Tips about Writing a Computer Book, how to make the process of writing a computer book easier.
What is it like to write a computer book? Let me start by saying that it can be difficult at times. While writing my first computer book, I also had a full-time job in the computer field, and was helping my wife raise our two children, who were 3 years and 14 months old. Writing a computer book was enjoyable, but not perfect. I offer here a few tips to help you make the process even better.
Find and Research a Topic
If you are interested in writing a computer book, you probably have some computer expertise already. Or, you may be a technical writer who wants to transfer existing writing skills to publish in a lively and interesting field.
First, you'll need to find a topic you can be committed to writing upon for 3 and a half to four months. If it is a topic in which you are already an expert, some of your research has been done already. However, nothing can stop a good writer from researching a previously unfamiliar topic or product, and teaching themselves everything they need to know to write a computer book.
Computer book topics must be timely. This is the key. So when you choose your topic and focus your research, keep up with current magazines and the Internet to think about which topics are likely to be "next" in the interest of the publisher. Is XYZ Computer delivering a new version of their desktop publishing software? If so, that's an area to investigate first.
Are you an expert in a programming language or database tool? Could you focus on it for three or four months--enough to write a book about it? This too, is a topic for further investigation.
How will you do your research? Sources of research are many: the Internet, using the software or product you are writing about, and previous books on the subject. I was able to download documents, white papers, and sample programs from industry Web sites, and did much research that way. I found my computer science textbooks from college of general help, and halfway through I bought good college text on grammar and usage.
Write a Proposal
Computer book proposals have many features in common with all non-fiction book proposals. You'll need sections describing your topic, an annotated table of contents and outline, background information about the market, description of competing books in your area, and information about yourself: your qualifications for writing upon such a topic.
The proposal also includes a writing sample. This may be a couple of sample chapters, or just one. However, pick a section from the meat of your book--it doesn't have to be chapter one. This sample demonstrates how you write, how you handle examples and refer to figures (you don't need to include the figures at this stage).
Your publisher accepts your proposal because they want to market your book. After which, they may request modifications of your outline. This is totally normal, and good. It means the marketing department is taking your book seriously.
Consider an Agent
Articles about writing often address the topic of how to get an agent, and the difficulty of getting an agent when you have not yet written a book. In this case, I had written some articles for computer magazines. An agent read one, liked it, and contacted me via email.
As you should do with any unknown agent, I checked a book of literary agents, then decided to give book writing a try. He helped with writing a persuasive proposal, and talked me through my initial concerns (read: fears!).
Agents are good at negotiating book contracts. Many features are standard, but agents know about rights that can be negotiated: foreign rights, translation rights (which may not come up with a computer book unless it is very successful), and are good at communicating to the publisher any concerns you have about the feasibility of the schedule.
Here I am speaking of the positives of having an agent, but in computer publishing it is very possible to approach the publisher directly. Many computer publishers are eager accept proposals directly from authors. Look through the computer section of Writer's Market and read their guidelines.
Advances seem to run from $8000-$12,000, with experienced or best-selling authors getting the higher numbers--or higher. An agent will likely receive 15% of that.
Keep Making Progress
I thought that writing a computer book would be exciting, and it was, but the truth is sometimes I had to drag myself down into the basement after a day's work and putting the children to bed. It is common for a writer to become occasionally bogged down with their writing, but in the computer book field it is made worse because of the fairly tight schedule some computer books are produced under.
The key I discovered: make progress. Toward the end of the schedule I was writing mostly on weekends (I was just too tired during the week!). Still, I looked at my outline and told myself: "You've finished chapter seven, start on the introduction for chapter eight." Checking your progress against your outline will help you keep on track.
You may occasionally feel merely like a supplier of words. As your understanding of the publishing field improves, this feeling diminishes. Rather than a supplier, think of yourself as one member of a team that includes the author, the publishing company, the project editor, the development editor, the copy editor, the proofreaders, the indexer, the marketing department, and--for getting paid: the accounting department.
If you have a concern about some aspect of book writing or organizing your book, call the editor. Once you are over the hurdle of selling the book to a publisher, they have adopted you (at least for a time), and are usually very willing to help.
If you have an agent, he or she can suggest a work-around, or intercede, if you have any trouble with the schedule while writing your book.
Writing a computer book can be fun: a chance to learn a lot about a specialized and interesting topic. It can also be challenging, but is within the capabilities of most writers willing to do the required research. And, the feeling of holding your first book in your hands is unforgettable.
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