Archive for April, 2011


Each year, I travel to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the annual Berkshire-Hathaway shareholder convention. It’s sometimes referred to as “Woodstock for capitalists,” and that’s a pretty good way to describe it: thousands of tuxedo-clad rich people hanging out together and listening to Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger speak.

I’m not a shareholder – I just buy my tickets on ebay for $5, since Buffett makes them available to everybody who wants to attend. The convention weekend is always filled with all sorts of Berkshire-related activities, such as special sales at Nebraska Furniture Mart (owned by Berkshire-Hathaway) or the famous jewelry store Borsheim’s (ditto). The main event, though, is a 7-hour-long Q&A session with Buffett and Munger. This year, 46,000 people (!) came to Omaha to listen to an 80-year-old investor and his 86-year-old sidekick speak for seven hours. On a good year, some of the questions they answer provide a priceless insight into the world of finance, investing, etc. Then again, there are always random questions about their favorite sports teams, blatant requests for stock tips (asked by seemingly intelligent people such as Tim Ferriss), and so on.

This year’s Q&A (which starts in just 10 hours!) should be mighty interesting. Buffett’s rogue biographer, Alice Schroeder, has a pretty good write-up of things to expect from tomorrow’s meeting. Given the sheer number of controversies and new developments that took place over the past year, this just might turn into a roast of Warren Buffett. There is reason to believe that he’ll try to divert everyone’s attention from the Sokol scandal by unveiling some new developments – this week’s gradual growth in Berkshire’s stock value suggests that I’m not the only one expecting good news.

I went to the annual book-signing event earlier today – it’s essentially a meet-and-greet opportunity where one can buy autographed books about Buffett and chat with their authors. (And there’s free ice cream as well!) Walking through those aisles, I was amazed by the sheer number of titles that were essentially clones of one another, regurgitating the same old information that anybody can find online in less than five minutes. Some guy even wrote a book about the grocery store that Buffett’s grandfather used to own. Lessons learned: people will buy anything that has Buffett’s name on it. I should look into that…

A few of the books got my attention, but instead of buying an overpriced physical book (as opposed to a Kindle download), I simply wrote down their titles and will look for them at my local library. Judging by the long, long line of shareholders who lined up to buy those books,  Buffett’s number-one principle (“Never lose money”) is not so easy to follow… I might buy those books if I really like them after I’m done reading them (after all, that’s what libraries are for) – I’m not the sort of a greedy mooch who would rather photocopy a book than pay for it – but if there’s a legal way to access information without paying for it, I’d try it first.

My new addiction

My new addiction is checking my Kindle Direct Publishing page. Whenever somebody buys a copy of my e-book, the sales counter in my account goes up. It’s fascinating, really: I wake up in the morning, check the sales numbers, go to work, check the numbers again in the evening and voila! – a few more sales, and a few more dollars. The money won’t actually get deposited in my bank account until six months from now (some intertubes are longer and more jammed than others, I suppose), but it’s still fun. In a way, it’s like a pregnant piggy bank that just keeps on growing and growing.

If I had more than just one e-book, this observation process would have been even more fun… *goes off to find motivation*

The good news: the second edition of Atheism-101 has finally gone live.

The great news: I’m not sure how or why, exactly, but people bought seven copies over the past few hours. I’m pretty sure my blog isn’t that popular (yet), so I guess I’ll just chalk it up to luck. I know, I know – seven sales is nothing to be excited about (at least in the “real” world), but hey – I only managed to sell 52 copies in March, so that’s quite a big spike in volume. That probably explains why my book’s rank jumped all the way to #13,277. That’s not exactly the coveted Top-100, but it’s not too bad, since there are over 750,000 books available on Kindle.

The not-so-great news: even though this is the second decade of the 21st century, it appears that the Internet is still really slow when it comes to updating things. Or maybe it’s just Amazon… I got a couple of blurbs for the book and didn’t want to upload them while the sloppy first edition was still up for sale. Now that the second edition is up, I decided to post the blurbs in the “reviews” section, but Murphy’s Law struck again. Turns out, it takes at least three days for the blurbs to get processed. That’s strange, since blurbs (or “reviews,” as Amazon insists on calling them) can’t be over 250 characters long, but hey – it’s their playground.

And now it’s time to start shameless self-promotion…

Well that was embarrassing…

Even though it’s been five days since I uploaded the second edition of Atheism-101, it still appeared to be in the draft stage. The Kindle Publishing Platform (or KDP) usually takes 24 hours to process a new e-book. At first, I thought it was a glitch. Then I thought that maybe the second edition went live, but my notification got lost somewhere in the intertubes. Finally, I decided to investigate further and, well, this is a bit too awkward to admit, but here is hoping some other Kindle author will find this useful: when you upload a book, make sure to click “save and publish” as opposed to just “save.” And when you do click “save and publish,” make sure that little spinning Flash-based widget actually changes its status from “publishing” to “published.”

You gotta love those Flash widgets… Because of a minor glitch (which, in all honesty, I should have double- and triple-checked), the Kindle world is going to get my second edition a week too late. Sorry, Kindle people!

Lessons learned: verify – always verify.

My progress thus far

For some reason, I have a strong psychological aversion to sitting down and actually writing a book, even if it’s an e-book. I can write long emails, or fairly long book reviews, and I’ve spent quite a few years sharing my opinions on online message boards, but there’s something about writing for a broad audience that kills my enthusiasm… I guess I’m going to have to work on that.

Thus far, the only Kindle book I’ve written is Atheism 101: Answers, Explanations and Rebuttals. It’s a product of a long and boring night when I couldn’t fall asleep and thought “hey, I might as well write something.” Atheism-101 is not an encyclopedia or a manifesto of some sort. It’s more of a reference guide that would be useful for those who are curious about atheism, those who consider joining the dark side, and those who, like me, have always considered themselves atheist but could use a reference guide to, well, refer to during a debate. It’s either that, or carrying copies of the Constitution, Treaty of Tripoli and Declaration of Independence on you at all times. (Note: if you actually carry those with you 24/7, you’re my hero.)

And so my first book was born. It had a horrible cover that was created in 3 minutes in Microsoft Paint, it had no blurbs, and I did no advertising whatsoever – apart from slashing the ridiculously ambitious price of $4.99 to $1.99 in order to be featured in this newsletter. A friend of mine was shocked by my cover’s design and made me a better cover (the current, black-and-white one), but that was about all the work I did for my little e-book. And yet, it managed to make quite a bit of money and even became the 32nd most popular book in the Kindle’s section on atheism!

Here are the figures:

January: no sales
February: 47 copies sold; my profit is $48.54 and £1.30 for the one copy sold in the Kindle UK store (look, ma! I’m an international author!)
March: 52 copies sold;  total profit $104.68

The difference between my February and March profit is due to different pricing: for most of February, the e-book was priced at $1.99, and I received only 35% from every sale. I then switched to the 70% royalties model by raising my price to $2.99, which is the lowest price one’s book can be to qualify for 70%. In the future, I may lower the price all the way to $0.99 to see if it can generate more buzz and sales.

For now, though, I’ve submitted an improved, slightly larger second edition, got a couple of blurbs from prominent bloggers/writers, started this site (its long-term usefulness is currently questionable, but it can’t hurt), and I’m about to start spreading the word about the book in relevant online communities. If a short e-book that I wrote in one day (well, technically it was night) made me over $150 in just two months with no advertising whatsoever, I have a feeling my efforts just might pay off…

Meanwhile, I’m going to start psyching myself up for my next project.