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I earned $160k in passive income from writing non-fiction books (greglim81.medium.com)
337 points by greglim81 on April 28, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 224 comments

The thing that always bothers me about these articles, and I completely accept it may just me reading into it what I want to see, is I immediately assume the dollar figure is annual. $160k/yr sounds like great passive income. You could certainly stop working a 9-5 and build out a really great lifestyle business.

But then I look at the article. Oh, it's over six years? Okay, $26k/yr is a lot less and all of a sudden it's a big risk to try and turn that into a real business. Wait, what's that in the screenshot? 78 books? $341 per book, per year. And my thought goes from "that sounds like a great little business!" to "fuck that" within about fifteen seconds.

And such is the lifecycle of these "how I made $n doing x" articles. Great claims that when you dig into them, the resulting wisdom is basically "do a lot of work, and have a little bit of luck. And don't forget the marketing!"

I don't mean to tear down what the author did by any stretch, it's impressive regardless of the time frame. But if you're already making $150-200k/yr from a tech job, do you really want to bust your ass for another couple grand?

To summarize a bit further, the income is not passive at all.

Yeah, show the numbers for each book made after the first year of release. I'd consider that more passive.

will document them in twitter

"I have a moderately remunerative writing side hustle" just doesn't have the same ring to it

Yes, but at least, he's not selling you the version that says "I hired a bunch of people in {enter 3rd world country} to write books on random subjects, then hired another bunch of people in {other 3rd world country} to write fake reviews about them", and made it into a business.

When it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Writing (from a quick skim check) at least 16 books over a period of 6 years, and earning money from that, is not exactly what I'd call "passive income". And given the topics are mostly (all?) about niches in current technologies they also won't continue to deliver passively forever.

A more appropriate title and angle might be "How I've earned $10k/book and manage to keep writing more while maintaining a day job". (Which is in itself impressive!)

Some quick napkin-math

I found 17 books where he was author and co-author, all books sum up to 2924 pages. I'm sure some of these books have lots of overlap - for example, I found three books which included "React hooks" in them, so I'd assume that he copy/pasted some pages. But for simplicity and worst-case scenario, let's assume 2924 unique pages, and subtract say, 200 blank pages and similar, so 2724 unique pages.

$160k / 2724 pages = $58.73 in revenue pr. page.

Let's further assume that he spent one hour on each page. Over six years, that's 454 hours / year spent in writing books. If we further assume that he wrote those during weekdays (260 / year), that comes to roughly 1h 45m a day writing.

And then you have to ask yourself - how much do you value your spare time? How much would it cost to hire you, in your free time, for almost two hours?

If we assume that you make $50 / hr. at your work, and work 8 hours a day, 260 days a year, that comes to $104k/year - which seems like a normal salary for IT professionals in the western world, at least if you have the knowledge enough to punch out xx books on various topics.

Let's use that as the opportunity cost for this calculation - i.e, had the average IT guy chosen to rather work than write a book, at $50/hr, the opportunity cost would have come to 2724 hours (because 1 hr/page) * $50 = $136200. These are the gross figures, we haven't even touched on things like taxes, third-party costs, and what not. And all the above assumptions could be wildly inaccurate - for all we know, the author could burn through these books in just weeks, being a very productive writer. Or it could have taken more time.

So I wouldn't call it "passive income" at all. The author clearly spent substantial amounts of time to write these books, and other parts of business. But one could argue that future earnings will be more or less passive, and those are the fruits of his labor.

EDIT: And as other have mentioned, while published books can earn you income "indefinitely", most books still have a finite product lifetime. At some point the sales will taper off, and become more or less negligible.

But if you enjoy writing, enjoy the idea of helping people, and then a lot of the above kind of becomes irrelevant. For some people, this kind of work is infinitely more rewarding than "regular" work, and the payoff is more than just monetary ROI.

> $160k / 2724 pages = $58.73 in revenue pr. page.

It likely ends up being a lot higher revenue depending on the author's life style.

Books and courses potentially have a lot of "back-end" value from opportunities that come up through folks finding you through your book / course.

Here's a couple of excerpts from writing blog posts and making a few video courses over the last 5-6 years:

Wrote a blog post about Flask that took me 3 hours to write but it resulted in 40 hours of contract work from someone finding me through that post. You could say the post directly made $0, but indirectly made a lot more than $0. Stuff like this might happen 8 months after you write the post.

In another case, I made a course about Flask and someone reached me out to me for contract work which resulted in a multi-year long gig which then turned into a full time position and along the way met some great people.

I've flown across the US a few times for tech events (all expenses paid) because of a blog post and got to experience things I wouldn't have gotten to experience on my own.

There's dozens of other events and contract gigs over the years that happened from writing blog posts and video courses. They all resulted in either indirect monetary gains or fun life experiences. A lot of the posts resulted in nothing too but that's ok. To me writing is the reward, everything else is secondary.

I think it can be difficult to calculate the actual added value on this basis or at least, I've found it hard to do so for my own blogging which has also led to substantial paid work.

That's because, although I can trace specific projects and therefore specific revenue to things I've written, I don't know what the counterfactual would have been. Would I have ended up doing another, similar, project instead? How much of a premium can I charge because of the channel through which the work came in?

> I don't know what the counterfactual would have been

I don't think anyone can answer that.

If you take this line of thought to completion then nothing is quantifiable because there's too many ways for events to have an unpredictable outcome when measured over time. For example, you could start walking outside on a windy day, wave at your neighbor without stopping, eventually reach train tracks, pause for 2 minutes to wait for the train to pass, continue walking and then get hit in the face by a $20 bill that happened to get lifted up by a wind gust. If you talked for 5 minutes with your neighbor instead of just waving you wouldn't have picked up $20 because the $20 would have blown away by the time you got there.

Since your life is a series of non-editable events there's no way to know what would have happened in both scenarios. Or to relate it back to this example, writing blog posts, books or courses. The only thing you can do is make decisions that you think will be beneficial for you based on whatever criteria you feel is important. I can say at least in my case, writing these posts and making those courses produced a beneficial outcome and tons of other folks have said similar things about writing.

One thing I've learned is you can't discount great things from happening when doing things that feel minor. It's like the butterfly effect. Someone reading 1 sentence in a blog post you wrote 2 years ago could result in you getting a personal tour from the senior astronomer at SETI's headquarters[0]. Completely unpredictable.

