Philip takes us through his journey writing and launching his new book, Writing for Software Developers, and how he nailed the launch with a very small audience. He talks about the tactical decisions he made, how he used his existing knowledge of communities to help his marketing efforts, and also how he collaborated with well-known developers to help the launch go so well. Philip offers a lot of practical advice for people who are interested in launching a book but who may not have a large following.
Writing for Software Developers
Who Pays Technical Writers
Philip on Twitter
Philip on YouTube
[0:00] [background music]
Ryan Chenkie: [0:08] Hello, and welcome back to "The Entrepreneurial Coder Podcast." This is a show where I talk to you developers who are in business of one form or another and I try to get a sense of how they got to where they are and how they do the things they do.
[0:21] If you're a developer and you want to get into business, or maybe if you're already into business and you want to see where to go next, then hopefully this show is of value to you.
[0:29] This is Episode 30 with Philip Kiely.
[0:42] Quick announcement. I have just launched my latest teaching focus, which is going to be on "Security for React Applications." You can find it at reactsecurity.io. If you're a React developer and you want to find out how to do things like add authentication and authorization to your app, if you want to find out how to harden your frontend react code, then I got some courses that will show you how to do just that.
[1:03] There are some free course offerings, there are some pro courses. Hopefully, you can find something that is useful for you. Head over to reactsecurity.io to check it out.
[1:21] My guest today is Philip Kiely. Philip is a developer, writer, and entrepreneur who focuses on where code and words intersect. He has written for the likes of CSS-Tricks, Smashing Magazine, and Twilio.
[1:33] He's a very recent college grad and is the author of "Writing for Software Developers" which is available now.
[1:39] Philip, welcome to the show.
Philip Kiely: [1:40] Hi, Ryan, thanks for having me on today.
Ryan: [1:43] It's a pleasure to have you here. I was really intrigued to talk to you because you recently launched a book called Writing for Software Developers. This is something that's super interesting to me because I've done a lot of writing, and I'm a software developer. I'm very fascinated about how these two things coincide and why it's important to be a good writer as a software developer.
[2:08] Maybe that's where we could even start. I'd love to get your thoughts on why you think it's important to be good with words when you are also good with codes. Maybe give us just a breakdown of why is that you think that's important to be a good writer as a software developer.
Philip: [2:25] Sure. Imagine you went and sat down in front of your computer and said, "Hey, Siri, make a website." It's not really going to do anything because you haven't been specific enough.
[2:36] [Siri speaks]
Siri: [2:38] I found this on the web for "Make a website..."
Ryan: [2:40] There goes Siri. [laughs]
Philip: [2:41] Sorry about that.
Ryan: [2:41] [laughs] That's OK.
Philip: [2:42] You instruct your computer to make a website and it's not going to do anything because it doesn't know what you want. You have to use the actual language, you have to use HTML, CSS, use some frontend, some backend. Writing is kind of the same way. If you just tell someone, "Hey, make a website," they're not going to really know what to do.
[3:05] You need to practice communicating with the same level of specificity and technical detail in a way that's readable to humans as you do when you're programming.
[3:18] Studying writing in this context, the book doesn't really talk about grammar, syntax, that sort of stuff. It's more about how you can define your audience, like, if I'm writing against the Python interpreter, I'm going to need to write Python 3 code.
[3:34] Similarly, I'm writing for an English-speaking audience, I'm going to need to write in English. My audience has a couple years of background in these topics, so I'm allowed to make certain assumptions about what they're already going to know coming to the article.
[3:48] It's taking the same approach to technical communication that you take with your computer and just translating it to a new language that happens to be, instead of a programming language, whatever human language you're writing in.
Ryan: [4:02] That makes sense. Have you found, in your experience, that software developers in particular aren't generally great writers at the same time? I sense that perhaps you found a need here with this book you've written, "Writing for Software Developers."
[4:23] Have you found it the case that -- and I've heard this from various people that I've spoken with, that if you got a really great software developer, chances are...Maybe not chances are, but there is a chance that they won't be that great of a writer at the same time. They may not know how to communicate with words to quite the same skill level that they can communicate with code.
[4:45] Have you found that to be true at all?
