Lessons Learned Getting Other People to Sell My Ebook

Published on October 15, 2012 by Jesse Storimer

Ten months ago I launched an ebook about Unix programming for Ruby developers.

In the 6 months since my last ebook income report I've managed to double my revenue. This is despite taking a vacation, reducing marketing efforts to effectively zero, and working on a new ebook.

This is mostly thanks to partnerships and new marketing mediums, such as publishing on the Amazon Kindle Store and partnering with the Pragmatic Programmers. I'll cover each in turn.

Kindle Direct Publishing

Just a few weeks before my last report I submitted my ebook to the Amazon Kindle Store. I already distribute a mobi file as part of the ebook download so it didn't require any extra production overhead. I did make a few modifications to improve the formatting, but in the end it took me one evening of work to submit my ebook to the Kindle Store.

Did I mention that I don't have a Kindle? I've never seen how my ebook renders on a real Kindle device. I just use Kindle Previewer.

The KDP pricing model is pretty terrible for authors. You can read all the details here. The gist is that if you want to price your book > $10 then Amazon will take a 70% cut of revenue. If you price < $10 then they take 30%. Neither of which is a real avenue to profitability unless you're doing many thousands of sales.

I ended up listing on the Kindle Store at $21 (My ebook is $27 on my website). Since Amazon takes 70% I'm left with $6.30 per sale.

I chose $21 because it's a bit less than the $27 that the book costs on my website and, on Amazon, you get less (no PDF, no epub, no code). I know what you're thinking. I could've priced my book at $10 and gotten $7 for each sale, but at that price Amazon also charges for 'delivery'. Yes, delivery. Like, by the kilobyte :| So I'd probably be making about the same amount per sale. Ultimately, I didn't want to devalue my product by offering it so cheaply on a marketplace like this. The main reason that I wanted to list it there was to capture any readers who look for books on the Kindle Store but wouldn't have found my own site otherwise.

How did it work out? It's been 6 months. For that one evening of added work (plus another one to understand the pricing) I've earned $835.90 USD in royalties from Kindle sales.

Pragmatic Programmers

This partnership was better in every way. In the aftermath of my last sales report David Bryant Copeland shared some of his sales numbers from his PragProg book. This resulted in a twitter conversation with Andy Hunt where he suggested he may be interested in distributing my ebook.

I knew that PragProg had distributed self-published ebooks to their readers in the past at a 50-50 revenue share. This seemed like a great opportunity.

I submitted proposal based on their guidelines. The best part was that since I already had a product with customers, I could share actual sales numbers and talk about the actual target customers that were buying my book. This is much better than talking projections.

They were on board with the proposal. They graciously offered me a chance to work with their editing team, but I declined in the interest of putting my efforts into new projects. They asked me to write some marketing copy and sign some tax forms. And that's it. They were very easy to work with and I really didn't have to do anything (on top of what I'd already done).

Just a quick example of how well these guys treat their authors: whenever there's something they need my permission to do, or something they need to run by me, I get an email from Dave or Andy themselves. The founders of PragProg. These guys are the real deal.

So how did things work out? So far I've earned $8,519.21 USD in royalties from PragProg.

The bulk of this (~$5,000) is from the initial announcement which headlined their newsletter. Sales continue to roll in, averaging 5 per week atm. Another opportunity that PragProg enabled is a translation of my book. A Chinese company bought the rights to publish my book in Chinese for $1500 (through PragProg). I've yet to see anything come of this yet, but we'll see.

Ruby Rogues

Another thing that's happened since the last sales report is that my book was selected for the Ruby Rogues book club. These guys do a popular Ruby discussion podcast. They actually reached out to me and asked if they could use my book for the club and I did one of these:

nodding vigorously

They mentioned this to their listeners and shared a link to buy the book. I also had the pleasure of making an appearance on the show to talk about the book.

Sidebar: This was a totally fun experience that I was happy to do, regardless of sales. But, since this post is about numbers…

It's hard to estimate the impact of something like this but Shopify tells me that the discount code they gave to readers has been used 62 times. I earned $1,364 USD in revenue from this appearance.

My Website

As I mentioned at the beginning, I haven't created much content over the past few months. The longest stint without a post on my blog was exactly 4 months. I was too busy driving to the West Coast of Canada, working on Shopify, and working on my next ebook.

Regardless, some of my content continued to draw SEO traffic that led to sales.

I've earned $7,719 USD in revenue from direct sales on my website in the last 6 months (I subtracted the Ruby Rogues amount because I already shared that).

Print Edition

Just a few weeks ago I started offering my book in print. As you can see this produced a jump in revenue:

sales chart from the past month

This is a chart beginning where my last report left off, ending today.

You can see the spike on the far right, but now I'm offering a physical product. So my profit margins are lower. Most of that spike comes from purchases by previous customers who already bought the ebook. I offered the book to these folks at just above the production cost, so most of that spike is not profit.

This is still really new so I don't have any numbers to share yet. I'll share more in the next report.

Final Numbers

My Website:
Total (last 6 months):
Total (first 4 months):
All Time Revenue:
Number of Readers:

This last number is by far the most humbling to me. To everyone out there who's supported me in this project: Thank You. I'm floored by the number of people who have read this thing I wrote and learned from it.


Other people have further reach than I ever will. At first, I didn't want to let other people sell my book. I naively thought that I could increase my efforts and reach the same audience, keeping the profits for myself. This is very untrue.

No matter how hard I try, I will never have the audience that PragProg has. If PragProg offered a partnership and they wanted 75% of the revenue (instead of 50%) I would still be an idiot not to accept. For very little personal overhead they shared my work with their sizablye, loyal audience. This is something I could never replicate on my own.

In short, getting other people sell my book has a huge ROI.

What's Next?

I spoke at a conference last weekend, and have another gig coming up at the beginning of next month. I've no clue how or if this will impact sales. If I can measure it, I'll report back here.

I'm working on a new ebook. If you learned something from my first book then you'll definitely want to get in line to pick up my latest. Get on the email list.