Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Monday, September 01, 2008

Read these books

I'm granting myself amnesty for about six months of unreviewed books to mention a couple of recently read books.

Pirate Sun, Karl Schroeder

I think that of all the authors I enjoy, Schroeder is the most criminally under-read. If you like SF, I tell you that Virga -- the background of Pirate Sun and its two predecessors -- is the coolest SF construct since Ringworld. Schroeder could write novels in it for the next forty years and only scratch the surface of what's possible. And at that, I'm not sure that the three Virga books -- great as they are -- are his best. Permanence is an exceptional space-opera type book, and Lady of Mazes takes a background that by all rights should be nigh-incomprehensible and makes it clear, compelling, and fascinating.

Anyway, Virga is a 5000 mile sphere filled with air and intermittently lit by dozens of small artificial suns. There's not much metal, and electricity is somehow dampened. Most people live in towns that are basically the interior of cylinders that rotate to generate gravity. Because it's not a vacuum, you can travel between towns by almost anything: winged bikes, jet cycles, wooden rocket ships.

Pirate Sun is the third book in the series, and without getting into a jillion paragraphs of backstory, the main character is Chaison Fanning, a disgraced admiral hoping to get back to his tiny country to clear his name (I oversimplify, you understand). Along the way, he deals with war, a threat to the basic nature of Virga, not to mention the most amazing thunderstorm SF has ever produced (Hint: Zero-G = Large Raindrops).

You know how sometimes a book will have two viewpoint characters who are trying to find each other but keep missing and that's really irritating? Schroeder does something interesting with that here -- he never shows the second viewpoint character. We know she's there from the previous books, plus a brief showing at the beginning. The bulk of the book, though, is all Chaison -- we can infer what other characters are up too somewhat. It's very effective, and not at all irritating.

On top of all that, there's a city on city battle seen that is jaw-dropping, and Schroeder casually drops a really neat idea in the background that we're clearly going to hear more of later in the series (please tell me there's a later in the series...).

Zoe's Tale, John Scalzi

Scalzi, you're more likely to have heard of, since he's become a very popular writer, especially on the Internet. Zoe's Tale is the fourth book in the Old Man's War trilogy. And I mean that more literally then you might think, since it covers nearly the same ground as The Last Colony, only instead of being from John Perry's viewpoint, it's from his adopted daughter Zoe's (hence, you see, the name).

This works a lot better than you might expect, for a couple of reasons. First off, Zoe has a unique place in the OMW universe, what with being a near godling to an alien race, and her perspective is interesting. Second, Last Colony had a couple of obvious Zoe-sized gaps in the story that were worth exploring. Third, Scalzi is smart enough to tell a completely different story against the same plot background -- in this case how Zoe reconciles who she is with what she is.

Scalzi has said in a few places that he struggled a bit to find a plausible sixteen year old female voice. I'm not completely qualified to say whether he succeeded (it's enough for me to say the voice works perfectly well as the narrator of the story). But I will say there are spots in the story where Zoe's narration sounds much more like Scalzi-the-blogger than anything else he's written.

So, another great book from John Scalzi, and I hope he comes back to this universe a few years on to show the result of the actions of Last Colony and Zoe's Tale

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Book Recommendations

I've been meaning to do this sooner, but, wow time flies...

Here are some brief comments about books I've read so far this year and would recommend. I think I'll pass on doing negative reviews here at the moment, unless I can make a larger point somehow.

Captain's Fury, by Jim Butcher

Book four in the Codex Alera series continues pretty much everything that's enjoyable about the series. I particularly like the way Butcher continues to move the story along, as well as how he's resisted the easy way to manage the hero and his lack of fury powers.

The Dragons of Babel, by Michael Swanwick

So about fourteen years ago, Swanwick published The Iron Dragon's Daughter, which was, I think, the first prominent example of a crossover between common fantasy icons and dystopian SF icons. If I remember correctly (always a dubious assumption) a lot of people (meaning me) weren't quite sure what to make of the weirdness. I don't think The Iron Dragon's Daughter is a great novel -- it's very episodic, for one thing -- but it is one of the most inventive and memorable novels you'll ever read.

