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Editing and Writing Technical Books. Robbie Allen rallen@rallenhome.com http://www.rallenhome.com/ January 26, 2006. Bio. Technical Leader at Cisco Systems Editor/Author at O’Reilly Media Grad student at MIT For more on my books and blogs, see: http://www.rallenhome.com/.

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Editing and writing technical books l.jpg

Editing and Writing Technical Books

Robbie Allen

rallen@rallenhome.com

http://www.rallenhome.com/

January 26, 2006


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Bio

  • Technical Leader at Cisco Systems

  • Editor/Author at O’Reilly Media

  • Grad student at MIT

  • For more on my books and blogs, see:http://www.rallenhome.com/


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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


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Life as an Acquisitions Editor

  • Stay current with technical trends

  • Research new book ideas

  • Find authors

  • Negotiate contracts


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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!


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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


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Life as a Copy Editor

  • Review entire manuscript, looking for:

    • grammatical errors

    • spelling errors

    • logical errors

    • formatting inconsistencies

  • Involvement per book: 2-4 weeks


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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)



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References

  • “The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers”

  • Writing Process

    • http://www.praxagora.com/andyo/professional/process.html

  • Writing for O'Reilly

    http://www.oreilly.com/oreilly/author/intro.html

  • Dave Taylor on the Writing Business

    http://www.askdavetaylor.com/cat_the_writing_business.html


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Q/A

  • How do you get a job as an editor?



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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


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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


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Common myths about being an Author

  • You must be rich

  • You are an expert

  • You can write well or have a background in writing


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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


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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


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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


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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?


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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


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Small sampling of publishers

  • O’Reilly:

    http://www.oreilly.com/oreilly/author/intro.html

  • Addison-Wesley:http://www.awprofessional.com/about/write_for_us.asp

  • APress:http://www.apress.com/about/writeForUs.html

  • Peachpit:http://www.peachpit.com/about/write_for_us.asp

  • SAMS:http://www.samspublishing.com/about/write_for_us.asp

  • Osborne:http://shop.osborne.com/osborne/aboutus/writeforus.shtml

  • No Starch Press:http://www.nostarch.com/releases/book_proposal.pdf

  • Syngress:http://www.syngress.com/authors/

  • Wiley/Dummies:http://www.dummies.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-100097.html

  • Sybex: http://sybex.com/sybexbooks.nsf/f8b757a5c6780f3b8825696100043e5b/0960e3fa471f4d4e88256976007d23da?OpenDocument


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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


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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:http://www.askdavetaylor.com/what_makes_a_good_publishing_contract_for_a_writer.html


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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


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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)


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From writer to marketer

  • Switching hats

  • Go on a book tour, e.g. http://www.scottberkun.com/blog/?cat=8

  • 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


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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


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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:http://www.oreilly.com/oreilly/author/ch03sb.html

  • Tim O’Reilly’s perspective:http://www.oreilly.com/pub/a/oreilly/ask_tim/2003/salesexpect_0603.html


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References

  • The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers

  • What it’s like to write

    • http://www.praxagora.com/andyo/professional/process.html

  • Writing for O'Reilly

    http://www.oreilly.com/oreilly/author/intro.html

  • Dave Taylor on the Writing Business

    http://www.askdavetaylor.com/cat_the_writing_business.html