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Introducing the Leanpub Advertising Program: An Optional, Opt-In Way to Allow Leanpub to Advertise Your Book as an Affiliate

published Sep 30, 2014

Short version:

Please go to https://leanpub.com/YOUR_BOOK/advertise and allow us to spend money marketing your book(s). There’s no risk for you :)

Long version:

Back in March, we launched the affiliate program, which is enabled by going to https://leanpub.com/YOUR_BOOK/edit_affiliate

Since launching it, over a hundred Leanpub books have been added to the affiliate program by their authors.

The idea with the affiliate program is to enable affiliates to do the hard work and expense of marketing a book for you. If it turns out that they can do this cost-effectively, then they can make money marketing your book. And, if they can’t, then they lose money marketing your book. Obviously, we prefer win-win to lose-win, since otherwise the affiliate program isn’t very sustainable.

The affiliate program is still in its early stages, however, and we need to do a better job attracting affiliates to the program. However, we’re convinced that the model is a good one. The affiliate program pays affiliates 50% of the minimum price of the book as an affiliate commission. Since many of our books are in the $20 - $30 minimum price range, there’s real money to be earned here for affiliates.

In fact, we’re so convinced of this that we want to put our money where our mouth is here. Specifically, we want to be able to act as an affiliate, and to spend money buying ads and marketing Leanpub books.

We’re calling this the Leanpub Advertising Program.

To enable it, you go to https://leanpub.com/YOUR_BOOK/advertise or log on to your book’s dashboard, click the ‘Marketing’ link, and then ‘Advertising Program’.

If you choose to enable the Leanpub Advertising Program, you’re allowing Leanpub to act like an affiliate. We will be doing experiments where we buy ads on places like Facebook, Twitter and Google for some Leanpub books which have opted in to the Leanpub Advertising Program. Our goal will be to increase sales of our books, and also to build awareness of Leanpub overall.

Ideally, for us, we will be able to buy ads profitably – in other words, to earn enough from book sale (including the affiliate commission) to pay for the price of running the ad. If we can do this profitably, after refunds, chargebacks, etc, then we have a really, really scalable way to promote Leanpub in general, and some Leanpub books in particular.

Alternatively, if we can do this at a small loss, then we have a really good way to spend our marketing budget.

So, here’s how this works:

If you don’t opt in to this program, nothing changes.

If you do opt in to this program, here’s how this works:

For normal, non-affiliate purchases which do not originate from Leanpub ads or from other affiliate links, you will continue to earn the standard 90% minus 50 cents royalty.

However, for purchases where a Leanpub ad triggers the purchase, the standard Leanpub Affiliate Program terms will apply, but Leanpub will act as the affiliate.

Specifically, if a reader clicks a Leanpub ad for your book, and buys it within 7 days of clicking the ad (without clicking on any other affiliate link for that book afterward), then Leanpub will be the affiliate on a purchase of the book.

As with any other affiliate purchase, the affiliate portion is 50% of the minimum price of the book, not the suggested price.

For example, say your book has a $30 suggested price and a $15 minimum price, and someone clicks a Leanpub ad for your book and then buys it. Here’s how the royalties are done:

  • a) Purchase is $30.00
  • b) Leanpub earns $3.50 (10% plus 50 cents) as our normal portion of the transaction
  • c) Leanpub also earns $7.50 (50% of the $15 Minimum Price) as the affiliate portion of the transaction
  • d) You, the author, earn $19.00 (which is 6.33 times better and $16.00 better than the traditional 10% royalty in publishing, which is $3.00)

All the other affiliate pricing scenarios explained at http://blog.leanpub.com/2014/03/introducing-the-leanpub-affiliate-program.html work the same way with the Leanpub Advertising Program too.

Finally: for now the Leanpub Advertising Program purchases will look like any other affiliate purchase. We’ll be improving this in the future. (When we built the MVP version of this feature we were really lazy and just set up a user to act as Leanpub. So this feature took almost no coding!) However, it does mean that to be part of the Leanpub Advertising Program your book also needs to be in the Leanpub Affiliate Program. Since the same royalty split applies, our assumption is that this is fine.


Lean Scholarly Publishing With Leanpub

published Sep 26, 2014

Guest Post Bio

Luc P. Beaudoin is the author of Cognitive Productivity: Using Knowledge to Become Profoundly Effective. He is founder of CogZest, a cognitive productivity training and publications business based in Metro-Vancouver, Canada. He is also co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp., the developer of mySleepButton. Luc is also Adjunct Professor of Education at Simon Fraser University, where he runs the Cognitive Productivity Research Project. His previous jobs include being a research associate, software developer, technical team lead, technical writer and Assistant Professor of Psychology. He is currently designing more cognitive productivity books and apps.

Lean Scholarly Publishing With Leanpub

I published the first original scholarly book on Leanpub in 2013: Cognitive Productivity: Using Knowledge to Become Profoundly Effective. The Leanpub platform is so attractive to scholars that I have begun to spread the word to the academic community by offering faculty development workshops on the topic.