The Dragons of Babel is marketed as a sequel, although I don't think there's any particular crossover beyond tone and some place or character names -- I don't remember Iron Dragon's Daughter having much plot to continue. It does however, continue the same tone as the original, a world that freely mixes fantasy elements with ideas from "the real world", and with a certain, say, lack of reverence toward High Fantasy.

The title Babel is a city, somewhat loosely based on the biblical and Mesopotamian myth, but populated with all kinds of fey, including ghouls and their corrupt city alderman leader, underground horse keepers, a mysterious throne with an absent king, guns, spells, and con men.

It's still fairly episodic, but I think it holds together as a coherent story better than Iron Dragon's Daughter, and it'll certainly mess with your head. In a good way. Mostly.

God Save The Fan by Will Leach

Leach is the editor and proprietor of Deadspin, which is the pre-eminent sports blog if you are a certain kind of fan -- irreverent? immature? Dunno, but it's one of my favorite sports web sites, serving up sports news and analysis while not stinting on pictures of drunken, partying quarterbacks.

The book is essentially Leach's attempt to make the Deadspin worldview explicit. (Although only one piece in the book is taken directly from Deadspin, regular readers will recognize many of the running jokes...) It's a collection of essays with the common goal of recovering sports from the people who take them too seriously. It's kind of hit and miss, but the best pieces are worth your time, and Leach has probably my favorite take on the steroid issue -- which is we're sick of it, please stop moralizing over it.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

I think this book is the longest work to ever win the Caldecott Medal for children's book illustration. Most Caldecott winners are your basic short kids picture books. Selznick has written a 500 page novel, about half of which is told through words, and about half through wordless pictures.

The story takes place in Paris in the 1930s. Hugo Cabret lives alone in the Paris Metro station, winding the clocks through a series of out of sight tunnels, and repairing a mechanical automaton rescued from a fire by his late father. Eventually, he comes to the attention of an elderly man who runs a mechanical toy shop in the station. The early history of French silent film is involved, along with an image you've surely seen of a rocket ship hitting the man in the moon square in the eye.

The pictures carry a lot of the story load, and they are moody and atmospheric without losing clarity -- it's never hard to follow the story, and you can't easily do things like slow zooms in pure text. There's a nice meta twist at the end, too. Definitely track down this unique and interesting book.

Lincoln and Douglas by Allen C. Guelzo

Somehow The Daily Show and The Colbert Report became my main sources for new non-fiction book recommendations (Stewart has almost completely stopped having actors as guests in favor of non-fiction authors, Colbert never really had many actor guests to begin with...). Guelzo was on The Daily Show, since books on the buildup to the Civil War really pack in the ratings.

The book is interesting, if not as dazzling in prose style as your super top-notch non-fiction books. It certainly focused on some areas that were relatively new to me. Notably, how the feud between Douglas and James Buchanan affected the race, and how East Coast Republican leaders didn't really support Lincoln out of the probably-vain hope that Douglas would reveal himself as a Republican. Guelzo also covers the various political pressures that affected Lincoln's message as well.

The interesting "what-if" scenario here is what would have happened had Douglas not chosen to debate Lincoln -- he had not much to gain from the debates as the prohibitive favorite. Absent the fame from the debates, there's no way Lincoln is the nominee in 1860. But absent the questions he had to answer in the debates, Douglas is much more likely to have cobbled together the Southern states into a coalition that could have elected him (adding a Southern VP, possibly). Where it goes from there is anybody's guess, especially since Douglas would have died months after taking office (although absent the debates, his health might have been better...)

The Mirador, by Sarah Monette

Book three in a series. One of those cases where the author settles character situations at the end of a book, then in order to write the next book in the series, she has to roll back some of the plot and character gains. That's what this book feels like -- the three main characters, acting mostly in harmony at the end of the second book, spend a lot of this book rehashing the arguments and conflicts from the last book.

That said, there's a lot in the book that does work. Monette does a nice piece of writers indirection, hiding the identity of an important character for a while. The characters and plot all move forward, maybe reaching new understandings in the end. Still looking forward to the next book.

