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To start, let's find out how many of you here are interested in writing a book or have already written one. Please raise your hands.

How many people here think they would like to write a book?

Have any of you already written a book?

Next, I want someone to verbally answer this question: How much do you think a writer makes per book sold for a $40 MSRP book? Please provide a ballpark estimation.

How much, approximately, do you think a writer earns per book sold?

Now let's see a show of hands: How many of you believe you'll make more than the estimated amount discussed earlier?

Finally, let's compare traditional publishing with self-publishing. Raise your hand if you think self-publishing will earn you more money.

Which option, traditional publishing or self-publishing, do you believe will yield more income?

I titled this article "How to (not) Get Rich Writing Books" and started with the discussion on money for a good reason. Among the handful of facts I want you to remember from today's article, the first one is this: writing is not a lucrative way to make money. There are far better options available. Let's now explore the economics behind this.

Per Copy Sold
Merchant: $20.00

Publisher: $18.00

Author: $2.00

To understand the financial terms, we need to know how writers are paid per book sold. With traditional publishing, the payment depends on your royalty rate. Suppose your book has an MSRP of $40. When a merchant like Amazon or Barnes and Noble buys the book, they pay roughly half that amount, which is $20. You, as the author, earn your royalties based on this amount. If your royalty rate is 10%, you make $2.00 for each book sold to the merchant. Please note that this is the payment for selling the book to the merchant, not directly to the end customer. However, when an end customer purchases the book, it increases the chances of the merchant ordering more copies, resulting in additional sales for you.

On average, a writer typically earns about $2 per traditionally sold book.

Advance: $8,000

Sales: $2,250

Royalties: $4,500

Balance: ($3,500)

Receive: $0

Fortunately, most publishers provide an advance payment for writing the book, especially in technical publishing. The advance amount varies based on factors such as you as the author, the publisher, and the book itself. It can range from as little as $4,000 or $6,000 to as much as $12,000 or more.

Once the book becomes available for sale, the publisher recoups their advance payment from the royalties earned through sales. Only after you've sold enough books to exceed your original advance amount, can you begin to earn additional income.

For example, if you earn $2 per book sold, you might have to sell 4,000 to 5,000 copies before making any additional money. On average, a computer book sells around 4,500 copies during its lifetime, resulting in a total income slightly greater than the advance payment. A highly successful book may sell 7,000 to 9,000 copies, while exceptionally rare ones may reach more than 50,000 or even 100,000 copies.

Therefore, on average, you might hope to earn around $8,000 or so for a book, assuming all goes well. However, this income is spread over many months or even years of work. It's important to remember that these figures represent averages, and you could potentially earn less.

My Experience
Let me share my personal experience to illustrate this point. My first book was published 12 years ago, focusing on PHP. I wrote it at the right time, and it received positive reception. When my third book was released, someone asked my wife if we were rich. Ha! I am currently working on my 24th book, which I am self-publishing. I have also signed a contract for my 25th book, scheduled for release later this year through my most frequent traditional publisher. In fact, I have written more books than J.K. Rowling—twice as many!
To date, I have sold over 350,000 copies of my books, which have been published in more than 20 languages. Some of my books have become best sellers in their respective categories. However, despite these achievements, I will never become rich by solely writing books. I have worked hard, written numerous books, including popular ones, but getting rich through writing books is simply not realistic. I make a decent living, and writing provides me with a steady income, but becoming wealthy from it is out of the question.

On the lower right corner of the slide, you can see one of the books I am self-publishing. I will discuss this in more detail later.

One lesson I have learned is that the books that don't sell well, and don't generate significant income, are just as challenging to write as the ones that do sell well. Additionally, writing a good book is not enough. Multiple people have claimed that my Ruby book is better than the Pickaxe book, which is considered blasphemy. However, undoubtedly, the authors of "Programming Ruby" have earned multiple times what I have.