[0]: https://nickjanetakis.com/blog/coming-back-to-cloud-field-da...

The thing that is often missed with opportunity cost is whether more work feasible. Most of us are salaried. Most of us have contracts/policies that say working for another company has to be approved. Even if you find another job, will they actually pay that much and will the hours be flexible enough to rival writing? It's not really lost opportunity cost if the opportunity doesn't exist.

Do most employer policies really require explicit approval for moonlighting? I'm on job number seven, not counting a 4-5 year stint freelancing full time, and none of them required approval. A couple required notification but several didn't mention moonlighting at all beyond the typical "only do work stuff on work machines."

Depends on where you live. It's pretty common that companies don't want you working for competitors. How they implement that depends. Some have non-competes, while some states don't allow them. My company requires approval for compliance reasons (regulated industry).

That’s 136k over six years though, so ~22k/year in “time”, returning ~27k/year in profit. And for this kind of content one hour per page is certainly overestimating.

The trick is that you cannot simply decide to work an extra hour and a half everyday at your day job to get the extra income. Plus who wants to work 10 hour days for years on end?

Of course, there must be some assumption that you either have the ability to do extra work that generates income at work (could very well be the case for consultants), or you can do contract / consulting work yourself.

Writing a book falls into the category of being your own boss/business - but there are also uncertainties.

The author mentioned that he spent around two months on producing a book, and seeing that he's authored 17 books - that comes out to 34 months over 6 year. But I can't find any information on how much time is being spent during those two months. My estimates were almost two hours / pages or writing a day, and with average of 170 pages a book, that came to 80-90 days of writing, or almost 3 months. So it seems I overestimated.

One issue I see with your example. You say “had the IT guy chosen to work”. This statement assumes OP can just pickup more hours easily. That is not the reality. If it’s a salary based position, OP can’t put in more hours just to earn additional income. If it’s a hourly job, OP all can’t put in more hours. Usually anything outside 40 hours is considered overtime and would need to budgeted and approved by the employer. OP could use his IT skills to find more work at that rate for a different company, but now we are back to the passive income example. TLDR. The math makes sense, but the example falls flat in reality.

> Let's further assume that he spent one hour on each page.

That seems extremely low for finished, post-edit text? I would estimate one work-day per page is more likely?

And he's probably pretty dam good at this, lucky and well connected. Articles like this imply everyone can do this which isn't true.

Which is what explains this poor attempt at advertising. The post and this thread are more about showcasing his books, less so about income. Passive or otherwise.

Interesting. I didn’t look up his books or even think about that. I did however start to think about a book I could write. Maybe this was an advertisement, but that’s certainly not all it was.

glad it inspired u to write your book!

Yeah, I was expecting some mention of the editing and publishing process but didn't see them. The article doesn't have much useful information in it in my opinion. The whole thing is sort of like "look at all the money I made writing books; you can too by doing xyz", when in reality most self-published books make next to nothing. And to be honest, that making money and out of touch with reality kind of pisses me off.

The image near the top of the post suggests that he's written 78 books!

From Wikipedia:

> Passive income also know as "Unearned Income" is income that can be earned automatically with minimal labor to earn or maintain. It can be a great way to help one generate extra cash flow, whether he or she is running a side hustle or just trying to get a little extra dough each month.

According to the above definition, the author earns $$$ each year after he had written each book and he doesn't need to do a lot of stuff to earn or maintain (people just buy on Amazon and upvote his books, e.g.). So it is passive income. ("minimal labor to earn" =>>> the author doesn't need to create ads to promote his books etc., he just write them once... and this writting is equivalent to "low labor", see below).

What you want to highlist is rather: SINCE he has worked a lot to earn $10k with 78 books (not only one book - which you wrote in your comment) written over a period of several years, THEN: is it actually worth in terms of $$$?

Given the fact he probably didn't spend lots of $$$ to write and publish his books & ebooks (but he didn't give this piece of information), and given the fact that writting a book is far less stressing than working for someone (in fact, in addition to his job, it made him relaxing), I would say YES. The time he has spent on each book is controlled since in his article, he emphasizes on the fact that he writtes 100+ pages books, not more: so even considering "time is money", the time with no income required to write his books may have been refunded with the sells quite quick.

*Note that: bank investment need lots of money to be done. Writting books, no. Bank investment need a few seconds to be done. Writting books, several months. I think they are equivalent and, thus, are both ways to earn passive incomes.* ("equivalence" from a money point of view and almost from a labor point of view, if we consider that bank investments's initial brought money is only due to labor, not inheritance, etc.)

Moreover, since he already have a fulltime job, I bet he uses his books income to invest as banks investments or, perhaps, on Bitcoin, etc (since his fulltime job decreases the risks for him to have a big debt e.g., in the case of his eventual investments were not worth). Such investments would extend the "worthly"-side of his books activity, alongside with very controlled risks thanks to his fulltime job.

PS: I think 2 or 3 points above have medium probability to be wrong, because the author didn't communicate about them, leading to some speculation/hypothesises by myself. So don't take this comment too serious. However I think it's consistent thoughts.

Passive income: income not related to current/recent work. Writing is a bit like an investment. It can pay off later.

Passive income is income that can be earned automatically with minimal labor to earn or maintain. I guess you can't really call that passive if you spend time working for it. It's not like an investment that you buy once and gives your income each month.

PS: Sadly writing can pay off as much as giving you nothing (money wise).

Yeah it's kind of tricky to classify this on the passive/working[2] income scale, and I'm not even sure it's a useful classification at that point. But here's how I'd think about it.

Imagine you work a legit, regular job. Obviously, that's not passive income. But say you get a deal[1] that, for every year where you defer receiving the salary from the employer, you get a 10% bonus (compounded like interest).

The correct way to look at that, IMHO, would be "The original salary is working income, the additional gains from deferral are passive income."

Then apply that to the case of these writing royalties. Which part is what? Well, he worked to write the book, but received income over several later years.

So then I'd break it into:

a) "the hypothetical amount he could have sold the IP to a publisher for when he finished it", which is rightly called working income.

b) any gain above that amount that he received via the royalty deal, which would be passive income.

