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Charles Petzold on writing books, reading books, and exercising the internal UTM

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Hard Work, No Pay: What's the Point?

October 8, 2007
New York, N.Y.

Congratulations to Jeff Atwood on the publication of his first book. Jeff seems to have found the book-writing process to be hard work with few rewards. (And this is a "tips" book with three co-authors!) What he says about book-writing is mostly true, but I'd like to add a few clarifications.

Declining Book Readership

People are probably reading and writing more than ever, but a lot of this reading and writing is online. Consequently, book reading has suffered.

Is book reading too circumscribed for the modern sensibility? Once your finish one page, you have to start in on the next. Otherwise, you're no longer reading the book. What fascist made up these rules? Reading online is much more flexible. Hyperlinking actually encourages bouncing around from page to page, from topic to topic, from site to site. You're not done until you stagger bleary-eyed from the screen.

Distractions can be deadly for book reading, yet the modern world is a monument to distractions! You can't multitask while reading a book. (Except for walking — I sometimes like walking around when I'm reading a book.) Reading requires Patience and Fortitude, not coincidently the names of the two lions who sit outside the New York Public Library. Many people are out of practice in reading books, and sometimes it's helpful refamiliarizing oneself with some of the required discipline.

Declining books sales have led some publishers into thinking that the way to revive books is to make them more like an online experience. That is truly a mistake! It's like trying to get people to exercise by making it more like napping.

The Death of Programming Books

Some types of books have been harder hit by the Internet than others. At a library fundraiser in Sullivan County over the weekend I saw a complete immaculate recent edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica marked down from $45 to $40 to $30 as the day went on. Surely noone these days needs an encyclopedia that doesn't even describe plots of Doctor Who episodes!

Programming books — particularly tutorials (such as I write) and "tips" books (such as Jeff's first book) — have also been hard hit. So much information is available online that books seem superfluous. To many developers these days, if it doesn't show up in a Google search, it doesn't exist.

The other problem is the introduction of too many APIs and languages. Programmers need to know a lot of different stuff these days, and no time is available to learn anything systematically. These days programmers often learn a new topic by starting with some sample code, messing around with it, searching out stuff as they need it, and basically floundering around.

I can't denigrate the floundering-around approach because that's the way I learn a new API myself! (Of course, I have the excuse that when I learn the API there aren't any books available, and I'm learning the material with the intention of shaping it into a coherent tutorial.)

Plenty of evidence is available in the MSDN Forums that programmers these days often don't learn a new API systematically, which is what a well-structured tutorial offers. In the long term, this might be a problem, but exactly what "long term" are we talking about when APIs are replaced every few years?

Feeding the Author

Authors of books are paid a royalty for each copy sold. The royalty is based on publisher's receipts, which requires a little explanation:

A book has a cover price printed right on the book. For computer books this is generally between $30 and $70.

About half that cover price is consumed in the distribution and retail chain. That's why bookstores are able to offer bestsellers at up to 40% off and still take in 10% of the cover price on each copy.

The other half of the cover price goes to the publisher. From this amount, the publisher pays a royalty to the author, generally in the region of 10% to 15%. (The royalty rate is usually lower for the English-language book sold outside the U.S., or outside the U.S. and Canada. For translation rights, the foreign publisher pays the U.S. publisher a flat amount, which the publisher splits with the author.)

For a $50 book, the royalty might be $2.50 to $3.75 a copy. As Norman Mailer used to say, you buy an author's book, you buy the author a drink. (Let's hope not literally!)

A programming book might require 6 months to a year of full-time work. (That's my experience, anyway). These days, sales of 10,000 copies over the first year is considered cause for rejoicing. A few years from now, the rejoicing benchmark might be much less. You can do the math yourself. It's pretty bleak.

Those of us still writing programming books often feel increasingly foolish for doing so. The money has dropped so low that the act has become financially irresponsible. Most programming books these days are written by people who have real jobs, either working for someone else or owning their own consulting firm.

