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The Best and Worst Tech-Book Publishers?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the little-pots-of-red-ink dept.

Books 271

An anonymous reader writes "I am an author working on a technical book about an open-source software package. I am looking for a publisher, and I would like to hear experiences from any Slashdot authors. Who are the best publishers to work with and why are they great? Who are the worst publishers in the tech book business, and what nightmare/horror stories can you tell us about them? Any publishing company in particular you recommend avoiding? Any gems of advice (rights reversion, etc.) you can provide for first-time tech book authors?"

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271 comments

Get back to work. ;) (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080495)

Any gems of advice (rights reversion, etc.) you can provide for first-time tech book authors?

Get back to work on the BOOK - quit fooling around on Slashdot. ;)

Re:Get back to work. ;) (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29081251)

Pretty funny coming from a first post!

Ye, don't do as Donald Knuth did in Cliff's Notes (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29081317)

The most appauling documentation I've ever found was in the Cliff's Notes stack in Wonderbooks and Barnes'n'Noble, by some 3rd-party author known as Donald Knuth. He writes the same book over and over with only minor spelling tense and minute theory corrections, and doesn't accept any other questions to give greater brevity except if those questions were from himself. It's as if he only talks to himself. The man is neither mad or genius, and his short stories don't even match the natural law "VENOMOUS. STAY AWAY" black and yellow heraldry as the other books. It's as though the venom is meant to get in your head rather than your blood. And the guy is a crook, charging 80 iDollars for the bloody thing. And where did he learn to typset; everyone can afford a typewriter by now, and just facsimile the end-product to the customer to save money on a book Bender and middle-man.

Send that man back to an assylum, where maybe his opposition might spontaneous smack some sense and cure the mentaly ill just by the mere obviousness of their new stimulus.

3 hours (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080499)

3 hours between posts??

Typeset but not printed (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080517)

I went through the process of writing a nearly 500-page book on newly minted standard, which went as far as being typeset. Then a another major publisher got a book out a month ahead of me, the market tanked, and they dropped the project.

As bad as that seems, I learned a lot in the process and it would definitely go faster a second time around. Didn't help that I was suffering at that time from an undiagnosed disease (Addison's) that left me fatigued.

But yeah, it bothers me that they would take it that far and elect not to push the jolly red candy-like button on the printing press.

Re:Typeset but not printed (-1, Troll)

Timothy Brownawell (627747) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081039)

But yeah, it bothers me that they would take it that far and elect not to push the jolly red candy-like button on the printing press.

Well, it doesn't help that it's really a small, recessed, dull brown button covered with grime. They probably just couldn't find it, what with the hangover and all.

Why not open source your book? (0, Troll)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080537)

Jeez, don't you think it a little disingenuous to write a for profit book based upon the efforts of a bunch of programmers working for free?

Re:Why not open source your book? (5, Insightful)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080563)

People have to eat.

Shockingly, I've seen books devoted to PHP, Apache, and C - books which cost money to buy. But get this - those things are free!

And a few ingenious companies actually built commercial products around them, too!

Re:Why not open source your book? (4, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080891)

Shockingly, I've seen books devoted to PHP, Apache, and C - books which cost money to buy. But get this - those things are free!

To add to that, I've seen books about sex for sale, and sex is occasionally free.

Re:Why not open source your book? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080969)

[citation needed]

Re:Why not open source your book? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29081073)

Your mom.

Re:Why not open source your book? (-1, Redundant)

DugOut (824998) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081599)

I wish I had mod points. Both these posts are hilarious!

Re:Why not open source your book? (2, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081755)

No no, his mother has already received numerous citations for the not free kind of sex.

Re:Why not open source your book? (0, Troll)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081057)

with yourself does not count...
A diamond really is forever, just try getting one of the little fuckers back.

Re:Why not open source your book? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29081101)

Sex is *never* free....

Re:Why not open source your book? (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081935)

To add to that, I've seen books about sex for sale, and sex is occasionally free.

But none of those authors seem to know anything about the topic.

Re:Why not open source your book? (3, Insightful)

digitalunity (19107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081223)

I like just about everything gratis, but I will say this: A good book is worth every penny.

I have a lot of really tremendous books that you could only pry from my cold dead hands.

Re:Why not open source your book? (4, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080589)

A lot of people are profiting from providing exactly the type of added value that a book (or training, or support, or packaging/distributing etc) provides on top of free software. Just ask Red Hat and a gazillion other for-profit companies built around open source. The bunch of programmers you mention presumably have their reasons for donating their work for free but that doesn't impose an obligation on anybody else to follow suit.

Re:Why not open source your book? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080611)

Like which ones, Linus Torvalds? Oh wait, he gets paid to oversee the Linux kernel. Like Alan Cox? Oh wait, he gets paid too. Greg Kroah-Hartman? Oops, another salaried dev. Like the Ubuntu devs? Funny, a number of them get paid to work on Linux. KDE? Paid devs. Firefox? Paid devs.

