It happened again this weekend. After delivering my presentation titled “Moving Data with Azure Data Factory,” at SQL Saturday – Raleigh (which was awesome, by the way!) – one of the handful who stood because the seats were filled (I am humbled) approached and said, “I read your blog. How do you find time to keep up with so many different topics?”
I have several responses. Some responses are questions like, “How much time each week do you spend consuming entertainment?” That question has morphed from, “How much time do you spend watching television?” because people spend less time watching television and more time consuming online media. I watch very little television. Game of Thrones? Haven’t seen it. Avengers: EndGame? Not yet. I will see Avengers, but it’ll be a while. And I will schedule the time to watch the movie, not go at the first opportunity.
Are you bad and wrong if you’ve seen Endgame already? Goodness, no. Go, enjoy. For me – and for most – it’s more about spending time with family. And that is Awesome.
Vegging in front of a screen is a time sink.
Other time sinks are bad habits. Sleeping in can be a time sink. I go to bed around 8:30 PM each evening, read a little, and go to sleep. My alarm is currently set for 4:00 AM. I wake up, do my morning routine, spend some time reading (or listening to) God’s Word, enjoy some coffee, and go to work. I usually arrive in the home office between 5:15 and 6:00 AM.
Is sleep important? Yep. You should get enough. Some folks are evening people who like to stay up late and get up late. I am not advocating getting up early over staying up late. I am personally more productive in the morning. If you are staying up late, it’s worth considering whether you could push whatever you’re doing until early the next day, and then do it then. Your answers will vary, and sometimes the answer will be “nope, I need to do this task starting at midnight.” That’s cool.
The Time Between Tasks
Another thing that helps me is (attempted) efficiency. If I start each day with a list of tasks I want to accomplish that day, I find I almost always get more done. Why? I believe this reduces the friction of moving between tasks.
The time between tasks is the time between finishing one task and starting the next task. Reducing the time between tasks means I have more time on task.
Several methods have helped me reduce the time between tasks: pomodoro, GTD, calendar reminders, checklists, a little app I wrote called astreams (pictured above). The goal is to invest some time at the beginning or end of a day thinking and planning what needs to get done that (or the next) day.
I leave a list at the end of the day and revisit it the next morning. Things that don’t make the list still get done because, well, life happens. Checklists help. I found the book Better by Atul Gawande helpful.
In conclusion, do what the nice British lady says when departing a train on London’s Underground and, “Mind the gap.”
People reading these posts have asked questions about my process – how I go about doing the writing that will eventually become a book. I answered this question in part during an interview for Malathi Mahadevan’s (@sqlmal | Curious About Data blog) book titled Data Professionals at Work (which is a book that explores the habits of a handful of folks in the SQL Server Community). In this post I share the beginnings of writing, for me…
In the beginning of the writing process, I begin.
A tautology? Maybe. It may be circular as well, but there are differences between the tautological and circular. Climbing back up the rabbit hole:
This is the beginning of a book.
Will you see this chapter in print? Maybe. Will it read as it now reads? No. It will most likely be rewritten – more than once. Sometimes the edits are themselves circular in that it is edited to read one way and then edited to read as originally written.
Writing is funny like that.
Does that bother you? Does repetitious doing and then undoing – digging a hole and then filling it in – get under your skin? Does the inefficiency of it all drive you up the wall? If yes, writing may not be for you.
If writing is not for you, are you less of a technologist? Professional? Person? Goodness no! It’s just one thing that’s not your thing.
Know Why You’re Writing
In One Way to Write a Technical Book, I state, “I write because I love to write.” For me, that’s a powerful and pregnant statement. It means I cannot be plied with money or promises of fame (or clicks or page views). It means I write for me.
I find writing for me freeing. I believe being free results in me writing better; I know it results in me writing more. More is not always better except when it is better and writing more is better than writing less. One may will always edit.
I think why you write is the most important aspect of writing.