I was one of the few exceptions to this rule. Since the summer of 1985, I was able to call myself a "full-time freelance writer." But that's no longer the case. For the first time in 22 years I've been doing some consulting to supplement my ever-dwindling royalty income.

If you'd like some help with your WinForms or WPF app, you can hire me through Wintellect.

What About the Advance?

In his blog entry, Jeff says "less than 30% of computer books sell enough to generate any royalties whatsoever," but that's not entirely accurate.

Publishers usually pay an "advance" on the royalties. This is generally paid in installments: some of it when the contract is signed, then more as chapters of the book are progressively completed. If the author doesn't finish the book, generally the advance must be returned.

In theory, the advance is intended to help the author eat while the book is being written. Everybody hears about big-shot authors getting six-figure or even seven-figure advances. In the computer-book industry, this is not the case. The advances (including the ones I get) are usually in the low 5 figures, and sometimes barely 5 figures at all. (Publishers tend to calculate advances as royalties on projected sales over the first year.)

You don't hear much about the advances paid to authors of programming books, because it's downright embarassing. Publishers would be embarassed to disclose the advances they offer authors, and authors would be embarassed to admit that they accept them.

After the advance, the author doesn't get paid any additional money until the royalties surpass the advance. (There are other complications involved, including reserves, but I'm trying to keep this simple.) I think what Jeff was referring to was royalties beyond the advance. I don't know the statistics, but if fewer than 30% of computer books sell enough to make back the advance, I'd believe it.

Why Books? Why Not Blogs?

Once you've restricted yourself to information that turns up in Google searches, you begin having a very distorted view of the world.

On the Internet, everything is in tiny pieces. The typical online article or blog entry is 500, 1000, maybe 1500 words long. Sometimes somebody will write an extended "tutorial" on a topic, possibly 3,000 words in length, maybe even 5,000.

It's easy to convince oneself that these bite-sized chunks of prose represent the optimum level of information granularity. It is part of the utopian vision of the web that this plethora of loosely-linked pages synergistically becomes all the information we need.

This illusion is affecting the way we learn, and I fear that we're not getting the broader, more comprehensive overview that only a book can provide. A good author will encounter an unwieldy jungle of information and cut a coherent path through it, primarily by imposing a kind of narrative over the material. This is certainly true of works of history, biography, science, mathematics, philosophy, and so forth, and it is true of programming tutorials as well.

Sometimes you see somebody attempting to construct a tutorial narrative by providing a series a successive links to different web pages, but it never really works well because it lacks an author who has spent many months (or a year or more) primarily structuring the material into a narrative form.

For example, suppose you wanted to learn about the American Civil War. You certainly have plenty of online access to Wikipedia articles, blog entries, even scholarly articles. But I suggest that assembling all the pieces into a coherent whole is something best handled by a trained professional, and that's why reading a book such as James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom will give you a much better grasp of the American Civil War than hundreds of disparate articles.

If I sound elitist, it's only because the time and difficulty required for wrapping a complex topic into a coherent narrative is often underestimated by those who have never done it. A book is not 150 successive blog entries, just like a novel isn't 150 character sketches, descriptions, and scraps of dialog.

Reaching the Programmer Audience

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if programmers aren't reading paper-and-ink programming books, there ain't no sense in writing them.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if programmers are getting most of their information from Google searches, then writers like me should be spending their days generating online content.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that this online content can be chopped up into 500 to1500 word chunks for location and consumption through Google searches.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that these pieces can also be assembled into a tutorial narrative for people who prefer to learn a topic less haphazardly, or who come upon a topic through a search and want to know what came before, and what comes after.

It doesn't take a genius to make a lot of — oh, actually that's the problem. The writer needs to eat but the content must be free.

(For the record, if you are a publisher, and you have an idea how to make this online "granulated tutorial" approach work, I would be more than willing to write as much code and prose for it as I write for a typical book. The only catch is that I would have to be paid less like a book author and more like a consultant.)

