How To Become A Technical Writer

I have been asked many times if it is worth writing a technical book. How much money will I make? What is the process of getting a book published?

This article talks about the process of writing a technical book, including how to start and what it takes to make it a successful book.

I’ve written several programming books. My first book, A Programmer’s Guide to ADO.NET in C#, was published in 2001. I merely started my programming career. In this article, I will share my personal experience.


Do you have what it takes to write a successful book?

You do not have to be a guru to write a book. However, you must be an expert on the topic you plan write about. If you know only what is already in MSDN and other documentations, then forget about writing. You must know more than what is out there.

Note: This article is written based on my experience in year 2001 - 2004. Book authoring has changed a lot since then and some of the points may not apply now. 

Don't let my previous sentence discourage you. It only takes just a little extra effort and research to become an expert on a topic. If you are willing to spend enough time, you will be all right.

 

Choose a Topic

When you choose a topic, you must be specific about the topic. For example, if you want to write a book related to database programming using C# programming language using Visual Studio 2015, you need to be specific with the title. Your book title should be "Database Programming with C# using Visual Studio 2015."

So now you have found a topic which you would like to write about. The next step is to find a publisher.

Finding a Publisher

Finding a publisher is pretty simple. APress, Addison Wesley, Microsoft, and Wrox are a few big names in the technical publishing world. You go to their websites and they all have "Write for Us" or "Contact Us" links to contact them.

Before you contact a publisher, you must be ready with some tangible material. Most of the publishers expect you to send them a detailed table of contents and a sample chapter of the book. This material gives publishers an idea about your writing skills and styles and how much you know about that topic. You also need to send them your brief bio.

Once your proposal is accepted by a publisher, the next step is to negotiate a contract. Most of the publishers pay you between 10-15 percent royalties on net sales. Some publishers may also give you an advance to encourage you to jump on the train right away.

The Writing Process

Once your contents are ready, the publisher helps you with the technical editing, copy editing, proofreading, and final production version of the contents. The publisher sends you a template (usually a Microsoft Word document with formatting and styles), image capturing, code formatting, and other photos.

How long does it take to write a book?

Before I can answer this, you need to ask yourself these following questions.

  • How good are you at the topic you are writing about?
  • How much time you are willing to spend each day?
  • Do you need to do research on the topic?
  • What level of user you are targeting - beginner, intermediate, or expert?
  • In essence, it all depends on you and your skill level.

It takes me an average from nine months to 15 months to write a book. My first book took me more than a year and my last book took me about nine months to finish. You get the idea.

How much money will I make?

The question most people have on their minds is, how much money do you really make from a book? Well, it actually depends. It depends on how successful your book is. If you are authoring your first book and you are not popular in the developer community, chances are your book will be an average book.

For an average book, a publisher expects to sell between 5,000 to 10,000 copies over the first couple of years. An average technical book price is $45 and a publisher expects to get between 40 to 50 percent of the sale price. So a publisher actually gets $20 per book. As an author, an average of 10 percent royalties is an average rate. So you actually make $2 per book. After selling 5,000 copies of the book, you will make about $10,000 from a book.

So now here comes a question for you. Are you looking for fame or money from a book? If you are going after the money, considering the amount of time you will put into writing a technical book, it is not worth your time. You would rather make $10,000 by working for a couple of weeks at a rate of $100 per hour. If you are looking for fame and name recognition, authoring a good book is perhaps not a bad idea.

Work after publishing

Once your book is published, your work is not done yet. If you want to make the book a successful book, then you need to work on promotions. Mention the book in your blogs and on your websites or the websites you visit often. DO NOT talk about your book on unwanted forums. It will be considered as SPAM and will give you bad publicity.

Online communities are one the best ways to promote a book. You may go to several online communities such as C# Corner, MSDN, Code Project, Code Guru, and StackOverflow, and most of them allow you to publish a free chapter from your book. In your chapter, do not forget to mention the link of the book. Also become a regular author on these websites, and you may want to mention your book at the bottom of your article. This will give you a market larger than 10 million developers.

Regularly visit forums such as C# Corner Forums and Microsoft forums and reply to posts that are related to the topics your book covers. Answer the questions and also mention to go to your book page to get more details on that specific topic.

If you do not have a blog, start a blog. Remember, do not SPAM. You may publish small tips or articles from your book and mention your book at the bottom of the blog. Do not overdo it. Do not post the entire book photo on the blog. That may not look too good.

Perks after publishing

Once you're a published author, is has several direct and indirect perks. Not only you earn respect among developer community, but you also get some free passes. Give you an example. After I was published, any interview I went for, I got a clear pass. I got a chance to meet our respected Mr. Bill Gates because of my GDI+ book that was published in a distinguished series with Don Box and others. Book authoring also has brought me many projects and work.

Cheers!