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

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Book Royalties, Advances, and "Retainers"

October 29, 2009
New York, N.Y.

Like many authors, I had to be briefly hospitalized upon learning that Sarah Palin was paid a $1.25 million advance for her memoir "Going Rogue." But what really puzzled me was the description in the press of this amount as a "retainer."

I've never heard the word "retainer" used in connection with book publishing. Apparently, this is the word Ms. Palin used on the financial disclosure statement rather than the more customary word "advance," and the New York Times suggests that the $1.25 million is only part of her advance!

Some people may not be familiar with advances (and other details about how an author is paid for writing a commercially published book) so here's an author-centric view of the deal:

A book contract is between a publisher and an author. Most contracts specify that an author will receive an amount of money called a "royalty" for every copy of a book that is sold. Many decades ago, royalties on hardcover books were simply 10% of the cover price of the book. (Norman Mailer once said "You buy an author's book, you buy the author a drink.") Then mass-market paperbacks came about; because these were intended to be high-volume low-cost items, the royalty on paperbacks was set at 5% of the cover price.

At some point, publishers stopped basing royalties on the cover price of the book, and switched to using "publisher's receipts" instead. This is the amount the publisher gets back when a book is sold, and it's generally about 50% of the cover price. In other words, a bookstore pays a publisher half the cover price for the book. This is why bookstores can discount books as much as 40% and not kill themselves — they're still recovering 10% of the cover price.

My experience is mostly with "trade paperbacks," which have soft covers but are the same size as hardcover books, but it is my experience that royalties for hardcover books are the same — usually in the region of 15% of publisher's receipts, which is equivalent to 7.5% of the cover price. For example, suppose a book has a cover price of $40. Of that, half is consumed in the distribution and retail chain, and the publisher gets $20. The author gets a royalty of 15% of that, or $3 per book.

This royalty of 15% is for the English-language edition sold in the United States (or sometimes all of North America). For copies of the English-language edition sold outside the U.S. (or North America), the royalty is typically less, like 5% or 10%. (Why this is so has never been adequately explained to me.) Translation rights are generally a flat amount that a foreign publisher pays to the original publisher, which the publisher splits with the author 50/50.

There may be a long gap between the time an author begins writing a book, and the time it is actually sold and generating royalties. To avoid the unpleasantness of an author starving to death before the book is completed, publishers have customarily paid an "advance" on the royalties.

The advance is generally not paid out at once. It's generally doled out in 3 or 4 installments -- for example, 1/3 when the contract is signed, 1/3 when half the manuscript is completed, and the final 1/3 when it's all done. (If the book is not completed, the author has to return the advance.)

Advances are tricky. It's the only money that the author is guaranteed to receive, so often the author wants the advance to be as high as possible. But publishers don't want to pay an advance that's not going to be matched by later sales. (Some very evil contracts call for the author to actually return part of the advance if the book doesn't sell enough copies. Such contracts should never be signed.) Often there's some ego involved. Sometimes a big advance is even used to generate publicity.

In more practical situations, the publisher uses a simple formula to determine the advance: Their marketting people estimate the number of copies the book will sell in its first year. Multiply that number by the cover price, then by 50%, then by the royalty. That's the advance — equal to the royalties the publisher expects to pay over the first year of sales.

Publishers sometimes claim they don't use this formula, but they do. When I was negotiating with Wiley to publish The Annotated Turing, they estimated that the book would sell 5,000 copies. Multiply that by the cover price ($29.99) and 50% and my 15% royalty, and the estimated advance is $11,250.

Perhaps because I had already successfully written several books and was moderately "famous" in the personal computer industry, Wiley graciously offered me an advance of $15,000, and made it clear that there would be no further negotiation.

(It does no good telling a publisher that you've been working on the book since 1999, and you've already spent countless unpaid hours on it, and you're likely to require another good six months of full-time work to get it completed. If publishers had to comply with minimum-wage laws, they'd all be in jail.)

So far, Wiley's estimate of sales of The Annotated Turing has been pretty much on target. The book was published in May 2008 and has so far sold 5,698 copies. It has not yet made back the advance, but sales seem to have leveled off at about 100 copies a month, so I'm optimistic. Sometime in 2010 I just might get a royalty check in the 3 figures.

