July 31, 2020

Pre-sold 181 copies of my ebook, netting $4k!

Steph Smith @stephsmith

I’ve been running my blog since the beginning of 2019 and have been making projects since 2018. I’ve experience a lot of “launch highs” and my blog was read 400k times in its first year, but… I’ve never really made much money from these projects. This is partially by design (I’ve never really prioritized charging), but also something that I struggle with (I’ve never really felt comfortable charging).

Throughout the last year, I’ve made anywhere from $50 to a couple hundred dollars per month. Some months, I made even more due to one-time projects that I was brought on for, but none of my products were really driving the income. You can see how my revenue grew over at my open page or even more detailed in this image.

On Wednesday, I stumbled upon a draft that I wrote a year ago, after I was starting to see success with my personal blog. It was a guide on exactly if people should launch a blog, how they can select their niche, and most tangibly, how they could grow their own blogs. I felt like I could write a good blog back then, with learnings from my personal blog, alongside my experience leading the Publications team at Toptal. In fact, I wrote a 4000 word outline and got overwhelmed by everything I had to say.

But as I stumbled upon the draft a year later, I realized how much people could really use this resource and how much more I knew today, given my year of working on Trends (one of the world’s largest premium newsletters) at the Hustle (one of the world’s largest newsletters, period). So I decided to try things differently this time. I decided to ask: is this something people would pay for?

When I tweeted about it, I didn’t even have a landing page. I just wanted to know: should I make this? Quickly responses started piling in, with dozens of people saying they would indeed pay and many saying that they would pay more than the quoted price of $10.

This was the first time hearing this kind of true validation. Not just upvotes or shares. Actual people saying that they would pay me actual money for a product. So I rushed to create a Gumroad landing page, came up with a title and cover, and told people I was open for business.

I really struggled to decide whether I should go with the initial price or bump it up, based on the feedback of many people saying I should charge more. So, I went with a tiered pricing model, where prices increase with every 30 sales. The reasoning? I figured this would give me some real feedback, based on data. If I started to see conversion rate drop off a cliff, I would stop increasing.

And then I launched the pre-sale. Sales poured in almost immediately. In the first 15 minutes, I made my first $100. Within a hour or two, I had to shift tiers! Soon after that, I shifted again. I got to $30 and chose to keep it there, since I finally started to see the CVR drop more significantly at $35.

Anyway, this is one of the many reasons on IndieHackers to get real feedback from users and charge before you’re comfortable. It’s been 48 hours and I’ve made nearly $4k in sales! Now I’ll be spending the next several weeks making this the best damn guide on the internet. If you’re interested in signing up for a copy, you can do so here.

EDIT: Thank you everyone for the support! Just through this post alone, I’ve made it past 200 sales. I just created a code INDIE that anyone from Indie Hackers can use to get $10 off.

  1. 5

    That's incredible Steph, and I really dig your "open" page, it's super unique and personalized!! You should definitely submit it to Open Startup List

    I've also just recently finished writing my first book as well. Wishing you tons of success!
    I totally agree that writing a blog (in 2020 or in any year) is a driving force for success, as I wrote in my book:

    When building a side-project make sure to also include a blog and share your progress and insights actively. Blog and content for websites are what water is for plants. Content supports growth. Through content, other people can find you on Google and other search engines

    1. 1

      Thank you! I've seen Open Startup List and figured it was just for companies, whereas mine is related to my personal goals. Do you think I should still submit it? Also, congrats on your sale of the project!

      And congrats on launching your book! Out of pure curiosity, how long did it take you to write it?

      1. 2

        Thanks! I think your open page is pretty unique in it's personality and for that reason only many people would love to learn more about you. Although I'm not in control of Open Startup List anymore, I still think it's worth submitting it.

        I gave myself one month to write it :)

        1. 1

          In that case, I'll submit it! And congrats -- really amazing to have written a book within a month.

  2. 3

    Congrats Steph!

    I'm a huge fan of pre-sales, I think 99% of Indie Hackers need to create the smallest reasonable proof-of-concept the can, and then pre-sell it to see if their idea is going to work in the market. I did this for my second product, softwareideas.io (in a similar space to Trends) and it's help me rocket it to almost $20k ARR in less than a month!