Why Do You Want to Write?
Consider your motivation for writing a book, as it impacts your approach and likelihood of success. There are four possible motivations to consider:

1. Making money

2. Sharing your experience

3. Gaining knowledge

4. Prestige

If you are looking to make money, I must emphasize that writing is not a guaranteed path to wealth. However, if your goal is to share knowledge or gain personal experience, you have a better chance of succeeding. There are alternative avenues, such as contributing to open-source projects, that can help you achieve prestige. For instance, John Resig gained significant recognition by creating jQuery.

Lastly, keep an eye out for slides with a special stamp, indicating key ideas I want to highlight. These ideas are worth paying attention to, even if you find yourself drifting off during the article. They will justify the price of admission!

Getting a Book Contract

Writing a Book

Now What?


Get Writing!

Getting a Book Contract
The first step to getting a book contract is defining your book and submitting it to potential publishers. Here are the four steps involved:

Define the Book: Clearly identify the subject matter and your unique perspective on it. Remember, a book is not just about the subject but also your take on it.

Submit to Publishers: Research and find publishers that align with your book's subject matter. Follow each publisher's submission guidelines meticulously to maximize your chances of success.

Hoop Jumping: If a publisher shows interest, they may request additional materials, such as a sample chapter, to evaluate your writing style and content.

Negotiate: If you pass the publisher's evaluation process, they will offer you a contract. Negotiate the financial terms, rights, and other aspects of the agreement. Keep in mind that publishers operate on narrow profit margins, so understand what is reasonable to ask for.

Financial Terms
When negotiating the financial terms of your contract, there are two key factors to consider: royalties and advances.

Royalties: Negotiate the percentage of royalties you will receive on each book sold. Higher royalty rates are preferable in most cases, as they can lead to greater long-term earnings.

Advances: Advances are upfront payments given to authors before the release of their book. Negotiate the advance amount, keeping in mind that a higher advance often comes with a lower royalty rate.

Remember, if your book does not sell well, a higher advance may be more beneficial. However, in most cases, a better royalty rate is more advantageous in the long run.

Rights and Miscellaneous
Aside from financial terms, other aspects of the contract are also negotiable:

Foreign Rights: Negotiate the rights to publish your book in foreign languages and markets.

Electronic Versions: Discuss the distribution of electronic versions of your book, such as eBooks or audiobooks.
Excerpts: Determine whether you have the right to use excerpts of your book in other publications or for promotional purposes.

Negotiating these terms requires understanding the publisher's perspective and finding a balance that benefits both parties.

Please note that these are just general guidelines, and each publishing contract is unique. It's always a good idea to consult with an agent or legal professional to assist you in negotiations.

Now that we have covered the process of obtaining a book contract, let's move on to the next topic: Writing a Book.

When it comes to negotiating a book contract, financial terms are indeed important, but there are other factors to consider as well. One major category to negotiate is the rights. Publishers may seek to acquire specific rights, such as English language rights for the United States, or they may want to obtain all rights, including electronic versions, translations, and the ability to publish parts of the book in various formats.

While these additional rights may not significantly impact your income, they are negotiable. However, retaining translation rights means you would need to find publishers to handle translations and distribution in other countries, which can be time-consuming and may not be worth the effort. Publishers often factor these rights into their offers, and trying to retain them may make the book less appealing to the publisher.

Other elements that can be negotiated include:

1. Deadlines: Ensure that the deadlines set are realistic and manageable for you. You might even consider negotiating a bonus advance for meeting the deadlines if it's important to you.

2. Services: Clarify who will pay for services such as indexing and technical editing. Some publishers deduct these costs from your advance, while others cover them separately. The combined costs should generally be less than $1,000.

3. Book length and color: Book manufacturing costs are influenced by factors like page count and color usage. Shorter books and black-and-white printing tend to be cheaper, while partial or full color can be more expensive. These decisions may affect your advance and royalty rate, but you can negotiate if you have strong preferences.

