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I have written a textbook. Now what?
15 points by nmholm on Apr 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments
For the past 25 years or so I have been writing books on various aspects of programming in my spare time. My first book was about compiler construction and I sold a few spiral-bound copies of it in the early 1990's. I am passionate about writing, but pretty much clueless about marketing.

In the past months I have created a compiler construction primer with strong emphasis on the practical side and published it at Lulu.com. The book homepage is here:


I have received quite encouraging feedback about my works, but most people who buy my books stumbled across them by accident. Some of them have asked me why they had not heard about me earlier, given the fact that they found my books quite illuminating.

So here is my question: how do I make my books known? I have announced the latest one on Usenet and on reddit. On reddit the posting disappeared after a few hours, most probably because some folks thought it was "spam". Up to that point, comments were very positive.

That's pretty much it. I have run out of ideas, so any thoughts you might to share with me on the topic of book marketing would be highly appreciated!

EDIT: sorry about the messy formatting. I obviously have no clue how this web 2.0 stuff works. :-/

Speaking as a university professor, I would look up the names of professors teaching compilers or related classes at various American universities, and send them an e-mail with a link to your site. Offer them a freebie if they are interested in using it in a class or sharing it with their students.

This will annoy some of them, but if so, they will have forgotten about it fifteen seconds later, so I don't think it matters a lot.

You might offer free copies to any class (i.e., the students too) that uses it until it becomes more established.

Keep in mind that a lot of university professors are fed up with the traditional publishing model (see http://www.thecostofknowledge.com) and will be naturally sympathetic to you.

Keep the e-mail brief. No HTML. A lot of these people use Pine :)

Good luck!

Start a blog and write about your writing (seriously), put chapters from your books in a tutorial format and always link to the actual book.

A good book about blogging for technical people is ... "Technical blogging" by A. Cangiano.

It has a few chapters about promoting/marketing your blog and implicitly your product. For me this book was an eye opener for certain aspects of blogging.

yes. A friend started a blog, simply as compilation of technology of a specific type. A publisher contacted him and offered to publish if he wrote a book. Blogging is really priceless exposure.

The website can be vastly improved both for SEO (so search engines find it) and conversions (so people buy), some quick ideas easy to implement:

  - get a domain name with the topic in it (like compilerbook or similar, it doesn't have to be a .com)  
  - have a clean modern design, you can use a Commons template from WordPress etc  
  - specify the audience ("the ideal textbook for the CS graduate")
  - add testimonials
  - add blurb "about the author"
  - create more HTML pages (for example one for the table of contents and one for preface) as 2nd best thing instead of blog pages
This is a web site for a small book I created quickly: http://seguridadinformati.ca/ , it ranks 3rd or so in Google for its topic (information security, in Spanish) without promotion.

A few minor comments and suggestions:

1. The book's homepage looks quite old-school. This isn't necessarily bad, but may make some people skeptical, or make them erroneously think it's an old '90s page. Perhaps at least put the publication date (2012) on the page somewhere prominently.

2. It might be possible to promote the SubC compiler independently. It could be useful to various people for pedagogical purposes, and if it gets known, the book will get some indirect promotion. Perhaps write something comparing it to tcc, the other well-known small-and-free C compiler.

3. Being able to sell copies through Amazon may help sales, though iirc you do get a smaller cut of the proceeds in that case. It looks like you don't currently have whatever Lulu package is needed to get an ISBN, so the book doesn't show up on Amazon.

Thanks for the hint regarding the publication date! I have added it to the page. Will think about a more prominent location later.

I have also thought about promoting SubC independently, but ran into the same wall as with the promotion of the book. I have declared its existence in comp.compilers and on reddit. That's what I have always done, but there remains a nagging feeling that I could do more.

I have tried an ISBN and Amazon with other books, which resulted in exactly zero sales, so I prefer to save that money.

The question no one asked: did you ever pitch the book(s) to professional publishers, so that for a cut they'd handle the marketing? Your issue isn't one of quality, but of being hard to discover. Your main problem may be that people are afraid of wasting their time with self published books, because it has never been easier for a crank to publish something. People value the curating done by publishers, they at least weed out the most atrocious.

Other than being published, you could gain a lot of visibility by having your book reviewed by influential people for your target demographic.

Also, as other pointed out, having more of an online presence (given the demographic you can skip Facebook, but Tweeter and G+ sounds like good addition to Reddit) if you don't want to have a blog.

Usenet is now a barely animated corpse, but in addition for comp.compilers, comp.lang.c(.moderated) would likely make a good target given the subject.

For what it's worth, your alisp ("Arrow Lisp"?) implementation and Sketchy Lisp book were my introduction to Lisp. That was a decade ago and it "changed my life" in the way that learning Lisp can. Thanks for writing such interesting material!

Wow, time files like an arrow! It's good to hear that you liked my book so much!

To everyone who suggested a blog: thank you! However, this is not really something I am into. I tried it, but found it rather exhausting, so you could see in my articles that I was not having fun. To be honest, that entire blog and forum culture is rather confusing to me.

I would rather pay some money for marketing than doing it myself, but my budget is limited, I have no idea where to start, and I do not know if it makes sense at all. What do you think? What about reddit ad campaigns, for instance?

Identify the market and sell to them. Who is your market? I would guess undergraduates. Selling to undergraduates sounds difficult. Instead, follow the first commenter's advice and make the teacher force them to buy it! :)

I second (third?) the blog!

Most of the books I have bought in the past 2/3 years have been because I have consumed other articles from that author in the past, got to like and understand their point of view and style.

I'm much more inclined to buy a book from a blog I find I keep coming back to.

Also, it might be good to look at this article that was on HN the other day http://successnexus.net/bundling-strategy-joanna-wiebe-inter...

As swGooF said: Write a blog.

I Googled your name and found quite a lot of your books for download, but not much more info (did not search very long).

If you want to become a "name" in some area, you must talk about what's happening now. If any possible, become a (leading) member of some important OSS project. (As an example take Yehuda Katz, his blog and books are very well known in the community)

Start a blog about compiler construction. Wordpress is a great choice. It will take a while, but soon your blog will start appearing in google searches for compiler topics. It may take one or two years, but if you stick with it, you will soon create a following of "compiler" people. Those are the same people that will probably buy/promote/recommend your book.

I read through the sample on the site and found it surprisingly hard to put down. I'm not a programmer, but I've read TCPL. Your sample made me think of C a little differently, and was easy to understand despite my lack of formal training. This book might be my next purchase.

Have you ever had anyone proofread it ?

Why do you ask? I just read the excerpt from the website and it doesn't seem to be in need of editing. I may actually buy it actually, the Dragon book bored me quickly, this one doesn't.

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