    You're doing great work all the way around, looking forward to hearing more about your journey!

    1. 2

      Inspired by the Lean Startup, there's a similar process for publishing early drafts of a book as a MVP, get feedback (and sales), and iterate: Lean Publishing. Leanpub is a self-publishing platform designed to support this process.

      1. 1

        I love this idea, in fact I've though about it many times. I would definitely go this route if I ever author something more than a blog post

    2. 1

      That makes a lot of sense, how would one go about it though if following poor pre-sales they want to dump the idea? Refund pre-sales?

      1. 1

        Exactly, reach out personally and say that you genuinely appreciate their support for the project, but it didn't gather enough interest to be worth pursuing, and as such you'll be refunding them in full.

        This is actually an objection that helps you land pre-sales. There are people who will be willing to pre-order your product, but only after you promise that they will be refunded if the product doesn't generate enough interest. It's the "100% guarantee" equivalent for pre-sales.

    3. 1

      Wow, congrats on the early success of softwareideas.io! That's really impressive. I totally agree -- people are always talking about MVPs, but this is even a step before creating the MVP to see if there is interest. Thanks for your kind words!

      1. 5

        Thanks! Yes, 100%. Focusing on just the MVP assumes that "being able to build the product" is the riskiest part of the business. Usually, that's a mistake.

        The riskiest parts for most products are:

        Market risk: Whether people actually are willing to pay for what you're selling
        Channel risk: Whether you can reach the people who care

  3. 2

    Congrats with the presales! Will you consider making it available somewhere else than a pdf on Gumroad?
    I see more and more people doing that (and I'm currently working on my own book) but I feel it looks less appealing and professional. What are your thoughts on that?

    1. 1

      Thank you! I'll probably make it available on other platforms post-launch, but Gumroad made it incredibly easy to pre-launch something and also get a page up and running. From what I understand as well, their fee structure is better than something like Amazon. I might set up my own page in the end and connect it with Stripe. What other tools are you looking at using?

      1. 1

        I haven't studied fully the topic yet but I was considering Amazon and also wanted to know if this would prevent me from having the book available on other platforms.

  4. 2

    Awesome news, congrats!

  5. 2

    Wow, this is awesome! Congratulations on getting over that difficult hurdle. Thank you for sharing. This story is inspiring and motivating.

  6. 2

    Definitely going to follow this journey... How are you marketing? How did you advertise the pre-order?

    1. 1

      Thank you! This pre-order was actually only advertised on Twitter with the few tweets linked in the post. Luckily, they got quite a bit of attention though!

      I have yet to promote it to my own newsletter or post it anywhere else, really. So hopefully still some more sales to come!

  7. 2

    Super exciting! Nice work!

  8. 2

    Congrats steph!!! Amazing 😉

    1. 1

      Thank you Fajar! Always appreciate your support.

  9. 2

    Steph, what a coincidence as I am reading and writing about ’The one hour content plan’ book here on my blog https://5pagesaday.com/

    I can't wait to read your eBook. Just bought it. I am still waiting for you to accept my FB Friend request, though.

    Good luck with your launch. Why didn't you post about this in our trends group? Maybe I miss when you mentioned 🤔

    1. 1

      Thanks so much for your support!

      I haven't posted this in the Trends group yet, but I should! Just accepted your friend request. :)

  10. 2

    Your blog looks amazing! Care to share what CMS and template you use?

    1. 1

      Thank you! And of course. I use Ghost (and love it) and use their standard theme with just a few custom tweaks.

      If you're interested in using Ghost, I wrote an article about how you can easily self-host on Digital Ocean here: https://blog.stephsmith.io/setting-up-blog-with-ghost-and-digital-ocean-droplet/

  11. 2

    HUGE congrats, Steph!!

  12. 2

    Great stuff, sometimes we just need time in order to get our bearings again. Congrats on the success so far.

    1. 1

      Yes, I totally agree! I think I needed to take some time away and I'm more excited than ever to create now. Thank you! 🤗

  13. 2

    Well done, the quickest validation I have ever heard of.

  14. 2

    Got in at the $15 tier. Great job Steph!

    1. 1

      Soooo appreciate the support, Oliver!