I Will Not Write a Book

I keep getting emails with offers to write a book, or to help contribute in writing a book. While I’ve entertained the idea of doing a chapter (or 3) on Cairngorm, that’s just what it is, and will always be; an idea that I have no intentions of bringing to fruition.

From my experience and talking to others in the Flash community, books pay jack both in lump sum payout and royalties. This is compounded with insane amount of time and energy it takes to write a good technical programming book, especially in a hot market right now. I could spend 4 months making shit money on a book that has a shelf life of 1 year with pathetic royalties NOT improving my skill set… or I could spend 4 months making hundreds of dollars an hour writing code improving my skill set.

Gee, hard decision.

Not only that, but finding technical editors, good ones who know ActionScript AND have time to proof read your chapters and test your code, is impossible. I know from personal experience, I was a technical editor for 2 books in 2005 and 2006, saw the challenge to get chapters checked even with a good amount of technical editors. I sucked at it, and felt horrible after words. Did I mention I didn’t get paid as a technical editor either? Not that I deserved it. Oh wait, a free book… um… I make that in 10 minutes of coding. Ungrateful bastard, I know. Seriously, who do you know that is good at ActionScript and is NOT busy as hell? Thought so. How do you make them not busy? Offer a higher rate than their next gig or just get lucky that they somehow feel the need to add technical editor to their resume.

If you are a publisher reading my blog thinking that I’m a decent “candidate” to consider for authoring a book, while I appreciate your consideration, move on. The only book I want to write is only half technical, and have no clue if it would sell.

…then again, I did get burnt out pretty bad at the beginning of 2007, quit consulting, and played Gears of War on my XBox for 3 months straight unemployed… I don’t recall that positively affecting my skillset although I did meet a lot of cool whacko’s on XBox Live. *ahem*.

Ok, in that case, if someone can justify why it’s career advisable (…yet another resume bullet point does NOT count), how to get these publishers to front decent bling (aka, I can make $85 to $120 an hour contracting/consulting independently, non-firm associated right now for reference), and how to sell them on my whacky ideas I think would sell, then I might consider it.

I mean, just because someone wrote a book doesn’t make them impressive to me. I’ve read some really bad Flash and programming books as well as some bad ass ones. There seems to be this benefit that if you write a book, you’re immediately perceived as an expert, even if you really aren’t, which is complete bs. Then again, there is something insanely pimp and philanthropic, and therefore self-fullfilling, about pouring your heart, soul, and knowledge into a writ for the pure goal of helping your fellows. Seriously, on the fence big time. Guy Watson and I think alike on this (at least he and did 3 years ago :: shrugs :: ).

I’d argue spending one’s time coding, working on open source, and blogging, even if aforementioned tasks are done independently, are worth booku’s more to your personal career in both time, less stress, and money, both short and long term. Am I wrong? Naive?

18 Replies to “I Will Not Write a Book”

  1. Ditto! :) .. I’ve had 4 offers in 2007 and whilst tempting as it maybe to get i guess your profile out there a bit further beyond the blogsphere, none the less there is a lot of pain to be had writing it. I’ve seen a few authors go dark for 6 months to then pop back up on the radar exhausted, drained and mentally tapped

    I don’t think writing a book is bad per say, it seems an awful waste not to have talent write as how else do folks learn?.. where I think the flaw resides is in both the $$ and the timeline. In that “You have to write 1000 words per week for 4 months to get a total of $10k – 20k USD once off”.

    Technical Editing was aok when I first started out, as I got free books (helped when I was a poor coder hehe) but you are right, the more busier people got, the harder it was and the more i turned down gigs simply due to being time poor.

    If i were to write a book, i’d make sure Steven Weiss (O`Reilly) was my editor as out of all the editors i’ve meet over the years, he’s by far my favourite.

    That being said Jesse, I will let Mills & Boon Novels know you’re not interested anymore ;)

    Scott Barnes
    RIA Evangelist

  2. Well, I’ve always told people who ask about writing, don’t do it for the money. And it’s definitely a pain in the ass. I guess it’s somewhat of an ego thing. Walking into a bookstore and seeing 2 or 3 “Peters” on spines of books. Or having people come up to you every 5 or 10 minutes at conferences thanking you for such a great book. But it’s not just the praise, it’s knowing that hundreds or thousands of people out there are reading and benefiting from your hard work, some even launching their careers from it. I remember some of the first books I read on Flash, chapters by Jobe Makar and Sham Bangal. It sounds corny, but they changed my life. Truly, reading, understanding and being able to apply what they wrote started me on the path to where I am now, which is quite different from where I was then. The thought that I might be doing the same for multiple others is very warm and fuzzy.