Scholars will appreciate the same benefits that other Leanpub authors enjoy, such as:

  • Being free from MicroSoft Word without being chained to LaTeX or DocBook,
  • receiving feedback early and progressively from readers.
  • incrementally developing their book with co-authors, editors, reviewers, and other contributors,
  • being able to set and adjust their price,
  • easily publishing their books in formats that are compatible with all the major e-book readers,
  • using very powerful yet user-friendly tools for detecting differences between versions of their documents and merging changes, and
  • having the potential to have their books translated into multiple languages.

Because of the context of their writing projects, these benefits are particularly appealing to academics.

Not Just Publishing, but Knowledge Building with Peer Review

A cognitive scientist once told me that when she wants to learn about a particular topic, she writes a book about it! In the process, she develops original knowledge. Scholarly writing often is knowledge building.

We build knowledge most productively when we do so collaboratively. However, one of the biggest challenges authors face is establishing relationships with people who can provide invaluable feedback on their work. It is difficult for the author to find the right collaborators. Conversely, it’s difficult for potential collaborators to find the author they need before his or her book is published. And if these two people should happen to meet, technical problems often slow down their progress. (E.g., sharing documents over email and even Dropbox is not very effective).

Leanpub addresses these issues. It is not just a publication platform. It allows you to develop knowledge in the form of an evolving book, while facilitating collaboration.

Leanpub facilitates getting feedback from experts and general readers alike. Using Leanpub makes it more likely that potentially interested readers can find you and your work. The feedback you receive from bright, knowledgeable minds might not only clarify your writing and understanding, it can lead you to historically new insights: i.e., to build new knowledge.

When I put my book on Leanpub, I solicited feedback from experts around the world, many of whom generously contributed their time and mental energy. (They are listed in the acknowledgements pages of Cognitive Productivity.) With this coupon, they gained perpetual access to my book in the format of their choice at the time of their choice. Often, several weeks passed between me sending them the invitation and them starting to review my book. I didn’t need to email them the latest copy, or manage a Dropbox folder, because they could download the latest copy from their Leanpub account.

I also received unsolicited feedback from many readers, including other scholars, which also improved Cognitive Productivity. As a further boon, connecting with scholars led to productive new relationships beyond the scope of this project.

The Future of Ph.D. Thesis Production?

The core, intellectual process of writing a Ph.D. thesis has not changed much over the years. Ph.D. theses are normally written by the candidate with substantive feedback coming mainly, and often exclusively, from the thesis advisor. This is partly because the thesis is not only a contribution to knowledge; it is also considered a test of the student’s merit of the “Ph.D.” title. Originality is therefore a major criterion. One doesn’t want a competitor to publish one’s ideas first. And the thesis committee needs to know that the candidate did not get inappropriate help along the way. However, developing a Ph.D. thesis is also the ultimate training exercise for tomorrow’s elite researchers. To be most effective, the writing process should involve working closely with other experts and using the best knowledge development and dissemination tools available.

Such considerations led Aaron Sloman, Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence to write the following email to his colleagues at the University of Birmingham, England.

Subject: Leanpub - future of research publishing?
Some people who have been here a long time will remember a [former] PhD student, Luc Beaudoin (recently founder of http://cogzest.com/).
He is now writing a book using leanpub.com. I thought Leanpub was yet another self publishing service (like http://www.lulu.com/) offering a route to rapid publication without involving major publishers, high costs, and lengthy delays. But I was quite wrong.
Leanpub is far more radical: inviting authors to share the process of creation with potential readers, somewhat like the open-source software movement and also like some great writers of the past, including Charles Dickens, who published many of their novels a chapter at a time in monthly magazines and benefited from reader comments, suggestions and requests both during production of later chapters and when the final book form was produced.
Maybe we should encourage all PhD students to consider using this for thesis production, with world-wide supervision by interested readers?

Given that a Ph.D. thesis is a very specialized document and that experts on the problem it addresses are normally few and very far between, it makes tremendous sense to use a platform like Leanpub, because it streamlines the processes of review and revision (as explained in the previous section).

The Leanpub revision history (backed by Git) mitigates the possibility of competitors plagiarizing the student’s work as does the fact that readers must sign up to download a copy.

Ph.D. candidates could also even charge for their evolving dissertation, often written long after the last scholarship payment has been received.

Rapidly Publish Your Existing Scholarly Content

Leanpub also streamlines the process of creating books out of disparate materials a potential author has developed, so that they can share and monetize their creations. This can be particularly attractive to scholars, because they create a lot of publishable content. For example, they often develop knowledge in the form of

  • course materials (slides, hand-outs, videos, tutorials, assignments, etc.),
  • scholarly papers,
  • blog posts,
  • grant proposals,
  • conference presentations,
  • email threads, and
  • posts on websites and forums.

Some of the content can be used with little modification. Other content requires more massaging. Most of these documents can easily be converted to Markdown using open source tools. Leanpub also has a very simple mechanism for packaging, distributing and selling “extras”—digital content associated with your book. The “extras” can be included in the price of the book, or sold at an additional cost.

To give you an example: On the 3rd of June of this year, I told my SFU Cognitive Science colleague, Michael Picard, about the Leanpub platform. Before the end of July, Michael published over 300 pages of his essays on Leanpub as Philosophy A to Z. That one’s 95% complete.

