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Writing a Technical Book for Manning (tunetheweb.com)
161 points by tunetheweb 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments



I wrote a book for Manning (Relevant Search). It was a grueling process. I can confirm much that's in here. I will say that I generally felt Manning

(a) really understood how to craft good tech books

(b) was really dedicated to tech books as a medium, despite all the attempts to 'disrupt books' which I respected

(c) was full of dedicated people that treated this as their craft

The other point I'll make is the author's name goes on the cover, but the work is really a team effort between dedicated editors, the publisher, reviewers, and others. No part is replaceable.

If I was to write another book, I'd definitely consider doing it with them. Not because they made it easy, but because they really were dedicated to the quality I wanted in my book

I also loved their super old school, Web 1.0, "we just do books" website 5 years ago :)


I was a technical proofer for a Manning book, and I concur with all of your points. They’re super professional and dedicated to getting the best outcome (a useful book)


Outing a book is a team effort and IMO it will always remain like that. There are so many things like handling the depth of subject, typesetting, line-tracking, accessibility and really hardcore stuff like contextual cover design, editing and proofing the flow and delivery of the message are _human_ level problems. No machine or software could replace that!

B.t.w have you seen https://bubblin.io?

I'm the developer behind it and the intent is definitely to disrupt books, albeit a little differently.


Great post, lots of detail. After reading this I would be more likely to want to publish with and buy from Manning. I’ve been a technical reviewer for Packt, and since doing so would avoid buying any of their books. As a customer of Mannings’, they seem better, and seeing the inside of the process and the amount of review that happens, I think they sound great all things considered.


I dropped out of being a technical reviewer for Packt after they declined my suggestions about things that were factually wrong, because that's not what they wanted me to review.

They never fixed the many factual inaccuracies before it went to print.


I found Packt books to often be of rather poor quality, and I'm now avoiding things published by them. Manning is slightly better, but not that much. I'd consider both brands to be rather poor at reviewing and editing.


This does not surprise me. In the book I reviewed there were a lot of simplistic explanations that lacked nuance. Even if that's the right level for their target market, I think it could have been done in a better way, giving the reader the push to go and research in more depth if they so wish, but to be honest I'm not sure the author was at that level.


I have lots of programming books (30-40) from half a dozen publishers and Manning is one of my favorite along with NoStarch Press. O'Reilly is probably third, but they don't make books anymore. Packt is alright, but you often don't get the same thing as a Manning book. They're more like a way for someone to quickly get something out that works, but there are definitely misspellings and grammatical errors, but nothing that would prevent you from learning.


What do you mean O'Reilly doesn't make books anymore? I've read books from them recently.


They don't sell their books themselves anymore, only a digital subscription (so you need to buy from bookstores etc), parent might have been thinking of that.


This. They still make content, but I believe it's all digital.

I don't think they create paper books anymore. Is that incorrect?


From what I understand they still make books, they just don't sell them directly anymore. Amazon has them. (Unless they abandoned that in the meantime too and I missed it happening)


No, it's not "just digital". It's subscription-only through Safari Online! You can "stream" books and learning videos from there, but you'd never own one. You cannot buy a DRM free O'Reilly eBook anymore, unless it's from one of those Humble Bundle sales (where the selection may or may not suit your needs). I just stopped supporting O'Reilly when it went subscription only, and I'm guessing there are lots of people and companies with Safari subscriptions that don't really use it as much (compared to the percentage that uses it).


You can buy them from all kinds of book sellers: https://www.ebooks.com/en-de/searchapp/searchresults.net?drm... (random example that allowed filtering by DRM-free)

Just not from them directly.


Not everywhere, which defeats the point. When O'Reilly used to sell ebooks directly, it was available a lot more widely.


I’ve had bad experience from both Packt and Manning, it’s simply not trustworthy. I’m sure there are a good mix of bad and good books, but I’ve bought books that simply rephrased API docs of insert-popular-open-source-language.

I support independent publishing and small publishers, but as a consumer, you need to build trust in the quality of the content across the board, not just a handful. If I see a book from Springer or O’Reilly, I know I can at least trust some baseline expectations from a book - true there are some bad apples as well, but they are at least edible unlike Manning/Packt where I got a load of shit instead of an Apple for $29.


