Friday, June 16, 2017

So you want to write a technical book?


I received this question today:
If I wanted to write a tech book, where/how would I start?
Rather than provide an individual answer, I thought I'd answer on my blog. Here goes.

First, how I answer this question for myself (the variation being: "Do you want to write another book?"):

No, don't do it.

:-)

I decided a few years ago that I would not write new books and instead keep my core set of books on PL/SQL up to date (for anyone who's wondering, that means essentially 3 out my 10 books on PL/SQL).

It takes a lot of time to write a book, any sort of book. And certainly with a technical book you need to be concerned about technical accuracy (slightly less critical with fiction :-) ).

In addition, people aren't buying books like they used to. Gee, thanks, Google (and people publishing ripped-off e-copies of books, and all the free content published on blogs and...).

So you definitely should not go into such a project thinking you are going to make much, if any, money on the book.

Some reasons to go ahead with such a project anyway:

  • You always wanted to publish a book, see your name listed as an author. 
  • You want to build your reputation in a given technology.
  • Along with (or through) that, you want to increase the revenue you can generate around that technology (speaking fees, hourly consulting rates).
Assuming you have decided to take the plunge, you need to:
  • Decide on a topic
  • Do lots of writing.
  • Find a publisher.
Mostly in the order. But I suggest that you do not write a whole book and then look for a publisher. That is likely necessary if you are writing a work of fiction. But with a technical book, it's a bit different.

Here's my suggestion, after you decide on a topic:

1. Come up with a table of contents for your book.

2. Start blogging about your topic. You don't even have to create your own blog. Publish on LinkedIn or Medium or any number of other channels.

Pick a chapter (maybe start at the beginning, maybe not) and do some writing. Publish it. See how people respond - to your writing, to the topic, etc.

If you get a strong response, then it is time to approach publishers. This where getting a technical book published can be so much easier than a work of fiction. 

You can offer your TOC, some samples of writing, and overall summary of a book, and from that alone, secure a contract with a publisher. 

I have a long, happy history with O'Reilly Media. But there are lots of technical publishers out there. And certainly an editor I very much respect and encourage you to seek out is Jonathan Gennick. I am sure he'd be happy to talk to you, and give you even more and better advice.

2 comments:

  1. I'd agree with all your points. I'd suggest you also try to estimate the number of pages (and don't forget to allow for the fact that a book page is different in length to a std page in word). Then estimate your writing speed. Now you can estimate the amount of effort. Now double that number (you probably forgot that there are review cycles to do; code to write and test if its programming; if your book is going to distinguish itself then you'll need time to work through any issues in that differentiator). My experience https://blog.mp3monster.org/2016/12/26/my-experience-writing-a-technical-book/

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  2. Hi Steven,

    I completely resonate with you do read my thoughts on same if time permits:
    http://oracleapps-atechniciansview.blogspot.in/2017/01/how-did-i-got-started-on-writing-my.html

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