If you’re a professor, imagine bundling your lecture notes and slides using Leanpub. You can gradually add to them as the semester unfolds. As teaching assistants or students find errors, you can gradually update your book. You can even add your teaching assistants as contributors or co-authors.

Swiftly Handle Errata

Cutting-edge knowledge is often complex and particularly subject to error. In traditional publishing, few people are involved in the review of the manuscript, so errors are more likely to make it all the way to final publication. It is often difficult for users to obtain errata once they are listed. If the problems are significant enough, or knowledge advances rapidly beyond the published book, a second edition of the book is required — i.e., a huge process.

Leanpub does not have a rigid concept of “final copy”. The lean approach inherently allows errors to be fixed very rapidly, giving current and new readers nearly immediate access to the improved conceptual artifact. To be sure, an author can mark her book as “100%” complete. But she can update the book freely, and notify consenting readers.

For example, a faulty or missing entry in the bibliography can delay readers who want to build on the current work. With Leanpub, a reader can email the author about the errata. The author can quickly update the book.

For academic authors, the value of rapidly fixing errors and gradually improving their work cannot be over-estimated.

Edited Books Anyone?

Involving multiple authors in the development of a book can increase its quality and impact. The development of co-authored and edited books are some of the most promising scholarly applications of Leanpub. (I’m currently considering a couple of edited book projects, myself.) Leanpub provides a lean web page for adding authors. Just type in the author’s username, set his or her royalties, and invite them.

With traditional publishing, edited books often take a long time to be released. In July of 2013, I contributed the final version of a chapter I started to write in 2011. The book only became available in August 2014 (and at a high price). With Leanpub, this book would have started to become publicly available in August 2011 (or earlier). It could have been finalized in 2012, if we had not sought a publisher. Two years is a long time in the Knowledge Age.

Of course, it costs money to outsource the services that publishers provide (see It Takes a Village, below). In some situations, the editor or one of the co-authors might have applicable research dissemination funds. A contributing or associated individual could assume these costs in exchange for the (possible) royalties.

Publishers themselves can also use Leanpub, but that is another topic.

Say Goodbye to Word Without Greeting LaTeX: Welcome to Markdown

When I wrote my Ph.D. thesis, I had two time sinks to choose from: LaTeX or Word. I carefully considered using LaTeX for my book. Then I discovered a very comfortable authoring program, Scrivener. But as the book and Leanpub evolved, I realized Leanpub was the way to go. So I exported my content to Markdown. I contended with many conversion issues, such as broken hyperlinks. But it was well worth the effort. I find it much more pleasant to write with a powerful plain text editor (like BBEdit) than even the best WYSIWYG authoring environment. So, I would recommend starting directly with Markdown. If you’re on a Mac, then you’ll want to use Brett Terpstra’s Marked2 to preview your content.

Scholars will appreciate the simplicity and elegance of /Markdown. The Markdown syntax and its augmentation by Leanpub likely contains everything you need for writing your book. Where it doesn’t, Leanpub staff are quite responsive. For example, when I first published Cognitive Productivity, Leanpub didn’t support hanging indents—a major problem for the bibliography. I raised the issue with Leanpub; they quickly responded by supporting new syntactic expressions, {begin-hanging-paragraphs} and {end-hanging-paragraphs}. All you need to do is put that at the beginning of the references section. Subsequently, every paragraph will be indented in the usual bibliographical manner. Coincidentally, as I was editing this paragraph, Leanpub notified me they’d just fulfilled another scholar-friendly feature request of mine. Normally, Leanpub generates a footnote for every hyperlink you include in your book. That’s helpful in the body of a book. But bibliographies can have a huge number of hyperlinks. So, Leanpub now supports the {footnotes-off} and {footnotes-on} incantations, which behaves as you would expect.

A major advantage of writing in Markdown compared with writing in Word is that you get to choose from a variety of powerful text editors—the same tools that software developers use for writing software code. That may seem strange at first, but when you think of it, a book and software have many similarities. Given that I work on a Mac, I chose BBEdit by BareBones Software. Most software developers realize that using a mouse or trackpad instead of a keyboard incantation slows them down. Good text editors, like BBEdit, allow you to do most of what you need to do without taking your hands off the keyboard.

With Leanpub, you can split your book into separate book files. (This is similar to Adobe FrameMaker®, but much more powerful.) Using BBEdit, I can see all the chapters of my book listed in the left window pane, and rapidly access them. Scholars will also appreciate having access to “regular expression” facilities that allow them to flexibly search for and replace text in a document. This is very handy for finding cross-links, section headers, bibliographical citations, and other formally distinctive text.

Write Scientifically: Apply Lean Principles

Authors grounded in scientific research methods will also appreciate the lean product development principles enabled by Leanpub. Author Eric Ries, in his books Lean Startup and Startup Lessons Learned explained how empirical research methods can be used in developing products. These principles can be used on Leanpub. Each iteration of a Leanpub book represents a scientific hypothesis about value provided to the market. One can assess this hypothesis by gauging the market’s and reviewers’ response to one’s book.

