Writing a technical book

    It so happened that over the past five years I have, to varying degrees, participated in the creation of almost a dozen technical books of good will and not always goodwill. In light of the release of the latest book in collaboration with XaocCPS on the ASP.NET MVC Framework , I was asked to describe the experience of creating books from beginning to end. I described the process in this post.

    Why do I use the word “creation” rather than “writing” when speaking of books? The fact is that writing a book is only part of a lot of work, the result of which is a small paper brick on a shelf of a bookstore. The manuscript must be written, filled out, made up, revised, drawn up, and then published. Let's talk about each of these stages.

    We decide to write a book

    The very first step is to understand why you want to write a book. Perhaps this is the most important step, since starting to write is not as difficult as continuing and bringing the matter to a result. Therefore, you immediately need to understand motivation and assure yourself that motivation will not run out in the process.

    I’ll note right away that making money on technical literature is complicated - the author receives a percentage of the selling price of the publisher (5 to 15% usually) from the circulation sold, therefore, in order for the money received to pay for the time spent, sales must be very good, and the book either expensive or in large numbers. In fact, a good prerequisite for monetizing a book is its uniqueness and ability to distribute - either the name of the author or the topic should be in demand by a wide audience.

    If you make a simple assessment calculation for a certain average situation, the circulation of 2 thousand copies and the cost of the book is 300 rubles, it turns out with a royalty of 10%:

    2,000 x 300 x 10% = 60,000 rubles.

    Despite the fact that writing a book in a good way takes 2-3 months of the author’s life, investing this time in a book can be commercially unprofitable.

    Another motivation may be fame and, possibly, in the future, additional career development opportunities. In this case, it is worth thinking about making the book as accessible as possible for the audience among which you want to become famous.
    You can come up with different motivating factors, such as a mother-in-law standing above the soul and requiring her son-in-law to write a book or grandparents who want to see a writer in their grandson or granddaughter, but it is important to understand whether this motivation is enough to bring the project of writing a book to the end. Believe me, it’s much more offensive not to finish a book than not to start it.

    For my part, anticipating the questions, I’ll answer that for me working on books is an opportunity to look at a particular topic from a different point of view, to practice the skill of “simplifying complex” and the ability to free my head from its bursting desire to share information about technologies with the world, which I myself really like.

    Decide on a theme

    Before you start writing a book, you need to prepare some important materials that will be needed when searching for a publisher and, in fact, will provide invaluable assistance in creating the manuscript:

    1. Confirmation of the relevance of the topic - a brief paragraph description of the current market situation and the significance of the topic. Often the ideas to write a book were closed at the stage of creating this particular artifact, because creating a previously unclaimed book does not make sense. However, if the topic is not in demand now, it may become in demand in the future, so you should pay attention to the study of the situation.
    2. A brief description of the content and a portrait of the reader of the book on 1-2 pages - a free description of what topics will be revealed in the book, what technologies are covered and what ideas are presented, what audience the book is aimed at and what tasks it solves. It is very good in this description to show the profile of the potential reader and the size of the audience to whom the book may be interesting. This will help you to clearly keep in mind the image of the person for whom you are writing a book, and the publisher will be able to estimate how much such a project will be beneficial.
    3. Table of Contents Content — A list of chapters in the book, with a brief description of each chapter and an estimated amount of text. Having a ready-made and, most importantly, thoughtful structure, it will be easier for you to write the manuscript, knowing the sequence of presentation there, and the publisher will be able to roughly estimate the volume of the manuscript and determine the format of the book.
    4. A short biography of the author - the publisher needs this text to understand how much experience you have in the field in which you want to write a book, and this text will be used in the book to tell the reader about you. It is important in this text to explain why the book of your authorship on this topic is useful to read.
    5. Description of the attached materials - if materials with demonstrations will be attached to the book, you should describe in advance that you would like to distribute among these materials and decide whether you need a CD-ROM or if you need to create a website for constant updating of materials.