So, what can we deduce about Ms. Palin's advance? The book will have a cover price of $28.99. If her royalty is 15% of half that, she gets about $2.175 per book. (It's quite possible her royalty is larger than 15%.) If the $1.25 million amount paid already is half of her total advance, then HarperCollins expects to sell over a million copies of the book. (Either that, or they're throwing a lot of money away for the "status" and "glory" of publishing Ms. Palin's memoir.) Also, Ms. Palin will probably be paying her ghostwriter out of the advance she receives from HarperCollins.

As usual, there's a big gulf between elites like Ms. Palin and those of us working in the trenches.

But I'm proud of The Annotated Turing. I know that The Annotated Turing, in its small way, has increased the accumulated knowledge of the world, and that the book is entirely free of demagoguery, creationism, and tips on shooting wildlife from helicopters.


Charles--You already know this, but rest assured that even an old chestnut of yours like Programming the OS/2 Presentation Manager has more value, more wisdom, and more relevance than _anything_ that Sarah Palin "writes."

Loyal reader,

Roger Pence, Thu, 29 Oct 2009 15:38:45 -0400

Programming the OS/2 Presentation Manager??? You are old, dude! — Charles

Keep up the great work and "you're welcome" for the drink(s) :)

Rick Barraza, Thu, 29 Oct 2009 16:24:23 -0400

Hey I have bought your books and highly unlikely be buying Ms. Palin's memoir.

But it's US population we are talking about ;)

— Dmitry Zaslavsky, Thu, 29 Oct 2009 16:37:05 -0400

This is a really great post; very open and honest.

Code and Turing are two excellent books that entertain as much as they teach. I cannot wait for the third to complete the trilogy, and I will wait another decade if required!

Michael C. Neel, Thu, 29 Oct 2009 18:23:35 -0400

Thanks! I wish I knew what that third book was so I could start writing it! — Charles

Makes Apple's 70% for iPhone development quite generous, though it would be even better if they started offering developers advances.

— Martin Duffy, Thu, 29 Oct 2009 19:02:30 -0400

I'm haven't got my copy of annotated turing yet (just finished up Code) but rest assured, as Mike Meyers said in Wayne's World, "It will be mine. Oh yes... it will be mine."

Have you thought about publishing with the Pragmatic Programmers?

The prags have replaced O'reilly for me as my goto (har har) publisher. If I need a book on a topic and they've got it you can be fairly certain it will be excellent. That's been my experience anyway.

df, Thu, 29 Oct 2009 19:28:31 -0400

The big problem with any type of non-traditional publisher? No advances at all. — Charles

Writing books is like programming.

Honest programmers get to pay taxes for governments to give to banks for banks to give their programmers 10 times the salary that honest programmers get.

You get to work at less than minimum wage so that publishers can give their rock stars 10 times the advance that honest writers get.

Rock stars are chosen by politics not by skill.

— An honest programmer, Fri, 30 Oct 2009 05:06:32 -0400

Thanks for writing _The_Annotated_Turing_. I loved the chapter explaining Cantor's proofs. Reading that was one of those 'woooah cool!' moments.

David Ratnasabapathy, Fri, 30 Oct 2009 07:33:47 -0400


What's really cool is this: The more you go through Cantor's proofs, the more the non-enumerality of real numbers becomes intuitively obvious. And then you begin to question whether real numbers can even be said to "exist." — Charles

I publish through my own company. I don't get an advance, but on the other hand I'm not handing over most of my profits, either. There isn't even a marketing advantage with a large publisher anymore - you still have to market your own book. I don't get money all at once as an advance, but I come out ahead in the end.

Sheryl Canter, Fri, 30 Oct 2009 09:06:38 -0400

I don't get the sniping about minimum-wage laws. Who chose to write a book on esoteric academic papers from generations ago?

Wiley is a business, not a charity. As noble as increasing the world's knowledge is, it's not a publisher's duty to handsomely pay authors to wallow in their intellectual fancies.

— malarkey, Fri, 30 Oct 2009 10:00:21 -0400

Despite the perverse ethos of capitalism ("that is best which makes the most money") it is the moral responsibility of everyone to make the world a better place, and I think that means a smarter place, and a more knowledgeable place.

Some individuals — book, magazine and newspaper publishers; television entertainment and news executives; movie producers; and so forth — are in a very special position in our society because they run the media that helps deliver information to we the people. They have a great responsibility not to flood the bookstores and airwaves and theaters with the media equivalent of "empty calories."