Philip: [4:48] I think that that can be true for a lot of people, but for the industry as a whole, I think that as more and more people are getting into software development, we are getting a broader range of backgrounds in the field, and thus a lot of people are coming in with more pre-existing communication skills.
Ryan: [5:07] Right.
Philip: [5:08] I think that there are a lot of reasons why this perception that software developers are inherently bad at writing exists. I've definitely seen some of my friends coming into college as international students struggling with writing, just due to having to write in their second or third language, and many of them gravitate towards software development.
[5:29] There are plenty of people who get into software development because they don't like writing. I think that overall, there's no inherent reason that someone who is good at programming can't also be good at writing.
[5:42] When people talk about, "You can be the best in the world at one thing or it's a lot easier to become really good at two things, find that intersection and be really effective operating there," I think that when you take two, especially disconnected things or apparently disconnected things, like writing code and writing words, and find that intersection, that's a very powerful place to operate.
Ryan: [6:09] If someone's out there and they're thinking, "Maybe my writing skills are all right. Maybe I don't even know if they're OK or not."
[6:16] If you were trying to convince them that they should take a look at the skills that they got, writing-wise right now, and try to improve upon them, and you were to try to give them some reasons why that's beneficial to do, what would you say? What are the benefits of being a better writer as a software developer?
Philip: [6:35] Being a writer can help you develop your expertise in anything. The first thing I would do is I would ask them what their goals were because I'm sure that writing could help them reach their goals. In order to tell them a specific path or give them specific reasons, I'd have to know exactly what they wanted.
[6:56] For me, I knew that I wanted to be able to teach a bunch of people the same stuff that I had struggled to learn myself. For me, practicing my writing was for the purpose of gaining access to large publications that would be able to magnify and amplify my voice to the far corners of the Internet.
[7:17] It was also about finding a flexible job that I could do part-time while in college and would pay a lot more than working at the dining hall and give me a chance to grow my skills and pad my resume.
Ryan: [7:29] Yeah. Totally. Maybe that's something we could go into. What are the opportunities that you've happened upon now that you've focused on writing?
[7:38] We've mentioned some in the intro, which is you've written for CSS-Tricks, Smashing Magazine, and Twilio. Tell me about that. How did you come upon those opportunities? Was that a direct result of focusing more on your writing skills in particular?
Philip: [7:55] Imagine that I'd woken up one morning and I'd said, "OK. I'm going to write the headline story for 'The New York Times' today. I'm a college journalist with basically no experience but I really think that I can get this done." That would go nowhere, and I'd get laughed out of whatever room I presented that idea in.
[8:15] One of the great things about writing in the software development space is that all of the biggest names in publication are constantly looking for new ideas, and new voices, and new authors.
[8:28] Even with very little technical background...Let me rephrase that. Even with very little on-paper experience -- you still need a strong technical background -- and no previous publications under your belt, if you can write a compelling pitch, they're not going to care who you are, what pre-existing audience you might have. They don't care about any of that. They care, can you develop a really great article that our readers are going to enjoy and learn from?
[8:58] Once you do that in just one place, whatever other barriers might have existed really fall away. When I pitch in places, I can just say, "Hey, I work for this other place. It's very similar to yours," then they're going to be willing to entertain my ideas without caring that I'm sending the pitch from my dorm room.
Ryan: [9:15] Absolutely. It's been really interesting to see a lot of folks that I've been interacting within the industry who weren't focused on writing so much in previous parts of their career but have really started to focus.
[9:29] Recently, I'm thinking of some people who I knew were great software developers who have more recently started to write for publications, maybe not to the same size and scope as some of these we've listed here but have started to write.
[9:44] It's been really cool to see the opportunities that have opened up as a result. You'll write a piece for publication and then there are a bunch of possible effects that can happen as a result of it that you may not even be aware of as possibilities going into it, and they may happen as you are sleeping.
[10:03] I'm just thinking of some examples that are very real, where someone will write a post. It will get shared around. Someone who needs a developer who specializes in that topic will reach out to the author, hire them for a small contract, whatever. That's a very real, tangible way that writing can have downstream affects.
