This is not a pivot of my entire project in a Christian direction, quite the contrary: It's one specific time and place where I can develop that dimension of my thinking, without all the caution and apology required in typical intellectual fora. The rest of my project will remain in the modern rational civic tradition, because the reality is that in some non-trivial sense God has in fact been killed, and I have no illusions about that. But I am a believer, so in some sense God lives, eternal. How does this make sense? No fucking clue, which is why I decided I really need to spend more time thinking and talking about it.
There's also a market wager here because I have a strong sense that the entire "Christian" genre is in need of some serious disruption. And it's a huuuuge market, because still a majority of Americans identify as Christians.
So my big idea here is to try what the 'Dirtbag Left' did to the Normal Left, but to religion and Christianity in particular. The Dirtbag Left is really just normal leftists being honest and funny about real things the Normal Left hides for reasons of public-image management. So my thesis for disrupting the infamously, sinfully cringe "Christian" genre is to just be honest and funny about all the things Normal Christians never talk about. And avoid all the ridiculous stuff Normal Christian content contains: lame proselytizing, saying ridiculous things like "Christ loves you" — like bitch I am a believer but I'm just not willing to sound that gay. Perhaps that is because my faith is weak, perhaps that is because I’m a sinner ashamed of my faith, or perhaps it is because normal Christian content producers are gay.
I think a lot of Christians perversely enjoy sounding stupid to heathens because it accentuates their feelings of in-group belonging and also tolerating contempt from the out-group proves the strength of their faith so this actually incentivizes people to express their faith in the gayest way they can, to increase their social status within Christian communities. So which one is it? Do I suffer from a shallow and perhaps even opportunistic kind of faith? Or is all currently existing Christian content hopelessly gay? I take this to be an open question, and I’m open to the former answer. But I’m not fully convinced the latter answer is not the correct answer, so I’m just going to say everything I think about the matter, with a loving spirit, in good faith, and I’ll let my interlocutors, time, and reality adjudicate. And by time and reality, I mean God.
I proposed the idea for this podcast to my Twitter friend @Christlover2000 (Ashley from Girls Chat) because I believe she embodies the vibe I want (genuinely devout but not proselytizing, funny, able to talk about anything, and not corny); she is very unique with a bizarre and intriguing story and identity; I've enjoyed the two or three podcasts we've done in the past; Girls Chat proved she could do a podcast consistently and from that she already has a fan base, probably more Christian than mine; and she happens to be in a tough spot right now after some severe personal health challenges and an unfortunate divorce from Girls Chat. So I thought this could be good for her, and for all the reasons above I thought it might be a good first attempt at building out the Other Life podcast network.
Just like I always tell people in IndieThinkers.org to design their projects as limited-run experiments, with end dates and measurable goals, we've agreed to do 10 episodes and then re-evaluate if we want to really invest in continuing it. For me personally that means I would like to see about 500 downloads per episode averaged across the ten episodes. If we don't hit that it's not the end of the world, we may still want to continue, I just think it's good to set goals at the outset of creative projects.
You can listen to the trailer and first episode at chatforgod.com. From there you can subscribe wherever you prefer. If you follow my work in any part for the weird, typically unspoken Christian dimension, I feel confident saying that I really think you should subscribe. After recording the first 4 episodes, I really think we might be on to something.
If you like it, send it to a friend and leave a review on iTunes—these are the most important factors that get a podcast off the ground in the early days.
Anna Khachiyan from Red Scare tells the story of how she left her PhD program at NYU; how she has more intellectual influence because of it; whether living in NYC is worth it for creators; and many other things.
The Based Deleuze project is now officially complete, so it’s time to do some final accounting. Here I will review the financials, the labor/time costs, and the main lessons learned.
Based Deleuze was conceived and executed as a hard test. In research design, a hard test is a study that’s unlikely to find evidence for a hypothesis. If you use a hard test and you still get the results predicted by your hypothesis, then you can be extra confident in your hypothesis. As soon as I quit academia, my top priority was to generate reliable data about how much I could earn for my research and teaching on the open market. So for my first book, I strategically chose to do something as fringe/weird/unmarketable as possible, as quickly as possible. If I could get half-decent results, then I could confidently make future plans based on that data, because it’s very likely future books will do at least as well, and probably much better.
