Writing Python FR for the Web - start to finish
Self-publishing an ebook/course is much more than just opening Microsoft Word and writing.
You're building a product for the web - this is a complicated process. It involves the traditional development of a business model, designing a landing page, and marketing and engaging with users. And, don't forget, you still need to WRITE!
Here are the basic steps I took:
- Find something to write about.
- Determine if that something is also in demand - e.g., do people want it and will they pay for it.
- Develop your business model.
- Engage, iterate, refine, and write.
- Market, share, refine, and write
- Build a landing page. Write
- Market. Write
Before I even began writing, I did my market research. I had a topic in mind and thought there was demand for it. In those early days, I needed to test my hypothesis to see if there really was demand.
I used a number of tactics to address these issues. First, I conducted a basic competitor analysis. To my surprise there were not any single resources for using Python for web development. There are a number of resources on using specific Python-based web frameworks. However, I wanted to write about the complete process from start to finish. The main competitors were actually Ruby-versions of the same thing. While Ruby is designed mainly for web development (and used by all the "cool" kids), I felt Python is much more practical language to learn - and just as well-suited for web development. The syntax is easier to learn, there are a number of applicable uses, and there's a plethora of web frameworks.
At that point, I knew I had something, but I still needed to be sure there was plenty of demand before devoting 6+ months writing.
I spent another month just talking with people. Detailing my ideas, objectively, without selling them, to get honest feedback. I probably talked to over fifty people within both the Python and web development communities. After receiving a significant amount of positive feedback, the backing from a major web framework, and a business partner, I took my model to the testing phases using KickStarter.
KickStarter is an excellent means of testing out a business model. There's much to be said on the topic, which you can read about here.
I chose to start writing after the first day of the KickStarter campaign. The course was funded. I was flooded with emails from people expressing their support. I had successfully taken what I thought was a good idea and validated it.
During the remainder of the campaign I spent half my days marketing, engaging with supporters, and refining the focus of the course. The other half, I spent writing. The campaign lasted one month. This was the most exciting time of the process as well as the most stressful. Having your idea validated is incredibly rewarding, but with such popularity comes much stress. I didn't want to let anyone down. I found myself constantly fighting my perfectionist tendencies. They'd come and go like waves.
In those calm, peaceful moments, writing came easy. Sentences, paragraphs, and even whole pages floated by. Coding came easy too. On the other hand, when the waves came, I could barely keep my head above the water. I wanted to quit. Fortunately, I had many people around me urging me on with whatever support I needed in the moment.
In the end, the course came together, obviously. It's not perfect. But it's something I am immensely proud of. Much work still needs to be done, though - which I am actually looking forward to, now that I understand the process better.
After I finished writing the initial draft, I designed a new landing page and started putting the pieces together for content marketing as the course went through several Alpha and Beta phases. Thousands of people went through the course, providing invaluable feedback. Again, this is due to the wonderful support from my KickStarter backers - thank you!
This entire process, although far from over, has taught me a lot about myself and pushed my mind and body to levels I never thought I'd be able to go. Seeing a product of this magnitude go through all the phases of the lifecycle from start to finish has been incredibly rewarding to say the least. Couple that with the fact that I finally married my two great loves, developing and teaching, I have found a calling that I hope to continue to stay with as I move on to the second edition of the course and onto the second iteration of the business model.
Along the way I used a number of tools, mostly through trial and error, to bring this product to fruition. Unfortunately, and to my surprise, one of the more difficult parts of the entire process was the actual creation of the e-book.
There are a number of formats and editors one can use to first write the main draft and then convert to various formats like PDF, MOBI, EPUB, etc. In the end, I settled on markdown as I thought this would be the easiest to convert to other formats. However, I found out too late that conversion to each of those formats was very difficult. If I had a chance to do this process all over again, knowing what I know now, I'd use markmin due to not only the ease of actually writing but the conversion to various formats.
The following are the tools, resources, and software used:
- Mou Markdown Editor: actual writing of the book
- Prince XML: converting Markdown to HTML
- Adobe Acrobat: converting HTML to PDF
- Sigil: converting HTML to EPUB
- Calibre: converting EPUB to MOBI
- Camtasia: video recording
- Content marketing: KickStarter, Quora, Reddit, HackerNews, Stack Overflow, various Python blogs
- Zirtual: help with marketing
- Mailchimp: mailing list
- Zapier: integrating marketing efforts on Facebook and Twitter
- Website: Combination of hardcoded HTML and Flask along with Bootstrap
- Payment Processor: Simple Goods
That's it. If you're reading this and looking to write your own book, my advice is to test, refine, pivot, and iterate many, many times. Find that right balance of what you want to write about with market demand. Also, test out a number of tools and resources used for writing and generating the e-book. Find what's comfortable for you. Finally, engage with your potential buyers. Let them lead you as much as you lead them.
After all, it is just as much their book as it is yours.
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