I agree with you regarding Packt - books I've purchased from them tend to be more miss than hit. I haven't had the same experience with Manning though. In fact, Manning has been my go to rather than O'Reilly, the former king of technical books, for a few years now.

I used to be a big O'Reilly fan, but the quality of their content seemed to go down 5 or so years ago. It seemed like they were at the peak of churning out books on every topic imaginable - I think they stretched themselves too thin. They seemed to go from great to mediocre overnight. When they closed their online shop a year or so back, and really started pushing Safari hard I stopped getting anything from them.


Why would you avoid Packt?


Read few Packt books written by authors that know nothing about the topic of the book.

For example their blender book is absolute trash and waste of time.

https://www.packtpub.com/hardware-and-creative/blender-3d-ba...

Their model in the middle of the book could be made in 5mins. And most of the book author writes about history of animation and other offtopics.

https://subscription.packtpub.com/book/hardware_and_creative...


Oh wow, that's egregious, thanks.


Not the OP but have avoided Packt books for years: I find them to typically exhibit quite low quality of writing and I assert without proof that they lack the rigor in the editing process that more 'serious' publishers have. Also I think it's pretty easy to become a Packt author; some people I've worked with and a friend have been approached by them. Typically I only buy Manning or O'Reilly but I've read a few garbage titles from the latter of late so I suspect that might not hold for much longer. It'll be interesting to see if perceived quality becomes a market differentiator or if tech books at some point become unprofitable.


My impression from everyone I talked to is that Packt does not care about quality or accuracy, but aims to print a book as fast as possible. I also spoke to an author of a Packt book who said they'd never work with them again.

I'd also note that I often find Packt books which don't even spell the name of the topic they're covering correctly, right on the cover.


I see, thank you, that's good to know.


OP here, lots of reasons. I reviewed a book called "Node Security".

- The level of technical quality of the book was not what I would expect for ~$40.

- I was arguably naive and under qualified (although probably qualified enough for the level the book ended up being), having some Node and some security experience.

- The author was probably more naive and no more qualified, having no security experience.

- The book ended up becoming a list of tutorials about how to use certain libraries for authentication/etc in Node apps.

- My main feedback was that I felt an additional last chapter should be added, that showed how to deploy a node app behind Nginx with a basic security setup in production. I felt this was in-line with the very (in my opinion overly) practical nature of the book, I also felt that "deploy behind Nginx" or something along those lines was one of the most obvious things to do in terms of security, and a real quick win. They made it clear that adding a chapter, however short, was out of the question.

- Really the only thing I was encouraged to do was to test the code examples to make sure they worked. I did find a security vulnerability in one of them, and that was fixed, but that was probably the most meaningful change I had an impact on.


There is a reason why they are the only publisher that discount their books in such a dramatic ways:

- 80% off a topic everyday

- $5 selected ebooks every other week or so

- $5 all ebooks few times a year

Why would they offer such steep discounts if the books are of high quality?

For me, I never even bother to waste time looking even at $5 (or even if free) since 99.9% of them are really just crap.


I avoid them after they asked me to write about a topic that I didn't even have on my resume. I also found the quality of the books that I had purchased to not be very high.

> Packt is planning to publish a book titled as 'SQLAlchemy cookbook' which would be a 300 page book and in the process of seeking potential authors to work on this book I also read through your resume [Link]. It is evident that you have an expertise in this area and as such seems to be an ideal candidate to author this book for us.

They linked to my actual resume that had 0 mention of SQLAlchemy. At the time, I had also graduated less than a year before, which was clearly mentioned on my resume as well.


A few years ago, they asked me to be a tech reviewer and the compensation was a credit/bio, a copy of the book, and an ebook of any other of their books. No money. I took that as a sign they weren't serious about getting a good review.


Yeah, I'll add that I've bought quite a few packt books (mostly because I like cryptic things and they have crazy sales). Avoid them, Manning and Apress tend to be much better. Honestly I tend towards textbooks anymore...


I've been invited to write a Packt book on a topic that I knew very little about; I might have had one repo related to it.


Come to think of it, they invited me out of the blue to write a book on some random topic as well, I had forgotten about that.


If you want to hear about the alternative approach of self-publishing, check out my post about how I wrote a WebAssembly book in 200 hours: https://medium.com/@robaboukhalil/how-i-wrote-a-technical-bo...

