Daily Productive Sharing 228 - How to Make Money by Writing A Book?

One helpful tip per day:)

(The English version follows)


上周,我们介绍了 Staff EngineerAn Elegant Puzzle 的作者介绍自己写书的收获,今天的分享来自另一本热卖书籍 Designing Data-Intensive Applications 的作者。这本书累计卖出十万册,是它的出版商 O'Reilly 的当年的第二大热卖书籍,给作者带来近五十万美金的税前收入(截至2020年5月)。作者在这篇总结中分享了很多见解:

  1. 写这本书花费了他近两年半的时间,其中一年他没有收入,全职写作;
  2. 根据他的估算,如果买书的十万人中有一万人把学到的知识加以利用,那么累计可以节省的时间超过833年,所以这是 2.5年 VS 833年,超过300倍的杠杆;
  3. 除了经济意义上的收入,出书也让他在业界树立了名声,所以各种演讲邀约不断。除了演讲,他也可以很容易地建立自己的咨询业务,所以经济上的受益更加可观;
  4. 当然写作本身其实并不是一种很好的体验,有损他的精神状态。
  5. 他也强调卖书是非常重要的一环,写完书之后,他花了大量的时间推销自己的书,包括各种演讲。



Writing a book: is it worth it?

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Last week, we featured the authors of Staff Engineer and An Elegant Puzzle describing what he has learned from writing their books, and today we're sharing from the author of another hit book, Designing Data-Intensive Applications. This book sold 100,000 copies, making it the second best-selling book of the year for its publisher, O'Reilly, and brought the author nearly half a million dollars in pre-tax revenue (as of May 2020). In this summary, the author shares many insights:

  1. that writing the book took him nearly two and a half years, one of which he had no income and wrote full time.
  2. according to his estimates, if 10,000 of the 100,000 people who bought the book put what they learned to use, the cumulative time saved would be over 833 years, so that's 2.5 years VS 833 years, over 300 times the leverage
  3. in addition to the income in the economic sense, publishing books has also helped him establish a reputation in the industry, so various speaking engagements keep coming. In addition to speaking engagements, he could also easily build his own consulting business, so the financial benefit was even more substantial
  4. of course writing itself is not really a good experience and detracts from his mental state.
  5. he also stressed that selling books was a very important part of the process, and after writing his book, he spent a lot of time marketing his book, including various speeches.

Writing a book: is it worth it?

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while I was writing it, I thought that it was going to be a bit niche, and I set myself the goal of selling 10,000 copies over the lifetime of the book.
If you are considering writing a book, I strongly recommend that you estimate the value of your future royalties to be close to zero.
My contract with the publisher specifies that I get 25% of publisher revenue from ebooks, online access, and licensing, 10% of revenue from print sales, and 5% of revenue from translations.
Of that time, I spent one year (2014–15) working full-time on the book without income, while the rest of the time I worked on the book part-time alongside part-time employment.
I estimate that I spent about 2.5 years of full-time equivalent work researching and writing the book, spread out over the course of 4 years.
Part of the success of my book might also be explained by the fact that I put a lot of effort into promoting it.
Since the book went into early release I have given almost 50 talks at major conferences, plus a bunch of additional invited talks at companies and universities.
The combination of talks and the book have allowed me to establish a significant public presence and reputation in this field.
Conference talks don’t generate income per se, but this kind of reputation is helpful for getting consulting gigs.
That is further financial value that writing a book can bring: you become recognised as an expert and an authority in an area, and companies will pay good money to get advice from such experts.
A book is universally accessible: it is affordable to almost everyone, anywhere in the world. It is vastly cheaper than a university course or corporate training, and you don’t have to move to another city to take advantage of it.
On the other hand, a good book provides a carefully selected and designed programme of study, and a narrative that is particularly valuable when you are trying to make sense of a complex topic for the first time.
Compared to teaching people in person, a book is vastly more scalable. Even if I lecture in my university’s largest lecture theatre for the rest of my career, I will not get anywhere near teaching 100,000 people.
Thus, the 10,000 readers who applied the knowledge freed up an estimated 10,000 months, or 833 years, of engineering time to spend on things that are more useful than digging yourself out of a mess.
If I spend 2.5 years writing a book, and it saves other people 833 years of time in aggregate, that is over 300x leverage.
Readers have spent approximately $4m buying those 100,000 books, so the value created is about 20 times greater than the value captured. And this is based on some very conservative estimates.
For example, lots of readers have sent me emails and tweets saying that because they read my book, they did well in a job interview, landing them their dream job and providing financial security for their family.
How to be a 10x engineer: help ten other engineers be twice as good. Producing high-quality educational materials enables you to be a 300x engineer.
The writing process was not good for my mental health. For that reason I haven’t rushed into writing another book: the scars from writing the first one are still too fresh.
On balance, I do think that writing a technical book is worth it. The feeling of knowing that you have helped a lot of people is gratifying. The personal growth that comes from taking on such a challenge is also considerable. And there is no better way to learn something in depth than by explaining it to others.

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Jamie Larson