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Writing Books

David Weitzman
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Joined: Jul 27, 2001
Posts: 1365
There are quite a few authors in the JavaRanch community (maybe that's the trick to becoming a bartender...). I'm curious about what writing a programming book involves. What made you decide to write a book? Where did you begin? How did you decide what to include? What data format did you write in? How long did it take? If you had co-authors, how did you divide the work? Does it actually cost the publisher much more to make a $40 dollar book than a $10 dollar book, or is it all profit? Do chicks dig authors? Do potential employers dig authors? That sort of stuff.
Mapraputa Is
Leverager of our synergies
Sheriff

Joined: Aug 26, 2000
Posts: 10065
David, we, writers, do not ignore your question. My guess is that everybody hopes someone else will post something intelligent.
One thing I can say for sure: becoming a writer may have a devastating effect on your life. For not to go too far, look at Michael. Now he is ready for everything to dispel his exalted status - he rhymes his posts, asks our bartenders to bear his next child, promises to swear in church, and nothing works.

Uncontrolled vocabularies
"I try my best to make *all* my posts nice, even when I feel upset" -- Philippe Maquet
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

Ok, David, I admit, I read this question and hoped someone else would answer. Your questions frame your interest well, but it's a sprawling bag of things, this publishing business. Answering to someone else's satisfaction has the same heavy feel to it as the ubiquitous "My program didn't compile. What's wrong with javac?" post.
I'll keep 'em simple; hopefully someone else will chime in.
DG: What made you decide to write a book?
Teaching and writing are two things I love to do. I've co-authored one book. I teach all the time. There's a lesson in there somewhere. Seriously, though, I write because I want to produce the kinds of books and articles I wish were around when I needed understanding, not just information, to promote my own learning.
DG: Where did you begin?
By trying to consolidate dozens of lecture notes, post-its, backs of napkins, e-files, marginalia, clipped articles, and other assorted crap, scattered all over hell and creation, into one place. I failed miserably, by the way, but the very best of all that crap did find its way into RHE.
DG: How did you decide what to include?
Boy Scout hiking rules. Make three piles of your stuff; things you absolutely need to get home safely, things you could use to make the trip easier, and things you just like having with you. Pick up only the first pile, and off you go.
Stuff expands; it never fits back into the compartment it was packed in. Plus, what writing in that way teaches you is an astounding amount of insight and information you're pretty sure you never had. It's leaving behind the comforts and forcing yourself to reinvent them when they're needed that teaches you. For my money, that's what makes the book worth writing.
DG: What data format did you write in?
English, or at least it was my goal to encode the final product in English. Sybex also requires MS Word, and they provide a style guide and template for chapters. Some publishers are really flexible, others really aren't.
DG: How long did it take?
On first read, that question seems about as safe as asking a polite lady how old she is. On second pass: 6 months from outline to proofing the galleys. It felt like much, much longer at the time. Today I can barely remember doing it.
DG: If you had co-authors, how did you divide the work?
I don't have an answer to this, because I've failed on this aspect more often than I've succeeded. I've opted out of three book deals so far because we couldn't agree on the division of work. Always be on the lookout for the one who wants to agree to split royalties, then defaults on their portions of the book. Also be aware of the one who wants to do all the creative stuff, while you bang out 'less meaningful' sections, yada yada. It helps to know and like your co-authors from the outset; a savvy editor can stop a whole mess of fighting, too.
DG: Does it actually cost the publisher much more to make a $40 dollar book than a $10 dollar book, or is it all profit?
Skew answer alert! Don't write technical books to make a lot of money, and don't question your publisher's profits until you know exactly how much they do; it's not trivial work.
Write because you have something to say and you want to say it. Find yourself an experienced attorney to review any contract you're offered. If/when they shrug and say "looks pretty standard," consider it money well spent for their time. Now: go write.
DG: Do chicks dig authors?
You'll catch more babes fashioning yourself as a 'writer' instead of an 'author,' although some people say the gals are on to that one now. Be that as it may, writers are troubled and mysterious. Tortured soul stuff. Real authors wear sweaters or tweed and talk about camera accessories or free parking. Which one would you take to a party?
DG: Do potential employers dig authors?
Ask yourself how many books line the shelves behind your potential employer. For due diligence, examine them for binding creases, dog ears, post-its used for bookmarks. If more than three show a "Not for Resale" stamp, none of them count.
There are some potential employers out there who don't even know who are Eric Allman (developer of sendmail), Allen Holub (very influential writer on C) or Peter van der Linden (and don't ask me any follow-ups until you can name two books he's written). If you want to be dug, you have to tell this sort of person why they should be digging you. Most of them will take your word for it; some of them will ask for a promotional copy (y'know, the ones marked "Not for Resale"?). None will recognize you by name. And on this last paragraph I'm not the least bit kidding.
[This message has been edited by Michael Ernest (edited December 18, 2001).]


Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.
- Robert Bresson
David Weitzman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 27, 2001
Posts: 1365
Er...
Um...
Hwa...
(cough)
Ok.
(looks back and forth)
I guess.
(Douglas Adams could have said that so much better)
So it isn't true that everyone in the world knows JavaRanch is the place to be if you deal in Java? Maybe you can convince Google to list it under a different category. Yeah. Maybe I should wait 'till this comes out in paperback. Cheerio.
Marcus Green
arch rival
Rancher

Joined: Sep 14, 1999
Posts: 2813
DG: What made you decide to write a book?
I have written one all by myself and it can be purchased directly from me. This involves me cranking up the laser printer and getting out the binding device. I wrote this to create a body of work that I could point to to say "see I know the topic", also to sell some copies to make a little money and to get a reputation and help people.

The other book I have been involved in was the update of Bill Brogdens Exam Prep and I got involved in that cos Bill asked me. But I guess Bill asked me cos I had got my name around via my other writing (see that reputation spread). Today I got an email from another publisher about doing some other writing, the master plan clicks into action...

DG: How did you decide what to include?
As I was writing on the Java Programmer exam I just stuck closely to the examm objectives

DG: What data format did you write in?
Star Office, none finer

DG: How long did it take?
Started it two years ago, it was ready about 6 months ago. The Exam Prep update was 3 - 4 months in preparation but that was only an update.

DG: Does it actually cost the publisher much more to make a $40 dollar book than a $10 dollar book, or is it all profit?
That is a publisher rather than a writer kind of question. However a very large part of the cover price of a book goes in the distribution chain. My purpose in self/home publishing was to cut out that whole component, but people tend to buy from bookshops, not random websites.

DG: Do chicks dig authors?
Once you have your name on a book get ready to go into hiding. It's tough but you can understand how they feel.
DG: Do potential employers dig authors?
I suspect so.
------------------

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Anonymous
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Joined: Nov 22, 2008
Posts: 18944
Do you have your nudie picture on the cover, Marcus?
Marcus Green
arch rival
Rancher

Joined: Sep 14, 1999
Posts: 2813
If I ever write for Wrox ...I attempted to get the word anus into the Exam Prep book but it seemed to get removed during the editing stage. Quiz Question:
How did marcus come up with a completly legitimate, sensible and illuminating Java related example that required the use of the word anus?
I'll give you a clue, it's related to internationalization....
MG
------------------

http://www.jchq.net Mock Exams, FAQ,
Tutorial, Links, Book reviews
Java 2 Exam Prep, 2nd Edition by Bill Brogden and Marcus Green
=================================================
JCHQ, Almost as good as JavaRanch
=================================================
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Personally, I think this would be good to put on Job Discussion, because it's a good career-related question.
I actually quit my job in November to go write a book. Some background, or, How JavaRanch Changed My Life....
I started posting to JavaRanch about a year ago. Someone from HungryMinds saw my many posts to the J2ME forum (this was before I was a bartended) and asked me to review a book proposal. They wnated me to sign an NDA, and I was a little concerned about that. So I emailed fellow rancher, and nice guy, Peter Haggar and asked for his input, since I knew he had written a book and I have great respect for him. He replied that NDAs weren't standard, and if I wanted to do some reviews sans an NDA, he could set me up with Addison-Wesley.
I then did some reviews. At JavaOne I spoke to all the publishers on behalf of JavaRanch (I had just become a bartender), trying to help spread our good name to get free books for the ranchers. I also promoted myself as a book reviewer. While talking to SAMS, the publisher started asking me about my brackground. He got very excited and wanted me to write a book on J2ME for the Enterprise. That book would be a lot of trouble, for various reasons. I went back to him with a proposal for a book based on a talk I gave. He liked the basic idea.
For now, I don't want to commit to a publisher, but will just write on my own.
From what I understand, you can realistically look to make a few thousand dollars from a book. Compare that to a months salary, and do the math.
The recruiters I know tell me books don't do much for a career. I suspect if the book gets some publicity and you do independent consulting, it can probably help.
Writing doesn't attract babes, but telling women I meet that I'm semi-retired, taking time off to travel and write a book, seems to be working.

--Mark
Cindy Glass
"The Hood"
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 29, 2000
Posts: 8521
Originally posted by David Garland:
Er...
Um...
Hwa...
(cough)
Ok.
(looks back and forth)
I guess.
(Douglas Adams could have said that so much better)
So it isn't true that everyone in the world knows JavaRanch is the place to be if you deal in Java? Maybe you can convince Google to list it under a different category. Yeah. Maybe I should wait 'till this comes out in paperback. Cheerio.

I may just be being a bit dense here - but WHAT are you trying to convey???

