What I learned launching my first successful e-book
Let's get meta. Today I'll write about writing Shell Samurai, which I officially launched yesterday. Enjoy.
On February 10th, I pre-launched a book about Linux while on a flight from San Francisco to Cincinnati. I'd been thinking of launching some kind of technical course or project for years. The final straw was seeing this tweet from Pat Walls about how he launched a course (which I also bought) with just a stripe pre-order link.
I had been waiting too long for the perfect moment, perfect software and perfect idea. I already had the domain ShellSamurai.com purchased. I'd wanted to do some kind of online Linux lab SaaS app with the domain. That was a good idea but a ton of work and hard to validate.
How about a book on Linux in general? I know Linux well enough and have maintained web servers for years, so maybe that could be a good idea to launch to my audience at This is an IT Support Group.
So I wrote up some copy and an outline for my book, which was only a few lines:
- What's a Linux kernel? how does Linux Boot?
- Navigating the Linux CLI like a pro
- Managing and installing packages
- Managing processes
- Troubleshooting Systems
- Checking network connectivity
- Using Git and version Control
- Spinning up a basic web server with Nginx
I made my stripe link and some basic art with photopea.com and sent it to the mailing list I've been building for years, This is an IT Support Group (along with my personal email list).
and then...it worked. I was receiving orders. For something that didn't exist yet. I collected $500 in payments in 24 hours. That seemed like a success to me and enough validation to write the damn thing. What would I have done if I didn't get enough orders? What if I'd only collected $50 or $100? I guess I would have just refunded the folks that ordered, apologized profusely and hope they wouldn't be mad.
That following Monday I emailed every pre-order customer and thanked them and let them know it was on. I didn't have an exact date at this point but was shooting for Early March-ish. I told them they could expect weekly status updates via email. Then, I wrote those status updates every Monday up to launch to let people know how things were going and what they could expect next.
Taking money from 20 people who are expecting something from you is an excellent forcing function to deliver. They were counting on me and I didn't want to let them down. I'd started and not finished too many projects in my life. I'm now in a season of shipping and stamping COMPLETE on things I touch.
Now, I needed a plan to get the book actually written. I was scared shitless at the beginning, wondering how this was going to go. My strategy initially was to just put in an hour or two a day and I'd get closer to my goal. I used the program Toggl to track my time and assigned a project, Shell Samurai. When it was time to write, I usually wrote. I'd click start, turn off notifications and go at it. However, not every day was that easy. I did get distracted by social media, Midjourney and random text messages. I did miss a couple days. No biggie. I pushed through.
The hour or two a day strategy worked pretty good for a while, until it didn't. Two weeks or so until launch, I realized I was gonna need to put much more work in if I were to finish on time. The entire thing needed edited, I had some missing sections, some gross sections and some areas that needed cut.
That kin of editing takes time. You have to keep a keen eye to catch typos, re-phrase sections to be more clear and keep a consistent tone of voice. If your book takes 3 hours to read, plan on taking 10 to edit it.
I'm convinced consistency really is the key to realizing your goals in life. Consistency also sucks. Knowing you have to write about the Linux kernel later tonight for an hour tonight can feel like a self-made prison. I pushed through.
Use Good Tools
You can totally write a complete e-book in Google Docs. For Shell Samurai, though, I didn't think it'd be feasible. I did some research and settled on Scrivener, which seems to cater to "pro-writers", which I definitely am not. I used Scrivener to organize my outline on the left-hand pane.
About a week before launch, I was having trouble with Scrivener so I reached out to the Scrivener Users Facebook Group. One of the mods there, named Bobby Treat offered to help me over Zoom on a "pay what your conscious allows basis". He schooled me on Scrivener and told me how incorrectly I was using the program (and he was right). Then he taught me the proper path, provided a ton of support and answered all the questions I had. You're a legend, Bobby. And yes, my conscious would not allow me to take his advice for free. He deserved to be paid.
I used Obsidian to keep a running "hit-list" of sections that needed to be written or needed work. I also kept a progress report where I wrote what I had accomplished for that day:
It pays to have an audience
I've been building an audience on Facebook groups and newsletters for 3 or 4 years. I would not have had the success I had without a decent audience or marketing channel. I guess I don't have much advice for you here other than to think about this and build your own channels. "Yeah but you only did well because you had these assets in advance!" Correct, so get started.
Launch many times
This is a concept I think I heard from 30x500. Your product or idea can be launched many times. I did a pre-order launch, then an official launch which celebrated that the thing was actually real. I'll do more launches as I add chapters and other extras (video content?).
