James Williams

How to get a tech book deal

Tags: General

Before the deal.

Blog and blog often.

A blog is your 24/7 writing portfolio. Pure and simple. It is also a place for you to hone your craft. If you can handle keeping up with writing blog posts for six to nine months, you MIGHT be able to handle writing a book.

Guest-blogging gives you a taste of what it feels like to deal with an editor. It's a delicate dance where you fight for the things that you feel are really important and concede on the things that aren't. Just like your editors for a book, the owner of the guest-blog wants the best product possible from you. It doesn't even have to be on a technical subject. A guest blog spot is a great place to blog an interest that otherwise doesn't fit your regular blog.

The proposal.

Either you will contact publishers or as in my case, they will contact you. The first hurdle you'll have to clear is the book proposal. This can be simple and include a couple paragraph pitch and an outline or it could be more involved requiring also a sample chapter and  market studies to gauge competitors. Even if not required, at minimum you should do a market study to see what is out there, what their focus is, and how your book will be better...err different. Amazon.com will have most published books listed but you will also want to check InformIT, Apress, Manning, and O'Reilly to persue the chapter outlines of pre-release books.

After the proposal is tentatively agreed upon, you might be asked for a detailed chapter outline and schedule. Don't skim on the outline. Getting as much on paper as possible early on helps you during those late night/early morning writing sessions. A chapter is not the same thing as a series of blog posts. Each has different constraints and requirements. Don't think that just because you can whip out a blog post in a day that level of efficiency will be the same in writing a book.

Writing your first couple of chapters.

There are a few rare exceptions but more often than not, your publisher will ask you to use Word to submit your chapters. OpenOffice, Abiword, and I assume KWord work just fine but there is one important rule you must follow. Pick one editor and stick with it.* Since there are slight differences between how those applications create Word documents, creating a Word document in OpenOffice with tables and figures might get messed up when opening in AbiWord. It's usually nothing major but nonetheless, having all your auto-numbered tables set to Table 1 is not exactly fun when you have a deadline to meet.

You never know when inspiration will strike. One of the other things I do is to carry around a notebook and pen with me. You can use it for impromptu outlines or sketching out ideas. To make sure you can work on your text wherever and whenever, setup a cloud sharing service like Dropbox or Ubuntu One. These services let you work from any computer and keep the files automatically in sync keeping all previous versions. That way you have no excuse to work on things and constantly have multiple copies in case of computer problems.

There is good reason that until now, I haven't mentioned the money. That's because It ain't really all that. You might make more in a paycheck than the total amount of the advance. The big payoff can't be and shouldn't be what continues to drive you in the project. The desire to share your unique voice should be. While fiction books can be timeless, tech books generally have the half-life of whole milk.

  • Google Docs is not suggested at this time as it has limited support for styles.