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How much do Technical Book Authors make?

I received an O'Reilly catalog today - it has titles of books that are amazingly diverse and some with extremely narrow focus.

I imagine of some of the books with a narrow focus will be of interest to audiences like Perl programming Mongolian normadic Yak herders who wish to tabulate milks stat with a wifi link on the Gobi using FreeBSD.

How much do the authors make? The window of opportunity for tech books can be notoriously short - the time needed to develop the better tech book must be long.

And there are tons of publishers - Wrox (no more), Addison Wesley, O'Reilly etc etc.

Is there money in writing tech books? Or is this mainly for the sake of the art?

Ram Dass
Thursday, September 04, 2003

SitePoint.com publishes web development books that are only sold through their web site.  The lady who approached me about my articles said that they sell "pretty well," but she didn't give me any numbers.

I'm also interested in how well technical authors do.  I consider myself more than competent in a few technologies, and I can see some areas where current books are SORELY lacking.

Anyway, a quick search on google came up with this article:

http://www.devx.com/DevX/Article/10491

Which states:

"How much money can you make doing this kind of work? The usual fee is $2.50 to $3.00 per electronic page. Your plans for an early retirement may have to be shelved: For a typical book of 20 chapters, you can expect to get about $2,000. As an author, you can expect to get an advance of about $5,000 (this sum is usually divided into 3 to 4 payments for each part you complete) and 8 to 12 percent of royalties, depending on your experience and negotiation skill."

(Note: the $2000 figure is for being the technical editor on the project or something.)

saberworks
Thursday, September 04, 2003

Aside from the cash it's a pretty good selling point for people who run their own businesses or do consulting.  You can put "Wrote book x" on your resume.  Also people who buy the book might see your name and bring business to your company.

chris
Thursday, September 04, 2003

http://www.larkware.com/Articles/AdviceforWritersPart3.html

http://www.larkware.com/Articles/AdviceforWritersPart4.html

Prakash S
Thursday, September 04, 2003

A friend of mine wrote a technical book. He says: compared to the effort put into the book, the money he makes now selling the book (actually given to him by the
publisher) is marginal.

But then, he goes on to say that the book made him
pretty famous in certain circles and gave him a
veeeeery good reputation, which lets him sell his
'services' much more easily than if he hadn't written
the book.

Rene Nyffenegger
Thursday, September 04, 2003

For technical books the author usually gets around 7% of the cover price. Smaller books sell several thousand copies; the very super ultra popular books can sell 200,000. Almost everyone writing computer books is doing it to enhance their reputation and get speaking and consulting gigs, although if you live in low cost city and can write prolifically you can make a living off of it.

Joel Spolsky
Thursday, September 04, 2003

And the book companies really love to try to stick it to you in terms of legal liability, too in a bunch of really fun ways.  I backed out of writing a chapter to a book because my lawer read through and informed me that, unless it was changed, that I bore unreasonable liability.

Flamebait sr.
Thursday, September 04, 2003

Like anything else, it depends on lots of factors: how much effort you want to put into it, luck, subject matter, the economy, etc.

I enjoy writing and editing and it is a good hobby in the winter months.  Between my book and editing other people's books, it made me enough money to replace my furnace and do a few other repairs around the house.  (And then Wrox went bankrupt -- so much for that hobby.)

Some people do get rich off of writing -- I work with several people who have written best-selling technology books that made significant cash.  But it would be unwise to count on it -- only a small fraction of technical books sell like "Inside OLE" did.

Eric

Eric Lippert
Thursday, September 04, 2003

i worked with someone who wrote a very popular tech book. he made about $12,000 on it, total. 

rz
Thursday, September 04, 2003

On the other hand, a few extra thousand bucks that you didn't already budget away in a lump sum can be a very nice thing, for some fun at the evenings that you probably would have wasted playing Quake or something.

Assuming that you aren't just going to spend it on drugs and cheap hookers, of course. ;)

Flamebait sr.
Thursday, September 04, 2003

You can probably make a living if you write five or six books a year. Most writers will also have magazine articles on the side.

As Joel says, to do it for a living you want to live somewhere cheap. But as cheap places are also generally the nicest to live in, then it is an OK life style choice.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, September 04, 2003

Well then who is making all the money off the books?  Last time I checked most books sold for around 50 dollars.

GuyIncognito
Thursday, September 04, 2003

At one time bookshops used to get 35% of the sale price. With the end of the fixed retail price the large chain stores started an agressive discounting policy which was basically paid for by the publisher (indeed you actually have to pay to have your book in the window in Waterstone's for example). Amazon is probably getting a 60% discount off RRP.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, September 04, 2003

A guy at work wrote a book in collaboration with some others.  He gets less than 50 cents per copy, of which less than 20,000 have been sold in the couple years since it was written.

For 99% of technical book authors, the boost to their reputation and recognition is worth much more than what they earn from the book itself.  Technical books have too narrow of an audience and too short of a shelf life to make much money for the authors.

T. Norman
Thursday, September 04, 2003

I just thought of writing one based on some articles on databases i had written. i have now scrapped the idea.

Yes, one advantage of books (Articles) in my case is that you are recignized. I got interview calls from people who read my articles. The person who hired me thought i was clever.

