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Why I love Leanpub for getting my books to readers

There is some discussion going on, if/when using Leanpub is the right choice for a budding (or even established) author. Some contributions you may want to read include:

Much has been already said. So why add another article to the discussion? Because I feel there´s something missing. Some kind of systematic view of self-publishing.

Without some more structure, my guess is, authors still looking for their way to go, might get even more confused than they were before. Or is it just me who finds the self-publishing landscape quite confusing sometimes.

So here´s my take on the topic. Let me break down the self-publishing process into a couple of steps:


Publishing starts with writing. It´s always the author who does the writing. But with self-publishing the author needs and wants to do more than that.

Writing fiction is pretty much just about plain text sprinkled with some chapter headings or occaissonal italics. Also writing most non-fiction books probably does not need more than that. Maybe an image here and there, maybe some text in a box, maybe a table. Still all those artifacts just flow from top to bottom on a page.

Sure, there are some topics or some didactical requirements which crave for more. But my guess is, most authors are unlike Jurgen Appelo. Most don´t want to get that deep into book layouting.

And even if more is needed, then the question is, when is it needed? As Peter Armstrong points out, Leanpub is about “book start-up”. It´s about exploration of a topic meeting a market. How much artful design is needed for that?

But writing is not just about producing text with some layout. Nowadays it´s also about file formats. We´re talking about eBooks, right? So how do you get from a text in some text editor program to PDF, mobi, epub - which seem to be the major eBook file formats?

How to do the export from e.g. Microsoft Word? How to ensure images to be of the right size/resolution? How to get the PDF also print ready?

Sure, this is all possible with a number of tools. If you´re striving for perfection and if you´re looking for maximum freedom and control alredy in this phase of the publishing process… well, then take your time and hunt down you personal “best of breed” mix of tools.

But if you´re like me and just want “good enough” layout plus quick setup of the whole thing… then you´ll love Leanpub.

I want writing a book and getting it to potential readers as easy as printing a letter. That´s what Leanpub is delivering for me. From the idea “oh, let´s make this a book” to a print ready PDF it´s a matter of minutes.

  1. Goto in your browser (5sec)
  2. Sign in and create a new book project (1min including some meta-data)
  3. Accept the dropbox inviation from Leanpub (1min)
  4. Put your manuskript in the your Leanpub project´s folder in your dropbox (1min)
  5. Publish the project as an eBook (PDF, mobi, epub) (5sec)
  6. Export the project as a print ready PDF (5sec)

Of course this does not include the writing part ;-) And it does not include a comprehensive book description or a snazzy cover image. But that´s stuff you need to do anyway. It´s not specific to Leanpub.

What I want to make clear is the little overhead Leanpub requires. From manuscript to published eBook files as well as print ready PDF it´s just a couple of mouse clicks. You don´t need to select any tools, you don´t need to wire-up your tool chain. It´s as easy as putting files in a dropbox folder and hitting a button. Call it One-Click Publishing if you like.

I´m not saying Leanpub is unique in this. For example Liberio]( seems to offer a similar service. But currently I´m familiar with Leanpub and like it very much. It has allowed me to start book projects whenever I felt like it. Some I have finished, others are still in progress.

Also I helped other authors publish their books using Leanpub. They gave me their MS Word manuscripts and I converted them to Markdown. Each book took me less than a day from start to publication.

Which brings me to the only hurdle set up by Leanpub: Markdown. Markdown is not as powerful as MS Word. And even with Markdown editors like Mou or MarkdownPad it´s not the same as writing a manuscript in MS Word.

Switching from the jack-of-all-trades-on-every-desktop MS Word to a Markdown editor takes some getting used to. I cannot deny that. And what you can do in terms of layout is somewhat limited. But as argued above: What do you really, really need for your book anyway? Don´t overestimate that. Don´t try to be perfect, especially not during your first couple of iterations.

So I´d say: Markdown might still not be that widely known. But it´s really easy to learn. Markdown editors are here to help. It´s a good enough choice for many, many books.

As for the scenarios Jurgen Appelo depicted where Leanpub falls short (e.g. bundle only draft chapters into an eBook) I´d say: That´s not the problem of a publishing platform like Leanpub. It´s a matter of the editing tool. Neither Leanpub nor MS Word can do that. And that´s ok.


Self-publishing is supposed to be about collaboration. Collaboration between author and readers. No more “waterfall publishing” but “agile publishing”. Writing and publishing can and should go through a number of iterations.

This promises to get content out to readers earlier. And it allows for learning by the author through feedback from early readers.

Leanpub definitely supports this kind of agile or even lean approach. Nomen es omen. Setting up a book is trivial. Publishing the next iteration is trivial. Iterate as quickly as you like. Publish a new version of your book twice a day or twice a month or just once. With each iteration adapt to the market reactions. If you like. And if there are any ;-)

Leanpub offers a way for readers to give feedback. However that´s one of the features still lacking in quality, I´d say. Feedback cannot be given alongside the manuscript. Compared to the feedback system employed for Mercurial: The Definitive Guide it´s simplistic and not really state of the art.

But then… How much collaboration do you really, really need, want, expect? My experience: The willingness of the audience to provide detailed feedback is very limited. People want to read, not to co-author.

So at least to me the collaboration features are not that important. At least not with regard to public collaboration. Private collaboration among co-authors or a few hand picked alpha/beta readers is different. But how much support do I need from Leanpub for that? For my taste, it´s close to none. If I want to I can move manucript development to GitHub and get all their features plus Leanpubs ease of publishing.[1]


Once you´ve written your book and honed it based on the feedback you got, you sure want to distribute it. Widely that is.

