflict of interest since I do consulting as part of $day_job.
Lol thanks for the attack on my writing skill and ability to promote myself!
Being an expert in a field and being able to write a book doesn't mean you're any good at consulting. That's my point. It's a different skill.
Also, consulting really involves only a few things:
- marketing yourself
- being able to listen to people and figure out their needs
- being a good communicator and being able to explain concepts well.
- being technical sound enough to solve the problem.
- being disciplined enough to be a consistent worker.
Most of which overlaps with being a successful technical author.
One of them - The Art of SEO, feels like a treasure trove of wisdom and experience. Another that I won't name, but is about a popular programming language, feels more or less like like a print copy of the online documentation that's available for free, with very little value-add.
Shop with care, and if you're going to write, write with purpose and real value.