    But not trying to convince you at all. It’s not for everyone. If you don’t feel the calling, don’t do it. But if you did write a book, I would definitely buy it!

  3. I agree with Keith. Though I’d love to see you do it, if you don’t feel the need burning, don’t do it. I bet if you blogged less often, though, you’d feel the need to author something.

    On a side note, Keith Peters posting on this very topic is like having Madonna give you sex advice. AS3 Animation is probably the best AS or Flex book I’ve ever read.

  4. No one writes tech books for the money, that’s a given, but many would not call it a huge waste of time. Just because you love and excel at programming, does not mean you will love or even be good at writing, or teaching for that matter. It all depends on your priorities.

    I could go into the reasons why I find enjoyment in tech writing, but I won’t try and convince you: like many things in this industry, the passion is either there or it isn’t.

    It’s too bad you have had some bad experiences with writing books Jesse, because clearly you love writing or you would not be blogging about what you know so much. I would have loved to have you on board the team to write the Cairngorm chapter of our Flex 3 book.

    Best of luck in your endeavours, Jesse.

  5. One other point I forgot about. Teaching others is the best way to learn something yourself. The effort required in writing code not just so it works, but so that an absolute beginner can totally understand it, gives you untold insight into the subject you are writing about. A lot of things I thought I understood til I started writing about them. Then I realized, whoa, what’s really going on here?

  6. You’re right? Realistic?

    I’ve written 3 books and I never made more from them than I’ve made from my hobby (Flashmagazine). You work your ass off for 3-4 months and really get nothing back. Not worth the time in any way.

    Publishing to the web is much better as you have complete control. It’s true as Keith says that you may learn something by trying to explain advanced stuff to beginners, but you can do that on the web as well and still get more back in terms of money and cred.


  7. The money’s not great, but you’re forgetting the chicks! Seriously, don’t do if you don’t want. But regarding the money… of the 5 titles I’ve written, one (the beginner book) actually pays pretty good. The revisions happen to be pretty easy too. If you want to make money here’s the formula:
    –write fast
    –get lucky
    –write on as timeless as possible a subject.

    That last one is key. I know someone who makes a decent living (well, I don’t know her financial details, but I’m pretty sure it’s her main income) from her husband’s text book royalties–and he died like 15 years ago! For a case in computer books consider someone like Joseph Lowery or William Sanders. When you have like a million books in print there’s bound to be some money there. Having said this… and having a publishing company in my family (another story)… I can tell you one thing I remember hearing: the writers don’t make the money.

    Another key is voice–and, in your case Jesse, you have a voice that comes through in your writing. Maybe the blog is the best outlet for this. Maybe there’s another way to turn it into cash.

    But… all this talk about how you could make X number of dollars in Y number of minutes only goes so far. Using that logic, you should never mow your lawn because you could pay a kid to do that for $15 and you could make that much by staying inside and coding some AS. But what this logic overlooks (as well this interesting video on a similar theme of outsourcing your whole friggin’ life [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k24zlb2KR9I]) is that balance is good. I find writing a particular challenge. Like Keith mentioned, teaching is a great way to learn. I also find it incredibly challenging.

    By no means am I trying to say you should write a book. In fact, I very much doubt I’ll be writing any new Flash titles any time soon–if ever. I do have ideas for more timeless subjects however. My main reason to avoid the writing however has a little to do with the money but even more with the thinking that I’m not likely to reach a new level of self-actualization by writing another book. Not like that was ever the idea, but it’s just like “been there, done that”. You might consider writing a book and THEN you can say how much it sucked.

  8. Hey Jesse,
    Writing *seems* fun until you’ve worked all day and then settled down to write. Day after day. ;)
    I did two chapters for a Flash 5 book, a coding guide and technical editing for FOE way back in the day and the *cool factor* of the whole thing wore off very quickly. And, back then, FOE was having huge problems with getting technical editors that knew wtf they were talking about. It was very frustrating. The only reason I stuck with it was the pay added up to exactly the cost of the top-of-the-line Trek hardtail I wanted to buy.

