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Interview on the Leanpub Podcast

Posted on    13 mins read

Peter Armstrong from Leanpub, where I publish my eBooks, did an interview with me on the experience of releasing The Node Beginner Book on their platform, how bundling books work out, pricing, on learning from each other in the Internet age, and much more.

My English is awful as always and the transcript has some funny flaws, but if you like, check out the audio version or the text version below:

Peter Armstrong I’m here with Manuel Kiessling, who’s a software developer and IT manager living in Berlin, Germany. He’s also a Leanpub author. We’re talking today about Manuel’s experiences as a writer, about his experiences using the lean publishing approach on Leanpub, and about some of the interesting experiments he has done with marketing and bundling his book.

So Manuel, thanks for being on the Lean Publishing podcast.

Kiessling: Thanks for having me here.

A: So, you’re the author of the Leanpub book The Node Beginner Book. What’s it about?

K: It’s a beginner introduction, from a beginner to beginners, for the Node.js development platform. I started it as, more or less, kind of an experiment. I started writing it to myself, for myself, because there was, it was like about one year ago I started the book, and at this time there was a lot of information on the Internet regarding Node.js but it was really very cluttered. There were some examples there, a small tutorial here, and I wanted to put everything into one place and so I started this book.

A: So, how’s it going so far?

K: Oh, it went extremely well. I finished it about ten months ago, and it was kind of a success, because it was on Hacker News, for example, two times, and was featured there, and brought a lot of inquisitors, and right now I don’t work on it actively, only small bug fixes or answering comments on the website and stuff like that, and yet the visitors, the user numbers are still increasing week by week, and so it’s developing quite well.

A: And it has also translated been into Chinese on Leanpub. So how did that come about?

K: Well, people asked for it. At the end of the day, it’s an open source project, even if it’s not software, but text. It’s under a Creative Commons licence so people asked if they could help out, some people just forked it on GitHub and started translating and then got in touch with me when they were finished, and all I had to do was release the book on the website. And for the Chinese version, because China is quite a big market, obviously, I decided to also create a Leanpub book from this version.

A: Another interesting thing with the Node Beginner book is that you’ve done some experiments selling it as a bundle along with another book. What led to that?

K: I’m not really sure who had the idea. I think it was you guys bringing up the idea

A: Yeah, I don’t remember either

K: …but, you know, Pedro Teixeira, wrote another excellent Node.js book, Hands-on Node.js, and he also sold his book on his website and then came LeanBundle and it sounded like a good idea to bundle the beginner tutorial and the more advanced and reference style book together.

A: Right.

K: And it worked out fantastic. This is what really, really accelerated sales a blot.

A: Yeah, we’ve seen, as you know, that the bundle has more sales than the individual book. And actually, so much so that, as you know obviously, we’ve let people on LeanBundle know, but haven’t publicly talked about it, that what we’ve decided to do is basically shut LeanBundle down and make it into a feature of Leanpub. And the reason for that is that your experiment with Pedro has gone so well that we realized more Leanpub authors should do this. Just like, for example, with Leanpub, with variable pricing, once we realized how good that was, we thought, well, more Leanpub authors should look at doing that.

K: Absolutely.

A: With variable pricing, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on pricing. For your book and for bundles and just generally what you think about book pricing.

K: That’s a very interesting question, and to be honest I never really thought about it. It just came from my guts – so how should I price the book, how should I price the bundle. People here in Berlin that read my book and the web page said, a lot of people actually, said that I should make it way more expensive, because people read the web page, where the text is available, and if they decide to buy, they do it to say thank you, and surely they would be willing to pay a lot more. As you know, we never really experimented with different price tags, so no experience here. I think, well in my case, my book isn’t that long, so I think it should clearly be below the ten dollar line, but that’s just a feeling. I couldn’t make any experience with this.

A: Yeah, it’s interesting, with your book and Pedro’s book for example, one thing we found with variable pricing on Leanpub is that, for example, if you set a suggested price, that’s around double the minimum price, or even triple, then a whole bunch of people pay more than the minimum price. And some of them even pay more than the suggested price. Recently we’ve had a couple of books bought for 50$ and 100$ respectively, and the suggested price was like ten dollars, something in that range. People will overpay, not overpay as in they were overcharged, people will voluntarily pay more than the minimum price, it’s a really interesting phenomenon…. When we migrate your LeanBundle with Pedro over to Leanpub, we might actually want to revisit that, because, both of you might be leaving… Well pricing is hard! The variable pricing we found helps a lot, because we realized that authors were leaving a lot of money on the table with fixed price. But still, it’s an interesting experiment.

What has surprised you most about Leanpub, your experiences with Leanpub and LeanBundle, so far?

K: Well, maybe this sounds stupid, but what surprised me the most is – it works!

A: [laughter]\

K: That it works at all. You know, selling my own book, if you had asked me one year ago, I would have said yeah, maybe ten people buy this book? And it works so well, and it’s such a good user experience, especially the new page, the new Leanpub pages, are really beautiful, and it works so well, and I never thought that.

A: Interesting; thank you! We’ve got a designer, as you can tell, recently, to work on Leanpub, and so it’s not just programmer-designed anymore, it’s actually designed.

K: Yeah, design is the cheapest awesome money can buy.

A: I know. It’s fantastic… So, in terms of how we could improve Leanpub for you as an author, is there anything that you wish we’d improve or fix?

