EDIT: Money Stories from Malaysians: Volume 1 is now available at major bookstores throughout Malaysia!
This post for everyone out there who is looking for a personal account of what it’s like to add an extra passive income stream by creating a product to sell. In my case, the product is a book.
I’m taking you behind the scenes, from deciding on the product, to the creation process, to research, to setbacks and the current progress.
Aside from this passive income project, I have other passive income streams too: investments (see sidebar links) and this website (Related: How to Create a Blog that Doesn’t Suck & Generates Income). The passive incomes supplement my active incomes: writing for a living.
Let’s start with..
Deciding on the product
For the longest time, I didn’t know what I wanted to sell.
- Selling Ringgit Oh Ringgit merch – but figured you guys don’t need another notebook or t-shirt
- Building a personal finance-related app – but didn’t have a strong enough value proposition
- Creating a fundraising platform for NGOs – I even fleshed out the idea and asked you guys to critique it (spoiler alert – did not proceed with this idea)
And then the idea hit me like a brick – a book. A personal finance book. Or to be more specific, a personal finance stories compilation, written by Malaysians for Malaysians. I got the idea after attended a writers’ retreat in Penang organised by the Malaysian Writers’ Society.
It’s perfect. Books on saving and investing money are a dime a dozen, but books on personal finance-themed stories are pretty hard to find (believe me. I consume A LOT of personal finance content.)
Plus I like the idea of producing edutainment content – it’s like you get to learn more about money but in a more fun way, you know? And I knew I have to make it a compilation of stories because if I were to write the whole thing myself, it’ll never get done. I know myself that much.
Creating the product
This was one of those moments where I was so passionate about a project that it was all I could think about. Right after I returned from the trip in July 2018, I announced a writing competition to source for the stories. I shared it in every Malaysia-specific writing circles I know. I ran a Facebook ad and tweaked the copywriting to improve the engagement and click rates.
(Btw, 1.116% combined clickthrough rates from the ads above – how many people clicking the link after exposed to the ad – is considered above-average. Apparently the average across all industries is 0.90%)
I received around 40+ stories in total. After a ruthless selection process, I’ve narrowed it down to 10 stories, including one of my own (more about that in a bit).
Figuring out how to publish a book
After the content side is more or less figured out, I reached out to published writers to find out the process of getting this book out. The book publishing industry is an industry I’m totally unfamiliar with, and I’m eternally grateful to Gina Yap and Anna Tan who patiently answered all of my questions. This whole thing became an article in itself – see Guide: How to Publish a Book in Malaysia (& Its Costs).
That was in August 2018. I planned to complete the book in two months, to get it out by September 2018.
As you probably figured out, I didn’t make that timeline. I got stuck for three and a half months.
Why I got stuck
This particular section is so damn hard to write. I took a long time to reflect on it, to recognise that despite all of my efforts to be as disciplined and productive as I can be, I am human after all. In short, I overestimated my capabilities.
Ouch, that hurt a lot to admit. Shit.
Here’s (almost) all the reasons why I got stuck:
- Writing my short story. I am used to writing non-fiction, so I challenged myself to write a fictional story… and got the worst writer’s block ever. I wrote a draft, deleted it, wrote again, deleted it again. I considered many different personal finance-related storylines, from a medieval prince who got stuck in slave labour to (I’ll be there for you) FRIENDS-style comedy piece to an unapologetic high-earning sex worker. The story is finally done (it’s not one of those storylines FYI), and I’m semi-happy with it, but gosh this took a while.
- Deciding on the publisher. I contacted both MPH and GerakBudaya and pitched the story. MPH expressed interest, but ultimately I’ve decided to go with the self-publishing route for all the skills I get to learn along the way. This took me a while to decide too – was deciding between profit (I’ll only get 10% if I go with traditional publishing) and visibility that MPH can give me (IF they accept the book). In the end, the possibility of getting a higher % of the profit won. But of course that means accepting the risk of a huge loss as well.
- Deciding on print vs digital. Originally, I just wanted to do an ebook for this passive income project. Figured digital copies are easy to manage and distribute, you know? But the more I think about it, the more I decided that yes, I want physical books too. How many of us read ebooks anyway? I sure don’t – I much prefer to read physical books. This decision will tack on more upfront investment on my end.
- Outsourcing parts of the project. I wanted to keep costs low and do all the editing/formatting myself, but soon learned that I am not suited for this task. I would doubt my editing abilities and barely get through a few pages a day, then obsessively go through the same page again and again. This anxiety turned me into a procrastinator – I just didn’t want to deal with it. Finally I decided that enough is enough, I need help, please Anna can you edit all the stories, because I can’t. So yeah, another upfront investment on my end.
I couldn’t have done all of the above if I didn’t decide to invest in a professional book coaching session in October 2018 to ‘unstuck’ myself (also with Anna btw). Despite my best efforts to work on the book every day, I’d find excuses NOT to work on it.
It got so bad that I would open the draft, stare at it for five minutes and decide to vacuum the house instead. I’ve tried everything I could, including making a timeline with datelines, getting an accountability buddy (thanks Norman!) and work at different locations to get fresh ideas. All of them didn’t work.
I want to say sorry to the writers who’ve submitted their stories and agreed to receive their payment in book profits (the others chose to be paid a flat upfront fee). Sorry that I delayed the project. Sorry that I don’t give enough updates. I feared facing you and letting you down, and instead of owning up, I procrastinated.
The current progress
As of writing time, all the stories are done and waiting to be edited and formatted. What I need to do on my end:
- Get a book cover designed
- Get quotations for book printing and get it printed
- Figure out online and offline distribution models
- Figure out how to automate distribution and sales (there’s a reason why I call this a passive income project not a side income project)
- Organise a launch and possibly pre-orders
- Find book reviewers
- ??? What else???
My current timeline is to have the book ready for distribution by January 2019. Subscribe to the Ringgit Oh Ringgit newsletter to get discounts on the book when it comes out!
Just to tease you, here are all the stories included in the book:
- (My story) A small business owner living in dystopian Malaysia which implements universal basic income
- Story of a single father and his young daughter (I legit shed tears)
- The concept of memories as currency
- A son’s account on how a Ponzi scheme affected his family after it busted, losing all their and their relatives’ money
- Merfolks doing budgeting and grocery shopping and stuff
- A refreshingly honest account of a smoker who knows he should quit smoking but why is the expenses not enough of a deterrent?
- Trying to recover an expensive in-app purchase that you did NOT make
- Reality TV-style challenge where participants have to complete gross challenges to win prize money
- How a PhD holder managed her finances while studying
- How much a mother’s work would sum up to, in RM
Intrigued? 😀 If yes, subscribeeeee
Also, do me a favour and let me know how much you are willing to pay for the book?
Last thoughts on publishing a book as a passive income project
Boy they weren’t kidding when they say a lot of upfront effort is required to reap long-term passive income stream.
It’s hard work, but I hope at the end of the day all these effort will be worth it. If not, around RM10k of upfront payment to complete this project will go down the drain. You didn’t think it’d cost that much to self-publish a book did you? Yep.
While doing this project, I finally empathise with other people who commit money and time for their own passive income projects. For example, many people purchase properties to rent it out. I can only imagine how costly and problematic the renovation project can be!
But you know what? Despite everything, I can genuinely say that I’m having fun – after overcoming the whole being stuck thing, that is. Now all I have to do is to get everything else done, but the hardest part is behind me.
Any of you have passive income projects going on? What can you tell me about your journey? Any of you planning one in the future? Share with me what you plan to do to earn a side income!