Writing Books for
Managing Editor, Open Source Business Resource
COSECOL, September 17, 2009
W e (community)
T hem (publishing)
Based on my experience, YMMV
● writing awards paid tuition (1980 - 1984)
● curriculum developer since 1997
● O'Reilly columnist 2000 - 2006
● writing third book
● founder of BSD Certification Group
● BSD Guru blog since 2005
● launched OSBR open access magazine in
● 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?
Community? What about fame & fortune?
● noone gets paid to write docs for “free”
● besides, if you're not a developer, you're
a nobody in open source
● 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
● 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
Help fellow writers:
● personal introductions to publishers,
● invitation to co-write an article or book
● personal invitation to a docathon
● sponsorship to attend conference as press
● invitation as speaker to community conf
Things I'd love to see:
● “Summer of Documentation”
● more docathons
● writing/marketing students contributing to
open source projects as part of their studies
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)
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
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)
You know you're out there when:
● work finds you
● you turn down more work than you accept
● you've become the “expert” on ______
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
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
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?
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
What you should know beforehand:
● for technical books, 10,000 copies is a
● 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
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
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
● 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
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
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)
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