    The books do come in handy though, I have two of them stacked to set my mac on. :)

  9. Jesse,

    It’s not about being right, wrong or naive. At this point of your career you use arithmetics to make certain decision. Writing a technical book is not about making money off the the book sales. Why do you blog? I’m sure you’ve spend about an hour writing this blog. Using your own logic you’d rather earn some money coding.

    Been there, done that. Went through the entire circle from being rejected by publishers to rejecting their book writing offers. If interested, listen to my carcast (recording while driving to work) about my experience with book self-publishing and publishing: http://yakovfain.javadevelopersjournal.com/ .

    Just do what you think is right for the moment :)

    Yakov Fain

  10. Thanks for the feedback, yall. When I spent 3 months writing 4 chapters for the Flash Communication Server Bible back in the summer of 2003, I got burnt out really damn quick. I even had a pretty sweet W2, clock-in, clock-out job back then too, so it wasn’t like I was working more than 38 hours a week unless I wanted to. It was even worse when the book didn’t launch for reasons I never found out.

    Tech editing was just as bad. I’d rather do something 120% or not do it at all. Thus, pouring my time into tech editing was just as frustrating and tiresome. It was easier because I could get quicker, more tangible feedback from the authors and the editor, thus feeling like I was actually doing something worthwhile.

    I’ve seen some of my friends in the industry get totally annihilated emotionally (not all, but most) during book writing. I’d question why since the majority of them were already badasses, and their resume did not need any more padding. Based on the comments here, it sounds like they had the reasons mentioned here of wanting to help people learn and glean that good feeling, resume 2nd.

    It seems to me I need to wait for the economy to get screwed before I’ll get to the point in my career where I can take a Bleaker’s “Grim Retreat”, and thus write. With my kid not knowing wtf sleep is, it already takes 6 hours just to produce one blog entry.

  11. Could you out 120% effort into producing screencasts of yourself coding and talking about it? I’d pay for that. Your Captivate piece (from years ago) on building Flash components was just brilliant, so much easier to grasp than if you had simply written about it.

  12. I love writing and by all accounts, I’m pretty good at it. The scheduled energized me and I never felt the burnout that many others experienced. When I wrote my ColdFusion books, ~7 years ago it helped my consulting career.

    I’d love to write a Flex Book (or two or three), but passed on the opportunity last year, mainly due to the economics of it. I do not believe that another book to my name would help me. The market is about to become saturated with Flex books. Ask your potential publishers how they are going to differentiate themselves. Ask them the size of the market. Ask them their sales targets.

    I wanted an answer better than “O’Rielly had a book that sold well…”

  13. Write a Book? It’s friggin’ 2008! How about we get out of the middle ages, and start using the technology we created. Captivate sessions or online video learning…that’s where I’d focus my effort$.

  14. True, you won’t make jack on the books. But I know that companies pay a lot better for being a proven and publish thought leader. Back when I was working more in .NET, I had friends who made 50% more for their training and speaking engagements, just based on the fact that they had published.

    One of the things I have issue with is that books are out-dated so quickly. I learn and have to use the Web and people’s blogs for finding the updated information. The problem with blogs, though, is searching all the appropriate ones and finding the information needed. It’s a science all in itself.

    Right now, you’re experiencing a great job market, so there’s lots of projects and good consulting money to be had. Once you’ve lived through a changing job market, like after the first dot-com boom ended and all your $120/hour gigs become $45 or $50, then you’ll appreciate the credentials being published and a thought leader could bring. It would make you stand out from other candidates, no doubt.

    Maybe JesterXL has it right above, writing would be better suited for a slower economy. Work for the cash now while you can.

    BTW, I’m glad I’m not the only person it took 6 hours to write blog entries. (Which, is why I hardly write them anymore.)

  15. The biggest issues ive had with writing books was the material was rushed, under a deadline on a product that wasn’t finished and page count being more important then content.

    Why write in 3 pages what you could write about in 15!


  16. Hello everybody, my name is Damion, and I’m glad to join your conmunity,
    and wish to assit as far as possible.

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