Emphasis on "well"! I think I'm at closer to 5x that and I don't consider myself to have gone above and beyond. But, when you think about the total amount of time all readers may spend reading it, what's a few hours per page?
> why would they take on a poorly paying second job?
This article seems to have the flawed premise that financial incentives are the only incentives, or at least the only ones worth mentioning.
I've put a surprisingly large chunk of my life into the book I'm writing and I've yet to make a dime. That may change soon once the print and ebook versions are done, but I don't expect to financially recoup the time I put into it.
But, I don't need to, either. Like many technical people, I'm paying my bills OK. Extra cash never hurt, sure, but one thing I can't easily buy is gratitude or appreciation. Writing a book and putting it online for free has given me that in spades. That's the incentive that gave me enough motivation to actually finish writing it. When I had a contract and an advance coming, the cash wasn't enough to get me off my ass. Feeling like my writing made a connection and helped people did.
If you want great technical people to write more, instead of buying more books, why not just tell them you love their work and would love to learn more from them?
I did blog for a couple of years before I started on the book. But, honestly, the most helpful thing was spending several years on reddit commenting very heavily. I wrote thousands of comments, and those are like writing bootcamp.
But there's definitely no dividing line between being able to "write" enough to write a book versus being able to write a comment here on HN. It's all just prose. The trick is just putting the time into writing and revising a lot of it.
Sure, there's a reason I scoped this to technical people. Most of us are able to pay our bills and don't have to work much more than 40 hours a week.
Given that, we all have free time. Much of that is filled with friends and family, but many have room left for a hobby or two. Writing a book can fill that slot. I wrote this book while working full time and raising a family. It takes longer, of course, but since I'm not in it for the money, I'm not rushed either.
Training materials for less academically demanding occupations are correspondingly less demanding to write. Step by step instructions aren't that hard. Instructional videos are expensive to make but YouTube has shown that people are even willing to do those for (next to) nothing. People really enjoy sharing their expertise on things they're passionate about.
I get that people do it for passion, I enjoy sharing knowledge too, and in an ideal world where I didn't have to earn money, I'd be doing it along with everyone else as part of a great virtuous cycle.
However, the current situation is mostly at odds with making a career out of education. I really can't invest as much time as I'd like into educational work because I have a family to support, and I barely break even on the hours invested.
It means that trying any new interesting approaches is out of the question, and advanced topics with a smaller audience are unlikely to see the light of day, which is a pity.
But I guess as long as there is a supply of people willing to do this kind of work on top of a regular job, the situation will only become more entrenched.
Yes, this is the part that really bothers me. I'm fine with people doing creative work like writing and music without much financial reward.
The shitty part is that they still have to spend so much of their precious time doing other stuff to get the financial reward needed to pay their bills.
It's not a tragedy in my mind that writing doesn't pay, it's that we require something that does pay.
The full text is here: http://gameprogrammingpatterns.com/
Yes, it might be coincidence. Or it might be that the set of books written prior to 2005 spans 30 years (since the first Lambda paper), while from 2005 to today there's only been 9 years.
Even taking the date of the last paper as its publishing date (1980), if we assume that each year has the same probability of having a book on the list, we should expect only 9/34 ~= 26% of the Must-Read books to be published after 2005.
And as it happens, 3/13 is ~23%, well within a reasonable margin of error.
There's the question of whether or not publishing is increasing within fields or that there's more publishing in new areas, but it seems to me that there should be an accelerating trend in publishing. Your assumption that each year is equally likely to be represented strikes be as questionable.
I don't see how an increase in the publishing of scholarly papers implies an expected increase in books, specifically.
I suppose its probably possible to extract data from other sources -- ibiblio, perhaps -- for books, but that would involve work.
There's also the matter that the xkcd infographic shows long-term trends. It's entirely possible that there've been changes in recent years. Though that would also be pretty remarkable.
The huge increase in online access to content and information has a bigger effect though. I was purchasing a large number of books through the mid 2000s, far fewer since. The fact that numerous physical bookstores I could head to and shelf-browse have closed doesn't much help matters (I hate buying anything online, books included, especially via Amazon).