(This is probably 100% unrelated to how the IRS would classify it.)

[1] which, for simplicity, we'll assume is trustworthy and above-board, even though an offer like this probably wouldn't be in practice.

[2] In common parlance, I think "working income" would be called "earned income" but I don't like that phrasing and so avoid it here.

As I pointed in a comment I've written, books income are actually automatically earned, since the author doesn't need to promote his books (Amazon's upvote system, e.g.). (however: it's an hypothesis for the moment because he didn't communicate about that).

Labor to write his book is low labor, since he writes books <=100 pages, he enjoys that, and it is far less stressing than working for someone (employer/customer). In fact it makes him feeling happy and, perhaps, relaxed. However, the author would be welcome to clearly indicate weither or not this required labor is actually "low one" or not, because he didn't communicate about that.

Maintaining his books: the author doesn't communicate about that but maintenance operations on books seem low labor too, far less than code maintenance.

Those books incomes, I see them as passive(writting a book once, over a period of several months probably, then eventually getting money each month is as worth as investments, except that investments are done in few seconds with some money needed to be brought - for books written: no money is needed to be brought, but it takes months contrary to few seconds to be done). Moreover, they can be extended by bank investments or Bitcoin investments, extending their "passive"-side.

> PS: Sadly writing can pay off as much as giving you nothing (money wise).

Exact. But the author writes no books > 100 pages and he has even written a sentence about this.

PS: if we define "labor" by "spent money", then writting and publishing a book (and ebook) is also low labor since very few $$$ are required to be bring by the author, like computer science projects.

> Note that: bank investment need lots of money to be done. Writting books, no. Bank investment need a few seconds to be done. Writting books, several months. I think they are equivalent and, thus, are both ways to earn passive incomes.

("equivalence" from a money point of view and almost from a labor point of view, if we consider that bank investments's initial brought money is only due to labor, not inheritance, etc.)

> if we define "labor" by "spent money"

And if my grandmother had wheels she'd be a wagon. This is obfuscating a useful distinction - labour is stuff you do, spending money in the hope of a return is investment. It's like trying to redefine landlordism as labour because you do occasionally have to do some work.

> Moreover, they can be extended by bank investments or Bitcoin investments, extending their "passive"-side


The word everyone is looking for in regard to royalties is not passive or active but deferred income. Writing a book is labour, regardless of word games, and it produces a capital asset - intellectual property - that you can either sell all at once or over a period of time.

> the author doesn't need to promote his books

This is rarely true of books. It sounds like he's found an under-served niche. Once upon a time you didn't have to promote apps in the app store, either.

I was writting a long answer but finally, I decided to simply quote:

> In the court's view, royalties are those items which constitute passive income, such as the compensation paid by a licensee to a licensor for the use of a Page 7 patented invention.


Also, as you say, some royaltie are active incomes. But Passive royalties exist.

This article is about books. Book royalties are generally considered self-employment income, not passive income, under the tax code.

> However, if you hold an operating oil, gas, or mineral interest or are in business as a self-employed writer, inventor, artist, etc., report your income and expenses on Schedule C (Form 1040).


I guess writing a book is "labor" but "royalties" out of it are passive income, I guess it's a mix of both. But Royalties cannot be achieved in that case without the Labor of writing the book

Well, and passive income from the stock market can't be achieved without the labor of picking the stocks...

True but this is not as much work as writing a book, moreover it could turn out as a liability if the stocks go down.

Same for bank investments, except for inheritance (but someone had to work).

> labour is stuff you do,

by this measure there may be no such thing as passive income, or at least very few instances of it in this world since just about everything requires you to do something to realize a profit from it. I guess having a rich relative you never knew die and leave you everything is passive, as long as you don't have to go to the will reading or anything.

If we're trying to figure out the total benefits that come from writing a book, we probably shouldn't dismiss how much writing a book compels one to improve in various ways.

That’s not what passive income is. Passive income is earning by doing nothing, which is what happens when you write a book.

I can hear my author friends gathering to beat you to death with hardbacks at the suggestion that writing a book is "doing nothing".

I can hear my author friends gathering to beat you with hardbacks at the suggestion they're wage-slaving, too!

More seriously, I agree it's hard to write a book - but I don't think you can claim it's just like normal job when you wrote it in 3 months and it keeps earning you money for years and it's more than a full-time job would earn you.

> I don't think you can claim it's just like normal job when you wrote it in 3 months and it keeps earning you money for years and it's more than a full-time job would earn you.

No, but that definitely puts you in the 1% of authors!

Not me, unfortunately... And I live in a low CoL area, so my friends aren't rich either

I’m actually an author and I’m getting paid continuously for zero work now. I totally categorize my books as passive income.

working in church ministry i wonder how much time the OP actually commits to work. My guess is they think they works 40 hours a week but actually doesn't.

i make sure not to take a lot of time to write a book. I don't write everyday. Perhaps just 3-4 days in a week? And at most 45 min per day.

whenever i am busy with church, family, i will put writing down. Won't ever compromise them.

And, its just a hobby i enjoy doing.

Ah - your day job isn't tech. Was wondering how you could get permission and time to do it.

Every tech job I've had here in SG expected full ownership of any and all IP created whilst an employee, no moonlighting, and always ended up consuming every waking second of my time anyway making the whole point moot.

Good on you for making it all balance and not only feeding your family but spending time with them too (which is bloody hard here).

hello fellow sg!

yea, if my day job was tech (it was previously), i would be so sick of it and wouldn't touch it when I got home. But now, i don't touch it in my day job and it suddenly becomes a pleasure to tinker with.

> I wake up daily excited to write. When work is a dread, or when something unhappy pops up, some writing will always bring in positive energy into me. I don’t dread writing. In fact, I can’t stop myself from writing!

I fear we are built different.

I wrote a book for O'Reilly. It was grueling and I really struggled with it. The only thing that worked was following the Jerry Seinfeld "Don't break the chain" rule: promise yourself you will write every day, and mark it on your calendar each time you do, and never let there be a gap.

It doesn't matter from where you start. If you do this, you'll accomplish more than you ever thought you could.

You aren't built different.

I wrote some chapters for Apress/Glasshouse or whoever it was many years back. By the end of the editing process, I had a "THINK OF THE MONEY" sign taped to the top of my CRT display. And there wasn't even that much money! I grew to detest the gig by the end of it.

