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Release your eBook whilst you're writing it?

I'm thinking of writing an eBook on screencasting to explain what we do in ProCasts.  I'd like to follow the programmer's mantra 'release early, release often' (I have >10 years as Senior Developer coding experience behind me) but I don't think I've seen many eBooks published this way.  I'm wondering...why not?

'Release early, release often' lets your users tell you what they need early on rather than when you have finished and change is hard.

Here's a possible process:
1) Sketch out the structure of the chapters and write Chapter 1
2) Release the eBook for sale, clearly marking it as Under Construction
3) Solicit feedback from early purchasers
4) Revise, add Chapter 2, release to all past purchasers
5) Repeat, adding chapters, releasing the updated book to all purchasers
6) When finished, do traditional marketing/release activities knowing that you've already made sales and have great testimonials for a book that really helps your target audience

Paul of BoagWorld is writing his WebSite Owner's Manual (http://boagworld.com/websiteownersmanual/), right now you can pay full price for a partially written book with updates to follow.  This is the only example I know of following this approach.

Sidenote - this thought came from a recent conversation with Bob (http://47hats.com - if you want advice, have a chat with Bob, he has many good ideas) about my ProCasts.  Bob has successfully published two of his own eBooks, I'm pretty sure he followed the traditional 'create then sell' method, I think Stephane Grenier (How to Generate Traffic to your Website, aimed at MicroISVs) did the same. 

Are there reasons why 'release early, release often' doesn't work for eBooks?  Are many authors missing a trick by releasing only when they've finished and (hopefully) made the right content?

Ian.
Ian Ozsvald Send private email
Thursday, May 21, 2009
 
 
"Thinking In Java" was written like this, with feedback to improve the final book, which was both a free PDF and a properly bound book.
Richard (Tudumo) Send private email
Thursday, May 21, 2009
 
 
I think that people would be willing to purchase an ebook prior to it's completion if there was some kind of discount.
ScottK Send private email
Thursday, May 21, 2009
 
 
@richard thanks for the example.

@scott - I agree that some sort of early-bird discount might be useful, especially at the start, and it does indicate that you're not selling the finished item yet.  Negatively it sets up a low price-point so it positions the eBook, in the viewers head, down below all the other eBooks they might have seen.

Here's an extra question - if you had the chance to buy an eBook early and the author personally requested feedback - would you get involved in trying to make the book better? 

I remember with Bob's MicroISV book I bought it and sent a set of emails with thoughts and typos, simply because he'd done a good job and I wanted to see it perfected (and Bob was very open to the feedback).

Ian.
Ian Ozsvald Send private email
Thursday, May 21, 2009
 
 
the Pragmatic Programmer releases many of it's books in beta pdf format while they're being revised and edited.
Jason Send private email
Thursday, May 21, 2009
 
 
O'Reilly's Rough Cuts series also uses a similar approach - see http://oreilly.com/roughcuts/faq.csp for details on how their program works.
Jason Abate Send private email
Thursday, May 21, 2009
 
 
Hi Ian,

I believe this is because books work very differently than software. Unless your book is an API, etc. most people will not go back and read your revised editions. At least not unless it's phenomenal, and the revised edition offers an enormous amount more information.

Let me give you a few examples with printed books, which is pretty similar to ebooks. For example, how many books have you re-read once an edition was revised and re-edited? Some people will, but generally new editions are to improve the book for new readers.

Would you re-read Lord of the Rings? Would you re-read "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing"? What about "Code Complete"? "Peopleware"? Generally once you've read a book you won't re-read it again, even if it's a newer version unless there's a very significant amount of new additional value to you.

A few new chapters generally won't even be enough. This is because the cost invested in reading a book (or ebook) is much bigger than updating a software. Reading a book can take hours (and if it's pretty similar it might not be all that exciting). Are you willing to re-read most of the same information over and over each edition to find the differences? I don't know anyone who's read a book through 4-5 editions. Do you?

With software it's different. It's a tool that you use. You don't need to go through the whole software and read everything. You only use the parts that you do. And generally new versions make your life easier, or offer you more power/flexibility. And even if not, you're still actively using it (this is why reference books like phone books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc. are updated and re-used, they are tools)

This is why using an Agile process for a book is much harder. If you do go ahead with this philosophy, realize that most readers will only read one edition. As well, their opinions (and the online buzz) will be based from this one edition. Hopefully it's not the first ;)

That being said, if you do write an ebook, keep improving it!! No book/ebook is perfect the first time out. Even Stephen King makes mistakes. However try to make it the best you can. Just remember that your first edition readers aren't likely to read edition 2, 3, 4, and maybe even 5 of your book unless there's a huge difference, whereas with software you're version 1 users will most likely upgrade to each iteration.
Stephane Grenier Send private email
Thursday, May 21, 2009
 
 
Hi Stephane, thanks for the long response.

We're coming from 2 different angles though - I'm proposing writing 1 chapter and releasing it (along with the outline structure) to my first readers.  Then, I write Chapter 2 and re-release, with possible revisions to Chapter 1 based on feedback.  Rinse and repeat until the book is finished.

I'm *not* talking about releasing a rough draft of everything and then iteratively refining.  I agree that if I did this, most users wouldn't re-read the material they'd already covered.

With the write-and-release approach early users get a new chapter every few weeks to read.  They may well not read the earlier chapters but the recent purchasers will read the whole thing since it is all new to them.

Overall that should mean lots of useful feedback and a book that results in having more worth to the final buyers than anything I could come up with just by myself.

The eBook would be clearly marked as Still Being Written and Not Suitable for Public Review in the early stages so I don't think that early bad exposure would be a problem.

Based on the above model, do you perceive any other problems?

Thanks for the private mail and the link to your 'how to publish a book' series, that looks might useful:
http://www.followsteph.com/2009/03/19/how-to-publish-your-own-book-part-1/

Cheers,
Ian.
Ian Ozsvald Send private email
Friday, May 22, 2009
 
 
Ian,

Look to the world of direct response marketing for this model. Create a single self-contained chapter, the one you think will be the best content in the book. Release it for free via email. Simple sign up form on your site to get the "free report". Auto-responder on the back end to capture email addresses and send it out.

Once you've got a couple of hundred people on your email list, send them a list of proposed topics and ask them what they want to see first. Write up two or three pages on the topic every week and send it out as an email newsletter. Solicit feedback, pro or con. Incorporate the constructive feedback, save the testimonials for your marketing materials.

Keep asking what topic they'd like to see next. Once you've got enough material for three or four chapters, announce that you'll be compiling everything into an ebook. Offer pre-order discounts to anyone willing to keep receiving chapters as they are completed.
Drew Kime Send private email
Sunday, May 24, 2009
 
 
Drew - lots of great ideas!  Many thanks for laying this option out, this definitely moves towards an agile approach to developing the right content.
Cheers,
Ian.
Ian Ozsvald Send private email
Monday, May 25, 2009
 
 
Some fiction authors write books releasing a chapter at a time.  See
    http://www.watt-evans.com/realmsoflight0.html
for how one author does it.  He is on his third.  The first two were completed, but the current one appears to have stalled.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Monday, May 25, 2009
 
 

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