New Amsterdam, by Elizabeth Bear

I read Bear's first novel (Hammered), thought it was okay, but never went back to the series. Since then, she's jumped her way around several genres, and the description of this one was compelling enough for me to check back in. It's alternate history, the difference point not quite spelled out, but America is still a British colony, and New Amsterdam remained a Dutch colony until the early 19th century when it was given to the British.

Our two lead characters are Sebastian de Ulloa, a centuries old vampire (the book favors "wampyr") and Abigail Irene Garret, a forensic sorcerer. Together they fight crime. Really.

The book is a series of connected short stories that eventually connect enough to roughly form a novel (some, if not all, of the stories were published separately). The early stories are mostly standalone, and have a certain Agatha Christie meets Bram Stoker kind of feel. Later stories build on each other, as both Sebastian and the British Crown find their positions in America become increasingly untenable.

I liked this book for it's atmosphere and for the main characters, I think it would have been even better fully structured as a novel -- I think it might have drawn out the supporting characters a bit more. The mystery elements give the story some texture, but the magical background behind the crimes is a little opaque to the reader... not a problem exactly, just a comment on what kind of mystery story this is. Plus, I'm an easy mark for any novel with the British Crown still ruling America. (If I met Richard Dreyfuss, I'd probably ask him what it was like to work with Harry Turtledove.) I'm hoping for a continuation to this story, and I'll check out some of Bear's other fantasy work in the meantime.

T is for Tresspass by Sue Grafton

Grafton is one of the few really best-selling authors that I read, and one of the things I like about her recent work is that she's been able to avoid having Kinsey Milhone solve the same case over and over again. In this case, the point of view goes back and forth between Kinsey and a sociopathic predator posing as a home nurse, the better to steal large sums of money from the neighborhood elderly recluse.

The mouse in this game sees Kinsey coming from a mile away, and manages to manipulate her into losing her temper and seeming unhinged to any authority figure Kinsey is inclined to consult. That's frustrating for Kinsey, but interesting for me -- I generally like watching the hero have their strengths used against them judo-style. The book is tense, although the actual ending struck me as a bit too easy.

It's also kind of interesting to watch Kinsey's stories, which take place a few months after each other and are therefore still in 1988, increasingly become period pieces. I think Grafton is increasingly referencing current events to make it easy for the reader to remember the time frame, and not wonder why Kinsey doesn't use a cell phone or the internet.

Coming soon: Matthew Hughes Magestrum series. New Lois McMaster Bujold. The third book in John Varley's Mars series. Jim Butcher's latest Dresden novel...

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Average Programming Book

One weird aspect of being a published writer is that you get very little information about sales. You see your own numbers (several months after the fact), but there's no larger context, and no sense of what a reasonable expectation of sales might be.

Which is why I love it when O'Reilly Radar puts up one of their periodic looks at the computer book market. I haven't pored over stat line like this since I collected baseball cards when I was ten.

I'm going to assume you've gone and followed the link, and post some further thoughts, rather than rehash the points already made.

So, the average programming book sold about 1100 copies in 2007. Given the probable distribution, I'd imagine the median is significantly lower, probably under 1000, although I have no way of knowing for sure. Obviously that conflates a lot of things, new books/old books, general books/specific books, but it seems to be a reasonable baseline.

It's not clear what that means for total sales, since I don't have a good sense of how long a particular book is viable. Jython Essentials, which is nobody's idea of a best-seller, is still selling the odd few copies a month, and 2007 was it's sixth calendar year of sales, (it probably just slipped below the 1100/year figure based on 2007).

You might expect that the per-unit total is larger for the larger language markets, but that doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, three of the top ten languages have much lower per-unit figures (Java, C, Visual Basic). Presumably, this is because the larger markets encourage specialized books in a way that, say, the Groovy market doesn't. Yet.

It does seem to be the case that markets whose share is growing have high per-unit sales and vice-versa. This makes sense, especially when you factor in the lag time that publishers operate under. Growth markets result in high sales for the relatively few titles available, then the average gets driven down later on as more players enter the market. (The most interesting counter example is PHP, which maintained a pretty good per-unit sales rate despite an overall drop.)