See, writing a book/article essentially informs people "I AM NOT A SCAM ARTIST". Its very important to give credibility to a resume. I have interviewed people who did not know a damn of what they wrote. If you write a book, people know 3 things

1)You know something
2)You are eager to tell it to others
3)Your writing skills are good and proven.

karthik
Thursday, September 04, 2003

What's wrong with self-publishing?  I mean really though.  Offer the first 3 chapters of your book as a PDF online.  Sell the complete PDF edition (or rent an html only web version ala O'reilly safari style), and lastly a printed/bound edition (Kinko's will print & bind a pdf/doc for you - and you'll certainly make more than $0.50 on it even if you sell it for $25)

GiorgioG
Thursday, September 04, 2003

The reputation has a lot of merit.  My company hired a Java programmer almost solely because he had been a coauthor of some Java book.  Our COO was quite proud to have landed him.

Once at the company, he turned out to be a very mediocre programmer.  Nowhere near as good as our college dropout who was about 10 years his junior and making much less salary.

He has since written another book or two and I see his name on speaking engagements in the area even though we eventually laid him off.

David
Thursday, September 04, 2003

> Well then who is making all the money off the books?  Last time I checked most books sold for around 50 dollars.

As long as the book industry is primarily an ink-on-dead-trees industry, there are going to be a lot of middlemen.  Who gets the money?

* the people who cut down the tree, drive the tree to the mill, turn the tree into paper, drive the paper to the press,  run the presses, drive the finished books to bookstores, etc, etc, etc, get a not-insignificant cut.

* then there is the small army of editors, proofreaders, etc, who get a cut

* and the book store staff needs to eat too...

All in all, I made about $0.70 US for every copy of my MSRP $29.99 book that sold.  (That was unaffected by the Wrox bankruptcy as they had sold just enough books to cover my advance when they went under.  Of course, I never got paid for the last book I edited, or for the second edition I was preparing, but hey, them's the breaks.)

Eric

Eric Lippert
Thursday, September 04, 2003

I have considered writing a lab book for an undergraduate level Data Structures and Algorithms class. But the idea has one major flaw - most college textbooks are written by professors, which I'm not.

Anyone here have experience writing textbooks? Is it an impossible market to crack for non-academics?

Nick
Friday, September 05, 2003

most undergrad courses use a *standard * textbook, or a book written by someone in the dept, or by  a prof who has been teaching that course for a while.

Most acad books won't be used unless they are from someone who has PhD, mind you I am not saying that those books will not be good, it is an unwritten rule.

Even books that are recommended by most profs are by other profs:-) , you get the picture.

Prakash S
Friday, September 05, 2003

Book royalties on technical books hasn't improved in the past twenty years, probably even longer.

If you have a burning desire to write something go ahead.  The difference between 20 years ago and today is that there are far more people burning to write the same book and it takes more than a synopsis to convince a publisher to offer a deal.

Wrox and their related imprints has disappeared might also suggest that the market hasn't improved either, even though the volume of the target audience is incredibly larger than it was.

In times of recession, people don't buy books.

Simon Lucy
Friday, September 05, 2003

I don't know why people think Wrox is dead - the original company that owned it went bankrupt (but not because of Wrox) but Wrox lives. Wrox is now part of John Wiley and seems to be coming more active.

I'm not a huge fan of Wrox books - liked some/hated more, but it is nive to see them back.

http://www.wrox.com/

RocketJeff
Friday, September 05, 2003

>  the original company that owned it went bankrupt (but not because of Wrox)

I would be fascinated to learn where you got this information. 

My sources tell me that the accounting records at Wrox/Peer were in _terrible_ shape, stuffed into filing cabinets in no particular order, and that it would take _months_ to sort through it all. 

However the initial conjecture as to the cause of the bankruptcy was that Wrox had printed _far_ too many books during the tech boom which were returned unsold during the tech bust.  The sudden drop in revenue lead to the inability of Peer to fund the interest on their debt.  A last-ditch effort to secure additional funding from the Bank of Scotland failed, and they declared insolvancy.

However, my sources are the people at APress who examined Wrox's books.  Perhaps you have better information -- do you have friends who were at the board meeting the morning that they decided to dissolve the company, for instance?  Those are the people who really know what led to the demise.

> but Wrox lives. Wrox is now part of John Wiley and seems to be coming more active.

Wiley purchased the right to use the Wrox name, the web site, and the publishing rights to a dozen or so best selling books.  APress purchased the rights to the rest of the books.  If by "lives" you mean "someone owns the brand", then sure, Wrox lives.

> I don't know why people think Wrox is dead

Well, look at it from my perspective. 

From my perspective, as someone who worked closely with many Wrox employees who were all dismissed, as someone owed a considerable sum of money by Wrox which will never be paid, as someone whose book will never be reissued by Wrox, and as someone who had many projects underway with Wrox that will never come to fruition, I consider Wrox to be dead, dead, dead. 

It's all a matter of perspective you see.  "Wrox" today is a completely different company with the same name, a company with whom I have absolutely no relationship.

Eric

Eric Lippert
Friday, September 05, 2003

Well, Eric, you have better information then I have (had).

I read several articles about Peer Information (parent company of Friends of Ed, Wrox Press, Glasshaus, ... ) going bankrupt and taking all of its 'child' companies down with it. I _thought_ I read this was due to financial problems at one of the other subs and not Wrox itself.

I guess I assumed that the Wrox sub was sold as a whole. This is obviously wrong since APress and Wiley split up the titles (and Wiley getting the name/web sites).

Note: did a quick websearch and I found the source of my "it's because of the parent company" - a previous thread here on the forums (by Prakash S):
http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=35241

RocketJeff
Friday, September 05, 2003

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