No Fancy Name
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
book writin'
Despite the trials and tribulations during the writing of my Plone book, my publisher hasn't dropped me. In fact, they want me to update my "immensely popular" (their words, not mine) book, Sams Teach Yourself PHP, MySQL and Apache All-in-One, in anticipation of winter holiday shopping sprees. It's only been on the shelves since the previous winter holiday shopping spree, and it's already sold over 22K copies, so that's cool.

I'm such a hypocrite, though -- I complain about how much I hate writing books, then I go write/update another one. I wrote my first book, back in the olden days of 1999, because I wanted to publish something, and there were only two or three books out on the (then) new-fangled thing I picked to write about. I wrote a second book on the same topic, but geared toward a different audience and in a different style (step by step and with lots of pictures), and that one was well-received. Over the next two years, I wrote articles for Wired's Webmonkey, and for CNet and other things like that, and had tutorials and extras at my website, and I dutifully answered emails when people had questions, etc. Then things started to suck. The new-fangled stuff got really, really popular, and books started springing up all over the a result, friends/fans of other authors would write unfounded crappy reviews of all the books not authored by their friends, would fill my mailbox (and presumably those of other authors) with "you suck" messages, garbage like that. I could deal with those, because I knew it was just a bunch of stupid people trying to cause trouble.

But then a whole other gaggle of people started to surface -- the "I can't get my thumb out of my own ass, you have to help me" bunch. Now, I intentionally write books for beginners, so I know my audience is not the most technically-oriented audience in the world (when they start out to learn these things). I also know it's entirely possibly and in fact quite likely that things I write aren't crystal clear to all readers. I have no problem with clarifications along those lines...that's mostly what I do when making changes for new editions. My problem is with the people who do not pay attention to the book they're reading, then complain that it's my fault that they missed something clearly printed in bold text under a heading of its own. For example, "How do I start xyz thing? You suck. You should have told me how to start xyz thing instead of going from installing xyz thing to running a test with xyz thing. I can't believe you get paid to write books. You're a terrible writer. I can't get past chapter 1 because I can't start xyz thing, and it's your fault." After a few years of dutifully answering emails like this with something along the lines of "Please see the step-by-step instructions on page 6, under the heading 'How to Start XYZ Thing'", I stopped. I offer errata and downloadable code at my site now, and that's it. No contact info (although it's not all that difficult to find me, if one tries, and they do), nothing. It's my job to correct things I may have screwed up, but it's not my responsibility to hand-hold you through reading a page in its entirety. Argh. But then, there are people who buy my books and then call my office. I mean really, who in their right mind thinks that by buying my book, for which I get about a buck, gives them some special dispensation to call my workplace and ask for help/clarification/whatever? Do these people call Dr. Phil's office for clarification on something in the Ultimate Weight Loss Solution? Not that I'm anywhere near as popular as Dr. Phil, of course, but you get the point. Come to think of it, they probably do call him.

Despite the fallout from writing two successful books, I wrote a few more. I never know how many books to say I've written. Technically, I have nine (and soon to be ten) ISBN numbers under my belt, but those are comprised of books that have multiple editions...although work definitely goes into new editions, it's not like I re-wrote the darn thing. In other words, the numbers make it look like I've written way more than I have. Truth be told, I'll probably keep writing books as long as Sams/Pearson wants to pay me to do it. They're very good folk, there, and a lot of their books are quite good.

My profs in the B-school use a lot of Pearson Ed. books in class, and if I were a shit, I'd try to weasel free copies out of them. But then I think about people I know in academia, who write books and get squat for them. These sorts of books, the labors of love that can make or break a career, which are often the culmination of a life's work, etc. etc....those folks get like ten cents a copy for a book that doesn't sell nearly as many copies as mine. That sort of inequity really ticks me off, so I'll be the last person to ask for a free book, although any authors who want to send me one, from their comp stash, I'm fine with that. This last sentence was going to be a shout out to one of those academic types who edited an edition of something from the olden, olden days, but doing so would screw with the whole anonymity of the blogosphere thing. I'll just send along a dollar, to make up for sale that would have been. :)


job / books / new blog

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