Confessions of a Prolific Moonlighter (with a chronic writing disorder)


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Slides from a ~5 minute Ignite talk (20 slides, 15 seconds per slide) that provides some advice on writing tech books -- and life. The fundamental takeaway is that A BOOK IS A STARTUP!

* It’s a product (and/or services.)
** But it’s especially product

* Tech writing is a skill
** It’s story-telling

* Moonlighting is a skill
** Maintain work/life balance

* You can have a startup
** Write a book!

Watch a video of the live presentation at


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  • So, you want to write a tech book?I’ve written 5 books in 5 years, all the while trying to work a full-time job, do some consulting, increase the capacity of my family (if you know what I mean)I wanted to share some lessons I’ve learned along the way with my writing as a backdrop.I am not a medical professional.
  • How you feel after getting your first writing contract.Well, you know, I can’t, go out, I’m working on my book…Oh, you didn’t know I was working on a book…yea, it’s just my fifth one. No big deal really. Well, …
  • Visions of grandeurSo you start thinking about what you’re going to do with all of your money.Because authors, especially tech book authors, are all rich, right?
  • Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. This is hard work. Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than Hofstadter’s Law predicts that it will, even if you take Hofstadter’s Law into accountBut you finish, because you are solid, right? Seriously, your reputation and “personal brand” are everything.
  • So then you get to it. You work and work and work and then you reach this fork in the road where you can either make your deadline. Or not.Do what you say you will, when you say you willThis is very important: I won’t belabor it, but your friends/family may very well be disappointed with you for overcommitting.
  • Key point of the whole talk: Think of a book as a startup. Why not? It’s a product. It has an ISBN number. You have a publisher who is providing a distribution channel and helping you in some other ways
  • Don’t be a project. Be a product. Big differenceDon’t just assume. I’ll write the book. The publisher will do the rest. Trust me, I’ve tried that, it doesn’t work.You are the CEO. You need a business plan. What are you going to do? One big decision: product, services or both. You can also make money consulting as an expert
  • Don’t trust your gutYour outline really isn’t as good as you think that it is, and this isn’t an amazing narrative. It’s a tech book.If you write exactly what you outline in your proposal, you will probably fail or at least not maximize your potentialUse the Early Access program. Get feedback. Let your feelings get hurt. Be tough
  • You are the CMOThere’s no such thing as bad press.This is just from last Friday – how did I get on HN? Not by talking about my book. By finding a channel that resonated with the audience and blogging about it. But oh by the way, once you’re on my site, you can’t help but notice that I have this great book.The angle was subtle but key.And getting on HN really does matter.
  • You are the SVP of Customer ServiceCustomer Service is absolutely key. When you get attention, prepare to get tech support requests.I watch my GitHub notifications like a hawk. You should too.Key point: Every “trouble ticket” is a big opportunity to take someone who is frustrated and might leave you bad reviews into an evangelist.
  • Be innovative. Color inside the lines but also outside of the lines. Don’t follow *all* the rulesColoringoutside the lines means that you’ll be bucking some established trends, and you’ll be stepping on some toes at some point in time. Think about it…
  • This is easy to forget in a lot of business contexts, but it’s universal wisdom, right?Relationships are the key to life. Don’t be so innovative an inward looking that you burn bridges.You might be awesome, but you’re not *that* awesome.
  • Leave breadcrumbs.SEO is a black art.Think: additive gains.Be consistent
  • Be everywhere but don’t be everything to everybody all the time. If you don’t like writing the book, you will hate life.Trying to be something you aren’t is not only futile, it’s exhausting.
  • TellstoriesAt the end of the day, people want to be entertained and have fun. Even if they are reading a tech book!
  • If you’d asked me this a couple of weeks ago, I’d have told you that I wasn’t doing this again, but I might…and I probably will. That itch is starting to come back.Writing is exhausting but it’s gratifying and rewarding. Take rest when you need to recharge. And then get back out there. You are the CEO and head of sales!
  • Writing a book is a skill. It might take a few books to have that smashing success. There are no overnight successes.
  • Sometimes, you will actually be too ahead of the market.Change happens slow, then all at once.If you’re right but you’re early, you’re wrong.Everyone won’t race to buy your book the minute that you plan it.Overcommitting is too easy to do. Be careful.
  • A book is a startup. Use LeanBe prepared to be wrong (now) in order to be right (later)
  • Confessions of a Prolific Moonlighter (with a chronic writing disorder)

    1. 1. Confessions of a Prolific Moonlighter (with a chronic writing disorder) Matthew A. Russell Twitter: @ptwobrussell
    2. 2. Be Excited
    3. 3. Be Visionary
    4. 4. Be Realistic
    5. 5. Be Determined
    6. 6. Be Entrepreneurial
    7. 7. Be Product-Oriented
    8. 8. Be Lean
    9. 9. Be Enterprising
    10. 10. Be Attentive
    11. 11. Be Innovative
    12. 12. Be Careful
    13. 13. Be Everywhere
    14. 14. Be Authentic
    15. 15. Be Entertaining
    16. 16. Be Enthusiastic
    17. 17. Be Prescient
    18. 18. Be Committed
    19. 19. Summary • A BOOK IS A STARTUP! – It’s a product (and/or services.) – But it’s especially product • Tech writing is a skill – It’s story-telling • Moonlighting is a skill – Maintain work/life balance • You can have a startup – Write a book!