1. 45
  1.  

  2. 13

    I just got my quarterly royalties statement in my email today for the book I wrote back in 2014: almost $20!

    But hey it is more than the interest in my savings account. Maybe if I combine the two I can afford a pizza.

    Of course my book (on cool tricks with the D programming language) is obviously quite niche, so I’m kinda surprised money is still trickling in at all over six years later. But it took me 5ish months to write and…. total money is, idk I’d have to check my spreadsheets but somewhere in the $4000 ballpark. Certainly not a large sum, I probably would have made more money working just about any real job. Ans as for “helping a lot of people”, my time working with users on the irc room probably has a bigger impact.

    Still kinda cool to be like “yeah i wrote a book” though lol

    1. 2

      The book I wrote 15 years ago was probably the lowest paid work I ever did. I received rather less than the $4000 you mention. I got $500 as an advance and it took quite a while for sales to recoup that. Even with a proper publisher I probably should have done more to market it myself but by the time it was published I was fairly much burnt out.

      Still I don’t have any regrets. It’s nice to be able to say I’ve done it. Like you, I still receive a trickle of royalties. I enjoyed the work and learnt from the experience - especially having a proper editor provide feedback on my writing.

    2. 8

      The feeling of knowing that you have helped a lot of people is gratifying. The personal growth that comes from taking on such a challenge is also considerable. And there is no better way to learn something in depth than by explaining it to others.

      An apt conclusion that resonates well with me.

      My contract with the publisher specifies that I get 25% of publisher revenue from ebooks, online access, and licensing, 10% of revenue from print sales, and 5% of revenue from translations.

      Self-publishing is relatively new compared to the history of traditional publishing. If someone wishes to write a book and hasn’t been able to land a deal with a publishing company, I’d definitely suggest self-publishing. Returns are much higher and you retain the rights to do interactive course, translations, video course, etc. The downside is that you have to do marketing, get reviewed, etc all by yourself. One of the main reasons self-publishing is attractive to me is that I can easily update for newer versions and I can give them away for free whenever I want.

      1. 3

        A comparison of all viable options for technical writing would be cool. Many books are also available on a website for free, but can be bought as paperback for money. You can help much more people this way, but probably make less money.

        1. 1

          A comparison of all viable options for technical writing would be cool

          Didn’t get you, can you give an example?

          Many books are also available on a website for free, but can be bought as paperback for money

          Yeah, for example: https://automatetheboringstuff.com/2e/ and https://greenteapress.com/wp/think-python-2e/. I’m highly inspired from these authors and recently created web versions for all my books as well.

          1. 3

            Didn’t get you, can you give an example? Here the authour published with O’Reilly. This results in him making so much money and reached so many people. He also gets a lot of offers for consulting work.

            What would’ve happenend if he instead published the book for free on his website? Or if he self-published? It’s hard to make a good comparison, because I believe there is not one person, who did it all. I’d just be interested in the thought process, which to choose and what the unexpected differences are.

            1. 3

              Oh ok, thanks for the clarification. It is difficult to say what would work and whether traditional or self-pub is better. It depends on various factors like how much time you have, can you spend time to market, get a cover designed, get the book reviewed, etc. I don’t think I’ll be able to give a good summary myself. I’ll link to some posts instead:

              1. 2

                Thank you!

      2. 6

        FWIW, Brendan Gregg (probably one of the top Linux performance engineers) replied in the HackerNews post of this article: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24630395

        Interesting take from somebody who’s definitely written good books on Linux performance engineering:

        I’m pretty sure if I showed up to a performance engineering job interview and said “I wrote the book on performance,” as though that was what mattered most, I’d be shown the door. In my opinion it would be horrendously arrogant. In fact, I interviewed at Google while I was writing Systems Performance for Prentice Hall, and I never mentioned it in the interviews for that reason. In such interviews I’m focused on what value I can bring to the company – what problems I can help them solve in the future. I’m not there to coast on my prior reputation.

