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In-Depth Book Review: Authoring eBooks

Jeremy McAnally is a fairly well known name in the Ruby community. Among other gigs, he’s published three Ruby related books: Ruby in Practice, Humble Little Ruby Book, and most recently The Rails 3 Upgrade Handbook. The latter book earned him over $40,000 in a year. That’s excellent, considering that we are talking about passive income from a single, relatively small, self-published ebook.

Jeremy has now published a new book called Authoring eBooks (tagline: How to Write and Market Your Technical eBook), the aim of which is to provide fellow programmers with the benefit of his insight and experience, so that they too can successfully self-publish and market a technical ebook, and make some serious money out of it.

Let me just start by saying that, despite the topic at hand, this is not a get rich quick book. Most of this book is in fact focused on how to create a great product that will be useful to a wide number of people.

Doing so will also incidentally lead to worthwhile earnings, but there are no empty promises of easy riches. Jeremy never concealed the truth, which is that writing a technical book is hard work, and he treats his readers as intelligent, rational individuals and not desperate people looking for a quick buck.

It’s aimed at programmers so the examples are specific to programmers, but its content could very well apply to any non-fiction work you intend to self-publish.

Having outlined this premise, let’s get started. The book is divided into four major areas: concept, content, writing, and sale. The idea behind it is that this book will provide you with a roadmap to go from an idea for an ebook to a finished product that sells well.

Concept

This section is dedicated to finding the right idea and audience for your book. A lot of emphasis is put on the kind of questions you have to answer during this planning phase, in order to avoid giving up on your book half-way through or ending up publishing something that nobody really wants.

Defining a pitch for the book, a philosophy, and having a clear picture of who is going to buy your book will help you develop your content and aid you when it comes to selling your ebook.

Jeremy also invites you not to get too stuck in this planning phase. Nothing is set in stone, but going through the steps suggested by the book will lend you a flexible map for where you are going throughout the production process.

Content

The content section tries to focus on how to write effective, useful technical material. Starting with a general outline of the chapters you are going to cover in order to provide your readers with a logical progression.

It then goes on to deal with the importance of answering people’s questions in your writing, the type of code examples that will be most beneficial to the reader, establishing an effective technical writing style, as well as the importance of code and diagrams over verbose descriptions (“Show, don’t tell”).

The book also stresses the point of how you shouldn’t be afraid to ruthlessly cut parts that don’t belong. As technical writers we should resist the temptation to jam in extra content that doesn’t really align with the scope and goals you’ve defined for your book.

Writing

The writing section deals with the actual issue of writing the text in a editor and exporting it to standard ebook formats (Authoring eBooks itself ships in PDF, MOBI, and ePub, so that it can be shown on pretty much any device).

Several options are shown, from WYSIWYG editors like Microsoft Word or Apple Pages, all the way to custom scripts that automatically translate text into beautiful documents. Jeremy uses a middle ground based on markup (specifically Markdown) and recommends standard tools to perform the conversions to HTML and PDF.

The importance of dividing the book into multiple documents, and relying on tools like git for version control and collaboration among multiple people, is also stressed. This is something that should be obvious to most programmers, but it warrants repeating.

Sale

The last and largest section of the book is dedicated to the art and science of getting your book to sell. This section amounts to a good plan that goes from testing the market to customer care, and monetizing after sales.

Programmers will find this section to be the most interesting one as it provides many tips and tricks to help you acquire prospective customers even before your book has been published, as well as how to go about defining a fair price, and selling and marketing your book once it’s ready.

Shortcomings

Before writing my overall take on this book, I thought I’d share what could have been done better in what is otherwise a great little book.

In the market research section of the book I would have loved to see keyword tools employed to estimate the size of a market for a given subject, as well as the foreseeable costs required to generate paid traffic.

I also feel that the book could have benefited from specific case studies from existing products. This is a minor complaint, but it would have enriched the book to see specific numbers for signups, conversion rates, sales, Adwords campaigns, and so on.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe that Jeremy wrote a solid, impressive roadmap to publishing a successful ebook. I found the “protips” throughout the book to be particularly insightful.

Authoring eBooks currently sells at the promotional price of $29, but its price will go up to $49 in a few days (after New Year). So if you are interested, grab it now.

Some people will frown upon the price, given that it’s a relatively short ebook (110 pages). But if the content or ideas presented in this book allow you to save even a single hour of work, or make at least an extra sale or two, then it will have already paid for itself.

Don’t buy this book if you are not willing to do the work required to make that extra passive income each month. And don’t buy this book if you expect step-by-step instructions for every aspect of publishing your ebook.

For example, you’ll be told which storefronts you should sell your book through (e.g., Lulu, Amazon Kindle, etc…), but you won’t receive detailed instructions on how to set each of them up. You are a programmer, so it’s assumed that you can figure this out on your own.

I sincerely recommend this book to anyone who has been toying with the idea of self-publishing a technical ebook (which is something that’s rather popular among programmers as of late). I’m no stranger to information marketing, yet Authoring eBooks still gave me a few good points to think about should I decide to self-publish my own ebook.

Disclaimer: Links to the book contain my referral id. Nevertheless, I tried to provide an impartial and honest review.

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