Published on April 20, 2012 by Jesse Storimer
Four months ago, to the day, I launched an ebook about Unix programming for Ruby developers. Here I'll share how it came to be and some sales numbers.
I've been interested in writing an ebook for a while. The first time I tried I didn't finish because I couldn't stay motivated. This time around I was able to stay motivated because I put up a fake sales page to test the idea before I even started writing. This is the same technique that Tim Ferriss talks about in the 4HWW. The validation this provided was what I needed to see it through.
Just as I was ready to start writing the book I left for a wilderness retreat. My family and I spent 2 and 1/2 weeks in the wilderness with no electricity or electronics of any kind. I expected to feel frustrated that I couldn't get started on the book, but it was the total opposite. Spending time away from everyday distractions allowed me to do some productive planning for the book, as well as have a great time. By the time I went home I had a good outline of what I wanted to write about.
Over the next few months I spent many late nights writing. I didn't take time off from my day job or have anyone working with me. I didn't work on it every night but usually several nights per week for ~2 hours.. After about 2 and 1/2 months of writing I had something I was pretty happy with. I basically wrote the book that I had wanted to read a year or two earlier, before I went ahead and learned the hard way.
I did zero promotion before launching the book. Literally no one knew about it besides me, my wife, and a few friends. The book is fully self-published so there was no publisher involved, no copyeditor, no technical editor, just me. I'm really grateful to the few people that I reached out to who provided valuable advice and reviews. Without their interaction I wouldn't have known what I had. If I were to do this again I would certainly offer a pre-launch mailing list to let people follow along as I worked on the book.
I was very nervous about putting something out there with my name on it and asking people to pay money for it. Once the book was 'done' I deliberated for a month on whether or not I would release it. After putting together a web site for the book (with the help of Copywriting for Geeks) and showing it to one more person who gave really positive feedback I decided to bite the bullet and see what would happen. I treated the whole thing as an experiment and had no idea what to expect.
Someone close to me asked what I would consider to be a successful outcome after launching the book. At first I said that if I can create something, put it online, and get even one person to pay for it then that's a huge accomplishment. After some thought I said that if the revenue were $1,000 in the first month (about 1 sale per day) I would consider it a success. To my surprise revenue was just over $1,000 on launch day alone. The only launch announcement I made was via Twitter.
Total Revenue: $17,992 USD
Total # of Sales: 746
Click the image to see a high res version. This chart is straight from SumAll. Keep in mind that these numbers do not include processing fees or expenses, but discounts have been deducted.
The data points are all daily, so you can see there are highs and lows. The initial spike is simply my twitter announcement and friendly folks retweeting. The spike on day 3 happened when the book was linked in Ruby Weekly. The other two big spikes on the chart were the result of discount promotions I ran. All of the other smallish spikes are invariably two things: 1) Someone recommends the book on twitter, or 2) I publish content on my blog. You'll notice fewer sales in the last few weeks, certainly due in part to the fact that I haven't published to my blog.
I'm ecstatic with the results so far, but I have no idea how they compare. A pair of design ebook authors recently shared their launch numbers which were much higher. But they're in a different space selling to a different audience. I still haven't a clue how my results compare to other (e)books for programmers.
Anyone who has ever launched their own product will tell that they didn't just kick their feet back and watch the money come in. There's lots to do. Between answering emails, producing content to market the book, and adding new content to the book itself, I've continued to invest late night hours into the project at least a few nights per week.
On that note, there is a new chapter for the book as of today. If you've already purchased the book then you should already have gotten the email. If you haven't purchased the book then you can read the new chapter for free. If you learn something then I encourage you to check out the book.
So why am I sharing this info instead of just keeping quiet? I was always inspired when people who launched their own products shared their story. I promised myself that if I ever got anything off the ground I would do the same. This is me delivering on that promise and hoping that I might inspire just one person down the line to build that thing they really want to build.
Read the followup: Lessons Learned Getting Other People to Sell My EbookTweet