The more crap that is published, the dumber the people become, and the more crap they will desire in the future.

HarperCollins may well believe that they're performing a noble function in "giving the people what they want" by publishing the Sarah Palin memoir. They can even plead innocence in making this decision for themselves, for they are really only being guided by the invisible hand of capitalism.

But based on everything that has come out of Ms. Palin's mouth and pen, we can safely conclude that this is a person who is not making the world a better place, and is in fact, one of the worst demagogues we've seen in American public life in a long time.

I feel that is is therefore immoral for HarperCollins to be publishing Ms. Palin's memoir. With the $2.5 million they are paying her, they can pay 50 authors a $50,000 advance each for 50 books that will help make their readers smarter and more knowledgeable, and hence more likely to buy such books in the future. — Charles

Okay, let's entertain a scenario where HarperCollins attains enlightenment and decides to better the world by funding the pedantic pursuits of 50 authors. (How HarperCollins measures the "makes the world a smarter place and more knowledgeable" quotient of proposed books and picks the "best" 50 is left for another discussion.)

If HarperCollins paid a $50,000 advance to an author for a book that retails at $30, minus the retailers' cut of the pie and the 15% of the rest that goes to the author, here is what HarperCollins would have made in revenue publishing The Annotated Turing:

>>> (5698 * 30 / 2 * .85) - 50000


If 50 books sell as The Annotated Turing has, HarperCollins would have a return of $1,132,475 for their investment. But what would their investment be? It comes down to the costs of publishing: Reviewing book proposals and manuscripts, editing, cover design, marketing, supplies, manufacturing, taxes, Manhattan office space, and various administrative costs.

Oh, the publisher's employees also get paid salaries. That costs money.

50 books require a lot more staff, management, office space, and effort to put together than 1 book.

If Mrs. Palin's book sells even 100,000 copies at $30 a pop, it's hard to see how HarperCollins doesn't make multiple-millions from their investment.

$1,132,475 for 50 books isn't going to sustain a major publisher for long. $2 or $3 million for one book, and they have a shot.

As moral or immoral publishing Mrs. Palin's political views may be, your alternative proposal would seem to result in the wiping out of an entire corporation. Is that really in the best interest of "making the world a better place?"

— malarkey, Fri, 30 Oct 2009 12:57:13 -0400

If a publisher pays a $15,000 advance for a book that only sells 5,000 copies, the publisher can break even, and for many books, most publishers are entirely content with that outcome.

If a publisher pays a $50,000 advance for a book that would only sell 5,000 copies without any promotion or advertising, then the publisher is forced to do something they don't normally do: actually promote and advertise the book, and help the book achieve much better sales than it would have otherwise.

What a concept! — Charles

>>>Programming the OS/2 Presentation Manager??? You are old, dude! — Charles

He can't be that old because that was the first of your books I read. Totally absorbed about the first 20% of the book in a single sitting. It put the fun back in programming and explained a lot of the behaviour I had been seeing in PM. I wore out my copy of Programming Windows. Applications = code + markup and 3D Programming for Windows were just as lucid and helpful.

Never stop writing......

Brian Howden, Fri, 30 Oct 2009 14:46:36 -0400

Charles, what exactly are you suggesting here? That publishers should eschew popular best sellers and only produce serious works, bound to be of limited interest? What if the publisher's idea of serious works are the writings of David Hume, Adam Smith, Ludwig Von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman? In other words, what if their idea of important books is different or even antithetical to yours?

— David Docetad, Sun, 1 Nov 2009 15:26:37 -0500

David, I just got back from the Wall St. Borders, where there are rows and rows of books on shelves labeled "General Metaphysics" (30 rows), "Paranormal" (8 rows), "Magical Studies" (8), "Divination" (4), and "Astrology" (4) — each of these books exactly the type of rubbish that David Hume rightly refers to at the end of the First Enquiry with the admonition "Commit it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."

What I'm suggesting "exactly" here is that book publishers should behave with a little bit of moral responsibility, and act as if they aren't entirely in the business of rotting peoples' minds to make money. (And if you can find any passage in the Wealth of Nations — or any of the other authors you cite — suggesting that manufacturers should deliberately make and sell harmful product if it yields maximum profit, I'd love to hear about it.)

