What I've learned from writing a Leanpub book
My book is far from finished, and with the precious little free time I have, finishing it is a challenge. But in the mean time I decided to share a few thoughts on the experience. Given that I didn’t expect anyone to notice my little work I consider Lisp Web Tales to be a “great success”. The feedback has been very positive and I’ve learned a lot about writing, lisp and web development in general.
The biggest win I’ve had was my decision to write this thing in the first place. I’ve been wanting to write on this topic for a while, and even tried doing it as a blog. But making it into a book turned out to be a better decision. Overcoming the impostor syndrome was extremely hard, I’m neither a writer, nor a professional developer, let alone a professional lisp developer, the anxiety was difficult to overcome. I managed to do it by repeatedly watching this video of Jon Lajoie advising me to not give a fuck.
What did I do right
Writing on a niche topic! There are a lot of books about lisp, but I believe mine is the only one on lisp web development. This state of affairs sucks, and hopefully somebody better than me will write a much better book eventually, but I’m fine with that. Sometimes you need some idiot to try and write for a niche market in order for others to realize that it isn’t a waste of time. And in the meantime, I’m sure more than one person got into lisp web hacking because of me. That is a win.
Never decline to help! I’ve had many people contact me on twitter or irc asking for help and advice. The worst I did was ask for them to get to me later if I was busy, but in general, I’ve tried to respond asap. These moments when I actually manage to solve a readers problem makes it all seem worth it. I’ve had more than one reader buy the book as a way to thank me, one person even bought it twice and payed more the second time. Make sure your readers are happy and they will not neglect to thank you!
I made it free! Since I started this thing I intended to eventually publish a free html version of the book, and I did soon after the book was first published on leanpub. I did that for two reasons. First I felt bad asking for money for an unfinished and low-quality product, and I also wanted a wider audience, and didn’t care about getting paid, since I wasn’t going to make a lot of money anyway. In the end I did make more money than I expected, but it’s still just a few hundred dollars for months of work, so there wasn’t any point in worrying about money.
What I did wrong
I take too long to publish new material. I found a very real correlation between publishing often and sales. Certainly this is true for page views on the free site. The way this works is that a new chapter means I get to submit the book to reddit again without feeling like I’m spamming the place, or tweet about it more. During the last two months I’ve had difficulty focusing on the book, and as a result, I’ve published rarely, and sales/page views have gone down as a result.
I’ve neglected to blog. The only post on this blog worth reading is a republished older article. Let me tell you, at least a few of the sales came from people reading it and clicking on the link in the article. Blogging was a rather easy way to help get the book out there by giving readers extra material to read. It didn’t have to be on the topic of the book, anything the same crowd might be interested in(lisp, web, etc.) Unfortunately, I didn’t do it, and I regret it. I’ll try to blog more often as I get back to the book.
I didn’t open source it. I’ve had the intention of releasing the markdown source on github since forever, but never really gotten to it. Also the way I use git is horrid and lazy. I’ll need to devise a better work flow for using git for prose rather than code. Many people have asked me about this, and I’ve always said that I will publish it in the future, hopefully I will, when I get around to it.
My plan sucks! The plan: Write the book chapter by chapter and only refine it after the book is done. There are typos and inaccuracies in early chapters that have stayed there for months. This is again an artifact of the abysmal way I use git. Neither the book is done, nor are the “bugs” fixed.
I lack confidence. Unless you didn’t notice. This has gotten in the way for sure. I am completely blind for the line between low-self esteem and healthy humility. I think I’m doing better now, but I still think the book is crap and somebody else should have written it. But I don’t punish myself for it anymore, and try not to ridicule myself in public over it. It was a fun spring and summer project, and I hope I finish it.
Should you write a leanpub book?
Fuck yes! A loser with no self-esteem somehow did it, so can you. Just pick a topic you like that you feel hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves and write! It doesn’t have to be professional or anything. Just treat it like it’s just an open source project like any other. If you feel bad about asking for money, use my hack, and publish a free version. Leanpub even has an option of making the book free, or publish a web version. People will pay you despite that! Have fun, learn, and don’t forget to not give a fuck!