4. Free copies: Negotiate a specific number of free copies of the book for personal use (not for resale). The number of copies can be negotiated and may typically range from 10 to 25.

5. Right of first refusal: The publisher may request the right of first refusal for your next book. This means they have the option to consider your next idea before you approach other publishers. It's up to you whether you agree to this or not.

6. Sales and payments: If this is a subsequent book with the same publisher, ensure that the sales and payments for this book are not tied to any previous book's performance. You don't want to be held responsible for recouping advances from a previous book's poor sales.

Remember, negotiations should be approached with balance and fairness, taking into account both the publisher's interests and your own. It's helpful to seek guidance from an agent or legal professional to navigate the negotiation process effectively.

Now, let's move on to discussing the writing process for your book.

Breakdown of the book writing process
1. Using Microsoft Word: Most publishers use Microsoft Word for its collaborative features. They will provide you with a template specific to their publishing house or the series you're writing in.

2. Outlining: Start with the outline you've already created, but be prepared to make changes as you write, especially in later chapters based on earlier ones.

3. Creating practical examples: For technical books, coming up with good, practical examples is a challenge. Test your examples to ensure they work, as readers dislike non-functional code.

4. Writing the chapter: Flesh out each chapter by actually writing it based on your outline and examples.
5. Formatting per publisher guidelines: As one of the final steps, format the text and incorporate any images according to the publisher's guidelines.

6. Multiple drafts: You'll likely need to go through 3-4 drafts of each chapter before submitting.

7. Submission schedule: Submit at least one chapter per week, aiming for completion every 4-5 days to allow for breaks in between.

8. Receiving edited chapters: When around halfway through the first submitted draft, you'll start receiving edited chapters for revisions. From then on, work on both new chapter submissions and rewrites of existing chapters.

9. Rewriting is key: Overcome writer's block by understanding that what you write initially doesn't have to be perfect. Good writing is rewriting, so keep revising until you've effectively expressed your ideas.

10. The relief of completion: After finishing the writing process, you'll feel relieved and accomplished to have written a book.

11. Receiving physical copies: When the physical copies of your book arrive, mark one copy as your own and make notes for future editions.

12. Distributing copies: Give signed copies to friends and family if this is your first book. For subsequent books, use the remaining copies as promotional tools.

13. Marketing your book: Understand that while the publisher will market your book, you'll also need to promote it, particularly through updating your Amazon page, utilizing social media, and speaking at relevant events.

14. Royalties: After receiving your last advance payment, you'll have to wait for royalty statements, which are typically released every three to six months. Once you've earned more than your advance, you'll start receiving royalty payments.

15. Business advantages: Having written books can increase your rates as a consultant and attract more clients. It can also provide additional income through translations and other formats.

16. Self-publishing: Self-publishing is an option to consider, although it may not fulfill all your goals, such as making money or gaining prestige. However, it can be suitable for specific situations.

17. Writing process overview: The entire book writing process involves writing, editing, composing, proofreading, marketing, and accounting for your book.

Remember, writing a book is challenging, but the sense of accomplishment and the potential business benefits make it worthwhile.

When it comes to self-publishing a book, you take on all the roles that would typically be handled by various professionals in traditional publishing. This parallel process requires you to juggle multiple roles simultaneously. However, it's advisable to hire professionals for certain tasks, such as editing and compositing, to ensure quality. Creating a professional cover may also require external assistance.

Some important considerations
1. ISBN: If you want to sell your book through various channels, including bookstores, you will need an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). You can obtain an ISBN through your local ISBN agency.

2. Taxes: Be aware of any tax obligations related to your self-published book. Depending on your location, sales tax may need to be reported and paid for physical copies sold in your jurisdiction.

The process of creating the book itself remains largely the same. You can still write the book using familiar tools like Microsoft Word or Scrivener. Markdown is another option, but it requires additional handling, such as using LaTeX for PDF creation.

