A few years ago, I first put my toes into the book publishing world by co-writing a portion of AOSAv2 about Mozilla’s RelEng infrastructure. Having never written part of a published book before, I had no idea what I was really getting into. It was a lot of work, in the midst of an already-busy-day-time-job and yet, I found it was strangely quite rewarding. Not financially rewarding – all proceeds from the book went to Amnesty – but rewarding in terms of getting us all to organize our thoughts to write down in a clear, easy to read way, explaining the million-and-one details that “we just knew instinctively”, and hopefully helping spread the word to other software companies on what we did when changing Mozilla’s release cadence.
While working on AOSAv2, clearly explaining the technology was hard work, as expected, but I was surprised by how much work went into “simple” mechanics – merging back reviewer feedback, tracking revisions, dealing with formatting of tables and diagrams, publishing in different formats… and remember, this was a situation where book publisher contracts, revenue and other “messy stuff” was already taken care of by others. I “just” had to write. I was super happy to have the great guidance and support of Greg Wilson and Amy Brown who had been-there-done-that, helped work through all those details, and kept us all on track.
Ever since then, I’ve been considering more writing, but daunted by all the various details above and beyond “just writing”. These blog posts help scratch that itch, in between my own real-life-work-deadlines, but the idea of writing a full book, by myself, still lingered. A while ago, I grabbed “APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book” by Guy Kawasaki. It looked like a good HowTo manual, I’ve enjoyed some of his other books, and he’s always a great presenter, so I was looking forward to some quiet time to read this book cover-to-cover.
This was well worth the time, and I re-read it a few times!
For me, some of the highlights were:
- “why are you writing a book?” I really like how Guy turned this question around to “why would someone else want to read your book”. Excellent mind-flip. I’ve met a few people who want to write a book, and even a few published authors, and I’ve talked with them about my own ideas about writing. But no-one, not one, ever reversed the question like this. It was instantly self-evident to me – it takes time to read a book, and we’re all busy. So, even if someone gave me a book for free, why would I want to skip work and/or social plans to read a book by someone I don’t know. Making it clear, immediately, why someone would find it worthwhile reading your book is a crucial step that I think many people skip past. As the author, keeping this in mind at all times while writing, will help keep you focused on the straight-and-narrow path to writing a book that people would actually want to read.
- Money: Most publishers are super-secret about their contracts/terms/conditions, which can make a new time author feel like they’re going to be taken (The only exception I know of is Apress, who publish all their terms on their website, with a “no haggling” clause). To help educate potential authors, I respect how much full detail Guy & Shawn gave in small, easy to follow, words.
- “Tell the world you’re writing a book – not that you’re thinking of writing a book.” Again, an excellent mind-flip to help keep you motivated and writing, every single day, whether you want to or not. Also, they provided many links to writer’s clubs (writer support groups!?) who would help you keep motivated.
- print-on-demand vs print-big-batch: This reminded me of how software release cycles are changing the software industry from old monolith release cadence to rapid-release cadence. “Old way”: a big-bang-release every unpredictable 18months, with a costly big print run, and lots of ways to handle financial risk of under/over selling; any corrections are postponed until the next big-bang-release if it looks like there is enough interest. “New way”: build infrastructure to enable print-on-demand. Do smaller, more frequent, releases, each with small print runs, (almost) no risk of under/over selling, corrections handled frequently and easily. Yes, at first glance, each printed book might seem more expensive this way, but when you factor in the lack-of-under/over selling, removed financial risk, and benefits of frequent updates to the almost-free electronic readers, it actually feels cheaper, more efficient and more appealing to me.
- In addition to printed books, there’s a good description of pros/cons of the different popular electronic formats (PDF, MOBI, EPUB, DAISY, APK…) as well as related DRM.
- The differences between ebook publishers (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, Kobo, …), Author Publisher Services (Lulu, Blurb, Author Solutions, …) and Print-on-Demand (Walkerville Publishing, Lightning Source, …) was detailed and very helpful. Complex chapter, with lots of data, and ending with the reassuring “Don’t obsess about making the wrong choice, however, because most distribution decisions are changeable.”!
- translations, audiobooks: normally, these are handled as edge cases. Guy & Shawn walk through some of the options (Audible/Amazon, Books-on-Tape/RandomHouse), as well as financial & legal realities.
- Some fun examples of rejection responses by agents/publishers. My personal favorite was a rejection sent to George Orwell about Animal Farm “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA”.
All in all, I found the writing style personal, helpful, direct and super honest. Even the way they ended the book… “Thank you. Now go write a book! —Guy and Shawn”
Thank you both.
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