A few days ago, I was IMing with a friend who's working on a technical book. Things started out like this:
So, how's the book coming?
Yeah, I have some editing to do still..I can't speak for when it'll be published. I've pretty much lost all willpower to work on it :( so it's hard to finish up the deathmarch.
Why the lack of willpower? Have things been too long in the pipeline, or is it something else?
Then, a sort of cautionary tail rolled out over IM. I've reduced it to the following points. I wanted to post it so that others could benefit from the mistakes my friend and his publisher made.
It looks like there were several things that went wrong:
- The publisher really wants things turned around faster than my friend is able to work on them, and they want them in
discreetdiscrete (thanks anon) chunks that don't match well with the agile mindset a lot of programmers work from. If you're thinking about writing a book (or contracting a programmer to write one) watch out for mismatched expectations
- After writing several chapters, the the publisher made some very major decisions about changing the style of the book without asking my friend about it. He wanted to write a narrative using idioms to guide the reader along, they wanted a more granular approach. Make sure both sides know what they're looking for up front, then stick to it.
- At this point, my friend felt like he was losing steam and ownership. Ennui had set in, both the book and the schedule suffered. If the author isn't happy, I don't see how the publisher will be happy in the long run. The opposite certainly applies as well.
My friend has already written other books, but this was a new publisher and a new situation. Had he and the publisher partnered more, maybe this would have turned out better, I don't know. I do know that they both would have been happier, and a better book would probably be on the shelves already.
Update! You might also want to read A Tale of Two Books.
This post is part of a collection of articles about Publishing, Growing Markets, and Books.