How to Start and Grow Your Subscription Box

I figured I've learned enough stuff from running Candy Japan to write an e-book. Since July I've spent every extra moment on this project, which I finally finished this week.

It's called "How to Start and Grow Your Subscription Box". It starts from brainstorming an idea and a name for a subscription box, then looks at different e-commerce platforms for setting it up, finally finishing with some packaging and marketing advice (here's the full table of contents).

I wanted to compile a bit less self-helpy hypey type of resource for someone thinking of starting a box, something that would contain a lot of practical advice. It would be the equivalent of "Start Small, Stay Small" for the subscription box world. Less "you can do it if you believe in yourself!" and more "here's what you can actually do now". 

The writing process

The biggest challenge in the writing process was not quitting. Seinfeld's method for writing jokes was discipline, just keep at it every day. Mark the day with an X in the calendar when you did your work, then don't break the chain of Xs.

"After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."

You know who else followed the Seinfeld method? Jack Torrance in The Shining.

If you just robotically write X pages per day for Y days, you might find that at the end you have X*Y pages of nonsense.

Sometimes I had to stop and just rework the structure again. Often this meant throwing out pages that I had already written, because they wouldn't fit into a coherent whole.

Pages are not created equal. Write a self-introduction and it's no effort at all to hit your daily goal. Do a comparison of all the pricing plans of different subscription e-commerce platforms, and the same word count takes much longer.

One tip that helped me keep working

Write down your personal reasons for writing a book at the top of your outline.

I figured having a book would give me an extra multiplier every time I blog on subscription box topics, as I could link back to the book. A bit of a positive feedback loop as well, since the book will in turn give me more things to blog about. To be able to write about these topics, I would also need to learn them better myself. Even if the book flops, I'll still at least have learned a ton.

Even if I didn't feel like writing that day, I would still agree with these reasons and manage to do at least a bit of writing.

Underestimating the work involved

At the top of the rough outline for my book I also noted:
To write a 50 page book in 3 weeks = only 3 pages a day with 4 days left for editing. Sacha wrote 40 pages in 3 weeks, Barry wrote 100 pages in 3 months.

That seems really optimistic now.

Taking into account all the reorganizing, rewriting and working through the difficult parts, I ended up taking 4 months to finish, not 3 weeks. 

There was some (justified?) scope creep as well, as I ended up writing 138 pages, while still covering less topics than I set out to do in the initial outline. Had I only written 50 pages about everything I intended to cover in the rough outline, I would have ended up like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, describing Earth as just "mostly harmless" due to space considerations.


I wrote the book in Markdown using Sublime Text, then turned that into PDF, ePub and mobi using Leanpub. Submission to Kindle was easier than iBooks (had to regenerate the ePub file many times to pass all the requirements), but both were much less painful than I had feared. For the book cover I used 99designsThe landing page is hosted on Google App Engine as a static site, with digital product sales handled by Gumroad.

I don't have the launch sales numbers yet as the book was released just now, but I will write another post about that. 

Thanks for reading

You can find the book here if you are interested in starting a subscription box. You can also find it by searching for "bemmu" on iBooks / Kindle.

Also thanks to Laksman of SideProject Book for reading a draft of this post.