What does a technical writer do when book sales are down?

I have a sickness. My illness causes me to skip sleep, to skip meals, and to allocate no time to play video games. Occasionally, enablers have given me money to encourage me to indulge in this illness. I have no interest in getting ‘help’. I am an author and I write about technology topics. In doing so, I’ve discovered that IT books, in general, sell poorly. When one signs a contract to write a book, the publisher and author typically agree to something like the following:

·         Author gives all publishing rights to the content to the publisher.

·         Author commits to have the book done by some date, typically six months from starting the project.

·         Publisher commits to give the author an advance on royalties. About $5000 was normal for my three books.

·         Publisher commits to provide editorial, marketing, sales people, and other resources to sell the book.

·         Publisher promises some royalty based on numbers of books sold. The royalty increases as sales volumes increase with better royalties when the title cracks the 10000 mark. If things are set up well, a book that has a cover price of $50 will put around $2.50 in the author’s pocket. (Note: this means that the book needs to sell 2000 copies just to cover a $5000 advance.)

Over the last 10 years, the quality of material on the Internet has put a serious dent in book sales. My understanding is that selling 5000 copies of a title means you have done particularly well. This means that, on average, an author can expect $12500 for efforts expended writing a book. Of the three books I worked on, I wrote 100% of two and 75% of the third. Of the 4200 hours I put in on these projects, I averaged about $7/hour. Writing books isn’t something one does to get rich. One writes to share information. Unfortunately, when a person chooses to write a book, they are choosing to limit how many people will be able to access their words. Because the pay is so poor, I’m going to choose to increase the reach of what I write by publishing to the web. For me, this will have the following advantages:

1.       No editors asking me where my content is.

2.       I can reach all English speaking people around the globe (this maps well to the population of developers in the world, allowing me to reach well over 50% of the potential audience).

3.       I control how my work is distributed. That is, all the work is owned by me and I can choose to share it with the world.

4.       I can put ads on the pages. If the content is any good, advertisers will pay for my hosting costs.

I plan on spending the foreseeable future writing articles on ‘How it Works’ type topics. I’ll be hitting things that I feel haven’t been explained well enough. The first area I want to hit is System.Configuration. I spent a lot of time learning this namespace when I wrote the initial versions of the System.ServiceModel.Configuration.*, System.Net.Configuration.*, System.Transactions.Configuration.*, System.Web.Services.Configuration.*, and System.Runtime.Serialization.Configuration.* classes for Microsoft. I need to dump all that info out and share it. I’ll be posting these items in article format. The plan I have in my head is to develop an article plan where each article is five to twenty five pages in length (as indicated by Microsoft Word). In other words, I’ll type away and when I hit twenty pages, I’ll look for a way to wrap it up and push something out. My guess is that I have somewhere around 150 pages of content on System.Configuration and how it works.


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