Ok, so I may very well be one of the slowest writers ever, but I am pleased to finally announce that I have completed a draft chapter for what I hope will become my next book: The Nature of Code. Based on my experience getting Learning Processing out into the world I’ve decided to go ahead and experiment with self-publishing. I’m not sure what service I’ll ultimately use or exactly how I’ll distribute the text (most likely as a PDF for sale online as well as print-on-demand physical book) so feel free to write me with suggestions, etc.
Let’s take a moment to go over some of the finer points as to why I am doing this.
Dollars and cents
Learning Processing retails for $49.95 (amazon’s discount is 10%: $44.95). When the publisher sells a copy of the book, I get some money (yay for me!). Based on my first royalty statement, this works out to approximately $3.73 per copy. Sure, I’m not writing books about programming with Processing to get rich, but I did spend a couple years working hard on the project and every little bit counts.
Let’s assume for the moment that I could sell the same exact book via lulu.com. The actual cost for printing the book would be ~$14.00. Ok, so let’s say I choose to sell the book at $25.00 (half the actual current cost.) That’s $11 of profit for every book sold, lulu takes 20%, leaving me with ~$8.80 per book sold. The book costs half as much and I get more than double the revenue! Now, this is just one scenario. I haven’t decided what service to use, how much of a mark-up is appropriate, etc. But you get the idea. There’s no reason a no color, no frills, beginner programming text needs to be $50.00.
Release early, Release often
As an author, it’s just nice to have a lot of flexibility with the process. With self-publishing, I can do things like release early drafts of PDFs online for feedback (see below). This is not something I could have easily done with a traditional publishing house. Instead of spending months or years writing a book before anyone sees anything, the idea is that I can just put stuff out there (for cheap) as I type and then iterate. And there are no limits of how I choose to distribute the book (excerpts published as tutorials on Processing.org? Free on my site? PDF for a million dollars? Audio book? It’s all fair game.).
Once the book is done, I can easily continue to make changes and update. Now, Processing has a fairly stable API, one that is not going to undergo massive changes anytime soon. And sure, how gravity works, the formula for the mandelbrot set, these aren’t concepts that are going to change that often. Nevertheless, anytime you write a technical book, technology changes faster than you can write, and no matter how careful you are, there’s no way to avoid making a serious amount of mistakes. With self-publishing and print-on-demand, I don’t have to wait (possibly years) for a print run to finish selling in order to make changes. I could make them daily if I wanted to. And that Chapter on PHP that I realized I really should have included in Learning Processing, well, I could just add it whenever I so choose.
There are certainly some pitfalls to self-publishing. One major issue, of course, is deadlines. Without a publisher I’ve got very little pushing me forward other than myself. In fact, getting this first chapter done took me twice as long as I intended. And other projects are getting in the way, I’m not sure how fast I will actually get to chapter #2.
The other main issue is distribution. I don’t care if I don’t get my book in Barnes and Noble, I mean who is really buying Processing books at Barnes and Noble?! I do need Amazon.com, but looks like there are plenty of print-on-demand options that can be distributed via Amazon. The major question for me is university bookstores. I don’t have any numbers, but it does seem to me that Learning Processing gets stocked in a lot of school bookstores because it is being used as a text for classes. So this is something I need to figure out, how can I get a self-published book to stores.
Oh yeah, an index. The publisher made an index for me. There’s got to be a way I don’t need them for that, though.
In the end, I could be wrong. This could be a failed experiment. Maybe no one will buy it, maybe I won’t finish it. The nice thing, however, is that if I’m really headed in the wrong direction here, I can always change my mind and start sending out proposals to a publisher. But the other way around, going from a publisher to self-published, well, that wouldn’t be so easy.
So, if you’re interested in checking out what I’ve started so far, for now (subject to change), you can purchase the PDF on lulu.com. I’m selling draft chapters for small amounts with the idea that I could raise a little bit of money to pay for design, typesetting, technical editing, etc. once I’ve got a more finished draft.
UPDATE: I’m also looking for a service that would let users buy early drafts of a book and then upgrade to the final version at a discount or for free. Suggestions for how to do this welcome.