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Fame, Fortune, and Technical Writing

Fame, Fortune, and Technical Writing



Presentation from 2009 Writing Open Source conference.

Presentation from 2009 Writing Open Source conference.



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    Fame, Fortune, and Technical Writing Fame, Fortune, and Technical Writing Presentation Transcript

    • Fame, Fortune, and Technical Writing (not necessarily in that order) Dru Lavigne Editor, OSBR Writing Open Source, 2009
    • Outline I ntroduction W e (community) R ecognition I nspiration T hem (publishing) E arn
    • Introduction Based on my experience, YMMV Background info: ● writing awards paid tuition (1980 - 1984) ● curriculum developer since 1997 ● O'Reilly columnist 2000 - 2006 ● negotiating third book ● founder of BSD Certification Group ● BSD Guru blog since 2005 ● launched OSBR e-magazine in 2007
    • Introduction ● the rules of the writing game are changing, making it a great time to be a tech writer ● opportunities abound: zero barriers to entry, numerous free publicity methods ● how do you get noticed in a sea of info? ● how do you make money, or launch a career, when so much is available for free? Answer: community
    • Community Community? What about fame & fortune? Common assumptions: ● noone gets paid to write docs for “free” software ● besides, if you're not a developer, you're a nobody in open source
    • Community Don't forget: ● like it or not, writing is a collaborative activity (editors, proofreaders, critics) ● writing is a skill (use it or lose it) ● writing is an art (it needs to be explored) ● cream rises to the top (and gets paid) Community provides: interaction, mentorship, opportunity, exposure
    • Community ● open source is still a Wild West of missing and incomplete documentation ● enough work to last a life time or two! ● you get to pick your hours, language, what to write about and in what style ● it's all archived and searchable ● honed writing skills are an asset to any employer
    • Community Help fellow writers: ● personal introductions to publishers, editors ● invitation to co-write an article or book chapter ● personal invitation to a docathon ● sponsorship to attend conference as press ● invitation as speaker to community conf
    • Community Things I'd love to see: ● “Summer of Documentation” ● more docathons ● writing/marketing students contributing to projects as part of their studies
    • Recognition Get your work (and your name) out there! ● vital if you're looking for writing contracts or envision a book in your future ● don't wait til work is “polished”, but always write your best ● be anal with grammar and spelling, even with casual works (email, blog posts) ● do your research (or it will bite you back)
    • Recognition Write daily! This allows you to: ● hone a craft while building a body of work ● define your style ● gain an audience ● find out what you like to write about, and whether you really do like to write
    • Recognition No degree required... ● personal decision ● second language is an edge ● cultivate your grammar, spelling, research, and style skills ● the best way to learn to write well is to write (and to read good writing)
    • Recognition You know you're out there when: ● work finds you ● you turn down more work than you accept ● you've become the “expert” on ______
    • Recognition Tools of the trade: ● blogs (personal, work, pet project) ● book reviews (Amazon, publishers) ● articles & how-tos (gratis or paid) ● review board of peer-reviewed journal ● write one chapter of a book ● contribute to online magazine
    • Inspiration Writing is diverse--what interests you? ● curriculum development, training materials ● marketing, whitepapers, brochures ● news items, regular column ● product documentation, how-tos ● editing, translating
    • Inspiration What do open source projects need? ● doc team members and leaders ● man pages, tutorials, guides ● articles, news in mainstream publications ● whitepapers, brochures, artwork ● forum leaders, bloggers ● mailing list moderators and posters ● press releases, events ● website content
    • Inspiration Don't have a pet project yet? ● what software do you use? ● what how-to notes have you kept? ● have friends who contribute to a project? ● local community tech-related effort?
    • Publishing What publishers want to see: ● the size of your audience ● that your expertise is currently “hot” ● the scope of your work ● a well-thought out proposal
    • Publishing What you should know beforehand: ● for technical books, 10,000 copies is a “best seller” ● 3 months f/t (50+ hrs/wk) is considered fast ● a very small % of books gets promoted by mainstream publishers and small publishers have less resources ● publishing is a gamble--this is reflected in the contract
    • Publishing What you should know beforehand: ● default is still Word template with no revision control--ask to gauge flexibility ● you will learn a lot working with your editor-- aim for daily feedback ● actively help the publisher in continued promotion
    • Publishing When reviewing that contract: ● who retains copyright? ● do you get distribution rights? ● translation rights and royalties? ● royalties for non-print distribution? ● keep in mind that no contract is ideal and there will be trade-offs
    • Publishing Self-publishing: ● IMHO: use a big publisher for your first book, do what you want for the rest ● this establishes your reputation ● if first book is a hit, your bargaining power increases with that publisher
    • Publishing Self-publishing may be better when: ● market is small or topic is more esoteric ● you're the expert in that market and your audience is aware of promotion avenues ● you want to cut out middle-man and control revenue cut, promotion, production
    • Earn Consider your goals & priorities: ● is writing a hobby, desired career, or a means to an end? ● re-evaluate your volunteer to paid ratio every 6-12 months--is it shifting into your desired direction? ● if you're entering the field, expect to pay your dues (like university, but cheaper)
    • Earn Define your version of success: ● expert in chosen niche ● respect of peers ● contributing back to community ● adding to pool of knowledge ● paying the bills ● becoming a rockstar
    • Contact Blog: http://blogs.ittoolbox.com/unix/bsd Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsdevents OSBR: http://www.osbr.ca Contact: dru@osbr.ca