Of Course Writing Books is Hard!

But that's what makes it fun and rewarding!

When I say "book" I don't necessarily mean something with ink-stained paper pasted into a cardboard binding, although I have certainly expressed my fondness for these marvelous objects. Even if printed books disappear, we definitely must find some way to retain "prose narratives of 100,000+ words" and to persuade people to read them, and hope that people write them.

You really shouldn't try to write a book unless you have a fire in your belly. If you have that fire, then nothing that Jeff Atword or I can say will discourage you.

To me, writing blog entries is like tapping out a tune on a piano, or drawing a little sketch on newsprint. Writing a book is closer to painting a mural or composing an opera. It's not just longer; it has to hold together with internal structure and coherence. It has to go somewhere. It has to tell a story. That's the part that's really challenging.

I am extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to write books for a living, and I hope to be correcting page proofs on my deathbed. I have 5 books in various degrees of progress (ranging from barely more than a title to 75% completed) and none of them concern .NET. These are technological-historical-philosophical narratives all dealing with automated computing.

One of these books is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2008. I've been working on it sporadically since 1999. It is the hardest book I've ever written, and it has to read like the easiest.

I am very happy writing this book, but I would be much happier if people actually buy it and read it.


You could always cut out the middle man. Sell the PDF book yourself, along with web content supported by advertising.

Aaron, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 14:31:25 -0400 (EDT)

I decided to go the blog route myself. I have talked to publishers in the past and found the process frustrating and annoying. As you said, the money isn't there for the average person so the only reason to do it is to say, "Look I published a book, hire me!"

FrankC, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 15:42:09 -0400 (EDT)

I have bought your books because you write books that I can both learn from and enjoy reading at the same time. In the case of your CODE book I bought them for others because I knew they would learn and enjoy them too. Keep the faith, you are a one of a kind author, and I can't tell you how eager I am to read your new project in 2008.

— Anthony, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 17:09:56 -0400 (EDT)

If you want to reach the programmer audience, you're going to have to go to Bangalore.

Here in Boston we used to have several tech bookstores plus others that had extensive selections. Now we have one, with a steadily dwindling selection, and if not for MIT course books it would probably go under too. That's not because programmers aren't reading books anymore; that's because programmers aren't being hired anymore.

— raboof, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 18:08:00 -0400 (EDT)

I think that running a blog where you publish pieces of reusable code and interesting tech articles can earn you a nice income (through ads, affiliates and the like...)

In the meantime we poor programmers need to get our hands on those few authors who are still creating valuable books.

— Sam J, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 18:08:18 -0400 (EDT)


In your specific case, you are not only a book author. You are a BRAND. You can co-write just about anything. "Petzold's Guide to Ruby on Rails" and you'd still sell. Lot's of aspiring consultants would love to have your name besides theirs.

Chui, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 18:16:45 -0400 (EDT)

I for one love books. As a programmer, I find do find the technical references less useful than before the internet. But I also find that my attention span on a web page is far less than when I am reading a book. If I really want to learn something, I get a book - if I just need to know what arguments some api takes I go to google...

Please tell us more about your upcoming books - I *loved* your book "Code" - Your "technological-historical-philosophical" is just what I want. Wisdom and perspective will always have a market...

— JohnV, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 20:14:11 -0400 (EDT)

You didn't speak to the one really crucial issue with the printed technical book: its short half-life. As I've been doing more web development, I find myself using more and more technologies that are constantly in flux and evolving. Whatever few good books I can find that cover the topics I am interested in, are usually stale at the best - and obsolete at the worst - before they arrive at my doorstep.

I still buy technical books, but ones that are less transient. Books that mostly cover APIs are simply not useful anymore.

David Avraamides, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 20:31:29 -0400 (EDT)

There is one other reason to write a book:

You want to teach people something useful, and thus write a whole lot of interesting and informative words - and the low pay from a book is still going to be better than an advertising supported blog.

