Ubuntu Open Week - Writing a book - emmajane - Tue, Nov 3, 2009
(11:01:22 AM) emmajane: is that my queue to go? :) (11:01:39 AM) akgraner: Take it away emmajane :-) (11:01:46 AM) emmajane: Excellent! (11:02:07 AM) emmajane: Hello and welcome to my session on Writing a Book: A Tour of Ubuntu for Aspiring Authors. As always, I'm very excited to get the chance to talk about documentation. Thanks to all the folks who made this week happen and especially to jcastro and akgraner! (11:02:20 AM) emmajane: (and also to Amaranth for doing the intros) (11:02:28 AM) emmajane: I'm going to cover main three topics today: (1) So you think you want to write a book?, (2) Distribution and (3) my Toolkit. I hope you'll find the information useful. Please add your questions in the #ubuntu-classroom-chat channel and I'll do my best to answer everyone's questions. (11:02:50 AM) emmajane: Topic 1/3: So you think you want to write a book? (11:02:59 AM) emmajane: With the success of Front End Drupal I've had a lot of people telling me they too have a great idea for a book. Fantastic! The world needs more books. But what is your motivation for writing this book? (11:03:09 AM) emmajane: Are you writing it for you because you have to get something off your chest? Or are you writing a book because you think it will sell? (11:03:19 AM) emmajane: These are very different motivations and it's important to know which one is yours before you start. (11:03:30 AM) emmajane: If you're writing for you, have at it! These books often include genres like memoirs, fiction and more "personal" accounts of things. They don't worry too much about "will people buy this" so much as, "do these characters have integrity?" Of course every author will fret about their books and whether or not anyone will like it. (11:03:40 AM) emmajane: (Trust me I know) (11:04:18 AM) emmajane: Writing a book that you want to sell. I'll assume that most people here are interested in writing some kind of "tech" book (or at least non-fiction).... (11:04:36 AM) emmajane: If you are writing to sell it is absolutely critical that you do some market research first. (11:04:42 AM) emmajane: Some of the things you will need to know are: (11:04:52 AM) emmajane: (1) who are your competitors in this field? Are there already books on this topic? How well are they selling? (Check their Amazon rank to get a general idea of this.) (11:05:10 AM) emmajane: (2) What does the market think of your competitors? Look for reviews about the books that have been written. Does the audience think that a certain topic was missed in the book? or covered poorly or incorrectly? Find out what people think is missing from what is already written. (11:05:23 AM) emmajane: (3) If there are no books on the topic, find out if there really is an audience. Just because a lot of people are interested in acoustic heavy metal, it doesn't mean they'll actually buy a book on the topic. Is your audience a buying audience? (11:05:35 AM) emmajane: As you define the scope of your book, and your target audience, you will begin to develop your outline of topics that are important enough for you to spend hundreds of hours working on... (11:05:45 AM) emmajane: Yes: hundreds of hours. (11:05:56 AM) emmajane: By the time you've written your book, edited your book, and marketed your book you will have spent at least three hours for every page of text. I wrote approximately 290 pages of Front End Drupal. (3x290=870 hours) That doesn't include the time my reviewers spent on the book, the graphic designer, the indexer, and the marketing team. (11:06:05 AM) emmajane: I know it seems like a glamorous life to be an author, but it's a lot of work! (11:06:17 AM) emmajane: So do you STILL think you want to write a book? :) (11:06:41 AM) emmajane: I'm going to pause here and see if there are any questions in #ubunut-classroom-chat (11:07:15 AM) emmajane: Is anyone here thinking about writing a book? (11:07:20 AM) emmajane: (or maybe not anymore? ;) ) (11:07:53 AM) emmajane: Excellent! Both hao and jledbetter are (still) thinking about writing a book. :) (11:08:41 AM) emmajane: hao, has a very specific topic in mind, which is great! It's writing an introduction of ubuntu linux in Chinese (11:08:50 AM) emmajane: <stesind> QUESTION: how could you make a living from writing a tech book? I mean it's not Harry Potter. (11:08:59 AM) emmajane: Short answer? You can't. (11:09:24 AM) emmajane: Generally technical authors consider their books to be very expensive business cards which get them more consulting work. (11:10:00 AM) emmajane: some authors will put out one new book a year and plan to retire on their royalties. But no one that i know earns a living JUST from technical writing of books. (11:10:11 AM) emmajane: There's also magazine articles and other forms of paid writing... (11:10:20 AM) emmajane: <rufong> QUESTION:has voice-recognition soft, made true ghostwriting possible? (11:10:46 AM) emmajane: Lots of authors say their book instead of writing it. (11:11:30 AM) emmajane: I don'tknow that voice recognition software is worth the hassle of getting it trained to your voice. Some folks have excellent skills and make it work; others simply hire someone to transcribe the audio tapes. (11:12:43 AM) emmajane: Ok. I'm going to move on to the next topic... (11:12:45 AM) emmajane: Let's take a look at some of the different business and publishing models that are available today... (11:12:57 AM) emmajane: Topic 2/3: Distribution (11:13:04 AM) emmajane: There are essentially two ways to put your book in front of an audience: by having someone else "publish" your book; or by publishing your own book. They both have advantages and disadvantages. Let's take a look at those now. (11:13:13 AM) emmajane: First I'll speak to working with a publisher. I was incredibly lucky to get a wonderful publisher on my first book contract. With that said, what I got was essentially industry standard. That means: 10% of net sales and I do not retain my copyright. (11:13:29 AM) emmajane: 10% of net means that when Amazon puts the very heavy discounts onto the book, I get less money. Generally my share is less than $2 for every book sold (even though the book retails for $40). (11:13:35 AM) emmajane: And I don't keep my copyright. (11:13:42 AM) emmajane: Sounds sort of crappy, right? Well... there are HUGE benefits to working with a large publisher: (11:13:58 AM) emmajane: (1) They already have a distribution network that is going to get your book onto bookshelves all over the world. Front End Drupal sales are highest in the US, but they have also sold thousands of copies internationally. (11:14:05 AM) emmajane: (2) The publisher is INCREDIBLY motivated to get your book into as many hands as possible. They will send out free review copies on your behalf to anyone that you think should have a copy. Although I'm not sure what the ratio is, I bet for every free review copy that gets mailed out, there are hundreds of sales. (11:14:12 AM) emmajane: (3) The publisher has the in-house resources to get your book into as many formats as possible. Front End Drupal is available in print, as a PDF, by subscription in Safari Readers Library (same as the O'Reilly books), as a Kindle book and it's being translated into other languages (which I will also get royalties from). (11:14:32 AM) emmajane: So on the one hand I give up some of the freedoms that I might have, but on the other hand, I have a publishing house that's very motivated to sell my book. Not all publishers are this motivated. You will need to do your research. (11:14:42 AM) emmajane: A note on copyright: while the publisher does retain copyright... I don't have a problem with this. They are paying me for my work and we are in a business relationship to make money. This is like your boss owning your copyright for the work you do on their time. (11:15:18 AM) emmajane: (or many software projects which owning your volunteer contributions... check the fine print if you don't believe me. ;) ) (11:15:35 AM) emmajane: The ADVANTAGE to this is that they have the pockets to chase down copyright infringement. (11:15:53 AM) emmajane: Some authors ask for copyright, or what an alternative license. That's great too. But for a technical reference book with a shelf life of no more than two years... I don't really care if the publisher wants to retain full rights. The content is almost out of date as soon as it hits the printer. You need to make