It Takes a Village

Developing a scholarly book is team work. An academic publisher would provide most of the team. But as an academic self-publishing author, you’ll need to find the key people you will thank in the acknowledgments section of your book:

  • general reviewers (colleagues, friends, family, etc.),
  • domain expert reviewers,
  • a website developer (Jeff Rivett is my web developer),
  • a copyeditor (Brian Holmes edited my book),
  • a graphic designer (for the cover page — Lam Wong did my beautiful cover),
  • a bibliography editor (to ensure that the bibliography is correct and complete; James Cullin edited mine), and
  • an indexer (in my case, Jen Weers).

For the editing and indexing roles, I recommend you find people who are either already familiar with Markdown, or who clearly have the ability and inclination to learn. Markdown is easy, but many have low “perceived technical self-efficacy” or simply are not inclined to learn. (Incidentally, these attributes are discussed in chapter 3 of Cognitive Productivity). If your network can’t provide the recommendations, there are several freelancer websites that can help (e.g., oDesk and freelancers.com).

Leanpub facilitates these aspects of book development too. You can set up a private Leanpub book and make the editors co-authors. That way, they can push the “preview” button to see how the book will look with their changes. You can use a “diff”/”merge” tool in your text editor to review and merge their changes.

Of course, hiring a team costs money. But if your book is at all successful, it likely won’t cost you as much as the royalties you would lose by signing away your brainchild to a publisher.


Two Years With Leanpub and Going Strong

published Sep 12, 2014

Guest Post Bio

Azat Mardan has over 12 years of experience in web, mobile and software development. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Informatics and a Master of Science in Information Systems Technology degree, Azat possesses deep academic knowledge as well as extensive practical experience.

Recently, he has worked as an engineer at the curated social media news aggregator website, Storify.com (acquired by LiveFyre). Before that, Azat worked as a CTO/co-founder at Gizmo — an enterprise cloud platform for mobile marketing campaigns, and has undertaken the prestigious 500 Startups business accelerator program. Previously, he was developing mission-critical applications for government agencies in Washington, DC: National Institutes of Health, National Center for Biotechnology Information, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Lockheed Martin. Azat is a frequent attendee at Bay Area tech meet-ups and hackathons (AngelHack hackathon ’12 finalist with team FashionMetric.com).

In addition, Azat teaches technical classes at General Assembly and Hack Reactor, pariSOMA and Marakana (acquired by Twitter) to much acclaim.

In his spare time, Azat writes about technology on his blog: webAppLog.com which is number one in “express.js tutorial” Google search results. Azat is also the author of Express.js Guide, Rapid Prototyping with JS and Oh My JS!

Two Years With Leanpub and Going Strong

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since I joined LeanPub as an author. I so clearly remember why I made the decision to try LeanPub:

  1. LeanPub software automatically generates a Table of Contents that is properly linked to the appropriate pages with anchor links. This is something that Marked, Pages and other Mac apps refuse to do. (I think it has something to do with how Mac uses Safari to generate PDFs.)

  2. Generous royalties: 90% minus $0.50 goes to authors.

  3. Free setup costs and no DRM or restrictions on using LeanPub files somewhere else. In fact, LeanPub encourages authors to use their PDFs with Lulu or CreateSpace on-demand printers.

  4. The lean startup / manufacturing model has been adapted specifically to publishing — which is in the LeanPub name.

  5. It’s Markdown-powered!

My main goal when I started writing was to express my thoughts better on paper. I can attest that the experience of using LeanPub exceeded all my expectations! I’ve made tens of thousands in profits and gained over 7,000 readers. LeanPub allowed me to focus on writing and use only Markdown. You might have experienced this scenario: you sit to write for an hour, but spend the first 30 minutes toying with fonts and colors. Things like that are a major distraction!

LeanPub formatting and styles are unpretentious. They are available only when I need them. In other words, without extra settings and special markup, the book looks attractive and professional right-out of the box. That’s right — even your GitHub readme.md files will look fine without tedious additional work.

Yes, it’s true that it’s possible to use Markdown and a tool like PanDoc or LaTeX to generate PDFs and other ebook format files. However, in my humble opinion, it’s better to spend time writing. If you’re a LeanPub author, you get free exposure via search, bundles and sometimes by being featured on their home page!

The benefits of the LeanPub’s lean startup philosophy allow authors to experiment with release schedules, pricing and maintain a two-way communication channel with their readers. On the contrary, Amazon.com’s Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t allow authors to communicate with readers or send their readers updates — ridiculous for someone who uses LeanPub!

I’m so happy with LeanPub that I can’t stop telling all wannabe authors to give it a try. Without LeanPub I don’t think I would have been able to write six books while working two jobs. All of the books were written in Markdown. The most popular book is JavaScript and Node FUNdamentals with 4,000+ readers. As of today, the passive income from my books has allowed me to quit my day job and focus on the most important things to work on—something I couldn’t dream of two years ago!

Another lessons that I learned the hard way:

  • Lean publishing doesn’t mean delivering a poorly formatted book full of typos. Similar to software, it means cuttings down on feature (chapters).