No matter how much I planned and strategized, I knew that my first attempt at a whole product cycle would be riddled with imperfections, so I purposely chose to do something that felt fun, light-hearted, and low-stakes, so I could move as quickly as possible.
I did so many things sub-optimally that I’m dumping most of those observations into a separate document, which I’ll post later. In this post, I’ll outline some of the biggest mistakes I made and highlight a few of the main things I did well.
It all started on June 20th, when I tweeted an idea for a short book. It only got 6 retweets, but that was enough to take the idea seriously.
I made a pre-order product on Gumroad priced at only 5 bucks, drafted a quick cover on Canva, and then I literally DMed the link to everyone who retweeted, liked, or replied favorably to my tweet. This worked well and honestly it was a pretty great tactic for securing some initial buzz. I told them if it doesn’t get to at least 50 sales, I’m not doing it (this also gave them reason to share it, if they really wanted the book to happen). It crossed 50 sales so I committed to doing it. I set the release date to September 20th.
Then I got to work writing, which was my main project for about 2 months. I probably did about a thousand words per day, 2-3 days per week, on average. Pretty easy-going, to be honest, especially because I was free to do it however I pleased. I crossed my minimum target of 20k words after about 2 months. Then I did editing, formatting, and logistics in the time that remained.
The writing itself only took about 70 hours (measured hours of focused time actually writing, not a vague estimate of my time at the desk). See my detailed time-tracking below.
It was good that I announced a release date and a minimum word count from the beginning. The release date forced me to be done at a certain point, whether I was satisfied with the book or not (you never are). And the minimum word count gave me and pre-sale buyers at least some kind of objective standard for what would be enough. That was the only cold, hard promise I made about what, exactly, I would deliver on September 20. So I had at least some measurable standards for what I needed to achieve, and by when.
While writing the book, I tried to regularly tweet interesting and insightful stuff about Deleuze. I also made some Deleuze videos and uploaded them to Youtube. When uploading content I would generally link back to the pre-sale web page on Gumroad. I am pretty sure that work was effective at driving some sales but I did not measure any of that very carefully. And I had no systematic plan or schedule for this “content strategy.” I just did what I felt like doing.
Gumroad before Amazon
I decided to publish the ebook first, via Gumroad, and only much later publish to Amazon. I made this decision because Gumroad allows me to stay in touch with readers, whereas Amazon doesn’t. For obvious reasons, this is quite valuable for someone who plans to write many more books.
The audiobook and video course supplements
When I published the ebook on Gumroad, I also created and published a DIY audiobook and a 6-lecture video course. I learned this from Nathan Barry’s book Authority. One takeaway from that book is you should always have a few options, and one should be relatively quite expensive. This is because some small fraction of your audience wants everything you can possibly offer, some fraction is relatively wealthy, and some fraction just wants to give you more money because they like what you represent.
Gumroad let’s you create tiered products through what they call product “variants.”
So initially the price for the ebook was $5, I asked $10 for the ebook+audiobook, and $50 for the ebook+audiobook+course. These were bad prices. One huge mistake I made was under-pricing all of these things (more on that in a later post). I just lacked confidence for my first attempt, so I sold myself short. Maybe that’s necessary at first, though. Now that I’ve delivered on my first serious offering to seemingly happy readers, next time I’ll feel comfortable asking for a bit more. In the case of Based Deleuze, I would later bump up these initial prices, as you’ll see on the product page now, but only after 90% of the sales already came through.
One of the other big missed opportunities was not including the audiobook and the video course options as variants in the initial pre-sale product. I only added them in time for the Gumroad release date. I’ll definitely do all of that up front, next time.
The audiobook took some time but it was pretty simple. I just recorded myself reading the book. I did some basic editing but not much. It’s not quite Audible-quality but it’s really quite good, I think. My sales data below show that this was worth the labor. It also came in handy to have extra audio content. I posted the Preface of the audiobook as a podcast, for instance, to help promote the book.
For me, offering some kind of video course was a no-brainer because, as an academic, I can fire off lectures quite easily. But when I published the ebook on Gumroad, I hadn’t yet prepared any course content. So I just created a separate variant of the product, posted a planned curriculum of videos, slapped a $50 price tag on it, and in the description I said buyers would get the content over time after purchasing. I followed through with 6 one-hour video lectures uploaded over the course of a few months.
So let’s review the results separately for Gumroad and Amazon.