Of course many projects are run by unpaid volunteers. Of all the FOSS that you personally use, what do you do to support it? Are you giving money, writing docs, contributing code, helping noobs?

It takes a good year or more to write a first-rate technical book, and the labor of many people: copyeditors, editors, artists, typesetters, printers, distributors, and so on. Most tech books cost $20-$50 US new, and there is a large and healthy used book market. O'Reilly even sells books by the chapter via download, so you don't have to buy a whole book. They also have Safari Online Books, where you have access to many books for a monthly subscription. Please explain how that is a bad deal. Perhaps you are one of those people who think writing is easy and therefore not valuable? Please demonstrate by writing a book yourself and giving it away.

Using an OSS model to write technical documentation sounds good, but it still requires good leadership and a strong editor to guide and organize it. All the documentation in the world is available on the Internet---if you can find what you want.

Re:Why not open source your book? (3, Interesting)

shentino (1139071) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081501)

GPL: "When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price"

So in other words, free as in speech, not free as in beer.

Re:Why not open source your book? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080677)

Assuming a reasonably rational market(which one would hope, if it can be found anywhere, could be found among techies with access to book reviews) there is an automatic mechanism preventing that from happening.

Since the programmers are working for free(or, at any rate, the money they are working for isn't coming from you in any visible way) the market cost of the product they are offering is also free, or very nearly so. If your offering duplicates their offering, plus the cost of your profit, there will be no demand for it. Everyone will just read the man page, or the online documentation, or the project's "we just dumped our documentation straight to lulu, at cost of printing" option, if they really like dead trees.

Your project will only sell if it is sufficiently distinct from the free one that it doesn't have to compete directly with it.

Re:Why not open source your book? (4, Insightful)

Gerzel (240421) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080761)

Uhm...have you ever READ many man pages or much documentation done by programmers? It isn't that hard to improve upon and add value to, and a well written work explaining how to use something provided for free could be well worth the money even to a rational marketeer. Also by your logic we shouldn't pay English teachers or for dictionaries as what they provide is also free. Or math teachers for that matter, even more so in some ways.

Just because part of the subject matter has a certain cost associated with it doesn't mean all related matirials will have the same cost.

Re:Why not open source your book? (2, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080815)

Maybe I wasn't sufficiently clear: My intention was to point out that any work based too closely on the existing (free) efforts would fail. Any work that addresses a different niche, or is a notable improvement, has room to succeed, which is why the genre of tech books is fairly successful.

Re:Why not open source your book? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080729)

Similarly, is it disingenuous to earn money using open source software in your day job? How about running your business Web site on Apache? Clearly anyone who does that is a leech on the open source community..? Nah, it ain't that - I think you're just a moron of the highest fucking order.

Re:Why not open source your book? (1)

nametaken (610866) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080759)

Jeez, don't you think it a little disingenuous to write a for profit book based upon the efforts of a bunch of programmers working for free?

Why do you assume that the programmers worked for free? OSS doesn't mean you have to work for free.

Re:Why not open source your book? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080849)

I am pretty sure that your age is 30 and you are not married.
Am I correct?

Re:Why not open source your book? (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081059)

No, it's perfectly reasonable to sell an up-to-date hardcopy of what is primarily open source material. The Subversion book does precisely this, and their websites always contain the bleeding edge version of the book, which is basically a well-written FAQ.

Re:Why not open source your book? (4, Informative)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081515)

No.

Giving away advice, articles, etc., is one thing, and I do it all the time. (Some of this is covered by my salary. But nowhere near all of it.)

But when I spend 10 months full-time, writing a 500-page book that developers are going to use to learn or improve skills that will help them make more money, I see absolutely nothing wrong with me getting a share.

As for the original question, my advice is, "Apress and O'Reilly will treat you fairly and professionally. Wrox and Addison-Wesley will do their best to steal you blind."

(NB: I've never actually written for O'Reilly, but I've written several for each of the other three. My colleagues who've written for O'Reilly, however, seem pretty happy about having done so, and their contracts look very reasonable.)

AC time (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080569)

My god, there's going to be a lot of venting on this thread... how about we make it a lot shorter and ask if any publishers *aren't* a nightmare to deal with?

Note for people about to post -- check your contract. Both of mine explicitly stated you must not say anything nasty about the publisher. You want to go AC on this thread.

Re:AC time (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080591)

I published through slashdot. The editors are completely fucking worthless. In fact, they're worse than worthless. They remove worth when they add in typos, broken formatting, and completely wrong titles and comments.

Re:AC time (3, Informative)

buss_error (142273) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080775)

Note for people about to post -- check your contract. Both of mine explicitly stated you must not say anything nasty about the publisher. You want to go AC on this thread.

