10 things I learned from screwing up my first ebook launch

… The Short Version.

I promised short, and dammit, I’m gonna deliver.

Very Brief Backstory

JavaScript Performance Rocks! is my first ebook, written by me and my husband, Mr. Scriptaculous (legal alias: Thomas Fuchs).

We launched the beta at the end of January, and the final version is going to drop in the next few days. (All the changes and additions are done, and now I’m typesetting. Again.)

It’s been a true learning experience. Translation: I fucked up a lot but I grew as a person!

I fucked up, then I learned stuff

Although some of the lessons weren’t directly descended from fuckups. Some of them are even positive. Le horreur!

Here we are:

  1. People are absolutely willing to buy beta books.
  2. People are absolutely willing to pay for quality, a topic that will really help them solve problems, and personal guarantees.
  3. If you launch your beta book just to feel good about yourself, without a plan for how to deal with a (surprise) influx of customers, you are going to be stressed out.
  4. If you are doing a beta of your ebook, do not lay out the beta version beautifully in InDesign (or other Real Page Layout Engine). Managing updates, and worse yet deciding if/how to share those with your customers, will be hellish.
  5. Have an update plan in advance. You do not want to look at a surprisingly huge list of customers and feel the crippling fear that if you email them anything but the final book, they will consider you spam.
  6. It’s never a good idea to publicly promise to ship on X date, unless you’re already done. (I came down with an intestinal infection—whoops, bye bye deadline, hello worshipping the porcelain god.)
  7. Give big discounts to your loyal readers. They deserve it, and they’ll pay you back in love.
  8. A personal opt-in email list just for your readers is a great way to get the word out, especially if you combine it with the previous step and offer big discounts. People who like your stuff will want to hear about more of your stuff, especially if you treat them nice like they deserve. Stands to reason.
  9. The types of folks who buy beta books are very involved, and will send you all kinds of helpful emails about typos, errors, or suggestions. Have a system set up for this. Also, remember, they’re actually taking the time to help you. That’s awesome. Relax.
  10. Even if you screw up somewhere, it’s not the end of the world. Act like a decent human being and most everyone else will return the favor. Apologize sincerely, respect that you have upset others, but don’t make excuses.
  11. Writing an ebook that you care about, for your readers that you know & love, with only your passion to drive it, is quite a different experience than writing a Real Book with an editorial process. I like it so much better.

OK, that’s actually 11 things. Consider it 10% more free.

Stay tuned?

There’s more, of course, but I’m trying to practice brevity.

So, my dear readers… What do you think? Was this interesting to you? Should I write more about it as things progress?

By the way, that bit about slipping on the deadline? Well, version 1.0 hasn’t shipped just yet. That means the price hasn’t gone up. You can still snag yours for $5 off the final price. If you do any kind of rich web app development, you want a copy. You don’t need to use a huge amount of JavaScript, or even be a JavaScript expert.

It works like this: You’ll get the beta version today—for less!—and the final version will go BING! in your inbox just as soon as I hit Export to PDF.

Which will be in the next few days, but I’m not naming dates this time. I’m taking my own advice!

7 Comments

  1. haibert says:

    Hi Amy,

    A very interesting read. I didn’t realize you were that smart, even after chatting with you on IRC for all those years.

    Love

    haibert the armo

  2. farmerjoe says:

    Wow Amy, I had no idea you were so….big….in the industry, I mean.

  3. Andrew B says:
    1. Readers don’t want to hear about your diarrhea.
  4. Kelsey says:

    Reading all the stuff you’ve posted about writing the book, I wish I used JavaScript and cared about its performance! Please write more; it’s super interesting.

  5. Please don’t call a PDF an eBook… It is confusing for those of us with actual e-readers looking for good content for them. While most e-reader devices can display PDF, this is far from perfect. The problem is that PDFs have too much layout in them, and that layout is designed for one set "page size". E-readers need formats that reflow depending on the screensize of your reader. Formats such as ePub and Mobi.

    So if nothing else, please make it clear this is a PDF file.

    Besides that, great work :P

  6. Amy says:

    Kelsey, thank you! That’s a great compliment. I will keep writing :)

    Sorry to disappoint, Frank, but the term ebook well predates special readers and I’m not going to stop using it. Neither is anyone else.

  7. chap says:

    Great post.

    It’s funny to think how these kind of screw-ups would have been handled by a traditional publisher and their PR department.

    Your content is so much more valuable when you explain what is going on, and how you’re handling it.

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