Tips for Self-Publishing and Selling Books Using Leanpub

Posted by Leanpub Co-Founder Len Epp

If you’re looking for general advice about self-publishing or indie publishing, a quick Google search will yield an overwhelming number of results. So why would we bother to add to that sea of tips, recommendations and strategies?

Compared to all the conventional advice out there, you’ll probably find the self-publishing advice we’re providing in this post to be unorthodox in some respects. That’s because of a few things that make Leanpub different from the other self-publishing platforms you’re going to find on the internet.

It’s not that a lot of the advice people normally give doesn’t apply to you when you self-publish using Leanpub. The difference is that we give you the opportunity to try a few things you just can’t try anywhere else.

Note: This is a long post. If you’re already familiar with Leanpub or you just want some quick tips for increasing book sales, you might want to skip to the last section, “A List of Tips for Increasing Leanpub Book Sales”.

How To Read These Tips

There’s a lot of advice in this post. That’s both because Leanpub is so different and also because we’re obsessive and opinionated.

If you’re looking for advice on a specific aspect of self-publishing, please scroll down to the section you’re interested in:

  • Introduction: What Makes Leanpub Different
  • The First Question You Should Ask Yourself
  • When Should You Publish The First Version Of Your Leanpub Book?
  • Using Your Leanpub Book’s Landing Page To Its Fullest
  • Use In-Progress Publishing To Maintain Attention On Your Book Promotion Channels
  • What To Do After You’ve Marked Your Book 100% Complete
  • DRM and Piracy
  • A List of Tips for Increasing Leanpub Book Sales

Introduction: What Makes Leanpub Different

Much of our advice is based on what makes us different from other self-publishing platforms. Below is a list of a few of those differences. You may find other services that do some of these things, but we don’t know of any that does all of them well and with purpose.

  1. Leanpub enables easy in-progress self-publishing.

The Lean Publishing process is at the heart of how Leanpub works. With Leanpub, you can publish a book when you’ve only finished a few chapters, and then easily publish new versions of your book with additional and improved content as you write, notifying existing readers of the update. This enables all kinds of creative ways to self-publish a successful book that are difficult or impossible to achieve with other platforms.

In fiction, this is similar to the venerable tradition of serial publishing, where novels were published a chapter at a time, often in magazines. In non-fiction, this process is perhaps more revolutionary.

You’ll see examples below of extraordinary ways to take advantage of Leanpub’s in-progress publishing process to test ideas and engage in creative book marketing. For example, you can start establishing an audience and test ideas at an earlier stage in the book writing process than you can with other approaches.

2. Leanpub unifies writing, publishing and selling.

You can use Leanpub by simply uploading your own book and selling it on our bookstore if you already have a finished book, or if you have a preferred book creation process, and you want to use our in-progress publishing features, not our writing tools.

But at the heart of Leanpub is the combination of writing and publishing in a single workflow that establishes a powerful connection between processes that are often done separately: writing, publishing and selling your book.

3. Leanpub uses a variable pricing model.

When you sell a book on Leanpub, you set two prices for your book, a minimum price and a suggested price, and readers choose the price they want to pay. The minimum price can even be set to free, meaning you are giving people the chance to pay for a book they can get for free. People can also choose to pay more than the suggested price for your book if they think you have underpriced yourself.

4. Leanpub pays a high royalty rate.

We pay authors a royalty of 90% minus 50 cents per sale. If you sell 1,000 copies of a $10 book on Leanpub, we will pay you $8,500. This radically changes things from the author’s perspective in a number of ways, as it makes all kinds of books and strategies financially worthwhile that would not have been under conventional circumstances or on other platforms.

The combination of our variable pricing model and our high royalty rate helps establish a unique connection between readers and self-published authors.

We show all readers a set of pricing sliders, one showing how much they are going to pay, and another showing how much the author earns. Readers often choose what they’re going to pay by using the “Author Earns” slider, which is pretty amazing.