Double Ditto here folks. If you're published, DO NOT post unless it's as an AC. Same for me, but more publishers than two.

O'Reilly & Associates (1)

ewhac (5844) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080579)

I hear good things... :-)

Schwab

Re:O'Reilly & Associates (4, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080763)

I used to have warm, fuzzy feelings about O'Reilly and my shelf full of O'Reilly books. That was before they started spamming me. I'm a college professor, and they sent me spam trying to get me to adopt one of their physics books for my courses. This was at a .edu email address that I had never given to them -- in fact, I had no preexisting business relationship with O'Reilly at all, except for buying their books on amazon and in bricks-and-mortar bookstores (and not with that email address, either).

I don't do business with spammers.

Re:O'Reilly & Associates (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29081115)

Your University probably sold them your name and used the money to buy more cafeteria swill for the test subjects, er I mean undergraduates. ;-) I never knew what exactly was in the "Seafood Newberg" that I was served as an undergrad, it looked like noodles covered in barf. We always got pizza on those nights ;-)

Re:O'Reilly & Associates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29081287)

Sooo... The easiest way to gain your business and make you hate competitors is to send spam in somebody else's name. Neat.

Isn't this the age of e-books? (5, Interesting)

Venkata Prasad (874420) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080599)

Did you evaluate the possibility of selling a PDF copy from your website yourself? I am not author but based on my experience with the lonely planet guides as well as a couple of books from the "pragmatic programmers" I started liking the ease of using the e-books. That said it is also important that your book is discoverable by it's target audience. Getting it published from the likes of O'Reilly would make it easy for many people who are looking for open-source related books (thats where I would first search), but if you think that your book has enough unique stuff and that you can make it easily discoverable over the search engines, nothing like publishing it in the form of an e-book (from your own website)!

Re:Isn't this the age of e-books? (5, Informative)

belmolis (702863) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080653)

A related option is to have an outfit like Lulu [lulu.com] publish the book and sell it for you. You upload a PDF. They take orders and process them, print the book on demand, and send it out. They take a fixed cost (based on number of pages, binding, etc.) and you set the margin added to that, which goes to you. You get an ISBN, which gets the book into Books in Print, and they have arrangements for listing the book with Amazon.com and some other distributors. It looks attractive if you don't need the editing or marketing that a regular publisher provides.

Re:Isn't this the age of e-books? (4, Informative)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080731)

A related option is to have an outfit like Lulu publish the book and sell it for you. You upload a PDF. They take orders and process them, print the book on demand, and send it out. They take a fixed cost (based on number of pages, binding, etc.) and you set the margin added to that, which goes to you. You get an ISBN, which gets the book into Books in Print, and they have arrangements for listing the book with Amazon.com and some other distributors. It looks attractive if you don't need the editing or marketing that a regular publisher provides.

I've used lulu for some nonfiction books, and I've been fairly happy with them, apart from some painful issues early on until I learned how to work around some of their issues. However, I wrote those books to scratch my own itch, whereas I'm guessing the OP wants to write his to, like, you know, pay the rent and stuff. Self-publishing is not a good way to make any significant amount of money. The big problem is lack of promotion. It's also virtually impossible to get a self-published book into a books-and-mortar store. (Possible exceptions would be, e.g., getting a bookstore in Pacific Grove, CA, to carry a self-published book on the history of Pacific Grove.)

Another thing to realize about lulu is that they have different levels of service, some of which cost the author and others that don't. The general rule in thr world of publishing is that money is supposed to flow toward the author, not the other way around; anything else is most likely a scam, and even if it's not a scam, it's almost certainly not a good idea. I use lulu's free level of service, and it works for me -- but that means I don't get an ISBN from them, or any of theire other services (which I suspect are basically snake oil).

If all you want is to get an ISBN for a book and get it in Books in Print, you can just do that directly by dealing with Bowker. You don't need lulu for that. One thing to consider about getting an ISBN for a self-published book is that you're supposed to have a different ISBN for every edition of the book. I don't know whether lulu will do that for you or not.

Re:Isn't this the age of e-books? (2, Interesting)

belmolis (702863) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080779)

Thanks, very informative. One question, though. For books on computer science and related areas, how important are brick-and-mortar sales these days? For books on some topics they're probably very important, but for CS I would think that they wouldn't be, provided that you can get sufficient publicity for the book, via, say, a positive /. review.

Re:Isn't this the age of e-books? (1)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081359)

...whereas I'm guessing the OP wants to write his to, like, you know, pay the rent and stuff.

The technical authors I've met didn't do it for the rent (even the ones with big publishers). They did it for the reputation, and the promise of money that reputation might get them. For the kind of work that's expected of you, you're actually paid very little (although, I'm sure there can be exceptions, for instance if you're already semi-famous in the open source world -- you might be able to negotiate a better deal and/or achieve higher sales because of your name-recognition).