Notice that no-one here has actually come to the defence of the publication of Sarah Palin's memoir. Everyone pretty much agrees that it has no redeeming social value, and that reading it will make people dumber rather than smarter. Exactly what economic theory mandates that it be published? — Charles

Charles, I believe you may be missing my point. As you state, you and the other 19 commenters believe that a book you have yet to read, and probably will not read, has "no redeeming social value" and that reading it will "make people dumber." As you say, there is no economic theory that mandates that it should be published. But there is plenty of economic theory that mandates that no one should prohibit it from being published. I realize you are not proposing a law or regulation, but you should realize that your opinion of which books make people dumber will necessarily be different from the choices of other, even very intelligent, well-educated, and well-meaning people.

— David Docetad, Sun, 1 Nov 2009 19:12:30 -0500

No one is prohibiting Sarah Palin from publishing a book, just as no one is prohibiting any of us from publishing a book. As we all know by now, if we can't persuade a publisher to publish our books, we can publish our own books!

Obviously book publishers can only publish and promote a certain number of books per year. They can't publish books by everybody who wants to publish a book. They must be selective, and this selectivity must be based on a number of factors, obviously including whether there are people interested in buying such a book.

But moral factors must also play a role. If you or I were working for a food or drug company, surely we wouldn't develop a food or drug that was bad for people! We wouldn't even be developing a food or drug that had no effect whatsoever. No: Regardless of the possible profits involved, it only makes sense to develop food or drugs that are good for people.

Yes, people have different opinions about political stuff. (Duh!) But can someone please identify a "very intelligent, well-educated, and well-meaning" person at HarperCollins who believes that the publication of Sarah Palin's memoir will make the world a better place. If such a person does not exist — if, indeed, HarperCollins is publishing this book strictly to make a profit despite the obvious demagogic instincts of the author — then HarperCollins is clearly and fundamentally acting immorally. — Charles

Charles, I still think you may be missing my point.

Let's assume that it is beyond dispute by all reasonable people that Sarah Palin's book would have no "redeeming social value" and that it would be an immoral act to publish it. Are there not going to be other books that reasonable people will disagree about?

But beyond that, your standard for immorality seems so broad as to be rendered meaningless. Does soda pop make the world a better place? Does it have any positive, nutritional effect? Are Pepsi and Coke immoral companies? (I realize you may well answer in the affirmative.) Can you name a single, moral company? Many people think building homes makes the world a better place, while many people think it destroys the earth. Many people think having children makes the world a better place, while many people think it's detrimental to the world.

What if Palin's book is a retelling of her experience on the campaign, or an outline of her positions and views for an upcoming run for the presidency, a typical campaign tract (what else would it be anyway)? It seems somewhat extreme and to call it immoral.

Is there not value for voters and historians to know what she is thinking and what she believes if she is active and influential in politics? Is it the money that makes it immoral, is it the actual text of the book itself, or is it simply the politics of the writer?

Finally, is it the intent of the publisher or the actual result of the act of publishing where the immorality lies? In other words, if there is in fact someone at the publisher who believes that publishing the book will make the world a better place, does that then make it a moral act? Conversely, if a publisher in good faith believes he is publishing a book that will make the world a better place, but in fact the reverse happens, is he guilty of an immoral act?

— David Docetad, Sun, 1 Nov 2009 23:22:39 -0500

I'm not missing your point. You're saying there are some gray areas, and of course there are gray areas.

Regarding soda pop, I find Steve Jobs' recruitment question to Pepsi president John Sculley — "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?" — very compelling.

One does the best one can. Some people might it's moral to publish a book by Scott Roeder, in which he describes how his courageous act saved thousands of unborn children. I wouldn't even publish a book by Bill O'Reilly, who helped create the milieu in which Scott Roeder carried out his despicable act.

I'm not saying Sarah Palin should be silenced. There are many publishers where Sarah Palin's memoir would fit right in with the rest of the stuff they publish. But that doesn't mean that she's somehow entitled to promotion by a major publisher and awarded with a big advance. The publication of the book by HarperCollins is clearly a case where the profit motive overcomes all other rational thought. — Charles

Just a curious question

How many copies of "Programming Windows" have been sold till date?