  • People (even programmers) buy books based on covers.

  • Bundles can work really well with minimum additional time required.

The evolution of Rapid Prototyping with JS cover over two years.

If you’re interested in learning about my writing/publishing journey in more detail, which in addition to LeanPub also include experience with a traditional publisher, check out my upcoming book ProgWriter [programmer + writer]: Lessons learned on my path from ordinary developer to writer of multiple programming books—that sell.

The future for self-publishing is getting brighter and brighter every day. The stigma is gone, because more and more good books are being self-published everyday. The time-to-market is shorter and communication with authors is more personal. Through the past year, I’ve seen LeanPub make additional changes to make publishing even easier. For example, they’ve added the ability to write in the browser, and a new website layout. Also, authors now have the ability to package and attach extra material (e.g., source code) to their books.

The summer is almost over, people will come back from their vacations, and sales will spike to new highs as they did after the last year’s summer. So if you’re on the fence or postponing writing/publishing that first book—go ahead and try it!


Why Do I Use Leanpub?

published Sep 02, 2014

Guest Post by Simon Brown

Simon lives in Jersey (the largest of the Channel Islands) and works as an independent consultant, specialising in software architecture and its role in modern software development teams. Simon is an award-winning speaker on the topic of software architecture and has provided consulting/training to software teams in over 20 countries, ranging from small startups through to global blue chip companies. He is the founder of Coding the Architecture, which is a website for hands-on software architects. He still codes too.

Websites: http://www.simonbrown.je and Coding the Architecture

Note: This entry was originally posted on Simon’s blog at http://www.codingthearchitecture.com/2014/08/30/why_do_i_use_leanpub.html

My perspective as a self-published author

There’s been some interesting discussion over the past fews days about Leanpub, both on Twitter and blogs. Jurgen Appelo posted Why I Don’t Use Leanpub and Peter Armstrong responded. I think the biggest selling points of Leanpub as a publishing platform from an author’s perspective may have been lost in the discussion. So, here’s why my take on why I use Leanpub for Software Architecture for Developers.

Some history

I pitched my book idea to a number of traditional publishing companies in 2008 and none of them were very interested. “Nice idea, but it won’t sell” was the basic summary. A few years later I decided to self-publish my book instead and I was about to head down the route of creating PDF and EPUB versions using a combination of Pages and iBooks Author on the Mac. Why? Because I love books like Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen and I wanted to do something similar. At first I considered simply giving the book away for free on my website but, after Googling around for self-publishing options, I stumbled across Leanpub. Despite the Leanpub bookstore being fairly sparse at the start of 2012, the platform piqued my interest and the rest is history.

The headline: book creation, publishing, sales and distribution as a service

I use Leanpub because it allows me to focus on writing content. Period. The platform takes care of creating and selling e-books in a number of different formats. I can write some Markdown, sync the files via Dropbox and publish a new version of my book within minutes.

Typesetting and layout

I frequently get asked for advice about whether Leanpub is a good platform for somebody to write a book. The number one question to ask is whether you have specific typesetting/layout needs. If you want to produce a “Presentation Zen” style book or if having control of your layout is important to you, then Leanpub isn’t for you. If, however, you want to write a traditional book that mostly consists of words, then Leanpub is definitely worth taking a look at.

Leanpub uses a slightly customised version of Markdown, which is a super-simple language for writing content. Here’s an example of a Markdown file from my book, and you can see the result in the online sample of my book. Leanpub does allow you to tweak things like PDF page size, font size, page breaking, section numbering, etc but you’re not going to get pixel perfect typesetting. I think that Leanpub actually does a pretty fantastic job of creating good looking PDF, EPUB and MOBI format ebooks based upon the very minimal Markdown. This is especially true when you consider the huge range of ebook reader software across PCs, Macs, Android devices, Apple devices, Kindles, etc. Plus the readers themselves can mess with the fonts/font sizes too.

It’s like building my own server at Rackspace versus using a “Platform as a Service” such as Cloud Foundry. You need to make a decision about the trade-off between control and simplicity/convenience. Since authoring isn’t my full-time job and I have lots of other stuff to be getting on with, I’m more than happy to supply the content and let Leanpub take care of everything else for me.

Toolchain

My toolchain as a Leanpub author is incredibly simple: Dropbox and Mou. From a structural perspective, I have one Markdown file per essay and that’s basically it. Leanpub does now provide support for using GitHub to store your content and I can see the potential for a simple Leanpub-aware authoring tool, but it’s not rocket science. And to prove the point, a number of non-technical people here in Jersey have books on Leanpub too (e.g. Thrive with The Hive and a number of books by Richard Rolfe).

Iterative and incremental delivery

Before starting, I’d already decided that I’d like to write the book as a collection of short essays and this was cemented by the fact that Leanpub allows me to publish an in-progress ebook. I took an iterative and incremental approach to publishing the book. Rather than starting with essay number one and progressing in order, I tried to initially create a minimum viable book that covered the basics. I then fleshed out the content with additional essays once this skeleton was in place, revisiting and iterating upon earlier essays as necessary. I signed up for Leanpub in January 2012 and clicked the “Publish” button four weeks later. That first version of my book was only about ten pages in length but I started selling copies immediately.

