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Lessons learnt from publishing my first eBook

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It's been almost a month since I published my first eBook (A Primer on SQL) here at Dreamincode. The response from all over the web was quite overwhelming, with the download counter here alone totalling near 7.5K. Firstly, there is a permanant webpage on the net for my writings (link below) since blog entries are more chronological in format.

Writings by Rahul Batra

Another thing that learnt was just how beneficial my choice of typesetting using Troff was. The PDF size for it was astonishingly small (100 KB), compared to the PDF output from a word processor or even LaTex. This helps in staying under bandwidth limits and space limits no matter where I put up a copy.

After a couple of hours of the release of the book, it got popular on Reddit in r/programming and r/learnprogramming. Infact it became the 2nd highest upvoted link on r/learnprogramming of all time. On the first two days there were always about 150-300 people on the entry at any given time. At Hacker News it did not do so well garnering only 3 points. It became such a hit that I started getting not only job offers, but some people even wrote to me about using it as a side text in the university courses. Understandably, I was pretty happy. I learnt how helpful the Reddit community can be. Many a reader took the time to suggest improvements and some even did so without wanting attribution.

The choice of Ingres understandably was controversial. I had hoped that it would atleast appeal to the niche Ingres community, it didn't happen. Though plenty of people used other database systems and the text worked for them as I had hoped. The biggest USP of the book was its brevity even after covering quite a few topics. A lot of readers sent me messages that they enjoyed the writing style, which seemed conversational rather than academic. I hope to emulate the same in my forthcoming books and editions.

After a couple of days when the Reddit traffic died down, Smashing Magazine tweeted (and Google plus'ed) about my book and the traffic started pouring in again. I had also tweeted about my book when I released it but since I'm not active there (~30 followers), there was little movement. SmashingMag's tweet sent a bigger initial outburst than Reddit but it lasted a lesser time. While a couple of subreddits downloads totalled about 4K in the inital week, Twitter gave about 1.8K downloads. I also submitted it to and they have also been sending a dozen or so readers every other day.

There are many things I even learnt about typography and font selections from the book writing process. Once you see your text printed out, then you'd understand why some serif fonts like Times Roman and Bookman are so appealing. Also my decision to provide a free PDF worked out well. I initially thought of converting it into a collection of HTML pages and putting them up somewhere, but a lot of people do seem to prefer the offline ability of a PDF. I do regret not making a Mobi/ePub though, but then there were only a couple of demands for them and I honestly did not know how to. The one surprising place where my book turned up is Readmill which is a community of readers, possibly using an iPad.

The whole experience was delightfully positive and I hope to continue improving A Primer on SQL in the coming editions and writing new books as well. I hope this entry was useful to other new technical writers wanting to publish their own eBooks.

1 Comments On This Entry

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16 November 2012 - 08:07 AM
Good job!
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