A retrospect on writing a programming book

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 8, 2005, 11:29 PM | comments: 2

It's still so weird to see this bound book here with my name on it. My wife (who kept her last name, and of course has the dedication in the book) noticed that the spine simply says "PUTZ" and that's bound to get at least a few people to look it over. ;)

I first wrote the proposal, sample chapter and preface for the book back in November, 2003. On December 16, 2003, I sent the proposal out, unsolicited, to every publisher I could find contact information for. I felt that the idea was solid, to write a book that took beginning ASP.NET developers solidly into the realm of object-oriented application development, instead of script-based, one-off page development. I felt that forums everywhere were filled with developers struggling to make that transition, and that market was being ignored.

I only got two responses back after sending the proposal to a dozen publishers. I won't say who it was, but the first one was absolutely brutal (in a non-helpful kind of way) and unprofessional. I was shocked to get a response with incorrect spelling and poor grammar, and frankly would expect that they wouldn't manage a first-time author very well anyway. This was a major publisher too.

The second response I got was from Addison-Wesley Professional. This was about the time that they started publishing all of those .NET books with the spiffy checker-board style covers. I felt they were quickly becoming the new Wrox Press in terms of covering .NET subjects in a very complete way. The editor there said she was sending out the proposal to various folks for editorial review, and she'd send the responses in a couple of weeks. At that point, even if no one liked it, at least I wasn't having my dreams crushed by one grammatically challenged guy not in touch with what was going on in the world.

In mid-January, eight reviews came back. Two of them were anonymous, and not flattering or helpful. The rest were critical, but helped enormously in getting me to think about how to revise the proposal into something more marketable and more focused. Most of the reviewers felt I was on to something, but revisions were in order before moving forward.

Most intimidating was a review from Alex Homer. It's not that he wrote anything awful, it's just that this is the guy I credit with getting me out of the dark ages of static HTML. It was his ASP books that started me down the path. Now I wanted to write something to sit on the shelf next to his books? That was a little scary to say the least.

Based on the feedback, I revised the proposal, it went through another round of reviews, and in March I got to read those. While some were contradictory in terms of what each reviewer thought the book should be, they were overall a lot more positive. The executive editor pitched the proposal to the sales and marketing folks, and in April I got a contract. I was going to be an author!

In early May, I quit the contract job I was working at Progressive to focus on the book. My time there heavily influenced my decision in particular to devote some time to test-driven development. I had some basic familiarity with the subject, but once I saw it in action on the scale that it was being used there, it seemed not only like an important topic, but one that made a pretty obvious case for developing applications in an object-oriented manner. The point of the book was, after all, to get the audience thinking in those terms.

Editorial reviews began on a rolling basis as I submitted a few chapters at a time. By September, the book was essentially "done" in the broad sense of the word. The following months would lead to more editorial review and revisions, until it was finally ready for production I think in October.

The copy editing was surprisingly painless. I expected the editors to hack apart everything I had written, but that wasn't the case. They made a lot of things more clear (which makes me look good), and so much of it was stuff I was too close to notice. That was really cool.

I think it was January that I got the first PDF's of the laid-out book. Tracking down errors at that stage was pretty easy, I assume because whatever automated process they use just makes really obvious mistakes.

Then today, when I got home from a morning meeting with a client, there was the UPS package at my door. What a great feeling to finally hold the thing in my hands. I'm really pleased with the result. The entire process, however long, was really a great experience. I love that AWP helped me develop the project early on, then run with it once we had a solid outline. It really is a classy organization, and it's an honor to have my name on the same spine as the A-W logo.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I have no idea what I'd write about, but I'd love to do another one. I did write a proposal for another book, but it appears the timing is pretty bad as there is a predictable flood of new titles on the way and being developed.

As of right now, if I never saw another dime for the work (outside of the advance), it would still be a success in my mind. On the other hand, if I'm ever going to write another one, this book better sell well enough that I don't get dissed. :) The way the crazy royalty payments are worked out, I won't see anything more until October for sales in the first half of this year (yep... that's 22 months after I wrote the proposal). While this project has never been about the money, it will be nice to see what at this point just feels like "extra" income in the fall. Oh, and remember, I get an extra $1.20 or so if you buy via my Amazon affiliate link!

I can cross off one significant thing on my life-long to do list. :)



March 9, 2005, 1:51 PM #

It's interesting to hear that now you'd write another...I remember a few months back you said it was too much work and that you wouldn't write a book again. :) I'm glad you've come around!

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