About 13 months ago my sister and I finished writing and editing What Gen Y Wants You to Know. Since then we have had 62 downloads and have given away at least eight books to people that do not really use the Internet or that would have liked a hard copy of our book. We have not sold any paperback copies of What Gen Y Wants You to Know.
What have I learned?
Advertising, advertising, advertising, and then some advertising will get things propagated. This is one of the ways that anything sells. Lots of people hear about it and think it's cool. Word of mouth is a really strong way for things to propagate. It works because people trust their friends. I tried to follow Seth Godin's model or Dave's model of give it away free and then offer to sell it. The idea is that people don't actually want the information in the book as much as they want to own a book that has ideas they agree with. However, after the fact I realized that it probably takes six years of successful blogging to get to the point where that works. Or you have to start out famous.
I also learned that traditional publishing is a competitive playground. Millions of people around the world think they are great writers while precious few actually write well. (Yes, yes, I know I probably fall into that category as well, but you don't have to read my stuff and nothing I have written, with the exception of my thesis, is exclusive in any way. It's all free.) As far as understanding the publishing world and what it takes to get a book published by one of the nice big companies read Miss Snark's blog. Aside from all of the segues into her personal life it offers real sincere nuggets of publishing information.
Some people have a hard time downloading things that take more than one click.
What will I DO differently next time?
That is a curious question because there are different avenues that I would like to take depending on the book that I am writing. I am working on a rope solo climbing book, and have been for two years. This would likely be self published print-on-demand because the market for this book would probably be less than a thousand people. It could be tens of thousands but based on the web traffic I measured in relation to key search terms, we're talking about a few hundred people so self publishing would be it. I would also not offer it free. Why not? I feel that the concepts are important enough that someone should have the whole book and feel that it has value because it costs money. If someone would download it free and print out only two pages he or she could easily get in a dangerous situation without knowing how to get out of it.
I am working on several other books and in fact have 130 pages of my autobiography covering ages 9 to 15 that I typed out on my grandma's typewriter. Traditional publishing is so enticing because the ability to say, "you can get my book in Barnes and Noble" is incredibly exciting! Having a book in a big chain book store means that the man approves of your idea and your writing enough to try and sell it. You may not make any money but you will have gotten a book published and in book stores.
EBooks are the future, hands down. Of course there will be paper books for a long long time to come and people will continue to acquire a few books every year. Yet the writing is on the screen, people sit in front of their computers and read from their screens. It's also kind of fun. Just write a book make a semi-classy PDF and share the link. It cuts out so many middle men, and inevitably people that cut into your profits or people that slow your ideas down. Similarly, news gets Tweeted by The People instead of investigated, written about, edited, printed, and delivered to your door step in the morning. It's fast.
If the book I write next is a little thicker I'm going hardcover. It's just more classy.
Put some graphs, statistics and color pictures in there too. I like looking at the pictures and I think most people do as well. It would also be nice if a book I wrote was slightly longer. It does not have to be a novel but What Gen Y Wants You to Know was a scant 48 pages with large type. Most people read it in like 20-30 minutes. It probably takes that long to read a week of my normal blogging.
By the way, if you are in Seattle and you see Dave (the photographer) tell him that he should make a coffee table photo book because you would buy it. I've seen some of his pictures and trust me it would be worth your money.