Quick thoughts:

  • Ruby has the highest per-unit sales rate in 2006 and 2007 (books are placed based on what language the examples are in, so this includes all Rails books). It's still a very strong growth market, though. (But I wonder what the average is if you subtract the two Dave Thomas books...)

  • Python passed Perl, for presumably the first time since ever. That's really weird sounding. If you'd told me when I bought the Pickaxe book in 2001 that six years later Python would outsell Perl, and Ruby would outsell both of them combined... It's weird.

  • If the trendlines come even close to continuing, C# will be the biggest language market in 2008. That seems strange too... but I guess the Microsoft Bubble of Tools is pretty big.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Buy My Book! (Please?)

223888 cover_df.pdf (3 pages).jpgThis week, my book Professional Ruby on Rails will be officially released. You can see sample chapters here, and you can buy the book at Amazon (affiliate link).

This book is designed to meet the needs of an intermediate to advanced Ruby on Rails user. The first wave of Rails books could not assume that the user had any pre-existing knowledge of Rails. As a result, they spent a lot of time covering the basics. The target reader for this book is somebody who has already read one of the basic books and now has to apply this knowledge to building a complete web site all the way from conception to deployment.

Written over the summer and fall, all the sample code in the book uses Rails 2.x, specifically including RESTful structures, respond_to, new migrations, cookie-based sessions, and other new features.

The book covers the kinds of tasks that nearly every site needs to handle -- user models, database performance, time zones and internationalization, creating common JavaScript navigation elements, REST web services, and graphics. Where there are commonly used plugins to support those features, the book covers those as well.

In addition to the application itself, there are other parts of the Rails life cycle. The book covers many of these issues including how to manage a Subversion repository, how to use Rake to simplify common tasks, Capistrano for deployment, RailsBench and profiling tools, generators, and plugins.

I wanted to include comprehensive and integrated coverage of automated testing. In addition to a chapter dedicated to advanced testing tools, nearly all of the sample code in the book is presented with its associated tests first. I believe this promotes the use of test-driven development and gives examples of how to test complex Rails code.

I had a lot of fun writing this book. If you are a Rails programmer, this book will improve your programs, and hopefully save you time and effort. If you're interested, please check out the samples, and buy the book. Thanks.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

10 Print "Favorite Books, 2007"

For my first real non-techy post on this site (I'm a little nervous about that....), here's one of my favorite things to write about -- a list of favorite books that I read in 2007.

All the books on this list were published recently enough to qualify as "new". I also group books in the same series more or less on whim. My tastes... well, they tend toward Fantasy and SF, beyond that, you'll just have to infer from the list.

First up, the honorable mention, all these books are definitely recommended. All links are to Amazon affiliate pages.

Honorable Mention

  • Cursor's Fury, Jim Butcher. This is book three of the Codex Alera series (book four came out in January '08). The series is notable for likable characters, tight plotting, and a very interesting fantasy world based on the Roman empire. This particular book has a well handled reveal of secrets, including clues that had been staring the reader in the face since page one of the first book.

  • Extras, Scott Westerfeld. Book four of Westerfeld's exceptional YA Uglies series. Maybe down a slight notch from the first three, but still an interesting and fun book. Westerfeld has a knack for aligning his SF worlds with the concerns of his YA readers, but the book is also worth reading for adults.

  • First Among Sequels, Jasper Fforde. This one is book five in a series, in this case Fforde's funny and off-the-wall Thursday Next books. It's about fifteen years later, Thursday is still fighting bad guys in and out of books, in this case, she's assisted by two different fictional versions of herself. This series is kind of like what Douglas Adams might have come up with if he had decided to parody the English Lit canon. Only with more croquet, dodoes, vampires, and neanderthals. This book also has a great (read: clever and silly) time travel paradox.

  • Ha'penny, Jo Walton. Much less funny, this is a sequel to Farthing, Walton's alternate history world where the British made peace with Nazi Germany in 1940, ceding the rest of the continent to German control. Like the first book, this is chilling in it's matter-of-factness as Britain increasingly becomes a police state. (There aren't many more disturbing phrases in an alternate history than "President Lindburgh"...).