5. Leanpub books are DRM-free.

This doesn’t make us all that unique in the self-publishing world anymore, but if you’re just getting into the world of ebook publishing, you may find our views on what self-published authors should do about piracy surprising. Discussing this topic below, we’re going to make some pretty pointed observations about how much time and energy we think you should devote to piracy concerns.

6. You can easily share part or all of your royalties with a good cause.

Nonprofits and charities can sign up for the Leanpub for Causes program, which lets our authors share royalties with any one of the subscribed organizations. (If you would like to share royalties with an organization you don’t see on this list, please email them and give them a link to this page: https://leanpub.com/causes.)

The First Question You Should Ask Yourself

So you’ve decided you want to self-publish a book. You might have been drawn to this decision by the desire to write a specific book, or you might have lots of ideas for different books to write.

In either case, with Leanpub there’s an opportunity even before you start writing to test different ideas. As soon as you create a Leanpub book, you get a web page where people can sign up to be notified when your book is published. They can even tell you how much they’d be willing to pay for your book.

So, you can begin marketing your book even before you begin writing it, by directing people to this page, writing descriptive copy about your project, and displaying a video trailer about what you’re planning to do.

Some people see this as a kind of Kickstarter-lite approach: people can show interest in your project before you begin it, but they don’t need to make an actual financial commitment.

Testing the market for your project this way can be very helpful — including by showing you that maybe you should be working on a book on another topic.

When Should You Publish The First Version Of Your Leanpub Book?

One thing new Leanpub authors often ask us is, “When is the right time to publish the first version of my book?” There’s no objective answer to this question, given the differences between types of book projects, audiences and authors.

Generally speaking, the best advice we have is to publish as soon as you have written enough to show you’re serious about the book, and while you still feel a little uncomfortable publishing something so unfinished. There’s no magic number, but it seems this point is usually when you think a book is about 25% done.

Publishing early has a lot of benefits. The first and most important relates to one of the great themes of self-publishing advice: motivation.

Hitting the publish button for an unfinished book can be an exhilirating experience. Once your work is out there for the public to see and to evaluate, you may find yourself more motivated than ever to get that next chapter written. Even if you start with only a very small audience, knowing there are people out there waiting for your work, and ready to respond, turns the negative pressure of a deadline into the expectation of positive reinforcement, coupled with a sense of responsibility.

A second reason to publish early is to test whether or not you’re writing a book people want to read. What if a hundred people sign up to be informed when you publish your book, and then you publish it and only five people buy it and three ask for refunds? You might want to start over from the beginning or take a very different approach going forward.

Alternatively, what if all those hundred people buy it and tell you they love it and start talking about it on Twitter and Facebook and wherever else they talk about books they’re reading? In that case you might find yourself far more excited by the project and even willing to change its priority in your life.

A third reason to publish early is to start getting feedback early so you can make your book better. Someone desperate, interested or supportive enough to buy your book early on is more likely than the average reader to give you feedback, from typo corrections to continuity errors to pointing out the obvious gaps you’ve overlooked. The feedback you get from early readers will help your book be better when it’s more complete and you start attracting more readers.

Using Your Leanpub Book’s Landing Page To Its Fullest

Leanpub provides authors with robust landing pages for their books, where they can take advantage of various features to promote their books, drive sales, and engage with existing and potential readers.

We give you control over what you say, and you can make instant changes anytime you like, including changing the URL (the old URL will redirect to the new one, so you don’t need to worry about any old links out there).

Experimenting with what you say until you arrive at the right messaging is really important for convincing readers to buy your book.

You should make sure to give your book a subtitle, a tagline, and complete the About the Book section. We also highly recommend publishing a short video and making sure your author profile information is robust, up to date, and includes your Twitter account if you have one.

Use In-Progress Publishing To Maintain Attention On Your Book Promotion Channels

One of the main differences between in-progress and conventional publishing is that you can build excitement in interesting ways, since in a sense the serial publication of your book is a story in itself.

In the simplest sense, you can build excitement with announcements like “New chapter coming next week!”, “New chapter out tomorrow!”, and statements along those lines. If you use your imagination you’ll think of all kinds of interesting ways to get attention as you publish chapter after chapter.

However, in order to get your message out, you need places to send the message, or “channels”. Setting up some channels early on is a good way to build interest and a committed audience over time. There is a lot of excellent advice about this out there, just a Google search away.

What To Do After You’ve Marked Your Book 100% Complete

Eventually the time will come when you mark your book 100% complete. Most Leanpub authors with completed books keep updating their book with corrections or new testimonials as they come in, but there is still a point where the main work of writing is complete.

Now it’s time to turn whatever marketing efforts you have the resources and desire to undertake all the way up to 11.

There’s a vast literature out there about what to do at this point, but at Leanpub we offer a range of features that allows you to do some pretty interesting things.

For example, on Leanpub you can create coupon links, which allows you to undertake brief campaigns on social media (“Get 25% off with this coupon, limited to the first 100 readers!”), reward people who sign up for your email newsletter if you have one, and reach out to people with influence to easily offer them free copies.

You can also add additional digital content for sale with your book in “Packages”. Leanpub authors have had great success upselling readers by offering them a package that includes both their book and things like lecture videos, screencasts, and software code.

You can create bundles of books, including books written by other authors. This can help you reach more people and provide them with a special offer that’s very compelling.

You can even split your book in two. This doesn’t happen very often, but I love the feature because it says so much about how Leanpub thinks about the wonderful variety of needs that authors and readers have. Writing is after all a creative process, and one could say the same thing for reading, too.

DRM and Piracy

One thing authors sometimes ask us is, “If Leanpub books have no DRM protection, what’s to stop someone from downloading my book from Leanpub and putting it up on the internet so people can get free copies of it?”

The answer is: nothing.

The next question is, “So what should I do about piracy?”

Our opionated answer is: nothing.

First of all, you can not stop digital piracy. You simply can not stop it. Therefore any time you spend fighting it is time wasted that you could have spent doing something else that you can personally achieve, like, say, writing, or building your audience.

Forget about piracy, and no matter what, you should never get involved in any of the weird schemes out there to prevent it.

Second, if you can’t bring yourself to forget about it quite yet, think about it this way: more people reading your book is a good thing for you. It helps spread your work and discussion of it around the world, and perhaps into communities of people you would not otherwise have reached.

Consider the story of the Leanpub author who discovered one day that someone had taken his book, translated it straightforwardly into Russian, and was selling the book on a Russian website. Instead of starting a fight, the author realized something: this translator had actually created a market for his work in Russia that would not have existed otherwise.

So, the author contacted the translator and asked that they join forces on his next book. As an official, above-board translator of the second book, the translator’s own career and prospects were improved, and it was worth sharing the royalties with the author himself. What could have been a resource- and energy-draining series of attacks and defenses turned instead into a profitable partnership based on cooperation.

Third, the subject of piracy offers a good opportunity to ask yourself who you are and what you are doing this for. Are you just starting out as a self-published author? If the answer is yes, then your number one job is to write well and your number two job is to convince people to read what you have written. There can be no sales lost to piracy if you are not selling any copies of your book anyway, and every new reader is a potential future paying customer.

If you are more advanced in your publishing career, then you should be thinking about how to leverage those aspects of your career that make it advanced. How can you grow your Twitter following? How can you get yourself on that distinguished panel of authors at the next big conference?

Piracy is least relevant if you are writing non-fiction books to advance your career in some way, perhaps to start doing independent consulting work, or to demonstrate your expertise in order to get a promotion or a new, better job. If the CEO of a company you want to work for or a potential consulting client reads your book, who cares how they came across it?

Piracy is least relevant if you are publishing your book in order to spread an idea that is important to you, or if the book has a deep inherent value. In dramatic terms, if your goal is to convert people to your position in pursuit of some mission, that last thing you will worry about is piracy. It’s just another means of pursuing your goal, which is the dissemination of persuasive information.

All that being said, we know not everyone shares this view, so if you don’t agree with us or have found an instance of piracy so egregious you can’t let it go, please contact us at hello@leanpub.com with the details and if we think it’s appropriate we can send the offending party a notice.

A List of Tips for Increasing Leanpub Book Sales

  • As soon as you’ve created your Leanpub book, fill out all the content options we provide for you, like your author profile and the About the Book section. Give your book a subtitle and a tagline. You’ll see a list of things like this in your book’s Overview page.
  • Take five minutes to click through all the options we provide in your book’s Book Tools menu. You might be surprised at what you find.
  • Start sending people to your book’s landing page, where they can sign up to be notified when your book is published for the first time. You can do this using social media, your email newsletter if you have one, and even paid advertisements if you have a budget for them.
  • Publish early and often. Don’t wait until your book is complete to publish it.
  • Until your book is complete, do not fret about getting your formatting 100% right, unless there is something specific to your project or personality that requires perfect formatting (I am like this myself and have to fight it in order to get things done). Focus on writing and publishing new chapters instead.
  • Increase the price of your book as you add more chapters. This rewards early readers and means you are asking a fair price all the time as you add more content to your book. Be explicit about this: let everyone you reach know the price of your book will increase over time.
  • Interact with readers using Leanpub. They can email you using Leanpub’s “Email the Author” feature unless you disable it, which you probably shouldn’t. You should invite them to contact you. Also, each Leanpub book has a “Discuss this Book” page where readers can interact with you and with each other. Readers love to interact with authors, they love to point out typos and they are thrilled when they see they have helped improve your book. This interaction between author and reader is actually one of the most important aspects of being a Leanpub author and central to what we are doing and what makes us different.
  • Solicit positive comments about yourself or your work from your friends and influential people you know, and use our Testimonials feature to let potential readers get a sense of excitement about who you are and why they should read your book.
  • Use our Coupons feature aggressively to offer special deals to individuals and groups.
  • Think about bundling your book with books written by other Leanpub authors. You can reach out to them using our Bundle feature even if you don’t know them. Be polite and have a good argument, but don’t be shy: bundle sales are good for everybody, and the worst someone can do is decline.
  • If your project allows for it, upload digital content you have created using our Extras feature, and then sell your book packaged together with that content. Extras can include things like videos, screencasts, software code, even digital art.
  • Sign up for Leanpub Discounts (you’ll find this under “Selling & Royalties” in your book’s Book Tools menu). This lets us help you market your book in various promotions.
  • You could also consider getting a spot on our homepage to promote your book via The Shelf.
  • When your book is complete, use our Print-Ready PDF export feature to sell your book in print format via services like CreateSpace or Lulu.
  • When your book is complete, if you’ve written your book using a Leanpub workflow, you can take your PDF, EPUB and MOBI files and upload them to services like Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords. They might place some restrictions on how you’re allowed to price your book and where you’re allowed to sell it, but we don’t. If you find that you’re not allowed to have your book up for sale on Leanpub and on another service at the same time and you think you’ll make more money on the other service, you can just “retire” your book on Leanpub. You’re welcome back any time if you change your mind.
  • Listen to the Leanpub Frontmatter and Backmatter podcasts to learn about other Leanpub authors and how they’ve succeeded in their self-publishing efforts, and to learn from experts in book publishing about the latest cutting-edge developments in the industry.
  • Finally, throughout the whole process, be creative using Leanpub and have fun. Book marketing is all about reaching out to other people. Do things like talk at conferences and show your book on the last slide of your presentation. Start a Twitter account if you don’t have one already and put a link to your book in your profile. There are tons of ways to reach out.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’re a Leanpub author and you have some more tips you think other authors could benefit from, please let us know by emailing us at hello@leanpub.com.

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