"JavaRanch, where the deer and the Certified play" - David O'Meara
David Weitzman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 27, 2001
Posts: 1365
My thought process:
< Boy Scouts? Wait a second, did I ask about boy scouts? >
Er...
< Whoa -- too much for my poor circuits. I musta bit off more than I could chew >
Um...
< Tourtured soul? Who said anything about tourtured souls? >
Hwa...
< What to say? I need to buy some time >
(cough)
< Alright, I think I get it. >
Ok.
< But who the hell is Allen Holub? >
(looks back and forth)
< I need to include this clause just in case >
I guess.
< Hasn't Arthur Dent already had this converstaion? >
(Douglas Adams could have said that so much better)
< Hey, this really was a hard question to answer. But do I want to read more answers like that? Quick, change the topic. Something I can talk <strike>intellegently</strike> about >
So it isn't true that everyone in the world knows JavaRanch is the place to be if you deal in Java? Maybe you can convince Google to list it under a different category. Yeah. Maybe I should wait 'till this comes out in paperback. Cheerio.
Cindy Glass
"The Hood"
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 29, 2000
Posts: 8521
Oh I get it
You asked a bunch of writers to expand on their writing experiences - and then you are suprised/overwhelmed when they write a book in response.
Gee and Michael thought that he was being so HELPFUL .
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

Ok, how about this way:
1) Wanted to try it.
2) By writing, brainiac.
3) We used something called an "outline."
4) MS Word.
5) 6 months.
6) Evenly.
7) Yes, no.
8) Not in my experience.
9) Not in my experience.
I just thought it would be fun to do more than that.
I teach about 40 weeks out of the year. Every once in a blue moon, I get a student who asks an open-ended, far-ranging set of questions, all at once, and then seems pissed off when they get back a full answer. Maybe that's what I was thinking of when I read your response.
It was not my intention to intimidate with a broad set of arcane references -- I let out a bit of what one writer is like in my response; you know, "that sort of stuff." Now if I gave this answer verbally, I could understand backing away, no sudden movements. But I wrote it; there's time to consider and reconsider it. So I don't understand. "Wow, thanks" is an intelligible response (the one I like); so is, "That's way more than I wanted; I couldn't really follow this."
But taking the time to put what amounts to no feedback in writing, that I don't get.
Mapraputa Is
Leverager of our synergies
Sheriff

Joined: Aug 26, 2000
Posts: 10065
Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
Ok, how about this way:
1) Wanted to try it.
2) By writing, brainiac.
3) We used something called an "outline."
4) MS Word.
5) 6 months.
6) Evenly.
7) Yes, no.
8) Not in my experience.
9) Not in my experience.


I like it. Michael, this is the first time I understood you post from the first reading and without too many routes to my dictionary. Couldn't you always post like this?
David Weitzman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 27, 2001
Posts: 1365
I liked your post quite a bit Michael. I think you explained everything well. My original response was meant to emphasize the irony and melodrama you intended. The problem was that Cindy didn't get my post (understandably) so I had to explain it in a rather uninteresting way that lost much of the sarcastic undertone I had orignially intended. I thought your first explanation was a fine mix of content and decoration. I suppose I should have thanked you earlier for your insights into the subject, but it would have sounded out of place considering the tone you set forth. Sorry about that.
Dave
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

Map: Sure, I can turn off the obfuscator more often, but then you might post fewer 's, and no one wants that.
David: I just read you wrong, then. Sorry for all the fuss.
Mapraputa Is
Leverager of our synergies
Sheriff

Joined: Aug 26, 2000
Posts: 10065
The worst part of the whole endeavour is when you exceeded page limit (which is inevitable) and the editor issues a call for cutting out N pages. It's like to cut out your own child's head. Of course, the child will have two more left, but still...
Stuart Ash
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 07, 2005
Posts: 637
Originally posted by David Garland:
There are quite a few authors in the JavaRanch community (maybe that's the trick to becoming a bartender...). I'm curious about what writing a programming book involves. What made you decide to write a book? Where did you begin? How did you decide what to include? What data format did you write in? How long did it take? If you had co-authors, how did you divide the work? Does it actually cost the publisher much more to make a $40 dollar book than a $10 dollar book, or is it all profit? Do chicks dig authors? Do potential employers dig authors? That sort of stuff.


Anyone interested in writing a book, or already in the process, and in need of a co-author??


(Dunno if my question needs to be posted in Blatant Advertising )


ASCII silly question, Get a silly ANSI.
Jaya Nagar
Ranch Hand

Joined: Nov 17, 2005
Posts: 47
I agree
Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8801
    
    5
There are quite a few authors in the JavaRanch community (maybe that's the trick to becoming a bartender...). I'm curious about what writing a programming book involves. What made you decide to write a book? Where did you begin? How did you decide what to include? What data format did you write in? How long did it take? If you had co-authors, how did you divide the work? Does it actually cost the publisher much more to make a $40 dollar book than a $10 dollar book, or is it all profit? Do chicks dig authors? Do potential employers dig authors? That sort of stuff.

It sounded like fun.
We made a sample, then an outline (pretty mundane I guess).
We use InDesign, it rocks!
It always takes longer than even Murphy would imagine.
Most often by chapter.
There's almost always more profit in a $40 book, but in general publishing isn't a real profitable game.
My wife does
Probably.

I do agree with Michael. We didn't get into it to make money, and now that we are into it, it seems like we are incredibly lucky to be able to eek out a living doing it. I'd say most tech authors these days are hard pressed to make a living at it. A lot of them write articles and white papers.


Spot false dilemmas now, ask me how!
(If you're not on the edge, you're taking up too much room.)
 
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