Re:Isn't this the age of e-books? (5, Informative)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080769)

Get the ISBN yourself. Don't use someone else's -- it can reduce portability. For example, a ISBN from Createspace cannot be move to anywhere else, so you're stuck on Amazon only, forever. If you have your own ISBN, you can move to Lulu (for example) or to a more conventional publisher.

Re:Isn't this the age of e-books? (1)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080753)

Selling an ebook from your personal website? Have fun with your 1 sale a month. What, do you expect word of mouth to advertise for you? "Hey dude check out this libffi book on some guy's website!" Unless you're on Amazon or O'Reilly, you're not going to get exposure.

Re:Isn't this the age of e-books? (2, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080887)

Gee, what an interesting idea. Too bad a couple million people had it before you. For any given subject matter, there are already a lot of people writing about it on the web. Some of them are pretty good. No newcomer is going to rise to top of the search engine results unless their work is really good and they do a lot of viral marketing.

Speaking of marketing, you have a pretty simplistic notion of what publishers do. They don't just print up the books and list them on their web site, they market, advertise, and provide editorial support. That last one is kind of important, assuming that you don't want to look like an illiterate clown.

Another thing: very few technical books earn a significant amount of money. So really, the only reason to do all that work is the prestige of being a published author. Looks really good on your resume, and your mother will want a copy, even if she doesn't understand a word. Actually having your name on a book that's sitting on a shelf over at Barnes and Noble gives you a lot more prestige than just having a PDF on your web site.

Which is not to say that putting your stuff online is a waste of time. It's a good way to get attention, and it's your obvious last resort if you can't get a "real" publisher interested in your work. Actually, my next book will be online before I even finish writing it (assuming I ever start writing it). This will allow me to get feedback as I'm writing, and also allow me to experiment with various modes of authoring and delivery. (Crucial buzzwords: DITA, EPUB, XSL.) But that's all just a means to an end. If my online version never results in a "real" book, I won't be heartbroken — but neither will I consider the online version an adequate substitute.

Hey, here's a really radical idea. Why don't we deal with an Ask Slashdot by actually trying to answer the question?

Re:Isn't this the age of e-books? (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081581)

...provide editorial support. That last one is kind of important, assuming that you don't want to look like an illiterate clown.

This can be valuable even if you aren't an illiterate clown. I'm an editor as well as an author, but I still find that a good editor's second pair of eyes is extremely helpful and useful in beating my material into a shape suitable for publication.

Web vs E-books vs Hard Paper (1)

B_SharpC (698293) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081643)

There are few well written subject matters on the Web. Any expert worth much puts their text on hard paper books. That way they can get paid.

The web is mostly for entertainment. Quality learning is in books and that's not changing through empty wishes. Hopey changey. Silliness.

Re:Isn't this the age of e-books? (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080931)

Exactly. What is even the point of a publisher nowadays? Back then, they were there to print books, distribute them and do the marketing.

Nowadays with e-books on the rise, there is no point in printing anymore, distribution can be done from the own site trough payment services like PayPal, and all you need is get the word out via marketing. So let someone make a nice site, and let someone else throw out good advertisement. (The one that people *like* to see! More that "getting the word out" style, and no selling smoke and lies.) Never underestimate the power of getting as much people as possible people to know that your product exists and what it is.

Re:Isn't this the age of e-books? (3, Insightful)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081343)

all you need is get the word out via marketing. So let someone make a nice site, and let someone else throw out good advertisement.

On what budget? On whose time? Who's going to design an attractive ad? Who's going to make your attractive website? Who's going to compare ad prices (and pricing models) across sites and ad networks that you've never even heard of? Authors write. Publishers have deep pockets for advertising (bootstrapping sales from a $100 advertising budget is not an option because your product has a limited life cycle), they know graphic designers, they know how to market a book, and they know how effective different types of ad campaigns are and how to get good prices. And a publisher might be able to get you on paper: huge cost but it's a market you'd otherwise be missing. Also you need an editor; a writer is just being unrealistic if she thinks she doesn't need an outside perspective. Grammar checking by people who actually know when to use the past subjunctive or the present indicative mood, yes, but also people who can tell you you're overdoing an easy section or not explaining something clearly enough.

TAB =mregurgitated garbage (0, Flamebait)

hottoh (540941) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080613)

Worst

TAB

They were HORRIBLE. Imagine a detailed technical description, but only vague references as to what they the technical descriptions applied to. That was TAB.

the good and the meh (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080661)

O'Reilly is only meh as far as treating authors. They play favorites, they pay the lowest royalty rate (10%), and they shove so many books out the door that yours may get lost. They pay the same rate for digital sales, which really stinks because their overhead is a lot lower. OTOH they are very good at actually selling books, they keep trying new forms of distribution, the O'Reilly brand is tops, and they pay royalties quarterly, which is a nice thing. Better than the typical annual or bi-annual.