After all, the same people who howl "advertising supported, but make it free!" are the ones who install ad blockers so that they don't have to see the advertising.

Also, I can tell you exactly where the "long term" is, even if APIs are replaced on an annual basis:

The long term is the thing where you start your career at the old age of 15 (hey, aren't pre-teens these days all supposed to be geniuses running their own google-killer companies?) and by the ancient age of 40 you still have as much knowledge as some kid in his parent's basement, because each year you have to start floundering around learning the latest API with no useful documentation.

Software is a funny business. We always have a new API before we can intelligently claim to understand the old one enough to be able to fix any genuine flaws.

— (anonymous), Mon, 8 Oct 2007 20:57:24 -0400 (EDT)

I can certainly sympathize with the issues you've mentioned. I've written one programming book, co-authored another, and contributed to about half-a-dozen more. Your assessment of time spent seems about right. I took a full year of full-time work to write mine, and it certainly doesn't have the breadth, depth, or polish of your books.

And unfortunately, you're also spot-on about the financial rewards as well. I assumed that larger names in the publishing industry had it better. I'm sorry to hear that's not the case. It's not that I had a bad experience with publishers (they were quite helpful and encouraging), but there's not a lot they can do about sagging sales.

I'm not sure I have any brilliant solutions. I'd love to write another book, but given the financial incentive, I'd probably just release it online.

— James Boer, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 21:33:52 -0400 (EDT)

I love buying books, even when I have access to stuff online (and I must admit that I seldomly read any of them cover-to-cover).

One question: what about on-demand printing, like Being a well known author, wouldn't sales done through an online channel like be more guaranteed (and generate more income per book) for you/any book writer? I mean, if you have a blog with 100k readers/month and get your books published via this kind of channel, chances are you could get a lot more revenue with 1k copies than 10k copies over the old plain publishing models..

herval, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 23:12:56 -0400 (EDT)


As I've told you before, I'm a huge fan. I'm old enough to go back to the Windows SDK days, so I can't tell you how much your books have helped me.

I enjoy reading anything you write. Books or Blogs I'm in.

I still buy books. A recent life changing event forced me to lighten my load. So I put all my used books up on Amazon. It amazed me how many sold. A few of yours included.

It actually saddened me to read this piece. Times marches on...

Dean Kaplan, Mon, 8 Oct 2007 23:18:12 -0400 (EDT)

My book "OCaml for Scientists" has been our best selling product for two years and now pulls in almost $100,000 per year, with sales continuing to increase.

I think the economic viability of book authoring has changed but it is certainly possible to make good money writing books. I think you must avoid common topics, overwhelmed by competition, and avoid writing cheap books for people like O'Reilly.

I believe functional programming is about to become far more popular than it has ever been before. So I just wrote F# for Scientists and am starting Scala for Scientists.

Jon Harrop, Tue, 9 Oct 2007 02:05:29 -0400 (EDT)


I have never written a book and would not have the patience/tenacity to complete one, but am not surprised at the issues raised. The fact is I would read/buy a book as a means of "getting into" a new subject/technology. Beyond that things probably move too fast which means that to keep up to date the net is the only way.

For anyone to have taken the trouble to have written things down and present them in a logical, understandable way is a valuable time-saver for the reader. Surely this reader-value would allow a small increase in retail price and enable authors to get better (more realistic) financial rewards.

Terry, Tue, 9 Oct 2007 06:34:52 -0400 (EDT)

I bought a copy of your WPF book - and enjoyed it very much. I too love books. My morning ritual is to have a quiet breakfast at a coffeeshop and read. It is divided between reading for pleasure and technical reading.

I began this ritual studying for my MCSD. I have a young child - and needed a distraction free environment to study - and liked it so much it continues long after I finished the tests.