One Last Thing
If you find yourself thinking, “Someone should write more about / document this topic in plainer language / with better / more complete / real-world examples,” maybe that someone is you.
If you want to write, begin writing.
Don’t worry about the rest, not now. Just start. Start a blog. Start a manuscript. Start a channel. Put something out there.
I occasionally (rarely) read reviews at Amazon of books I’ve written. If I learn of a complaint regarding the book I often try to help. If a reader experiences difficulty with demos, I often offer to help, and sometimes I meet with readers to work through some difficulty related to the book (as I offered here). About half the time, there’s a problem with the way the book explains an example or the sample code; the other half the time the reader does not understand what is written.
I own both cases. As a writer it’s my job to provide good examples that are as easy to understand as possible. Sometimes I fail.
In very rare instances, I feel the review misrepresents the contents of a book – enough to justify clarification. This review afforded one such opportunity. None of what I share below is new to regular readers of my blog. I chose to respond in a direct manner because I know and respect the author of the review, and believe he will receive my feedback in the manner in which it was intended – a manner (helpful feedback) very similar to the manner in which I believe his review was intended (also helpful feedback).
Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this review.
I maintain successful technology solutions are a combination of three factors:
The problem we are trying to solve;
The technology used to solve the problem; and
The developer attempting to use a technology to solve the problem.
I believe any technologist, given enough time and what my mother refers to as “gumption” (a bias for action combined with a will – and the stubbornness, er… tenacity – to succeed), can solve any problem with any technology.
I find your statement, “It doesn’t really teach BIML but rather teaches a specific optional framework for those who want to do everything with BIML rather than increase productivity for repetitive patterns” inaccurate. Did you read the entire book? I ask that question because I most often encounter readers who state the precise opposite of the opinion expressed in this review (some of your fellow reviewers express the opposite opinion here, even). I disagree with your statement, but I understand your opinion in light of other opinions expressed to me by readers during my past decade+ of writing several books. I share one example in this blog post. The short version: we often get more – or different – things from reading than we realize.
There is a section in The Biml Book – made up of 3 of the 20 chapters and appendices – that proposes a basic metadata-driven Biml framework which is the basis of a metadata-driven Biml framework in production in several large enterprises. I wrote those 3 chapters and the basic metadata-driven Biml framework in question. Varigence has also produced a metadata-driven Biml framework called BimlFlex – based upon similar principles – which has been deployed at myriad enterprises. The enterprise architects at these organizations have been able to improve code quality and increase productivity, all while decreasing the amount of time required to bring data-related solutions to market. They do not share your opinion, although they share at least some of the problems (you mentioned ETL) you are trying to solve.
Am I saying Biml – or the framework about which I wrote or even BimlFlex – is the end-all-be-all for every SSIS development effort? Goodness no! In fact, you will find disclaimers included in my writings on Biml and SSIS frameworks. I know because I wrote the disclaimers.
Misalignment on any of the three factors for successful technology solutions – the problem, the technology, and/or the developer – can lead to impedance mismatches in application and implementation. For example, Biml is not a good solution for some classes of ETL or data integration (points 1 and 2). And learning Biml takes about 40 hours of tenacious commitment (which goes to point 3). This is all coupled with a simple fact: data integration is hard. SSIS does a good job as a generic, provider-driven solution – but most find SSIS challenging to learn and non-intuitive (I did when I first started using it). Does that mean SSIS is not worth the effort to learn? Goodness, no! It does mean complaints about simplifying the learning process are to be expected and somewhat rhetorical.
Architects disagree. We have varying amounts of experience. We have different kinds of experience. Some architects have worked only as lone-wolf consultants or as members of single-person teams. Others have worked only as leaders of small teams of ETL developers. Rarer still are enterprise architects who are cross-disciplined and experienced as both lone-wolf consultants and managers of large teams in independent consulting firms and large enterprises. Less-experienced architects sometimes believe they have solved “all the things” when they have merely solved “one of the things.” Does this make them bad people? Goodness, no. It makes them less-experienced, though, and helps identify them as such. Did the “one thing” need solving? Goodness, yes. But enterprise architecture is part science and part art. Understanding the value of a solution one does not prefer – or the value of a solution that does not apply to the problem one is trying to solve – lands squarely in the art portion of the gig.
Regarding the science portion of the gig: engineers are qualified to qualitatively pronounce any solution is “over-engineered.” Non-engineers are not qualified to make any such determination, in my opinion.
By way of example: I recently returned from the PASS Summit. Although I did not attend the session, I know an SSIS architect delivered a session in which he made dismissing statements regarding any and all metadata-driven frameworks related to ETL with SSIS. If I didn’t attend his session, how do I know about the content of the presentation? A number of people in attendance approached me after the session to share their opinion that the architect, though he shared some useful information, does not appreciate the problems faced by most enterprise architects – especially enterprise architects who lead teams of ETL developers.
My advice to all enterprise architects and would-be enterprise architects is: Don’t be that guy.
Instead, be the enterprise architect who continues to examine a solution until underlying constraints and drivers and reasons the solution was designed the way it was designed are understood. Realize and recognize the difference between “That’s wrong,” “I disagree,” and “I prefer a different solution.” One size does not fit all.
Finally, some of the demos and Biml platforms were not working at the time you wrote this review. Many have been addressed since that time. In the future, updates to SSIS, Biml, and ETL best practices will invalidate what this team of authors wrote during the first half of 2017. As such, the statements, “And much of the online information is outdated and no longer works. It’s a shame someone hasn’t found a way to simplify the learning process.” is a tautology that defines progress. Learning is part of the job of a technologist. I encourage us all – myself most of all – to continue learning.
I demonstrate a cool SSIS Catalog Browser feature that helps ADF developers configure the Execute SSIS Package activity.
To see it in action, download SSIS Catalog Browser – it’s one of the free utilities available at DILM Suite. Connect to the instance of Azure SQL DB that hosts an Azure Data Factory SSIS Integration Runtime Catalog, select the SSIS Package you desire to execute using the Execute SSIS Package activity, and then copy the Catalog Path from the Catalog Browser status message:
Paste that value into the Package Path property of the Execute SSIS Package activity:
You can rinse and repeat – Catalog Browser surfaces Environment paths as well:
This post is about getting started because getting started is hard.
Getting Started Writing
The screenshot at the top of this post is an example of me getting started writing.
You may look at that title – and maybe even the single sentence that follows (note: you cannot see the single sentence in this screenshot. It’s “A data story begins with the creation of data.”) – and think, “WOW! That’s going to be fantastic, Andy! I cannot wait to read that!”
The truth? Odds are you will never see the finished work.
Most of the things I start writing are never published. I am not including personal journal entries in this number. Most of my ideas don’t even make it as far as the screenshot you see above. What happens to my ideas, then? Well:
I forget. I have some spark of inspiration but I’m in the shower or otherwise indisposed to stop and write it down so I will remember it later.
I write it down but never again look at that note.
I start the document or post but never complete it, or it’s ramble-y, or I don’t believe it will help and I choose to not publish it – or not publish it at this time.
This T-SQL Tuesday post will get finished later today (I’m writing this 5 Sep 2018), Lord willing. Probably even later this morning (I’m writing this sentence at 7:27 AM EDT while watching Kendra Little present SQL in the City Streamed on another monitor).
Because of these reasons (and more), I estimate I don’t publish more than I publish. It’s not a huge difference – probably 51/49 or 60/40. But that’s the split.
Is that a good thing?
“I Don’t Know”
“Wait. Andy, you write a lot and you don’t know whether how you write is good or bad?”
Yep. I write because I like to write. I don’t write for eyeballs, likes, or retweets. I don’t write because it’s good advertising (it is good advertising, by the way).
“What if I Don’t Like to Write?”
