Software Book Cancellation

December 17th, 2004 by Steve Pavlina

I decided to cancel my book project, The Software Self-Publishing Guide. This was a tough choice, and I know some people will be disappointed. So I’ll explain why I came to this decision.

I originally started work on this book as something of a transition project that would help me move from game publishing into writing and speaking. Writing such a book seemed like a great idea for a variety of reasons. I felt it would help a lot of people, and it would leverage the knowledge I’ve already built and get me moving gradually into an info products business.

That seemed fairly logical to me when I started the project, and I was unprepared for just how quickly things would progress for me in navigating this career shift. My original estimates for how long things would take were off by huge amount; on the bright side, I was way too conservative in my estimates. I didn’t expect to reach the point I’m at right now until near the end of 2005. So a “transition project” doesn’t make sense anymore, since I’m already past the point where I thought this transition would take me. My original assumptions were just too far off.

I discovered that one of the biggest problems was something that used to be one of my greatest assets. And that is what I consider the “shareware mindset.” It can take many years to build a successful shareware business. It takes time to develop software products that sell, to build a customer base, to build web traffic, to build a mailing list, to build distribution, etc. It’s pretty hard to launch a shareware business out of the gate and make six figures your first year from direct sales… not impossible… but difficult. Success in shareware often comes from steady incremental improvements made over a period of years. The upside is that the income can be very stable.

So when I started out in speaking, I unwittingly carried this same model with me. I assumed I’d be building my speaking business in the same way I built my shareware business, steadily and patiently over a period of many years. I focused intently on the fundamentals. But something funny happened. I progressed a lot more quickly than I expected. It can take months to develop a new shareware product, but a new speech can be written and practiced in a day. Beta-testing and debugging a piece of software can take weeks, whereas a speech can be polished fairly nicely in a few hours. A buggy piece of software might not run at all, but an imperfect speech can still be delivered with some positive effect. OK, you get the picture. Things that take a very long time in software development take an order of magnitude less time in the speaking arena.

I missed something else too. And that is just how much leverage I’ve gained from all the marketing, sales, and business knowledge I picked up in the course of running my software business. I don’t have to re-learn all of this information again for my speaking career; I can simply apply it immediately. For example, I was able to build this web site’s traffic to 500+ visitors/day in just two months. But it was years before I reached that level with my first web site (of course, I started that original site back in 1995 when there were a lot fewer people online). Similarly, I didn’t have to re-learn HTML or PHP or MySQL to launch this new site. So my big mistake was thinking that my new business would be built at the same pace as my first business. But things are progressing much faster than expected. Although there are some similarities, overall the shareware business model just doesn’t adapt to the speaking business. Imagine what you could do in the shareware industry if you could develop new products in days instead of months. Plus you don’t have to worry about any serious bugs, and you don’t need to do any tech support. Of course, speaking has its own challenges, but some of the things that take a really long time in software development just aren’t present at all in public speaking.

Consequently, every month for the past five months I’ve had to raise my expectations. Even now I’m probably still thinking too conservatively and too long-term, but I’m gradually overcoming that. I’m really enjoying the fast tempo of this new career path. It’s clearly a much better fit for me personally than spending months behind a desk to develop just one new product.

So finishing and releasing this book on software publishing no longer makes sense for me. When I sensed something was amiss a few weeks ago, I put the project on hold to take the time to carefully consider whether I should finish it, and last week I made the final decision to cancel it. It’s not just writing the book that’s the issue; writing it is only half the job. Then comes the marketing and selling and supporting the customers. Six months ago that fit with my plans. But due to erroneous assumptions from the outset, my plans have now had to become much more aggressive, and continuing this book project is way too conservative. Taking bad risks is one way to lose, but you also lose when you hesitate to take advantage of good risks. And if I were to finish writing and then marketing the software book, too many opportunities would pass me by, opportunities that are practically on my doorstep right now.

I thought about trying to wrap up pieces of the book and release them for free, possibly as individual articles, but a quick review shows that would take more work than I can invest. Too much of the content is still in various states of incompletion, including outlines and handwritten notes, and I wouldn’t be able to release anything significant without risk of getting sucked back into the whole project again. Plus if I release anything at all, it will generate more momentum in a direction I know I don’t want to go. So I feel most congruent about just letting go of the project completely and focusing all my energy on what I know I need to be doing right now. I know this decision will be disappointing to some, and I apologize for that. I also know that I’m on a track where things are moving too quickly to be able to continue working on projects that are no longer the optimal choice. I think it’s going to take me a while to get used to the pacing of this new path.

I deleted the software book announcement emailing list (including all previous sign-ups) and replaced it with a new general mailing list for this site. See the bottom of the home page if you wish to sign up. I may evolve that list into a newsletter down the road, but for right now I’ll only send out an email when something significant is added to this site, like a new ebook or an audio program. I’ll be developing new info products for this site, but they’ll be based on personal growth topics, not on anything specifically software-related.


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