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So You Want to
      Write a Technical
      Book....

Dru Lavigne
Community Manager, PC-BSD Project

OLF, September 10, 2...

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Outline
● What you should be doing before you submit a
book proposal
● Should you self-publish or co-author?

● Will you b...

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Introduction

●   based on my experience, YMWV

●   technical writer since 1998, primarily on open
    source since 2000

...

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Olf2011

  1. 1. So You Want to Write a Technical Book.... Dru Lavigne Community Manager, PC-BSD Project OLF, September 10, 2011
  2. 2. Outline ● What you should be doing before you submit a book proposal ● Should you self-publish or co-author? ● Will you become rich and famous? is it worth the work? ● How to submit a book proposal ● What to expect in contract negotiations ● What to expect when it comes time to actually write the book with a deadline looming over your head ● How to promote your book
  3. 3. Introduction ● based on my experience, YMWV ● technical writer since 1998, primarily on open source since 2000 ● author of 3 technical books ● currently manage documentation for three projects (2 open source)
  4. 4. Introduction ● the rules of the writing game are changing, making it a great time to be a tech writer ● opportunities abound: zero barriers to entry, numerous free publicity methods ● how do you get noticed in a sea of info? ● how do you make money, or launch a career, when so much is available for free?
  5. 5. Introduction ● noone gets paid to write docs for “free” software (not true) ●besides, if you're not a developer, you're a nobody in open source (still true, but getting better) ● writing is a skill (use it or lose it) ● writing is an art (it needs to be explored)
  6. 6. What you should be doing ● open source is still a Wild West of missing and incomplete documentation--pick a project and start writing! ● enough work to last a life time or two! ●you get to pick your hours, language, what to write about and in what style ● it's all archived and searchable ● honed writing skills are an asset to any employer
  7. 7. What you should be doing Get your work (and your name) out there! ● vital if you're looking for writing contracts or envision a book in your future ● don't wait til work is “polished”, but always write your best ● be anal with grammar and spelling, even with casual works (email, blog posts) ● do your research (or it will bite you back)
  8. 8. What you should be doing Write daily! This allows you to: ● become an expert while building a body of work ● define your style ● gain an audience ● find out what you like to write about, and whether you really do like to write
  9. 9. What you should be doing Tools of the trade: ● blogs (personal, work, pet project) ● book reviews (Amazon, publishers) ● articles & how-tos (gratis or paid) ● review board of peer-reviewed journal ● write one chapter of a book ● contribute to online magazine
  10. 10. What you should be doing What publishers want to see: ● the size of your audience ● that your expertise is currently “hot” ● the scope of your work ● a well-thought out proposal ● that you (and your topic) exist in Google
  11. 11. Co-author? ● one way to get your foot in the door ● allows you to share the workload (and the proceeds) ● ideally, you already have a working relationship with the co-author ● ideally, the co-author has been published before or is deemed an expert on the topic
  12. 12. Self-publish? ● IMHO: use a big publisher for your first book, do what you want for the rest ● this establishes your reputation and you benefit from publisher's experience ● if first book is a hit, your bargaining power increases with that publisher ● learn from the publisher's editing cycle, layout
  13. 13. Self publish? Self-publishing may be better when: ● market is small or topic is too niche to interest mainstream publishers ● you're the expert in that market and your audience is aware of your promotion avenues ● you want to cut out middle-man and control revenue cut, promotion, and production
  14. 14. Self publish? Dead tree or e-book? ● publish on demand systems (e.g. Lulu.com) allow you to create soft or hard cover bound books in small batches ● most publish on demand systems allow you to create a storefront and/or sell through Amazon as well as provide an ISBN
  15. 15. Self publish? Dead tree or e-book? ● the epub/Kindle market is growing http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05- 19/amazon-com-says-kindle-electronic-book- sales-surpass-printed-format.html ● retail price is lower (usually less than $10) but proceeds can be higher than a book royalty (35% or 70%, depending upon country of sale)
  16. 16. Self publish? e-books make it easy to self-publish: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help http://pubit.barnesandnoble.com/pubit_app/bn ?t=support (US only)
  17. 17. Is it worth the work? What you should know beforehand: ● for technical books, 10,000 hard copies is a “best seller” ● 3 months f/t (50+ hrs/wk) is considered fast ● a very small % of books gets promoted by mainstream publishers and small publishers have less resources ● publishing is a gamble--this is reflected in the contract
  18. 18. Is it worth the work? ● don't expect to make a lot of money: you could probably make more working the hours you put into the book ● don't expect to become famous ● write as if your book is the tech best-seller of the year ● even if the book doesn't make money and you don't become famous, the process can be very satisfying and result in unexpected gains (e.g. future employment, speaking engagements)
  19. 19. Submitting the proposal Research before you write the proposal ● every mainstream publisher has specific instructions on their website: find them and follow them to the letter ● a proposal isn't something you whip up in an hour
  20. 20. Submitting the proposal ●proposals are detailed: typically the entire table of contents, the first chapter of the book, a synopsis, proof that you understand who the audience is and which books compete with yours ● you basically need to envision the entire book in your mind ● publishers know that books evolve as they are written, you should understand this too
  21. 21. Contract negotiations ● if this is your first book, the publisher is gambling on your success ● don't expect to get a sweet contract for the first book ● royalties are on the net (not the retail price) of the book ● ask friends who are published if they have a recommended lawyer to review the contract
  22. 22. Contract negotiations ● is the time frame realistic? ● who retains copyright? it should be you ● do you get distribution rights? (aim for these after a period of time e.g. after first year) ● do you want translation rights? what are the translation royalties? ● what are the royalties for non-print distribution? ● can you live off of the advance while writing the book?
  23. 23. What to expect What you should know beforehand: ●default is still Word template with no revision control--ask to gauge flexibility ● you will learn a lot working with your editor--aim for daily feedback and push if your editor becomes AWOL
  24. 24. What to expect Writing is hard work: ●expect to put in a full day, every day: the amount of time available seems like a lot, it's not ● ideally you are getting regular feedback and fixing edit requests will be in addition to your writing ●you will literally have no life if you attempt to write a book while working f/t--aim to get enough vacation days, flex time, reduced hours, etc.
  25. 25. Promotion ●don't expect the publisher to care as much about your book as you do ● make sure your book has a Kindle version ● make sure your book is on Google: http://books.google.com/googlebooks/tour/
  26. 26. Promotion ●approach reviewers for a review and try to get a good one on slashdot; check with the publisher for policy on review copies ●use social media (blog, tweet, FB, LinkedIn, etc.) and use book cover as your profile image ●Amazon, Google, Lulu, etc. have guides on promoting your book
  27. 27. Contact Slides: http://slideshare.net/dlavigne/olf2011 Contact: dru@freebsd.org

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