My experience self-publishing on Leanpub

This time about a year ago I had rolled into my sixth-month writing on and celebrated my 40th post with Why a Database is like a Dance Class. Shortly after, the legendary James Hickey sent me a message on Linkedin. We got chatting about Leanpub, and that’s where the story begins.

The Inspiration
The Setup
The Royalties
The Hard Work
The End

The Inspiration

James was hard at work writing his own book, Refactoring Typescript. He was loving the platform and thought I might be a good fit with a SQL book.

There are other Devs on Leanpub too. Jaime and the Wizards of Vim series and the Dev Community themselves who published First Year in Code in early 2019 with longtime Dev member Isaac Lyman leading the project.

With a quick read of the Markdown Guide I was ready to get started.

The Setup

The great thing about Leanpub is it uses Markdown. Not quite the same ‘flavour’ as Dev, but near enough.

You have the option of using:

  • The Browser (my choice)
  • Dropbox
  • Github
  • ‘BYO book’ if coming from somewhere else

To set up for the first time click Create Book and follow the prompts to choose the type of book you would like to write and the plan that works best for you. The Free plan lets you publish up to 100 books but you have limits on how many times you can hit ‘publish’. Even when writing three books at once, more on that decision later, I only once hit the limit.

Leanpub encourages you to ‘publish often’, which is a great way to get feedback from readers and test out ideas. Rather than waiting for a ‘big bang’ publish date, you can update readers as you go. Hence the name, Leanpub.

The Royalties

Before we go any further, let’s talk about the royalties and pricing your book.


  • When picking a price you will need to decide on a ‘Suggested Price’ and a ‘Minimum Price’.
  • Customers then have the option to use the slider up and see how much you will earn as they go. They have the power to pay what they think is fair.


  • If you have a set of books that logically go together you have the option of creating a ‘Bundle’. This doesn’t necessarily need a huge discount, the pricing is over to you.
  • You can opt into weekly and monthly sales with a discount you set.
  • If you have an event coming up where you would like to offer a discount or free copies this can be created for you by Leanpub.
  • There is also the option of buying a spot on the Home Page, this will cost you upfront and the team are experimenting with different ways to promote authors work.

Royalties and Ownership

  • Leanpub handles all the admin when it comes to taking orders and processing returns.
  • Royalties are currently set at 80% and this is paid to your PayPal account monthly.
  • This is wildly better than other publishers who offer only 30% and pay once a quarter.
  • If you are working with a publisher you are also working to their deadlines. Self-publishing takes the pressure off a lot.
  • If someone decides to return a book they can do so within 45 days.
  • You retain full ownership of your work and can publish anywhere else you like.

The Hard Work

When I got started I had big dreams of creating a complete guide to being a Data Analystmanaging stakeholdersSQL, optimisation, documentation, Excelinterviewing, the lot. This is incredibly broad and covers far too much to be useful to one person.

After a few months, I decided to change tack and draw on what I knew and what was already well-received. In between blogging for Dev, I would spend a couple of hours a week adding to the three posts I had created on AWS, SQL and Big Data.

This wasn’t to say that it was a quick process. There was a lot to learn taking technical topics and making them accessible, but I already had a great starting point. The books are around 50 pages, designed for beginners and just like my blog posts are a way to introduce topics in a user-friendly way.

The whole process took around six months with small chunks of dedicated time and an iterative ‘Lean’ approach. It wasn’t easy to carve out time, and I had lot’s of reading to do to make sure I had the most up to date information possible. But by taking a Lean approach I didn’t feel like I was facing a daunting task.

The End

That sums up my Leanpub experience, I found the platform super user-friendly and love the idea of ‘publish often’. The ability to ‘lift and shift’ from Dev was a great feature and whenever I had questions Len, the founder was responsive and friendly.

Let me know if you have published an e-book and how you found the experience.

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Photo by Jess @ Harper Sunday from Pexels

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Helen Anderson

data analyst, technical writer, and product marketer, interpreting the story behind the numbers, shaping the voice of the product and growing developer communities.