[10:28] Also just opening up the network of people that are in your audience. You can grow that and compound it. I've seen, for sure, for myself and then also for others around me, the real benefits of it.
[10:42] Perhaps we could chat about the book itself, Writing for Software Developers. This is a recent launch of yours, very successful launch from what I'm seeing on Twitter. You've been posting some things about it, some of your numbers. Maybe we can even dive into that.
[10:58] Before we get there, maybe let's chat about the book itself. What's in the book? What are people going to learn from it?
Philip: [11:04] Sure. The book is composed of three acts. It's acts because it has a Shakespearean metaphor, motif throughout the book. Shakespeare is on the cover. Some of the example articles in the book use his sonnets.
[11:24] Anyway, in the first act, it walks the readers through step-by-step the process of crafting a technical tutorial. Something that's 2,000 or 3,000 words and you could sell right away to a client.
[11:36] Now the reason that I chose this as the thing to walk people through is, first off, it's really achievable for new writers to get through 2,000 or 3,000 words, scope out an idea, flesh it out, and present it. Second, there's just a ton of demand from publishers for this stuff.
[11:52] I actually have put up a website. It's called whopaystechnicalwriters.com. Right now, it's listing 43 different publications that pay for technical content. There's lots of demand out there. Even with the increase in people writing. There's the third thing...
Ryan: [12:09] What's the URL again? I'll just put in the show notes. What was the URL really quickly? Who...
Philip: [12:12] Sure. It's whopaystechnicalwriters.com.
Ryan: [12:16] Cool. Thank you.
Philip: [12:19] The third thing is that if you're writing anything else -- a book, some documentation, API docs, a README -- the process of coming up with an idea, figuring out your publisher and your audience, doing some research, then actually sitting down and doing an iterated writing and editing process, all of that is going to be the same, just probably at a larger scale for these larger projects.
[12:48] That's why Act 1 covers writing technical tutorials, but the book is called Writing for Software Developers because the skills are more general. The second section, Act 2, has three examples -- two of technical tutorials, one of a technical article. It breaks down exactly the choices I made in writing them.
[13:08] The third act is called "The Business of Writing." It's about pricing your work. It's about IP, copyright, competition. It's about how publishers monetize the work -- talking about advertising, sales and sponsorships, content marketing. It also talks about promoting your work and pursuing longer-term projects.
[13:28] You've got all this. Throughout it are interview quotes from 11 prominent and successful members of the field who are known to be good writers. We have Patrick McKenzie, Matt Levine, Cassidy Williams, Jeff Atwood, tons of people who volunteered their time to talk to me about their experience. I block quote those interviews throughout the book, and then stick the full transcripts at the end.
Ryan: [13:52] Very nice, that's excellent. That's a very intriguing theme for a book. I think that's really cool how you're working on...The book operates on a theme, the Shakespearean theme, but also gives you the technical aspects that you're looking for.
[14:10] I'm looking on the book website right now. You do have a ton of great interviews, including one with my good pal Chris from Scotch. There's Chris. That's excellent.
[14:21] Tell me about the marketing story behind this. What's the way that you found your audience for it and started to get the word out about it? You've had a great launch. One of the most recent tweets that I'm seeing here from you is almost at 20,000 in sales. That's huge.
Philip: [14:41] Yeah, and I'm past that now.
Ryan: [14:43] You passed that now? That's huge. One thing that I hear quite often from people who are interested in getting into selling a product is their worry that because they may not have a huge audience, it may just be a flop.
[14:58] It looks like you're newer on Twitter. You joined in December, 2018. You've got sub-1,000 for followers, but here you are. You've made a great product, you've had a huge launch, and it's gone very well.
[15:11] Tell me about your marketing strategy. How would you coach people if they're saying like, "I don't have very many people following me on Twitter. Is it even worthwhile to launch something?"
Philip: [15:24] Absolutely. Imagine this. You wake up one morning. You're about to turn 21. You have 13 Twitter followers and 2 of them are your dad. [laughs] You're sitting at home in the middle of the worst economic situation you've ever seen in your life, hopefully will ever see in my life, and you decide, "I really want to sell 100 copies of my work during the launch week."
[15:51] What did I do to exceed that goal? I think right now I'm at 582 copies sold in the first 14 days. I had a very many-pronged strategy. I won't get into all the things that I tried that didn't work, but just a few who did.
[16:10] First off, I launched on Hacker News. I've been a member of Hacker News for a long time. I've been reading it for years. I know the community very well. I know exactly what they respond to, and what they don't like.
[16:21] I created a Show HN post. I wrote this a week in advance and spent a week tweaking and editing it. I made the post at exactly 8:00 AM my time, and then I left a really long comment below it explaining a lot about the book.
[16:35] Because it was a Show HN, it had a lot of sticking power. It got to stay around on that separate tab for a while, which meant within a couple hours people had up-voted it a little bit. It was afternoon in Europe, so they bought it up.
[16:50] The Eastern Seaboard woke up, looked at it, voted it all the way to the top just in time for California to wake up and me to get a huge influx of traffic because it was at the top of Hacker News.
Ryan: [17:00] Interesting. Timing was very key there.
Philip: [17:01] That's why I sold the most...Yeah, I think the timing was key. That's why I sold most of my books on launch day, or at least in that first half of launch.
[17:11] From there, I'm really grateful to the people who did interviews with me, not only because their interviews make the book 10 times better than it could be on its own, but because they were willing to lend some of their credibility to my project.
[17:28] When I say lend, I really mean invest. Because I think that by creating a great product, and finding a large audience with it, I gave them a positive return on investment for attaching their name and staking a little bit of their reputation on the quality of this product, which is a big risk for them to take.
[17:48] You can't just go around throwing your name on everything. You have to protect your, I think it's called, the right to publicity.
[17:56] Ultimately, by keeping in close contact with them throughout the process of creating this book, and especially coming up to launch, I was able to give everyone a contributor copy so that they knew they were supporting a professional-looking product. I was able to let them know exactly what my launch strategy was and how I hoped they would play into that.
[18:19] Every single person who I interviewed in one way or another helped me out with launching the book. In particular, Patrick McKenzie and Daniel Vassallo both wrote very successful original tweet threads about it. That got me a ton of traffic and a ton of sales, so I'm very grateful for that.
[18:37] The second aspect of my marketing strategy was leveraging the interview subjects' massive Twitter audiences, as compared to my literally 13 followers, and then using that to boost my signal.
[18:52] The final thing that I did was, I've been working in this field for over a year now, the field being technical content. I have a long list of people who are clients, potential clients, people who I've just run into from writing, so I just sent literally everyone I know individualized emails about the book.
[19:15] It's not like I had a big email list or anything that I was sending out to. It was just me from my personal email account writing individualized emails all morning to people. That generated even more traffic, people posting on social media about it, and people bought the book. That was the third successful strategy that I used.
[19:34] Since then, I've been leveraging my new audience. You said sub-1,000, but I'm really excited about having 823 Twitter followers. I've had a good amount of success posting tweet threads, posting content, and continuing to keep the momentum rolling in terms of sales.
Ryan: [19:55] Yeah, totally. Certainly, I'm sure the followers will continue to roll in. The leveraging the audience part that you just spoke about, where you're getting interviews from people in the industry that are well-known who have large audiences and trying to maybe get some attention from what they are going to be saying about your book, I think that's so smart.
[20:23] One thing I wonder about that is, these people that you have as interview subjects for the book, are these all people that you had a pre-established relationship with in some way? Are they people that you reached out to cold? Was it a mix? How did you establish this idea with these people to do interviews?
Ryan: [20:48] I had basically no pre-existing relationship with anyone who I interviewed for the book. I'd never worked with them, never been their client, never been their employee. None of that.
[21:02] For a couple of them, we had maybe done email exchanges before. That email exchange in the past was initiated the exact same way that I initiated getting everyone interested in the project. That was just lots of cold email.
[21:18] I sent out almost a hundred cold emails asking for interviews to get the 11 that I did. There's no point in getting into who didn't respond or say yes. I queried basically everyone who you would expect to appear on a list next to these people. These are the ones who had the time in their day to do it. I'm very grateful for that.
[21:41] In terms of the exact emails that I sent, they tended to be, A, very short and, B, very personalized. I would say, "Hey, I'm a college student. I'm working on this book project. I'd like to interview you for these particular reasons related to your work. Here's my schedule."