> the Jerry Seinfeld "Don't break the chain" rule

Jerry Seinfeld, by his own admission, didn’t invent that: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1ujvrg/jerry_seinfeld...

I'm so excited to learn this. And, that he thinks it is a terrible idea.

Maybe the takeaway is that you have to trick (or lie to) your brain somehow when you want to do something bigger than you can imagine.

Maybe this is why some really nutty people have done amazing things.

Yes they are built different: one person has no struggles writing and actively loves it, cannot stop doing it; the other finds it effortful and painful. Those two people will have vastly different experiences writing the book. The former will gain energy and feel great, the latter will feel pressured and depressed. We are not all the same, we are all built different, don’t ignore this reality

>> You aren't built different.

> Yes they are built different: one person has no struggles writing and actively loves it, cannot stop doing it; the other finds it effortful and painful.

GP probably worded it poorly; yes, we're all built different, but all the successful authors who spoke about their experience all expressed similar struggles.

Terry Pratchett said once (can't be bothered to look for the exact quote) that he literally had to force himself to sit in front of the keyboard for a minimum time each night and type anything, just to get the groove started.

Stephen King said a similar thing in Danse Macabre.

When it comes to software, Joel Spolsky in his JoelOnSoftware blog said the same thing - Fire and Motion is your friend (https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2002/01/06/fire-and-motion/).

When it comes to achieving something[1], you need to "not break the chain". You need to force yourself to start on it each day. After maybe 30m of doing it you'll get into the groove and continue with less effort for the day.

[1] The actual "Something" is not important.

Spend 30m each day practising guitar and eventually you'll be good enough to be in a band.

Mark off a time slot on your calendar every day to spend working on your side-project, and ensure that you have nothing booked after that time-slot, and eventually you'll release your product.

Force yourself to start typing into your book-in-progress for not less than[2] 30m after dinner every single day and I assure you, you will have a completed book in two years.

[2] My experience is that if I force myself to spend not less than 30m on something, by the time the 30m expires, I get into the groove and can run in that rut all day if necessary.

Getting into that groove is the hard part, and is probably why work productivity for most devs is about 10% less than side-project productivity - at work you are constantly yanked out of the rut.

> all the successful authors who spoke about their experience all expressed similar struggles.

Definitely not true.

Some people really don’t have those sorts of struggles.

It doesn’t mean that those who do need to push themselves shouldn’t write/paint/code/swim/whatever, or that the results of their effort are of any lesser quality, or that they’re not in highly esteemed company.

It just means that people have different processes and motivations and drives, and that there are many paths that lead to comparable accomplishment.

To say otherwise isn’t entirely the encouragement I think you’re trying to offer. It’s denying the reality of other people’s lived experience.

> > all the successful authors who spoke about their experience all expressed similar struggles.

> Definitely not true.

You're saying that all the successful authors who spoke about their experience did not all express similar struggles?

You have a quote from a successful author, who said that they did not express similar struggles?

Because I am only making the claim about what successful authors said, not whether they were lying or not.

Indeed, there are even several examples discussed elsewhere on this page already!

Some successful authors have shared their struggles with motivation and perseverance, and others have shared their lack of such.

For some people, writing is a refuge from the stresses of the world, for others it’s a compulsion, for others it’s a surge of inspiration that moves through them now and then, etc

This variety of process is common to all traditionally creative endeavors, and even things like athletics or coding. There’s no shortage of “successful” people sharing their experience of such.

I can’t know, but you may be blinding yourself through some kind of confirmation bias.

As a spare-time writer of (self-published) German science fiction novels[1], I believe I have something to say about that. I don't believe that what you say is true in general.

For me writing is effortless and a lot of fun, and I believe that it is effortless for most writers who are far more successful than me. Stephen King could have never written so much so persistently without thoroughly enjoying it. If you don't enjoy writing and have to continually force yourself to do it, then writing might not be the right thing for you. I believe this is true for any work you do - if you have to force yourself every morning to do it, then you haven't found the right profession yet.

That being said, the examples you give sound familiar and don't contradict what I say. Especially in larger projects, there will always be a point when it becomes a chore and it's becoming very hard to finish a book. It's reasonable to assume that every author has such moments. I remember J.K. Rowling once said she had this moment with the 5th Harry Potter novel - which is very understandable, writing so many novels within the same universe is dreadful and tiring. But, again, the same is probably true of almost any other activity. There is no work without some downsides and some occasional chores. For me, it's editing and marketing, which is why my novels are poorly edited and barely marketed.

There is another thing worth mentioning: Successful creative professionals of all kind tend to over-emphasize the work aspect of their profession. They're fighting an image of being lazy against people who do not understand creative work. For example, the maximum number of hours anyone could write on a novel per day is 6, but 4 or less hours is more realistic. Some of them might even fight their own guilt for being successful, believing or knowing they could have improved their works by spending more time and being more diligent. In summary, you shouldn't take claims about "hard work" in these professions too seriously, it's mostly a defense against the many people who will be openly hostile to anyone successful due to envy.

[1] https://talumriel.de

> Stephen King could have never written so much so persistently without thoroughly enjoying it.

And? I didn't claim that he claimed not to enjoy it, I claimed that he said it's a struggle to get into the groove.

This claim is most likely taken out of context. As I've said, every writer struggles with something from time to time but that's not the same as what you've described in your post. I'm sorry if my reply offended you somehow, that wasn't my intention. My point was just that you're overgeneralizing. Every writer has their own work mode and everyone works differently, e.g. the German author Günter Grass used to write in handwritten calligraphy on special paper. What's easy for one is hard for someone else, and vice versa.

Absolutely! Noticing that it usually takes ~20min for me of getting into the groove was a profound revelation for me a few years ago. I noticed a pattern that if keep on powering through those initial 20min, there is a good chance you can continue being productive for a few hours or even the whole day.

That’s what makes pomodoro so powerful imo. I only need it to start the day, then I can drop it.

*SOME authors expressed struggles and this made the news.

There are many, many successful authors. Some of them, it just flows. One of the best selling non fiction authors in the world over the last 10 years is a friend of mine. He doesn’t describe it as a struggle.

