18

I have the opportunity to get involved in authoring a programming book on a relatively new and interesting technology.

For those who don't know authoring a programming book is really an investment in your own technical knowledge and reputation. The raw money you are going to make out of it is not likely to ever be particularly significant, unless it is a blockbuster hit book.

So with that said, is it worth authoring new programming books? Or are we better served writing blogposts and creating screencasts or just using SO?

19 accepted

It depends on what you're looking to get out of it:

  • You're right, the money is unlikely to be fantastic - but it is a nice little bonus on top of salary.
  • I'd say there's more of an ego boost from seeing a book in print than from blog posts - but then there's a lot more work too.
  • Writing a book forces you (or at least should force you) to get to know your material really well. You should expect to learn a lot while writing.
  • I expect the credibility you gain in the eyes of future employers is likely to be greater due to authoring a book than a blog/screencast unless the latter becomes really well known.
  • Authoring is likely to lead to opportunities to give presentations at user groups and similar events, which may appeal to you. Of course, many user groups are eager for speakers to volunteer anyway :)
  • Authoring a book involves a lot of polishing: going over the same paragraph again and again, knowing that you're really only got one chance to get it right. It's hard to go back and edit it after it's in print. (Yes, there are corrections for later printings, but you really try not to need them.) That time feels like it's "wasted" in some senses, especially if you're quibbling over a few words - but it can be rewarding when you feel you've finally cracked the explanation of a tricky concept.

From my own experience, I'd say that if you have the chance you should go for it. Just realise it's a big commitment.

9

I have authored a total of seven books and find that they take a lot more time than one would think. If you compare how much you get compensated in royalties vs time, you would quickly figure out that there is a better ROI working at McDonald's bagging fries...

6

You are right in saying that your reputation is invested in the book, so make very sure you really are the expert you think you are, or you risk ending up being reviled as a second Herb Schildt. I'd recommend writing a couple of sample chapters first, without any contractual commitment. I did this for a putative C++ bookfor AW back in the late 80s and discovered I didn't really know as much C++ as I thought I did. Still don't for that matter..

2

I hope I can say this without offending any authors here but I feel like there are only three reasons to buy a computer book.

  1. You are a beginning programmer
  2. You need a reference guide
  3. You're looking into a niche technology that doesn't have a lot of resources on the web

Other than that my feeling has been that the internet makes a far better resource than any book you can find. Especially with quickly evolving technologies like ASP.Net MVC. Any books that were written on the subject 6 months ago are probably filled with techniques and advice that is no longer best practice or perhaps no longer supported.

With that in mind I would suggest sticking with blogs. If you want to write extensively on a certain subject perhaps make an e-book. I think either of these options would both benefit the community as well as your reputation.

1

the books I'm interested are usually niche market books (GIS for Transportation, GIS-Transportation Programming, Transportation python/C++). AS niche markets, those books don't usually have high sales but are invaluable to my work so i don't mind spending the $140 for one. That's my recommendation at least: Write for niche markets

1

Yes and Yes.

Actually there is no right answer to this question. I'm sure the adventure of writing a technical book is well worth undertaking just for the experience if and only if that is the sort of thing you are interested in. I'm sure for someone who's never endeavored to be a writer it would be a nightmare.

Likewise, writing blogs and such disseminates knowledge in a way that writing a book doesn't. Blogs are immediate and interactive. Book are snapshots of the past. Both have value and both, again, are worthy ways to spend your time.

Notice I have discussed finance or subject matter. They aren't really important. You are already aware that you won't become rich and as the subject matter whether it is a niche or a well-mined subject a new book can't hurt. Another beginners C++ book isn't needed but maybe the next one will be the best one. Can't tell unless someone writes a next one. Likewise a niche book (embedded toaster oven programming) probably isn't worth the time unless you have a passion for it.

Ultimately, you really need to decide if you can devote yourself to the 3, 6, maybe 12 months being fully absorbed in writing/tuning/editing the book or not.