Comments on John Resig’s “Programming Book Profits” (and on Self-Publishing)

These numbers seem about right in my experience. As of June 2013, “Invent with Python” is around 10,000, “Hacking Secret Ciphers” is around 50,000, and “Making Games with Python & Pygame” is around 70,000.

The vast majority of technical books will never sell more than 4000 copies. Unless you’ve really tapped into something good, are targeting a huge audience, or have done a really outstanding job, it’s likely that your book will sell around the same amount.

I’ve been fortunate to hit on a good market: programming education. I’m convinced that my books don’t sell because they are Python programming books, but rather because they are books specifically for beginners. This all happened at the same time that online education and “learn to code” sites like Codecademy came in vogue.

Publishers do very little promotion of your work. I guess, unless, you’re going with a real powerhouse like O’Reilly (where they can rope you into conferences and all sorts of promotions) most technical publishers have little leeway outside of “sending free books to influential people and praying that they’ll blog about them.”

This is where I thought traditional publishers would have an edge over self-publishing, but I keep hearing how publishers don’t do that much (if anything) to promote the books they publish. My main promotion strategy has been to write blog articles on programming topics (with ads for my books in the sidebar) and then submit these posts to Reddit and other social media sites.

I’ve purchased advertising on Reddit before, but even after targeting specific subreddits (such as /r/learnprogramming and /r/python) I found that it wasn’t nearly as cost-effective way to bring in traffic as writing a good blog post. It taught me that blogging is a serious profession. Though how successful a given blog post will be has been very difficult to predict.

I also offer to send out review copies for free to people in exchange for an agreement to write an Amazon review within 60 days. Historically about 2/5 of the people I send books to actually write them, but I feel like it’s worth the cost.

Releasing your book before Christmas is awesome. Geeks love to add books to their Christmas lists (they’re cheaper than gadgets and safe for family members to acquire). The book was released December 11th and yet it still sold over 2,000 copies in the remaining 20 days of the quarter, in 2006.

I can’t stress this enough: Christmas is a big deal. My book sales effortlessly tripled in December (though they also had been available for some time before the holidays, so they had reviews and word of mouth).

Don’t force your friends to buy your book, authors always get a massive pile of their book to give away at user groups, etc. – hang on to some and save your friends $30.

I can buy copies of my own book at cost from CreateSpace (which come to about $8 or $10 a copy when shipping is added.) I use this for gifts and review copies, since my agreement with CreateSpace says that direct sales should go through them. (Which makes sense.)

I’m not 100% sure what the “licensed rights” are, mentioned in the printout above, but I think it relates to translated copies of the book (I’ve been told that there’s a Chinese version – there may be others).

Being a book available under an open license has given it the credibility where people have contacted me volunteering to translate it. Organizing my files to help facilitate translation has been a lot of work (and I’m still in progress with it). Also, most people only translate the first few chapters before giving up (understandably so, it’s a lot of work to translate an entire book).

When you go over a certain amount of profit publishers will hold some in “reserve” as a measure to counter-act returned copies, from the distributors. I’m not sure how much of a real concern this is, but it seems sketchy to me.

Occasionally CreateSpace has had to modify my sales figures, which I assume is to account for returns or miscounts. This has been a rare occurrence though (maybe two or three times in the last few years).


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