[Chicago-talk] Advice on writing a book?

JT Smith jt at plainblack.com
Sun Aug 13 09:26:27 PDT 2006

> I know there are a few authors on the list, and I'm interested in
> hearing their advice / experiences.

I've written four books now. One fiction book for a mass audience, and three technical 
books for products of the companies I've worked for to be distributed with the product. 
In none of those cases did I have to seek out a publisher, so I can't offer any advice 
about what O'Reilly will want, but I can offer some about the other things.

First and foremost, I think if you've got the book in you, you should write it. Whether 
it gets picked up by O'Reilly or Sams or whomever, the community will benefit from your 
book. That said, you may only be interested in doing it if you get paid for it. That's 
fine, but you need to decide that before you start writing anything. If you're doing it 
for yourself, that's one outline. If you're doing it for a publisher, they may have 
specific requirements, or subject matter they wish you to cover. For example, the books 
I wrote about the company products: one was supposed to be a reference, one 
instructional, and one was sort of both with a bit of cookbook thrown in.

Second, before committing to write a book, make sure you have a book's worth of material 
in you. There are two potential problems you may face here. The first is motivation. Do 
you actually have the gumption to see it through to the end? Writing a book is not a 
short endeavor, you won't crank it out in a weekend. For me, motivation was always the 
toughest thing. The second is in material. Do you have enough material in your head from 
the projects you've done to write a whole book, or will you need to do additional 
research? And if you do need the research, is that something you are willing to do or 
have the time to do in addition to writing the book?

Third, you need to make sure you have the time to be timely. The funny thing about 
writing a book, espeicially on a technical subject, is that you're writing to a moving 
target. If you take 6-12 months to write the book, and then the publisher takes 1-3 
months to mull/format/revise/publish the book then your content will likely be outdated 
by the time the first book hits a store shelf. I've heard that O'Reilly is really quick 
on their end, so it's really more about your time, than theirs, but it's no less 
important. So you need to ask yourself, do you have enough time to put in over a short 
span to write an entire book?

I hope you don't take these points as discouragement. I would never want to discourage 
anyone from writing a book. These are just some of the things I had to learn while 
writing books in the past, and I hope by sharing them that I can reduce your learning 

JT ~ Plain Black
ph: 703-286-2525 ext. 810
fax: 312-264-5382

I reject your reality, and substitute my own. ~ Adam Savage

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