Project Retro: Self-publishing a Book

In was December 2020, the first year of lock down was ending. Over the preceding few months, I had put a lot of effort into creating blog posts and videos to help people trying to move to working remotely. I am not a natural writer and one the reasons I started blogging over 13 years was to give me a place to practice and improve.

I kept seeing people I know writing books and I thought to myself, that is something I would like to do myself someday. After learning about self-publishing, I decided to embark on a personal project to write a book.

We practice Lean and Agile in our workplace, across most of our activities. We use it to build software and we use it to build our business, so why not use it for a personal project? I hit Google and asked, “how do you write a book?”. Amongst the results was one that got my interest, LeanPub.

LeanPub is a platform for writing and publishing your own books. The standout feature is the ability to write and publish frequently as you are creating your masterpiece. The idea to start writing, publish early drafts, get feedback and iterate until eventually you have a completed book. The more I explored the platform, the more I liked it. It gave me the tools I needed and supported the methodology I wanted to use. I registered and started the journey.

I published the first early draft version of my book (Building Intranets with SharePoint Online) and then set off on an improvement journey over the course of 8 authoring sprints. The first release sold a few copies and anyone buying those early editions got free updates. I doubled the word count in those 8 sprints following the initial release, ending with over 32,000 words across 13 chapters. (now over 37,000 words).

Number 2 SharePoint book on LeanPub

A year after I first published, it’s time for a little retro.

What went well?

  • LeanPub gave me early readers. This was great motivation to improve the content and keep going.
  • Publishing at the end of each authoring sprint, kept me focused/
  • LeanPub has good authoring and publishing tools. Perfect for technology-oriented people.
  • LeanPub royality model is really good for low volume.
  • Rapid publishing process meant I could fix small issues quickly and easily.
  • My wife is an excellent proof-reader and now knows more about what I do. Thanks darling!
  • People bought my book! Thank you so much!

What didn’t go well?

  • Amazon was hard to learn. They may have a big audience, but you also need to reach a higher bar to be seen. It took nearly 8 months to get my first royalty pay-out. Also note that royalties are per market, not combined, so sales in small markets like Brazil, will probably never result in me seeing any royalties at all.
  • I struggled with time to focus on the book. Spare time became scarce, and my writing rhythm suffered.
  • LeanPub doesn’t have built in grammar tools. I eventually copied content out to Microsoft Word for final edits and then copied back in. Markdown needed to be re-edited.
  • I had a publishing bug, where a special character (introduced from a copy paste) broke the publishing and released a copy missing several chapters. Fortunately, I found this quickly and was able to fix it.

What would I stop doing?

  • I would stop worrying about being perfect the first time. I am not a natural writer, and my grammar will always be less than perfect, but what really matters is getting words written. You can always revise later, after all this is LeanPub’s big benefit!
  • Allocate blocks of time to write rather than trying to squeeze it in. Less pressure!
  • Stop setting word count goals and instead focus on outcomes. What do I want the reader to get out of the effort I am putting in today?

What would I change next time?

  • Spend more time planning the structure of the book. I pivoted a couple of times before the initial release and rewrote more than half my initial 15,000 words.
  • Test layouts for Kindle format. I was initially publishing with PDF format in mind and used colour in images that didn’t translate well to Kindle. Simplify diagrams for this format.
  • Take more walks after writing. I find that I think about my writing when I walk and that helps me improve

There you have it. I wrote a book. I published 8 updates over the course of several months and numerous drafts in between. I was incredibly nervous about publishing the first time. I didn’t know if people would want to read my words. It felt a bit like I was exposing my thoughts to an unknown audience. I was sure I would be hit with lots of negative feedback. The opposite was true! Some people shared my book and a few of you gave me a 5-star rating on Amazon! I don’t know why I was so worried! Thank you!

Now for the answer to the big question, you are probably wanting to know. Did writing a book make me rich!? NO!

That was never the point of writing. I wrote the book for myself:

  • It has helped me gather and document my thought.
  • I have researched areas that I wouldn’t otherwise have explored, making me a better consultant.
  • I have learnt a lot about self-publishing with LeanPub and Amazon.
  • I have published a book! Something I always wanted to do.
  • People contact me to say my book has done what it promised. It has helped them make a better Intranet. That brings me joy!

Thank you, to everyone I has bought a copy. I really do appreciate the support. I am using the royalties to fund travel to the 2023 MVP Summit in Redmond.

14th August 2022 – I almost made the Amazon Top 50! Wahoo!

I can highly recommend giving this self-publishing a go. It’s fun and you’ll learn a lot! Just find a topic that will keep you learning as you write and start typing! I found having a regular time to write helped develop good writing habits.

If you are deciding whether to buy on LeanPub or Amazon, please choose LeanPub. They are fair to the author and are a startup themselves. They could do with the support and have an amazing collection of books!

P.S. I released an update in August 2022 with lots of updates. Free to everyone who purchased via LeanPub.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s