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Resources - Write/Edit for Hentzenwerke

Wanna write or edit a book? Here's all you need to know about how the publishing process works here.


Write/Edit for Hentzenwerke

Proposing a Book

The idea

Some of the time, I have an idea for a book. This idea may come up from something I've run into in my own day-to-day work as a developer, or from something I read online, or even from a conversation with someone. In any case, I'll draft a "mission statement" for the book - two to four sentences that captures "What's in it for me?" from the point of the reader. I'll also describe who the intended reader is, list ideas for the content, and perhaps sketch out a very rough draft of an outline.

In other cases, a prospective author will have an idea and come to me to publish their book. When they come to me, it’s usually very casually, inquiring about a general topic, along the lines of a two-paragraph email. This is usually a good idea, since you wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time on a proposal only to find that someone else had beaten you to the punch.

The author or authors

At this point, if it's my idea, I'll search for an author. Sometimes I have an idea for a potential author because I already know someone with the skill set needed for the topic in question, or because I’ve spoken to someone who has expressed interest in that topic. Other times I'll put out feelers for new prospects. And still other times I'll look through my list of people who have contacted me in the past and who have indicated they'd be interested in writing, but don't have a specific topic in mind.

Of course, if an author has already pitched an idea to me, that part is settled. I will never take an author's idea and give it to someone else unless the author willingly gives it up, or commits to it and then repeatedly shows that they're unable to meet that committment.

Occasionally an author will not want to undertake an entire book by themselves, either because they don't have the time to do the whole book by themselves, or because they don't feel comfortable with some of the subject matter. They may want me to approach someone to be a co-author, or may have already hooked up with someone before pitching the idea to me.

If interested, we’ll go back and forth about the idea as I have them flesh out their idea in greater and greater detail, and they ask questions that aren’t answered here. The goal is for the author(s) to present a proposal for the book to me.

The proposal

A proposal is a document that does two things - (1) sells me on the book, and (2) provides me with information that I can use to sell my customers - both my distributors and resellers as well as people who come directly to our website.

A sample proposal is included in the Author Kit here. It includes information about what's going in the book as well as who the target audience is. The proposal also includes an outline and a schedule. If more than one person is involved in writing the book, one of the authors involved will need to take the leading role in the book. The lead author is responsible for coordinating the work between the other authors and the tech editor as well as delivering chapters to me.

Once the author (or authors) has been selected and agreed that they'd like to do the book, it's time to get down to the guts of the proposal - the outline and schedule of writing. The outline is essentially a table of contents fleshed out to the first set of major headings - in other words, a list of chapters and major topics to be covered in each chapter. Having an abstract (one to two paragraphs) for each chapter is really a good idea at this point, but not required.

The schedule is the list of dates that the author will deliver final chapters to me for copy edit. I'll explain what has to be done in order to deliver a chapter ready for copy edit in the "Doing the Writing and Editing" section. The point now is that the author has to commit to delivering chapters of their book on a regular schedule, taking into account their work schedule, family commitments, traveling or vacations, and generally how much of a life they want to have during the writing. And the material they deliver is expected to be “done” – ready for copy edit, review, and then layout into pages that will be printed. There’s no room for “Still need to research this further” comments in material submitted for copy edit.

The lead author and tech editor both are required to submit a progress report each week. Failure to do so will have an adverse affect on the earnings of the person who fails to submit their reports on time.

While the author wants to deliver their book as soon as possible - so that we can start selling it - it's a bad idea for an author to commit themselves to a schedule that they may not be able to meet. It's best for an author to give themselves some wiggle room so that they can meet each deadline they set. I've become significantly less forgiving about missing deadlines over the past year. If an author foresees potential issues getting in the way, they should incorporate extra time in your schedule. One can always deliver chapters early!

The rest of the players

Assuming that I accept the proposal submitted to me, it's now time to flesh out the rest of the crew. The next player is the Tech Editor.

Here is are the specific requirements of the tech editor:

1. Review each chapter as it arrives from the author for technical correctness.
2. Review source code to make sure that (1) it runs, (2) it matches the code in the book, or, if bugs are found in the code after the book ships, that appropriate mention is made (we have errata pages on our website).
3. Return chapters 7 days after receipt from the author.

As a practical matter, the amount of interaction between tech editor and author varies according to the book. Some authors have a vision and they roll straight ahead, simply turning over finished chapters to their tech editor. Other authors prefer to collaborate with their tech editor more, asking for their input about how to go about something. And, some tech editors are more merciless than others, requesting that the author write and rewrite - we recently had a case where an entire 20 page chapter was virtually thrown out by the tech editor.

The bottom line is that the book has to be great. It's the author's responsibility to make that happen, but it's the tech editor's responsibility to make sure that the author doesn't (inadvertently or intentionally) slide crap into the book. The tech editor doesn't have to make the corrections; he just has to yell STOP THE PRESSES! Remember that the tech editor gets their name on the cover of the book too.

I may have someone in mind, but I'll also ask the author if they have someone in mind. This conversation actually usually begins while the book proposal is being fleshed out – so that the book doesn’t get held up or shot down because of the lack of a tech editor. Depending on who came up with the idea in the first place, the burden is usually on the author to do most of the legwork here. They're probably more familiar with the specific area in question than I am (hey, if they're going to write a book, they'd better be!), and thus would very likely have better contacts.

I like to have people who are visible in the appropriate community to be involved in the book. It provides credibility to the book as well as a bit of 'marketing oompf.' (Even if they don't promote the book themselves, others will do so.) And if they're visible in the community, then they possibly will be better informed, since being online often affords them exposure to a wide range of viewpoints.

I handle the other folks involved, including copy edit, layout, ebook production, indexing, artists, and so on.

Now it's time for contracts.

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