self publishing

I gave away my books for free, and sales increased 4x

In March, I made my DevOps books free to help anyone who wanted to learn new skills during the global pandemic lockdown. In April, Device42 generously extended that offer for another month.

I originally had the idea to give the books away on a whim on a Sunday night, thinking I'd give up a fair chunk of revenue, but nothing too substantial. The response I did get was overwhelming, to say the least!

As with many other metrics during these unprecedented times, book sales shot through the roof while they were free. The top chart is Ansible for DevOps, and the bottom is Ansible for Kubernetes:

Ansible for DevOps - Cumulative Sales over Time

Ansible for Kubernetes, my second self-published book

Ansible for Kubernetes book cover - by Jeff Geerling

Five years ago, I set out to write a book. For a topic, I picked Ansible, since I was familiar with the software, and noticed there weren't any other books about it. I struck gold with Ansible for DevOps, and have since sold over 22,000 copies between eBook and paperback copies.

I've written about self-publishing before, and my opinion about publishing technical works is stronger than ever:

I wrote an entire article (Self-Publish, don't write for a Publisher) on the first topic. Regarding the second topic, I see writing a technical book on the same plane as building a software project:

Self-Publish, don't write for a Publisher

I'm not a writer. I'm a software developer who communicates well. Because I'm a developer and software architect, I spend time evaluating solutions to find the best one. There are often multiple good options, but I try to pick the best among them.

When I chose to write a book two years ago, I evaluated whether to self-publish or seek out a publisher. I spent a lot of time evaluating my options, and chose the self-publishing route.

Because I'm asked about this a lot, I decided to summarize my reasons in a blog post, both to posit why self-publishing is almost always the right option for a beginning author, and to challenge publishers to convince me I'm wrong.

Ansible for DevOps - available now!

Ansible is a simple, but powerful, server and configuration management tool. Ansible for Devops is a book I wrote to teach you to use Ansible effectively, whether you manage one server—or thousands.

Ansible for DevOps cover - Book by Jeff Geerling

I've spent a lot of time working with Ansible and Drupal over the past couple years, culminating in projects like Drupal VM (a VM for local Drupal development) and the Raspberry Pi Dramble (a cluster of Raspberry Pi computers running Drupal 8, powering http://www.pidramble.com/). I've also given multiple presentations on Ansible and Drupal, like a session at DrupalCon Austin, a session at MidCamp earlier this year, and a BoF at DrupalCon LA.

Finished writing my first book, Ansible for DevOps

After almost two years of writing, editing, and rewriting my book, I've finally completed the first edition of Ansible for DevOps, and it's available for sale on Amazon, LeanPub, and iTunes!

Ansible for DevOps cover - book on Ansible by Jeff Geerling

The book is 400 pages long, just shy of 80,000 words, and was a huge effort. It's such a relief to finally have it 'out the door', though publishing-as-I-write has been a great experience. Pre-first-edition, I've already sold over 2,200 copies of Ansible for DevOps on LeanPub!

Here are a few blog posts from Server Check.in where I describe more of the publication process:

$25K in book sales, and I'm almost ready to publish

I started writing my first book almost two years ago. At the beginning of the project, I set an ambitious goal: Write a 90-page introductory-level technical book on some relatively new software, and sell 200 copies.

As a developer and dabbling entrepreneur, I calculated that if I sold the book for around $10-20, and wrote the book based on real-world scenarios I'd already encountered (meaning very little extra research/discovery required), I could make enough money to keep things interesting while helping a few hundred developers pick up the new software more quickly.

Almost two years later, Ansible for DevOps is almost 400 pages long and has sold over 2,000 copies—and I haven't yet published the book.

Books sold per month

What follows is an analysis of what led to this success, and some cautions for those considering writing a book.

Writing on LeanPub - $0.21 per word

I've been blogging for 10 years, and I've written over 800,000 words in posts. As time progresses, I try to clearly convey more information with fewer words. It's been hard to quantify the value derived from those words, however, since the only measurements I could make (e.g. a small amount of ad revenue) have been subjective at best.

For almost seven months, I've been writing Ansible for DevOps, publishing on LeanPub as I write. In that time, I've written ~41,600 words (with roughly 60% of the book complete), and have had ~800 readers purchase the book (either standalone, or in a bundle).

Self-Publishing a Book (on Ansible)

I've published the first portion of a book I've been writing, Ansible for DevOps. This is my first-ever book, and I've written a little about the process of writing on Server Check.in's blog: Self-publishing my first technical book on LeanPub.

Ansible for DevOps cover image

I'm excited about the early feedback I've already received—and I haven't even finished writing half the book! I'm hoping to finish the first complete draft of the book (and continue publishing it in stages on LeanPub) by summer 2014.

Self-publishing my first technical book on LeanPub

Update: Almost two years later, I've finally finished the book! You can purchase Ansible for DevOps on LeanPub, Amazon, or iTunes.

For the past year, I've seen many accounts of first-time authors finally taking the plunge and self-publishing a book on some technology or another, and finally decided to do the same.

Like many of these first-time authors, I felt I was prepared for the project, for the following reasons: