How I Made $30,000 on My First Self-Published Book

Randall Kanna
Oct 15 · 8 min read

In 2019, I had a few hundred Twitter followers. In 2020, I reached 30,000 Twitter followers in just a few months. Thanks to building an audience first, my book made over $30,000 and sold over 1500 copies.

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Gumroad
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Podia

Many people have reached out to me and asked how I did it and how they can write their own book. I decided to write this blog post to help others with their product launches. It was difficult to get my first product out there but the feeling of selling your first product online is indescribable. Focus on just getting your first product out there.

Selecting The Topic

I started writing the book early in 2020 before the pandemic. I had some difficulty choosing a topic. I would write a few pages on one topic idea and then decide that I didn’t want to do that idea and switch again. And this cycle kept repeating!

Finally, I told myself that I had to commit to one idea and see it through. I had read something around that time that said pick a topic that you don’t have to research to write. Something that you know.

Obviously, dogs and knitting were high on my list. But friends kept reminding me how quickly I got a job after our coding bootcamp and how I was really good at standing out in my job hunt even as a junior developer.

This topic kept coming up. And I started thinking about how I felt so lost as a junior developer. I was constantly searching for information and not finding much. Back then, coding bootcamps were a brand new thing and there weren’t many graduates. I had to figure out everything on my own.

I decided I wanted to write the book that I wish I had when I started out as an engineer. Many people told me that a book like this didn’t exist and it was filling a great niche. I definitely got lucky with the idea for the topic.

Creating the Book

Writing the book was a 6 month process. Before the editing process started, the book was over 160 pages. After the editing process, the book went down to 122 pages which was great because the editors cut out a lot of redundancy which made the book more concise for my readers.

For editing, I had my Mom and a few editors from Upwork. Paying editors was more expensive than running it through Grammarly for free, but it improved the quality of the book significantly.

I hired a design agency for the cover and the actual creation of the book pages. Like the editing, it was expensive but took a ton of pressure off at the same time. It was definitely worth it but if you instead want to create a book for free, it’s definitely possible. I’ve created new guides with Apple Pages and Canva for instance that look great and were also… free.

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The Standout Developer cover

Building an Audience

The biggest game changer for my book was my audience. I had a few hundred followers in 2019, but after taking a Twitter Course created by Daniel Vassallo, I started gaining around 5000 to 8000 followers every month. Without that course, I would have never been able to reach $30,000 in sales.

I was on Twitter for years without gaining any real traction. I posted dog photos and talked about politics, but I never got any followers besides my friends and a few internet strangers. That was fine for me but this year, I wanted to try to build an audience to see if my book could take off.

I halted the dog pictures, and focused on giving away value. I’ve been an engineer for around 6 years, so I luckily had a plethora of resources I built up over the years. I had a few popular threads and blog posts that went viral. freeCodeCamp published this blog post which brought a ton of followers. I also created tweets like this, this, this and this.

I also started creating free PDF’s. In late 2019, I spent an entire month working on an awesome free beginner’s guide to coding. Only 50 pages but I had put a ton of work into it and I was really proud of it.

I started publicizing that guide and my second guide and collecting email addresses. Before long, I had around 3000 email addresses from my beginner’s guide and 1000 from my job hunting guide.

Having your own email list will also give you a safety net in case Twitter decides to kick you off their platform (which frequently happens).

The Landing Page

I started off with a very simple landing page. You can see it here. But I wasn’t really happy with it. There’s something to be said about getting a product landing page up fast, but I believe it lost a lot of sales. The conversion rate wasn’t good and it didn’t really stand out at all.

When I moved to Webflow and started studying other launches that went well, I changed my landing page to look like this.

I ended up choosing a Webflow template and customizing it. I didn’t want to invest too much time working on the landing page. I’m sure if I had spent more time on it, I would have improved conversion.

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The landing page for my site

Reviews/Testimonials

Reviews were a huge factor in my sales. I highly recommend you post reviews on your landing page. Many people bought the book because someone they knew suggested they purchase it or they liked the reviews.

Reviews of the book

Affiliate sales also were helpful for sales. One of my affiliates sold around $1000 in book sales in a week by writing a lengthy review.

Many book launches exclusively reach out to famous people in tech for reviews, but I wanted to go a different way. I’ve noticed that no matter the quality of the book, people in tech usually get their friends to give it rave reviews and they make sales. It was important to me that my reviews came from readers of the book or without pushing a friend for a review.

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I also reached out to people I knew and some people I didn’t to add valuable interview sections to my book. Every single person in my book was chosen because I wanted their opinion (for myself and my readers) on their topic.

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Sales

Let’s talk about sales.

I originally thought I would sell a few copies. I assumed I would help a few people and that would be that. When I started writing the book, I had around 1000 followers in January 2020. I wasn’t well known on Twitter. Most people build up an audience and credibility over years. Thankfully by the time I published the book in late June, I had almost 30,000 followers on Twitter and an email list of 5,000.

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Gumroad sales
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Podia sales

I priced the book at $22 during the launch. I knew I was leaving money on the table but I wanted everyone to feel they had gotten a ton of value for a low price. I learned this concept from Daniel Vassallo. He says “I know everyone likes to say “charge more”, but I’d rather leave some money on the table than risk having a lot of people think that they overpaid.”

I frequently did (and still do) power purchasing parity sales to make sure it’s fair for people in other countries as well. I also had frequent sales and experimented with creating urgency. The best sales were discounts that only lasted an hour or two with a strong call to action.

I also ended up giving a ton of copies away free to people that could not afford it because they were unemployed. I had no idea that this would lead to some of my biggest supporters.

My book made the most money during the launch sale. Apparently most buyers like to wait until the actual launch. I did have some significant pre-sales but the first two weeks of sales were the largest bump in sales.

I ended up selling the book on both Podia and Gumroad. I wanted to give people the option to buy wherever they wanted. Most people really preferred Gumroad so I ended up directing all traffic to Gumroad to take one less decision off the table for my buyers.

Launch Mistakes

My first landing page was awful. I was so excited about getting the books into the hands of readers that I rushed getting the landing page out.

I also launched during the week of the fourth of July.. Cringe. Even though we were in quarantine, many people had time off and were on trips or stepping away from their screens.

My Show HN post was awesome (thanks to Gergely Orosz!) but I didn’t get enough friends or supporters to upvote it ahead of time. Something Shawn Wang was really good about during his launch was that he has a big community of friends/fans/twitter followers that were very supportive. I had only a few hundred twitter followers in 2019 so my community is fairly new.

The Launch Resources/Guides I Used

My favorite resource of all was Shawn Wang’s launch cheatsheet. Here’s his blog post from his own launch this year. Here’s his launch log as well. I loved watching these videos when I was working on my book.

I also watched Adam Wathan’s youtube video about launches about a thousand times. He also has a great blog post about book launches too.

Launch by Jeff Walker.

Final Notes

Writing a book was an intense process. If you’re considering writing your own book, I highly recommend that you keep your scope narrower than I did and just get your first product out there. Selling something you created yourself online and own is the best feeling in the world.

I’m working on something exciting for Gumroad currently that will help first time creators. Sign up to this list to be the first to find out. Gumroad will be announcing it next week so don’t miss out!

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