— gazzal, Sun, 1 Nov 2009 23:59:27 -0500

Not sure. It was a long time ago. (But I can tell you that the first edition of the book took me 10 months to write, and that I received a $10,000 advance.) — Charles

Books by political figures get bought but they don't get read. Regardless of political orientation, books like these are bought, or given to an admirer of that politician who will treasure it, give it a place of honor on the bookshelf, but read it? No.

Of all types of books, political and business memoirs move the fastest from the best seller lists to the dollar book section of the Strand. They tend to be self serving and not very entertaining.

— David Smith, Mon, 2 Nov 2009 00:20:29 -0500

But its still in print, correct.. I saw it on the shelf this weekend at a book shop...

— gazzal, Mon, 2 Nov 2009 09:51:42 -0500

Yes, the 5th edition of Programming Windows is still in print. Amazingly enough, it still sells about 250 copies a month, which at this time is more than all my .NET books combined. — Charles

Hi Charles,

Do you begrudge Bill Clinton the estimated $10-12M order of magnitude above Palin's advance...that he got from publishing "My Life"? Do you look down on him with similar disdain?

I'm amazed at the commentators of your post - people who are doubtlessly (and justifiably) incensed when some over-zealous senator wants to ban a video game or a movie - are actually endorsing the idea of censoring a book just because they happen to disagree with the author politically. Even to the point of being so presumptuous and arrogant to label the publishing of such a book "immoral".

Isn't this the dangerous, Orwellian world that many people from your side of the aisle are always warning us about?


PS: I've been a fan of your programming texts for years, you're still among the best; perhaps unparalleled in your ability to simplify the complex. Good luck with your Turing book! -John

John Nagle, Mon, 2 Nov 2009 21:52:27 -0500

Bill Clinton was actually President for eight years. Sarah Palin didn't even serve out her term as Governor of a state that has a total population 1/10th of that of the city I live in. Still, regardless who gets them, these multi-million dollar advances could better be spread around to multiple authors.

I don't see how it counts as censorship if Sarah Palin is given an advance of $25K or $250K rather than $2.5M. Or if a publisher less reputable than HarperCollins publishes her memoir. Or if she doesn't have enough money to pay a ghost-writer and actually has to write the thing herself. Of even if she has to publish the thing herself. Welcome to the real world of non-elites. — Charles

Again, you're assuming that your point of view regarding Palin is the one and only correct point of view; that is, she has nothing interesting or meaningful to say, no valid arguments to present, and does not deserve to be published by such a renowned publisher. To me, that sounds a bit elitist, I must say.

Harper Collins, like all businesses, bases its decisions on the expected revenue those decisions will make. In doing so they demonstrate objectivity in the purest sense. That is the only reason Palin or anyone else gets this kind of treatment...they hope it will make money for them. They'd just as happily publish books (and probably have) lambasting Palin if a market exists for it. I know I don't have to tell you this, but somehow this seems to be what we're debating.

>> Welcome to the real world of non-elites.

I'm far from an elite; I was raised in a double-wide trailer on a pothole-infested 4-mile stretch of single-lane blacktop in yellow-dog-democrat-controlled southern WV called Browning Fork. My grandmother was a Hatfield, some relation to the Devil Anse clan I'm told. I taught myself C++, became a game developer and moved to Texas, where I ultimately started a software company of my own. The success I have, what there is of it, I came by honestly.

I have to laugh a little when I see conservative-minded people called elite by the same people (not you in this case, but those of your political persuasion) who look down their noses at those who shop at Wal-Mart, calling them mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers, etc. etc. ad nauseum. People who look at those who enjoy watching Nascar as nothing but "white trash". People who look at hunters and fishermen as Neanderthals unworthy of even a passing glance.

(I've long contended that we hillbillies are the only truly unprotected minority in America. No one that I know of has ever gotten fired for referring to someone as redneck, inbred, white-trash, etc. But I digress.)

As always, good discussion and debate. :-)

— John Nagle, Mon, 2 Nov 2009 22:56:15 -0500

I understand now: Everything's relative. There is no right or wrong, good or bad. Although some people think Sarah Palin is a dangerous demagogue, other's believe she's the most profound conservative thinker since Edmund Burke.

> Harper Collins, like all businesses, bases its decisions on the expected revenue those decisions will make. In doing so they demonstrate objectivity in the purest sense.