I'm wondering how much of this is generational thing. I'm 45 - and I HATE reading the equivalant of a book on a screen. Ebooks has no appeal to me. Younger guys I work with seem to prefer it...

— Dan Sniderman, Tue, 9 Oct 2007 11:34:55 -0400 (EDT)


I appreciate your insights.

It sounds like computer book authors need to be in my enviable situation; semi-retired, financially independent, eager to learn and explain new technologies, and passionate about technical writing.

Ken Cox

Microsoft MVP [ASP.NET]

Author: ASP.NET 3.5 For Dummies

Ken Cox, Tue, 9 Oct 2007 11:37:18 -0400 (EDT)

I will always buy books, I hate carrying a laptop everywhere. I am at the doctor's office waiting I can read, I can read standing in line. If you have a laptop then you have to turn it on, find the article etc etc etc. Books are so much easier. I don't mind spending money on books, it is an investment in yourself after all

Good luck and keep them coming........

Denis Gobo, Tue, 9 Oct 2007 11:40:42 -0400 (EDT)

Charles, thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my unreasonable book writing rants in such a reasonable way.

I have to agree with a point brought up by a few of the other commenters: you certainly have the prestige and name recognition necessary to self-publish, and you should consider exploiting that-- at least for some of your books.

I don't think technical books are dead. Nor do I think books should become more web-like (although I am awfully fond of color printing and copious illustrations and screenshots, I must say). But I definitely think that the technical book publishing business model has to change to adapt to the web.

I'd love to see you use your clout to lead the way in spearheading these changes.

Jeff Atwood, Tue, 9 Oct 2007 13:15:36 -0400 (EDT)

Two things...

One is that I as a reader do value the time and effort taken to organize reliable material by a writer. But as a programmer, I value an electronic format that allows me to search cut and paste code samples for quick implementation. That's why I subscribe to Safari from OReilly. I spend $50-$60 a month. That's $600+ a year. The money is there, and people ARE spending it for the value an author provides. But if you're not selling your work through a medium that allows me easy access, without carrying around 20 lbs of books, you will be less likely to get a piece of that dedicated spending.

Second, I DO spend money above and beyond that $600. And I get my employer to spend a substantial sum on books as well. The books that qualify are typically very timely but reliable works. Apress tends to have a lot of them. Books on JavaScript Libraries. Books on Scriptaculous and Prototype. I buy PDF/ebooks while they're being written on timely topics. This is where maybe another $400-$500 a year goes.

By the time a writer has taken a year or two to write a book, the material is often very stale. So unless you're writing a classic like Donald Knuth, an author has to evaluate where one's work fits into the steady pace of change in the Computer field. I don't think the challenge is blogs, as much as the pace of change.

In terms of self-publishing, I can understand why a traditional author might be reluctant to sell a PDF, since it has no protection. But many authors these days are selling "access" to the PDF as it is being written. This kind of transaction allows me to have confidence that the material I'm buying will stay current, and updated as the author continues his/her work. For me and many others, it's a much better deal. I suppose a Fraidy-Kat author could at least use to publish a paper work to sell. But again, by the time a book is complete, the information is usually no longer cutting edge.

So I would say the demand is there, the $$$$ is there. But competition has made successful authors have to adapt to the demands of their readers. I value a good author, but need and require timely access to timely topics.

— Glenn, Tue, 9 Oct 2007 15:35:19 -0400 (EDT)

I admire and appreciate your work very much (yes I do have a copy of your WPF book), but you stumbled over the problem with technology/programming books without making proper mention... The shelf life (as in how fresh a book is) can only last as long as the lifespan of the API that the book covers, and that lifespan is growing increasingly short. What with the time it takes to research an API, write the text, submit it for review, publish the book and get it to the retailers takes significant amount of time. Add to that the time it takes me to review the quality of the book and purchase it, the content of the book will be deprecated before I get to page 200.