  • Halting State, Charles Stross. The only non-series book in the entire Honorable Mention list. That's really odd. Near fiction SF that takes off from a daring bank robbery inside a World of Warcraft like virtual game. Moving forward from there, the stakes get much higher, since anybody who can crack the encryption used in the game can do... well, pretty much anything. This was the last book to fall off the final nominee list, it's an excellent, mind-warping SF book. Stross is kind of hit-and-miss, this is one of his hits.

  • The Lies of Locke Lamora & Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch. Right up until the actual last book I read in 2007, this was my favorite new author of the year. It's a dark series (projected to seven books) about elaborate con games in an urban fantasy environment. The first one reads like a violent cross between The Sting and China Mieville, the second one start that way, but veers off into a long pirate digression. The first book, on it's own, would probably have squeaked in the nominee list, the second one is a little weaker, but still has its moments.

  • Melusine & The Virtu, Sarah Monette. One novel, published in two parts. Another dark fantasy, an extremely well written mood and character piece about two half-brothers, one a wizard gone insane, the other an assassin turned cat burglar. (Boy, that makes it sound kind of goofy -- it's not.) The book oozes atmosphere.

  • Ragamuffin, Tobias Buckell. Sequel to Crystal Rain, this book opens up the universe and has a much more space-opera feel. Includes a fantastic SF set piece that takes place down the axis line of a cylindrical space-station, involving Newton's second law and machine guns.

Also recommended, to one degree or another:

Always by Nicola Griffith, Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill, Kusheil's Justice by Jaqueline Carey (last book off the above list), Magic's Child by Justine Larbalestier, The Merchant's War by Charles Stross, Precious Dragon by Liz Williams, The Sharing Knife: Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold, Sixty Days and Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson, Spook Countryby WIlliam Gibson, The Sons of Heaven by Kage Baker, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, The Sword Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe, and White Night by Jim Butcher

The following books are the actual nominees for whatever mythical award I give out -- my favorite books of the year. This was an excellent year, all of these books are highly recommended.

  • Blindsight, Peter Watts. The essential quote about Watts is from James Nicoll, "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts." This is a grim book about the limitations of the human mind -- if you think your mind is actually good at stuff, be prepared to have that idea debunked forcefully. This is a first contact book with a very alien race, but it's completely subversive to the normal ideas of a first contact book. And it has SF vampires.

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K, Rowling. Odds are that you've already read this if you have even the slightest interest, either way you're probably not interested in what I have to say about this one. I just wanted to point out that, as a longtime Potter fan and Rowling supporter, I was a little worried that she wouldn't stick the landing. She did -- the book is a very satisfying end to the story.

  • The Last Colony, John Scalzi. Book three of the Old Man's War series, paying off on a series of hints in the earlier books that the surrounding universe is much more complex then originally let on. This book has more of an intrigue/spy feel than the earlier two, which were more military. Scalzi is trying very hard to write SF novels that are accessible to people who don't normally read SF. This does not mean the books are dumbed-down or uninteresting, just that you're actually going to be able to recommend them to more people who will enjoy them.

  • The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss. This was my favorite new novelist of the year. The funny thing is that I could come up with a list of plot elements that would make this sound like the most derivative thing ever -- it's got a magical university, the kid from nowhere who's the most talented wizard anybody's ever seen, dark forces afoot, the older hero being dragged into the game one more time, takes place in an inn. All that said, the execution of the book is outstanding. The characters are far more interesting then the plain list would suggest, and the sentence by sentence writing is very good.

  • The Queen of Candesce Karl Schroeder. Book Two of Schroeder's Virga series, which takes place on maybe the best SF big object since Ringworld -- a giant, hollow planet, filled inside with atmosphere, and dozens upon dozens of smaller worldlets, the size of small towns and smaller, that spin to create their own gravity. It's a space opera if space had air. This book takes place on a very small, but strange, part of the larger world (the first book was basically an end-to-end tour of the place). The world building is amazingly good, the worldlet that the story takes place on is covered with countries the size of mansions that spend all their time in deep intrigue over centuries-old grudges.