Then better to find the thing that energizes you. For me it is getting to know a good framework like NextJS and working on small solo projects. For me it is not writing books … I find it fairly tedious. Nor is it the typical day job of old complicated codebased and small incremental improvements on big established software products.

That doesn't invalidate GP's comment.

Even if you struggle, having a little commitment every day helps building habits and actually relieves the struggle (because a habit creates familiarity and ease).

The "we're all different" part plays a role in how long it takes to adapt and bind to this new/building habit.

>> I wake up daily excited to write. When work is a dread, or when something unhappy pops up, some writing will always bring in positive energy into me. I don’t dread writing. In fact, I can’t stop myself from writing!

>I fear we are built different.

Isaac Asimov was like Greg Lim:

>[T]he only thing about myself that I consider to be severe enough to warrant psychoanalytic treatment is my compulsion to write ... That means that my idea of a pleasant time is to go up to my attic, sit at my electric typewriter (as I am doing right now), and bang away, watching the words take shape like magic before my eyes.

My experience writing a 1,200 page technical book was similar to xrd's. It was worth it in the end but I'm not doing it again either. Jerry Seinfeld's "Don't break the chain" is good. I did take days off though (on average, 1 a week). I found this book very helpful even though the genre of book was radically different: https://www.amazon.com/2k-10k-Writing-Faster-Better-ebook/dp...

Wrote the latest applied crypto book over two years and a half. I love writing, and I write all the time, but that was extremely tough on me. I would not do it again.

Real-World Cryptography https://www.amazon.com/dp/1617296716/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_1P...

I'm the same as author in regards to writing music. Unfortunately, it doesn't work with promotion and other stuff, so after 15 years of writing music I released almost nothing and gave close to no listeners.

You can't get successful only doing what you love. You'll still have to do a lot of things you hate.

Well you gotta release the stuff for people to listen to it

You can’t get successful keeping it to yourself for sure

See also where Brandon Sanderson's (an author) guilty pleasure and stress reliever is writing more (in the form of things he wasn't intending to write)

That dude is a machine. He wrote 4 secret novels during the pandemic on top of several regular ones.

I'm quite intrigued by his system of writing. It's nothing magical, he works on it hard and the process is roughly connecting various ideas together. He finds interesting ideas and write them down and then when the time is to go for a book, he tries to find ideas and concepts that work together. He then writes a rough outline of a book and then goes and fills in chapters after which he gets multiple reviews/revisions before it goes out.

Sounds almost like getting a rough requirements or ideas, then writing a more detailed specification and finally fully developed software that goes through rigorous testing and refinement.

It's quite different to how I thought most writers write. My assumption it's more straightforward with little preparation.

Depends a lot on the author. The best ones have a plot line that they follow.

But many major authors produce a book every 1 to 5 to 10 years. Game of Thrones being the big example.

That's the name I think of every time someone talks about constant writing. He admits that he is emotionally very stable and doesn't suffer of ups and downs as most of the other writers.

Thank you for helpful tips! Solid advice:

Write Short and Concise Books.

Instead of writing a 500-page book selling for $50 (which probably few will buy), write a 100-page book and sell it for lesser which greatly increases the number of buyers! ...It fits in Amazon’s price range of $2.99 — $9.99 (gets 70% royalties for ebooks). Anything lesser or more gets 35% royalty. This is for the ebook version. Paperbacks have a different price structure. You can price them higher with higher royalty rates.

That explains why the entire market for depth content at a higher price has basically collapsed… what a shitty deal. Want to charge more than $10… that’s a pretty nice book you have there… shame if something happened to your royalties…”

I guess one should split to Part I, Part II, ...

Or sell the intro for 9$ and provide a link to the tome inside the book to your own payment processor.

That's probably against the "ToS", I would imagine.

Or “join my list for free X” in the cheap book, a email campaign which then promotes the upsell smorgasbord.

And get all your readers to shout at you for getting their readers to pay twice.

I can see how you might think that, but I actually really like the $9 100 page booklet and if I want to go deep, having the 250-500-∞ page book is something I would be willing to pay for in addition to the $9, maybe off a discount, but I don't think it should matter. I'd kinda like to be able to pay twice as it were and get condensed versions of books I already have.

I do understand that a shorter book might, and most likely does unless one has spent years thinking this way, take just as much or more effort than a longer book.

As @quickthrower2 mentioned, the email list. I like that, but unless I really want to follow something, I won't do email. What I am a sucker for is a cheat sheet or some infographic looking poster.

I will have to try it to believe it, but I agree there's a certain appeal to having a condensed version of the contents for less, so you can get the meat of the book, while you can get all the details and references and documentation etc. for the full price.

What I won't buy though are the first 3-4 chapters of the book to be met with the "insert card for more".

I agree!

You can always use the $9.99 books you sell on amazon to upsell the pricier books you sell on your site, problem solved.

glad it helped!

Congratulations. Most people get stuck at the procrastination phase you mention. Just getting a book to published is a huge achievement let alone making significant revenue from it. This is not only good advice, but also an inspiring tale.

Thank you so much Chris!

Agreed - I finished a book last year and it felt like the last 10% took 75% of the time.

I think the word "passive" doesn't mean what he/we think it means. I had thought it meant the opposite of active, where active is an adjective that implies "action", which means actively doing something. Writing dozens of books over many years for about $10k/book sounds like a long, hard, very active slog. Not at all what I would consider passive income.

Perhaps this should be called "My $160k side gig as a book writer"

I kind of agree, but at the same time, they only need to be written once and then he can 'sit back'.

Infact, they're written before any income so technically you could say he did a lot of work and can sit back now. Semi-Passive maybe.

The only 'true' passive income types I can think of is just inheriting a huge amount and having it sit earning interest ?

To me that sounds like doing all the work upfront for a later, undetermined, and potentially negative return on time. That's opposed to doing the work and realizing the benefit more contemporaneously with that work. Regardless, it's still active work with the return shifted in time. Sounds riskier to me to put all the work upfront without any guarantee of return, especially if that works is particularly intense and active.

> I kind of agree, but at the same time, they only need to be written once and then he can 'sit back'.

Not for the type of books he has written. They are all technical books on specific frameworks (iOS, MongoDB, NodeJS). This reminds me of all the "Office 2001" or "Visual Basic Programming" that I saw in the "Computers" aisle the last time I went to a physical book store. Those books now are a dime a dozen.