This "objectivity" is the same force that produces children's toys containing lead, hamburgers containing e. coli, and an Astrology section at the local Barnes & Noble that is larger than the Astronomy section. This "objectivity" represents everything wrong with American capitalism. If you ever met an individual who behaved "objectivity" by basing all his or her decisions on "expected revenue," you'd hate that person. Why should be endure massive corporations behaving like this?

> They'd just as happily publish books (and probably have) lambasting Palin if a market exists for it.

Hard to say. You do know that HarperCollins is owned by the News Corporation, which is Rupert Murdoch's company, right? — Charles


The remarkable thing is not that a publisher would give Sarah Palin a 1.5M advance and publish her book, but that a book like The Annotated Turing gets published at all.

I understand your frustration at not being able to make more money - the $15,000 advance is indeed pitiful. But the publisher is probably loosing money on your book. It can hardly be worth the time and effort for them to publish your book unless they feel, like you (and me too), that they are doing a good, noble, and indeed charitable thing. It's effectivley pro-bono. It is in fact the likes of Sarah Palin and Bill Clinton that make it possible for a business to publish The Annotated Turing.

Many worthy books are published by non-profit think tanks and foundations for this very reason, though I am not sure that any exist for furthering knowledge about computing history. One would think that Bill Gates or the Google founders would have set up a "Foundation for the History of Computing" and made you a fellow with a good stipend.

I don't know how to say this more politely, but there is a reason that you don't run Harper Collins: you don't know how. If you were the CEO, the business would be run into the ground, a lot of wealth would be destroyed, and a lot of people would loose their jobs. It is counter productive, not to mention detrimental to one's mental health, to wish that businesses behave they way you think they should, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need", or that other people should spend their money differently than they do. It's as effective as complaining that it rained on your birthday, and it doesn't make for a happy life.

Perhaps your energies would be better spent creating a 501.c3 and approaching wealthy entrepreneurs who have made their wealth in the computer industry for donations. I'm one (an extremely small one), and I'd kick in $10,000 to get you started.

— David Docetad, Tue, 3 Nov 2009 10:42:10 -0500

HarperCollins — which united two once reputable publishers, Harper & Row from the United States and Wm. Collins & from England — is owned by the News Corporation, which, of course, is the second largest media corporation in the world and is run by Rupert Murdoch.

I know it's hard to remember what the world was like before the Reagan years and the bean-counters took over, but book publishers were once owned and operated by people who really cared about books. These businesses were not "run into the ground" and they published some excellent books. Money mattered, of course, but it wasn't the primary consideration. I know that concept is impossible to grasp now, but that only demonstrates more than anything how sick this society has become. — Charles

Charles, one further thought. You wrote above:

"I'm not saying Sarah Palin should be silenced. There are many publishers where Sarah Palin's memoir would fit right in with the rest of the stuff they publish. But that doesn't mean that she's somehow entitled to promotion by a major publisher and awarded with a big advance."

Sarah Palin and any publisher are in fact entitled to come to a mutually beneficial contractual agreement, freely entered into by both parties, which in fact they did. That it so deeply irks you leads one to the inescapable conclusion that you are simply envious of Sarah Palin.

— David Docetad, Tue, 3 Nov 2009 12:11:39 -0500

> you are simply envious of Sarah Palin.

Really! How can I be envious of someone who isn't even experiencing the pleasure of writing her own book!

The person I'm really envious of in this whole deal is the ghostwriter. She's probably getting a nice flat fee for the challenging job — and I do love challenging jobs as The Annotated Turing clearly indicates — no, the extremely challenging job of making Ms. Palin not appear to be a complete loser (for sabotaging John McCain's Presidential bid and then not even serving out her term as Governor) and a complete doofus (for pretty much everything she's said).

And then Ms. Palin has to go out and promote the book — which involves the really awful stuff (for me, anyway), like giving talks and sitting for interviews — and all the while pretending like she really wrote the book (or at least read it). Whereas the ghostwriter has the pleasure of staying at home in the quiet of her office and writing another book, perhaps the long hard book she's wanted to write for 20 years and which the ghostwriting fee has finally made possible.

I don't need a lot of money. I don't want a lot of money. All I want to be able to do is write books and pay my bills at the same time. — Charles

"I don't need a lot of money. I don't want a lot of money. All I want to be able to do is write books and pay my bills at the same time."