        Also, regarding “overcome the hurdles”: those hurdles are now practically non-existent with various publishers. This results in books on the topic that should never have been published.

        I could explain in more detail, but there’s a lot of negative connotations with technical book authorship, which I work to overcome in such interviews and in roles. Does the author care more about working on their reputation than working for the company? Did the author only write the book to make an exaggerated name for themselves for the benefit of job interviews? (As you suggested in your opening sentence :-) I personally only write books when I’m already the expert on the topic, and it’s a way to share my expertise.

        Another interview I had years ago, after telling them about my first book, the interviewer said “so you know the theory, but can you put it in practice?” The assumption being “those that can do, those that can’t write books.” I was in a worse position for letting them know about it.

        And of course, there can be positives for writing books. You are showing a willingness to share your knowledge with others. (You can do that in blog posts as well.)

        1. 2

          Wow, his experience is surprising. I never would have thought that writing a book would hurt you in an interview…

        2. 5

          I bought the book in question back when it was early access and it’s been revisited many times - though I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve still not read it cover-to-cover. It’s an excellent book and I’m glad Dr Kleppmann has seen success from it.

          Really nice reflection and solid advice for anyone thinking of going the same way.

          1. 4

            I am the author of Powerful Python. This excellent article inspires me to make a few comments:

            Obsession. There’s an old saying that you should only write a book if you have to. Meaning, you have some message inside that you MUST get out to the world, regardless of personal cost.

            I don’t think that is strictly true, but it was certainly true in my case. I was obsessed; in a real sense, I had no choice but to write this book.

            That obsession proved useful in pulling me through the terrible immensity of work required. As one example, I rewrote the chapter on scalability and generator functions from scratch 15 times before it felt right. Yes, FIFTEEN times. I wish I was exaggerating.

            Catharsis. When I got the final print copy of Powerful Python in my hands, it was the most beautiful book I had ever seen. I cannot put into words what it was like. I still get emotional thinking about that moment.

            Legacy is a valid reason to write a book. I have made quite a bit of money from Powerful Python (more on that below), but had I made nothing, I would still be glad I wrote it, just from the impact it has had on engineering teams around the world.

            I own a gazillion books, most of which probably never made the author much money. But a book you write may change the arc of someone’s life years from now. That means something.

            Royalties. Martin’s assessment of the financial outcome is spot on. You MIGHT win the lottery and write a Harry Potter novel. But probably not.

            Publisher. Martin published with O’Reilly. Based on having worked with them a lot on other projects, I recommend them as a publisher. They are great people and I enjoyed every project we did together; I am certain publishing a book with them would be great.

            However, I chose to self-publish Powerful Python. We talked back and forth a lot, but in the end I wanted more control than they were willing to give me over the distribution and some other matters. Which leads me to the next point:

            Monetizing. Being an entrepreneur to the bone, I used the authority of Powerful Python to build a whole training company, teaching more advanced professional programming skills in a hands-on way.

            THAT was the real moneymaker. From a cold bean-counting perspective, Powerful Python was just a hyper-effective brochure.

            Our community likes to romanticize entrepreneurship. But pulling this off requires tremendous grit and boldness in the face of ghastly risk. Most people just do not have that inside of them.

            In comparison, writing the book is EASY. I would love to say anyone can build a company from their book, and earn a lot of money that way. But you will have to decide if you are willing to pay the price if you want to go this route.

            1. 3

              I flagged this story as off topic because it’s not about computing.

              1. 7

                Serious question: if the title were instead “Writing a Technical Book…”? Would that deserve a flag? Because if writing a technical book isn’t technical, I don’t know what is.

                Also of note, other articles on the front page: “How India Censors The Web”, “…Maine Oyster Farm”, “History of C++”, “History of Lisp” , “Why [this unix command] exists”

                I’m okay with all of those, since tech seeps everywhere in our lives. (The oyster farm story was a bit disappointing because it was a ton of words for just a little cloud stuff). Computers are everywhere. As people who use them to help people, we need to talk about how people use them and how we can do a better job of helping them. Perhaps we should just eliminate any reference to people at all? (In other words, an explanation of the technical details of X might be fine, but explaining how X got started and what people use it for would not be okay)

                I’m just a bit confused. Trying to learn why people draw the distinctions that they do.