This doesn't sound like passive income as I understand the term. Writing a book is a ton of hard work, compared to, say, buying and renting out a house.

It is though cause once it is published you get the income passively. However the topics of these books are perishable, so, have a end date

He has written 78 books - some of them make little to no money... or have stopped already. That's a lot of continuous work. The books are about current technologies that are bound to change, if the books are not updated/edited/etc. they are bound to stop making money as well.

Anyways, writing that many book is not passive at any rate.

That's fair, it actually sounds more like a cookie shop where you need to keep baking the cookies for them to sell, even though these cookies can be sold multiple times you still need to keep baking some fresh ones.

I've considered writing a book on how to grow software through different evolutions, and using different software paradigms that make sense for the different stages of growth. I don't think there's an audience for it though, or at least an audience that would respect the opinions of a non-credentialed author.

It would seem the knowledge of how to grow software through different stages is most likely best gained through experience rather than credentials so I think sharing your knowledge based on your hard-won experience would be more valuable than that of someone writing from a more academic perspective.

Thanks for the encouragement!

Just try it.

Action over procrastination.

You never know if you gonna hit success!

No offense to the author, but I hope that I don't accidentally buy a book written by him or someone like him, when looking for a decent book on a topic I want to learn about.

Lots of negative comments here about not making much money for the effort that goes in.

Have people considered that perhaps the author enjoys the process and it's a win-win given they learn new stuff, get to teach that stuff, and make a little cash on the side too?

OP has written 78 books. That's 78 more attempts than most people and it's like the Ray Bradbury quote:

"Write a short story every week. It's not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row."

Given the stats on going viral, this person is well on their way to writing a book that may one day make the same money of all the others combined with a little luck.

Lady luck fortunes the one who tries at the end of the day.

Have people considered that perhaps the author enjoys the process and it's a win-win given they learn new stuff, get to teach that stuff, and make a little cash on the side too?

It's hardly out of bounds to think the primary objective was to make money. when the headline is "How I earned $x...".

I know a lot of people on HN are not a fan of monetising with ads.

That said, an alternative to writing a whole book before seeing if people will pay, is to write a blog.

You’ll get validation in smaller chunks and can iterate.

Currently the display ads on my blog pay between $15 - $30 per thousand visitors, and many blogs earn a lot more than that.

If you’re writing a non fiction book in a technical niche, it’s fairly easy to get traffic from Google if you write in depth posts around 1,500 words each.

I’ve been blogging since 2013, have had a lot of traffic on my blog, yet would make almost no money from ads if I had some (I know from having successfully and not monetized many websites)


What topic has a CPM this high? I never saw anything like this when I played around with AdSense on some small websites I had in the past.

Or maybe things have changed in the past few years?

This in the home improvements space. I’m also using Ezoic which in my experience and from what I’ve heard from others pays a lot better than Adsense.

Once you get over 50k or 100k uniques per month, you can qualify for Mediavine and AdThrive respectively, and they pay more than Ezoic.

This is a heck of a lot of hard work. I wouldn't dare to call this passive by any means. You're going to spend just as much time updating content when technologies become obsolete or outdated as you did writing original material. This is hard hard work that's paid off. Major props to the OP, but there is nothing passive here.

I liked how the author gave an example of how they learned enough of a topic to write a beginner’s book on it. I’ve heard before that you don’t necessarily need to be an expert in something to write about it but it’s always better to understand the details.

Seems like some in the comments are having a hard time calling the author's income "passive".

Just an alternative - if you can find a profitable niche, you can have the book ghostwritten. A non-fiction book of around 30k words (~110 - 180 pages, depending on trim size) can be produced for $1000 (or less, if you can find a diamond in the rough on upwork). The cover can run anywhere from $100 - $800 depending on the quality you want.

So, from $1000 - $2000 you can basically have a book written for you. Choose a pen name and sell it on Amazon.

This is a good reminder that book writing should not be for the income it generates, but for the joy of writing!

To me, this is truly inspiring and I certainly need to get back into my writing habbit!

Exactly! THanks!

tl;dr Earned $26,000 per year writing 20,000–30,000 word books and selling them for $9.99. Split book into another $9.99 book if there is more to say.

This is actually pretty cool, if he didn't pick the maximum largest gross dollar figure they could find.

The primary takeaways are how to maximize Amazon's royalties and trend hopping. It actually does solve the problem of people publishing long-winded books in an area that has limited timespan of utility (programming, tech).

Helps people get to the point of what they are looking for and be in a mindframe to take it seriously, compared to ad garbage affiliate websites and long winded youtube videos or Udemy courses.

Hi Greg, did you ever consider selling longer books with a higher price outside of Amazon? Maybe using the 9.99 ones to drive traffic to your pricier book/s.

Hello, I believe in writing short books and spending no more than 3 months on a book. In case the book is a failure, I cut my losses.

But yea, i hope to have other products priced more than $9.99 outside Amazon, eg gumroad

There's a lot of spelling errors in this article.

yes yes. i gave up hope on this article having submitted it months ago.

just tried it again today and hack, it went up #1.

This is one of the ironies of HN to me. It can feel like “you’re keeping up with trends” by following HN regularly.

And then you experience this (either firsthand or secondhand) and realize just how completely randomly arbitrary it is if your submission floats to the “top 30” or not.

Which doesn’t mean it’s not still worthwhile reading (I still follow regularly), it’s just that it’s more like a daily fortune cookie than it is any sort of “curated by popular consensus.”

You are right.

i am really interested in history and i have spent a lot of time looking for a good book on a certain topic or time period and sometimes not finding anything. it turns out that its really hard to find books that are completely objective, well researched and also written well. there is a scarcity of these kinds of books especially for modern history. and so the idea struck me that maybe i ought to write a short history book. but then i thought that that sounds like a pipe dream. anyway, for anyone who likes that kind of thing i would recommend the binladen book that was published recently. havent read it yet but i cant wait to. it turns out the invasion wasnt so misguided after all.


> completely objective.

The really sad thing is that people have discovered that "completely objective" doesn't sell very well.

Taking an extreme view sells much better, but provides much less useful information.

> The really sad thing is that people have discovered that "completely objective" doesn't sell very well.

