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Writing a software book and making over $100k (twitter.com)
250 points by mariuz 32 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 120 comments

These numbers are possible and repeatable. I've made over $100k on software books at least 7 separate times [1].

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

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17015117

> Strong promotion: ... collecting emails - launching to an email list of 10k-100k+

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?

Email fatigue comes from self-serving emails. When you get value from an email, it isn't a burden.

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).

I'm not sure that the value can explain the 100k signups though; except for a small amount of word-of-mouth the vast majority of those must type in their email based solely on the website content and the promo?

I asked that question, and then I realized I have subscribed to 4 or 5 free newsletters--currently money stuff, orbital index and stratechery.

And I have in the past bought books from peoples blogs as a way of saying thank you for providing great free content.

Even among technical folks you are in the minority. Especially among non-technical folks, who will toss their email into just about anything that asks for it for almost any reason.

This sounds less like “publishing a book” in the traditional sense and more like “becoming an education and training entrepreneur.” (Which is fine if you enjoy that kind of thing, but seems like the book part is only a tiny % of the work involved.)

When you use a publisher, you only have to write the book, and the publisher will take care of editing, printing, distribution, marketing, advertising, etc.

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.

I wonder how feasible it would be to write a (great) book, skip most of the coursework/training/audience-building bits, market it using more conventional means (reach out to journalists, etc.), and make ~$10k?

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.)

Right. This is why you partner with someone like me - because we already have an audience, a process, and some capital+labor we can use to help produce & promote your book/course.

>though the journalist cold-calling was arduous and questionably reproducible

To do this seriously you probably want to contract with a decent PR person.

Great. With this spoiler, I'll never get to read about how to write that Adblocker with Clojure on Arduino

There might be a market for a Pihole book, if the existing documentation is insufficient (https://docs.pi-hole.net/ looks pretty thin). But Clojure seems unlikely.

This is a good point. There probably is a market for a Pihole book.

> launching to an email list of 10k-100k+

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!

As also mentioned by OP, blogging for your book while writing it, is a very important exercise and it's so underrated.

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.

Honest questions:

- 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.

(a) It takes me about 20 hours of work - and 1 week calendar time - to finish a chapter. A typical book is ~10 chapters.

(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

I assume writing books is a full-time job for you. How do you maintain enough in-anger technical expertise to keep writing books that people find useful? Or do you learn as you write?

I've started to collaborate with other folks to sort of semi-self-publish. Meaning, I have structure, a process, and an audience and I've been working with other folks who want to teach, but don't have an audience yet.

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.

While it's great you're sharing your success and formula one must consider market saturation. Once that point is reached there may not be enough underserved demand to support similar gains for others.

Edit: you're not your

You're right in theory - you can't write dozens of books about exactly the same topic, but I feel that scarcity mindset may miss the broader trend that programming isn't slowing down.

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)

Hey Jash, Curious: with your email list, do you send value-giving emails at regular intervals -- ergo a weekly digest

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

How wide need to be the market?

It is useful to focus on a single technology or it can be as wide as a general topic?

People want to learn what you do at work. Real projects, real code, with usable output. Blog posts tend to teach in an idealized, shallow way - because it's easier to write about and easier to teach.

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 am in the fortune situation where I work on very low level details of foundational technology. Basically I believe that I got like 20 colleagues (people working on the same topic as myself) everywhere in the world, and all of them in big-tech companies.

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

There is a huge amount of interest in learning how to become a sr. engineer. Go check out the work of swyx (also in this thread [1]). I believe he said he made $25k+ from his book.

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 [2]).

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.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23819320 [2] https://podcast.newline.co/episodes/cracking-the-coding-care...

I'm the book author, so if you have any questions, let me know.

You mentioned publishers leave you with 10% of the sales. I can't wrap my head around that, how is that possible and acceptable by authors?

> how is that possible and acceptable by authors?

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.

You get an advance. And in the past it used to be possible to get a royalty stream too. In the 80s and 90s, some authors made fortunes like this.

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.

I've just signed a contract to write a book and I get an advance and then 10% (goes up to 12/15% if more are sold).

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.

Publisher deadlines are both a blessing and a curse. I did the last book I wrote through a publisher. It was a concept I'd had bouncing around in my head for a while but hadn't made much progress on beyond a rough mental headline. When a publisher wanted to run with it, it forced me to focus on it--fortunately during a period when doing so wasn't too onerous.

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.)

Does the 10% go against your advance or does it start immediately?