This is my second self-published book and I've loved this approach. It lets me focus on writing and marketing, and I get to craft every aspect of the book.


Did you know what typical minimum page count requirements are? I have a non-technical, more program management focused book with about 100 pages. Was told by a publisher it's too short... wondering how you approached that when self publishing, since your post mentions it's about 100-150 pages. Did you get any feedback from readers that it is too short?


I have not received feedback that my book was too short. In my own experience, I've rarely ever completed a technical book--in fact, I've often wished they were shorter!


I have the same takeaway, many technical books with 300+ pages seem more like reference material rather then being focused on teaching the reader.


How did you publish the landing page?


The landing page is static HTML hosted on GCP's cloud storage platform.


Book writing is a punishing endeavor. I started writing a book once. We got a contract, we got an advance ($5,000), we even wrote 3/4 of the book. Then in one month twelve(12!) books came out on the same topic. The publisher pulled our contract because they didn't want to be yet another book on the same topic. That seemed reasonable.

They were kind enough to allow us to keep the advance and maintain the copyright on what we had written, some of which were turned into blog posts.


> They were kind enough to allow us to keep the advance and maintain the copyright on what we had written

It'd be shocking if this weren't the case.


Well the contract said originally that they get the copyright since they paid an advance and it was a "work for hire". If they had stuck to the contract the copyright wouldn't have returned to us unless we paid back the advance and then bought it back from them at "market value".


Wrote a book for Manning (Redis in Action), from December '11 to July '12 (available online), editing through the summer of '12.

Was offered the Word Doc or Docbook-based XML format w/ Java validator + validating xsd, and others. Went with the XML, but built my own tooling for injecting runnable code (what is available in my git repository for the book) into the book, using code comments to define figures so I didn't have to copy / paste / update / etc., along with figure, and other convenient "macros" to save from typing the XML. Call it 85%-90% XML, 10% other stuff.

The major challenge I faced was that the validator provided to me was not the same as what was used by the publisher when I uploaded my xml for automatic generation for editing, leaving me in a situation where I didn't even know that my xml wasn't valid until I get a crappy message after `svn commit` and having to submit a build to their system (typically 1-3 minute delay to find out your pdf generation didn't work, try to find what weird xml edgecase you missed that your validator doesn't care about, and submit again). About 2-3 months before finishing with final edits, I found an XML editor that would validate with the xsd directly, finally getting my document validated (but breaking all of my formatting, requiring extra steps in my build process, ...), and allowing me to eliminate 30-40 minutes of the typical "find out what's wrong with my hand-written XML tonight" when editing.

They had a forum for discussing ongoing author issues, and I remember there was an author who was using his own Asciidoc -> docbook tool. Looks like they may have imported it more recently if OP was using that and there was no docbook option. I had started early on with a reStructuredText equivalent, but then realized that I didn't want to write / maintain a tool to write a book (and to maintain that tool for others going forward), and ended up with what I used - less than 150 total lines, no external libraries, and no maintenance going forward. :)


I've written three books for Apress, and their process seems to be a bit leaner (less review), so more of the book quality is the author's responsibility.

The technical reviewers were good, but certainly not world experts on the topics.

I didn't get any say in the cover images, just a proposal to which they showed me.

---

Regarding the topic of writer's block, my advice is to write blog posts instead of book chapters first. Depending on your contract, you might or might not be allowed to actually publish them, but if you did a bit of blogging first, you are likely used to writing blog posts, so the idea is not as scary as writing a book chapter.

You can do enough editing later, but starting from blog posts gives the chapters some independence that I as a reader appreciate.


Found a few typos:

"if you ever what to write a book," - "want"

"I needed to tke care of including images" - "take"

"in an attempt to illicit feedback" - "elicit"

"likely won't actually be approved until early 2010, " - "2020" (probably)

"copy-editing to correct grammar, and spelling," - "grammar and spelling"

"Manning do a lot of promotion" - "does"

"a random random tip of this list isshown" - "random", "is shown"

"it's shocking amount" - "a shocking"


> "Manning do a lot of promotion" - "does"

I'm going to nitpick. The original sentence is grammatically correct in the UK and some other non-U.S. English speaking parts. I know this may sound very weird, but it's all fine and correct somewhere else, treating companies and establishments as plural.