"Discovered"? It's always been this way. Controversy sells. If it bleeds, it leads. Etc...

I remember, when first doing academic publications, my supervisor told me controversy sells. It was true then, it's true now, it was probably true when newsletters were printed in cuneiform on stone tables.

Is it even possible to write a completely objective book about history?

It may be theoretically possible to write history books tending towards objectivity through impersonal, collaborative, quantitative, semi-automated methods. See my other post nearby.

But also note what the goals can be: a "computed" summary vs clever, intelligent, wise insights. Note that some texts are built so as to include both: a flow of core analysis with quality commentaries as asides.

Not a good one. Objective history book would be a timeline. To add another thing interesting (eg cause and effect) is to make decisions and introduce bias.

> Objective history book would be ... decisions and... bias

No, not necessarily. From the events you go to the chains of events, the clusters, the trends, the teachings etc.

Similarly to experimental science, where you go from the protocols ("this happened there then") to the "laws".

The role of «decisions and bias» could be limited, with some similar quantitative, and maybe collaborative (aggregation of multi-agent contribution) approach that ranked the outputs through a computed importance.

Even a timeline would be subjective as the author would have to chose what to include.

youve completely lost sight of the forest. there are little granules of subjectivity like the ones you nitpick about and there are huge boulders of subjective nonsense that leave you with a giant bump on your head -- the kind that are caused by dogma like race/gender politics, religion, war etc. the absence of these is what is desperately needed. to wave away the boulders because of the granules is idiotic. ive read books that looked at war objectively, excised moral dogma from religion and omitted race/gender crusading entirely and its very good.

No, but one can try to avoid overt irritating biases.

I'm pulling a late-nighter decommissioning stuff and I stumble across your post. Thank you for the inspiration I needed for a new income stream! Please inbox me I believe we have a few commonalities. Or don't I won't be offended. I needed a little kick in the zen.

Not OP but you don't have contact info in your profile

Thanks! I just put my email there. I'm new at this.

What am I missing?

78 books totaling $160k makes it ~ $2K per book.

If it takes 2 days to write a book, this is not passive income rather belated income..

If it takes more (and it should if you want the books to bring value), then simple programming is more profitable.

You're missing that it's recurring income over time, done on top of a day job. If the author was a developer, they would probably be making MORE money from being a prolific book author.

You're also assuming that people make $1000 a day doing "simple" programming. 99% of developers do NOT work for VC funded companies or FAANGs.

A. Very low income comparing to 100s of hours invested per book.

B. Books about those framework are short-lived ones, given trends and versions are changing rapidly.

C. Not everyone are working for a vc funded or FAANGs, but one with such capabilities can definitely work for such.

I wonder which formats are selling better: the paperback or the Kindle versions?

paperback sells better

Is anyone able to suggest software for writing technical books?

I write in GitHub flavored markdown (so that is readable on GitHub and I can reuse parts for my blog, etc). I use pandoc to generate pdf/epub versions [0] and mdbook to generate web version [1]

[0] https://learnbyexample.github.io/customizing-pandoc/

[1] https://github.com/rust-lang/mdBook

Technical book writers seem to gravitate toward Latex or Microsoft Word.

Just ms word for me

I write in Google Docs mostly for the collaboration features. It's super easy to invite someone to leave comments. I use the Code Blocks add-on to format code. When it's time to publish I use the DocsFlow plug-in to import the doc into InDesign for typesetting.

Use Kindle Create (available for Windows and MAC) for selling on Amazon.

I use HTML but it's not the best. Latex is probably a better option.

Is LaTeX still a good choice for "modern" ebooks? Do folks still want PDFs?

if i don't see a pdf, i don't buy it

Why is that, if I may ask? Do you print all your e-books? I find PDF to be an inferior format for consumption on a screen.

I was the same way, but epubs can be quite good now, even for highly formatted technical content.

May depend on your market, it amazon sells the vast majority of ebooks in the world.

So, neither of those.

org-mode, if you don’t mind using emacs.

I recently had to print some of my notes - already in Org mode - for a meeting. After going through numerous options including reformatting in LibreOffice, pandoc, HTML, etc etc I discovered that org mode can export the documents to PDFs that look better than anything else.

Unfortunately, I don't have the config options that I used any more! I changed some fonts and drastically reduced the margins. And some places in which underscores were used had to be escaped as the PDF export interpreted underscores as being subscript.

This sounds like one of those "earn thousands selling custom t-shirts" tutorials:

- the market is over saturated

- you have to work continuously to output something

- you are very lucky if you have a breakthrough

I did put in work.

I am lucky.

"Passive" has truly gone down the path of "literally".

It's just clickbait for engagement, this is the author's new job in writing the ebooks.

Better title: Earned $26,000 per year writing 20,000–30,000 word books and selling them for $9.99.

Subtitle: Split book into another $9.99 book if there is more to say. Here's why.

Gotta sell it right? =)

I actually like the low 5-figure reality more because it seems more achievable and motivational for a side hustle

its enough! More than i can ask for. I am satisfied :)

passive in the sense that I wrote it once, and it continues to collect royalties for a long time after, without me having to do much :)

Seems like a fair definition of passive income. Not sure why the commenter feels it's not.

Feels weird to call the entire profession of being an author passive income.

Or put another way, If I give you two options:

(1) Work 100 hours and I pay you $10,000 lump sum.

(2) Work 100 hours and I pay you $100 a year (inflation adjusted) over 100 years

Is one of those passive income while the other isn't?

Yes. Passive income can initially take work to build the income source. Most people consider rent to be passive income, yet people don't just magically own houses, they more often than not work to buy them.

Anyone that thinks renting houses is passive income has never done it.

Repairs, collections, advertising, evictions, etc.

...which are things you do every now and then, unlike a job, where you have to be there 5/7 days for a number of hours ?

But all of this is something you can contract out to an agency for a cut of the rent.

That cut of the rent ends up being around all of the cash flow for a newly bought property, and in many markets ends up being more than the initial cash flow. It’s a second job with irregular on-call.

Well, then you've leveraged too highly. Estate agents here take a fairly small percentage of the rent to manage all of this, so it takes a fairly small deposit before your rental income less management fees can't cover the remaining mortgage.

Property management companies in the US take somewhere in the 8-12% range. Is it dramatically lower wherever you are?