An advance is, just what it sounds, an advance payment on royalties. Publishing, unlike film/tv or music generally doesn't play games with royalties, so, if the book sells, once you've earned enough royalties to cover the advance you will get additional earnings.

I've gone the traditional publishing route with three books so far.

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.

The main flipside is that you also have to play by the publisher's rules, so length, deadlines, and (importantly) price. You probably can't set a lower price or give away digital copies like you can if you self-publish which may work against a desire to use the book for exposure/reputation/etc.

At least my publisher (Apress) is pretty open to giving away free copies for review (everything that helps bring reviews on Amazon is a plus), and limited discount vouchers etc.

But yes, you don't have all the freedom that you have with leanpub & co.

I have a book through Apress as well. Among other things, their contract was pretty generous about my repurposing small chunks of book material for other purposes--which I've taken full advantage of. They also offered some sort of discount so that an organization could have me do a book signing though I don't know the financial details. (And said organization might have done this if it weren't through a known publisher.)

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.

Historically, publishers take on the cost of marketing and printing. Printing copies of a book demonstrates their capital investment in the work and that helps unlock distributors, retailers. Often publishers would supply editing and formatting/publication services too.

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.

It's worth noting that the 10% vs 80/95% figures are comparing different totals. For a traditional publisher, the 10% is against the price of the book (depending on the contract this might be against cover price or against the price the publisher actually receives from the wholesaler). It's not, like the self-publishing platforms, the percentage of net profit after costs like printing etc.

Yes, good point.

And once upon a time, buying, inking, moving pulp was not cheap.

Probably less than you think. When there was a lot of discussion around ebook pricing back in the day, it turned out that ebooks weren't really all much cheaper to produce than physical mass market books. The costs associated with the physical books were only around $2 per copy.

There are a lot of things publishers do behind the scenes that no one thinks about. Sure there are things like marketing and printing. There are a lot of other little things too. Content editing. Publishers often hire another person who is at least or more knowledgeable on the subject to review what the author says. They make sure that all the code works, does it make sense in certain contexts etc. When code doesn't work, its the reviewer's fault.

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.

> There are a lot of things publishers do behind the scenes that no one thinks about.

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.

As someone who came down on the other side of this decision, I agree with these points. It's something that I've lightly regretted, but I wouldn't have started the process without Manning. Also being published with Manning has given me career opportunities that I wouldn't have dreamed of without them.

Ultimately, I've decided to go with the traditional route because I don't have the audience.

I don't understand it myself which is why I chose to self-publish. Very easy nowadays, even if you want to be on Amazon.

That's what I'm receiving from Manning for Rust in Action. I didn't sign the book contract with a traditional publisher for the money, I signed up for the credibility.

Also, that 10% is after discounts and payment processing fees. So it works out at about $2/book.

I bought your book very recently! I was reading the online version and it kept losing my place, so I bought the ebook version for the epub. It was recommended on Twitter when I asked for Rust resources.

I don't think it's unreasonable that for many people, a publisher with experience and an existing distribution network & agreements, perceived authority as a "real" publisher, and a marketing budget and plan will result in 10x the sales. I've had a friend self publish in another industry and getting books shipped around the world and in stores is a hassle as a lone operator - and that's if people even know you exist.

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).

>perceived authority as a "real" publisher,

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.

By far the biggest thing we've missed with the book I mentioned was the distribution and marketing reach. It was a niche craft industry so it was possible to get interest from individual stores and retailers, but since demand came piece by piece it was only really possible to ship one or two boxes of books at a time (at an average cost of around ~$10 per book via courier, depending on country) rather than leveraging cheap container shipping along with a bunch of different titles into a warehouse or as part of a big push campaign, like a publisher could.

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 was approached by two "real" publishers asking me whether I want to publish my book with them.

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:


Everyone should obviously do things as they individually see fit. But, in my experience, publishing something without someone else doing at least copyediting/proofreading tends to lead to a lot of errors and is certainly not something I would advise in general. All I know is that I find it hard to even publish a blog post without typos if someone else doesn't edit it--and sometimes even then.

(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.)

> publishing something without someone else doing at least copyediting/proofreading tends to lead to a lot of errors and is certainly not something I would advise in general.

Agreed, but it's easy to hire a freelance copy editor. In fact, that's often what traditional publishers do too.

Yep. The one time I really wanted one, I just paid an intern working for a magazine editor friend of mine a few hundred dollars and that was fine.

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.)

I'm using Grammarly to correct my spelling mistakes. It also provides tips about phrasing.

I thought 15% was the industry standard. But yeah, that's how it acceptable: it's the industry standard.

