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Editing and Writing Technical Books

Editing and Writing Technical Books

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Editing and Writing Technical Books

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  1. Editing and Writing Technical Books Robbie Allen January 26, 2006

  2. Bio • Technical Leader at Cisco Systems • Editor/Author at O’Reilly Media • Grad student at MIT • For more on my books and blogs, see:

  3. The many flavors of Editors • Equal parts project manager, “information architect”, and technologist • Different types of editors: • Acquisition • Sign books • Technical • Review books for technical accuracy • Developmental • Edit and manage books from signing to final draft • Copy • Check for correct grammar and spelling, good content flow, consistent use of styles, etc. • Production • Manage the book from final draft to publication

  4. Life as an Acquisitions Editor • Stay current with technical trends • Research new book ideas • Find authors • Negotiate contracts

  5. Life as a Developmental Editor • Work closely with authors • Weekly concalls, frequent emails • Manage author (ever changing) delivery schedules • Read and re-read a LOT of chapters • Search for good technical reviewers • Manage technical reviewers (ever changing) schedules • Meet deadlines!

  6. Life as a Technical Editor • Shares some of the responsibilities with Developmental Editor • Primary focus is on ensuring the book meets the needs of target audience • Technically accurate? • Well organized and presented? • May help with tech review

  7. Life as a Copy Editor • Review entire manuscript, looking for: • grammatical errors • spelling errors • logical errors • formatting inconsistencies • Involvement per book: 2-4 weeks

  8. Life as a Production Editor • Manage production process • Create production schedule • Work with graphics artists on any figure issues • Work with dev editor on front and back cover copy and index • Incorporate QC feedback (QC1 and QC2)

  9. A Recent Production Schedule

  10. References • “The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers” • Writing Process • • Writing for O'Reilly • Dave Taylor on the Writing Business

  11. Q/A • How do you get a job as an editor?

  12. Backup – Writing Technical Books

  13. The Joys of Being an Author • See your name in print • Make money • More on this later • Gain instant credibility • Whether it is deserved or not • Educate people

  14. The Toils of Being an Author • Writing is hard work • Writing a book is a lot of hard work • Your friends and family may not like you very much during the process • You'll become an Amazon addict • People will think you know it all about the topic • Some people will be jealous • And bad reviews

  15. Common myths about being an Author • You must be rich • You are an expert • You can write well or have a background in writing

  16. How to get started as an Author • Start a blog • Short • Doesn't pay (besides AdSense) • Published instantly • Write an online article • Short • Doesn't pay that well (per article) • Published quickly • Write a magazine article • Longer than online articles • Pays well (per word) • Can take a long time to publish

  17. How to get started as an Author (cont’d) • Become a technical reviewer for a book • Lot of work (if you do it right) • Pay varies, but generally not very well for first timers • Your name in the acknowledgements • Get a glimpse of the publishing process • Contribute a chapter to a book • Amount of work varies depending on the content and timeline • Pay varies, often by page or flat fee for the chapter • Get a better understanding of the publishing process • Write a book • More work than you think it will be (yes, that's a lot) • Pay is good, but not in relation to the amount of work you put in • Long time between when you start writing and the book is in stores

  18. Create a proposal • Some basic information: • Summary • Target audience • Detailed outline • Page count (this is hard; give a guestimate) • Schedule (2 chapters, 50%, 100%, final draft) • Biography • Writing sample (sample chapter if possible) • More detail the better

  19. Picking a publisher • Start off picky • Does the publisher have a good reputation? • Does the publisher have a good bookstore presence? • Is the publisher going to publish competing titles? • Is the publisher’s contract overly complex?

  20. Pitching a proposal • Most proposal submissions are by email (a few are by snail mail) • Do you know someone in the business that can refer you? • Agents can help • Ask for a response by a certain date

  21. Small sampling of publishers • O’Reilly: • Addison-Wesley: • APress: • Peachpit: • SAMS: • Osborne: • No Starch Press: • Syngress: • Wiley/Dummies: • Sybex:

  22. Do you need an agent? • The short answer is no. At least not to get your first book published. • Agents take a cut of your royalties (which aren't much to begin with) • Agents are good for getting corporate whitepaper gigs and pitching large projects (like a book series) • Agents do the following: • Shop your proposal around • Review your contract and help you negotiate better terms

  23. Signing a book • Publisher contracts should be understandable to the layperson (many are not) • Publisher generally retains copyrights, but it is a bargaining chip • Avoid non-competes at all costs • Make sure you get a “right of first refusal” for the next edition • Other tips:

  24. The process of writing a book • You do initial research • You start writing • You do more research • You do more writing • Your editor provides feedback on your chapters • You incorporate the feedback • Your editor sends your chapters out for technical review • You incorporate the feedback from tech review • The editor may edit the chapters one last time • You do final clean-up

  25. The process of writing a book (cont’d) • Copyeditors make (mostly) grammatical corrections. Your editor may ask you to address some of the copyeditor comments if he can't. • Both you and the editor review the first quality check (QC1). This entails reading through the entire book again to look for any leftover errors. • The editor reviews the second quality check (QC2). This is typically a quick pass through the manuscript looking for anything grossly out of whack. • You review the index and front and back cover copy • Your job is done! • How long does this take? 1-3 years (or longer)

  26. From writer to marketer • Switching hats • Go on a book tour, e.g. • Sign books at a local bookstore • Speak at conferences or user groups • Create a website to support the book • Participate on forums • Put info about your book in your email signature • Ask friends, family, co-workers, and everyone else to write reviews for the book • Engineering Amazon

  27. What makes a book successful? • The book must be useful (duh) • Must be the top 1 or 2 in the category • Need a large audience • Need successful publisher and self marketing • Keep writing

  28. How much can you make? • Typical advance: $10,000 spread over a series of 4 payments • Typical royalty: 10% on the wholesale price of the book • Wholesale price typically 50% of retail price • $50 x 50% = $25 (publisher gets for each book – not accounting costs) • $25 x 10% = $2.50 (author gets for each book) • Have to “earn out” your advance before you see any royalties (can take a year or more) • Can earn anywhere from $15,000 - $60,000 over the life of a book (2-5 years) • Can help jumpstart a consulting or training career • Book publishing cost breakdown: • Tim O’Reilly’s perspective:

  29. References • The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers • What it’s like to write • • Writing for O'Reilly • Dave Taylor on the Writing Business