When it comes to selling your self-published book, there are different platforms to consider:

1. Amazon's KDP: This platform makes it easy to sell your book through Amazon, but it comes with certain limitations, such as lower profit margins.

2. LeanPub: A popular platform that offers higher profit margins and a growing reader base.

3. Your own website: Selling your book directly through your own website allows for more control over pricing and profitability. It also provides flexibility in reaching your readers.
The web can be a powerful marketing tool. Utilize search engines like Google to increase discoverability. Leveraging personal branding, blogging, social media, and networking can also contribute to book sales.

In terms of financial considerations, self-published books usually do not offer an advance payment like traditional publishing. You may encounter upfront expenses. However, self-publishing allows for higher profit margins per book sold. It's important to note that while self-publishing can be lucrative, success may require significant effort and marketing.

Pros and cons of self-publishing include

Cannot be turned down by publishers

Complete control over the publishing process

Potential for higher earnings per book sold


No guaranteed income like an advance payment

Possible upfront expenses

Requires significant effort and work on multiple fronts

May lack the prestige associated with traditional publishing

In conclusion, self-publishing offers opportunities and challenges. To delve deeper into the self-publishing process, consider reading "APE: How to Self-Publish a Book" by Guy Kawasaki. Finally, if you're serious about writing a book, start by defining your subject, creating an outline, and writing a chapter to gauge your interest and commitment.
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Understanding the ISBN database is essential for book readers and authors alike. In this blog post, I will explain what an ISBN database is, how it works, and how you can use it to find information about a book. I will also discuss ISBNdb, the largest ISBN database website, and its features. Additionally, I will cover how to get your book listed in the ISBN database and how to find information about a book publisher.

What is the ISBN Database?

The ISBN database is a comprehensive collection of information about books, including publishers and their unique ISBNs. ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is used to identify each book edition. The ISBN database allows anyone to retrieve information about a book using its ISBN.

The following details are typically stored in an ISBN database:

- Book cover
- Book title, subtitle, and edition information
- Author name
- Book description
- Book format
- Book pricing
- Book publisher name
- Book size (in the case of print books)
- Author bio and photo (limited database)
- Sample book pages (first few pages)

Most ISBN databases store metadata, which includes all the aforementioned information except for book size, author bio, author photo, and book sample.

What is ISBNdb?

ISBNdb ( is the largest ISBN database website on the internet and operates as a for-profit organization. It aggregates book information from various sources such as and other book retail sites. ISBNdb only adds a book to its database when it has been published and is publicly available for sale.

You can search for book information using an ISBN on ISBNdb. Limited free options are available, and ISBNdb also provides API access for web developers seeking integration.

It's important to note that there is no official ISBN database developed by the ISBN International organization. Each ISBN agency is responsible for maintaining its own database of ISBNs issued within their respective countries. Every country has one official ISBN agency.

How to Find Information about a Book Using ISBN

ISBN databases like ISBNdb are not useful for finding information about an ISBN that has not yet been assigned to a published book. In such cases, you need to consult the database of the ISBN agency that issued the ISBN. Most ISBN agencies make the ISBN and related book information available to the public once it has been successfully assigned to a book.

To access book information, follow these steps:

1. Determine which ISBN agency issued the ISBN by examining the ISBN grouping and identifying the country code.
2. Once you know the ISBN agency responsible, check their ISBN database for information about the book. The ISBN is added to the agency database once it has been assigned to a book. Book publishers or authors typically provide the necessary details to the ISBN agency when obtaining an ISBN for their book.

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The Global Register of Publishers is the official database of book publishers worldwide, managed and maintained by the ISBN International organization. This freely available database requires signing up for an account to access its features.

To search for publisher information, use the book publisher's name, their ISBN, or the ISBN publisher code. For instance, in ISBN 978-1-56619-909-4:

- 978 is the ISBN prefix
- 1 is the ISBN country code
- 56619 is the publisher code
- 909 is the book title code
- 4 is the check digit
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