I Wrote a Book Two Years Ago

Two years ago, I published the first edition of Personal Finance for People in Tech, exclusively on Kindle. People often ask how the book has been as a “side hustle”, and I usually respond, “I still have my day job.”

During my last couple of years at my last job, I became known for giving personal finance advice to my colleagues. After I changed jobs in 2021, I channeled my personal finance interest not into Amazon’s 15,000-member personal finance community, but into Visual Studio Code, where I wrote the book’s text in Markdown. I did most of the first edition’s editing myself, with the help of a few friends who volunteered to review some part of it as a favor to me, and who I thanked in the book’s acknowledgements. Before publication, the largest expense that I had was a cover from 100 Covers, which designed a simple e-book cover, based on a stock photo I picked out, for $100. After publication, on the advice of a family friend who promotes e-books as his job, I spent another few hundred dollars on advertising, mainly on Amazon and on Twitter (in the pre-Elon era). These ad budgets were exhausted quickly, and I didn’t get enough sales from either platform to justify the expense. LinkedIn quoted me at least $13 per click for an ad campaign, so instead of paying for LinkedIn traffic, I began a saturation marketing campaign of talking about my book constantly, in as many contexts as possible, with no shame about glomming on to others’ popularity. I estimate that my social media advocacy resulted in much of the early sales. The book became the #1 new release in Amazon’s personal finance and money management category, although it took only a few dozen sales to propel me to that level — I guess there weren’t many other books in that category that came out around the same time as mine did. If I had stopped at the first edition, the book would have turned a net profit of a few hundred dollars.

Based on the good feedback from the first edition, by the end of 2022, I had enough suggestions to publish a second edition. I added several new chapters about topics I had missed the first time around. My readers wanted print and audiobook formats as well as e-books, and I had no idea how to produce print or audio to a high standard. Using Reedsy, a marketplace for do-it-yourself authors, I hired an editor to proof my entire manuscript. She, in turn, referred me to a graphic designer who used Adobe InDesign to redo the layouts and graphics in the book in a consistent, professional, and print-ready style. Each of these two professionals did a fantastic job, at a cost to match; editing and graphic design each cost me over $1000. I also hired an indexer to review the print version’s PDF copy and create an index to place at the end of it. That work cost a few hundred dollars more. For the 11-hour audiobook, I built a script with slight modifications to the text, and a companion PDF containing my designer’s revised tables and diagrams. I also compiled the edited text and images into a Microsoft Word document for the second edition’s e-book. Lastly, I used Audible’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) to audition narrators to record my book. The winning bid, priced at over $100 per completed hour, required me to review a draft recording — of all 11 hours — and to request a few rounds of changes. Had I recorded the audiobook myself, I would have spent less money, but I would have had to buy equipment, learn how to record and post-produce everything, and I would have had to balance all this with the work required of my day job.

In total, the expenses to produce the second edition, with professional help and a revised print cover from 100 Covers, totaled well into the thousands of dollars. Had I deposited that same money into a savings account or a low-risk bond investment, I probably would have made more money in return, plus I’d still have the principal. Publishing a personal finance book, unfortunately, is one of the less financially rewarding things I’ve done. This is disappointing, but consistent with the advice I’d heard and read before. Publishing a book oneself requires a cash investment, and working with a traditional publisher requires a good deal of connections, credentials, or luck just to get in the door. I did my best to promote my book with local shops, especially when the second edition was made available in print, and on media of all sorts, but very few places would even talk to me. Writing a book is hard, but a lot of people do so every year, and self-published books still have an unfortunate and undeserved stigma as being somehow unworthy of attention. I’ve been told that the real money in personal finance is in turning pro, not writing books: giving seminars, going back to school to earn credentials to give individual investment advice, or becoming a media personality are pathways to a career in the field. I already have one full-time job; I don’t want a second one, for the sake of my own wellbeing.

Even if the financial rewards of writing a personal finance book haven’t amounted to much, I am still proud of the work I’ve done. The book has a 4.9-star average rating on Amazon. I enjoy talking with my friends and coworkers, whether they’ve read my book or not, about financial topics, although I still try to avoid giving financial or tax advice broadly, as I did before. I have a long to-do list for a third edition, for publication someday. I’ve spoken with a former colleague who left software development to start a new career as a credentialed financial planner, with their own firm, and they find the work rewarding, albeit much less lucrative than their prior tech company jobs. Perhaps, when I want a break from the tech world, I might pivot into financial planning myself.

Having written a book, I can now consider myself part of the creator economy, joining the ranks of crafters, producers, and streamers who pursue their interests and who try to make money from their work. Writing a book takes months of effort at the very least — potentially much more, if substantial research is necessary, and the world hasn’t shut down for a global pandemic. Book sales are hard to come by, even for well-known authors. The full author experience, which would involve publishing lots of articles based on the book’s content, giving seminars and one-on-one coaching, appearing on podcasts and other media platforms, and collaborating with other creators, is itself a job — and it pays among the least of any job in America. I now respect people much more who are trying to make themselves heard in a media landscape with oceans of high-quality, often free or very underpriced content. When someone else I know writes a book or appears in any other kind of media, I’m now quick to support it, because I know that an audience’s attention is incredibly hard to get and near-impossible to hold onto. My advice to anyone reading this is that you should support your favorite content creators not just by sharing their work, but also by paying them for it.

Thank you to everyone who has read my book, given me advice or feedback about it, or otherwise supported me in this project. I encourage everyone to pursue their side interests that bring them joy, even if they don’t turn out to be profitable. Creating a big original work is an accomplishment worth celebrating, no matter what the sales figures look like.

At time of publication, I worked for a division of Amazon and held shares of the company. This post does not reflect the opinion of Amazon or any of its subsidiaries.