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Ask HN: Advice for writing a book
6 points by freework 1467 days ago | hide | past | web | 8 comments | favorite
I am thinking of writing a book. I'm been pondering the ideas that will make up the book for the past few months. I already have a 150 line outline with 5 chapters. I think I have enough already for a whole book, but I'm not sure.

The book is about how software companies do such a terrible job of hiring developers, and how they can do a better job. My thesis is that what makes a good team is a balance between nerdy introverted, non-communicative geniuses and extroverted well-networked less intelligent blogger-coders. Both types are important for a well balanced, well-oiled team, but many companies often end up only hiring one stereotype or the other.

A few questions:

1. I want this to be published in a paper book. Which publisher will best suit the subject matter?

2. I have never written a book before. Will this make it hard for me to get the attention of publishers? If I already have the book written before I approach publishers, will this help me?

3. I want to interview lead interviewers for various tech companies. Will such interviews be difficult as a first-time writer? What are some tips on how to get in touch with these people. I live in Ohio, so I will have to do everything over the phone.

4. If I have to end up self-publishing, how should I go about finding an editor? How much should I pay them?

5. How long should my book be before I can call it a book? How many words?




I would start a blog and start posting some of your initial thoughts, the kind of stuff that would make up your introduction or analysis. If you don't have any other books under your belt, it'll be useful to have a site put up to convince interviewees of your interest and angle on the topic.


A collection of blog posts is a common book format these days. Serialization in magazines was common in the past, but blogs are probably better for an aspiring author because they provide direct feedback from the audience. In addition there is no editor as gatekeeper between the aspiring author and publication.


"The book is about how software companies do such a terrible job of hiring developers."

Some editorial thoughts for which my only qualifications are a keyboard and WiFi connection:

This sounds more argumentative than investigatory, and it puts you at odds with those you wish to interview. Absent relevant metrics and data what qualifies your expertise as comparable to that of leading interviewers or specialized HR consultants?

While it may be possible to interview the leaders, it will be unlikely if they work for large corporations due to those corporations' press policies. A thesis hostile to those corporations' hiring practices makes access more unlikely.

That said, write the book anyway. Or put it down and write a different related book. Or write an unrelated one. Or start blogging and perhaps later publish a collection of blog posts as a book.

Or do all of them. Or a memoir.

Writer's write. A trashcan full of wadded sheets torn from the typewriter is what the process produces. Books are a side effect.

Good luck.


I am just getting started with writing my first book too.

I recommend reading these articles. http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/28/why-every-entrepreneur-shou... http://scottberkun.com/2007/how-to-write-a-book-the-short-ho...

Createspace is a recommended resource, although you should look into similar sources.

Other sources: lightning source writersmarket.com bookbaby.com

- Bharad (star at bharad dottt net)


Check out the Writer's Market books. There is a large list of publishers both large and small as well as articles on the writing process itself and how to contact publishers.

My guess? The target market for your book is too small for traditional publishers and you will have to end up self-publishing. This isn't my type of book so I will defer to others on whether print or e-book is better. A friend of mine just self-published on Amazon using CreateSpace and it has been a good experience for her. Her book is available in both print and kindle form.


YMMV, but my gut reaction to your five points is:

1a) Why do you want it to be paper? And do you mean paper only? If so, my view is that you'd be looking at much lower revenue than if you were open to ebook versions (instead or as well). Don't overrate the prestige of paper these days. I'd rather 10,000 Kindle/PDF readers over 1000 paper-book readers.

1b) I've not dealt directly with traditional/print publishers as an on-the-books author (have never found a commission that pays enough to make the time+deadline worthwhile), but experience from dealing with them as a journalist (my previous life) is that there can be some really great people out there at publishers, but you need to find a good 'personality' match between you and the firm. What publishers whose books you have read seem most closely aligned with where your book is "at", culturally? If you can't think of any publishers because you haven't read any such books, get reading. If you can't think of any because there doesn't feel like there's a match, you've got a tougher challenge on your hands - self publishing may be the way forward.

2) The lack of a track record will make it harder to get publisher attention. Not impossible, but definitely harder. (This is partly why self-publishing is rising in popularity.) You'll need at least a couple of representative sample chapters and a solid synopsis of where this is going for them to get an idea of whether you're a) saying something worth reading and b) capable of expressing it well enough to work as a book. If you've got some kind of pedigree/relevant background/expertise/credibility that will help a lot, but only if you can write well. It may sound cynical, but these are all factors that help mitigate the publisher's risk in taking you on, and that's what really decides whether something gets published or not.

You'll also have to see whether the publisher you have in mind accepts unsolicited submissions. Not all of them do.

3) "Will such interviews be difficult for a first-time writer?" Have you interviewed anyone at all before? If not, practise on friends/family, interviewing them about anything (don't worry about writing/recording - just get used to the interplay.) Experience really helps you think on your feet and change what could be a pro-forma Q&A into a proper, interesting, interview. Doing it on the phone is good for that natural flow, but doing it over email may also work, depending on your question set and how you're planning to write it up.

If you're doing it over the phone, record it and transcribe it fully before writing it up. Keep the recordings and that paper record safe. They are your defence if someone challenges what you've written about them. Decide ahead whether you're going to let your interviewees read the resulting copy -- you don't have to, but for this kind of book I think it could be good to avoid inadvertent altered meanings during the write-up and the related fallout, if you're new to this.

4) Finding an independent editor is basically hiring a freelancer - lots of options if you google, variable quality unless you're careful [or lucky]. Look at how much money you think you might make from the book (depending on how you choose to publish), then halve that (because every writer over-estimates how much they'll really make) and then see how much of that you want to hand over to an editor, if you can still afford one.

You can save yourself some cash by doing as much prep and polish as you can: plan ahead for the structure of your book and its sections, get real friends to read it (not your parents - you need someone totally objective) and suggest changes. Be structured in your 'bug tracking' and keep polishing up to a pre-set number of revisions (else you'll go insane). If someone says your book is truly perfect, they're lying. But at least they're being nice.

5) I've bought 30-page things that call themselves books. I've also got a 600+ page hardback sitting here, waiting to be read. Don't sweat the number of words - focus on making whatever you're writing as useful and engaging as possible.

And, along with what danso says about writing a blog to get you started (which sounds like v good advice for someone who sounds relatively inexperienced in all this), check out leanpub.com, which is the most friction-free way to publish I've yet come across, with royalties that are far, far better than any print-book commission I was ever offered.


Thanks for the great thoughts. The main reason why I'm going this is to get 'cred' so to speak. At my last job, we hired a guy who had co-written a peper-published book on the framework we were using. My company basically threw themselves at him because he was a published author. He wasn't a particular talented or hard working developer. They pretty much hired him on the spot simply because he had written a book.

I have another friend who is the lead developer of a popular open source python library, and he can pretty much walk into any company he wants and they'll offer him a job. The guy isn't even that much of a brilliant developer (its not that he 'sucks', he just isn't all that exceptional compared to a lot of other people I've worked with). Ironically, this is one of the topics I'm going to touch on in the book.

Self publishing is not as 'prestigious' as being paper published. I personally don't care about readership, nor do I care how many people read my book.


Can I politely suggest not writing a book? Writing takes time, effort and self-sacrifice - a lack of which any publisher will be able to spot a mile off. If you don't care how many people read the book, publishers probably won't care that you wrote the book.




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