your own decisions on this. (11:16:37 AM) emmajane: So let's pretend you want to self publish... (11:16:44 AM) emmajane: You get to make all the rules about the license and distribution and format of the book. But ... you also have to do all the work. (11:17:02 AM) emmajane: I think it makes sense to self publish when there is a very small market, or if you are trying new ideas and want to be able to do iterative development on your manuscript. In addition to Front End Drupal I have also published two books on my own (which are available as CC-licensed work from emmajane.net). I have a kit on email marketing that is available for sale from HICK Tech as well. (11:17:23 AM) richard is now known as Guest57669 (11:17:25 AM) emmajane: I also have a few articles and books which are GNU FDL through the Linux Documentation Project (www.tldp.org). (11:17:34 AM) emmajane: Just because you choose to work with a publisher for some of your work, doesn't mean that you are limited to that relationship. My publisher does, however, know about all the work that I put out. I feel it's very important to maintain this relationship because of the non-compete clause in my contract with them. (11:19:10 AM) emmajane: There have been a few questions about licensing in #ubuntu-classroom-chat. Licensing is a big topic so I'm going to break here and let people ask those questions if they have them. The most important part about licensing is your freedom to choose what is most appropriate for each of your projects. What's right for me, may not be right for you. (11:19:46 AM) emmajane: <IdleOne> QUESTION any follow up book to Front End Drupal would have to go through the publisher first, if they chose to publish then you would be bound by the non-compete clause? (11:20:32 AM) emmajane: With my publisher I have a written contract which states I will not produce anything in print which will compete with the sales of Front End Drupal (theming of Drupal, version 6). (11:20:59 AM) emmajane: I also have an excellent relationship with my publisher and choose to give them right of first refusal on future projects which I believe are relevant to their market and which they can distribute better than I can. (11:21:30 AM) emmajane: some things aren't "big enough" or "developed enough" for me to take to them as a book project. e.g. my ebook on email marketing is only 40 pages. (11:21:51 AM) emmajane: <IdleOne> emmajane: ok. the publisher chose not to go with the second book, you are free to self-publish? (11:21:59 AM) emmajane: For any book on Drupal I would not choose to self-publish. (11:22:17 AM) emmajane: What a traditional publisher can do for me is far greater than what I can do on my own. (11:22:45 AM) emmajane: If I wanted to put out a mini book with more advanced topics (or more beginner topics) which does not compete with the sales of FED, I'm free to do so. (11:23:29 AM) emmajane: Any other questions about licensing? I know there was a question about whether the GNU FDL would be covered, but I'm not sure what the question was? (11:24:14 AM) ***emmajane pauses just in case people are typing their questions... (11:24:39 AM) emmajane: <hao> QUESTION: about GNU FDL, this is the license I found on wikipedia. So do you consider using mediawiki a great way to write a book with lots of people? (11:25:01 AM) emmajane: The notion of authorship and collaboration is very very interesting. (11:25:39 AM) emmajane: When I write in collaboration with others I generally "hide" my voice and allow others to edit it. In this case the free-est possible license is the best one. (11:26:21 AM) emmajane: GNU FDL has limitations that are good for "book" books (e.g. restrictions on keeping the front matter (which is the copyright stuff) intact), but I think it's less relevant for non-linear texts such as Wikis. (11:26:51 AM) emmajane: FLOSS Manuals is another project that focuses on collaborative writing. (11:26:58 AM) emmajane: I think they're using GPL? (11:27:07 AM) emmajane: so that they can mix with code as well. (11:27:29 AM) emmajane: collaborative writing can be wonderful, but I think one of the most interesting and engaging parts of a book is the voice the author brings to it. (11:27:53 AM) emmajane: if you