The Story Behind The Book

November 24th, 2011 by Potato

Note: the book discussed below has been superseded by The Value of Simple: A Practical Guide to Taking the Complexity Out of Investing.

In case you forgot, I wrote a short book about investing on your own, and now it’s time to contrive all sorts of ways to oh-so-casually talk about it.

What inspired you to write a book?

Wow, that is a surprisingly long story, but the short answer is that it happened quite by accident.

You see, I was helping a couple friends out with their investments, guiding them towards a do-it-yourself approach with index funds. On several occassions I sat down with someone and went through a little hour-or-two long tutorial session, after which they would know enough about index funds to get going, and perhaps read one of the many existing books on investing. The problem was, when I’d check in weeks or months later, these guys wouldn’t have changed anything about their investment approach.

They might fully agree that they wanted to save fees, that they wanted to do index investing, and that they weren’t necessarily thrilled with the value-for-money they were getting from their “advisors” (or worse, bank branch mutual fund salescritters). The problem was, they didn’t need a 300-page book explaining why index investing was a smarter approach, they needed someone to hold their hand and guide them towards taking the first few steps on their own. Less theory, more practical how-to. One huge “service” provided by the advisors and the 2.5%-MER mutual funds was that all they had to do was walk in with a cheque on “RRSP day” and that was it. Someone was there to hold their hand and say that they were going to make it so terribly easy and painless to go through the process. My friends were getting hung up on taking that first leap towards setting up an account, and needed someone to show them how to make a trade, what a limit vs market order was, all that sort of thing.

So I helped guide them, standing over their shoulder, or on the phone, or even just available by email if they had a question so that they could take that first step to becoming a DIY-er in confidence. At that point I realized that there might be a call for just such a service: not necessarily an ongoing relationship, but someone to bounce ideas off of, to help reconcile conflicting information they may be getting from their “how to invest now” books (which get especially confusing for Canadians reading books from American authors telling them that the first thing they absolutely must do is set up a 401k, and no idea how to do that in Canada…), and to help show them how to execute transactions on their own.

Not a financial planner, or a sales position: I didn’t want to touch their money (except for a small fee for myself), I wanted them to have full-control. More like tech support and education. And that’s exactly the service I went and set up: investment education & support services.

I was in the process of setting up my new website for this little education & support service side-business when I decided I should have a robust and helpful resources section. So, largely cut-off from the world at the cottage, hot off handing in my PhD thesis, I started to write those resource articles. And write, and write… until pretty soon I was looking at a book.

And that’s the story of where the inspiration for writing a book came from: helping my friend out who “had a guy” and didn’t really want to keep paying “his guy” hundreds of dollars a year to do the investment stuff for him, but just didn’t know how to do it himself. And me realizing that his story was absolutely typical, and that lots of people could use exactly the same kind of helping hand to boostrap themselves towards full self-directed status.

Why isn’t the book available on the Kobo store?

You may recall when I first announced the project that the Kobo store was at the top of the list of where I wanted to sell the book. I’m still working on that, though maybe not all that hard at the moment. Basically, Amazon’s self-publishing route with Kindle was really straightforward and automated: once I had the book written and converted into the proper format (ironically, ePub, though the Kindle itself doesn’t read ePub), I just had to sign up online with them and upload my file. Within a day or so, I was live on the Kindle store.

For Kobo, it’s a manual process, and they’d prefer to only deal with people with more books. They said they would be willing to host me if I could help streamline things by providing them with a properly formatted XML file with all the meta data for the book, which I’m happy to do… except they don’t have a template to work from. They did refer me to the standard, but after about an hour of trying to understand how to create a file from scratch I gave up. They recommended that I use one of their publishing partners to get my book into the Kobo store, but all of them charged a not-insignificant fee to get listed, and so far I have no idea if my book will ever make that much, and I’d prefer to not be out-of-pocket trying to get this thing out (especially with recent budget issues here). Now, these partners do have some value-added services, notably getting the book into a bunch of different online stores (like Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, etc., etc.) and converting the book from a Word doc to an ePub file. Except my market is Canada only — if it was a novel or something more universal, those might be useful features, but they’re not. I was mostly interested in the Kobo store because the major Canadian bookstore owns Kobo, so it has good penetration here (whereas the Nook and Sony e-reader, not so much). And, I had already done all the hard work of converting the book to ePub, including tracking down and stomping most of the inevitable bugs. I didn’t want to pay someone else to repeat the work, and possibly have to go through the bug-stomping exercise again. So for now, I’m not worrying about Kobo, though I would eventually like to be available there, as well. If you have a Kobo, you can buy directly from me and included in the package is both a PDF that’s formatted for a 6″ e-reader, and an ePub file.

Note that Kobo changed their practices, and PSGtDIYI did appear in the Kobo store, as will The Value of Simple.

How’s it going so far?

In absolute numbers, the book sales haven’t been stunning — I’m not exactly positioned to quit my job or even pay my hosting bill from them (and indeed, if I had paid to get an ePub created and get into the Kobo store, I’d still be underwater). But considering I haven’t really started promoting on other sites at all, I’d say that’s pretty good. Really the only mention of it at all was here, and at the 3 link-round-ups at CC, MSB, and FU. What’s interesting is that I spent so much time learning an open-source e-commerce thingamajig so that people could go through the checkout themselves and get instant digital download, and so far nobody has chosen that option: all sales have been through Amazon (~40%) or through the one-step PayPal buy now button (where I then email the files later, ~60% of sales). More importantly, so far all the feedback has been really positive, some of which I’ve been allowed to share. Of course, most people don’t provide feedback spontaneously (and even those I asked haven’t all replied). Perhaps it would be fair to assume that some of those that didn’t like the book just didn’t want to say so, but so far I’m really feeling good about the fact that people are liking it and finding it useful, even if it’s not making me rich in the process :)

The cover image to the book

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