My response? “I don’t know.” I can empathize but not sympathize. Can I motivate you to change and want to write? Maybe.
You could be like me before I started writing. How was I before I started writing? I was missing out on something that I really enjoy – now. I kind of want to ease you into the next bit of The History of Andy (Part I) because it sometimes shocks people. It’s not my intention to shock you, but…
I am not a good writer.
There. I wrote it. It’s out there. And I can produce witnesses.
There’s a difference between writing a lot and writing well. Being prolific is akin to having a big mouth, and I can produce a lot of witnesses who will testify to the fact that I have a big mouth.
I am a good re-writer. I am a decent editor. I am a so-so proofreader.
“How Does This Help Me, Andy?”
The truth is this may not help you at all. It may help you realize that it’s ok to do what you do because you like doing it, though. Are there things you don’t like to do that you should do? Absolutely.
But here’s my point – and this is an important point: You definitely need to figure out why you do what you do.
Some folks say do what you’re passionate about. Full disclosure: I am one of those people. Others say become passionate about what you do. Still others say learn new stuff and then become passionate about the new stuff. Even others say we should become passionate about learning new stuff.
I can see validity in each perspective and even other perspectives I didn’t list.
Understand the Constraints
As I type, first-time author (and friend) Malathi Mahadevan (@sqlmal) just tweeted the following:
Your “why” comes with baggage (no extra charge). If you write to receive positive feedback, stars, reviews, etc., you are going to be disappointed. For whatever reason, people who do not like something are the more motivated to share their feedback. Positive feedback is rare. You should therefore cherish it when you receive it. Negative feedback is less-rare. You should therefore temper your response, realizing the negative feedback is usually over-represented – and positive feedback under-represented – in the pool of responses you receive.
You get to choose how to respond, though. I choose to look at negative feedback as folks telling me where I failed. For free. I fail all the time. How do I feel about failing? I feel like I want to fix it and succeed. Does failure hurt my feelings? Goodness, no. If negative feedback hurts your feelings, do yourself this favor: Divorce the emotions from the feedback.
…even if it’s emotionally-charged feedback…
Hang in there, Mal.
One benefit of writing because I like to write is I am mostly insulated from criticism. If I wrote to receive accolades, I would have stopped long ago. When I receive positive feedback, I am happy to read that something I wrote helped someone.
That’s another part of my Why: I am here to help.™
I’m an introvert who chooses the thrill of sharing way more than I am comfortable sharing. I know, I’m weird. If you’re new here, it’s good you saw this early.
I hope this post helps someone find their why. I hope it inspires someone to overcome whatever entropy is blocking your next awesome thing. Friction exists.
In my previous post titled Writing a Technical Book, I discussed phases of the process of writing a technical book. In this post I share details of my approach to writing a technical book.
To summarize, the steps for writing a technical book are:
How I Write Technical Books
First, a disclaimer. I want to be very clear: This is but one way to write a technical book. This is not the only way and there are likely better ways to write a technical book. This works for me; your mileage may vary.
I choose to list the problems I am trying to solve and my responses.
Publishing is a business. Books are commodities in the publishing world. Like every other commodity on the planet, books are treated as goods to be sold, deliverables to be delivered. While the publisher desires a well-written book, they want a book above all else.
The process of writing a technical book is fraught with impedance mismatches – the misalignment of the goals between the author and publisher.
One example: the author may see the book as their magnum opus. The publisher desires a good book, well-written. But most of all, the publisher wants to publish something. That’s how they get paid.
At the intersection of magnum opus and getting paid lies the AreYouDoneYet? call / email. This is usually an (or several) unpleasant communication(s) for all involved. The publisher likely feels fiscal pressure to ship. The author feels deadline pressure. As I said, not pleasant.
I know plenty of single-book authors who tell me, “I will never again publish a book through a publisher.” Without fail, each one lists an AreYouDoneYet? experience as their reason or part of their reason. I feel you. I really do. I don’t like those calls either. Many solve this problem by self-publishing.