Variable pricing and coupons

Another thing that I love about Leanpub is that it gives you full control over how you price your book. The whole pricing thing is a balancing act between readership and royalties, but I like that I’m in control of this. My book started out at $4.99 and, as content was added, that price increased. The book now currently has a minimum price of $20 and a recommended price of $30. I can even create coupons for reduced price or free copies too. There’s some human psychology that I don’t understand here, but not everybody pays the minimum price. Far from it, and I’ve had a good number of people pay more than the recommend price too. Leanpub provides all of the raw data, so you can analyse it as needed.

An incubator for books

As I’ve already mentioned, I pitched my book idea to a bunch of regular publishing companies and they weren’t interested. Fast-forward a few years and my book is the currently the “bestselling” book on Leanpub this week, fifth by lifetime earnings and twelfth in terms of number of copies sold. I’ve used quotes around “bestselling” because Jurgen did. ;-)

In his blog post, Peter Armstrong emphasises that Leanpub is a platform for publishing in-progress ebooks, especially because you can publish using an iterative and incremental approach. For this reason, I think that Leanpub is a fantastic way for authors to prove an idea and get some concrete feedback in terms of sales. Put simply, Leanpub is a fantastic incubator for books. I know of a number of books that were started on Leanpub have been taken on by traditional publishing companies. I’ve had a number of offers too, including some for commercial translations. Sure, there are other ways to publish in-progress ebooks, but Leanpub makes this super-easy and the barrier to entry is incredibly low.

The future for my book?

What does the future hold for my book then? I’m not sure that electronic products are ever really “finished” and, although I consider my book to be “version 1”, I do have some additional content that is being lined up. And when I do this, thanks to the Leanpub platform, all of my existing readers will get the updates for free.

I’ve so far turned down the offers that I’ve had from publishing companies, primarily because they can’t compete in terms of royalties and I’m unconvinced that they will be able to significantly boost readership numbers. Leanpub is happy for authors to sell their books through other channels (e.g. Amazon) but, again, I’m unconvinced that simply putting the book onto Amazon will yield an increased readership. I do know of books on the Kindle store that haven’t sold a single copy, so I take “Amazon is bigger and therefore better” arguments with a pinch of salt.

What I do know is that I’m extremely happy with the return on my investment. I’m not going to tell you how much I’ve earned, but a naive calculation of $17.50 (my royalty on a $20 sale) x 4,600 (the total number of readers) is a little high but gets you into the right ballpark. In summary, Leanpub allows me focus on content, takes care of pretty much everything and gives me an amazing author royalty as a result. This is why I use Leanpub.


Why Don't I Use Leanpub?

published Aug 28, 2014

by Peter Armstrong, Leanpub Cofounder

Today Jurgen Appelo wrote a very well-written post entitled “Why I Don’t Use Leanpub”.

Go read it now. Seriously.

Now that you’re back, you’ll know that Jurgen essentially makes the following arguments:

  1. No self-publishing experts suggest Leanpub.
  2. Leanpub is not a professional authoring tool.
  3. Leanpub does not have great formatting.
  4. Getting feedback by publishing in-progress does not make sense for him. Who would want to read a book more than once?
  5. Leanpub is focused on IT, so it’s a narrow distribution channel. No bestselling authors outside of IT are using Leanpub.
  6. Leanpub has high royalties (90%) but does not drive readership, so the book has less impact.

These are interesting points. There is much in them that is valid, actually. However, they also miss some of the point about what Leanpub is good for, and how Leanpub should be used.

The fact that there is so much validity in them, however, as well as some misguided points, is why we’re posting this here.

This post is not a rebuttal; it is me providing a whole bunch of context around all of the arguments. This way, you can have a more sophisticated understanding of what we are doing, and judge the arguments on their own merits.

First, however, the way the post starts makes me so thrilled:

It seems not a week goes by without someone asking me, “Why don’t you publish on Leanpub?” or “Have you considered writing on Leanpub?” or some other variation of the same question.

As a startup founder, seeing this is fantastic! This hints at the best three words in the entire world.

No, not “I love you” – I’m talking about the other three words: “Product-Market Fit”!

Anyway, reading that paragraph is so thrilling to everyone at Leanpub that I’m going to paste it in again. That way, whenever any of us look at this post in the future we get to read it twice:

It seems not a week goes by without someone asking me, “Why don’t you publish on Leanpub?” or “Have you considered writing on Leanpub?” or some other variation of the same question.

OK, with that fun out of the way, let’s get to the Serious Business of considering the arguments.

1. No self-publishing experts suggest Leanpub.

This is actually a huge achievement on our part.

Seriously.

Since I wrote most of the copy on the homepage and the author page, as well as an entire book, called Lean Publishing, explaining what we are trying to do, I am so proud of this.

When you look at Leanpub’s homepage and the author page, you will not see the words “self publishing” anywhere. I hate the term. It’s the polite way of saying “vanity publishing”. If I wore glasses, I wouldn’t be able to say it without looking down my nose while saying it.

