Poornima is a software engineer, founder of Femgineer.com, and the author of two books. I was intrigued by her story for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she chose to initially release both her books on Femgineer, not on Amazon, and she priced them between $39–$59, much higher than average. For another, she was able to fund the costs of editing and designing her first book by getting sponsorship from relevant companies, something very few authors think to do.
Poornima was kind enough to spend some time talking to me last week about her books and the ways she monetizes them.
Personal Platform vs. Amazon
Q: What was your experience like in terms of launching on your own platform before moving to Amazon?
When I launch a book on Femgineer, that’s where I get the most sales. Not only do I get the most sales, but I get the most referrals and reviewers and all of that. When I do it on these other platforms [e.g., Amazon], I don’t get any of that. That’s the primary reason for having my own audience and launching to them.
My first book is now available on Amazon. The biggest challenge has been that I don’t have a way to connect with any of my customers there. I made the mistake with the first book in not providing an incentive for people to give me their email. So with the second book, I’ve created an interactive bundle so in order for people to get a lot of the extras that I’ve mentioned in the book, people will have to enter their email address. Since that book isn’t on Amazon yet, I don’t know how well it will work, but I’m hoping it will get people to come back to me so that even if I’m not really making any money, I’m at least getting leads.
Of course with Amazon, because of its pricing tiers, I’m making a lot less money [than selling on my own site]. The only time that people come to my site is to buy the physical book because we don’t sell it on Amazon. At most, I think I make $3.00 to $6.00 [per Amazon sale].
Gumroad [independent distribution platform] on the other hand, takes a much smaller fee. It doesn’t really generate a whole lot of customers for me; it’s really a straight distribution platform. It works best if you already have an audience. Another advantage is that I get access to customers’ email addresses when they buy through Gumroad.
Speaking Engagements & Courses
Q: Besides straight sales, how are you monetizing your books?
One path is getting people into the courses that we offer. The second book is meant to be a lead-gen to get people to take the eight-week online speaking course with us.
The other path is monetizing speaking engagements and being able to get paid a lot more to do those. A lot of times companies or organizations will contact me and say, “We’d love to have you come and speak,” but they can’t necessarily get approval to pay someone several thousand dollars for a one-hour talk. If instead I say, “Hey, I’m willing to waive my speaking fee if you buy 100 books,” then it’s easier for them to get approval because it’s something tangible. They can give the book to their employees. They can tell whoever the decision maker is, “We’re getting a physical product.”
It’s also great because people feel like their employees are going to learn more even after the talk, that they’re going to dive into the book and they’re going to do more work beyond this.
Those are the two higher-level monetization schemes.
On Sponsorships, Product Placement & Pre-order Campaigns
Q: How did you organize sponsorship for your books?
If done well, sponsorship can cover at least some of your production costs. But just as important, getting sponsorship provided me with validation. Getting people to say “I like the topic, and I would consider paying for it” was great and provided us with a lot of validation that there would be interest in the books themselves.
My first book was about software products, so companies were like, “Oh, sure. We could see your readers wanting to use our product, so we’d be happy to provide a sponsorship and then get listed in the book.” I did product placement in one of two ways. Either I would do a case study, like an interview, with one of the
employees or the founders, and include it in the book. Or I would do a case study of a product and how readers could use it.
The second book, which is about public speaking, didn’t lend itself as well to product placement, so instead, we did a pre-order campaign. We offered sponsorship tiers that people could pay us for; in exchange, they would get books for their employees and we would come in and do an hour-long talk. I listed these companies as a platinum or gold sponsors in both the acknowledgements section of the book as well as on the website.
If you have a big enough network, if you have an audience, then you should be able to do a pre-order campaign.
Poornima Vijayashanker is an entrepreneur, engineer, author, speaker, and founder of Femgineer, an education company for tech professionals and entrepreneurs who want to learn how to build software products and companies. She is the author of two books, How to Transform Your Ideas into Software Products, and Present! A Techie’s Guide to Public Speaking, co-authored with Karen Catlin.