[21:59] For the people in foreign countries, I said, "If the only time that works for you is 3:00 AM my time, I would rather wake up at 3:00 AM, call you, and do an interview than not have you in the book." I made it very clear that I'm willing to accommodate whatever their schedules are and make this a minimally difficult process for them to do.
[22:19] It turns out that a lot of people are willing to give you 30 or 60 minutes when you create a good value proposition like that.
[22:29] Once they had agreed to the interview, the thing that I did to make the interviews good and to make them invested in the project is I just went and looked at everything they've done before.
[22:39] The example that I gave in the last podcast that I did is that Patrick McKenzie has written more than 500 articles on his site. I'm pretty sure I read about 200 of them coming into the interview. Some of those were reviewing things that I'd read in the past. I read Daniel Vassallo's book. I read Cassidy Williams' newsletter.
[22:59] I just read all of this stuff that people have written. Because of that, I was able to ask questions that other people hadn't asked them before. That's the key aspect of my interview strategy is coming up with original questions to get original answers.
Philip: [23:13] Yeah, that's so smart. The interviews themselves, I would assume you're asking them questions that are very particular to the topic of the book, right? These people are all writers, so you're asking them things like, "What's your strategy for writing in XYZ scenario?" Is that the idea?
Philip: [23:33] Exactly. I think that a lot of the people in the book are better known for something they do other than their writing, but they wouldn't necessarily be known for that if they hadn't written so much, or if not written, created content somewhere else.
[23:52] I didn't just talk about writing because there's only so much you can say in terms of, "Yes, I sit down at the keyboard and I type words until they are good."
Ryan: [24:01] [laughs]
Philip: [24:01] I talked about all those things tangential to the process of writing. Many of these people publish other people's writing, and so I asked a lot about that because I have experience on one side of the table.
[24:12] I was trying to get the perspective of the people who are reading my work, commenting on it, giving me feedback, and ultimately deciding whether or not it gets published and whether or not I get paid. I was trying to bring these perspectives into the book through the interviews.
Ryan: [24:29] That's very cool. You mentioned those three prongs of the marketing approach that were really successful. Was there anything you tried that didn't work so well for this launch, anything you might recommend against if folks are interested in doing a product? Any experience there?
Philip: [24:48] Yeah. You know the saying, "50 percent of your advertising budget is wasted, you just don't know which 50 percent."
Ryan: [24:55] Yes.
Philip: [24:56] My advertising budget was $ and plenty of hours of my time. I did a lot of things. I made a Facebook post, made a LinkedIn post, made a Product Hunt, Indie Hackers, just a ton of different platforms. None of those were particularly successful or drove a ton of traffic.
[25:19] Afterwards, I went on Reddit, and while I got a ton of traffic through that post, I don't think I necessarily made very many sales. I think that you ultimately have to try everything, and then once you figure out what works, and for me what worked was Twitter and Hacker News, just double down on that, but it might be different for different products. The other thing is...
Ryan: [25:40] Go ahead.
Philip: [25:42] The other thing is that there are definitely things that I should have done. The conventional wisdom is you have to grow your audience first, you have to make a landing page, make an email list, provide a lot of valuable content for free, and then launch your book.
[25:58] The fact that I was able to succeed without that doesn't mean that that stuff isn't useful. I imagine I could've sold a lot more if I'd been able to put the time in with that. But ultimately, this book already took me almost six months to write, and I didn't have the time to get a massive content marketing operation underway as well while also trying to hit my goal of publishing before graduation.
Ryan: [26:22] Absolutely. Something that I was thinking about is that is the conventional product launch wisdom. You have to spend a lot of time building up the audience, building up your email list. Giving your best stuff away for free is the tip that I often hear, and gain that trust with people before you actually launch a product to them.
[26:49] This is not always necessary, as you have proven here. I guess if you've got the time to do that, perhaps it's a good idea, but if you're trying to get something done in short order, there is still a possibility if you use wise marketing strategies like you have to make it a success without that.