Leanpub is not a platform for self-publishing.

Leanpub is a platform for publishing in-progress books.

Leanpub is the best way in the world to publish a book while you’re writing it. This is true whether you’re writing a programming book, a business book or even a cookbook!

The type of in-progress publishing we advocate is called “Lean Publishing”. It’s a nod to Eric Ries.

Leanpub is called Leanpub because of Eric Ries and his Lean Startup ideas.

I founded the Vancouver Ruby Meetup Group in 2007, at roughly the same time as I founded Ruboss, the company that created and runs Leanpub. (Back then it was called the Vancouver Ruby/Rails Meetup Group.) In 2009, before he was super-famous, Eric Ries actually talked at my meetup! I titled the event “Eric Ries (!!!) - The Lean Startup: a Disciplined Approach…”. His talk was called “The Lean Startup: a Disciplined Approach to Imagining, Designing, and Building New Products Speaker”.

Leanpub is trying to do for publishing (yes, for publishing, not to publishing) what Eric Ries and The Lean Startup did for startups.

After Eric spoke at my meetup in April 2009, we went for drinks, and over some tasty scotch we talked about publishing his blog as a book. The publishing platform that Scott Patten and I were working on would be able to do that, trivially. (Back then it was called Sopobo, which we thankfully renamed to Leanpub. Thanks Eric!)

The result was Eric Ries’s first book. No, not The Lean Startup. I’m talking about Startup Lessons Learned.

This book, a collection of Eric’s excellent blog posts, organized by month, was the first book published and sold on Leanpub. It was published and sold its first copy on April 21, 2010. I’m a romantic, and that date is my wedding anniversary, which is the perfect day to launch products.

Anyway, from that day forward, we did not focus on convincing anyone that we were a good way to self-publish. We convinced people that we were a good way to publish in-progress books according to the Lean Publishing principles.

Here’s the definition of Lean Publishing, which I’ve been saying at conference talks around the world (NYC, Frankfurt, Brisbane, SF and Edinburgh) over the past couple years:

Lean Publishing is the act of publishing an in-progress ebook using lightweight tools and many iterations to get reader feedback, pivot until you have the right book and build traction once you do.

This applies for both self-published authors, and for publishers.

One of the bestselling books on Leanpub, The Rails 4 Way, is an Addison-Wesley book. It was published on Leanpub as it was written, and then retired when it was complete. Obie and the other authors had a great experience writing it using our platform.

Do you think Addisson-Wesley considers it a self-published book?

2. Leanpub is not a professional authoring tool.

Correct!

Leanpub is a way to publish and sell in-progress ebooks.

Leanpub is not in the text editor, word processor or page layout business. Yeah, sure, we added a way to edit your Leanpub books in the web browser, but we did this primarily for demo purposes and as a way for new authors to kick the tires if they didn’t have a Dropbox or GitHub account to use to sync with us. Leanpub is as much in the authoring tool business as GitHub is: not at all.

This is great, by the way!

You can use many tools to write on Leanpub. I use a combination of Emacs and iA Writer. I like Emacs since I’m a nerd, and I like iA Writer since it makes the entire focus be on your writing while writing Markdown, and the minimal formatting gets out of your way. (I’m writing this blog post in iA Writer, in Markdown.)

3. Leanpub does not have great formatting.

Correct!

At Leanpub, we believe that for an in-progress book, formatting is just procrastination.

You should not be spending your time formatting; you should be spending your time writing. The amount of formatting that we support is essentially what Markdown supports, with some book-specific extensions for things like asides, footnotes, etc.

However, we do believe that semantic things like callouts, asides, etc are needed. Currently we support Asides (with A>), Warnings (W>), Tips (T>), Errors (E>), Discussions (D>), etc. And you can add custom icons using any icon in the amazing Font Awesome library. By the way, we love Font Awesome so much that we paid $1999 to be sponsors of Font Awesome Black Tie’s Kickstarter campaign.

So Jurgen, if you’re reading this, you can customize your asides with custom icons, so it could be that we kind of do what you want. And it could be that we should add a Callout section. Email me if you want to discuss that!

Anyway, that’s not really important. The important thing is this:

Once your book is done and you have written every word in it, what to do next?

Well, for one, that is the perfect time to do the formatting!

So, we support easy InDesign export with one click! This way, you can use a professional formatting tool to make your book look good. But the key is, you are doing this once, at the end of the writing process. This is much more efficient than doing it throughout the writing process.

4. Getting feedback by publishing in-progress does not make sense for him. Who would want to read a book more than once?

I’ve written a lot about this already, so I’ll keep it short:

Publishing in-progress makes the most sense for computer programming books, since technology changes so quickly. You need to reach the innovators and early adopters, or “earlyvangelists” in Steve Blank’s terms, while the information is still current. If you wait to publish until your book is done, then the innovators will have gotten everything they need from blog posts and moved on. You need grassroots buzz around a book from thought leaders, and thought leaders don’t read tired old books.

However, it’s a lot deeper and broader than that.

I recently read Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. It was a fantastic book.