Towards the low end of that, but even at 12% it just means you can afford lower leverage.

People do magically own houses. It's called inheritance.

Do you think houses are most commonly inherited or worked for?

passive income requires ownership of some revenue producing assets, whether its land or digital content. If you just work for someone else, your trading time for money, no passive income.

I write on the side though (i have a full-time job). Just a hobby :)

There's nothing passive about writing 78 books. That's what, approx 2k per book?

If this were 20 years in the future since the books were written, sure.

This is more just a person writing a ton of books for relatively little money.

Please don't take it as any insult, I love the energy and drive. It's just not passive in any sense of the word.

Passive income was never defined as "no work, receive income". It was, "work once, passive income later without extra work". As in, your full time employer will stop paying you if you stop working. Your books that you wrote some time ago will generate income in perpetuity without any extra work.

You still need to put in the upfront work of creating something. It just so happens that something can generate income for a long time without much, if any, upkeep. Think of it as a machine that prints money. You still have to build the machine, but afterwards you just have to change the oil once a year.

Passive is the opposite of active, I get the definition. Something you're no longer really actively working on that keeps making money. I'm jealous, I'd love to have such an idea.

But this seems different -so far-. This is more akin to building 80 money printing machines that each print a certain amount of money. They may work forever, or die in 6 months, or not work at all.

I guess my entire point is that this is a monumental amount of seemingly continuing effort. It's simply too early to call it passive IMO.

However, dates are missing here. If OP wrote his last book 5 years ago and is collecting this income each year, I'll gladly eat crow.

Its mainly jsut about eight books that bring in majority of the income. Amazon doesn't allow authors to delete unpublished books, thus showing 80.

you can check out the active books here:


Useful clarification!

Would also be interesting to see what your sales tail is like… are some of your books still selling decently several years after publishing?

So far for April: From Amazon $2,064.81 From Gumroad $384.96

There's also Smashwords & Ingramspark as well but I won't share those for now.

> This is more akin to building 80 money printing machines that each print a certain amount of money.

We should cut out the middle man -- and the middle step -- and just print money. We can start 100 digital currency initiatives and play the lottery, one of them is bound to take off...

I love how negative HN is. $1k for a book and I would be over the moon

Author has a full time job, think of it as a hobby like a blog.

Instead of posting on HN daily , he wrote books and made $160k…that’s a full house in some parts…and that’s on top of a full time job so it’s pure savings…sans tax.

Not having a dig at you per se but the general nitpicking and negativity in some of these comments

It sounds even stupid to write programming books for passive income. You need to regularly update them in order to be able to sell them well.

K&R has two editions. In 46 years. It’s $60 on Amazon today.

It’s an outlier, sure. But it’s proof you can write on programming topics that are very sticky.

But regularly updating them also gives you the edge over established publishers who DON'T update them.

and its not too difficult to update books, as compared to updating videos.

The author wrote many technology introduction books over a period of six years. They probably have a limited lifespan. I think the comment is somewhat fair if overly snippish - “How I earn $27k per year writing books in my spare time” would have been more informative and accurate than calling this passive income. If the author stops writing books, will they earn another 160k over the next six years?

I still think it’s a cool and fascinating article - congrats to the author on their success!

I didn't do anything this month. So far royalties > $2,000. And I am thankful for it :)

Many (Most?) ebooks on amazon require steady advertising to not drop into oblivion.

This makes it decidedly less passive.

Source: my authors group

NOT for a long time after, because you're writing about frameworks that may be out of date in 12 months!

many of my books have been there for years.

Yeah, I don't think this is really "passive", mainly because his "works" are quite time-sensitive and short-lived... I'm not saying the OP did something wrong or bad or anything. It just looks more like he worked extra hours for extra income. I've seen some people who work >12 hours a day (main + side) and earn >$100k/year, and this case feels much more natural if I think this way.

How are you publishing and printing these?

its in the article :)

Thanks - I realised I was scanning for a specific section on this without spotting that the whole thing was done entirely through Amazon

It seems “passive income” now is being used to mean anything I don’t get a W2 (or country equivalent) for.

Do you know approximatively how much time you spend to write one of these books ?

about 2 months writing on the side for each book.

Including the research and reading steps necesary to collect the data to aggregate in your books you write? You say you have read the 3 top books and several tech blogs <--- what are they? What main sources did you read to collect the data? Maybe you won't answer since all your business is based on that, finally :-).

i document more on these in twitter. :)

Any link please? Why avoiding to answer here directly?

I earned "passive money" too, only thing i have to do is work.

Awesome, well done! Which book was the easiest to write, and why?

Hey Curtise!

The initial books were harder to write as I hadn't flexed my writing muscles yet. but as i wrote more books, and get greater technical knowledge, subsequent books got easier and easier.

I would say the easiest book I got to write is my current on on Svelte (yet to be published) as i can leverage much of the content from my previous React, Angular books.

I seriously thought this was satire, but nope totally real.

Less impressive because this was done over 6 years...

This is not passive income. This is being an author.

So, does this work outside of tech? Would a bus driver or a accountant be able to enjoy similar success?

you never know. just try. :)

fairy nuff:-)

How is that passive?

Put in work once, get paid over a long span of time in a way that is not proportional to the effort you put in at the start. Like any other passive income.

Except he's working every day over 6 years. That doesn't sound very passive

For _multiple_ books. A book he wrote 6 years ago can still earn him some money, without him touching it.

The books are about (versioned) technology. They have a lifespan. It's not like books which which are here to stay for decades

I wish people wrote less

Why? It seems writing this is the only which complex thoughts can be formulated and be passed down through the generations.

Maybe the OP meant something else, but for me writing less is about getting rid of the fluff in non-fiction books. It feels like large portions of those are marketing materials for themselves, telling me how great this book is going to be. Is buyer's remorse this strong that the authors need to alleviate it?

Getting Things Done is the most notorious example from my recent reading list.

I noticed other readers also dislike different anecdotes talking about the same idea. I see how repetition is helpful in learning, so it doesn't bother me as much. But I guess you could trim some fat here too.

“[…] of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. ”

— Ecclesiastes 12:12

"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."

Eccl 12:13-14

I wish people wished less.

TIL: No author has a salary it's just "passive income"...

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