  • Un Lun Dun China Mieville. It seems like this one kind of slipped past a lot of people, maybe they thought it was just another adult writer trying YA because it's a big market. In fact, it's a funny and clever subversive take on Narnia-style other worlds, and it has enough wordplay to qualify it as The Phantom Tollbooth for the 21st century. This is the kind of book where The Chosen One is out of action on page 35, where a character is told that there is a long list of Trials That Must Be Done and says, in effect "I don't have that kind of time, just tell me where the last one is..." You'll never think about fantasy quests in the same way again.

  • The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon. Alternate history novel on the premise that the US saved 4 million European Jews in World War II and housed them in a protected reserve in Sitka, Alaska. Where they settled in and created a unique, Yiddish-based culture. Only now its 2007, and the lease is running out. On top of all that, it's a murder mystery. I was ready to love this book on premise alone, and the book more than lives up to the premise. As an Ashkenazi Jew, Sitka, Alaska is my lost culture, and Chabon makes it seem absolutely real -- I want to see this place as much as I've ever wanted to visit a fictional book. This just became the first novel ever to be nominated for best novel for both the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award, and the SF Writers of America's Nebula award. Hands down, my favorite book of the year. Update: My source for the Edgar/Nebula has made a partial correction, pointing out that "Jeffrey Ford's The Girl in the Glass was nominated for the best novel Nebula and won the best paperback original Edgar in 2006". Still, Best Paperback Original is not, I suppose, Best Novel...

Friday, February 22, 2008


Amazon is now saying that Professional Ruby On Rails is in stock! I haven't seen my copies yet, and I suspect Amazon purchases will actually go out next week, but it's a real page and everything.

The link to purchase is right here.

I've also added a running list of errata and updates. Check back on that every now and then.

Much more on the book over the next week.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hey, Free Book Samples!

As I've mentioned here a few times, I have a book coming out, "Professional Ruby on Rails", available later this month.

If you'd like a sneak peek, Wrox has put some samples online as PDF files. You can also just buy the book.

  • Chapter 1 -- This sets up the sample project used in the book, and talks about the new REST features in Rails.

  • Table of Contents -- Take a look at this to see if your favorite topic is covered.

  • Index -- A more detailed way to see if your favorite topic is covered. Also, maybe you collect indexes...

I'm not sure if the publisher plans on adding more sample content -- if so, I'll update this post.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Publication And Other Updates

First off, several pathfinder blog posts to catch up on...

In Rails book news, I'm now proofreading the final PDF versions of the chapters, which is the first time I get to see the pages in the actual final book layout. Which is pretty cool. I'm correcting them for obvious typos, a couple of things that have changed in the last month since I last proofed the chapters, and code layout issues. Should be back to the publisher by Jan. 18th, and they claim to have the book in their warehouse by about Feb. 12th.

You can still buy your copy in advance -- that's an affiliate link, in case you care.

In other books, I just got the wxPython statement for the quarter ending Sep, 2007. About 400 net sales, which was about what I predicted, bring it to a total of around 7200.

I also just got a Jython statement, same quarter, with 160 net sales on it, literally the highest it's been in years (a couple of quarters ago, the net sales were 2). I wonder if the fact that the Jython project has started moving forward again had something to do with that. Anyway, this makes it almost plausible that I might actually get a royalty on that book at some time ever.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Versions: Another promotion from the comments

Somebody anonymous asks:

As most of the currently available books cover Rails 1.2, are you providing the code in the books also as Rails 1.2?

The sample example in the book is Rails 2.0, which was Edge Rails when I started, and I just validated all the tests against 2.0.2 last week when I turned in the finished code samples. Where there's a significant change between 1.2 and 2.0, I tried to note it in the text, but I would want to claim that I got all of them.

That said, most of the techniques in the book are applicable to 1.2 applications, although some tweaking may be needed.

There are a number of reasons for this, but mostly it boils down to a) differentiating from books that are already on the shelf and b) giving the book as long a life span as possible. Maintaining two separate versions of the sample application was not feasible given the time constraints.

Ruby version, for what it's worth, is 1.8.6 -- I felt that 1.9 was too experimental to be working with during most of the writing.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Professional Rails Online?

In response to the commenter who asked if there was going to be a beta book.

UPDATE: Clearly I should ask about these things before I post. Jim Minatel from Wrox added the following in comments:

  • There will be a PDF about six weeks after the print book, meaning end of March or thereabouts. There will also be an Amazon Kindle version, eventually.

