What Is Larry Thinking #62 => Writing and Publishing, Part 1

October 22, 2012
The Yii Book If you like my writing on the Yii framework, you'll love "The Yii Book"!

In this edition…

About This Newsletter

I have a few resources and thoughts about writing and publishing that I’d like to share in this newsletter. I know these are interesting topics for many of you, whether or not they pertain to your job. In fact, as I was developing this newsletter, I had to split it into two parts as I had so much to share. Also, my thoughts on self-publishing will no doubt be impacted by what happens with the Yii book over the next couple of months.

As always, questions, comments, and all feedback are much appreciated. And thanks for your interest in what I have to say and do!

On the Road => True North PHP Conference

This is my last newsletter before I head of to the inaugural True North PHP conference. This conference is taking place just outside of Toronto, Canada, on November 2 and 3, 2012. On Friday, November 2, at 2pm, I’ll be giving my presentation on the Yii framework. I’ve finished the outline of the presentation, and started working on some of the content. In the presentation, I’ll start building a site live, provide specifics on many core Yii concepts, and give an overview of some of the more advanced topics. At the end, I’ll discuss what we know about the forthcoming version 2 of the framework and answer questions. I will post my slides at a later date, of course.

If you are going, I’ll look forward to meeting you there. If you’d like to join me for lunch on one of those two days, just let me know.

On the Web => How to Write a Book

I recently become aware of Scott Berkun, thanks to catching an excerpt from his “Confessions of a Public Speaker” book. I’ve since read that book, and it was wonderful. I’m now following Berkun on Twitter, where he frequently Tweets older posts. One of those that I found to be particularly on the nose was “How to Write a Book–the Short, Honest Truth“. I get asked about publishing a lot and thought Berkun’s post is quite valuable on the subject.

In the article, Berkun distinguishes between three senses of what people mean when they say that want to write a book:

  • Actually write a book, which anyone can do (i.e., you can write one right now, without needing anything else)
  • Get published (which is a separate issue from writing a book)
  • Become famous and wealthy

If you’re interested in the topic, check out Berkun’s post. It’s short, and well written. At the bottom, you’ll find links to more good articles on writing. His “Why You Fail at Writing” is pretty good for helping you accomplish that goal of writing a book, if you’re not too discouraged by that point!

On the Web => 5 Rules to Sell Thousands of Copies of Your eBook

Thomas Fuchs, creator of script.aculo.us and a general JavaScript and Rails expert, just posted “5 Rules to Sell Thousands of Copies of Your eBook“. In the article, Fuchs outlines his approach for selling his “Retinafy Your Web Sites & Apps” book. I don’t personally agree with three or four out of his five rules (for reasons to be explained later in this newsletter), but thought I’d offer up his article for a different opinion on the subject of self-publishing.

The areas in which I disagree with the list have to do with Mr. Fuchs apparent focus on making as much money as possible, whereas I want to get my book to as many people as possible. Hence, I don’t agree with the suggestions: no publishers, no 3rd-party sales channels, publish as a PDF, and price high. But that’s just me: highest accessibility is my goal and Mr. Fuchs does have a keen business mind, from what I can tell.

On the Web => Scrivener

I’ve sung my praise for Scrivener many times over by now, but as I’m writing about writing, it’s worth giving another shout out to my favorite writing app. My favorite writing app by far. Scrivener was created by a writer, for writers, with the aim of having only the features required, leaving out anything superfluous. I use Scrivener for these newsletters, wrote the first draft of “Modern JavaScript: Develop and Design” in it, and am writing all of “The Yii Book” in it.

One great feature about Scrivener is how it helps you organize your project. In many writing projects, the needed information can easily be stored in multiple places: emails that I’ve set aside in my email application, bookmarks in my Web browser, and posts in my blog. Scrivener uses two project areas (three if you want to count the Trash): Draft and Research. All the writing goes into the Draft area and all the research materials (and Scrivener supports many formats) go into Research. Everything I need is all together in one interface.

Second, Scrivener lets you make all of the content, including the writing and the research materials as atomic as makes sense or as you prefer. For example, in “The Yii Book”, I treat any content that merits its own heading as its own file. As individual files, it’s a snap to rearrange the order or to just focus on a specific section at a time. On the other hand, I can view an entire chapter as one document by just clicking a button.

A brilliant thing Scrivener does that I’ve never seen before is allow you to treat text files like folders and vice versa. You can even convert from one to the other. Why is that useful? A chapter is logically a folder, with the chapter parts as text files within the folder. But chapters have introductions, too. With a traditional approach, the introduction would have to be written as its own, first text document in the chapter (which would also imply a heading that wouldn’t be required). But by blurring the folder/text file distinction, I can write the chapter’s introduction as part of the folder itself (as if the folder were a text file), not as a subdocument within it. As another example, I can break one chapter topic—a text file—into subtopics, while still representing the topic as a file, not a folder. I’m not sure if the significance is coming across, but it’s little unconventional things like this that make great apps great.

When you’ve finished all the writing, you can export your work out of Scrivener as a: PDF, Word doc, RTF, ePub, Kindle ebook (.mobi), HTML, LaTeX, and more. For my Yii book, I’m writing the book in MultiMarkdown and then exporting it into the formats readers will want: PDF, ePub, and mobi.

Of course, describing applications in words often falls short, so if you’re curious, check out the explanatory videos available at Scrivener’s Web site.

