Daily Productive Sharing 243 - How to Write An O'Reilly Book

One helpful tip per day:)

(The English version follows)


Justin Garrison 在几年前通过 O'Reilly 出版了一本技术书籍 Cloud Native Infrastructure,他介绍了不少出版前后的趣事:

  1. O'Reilly 的作者无权选择动物书封面上的图案,这些动物图案都由 O'Reily 安排;
  2. O‘Reilly 提供了一套线上写作系统,可以直接调用 git ,大大简化了技术写作的协同流程,但是后期的校对等环节并不试用这一系统,而是传统的电邮;
  3. 作者通过这本书获得了超过一万美金的收入,其中最大的部分来自技术公司的赞助;
  4. 整本书修改了非常多次,累计修改的细节超过2000处;
  5. 作者试用 git 来管理草稿,自己校对时会把纯文本的文档编译成 PDF 阅读。


Designing Data-Intensive Applications - Daily Productive Sharing 228 - 20210630

An Elegant Puzzle and Staff Engineer - Daily Productive Sharing 223 - 20210623



The Economics of Writing a Technical Book

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Justin Garrison, who published a technical book Cloud Native Infrastructure through O'Reilly a few years ago, describes a number of interesting facts before and after the publication.

  1. O'Reilly authors did not have the right to choose the animal artwork on the book covers, which were arranged only by O'Reilly;
  2. O'Reilly provided an online writing system that allowed direct link to git, greatly simplifying the collaborative process of technical writing, but post-proofreading and other aspects did not use this system, but traditional emails;
  3. the authors earned over $10,000 from the book, the largest portion of which came from sponsorship by technology companies;
  4. the book was revised very many times, with over 2,000 cumulative changes in detail;
  5. the author tried git to manage drafts, and compiled plain text documents into PDFs for reading when he proofread them himself.

Some of these are also applicable to PhD dissertation writing, and of course to the publication of two other technical books we have shared before.

Designing Data-Intensive Applications - Daily Productive Sharing 228 - 20210630

An Elegant Puzzle and Staff Engineer - Daily Productive Sharing 223 - 20210623

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The Economics of Writing a Technical Book

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O’Reilly provides a platform called Atlas for writing which is quite good. You write in plain text AsciiDoc and then O’Reilly’s Atlas platform can generate a PDF, or other formats, via the web interface or API.
Generating the PDFs was a good feedback loop on the content. It helped make sure formatting was right and also allowed us to take a step back to read what we wrote.
On March 1st we were assigned our cover animal which Kris and I named Andy O’Connor the Andean Condor.
We didn’t get to pick the animal or the picture. We were told up front we wouldn’t get to pick the animal so we knew what to expect. We were also told that Tyrannosaurus Rex and unicorns are not allowed.
We didn’t like what we had created. We had written almost 6 chapters and threw away 3 of them. The first two were heavily edited and the remaining chapter was trimmed down significantly and turned into an appendix.
Luckily, I found someone who would give me the harsh feedback I wanted and I had about 3 days to incorporate their changes into the book before it went off to post production.
I believe the first PDF came back with more than 1300 edits. Overall there were more than 2000 changes made during post.
I later found out this amount of edits is fairly standard for our book length. We had about 3 weeks of emailing large, heavily notated PDFs back and forth which was no fun compared to the plain text git workflow of writing.
All in all I worked from Feb — Oct for roughly 5 nights a week at 2–3 hours per night. I also worked about 3 weekends non-stop when a draft or final edits were due. Roughly I’d say I worked about 500 hours total. That was only my time and doesn’t include Kris’. I was lucky to have a co-author to share the load.
Throughout the writing process I felt like I finished writing multiple times. Once when the final draft was due, once when technical reviewer’s feedback was incorporated, and once at the end of the post editing process. In each case it meant we got to take a break from writing while we waited for feedback.
At the end of final edits I was done (contractually and mentally). I had read through the entire book at least three times and much of the content was starting to lose meaning.
The landing page was a valuable use of my time as it gave a URL to point people to for anyone searching for the book or wanting more information. I would suggest anyone writing a book spend a night to register a domain and set one up.
The book was originally supposed to be 250 pages and would have cost $59.99. Instead it was only 160 pages and cost $39.99. Because we co-authored the book we each got 5% of revenue for physical books and 12.5% for ebooks and digital access (10% and 25% for individual authors).
This breaks down to we each get $.99 for a physical book and $.46 for an ebook.
On average, the book has sold 222 copies per month which is greatly skewed by the first month which had 930 sales.
Once the sponsor completes their contract with O’Reilly they can do whatever they want with the books. Usually, the PDF gets put behind a web form so you fill out your email address and the company uses it for marketing services and getting customer leads. Physical books are usually given away at conferences where they can scan badges.
Each full book sponsorship for one month nets me $3,705 and partial sponsorships give an amount based on percentage of the book sponsored (e.g. 5 chapters in a 10 chapter book is 50% sponsored).
My April 2018 statement (sales from December — March) says I’ve made $11,554.15 which roughly breaks down to $23 per hour for the estimated 500 hours of work.
The book has provided a few other opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had. So far I’ve done a couple podcast interviews, spoken at a few events, did one webinar, and have had a few opportunities for more writing projects with O’Reilly (some of which I’ve taken).

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Jamie Larson