: http://www.railstutorial.org/, but watch http://news.railstutorial.org/ for an announcement of 3rd edition draft chapters, which I plan to start releasing shortly
1) How critical were screencasts in convincing customers to purchase the ebook versions?
2) How dependent is this business model on books which are attached to fast-moving software?
3) Did you make any effort (like Scribd) to prevent scraping of content from the online viewer?
4) Have you had to request DMCA takedowns of ebooks or screencasts?
5) Do you plan to provide guidance or best practices on screencast production?
The big money is in product bundles, but the ebooks sold well (~$100/day) even before the screencasts launched. And that was back in 2010, when the Rails Tutorial was just getting started.
It cuts both ways, but I suspect it's generally better if the software isn't fast-moving. Products covering fast-moving software require updates that lead to new sales cycles, but products covering slower-changing software have much longer shelf-lives. As one data point, I've actually designed the 3rd edition of the Rails Tutorial to be more future-proof than before, in the hopes that I won't have to update it as often. (Even then, full updates have only been required ever 1.5 years, with minor supplements in between.) And some future products I have planned will be designed to be even more evergreen.
Not at all. The online version is plain HTML. You can even "save as PDF", but the real ebooks are so much nicer that hardly anyone bothers. In general, authors are way too paranoid about people stealing their content. You can give away huge amounts of information as long as the product you're charging for delivers real value.
5) Do you plan to provide guidance or best practices on screencast production?
Yes, if there's demand. I take it there might be. :-)
> Yes, if there's demand. I take it there might be. :-)
Customers of softcover.io may be more comfortable spending $150 on additional bundles if there was a well-defined baseline for screencast quality. The pitch to potential authors and customers is to emulate the sales/quality success of the Rails tutorial, so it's in the interest of all parties (platform, customers, authors) to see that baseline met or exceeded.
Edit: will the "powered by softcover" banner/footer be required for authors publishing on their own domain? If so, it would help all authors if the link was directed to a list of domains "powered by softcover", rather than a pitch for softcover itself.
The idea is that Softcover's customers are the authors, much like WordPress's customers are bloggers. Purchasers of an author's products should notice the Softcover name only incidentally. We want to help authors build their own brands.
will the "powered by softcover" banner/footer be required for authors publishing on their own domain?
No, authors can optionally remove the footer.
Don't underestimate the assistance that your brand can give to the brands of your authors. While toolsets for e-publishing may not act as editorial gateways, they still exercise a form of affinity/aesthetic filtering that can provide a discovery signal to book buyers.
Even a quick browse of the leanpub site (cited elsewhere in this thread) showed a clear difference from softcover viewing aesthetics. Over time, you may discover a correlation between "authors who liked the softcover toolchain" and "readers who buy from more than one softcover author". That would last until word got out, then you would have a flood of new authors who were attracted primarily by revenue opportunity, not toolchain/distribution aesthetics.
BTW, it's quite informative whether someone chooses to publish on WordPress, Blogspot, Tumblr, statically-generated html, or Facebook.
1) I've found that supplementing material makes a massive difference in sales. However, when you see a larger percentage of the revenue, you definitely feel more inclined to create supplementing material
2) wewut isn't tied to fast moving software at all. I wouldn't consider that a necessity, though it does help ensure future editions
3) For some reason, self published materials seem to pop up less on piracy sites. Google a professionally published book and it's easy to find a free copy. The same hasn't been true for the leanpub books I've searched for.
4) Is it even worth the effort these days?
5) There's a bunch of stuff out there on this topic already - a quick search should get you plenty of pointers. Screencasts have been around awhile. Don't skimp on audio equipment has always been the #1 advice I've seen.
I was a technical editor for Understanding and Deploying LDAP, 2nd Edition, and Addison Wesley paid me $5000 for my work. There were two technical editors, I presume the other tech editor received the same remuneration.
I very carefully tracked my effort - it took about six months, and and I was able to take a friday off every other week from work thanks to an enlightened boss who saw that it would be useful for his LDAP administrator to enhance his skills in such a manner.
