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April 28, 2014

How to Write and Publish a Technical Book (and make lots of money)

Over the course of the last few years, the tech publishing market has changed. Authors are in a much better position than ever before.

If you are serious about success as a technical author, here are your up-to-date instructions. As long as your content is solid and valuable to your audience, I believe this is how you make the most money. You'll also reap serious long-term benefits.

First of all, are you talking to a publisher about a book deal already? Maybe you have a book proposal and/or outline in hand already?

Good. That's a good starting place, but it's time to get in the driver's seat. Put the discussion with the publisher on hold. Be nice and tell them that you're interested in doing a book with them later in the year. Promise to get back to them once you make progress on your manuscript.

Many publishers will balk at this change of events, but don't worry about it. What I'm going to teach you is how to build leverage. You're going to need as much of it as possible later on when you go back to them.

Now, I'm assuming that you have a title and concept worked out.

At this point you should also have a first draft of a book outline. Go to leanpub.com and create an author account. As part of signing up you'll have to create a book. Enter your title and description. Follow the instructions for creating and uploading a cover image. It doesn't have to be fancy.

Done? Publish your leanpub landing page and announce the book project to your social network. You want to start generating interest from your audience of early adopters as soon as possible. You also want the search engines to pick up your new landing page and start building a foundation for traffic to flow its way.

Time to start writing the book. (I can give you advice on how to be an effective writer, but that's a separate topic. Make sure to subscribe to the mailing list below to find out more.) While you are writing, your leanpub landing page collects email addresses of interested parties. Many of them will freely tell you how much they're willing to pay for the book when it's available. That's very valuable information.

Time to publish.

Publish your incomplete book on leanpub once you have 3 chapters written. Doesn't matter if 3 chapters is only 10% of your book. If you wait longer than that you are losing income and valuable feedback from early adopters. The great news is that at that point, you start earning 90% royalties even though the book is far from complete. I promise that the income and interest from your early buyers will keep you motivated to make progress.

Keep writing.

This middle phase will take between 3 and 6 months for most people, perhaps more for difficult topics. Keep publishing every time you finish a new chapter or have significant amounts of new content. Keep making money throughout this time.

Back to the negotiating table.

When you get to about 75-80% finished then you want to contact traditional publishers like Wiley or Pearson and/or whoever you initially spoke to about a book in the first place. Tell them that you're interested in their best offer. The best thing that can happen at this point is a bidding war over who will publish your title. (You shouldn't bother with Pragmatic Programmers. Want to know why I say that? Subscribe to the mailing list below.)

Cash Advances

If you're a first time author with a popular topic, traditional publishers should be willing to advance you at least $5k USD. That is money that you'll never have to return, which is why publishers seem stingy with advances. It's all risk to them. But since your book is almost done, you've gone a long way towards mitigating that risk for them. That should loosen their pursestrings somewhat.

Half of the advance will be payable on signing the book deal. The other half will be payable on delivery of final manuscript. Consider the promise of that money your incentive to make a final push and finish the book.

Royalties

Royalties for print should start at 18% of net revenues to the publisher. (Expect that figure to be around $10-20, so you're only making a few dollars on each sale. That's just the way it works, don't fret about it.) The real money comes later, when you open up new business opportunites. But that's another topic.

Royalties are not a single number. You'll also negotiate a multi-tiered ramp up to 25% royalties as your sale numbers grow and hit stretch targets. Selling 10 thousand copies of a print tech book these days is a solid success and should be compensated accordingly.

What about ebooks?

You're going to negotiate hard for a 25% royalty on ebooks, but be willing to accept a little less. Don't get greedy and blow it.

Profit!

Once you negotiate a deal you're happy with, sign it and finish your book. Submit the manuscript and get the balance of your advance. Plan on discontinuing Leanpub sales once the officially published version is available on Amazon and in stores.

You'll be cashing royalty checks every six months. Plus you get many other intangible benefits. Traditional publishers can open the door to other writing opportunities in periodicals, speaking engagements and even video appearances. There's also the credentializing effect! Every other schmuck these days has an ebook. But traditional print still provides a strong foundation for launching successful consulting careers.

Are you an aspiring author? Interested in reading more in-depth content about how to succeed like I have?

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