But I’d already read about half of it before! Where? On Ben’s blog. Blogging lets you develop your voice and build an audience. Much of what you write on a blog can be refactored (to use a programming term) into book material.

If you are writing a book, whether it is a programming book, a business book or another type of non-fiction book, you can go about it a couple of ways:

  1. Write the whole thing in stealth mode and then publish it all at once. Have a launch and hope for the best.
  2. Publish parts of it as you are going, and get traction and feedback from readers.

Note that #2 can be done by blogging, by using Leanpub, or by doing both! This is why we have one-click blog import functionality: chances are if you have a blog, it has some good raw material for your book!

This is true for technical books, but also true for business books and other non-fiction.

Now, fiction is a bit trickier: for fiction, you typically do only want to read it once.

The solution here is serial fiction. I’ve talked about this a lot at publishing conferences, connecting this to everything from Victorian England (Charles Dickens, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Wilkie Collins, etc) and Fifty Shades of Grey, which started as Twilight fan fiction called Master of the Universe.

We’re at the beginning of a renaissance for serial fiction. Watch this space.

5. Leanpub is focused on IT, so it’s a narrow distribution channel. No bestselling authors outside of IT are using Leanpub.

It is true that no bestselling authors outside technical and business topics are using Leanpub. This is due to a number of factors:

  1. Leanpub used to be really hard to use, so only computer programmers could figure it out.
  2. The initial traction that Leanpub got was in the computer programming and agile community. Since Leanpub is primarily growing by word of mouth, this explains our current distribution of books. (I like to joke that we are a viral loop startup, but that we have the world’s slowest viral loop: at every cycle through the loop, it involves someone writing part of a book. Think of Leanpub as kind of like Ning in this regard.)
  3. Markdown seems scary. Now, this is actually a problem that will go away as much better funded companies (e.g. GitHub) expose more and more people to Markdown. Also, Microsoft Word is a generational thing: my son’s generation will not be as attached to it as my father’s. Hopefully Leanpub can play a small role in that happening.

6. Leanpub has high royalties (90%) but does not drive readership, so the book has less impact.

This is a false choice.

First, our royalty rate is actually 90% minus 50 cents, so it’s $8.50 on a $10 book (85%) and $17.50 on a $20 book (87.5%).

But at every price point, our royalty rates are better than Amazon KDP, which is essentially 35% between $0.99 and $2.99, 70% between $2.99 and $9.99, and 35% at $10 and up. I say “essentially” since it’s more complex; the actual pricing page for Amazon is here.

Now, why is this important? Simple:

At Leanpub, authors own their work and can sell it wherever they want. This includes on Amazon and Apple.

Since we pay better royalties, it makes sense for authors to send their direct traffic (from Twitter, their blog, and mailing list) to Leanpub. However, it also makes sense for authors to publish their Leanpub books on any other channel that works for them in terms of getting sales.

This is why we encourage authors to sell their Leanpub books on Amazon KDP and Apple.

By the way, if they use KDP Select, they can’t sell anywhere else (including Leanpub). So, obviously, we don’t encourage that, since it destroys the business model of every other bookstore and publisher in the world. But if a Leanpub author wants to publish their book in KDP Select, they are free to do so–they should just retire the book on Leanpub first, to comply with Amazon’s terms of service.

Conclusion

In short, with Leanpub you can have your cake and eat it too! You can write using your favorite tools, publish on Leanpub as you are writing and when you are done (earning a great royalty rate the entire time), and also publish on channels like Amazon and Apple when you’re done, in order to get the reach that you want.

Now, does that mean Leanpub is perfect?

Hardly.

Right now the Leanpub website is kind of ugly, especially for readers after the purchase is completed. We’re fixing that.

Also, one thing which we really want to do is help our authors build their own email lists. We’re going to be integrating MailChimp to do this. This is something we’ve been asked for a lot, and we wanted to ensure that we did it the right way. We want to be transparent for our readers, so that readers do not get any emails they don’t expect, etc. But we think we’ve figured this out now, so stay tuned.

Furthermore, the process of reading Leanpub books on mobile kind of sucks right now. You need to drag files into iTunes or send them to your Kindle somehow. And who knows what you do on Android. We’re fixing this. Yesterday we submitted the first version of the Leanpub reader app to Apple for review. Hopefully it will show up in the App Store in a few weeks. Now, it won’t be able to buy Leanpub books (so the whole “mobile purchasing” story still sucks), but you’ll be able to read your Leanpub books and add new books to your Wish List. (Yeah, we’re adding wish lists too, finally!)

Finally, we have done about 1% of what I want to do for serial fiction. I want Leanpub to be the best way in the world to write, publish and sell serial fiction, and we’re nowhere near that yet. At Leanpub we love fiction authors, especially the genre fiction authors who have been marginalized historically. The snobbery toward self-published authors is only surpassed by the snobbery of literary fiction toward genre fiction or serial fiction. (The great people I met at GenreCon in Brisbane know how I feel about this.)

The goal is this:

In a couple years, when an aspiring author is considering writing and publishing something, whether it’s genre fiction published in serial, or an in-progress book about the latest great Javascript framework, the question should be the same:

Why Don’t I Use Leanpub?