At one time publishers did all the advertising and actually "publishing" (printing). They also took the risk of course.

Same practice here in Germany as well.

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.

Content is easy to get for publishers, and they have to often invest significant time and money to get the book to market. They often take a risk on printing X copies, and they don't sell, the publisher eats the cost. You can say to just print on demand, but that is costlier per book. They often have to provide editors to clean up the book, do marketing through their channels, and promote the book.

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)

We both seem to have direct experience of working with a publisher, but I think you are overstating the effort of most publishers these days. Too many books, even from reputable publishers, are of fairly low quality, which as a reader bothers me even more than stuff like this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/markos/49564386913/in/datepost...

Also, I don't see why them taking on a risk of printing upfront should be offloaded on the author through smaller fee.

When either party takes on more risk in a deal they want compensation. This is perfectly understandable.

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.

To make matters worse, the 10% figure can actually be a bit on the high side based on experience.

They'll tell you about their competition offering you 8%, and they're not even lying.

They told me that it will help me get a better job. At the time I was working for Red Hat on the Hibernate project.

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?

That's where my blog, https://vladmihalcea.com/blog/ or my StackOverflow answer, https://stackoverflow.com/users/1025118/vlad-mihalcea come into play.

Most of my readers get to know me from these resources prior to knowing about my book.

If everything in the book was also in your blog posts, didn't that dampen sales of the book? This is my fear, if I give it away, no one will buy it.

I would assume that his blog posts are what convinced quite a few people to actually buy the book. That said, I'm not too familiar with the book sales industry.

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.

If you are good at something and the customer doesn't really understand the process then you can make it look easy, and no one wants to spend a lot of money to pay someone to do something easy. But if the customer knows what it actually takes to solve the problem, the real value of having someone else do it is much more evident. Even if you feel like what you do is easy, there are people out there who consider it indistinguishable from magic. The uninformed are impressed by the magic, the informed are impressed by the magician.

That's true. My blog is thd front-end to every product or service that I'm selling. It's a very useful marketing tool.

I have the entire text of my first book available online for free. My sales have been way more than I ever expected, year after year.

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.

No, that's not an issue at all. I have hundreds of articles on my blog that are also covered in the book:


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.

Packaging, convenience, lack of redundancy and logical structure are worth a lot if your time is valuable. ConversionXL sell video courses for $600 each that have ~the same content as their endless series of blog posts. But the video course has a beginning, middle and end. It’s a polished finished product. The blog posts are raw material. Plenty of academics do similar things when writing books. There’s vanishingly little in any of Bryan Caplan’s that didn’t appear on his blog first but the books are far superior at conveying a theory, rather than more or less disconnected facts.


Many in this space have made good revenue by literally just packaging blog posts together with a nice cover and no additional editing. Maybe a small intro for each group of related posts.

If folks really like your content, they'll often pay for the book just to support you.

Thanks for sharing your process. it is very insightful. How did you found out that JAVA is your niche?

edit: This might sound vague, I'm curious because I'm trying to figure out my own niche.

I've been using Java since 2005 so it's the ecosystem I know best. When I started my blog, I tried various topics, but the Java Persistence and Hibernate got the most traffic.

Since I liked the topic, I decided to write a book about high-performance data access with Java.

What program did you use to actually write your book? Word/Pages?

What did you use for the blog?

I wrote the book in MarkDown using IntelliJ IDEA. The book is stored on GitHub and LeanPub fetches the files and renders it.

My blog is running on WordPress.com. I'm using a Business plan so I can better customize the website.


Congrats on your book launch!

Thanks. I pre-launched it in November 2015 and launched the final version in October 2016. By 2019, I had managed to sell over 5000 copies and make over 100k. I'm thinking of releasing a second edition in 2021 or 2022.

That’s incredible man!! All the best for your second book!


for those interested in other examples I studied a bunch of them and compiled them into this list for my own book launch https://github.com/sw-yx/launch-cheatsheet

I'll be adding this one naturally

Very cool resource.

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?

Here’s one example of a successful launch with almost no followers: https://twitter.com/dvassallo/status/1260964674561953792?s=2...

too hard to maintain as this is a moving number

I consider this a success story similar to an NBA star making it. So if 100k is very successful in terms of computer book revenues, then I’d say money should not be the main motivation to do it, as there’s better, more reliable ways to earn money in the software industry - working for any SP500 company will easily get you the same amount of money in less than a year, more or less guaranteed. I know it’s not either or situation, just that it proves that money should not be main motivator for writing a book.

working for any SP500 company will easily get you the same amount of money in less than a year

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.