[27:11] One of those strategies that I wanted to zoom in on is Hacker News because Hacker News...I don't know, Hacker News is a bit of a mystery to me. I don't spend much time there, that's probably why it's a mystery. It sounds like that's where you have spent a lot of time, so you know the community very well.
[27:30] What are the characteristics of a product that is going to do well in a Hacker News post versus one that's going to be laughed out of the Y combinator domain?
[27:45] You know what I mean?
Philip: [27:49] Yeah.
Ryan: [27:49] Many of us in the industry know of Hacker News to be this ruthless place of [laughs] the worst comments you might happen upon about a product if it's posted there that you'd ever see. Why did a book like yours resonate with the kinds of people, perhaps, that are on Hacker News versus many other things that are not so welcome?
Philip: [28:19] I've made some big mistakes on Hacker News before. This is going to be a your podcast exclusive and I'm a little nervous to talk about it on the air, so I'm going to preface this by reminding the audience that, at the time, I was a particularly dumb college students.
Ryan: [28:36] [laughs]
Philip: [28:37] I created this site called milliondollarjobs.com that my friends are still making fun of me for.
Ryan: [28:44] [laughs]
Philip: [28:44] I intended it as this harmless parody of some of these sites out there that are promising a lot and not really delivering anything, especially in the career space. I thought that I had done a very clear job of showing that this site was not a serious thing.
[29:05] Unfortunately, I'd totally misjudged the audience and people were taking it kind of seriously and getting their hopes up, which was not what I wanted. I got a ton of traffic through this post from Hacker News. A lot of people left justifiably mean comments.
Ryan: [29:21] [laughs]
Philip: [29:23] I freaked out, emailed the moderator, and said, "Hey, could you do one of those super tanky downvotes to my post, please?" and deleted the site from my personal website because it just wasn't a good look. It was an entirely failed experiment.
Ryan: [29:41] Interesting.
Philip: [29:42] Fortunately, Hacker News doesn't seem to have a particularly long memory, because you can make these very big public mistakes on there, what ultimately they're going to respond to is genuine effort, creating something that's legitimately good and interesting.
[30:03] One thing Cassidy Williams says in the interview for the book based on her experience with developer evangelism is that developers don't like being sold to. The Hacker News audience also does not like being sold to.
[30:16] It's about creating something that spends a lot of time demonstrating its own value, in my case, through a lot of social proof, but also through a free chapter, for example, posting in the comments section a huge excerpt from the book about Hacker News itself, and really taking the time to show the community that you care a lot about the thing that you have made.
[30:40] In this case, having made a genuine product and a real effort, I was correspondingly rewarded with positive attention, for the most part.
[30:49] That said, you can't show something to 20,000 people without a couple of them hating you just for making it. There were, of course, a few comments. Someone went through and found a typo...
Ryan: [31:01] [laughs]
Philip: [31:01] Not a typo, but an awkwardly phrased sentence in a blog post that I'd written six months ago and said, "Well, if this guy can't even write proper English like this terrible sentence, why should we listen to anything he has to say?"
Ryan: [31:15] [laughs]
Philip: [31:16] You just have to not feed the trolls and trust that the community at large is going to respect the work that you've done.
Ryan: [31:23] Yeah. Man, that's interesting. I always have this picture of the Hacker News readership or the members of Hacker News being [laughs] these people that just sit around waiting for something to bash all day long. That person who [laughs] found the awkwardly phrased sentence is who I have in my mind when I picture Hacker News sometimes.
Philip: [31:46] That exists, but for the most part, if that's what these people did all day, they wouldn't be buying my book. Most people on Hacker News are busy professionals who are looking to keep a thumb on the pulse of the industry.
[32:02] If you make something bad like I did that one time that wastes everyone's time, then sure, you're going to get yelled out of the room, very justifiably. But, every time I've made a genuine effort on hacker news, it's been rewarded with positivity.
Ryan: [32:19] That's really cool. Thank you for telling that story about the failed experiment. That's an interesting story and one, I think, that people can take a lot of lessons from. Aside from that, though, in your mind, from what you've seen on Hacker News, is there a particular kind of product...?
