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The Scary DBA

I have twenty+ years experience in IT. That time was spent in technical support, development and database administration. I work forRed Gate Software as a Product Evangelist. I write articles for publication at SQL Server Central, Simple-Talk, PASS Book Reviews and SQL Server Standard. I have published two books, ”Understanding SQL Server Execution Plans” and “SQL Server 2008 Query Performance Tuning Distilled.” I’m one of the founding officers of the Southern New England SQL Server Users Group and its current president. I also work on part-time, short-term, off-site consulting contracts. In 2009 and 2010 I was awarded as a Microsoft SQL Server MVP. In the past I’ve been called rough, intimidating and scary. To which I usually reply, “Good.” You can contact me through grant -at- scarydba dot kom (unobfuscate as necessary).

So You Want to Write a Book?


What the heck is wrong with you?

Still interested? Fine. I’ll tell you my take on this whole business. I’m only an expert on this if you take the adage that the expert is the guy that’s a page head of you in reading a book. To date I have published two full books and three chapters in a third. I can easily think of enough people who all have more experience than that with book writing that I’d have to take off both shoes to count them all.

Is anyone still reading? Cool. So you have the desire to write a book? Let me pop your first bubble. You will make very little money. This bears repeating. You will make very little money. If you were to figure out your hourly rate for writing this book, something I’ve never had the guts to do, you’ll cry yourself to sleep at night for being such a total fool to agree to write a book.

Still here? Let me pop your second bubble. Your home life/free time/family time/sleep cycle/excercise will suffer. Yes, that’s right. You’re getting paid pennies and you’re suffering for it.

Glutton for punishment? OK. Here’s how you do it. Do you have an idea for a book? If not, stop here and go and think of one. I’m assuming a technical readership since this is a geek blog about geek topics by a geek. Do you think you know everything there is to know about… oh, I don’t know, SQL Server 2008 hierarchy data, and you’re convinced you can fill 200+ pages talking about it? Great! You’re on your way. Pick a publisher. I’m not providing links or suggestions here. If you don’t know any book publishers that means you’re not reading books. If you don’t read them, I don’t think you should write them. Stop here and go read a technical book, preferably one of mine.

Have a publisher in mind? Go to their web site. Every one I’ve looked at has a “write for us” web page. Follow the directions there and submit your idea. You’re now on your way. I’m sure things are different for the big name authors or authors outside the technical sphere, but since you don’t have a name and you’re writing technical books, that’s pretty much all you need to do. You don’t need an agent or a lawyer. You’re going to get a non-negotiable contract from the publisher and you’re going to sign it because you want to write a book. Assuming they like your idea. Ah, but you’re not done with simply submitting the idea. You need to do two other things, and these won’t be easy. You need to define your market. Are there more than 20 people interested in reading a book on the hierarchy data type? Sound easy? It is a bit. Here’s a more challenging one for you. You also need to define how your book will stand out from the rest. If Itzik or Kalen has written 50 pages on hierarchy data types… ready for it… how will your 50 pages be better than theirs?

Stopped crying? Other options are to write articles for publication in places like SQL Server Central or Simple-Talk or SQL Server Standard (and I know the editor from SQL Server Standard most intimately, he needs articles). A few articles about the hierarchy data type and you’ll be a recognized expert. Now, if one of the publishers decides, “Hey, we could really use a book on the hiearchy data type,” and they happen to notice your article, you might get invited to write for them. Or, someone else writing a book needs a chapter on the hiearchy data type, they may contact you to help out. Or, if you’re constantly hanging out on one of the online discussion sites answering detailed questions about the hiearchy data type, the publisher or another author may find you and ask you to write a chapter.

Anyone still here? Of the two approaches, I’d suggest writing articles first. That’s going to do two things for you. First, it gets your name out there and you’ll get noticed. That’s how I did it. Second, it’ll let you decide if you like writing. The first time you get an article back that’s gone through a serious technical edit and it looks like someone has questioned every other word you wrote and the comments, while kind, bash through your arguments and ideas like a wrecking ball… you get to decide how much you like writing. A book is 50 times worse.

Want more? That’s about all there is. There are lots of details when it comes to the act of writing the book, how versions are managed, the writing schedule, promotion (if you get any), how you split the oodles of cash with your co-authors, if any (authors I mean, there will be very little cash), that sort of thing.  Networking is a useful tool. I wrote my second book because I happened to be at a publishing party for an author and I ran into his editor. A short conversation and a couple of emails later… I’m losing sleep and skipping exercise for very little money. Having friends and contacts will lead toward getting partnered up for a book. That’s how you can get tapped to write a chapter or three.

Still reading or have you all long ago stopped reading because this book writing thing is way too much of a pain?

Would I do it again? In a heart beat.

Comments

Posted by Steve Jones on 22 February 2010

nice writeup. Didn't notice links to your books ;)

I definitely agree you need to write articles first. Mostly for the experience. So you understand what editing is, how to focus, and how to deliver something on a schedule. A book will be hard.

The thing I'd disagree with is that your book needs to be better than Itzik's or Kalen's. There is room for more than one book on many topics.

Posted by Grant Fritchey on 22 February 2010

Thanks Steve,

It didn't seem right linking to my books from the article. Also, I don't think you need to be better than Itzik or Kalen either, otherwise, I'd stop writing. But I did have to try to show how my book would compete with Kalen's. As if. It's just a part of the set up of getting the book going that I found a bit surprising. I figured the surprises were the best parts to include for those who've never done it before.

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