One Solution: Write First
How do I solve AreYouDoneYet? I change the order of the process and write the first draft, first – and then submitting the book proposal.
If you don’t like the AreYouDoneYet? communications, get done first. If you believe self-publication is the route to go – and I write this as someone who has self-published – then you will need to write the book before you can publish it. Go ahead and write the first draft.
It is not uncommon to experience difficulties writing such as writer’s block or finding adequate time to write. If you are writing about software that is scheduled to be released, the release schedule may slip. In fact, you should count on experiencing these difficulties and allow for them in your writing schedule, whether you are writing for a publisher or self-publishing.
I am not sharing this with you to discourage you. Quite the opposite, in fact! I want you to enter the writing process with both eyes wide open. I want to be unequivocal about these facts:
Writing is hard work.
Writing requires discipline.
Writing takes time.
If you read the writing of others and think, “I could do a better job,” odds are you are correct (especially if you’ve read my writing). I am not a good writer. Prolific does not equal good. But – and this is an important but – you have to write to write better than me.
“Why do you write, Andy?” In my humble opinion, why you want to write is the most important question you need to answer. This question needs to be thoroughly settled in your mind before you apply keystrokes to document editor.
My answer? “I write because I love to write.” I think it stems from the joy I derive from learning and a desire to pass that joy to others. Trite? Perhaps. But altogether true. I enjoy writing. I write stuff no one else reads, even. I journal. I do not care if a single soul reads this blog post. Does that mean I don’t care about writing?
Nope. I rewrite for you.
So I rewrite. I do that here, even. I edit posts before publishing them. I often read a post later, cringe, and rewrite some sentence, paragraph, or entire section. Often, I add material or links for clarification. More often, I delete stuff (especially commas and parentheses and run-on sentences and sentences that begin with conjunctions and ellipses…).
Robert Graves said, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” He’s right. In his book titled “On Writing,” Stephen King shares awesome tidbits about the craft. I found King’s On Writing and Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Do The Work inspiring and informative. Note: those links are to my Amazon Associates account. If you would rather not use an Amazon Associates link, please click one the following links: On Writing, The War of Art, Do The Work. These are books worth reading. I wish I’d read them before I started writing.
I want you to experience the joy I derive from learning. I know some of you experience that joy because you tell me.
The coolest thing about writing, for me, is helping someone learn something.
Another word of advice:
If you are going to be a writer, please learn to write.
Learning to write will actually solve most of the AreYouDoneYet? problem. Don’t believe me? Start writing a book today. Follow my advice and write first. You’re going to have to write the book for the book to get written, right? Even if you self-publish, you will need to write eventually.
Why not start writing today?
Do you remember grammar and language arts classes in grade school? I do. I made straight D’s in these classes until my senior year in high school. I had a fantastic teacher my senior year at Nottoway Senior High School. His name was Barrow Cyrus. Mr. C. taught with passion. I’m sure other teachers had passion; I noticed Mr. C’s passion. Years later I would see the movie Dead Poet’s Society and be reminded of him. I made a B in Mr. Cyrus’ class. I started enjoying reading. I began to think about writing.
Remember those dumb outlining exercises? I hated those. First you have to plan how you’re going to write. You have to think first, then plan, and then write. Even back then, I enjoyed writing, but I wanted to get to the fun part and Just Write.
Those dumb outlines will save you many a headache, many hours rewriting, and might just help you avoid one or more AreYouDoneYet? communications. Please trust me: I’m right about this.
Does your outline have to be in standard outline format? Nope. It just needs to exist before you write the body of material.
Start writing by creating a document for each chapter. Provide a title. Optionally, write an “In this chapter…” section. Don’t write more body text, not yet.
Add section headers and optionally include an “In this section…” sentence or two. You may add subheadings.
Please resist the urge to start writing in earnest on the topic until you’ve created an outline for each chapter you intend to write.
Does this mean you will not add chapters later? Goodness no! You will add and remove and consolidate chapters as you write. Start here. Write an outline.