[32:39] Let's think of courses, books, this kind of thing, that are in the software development space. Are there certain topics that just wouldn't do well on Hacker News, do you think? I'll give you an example from my own work, is that I just released a free course that's about securing React applications. It's a top-to-bottom, how to secure your React app. It gets into lots of aspects of security on the web.
[33:08] I didn't post it to Hacker News and I don't know that I will. First of all, I suppose it's because I don't really spend any time there in the first place. I don't have the feel for the audience there. I don't know what they respond to and I'm learning a lot from you as we're talking.
[33:27] Also, from what I do know of Hacker News, it seems like a topic that wouldn't really be of interest there for some reason. I see Hacker News as being a place where certain topics like how to make more money doing something in software development, that might be one topic that is of interest there.
[33:51] Very focused, particular niche topics around certain aspects of different frameworks and libraries, etc., don't seem like they would resonate that well. Anyway, what are your thoughts on that? Are there certain kinds of content in that regard that wouldn't do well?
Philip: [34:07] Yeah, it's complicated because on the one hand, the more technical the content is, the better it tends to do. On the other hand, the more niche the content is, the more it's a high-risk, high-payoff situation. 90 percent of the time, if you post something really, really niche, it's going to get just ignored.
[34:30] 10 percent of the time -- and these are very rough and probably inaccurate percentages -- a ton of people are going to see it and say, "Hey, this is awesome. That is my niche. I connect super deeply with this thing that has been created and posted here," and they're going to comment and they're going to upvote and they're going to tell people about it.
[34:49] When you can do something like my book, which is at the same time very, very general, it's writing for all software developers, and also very, very specifically technical.
Ryan: [34:59] Yeah, that's what I was thinking.
Philip: [35:00] This is a book not designed for 99 percent of the people out there in the world who want to write anything. I think that's where you meet the sweet spot.
[35:13] The worst thing that can happen if you post something is that it gets ignored, and that's fine. Then all you're out is the five minutes it took you to type in the headline, the URL, and make sure everything works.
[35:27] Ultimately, while certain topics do better, you can never predict everything fully ahead of time. I think that it's always just worth taking the shot and seeing if there are people on that platform who like it. That's true for Hacker News and that's true for every platform.
Ryan: [35:44] Yeah, makes sense. Yeah, cool, that's really helpful. I was just thinking that. Your book is both very broadly applicable, but also very niche, at the same time.
[35:55] It's an interesting sweet spot, like you said, that you fit, which is, I'm sure, to do well into the future. Speaking about your future, you have just recently graduated.
[36:07] Huge congratulations to you. I think you said, just a week ago, you've graduated from college. That's awesome.
[36:12] You've got your CS degree now, with honors. What's your plan for the future?
Philip: [36:17] Last summer, I interned at a company that I'm really excited to return to as a full-time software engineer, because I really believe in the company. They make great stuff, and I learned a lot while I'm working there.
[36:30] That said, I do intend to continue promoting my book for sure. But also, I get a little...I don't like it when people on the Internet are selling courses about how to sell courses, or, "I'm going to teach you how to make money teaching people how to make money."
Ryan: [36:49] [laughs]
Philip: [36:49] There's a certain level of meta that I just find disingenuous. I think that while I was writing this book, I made a very deliberate effort to stay below that level, to stay at the level where I am teaching a genuine skill rather than teaching about teaching, or teaching about teaching about teaching, or just getting into a ridiculous level of abstraction.
[37:14] In order to support that, I have to continue to do the thing that I've been doing for the past more than a year while I was learning all this stuff and then writing this book. That's writing technical tutorials for clients. It's something that I love to do, and it's something that I hope I'm going to continue to do, even with a full-time job, in the nights and weekends sort of time.
[37:37] Now that I've written the book, I'm getting a lot of inbound interest, and a lot of cool opportunities to write for places whose previous work I think is really interesting. I definitely intend to pursue those and keep reading technical content so that I can keep teaching more people, both through the content itself, and then just one level, just the acceptable level of meta above that, with this book.
Ryan: [38:02] Yeah, totally. That's probably a good place to start wrapping up. One thing that I do wonder if you can speak to before we go, though, is if there are folks out there who want to start thinking about writing a book, if they want to start thinking about doing a course, hopefully [laughs] not too many levels of abstraction meta above the actual topic itself...