To criticize Leanpub for not being the most widely known eBook platform is missing the point, I´d say. Although Leanpub offers easy distribution through book project landing pages, it´s not their primary purpose. (Which ultimately might limit their revenue, though.)

To compare amazon or smashwords to Leanpub is a bit like comparing apples and pears.

I use Leanpub as a platform for distribution I do myself. When I send a link to one of my books to someone I use a Leanpub link. When I point out my books in a blog post or a tweet or a newsletter I include a link to Leanpub. I do that because then readers buy from the platform which locks them in the least. Leanpub does not enforce any DRM on my books.

Also when readers buy from Leanpub I get to see their email adresses (at least if they choose to share them upon purchase). And I can reach them directly and immediately whenever I update my book.

For greater reach I use amazon (or other online stores in Germany like Thalia). And again Leanpub makes it easy for me to publish. The mobi and epub files generated by Leanpub can right away be uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or XinXii.

Once you published a version of your book on Leanpub it´s a nobrainer to publish it with amazon. It maybe takes another hour. What else do you want in terms of reach?

Maybe a traditional publisher gives you more. But then you´ve already decided to go down the self-publishing road, haven´t you? You want freedom and control. That´s what you get with Leanpub. Out of the box. Without a lengthy search for tools. Plus reach - via established online channels. Check out services like KDP, bookrix, XinXii to push your book to the masses.

But don´t be disappointed if you don´t land a bestseller right away. Your book still is one of millions out there. You need marketing of some kind or the other. But that´s a different issue altogether. Neither Leanpub nor amazon nor smashwords nor Lulu will do anything special for your book.


Although self-publishing is easiest and quickest for eBooks you might want to turn your manuscript into a printed book for one reason or another. It makes for a more tangible gift, it might suit some older fashioned reader more, or whatever.

With Leanpub that´s easy. Just export your manuscript as a print ready PDF and off you go. Upload it to Createspace for example. Or Lulu. Or epubli. I´m using Createspace because that way it´s easiest for me to get the eBook and the print book next to each other in the amazon catalog.

Plus Createspace so far has been cheaper for me to get my own print copies from as an author. The quality is ok. The price including shipping from the US is ok. And for your readers who order via amazon it´s fastest. They´ll stock copies for you. Next day delivery should be no problem.


Finally, just in case you still want to earn money with your book, Leanpub makes that easy too. Much easier than amazon. From book idea to “online shop” it´s again a matter of minutes.

90% royalties are nice. Giving your readers the opportunity to pay what they like (in a price range you define) or letting them pay even more than you want is nice, too.

However I don´t find that important. 70% on amazon are ok for me too. I´m not writing books because I expect to get rich by writing. Getting some money out of it is nice. Not more. That´s why my books are priced very low. All under 10$ so far.

I use my books as a marketing tool or as text books for my trainings. It´s almost like blogging. I earn my money through other channels. And I think that´s the future for most authors. It´s like with music. The golden days for bands seem to be over. They don´t accumulate riches by selling records, but by selling tickets or whatever. eBooks like music files are easy to copy. DRM on them (e.g. Kindle books) is not here to stay. That´s my guess. So better face it right now before hitting a wall in a couple of years with a royalties based business model.


Self-publishing has become very easy compared to 10 years ago. Still, though, you´ve to find your way through the maze from manuscript to worldwide readers.

I prefer the easy road. I want my texts to hit eyeballs. For that turning a manuscript file into an eBook file has to be as simple as can be. That´s the case with Leanpub. No frills. But also no hassle. That´s what Leanpub delivers.

High frequency iterations are good for moving a project forward. No big manuscript up-front. Write a little, publish a little. That´s the modern way for the author. Readers can jump on whenever they like. But you as the author produce tangible results in the open. What a motivation to continue! That´s what Leanpub delivers.

For distribution I rely on the biggest online bookstore there is: amazon. That´s what Leanpub helps me to do.

And finally the money. That´s not really that important to me. But thanks Leanpub for some 90% royalties. And also thanks amazon for 70%. More than a decade ago when I wrote books for traditional publishers I got 12%. What a difference!

Today I´m much faster. I´m more flexible. I earn more. I can change the way things work any day. For now I´m very content with Leanpub. We´ll see how future publishing platforms look like. Choose your own. But don´t turn that into a science of its own. Starting is more important than the optimal tool chain. Stay nimble.

So much for my take at a somewhat systematic approach to answer the question “to Leanpub or not to Leanpub?” View publishing as a process consisting of phases or stages. Optimize for the whole, optimize for what´s most important for you. Maybe that´s layout. Maybe that´s speed, ease of use, royalties, reach, collaboration.

  1. I´d like to see Leanpub support Bitbucket private repositories. Bitbucket provides them for free which might be attractive for authors not having published a bestseller yet ;-)

Print | posted on Saturday, August 30, 2014 7:10 PM |



# re: Why I love Leanpub for getting my books to readers


I want to show my appreciation for your article. I was just listening to it (in my Pocket) and it widened my horizon far beyond just the technical aspects of a publishing platform.

Regarding the usability and beginner-friendliness of Markdown, I can only recommend beginners to take a look at the [1] writing app environment.



1/29/2016 7:35 AM | Robert Orzanna
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