  • Also after 6 weeks, the book will be available via Wrox's online subscription service:

  • It won't be on Safari, apparently Wrox books aren't part of the deal there (which I actually was kind of wondering about). Meaning I still haven't placed a book there)

I now return you to my earlier, ill-informed, blather...

Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure the answer is no. Not only doesn't Wrox tend to do that kind of thing, at this point, the book is do to go to press in about two weeks, so the amount of time to get feedback would be sharply limited.

At one point, I was told that sample chapters would be available online before release, but I don't have any information on whether there will be an e-book available. I don't think there will be a direct purchase of a PDF, but it seems as though Wiley just joined the Safari book store, and the book might be available there. I'll try and find out for sure this week.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Another Publication Update

Just got the next version of the book chapters for my examination. I'm not 100% sure exactly where these fit in the process. It looks like they've had a good look-see from a copyeditor, largely for style, clarity, and consistency. (Any lingering "we" sentences seem to have been pruned, for example).

They produced a book-specific style guide, which is a listing of canonical forms for things like plugin names, capitalization of commands or tools and the like. It's kind of interesting to see if I can remember where each name or command was used.

Anyway, I'm supposed to have these turned around by Jan 2, so I'm reasonably sure we're still good to go to press in mid-January, and be released in mid-February.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Heads Up

Wow, I haven't been here for a while. Sorry about that. Here's the deal...

The Rails book initial draft went in about a week ago, more or less on time. (Well, on time for a slightly revised schedule). My understanding of the current schedule is that the author review phase will continue through November. After that, it goes to production, where I get another crack at revising thing that have changed. It goes to press toward the end of January for publication mid-February. If everything continues smoothly.

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I think I said almost everything I was hoping to. The main constraint was the tight schedule -- I'm hoping to get some newer features and plugins in during author review.

Oh, and I had another Pathfinder blog entry a few weeks ago. This one is about the CDBaby Rails/PHP thing that was kind of a flap way back then.

That's all for now, I'll try to get back updating the Twitter feed and get back to writing here and on the Pathfinder blog more regularly... Thanks.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pro Rails Book Related Things

A few things I forgot to put in the last book update:

  • The Amazon listing has the book at 600 pages. That's almost certainly optimistic. The contract calls for 400-500.

  • As far as the schedule goes, I'm currently hoping to turn the complete draft in on October 26th, which is about ten days after the original date. The publisher says that pushes publication out to April, six to eight weeks after the original date. I don't quite understand the math, but I suspect that it has to do with the logistics of availability of printing equipment and the like.

  • Chapter Seven appears to be on track to be delivered this week, which makes the book just a smidge less than halfway done.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Book Update

Here's a couple notes on the current status of the Rails book and life in general.

  • The Rails book is presently just about 30% done -- first payment triggered (yay!). I'm reasonably happy about it so far, though definitely too close to it at the moment to have a clear sense of its quality. I do like the way the test integration is working out -- it seems to help my descriptions of functionality to have the tests there.

  • The book is now available for preorder on Amazon. Here's the 10 print "hello" affiliate link, which will conveniently linger in the sidebar of this blog forever.

  • I don't think I ever mentioned this, but the last results I got on the wxPython book (for Q1 2007), showed that sales were starting to slump. Although the data was weird -- US sales were down to about 1/3 of the previous quarter, and US returns were way up, such that net sales were almost zero. At the same time, international sales were way up, with the total affect being a drop to about 1/2 or slightly less from the previous quarter. We've now passed the 6700 mark in total sales.

  • Apple fanboy stuff: One of the nice features of my new job is that my work computer is now a MacBook Pro. Very nice machine, well designed, very fast. Battery life is decent. Lots of the little design details you've come to expect -- I particularly like the magnetic power cord. Now if only I could use the thing without wearing oven mitts, I think I'd be in business.

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...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Code Complete: An Appreciation

It's been about 25 years since I first typed 10 PRINT "HELLO", and in that time I've read dozens of books aimed at making me better at creating software. There are several things I want to do with this site, but certainly one of them is to recognize those books that had a particularly strong impact on my professional career.