I am sorry to say that plodding around an API is much more effective in the google age. If I run into a problem, invariably someone else will have had the same problem and blogged or posted to a forum with the answer, and it will be searchable by google. I am sorry, that is just not possible from a book.

What I still purchase in hard cover are technology agnostic books. A great example of this is "Code Complete." It covers the art of programming without being a programming book, and will therefore never be stale. I do think the technical publishing world will consolidate, and I do wish the best for the "professional" authors, but the age of the technology specific book may be coming to an end.

— Jim, Tue, 9 Oct 2007 17:40:32 -0400 (EDT)

Well, I just finished my first book and I am sort of glad I did not get a royalty contract, but a flat fee. But still it took a ton of work, which breaks down to not much per hour. Now I just want to write another one since I have the process down so I can earn more per capita on the second one! The main reason I wrote it was to prove myself and force me to learn new things about the framework!

Chris Love, Tue, 9 Oct 2007 20:22:20 -0400 (EDT)

Years ago, I learned MFC from one your books. Recently I learned .NET from some other books.

What you said about the proliferation of APIs is spot on. No one can stay up on top of everything. I just learn the basics of an API, in which I plausibly say that I know how to do some type of usable finished product. I won't pretend to know everything, and just say that whatever I don't know, I can figure out from books and/or the Net.

— J Laborde, Wed, 10 Oct 2007 04:02:47 -0400 (EDT)

Actually, I never wrote about MFC, so if you learned it from one of my books, I'm a much better writer than I thought! — Charles

Charles, I've spent countless hours reading your books. I started my adventures in programming when I was 7 years old (I'm 33 now), so I grew up with the transition from MS/DOS to Windows 3.0 and beyond. I learned to program Win32 from your Programming Windows books and impressed my professors in my Computer Science curriculum with term projects using GUIs that included things like print preview.

People like you, Jeffrey Richter, and Michael Abrash were my heroes. However, while I still love your books and have great admiration for talented authors such as yourself, I find myself in an almost constant state of frustration over the direction the software development industry is headed in. The industry does not generally demand technically competent people with a deep understanding of technology anymore. Business has become overly concerned with high speed development at the lowest possible cost, so things like outsourcing projects to Asia is becoming the norm.

I have fond memories of playing with my little electronics sets in the early 80's, writing DOS TSRs to make my keyboard beep, and so on. Programming was fun. Reading computer books was fun. My dad had friends who were professional computer programmers, and they all loved what they did. However, they also all agree now that the development world is far more rushed than it has ever been. It seems like there is no time to understand the tools we must use anymore.

I still love to take time to slow down and read your books, even if what I'm reading about is no longer the "greatest API/tool/methodology ever". You are always informed, your writing style makes reading enjoyable, and somehow I feel like my life has been connected to yours through your writing. I felt some of the creativity from my youth being inspired again when reading your WPF book, so thank you for continuing your excellent series of books and always writing something I know will be enjoyable to read. You are part of the reason I am where I am today.

— E Rasmussen, Wed, 10 Oct 2007 15:33:18 -0400 (EDT)

I think it was Steve McConnell in Code Complete that claimed the average developer reads less than 1 technical book a year. It's a terrible statistic but it matches what I see around me.

One thing that has dismayed me over the years is an apparent tendency of consumers to literally judge a technical book by its weight. K&R2 was just over 250 pages of very readable text. Nowadays it seems like a programming book won't be published unless it's over a 1000 pages (or uses a daft font). Your books are the notable exception but I've found all too often that the narrative quality of these tomes is terrible, it's like reading a succession of MSDN articles with very little in the way of connecting themes. No wonder people turn to the web when the book version is no better.

My favorite technical book of all time is Expert C Programming by Peter van der Linden. I learnt more about C programming from the 300-odd pages in that one book than I've ever learnt anywhere else, and it was a blast to read. His Java book is more of a traditional programming book but similarly interesting to read.

