I know the common wisdom is that you shouldn't write technical books. It's a difficult way to earn your income, especially when you live in a country with heavy taxation and price level. Strangely enough, it's working out for me at the moment. I'll go through this year and its teachings in this brief post. It was a good year and I can only hope the next one will be even better!
It was a huge risk to start an effort like this. SurviveJS was born out of frustration. Besides being frustrated at my personal situation, I was frustrated at the lack of cohesive Webpack and React related material. Sure, you can learn it all from blog posts, source code, and documentation. But that is painful. So it felt like there could be a chance to make a difference.
Initially I and Christian prepared a table of contents (TOC) and a sample chapter for a known publisher. After all, it makes a lot of sense to have people behind you that understand how the business works. Even though we did our best and negotiated for four weeks, the publisher eventually said no.
As Christian got busy with work and his own projects, I decided to carry on with the effort. It felt wrong not to. Initially, the plan was to write a book about Webpack, but quite soon React portion began to gain more significance. The structure of the book has grown organically based on intuition and demand. Even though this is slower than writing through some predefined TOC, this has allowed me to maneuver and alter the content as I understand better what's needed.
Self-publishing a book means you will have to deal with a lot of work yourself. You will have to take care of aspects like marketing, sales, graphics, editing, and copy-editing. Of course, you can outsource these portions as you like.
Given I didn't want to deal with the complexity of sales (VAT MOSS and all that), I decided to publish my book through Leanpub. As discussed in an earlier post, that's just an option amongst many. It has worked quite well for me, though.
There are still a lot of things I should do better. In short term improving my distribution is one of the key things. I can also improve the way I work. Now it's a little chaotic. More structured approach might be beneficial. I need to begin to think in terms of processes.
I know it's rare that you actually succeed with an effort like this. In fact, it was really hard at one point. The situation didn't look particularly good around July. I realized I was being perhaps a bit too open about my efforts. Fortunately some sort of balance was reached.
I think offering most of the content for free was the right call to make. That way more people can get into the technology. This in turn might lead to visibility I need to make sales. Sales in turn feed the wheel and lead to more content to pull in more people.
I am glad I persisted through the hard times. Especially editing support provided by Jesús was extremely important. It helped me to shape the book for the better and manage the scope more effectively. I know the book isn't perfect, no book is, but it would be far worse without some gentle nudges towards the right direction.
Besides Jesús, I have received direct support at least from tens of people if not over a hundred. It's always heartwarming to get feedback, no matter whether it's positive or negative. Often it's the negative feedback that keeps your feet on the ground. The problem with an intense effort like this is that you tend to lose perspective. That's where the community feedback and support has helped immensely. Thank you guys!
One of the interesting things we did during this year was an effort known as React Indie Bundle. The main problem in going alone, and especially first time, is that your audience is extremely limited. There simply isn't a lot of marketing power. In React Indie Bundle we joined forces and did a joint effort to reach larger masses. It worked out reasonably well, and it might yield some further benefits. Thanks for inviting me to the bundle.
Perhaps one of the better moves was to begin to arrange structured, short interviews for the blog. We have picked the brains of guys like Michel Weststrate, Dan Abramov, and André Staltz just to mention some. Thanks for participating!
There will be more of these interviews in the future. I think it's a fine way to get some visibility on what people think and where they think the world is going and makes an effort like this worthwhile. We're all in the same boat after all.
I've done a decent amount of my blogging efforts not to mention a talk or two. I didn't visit any notable React conferences this year, but perhaps I get more lucky in 2016. We'll see.
I feel going forward with this venture was easily the best thing I have done so far. I may have gotten a little better at writing and certain business and technology related aspects. I have had to develop some technology to fit my needs. And I will continue to do so. As the technology matures, you will get to benefit from it of course.
One surprising thing is that a small community has grown around the effort. It is one of those things that keeps you going.
Throughout the process I have learned is that a bit of persistency, and luck, can take you quite far. From my perspective the current situation is sustainable. It allows me to push the effort further without having to worry too much. I couldn't ask for more.
You could say year 2015 was about learning to float. 2016 is about learning to swim. There are still some aspects I haven't quite nailed yet, but I'm getting there. The big thing is that I don't have to start from scratch anymore. A dent has been made.
At the moment my primary priority is in getting a solid 2.0 version of the book out. It's currently running in beta. This process allows me to fix certain kinks and make sure the book works for most people. I'm aware the approach the book uses isn't ideal for everyone. But, as they say, you cannot bow one way without mooning to another. Being opinionated is good.
From my perspective the current book has two bigger omissions. It doesn't discuss Redux in detail. Instead, the focus is on Alt and the Flux pattern. The whole aspect of back-end is skipped. I believe even with these omissions the book is quite useful already. But these are something that can be developed during the next year as demand arises. I want to keep the book as a living effort.
It could also be worthwhile to modernize the Webpack cookbook and turn it into a sibling offering through a similar model where most of the content is open and freely available.
There's definitely a lot of ground to cover. But I see that more as an opportunity rather than a challenge.
I want to thank you for a great 2015. It is the community that makes an effort like this possible in the first place. I have a feeling 2016 could be even better in many ways. And I'm prepared to do my part. Happy 2016 guys!