You're going to get some haters
I launched to the Facebook group I founded, This is an IT Support Group and generally got good feedback or questions. However...every 1/20 people or so fall into the h8r category. These are folks who like to lower your status by stating facts we all know, like how you can learn Linux for free (true) or how your time isn't worth their money (also true. I don't want their money).
Here's some comments I've gotten:
Sometimes I fall prey to this bait and waste time retorting with people, but it is never worth it. Of course you can learn ANYTHING online for free. It might take a bit longer, you might have to clobber together information from blog posts, other books, documentation, ask questions in chat rooms and other places, but you can do it!
My goal was to do that work + combine it with my years of real-world experience and deliver all of those learnings on a silver platter in PDF format + make myself available for feedback and improvements on people's questions.
Sometimes I troll the h8rs back:
Dealing with haters isn't usually worth it, but the irony is that their comments give the post further engagement and usually lead to more sales. Whatever you do, just don't let discouraging comments get to your head.
Are e-books really worth buying?
With some bias, I'm here to say, I think so. My grandfather instilled into an important value: "The more you learn, the more you earn". For a while, I had an Amazon prime book addiction. I've slowed down a little but still impulse buy books. A book is what the author felt was the greatest thing they had to say to the world. If I could utilize some of those collective years of knowledge to make a better life for myself or grow my career, the price of entry seemed worth it.
I'm not here to say I'm changing the world over here with my computer book. However, it is a topic that I think is of extreme value for aspiring Tech Professionals (my target audience) to know. How much quicker could you bring up new systems, fix broken ones or find new career opportunities by knowing Linux more deeply? Is that worth 40 or 50 bucks?
Most people want you to succeed
Someone asked for a sample of the book. I was out with friends so I replied I'd get them one and then exported it later around midnight. Cool Guy loved the follow through and I respect him, I hope he loves the book too.
What a great mindset:
Why did I do this? Is it even worth it?
Writing an e-book was substantially more difficult than I thought it'd be. It also took way more time than I thought it would. I spent around 80 hours writing and editing. I ended up with just above 50k words. Would I do it again? Yeah, probably. It was a lot of fun too.
Being blunt, of course money is a motivator. There is no greater feeling in the world than "Wi-Fi money". Getting a Gumroad or Stripe notification when you wake up, while you're out to lunch or going for a walk is the greatest dopamine rush. You're getting paid for previous time spent, but it feels like getting paid to relax.
Okay, money aside, two o-ther Reasons I wrote Shell Samurai:
I really like Linux. I like working with Linux and on Cloud Infrastructure. It's fun. It's stimulating. You get to think in a different way and design new stuff. Being a "network plumber" is cool. Maybe this book is a good little backup plan if I ever need to prove I know Linux at least a little bit.
✨ thE eNTrePreNeurial JOurNeY ✨
I hope you read that text in your head exactly the way I intended. Although I'm poking a bit of fun at wantrepreneur-types, the entrepreneurial journey really is a fulfilling one.
Launching an e-book is a great way to get some reps into many aspects of "business":
- Copy Writing
- Email Marketing + "Social Media Marketing"
- Building in Public AKA this blog post
- Public Accountability and Discipline
- Customer Support and Feedback, Product Development
Building a Habit of Writing
Writing has many benefits for the mind, career and soul. After building up a nice habit of writing, I know want to write more! Last year I started walking around my neighborhood a lot. Now, if I miss a day or two I feel bad. Every day around the same time I walk I start to feel anxious and weird and like I need to go walk. I get this for writing now, thus this blog post. Cool. 😎
It's time to market. For the hours I have in right now, I'd probably have been better off driving Uber in a large-city or hocking potatoes on the side of the road. However, that's right now. Each additional sale, my "hourly-rate" goes up. This isn't even accounting for the street cred (priceless).
Next, I want to record some videos to accompany the book and add a chapter on Shell Scripting, which is a huge topic. I'll need to set a goal date for that and get after it. I'll give everyone who bought a copy prior access to those and then I'll charge more for Books+Video.
Then, who knows, maybe another book? We'll see.
What are you waiting for?
I hope this blog post was worth your time. I encourage you to launch whatever it is you're working on, whether it's a book or an old motorcycle that needs fixing.
If you go the book route, one of the best resources I had for learning to launch an e-book was Nathan Barry's Authority. I bought it 4 years ago and the advice must have finally sunk in. Great ROI on that book.
Oh, and if you're reading this and thinking about Learning Linux...I gotchu. Check out Shell Samurai to grab a copy today.