No Starch is very excellent. Good editors, good royalty rates (10-14%), and you get good personal attention.

Both will allow you to write your manuscript in other than Microsoft Word. Many publishers are wedded to Word, which is beyond idiotic. It's a terrible tool for manuscripts, and for people like me who boycott corrupt evil globalcorps it's a deal-breaker.

The Dummies book are very tightly controlled and they pay cheap.

You'll deal first with an acquisitions editor. All publishers have a lot of information on their Websites on how to pitch them. For god's sake read it and do what it says; there is a goldmind of information there and you'll look like a moron if you don't take advantage of it.

Be sure you have what it takes to write a whole book-- it is more work than you ever dreamed. If you want to write a good book, that is. Have several conversations with your potential editor to determine if you can work together. An editor will make or break you.

Re:the good and the meh (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080793)

No Starch is very excellent. Good editors, good royalty rates (10-14%), and you get good personal attention.

I have some No Starch books on my shelf that really could have used better editing.

Re:the good and the meh (2, Insightful)

nametaken (610866) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080795)

You're kidding me, 10-14% is a good royalty rate for an author?! That's disgusting.

Re:the good and the meh (4, Interesting)

vonFinkelstien (687265) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080851)

That's better than what I get as a textbook author.

Re:the good and the meh (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080905)

That's better than what I get as a textbook author.

No offense intended, but the price of textbooks is so insanely high that I suspect that, dollar for dollar, you get more per sale than the average tech book author, even with your lower royalty rate. However, I agree that it's disgusting that publishers of all sorts take such a larger share of the pie for themselves.

Re:the good and the meh (3, Insightful)

introspekt.i (1233118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081095)

You're kidding me, 10-14% is a good royalty rate for an author?! That's disgusting.

It sounds disgusting, but the publisher has all the overhead (presses, distribution, marketing, and staff to support) and pretty much all the risk. e-Books excluded, books cost money to edit, typeset, print, ship, get shelf space, etc. Not to mention they also have a shelf life in this particular case. The publisher is absorbing all these costs and the author collects his or her royalties. Yeah it sucks to be getting paid that "little" relatively speaking, but note that the in the case of publishing, most of the heavy lifting is done by these companies, especially in the case of these tech books, where the content isn't so extreme and complex to write about as it would be in many engineering, math, and science textbooks. 10-14% seems pretty reasonable to me, IMHO, but I don't write or publish books.

Re:the good and the meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080879)

10%!? Holy crap man. Syngress pays only $20 per page! You wonder why their books read like unedited crap? If you're getting paid per page, it's no wonder you're long winded in your writing...

Re:the good and the meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080991)

Hey, could you flesh this out a little more? Like, you don't get a percentage of anything? You just get $20/page that you produce?

wow.

Re:the good and the meh (0)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080947)

So what exactly is the point of going trough all that hassle to get ripped off big time? You can get marketing for much less than 90% of your income!

And paper? For real? Come on! ... *Welcome to the 21st century!* ^^
Put up a site, add PayPal, give the link to your marketing guy, and be done. :)

Re:the good and the meh (1)

pwizard2 (920421) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081165)

O'Reilly is only meh as far as treating authors. They play favorites, they pay the lowest royalty rate (10%), and they shove so many books out the door that yours may get lost. They pay the same rate for digital sales, which really stinks because their overhead is a lot lower. OTOH they are very good at actually selling books, they keep trying new forms of distribution, the O'Reilly brand is tops, and they pay royalties quarterly, which is a nice thing. Better than the typical annual or bi-annual.

I'm writing a tech book as well and I deliberately skipped O'Reilly for an altogether different reason. I never liked how their books all look the same; it gives me a definite "work for hire" vibe whenever I look at their stuff. (they all have an animal on the front or have a consistent look with other books O'Reilly has published in the same category) For instance, every time I see one of their books, I think "Oh, here's an O'Reilly book" instead of "Oh, here's a book written by $author." I'm writing a book mainly to get exposure and to help open other doors career-wise down the road (the royalties are nice too) and I don't want to do all the work and have someone like O'Reilly get all the kudos. Granted, they do have good distribution, but so do other publishers that don't over-brand your work like O'Reilly does.

Re:the good and the meh (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29081925)

You should underline that the royalty rate you are talking about is NOT based on the cover prize!
It is based on distributor price, that's generally 50% of cover price.

This means that if you publish a book with O'Reilly and the cover price is $40 you will get only $2 for each copy sold. (10% of $20)
Same story for NoStarch etc...

The real avid evil profiter is Amazon&C. They have NO RISK and get up to 50% COVER PRICE for each copy sold. And they are just a courier with a nice web interface!

----

Giving away a PDF and asking for $1 or $2 tips might earn you more if you can promote the book in a focused community (and if the book is good ;)
Obviously you will still be able to provide a paper version via Lulu and other PODs.