I suggested you suffer from envy, not greed.

— David Docetad, Tue, 3 Nov 2009 13:36:01 -0500

Charles, I meant to add a little more to that last comment.

You write:

"I dont need a lot of money. I don't want a lot of money. All I want to be able to do is write books and pay my bills at the same time."

If this is true, then I fail to see what Sarah Palin has to do with it.

Businesses, unlike governments and foundations, do not distribute wealth, they generate it. It may appear that a publisher sits on a fixed pile of cash to apportion out to authors, and that Sarah Palin's cash advance necessarily comes at the expense of some other writer. But the pile of cash is not fixed, it depends on the sales of books. HarperCollins' contract with Palin allows them to make a lot more money to in turn do more book deals, many of which will be on worthy books that make little or no money. As you yourself noted, there is even more beneficial spill-over in that Sarah Palin's ghost writer will get some money with which to take some time off and write a worthy book that no one will pay good money for her write.

And think about it, all of this money is taken from those mindless, stupid conservatives in fly-over country who don't even know how to read and have pre-ordered her book on Amazon! It's really a genius system.

Sarah Palin's book does not deprive you or any other author of anything. In fact, and I'm sorry for saying it because I know it will hurt, the exact opposite it true: Sarah Palin's book makes you possible.

— David Docetad, Tue, 3 Nov 2009 14:28:00 -0500

> Sarah Palin's book makes you possible.

Obviously you don't mean that literally, because when the first edition of Programming Windows was published, Sarah Palin was still a sportscaster:

And when The Annotated Turing was published, Ms. Palin was still an obscure Governor.

And you can't mean it figuratively, either. Successful blockbusters foster a blockbuster-mentality, driving out the little guys like myself. Surely the old "trickle down" theory has been entirely discredited, no? — Charles

Hi Charles

I've a great suggestion for increasing your royalty income - write another programming book! Is it on the cards? I have at least 5 of your previous efforts, and look forward to expanding my collection!

— Mr Gutbucket, Fri, 13 Nov 2009 17:02:38 -0500

Unfortunately, the situation with programming books is worse than "The Annotated Turing." My last programming book "3D Programming for Windows" flat-lined after a meager 4,000 copies. That's the sexiest topic I know for a programming book, so it is highly unlikely I'll be able to write another. — Charles

A lot of readers miss the vibe from your "3D programming for Windows" book, you want to know why its's sale does not go sky rocket , simply because its difficult to connect with it. I purchased it and feel *some what satisfied* , give it to a friend to read it , and he returned it after reading two chapters , with comments "why there are so less graphical content in it , hard to absorb content like it without images ". I liked it because I can connect to it , in general people don't.Plus you should also try to be more social in networks like Microsoft Channel9 etc.I never seen your video over there , last I heard you on a radio show .NET Ricks a long time back. Your MFC counterpart "Jeff Prosise" is doing much better , be more vocal in Tech Community and you will see the difference in your book sales.

Personally I want to see authors like in the field and writing books, I cant explain why but its just feeling of holding books (no kindle here) and reading it , makes me happy.

Money is important ,and for that do some part time consultancy (I think you were doing some work for wintellect) + trainings + course material writings.This way you will able to pay bills and will able to write books , any even can go out on a trip to Hawaii once in a while.


— Busshara, Mon, 16 Nov 2009 02:56:00 -0500

Are you sure we're talking about the same book? I listened to readers' complaints about the lack of screen shots in Applications = Code + Markup and I put tons of illustrations in 3D Programming for Windows. The companion code for the book also includes all the XAML files used to generate the illustrations.

While I was writing 3D Programming for Windows I blogged about it incessantly. When it was published, I sent 80 copies out to WPF bloggers around the world. (Basically, any WPF blogger who sent me an address got a book.) In that way, the book got more promotion than any other recent book I've written.

I don't really have the type of personality necessary to do more aggressive self-promotion. (I'm a writer because I'm too shy to engage with the public on a personal level!) It is true I've never been on Channel 9. I've never been asked. — Charles

Hi Charles, You may not be getting millions in advances, but you are still a rock star to us. I have enjoyed your books ever since Programing Windows 95. (I did program for OS/2 but did it mostly in text) Keep up the good work, you will always have loyal programmer fans.

