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This is Ian Ozsvald's blog (@IanOzsvald), I'm an entrepreneurial geek, a Data Science/ML/NLP/AI consultant, founder of the Annotate.io social media mining API, author of O'Reilly's High Performance Python book, co-organiser of PyDataLondon, co-founder of the SocialTies App, author of the A.I.Cookbook, author of The Screencasting Handbook, a Pythonista, co-founder of ShowMeDo and FivePoundApps and also a Londoner. Here's a little more about me.

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22 November 2009 - 13:30How I’m writing The Screencasting Handbook

Many people have asked why I’m writing a book without a publisher.  The story has interested a bunch of people so I’ll outline the basics here.

Update: there’s a related article by Marc-André Cournoyer covering how he wrote his “Create your own programming language” eBook.

I started writing The Screencasting Handbook in the middle of this year (about 5 months back).  My primary motivation was to write a useful Handbook that teaches my 4 years of skills to new screencasters.  My main goals were to:

  • Release early, release often – so I can iterate based on the needs of my readers rather than the needs I’d guess that they have (based on some support at the Business of Software forum)
  • Get the written parts out as soon as possible – I didn’t want drafts kicking around for a year before a publisher released them to the readers, I wanted the chapters out in the hands of readers as soon as possible
  • Build a community (Google Group) around the Handbook – so my readers can ask and answer questions without me acting as a bottleneck

To achieve this I needed to create a site and determine if there was demand for the topic.  I had a WordPress theme created which signs potential readers up to an AWeber mailing list (costing $20USD/month) and I setup a Google Group.

I then put the word out to screencasters, mostly through ShowMeDo and by writing some useful blog posts that were picked up by screencasting companies.

At the same time I wrote a proposed Table of Contents (August) and released a survey via SurveyMonkey (free account).  I released this into the Google Group and asked for feedback.  I iterated a few times (September) based on feedback until everyone figured that I would cover the most beneficial topics.  At this point I added the Table of Contents as a PDF to the Handbook’s homepage.

By now I had 50 or so people signed up to the list – between the silent sign-ups and the active users in the Google Group I knew that the book would be in demand.  The survey detailed all the areas that caused problems for screencasters so I could be sure that by answering those questions, others would want the Handbook.

Pricing and releasing

At this point I cracked on with writing the Handbook.  I quickly went from 1,000 words to 10,300 and in October I announced that a new release was being prepared for sale.  I announced that the target price of the finished book would be $39USD and that early-bird purchasers could get it for $26USD (a 1/3 discount).  I also offer an unconditional refund at any time.

The payment gateway is PayPal and the front-end is e-junkie, they take payment and offer downloads for just $5/month.  Integrating the e-junkie basket into WordPress involves copying over a few lines of javascript, it is all very simple

At the start of November I released version 4 into the Google Group and announced it on the mailing list, this was quickly followed by a 5th release which added a new chapter.  I’m also about to decrease the discount by $1 taking the price up to $27USD.

After purchase everyone gets invited onto a second emailing list for Handbook Updates (and they’re removed from the first mailing list).  The second list is used to mail out links to updated versions of the PDF.  I also mail out a second survey about a week after purchase to ask the reader if they found the book useful and to ask what else I need to cover soon.  The feedback from the surveys and the Google Group is invaluable.

Figures so far – in several months with only a little effort at publicity I signed up over 200 users to the mailing list.  Just over 10% of those became buyers in the first week of releasing version 4 (given that the book is only about 1/6th written I’m pretty happy with this).  Next week I’ll be writing a couple of extra chapters and then I’ll be increasing my publicity.

I’m releasing my beginner screencasts on the Handbook’s blog for free, this will help prove the quality of the Handbook and it will bring in more visitors.

Print on demand?

Once I reach ‘edition 1′ I imagine I’ll release a print-on-demand version via lulu.  Several readers have already asked for a printed copy rather than a PDF.  ‘edition 1′ is a way off yet – probably early next year some time.

Tools

I’m writing the Handbook with Google Docs, I can edit it from home or whilst sitting in Cafe Delice.

To publish a new version I download a PDF.  I use Apple’s Preview to open the PDF and then ‘print to PDF’ a shorter version containing just the first 15 or so pages.

I upload the shorter version as the Outline to the Handbook’s homepage.  The longer version goes to e-junkie (for new purchasers) and to my second AWeber list (where everyone who has bought a copy gets notified about new releases).

I’ve used Google Website Optimizer to A/B test the landing page, with the Google Website Optimizer plugin for WordPress you just copy over the javascript that GWO provides to three pages (A, B and result page) and it starts to track conversions.  If there’s interest I’ll write some details on the (few) things that I’ve learned about landing page design.

I’ve already discussed AWeber, SurveyMonkey and Google Groups above.

Having an ‘accountability buddy’ helps!

Andy White is writing Podcasting Unleashed at the same time, we’re meeting every two weeks to push each other forwards and trade tips.  We’re both using WordPress and he’s about to move to Aweber so we’ll have pretty much the same setup.  Knowing that your partner is making progress when you’re having a slow day is a great motivator to write a few more pages!

Edition 2?

I’m thinking about the needs of a second edition, I’m wondering if a book format (with a linear series of pages) is wrong and perhaps a wiki is a better tool.  It would certainly allow collaborative content creation.  I’d also like to build some tools like an automatic de-noiser and a scripting tool.

Want to write you own eBook?

It occurs to me that the above process might be useful to other people who want to write their own book, particularly those who want to get early feedback from a potential audience before committing to write a full book.

One possibility is the construction of a site that makes ‘everything easy’ for a potential author.  If you’d like to know if I push this idea in the future, make a comment below which includes your email.


Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

2 Comments | Tags: Business Idea, Entrepreneur, Life, ProCasts, Screencasting, The Screencasting Handbook