> 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.

>money should not be main motivator for writing a book.

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.

Do you mind me asking how ~$250 is enough to cover your expenses for 2 months? That amount is so low for anyone in the US that the anecdote reads more as proof that it’s not worth it to write a book for the income. :-)

I'm from India and currently live in outskirts of a city. I'm living in a rented place, otherwise my expenses (currently about $150 per month) would be even lesser. I also employ a maid for cleaning/washing purposes. $150 translates to more than Rs.10000 and that puts me above the average income in my country.

Writing a highly niche book like this, probably compensates you more in the "exposure" side of things (i realize that word has negative connotations now, but it is a real thing).

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.

LOL, good lord, no. I published a book about SSL around 10 years ago or so (one of only, I believe, five or six such books). I found myself unexpectedly back on the job market around 2017 and I applied for job listings specifically related to SSL. Never heard back from a single one of them. The only time the book came up was when I interviewed for the (completely non-SSL, non-security-focused) job I have now when one of the interviewers said, "You published a book about SSL? But you can do other stuff, right?"

> working for any SP500 company will easily get you the same amount of money in less than a year

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.

> Which I'm (maybe wrongly) going to assume the author doesn't.

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.

Oh man, I completely agree with you. People here or on reddit who are constantly talking about US salaries and cost of life forget that there's other parts of the world where people are programmers.

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.

US dollar is a prefix currency sign. All your dollar sums should look like $<sum> (Euro is also prefix, BTW). Compare [1] and [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanian_leu#List_of_current_b...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_one-hundred-doll...

Sorry for nitpicking, it really bothers me when such small and easily correctable error continues.

> I’d say money should not be the main motivation to do it

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.

I’ll go a step further. I agree going through all of the trouble writing and promoting a book for only a $100K seems like a lot of work. Especially when you consider the risk adjusted return.

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.

The book made more than 100k as it's still selling pretty well. In fact, the sales have increased over time, even if the book is now 5 years old.

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/

That makes sense. From what I’ve seen, most authors don’t write books just to make money from the books themselves but as the center of the “flywheel”.

I manged to get some training engagements because someone in the company read the book and liked it.

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.

> Anyone that smart could make more than that - guaranteed just by consulting.

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.

Yes you could write a book, but no one would buy it or even hear about it unless you put in the work that he did to make a name for himself.

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.

It all tends to be interconnected. A number of people ask me for advice based in part on the last book I wrote. I'm happy to give them a free hour phone call as it's sort of good ambassadorship associated with my day job. I could do a side consulting business in the space but don't really have an interest so I give them the name of one or two people I know who do have consulting businesses if they want to dig deeper.

> Yes you could write a book, but no one would buy it or even hear about it

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.

That’s not what I said at all. I in fact said just the opposite. The process he took to promote himself so his book would sell is the same process it would take to promote himself as a consultant.

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.

As another point one could add "Write about a reasonably popular subject and write for beginners". From my own experience of analyzing popular content and people that have successfully built a large follower base (in tech) it seems that almost all of them produce content about subjects that a lot of people are interested in (e.g. Javascript, CSS, web development, basic Unix/Linux functionality) and target mostly beginners.

Once you find someone willing to put in the level of work required (probably 80% of people simply will not work hard enough to finish), the most common mistake is targeting the advanced/experts in their field. That's great to flesh out your following, but if your goal is revenue, beginners are going to be the key to driving that. That doesn't necessarily mean actual beginners - you can write about microservices architecture for mid-level and advanced software developers, but target those who aren't familiar with microservices. They're beginners in that respect. You'll have 10x the revenue from a "Microservices 101" type product as you will from a product of similar length and quality talking about all the different ways to structure your messaging topics, for example.

I've bought a handful of software and technology books from O'Reilly and had mixed experiences.

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.

Thanks, this is inspirational. Glad to see writing about "a niche in a niche" as you put it in one of your tweets can do so well for an individual author (provided they do it as intelligently as you did).

I didn't expect much when I started. However, traffic grew over time, and I got to learn more about marketing, so in the end, it turned out to be a good investment.

Seems to be genuine. In fact for 1 year whilst $100k is quite a lot but as he said, he may be able to get that in consultancy. But I guess the satisfaction (if successful) would be very different.

I did't make 100k in one year. It took several years to get to this amount, but it didn't stop there either.

I made over $10k with my first book. Which took me about 3-4 months to write. So I approve.

Important: Write in English. (or maybe Chinese?)

Wow! Amazing

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