I’m quite excited about Ionic in Action being nearly complete! I’ve seen the drafts after typesetting, and I’m very proud of the work. Writing a book is hard, and I’ve learned a lot about the process.
Inspiration is fleeting
Perhaps the biggest challenge was getting focused and having the inspiration to write. My daughter was born right about the time the first 3 chapters were due (perfect timing), and it was hard enough to just schedule time.
Some writers have a gift, but inspiration did not always come so easily for me. I had to learn how to power through, and learned sometimes it was easier to edit than to generate the initial draft. I also had to be less critical of my writing to allow for thoughts to flow.
Royalties are sneaky
Writers get a royalty from the sales of their book, and also get an upfront advance. I hadn’t really thought about it, but an advance is really just a certain sum of money given before the book is on sale, and when the book goes on sale the royalties do not flow until you’ve earned that advance money back. John Resig wrote about programming book profits back in 2008, which has mostly valid details for today (ebooks do sell today, unlike 2008).
The royalties of the book are negotiated in the contract, but new authors have less of a chance to challenge the starting rates. It is a numbers game, because royalties are based on the sale price, not based on the list price. For example, if the book is on sale, you get the royalty percentage of the sale price. I did not realize that, and seeing your book on sale is a great way to sell more books but make less per book.
Writing is a labor of love
Given the royalties discussion above, it follows that being able to make a living wage from book sales is pretty difficult. This is not just technical books, even bestsellers can suffer. You also have to pay taxes on the income (it is probably not withheld, you are not an employee of the publisher), so consider that as well.
Making a living as a writer is tough. I can’t see any way that I would ever be able to just be a writer. I don’t think I want to, but often writing is a means to other opportunities. Ultimately, you have to love writing (I do, sometimes at least), and that is the only way to generate quality writing others will actually want to read.
Self publishing vs publishers
I sometimes wonder if I could have self published instead of working with a publisher. I simply was not aware of what value a publisher brought to the table when writing. Without working with Manning on Ionic in Action I likely would not have even been able to finish the book. Having a dedicated editor (actually several at different stages of the process) is the real reason you go with a publisher.
I can see if you have the gift of writing the lure of self publishing. Self published books range in quality from the ones I’ve read, and often suffer from being incomplete in some way. If you have a strong network that can help push back on your writing and fill the role of editors, then perhaps it would be a suitable option for you.
Marketing is hard
To be really good at writing, you also need to think about how to get your book out there. I started a website, and tweet regularly about it, but it really helps to do as much as you can. There are so many possible outlets, and you can only put time/money into some of them. That means you have to figure out what are the best places online to be active and promoting your book.
While I was writing, I found it hard to break focus and write for the blog. I was putting all of the best content into the book, so the blog suffered from secondary content that didn’t make it in for some reason. You have to be proactive about marketing the book, since you can’t be sure anyone else is going to help you much (my publisher has helped, but it is still primarily on me).
It takes more time and energy than you think
Writing a 250 page book is not the same as writing 250 pages. It takes longer to write than you think, longer to design graphics than you think, longer to edit than you think, longer to get inspiration than you think. If you expect it to take you 5 hours a week, it would be better to double your estimate (especially during the primary writing stages).
It is worth it, just not always as I expected
I’ve found the entire experience to be very valuable. It may not be the cash cow I had imagined it might be (I’m not John Grisham after all), but it has certainly helped me improve as a developer and as a writer. I learned A LOT about Ionic (imagine that). Maybe not everything, but obviously enough to fill 250 pages.
The real value comes from satisfaction of a completing a year long journey and learning a lot about how to better convey ideas and concepts. I am actually going to do it again, soon in fact. However this time, I’ll be working with two others to write about another passion of mine.