So, 6 months x twice a month x 8 hours - about 100 hours of work, or $50/hour.
Of course, I was also drawing a Salary at the time, and the real reason I was doing this, was out of passion. I was determined to make sure not a single issue got by me. I labbed out every example. Tested out every command. Verified every URL. Flagged everything that wasn't 100% clear to me.
But - I realize that as a technical editor, I was probably putting in < 5% of the effort that the two authors were putting into this, even if it was a second edition (which presumably meant less effort than the seminal first edition).
At the end of the day - every technical boot author I know either did it out of desire to create something create, or to build out their reputation.
I've never met one who actually thought they could make any type of living doing it.
I don't recommend bad writers write technical books. I also don't recommend people who don't read regularly write technical books. Ultimately writing a good technical book requires a lot of the same things as writing any other kind of book: dedication, perseverance, writing skills, and attention to detail (and let's not forget extensive domain knowledge). It's not doable by most people given their time constraints, IMHO.
The author's assumptions about compensation are off though. You're lucky if you sell 2000 copies in most technical markets, and your royalty rate is above 12%. Forget that if you have a coauthor. Your main compensation is indeed the brand building unfortunately (plus a small advance).
Several of our technical titles have sold well over 20,000 copies but we've also had the rare title sell in the 2-3,000 copy range. That is definitely rare and only on very niche topics.
Writing a technical book is a lot of work on both ends, especially when a publisher provides real editorial and marketing support. Unfortunately, most no longer do, which is unfortunate for all involved and a good argument for considering self-publishing. After all, if publishers aren't offering added services, why not self-publish?
We read and edit every word before a book goes to copyedit. I've personally spent well over 300 hours editing individual titles. If you were to hire someone to do that work the minimum cost would be $15,000.
I'd love to see more people writing technical books -- good technical books -- for love of the subject and out of a desire to share knowledge. Sure, a good book will build your brand, but make it great, first.
The world always needs more good books. Our watchwords are "fewer, better books." Aim to be great.
I guess you're selling so many copies of each book (and based on your watchwords) by being quite selective about what titles you publish?
For the record, I do think my book is great but writing a book is not black and white - it's such a big endeavor that there is generally more than one motivation. I also didn't want to self call.
The author was making the point that the good-case scenario for book sales results in a not-very-impressive royalty. And that implies the average-case will result in a really-not-impressive royalty as you've personally seen.
So we do need to buy more tech books if we would like to have authors compensated fairly... which will hopefully attract more talent and effort towards creating more good tech books.
$45K is good money as far as I'm concerned.
Since launch it's made approximately $35k. Not quite the solid success that the OP talks about, but then again I invested far less time than the OP suggests.
There is a simple reason for that, which has nothing to do with the economics of writing books or even the editorial quality: with the pace of the industry today, the material in a technical book about any specific development tool or technique or language may well be obsolete before it even hits the shelves.
If there were more technical books with general accumulated wisdom, insightful analysis, and advice that will stand the test of time, I'd be interested. If they had good production quality and editorial standards, I'd be even more interested (because frankly, hardly any of the last few computing books I bought did, even those from supposedly respectable publishers).
But take a look at the new releases lists on Amazon, and certainly at the bestsellers lists or what you find in a bricks 'n' mortar bookshop, and almost everything published in the past few years has either a version number or a "for dummies/beginners" tag in the title. Chances are that I can get material at least as good, often much better, and almost always more up-to-date, just by identifying a few experts on-line and browsing their blog/articles/project docs. Printed books are obsolete as a mechanism for conveying information on these subjects.
In short, there are a few classics in computing fields that still sell well, but how many books destined to become classics have been published in these fields in the past decade? And for anything that isn't, why would anyone buy the limited, ephemeral book when the Internet exists?
Another example would be several months later, when I got a job at a company with a lot of Hadoop work, not having much experience with writing MapReduce code. I had two weeks between jobs, so I picked up 4 books on Hadoop. It's less than a day's salary, and allowed me to feel like I could hit the ground running at the new job (and I did). Those books are all outdated now, but I still feel like I got my money's worth from them.