An advance is a pre-payment for writing. It’s essentially a loan against future royalties. An advance is seen as a way to compensate authors during the writing process, since writing takes time away from other paying endeavors.
I no longer accept advances on writing.
Why? I find it depressing to receive the first royalty statement from the publisher stating something akin to, “You earned $100 in royalties. You now owe us only $400 of the $500 we advanced you.” I’d rather receive a check for $100.
In worst cases, and advance can be weaponized against an author in an AreYouDoneYet? communication. I have a strict rule regarding ultimatums that applies to everything in life, not just writing.
Andy’s Ultimatum Rule states: You can deliver an ultimatum to Andy once.
I almost always capitulate when delivered an ultimatum. The other party gets their way. They have deployed a nuclear option, however; whether they realize it or not. My top priority from that point forward is departure.
It’s probably time I shared some potentially discouraging truth with you about writing…
You Are Not Going to Make Money Writing
Now that’s not entirely accurate. Odds are, someone reading this post will, in fact, make money writing. I have. So why’d I write that? I wrote that because you should not begin writing if you are only in it for the cashola. If even part of the reason you want to write is to make money from writing, stop now and save yourself some frustration.
I earn less – considerably less – than minimum wage writing.
“Are you telling me there’s no money in writing, Andy?”
Yes. Yes I am telling there is no money in writing. But…
You can earn more money as a published consultant. If you want to look at this as a silver lining, please understand there’s a cloud attached.
My first book project was Professional SQL Server 2005 Integration Services (Wrox, 2006). That particular book sold more copies than all my other books combined. I made money off that book. The year that book was released, my salary tripled. Why? That’s an excellent question to explore.
Often, CIO’s and CEO’s do not follow the technology crafts. They don’t know who’s good from who’s not-so-good at tech. They listen to friends in the business for advice about who to hire. They hire larger firms that have been around longer because, they reason, those firms must be doing things correctly to have survived and grown.
You and I know the biggest and oldest are not always the best. We understand technology and know how to discern between who’s up-and-coming and those riding past success – or even firms that have better salespeople – or firms that flat-out lie. Some CIO’s and CEO’s cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. Many can (they didn’t get where they are for no reason!) but not all.
If you and I are bidding for the same work and I am published and you are not, I am probably going to win the work because the customer is going to reason, “Andy must know what he is doing because he’s written a book about the technology.” They would be correct insofar as I know enough to write about it. Does that mean I am going to do a better job for them, though? Maybe. But you may not get a chance to show them you can do better work than me because I can drop a physical book on their desk and you cannot.
Is that unfair? Yes. Yes, that’s wholly and completely unfair. It’s also reality.
So I lied. You will make money from writing, just not from the act of writing all by itself.
Consider not accepting advances.
If you accept an advance, I recommend you save the money as if you hadn’t received an advance. That way, should you find yourself in an AreYouDoneYet? discussion and an ultimatum regarding the advance is made, you preserve the option of responding akin to, “Will you take a personal check?”
If you accept an advance, please, please pay very close attention to the section in the contract about how the advance is distributed and collected. I’ve heard horror stories about authors actually owing the publisher money when books don’t sell as expected.
Maybe reading this post has discouraged you. If so, I am glad. Do I like hurting people’s feelings? I promise you that I do not. If you are discouraged it’s likely because you opened this post thinking some things that are simply inaccurate about writing technical books. If I’ve disabused you of false notions, I feel I’ve done you a favor.
“I’ll Just Self-Publish”
Self-publishing is a way to avoid AreYouDoneYet? communications. Self-publishing is a way to avoid contracts and advances and all the associated headaches. Self-publishing is a way to add work to managing the book and, thereby, the book’s value – especially the long tail. (That link is to an excellent blog post by none other than THE Seth Godin. If you’re thinking of self-publishing, you need to read Seth Godin!)
Books have a shelf life. Publishers have relationships with book outlets – physical outlets like the ever-diminishing book box stores and with Amazon. In addition to these relationships, publishers also have marketing departments that create banner ads for books you and I see online. Publisher marketing departments also create email campaigns designed to attract buyers to books.
This increases book sales. This takes time.
Please do the math. Is your goal to make money from writing? I’ve shared my thoughts on that matter already. I contend the value of writing lies in consulting after being published. I feel that way because that’s what I have experienced. John Grisham probably has a different perspective.
Once the writing is done – the work – and the book is published, it’s time to advertise. You want as many people as possible to learn about your book. You want them to want to buy your book. You want them to want to hire you as a consultant. And, as I said earlier, you want to win the horribly-unfair competition against those who are not published (or not yet published) for mind-share in the minds of CIO’s and CEO’s.
The math is simple: More is better.
It’s true that I can avoid the pitfalls I’ve listed (and many that I’ve not touched upon) by self-publishing. But, bottom line, you are most likely not going to be able to advertise as much or as well as a publisher. And if you are able to advertise as much or as well as a publisher, consider doubling – multiplying, really – the advertising of your book by combining your efforts with that of the publisher.
One last thought about the math: Is it better to earn 100% of the royalties by selling 100 copies of your self-published book or to earn 10% of the royalties for selling 1,000 copies of your publisher-published book?
If you read that and thought, “That’s the same!” you are wrong.
Please scroll up and reread the paragraph about my salary tripling. Also, please see the section about the amount of work done by publisher advertising departments. You need mind-share. That’s why you should write (unless you love writing like I do!). Even if you love writing, you still need mind-share. Mind-share pays the bills.
I wrote Building Custom Tasks for SQL Server Integration Services (clean link) from a 12-part blog series. I wrote the blog series in 2012. I copied the contents into Word, edited the material, built a more-relevant demo task, paid an artist $200 to design the cover (not this cover), and popped over to CreateSpace to ready the book for self-publication.
I even printed a test copy. I was that close to pushing the button on self-publishing in March 2017. And then my editor emailed and asked, “Andy, why didn’t you send me that manuscript?” It was a fair question and I gave an honest answer: “I didn’t think you’d be interested in publishing so small a book.”
Ownership and the right to share some (or even all) of the content in other outlets such as blog posts and articles and whitepapers for which you may receive additional remuneration is negotiable.
If you are considering writing, I encourage you to write. I want you to enter the profession (and it is a profession), though, with both eyes wide open. I want you to know what to expect. I do not want you to think writing is easy because it’s hard work (even if you enjoy writing).
After publishing your first book, it’s normal – perhaps even a rite of passage – to look back and think, “I am never doing that again!” If you’ve published and feel that way, I promise you things get better with the second book and subsequent books. Why? Because your initial expectations were part of the problem.
The problems caused by your inaccurate expectations about writing have been solved.
Last August, a small subset of The Biml Book author team rewrote the book. It took about three weeks. One Amazon reviewer commented on the unity of voice, even. That didn’t happen by accident.
For me, the rewrite was the most difficult part of writing The Biml Book. When it was done I was ready to not think about Biml for a while. If you read that last sentence and know anything about me, you know that was a heavy emotion and a pretty big deal. I love Biml! But I needed a break.
Enterprise Data & Analytics started a gig right after the rewrite concluded. We were required to be onsite for the kickoff and the customer’s HQ was a few hours drive east of my home in Farmville. Since the project was just getting started, Kent Bradshaw and I were onsite 8 hours per day; no more, no less.
Being an early riser, I got up each morning a few hours before we were due at the work site and wrote. Of all the things to do, why did I write? After weeks of rewriting, why in the world did I write?
I am often asked for more information about writing a technical book. As author or co-author of twelve books focused or touching on technology, I consider myself experienced – not an expert.
I’ve noticed “ah-ha” moments recently when sharing insights and advice, so I thought I’d write a post about it. I hope that’s ok. If you’re here, I reckon it is.