— Brian K, Thu, 19 Nov 2009 20:42:21 -0500

I have yet to try your recipe for low-fat vegetarian pizza, but I have it bookmarked for a future snowy Winter Sunday. I just purchased X-Files seasons 5-9 on Amazon because they were discounted to $13 a season. I'll have plenty of opportunities to perfect your recipe!

I enjoyed this blog post very much. Back in the "Programming Book Heyday" (almost 10 years ago) when Wrox was churning out a dozen new books a week, I had some experience doing technical editing and reviewing for both books (a couple different publishers) and magazines. I saw some of the book contracts and the numbers that you lay out match what I saw. These days, I would guess the number of books sold is less than half of what it was almost 10 years ago when the programming sections of the retail bookstores were thriving. I buy just as many books as I did then (maybe even more) but I'm definitely in the minority. There are just so many more options for obtaining information these days, both legitimate (forums, blogs, MSDN, etc) and pirate (ebook sites). While I do prefer to read a dead-tree book, I realize that ebooks are better for the environment. I have at least one hundred or more technical books that I have donated to the local libraries in the past and now I find that more and more libraries are less willing to accept them.

I would assume that a publisher's costs are reduced by creating and distributing ebooks. Does any of that lead to an increase in the writer's advance or royalties? I've noticed that Manning Publications(my favorite tech book publisher for the last 3 years) really pushes their ebook format and is also very good at marketing their books to today's consumer (Facebook, Twitter, weekly emails, online promotions, etc).

Speaking of your tech books (of which I own several), my personal opinion is that you'd probably have better luck with a different publisher and with a different subject. I don't feel that MS Press really tries that much when it comes to promotion or pushing their books. Their website doesn't really show updated information on the books in progress or much about the existing books (show me a Table of Contents, give me a preview of a chapter, give me an article by the author, something other than the cover with which to judge the book by!). I've heard good things about the editors and staff at MS Press and they usually turn out a polished product, but they seem to be operating like it was 10 years ago. Do they even sell an ebook format?

Your focus for tech-books seems to be Windows based programming. I have your CLASSIC Windows API programming book (PW) and one or two of your Windows Forms .NET books (PW C# and PMWF). I sort of lost interest in Microsoft's whole WPF deal. I personally thought Windows Forms was downright decent and a perfectly fine way for creating Microsoft "desktop" applications. Like most developers looking for a paycheck, I've spent an awful lot of time (mostly grudgingly) doing web programming (ASP.NET, Javascript/HTML/CSS) and didn't give much attention to WPF. My guess is that Windows WPF isn't really all that popular of a topic when you compare it to web based programming related books. I'm watching Silverlight closely and I'd prefer Silverlight to the mangle of web technologies, but who knows what will happen with Silverlight or what direction the web will take.

Also, this is the first I have heard about your "Annotated Turning" book. I enjoyed Code, so I'll probably put this one in the basket the next time I'm shopping at Amazon.

DiscoSteve, Tue, 1 Dec 2009 00:41:50 -0500

Got this as a link from The commentary (from both sides) is as interesting as the article :) Thanks both to the commentators and your replies.

C finally "clicked" for me when I read your win32 book while in high school (during and after reading it cover to cover about 3 times).

CODE was a great light read, while greatly improving my understanding and interest in computer architecture. What I've read of your Turing book, before my friend borrowed it, is excellent.

Thanks for the good times. Please keep writing :)

— Merlyn Morgan-Graham, Fri, 18 Dec 2009 17:24:38 -0500

Well the Blog post sold me on the "Turing" book so I went to Amazon to buy it so I could read it on my Kindle. No dice (as of 3/1/2010).

Well I hope you get a Kindle/.pdf version out...

I guess you could write another post of the problem with royalties on electronic editions of books, the publisher does not have to pay printing costs but still takes the same profit as on a real book!

Michael Washington, Mon, 1 Mar 2010 08:58:57 -0500

I wouldn't mind a Kindle version of The Annotated Turing but I believe what's preventing it is the Kindle's typographical limitations. If you look at print version of The Annotated Turing, the book attempts to reproduce the typography of Turing's original paper, which includes the use of German gothic fonts. To me, this is an extremely important component of the book, and I will remain opposed to any type of electronic edition of The Annotated Turing that does not preserve the typography as it exists in the print version. — Charles

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