Status on “The Yii Book”, Initial Thoughts on Self-Publishing

December 3, 2012
The Yii Book If you like my writing on the Yii framework, you'll love "The Yii Book"!

I haven’t written much about my book on the Yii framework on this blog in a while, so it’s high time for an update. As you may know, as of October 30, 2012, I began selling a self-published book titled, simply enough, “The Yii Book“. I’m selling the book in electronic formats—ePub, mobi, and PDF—to begin, and I’m selling it as I write it. I’ve been wanting to write a book about this excellent framework for some time, and thought such a book would be a good candidate for self-publishing, which I feel is an interesting little experiment.

Part of my reason for self-publishing is that I was curious about how that would go and how it would compare to traditional publishing. I’m not just talking about money here, but the whole process. In terms of money, I could make more on the self-published book than if I went to a traditional publisher, yes, but there’s also no guaranteed money at all. In fact, there are initial expenses, too, so the only guarantee was that it would cost me money to start. So, there’s a bit of a leap of faith to this experiment for me. Thus far, sales have been very good, in my opinion: 300 copies in just over a month. (If things continue along these lines, I may treat myself to the Lego Star Wars Millenium Falcon for Christmas. If I sell 4,000 copies, I might even splurge for the Death Star. I might let my kids play with them, too.)

One reason I wanted to try self-publishing is that I won’t have to face my biggest annoyance with traditional publishers: page limits. Although I still need to be judicious, I can write as much as I want here. It’s really irksome when the publisher comes back and says “You have to cut 20% of your hard work because we ran the numbers some time ago and decided the book could only be 427 pages long.”

Besides guaranteed money, I’m losing a slew of publisher services by self-publishing: editorial, marketing, translations, etc. Editorially, I think I can make do with the excellent technical editors the book has: Qiang Xue, creator of Yii, and Alexander Makarov, author of a book on Yii. And my experience as a writer, of course. For the marketing, I’m relying upon this blog, the Yii site, and social media. Through my “Learning the Yii Framework” series, I’ve built up a good reputation with Yii, which helps. And I’ve already had my series translated, so having the book translated should be feasible enough.

An interesting decision has been selling the book as I write it. Traditionally, readers can’t get the book until it’s in bookstores. For a print book, that’s about a month or so after final edits, which is about two months or so after the initial writing is complete, which is 5-6 months after I’ve begun writing it. As I’m initially planning on only selling the book in electronic formats, there’s no reason why I can’t sell the book as I’m writing it, providing updates to the book as chapters are completed. The obvious benefit of this decision is that readers can start reading the book today, instead of several months from now. Second, I no longer have to live with mistakes that inevitably get into the book (with a traditionally published book, errors can only be corrected in subsequent printings or editions). With the self-published e-book, any error found in version 1 can be fixed as part of the updates made in version 2. I like that ability a lot.

A third benefit is that the book becomes a living document. As feedback comes in, I can make other edits and changes retroactively. If something isn’t clear enough, I can go back and expand and clarify as needed. Being able to get nearly real-time input, and to act on the input, has been great.

The downside of selling the book as I write is is that I’m totally feeling the pressure. I’m not a high-stress kind of person, but each new sale is another reminder to get writing. Mind you: I really appreciate the sales, but those are metaphorical pokes with the cattle prod! Better than no sales, of course, and everyone’s been really patient, but I’m aware of my responsibility to deliver here.

As for the schedule, the first version of the book, which I labelled 0.2, came out on October 30th. It contained the Introduction and Part 1 of the book. The second version, 0.25, came out on November 27th. It added Chapter 5, fixed all the errors previously found, fixed some problems with the ePub version, and slightly improved the PDF template.

As of today, I’m almost done with Chapter 6. My hope is to get it and Chapter 7 to the technical editors by the end of the week (-ish), and then publish another update next week. I’m not making any promises, but that’s my hope. That would put me at 7 chapters out of 26, so not quite one-third done (or I could claim one-third done, considering I’ve already figured out and implemented many technical requirements).

In terms of my general schedule, I have one more deadline on another project to meet: on December 12th, I’m flying to Boston to speak to the Boston PHP user group on “How to Become a Web Developer“. Once that’s done, all of my work time can go towards “The Yii Book” (except for that time spent answering questions in the forums, replying to emails, sending newsletters, and posting on the blog; Oy!). I’ve also already solved most of my technical problems, such as converting to various formats, setting up the initial site, adding support for PayPal, and creating new releases. The point is: I’m hoping to pick up the pace after the holidays and hopefully (hopefully) still get the book done by the end of February. That would require getting a third of the book done in January and another third in February. I don’t know that I can do that, and history would suggest otherwise, but that’s my hope, anyway.

My thanks again to everyone for their interest in the book, and to those that have purchased a copy. My thanks, too, for everyone’s feedback and support!