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Leanpub: write a ‘lean book’

Ever wanted to write a book?  Me too!

Leanpub lets you write a book, but with a twist.  They’ve built a system where you can write portions of a book, and easily publish to the major ebook formats (PDF, .mobi, epub).  You write the book with Markdown, and can include code samples, images, tables, and sections.  Nothing really new there, though.

The revolutionary idea of Leanpub, and the reason it is ‘lean’, is that you can build your book piece by piece, and sell it whenever you have ‘minimum viable content’.  (You can also include sample content to let people see what they are buying.)  Once someone purchases your book, they receive all further updates.  This type of interaction with users can be very helpful–it spurs you on to finish your book (after all, someone paid for it) and also lets you know if your book idea has traction in the marketplace (did anyone buy the book), and builds an audience for your book slowly over time (going to a publisher with a list of people who’ve already bought your book is a lot stronger than going there with a first draft).

After you finish your book, you can submit it to all the other epublishing vendors (Amazon, B&N, etc) or a print on demand store.  (They also have support for building a book directly out of a blog, if you have written anything that structured.)

I have built 4 books on Leanpub.  Using CakePHP to generate Markdown, I was able to combine some articles about CSA I had written with a directory of relevant farms.  You can see the Denver guide.  I found the process fun, if not lucrative.

This is a great concept.  It really makes you, the author, focus on two areas of publishing that technology can’t help with: writing and marketing.  The best book in the world won’t have any sales if people don’t find it, and the most promoted book won’t sell if you don’t write it.

I did see some minor issues around footnoting, and not everyone will enjoy writing in plain text and ‘compiling’ the book to PDF (a process that takes around 30 seconds each time you do it), but the platform seems to be evolving (one of the founders is pretty active in the support google group).  All in all I think Leanpub is worth a look, especially if you are writing a book where a chapter or two will save people time in their job.

If you want to know more about lean publishing ideas, check out the manifesto.

3 thoughts on “Leanpub: write a ‘lean book’

  1. David Wechsler says:

    Thanks for your article – I’ve been a fan of the lean startup methodology for over a year now and since I’m now writing a book on electro-horticulture, I’m interested in applying that agile approach to the publishing world.

    So tell me, do you get flamed much when publishing in this way? Or are people mostly constructive? Do people nitpik grammar, etc before you’ve had time to thoroughly edit, etc. I’m really curious how the whole feedback thing works and how you personally handle it.

  2. moore says:

    Hi David,

    I haven’t gotten a lot of feedback. So I am not qualifies to answer your question. Would suggest posting to the leanpub Google group, or at least browsing the archives. Good luck!

  3. moore says:

    Hi David,

    I haven’t gotten a ton of response from my books. Then again, I haven’t really reached out to a community–I mostly built the books as an experiment. Please let me know your experience should you decide to pursue lean publishing.

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