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September 26, 2004

How to Get a Book Published

I received email a few days ago from a publisher, asking if I wanted to write a book on Monad.

(I won't talk about that anymore in this post. It was just an introductory teaser to get you to read it, like they probably reach you in writing classes. So forget about if I will or won't write a book about Monad.)

What it made me think of, however, was the amazing number of "series" of computer books that are out there.

For example, take a standard topic like Python. You've got Python Cookbook, Learning Python, Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner, Python in a Nutshell, Python: The Complete Reference, etc.

Now pick another subject, say Java. Lo and behold you have Java Cookbook, Learning Java, Java Programming for the Absolute Beginner, Java in a Nutshell, Java: The Complete Reference, etc.

This is not a coincidence; the books with similar names are from the same publishers, and share cover designs and knowledge expectations for their target audiences.

What's remarkable is how many of these series there are. For example O'Reilly's author guide mentions the Mastering, Programming, Running, In a Nutshell, Pocket Reference/Guide, Definitive Reference/Guide, Cookbook, Essentials, Missing Manual, Hacks, and Power Tools series. Wrox has the Beginner, Professional, Expert One on One, and Programmer's Reference series. Microsoft Press has the Building Applications, Faster Smarter, Introducing, Step by Step, Inside Out, Plain & Simple, and Troubleshooting series. Manning has In Action, Implementing, and Recipes. You get the idea.

What this means is that there is this immediate need, whenever a new computer technology comes along, for 20-30 books on the subject. There may not be an actual need in the marketplace, but if Monad becomes a success, then there will be an opporunity for 20-30 people to successfully pitch books on the topic to publishers.

So if you have a burning desire to have a book published, there are 3 easy steps:

1) Pick a technology that is about to emerge (it's probably too late for RSS; there are not a lot of RSS books out there, but I bet there are 20 being written).

2) Quickly become an expert on it, or at least more expert than most other people.

3) Contact a publisher.

That's it! Oh, you have to write the book also, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by AdamBa at September 26, 2004 10:03 PM

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To me, the daunting part of getting a book published is the initial pitch. As someone who has never had a book published (I've written articles), how do you go about making a successful pitch? Does each publisher generally have a different list of things they want addressed in that pitch?

The production of content doesn't worry me. It's the initial "finding a publisher" stage which I think is hard.

Posted by: Mikal at September 27, 2004 03:32 PM

Every publisher will have a page somewhere on their site that talks about author submission guidelines and what they expect in the initial contact. I think most will start with just an inquiry email with a quick pitch in a few paragraphs. Many will then request a full proposal which is a pretty standard concept in non-fiction publishing, that includes a sample chapter, table of contents, author bio, target audience, what makes your book unique, etc. The specifics of the proposal each publisher wants vary slightly (e.g. some might want a discussion of marketing the book, some might not), but in general you can rework the proposal for each publisher's specifics without too much extra work.

Normally you contact one publisher at a time and let them decide if they want to find out more, then go from there. You should look at the publisher's catalog to see what they have, since publishers won't publish two books that are too close in audience. Of course there may be books in the pipeline you know nothing about; the typical timeline is something like 18 months from initial contact to publication (I first contacted Addison-Wesley about Find the Bug in March 2003 and it is supposed to come out this month).

I read your blog where you mention the topic you are interested in. In this particular case, given the open source connection, O'Reilly would be a good place to start. Look at their authoring guidelines at http://www.oreilly.com/oreilly/author/ch01.html, it tells you how to proceed. I will warn you that O'Reilly is notorious for being flaky when responding to email, so don't be afraid to nag them if they don't respond in the expected time.

Good luck!

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at September 27, 2004 09:54 PM