are working on a "book" without a voice... I'mn ot sure how good of a read that would be? it sounds dry and dull to me. :/ (11:28:16 AM) emmajane: (Even my Calculus text book in university, Spivak? had humour about rabbit population dynamics) (11:28:24 AM) emmajane: <dscassel> QUESTION: Are you finding publishers (or your publisher, I guess) are looking for things that have more of a narrative, and engage the reader, rather than old tech manual infodumps? How can a writer make dry technical topics more engaging? Thoughts along those lines? (11:28:45 AM) emmajane: Technical manuals are things that get shoved into boxes and are never read. (11:29:01 AM) emmajane: They aren't books. They're monitor elevators so that your screen is at the right height. ;) (11:29:28 AM) emmajane: Hopefully they were written by someone who is on staff and isn't trying to make any kind of supplemental income from their writing. (11:30:07 AM) emmajane: Front End Drupal had lots of fun examples and "interesting" chapter introductions. (11:30:34 AM) emmajane: The book had: ponies, kittens, pirates, toilet birthdays, hobbits, orks ... um... what else... (11:30:43 AM) emmajane: oh right. Some stuff about Drupal. (11:30:44 AM) emmajane: :) (11:30:56 AM) emmajane: <SoftwareExplorer> I'm taking my first colledge writing class, and for one team writing assignment, people write different parts, and then one person edits it to have a uniform voice. Maybe that's the way to do it (11:31:04 AM) emmajane: Yes, that's how they do book sprints at FLOSS Manuals. (11:31:11 AM) emmajane: (www.flossmanuals.net if you're interested) (11:32:09 AM) ***emmajane pauses to see if there are any more questions? (11:32:32 AM) emmajane: seeing none... (11:32:35 AM) emmajane: And finally, let's take a look at the tools I used to create Front End Drupal and my other, self-published books. (11:32:42 AM) emmajane: Topic 3/3: Toolkit (11:32:50 AM) emmajane: There are basically four tools that I use when writing: paper to do the planning, a text editor to write the initial draft, version control to save my bacon when things go wrong, a screen grab tool and a word processing tool. (11:33:03 AM) emmajane: More specifically this is: ... well ... paper and a fountain pen. The pen is a Parker pen I bought in England and the paper is typically 24lb bond paper with as much recycled fibre as possible. (11:33:20 AM) emmajane: But you probably wanted to know about the tech tools? (11:33:31 AM) emmajane: The first draft of Front End Drupal was written in Vim. I also use TomBoy a lot. (This spring I wrote ~10,000 words in TomBoy) This is just a draft to get as many words as possible written out. (11:33:55 AM) emmajane: These text files are versioned using svn at first and then Bazaar for the second half of the book. I could go more into this process... but there are a lot of resources already available for this (some of which I've even written). Start at www.bazaar-vcs.org, or check out my previous Open Week presentations. (11:34:11 AM) emmajane: Once the first draft has been written, I start to look at the formatting I'll need. Whether I'm self-publishing or working with a formal publisher, there's going to be some kind of template required at some point to make things pretty. (11:34:34 AM) emmajane: Front End Drupal used MS Word templates from the publisher. I, of course, used OpenOffice.org for this step. The publisher then converts these templates into some other format which they then send to the printer. I get to see final PDFs to do a final proof before the book gets printed (and also between each print run). (11:34:49 AM) emmajane: When I'm self-publishing, I use my own templates in OOo and output PDF. Depending on how I want to sell the book I can then either upload to a printer, such as Lulu.com... or I can just print the text off on my own colour laser printer as needed. (11:35:17 AM) emmajane: (Although my desktop computers are all purchased used, I do invest in good peripherals...including my printer.) (11:35:35 AM) emmajane: For screen shot tools I use Ubuntu's "Take Snapshot" tool and also the Firefox plugin, Screengrab. The second one allows you to take a picture of a page that is taller than a browser window. This