Yeah I was trying to figure out what to do with that one. In the end I “corrected” it as suggested but could have gone either way depending whether Manning is a singular company or a plural collection of people.


Thanks fixed. This is why I need editors :-)


I'm curious about publishing a book, what are the typical length requirements? I have seen some books with 400+ pages. Is that what publishers require? Anyone has an experience where page count was much less?


Would not consider buying from manning again. The books are unreadable on kindle and they made no effort to correct it.


Device or app? I've found that pretty much all technical books look terrible on Kindle devices - the screens are too small, the technical content (source) usually formats poorly, and diagrams are often screwed up. That's not unique to Manning.

I have a lot of Manning books that I've purchased directly from their site and/or from Amazon. I generally read them in the Kindle app (iOS, lt, web) or in iBooks. The only Kindle device that I've comfortably read any technical books on is the old Kindle DX, and that was just because the screen was relatively large.

Technical content and smaller e-reader devices will never be a good fit. Occasionally it's tolerable, usually it's not.


I'm just fine reading them on an iPad, though. I typically download the epub from their site and upload it to Google Play Books, so I can access it from all my devices.

The latest book "C#, In Depth", Fourth Edition is really readable, even the code, on the iPad (9.7"). I even occasionally read some on my Android phone and while the code samples fold on themselves, they still make sense at atleast (nothing getting cut off by invisible scrolling or anything).

I don't know how people would expect to read a tech book on a 6" screen of a Kindle, there's a reason print versions of tech books aren't the same size of a mass market genre paperback.


As an author with them I have complained about this issue many times. I am sorry to say I have not made much headway. I believe if the right people knew, they would do the right thing, so I will continue to try.


I've written three technical books: one with Apress and two with Manning (https://classicproblems.com). Usually first-time authors (like first-time anything) don't have a lot of perspective because they don't know what it's like with another publisher. But, this post by Barry is pretty spot-on. To summarize (a TLDR if you want and these are widely known points anyway):

- Manning has a high quality review process and generally puts out high quality books

- Manning's current production phase (what happens after content is done) and production timeline leave a lot to be desired; I know they have had some turnover in the department and they are self-aware and working on it to be fair

- Manning's main tooling (aka Word templates) leaves a lot to be desired as well. You have the choice to work with AsciiDoc (I did my first with them in Asciidoc and the second in Word) but their tooling for that is even less mature.

- You don't write technical books for the money. You do it for the career advancement and/or satisfaction. You read blog posts about the outliers (people who made a lot and people who made a little) because they're the loudest voices, but generally even a good technical book sells around 2000 copies because the audience of paying readers is so niche.

- He's right about the royalty negotiation. First-time, unknown authors have almost no leverage. After you have successfully completed a book you can negotiate a higher royalty rate/advance.

I'll add a few more points (hopefully they're not pissed at me for writing publicly about this):

- They do a very good job marketing to their own existing audience. They do less of a good job marketing to external audiences, although this has improved in the last couple of years.

- So much of how high quality the process is depends on who you randomly get as a development editor/technical editor/technical reviewer/copy editor. You don't have much say in the matter. So, it's a total crapshoot.

- It's better if you come to them than they come to you. I came to publishers with all three of my topics, not the other way around. You can then shop around. I submitted my proposals to multiple publishers and got multiple offers.

I disagree with another author who posted in this comment section—books, even by traditional publishers, are not always a team effort. 90% of the content of my three books is the same as would've existed if I had self-published. Of course being receptive to feedback is very important, but how valuable it is really depends on how good a writer/explainer you are to begin with and how good the people giving that feedback are.


> I also got to pick the cover image from one of three suggestions the publisher sent me. Manning uses images of historical figures on the covers of their books ... I picked the image of the woman carrying clothes as I thought it was at least somewhat related to a transport protocol carrying messages (a stretch I know but I was rather pleased with myself for coming up with that analogy to justify the cover image somewhat).


Meta: I would appreciate it if quotes are accompanied by some explanation of why you chose it.


I choose the cover of Rust in Action because the subject is carrying lots of things, a hint towards concurrency. I also think that she's probably doing some sort of chore, which is the kind of work that gets done with Rust. She's also from the Caucus mountains, an area I would love to visit.




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