Worst tech publisher ever (5, Funny)

Len (89493) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080667)

Penguin Classics. They're forever bitching about plot, characters and crap like that. Plus, they won't publish anything about tech invented after 1920.

Apress and Pragmatic Programmers (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080675)

Posting anonymously for obvious reasons.. I'm published with Apress. They have good people who mostly seem to work independently from home as well as more "admin" type folk who reside at Springer, the parent publisher. Apress's workflow is honed for a high number of books with little room for creativity. For example, you probably won't get much of a say in the cover of your book. You will also have little say in the workflow which is almost entirely Word based (though they can be semi-flexible in some cases, such as with Scott Chacon's new Pro Git book).

With Apress, for a book on reasonably popular topics from a new author, the advance is in the $5-8k range. The biggest downside of going with them is the inflexibility of the workflow and the opaqueness of the management - getting responses via e-mail can be tough on things like royalty issues, etc. Trying to get them to agree to stuff like open sourcing the e-book or a cover that's not in the style of the rest of a series is like pulling teeth. Royalties start at about 10% and work their way up to 20% once you've sold 20,000(?) copies (unlikely). I believe it's 15% for over 10,000 copies. They take a significant "reserve" each quarter and you do not get any of this back until at least 18 months later (6 quarters, basically). On a book with an RRP of about $40, Apress get about $18 net so your royalties are based on that, not the RRP. So let's say you sell 5,000 copies (not a bad number unless you're on a very mainstream topic).. you're looking at $9000 royalties - don't expect to see all of this for a couple of years though due to the reserves.

Separate to that, I hear very good things about the Pragmatic Programmers / Pragmatic Bookshelf although I haven't worked with them myself. Supposedly they have a very good, hacker-friendly workflow and offer 50% royalties.

Re:Apress and Pragmatic Programmers (1)

belmolis (702863) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080739)

Does anyone have any idea what typical sales for technical books are? I have no idea what it means numerically to be a technical best seller, or what the sales of an ordinary book that is not a dud are like. And yes, I've googled. Sales figures appear generally not to be public.

Re:Apress and Pragmatic Programmers (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080803)

Google for "programming book profits" - a number of authors did blog posts a few years ago around that theme. Also try more advanced searches like "1000..10000 copies" in connection with publisher names and words like "advance" or "reserve."

My personal "I've worked with a few publishers in various capacities" yardstick would vary depending on the topic.. for example, a Beginning C# Book should sell > 10k copies no problems, whereas a Beginning Haskell book might do well to sell 5k. But for a not-too-popular, not-too-obscure topic, I'd say 3000 probably means you won't be working with that publisher again, 5000 == everyone's vaguely happy but not over the moon, 8000+ == it was a pretty solid run, 10000+ == you did well, prepare to get hounded to write more.

Re:Apress and Pragmatic Programmers (2, Informative)

jaredbpd (144090) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080811)

I'm surprised more people aren't recommending Pragmatic Bookshelf.

They seem to have great terms [pragprog.com] for their authors. I guess the only drawback could be that your particular open source book isn't something that fits with their established bookshelf, but it never hurts to ask.

Re:Apress and Pragmatic Programmers (1)

vonFinkelstien (687265) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080863)

Even if they require a Word file, you can use something else. My editors use Word too, but I don't have MS-Office or Open Office installed on my computer. It's not a problem, unless you want to use LaTeX.

Re:Apress and Pragmatic Programmers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080901)

Even with the requirement for in-line commenting? That's not well supported for Word files outside of of (Open)Office-land.

Re:Apress and Pragmatic Programmers (1)

pwizard2 (920421) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081221)

I'm doing my manuscript in LaTeX. Over they years, I've found Word (or Writer, or any other conventional word processor) to be absolutely horrible for large documents. ( >= 50 pages) If you're doing something small, it is easier to use a WYSIWYG tool like Word/Writer, but for something with many citations, cross-references, emphasis on document structure, etc. LaTeX is second to none. Plus, many publishers I'm considering use LaTeX anyway, so I can just give them my manuscript and it will save everyone a whole lot of trouble.

Re:Apress and Pragmatic Programmers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080937)

PRAGMATIC BOOKSHELF ROCKS!

Cambridge University Press (4, Interesting)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080681)

Though it's not specifically a *tech* book (more a science thing), I helped co-author a chapter for a book published by Cambridge.
      I hadn't worked with them before, though my co-authors had. I had lots of questions about the contract (re-use of published material, what our responsibilities were, and so on). The publisher was very helpful in figuring them out, and explaining to me what each thing meant (and accepted a couple of changes for future contract versions). The book itself is of high quality, in cover, printing, typesetting, figures, etc., and the turnaround time for reviewing and editing was good.
      I'm quite happy with them.