1. publish online and capture 70%+ of the revenue; and
2. offer different bundles so people can pay according to the value they receive.
The second point is the most important, and where traditional publishers fail. $79 for a technical book might feel like a lot to an individual but $299 for a 10 person licence is so cheap to a company that it's not worth thinking about.
FWIW, I'm writing a book on Scala and I'm not embarrassed to say I have an ulterior motive for it. It takes up far too much time to do otherwise. I believe it's going to be a fairly good book -- better than anything else on the market -- and that's because I'm taking ideas from great books such as HtDP and SICP (with acknowledgement, of course).
These (non-technical) managers have said that having a lot of books doesn't make you look smart, it actually has the opposite effect.
They actively discouraged staff from at least publicly turning to books to learn stuff.
I'm not saying I agree or disagree with this point of view - I'm just pointing out that it is a point of view that is out there and seems to be fairly common among non-technical managers.
My site http://www.learneroo.com has educational modules primarily for beginners learning programming, but I'm thinking of expanding it to more advanced topics. Anyone interested in publishing their content on it?
One upside to the days of paper-only was that I was forced to hand-enter a lot of code to see it in action. It made me pay more attention to the code than if I had just cut-n-pasted or loaded up a file.
Often the code would fail the first time I tried to run it. Then I needed to figure out where the error was. It was quite instructional.
RFDL (run-fail-debug-loop) is a very useful approach to learning.
My question is maybe professional programmers aren't as interested in doing 'assigned' challenges and would rather apply what they learn to their own projects. Though I still think there's still a large market for more interactive professional training.
I find that most of my favorite books were written decades ago. New stuff is too boring to be worth books half the time.
That said, I buy books regularly and completely agree with the net advice. Support authors and make it a valuable career to work hard, build good knowledge, and share it.
Wikipedia can only get you so far.
Consultants should write books, but I believe we'd all benefit if non-consultants wrote books as well.
At the time, they were estimating 20K units as the break even point. Most books sold 5K units, give or take. I still get royalty statements with returns, despite having no sales in years. No chance I'll ever make up the advance and start receiving royalties.
However, having books with your name on it makes it very easy to convince people who have no way to judge your skills that you know what you are doing. I believe it helped launch my consulting career. I start my 15th year in business in about a month.
After the books; I moved onto writing shorter-length articles and podcasting. In my years of podcasting ( http://www.theflexshow.com ), I made the same amount of money as I did publishing those three books for Osborne. ( Thanks to a six month sponsorship from Adobe ).
I kept track of my time on my second and third book. I averaged 20 hours per chapter, which is probably slightly less than 1 hour per page.
When Adobe Flex took off [and publishers started calling]; they were estimating 5K units as a roaring success for a book. So, things changed in that decade. However, I was smarter at that point and asked about marketing / sales questions. I would think someone wanting to publish a book could tell me what the size of the market was and what their expected penetration was. But, all I got was a lot of blank stares, with the occasional "O'Rielly had book that did well". I passed on writing any books on Flex.
When Flex/Flash took a nose dive; I shut down my podcast and turned focus back to writing. The results are a self-published training course on AngularJS for Flex Developers ( https://www.lifeafterflex.com ). It uses the "Authority" model of publishing, with the lowest tier being pay what you want; and the highest tier including 6 hours of screencasts on AngularJS.
The series has seen more staying power than I expected [Pay what you want sales trickle in a few each month; although no one has purchased the higher tiers since launch]. I do expect to make up my cash expenditure on the project (Copy editing + Web site design); but I'll never make up for my time. Total sales have been in the $2K range.
But, I had a client hire me to do a conversion of an app from Flex to AngularJS; so that doesn't hurt the 'cash flow'.
I think the release would have been more successful it it came a year and a half earlier. I also think I may have built it for a market that is too narrow.
Right now; I'm working on extending that series to include a book about building the backend with NodeJS instead of ColdFusion. It should be out by the end of next month.
Hopefully some of this is interesting.