I still get questions about writing a programming book, two years after Maximizing ASP.NET
came out. I figure maybe it's time to write a blog post on it so I can
easily field such questions with a little more substance.
Instead of giving advice on whether or not you should do it, let me share my experience and you can decide.
off, consider what your motivation is. It's my opinion that you really
need to want to help people out, and be confident that's what you can
do. Everything should be secondary to that. You probably aren't going
to get rich from doing it.
In my experience, the largest benefit
to me was having that "publication" at the top of my resume. In the
event that you want full-time or high-end consulting work, for me at
least I've been able to write my own ticket. I still need to be
charming in interviews, but a lot of weight comes with that publication.
need to have a fairly clear vision of what you want to write, and where
it will fit in the market. When my book came out, we were on the tail
end of over-saturation with a ton of titles, many of which never sold
that well. If publishers don't see where it can fit, they won't pick up
I started by outlining what I wanted, and writing
the introduction and two chapters. I shopped that around to various
publishers, and was pretty amazed at the responses. Most hilarious was
one publisher, who published a lot of books at the time (I won't say
which one, but you'd be shocked), who told me to come back in five
years when I had more experience. He was outright insulting. The reason
I didn't take it all that personally though was that he couldn't even
spell. There's a difference between "your" and "you're," after all.
That was not someone I wanted to work with.
Addison-Wesley was ultimately the publisher that picked up the project,
after some peer-review that went on for about two or three months. The
idea was to make the project more focused. Imagine that just four years
prior to that, I bought my first ASP 3.0 book by Alex Homer, and now
the guy was among those looking at what I proposed. That was kind of
The thing I screwed up on is not retaining
copyright, but I didn't know any better then. I figured I was lucky
just to get a contract. I was given an advance and fairly healthy
royalty percentage, oddly enough higher than what I remember reading
was average at the time. Unfortunately, even a couple of years later,
it hasn't quite reached the point where it made more than the advance,
but again, that was never the intention for writing the book.
had about six months to write, and I took time off from working to do
it. What a great summer that was. At the same time, I was playing
relentlessly with something called "Whidbey," which we now know as
Visual Studio 2005 and .NET 2.0. Also somewhat amusing now, is that I
was talking about rewriting POP Forums for the new framework version.
Here we are three years later and we're on the verge of the next
release, and no new forum app. Ha!
Writing for a publisher is an
interesting process. First off, copy editors do a marvelous job helping
you make things clear. Granted, I've been writing since college
(double-majored in radio/TV and journalism), so the editing wasn't bad,
but they certainly made me a better writer. Then seeing things laid out
on pages, it was just so surreal. Creating something tangible like that
is a pretty cool experience.
The entire project took about a year
and a half from the time I started pitching in late 2003 to the time it
appeared on shelves in March, 2005. At least for my experience, that
was where the positive experience ended.
The marketing of the
book was very poorly handled. At first they were pitching it at
conferences with architects and experienced people, which were so far
from the target audience that I could only scratch my head. You
should've seen the first draft of the back cover copy. It read like
total marketing B.S. that would've painted me to be a phony. It was
But there were some very shining moments. I got a lot
of e-mail from people who bought the book and sincerely thanked me for
writing it. Regardless of the scope of the audience, it was valued by
some people. It's analogous to my experience coaching volleyball to
girls. If even a few become better, it's worth your trouble.
of my college professors actually sent a copy of the book to me to sign
and send back to him. How crazy is that? One of your mentors suddenly
looks up to you for something.
Inevitably, one of the questions I
get is, "What would you do differently?" As I mentioned, I would've
negotiated to retain the copyright. If I still had it today, I'd give
the book away in PDF form. It's not going to sell much more anyway.
also think about self-publishing. If I were to publish the same book
today on LuLu.com, and price it at $30, I'd make about $20 a copy.
That's ten times what I'd get in royalties through a mainstream
publisher. I wouldn't have the marketing arm or publicity of a major
publisher, but I would only have to sell one-tenth as much to make the
same money. Again, the money wasn't the primary motivator, but my time is still worth something.
wrote the book for the me of several years earlier. I was fortunate in
being able to use the style and teaching that I thought would be
effective. Certainly as time has passed, I have more experience, and
I'm a better code monkey. I could probably write a better book. The
question is, will I?
Hard to say. I think I'd co-write a book if I had the opportunity and was approached, but I don't know that I'd do one solo.
my advice, even though I said I wouldn't give any, is to do it if you
think can. It's a more impressive feat than you might think when you
look back on it.