You may wish to consider avoiding Elsevier... (5, Informative)

Shaterri (253660) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080693)

...depending on your moral stance; the company (which unfortunately owns a host of major computer book publishers, most notably Academic Press, Digital Press and Morgan Kaufmann) has had a small host of scandals, mostly concerning exorbitant journal fees and 'sponsored' pharmaceutical journals (they were the publisher behind the Merck Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine scandal, if you recall that). MK and AP publish some of the finest books in the industry, which makes this that much harder a moral stand to take, but it's worth evaluating how you feel about the publisher before you consider going down that route.

Backwards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080705)

Umm shouldn't you have a publisher before you author the book ?

Re:Backwards (2, Insightful)

treeves (963993) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081181)

You might "have a publisher" if you are a really well known author. Most authors aren't going to be able to go to a publisher and say, "Hey, I've got a really great idea for a book. Will you publish it for me?" They won't even hear the beginning of the second sentence.

O'Reilly (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080743)

As an author I have only worked with O'Reilly, so I have no basis for comparison from that perspective. They were great to work with and I highly recommend them.

As a reader who owns hundreds of technical books, most of them are from O'Reilly and very nearly all of the ones I really love are from O'Reilly. That's why I wanted to work with them in the first place, I think they are the best.

my $0.02,
JP Vossen -- co-author, O'Reilly's bash Cookbook

PS--Ironically the captcha for this post is "authors"

O'Reilly, of course (4, Informative)

thefinite (563510) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080747)

I had an awesome experience with O'Reilly for my book iMovie '09 & iDVD: The Missing Manual [oreilly.com]. (Working with David Pogue was obviously super cool.) My editor, Pete Meyers was great: helpful, responsive, and professional. The publishing deal was good, especially considering it was my first book. O'Reilly also has excellent resources once the book is out, including a web site for authors that has promotion tools and up-to-date information on book sales. It's hard to imagine a publisher reasonably doing more than O'Reilly does.

Re:O'Reilly, of course (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29081253)

It's hard to imagine a publisher reasonably doing more than O'Reilly does.

Experiences vary. I've had several books published with O'Reilly. The marketing plan for my most recent book seems to be that the editor Tweets about it once every several weeks.

Re:O'Reilly, of course (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29081465)

Posting as AC here... I also worked with Peter Meyers on an O'Reilly book recently and found him to be anything but helpful, responsive and professional. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I won't even buy an O'Reilly book based on the experience.

Good and Bad Game Programming Books (4, Informative)

CuteSteveJobs (1343851) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080841)

Good:

"Thomson Course Technology" are extremely good. They have the highst editorial standard I've seen. Books like "Shaders for Game Programmers and Artists" by Sebastien St-Laurent are extremely well done and IMHO the best in the field.

O'Reilly is good ole' reliable but he does tend to fatten his books out to ridiculous sizes. Why say in one paragraph what you can say in ten pages? It makes them slow going for learners, but that aside we should congratulate him for raising the bar for all publishers.

Bad:

Wordware and Charles River have put out some shockers over the years. These seem to have included many books written by the "give a kid some money to go away and write a book for us." These are rambling monologs to nowhere in particular. I remember one they did on character animation where the author where he didn't discuss the most commonly used formats because they were "too hard" (why else would I buy his book!?) and another which told the reader to buy some particular company's SDK (sure, but what if you don't want to?) Some of their other books have just been copied straight from a technical specs with minimal explanation. Occasionally they do a good one though: Frank Luna's books on shaders and 3d programming are good.

We should also flame Elsevier, McGraw Hill, Wiley and publishers of textbooks. We see far too many textbooks with typos, errors, problems without solutions ("sold separately"), overpriced US editions and the way they rip off students by bring out new editions with superficial changes. The same with their academic books which seem to have very poor editorial control. For all the money these publishers make they should do a better job, to say nothing of their overpriced academic journals.

in b4 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080889)

s/highst editorial standard/highest editorial standard/g

Wrox (1)

dujenwook (834549) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080867)

WROX has to be one of the if not the worst (at least that I've come across.) I couldn't imagine something more poorly done.

Elsevier = worst by far, and sometimes best. (4, Informative)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29080885)

Elsevier has no morality whatsoever. They publish fake magazines, with fake studies in them, especially targeted to make doctors think they are real and therefore describe pills that kill their patients, or at least make them suffer while going broke, just so the pharma industry can make money.

But the also published "The Art Of Game Design" which is a really great book (except for the very "old world" chapters about money making).

So it as usual is no black/white thing, as this is close to Hitler, who also did the exceptional good thing (*gasp*). ;)

As usual this is all a question of trust. So here is my little addition to your graph of trust. :)

Advice from a computer book veteran (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080917)

I've written computer books for 20 years, and you'll be shafted on your first book deal no matter what you do. So, if you want a career out of this, choose a publisher that can push titles out the door: O'Reilly or Dummies. For a first time author, establishing a reliable reputation is more important than your royalty rate. You need to show you can produce a marketable product on time, and be able to work professionally with editors, copyeditors, proofreaders and everybody else who will try to muck up your copy.