[38:26] If they do want to start thinking about that sort of thing, what do you recommend? What's a good way to start to explore topics that would both be of interest to some audience out there, and also achievable in terms of being able to write a book about it or create a screencast course about it?
Philip: [38:48] I love Jengo, and let's say I wanted to write a book about Jengo, even though there's plenty of competition out there. The first thing I'd do is go ahead and find a few publishers, pitch them articles on something very specific implemented in Jengo, write those, get the feedback from the editors, get comfortable with my voice, and publish those...
[39:10] Making sure that if I want to write a book about how to make APIs with Jengo, maybe the things that I'm going to do with publishers are very front-end focused so I'm not stealing content away from myself.
[39:22] After doing this two or three times, I'm sure you'd have some understanding of what people are looking for, some understanding of your own writing process, your own knowledge and abilities. Then it would be pretty straightforward to sit down and outline the book. Instead of outlining it as a book, outline it as a series of 20 related articles on the same topic.
[39:48] Write a few of those articles, send them out for feedback among your friends and professional network, and just continue to iteratively create the book.
[39:58] By the time you've written those 20 articles, you can just glue them together and boom, you have an entire book.
[40:05] That's the process I would recommend. Start with some public-facing work, then figure out exactly what your outline's going to look like, and just write it a piece at a time, get feedback along the way. Then when you're done, really invest the time...
[40:22] I finished the content of the book about a month before actually publishing it, but I went through several rounds of first developmental copy editing and then proofreading, beta reading, with both a network of my friends, and then also my mother, who's a professional proofreader and copyeditor.
[40:41] I'd say it's definitely worth the time to make that investment in making a really high-quality product, and that's one thing that would help your book stand out from the crowd. That's the approach that I would suggest to writing a technical book.
Ryan: [40:54] Nice, love it. That's that. That's a unique approach that I haven't heard, be advised before, but one that makes a lot of sense. That's awesome. Thank you for that.
[41:03] Great, well, where can people find you online? We're going to link up some of these spots that you've already talked about the book, of course, which is at writingforsoftwaredevelopers.com. Whopaystechnicalwriters.com is another great resource for those who want to get paid to write articles.
[41:19] Where else can people go to? Where can they find you online?
Philip: [41:23] My central hub on the Internet is philipkiely.com, which is just my own personal website. That links to literally everywhere that I am. I think that if you want to get up-to-date updates on what I'm working on, Twitter's the best place for that because I'm posting daily about tips from my own work, and then on YouTube.
[41:44] I'm definitely planning on creating some more videos about...for example, the one I'm planning on working on this week is doing a complete video walkthrough of the first week analytics on sales, both looking at the sales themselves, my Google Analytics and then also stuff like Twitter to figure out exactly how all of these people came and found my book and bought it. That's where you should find me.
Ryan: [42:11] Sounds good. Twitter, it's twitter.com/philip_kiely, and then YouTube. What's your YouTube channel?
Philip: [42:19] If you just go to YouTube.kiely.xyz, it'll redirect you though.
Ryan: [42:24] Oh, interesting. OK.
Philip: [42:27] It's also just at my name Phillip Kiely.
Ryan: [42:30] We'll link that up. That's great. Thank you so much for being on the show today. This was a lot of fun. I am very happy to hear that your launches...It was a great success. I wish you much more success in the future. Congrats again on your recent graduation.
Philip: [42:46] Thank you, Ryan. This was a lot of fun.
[42:48] [background music]
Ryan: [43:00] Thank you so much once again for tuning in to the "Entrepreneurial Coder Podcast" today. This has been Episode 30 with Philip Kiely.
[43:07] You can find show notes with links to all the resources that Philip mentioned at ecpodcast.io. If you'd like to follow along on Twitter, it's twitter.com/coderpodcast. If you'd like to subscribe, you can go to ecpodcast.io/subscribe. If you enjoyed this episode, it would be awesome if you could leave a rating and review. Until next time, happy hacking.
What is The Entrepreneurial Coder Podcast?
An interview show where I talk to programmers, developers, and coders of all types who have gone into business for themselves. I find out the secrets to their success so you can make the move into an entrepreneurial pursuit yourself.