The first one is Code Complete, by Steve McConnell. It stands out on the shelf because it's not about learning a new language, tool, or discipline, and it's not a big picture rethinking of software engineering itself. Instead, it's a series of presentations of empirical data about specific features of the coding process, as well as very specific examples of how to generate elegant, readable code.

I read this book the summer before I entered a graduate program in Computer Science, in a defensive panic that I didn't know enough actual programming. As soon as I finished it, I started rewriting my existing programs to align with McConnell's suggestions, and I've never really stopped. In particular, the sections on control structures and layout paint a clear picture of what maintainable software looks like in practice, simply be setting out the principles and demonstrating them example by example.

The book's influence is all the more amazing because its examples are in langauges (C, Basic, and Pascal) that have not been useful to me professionally. (I had stopped using Pascal by the time I read it, wrote a little Visual Basic since, and probably an even smaller amount of C). The basic ideas, though, are adaptable to any declarative language. There's a second edition, dated to 2004, that I haven't read, but which I understand updates the data and examples in the book (the examples now include Java and C#). (Come to think of it, I probably should check it out...).

It's rather amazing to me that so many of the Amazon reviews of this book still, nearly fifteen years after its original publication, say that there's no other book that covers this kind of ground.. the kind of pinhole cleanup of code that is so much of the difference between a great program and a mess. I actually think there are one or two other books that cover similar ground, but it's clear to me that this is a gap in the kind of knowledge about programming that is shared. This book will make you a better programmer.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Occasionally Asked Questions

I wouldn't say it happens often, but I do sometimes get asked some questions about being a technical author. Seemed like a good place to start.

For a long time, the most common question was Did you pick the animal on the cover of the Jython book? The answer is no. The cover animals are picked by the O'Reilly production team, and the mechanism they use for assigning animals to books is somewhat mystical. I think we could have rejected it had we had a really strong reason (I know of at least one other book that has). For the wxPython book, Manning offered us a selection of a few different art figures, and we also picked the color of the spine.

The other most common question is something like Can you make a living at this? or more generally, how publishing finances work. I'm not a complete expert, but I suspect my experiences generalize. Tech books are generally sold on the basis of a proposal (in contrast to fiction novels from new authors, which are usually not sold until the book is complete). Publishers generally describe their proposal formats on their websites -- I can't talk as much about that part of the process because I came in after the proposal phase in both cases.

The contract specifies payment as an advance and a royalty rate. The advance is paid up front in stages as the book is completed. There's room for negotiation on this, but it's typically something like 1/3 on signing, 1/3 at the halfway point, and 1/3 when the final manuscript is approved. My sense is that newbie authors can expect an advance in the mid to high four digit range. The royalty rate the amount of each books sale that goes to the author (the amount is based on what the publisher is paid by the store, not on the cover price of the book). However, the amount of the advance is subtracted from the royalties -- the author does not see additional payment until the total royalty amount exceeds the initial advance. At this point, the book is said to have "earned out". In case you are wondering, the author does not have to return the advance if the book never earns out -- the advance is a gamble by the publisher. A typical royalty rate is about 10%, but some publishers (notably Pragmatic) offer more. If there is more than one author, than the authors decide how the money will be split among them, and that split is also enshrined in the contract.

Oh, and if you have an agent, then the agent typically takes %15 percent off the top. Typically, they earn it, too, either by getting the contract in the first place, or by dealing with the publisher when you don't want to.

Tim O'Reilly said on his blog some time ago that the typical O'Reilly book earns about $15,000 for it's author. In my case, however, we earned less than that, since the Jython book has yet to earn out. In fact, it will probably never earn out -- in fact, based on the figures O'Reilly gave in his post, it's probably among the lowest selling O'Reilly books ever (at around 6000 copies or so), so I've got that going for me. I haven't gotten sales figures on the wxPython book yet, but it's Amazon ranking has been pretty good, so I'm hopeful.

I've just started writing some articles for sites like IBM developer works, which is more lucrative on a per-word basis, but I'm not planning on quitting my day job anytime soon.

That'll do for now. As I think of some other questions of interest, I'll post them here.