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How to be a technical book writer

Jesus Angeles
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 26, 2005
Posts: 2049
Hi,

I am thinking of writing technical books (e.g. java books).

I think there are a lot of topnotch authors here.

Can you give me an advice on where to start?

I am an expert technically on the subject matter, but has never written anything, not even a blog or a school article. What I have is the 'drive' and 'dedication' to do it now (I hope that is enough ).

Are those books on 'technical wrting' of different species from technical books that we are talking about here?

Regards,
Jesus
Eric Pascarello
author
Rancher

Joined: Nov 08, 2001
Posts: 15376
    
    6
You need to figure out why your book is needed [not just because you want to write it]
What books are competitors to it and how will yours be better.
You need a fully detailed TOC [needs estimated page count for each section]
You should do a sample chapter.

After that you need to fill out forms for publishers so they can rip you a new one.

Anyone can be an author, it is hard to be a good author.

Your drive and dedication will screech to a halt once you realize it is not as easy as just opening up word and typing.

Eric
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 60800
    
  65

I started by writing articles for online publications such as the JavaRanch Journal. This is a good way to get yourself known as someone who can write well and makes you attractive to publishers when you propose a book that they might be interested in.

It also gets you known in the author community so they can recommend you when a need arises (thanks yet again, Eric).


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Brian Legg
Ranch Hand

Joined: Nov 07, 2008
Posts: 488
Interesting topic. As a young coder I used to dream of the day that I would write technical books on game design, alas now that I am older there are a slew of them out there. Seems I wasn't the only one wishing to fill that void. I still may, in the future, write a game design book for the absolute beginner who has never written so much as a "hello world" application. We'll see ;)

Bear, do you have any other blogs or sites you would recommend writting to that would generate publisher attention?

SCJA
~Currently preparing for SCJP6
Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8805
    
    5
There are a million things to discuss with this topic, but I will share that a well known tech book publisher once told us: "If you're not the first, or the finest, you're f*#@ked".

So I agree that you need to take a look at what's already out there and figure out what you'll be offering that's significantly new.


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

Joined: Feb 26, 2005
Posts: 2049
Scott Ambler's notes on How to Write a Technical Book seem to resound your advices (btw I saw a lot of you acknowledged by Scott there).

I think I will do reach that 'screetch to a halt' thing, but I will pursue.

At the worst, I wont lose anything (other than idle time), by continuing with this project, with or without a publisher (self-publish at the worst), for obvious reasons, to name a few:

1. the book can be used for future reference to publishers
2. it will make me learn how to write better.

Nothing beats self resolution I guess ('I can do it').
Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8805
    
    5
That's cool Jesus, and you never know what might happen!

Also, I know from personal experience that ranchers make really great technical reviewers, and for sure it's a good thing to get reviewers involved early and often.

Keep up posted as you progress.

Bert
Jeanne Boyarsky
internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30136
    
150

Jesus Angeles wrote: (btw I saw a lot of you acknowledged by Scott there).


I'd like to thank Bert Bates, William Brogden, Ernest Friedman-Hill, Andrew Monkhouse, Ilja Preuss, Pramod Sadalage, and Henry Wong for their input into helping me improve this article.

Wow. Did he have a discussion here? All moderators except Pramod Sadalage.


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Jesus Angeles
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 26, 2005
Posts: 2049
Bert Bates wrote:
Also, I know from personal experience that ranchers make really great technical reviewers, and for sure it's a good thing to get reviewers involved early and often.
Bert


That will be nice (if the book gets reviewed here), Bert.

Can I ask you dear authors on any advice on how to get into technical book writing, in the view of taking it as a long-term interest (career)?

Did you just grow into it, as you wrote for school, technical websites, etc.? Or including to that, you took or read some training/school course/book? Is there any step that you think is vital, in addition to getting exposed by writing for websites, and journals (e.g. a school course)?

I will appreciate it.
Jimmy Clark
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 16, 2008
Posts: 2187
If someone is interested in writing, they would surely benefit from a substantive understanding of grammar and how to write clean sentences and questions. I would recommend taking a few writing courses and/or getting a college degree in English.
Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8805
    
    5
Hi James,

Of course grammar has to be on the list, but I'd put it much further down on the list than might be intuitive. I can cite many cases where proper grammar is an impediment to clarity... "that is the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put."
Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast
Marshal

Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 24183
    
  34

Bert Bates wrote:
Of course grammar has to be on the list, but I'd put it much further down on the list than might be intuitive.


Them editor folks kin help you out with stringin' together high-falutin' words, too.


[Jess in Action][AskingGoodQuestions]
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 60800
    
  65

Ernest Friedman-Hill wrote:Them editor folks kin help you out with stringin' together high-falutin' words, too.

As well as reeling you in when you use too many of them!

Seriously, an English degree is hardly necessary. I did embarrassingly poor on the Verbal section of the SATs (yes, they had SATs back when I was a yung'on), but people still seem to like my writing style.

Clarity is what is most important.

How many books have you read that were grammatically correct, but peas-poor when it comes to explaining stuff? I've read far too many myself!
Jimmy Clark
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 16, 2008
Posts: 2187
I see. Writing for web pages and technical books that might be sold in bookstore or online, and writing multi-million dollar proposals for enterprise software are two different animals in the jungle.

Nothing is more annoying that technical material written in "sloppy", but correct grammar and style, in my opinion.
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 60800
    
  65

James Clark wrote:Nothing is more annoying that technical material written in "sloppy", but correct grammar and style, in my opinion.
Do I detect hackles? No need.

I said nothing about "sloppy". Just pointing out that one does not need a degree in English grammar to write well.

Again, it's all about clarity. "Sloppy" is rarely clear.
Jimmy Clark
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 16, 2008
Posts: 2187
True. As mentioned, an English degree is not "necessary." It was merely a recommendation. A dedicated course of study, whether self-taught or in an institution would strengthen the writing abilities of any technical author.

English degree's cover more than just "grammar" however. They include writing style, analytical thinking, and language skills needed to communicate effectively.
Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8805
    
    5
I tried to let it go, but I just can't

Clarity is good, accuracy essential, grammar useful...

All of that assumes an interested brain, and IMHO that's a huge and inappropriate assumption. Our dear readers' minds might be interested in our topic, but their brains are almost certainly not. So, in addition to all the standard stuff you might expect to hear about authoring, I want to add...

write for their brains!
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 60800
    
  65

Zombies ahead! They're after your brains! Run!!!
Jesus Angeles
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 26, 2005
Posts: 2049
Bear Bibeault wrote:Zombies ahead! They're after your brains! Run!!!


The zombies will be disappointed.
David Newton
Author
Rancher

Joined: Sep 29, 2008
Posts: 12617

Bert wrote:that is the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put

Arrant :p
Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8805
    
    5
arrant ?
David Newton
Author
Rancher

Joined: Sep 29, 2008
Posts: 12617

Bert Bates wrote:arrant?

Yeah... I figured I'd partake in some meta-pedantry.

"Errant" means "guilty" or "unruly" etc., "arrant" means "blatant", "total", etc. Lots of people say "errant pedantry" when they mean "arrant pedantry"; there's even a blog

I'm going to go put on my Battlestar Grammatica shirt now.

Dave "bad grammar makes me [sic]" Newton
Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8805
    
    5
Hi David,

Right, I looked up both words and "arrant" seems more appropriate, but I think that Churchill wrote "errant". At least that's what 3 minutes of thorough googling led me to believe

Bert
David Newton
Author
Rancher

Joined: Sep 29, 2008
Posts: 12617

Hmm, when I googled I came to the opposite conclusion as you ;)

http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/churchill.html
 
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