                1. 4

                  if the title were instead “Writing a Technical Book…”? Would that deserve a flag?

                  I believe so, yes. The flag isn’t about the story’s title but about the story’s content. The story is about writing books, not about computing. You could replace “Designing Data-Intensive Applications” with “Understanding molecular biology” or “Getting started with neurosciences” and the story’s content would not change: the conclusion is that writing popular books about technical content is worth it because it brings money and shares knowledge. This has really nothing to do with computing.

                  Also of note, other articles on the front page: “How India Censors The Web”, “…Maine Oyster Farm”, “History of C++”, “History of Lisp” , “Why [this unix command] exists”

                  I did not read any of these, so I refrained from flagging or upvoting them, but these titles do sound like titles of potentially technical stories about computing to me.

                  Computers are everywhere. As people who use them to help people, we need to talk about how people use them and how we can do a better job of helping them.

                  I agree, and there are places where talking about how people use computers and how we can do a better job of helping them already happens: hackernews and reddit. These discussions do not need to happen on lobste.rs in my opinion.

                  1. 2

                    Many thanks! I don’t agree with you but I appreciate your taking the time to explain yourself farther.

                    To me you don’t know something unless you can use it, teach it, and explain it to others. We can certainly agree that the money/commercial aspect of technical books is not about computing (at least directly), but the entire world of conveying technical knowledge to others is as important to me as developer skills. After all, because other people did this, I can code! I owe them my thanks.

                    And I don’t think the commercial content necessarily needs to be off-topic. Technical people consume things in different ways than other people. My problem with content like this is that far too often it’s trying to appeal to the “I made a zillion dollars in two weeks! Aren’t I awesome!” crowd than it actually covers things that technical folks would need to know to help other technical folks. I suspect that’s because the content creators are shooting for a more general audience, but I don’t know. I agree that it can easily stray into non-tech areas, it just doesn’t always have to be that way.

                    Thanks again!

                2. 3

                  Ah, but those are the best stories by far, and discussed better here than I’ve tended to find elsewhere, too!

                  For my part, I was glad to see this one get past the censors. Primo Levi also wrote books that weren’t about chemistry, but I’d like to think the chemists of his time still discussed them, even perhaps at conferences and meetings dedicated specifically to topics of the trade, like making varnishes and paint :-)

                  1. 1

                    Is it hosted on Medium to boot?

                    1. 1

                      No? It’s a Jekyll site.

                      1. 1

                        apologies, I was being sarcastic (some folks complain about posts hosted on medium and not being about computers to the extent of flagging a computer review tagged hardware as off-topic)

                        1. 3

                          Sarcasm is mean and does not help people change their mind.

                          some folks complain

                          I am not complaining. I am describing why I flagged a story the way I flagged it, so that we can build a shared understanding of what is on and off-topic on lobste.rs. If you disagree with my reasons for flagging this story, I think a more useful response would have been to describe why you think I am wrong.

                          1. 1

                            All good. I see the sarcasm now. Text makes it hard to convey tone.

                    2. 3

                      When someone has seen such a success from their labor, it is always worth the effort. Not necessarily financially (which of course is also an aim) but even in terms of access. You reach far too many people with your ideas. Of course it is worth it.

                      I’d be interested in a similar essay from a person who has written a not-so-successful book in terms of reach (copies, downloads, registered users).

                      I.e.: you wrote a book and 100 people read it. Was it worth it?

                      1. 1

                        The first “serious” book I wrote was about ten years ago. I was trying to explain backlogs.

                        I didn’t want to give concrete examples, as I felt developers would simply say “But that’s not us!” so I had a problem: how to teach something without examples?

                        I wrote a science-fiction book about a guy who gets a job at a factory. The factory builds various-sized mechanical chickens for the military industrial complex.

