Lean Publishing for Ninjas

published Jul 11, 2012

John Resig just posted about his traditionally-published book being almost done, and about his experiences writing it. This book was not written on Leanpub, but some of what John says basically explains why Leanpub exists:

I started the book in early 2008 and was actually quite productive, finishing nearly the entire book that year (with some missing gaps that I fixed up in 2009). There was some work left to do to make it a better book but, honestly, I got caught up in coding and stopped focusing on writing. I had to prioritize my time and I chose to prioritize doing more development and focusing on my personal life …

I would absolutely not write a technical book again. It’s a tedious process and unless you LOVE writing and are really good at it (like Nicholas Zakas or Dave Flanagan) then I suggest that you stick with the medium that is truly successful: Writing long-form articles/blog posts and possibly spinning them off into purchasable ebooks. (As an example, I’d point to Juriy Zaytsev and Peter-Paul Koch both of whom could get any JavaScript position in the world purely based upon the quality of their articles and sites, without ever having written a book.)

I realized at some point in late 2008 that that’s really what I should’ve done with Secrets of the JavaScript Ninja but I was already neck-deep in the book with most of it complete. Ironically working on the book (or not working on it, however you look at it) actually compelled me to NOT blog more as every time I wanted to write a technical blog post I was forcing myself to make the decision “I’m writing about 1000 works on a technical matter, shouldn’t this just be going towards my uncompleted book?” and would just end up writing nothing as a result.

Leanpub didn’t exist in 2008, but if John had been writing his book today as a Leanpub book, what would have been different?

  1. John could have kept up his technical blogging. Leanpub makes it trivial to import a blog progressively into a book (just click a button to import your new posts). So he could have blogged all the interesting things he wanted to, and then clicked a button to import his posts and edit them into book form.

  2. I don’t know John’s deal, but my guess is he wasn’t earning 90% - 50 cents on every PDF sold. On a $32 ebook, this would $28.30 per copy. John Resig is a big name, and any JavaScript book written by him would have a large following. We would have loved to be able to pay him $28.30 per copy. This type of money can definitely be a motivator to write more. (If you’re doing the math, Leanpub would have earned $3.70 per copy, minus about $1.23 to PayPal = $2.47 per copy in profit.)

  3. Leanpub’s variable pricing feature lets authors charge a minimum and suggested price. A massive number of people pay more than the minimum price. (Yes, really; it restores your faith in humanity.) So John could have set a minimum price of $20 and a suggested price of $32, and captured even more of his potential market.

  4. Since on Leanpub you can publish so easily, John could have had the instant gratification of releasing multiple versions of his book on the same day, and of getting feedback right away. This feedback loop is why blogging is so attractive.

  5. Since the process of publishing on Leanpub is so un-tedious (write in Markdown, sync with Dropbox, click a button), John may have actually enjoyed writing more. Making authors happy makes the world a better place. So does keeping authors blogging, instead of having the book writing process derail that.

Anyway, obviously Leanpub wasn’t an option in 2008, but we hope that the next time a JavaScript ninja decides to write a book, he or she considers Leanpub as an alternative. In fact, there are a few notable examples of exactly this happening, in fact…

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