Also, pick an agent in the tech field, like Fresh Books, Waterside, or StudioB. Sure, they'll scoop 15% off your take, but by weeding the crap out of your contract, they'll get you a better deal in the long run. They also know which publishers are best suited for your book, saving you a lot of time. And time is key in computer books: You must deliver on deadline, or you're toast. The tech field changes too rapidly for tech books to have much shelf life.

Once you have a decent first book under your belt, then try to pump up your royalty rate.

Sir, this is your OOP copyright revertion reminder (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080927)

Make sure your contract clearly defines what it means for your book to be out-of-print (remember, this is the digital era, you might need special verbiage in there to cover that) at which time all copyrights revert to you.

Another plus for O'Reilly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29080935)

Easy to work with, Good payers, even take FDL licensed material. Couldn't fault them really. Published O'Reilly author

So if you've got a book you want to write (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081003)

If you've got an idea for a book you want to write, what's the recommended method? Apply to an array of publishers at once, or work your way down the line in order of preference?

Depends on intent (1, Informative)

fermion (181285) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081109)

o'reilly has a cosistent level of quality, like McDonnell's. Not necessarily the best, but acceptable. From what I here, they hire competent writers and then backs them up with editors. I don't know this for sure. What I do know is they are a relatively complete, but sometimes have critical errors. I learned HTML from their books in the mid 90's.. Currently I only buy their books if they on the remainder bin.

Addison Wesley is a the best publisher if one if looking for rigor. It is sometimes hard to read, but relatively error free, both implicate and explicate. I tend to favor these books when i am learning new concepts. They published the practice of programing, a game changing book from my point of view.

One should not rule out MS press on some of the basic techniques of programing, expecially those books coming from the macintosh side. I have not seen any books of late, but they have some classics on software development.

A challenger to o'reilly, and a higher quality mass production outlet, IMHO, is the pragmatic programmer. Where O'reilly is HTMl, pragmatic programer is best practices and Ruby.The former is a critical issue. One complaint I have about O'reilly is that they are limited in their scope. They don't really lay the ground work for a person to become a good programmer, only a passable one. Of course, when O'reilly began, it was not the fashion in the popular computer press to talk about best practices on the macro scale. That has changed. The Prgamatic programmer considers the whole process. For someone looking for accessible, complete, and overall correct coverage this is not a bad place to start.

The publishers I avoid. Anyhing for dummies or any variation. I know it is toungue in cheek, but if one thinks one is a dummy, success is not forthcoming. Any other silly variations. Sams Publishing. I have never bout a book from them that is helpfu. No Starch press has been of limited value to me, but then I don;t do all that much of what they write about. If I did I might have a different opinion, but my QT book is not no-starch, but prentice hall.

What I will say is this. I tend to know what I want for the stuff I already do. When I interested in learning something, new, I take a look at all the books. Just because a publisher does on thing well, doesn't mean they do everything well.

selvespublish (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29081219)

If U ask mee, U should selfpubliish. I write twelf books and they no pulbished them. This whey I get 100$ of what I sale. At currant rate I be millionair by 2040. Maybe my math bad.

Find a Small Publisher (1)

chromatic (9471) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081259)

I've had several technical books published. The process has left me so dissatisfied I'm unlikely to work with a so-called traditional publisher ever again -- certainly not with a standard contract. See The Value of a Publisher [onyxneon.com] for some thoughts representing what you give up to work with such a contract.

I believe that any publisher that refuses to pay you 25% royalties on the wholesale price is not worth your time.

You don't get to choose your publisher (2, Informative)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 4 years ago | (#29081827)

they choose you.

Unless you have an established reputation in your field - one that is worth real cash (hint: most exist only in the mind of the author and/or are not worth a cent), or you are an already published author you won't be in a position to pick or choose which publisher gets to risk thousands in the shrinkingly small possibility that your work might just, possibly break even, or (even more unlikely) make a few bucks.

As it is, there's this recession thing going on at the moment. What that means for you is that publishers are less willing to risk their money on unknowns - and since you have to ask which publishers are good / bad, it doesn't sound as if you've done this before. It also means they have a backlog of new authors waiting for their stuff to get into print. It also means fewer people are spending money on books. Put all this together and even if you can find someone willing to put your work into print, it won't happen this year - maybe not even next. You might just see you name on the cover in 2011 and you might just see an earnings cheque somethime the next year. However, the money you eventually make won't cover the cost of your time - even at minimum wage rates.

Better to use your book as a loss-leader and give it away (thereby helping to ensure that future authors have an even tougher time trying to get their works into bookshops - no-one said it was fair, just or right :-), and try to make your money on consultancy based around your book and the knowledge you have in that field.

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