is incredibly helpful for Web writing. (11:35:51 AM) emmajane: and that's my toolkit. When I'm working on other documentation projects where I want to output to multiple formats (e.g. PDF and HTML) I use more sophisticated tools than OOo (specifically: DocBook). (11:36:22 AM) emmajane: My guess is that there will be a lot of questions on tools. So I've left a ton of time to go over specific questions about tools, and any other questions you have about writing books! (11:36:31 AM) emmajane: <fcuk112> QUESTION: what is your view on writing books using LaTeX? (11:37:01 AM) emmajane: Writing books should happen in a plain text editor. Marking up text for formatting and distribution should happen in whatever tool chain is going to give you the output formats you need. (11:37:31 AM) emmajane: I know lots of people who swear by LaTeX. For me XML has always made more sense because HTML was my first "machine" language. (11:37:40 AM) emmajane: <rufong> QUESTION: would you prefer to self-publish in a format other than pdf? (11:38:24 AM) emmajane: PDF is just a format for printing, IMO. If you expect to distribute and allow others to print output, you should be working with PDFs. (11:39:39 AM) emmajane: If you want people to contribute to your work, you may want to use a Wiki instead of a PDF as an output. I would still work in some kind of machine readable language that can output to multiple formats though. (Some wikis will do this.) But my definition of "book" is pretty traditional and always includes a linearized version of the text at some point. (11:39:54 AM) emmajane: <toobuntu> QUESTION: what about lyx? (11:40:00 AM) emmajane: See above re. LaTeX. (11:40:18 AM) emmajane: My answer for any of the machine languages is essentially the same: if you like it, and it outputs to formats you want, go for it! (11:40:36 AM) emmajane: If you are collaborating with others and you're the only person who cares about that format... well... you may want to consider using something else. (11:40:43 AM) emmajane: <bgrolleman> QUESTION: Do you write all text before adding screenshots? (11:40:50 AM) emmajane: "all" is a pretty subjective term... (11:41:14 AM) emmajane: Generally I have an outline and I know where screen shots are going to be relevant. I leave little notes to myself in the first draft to add screen shots later. (11:41:37 AM) emmajane: Software has a nasty habit of changing GUI widgets. So I try to leave the pictures out for as long as possible. (11:41:44 AM) emmajane: <dscassel> QUESTION: Do you use Bzr in centralized mode or distributed ("shared working tree") mode? Why? (Or did the question ever cross your mind?) (11:41:58 AM) emmajane: It depends who else I'm working with. :) (11:42:43 AM) emmajane: It's just like software development though... choose the right model for your team. (11:42:45 AM) emmajane: <bgrolleman> QUESTION: How often and how many do you let "proof-read"? (11:43:06 AM) emmajane: I had over ten reviewers for Front End Drupal. (11:43:48 AM) emmajane: Three peer/target market reviewers; three tech reviewers; one copy editor; one "technical" editor that made sure I was conforming to Pearson's style guide. (11:43:56 AM) emmajane: I think that's all the reviewers I had... (11:44:04 AM) emmajane: <sebsebseb> QUESTION: Do you think a lot more books should be offered as a paid for book, but also a free Ebook, from whoever wrote/published it? (11:44:31 AM) emmajane: Well.... I think that authors should have the freedom to make that decision for themselves. (11:44:49 AM) emmajane: It's great when an author has a full time job and can afford to take the risk with their publisher of giving away free books. (11:45:18 AM) emmajane: I give away a LOT of my material as well. But when I spend the time to put hundreds of hours into a linear book that is my voice, I'm not so keen to give it away. (11:45:39 AM) emmajane: I do, however, contribute an (almost) equal amount of time to free software projects to help with their documentation. (11:45:42 AM) emmajane: e.g. this talk! :) (11:46:22 AM) emmajane: I also write technical content for lots of projects. That goes back to "hiding" my voice on collaborative works though. (11:46:32 AM) emmajane: <lifer999> QUESTION: Have you checked out Google Wave? Any thought vis-a-vis publishing? (11:46:40 AM) emmajane: I have a Google Wave account. (11:46:47 AM) emmajane: publishing though? erm. (11:46:56 AM) emmajane: I dunno. I guess I'm just old skool. (11:47:32 AM) emmajane: I've used the collaborative editing tools as well (one is a desktop client that gets used at UDS, gobby?) and there's a Web-based one too (the name is escaping me though). (11:47:53 AM) emmajane: <Rohirrim> QUESTION: How important is an attractive and illustrative cover page for a tech book? (sorry if the question has been asked) (11:48:00 AM) emmajane: wellllllllllllllllllll... um... (11:48:21 AM) emmajane: go look at the cover of Front End Drupal and then let me know privately how important you think the cover is. ;) (11:48:27 AM) emmajane: I'm just kidding. (11:48:46 AM) emmajane: I think it's important to the stores who don't know anything about tech and are going to put your book on their shelves. (11:49:09 AM) emmajane: I don't think it's important to the buyers if you already have a name in the community and a "loyal" following. (11:49:37 AM) emmajane: <shadowspar> QUESTION: do you have any broad recommendations for someone looking to improve their writing craft? someone who might some day want to write a book, but doesn't feel like their writing is "there" yet? (11:49:51 AM) emmajane: Two words: Write. Lots. (11:50:14 AM) emmajane: Writing is a skill that takes practice. You can't go from writing nothing to writing a whole book. :) (11:50:22 AM) emmajane: or maybe s/can't/shouldn't/ (11:50:41 AM) emmajane: But seriously: just get stuck in there and start writing every day. (11:50:57 AM) emmajane: Contribute to Wikis and documentation projects if you're nervous about your own voice. (11:51:10 AM) emmajane: Fix stuff that looks "broken" to you and think about why you want to change it. (11:51:11 AM) emmajane: Blog. (11:51:13 AM) emmajane: Journal. (11:51:31 AM) emmajane: I also find that talking a lot helps to develop a voice. When you read my stuff you can "hear" me. (11:51:54 AM) emmajane: <sebsebseb> QUESTION: Do you think that proprietary closed source paid for book writing software, that has only been made for Windows, should ideally be ported to Desktop Linux soon, especially if it is rather popular, and won't work properly in Wine or at all, even after attempted configuring? (11:52:14 AM) emmajane: erm... like InDesign? (11:52:21 AM) emmajane: I'm not sure which software you're referring to. (11:52:28 AM) emmajane: or FrameMaker? (11:52:30 AM) emmajane: or... (11:52:46 AM) emmajane: Book *writing* software is stuff like Notepad and TomBoy. :) (11:53:59 AM) emmajane: I assume you mean a formatting tool, not a writing tool.... (11:54:05 AM) emmajane: a Writing tool is something like a pen and paper. :) (11:55:04 AM) emmajane: It's true that Linux doesn't have very sophisticated formatting GUIs, but I think you'll find that a lot of huge publishing houses don't either and they use stuff like DocBook and LaTeX as well. (11:55:45 AM) emmajane: For most people OpenOffice.org will do a fine job of formatting short texts (under 200 pages). (11:56:34 AM) emmajane: There are more complicated layout tools as well, but if I'm doing something bigger, I generally just switch to DocBook. Should there be more tools? I'm not sure... I think I'd rather have the programmers work on things with a larger market. (11:57:04 AM) emmajane: <vcalvo> QUESTION: which is the the book or books that you have already read and while you were in the process you thought: that's a good one, good written ... (11:57:13 AM) emmajane: Every book has good lessons in it. (11:57:45 AM) emmajane: They're all different though. Choosing a favourite would be like having to pick between my cat and my rabbit. It'd be a hard choice. :) (11:57:57 AM) emmajane: <dinda> QUESTION: what's the next book, you're dying to write? (11:58:10 AM) emmajane: I'm already on contract to write the prequel to Front End Drupal. :) (11:58:43 AM) emmajane: So that's the next book. :) (11:59:02 AM) emmajane: We're almost out of time so I guess that's a wrap! (11:59:11 AM) emmajane: Thanks for all your great questions, folks! (11:59:14 AM) emmajane: That was great.