    We are looking for a publisher

    Before you begin work on the manuscript, you should decide on the publisher. Of course, you can publish a book at your own expense if your goal is fame, but the publisher has a significant advantage, in addition to layout, proofreading, printing and distribution, namely, the assessment of the “vitality” of your idea.

    Publishers monitor the market and the needs of the audience, and if you propose a deliberately unpopular topic, you will be asked to adjust it or justify why it can become popular. In such communication, you can get valuable feedback and clarify your own plans for the book.

    After you “sold” the idea to the publisher, you conclude a contract that stipulates the time for the creation of the manuscript, describes the approximate volume and content, and also stipulates the fee of the author. At this stage, the materials created in the previous step in preparing the "sale" of the idea to the publisher will be used.

    Writing a manuscript

    The publisher will provide the author with guidance on the design of the manuscript in the form of documents describing the design of the text, the preparation of illustrations and general recommendations on the text and the placement of elements in it. Especially those who care about the authors of the publishing house will provide a template document with design styles that the author can use in a text editor and see a presentation of the manuscript close to the final result.

    In order to save time, it is advisable to immediately apply the appropriate styles as the manuscript is written, which allows us to evaluate the purely aesthetic display of the manuscript.

    Manuscript writing approaches can be different and depend on the author. If more than one person is working on a book, then “pair programming” may be a good idea — alternate work on each of the chapters. One of the authors writes the manuscript of the chapter, the second checks, proposes revisions, appends its parts and iteratively brings the manuscript to readiness.

    Once the manuscript is ready, it’s a good idea to postpone it for a long time, so that you can walk through the text with a fresh look. During the “tracking down” of the manuscript, you can get a little detached and look at the manuscript as if it were written by another person. The main thing here is to overcome the desire to rewrite everything anew (although, sometimes this may be the right decision), because it is common for authors to find insurmountable shortcomings in their texts.

    Another good idea is to show the manuscript to an expert on the subject described and get advice and comments from him on the necessary corrections. However, in practice it is very difficult to get another person to read a large amount of text and get comments from him, therefore it is more efficient to share large finished blocks - one or more chapters. However, it should be remembered that the external expert is an external expert and should not be invited to comment on the messed up draft, out of respect for the person who agreed to provide assistance, it is worth showing the manuscript already prepared from the point of view of the author.

    If expert advice is needed on creating a manuscript of a particular chapter, he can be provided with a detailed 1-2-page plan in which to describe the topics that will be revealed, examples that will be used and the main ideas proposed in the text.

    We correct errors and typos

    The manuscript of even a very neat and consistent author can have annoying errors: from banal typos to inconsistent times and incorrect use of terms. Correcting such flaws allows the corrector, which reads the text and offers corrections to the author. In our fast century of proofreading iterations, it is rarely more than one - the corrector sends a file with comments, and the author accepts or does not accept these edits.

    In cases where the corrector asks to rewrite the sentence or paragraph, you should carefully consider the quality of the received text, since it is likely that the corrector will not double-check these corrections, relying on the author's literacy and attentiveness.

    In the course of proof-reading, a situation may arise that in different chapters of the book the same terms are used differently or the same ideas are contradictory described. In this case, compiling a small dictionary containing the basic terms used in the text, as well as visions of the main ideas, can help.

    Making cover

    The manuscript is written, everything is ready and the last step remains - to arrange the cover of the book and here the author needs to make a lot of effort in order to influence the fact that this cover will fall on it. Therefore, you need to stipulate in advance the process of coordinating the design of the cover.

    Enjoy the product

    The book is out, you can buy it in the store - here it is the joy of the author. It remains to provide the publisher with the bank account details and periodically receive fees. To avoid problems with the tax, it is worthwhile to clarify whether the publisher is a tax agent.

    Everything, the book is ready and you can enjoy life. There will be questions - write comments.

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