Writing a book: is it worth it?

Martin Kleppmann:

My Book, Designing Data-Intensive Applications, recently passed the milestone of 100,000 copies sold. Last year, it was the second-best-selling book in O’Reilly’s entire catalogue, second only to Aurélien Géron’s machine learning book. Machine learning is obviously a hot topic, so I am quite content with coming second to it! ?

To me, the success of this book was totally unexpected: while I was writing it, I thought that it was going to be a bit niche, and I set myself the goal of selling 10,000 copies over the lifetime of the book. Having passed that goal tenfold, this seems like a good opportunity to look back and reflect on the process. I don’t want to make this post too self-congratulatory, but rather I will try to share some insights into the business of book-writing.

Is it financially worth it?

Most books make very little money for both authors and publishers, but then occasionally something like Harry Potter comes along. If you are considering writing a book, I strongly recommend that you estimate the value of your future royalties to be close to zero. Like starting a band with friends and hoping to become rock stars, it’s difficult to predict in advance what will be a hit and what will flop. Maybe this applies less to technical books than to fiction and music, but I suspect that even with technical books, there are a small number of hits, and most books sell quite modest numbers.

That said, in my case, I am happy to report that writing this book has in retrospect turned out to be a financially sound decision. These graphs show the royalties I have been paid since the book first went on sale: