12

How much could one reasonably expect to make if they wrote a moderately successful programming book?

How do these deals work? Do writers get paid per copy sold, do they get a fixed amount for completion?

Can a writer of such books make the same kind of money they could make in a senior position with a technology-focused company?

15

Read Petzold's "Book Royalties, Advances and 'Retainers'" blog post. It has some interesting info on the topic.

8 accepted

John Resig's post should be insightful:

http://ejohn.org/blog/programming-book-profits/

8

Speaking from experience: I wrote a niche market programming book in the early 1990s. I took six+ months off work to do so, meaning I lost approximately $40,000 in gross wages (there was a 5 month initial writing cycle, and a 1 month revision cycle).

The publisher gave me an advance of $2,500, and a royalty that worked out to $4/copy (it listed for $40 when published). There was an additional deal for the Chinese language version.

I would have to go back through my records, but I know that the advance was paid off and I think that I made somewhere around an additional $2500 over the subsequent 10 years (by the end it was down to $50/year; I don't think my agent has my current address, so there may be a couple hundred waiting for me).

So, $5000 total income from the book, and my agent took 15% of that.

On the other hand, I suspect Martin Fowler is doing quite well on royalties ...

5

It depends - on the publisher and your abilities as an author.

I'm a published author - about 20 years ago. Things have changed since then.

However, while I got some useful pocket money out of the book, there was no way it could replace my normal working income. If you go into the process in the expectation that you'll get something similar, you won't be too far off the mark.

To make a living at writing books, you would have to have a number of books on the market, all selling moderately well. Or one smash hit - but they are few and far between; you'd be better off not assuming your magnum opus will achieve smash hit status.

5

It may pay off indirectly

If you are a full time writer and do nothing but write books as quickly and efficiently as possible, you can make a decent living, but it's hard to have or fake up that much expertise.

However, publishing a book will really help your résumé, and so you should be able to make it pay off indirectly in the long run.

I wonder what our published fearless leader1 Jon Skeet would say about this? :-)


1. Though under most circumstances I would consider Jeff Atwood our fearless leader.

3

Published a book, not on programming, but still a technical market (computational biology). Last year, we sold 80 copies in 4 months. assuming this is the average, 240 books per year, with an average return of 8 % at 80 $ per book, you are expected to earn 1500 $ per year. This for a 6 months work of three people. In pratice, I havent' seen a single dollar yet because the amount was too low to be granted a check. Maybe next year.

The answer to your question is therefore "not at all". Technical books don't sell enough to justify the investment of time you put in. You do it for other reasons: fame, fun, interest. Not to have something to eat, unless it's your morning croissant.

2

I've heard from several authors that writing a programming book works out to working for under minimum wage when you account for your time.

The contracts I've heard about include an advance on royalites up front + additional royalties based on actual sales if they exceed the advance. Most of the time, you'll never earn enough royalties to exceed the initial advance.

I think that most of the tech authors out there are motivated from passion, not income.

2

Again from actual experience. It was not quite programming but a guide and howto on Electronic Data Interchange, EDI, so it had a wider market but was still in the technical sphere with a lot of detail on standards.

I wrote it in my spare time so didn't lose out on wages but i had added costs for hardware software and research. I was lucky (very lucky) as i did it as a flyer but i picked up a publisher immediately and in the end sold a lot of copies and made quite good money,

I found the publishers hard to work with and ended up doing most of the promotion myself.

I found the time/remuneration ratio not that good, or at least not good enough to do it again.

I found having an ISBN number on my CV invaluable when going for jobs in the Academic arena "Oh we see you have published? Very Good"

From the book i picked up a very lucrative contract to write almost the same again for a branch of the UN (UNCTAD), again CV as well as real experience enhancing.

And it is nice to be able to look yourself up on Amazon even if as i was at one point 1.5 millionth on the best seller list. This must have put almost every other book then published in front of me.

If i had to sum up and give some advice it would be

  • do it if you feel you have to anf if you can get a publisher (i was just plain lucky)
  • Don't count on it making you a fortune, even many famous writer have second jobs
  • If you can do it , do it as it is experience and may lead on, like mine, to other opportunities

To finish with an anecdote. A couple of years later i was applying for a job with a company that had bought two copies of my book and they asked what made me feel that i could do the job, so i pointed out they had thought enough of me to by my books! Wow. Actually didn't get the job though.

The book was call Edication. And was actually an eBook in that i wrote it with Asymnetrix\s ToolBook product and so it ran on pc's in hypertext about two years before the WWW hit the streets.

2

I wrote a number of programming titles back in the early 90's (mostly on Clipper and Foxpro) Typically, we received an advance on royalties, and then an increasing percentage based on sales. Programming books tend not to have a long shelf life because of the software upgrades and changes. Only one book (Clipper 5: A Developer's Guide) lasted long enough to get reasonable royalty checks.

It was a fun experience, and if you like to write, go for it. It is a neat experience to see your book get published, see copies in the book store, etc. But it is not very lucrative unless you get a hit "software that doesn't get upgraded too often -making your book obsolete" and enough of a target audience to generate more than 6 months worth of sales.

Good luck...

1

Here is another link with detailed explanation from Peter Cooper, the author of "Beginning Ruby" (which is a fairly successful book).

http://beginningruby.org/what-ive-earned-and-learned/

0

I would say it depends on the book, the content itself. When buying a software/programming book, i almost never read the author name. I'm always interested in ready few pages of it and see if it catches me.

I believe some books made a fortune for their authors, take "Head First, Design Patterns" for example, i know at least 6 friends who bought this book.