Friday, July 27, 2007

A Customer!

Well, that's a pleasant surprise. Somebody named Stephen has left a comment. And not one of those spam thingies, but some actual relevant questions about tech publishing. Answering them seemed like it might be fun..

1. I noticed there is a pdf version available of your books. Is this something you or the publisher insisted on? Have people shown an interest for this version or are they still overwhelmingly favouring the hard copy? Aren't you or the publisher afraid that the pdf will end up on shady torrents?

I honestly don't remember an explicit decision being made over whether or not an e-book edition would exist. As far back as I can remember, they wanted one and we wanted one, so no problem. I'd imagine that the publisher's wishes would override the author's in this respect if it came down to it.

I don't have the Manning contract for the wxPython book in front of me, but the Wiley contract for the Pro Rails book says "the Publisher shall publish the Work in such style and manner as the Publisher deems appropriate", and I think the Manning contract had similar language.

I'm in favor of offering e-books because they are easy to store, easy to update, and easy to search. From the publisher's standpoint, they have a relatively low cost to produce and people want to buy them, so it's a potentially large win.

As of the most recent statement I have on the wxPython book, e-book sales are just under 10% of total sales. I suspect that some publishers have much higher percentages -- Pragmatic, for example, really promotes their e-book sales. The Jython book is not available for sale in an e-book form, not even on O'Reilly's Safari Bookshelf. Which is weird, because they (at least used to) offer a competitors Jython book on there...

While I'm on the subject, I don't know right now if the Pro Rails book will be available via pdf. Wrox doesn't seem to do pdf much, and I don't know if they plan on starting.

Funny you should mention torrents, because I relatively recently got an email from Manning that they were trying to get the book removed from a torrent site. So I know it is, or at least has been, out there. I'd say Manning takes this kind of thing pretty seriously, but it obviously hasn't stopped them from providing pdf files. So far, I haven't seen any evidence that this kind of thing is affecting sales, and I'd be very surprised if such evidence presents itself. (Standard Disclaimer -- I don't speak for Manning, and I don't speak for Robin Dunn. If you broadcast a torrent of the book Manning will try and stop you.)

2. Technical books typically have a short shelf life and would probably benefit from frequent updates (e.g. incorporation of errata, version updates etc.). Wouldn't a more flexible way of publishing, with small, frequent runs (or even an outright on demand model a-la-Lulu) be better?

Yes, I could see where having small, frequent updates could be better for the book reader -- this is essentially what Pragmatic does with their e-books.

However, the infrastructure and overhead for doing this in printed books would be pretty significant, even with some kind of publish on demand model. At the very least, the cost to print a copy would go up, probably dramatically. Then you have the secondary problems of managing which errata went into which revision, continually updating the layout when needed, dealing with people who want printed books upgraded. The headaches get big quickly.

That said, something along that model is inevitable, at least for e-books. Eventually, other publishers will have processes as streamlined for this kind of thing as Pragmatic seems to.

This concludes todays episode of Ask A Guy Who Once Wrote A Book. Tune in next time. I hope there's a next time...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Little Birdie Told Me

In the interests of being able to push out quick updates on the book's progress, I've created a Twitter account for the book. You can follow that account on the sidebar of this here blog, or at -- there's also an RSS feed.

Please remember that any and all information about the book is subject to change at whim. Enjoy.

Book Updates

It's been about a week or so of continued radio silence, so I thought I'd pop in with an update.

I'm in the middle of chapter three of the Rails book. I think it's going well, but nobody other then me has read the chapters yet, so that's easy to say. My first milestone date is the end of the month, and four chapters done -- that's about one-quarter of the entire book.

I did want to say a few things about how somebody like me comes to be writing a book like this. I was first contacted with this idea in early February. If you're keeping score, that means that this project spent about five months going from a gleam in an editors eye to a signed contract, and it will spend about five months going from a manuscript to a printed book, but only about four months for me to actually spend on the writing.

Anyway, I have an agency (Studio B) that represents me for technical writing. Sometime in early February, I received an email from them saying that an unnamed major publisher was looking for a writer for a Rails book, and was I interested. I don't know exactly what happened between the agency and the publisher before that, but Studio B is often approached by publishers looking to match an author with a topic.

I was very interested -- I'd been kind of hoping to do a book on Rails for some time. I talked to an editor at Wiley about what kinds of things they were hoping for and put together a proposal. At the same time, they also expressed interest in a proposal on a different topic, and I did that as well. The proposal contains a description of the market for the book, and a description of the outline. The goal is to convince the publisher that the book is worth doing, and that the author is a good person for the job. In this case, since the publisher had initiated the process, making the case for the book was easier than it might otherwise have been.

The publisher liked the proposal. But if you were wondering who pays attention to Amazon reviews, I was specifically asked about the difference between the ratings for the Jython book versus the wxPython book, to reassure them that the higher ratings for the wx book were not solely due to the co-author.

After that, there was some time spent waiting on the two proposals, and which one the publisher wanted to do. At various times, all four possible answers were given (the Rails book, the other book, both, and neither). Eventually, they settled on doing the Rails book. I was informed of that decision in early May, and then my agent and the publisher began negotiating over contract details. I don't think I can really say much about that, but most of the time is not spent on money, but rather on details of which side is responsible for various parts of the finished product beyond the text itself, and who is liable for what if things go wrong (hint: the author is usually liable...) We also settled the length of the book and the schedule.

Oh, and you know the author pictures that appear on the cover of a Wrox book? Rest assured that the pictures are one very well covered topic in the Wiley/Wrox contract.

And that's how a bill becomes a law. I'm enjoying working for Wiley so far, the people I've dealt with have been enthusiastic and helpful. Now, I think this is long enough and I should probably get back to the book itself...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Announcing: Professional Ruby on Rails

I'm pleased to be able to say that I've contracted for a new book, Professional Ruby on Rails, scheduled to be available in "early 2008", hopefully February or March. The publisher is Wiley, through the Wrox imprint -- the ones with the red covers and the author's picture on them. Wiley wanted me to be sure and mention that the ISBN number is 9780470223888, so you'll be ready to pre-order it the second that becomes possible.

The imagined reader of the book is somebody who just finished a beginners book on Rails and is suddenly asked to build a complete public web application. The idea is to cover the kinds of topics that nearly every Rails site will deal with -- things like users and security, performance, deployment, navigation, team development. For each topic, I'll be discussing common solutions, existing tools, emerging standards and so on. There will also be a strong focus on writing tests throughout the book. Hopefully, I'll be able to go into more detail as more of the book is written.

I'm excited and scared. This is my first solo book, which both simplifies logistics and leaves me without a co-author to catch me when I'm totally off base. I know Rails pretty well, but there's nothing like facing a skeleton book outline to impress upon you exactly how much you don't yet know. Research has been lots of fun, though -- the Rails online community is fantastic.

Watch this space for more info about the book, the writing process, and anything else related. If you have a question, or if there's a specific feature that you think should be included, please do leave a comment or send me an email.