K: When we talked about pricing, I wanted to say, that the interesting thing is that as an author, like myself, you are a technical person, you are a programmer, and you aren’t into marketing or stuff like that. But, it’s changed a lot, with the release of the book, with the book sales and stuff like that. And although I didn’t get into price marketing decisions and stuff like that, the one thing I really developed over the course of the last month was, you know, working with Google Analytics, thinking about SEO, I never thought about SEO before, and now it’s like, yeah, to be honest every single day I have to go into Google Analytics and look, oh, OK, this works better than that, and if I add Google +1 then this works better for search, and stuff like that. So, I could imagine that a lot of authors experience this, once they publish their book and have the traffic and have the sales. It’s so amazing to look into these numbers and to see the relationship between web traffic, sales, pricing, texting, all this kind of stuff, so, I think this is an area maybe that could be even more integrated into Leanpub. You know, provide numbers. You already add the possibility to put a Google Analytics tracking code from the author into the Leanpub sales page, and maybe there is even more to this, you know?

A: I was going to ask you about this, because this is one area where we know we need to do more. So, you use Google Analytics, so do we, and we let you out your code in. Are you using that feature?

K: Yeah, I’m using it.

A: One thing we thought about is A/B testing the minimum price…. No, not the minimum price, I said that exactly backwards, I mean I mean A/B testing the suggested price. We feel that A/B testing the minimum price is bad because some people will get upset if they paid more than others, like if they weren’t able to pay what someone else paid, but we think that letting authors A/B test the suggested price would help a lot. Would that be something you’d be considering trying?

K: Absolutely. And I would go even further. You know, I learned a lot by, the book text remained the same over the course of the last year, I played a lot with layout and the other text, on the web page

A: Right.

K: …and it would be cool to do this in a certain range with the actual sales page.

A: A/B testing About the Book.

K: A/B testing the price, and maybe also putting up different texts, playing around with the layout, maybe this is something that’s worth it, you know.

A: A/B testing About the Book. We’re also looking at being able to embed video onto the book landing page, letting authors put in to their About the Book and About the Author, like video as well, which gets embedded.

One other question I have is do you want, with your book, do you want Leanpub to try to faciliate more community around your book, or do you see your blogging and Twitter as filling that role adequately?

K: Yeah, I think so. I think most of this happens – you know this is the difference to the more traditional publishing. You know, suddenly the author is a real person, who answers questions in the comments section, who’s on Twitter, stuff like that, and, well I can say at least for me, I don’t really see a need for this kind of community around Leanpub because it would probably split the community a little bit. Like, here is the book page itself from the author, here is Leanpub, there is a small community there, the other community is there, I’m not sure about this

A: Right.

K: …but maybe, for all those that don’t already have a following, and a community, or don’t want to invest their time into this kind of stuff, maybe for them that would make sense.

A: Maybe, we actually as you know went kind of back-and-forth on that, we did a bit of stuff, but we realized it was kind of half-baked, and the authors who were doing it really well were just using Twitter anyway, and so maybe we should just encourage that. Is there anything you’d feel, in terms of Leanpub books, integrating them more with Twitter and other social networs, like in terms of either encouraging readers to interact… Like now, on your author information you can put your Twitter avatar. We have really basic stuff like Hey, here’s the author’s Twitter name, but would you want more in the book driving readers toward, Tweet this!

K: Yeah, now that think about it, you know there is this About the Author section on the right side – maybe having a Twitter stream, a filtered Twitter stream box below this section, with some clever search put behind it, it could refer to everything on Twitter, where people talk about this book, or the author talks about the book, that would be awesome, definitely.

A: OK, that sounds easy, and helpful. Do you have any advice for someone who’s blogging about – because for you it transitioned really well – for someone who’s blogging about programming topics and considering writing a book?

K: Yeah, I thought about this lately, a lot. I’m currently, probably if my time allows I’m going to blog about this too. And the bottom line is, I don’t know if this podcast allows any swearing, but

A: Go for it!

K: …the bottom line is, just f—ing do it. So often, before, I thought, you know, in the past, when I had an idea, or I learned something and wanted to write about it, so often I thought, you know, Oh, but I am a beginner myself, and nobody’s going to listen to me, and maybe if I write something and it turns out, maybe it’s not wrong, but it’s not the best solution, you know I have to wait for the best solution before I can write something, yeah, that’s true on the one hand, but on the other side, just f—ing do it. Maybe if it’s not the optimal solution, if it’s not the best out there, there are still, there are always people below your own level. Even if there are a million people above your own level. And this is what I think, this is what really changed with the Internet, or with the World Wide Web, is that now everybody can learn from everybody. Maybe if you are, if 99% of your time you are the student and you need teachers, there is this 1% where you can be the teacher for other people, even if you have to learn a lot youself. And so this is what I suggest is just write stuff, write about stuff, accept that maybe it’s not perfect, you will get the feedback and you can discuss it and correct it later, and everybody can be a student and a teacher at the same time.

A: Yeah, there’s a phenomenon about that, where the better you get at something, the more unsure of yourself you are. It’s not … you know what I’m saying, shoot, I can’t remember what it is now … but you know where people who are completely incompetent at something overestimate their abilities, whereas people who are really good at something often underestimate their abilities?

K: Yeah, the Dunning-Kruger effect?

A: Something like that, yeah, it’s related to imposter syndrome, but not the same thing.

…I have one more question. When you started the Node Beginner book, Leanpub, the idea with Leanpub was to write in HTML, but now we’ve switched to Markdown, and your book has gotten converted. How did that go? How is that for you now?

K: It’s perfect. You know, the web page obviously is still HTML, and now that the text is finished, I didn’t take the time to convert it to Markdown, but I do a lot of stuff in Markdown, and it’s the way to go. It’s way better. I had a hard time with the HTML, not related to Leanpub, but to the overall page, and it’s not so good for the translators for example, they have to fiddle around with my HTML stuff, and Markdown is the way to go, definitely.

A: OK, excellent. Thank you very much Manual for being on the Lean Publishing Podcast, and for being a Leanpub author!

K: Thank you.