Andrew, Thu, 11 Oct 2007 15:01:49 -0400 (EDT)

Yes, it does seem a bit sad if all the programming books disappear as I really love the experience of getting into a book and going from chapter to chapter. Times change however, now that I get content free online, I always make a point of clicking on a advertising link when I find a page that tells me what I need to know as a way of saying "thank you".

— John, Sat, 13 Oct 2007 20:40:18 -0400 (EDT)

Evolution of online content is why we need more books like:

Foundations of Object-Oriented Programming Using .NET 2.0 Patterns

Practical Software Factories in .NET

Agile Principles, Patterns, and Practices in C#


I usually find 'how' via google in less then a minute, 'why', well for 'why' google (and other search engines) and its users are not there yet. It does take genius to harness knowledge via google in methodological correct way. Or good book.

— ace, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 03:50:30 -0400 (EDT)

I've written a few published programming books myself, and the advances/royalties were so low, it never occurred to me there was such a thing as a full time programming book author. :) To me, writing a programming book seemed to largely provide benefits in promoting your own consulting work or something like that. (Not that it ever did that for me!)

I still buy programming books--but usually when I'm trying to learn something completely new. A lot of APIs and platforms are released in such incremental upgrades, once you know one version you can just figure out the new stuff via Google.

But for covering brand new territory, I like having tutorials and explanations laid out for me in book form.

Ralph, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 15:39:40 -0400 (EDT)

Given that I purchase books from a handful of authors only (including your books which are the best out there), it would be great if you would offer them as ebooks in the future or through "print on demand" model. I am sure there is a printer in your neighborhood who could help with printing and binding. Cover page design? Just go with K&R design. Apress has the best model (because it is simple, unlike Safari) I have seen for selling ebook and printed version of technical books. Safari would be great if I could download entire books and keep them for future reference. Since I travel a lot as a consultant, carrying books is often not an option. Instead, I carry a portable hard drive with my library in case I need to look up something.



Most technical books are totally worthless because they present few original insights or gotchas.

Anonymous, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 12:04:24 -0400 (EDT)

In regard to your "Reaching the Programming Audience": has started doing something like this with their little $9 ebooks. They're not as granular as blog posts, and not quite googleable, but they tend to be quite high quality, recent, and relevant -- especially because the older ones fall to the bottom of the list. Books on code just don't live long, but a good recent narrative that's short enough to consume right now and then throw away can be really helpful if you want to jump into a new technology, or find out what's changed after a major revision in it. Furthermore, unlike dead tree books, these ebooks often begin selling in beta and are updated over time, not unlike the pragmatic programmer ebooks. Speaking of pragmatic bookshelf, their fridays series of ebooks can be pretty good too. Both solve the problem for people who don't know if they want to commit enough to buy a big book on something they're just getting into. A great, cheap, narrative intro, can be amazing, and far better than searching the web for tidbits.

I also wonder if the Amazon Kindle will encourage smaller books like this.

As for googling in books, there's always Google book search.

Nick Retallack, Tue, 29 Apr 2008 22:28:28 -0400 (EDT)

I also enjoy books that are more timeless and have essentially stopped buying language books (I may buy a introductory text when I first start a new one, but that's about it). I love the pragmatic programmer though, looking forward to Code Complete. And, yes, your book Code and the Annotated Turing are on my list. I think the book you alluded to in your post is the book on Babbage? Sign me up :)

— DanF, Fri, 21 Nov 2008 00:49:14 -0500 (EST)

Books aren't dying either, OK?

Amy Hoy, Wed, 26 Nov 2008 10:13:19 -0500 (EST)

OMG!! writting a book during ten years! Thats admirable!

I think one problem of writting a book is because it's structured. Authors lose freedom, can't write ramdonly as in a blog. The structure and the story must be respected. There is a time when the book itself sets the rules.

It's aliveee!!! Like on movies :)

Yelinna, Fri, 28 Aug 2009 23:36:04 -0400 (EDT)

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