A Typical Workflow for Writing a Technical Book
“So just how does a technical book get written, Andy?” I’m glad you asked. The answer is, unsurprisingly, “It depends.” It depends on the publisher and author(s), but mostly on the publisher. It can also depend on the topic and competition (real or imagined).
Step 0 – Idea
Someone has to come up with an idea for a book. It can be either a publisher or author, but someone says, “There should be a book about that!” Publishers often seek authors these days. Every time I share this fact I get blank stares and looks that communicate, “What did you just say?” It’s true. These days publishers are looking for authors to write about technology topics.
Finding good writers is hard for publishers. The writing process is hard work and requires discipline and stubbornness from authors. I am not making any of this up.
Once the idea for writing a technical book is codified-enough, the next step is…
Step 1 – Proposal
Every publisher with whom I’ve worked has a book proposal process. Book proposal templates vary but share some important features, such as:
Reader market size
Projected page count
Most of these items are self-explanatory. Some are negotiable. For example, you will be guessing (wildly) at the reader market size. You will also be guessing page count. And writing schedule.
Although it’s very important I choose to hold off sharing details about remuneration, for now.
When writing a technical book, there is often some give-and-take regarding the book proposal, followed by…
Step 2 – Contract
The book contract usually includes snippets from the proposal. At its heart, the contract is the work-for-remuneration document.
You should always read the contract carefully and strive to understand not only the language of what is written but the nuance of what isnot written.
If you have any concerns, I recommend you consult a lawyer – especially if this is your very first experience with a writing contract.
The contract will always include the writing schedule and page count. Pro tip: delivering a first draft early that is longer than the proposed page count is not going to be an issue. (That last sentence is pregnant…)
As an author, you want to make sure you are comfortable with the contract when writing a technical book.
Step 3 – Writing
The author writes (or authors write) the first draft. For technical books, this includes screen shots and code snippets. Writing may also include quotes from others or other books.
Everything must either be original or attributed. No excuses.
There will be language regarding original / attributed content included in the contract, accompanied by language about penalties should the book contain non-original-and-unattributed content, i.e. plagiarized material.
Writing a technical book takes time to do well.
Step 4 – Editing
Editing involves at least a couple phases:
Language editing – someone who is good at human language syntax, plow, and structure and understands technology well-enough to not bungle the author’s intent reads through the manuscript and notes places where better sentence structure, different words, and entire sections can be moved or changed to enhance idea-flow.
Technical editing – someone, usually a technologist, who is willing to walk through the examples, samples, and demo code to verify it works and there are no missing steps.
Sometimes you can find a technologist who is good-enough with language to perform both functions – or a language editor willing to tackle the technology demos – but that’s rare.
Editing takes time to do well when writing a technical book.
Step 5 – Typesetting
Not all books are published physically, but all books pass through a typesetting phase. You may think, “Why, Andy?” That’s a fair question, especially for books published only in electronic formats (e-books).
Formatting the written word is important. There’s an entire science dedicated to fonts. What looks good on a paper page may not be as easy to read in a web browser or an e-reader like the Kindle. Publishers (and authors… well, good authors) want the reader to enjoy as little resistance to reading as possible. That’s not as easy as it sounds.
Books are more than just words. There are images and code to consider. Readers often complain about line-breaks in published code. In response, publishers go to great lengths to manage code line breaks and line continuation indicators. Again, this is not as easy as it sounds.
When writing a technical book, typesetting takes time to do well.
Step 6 – Publication
Once the idea for the book has been conceived, the proposal submitted and accepted, the contract agreed upon, the book has been written, has been edited, and the typesetting is complete; the book is ready to be published.
All authors understand this step: this is why they signed up to write a book in the first place!
There is no way to adequately and accurately communicate the emotions of opening a package and seeing your name printed on the cover of a book.
This post covers writing a technical book at a high-level. In my next post, I share tweaks to this process I have learned from experience.
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