First launch on Gumroad, September 2019
I didn’t do a very sophisticated launch. I just uploaded to Gumroad, clicked “publish” or whatever, tweeted a bit, and emailed my list. At the time I had 1,215 subscribers. 52.2% opened the email. And 23.3% clicked the link to Based Deleuze.Here is the email I sent.
I earned $1,243 in the first month on Gumroad, as you can see in the graph below. By the time I was ready to publish, I had accumulated a healthy number of pre-orders, and then some publication buzz brought a bunch of new buyers.
The second spike in March 2020 coincides with the paperback release party in Los Angeles. Interestingly, launching the paperback on Amazon increased sales on Gumroad as well.
We can break down the number of sales for each variant of the product. As you see below, I only sold 11 courses but this generated more revenue than the 49 audiobooks.
Second launch on Amazon (paperback and Kindle), February 2020
The launch of the paperback was even more haphazard. The release party was at the very end of February but, to this day, I never really did a proper online launch for the paperback. I tweeted some stuff and mentioned it in my weekly newsletter, but there are a lot of things I just never did. For instance, I never even emailed the buyers of the ebook to let them know the paperback is available. And I never made a concerted effort to encourage Amazon reviews. I later learned that reviews are quite important for a few different reasons. (If you want to leave a review, I’d be grateful!)
Naturally, sales decrease over time, but I’m actually quite pleased with the lower numbers in the quiet months. In those months, I pretty much did zero work on promotion. If Based Deleuze continues to earn $100/month over the next several years, the financial success of this book would will be substantially more impressive. Maybe I’ll report back again later!
How much time did it take?
From beginning to end, I clocked 195.28 hours. These are focused hours, and I am pretty hard on myself about subtracting for distractions. I also don’t time all the little tasks that sometimes pop up randomly, so this estimate is a lower bound.
As you can see from my Toggl data below, writing the book and producing the lectures were the two most time-consuming parts of the project. Then, learning how to format the book for Amazon KDP was the third most time-consuming task. Fortunately, I learned a lot about how to do these things efficiently, so future projects should be significantly easier.
One big lesson here is that I should have outsourced more. Next time I will definitely not transcribe the lectures manually. That was stupid. My intern Ben Williamson helped with editing the videos, and my wife gave the final book a one-over for spelling and grammar mistakes. I think the grammar and spelling is quite solid; there are 2 or 3 sentences I cringed at after revisiting the book, but what can you do? As for the formatting and cover design, they are as good as my amateur design skills were ever going to get them.
The other lesson is that I definitely could have sequenced things to derive more positive externalities. I have a lot of ideas on this. Tweeting in a way that feeds the book content, writing the book content in a way that functions as lecture material, and so on. I’ve noticed many little ways one can structure and sequence a project like this to increase a bunch of little efficiencies, which might multiply quite powerfully. I’ll try to put them into practice for my next book and I’ll be sure to report back again.
At the time of this writing, 8 months after publication, the Based Deleuze project has netted a grand total of $3,290. That’s net revenue after platform fees, but before taxes and excluding my monthly fixed operating costs.
In terms of units, I have sold:
452 copies of the book (ebook and paperback combined)
49 copies of the audiobook
11 copies of the video course
For the 195 hours I spent, I effectively earned about $17/hour so far. But if Based Deleuze continues to earn about $100/month for, say, another 3 years, that would roughly double the total revenue to $6,890 for an hourly wage of $35/hour. Still nowhere close to what a PhD generally commands, but as I said at the beginning, this was a hard test: Writing a weird super-niche philosophy book—which promises the reader nothing economically valuable—is one of the hardest possible ways to make money on the internet. I can certainly choose to do more lucrative projects, if necessary.
This is just the beginning. It’s hard to know how dramatically these numbers might improve as my audience increases, as I build up a catalogue of books and courses, and as my systems improve with every iteration. Personally, I’m pleased enough with the results to feel quite confident that writing and publishing books will continue to play a major role in my post-academic intellectual business model. I’m now most excited to observe the delta between book one and book two…
A new series on how independent intellectuals make money on the internet. Aella is a blogger who recently started on OnlyFans, the new decentralized porn platform revolutionizing the adult industry. We talk about the sociology and economics of OnlyFans, and Aella's experiences so far. Follow Aella on Twitter at @Aella_Girl.