                        It was probably not a good book. I had a blast writing and would do it again in a heartbeat. Life is much more like baseball than chess: skill-up, then keep practicing and take a lot of swings. It’s a numbers game.

                        I do not like this thing I see where authors post these essays “How I made 500K on my last book on Z.” or some such. The underlying message is that unless you get a big check, you’re wasting your time. If everything is a check to you, stick to programming and consulting. You’ll make much more doing that than book-writing.

                        (It was a fun book. For those doubtful of my story, here’s a link to the cover image: https://www.dropbox.com/s/12o3qth3ns5umgp/backlogs-cover-v6-web-small.png?dl=0 )

                        1. 1

                          Financially? Maybe. I wrote my first book when procrastinating and avoiding writing my PhD thesis and it took about 6 months interleaved with writing the dissertation / doing open source things / learning salsa / procrastinating and the advance was enough to cover my cost of living during that time (still living a very cheap student lifestyle). The book sold okay - it wasn’t a massive success, but it was a very niche topic (Xen hypervisor internals), but enough that the publisher was happy.

                          My next book was a 900-page monster that took two months to write. I set myself the goal of writing 15 pages a day and succeeded. The evening I finished the first draft, I went to salsa and a friend told me I looked more relaxed than he’d seen me for ages. I hadn’t realised quite how stressed it had made me. Again, not a massive commercial success, but a good income compared to the two months I spent working on it. My next two books were much shorter and took a couple of weeks each.

                          They’ve helped me get other work (being able to say ‘Oh, I wrote a book about X’ is a great way of convincing people that you understand the subject!) and they also gave me good practice writing long technical documents (and the world would be a far better place if more programmers were happy to write 10 or so pages of docs to explain their system as a normal part of engineering). It was quite depressing getting the first 350-page manuscript back from the copyeditor with red correction marks on every paragraph. I think I had one page with no corrections and was disproportionately happy when I saw that. For the Objective-C books, I never did get the copyeditor to understand the difference between runtime (noun), run-time (adjective) and run time (noun phrase), so she ended up just highlighting every instance of any of them for me to check.

                        2. 3

                          Given that he’s written a book on the subject, I think he would be able to get a $400k+ salary in SV. I think the comparison of royalties and SV salaries doesn’t hold.

                          1. 3

                            How to be a 10x engineer: help ten other engineers be twice as good. Producing high-quality educational materials enables you to be a 300x engineer.

                            I wish more people valued writing like this.

                            1. 2

                              I had a book accepted by O’Reilly. I worked with the acquisitions editor to refine the book and proposal in order to align it with their vision. This required some decent changes. Then I worked with them for 3-4 weeks on the contract, which included deadlines, royalties, etc. The dates in the contract were fast approaching as the contract was being written, so I needed to work hard on the first several chapters (based on O’Reilly’s needs/changes) in order to meet the deadline. Two days before the chapters were due (and the contract was awaiting O’Reilly’s signature) they pulled the contract due to “last minute schedule changes,” and only informed me after I had to sent multiple emails to multiple people to get a status (since chapters were due). Afterwards, I rejected two other publisher inquiries and just published it myself. Sure, I ended up with less sales, but had greater control, and donated a decent chunk of money to charity from it.

                              My guess from interacting with them is that O’Reilly accepts probably 2-3x more proposals than they will publish, expecting many to flame out and not meet the deadlines, but also, the contracts are basically written so that O’Reilly can pull out of them at almost any time with little notice, and the author would have to pay back the advance. The deck is stacked in O’Reilly’s favor with little leverage or recourse for the author, and the author assumes all risk.

                              Kleppmann’s story is the exception and not the rule.

                              1. 2

                                My name is on the spine of about a dozen books.

                                One of them, one, paid out the advance.

                                Nonetheless, I’m not sorry I did it. The “street cred” from writing a book for a name publisher opens doors as if by magic. I’ve written many thousands of articles, but “Author of Book Name” makes peoples’ eyes light up. It’s not logical, but it’s true.