On the Blog => What It Means To Be A Writer

I recently finished a six-part series on my blog titled “What It Means To Be A Writer“. The parts are

  • Defining Your Book
  • Getting a Book Deal
  • Using an Agent
  • Negotiating Contracts
  • Actually Writing the Book
  • The After Life

If you’re curious about how you can become a professional writer, or what the writer’s life is like in some detail, check it out.

On the Blog => How Much Should I Charge for the Yii Book?

A couple weeks back, I posted How Much Should I Charge for the Yii Book? on my blog. For the Yii book, I’ll have a set minimum amount, but allow people to pay whatever they want above that. My hope is that by using this arrangement, the book will be affordable to all but those that can afford to give a little more (and feel like it’s justified) can do so. And have my eternal gratitude, considering the work I’m putting into this.

Anyway, I was curious what you all thought would be a reasonable minimum, and have seen a great response. With over 200 votes in, $20 (USD) has a slight lead over $15.

Hopefully, within the next 7-10 days, I’ll start selling the book and you’ll see what I decided. Thanks to everyone for their input (and you can still vote or comment there, if you’d like).

What is Larry Thinking => Self-Publishing, Part 1

As you probably know, I’m in the process of self-publishing a book on the Yii framework. This is my 24th book, but the first one I’ll have self-published. (Twenty-one of my books have been with one publisher, Peachpit Press, two have been with another publisher, and I’ve had various discussions with other publishers.) I’m just starting the self-publishing process, and haven’t yet made a dime on it, but I thought I’d share with you some thoughts thus far.

I wanted to self-publish this book for a couple of reasons. First, in order to have a sense of what self-publishing means as opposed to using a traditional publisher. Second, for economic reasons.

When going through a traditional publisher, the writer gets:

  • Guaranteed money, in the form of an advance (depending upon the publisher)
  • An editor, a technical editor, a copy editor, a line editor, and a compositor (who assembles the book)
  • A marketing team
  • Sales in alternative destinations (e.g., articles, universities, online book sites, etc.)
  • Translations and international sales
  • Some prestige

In return, depending upon the price and the royalty rate, the writer only gets around $2 (USD) or so per copy sold.

Conversely, if I self-publish, I get none of the above, but I’ll make, say, $15-20 per copy sold of an ebook. I think it’s reasonable to assume that writers will generally sell more copies of a book through a traditional publisher but it’s impossible to know how many more. But money is just one criteria, and it will be quite some time before I know how well (or not) things worked out self-publishing this book.

One thing I can say that I really like is the complete control I have over the book’s content and what’s done with it. I’m not a control freak by any means, but it’s very comforting knowing that no one else will restrict my page count or mess up my code. If this ends up being a 500 page book, that’s okay (especially as an ebook). On the other hand, I have to do everything.

Another aspect of this that I’m enjoying is the ability to create a living document, so to speak. With a traditionally published book, there’s a fixed deadline and the book is done at that point. No substantial changes can be after that point. With an ebook, I can publish an updated version of the book for any significant changes or fixes, for updates to the framework, and so forth. In fact, once I have the system in place, if a serious problem is discovered in the book, I can have it corrected and published within minutes.

Of course, I have to figure out those systems and how to convert the book to different formats. But I like figuring out new things, so that’s okay.

A battle I’m facing is the money and the pressure, though. It’s hard to give so much of your time to something that’s not paying immediately. It’s even harder turning down paying work so that I can dedicate myself to this book. And, once people do start paying for the book (as I’m writing it), there’s going to be more pressure on me to get it done and to make it great.

Once I’m on the other side of all this, I’ll share more thoughts on the experience. One thing I know already is that I will continue to use traditional publishers, even if I also self-publish again. At the very least, revisions of my existing works will continue. And some of the advantages that publishers offer, such as the ability to get books into universities or other countries, are significant.

Thanks to everyone for their interest in this book and for joining me on this little journey. Probably the best feature of working for myself is that I can continue to learn new things. Learning how to self-publish, and what it means, is just one more new thing (well, to me).

Book Giveaway => “PHP Advanced and Object-Oriented Programming: Visual QuickPro Guide”

There was a great response to my book giveaway marking the publication of my “PHP Advanced and Object-Oriented Programming: Visual QuickPro Guide” book. I just sent out the emails letting people know they won (sorry for the delay) and will ship the books out within the next week(-ish).

Thanks to everyone for participating and for the interest in my work. And if you have a question or comment for the newsletter, please feel free to share it with me, giveaway or no.

Larry Ullman’s Book News => “PHP Advanced and OOP” and “The Yii Book”

The third edition of my PHP Advanced book, now titled “PHP Advanced and Object-Oriented Programming” is available in bookstores (depending upon where you’re at and how good your bookstore is). I’m pleased with the end result and hope you will be, too. The book does assume intermediate level knowledge of PHP and MySQL (like that you’d have after reading my “PHP and MySQL for Dynamic Web Sites: Visual QuickPro Guide” book.

I’m currently working on my long-awaited Yii book. I am, of course, a month behind but there’s not much I can do about that now. Part 1 of the book is written, and about to be sent out to the technical editors for their input. This week, I’m going to be creating the Web site for selling the book. My hope is to start selling the book in the next 7-10 days.

Despite the delay, the good news is that I’ll have put a lot of the infrastructure and hard work into place. From there, it should be just a matter of writing, writing, writing. The hope is that I’ll be able to add maybe 2-3 chapters every two weeks from there on out.

Thanks to everyone for their interest and patience!